Although I have been Orthodox most of my life, for a long time I didn't really believe in God; I thought He was some sort of fairy tale. Either that, or I didn't WANT to believe in Him - it seemed there was a lot of hardship and work involved, and I was just a lazy child. But I would soon learn the value of a life in Christ.
My mother was diagnosed with breast cancer when I was ten. I was upset, of course, but I thought she would have surgery and get rid of it. She did have a surgery, but it did not cure the cancer. She went through several different types of treatments, including chemo and special diets, but none of them worked. She grew sicker and sicker, until it got to the point that the doctors told her she had six months to live. She actually lived for a year after that.
Once my mother accepted that she was to die, she dedicated her every move to Christ. Although she was extremely weak, she would kneel by her bed for hours at a time, saying prayers of repentance. Our parish priest would come over to give her confession, and she would spend hours sincerely confessing many deep things. She was immersed in God's love and, although she was in great pain, she was very brave and strong in her love of Christ.
Towards the end, a doctor told our family about an experimental drug; few had tried it, but the cancer had been entirely cured in the few that had. I was overjoyed - perhaps my brave mother was not leaving me after all! But to my surprise, my mother refused the drug without a second thought. I was young and did not understand her decision at all, and I was even angry at it.
About two months later my mother died. For a long time after her death, the fact that my mother had refused that drug ate at my heart. About two years later I had the opportunity to visit an Orthodox monastery in California. I arrived late in the evening, during a church service. I walked in and was so overcome by the power in that small chapel that I began to cry. All of a sudden, I knew how real, beautiful and powerful God is... And then I realized why my mother didn't want the drug. She longed to be even closer to Him! And I can not blame her, for I, too, have the same desire. This has not been an easy conviction to come to, and I have wavered a lot, but I am still here, for I know there is a glorious end.
Grant rest, O Lord, to the soul of Thy handmaiden Charitina. Memory eternal!
Anastasia is an 18 year-old Orthodox Christian from a small town outside of Syracuse, New York, where she attends Sts. Sergius and Herman Orthodox Church. She will be attending Simmon's College in Boston this fall.