My Faith, My Church
My Generation

We began with the opening prayers in Artem, Vika, and Ghenia’s room. Artem got really excited that we were all in his room to pray with him and his roommates. In the doorway was Seriozha, another kid who really enjoys praying and our church services, peeking his head in to see what we were doing. After the beginning prayers, Bishop Daniel and the team members went from room to room to anoint each child. Bishop Daniel gave each team member a stack of icon cards to hand out to each child as they were anointed. Somehow, I ended up with most of the icons, and I made sure that every child got one. Most kids were in their bed for the night, so I either handed them the icon or stuck it behind their pillow. As I handed out each icon card, I leaned over to give the kid laying there a good night kiss. I told them that I loved them and said good night.

It was a peculiar feeling as we went room to room because the kids were actually well behaved and calm, contrary to what I had anticipated. They were lying in their beds, and only the hallway light was shining into the bedrooms. As I kissed the kids I could smell the sweet, perfumed holy oil on them. The calm mood, dim lighting, and fragrant scent was a very different experience in the kids’ rooms, compared to the bright, unrestrained and often wild playtime during the day. When we got to the last room, the lights were on and some girls were struggling with the nanny because they didn’t want to go to bed. Shura, an older girl at the orphanage, asked Bishop Daniel (in Ukrainian) if I could be her Godmother.

She went with us to the monastery earlier that day, and later she heard that we were going to have baptisms the next day. When Bishop Daniel translated to me what she said, I was taken aback and wondered, “why me?” I looked at her, and she had this urgent look in her eye that made me realize that deep down, she really wanted a Godmother. At the time, we didn’t even know if she had been baptized before or not, and Bishop Daniel told Shura that we would have to check if she had already been baptized.

After Bishop Daniel anointed all the children, the team members left the last bedroom. Since I was still handing out icon cards I was the last team member in the room. Before I could leave, Oksana, a girl at the orphanage, came up to me and gave me a hug, and she wouldn’t let me go.

Normally, Oksana is fickle—she always wants your attention, but if you don’t pay attention to her completely, she gets upset, pouts, and stomps off. She’ll then ignore you, as if to say “see how it is when I do it to you?!” Now, Oksana had latched on and would not let go. The nanny rushed over and yelled at Oksana. At first, I thought the nanny was upset because Oksana needed to go to bed, but then I realized that the nanny thought I didn’t want Oksana to hug me. When I tried to tell the nanny that I was okay, she was hesitant, but then she stepped back. I could tell that if Oksana let her guard down and really wanted to stand there hugging me, a huge barrier had been broken—and that I should stand there and just hug her back. This was a simple moment, but a significant one for both Oksana and myself. After a few moments, I began to walk with Oksana wrapped around me towards her bed, and eventually she loosened her grip and let me go.

After Oksana let me go, I slid out of the room before the other children noticed that I had gone. As I walked down the hallway towards the rest of the team members, I thought about the events of the evening. The calm children and good night kisses, Shura’s request for me to be her Godmother, and Oksana’s attachment to me surprised me that night. The kids in the orphanages are simply that: kids.

They want (and need) the same things as children everywhere. I kissed about 85 kids good night and tucked them in, just as had been done for me every night as a kid. I realized how normal these children’s desires are, even though they might look different, talk a little different, and maybe can’t leave their wheelchairs or beds. They’re children, all made in the image and likeness of God.

Young Adult - Pittsburgh, PA
Expect the Unexpected . . . . by Lara Haluszczak
You never know what to expect when you wake up each morning at the orphanages. The best advice that I ever got was to always “expect the unexpected.” My experience during the service of Holy Unction was definitely far from anything that I could have expected. This year in Znamyanka, the children were anointed just before bedtime during the Mystery of Holy Unction service. I was concerned that this might b ea huge disruption because it is often difficult for the nannies to calm the children.