Orthodox America


  A Story Form Holy Russia: Confession - A Child Remembers


      "The Lord will forgive you, my son.. Go with prayer. And mind that you behave yourself in church. Don't go climbing up into the belfry or you'll ruin your coat. Remember that the tailor was paid three silver pieces for it." So saying, my mother sent me off to have confession.

      "Tie up the money in your pocket handkerchief,'' added my father. "Buy a candle for three kopeks and give the priest a fiver for the confession. And, you bristle head, mind you don't run off playing 'heads and tails,' and in answering Batiushka listen to what your conscience tells you!"

      "OK," I blurted impatiently, crossing myself broadly in front of the icons.

      Before leaving the house I made a prostration to my parents:

"Forgive me, for the sake of Christi"

      The outdoors rang with sounds; the road was bathed in the golden rays of the setting sun; streams of ........... melting snow ran noisily; trees were laden with star lings, carts jounced and rattled with a peculiarly springtime sound which carried far into the distance.

    David the yardman was breaking up the ice with a crowbar; it makes such a great sound when it smashes against the paving stones.

"Where are you off to, all decked out?" he asks.

'"To have confession!" I answer importantly.

"High time, high time," says the yardman. "Just don't forget to tell Batiushka that you call me 'slave-sweeper'."

"Yes'm," I reply.

My friends, Kotka Liutov and Urka Dubin, are lowering little boats made of eggshells onto a pool and making a dam out of bricks. Not long ago Urka hit my little sister, and I have such an urge to go up to him and give him one, but I remember that today I'm going to confession and it's a sin to pick a fight. Biting my tongue, I pass by.

      "Hey, Vaska's got himself quite a get up," smirks Kotka. "In a new coat, in boots like a cat, laquered boots and a face to match'"

      "Well, your father still owes my Dad a half rouble!" I muttered in return through clenched teeth. Careful not to splatter my shiny boots with mud, I stepped slowly along the paving. Kotka, loathe to leave me with the last word, shouted after me in a shrill voice, "Shoe string!"

      "Oh boy, what a pleasure it would have been to give him a drubbing for 'shoe string'!" That showoff, idiot, skelton! Just because his father works in a butcher's shop while my dad is a boot maker. Not an ordinary boot maker, mind! He stitches boots for merchants and deacons---and such fine work! The lenten bells toll sorrowfully.

      "Hm, after confession, I'll show that Kotka!' I thought as I neared the church.

      The church fence; shaggy elms and mossy birches; a long green bench, drenched in dusky late afternoon sun. On the bench sat people who had come for confession, waiting for the beginning of Great Compline. From the belfry came sounds of children's voices, frightening the church doves. Someone caught sight of me:

"Va-a-a-ska, come on up!"

      I made as if I hadn't heard, although I wanted very much to climb up the old creaking ladder to the belfry, ring inside the bell and gaze out, my heart in my mouth, over the town spread out far below, to watch the pale turquoise shadows wrap the evening landscape and to listen as the sounds of evening faded, then vanished altogether.

      "You'll ruin your coat and boots," I sigh. It's not good when you're dressed in a new outfit.

      "And so, my beloved, three light-bearing elders struggled in this desert," Uncle Osip, the cemetary caretaker, related. "They prayed, fasted and labored...yes...labored.      And all around there was nothing but desert."

      I tried to fathom Uncle Osip's words, and there came into my mind a desert which for some reason was like a cloudless sky.

      'Vaska Are you here for confession?" I heard Vitka's rough voice.

      I looked at him angrily. Yesterday I lost three kopeks to him which mother had given me to buy laundry soap, and for that I got a licking.

      "Let's go play 'heads or tails', what do you say?" entreated Vitka, holding up a fiver.

      'Tm not going to play with you. You always cheat'

      "...And so,"continued Uncle Osip, "the three elders went to a certain city..'

       I looked at his long grey beard and thought: If only Uncle Osip didn’t drink so much he would be a saint for sure!

   Great Compline. Confession. Dense, fragrant twilight. From behind dark glasses the stern eyes of the priest locked into my soul.

    “Wel1 now, I suppose you pinched some sugar without asking?" His voice betrayed his kindness.

     "No-o-o. Our shelf is up high!"

   When he asked, “What sins do you have to confess?"  there was a long silence, and then I remembered an awful sin. The very thought of it made me turn hot and cold. In a minute, I thought with alarm, Batiushka will learn of this sin; he'll chase me away from confession and won't let me have Holy Communion tomorrov, .

      It seemed to me that someone in dark vestments whispered into my ear: 'Repent!"

      I shifted from one foot to the other. My mouth trembled; I felt like crying--bitter, repentant tears. "Batiushka," I stammered through stifled sobs, "I...I... during Great Lent... I devoured a sausage! Vitka offered it to me... I didn't want to... but I ate it!"

      The priest smiled, covered me with his dark epitrachilion, wafting a haze of incense, and pronounced those all-important holy words.

      Stepping away from the analogion, I suddenly remembered the words of David the yardman, and again I felt a weight on my heart. I waited until Batiushka had confessed another person and went up to him a second time. "What is it?"

      "Baiiushka, I remembered another sin. I forgot to tell you,.. I called our yardman 'slave-sweeper',"

      When this sin, too, was forgiven, I walked about the church with a buoyant heart, smiling.

      At home I lay in bed covered with a sheepskin....The joyful sound of spring rain carried through the window. I dreamt of paradise: the cherubim were singing, flowers were laughing, and Kotka and I were sitting on some grass playing with plump, juicy paradisical apples.

      "Forgive me, Vasya, for calling you 'shoe string'!"

      "And you, Kotka, forgive me, I called you skelton!'

      Meanwhile, all around us was the Lord's paradise--and joy unspeakable!

(Translated from Zemlya Imeninitsa V blikiforov-Volgin, Jordanville, 1960)

 

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