Nataly lived in Ukraine for fourteen years, and in Russia before that. You wouldn’t know to talk to her– her English is perfect with no accent, because she’s originally from the United States. When I first knew her, I wondered why she didn’t find it strange that Michael and I never had a car– but that’s perfectly normal where she comes from.
“We never had a car, even with all of these kids. We never needed one. Sometimes we took cabs, but not always. What you do in Ukraine, is you go and stand on the street corner doing this–” Nataly lifted her open hand, palm-up, and made a beckoning gesture– “And eventually a car stops and you say where you need to go, and then you negotiate a price. I always told the kids not to speak in the car, because if they accidentally spoke English the driver would know we were Americans, and raise the price. Sometimes they’d ask about our accents; they’d say ‘are you Polish?’ and we’d say ‘Well, we’re from the West.'”
Nataly also wasn’t surprised when she found out that, up until recently, we didn’t have a dryer, nor were there any screens on the windows of our cavernous old rental house. “We didn’t have a dryer in Ukraine either. We got really good at hanging sheets over the radiator to get them dry quickly. We didn’t have screens on the windows in Ukraine. I stapled mosquito netting over the children’s beds, in summer.”
Perhaps the reason everyone thinks I’m odd in Steubenville, is that I’m actually Ukrainian and never knew.
Then again, I’m alien to Ukrainians as well. Nataly did seem surprised when I admitted that I’d gone to Liturgy at local Orthodox churches a few times.
“Were they… were they nice about it?” she asked cautiously. Because, they wouldn’t be in Ukraine. Relations between Uniates and Orthodox in that part of Europe are something I don’t even pretend to understand, but it’s not like here.
I admitted I didn’t introduce myself or try to receive Holy Communion; I just sat in the back, made a spiritual communion and prayed for unity.
“I’ve… I’ve had Orthodox people be hostile to me,” she said a little cautiously, as if there was more to say but she didn’t dare.Later on, she dared.
They were living in Chernihiv. Her son had had a fall and hurt his head badly; he was in a local hospital.
“They were torturing him,” said Nataly, not going into detail. I get the impression that Ukrainian hospitals are something else about which I’m blissfully ignorant. “I had to check him out. They said I couldn’t because there was blood puddling behind his eardrum and he’d lose his hearing for life, but I checked him out anyway. I had to.”
They caught a cab outside the hospital. Apparently chatting with cab drivers is another thing that’s customary in Ukraine, and getting religious advice from cab drivers isn’t unheard of either. Because after the cab driver listened to what happened to Nataly’s son, he suggested they go to the local Orthodox church where the incorrupt body of Saint Theodosy was visiting. The cab driver said that Saint Theodosy’s body was known for healing miracles in the Orthodox church, and Nataly ought to take her son there.
So, on the way home from the hospital, Nataly took her injured son to the church, to pray before the relics of Saint Theodosy.
There was an Orthodox nun at the door of the church. Nataly ventured to ask if she’d arrange for some liturgies to be said for her son’s healing.
The nun was perfectly willing, at first. “Where was he baptized?”
Nataly admitted they were Catholic.
The Nun’s face turned angry. “We don’t pray for Catholics!” And she left without another word.
But she hadn’t told Nataly to leave.
Nataly took her son to the shrine where Saint Theodosy was lying; they prayed for some time.
They got back into the cab and went home.
Later that week, she took him to another hospital, where they found there was no blood behind the ear; he was completely healed.
I’m an oddball to any culture, Eastern or Western; equal parts a cynic and a believer in signs and wonders. It’s entirely possible that the torturous hospital in Chernihiv had been lying about the damage to Nataly’s son’s ear. It’s also possible the head injury cleared up on its own.
But I do believe that the Holy Ones in Heaven intervene on earth however they can. And I assume that when the children struggling on earth treat each other badly, the Holy Ones intervene all the more. It’s what I would do if I were a saint with an incorruptible body.
If I who am evil have some inkling of how to behave when people refuse to pray for one another, I suppose Saint Theodosy does as well.
(image via Pixabay)