Sheepskin Coats: A heartwarming Christmas miracle story

Story by Bishop Panteleimon: Russian Orthodox Bishop of Orekhovo-Zuyevo and chairman of the Synodal Department for Church Charity and Social Ministry

In December of 1991, right before the New Year while I was sick, our community church council had gathered in my home to discuss certain matters. In that moment, we received a call from our local hospital and they asked us: “Was it you who ordered humanitarian aid? We have received a shipment of Sheepskin coats!”
I should mention that we had recently written letters to other countries in which we were asking for help because we did not have anything – nothing for the sisters, nothing for the sick, nothing for work and nothing for the church. Then I recalled that we requested warm coats for the sisters, so that they could use them in the winter to get around from one building to another. Therefore, I answered: “Yes, we were the ones who ordered them” to which they replied: “We thought so too but a different wing of the hospital was indicated”
Our sisters of mercy arrived to find quite a large shipment. The address that was indicated was indeed different from ours. We called the person in charge of hospital orders but she knew nothing about the coats. Therefore, everyone assumed that is was for us. The shipment came from Yugoslavia. We opened the truck and we found brand new sheepskin coats, four hundred of them! There was also five thousand pairs of new winter footwear and leather bags…

I was shocked – first of all, what would we do with all of them?! Secondly, we have no place to store all the clothing! Furthermore, during that time we were constantly being robbed – items that were usually stolen included icons and clothing. So if someone was to find out that we had something of this magnitude in our church - it would be carried away along with the church. So what to do?
We unloaded the shipment right into the church (since there were no other options). After all, while I was sick, there was no one else who would serve in the church. So I told our sisters to quickly make a list and to start giving out the coats. Moreover, we began to quickly give everything away.
Here is how Tatiana Filipova, the head sister of our sisterhood in honor of St. Dimitry recalls the event:
“One evening I received a call and was told to be in church the next day (I was working there at the time but took some time of because I got sick). I was told that we received humanitarian aid which need to be given out as soon as possible. When I came to church in the morning, I opened my mouth in amazement, and continued to walk around completely shocked from what I have seen. The entire church was completely filled with sheepskin coats, both for men and women, along with countless shoeboxes and bags. Everything was brand new. As it turns out the church guard received a call from the hospital about a shipment of humanitarian aid, which were supposedly intended for the church since the hospital order nothing of that sort. The guard verified requests and confirmed that these were some of the items that were ordered, including warm coats. A representative of the Moscow Patriarchate who was at customs at the time the humanitarian aid was crossing the boded, confirmed that the aid was non commercial and indeed humanitarian aid for the hospital church in honor of St.Dimitry. We received a blessing from Father Arkadi (now Bishop Panteleimon) and everything worked out, in other words the shipment was brought to us.

The following days we worked very hard to give everything out, since we needed to clear out the church space. Everyone ended up being dressed the same way, as if from an orphanage, but a very rich orphanage at that. This included all the poor priests, their wives, church parishioners, hospital workers and anyone needy… we also recoded everyone in a special book because we would need to give a strict report on the given humanitarian aid. In five days we gave away all the coats and leather bags two and a half thousand pairs of shoes out of a total of five thousand pairs. The remaining were carefully documented and stored away by our Sister Olga. My God bless her!”
…Here’s what happened afterwards. Once I was standing in church, in the hallway and I see two very angry men approaching me. I did not feel well just by looking at them.. They approach me and ask. “Was it you who unloaded the truck with coats and footwear?!” I answer “It was us”. – To which they reply “ How dare you?! It was our truck! It was our merchandise!”
As it turns out that the address was actually correct, but no one in the hospital knew that the same building also housed a firm from Caucasus. Back then it was common to have some odd firms located under the same address as the hospital. So one such firm decided to avoid paying customs fees and disguise the shipment from Yugoslavia as humanitarian aid. They ask where the merchandise is and we reply that we have given most of it away but we have a full list. But they replied that they don’t need used coats.

And so this is how we were able to dress everyone in need in wonderful coats and shoes. The men eventually billed the patriarchy for 200 thousand dollars. I was asked to write a letter to the patriarch explaining the situation. I remember how together with one of the sisters we were putting together the letter. For the entire year whenever would I run into the patriarch he would ask me “So how are those sheepskin coats?
One time I was walking the hospital with one of the sisters of mercy, who was wearing that same coat. And we passed the two men from the Caucasus firm and we could hear them talking “There go our sheepskin coat”.

So that is how the story ended. Our parish and community was just starting out, the sisters of mercy were just beginning their work at the hospital but the all merciful Lord helped them in their time of need, by sending them generous Christmas presents!

Translated from: http://foma.ru/chudesnyie-rozhdestvenskie-istorii.html
Help support the ministry of St. Elisabeth Convent