Invisible Surgeon: A Simple Miracle of St. Luke

Originally appeared at: Orthodox Christianity

It is rightfully said of the saints: Their works do follow them (Rev. 14:13). Sometimes, there will be a festive service to a saint, and afterwards you find out about the wondrous help that the saint gave to someone close to you. This is a story told to me by Fr. Sergei, whom I’ve known for a long time. There is something humorous and yet tragic in his story. But the most important thing is the spiritual meaning, which we will try to extract from what happened.

One time as a teenager Fr. Sergei was playing soccer and he suffered a small foot injury, and a lump formed on his toe. It didn’t really hurt anything. He was able to serve in the army, to study at seminary, and now to serve as a priest without any problems at all. But after a while, he felt that the bump was chafing against his shoe. It didn’t seem like a big deal, but since it was bothering him, and for the sake of comfort, he wanted to have the lump removed.

Fr. Sergei has many acquaintances, and one surgeon he knew examined the toe and said it was no problem. They said they’d do a simple cosmetic operation, there’d be no more bump, and the seeming discomfort would be gone. Given the simplicity of the operation, the surgeon had his assistant do it all. He performed the surgery, but it turns out he had severed an important tendon. They also didn’t know that an infection had somehow entered the wound.

Fr. Sergei and his surgeon friend were beyond surprised. If before he only seemed to have a problem with his toe, now he had a big one. It was painful to step on that foot. The inflammation was making itself known. They prescribed the patient strong antibiotics. Here I’ll reveal another secret—Fr. Sergei didn’t take any of the antibiotics. He wasn’t too concerned about the inflammation, because everything always somehow went away on its own. He put off taking care of his health for a while, in view of other matters and tasks that he considered to be more important.

As a result, he lost time. The inflammation spread to new tissue, affected the cartilage, and spread to the foot. One day, Fr. Sergei realized that he didn’t just have a problem, but that it was probably a very serious problem. He went back to the clinic. They took some x-rays and did an examination and some other tests. What Fr. Sergei heard shocked him to his very core:

“Unfortunately, it’s too late for the infection to be cleaned. You’re at risk of gangrene. We’ll have to amputate the toe and part of the foot. And there’s no time to waste.”

How could this be? It’s probably a mistake, he thought. I can’t just go under the knife now. He rushed to other clinics. But everywhere, even in the most expensive clinics, they said the same thing: They had to immediately amputate his toe, otherwise they’d have to amputate the leg later, or he would simply die. So the apparent discomfort with a minor lump snowballed into a real deadly threat. He couldn’t believe it and he kept going around to various doctors, calling on all his doctor acquaintances.

Finally, at a research institute in Moscow, after hearing about all his misadventures and wanderings to various medical centers, they gave him good news: “Hurry up and lie down. We have a chance to cure you without amputation.” He immediately agreed and lay down. They’d do some kind of surgery, maybe to clean the tissue, he assumed. But closer to evening the day before the surgery, the doctor came and said: “You know, since you’re a priest, I can’t lie to you. Tomorrow they’re going to amputate your toe.” It turns out that’s what they’d decided to do, without warning him, in order to save him from gangrene. The doctors simply had no other choice. They didn’t want him to get worse, leaving him to endless worrying and running around to various medical centers. When he found out what awaited him, Fr. Sergei could think of nothing better than to immediately run away.

What was driving him at that moment? That’s a rhetorical question. Let’s just say that we priests are people just like everyone else, with the same fears, doubts, and worries. Sometimes we don’t know the right thing to do. We believe that God won’t leave us, but what should be our next step so as not to sin—we don’t know. Sometimes we can’t even pray fervently and ask for something boldly. But despite all the twists and turns with his diseased leg, Fr. Sergei continued to celebrate the services. He continued to hear confessions, to commune people, and to preach. Although limping with one foot, he still walked the pastoral path that he devoted himself to with all his heart.

But also, and this is closer to the point, quite independently of the whole story with the hospital, he had ordered an icon of St. Luke (Voino-Yasenetsky) for his parish and asked for a particle of the relics of this holy healer. He didn’t make any kind of vow or plead for a miracle. He simply wanted to hang an icon of our renowned wonderworker in the church in time for his feast on June 11.

So, the icon was painted, and a piece of the relics were given. The relic holder was placed in the icon itself, and the icon was hung in the church. On the feast day, June 11, Fr. Sergei celebrated the Liturgy and a moleben to the saint; he read a prayer, sang the magnification together with everyone, and went up to the icon to venerate the holy relics. Everything was just like at the festal services everywhere. He didn’t want to think about his medical condition. He just prayed, without any anguish or hand-wringing. He prayed according to the prayers in the service book, in the prayer book, and in the Book of Needs. And the next morning, June 12, he woke up to discover something amazing.

There was absolutely no inflammation either on his toe or on his foot. It was like nothing had happened. At the same time, there were small stitches where the infection had been, as if an invisible surgeon had operated on him at night while he slept and saved him from possible gangrene and from imminent amputation. An examination confirmed that his foot and toe were healthy, and even the tendon damage was gone.

So that’s what happened to my friend Fr. Sergei. Wondrous are Thy works, O Lord!

The conclusion should probably be as follows: If you don’t have a serious problem, don’t create one for yourself. But if you’ve gotten yourself into the briar patch, don’t despair. Remember that we have the saints who stand before God in Heaven who see us and can, by the grace of God, lead us out of any dead-end situations in life.

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