The Lord sometimes arranges things so that when a person appeals to someone with a request, in the end he receives something completely different, but much more important. That happened to me: now I don’t even remember why I called one of the most senior priests of the Russian Church in the USA, Fr George Larin. It turned out that I heard an answer to a question that had concerned me for several years-ever since my son fell seriously ill.
Thank God my child recovered long ago. But the question remained with me: why does the Lord allow children to die? In today’s pandemic the question might resound even more: why does He allow any death, sickness, suffering? The wise father unwittingly provided the answer-not his own, by the way, but the response he had heard from the lips of St John of Shanghai and San Francisco, whom he knew very well during his childhood in Shanghai.
At first, Fr George began telling me how someone once asked him to pray for an infant who seemed to be suffering greatly from the coronavirus. Only later I understood that the priest was actually asking me to pray for this boy. To be honest, the thought of it really got to me.
Then the priest told me how as a boy he asked Bishop John (Maximovitch), whom he often visited in his room, why God allowed the Bethlehem children to die and didn’t save them from King Herod, who sought thereby to eliminate Christ. Here is his story:
Without Vladyka I Could Have Had a Different Life, and I Would Have Regretted It
Vladyka John inspired me since my childhood that everything on earth pales in comparison with what God prepared for those who love Him. When I left Shanghai to Australia and began to establish my lay life, he wrote to me: “When you were a child, you understood everything well, but now you are forgetting. But life will pass, and in your old age you will regret that you did not follow the desire of your young heart and did not serve the Church.”
He foresaw that I would have been greatly disappointed by not serving the Church. Sometimes I think glory to You, Lord, that everything turned out as it did, and I was not disappointed.
I keep all of his letters to this day. Had Vladyka not been there, I would be living today somewhere in Australia, in my own townhouse, living large, but I would have regretted choosing that path.
Children Became the First Martyrs for Christ
I began visiting Vladyka after making my first confession at 7 years old, while still in kindergarten at a Catholic school in Shanghai. Of course, I was very little at the time, but he already explained to me the difference between Catholicism and Orthodox Christianity.
When I was troubled with the question of why God allows the murder of children, when He could stop it, Vladyka answered me very well. Of course, today, having lived out my life, I understand that God can do everything Himself. He created mankind so that he could come to love Him and be with Him eternally in His Kingdom. But the Lord granted us the right of choice, He created us for eternal, not temporal, life.
Vladyka explained to me that had the Lord prevented King Herod from murdering those children, then some 30 years later they could have by Judaic tradition come to Jerusalem and witnessed the Crucifixion of Christ. Of course, many Jews did believe in Jesus, becoming His disciples and then transformed through their preaching the entire Roman Empire and the whole world, dying a martyric death for Him. But most didn’t accept Christ as the Messiah after all.
I even remember Vladyka’s face when he explained all of this to me. He said that these people could likewise have been on the square when Pilate presented Christ to the mob and might have shouted: “Crucify Him!” The Lord arranged it so that instead of murderers, they became martyrs for Christ.
That conversation taught me a lot. I understood this to be Divine Providence, that It must be accepted. I didn’t even know that expression, but understood that God directs the world that He Himself created.
The Father Didn’t Understand That His Daughter Became an Angel
In my life, there were other instances that bore witness to this. For instance, in Shanghai, my parents were friends with a family whose daughter was about my age. During the Japanese Occupation in World War II, Americans would bomb military installations in the city, and we had to descend into the bomb shelter in the basement of our building.
Bombs usually did not hit our neighborhood, but when the Japanese would shoot at American planes, the shrapnel would fall, so it wasn’t possible to go out into the street. This girl somehow ran out into the yard near the house during the firefight, and a piece of shrapnel killed her.
My father would say that her father lost faith in God and stopped going to church. He didn’t understand that the Lord took his daughter in, and she became an angel in the Kingdom of Heaven. In his grief, this person could not understand that his daughter was in bliss and that in time he would see her again.
My parents would tell me about another instance in Russian history. One of the future Decembrists was very sick as a child and the mother asked God to preserve his life. An angel then appeared to her in a dream and showed what was to happen to him. She saw that her son was being led to the gallows, and the angel asked: Is this what you want? The mother responded: “I still want him to live.” God did not intervene, and this boy grew up and became one of the conspirators and was executed. (This was the story of Kondraty Ryleev, whose story was recounted by his mother in the journal “Historical Herald” in 1894-D.Z.).
The Story of the Infants of Bethlehem is Relevant Even Today
It seems to me that the Biblical story of Bethlehem Infants is very relevant to our day. I understand it this way: the Lord is displeased with what we do. We violate one of the main Commandments of God-do not commit adultery. People also commit abortions and violate other moral laws of God which are very important
When this happens, then even in nature something appears that we don’t understand.
For instance, when homosexuality spread in the world, we forgot that the Lord destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah for this very sin; we didn’t ponder the fact that sex is a sacred thing only between one man and one woman. Then the terrible plague struck-AIDS. And today’s virus would not have come had we lived according to Divine laws if we would have loved each other instead of deceiving one another.
No one knows how such things come to be, but the reason they do is in us. Of course, good people die of these causes, too. But this is not punishment, for the Lord takes them for Himself into the Kingdom of Heaven so that they become angels.