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MERCY AND COMPASSION

As you did unto one of these My lesser brothers, so you did unto Me,” said Christ in one of His sermons (Matt. 25:40). Helping the needy and the sick is a Christian’s first duty. This appeal by the Russian magazine Ogonyok is one of the most striking: “SAVE THE RUSSIAN CHILDREN!”

Our parish has responded enthusiastically to this appeal on the initiative of our parishioner Mrs. R. I. Kolesnikova. Nikolai Mikhailovich Kolesnikov and his wife Raisa Iliynichna used to live in Moscow. They were Orthodox Christians at a time when worship of God was considered almost a crime in the USSR; to avoid unwanted attention and persecution, the Kolesnikovs chose to attend a small church located just outside of Moscow. Its rector was that remarkable priest, the world-famous theology and author Fr. Alexander Men. The Kolesnikovs immigrated to Canada, settled in Vancouver and stayed in correspondence with Fr. Alexander.

The Miloserdiye Group of the Sretenskaya Church offered help to the Children’s Hospital in Moscow. Fr. Alexander informed Mrs. Kolesnikov of the Hospital’s needs, and she started acting very energetically. She organized a Miloserdiye Group under the aegis of the Russian Orthodox Society, contacted local hospitals, medical suppliers and charitable organizations, and soon the first parcels were sent to Russia. The murder of Fr. Alexander slowed down the Group’s work for a while, but its members determined to continue the charitable work started by the great priest.

The Mercy and Compassion group grew. The church treasurer Olga Petrovna Fetisova offered her services free of charge. Raissa Ilyinichna organized collections in church, music students and Russian actors started doing benefit concerts in the church hall, raising $9,000 on average. Raissa Ilyinichna is an incorrigible optimist; fond of saying “The Lord will help us”. Even in the most difficult of moments she never despairs. “One day I went to church, knowing we only had $200 left, and in Moscow they were waiting anxiously for the next shipment of medicines. I was gripped with anxiety until I said to myself: “The Lord will provide”. In church they gave me an envelope containing a cheque for $1,000 from the Diocese of Canada. They have no money to spare, but good deeds take priority.” Several parishioners made generous donations.

Another gift from God is the support of the Red Cross of Canada and the international charitable organization Global Relief Fund. They donated standard medical supplies, a dentist suite complete with computer, medicines, clothes, peas, lentils, chocolates, and toys. The Red Cross gave $50,000 worth of single-use catheters, and a blood-testing laboratory. The partners in Russia include the Mercy group of the Sts. Cosmas & Damian Church, the charity Gnosis and the Fr. Alexander Men Foundation. Besides hospitals, aid is now distributed to several other parishes and monasteries in Moscow, Moscow Region and other cities in Russia.

Especially productive is the contact with the Universal Aid Society. The UAS donated a container of disinfections powder. It arrived in Moscow in September 1994, just as the first cases of cholera were recorded in the city. The powder went immediately to every hospital in Moscow. An equally timely shipment was that of antibiotic plaster bands that went straight to the war zone in Chechnya. Ten 40-foot containers were sent to Russia since 1994; the total value of the aid exceeded $3,000,000.

I love to visit schools, says Mrs. Kolesnikova. I tell the Vancouver schoolchildren about the dreadful conditions in which children are in the hospital. Their mothers sleep on the floor right there in the rooms, wash the laundry in sinks and hang it to dry over the heads of the dying children. The hospital is short on medicines; it has no money for toys or fruit. More often than not, the school’s administration writes a cheque. The next day the children bring lots of toys, almost brand new for the most part. I thank them all. I say that the toys will be a great joy and relief for the ill children. Your aid is important not just to those hapless children, but to yourselves as well, because you become kinder, better yourself when you empathies with others and wish to share what you have”.