Orthodox America


  A Good Deed Rewarded


Let each man seek another's wealth.  (I Cor. 6:10)

 

 It was late autumn. A dreary wind carried itself over deserted fields, howled, and tore into the streets of the untidy village of Pilayev, standing solitary upon an immense expanse of steppe, the constant scattering of rain caused a gray twilight to hang in the air. Evening had not yet fallen when a funeral procession stretched its melancholy way through the village; a poor widow was being laid to rest, leaving behind three unfortunate orphans.

     Behind the coffin walked a few of the village inhabitants, all were poor and elderly. Of the well-to-do there was only Terenty Znachkov, an old friend of the deceased one's late husband. With the children in tow, they walked alone, sad and pensive, All pitied the poor Anfisa who not once within memory had ever met with happiness or joy in her life, She was beaten by her parents, though they didn't mean to be cruel; and later, when she got married, there seemed to be constant want; soon her husband died and poverty came even closer, followed by a grievous illness.

The lid of the coffin was nailed shut and the coffin lowered into the grave. They began to cover it over with earth and, as if with one accord, they all let out with a great sob. The quiet weeping which seized these gray, coarse villagers agreed entirely with the piteous funeral setting, the woeful appearance of the neglected cemetery, and the sad, abandoned fields which lay under a dark, heavy mist. It seemed as if life itself was weeping over one of its daughters, weeping without any desire to be stilled, for such was the lot of all its children.

They were preparing to disperse. But at this moment the elderly Fr. Audrey looked sternly at his parishioners:     "What about the orphans?" It must be decided here at the grave; that will be more compassionate; if it's left until later nothing will come of it, you'll see."

    Voices were heard, but the tone was one of hesitation. "The problem is..." No one came forward with a definite proposal.

    "I would take them all to live with me," said Fr. Andrey, sensing the general unwillingness. "I thought of this earlier. But you know very well that I'm all alone and there's no one to look out for me. Who then will look out for the children? It's time Petya went to school, and Masha too; as for little Fedya, he's a handful. Who of you, Orthodox Christians, will give them a home? The others will help out as they are able, I myself am ready to provide half their support."

    There was a long silence. Everyone held back, making it even more painful to look at the orphans who, still standing at the fresh grave of their mother, were made to experience the cold heartedness of their fellow men.

    "Orthodox Christians !" repeated Fr. Andrey. "I'm prepared to pay whatever you spend on these orphans. Give at least one of them a home--although it is far better that orphans not be separated..."

    The crowd softened. Low, reserved voices were heard. "It's a familiar matter; an orphan's lot ..what could be more grievous! But we  ourselves barely maniage to keep warm..."

     From another quarter someone spoke up: "Uncle Terenty is the obvious choice; he was friends with Prokopy. And besides, Terenty has no children of his own."

    Fr. Andrey turned his gaze upon Znachkov who stood looking at the ground, his face visibly reddening.

     "Know this, Terenty Vasilyevich," instructed the priest. "God never forgets a good deed, and He will abundantly reward you for your merciful kindness. Although you have expenses enough as it is, believe me, for every extra mouth God will send you an extra piece of bread."

Terenty thought for a few moments. "All right," he said straightening up. "Bless me, batiushka, to undertake what needs to be done. And you, children, come along with me."

    Time passed, above twenty-five years. One clear summer day Pilayev displayed more than common animation. The inhabitants in their Sunday best--although this was not a Sunday--old and young, hastened to the outskirts of the village where they fixed their eyes on the twisting road sloping off to the horizon. They were anticipating the arrival of the newly appointed bishop to the diocese, Bishop Paul--who was none other than the very Petya whom Terenty Znachkov, at Fr. Andrey's bidding, had taken under his roof some twenty-five years earlier. Among those ready to greet the Bishop was Terenty himself, now a venerable gray-haired old man. He stood at the edge of the crowd together with a young man and woman. The young man was Bishop Paul's brother Pedya, now the local doctor, and the young woman was their sister Masha who had become a school teacher.

     It had all worked out of itself, peacefully and gradually. Having taken the children home, Terenty became attached to them in a way only possible for those who have no children of their own. Terenty's wife surrounded them with a mother's love and care and tried by all means to ease the pain of being orphaned. When Petya finished the village school, Terenty wanted to direct him toward a merchant's career and in time to take him on as a helper in his business. But Fr. Andrey--after many lengthy discussions, it's true--succeeded in insisting that the boy be sent to the seminary school, and two years later Masha followed suit.

Petya soon distinguished himself in his studies. Unfortunately, kind Fr. Andrey reposed a year after Petya entered the school and did not live to rejoice in his success, but Terenty and his wife were full of pride and joy at knowing that 'their boy' would someday be respected in society. Under the influence of the older brother's accomplishment, Terenty also decided to send Fedya to the city for schooling--not to the seminary, but to the high school, in keeping with the boy's inclinations.

     The passing years brought many changes to the village. Many of the old people who had accompanied Anfisa to the grave themselves reposed. Terenty's wife died and he alone remained, as if to see the fruits of his good deed come to full maturity. And ripen they did. After seminary Petya received a scholarship to attend the theological academy where he received the monastic tonsure. Now he had become a bishop and was on his way to govern the diocese of his home territory. Masha, after graduating from the seminary school, expressed a desire to become a teacher in her native village and there she had remained. Fedya completed a degree in medicine at the university and likewise decided to use his talents to benefit the area in which he grew up; he was appointed general practitioner of Pilayev and the surrounding villages.

            There was something deeply moving in the fact that all three orphans who had been nurtured by the village and boosted onto the high road of success--all three had then descended back down to this same village to serve its people with the talents " which it had helped them to acquire. And the people felt this – indistinctly, unconsciously perhaps, but they felt this, especially Terenty. Dignified in his old age, he alternately looked around with pride and joy and then became absorbed in searching out the distant turns of the road for any signs of movement.

    "Here he comes!" The crowd fell silent as all fixed their eyes on the approaching carriage. Terenty crossed himself and turned pale. As soon as the carriage had come to a stop he removed his cap and with measured step respectfully approached the bishop for his blessing. Having blessed him, the bishop suddenly bent down and kissed the old man's hand. As the villagers proceeded in turn to get their blessing, they noticed tears in the eyes of the bishop; they were tears of joy and of gratitude. 

N. Kalestnikov (From the magazine "Russian Pilgrim ," November, 1908; reprinted in Raiskie Tsveti s Russkoi Zemli, 1912)

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