I was blessed to take Fr. Lazarus to some of his doctors appointments. On one particular visit, he went to see a new cancer doctor. The doctor asked him what kind of pain medication he was taking, explaining to me that often cancer patients would be on morphine.
Fr. Lazarus answer her, “An aspirin a day.”
She then said, “You have a cancer that is usually very painful… I mean what kind of pain medication for the cancer are you taking?”
Fr. Lazarus repeated, “An aspirin a day.”
She then turned to me and asked, “Father doesn’t understand… what kind of pain medication do you give him?”
I answered, “An aspirin a day.”
The doctor then sat down and said, “I don’t understand.”
Father Lazarus then stood up and said, “There are many things in this world that we will never understand.”
The doctor dismissed us saying that there was nothing for her to do but to call if there was a change.
Fr. L. would very rarely give me advice or express his opinion. Most of our time would be spent in silence or doing some chore together again in silence. I think I learned more from his actions and silence. He taught by what he did not by words.
He rarely would miss a service. He always went unless he was too ill which was rarely.
He always read his Gospels.
He kept silent.
He seemed to be deaf, dumb, and blind… but he also knew everything going on around him.
He kept a routine but would break it for someone in need.
He spent a good deal of time in his “cell”.
Several of us in the community would walk with Fr. L. on his Monastery Mile… especially on icy days to keep him safe from falling. More than once I slipped and he caught me!
I said to him, “Isn’t it funny… anyone watching would think that I am here to catch you… yet you catch me!”
I think by his prayers he caught most of us as we fell at St. Johns more than we will ever know.
My most fond memories are of sitting with him in complete silence. Sometimes he would lift his hands as in prayer. Even at dinner we ate in silence… he would pass me everything first so there was no need to ask for something. Occasionally we would dine out… these meals were in the same spirit of silence also.
It sounds odd to say… I remember the silence… but I do!
He would volunteer to go to the grocery store with me when I shopped for the Big House. He would say, “you need a donkey to push your cart!” He would follow me silently and obediently with the cart.
The night that he reposed… I was with him. It was my watch. We had to try to keep him as comfortable as we could… by wetting his lips with a q-tip and such. At about 3 am or so he was having difficulty breathing. I called Dn. Mark to help. After he calmed again Dn. Mark said, “he is asleep now… usually he will sleep for a few hours… you can either sleep on the couch or go home (next door) we will call you when he wakes.”
Dn. Mark went upstairs to bed. I sat for awhile in the room with Fr. L. in the dark. I didn’t want to leave. His breathing suddenly changed… he was no longer struggling as before… it was very calm… so noticeable that I almost wrote it down in the nurses diary that we kept. I decided to leave and rest. On the way home I remember telling God that I could not endure this any more that I didn’t think I could watch him struggle any longer. Sever hours later… Dianne came to wake me to tell me that Fr. L. had died.
Dianne and I both were concerned that no one was with him that night. He was alone the 2 hours that had transpired since I had left. During the whole preceding week when he needed us he would make some noise (as he was unable to talk) and would be looking at the door for us to come in. Dianne said that when she found him that morning he was not looking for us at the door… he was looking at the icon of the Mother of God that Robyn had placed in his room next to his bed. I believe that the Theotokos was there to take him!!!!
[Side note: When the crew was digging his grave there were 3 eagles that circled over head that day for several hours!!!]
Even though he couldn’t speak the last week or even move… when we came to sing to him or to sit he would produce a tear that would roll down his cheek… he was radiant.
He tried and tried to make us understand that he wanted something… it took awhile to get it. Finally Dianne handed him his paramount and his prayer rope. He held these two things until he died… for almost a whole week.
Again the same week I stopped to spend a little time reading to him. I was getting ready to leave after a while. I pulled the covers up to tuck him in. He acted as if he couldn’t see. He took my right hand and ask me what it was. I told him it was my hand. With much effort as he was very weak, he raised himself up a little and kissed my hand. Then he gently pushed it away and said, “There… now we can send her on her way.” I was taken by surprise. I couldn’t move at first. He was not one to show any affection… not like this anyways. I did not and still do not understand this. Dianne came in at that moment which broke the eternity which I felt like I had slipped into. I told her that what he had done… that I didn’t think that he knew what he was doing… she disagreed telling me that she thought he knew exactly what he was doing.
During one of our last few evenings before he suffered the last series of strokes, I came to him and ask him to forgive me and to pray for me when he arrived in heaven. I remember him replying, “you pray for me… God forgives all.”
It was a very cold November day. I couldn’t get warm all day. I sat there at his bedside. We sat in silence for a while. Then I ask him, “Fr. L. … how do you know that the Holy Spirit is present?”
He layed there silently. I thought he didn’t hear me. He then turned and looked directly at me and ask me, “are you cold now?”
I hadn’t told him that I was cold… but I suddenly became aware that I was wonderfully warm and peaceful. I was not aware of the change till he had ask me. Much the same as no(w) retelling this story… I am still in awe. Peace seemed to radiate from him. We again sat in silence… I did not want the moment to end.
Perpetual Embers: A Chronicle Of ROCOR’s Missionary Efforts In India
By Monk Theodore (Stanway), available at Orthochristian.com
Part 1 / Part 2 / Part 3