In the 1990s, a certain charitable organization undertook to transport seriously ill children from the former Soviet Union to English hospitals for bone marrow transplantation. One day they brought a boy to the hospital hosting the scientific organization, where I was employed at that time. The boy was sick with leukaemia. Neither he nor his mother knew a word of English. Bone marrow transplantation is an extremely difficult and dangerous operation, requiring contact with the patient. To establish such a contact a volunteer interpreter was needed. I ventured to help. However, when I got to know the boy a little better, I realized what a terrible test it was going to be. Both the boy’s physique and his age reminded me of my own son, while his chance of surviving after the transplant was only 5%. Most likely, the boy was to die in agony, which made me terribly anxious.
It was after all-night vigil one day that I went up to our vicar bishop. I was drowning in tears as I told him about the boy. Apparently, my story was not entirely clear, because the bishop decided that it was about my son and asked me if I have tried speaking with Vladyka Anthony, who had “…such a powerful prayer!” The bishop also told me that he himself always turned to Metropolitan Anthony in difficult situations.
On the following day I was in the office library after Liturgy, talking to Father Michael Fortunato (priest and choir director at the London Cathedral of the Assumption of the Mother of God and All Saints, where Metropolitan Anthony served – Ed.). Suddenly the door opens, and the alarmed faces of the vicar bishop and Metropolitan Anthony appear. Vladyka Anthony beckoned me with his finger and asked, turning to Father Michael, “Can I take Lena away from you?” After we sat down in his room, he took my hands and asked me to tell him what had happened with my son. It was only then that I realized my mistake. “Vladyka, forgive me, I didn’t mean to have misled you” I said, but he paid no attention to that and repeated his request to tell him what had happened.
And so I told him about that boy, whom I wasn’t able to take my mind off. I shared with him that I didn’t know how I could take communion, because I was unable to say to God: “Thy will be done.”
Then Metropolitan Anthony leaned back in his chair and said, “You know, there are things to which there is no answer. When I think about such things, I can only turn to God. You should also put this question before Him.” And then he added, “We will pray for the boy also. Here, give him this small icon.”
Miracles are not accompanied by fireworks, which makes it easy to call everything that happened next “a pure coincidence”.
On the seventh day after transplantation, the process of mucosal rejection comes as no surprise for doctors. It inevitably causes terrible pain, especially in the throat and other sensitive places, often putting patients in need of strong pain-killers, such as morphine.
During one of the examinations that I was present at during these days, the doctor tried to get the boy to open his mouth and let himself be examined. He wanted to explain to the boy that he would do nothing more than shining a flashlight in his mouth. But the boy was bluntly refusing to show his mouth until suddenly he took a napkin, turned away and … spat out a piece of gum! Do you understand?! He did not have any pains at all; he was just embarrassed to show the gum!
He did use his 5% that time and survived. We stayed in touch with him for ten following years.
That was one of the rare occasions when I heard from Vladyka the words “We will pray.” He had a special attitude to prayer, making everything else recede into the background. His prayer was more real than reality. It created a feeling of incredible density, almost as if you could touch it with your hands.
Once we were sitting on a bench in the church, when I, as an aside, asked Vladyka to pray for me. I remember how he drew himself up and replied very seriously, “Never ask anyone to pray for yourself. You don’t know what that means.” These words burned me.
For a long time I could not understand what Vladyka meant, and it wasn’t until that incident with the boy that I understood what he wanted to say.
Vladyka could not pray for a person in the same “on a side” way as he was sometimes asked for it. If he began to pray for someone, he took upon himself that whole person and carried the entire burden of that person’s weaknesses, difficulties and unresolved problems on his back. It must be exhausting work to take on another person. But Metropolitan Anthony took that work upon himself. I know that he prayed for me and for many other people. He prayed until he had no more strength.
Translated by The Catalogue of Good Deeds