Recently, a book came off the press in Russia entitled Flowers for the Saviour. It is a wonderful collection of true stories published by the Byelorussian exarchate of the Moscow Patriarchate. We are going to acquaint you with several stories taken from that book.
The Pink Dress
The beginning of this story goes back to the times when our country was still called the USSR, and I was an awkward teenage girl. My mother had died, and father, in search of earnings, and, possibly, a new wife, travelled all over the country, never putting down roots anyplace for long. For me and my brother, grandma took the place of our parents. The three of us lived on the outskirts of a big city in an old house. Occasionally, father sent us money, but, his help was rare and hardly sufficient. Meanwhile, grandma’s small salary barely covered our basic needs. So, that is why we eventually decided to put up one of our rooms for rent. Therefore, a young woman by the name of Marina appeared in our home. She was tall, slender, and very attractive. She studied at the University, at the Journalism faculty.
Our tenant turned out to be a friendly young woman with a ready smile. I enjoyed spending my free time with her, chatting about anything and everything, sipping tea with candy unhurriedly in our kitchen. Oh, the things we talked about! We discussed the city news, argued and debated about the books we’d read, theatrical productions, concerts… I really came to love Marina. She became my friend and older sister, counselling me on everything. Only grandma, somehow, continued to grumble, “She’s got a sharp tongue, that Marina!”
Grandma also noted that the tenant was always alone and avoided encounters with potential husbands. Marina spent her free time studying or going to concerts and museums with her girlfriends. On other occasions, she would go on trips to the countryside to see the sights. Marina often took me with her. Thanks to her efforts, I was in the know about all events of the cultural life of our town. Oh, another thing… Marina was good at singing folk songs and ballads. She possessed a rich, resonant, and quite remarkable voice.
On one occasion, I was able to reveal the mystery shrouding Marina’s private life. I found out why someone as lovely and good as her was so lonely. One day, I came back from school early and heard muted sobs echoing from our tenant’s room. Concerned, I slightly opened the door and saw the girl weeping; her face was nestled against a rose-white, shiny, piece of fabric. Noticing me, Marina signalled to me to enter the room and pointed to a chair. I entered and sat down. For a while, she continued to sob and sigh, then, she wiped her tears and spread out on the sofa the shiny rose-white material she’d been hugging to herself. It turned out to be a floor-length rose-white dress, embroidered in shiny pearly beads. This sort of rose hue one can sometimes witness on the sky on a wintry morning, at dawn break…
Marina sighed heavily and asked, “Isn’t it beautiful?”
I nodded, trying to picture Marina in the gown. She continued, “I suppose you are wondering why I was weeping so over this dress? So be it. I shall tell you”. Then, she told her story to me.
Marina was born and grew up in a small town. After school, she came to the capital, and entered the University. At a party, she met a certain Aleksandr. They began to see each other. Aleksandr’s parents were high-ranking people, but, of course, a 19-year-old girl never dreamt that this fact could be an impediment to their happiness. She was in love, and she nurtured radiant hopes of happiness. A year later, the two decided to marry. Then, Marina bought the rose-white dress.
Marina was introduced to the parents of her intended and produced an overall good impression. However, that wasn’t enough, and her future and in-laws evinced a desire to meet Marina’s parents. They went on a trip to the small town where her parents lived, and visited her home. There, they discovered that besides having a father who drank heavily and a sweet, but, somewhat high-strung mother, Marina had a younger brother, Aleksei, who had Down’s syndrome. He was good and kind, but… not like everyone else.
After this visit, Marina learned that Aleksandr’s parents were opposed to their marriage. They started pressuring their son to break up with Marina immediately and threatened to cut him off if he disobeyed. One of their main arguments was, “Do you want us to have grandchildren the likes of Marina’s brother?!” Aleksandr was into his last year of studies at a prestigious institute. His parents could set him up with a highly-paid job. The young man had a brilliant career lined up, but… without Marina. Such was the condition set by his parents. Many tears were shed, many words were said. Finally, the young people broke up. Aleksandr tossed Marina out of his life.
“I felt was as if part of my soul died”, Marina said to me. “I became like stone. It is hard to describe the state I was in then. The only place I could find solace was in church. My feet carried me there of their own accord, and I would weep silently there in a corner, gazing at the icons of the Saviour and the Holy Mother of God”. Much time passed since then, but, Marina’s spiritual wound continued to cause her pain. That is why she didn’t seek new acquaintances, although she had many admirers. Soon afterwards, Marina left our home and we lost touch.
Time passed. Perestroika dawned. Grandma went on pension and my brother went into the army, whilst father worked far away from us, in Tyumen, in western Siberia. I finished school and entered the Journalism Department of University… Marina’s influence, no doubt. Round about that time, I met Marina again. On the eve of that encounter, I finally broke up with my boyfriend, our relationship entered an impasse. I wanted to get married and have children, whilst he was in no rush to take on such responsibilities and wanted an easy life without commitment. Neither of us was willing to compromise.
Tears streaming down my face, confused and desolate, I walked across the old park towards my home and before I noticed it, I reached a church. The evening service was underway… I approached the candle box to buy some candles and… stopping in my tracks, the woman selling the candles was none other than Marina. She had put on weight, but, was just as lovely. Our gazes met and she immediately recognised me. “Anechka! How charming you’ve grown!” she exclaimed joyously. “Wait till the service is over then we can talk!”
After service, we sat at length talking on a bench near the church, exchanging news. I discovered that after finishing University, Marina was offered a job at the editorial office of the town newspaper in Sergiev Posad, outside Moscow, where the famous Holy Trinity-St Sergius Monastery is located. Marina began to attend church services there. Then, she started singing in the church choir. She made the acquaintance of a student at the seminary and married him. She gave birth to three lovely children, two boys and a girl. Her parents were still alive, whilst her brother Aleksei had died. People with Down’s syndrome do not live long…
“Our Angel has gone to Heaven”, said Marina. “But, prior to that he lived in France for two years and worked in a special hotel where all the staff was people like him. One of our relatives helped us find a place for Aleksei there. He was so happy! He found so many new friends! You know, the main thing that I discovered was that you needn’t fear to live. You just have to live and pray to God, love, and suffer… be grateful to God for everything! Whilst before I actually feared life! Not any more!”
Saying our goodbyes, Marina and I promised each other to visit and keep in touch. On the following day, I went shopping downtown. I was going to buy high boots for winter and some other items. In a shop window, I saw a long rose-white silk dress decorated with hand-embroidery. It was worthy of the most exacting bride… I bought it…
Happiness Obtained By Prayer
Joyously, Tatiana dashed out of the institute building. She had just passed her last exam for the second year! A week later, she and Vladimir would be married and that same day, wed in church. Tatiana thought, “How thoughtful and kind he is! How we love each other! He is so wonderful I can find no fault with him whatsoever! No wonder my friends say that he is a solid wall I can lean on”.
These thoughts whirled in Tatiana’s head. She smiled and waved her hand to her intended, who was waiting for her in the park opposite the institute. However, when Tatiana reached the dormitory, a telegram was waiting for her with the tragic news that her sister Zinaida had died. Tatiana was bewildered, “What on earth happened? Zinaida was almost never ill”…
It happened that Zinaida had been killed by her husband in a drunken rage. Her 2-year old son Yegor was weeping inconsolably, and repeating the same question, “Where is my Mom?” Tatiana picked him up and held him tightly, saying, “I’m your mother now, Yegor, and that’s all there is to it”.
However, to Tatiana’s surprise, her beloved Vladimir wasn’t at all enthusiastic about her decision to adopt the boy. He wasn’t at all interested in someone else’s child when he would most likely soon have offspring of his own. He insisted that Yegor be sent to an orphanage. The state could look after him. Tatiana was shocked. Apparently she didn’t know the man she was about to marry at all! Without much deliberation she chose the child over her intended. The government didn’t allow Tatiana to adopt Yegor, but, she was granted custody of the child.
Tatiana often thought of Vladimir, reliving the anguish of his betrayal. She knew she ought to forget him, but, it was not easy to do since she still loved him. Tatiana started attending church. That was the only place she found solace. Gradually, the pain subsided…
Tatiana tried her best to be a good mother to the boy. At the institute, she transferred to the correspondence department to be able to get a day job, and found employment at a local department store. After all, she had to provide for herself and the boy. With God’s help she managed pretty well in her circumstances and carried all the burden of responsibility on her fragile shoulders. Finally, her studies were completed and Tatiana took on employment as head stock clerk at the department store. By then, Yegor had turned 7 and was going to school, the first grade. Everything seemed to be going well. However, the boy pained Tatiana with his constant dreams of a father. “If I had a father”, he would say, “we could make a kite, or a bird house, and dad could teach me to play chess!” Listening to her son, Tatiana could barely hold back her tears. Only in church, whilst praying, she found peace of mind.
Once, as she was praying, tears streaming down her cheeks, before the icon to the Holy Mother of God, a young man took notice of her. He had come to pray to St Nicholas the Wonderworker before setting out on a long trip. His name was Viktor. The sight of the weeping girl stirred sympathy in his heart. Waiting for her to come out of the church, he approached her and asked, “Ma’am, has anything happened?”
“No, everything is fine”, Tatiana replied. The young people began talking. Before they knew it they had reached the bus stop. Suddenly, Viktor asked, “Are you married?”
“No, but, I have a son”, said Tatiana. She proceeded to tell Viktor her story… When she was through, Viktor said, “Right now I am going off on holiday to visit my mother in Latvia, but, in a month, on 15 October, let’s meet right here, near the church… Why are you silent? Say ‘Yes!’ I have never made a date like this before”.
“All right”, answered Tatiana, sort of hesitantly. A month passed in anxious anticipation. Tatiana doubted their encounter would take place, but, nonetheless, she went to the church. However, as promised, Viktor was there, waiting for her. He was nervous, “If only she would come! Oh, I should have postponed that trip. As it was, I spent the whole holiday thinking of her…” Finally, Tatiana showed up, and Viktor hurried towards her…
Two months later Victor proposed to Tatiana. She was stunned, “You haven’t forgotten that I have a son?”
“I love you and we shall bring Yegor up together, if you like…”
“Can you play chess?”
“Yes, I can. And I shall teach our Yegor, too, so that we can play together”.
“In that case, I agree…”
Viktor and Tatiana were wed in church and Tatiana wept with joy. This was a happiness obtained by prayer to the Lord and the Holy Virgin… Yegor boasted to his mates: “My father is the best in the world!”
“But didn’t you say your dad was dead?” asked one boy.
“This Father is alive and he loves me. I have his name now”, Yegor replied. Yegor immediately started calling Victor “Dad”, although no one told him to do so, whilst Viktor really came to love the boy and lavished all his free time on him.
from Flowers for the Saviour: Short Stories, Compiled by B. Gonako, Byelorussian Exarchate, Minsk, 2006
Illustrations by Natalia Nvanchik
27 June 2008
The Christian Message from Moscow
Voice of Russia World Service