LETTER FROM FR ANDREY KACHINSKY
Some time has gone by now and I want to try to put this on paper -
all that has happened - and once more analyse that which I told the
bishop, my matushka [priest's wife], my priest-friends, other friends
and my congregation.
In a priest's family everyone serves, but everyone has their own
ministry, their own sacrifices to make - the matushka, the children.
The enemy of mankind is not always able to attack the priest, who is
covered by the grace of the priesthood, and so he launches his
attacks on the members of the priest's family, on his dearest and
Two and a half years ago I, being from Moscow, was ordained as the
priest for the church of St. Dimitri Rostovski, in the village of
Vyazovskoe in the diocese of Ivanovo - one of the poorest in Russia.
Why here? God knows, I did my utmost not to let my own human desires
influence God's plan for my life. And so it happened: a village with
10 houses (with only 4 permanently occupied).
No roof over my head, no shops, no school, across the road - the
municipal rubbish dump (fumes, stench, homeless people and dogs), no
one greets me, nobody has any money, I am almost 40 and I have two
small children, matushka and our families are in shock.
Initially I slept in the car. I would drive to the monastery in
Ivanovo to eat, wash and use the toilet. I prayed: "Lord, You have
sent me here, so that means I must trust in Your holy will. Help my
family to be here. Work in people's hearts to provide me with
financial support so that I can continue in this." There where no
windows left in the church and the walls were in a very bad state,
but there was a ceiling (albeit leaky), a crude floor and the minimum
required vessels and literature for a church - I could start a
service. I had a constant, real feeling: God is right next to me,
with His constant support and help!
Already after two months my little daughter (who has now passed on)
Sashenka (Alexandra, 5 years old, named in honour of Tsarina
Alexandra Feodorovna, wife of Tsar Nicholas II, glorified with their
children as holy martyrs; It is important to mention that the winter
chapel of the Church of St. Dimitri Rostovski was sanctified in
honour of the martyr-Tsar St. Nicholas.) She discovered a new world.
Within three days she had not only kissed all the cats and dogs, but
also all the frogs, grasshoppers, worms and spiders she could get
into her hands - she was showing them her love. (Sometimes I notice
the tear stains on the paper ... now I have a keyboard). She picked
flowers to put in the church for the service, assisted as cantor
during the services
(and managed it too!), woke up with me and did not want to leave. She
was my first and faithful helper.
Today, in fact by January 2004, it is warm and cosy in the church,
there are proper glass widows, a baptismal font for full immersion,
and two houses: a smaller one for the priest's family and a bigger
guest house (the houses need repair, but are inhabitable), a garage
and we were trying to keep goats. Sashenka went to school, the first
class, and at the parent-teachers meet- ing, I was elected as the
chairman of the parents' committee (a priest!).
Subsequently I was nominated to be on the regional parents' committee
(naturally I accepted - what a chance to bring Christianity into the
educational process). We organised a Christmas tree for the
schoolchildren with free presents. The local regional newspaper
started devoting a page to the Russian Orthodox Church in each issue,
where I wrote the articles. People from nearby towns started coming
to the services and in town people began to recognise and greet me,
and approach me with questions and requests. This does not mean to
say that life was easy and care-free - the enemy was always on the
prowl, but with God's help everything was working out. The first
serious attack came on the day after my first newspaper article was
published in the new "Candle" (Svecha) column. I had come with the
children to the paper to submit my next (second) article. We
discussed it and were happy to get off to a good start. On the way
out Misha (my
4-year-old son) suddenly started crying, almost screaming, his
stomach had suddenly become bloated.
I do not wish anyone to experience the level of emergency medical
care in remote Russia, especially when it comes to their attitude to
patients. The ordeal lasted about an hour, with Sashenka and me
praying as we could, and Misha screaming with pain - he could not
even understand what I wanted from him, asking, "Misha, pray!" At
some point in time I managed to convince him to repeat after
me, "Lord, help!" The pain started to subside and after 10 minutes a
smiling Misha was running around the ward with an astounded doctor
Christmas passed (how joyful - there were 21 people in the church for
the night service), as did the Feast of Theophany
(Kreshchenie). There were 27 people: we filled the baptismal font
with water, blessed it and got into the water - it was warm in the
church. How much joy and gladness there was! Ahead lies the Feast of
Remembrance of the Russian Neo-martyrs [from the Russian Revolution]
and Confessors. I consider this to be one of the foundational feasts
of our church. It is Sashenka's 'little name- day'. The newspaper
asks for an article, and I explain that this subject is far too vast
to cover on a single page. They insist - I concede. For several days
I attempt to formulate and construct an article - but to no avail:
it's just too vast. I can't write an article - I could write a book.
The deadline approaches, I have to write something - I put the
children to bed, pray, surround myself with books and begin to write.
Around dawn I come to: it is a four page article, although I
shortened it as much as I possibly could. I think about it for
another day and on January
22 I take the children and we drive to the paper. We have plenty to
do - we are going to Moscow tomorrow - there matushka is wait- ing
for us (she has been submitting work in Moscow) , the grandmothers,
and, of course, I have a mountain of tasks: people are waiting, and I
need to organise some financial support - Mos- cow is our bread-
winner - as the church needs are increasing: roof, foundation,
At the paper they say, "too long!". I answer, "I can't write less!
Make a plan."
They suggest doing a special issue. The paper will be published as
usual and the special issue will be entirely devoted to my topic. We
discuss everything and return to the village with great joy to pick
up our things.
The morning of January 23 was sunny with decent sub-zero temperature
outside and the bluest, cloudless sky. The church shimmering, our
hearts joyful to see matushka soon!
Before setting off, as always, we went into the church to pray before
our journey. We each kissed the icons - no shadow of doubt in our
hearts, no regrets. We got into the car and drove off, deciding to
take the road through Rostov - quiet and very beautiful - we loved
that road. Surprisingly enough, the children behaved themselves, no
squabbling. Sashenka and I were enthralled by the surrounding beauty
and she kept on repeating the words I had said, "Look how lovely God
has made everything for us and given us this beautiful road!" She
kept on asking me how we will look at the resurrection, and whether
we will recognise one another, and meet up after death. So happily
did we drive on into the town of Great Rostov.
A straight road along the outskirts - the main road to Moscow.
(How terrible it is to once again relive all this, but I have to -
maybe this time I will eventually understand: could I have reacted
any differently in that situation? Could my little girl have lived?
Although I understand perfectly well that neither was it just an
accident, nor just a death).
The road is empty - only us and a milk-truck approaching from the
opposite direction. The corresponding speed for a straight and smooth
road with no junctions or exits. And there right in front of us the
milk-truck suddenly turns 90 degrees across our path, blocking us
off! ... Time slowed down, and I can clearly see the wheels of the
truck, he was turning and cutting us off! But there are no turnoffs!
I hit the brakes, but everything is far too unexpected and far too
close. Impact, pouring glass, screams, steam clouds, I am locked in
from all sides, I cannot move or undo my seat belt, a bloody Misha is
screaming on the backseat, and on my shoulder - my beautiful little
girl - eyes closed, from her head pours a stream of blood over me.
Later ... I was in that same podrasnik (cassock) - I had no chance to
change - until the very funeral.
Everything happened on Friday; on Saturday morning I took the body
back to the village for the funeral. On arrival we started the Sunday
Vigil service. Through the night we read the Psalms in the church,
and only before the Liturgy did I get the chance to put on another
podrasnik. We spread my blood-stained podrasnik on the bottom of the
grave, under the coffin.
While I was taken out of the intensive-care ward, Misha was brought
to me - broken arm, cracked jaw, covered in blood from the multiple
lacerations to his face and arms, but, praise God, in a stable
condition. We were put into a ward where Misha got an injection and
Some kind souls asked how they could help and I asked if they could
get my priest-case from the vehicle.
When they returned, I heard that my car had been towed to the nearest
monastery. "Which monastery?" I asked.
"The monastery of St. Dimitri Rostovski", came the answer. From that
instant on, everything became clear, everything slotted into a clear,
logical scheme: ordination - assignment - humbling - revival at the
church - the school - the newspaper - Misha's ill- ness after my
first article - the first such article taking up an ENTIRE paper, the
first in that newspaper and in that region on SUCH a topic - that
truck - the name of the saint on whose canonical territory all this
had happened, and in the church where I have been destined to serve,
and Sashenka to help me. It is me that should have died, that attack
was launched at me, but my church-loving, prayer-loving - loving to
pray for others, loving to read children's books about God, church
and angels - so very helpful to me in the church and as my cantor,
whole- heartedly loving me - 6-year-old daughter took this blow upon
herself. (As it happened I met the driver of the milk-truck when we
were being tested for alcohol in our blood. He was unscathed. He
answered my question simply: "Aquaplaning". I did not want to get
into a discussion about how a heavy truck travelling along a
straight, smooth-surfaced road with no side-roads cannot aquaplane -
that is difficult to believe, and furthermore I saw his wheels - he
was turning! A traffic officer I am acquainted with explained to me
that the truck could aquaplane if the cistern was not full, due to
the mass of the milk shifting about. A truck-driver must take this
into account, but what about his wheels? Of course, that will not
hold up in court.)
After having got my priest-case, I knocked on the door of the
intensive care ward and asked for permission to pray next to my
daughter. The doctors answered my questions as to her condition were
carefully and gently, but ensured me that Sashenka had suffered an
extremely severe trauma to skull and brain and that life after this
was impossible. Sashenka's situation was hopeless but I am a priest
and I know how boundless the love and mercy of God can be - I have
felt it so many times myself! And so many times I have seen the proof
of it in the lives of others!
I entered the ward. That little body, every curve, every freckle and
scratch which I knew so well - it had been my duty to bath the
children - was now lying there bloodstained connected to electrodes
with no hope from the side of the doctors. First of all I blessed by
little daughter with the priest's blessing. Suddenly something
happened that I only understood later. She somehow twitched and then
relaxed. "Isn't she dead?" I thought to myself, and took some oil out
of my priest-case that was over from the last sacrament of the sick
and anointed her with the sign of the cross on her forehead. Then I
wiped some holy water [from the feast of Baptism] on her little chest
and started a prayer, constantly breaking off into tears.
Having finished the prayer, I left for my son's ward. He was sleeping
deeply and peacefully and I returned to the intensive care ward to my
little girl. The nurses were inside and all the instruments had been
disconnected. They were wiping the dry blood of the body with damp
cloths. "That's it?" I asked and they nodded silently. Again I put on
my epitrachelion [stole] and got my case, and again - constantly
breaking into weeping - I began to sing, but this time a "Panigida"
After the "Panigida" I exited into the corridor to the
nurses. "That's all", I told them.
They all looked very shaken, some were crying. "Father, we didn't
want to tell you, but she was already dead when you prayed the first
time." Then I realised: MY DEARS! THE DEAD DON'T TWITCH! THIS MEANS,
HER SOUL HAD NOT LEFT HER BODY, AWAITING MY BLESSING!!! My baby girl,
my beautiful, I put so much effort into teaching you that you can't
do anything without your parents' permission, without their blessing.
So you didn't even die until I had blessed you, as I had blessed you
every evening before youwent to sleep! How obedient you have become,
my little girl.
It was about 6 o'clock in the evening. I had warned my wife on the
telephone and she was by then well on her way. I called the
monastery, introduced myself and explained what had happened. They
had already found out about everything and promised to prepare a
coffin and cross overnight and to provide me with a car. I returned
to my son's ward. He was awake. "Sasha died", I did not hide it.
"Is she in heaven now?" asked my 4-year-old son, understanding
everything. I would go on to have the same conversation with my wife -
at that time she did not yet know about the death. We still had to
cross that bridge.
When the time came to take my daughter's body to the morgue, I asked
if I could do it myself. As I stood - in my epitrachelion, cuffs and
cross - I moved the body onto the trolley and wheeled it rattling
across the dark, frozen street into the morgue, and then myself
having moved it onto the table in the morgue, covered it with a sheet
and left it for the night.
In the morning I set of for the monastery to find out about the
coffin and the car. I inspected my own vehicle and was horrified -
the cab was heavily deformed from the head-on collision and the
plastic, inner lining had cracked and splintered into what resembled
knives, their blades pointed into the cab. Some of those 'blades' had
blood on them. I went around to the driver's
(my) side. I am 41 years old, an engineer, I have over ten years
driving experience, and I have been witness to various situations,
but I looked at the driver's seat and I could not understand why or
how I was still alive!
Later, at the morgue, when we were placing my little daughter's body
into the coffin (Lord, save and have mercy on Your servant, the elder-
monk Sergey, who in one night fashioned a beautiful coffin lining for
a little girl with sky-blue and white flowers, and Your servant
Anatoly, who helped to transport, dress and prepare my little girl's
body, and also Your servant the monk Vasily who organised everything
and the abbot Serafim who blessed everything. Help them, Lord!), I
saw one more proof. To determine the cause of death, the pathologist
had had to cut some of the hair from my daughter's crown, and I saw
wounds like those from bayonets. Then I recalled the plastic 'knives'
in the cab. I remembered that in the article I had written about how
Red-Army soldiers had killed and plunged bayonets into the head of
the holy martyr Vladimir, Metropolitan of Kiev and Galitsia, and how
the Tsar's family had been bayoneted to make sure they were dead
after having been shot. Everything finally stood in its place - a
demon cannot come up with anything new. I rang the bishop and he
thoroughly confirmed my suspicions, "Be strong, Father Andrey, this
is a very serious attack. The devil has actually hit you", and he
gave his blessing for the grave to be dug behind the altar of the
church - the church for which she had, at 6-years-old, managed to do
When we were digging the grave, at the required depth we came across
evidence of a former (less than 100 years old) burial. The wood of
the coffin had been preserved and the size of the bones indicated a
child of similar age to Sasha. The little bones were yellow and had
been beautifully preserved showing no signs of decay. We lowered the
coffin into the grave. Some old people recall that on the same spot
(behind and to the right of the altar) priests and their family
members were buried, and that there were many beautiful gravestones.
The church was full for the funeral. The entire school, both teachers
and pupils alike, attended. All our family from Moscow came, as did
people from St. Daniel's monastery. All the priests I know from the
area, and many other friends and acquaintances, arrived to share in
our grief. The deputy mayor of Furmanov and chairman of the regional
educational [primary & secondary] department came with flowers.
Condolences where printed in the newspaper, broadcast on radio and
local TV. There were so many flowers that they could not all fit into
the grave, and Sasha was smiling. I can still picture that light,
happy smile. It was not there in the intensive care ward, nor at the
morgue - it appeared when we opened the coffin in the church and
began to dress and decorate the body of my little daughter.
I feel I need to ask for forgiveness for going into so much detail,
for the many insignificant details, for involuntarily placing part of
my burden on you [the reader], but you know: grief, shared with
someone close, is halved - but joy is doubled, and you (those known
and unknown to me) - you are so many, so help me.
Furthermore, I want to state that I believe this was no coincidence,
but a clear demonic attack, where I was supposed to be killed.
However, our All-Gracious and Merciful Lord decided differently: that
it would be better and more beneficial for me not to die, but to stay
and to have an Angel - my little daughter who loves me so much - as
helper and protector. Try and imagine, what a wonderful helper God
has destined me to have! I remember the day, the first time my
daughter peeled a whole pot of potatoes, washed them, we put them on
the stove and ate them for supper while congratulating her. I
remember how she learned to do the dishes and, from then on, often
washed up. I remember how we carried firewood into the church for the
service. I remember so many more things - it was all invaluable help,
but it was human help. My little girl, how much more you can help us
Going over all that has happened, my wife and I have come to the
conclusion that Sasha had already started to prepare herself for
this, half a year in advance. In her conversation, she started to
identify herself with angels and ask many questions about death,
resurrection, heaven and angels. She began to go to confession, and
her confessions were a source of great comfort to me. These were the
confessions of a church-going, serious and responsible Christian, as
expressed by a child. I treasure all those bits of paper she used,
written in large, untidy, children's handwriting. Do you know what
she most liked drawing, and most often drew, in her last three
months? Fields with flowers and birds and other things that little
girls love, churches, angels, the Holy Spirit as a dove, the cross of
Jesus, the chalice with His Blood, church candelabras with burning
candles - she was drawing the place where 'everything that breathes
praises the Lord!' [Ps.150:6]. The final decision was, evidently,
made "in Heaven" three days prior to the event, and my little
daughter joyfully consented to it. I want to reiterate that we came
to this conclusion after careful examination of the events and
conversations we had had, leading up to the accident. We are
perfectly aware of the dangers of falling into "super-spirituality"
[spiritual delight/charm]. I believe that the article on the "Russian
Neo-martyrs and Confessors" sparked a revenge motive, and Sasha -
named in honour of St. Tsarina Alexandra Feodorovna - died for the
memory of the Neo-martyrs, and that means she will share in their
glory. The bishop told Marina (my matushka) and me: "Without doubt,
she is holy and, maybe one day, we will get her relics from the grave
and place them in the church".
It goes without saying that, while understanding all this as a
priest, I am - we all are, to be precise - overcome with grief! We
miss her so much. We need her so much. If it was not for our God -
All-Gracious Love-God - and our faith in Him, in His works - I
shudder to think what could become of us. For this reason we ask for
your prayers to strengthen us in doing God's will, and we in turn
will pray for you at every service as we proclaim, "... and for all
those who do us good, making sacrifices for us, who bless us ...".
GLORY BE TO OUR GOD, NOW AND FOREVER, AND UNTO THE AGES OF AGES!
for "Zdravie" [health]
Priest Andrey, Marina, Infant Michael