Sergej met the community of CL in Moscow during charitable work at the Sisters of Charity of Mother Theresa. I got to know him when he began to come to the School of Community. He was a man of few words, but it did not take long to recognize that he took life seriously. Previously, he had worked as a journalist and volunteer for many years in the Middle East. He had gotten married to Anya, who came from Sergej’s home town in Tajikistan. They currently live in Moscow.
In the beginning of August, Sergej and Anya lost their first child at her eighth month of pregnancy. Angelina’s heart mysteriously stopped beating two days after their regular visit to the hospital, during which no signs of complication had been revealed.
“Father, why did God give us a daughter only to tear her before giving us the chance to embrace her? At this moment, Father, my faith is so weak.” No one ever wants to face such piercing pain. No one! It leads inevitably to the rediscovery one’s own powerlessness. Who could offer an answer to these parents? Whenever something of the kind happens, I think of the moving dialogue between Ivan and his brother Alyosha from Dostoevskij’s novel, The Brothers Karamazov:
“I want to see with my own eyes the hind lie down with the lion and the victim rise up and embrace his murderer. I want to be there when everyone suddenly understands what it has all been for. All the religions of the world are built on this longing, and I am a believer, But then there are the children, and what am I to do about them? […] If all must suffer to pay for the eternal harmony, what have children to do with it, tell me please?”
“Sergej, listen”, I said stuttering, “I don’t know what to say, I really don’t know! I can only tell you that I trust in God, and in a mysterious way, this pain too has to do with His love and your ultimate destiny. If you don’t consider this truth, you will be eliminating the only possible answer. Doubting the goodness of God comes from the devil. Even the devil can’t make us believe that God does not exist; even for him that would be irrational. However, making us believe that he is unjust… this he can do.”
Three weeks ago, the hospital handed back the little body of Angelina, and we were able to celebrate the funeral. A small coffin covered with rose lacework was brought to the cemetery in the woods.
While I was celebrating the funeral rite, I asked myself why the Lord had chosen me to be there. I suddenly realized that I was not there merely to conduct the rite. No: my presence was the compassionate and tender countenance of Christ for the parents. Without me, without the presence of Christ, there would have been only pain and tragedy. This event helped me to realize that only by recognizing and embracing this presence can we come to see the meaning behind everything that we are living. We cannot get by with just thoughts or knowledge of the doctrine. We need the presence of Christ, as mysterious as it is real and necessary.
As a newly ordained priest, I was once celebrating the Mass, and I remember that, at a certain point, I became clearly conscious of what was happening at the altar through my hands and, at the same time, the disproportion between the gift received and my pettiness. Yet, after, I thought to myself credulously, “There will be enough time to close the gap…” I am realizing, on the contrary, that the gap expands, precisely because time allows me to penetrate deeper into who I am through grace and vocation: Christ’s companionship for men.