A true story from Holy Russia
Many years ago there lived in Moscow a wealthy merchant by the name of Ivan Ivanovich Mikhailov, His great-grandfather and grandfather had been financially successful men before him, and he increased the assets he inherited thanks to his sharp mind, his inventiveness, cleverness and spirit of enterprise, so that he was classed among the wealthiest merchants in the world. He was not only rich, he was also deeply God fearing and kind and generous to the highest degree. He gave shelter to every poor man who came his way and never refused anyone his assistance and a kind word.
There lived at that time in Moscow an unfortunate cripple, who was unable to earn a living for himself. Thanks to Ivan Ivanovich's kind heart, he had everything he needed-food, clothing, and a warm corner in the house of his benefactor. But just as there comes an end to everything on this earth, so there came an end to Ivan Ivanovich. He died, and his entire estate passed into the hands of his son-in-law, a hard, stingy man whose attitude towards the poor contrasted sharply with his father-in-law's. And so it happened that the poor cripple was deprived of all that he had enjoyed during Ivan Ivanovich's lifetime. The new owner wouldn't even allow him into the house.
With bitter tears the
cripple made his way to the grave of his benefactor and, having poured out his
grief, he leaned over the grave and fell asleep. As he was sleeping, he saw in a
dream his benefactor who said to him: "Why are you weeping, Stepan Ilyitch?"
"How can I not weep," he replied," when the doors of your house
are locked to me and I have nowhere to lay my head, nowhere to live out the rest
of my days?" The deceased man sighed and said: "If the doors of my
house are no longer open to you, go to the fourth store to the right from my old
store. There lives the merchant Nikolai Sayich Rizhkin. Go to him and say: 'For
the sake of Ivan Ivanovich and the red apples, give me three thousand rubies.'
He'll give you the money which sum will be sufficient to support you for the
rest of your life--only pray for my soul."
Stepan Ilyitch awoke. It seemed to him that he had seen his benefactor alive. Remembering well what he had heard in the dream, our cripple went directly from Ivan Ivanovich's grave to the shop of the merchant Nikolai Savich Rizhkin. Upon entering he saw at once that it was a wealthy establishment. Many salesmen and clerks were employed: some were measuring bolts of costly fabric, others were counting and receiving money, while still others were recording sums in books. The owner, Nikolai Savich, was seated on an elevated area, overseeing all that was going on in the store and obviously pleased with the way his business was prospering.
The cripple approached the merchant rather timorously, but the successful businessman evinced no pride; he stood up and handed the poor man a coin. Heartened by the merchant's sympathetic attitude, the cripple related to him in detail his dream. Having heard the story, Nikolai Sayich rose, made the sign of the Cross and said: "I would give you not three but ten thousand if the deceased had so desired!" He gave orders for the sum to be counted out to him at once. The cripple, never having seen such an amount of money and amazed by the whole affair, fell to the merchant's feet: "I won't accept the money until you, Nikolai Sayich, tell me just what are these red apples on whose account you are giving out such a sum ."
"If you really want to know," said the merchant, "let us retire to my apartment, and there I shall tell you."
They walked into an elegantly furnished apartment where everything appeared to be crafted in gold, silver, silk and precious stones. Having bowed to the holy Icons,the merchant took the cripple by the hand, led him to a balcony and offered him an armchair between some rare plants and exquisite flowers which gave forth a wonderful scent. And he began his story.
"How did this all come about? Ivan Ivanovich was a wealthy merchant, while I was a wretched pauper. I sold apples. I would buy a basket of apples wholesale and sell them at a kopek profit. If I made ten or fifteen kopeks I could hold body and soul together. If I earned nothing, I had to suffer my poverty.
I would take my apples into Ivan Ivanovich's shop; he always bought some and allowed me to makes few sales, and so I tried to go there as often as I could. Then he got married. Many important and distinguished guests were invited to the wedding. While the company was making merry, dancing, eating and drinking, a hard rain pelted down which lasted all day, thanks to which I hadn't sold a single apple. Evening was approaching and I had nothing with which to buy any bread. In despondency and up to my knees in mud, I walked from one house to another crying: "Delicious, sweet apples, red apples; good people, buy some apples!" By chance Ivan Ivanovich glanced out his window. Seeing me, shivering and soaked to the bone, he had pity and sent his servant to bid me come in. I did not venture to enter the richly furnished rooms, but the host came out to me himself. "Poor Nikolai,"he said, "why aren't you sitting at home in such a rain?" "Because," I replied, "I 'm hungry. I haven't earned a single kopek yet today." "Wait a moment ," he said, and, taking my wet basket, he carried it in to his guests. They all began asking the meaning of this. "My dear guests, my dear brethren, we are here feasting while this pauper, this apple-seller, hasn't eaten so much as a piece of bread today and asks to buy his fruit. Feeling sorry for him, I bought the lot." "How much did you pay?" asked one wealthy merchant. "A hundred rubles, "answered Ivan Ivanovich. "That's cheap," said the rich man. "I'll give three hundred rubles." Another voice was heard: "I'll give five hundred. After all, the poor man should be helped out, for the sake of our Lord Jesus Christ!" a lively clamor ensued. Then Ivan Ivanovich interrupted: "Gentlemen, gentlemen, there's no need to argue as I've already bought the apples, I'm now selling them at fifty rubies apiece!" "Splendid!" came the hearty response, and gold coins began showering onto the table. There were sixty apples and the deceased brought out to me 3,000 rubles'. For a company of such rich men, to give 3,000 rubles was hardly a burden and they continued making merry, but their joy was made more complete by the knowledge that they had done something pleasing to God.
With tears of joy I took the money and made my way to church to thank God for such unexpected good fortune. In praying to God, I asked that He protect me from falling into pride, and help me to increase this capital by honest means for my own happiness and that of my neighbor. Then I went home. I bought myself some nice clothes, I bought a prayer book and other books and began studying how to read and write. As soon as I had become adequately proficient, I apprenticed myself to a merchant. I gave him my money for safekeeping and obeyed his every word. While Ivan Ivanovich was alive, I was constantly at his home, and since his repose I have not ceased to pray for his soul; his memory is sacred to me. Ten years after the incident with the red apples, I married my employer's only daughter. Upon his death, his entire estate came to be mine. And for aIl this happiness I am indebted to God and to Ivan Ivanovich's kind, generous heart.
This is why I am more than happy to give you three thousand rubles, and with all my heart I wish that this sum, which I so readily give you, would multiply for you just as it did with me upon receiving it from the ready hand of Ivan Ivanovich. So now you know the significance in my life of those red apples and why they shall never leave my memory.
Who can describe the joy of the poor cripple to whom a dream had brought such indescribable happiness.
(Translated from Raiskiye Tsveti Russkoi Zemli (Paradisical Flowers from the Russian Land); Holy Trinity-Sergius Lavra, 1912; reprinted 198_ by the Russian Orthodox Youth Committee, Baldwin Place, NY 10505)
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