Orthodox America

  Memories of Childhood

Igumen Feodosiy 

A Child’s Prayers

    Finally our studies in the Zubrilov school began. Although Prince Golitsyn considered it a model school, instruction there was somewhat in the Old Testament style: we had to learn all our lessons by heart, by rote: Sacred History, catechism, and arithmetic. Besides these lessons, they also taught us penmanship.

       'The little princes studied at home with their French and German tutors, but in their free time they came to play with us. One of them taught us how to march like soldiers, cook gruel on a fire and dig foxholes; another taught us how to hunt for animals like wolves, foxes, and hares, and how to blow horus and trumpets to announce the sighting of some animal. In this game, I performed the duties of a hound, and they gave me the nickname".'Galka' (crow). I could not pronounce the letter "L” and when they and the teachers asked me “Fedinka, What did they name you?" I answered them loudly: "Gayka" (screw nut). Everyone began laughing at me, saying: "Not Gayka -- Galka, say “Galka”  I didn't take offense, and laughed along with them, assuring them that I could not say it like that because I couldn't pronounce the "L". And they always treated me affectionately for that. '

      We were in school from eight o'clock in the morning until five in the afternoon. Then we went home for dinner and to work on our assignments for the next day. It was required, as I have already said, to answer the lessons by heart.

      In our free time, we were allowed to play various children’s games. Of these games, our favorites were the games “v kazanki” or "v shlyutski' and "Rats," that is, to run after and catch each other. I don’t know how or why, but all the pupils, when childish arguments and fights broke out; always turned to me to sort out guilt, and to make peace. I frequently had to “rough up” the guilty parties to the point of tears, but they never got angry with me, and always were satisfied with my sense of justice and impartiality.

     , Misunderstandings and arguments were especially frequent during the game "v ,kazanki": the' rules of the game were violated, some boys played out of turn, and the older children unfairly defeated the younger ones. Because of this there was often name-calling and fights. When this happened, my playmates turned to me, Saying: "What's going on here, Fedya? Can't we play by the rules?" And they demanded that the troublemakers not be allowed to continue, or that they be excluded from our games. When I would begin to talk to the latter, they at first would begin to argue and verbally abuse me. From childhood I was hot-tempered. And when I would see that my playmates were being hurt without cause, and that I was being abused as well, with talk like, "And who are you? What business is it of yours?" my emotions would flare up, I would grab them by the hair, and their punishment from me would be very, very palpable.

      The affair always ended with the protestors in tears and imploring:. "No more, no more! Fedya, forgive me! Enough!" But my playmates would triumphantly render the judgment: "Fedya, give them more, so that they'll remember how they should play!" The little princes fell under my angry hand as well, and I, with a cry of wrath, would say to everyone, including them, "What on earth are you doing?! Just because you are older than we are, you think you can be mean to us. Go, complain to the teachers; they will sort out better which one of us is right and which is wrong!" And all the little kids praised me: "That's what they should do. Let them go complain, and we'll speak up in your defense."

      The tutors and teachers often watched these children's games and hijinks and, smiling, praised me for my sense of justice.

      It continued this way for quite a long time, until I was given a really good fright on account of this sense of justice.

      We were playing one day when a messenger from the princess came to us and demanded that I go with him immediately to her house to see her. Then and there, I got scared. An of course, my playmates, previously so generous with their promises, turned coat and began to yell after me:

      "You're really going to get it now! They're going to flog you in the stable!"

      With great trepidation I went into the hall of the house_, where the princess with two of her daughters and her sons sat at a table. The children's tutors--a Frenchman and a German---also sat there. Around the table lounged several enormous dogs. Food was being poured into their bowls and each dog was having its meal placed in front of it, but they began eating only when the princess gave her permission, which she did in French. Only then did the dogs, wagging their tails affectionately, begin eating their dinner ....

      In fear and trembling, with tears welling up in my eyes, I walked up to the table where the princess sat.... To my great astonishment she spoke to me not with anger, but with kindness, saying, Do not be afraid, Fedinka. Nothing is going to happen to you. Those foolish boys are only trying to scare you We called you so that you could tell me why it is you beat the children with whom you go to school and play ‘v kazanki’?” Stammering anct stuttering, I told how I beat them because the bigger boys broke the agreed-upon rules of the game, and used their strength to bully their smaller playments.  Here the princess spoke to her child rem in French and loudly and curtly, in a tone of anger, reproached them .... The children blushed with shame, while the teachers smiled approvingly and nodded their heads.

       Having reprimanded her children, the princess spoke to me kindly, saying. "Don't be afraid, boy: you are doing a very good thing in seeing to it that your games are fairly played. Continue making sure that the older children are not mean to the younger ones." And with these words, she gave me two big apples: "Here is a present from me for your fairness!"

       At this point, her daughters, as well as the teachers, began to praise me and give me things from the dessert table: one gave me an orange, another, some grapes, gingerbreads. In a word, they loaded my pockets full with presents. I kissed the hand of the princess, and she ordered that I be escorted back. Thus, instead of tears, I brought triumph and joy.

      My playmates were happy for me. "Well done, Fedya!" they said. "What an honor you've been granted!" But for me, this honor was not achieved without a price. After the princess's presents, the teachers started assigning me lessons twice as long as the other pupils. I noticed this immediately. As I was walking from school with my playmates, I asked one of them: "Come on, Kolya, show me how much they've assigned you for tomorrow!" And there I saw that my lesson was much longer. I became sad and grieved to the point of tears. "Why are they doing this to me?" I thought. And what should I do now? I won't even be able to play with my friends!...

      In my sorrow I did not go home but went into a neighbor's garden. In the garden stood a stack of straw, and the neighbors had guinea-fowl From having watched them, I had noticed that when these guinea-fowl, landed to roost, they did not settle down on their perches for a long time, but, for an hour or sometimes even more, they would cry and chirp, until finally they fell silent and dozed off.

         There in the garden, I spread out all my books among the currant and gooseberry bushes. I opened them to the pages where my lessons for the next day were marked and, falling on my knees and raising my hands, I began to pray tearfully to the Theotokos:

        "Mother of God, look at what my teachers are doing to me! Take a look at my books--here are the pencil marks, and all of these lessons I have to learn by tomorrow's class. When will I be able to play with my friends? But if I don't learn my lessons I'll get a thrashing. Mother of God, everything is possible for you; I beg you--increase my memory and help me to be spared from punishment. I will not go to play with my friends now. I will memorize my lessons beside this stack of straw until the guinea fowl come in to roost and stop their cries, and then I will close my books and go to play with my friends trusting in your mercy, O most blessed one! Do you hear me, Mother of God? Whether I learn my lessons or not, when the guinea fowl stop their cries, I will go play. Tomorrow morning grant me such a memory that I can recite my lesson without mistakes, so that my teachers will not whip me. Help me, Most Blessed Virgin, Mother of Our Lord Jesus Christ for the honor and glory of Your Name. I put myself in Your hands and, hoping on You, I will do as I said."

           I made three prostrations to the Lord Jesus Christ and the Most Pure One. When the appointed time came, I closed my books and went to play with my friends. They were already waiting for me and, upon seeing me, began to yell:    

       ."Hey, Fedya, where have you been,? We were getting tired of waiting for you: What shall we play? Let's play 'Rats';..,"

        The next morning, to the amazement of the teachers, I answered all my lessons perfectly without the slightest error.


In studying Sacred History and catechism, I learned that there are Angels, who guard us, and demons, who want our destruction. I don't know how or why, but the thought came to me to test whether this was true. So, sitting on the porch of our house, while my parents were resting after lunch, it occurred to me to put this thought of mine into action. I got up from the porch and headed for the back yard.

       "Listen, devil," I said out loud, "if you can do anything, then convince me. Bring a good thin rope to the barn for me. If you do this, then I'll go into the cowshed and hang myself there on that rope. Won't my friends be surprised when they see me hanging from the crossbeam! ... Well, devil, do you hear me? Do as I say."

      At this time, there was no one in the entire yard. The day was hot and clear. Clouds floated across the horizon. Having said these words, I walked towards the barn, the door of which was shut. On the way to the barn, another thought entered my mind: to hang oneself, I thought, is very unpleasant; it would be better to jump into the well in the back yard. This well was very deep, and the water in it was clear and cool. It belonged to a neighbor, an archpriest, and whoever wanted drew water from it. It had been dug between the two yards by one of the walls ....

      And so, I went to the barn. Opening the door, I saw to my amazement an almost full coil of new, slender hemp rope. I took it and, passing by the cow shed, I went to the well. I bent over and looked down. Deep, deep down I saw a sparkle of its cold water. Then another thought came, as if someone were speaking to me: when I jump in there and drown, then my friends and many others too will be puzzled: how and why did I drown in the well? I involuntarily smiled in answer to these thoughts and said:

      "No, devil, it's better if I hang myself. Then my friends will come and be amazed to see me hanging in a noose!" Yes, that was much better.

   Undoing the coil of new hemp rope, I made a noose and tied up the other end. All that remained was to stick my neck in the noose, and my life would have ended.... Suddenly I quailed and burst out laughing loudly and gleefully.: "You put it on yourself, accursed one," I exclaimed, "and I'll pull you up myself."

      At that very moment a blinding bolt of lightening flashed from the clouds in the sky and there was a thunderclap the like of which I never heard again in my entire life. I was petrified, and with all my strength I bolted out of the cowshed and ran home. After the thunderclap, the rain poured down in buckets ....

      My father was standing on the porch when I ran up. There were others with him, and they were all marveling at the unprecedented thunderclap and the unusual brightness of the blinding lightening, saying over and over: "Well, that was some bang! We've never heard one like that before." Some hours later, news arrived that a woman in a nearby village had been killed by that lightening bolt.

      I never told anyone about what I had done, but from then on I was convinced that there are evil spirits, and I began to pray more diligently to God and to my Guardian Angel.


A Prayer for My Brother

Studying did not come easily to my older brother. He would sit up late at night with a candle, working on his lessons, but, even with all his diligence, he often could not recite the lesson by heart, for which he caught it from the teachers. He sat once until midnight, memorizing his lesson for the next day, but in the morning he could not answer two or thee lines in front of the teacher and the priest, with whom we lived. The priest called him a dummy and told him in as threatening tone of voice:

       "You are lucky that I am going to serve the Liturgy, or I would thrash you with birch switches. But just you wait: when I come back from the church, if you have not learned the lesson like you should, then I will order you to be thrashed, you lazy boy!"

       Sitting there at another desk, I saw how my brother's tears began to drip onto the desk, and I felt sorry for my brother. '"Why whip him," I thought, "when he did not sleep almost all night because of Ms lessons? I will go to church and pray for my brother to the Heavenly Queen. She already heard me once. God grant that she not abandon us this time, either."

       The church was not far from the school; it was just across the prince's garden; you had only to climb over a low fence and you were there. No sooner said than done! I walked out of the school, having asked to go outside, and then -- over the fence and straight to the church. Fearing that the priest would see me, I opened the door and carefully looked in. In the church there were only three old women, who had ordered a liturgy for the reposed. The priest and the deacon were in the altar, and the reader was singing on the cliros "We praise Thee, we bless Thee, we give thanks unto Thee, O Lord...."

      I quickly slipped into the church and went straight to the right side of the side chapel. Standing behind a column, I looked at the iconostasis.... My eyes fell on an Italian-style icon of the Mother of God with the Pre-eternal Child in her arms. They were looking at me as if they were alive. I fell onto my knees in tears before the holy icon and began to pray fervently to the Lady:

      "Most Blessed Mother of God! I have come to make a request of you for my brother Feodor. The priest promised to thrash him with birch switches for laziness, but he didn't sleep all night, memorizing his lessons. Mother of God; show mercy and soften the heart of the teacher. I feel so sorry for my brother. Dear Mother, give my brother a little more memory, so that he can study like any other smart pupil. Mother of God! If you hear my prayer, I will always come to you. No, I will not ask for anything; I don't want that. I want always to come to you with prayer."

    With these words, I made a prostration to the ground before the icon, kissed the Theotokos' feet on it and repeated:

      "Help, if you can; and I know that you can! Or else I will not ask you for anything any more."

      At this time they had begun to sing "It is truly meet to bless thee...", and I ran out of the church. At the school the older pupils asked me where I had run and where I had been for so long. I told them I had a stomach ache.

      Soon after me arrived the priest, Father John, from the church. I awaited with trembling what he would say to my brother. Father John went up to him and, in a very kindly way, said to him:

      "Here, as a blessing of the Mother of God, is a holy prosphora for you." He blessed my brother with it and gave it to him with the words:

      "This prosphora from the Mother of God is for the blessing and improvement of your studies. Pray to her:. she will help you, and you will learn well!"

      You can imagine how these words stunned me! I burst into tears and bolted from the classroom. Outside I fell down on the ground and thanked the Mother of God for her great and manifest mercy.

      From that time on, my brother began to learn much better and even surpassed many of his classmates. 

Translated by Seraphim F. Englehardt, from Pcholka NIo. I/1994

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