By St. Nikolai Velimirovich
You complain about loneliness in the middle of a big city. So many people around you seethe like an anthill, and you still feel like you are in the desert. On major holidays the situation is unbearable. Everywhere joy is overflowing, while you are being pushed towards sadness. The festive days of Christmas and Easter seem like empty containers that you fill with tears. When these holy feasts are far behind or ahead of you, you are calmer. But when they approach and come, grief and desolation conquer your soul.
What can I do for you? I will tell you the story of Joanna's Christmas, because perhaps it will benefit you. I will leave it to her to narrate it, just as she told it to me.
"For forty-something years I have seen this world as a woman. Never any joy, except a little as a child in the home of my parents. But before the world I didn't show I was sad. Before people I pretended to be joyful, and in my loneliness I wept. Everyone considered me a happy creature, since I showed as much. I would hear complaints all around me, from the married and the unmarried, the rich and the poor, everyone. And I thought: Why should I also complain to these miserable ones about my own misery, and just increase the sorrow around me? God, if I show myself happy I will be more useful in this unhappy world, but my secret I will hide within and I will cry in my loneliness.
I prayed to God to show Himself to me somehow, at least one of His fingers so I can feel. I prayed thus, in order to not disappear in my hidden sadness. From any income I gave to charity anywhere I had an opportunity. I would visit the sick and the orphans, and brought them joy from my own apparent joy. 'I believe in You, my good God,' I would frequently say, 'but I beg You, appear to me in some way, to believe in You more. I believe, Lord, help my unbelief' (Mk. 9:24). I would repeat these words from the Gospel. And indeed, I experienced the Lord's appearance to me.
Most difficult for me were the big holidays. After the Liturgy I would shut myself in my room and I cried the whole Christmas and Easter. But last Christmas God appeared to me. This happened as follows. The big day was approaching. I decided to prepare everything like my mother prepared for me: meat and pasta and deserts and everything else. 'May the Holy Trinity be merciful to the four corners of the earth.' While I did these things I prayed without ceasing: 'Lord, send me visitors, but especially the totally hungry and poor! I beg You, appear to me in this way.' Now and then I thought: 'Crazy Joanna, what visitors are you waiting for on Christmas? On this holy day everyone is in their own home. How will someone come and visit you?' And I cried and cried. But again I would repeat the prayer as I was preparing.
When I returned home from church on Christmas, I lit the candle and laid out the table. I put out all the food, and I began to walk back and forth in the room. 'My God, do not abandon me!' Again I prayed. Few passed by on the road. It was Christmas, and our road was deserted. But once the snow crackled under someone's feet, I flew to the door! 'Perhaps it is my visitor? It isn't.' This is how I passed my time. The afternoon came and went, and I was alone. I began to cry and scream: 'Now I see, Lord, that You have forsaken me altogether.' This is how I wept and I silently wept continuously!
Suddenly someone knocked on the door, and I heard voices: 'Give brother, give sister.' I quickly ran and opened the door. Before me stood a blind man with his guide, both hunched, ragged and frozen. 'Christ is born, my sirs!' I cried out merrily. 'Truly He is born!' they rattled with their teeth trembling. 'Mercy, sister, have mercy on us! We are not asking for money. From this morning nobody has offered us bread, some money or a glass of raki. We are very hungry." Because of my joy I was lifted up to the third heaven. I led them into my home and served them a full table. With tears of joy I served them. Intimidated they asked me: 'Why are you crying, miss?' 'Out of joy, my sirs, out of sheer and bright joy! That for which I prayed to God was given to me by God. I prayed to Him for a few days, to send me exactly the visitors such as you are, and behold, such He sent me. You did not come here by chance, but my good Lord sent you. Today He appeared to me through you. This is the most joyful Christmas of my life. Now I know that our God is alive. Glory to Him and thanksgiving!' They, my beloved visitors, responded, 'Amen'. I kept them till the evening, filled their bags and said goodbye."
Such was the previous Christmas of Joanna. Grant O God that this year it will be even more joyful. You also pray, daughter, that the heavenly Father will manifest Himself to you in some way - and God's ways are many - so that you may experience a miracle. Do not prepare for sadness on this big day, but prepare for joy. And He Who is All-seeing and All-merciful, will make you joyful.
Source: From Missionary Letters. Translated by John Sanidopoulos.