Once upon a time there was a little boy
whose name was Thura. Thura lived with his mother and grandfather in
a small shack built of scraps of wood and metal at the edge of a
dump. He slept on some rags on top of a strip of old carpet in a
corner of the shack. It was not a pretty place but Thura had never
known anything different so it did not bother him as much as you
would think. Every day he went out and searched through the garbage
to see what he could find to bring home for his family. He had to be
quick because there were many other people also searching. Often
there was nothing to eat but some old cabbage. Once he found a candy
bar that was not even opened! That had been over a year ago, but he
never stopped looking, just in case. He also searched for clothes and
most of all for shoes. But the shoes went quickly. He had a
mismatched pair held on with some string and that kept his feet from
getting cut on the pieces of glass and other sharp things at the
dump. One day, he thought, he’d like to have a pair of shoes all his
own, that matched, and fit!
It was one of his life’s dreams.
Life at the dump
was hard, but as I have said, he didn’t have anything to compare it
with. One day Thura found a torn book poking out of a pile of
rubbish. He couldn’t read, but he looked to see if there were any
pictures. There were so many pictures! He sat down on a bag of
garbage and flipped through the book. There were pictures of gardens,
all kinds. He saw birds, butterflies, flowers and clear, sparkling
streams. He had never seen anything like it. The sun grew high and
the smells of the garbage surrounded him, but he kept slowly turning
the pages.
When he reached the
end of the book, he slowly closed it and looked up. Suddenly he could
see the dump for what it was: ugly. There were no plants, no flowers.
There were no butterflies. There were birds, but only the kind that
circled around the dump, sometimes diving down to get something to
eat. They had loud cries and they were a dirty color, not red and
blue and yellow like the birds in the book. He didn’t know what
sounds the birds in the book made, but he imagined that they sang
beautiful songs, like the songs his mother sometimes still sang to
him when he was sick with a fever. The only water they had was in a
sluggish stream with banks of mud strewn with trash. It was brown and
didn’t sparkle. When he took a can to the stream to get water to
bring home, his mother had to let it sit for several hours to let the
mud settle on the bottom before they could drink it.
Thura opened the
book again and saw a butterfly. A large, glorious, multicolored
butterfly. If only he could see a butterfly!
Suddenly realizing
how late it was, he gathered up the items he found and hurried home,
hopping and leaping over the piles of trash. He thought how happy his
mother and grandfather would be when they saw the pretty pictures in
the book!
When he pushed
through the rough piece of sacking that served for a door, his
grandfather looked up from his bed. “Where have you been?” he
asked crossly. His grandfather was always cross.
“I’m sorry,
Grandfather. I know I took a long time, but look what I found!”
Thura handed his grandfather the book.
He barely looked at
it before tossing it back to the boy. “Rubbish! We don’t need
anything like this around here! You’ll get ideas in your head. What
good is it? Can it feed you? Cover you? Keep you warm? Well, maybe
the last, if you burn it.”
picked the book up off the dirt floor and turned away so his
grandfather wouldn’t see the tears in his eyes. He put the shriveled
potatoes and a half loaf of stale bread on the wooden crate that
served for a table, and then quietly pushed the book under the rags
where he slept. He wouldn’t burn it. When his mother came home,
bringing some food she had gathered, he decided not to show her the

In the
days afterward, Thura felt down. He didn’t run quickly to find
things, but walked slowly and sadly. One morning he wandered a little
farther than usual, hoping to find something to cheer him up. He came
across a man sorting through some broken brick. The man was clothed
in rags, as was he, and was barefoot. He was muttering something
under his breath, all the time. Thura was a little afraid and kept
his distance. He was on the point of turning away and running when
the old man looked up. The boy was surprised to see something
different about the man, something that made him different from all
the other ragged people in the dump – he was
happy. The
man’s eyes shone, his face was alight. He wasn’t exactly smiling, but
he looked gentle, not worried and cross like most of the people the
boy saw. But the muttering didn’t stop. Thura hesitated, then he ran.
That night, Thura
felt the edge of the book under his bed. He didn’t pull it out
because it was dark – they had no light in the shack – but he
thought about the pictures. To his surprise he found himself thinking
about the old man he had met that day. The feeling the man’s face
gave him was the same feeling he had when he saw the beautiful
pictures. He decided to go and see if he could find the man tomorrow.
Early the next
morning Thura ran as fast as he could to the part of the dump where
he had met the man the day before. As he got closer, he slowed down
and looked around, trying to see before being seen. Sitting on a few
broken boards was the old man. He wasn’t gathering anything, just
sitting with his eyes shut. He was still muttering. The little boy
crept closer so he could see the man’s face better. Yes! It was full
of light! He wondered what the man could be so happy about.
The man opened his
eyes and saw the boy staring at him. He smiled. Thura made up his
mind to ask. “What are you so happy about? What makes your face
shine so?”
The man didn’t
answer, but kept smiling at the boy. The muttering never stopped, but
Thura stopped noticing it as much. The man raised a hand and beckoned
to him. Hesitantly, he crawled over the heap of trash and sat on the
boards next to the old man. The man smiled again at him, then closed
his eyes.
They sat like that
for two hours.
Every day Thura
would rush to scavenge what he could from the dump, drop it off at
home, then race to find the old man, whom he was now calling “Saya”
or “Teacher”. Saya never said anything to Thura, only smiled at
him, muttering all the time. Thura felt his heart lighten just being
near Saya. It had been weeks since he had first questioned Saya about
his happiness, but he had never gotten an answer. He also wondered
what Saya was saying under his breath and if that had anything to do
with why he was so happy. Perhaps it was the words to a song? He
decided to try asking again.
“Saya, please,
please tell me… Why are you so happy? What is it that you are
saying all the time?”
The old man stopped
what he was doing and turned to Thura. Thura stood waiting quietly
and hoping. He looked straight into the old man’s eyes, his own eyes
pleading. Saya lifted his wrinkled hand and laid it gently on Thura’s
head. He closed his eyes and lifted his face to the sky. He was still
muttering, but slowly Thura started to hear and understand what the
old man was saying: “Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me!” He
said it over and over and over, never stopping. It was like
breathing. Before Thura could ask what the words meant, the old man
lightly brushed his hand over Thura’s face, closing his eyes. When
Thura opened them again, he saw…
hundreds of
butterflies! Butterflies of all colors! They surrounded the old man,
spiraling around him, and flying up into the cloudy sky. Thura’s
breath caught in his throat. He was standing near the old man so he
was surrounded by the butterflies too! They landed on his arm, his
shoulder. His eyes feasted on their loveliness. When he looked out,
he could see butterflies on everything. The dump no longer looked
ugly. It looked beautiful! His heart nearly burst with joy! He looked
at Saya and suddenly he understood why Saya was so happy.
saw butterflies
all the time!
Saya looked down at himself and didn’t see rags and dirt, he saw
butterflies. He threw his arms around Saya and hugged him with all
his might. Then he ran home as quickly as he could, wanting to show
his mother and grandfather the beautiful butterflies.
Thura ran so
quickly that he didn’t realize until he was home that there were no
more butterflies. He stood in front of his family, stammering as he
tried to describe what he’d seen. His mother looked worried and felt
his forehead. Thura looked around, saw the rags and the dirt, the
small heap of old food, his mother’s wrinkles and his grandfather’s
scowls. There was no beauty. His heart sank and he cried from loss
and despair. Where had the butterflies gone?
The next day, Thura
ran to find the old man. He could find him easily today because he
could see the butterflies from a distance, ascending into the sky.
Well, at least he hadn’t imagined them! He scrambled over a mountain
of old tires and found Saya, sitting on a tire with his eyes closed.
“Saya! What
happened? I went home and all the butterflies were gone!”
Thura could hear
the old man’s mutterings: “Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me!
Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me!” He saw that no matter how
many butterflies few up into the sky, there were still butterflies
surrounding them. It dawned on him that the man’s words were
“Thura. Yes, now
I speak. I will tell you something: these words that I say, it is a
prayer. Do you know what a prayer is? No? It is like a butterfly. It
flies up into the heavens, over the mountains and the clouds, past
the stars themselves, and to the feet of Christ! Yes! With these
simple words: ‘Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me,’ we can be at the
throne of the King Himself!”
“Can Christ hear
us down here? In the middle of the dump?”
“Oh yes, Thura.
He can hear us wherever we are.”
“But what do the
words mean?”
“When we say
those words, Thura, we put ourselves into the hands of Christ. We ask
for His help and protection. No one and nothing can hurt us because
His name is like a shield. We are all of us little and weak, but
Christ is strong! We can come to Him whenever and wherever we are,
just by praying. And when we pray, then we see everything through the
eyes of Christ, and it is beautiful.”
that was all Saya would say. But Thura had more than enough to think
about. He had never really prayed although he remembered, just a
little, his grandmother praying when he was very little, before she
died. He didn’t remember much about her, but he remembered sitting on
her lap while she “talked to the Lord” as she had put it. He
didn’t remember anything about butterflies, but then he couldn’t see
them around Saya before Saya had put his hand on Thura’s eyes either.
continued to come to be with the old man every day. Saya had never
asked Thura to pray, but Thura began to wonder if it were something
that a child could do too. What if butterflies came out of
prayers? He was so happy when he was with Saya but as soon as he left
and went back through the piles of garbage toward his home, he was
sad again and everything looked ugly and dirty. If he could bring the
butterflies with him, he could be happy wherever he went!
One day Thura said
to himself, “Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me.” He was helping
Saya gather together pieces of wood to make a shelter so he was
already surrounded by butterflies and couldn’t tell whether there
were any new ones, but he said it again anyway. He liked how peaceful
he felt when he said the prayer. He said it again and again. As he
wandered to and fro gathering wood, he didn’t notice that he was
surrounded by his own cloud of butterflies. Saya smiled, but didn’t
say anything.
It was when he was
on his way home that Thura realized he was still seeing butterflies.
He wanted to leap for joy! Everywhere he looked, he saw everything
through the wings of a butterfly. He planted his feet and craned his
neck to stare up into the sky. He saw butterflies spiraling away from
him. Surely his prayers were on their way to Christ! He no longer
felt sad on his way home, but joyful. When he got home he saw his
mother waiting for him in the doorway. “Hello, mother!” he called
happily, and hugged her. She was beautiful to him, with her halo of
yellow butterflies. He went into the shack, trailing butterflies
behind him, and greeted his grandfather. “Hello, grandfather! I
hope you have had a good day!” The old man was surprised, but
didn’t say anything. He didn’t realize that Thura wasn’t seeing a
cross old man, but a cloud of multicolored butterflies.
The next day Thura
set out to find Saya. He couldn’t wait to tell him about the prayers
and the butterflies! On his way, it seemed everything he saw was
beautiful. When he met people who said unkind things he didn’t feel
the sting of their words, but saw the beauty of the butterflies from
his constant prayers: “Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me!”
People wondered at the brightness of his face. Thura searched and
searched but couldn’t find Saya. He began to be troubled and his
prayer faltered. There were only a few butterflies around him now,
and the world began to look cold and frightening. “Saya!! Where are
A woman approached
him. “Aren’t you that boy who always went around with that crazy
old man?”
Thura trembled.
“Yes! Have you seen him? Where is he?”
The woman
hesitated, then gently said, “He died. They found him this morning.
I’m sorry.”
Thura felt the
world come crashing down. No more Saya! He bent his head and cried
bitter tears from his heart. How could Saya leave him? What would he
do? The world was bleak and there were no butterflies.
Saya! Please don’t let it be true! Please don’t leave me! God, bring
Saya back!” Thura wept and pounded the ground. “Saya, help me!”
He threw his head back and turned his face to the sky. He gasped with
astonishment as he saw something gently floating toward him. It was a
beautiful butterfly. Then another and another came. “Saya… are
these from you? Are you praying for
heard, more in his heart than his ears, “When Christ unites us,
distances don’t exist. It is better now… I am closer to you.” The
butterflies were landing on him, covering him. He felt clothed in
Saya’s prayers. He whispered, “Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on
me.” Now butterflies were ascending as well as descending. The joy
began to come back into his heart. The world again looked beautiful.
He said the Jesus prayer again and again.
* * * *
Many years went by.
Thura never stopped saying the Jesus Prayer and he always saw the
world through a beautiful curtain of butterfly wings. When he grew
up, he helped build a church on the edge of the dump and through his
prayers a priest was found to serve the poor people who lived there.
Thura himself did not become a priest, but people were always drawn
to his bright and peaceful face. Children flocked to him and through
his example he taught them to pray, sharing the lessons his Saya had
taught him so many years before.

This is not a true
story, but many elements of it are true. Sadly, around the world
there are many people living in garbage dumps, scavenging a living.
Children will grow up, spending their entire lives surrounded by
trash. The character of Saya is fictional, but what he tells Thura
about prayer is true. The message he gives to Thura after his death
is a paraphrase of something the newly-glorified Saint Porphyrios
told his spiritual children: “When Christ unites us, distances
don’t exist. When I leave this life it will be better. I’ll be
closer to you.” 


7 thoughts on “Butterflies

  1. You wrote this?

    Where did the names Thura and Saya come from? Googling them, it seems these aren't unheard of names in other languages, but it sounds like nothing familiar to me. Just pretty sounds?


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