Orthodox America


  “….According to Thy Word” - A True Story From Holy Russia


 I

The majestic vaults of the Kazan Cathedral,., The quiet, tranquil glow of lamps and candles fills the temple. It is a week day and there are no services. Only a small knot of worshippers crowds near the Kazan Icon of the Hother of God.

    A wondrous visage... One feels that the benevolent eyes of the Theotokos look with love and compassion upon those who come to kneel before her Icon.

    Someone in sore need of her encouraging gaze stands near the column facing the Icon and looks with trembling entreaty at the face of the Heavenly Queen.

    Take a look at this figure. It is a young man in student uniform. His eyes mirror the yearning conveyed by his tearful prayer:

    "Heavenly Queen, Mediatress ," he prays. "Thou seest my trouble... I am losing strength; help me."

    His head bows down to the cold marble floor, and his young chest contracts with noiseless sobs.

    "O Lady, help me," he whispers. "It is hard for me, but may the will of Thy Son, and Thy will be done. I have made up my mind. I'm going into the world, O Lord, according to Thy word... Strengthen me."

    The youth arose. Tears still glistened on his face, but it radiated determination, courage.

    Victor Platenerich Tarsky (this was his name) approached the Icon of the Mother of God. He lit a candle, knelt once more, venerated the sacred image, and resolutely--like a man who's discovered a clear purpose in life--left the church.

 

II

    "Ladle s and gentlemen !" announced Tarsky on entering the living room of his uncle' s house where he lived. "Ladies and gentlemen. I've come to a decision: I'm entering the priesthood..."

He was cut short.

    "Victor Platonovich, what has gotten hold of you? You, a priest? Do you want to bury all your talents under a cassock !.. Besides, who enters the priesthood in this day and age... Really, enough of this, don't shame yourself..."

    Similar remarks were voiced from all parts of the company that filled the room.

    "Listen, Victor," said his uncle, "you can't be serious. I have nothing against the work of a priest, but for you, with your capabilities, to enter the priesthood?.. Let those become priests who..."

    Victor Platonovich grew hot. His shoulders tensed as he replied with a slight tremor in his voice:

    "No, ladies and gentlemen, you are mistaken. It is precisely those who are strong and talented who should become priests. The work of a priest is the most demanding, the most aggressive, if you will. And the fact that nowadays priests are often ridiculed... Well, what of it. Christ was also persecuted, and His servants suffer the same fate. But faith will not be extinguished. Happiness, which everyone longs for, is attained only through religion, through faith. And who has the most direct opportunity of giving this happiness, a happiness which is founded on religion and therefore eternal? Only a priest. You may think whatever you like, but I shall stand on my decision."

    He stopped abruptly. The guests looked at the young man with a mixture of scoffing and disbelief.

    "No, Victor Platonovich, not everyone is judging you," a young woman was heard to say.' She sat alone near the fireplace. "I understand you: to spark the flame of faith in someone's soul--this is the greatest happiness possible for man. I sympathize with you and with all my heart I wish you the most perfect realization of your dream."

    With rapid strides Tarsky went up to the young woman and firmly grasped her hand. "Farewell," he said, and left the room.

 

III

    It was a dismal October morning. Within the walls of the Novo-Devichy monastery a priest stood over a fresh grave. With great sadness he looked at the cross on which there was written in black letters: "Nina Alexandrovna Tarskaya. Born 19... Died 19... 'Blessed are the pure in heart for they shall see God.'"

    "Yes," thought the priest, "we wanted to labor together. But God deemed otherwise. Thy will be done."

    "Batiushka, please, don't tell me to leave."

    Fr. Victor was startled by the unexpected presence of another person there in the cemetery. Before him stood a young woman, well dressed if not somewhat ostentatiously. Her face was covered with tears through which could be discerned evident traces of a less than virtuous life. She was sobbing and presented such a pitiable sight that it was some moments before Fr. Victor could find anything to say. Finally, he was able to soothe her distress. She sat down and proceeded to tell him her life's story.

    It was common enough. A drunken father; an unhappy, rather feeble-minded mother; the filth and stench of basement living quarters; eternal rounds of constant beatings; and, finally, the street. But she hadn't yet fallen to the bottom. The Lord had led her here... Today some gentleman had approached her; she became frightened and, quite unconsciously, had made her way to this cemetery.

    "Don't worry," Fr. Victor consoled her. "You have suffered a great deal... God will forgive you. And now, make a new beginning.''

    He blessed the young woman. In her soul there was born new life.

 

IV

    A hospital ward. The corridors are full of scurrying personnel; doctors pass by, concerned nurses; anxiety marks their faces. With good reason: cholera has hit the city. For four days now the number of patients has been on the rise. How much grief, tears, suffering...

     Soon it will be midnight. Only the duty nurse is left on the ward. It's quiet. Occasionally there is heard the cry and groan of one of the sick. and again--quiet. In a corner before a small icon of the Saviour glows the flame of a vigil lamp. The nurse sits at a small table. She is overcome with exhaustion. And no wonder. For the past three days and nights she has scarcely closed her eyes, spending all her time with the sick. When they try to persuade her to get some rest, her response is always the same: "Later, as soon as the sick get better.'' But with each passing day their number only increases. And now her strength has given out altogether. She leans her head back and falls into a light sleep.

    On the table lies a Gospel; it is open, and by the light of the vigil lamp, illumining a corner of the page, one can make out: “…according to Thy word'..." A shadow obscures the rest.

    It is quiet, very quiet in the ward. The nurse, ready to wake at the slightest rustle, dozes. This is that young woman whom Fr. Victor met in the cemetery. Human kindness had transformed a woman "of the streets" into a "sister of mercy, [the literal translation of the Russian term for nurse]  unreservedly given over to serving others.

     The light of the vigil lamp flickers and illumines the face of the hard-working, self sacrificing young woman. 

 (Translated from Raiskiye Tsveti s Russkoi Zemli, St. Sergius Lavra, 1912; reprinted by the Russian Orthodox Youth Committee)


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