Vladimir Fainberg writer
Reminiscences of Father Alexander Men
Dear father Alexander,
My heart fails to embrace what happened on September 9, 1990. No voice of reason, not even a grave in the corner of a small churchyard – nothing can make me get used to the fact that you are not here. And will never be with us.
I won’t approach you during the confession, hearing your cheerful, muffled voice:
- My dear, how glad I am that you’ve come! Here is Christ - between the two of us. Tell me what’s torturing you, what is there on your heart?
And your warm hand won’t touch my shoulder, pressing to yourself in fatherlike manner.
… I won’t answer your merry triple bell. You won’t come in, so loud, so big. We won’t give each other a hug, exchanging kisses. Week days won’t turn into festivals.
Mind keeps saying – this is all over. The whole experience of the human race testifies to the same.
But the heart won’t submit. I cannot think, speak, and write, using the word “was”.
For me you are here. All alive. Every hour, every minute. For all times.
What had happened caught me at the height of my work at a new novel which idea I had managed to share with you, reading out the first rough pages. As ever, you kept pressing me: «Speed up writing while you have time and energy, while there’s hope for publishing. Who knows what is there ahead…»
I worked almost round the clock, very hard. All the time I saw your beaming eyes before me. The work turned out to be a life-saving raft in the depth of despair when I had learned of the tragedy.
And now it is over. There is no raft left… Those who know that you granted me with your friendship, keep calling, coming, requesting: do write reminiscences of father Alexander Men’.
But how can I write reminiscences of the one who is for myself alive? It would mean to recognize the fact of your loss.
Father Alexander, Alexander Vladimirovich, Sasha! Week comes after week, and month after month, while again and again I catch myself, with some bitter delight, living through the time when…
… It is snowing.
December, 1977. A gloomy, cold morning. It is freezing. I’m walking back and forth by a church fence in Novaya Derevnya. The gate is locked. The church is closed, today there is no service. In a little house by the church, there isn’t a single window lighted up.
I am appointed for eight. It is almost nine, but the priest isn't coming. Maybe he forgot that it was he himself informing through Olya for me to arrive exactly today, by eight o’clock in the morning?
Then why am I freezing here? They say he is young, that Alexander Men’. That it is not much safe seeing him…
But what could I do if neither the people whom I know, nor the books available to me can answer the questions to have been torturing me for already several years? Recently, when visiting one home I met a first-year student from the MGU (the Moscow University) Psychological Department. Her name is Olya. Olya is a believer. She says that her batyushka1 (1Russ. áàòþøêà - as mode of address to priest – father) is a splendid man, a mine of knowledge.
I am far from religion. Let it be batyushka, I feel myself a starving man, craving for bread of knowledge. My circumstances turn out the way that my old outlook crashed, while a new one cannot get shaped. I never knew it could be so torturous. I ask Olya to speak to the priest, maybe he could find time to see me.
Now the meeting is appointed. And he is never here.
Olya says that Alexander Men' is handsome, majestic.
Whatever he could be, he is not punctual. I’m stiff with cold. Have been waiting for an hour and a half. So why am I not leaving? It’s high time for me to take a bus back to the station and into a train. Might have been already back to Moscow, back home.
…It is snowing. Suddenly I see a passer-by arising behind the snow veil. Dressed too light. A hat. An overcoat. He is running. Running toward me.
Batyushka, at that moment you looked neither handsome nor, the more so, majestic. Before me, I saw a person, also frozen to death.
- Excuse me, for goodness’ sake! Something got wrong with the electric line. A power cut. Kept sitting in the train for the whole hour. I come from Semkhoz, near Zagorsk you know.
You open the gate, stepping up the porch of the little house, unlocking one door, then another.
- Have a seat. Get warm. I’ll be back in a minute.
A small study. It is warm. Bookshelves tightly packed with books. Icons. A writing-desk, two armchairs. Left alone, I’m looking around, trying to get used to the place. You come in, wearing a black cassock and a big silver cross on your chest. And only now I see – yes, handsome, majestic. You are holding two big cups of strong steaming tea.
We sit facing each other. Your eyes are pouring openness.
And still, it is hard, it is so hard to start speaking. I’m afraid that all my questions might sound strange to you.
Indeed, since I started to train in a semi-secret parapsychology laboratory, regularly studying books, copies, manuscripts dealing with amazing problems of which existence I had never suspected before, since I started treating people and, to my own amazement, healing them, - since that time there came a new dimension rushing into my life, breaking the old familiar stereotypes.
I found plenty of people around me, some of them with high academic grades, studying UFO, searching for yeti, investigating mysterious properties of the pyramids… Many are busy promoting “Agni Yoga” by Yelena Ivanovna and Nikolai Konstantinovich Roerich, where it is stated that in the Himalayas there hide almost immortal sages of Shambala who could influence the global ways and, be it their wish, any inhabitant of the earth.
Here, for the first time you interrupt my confused monologue:
- If these sages do exist let them get retired! Just in the space of this century we had two world wars, the blood-stained revolution, and terror never to be ended. The nuclear sword of Damocles, too!
You rise from the armchair, looking thoughtfully round the shelves, taking one book, then another, handing them to me. And then, so much trustfully, so simply you say the words unlocking the door into my future:
- Believe, there is no miracle in the thing that you can heal. It is normal in every person, like an ability to see and to hear. All this is dormant in man in a folded, rudimentary state. The Russian Orthodox Church stays negative toward healing. Modern church is jealous about healers since it lost this gift, though once, during the first centuries of Christianity each temple used to have its own healer…
I'm holding a volume by Vladimir Solovyev, and a book “Sources of Religion” by a certain Svetlov. Naturally, I have no idea that E.Svetlov being one of your pen-names.
You are seeing me to the door. The next room and a small corridor turn out to be packed with sitting and standing people. The whole queue of those eager to see father Alexander Men’, having their own questions, anxiety, pain, and hope.
Father Alexander, Alexander Vladimirovich, Sasha! Due to my typical thoughtlessness I never take notes of what you say. In the space of twelve years of our contact I could have compiled another book - your book. I neither take notes, nor switch on the tape-recorder. Your presence seems to be so natural, everlasting. You wouldn’t take a picture of the sunrise every morning, would you?!
If the people staying with Christ and the Apostles could read and write would they take notes? I don't think so. The presence of a miracle is magnetizing, you think it will stay for ever…
I remember just what I remember.
A winter morning. It is still dark. I leave the Metro for the suburban booking offices at Yaroslavsky station, getting a ticket for a train. And every time I see familiar faces. Frozen, young, happy. These people also go to Pushkino, to the church in Novaya Derevnya.
The train rushes past the snow-covered Moscow outskirts, plants, fences, dachas. Slowly, as if in a drowse, it dawns. I’m bringing back another pile of the finished books that you “pilot” me with. They are different – theological, scientific, philosophical ones. Answering one question, they are waking even more others. There’s a tremendous process developing in my soul. You are not pushing me anywhere, giving total inner freedom.
Though an author of nine published books of verses and prose, it is long that I’ve been unable to write the way I did it before. Though everything I wrote was sincere, my former understanding of the world, people, and events now seems to be deficient, lacking something principal, fundamental.
This winter I come to you very often. And all the time I keep waiting when you say straightforwardly: «You must get christened. It is only Christianity that could give you the only reliable starting point, the only right way». All your works are crying about it!
But for some strange reason you never say that, keeping to “pilot” me with books.
…Here is Pushkino. At the stop of bus 24, there's a company of the same girls and boys. They are all different, but it is one family. The local old people also get up into a coming bus. Members of the same family. Knowing each other. Greeting, smiling. Going to the temple like to a festival.
The bus leaves the plain quarters of the small town. At the crossroad it turns to the left, toward the old Yaroslavsky road, and Novaya Derevnya. The white snow sets off the green colour of the pines. A rising sun throws light on the dome of a simple wooden church standing in a lane.
Taking off my cap, I step up the porch. To the left and right, there are beggars – a thin old guy with a drip on his nose, and an aged girl with glossy cheeks and cunning eyes of a drinker. They are both disgusting like all parasites. Pretending not to see their impudently stretched hands, I’m passing by.
The service is already on. In the choir, there are old sisters, singing movingly. By the right side-alter there is a line. You are standing there under a big icon of St. Trinity, covering a bent head with a stole.
Though I am here not the first time, many things keep to me strange, but today, though alien, unchristened, I suddenly realize what I’ve never sensed before: here is my home, here I feel well, feel myself. At the same time, I’m scared of what is called “rites”: when one zealously worships the exterior, the outer form.
Toward the end of the liturgy when everybody is following you with the Lord’s Prayer, I’m attracted by a beaming face of a frail aged woman standing in the left choir. Her eyes are pouring a visible stream of love. Like a sunbeam, it throws light on everybody, echoing a response.
- Who is that woman? – I ask you when the parishioners start leaving the church after kissing the cross, and the sermon.
- This is my mother, Yelena Semyonovna. May I introduce you? I’d like to ask you, if possible try to help her – she has liver problems.
You entrust me with your nearest and dearest person.
Maybe just because of this, later when we are left by ourselves in the little study, I dare saying:
– Father Alexander, batyushka, do christen me. I seem to have ripened.
– It is just your pioneer enthusiasm, – you reply. – Is it long since you’ve read the Gospel?
- At one time, managed to cope with the whole Bible, – say I, somewhat hurt, – in Koktebel’. Kept reading the whole winter. Was made by Maria Stepanovna Voloshina.
– The Old Testament requires a key. While the Gospel… Have you got the Gospel? Calmly, without making haste, try to read it again. When you really ripen I will feel it, fixing the date of your christening myself. Agreed?
I can feel that you may be right. Still, I feel hurt. And I ask you about those nasty beggars at the porch. Why should people give alms to them, obvious parasites?
– The sun equally throws light on everybody, – say you, – same as the mercy of God. Why have you started judging these wretched creatures? Who knows what brought them to this state…
All the winter, and all the year of 1978, however busy I was, I keep in touch with Yelena Semyonovna, coming to see her at her place. Often, and always sudden, I meet with you in this little flat when you come to visit your mother, bringing her food and medicine.
You know that Yelena Semyonovna’s liver is badly ruined. I can only relieve pain and terrible itch.
Naturally, she tells me much about you, your childhood, a “catacomb” church, and your aunt, supplying me with a copy book of her reminiscences for me to read. Once she presents me with a small book in blue cover, published in Warsaw. It is a prayer-book from which I learned my prayers and which I am reverently keeping as a relic.
Now that I am writing, your mother arises before me as clearly as if she were alive. I can see her face of the amazing biblic beauty which features seem to have imprinted the times of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Neither age, nor diseases have power over her when she sees you, or when we talk about you. She is all beaming with divine motherly love. Once she happens to let out: “It bears hard on him. Very hard. Volodya, when I die – please, don’t leave him. For God’s sake”.
But Yelena Semyonovna knows just a minor part of the environment in which you conduct your serving. From the attic of the neighbouring house the KGB agents take pictures of everybody stepping into the temple, while the senior priest, jealous and full of envy, is appointed to track your every step, and every sermon. Informants are available among the parishioners, too.
But this isn’t the whole story.
One spring night, when we leave Yelena Semyonovna’s place, I ask you:
- Aexander Vladimirovich, do you happen to know that some dissidents take you for a very secret general from KGB? They say that you purposely assemble young people and Moscow intellectuals around you, confessing and informing on them.
– Now it is really something new! - You are laughing like a child. - But I heard that I was a secret agent of Zionism. Others proclaim that Men’ is a secret Catholic, struggling against the Orthodox Church, while the people in “the organs” take me as an agent of the CIA, or a dissident. And now I turn out to be not less than a KGB general!
- Well, if you are a general, then I’m a colonel.
And I tell you a story how in my time in Sukhumi I used to meet a stranger in a trolleybus, who always greeted me with an exclamation: «Salute, colonel!» When I wondered why it was just colonel, he told me that every person came to this world in a certain military rank. «Let us take you. Though lame and not liable for calling up, you look a typical colonel! You could do your best, letting yourself go all out, - but you will never be a general!»
Alexander Vladimirovich, you are laughing, saying that you’ve never heard such an original concept about man, while I for the first time feel anxious about you, your fate: “True you are standing alone open to the four winds. What is expecting you? The fate of the Apostles?”
Since that time I’ve always felt gripped with alarm. Since that same time, you’ve started jokingly calling me “Colonel”.
All that time, I read and reread the Gospel, other theological books. I do not doubt a second that I made the right choice. But how difficult it is to follow the Commandments in everyday life, day after day! I have a desperate situation at home. Helpless retired parents, big problems with my son. Personally, haven’t been published for a long time. A constant need of money.
I’m torn between relatives, daily cares, and a stream of patients whom I receive every morning.1 (1The author of these reminiscences helps the sick free of any charge. – Edit.)
One summer day I join a queue in a shop. Some lanky guy forces his way to the counter to get sausage, pushing shy old ladies aside. I request him to stand into the line. He turns to me: «That’s no of your dirty business, you, Jid!»
Returning the insult, my right hand is automatically clenched into a fist – a reflex gained by years of humiliation. Another second – and we shall come to blows.
And here, father Alexander, I start thinking of you, the Gospel, the Commandments. How hard the words come! As if I am learning to speak a new, incredible language:
- How are you called? – I ask the lanky guy. – I’ll be praying for you.
The guy’s fists are also dropping. Without buying any sausage, he leaves the shop.
The queue is looking at me bewildered, while I am all burning with strange heat.
Suddenly the guy shows up again. He approaches me, all wretched and crushed.
- Forgive me, brother. Please, do…
This is how I learn, conceiving new attitude toward people and the world.
Just at that time, the icon of Christ blackened with smoke gets to me by some incredible, strange way, as if all by itself. In the open book which Chirst holds in His hands it is inscribed: “Come to Me, all of you who are tired from carrying heavy loads».
It is just amazing that knowing nothing about all these events, you suddenly say when we meet again:
- On the twelfth of July we have a big festival – the Day of St.Peter-and-St.Paul-the-Apostles. Get ready. Please, come. After the service, I will christen you.
Here comes the eve of the feast day. Late at night I wind up the clock, setting an alarm for six o’clock in the morning to avoid, God forbid, missing the train. I repeat the prayers, “The Apostles' Creed”, and once again, sadly run through the events of my sinful life.
And here, it all began.
“What on earth are you doing?! – think I, the person who looked forward to the day of christening for so many months. – Wearing a little cross, kissing icons, putting candles together with old girls, observing fasts… How could you come to that: at your own free will falling into arms of the church which is obedient to the state in everything… Father Alexander Men’ is a mere exception. And you, as any person failing to get adjusted to the system, are longing for compassion, for some way of oblivion. Eternal life, the Kingdom of Heaven – who knows for sure if they exist?”
As if with millstones, these thoughts grind up everything I managed to achieve during the previous months, every fruit of my inner work.
At last I go to bed between one and two at night, taking a final decision - not to go to Novaya Derevnya. But I can’t fall asleep. Hardly am I closing my eyes when there come black and white stripes and blurs, flashing through. I’m in a fit of delusion, dizziness.
I get up, switch on the light. The stripes keep on flashing already in the open eyes. I have never experienced anything like that either before, or after.
My look falls at the wall, at the icon of the Saviour. «Lord Jesus Christ, save me!” - I am desperately addressing God. I raise my right hand, clumsily crossing myself. Instantly, the dilusion is over. As if cut off. It is four o’clock in the morning. I go back to bed.
In two hours the alarm clock gets me up. It is a cool summer morning. I quickly rise, get myself ready. Feeling rested, steady, happy with what is coming.
In your small study after the service you baptize me into Christ.
Upon confessing, you give me absolution for my whole previous life, saying that now I am as innocent as a newborn, putting on a cypress cross on a chain.
I am seized with a sense of great responsibility.
Then I tell you what happened the night before.
- My dear, forgive me! I was to warn you. Things do happen. Quite often. It is a typical attack of dark spirits, the devil’s powers. It is so good that you addressed God for help! There were cases, you know, when a person going to be christened all of a sudden fell asleep on a train, missing Pushkino, or took the wrong train, finding himself in Bolshevo or some other place. There were all kinds of things!
You are hotly embracing me, presenting a bound copy of your book “Forerunners of the Heavenly Kingdom”. Making an inscription:
«May the memory of this day live for ever. À. 78.12.VII».
Joining the church life and the church calendar is like linking to eternity. Saints and martyrs of Christianity become as close and dear as the people surrounding you in the church.
Gradually, a solid mass of the worshippers is opening into a collection of brilliant individuals, your true brothers and sisters. It is only an alien look that could take them for a faceless crowd.
Here is Maria Yakovlevna – an elderly peasant woman from Novaya Derevnya. How many troubles have befallen her! But how much kindness there stays in her smile, in her eyes. Whenever she sees you she is sure to congratulate with a feast day, kissing and saying: «May Christ save you, Volodya!»
And your heart will echo with a hot wave of kindness and affection.
Or a moving thin voice by Sonyechka that could be recognized from afar in the choir! She is always at her place, like a little star in the sky!
In the space of several years, quite spontaneously I start feeling myself a member of a true Christian community.
Batyushka, what a pity I’ve failed keeping any of your notes with a request to help this or that parishioner. Every note ended with a drawing – a little hare or a squirrel… Not only that you have hundreds and hundreds of parishioners whom you know by names, remembering the stories of their life with all their problems, but you also manage to find an analogue in the kingdom of animals or plants for each of them.
Any serious, important things coming from you are often given in a comic manner. And how many innocent and childish features there are in yourself!
However, your beard and moustache are starting to be touched with grey… There comes a day when we have a funeral repast for Yelena Semyonovna – your mother.
And in several months, on a frosty, blizzard night there’s a sudden triple bell. I open the door.
Frozen, all covered with snow, with swollen bags under your eyes, it is you, my batyushka! In one of your hands you are holding a heavy bag full of books, in the other one – a string shopping bag crammed with packages of milk, bottles of kefir, a box of eggs, butter, oranges...
- Aha, that’s where your live, Colonel!
Father Alexander, Alexander Vladimirovich, Sasha, that was how on that night you enter my home. You meet my parents, my son, seeing with your own eyes the environment you know about from my stories.
We are all sitting by the kitchen-table, having dinner, enjoying oranges. You develop a full contact with my folks, as if you’ve known each other all your life.
- Batyushka, why on earth did you load yourself with that shopping bag, queuing up? – say I when we stay by ourselves.
- Colonel, it is slippery today, snowing hard. You are sure to have problems doing shopping, - you reply. – All the same I was downtown.
You sink into the armchair opposite my little green-house with tropical plants. And … I can see a deadly tired man who wants to be left alone if only for a minute.
I leave the room, tightly shutting the door.
- What marvellous batyushka you have, - says my mother, - is it really possible that all the priests are that same?
I am putting my finger to my lips.
In a quarter of an hour, the door opens again.
- Lovely plants, Colonel! Seemed to have visited the jungles of the Amazon! Well, I must hurry, maybe I could catch 21.40 train. – All of a sudden, you are hotly whispering into my ear: - They summoned me to be interrogated.
Replying to my lost, inquiring look, already from the staircase I hear your triumphant thundering cry:
- It’s all right. We shall break through!
Here, in the very heart of a totalitarian, atheistic state a gigantic work is created. It follows the history of inner strivings of the whole mankind. Each of its six volumes brings to an irrefutable conclusion: history of mankind being its way to God – a roundabout, tangled, full of tragic retreats, but having a constant vector.
The work is created by a single person.
You’re sitting silently beside me. We are moving down Yaroslavsky highway to the settlement of Semkhoz.
I never, not a single time, asked you how you managed to send those books to Belgium and have them published there. I know there are topics which shouldn’t be touched upon up to a definite moment. I often see you entering names, addresses, phone numbers into your tattered notebooks, using conventional hooks clear only to yourself. You do this in case of being searched not to do harm to others.
You, a priest, in deed day after day preaching sincerity, love, non-violence, have to lead a life of a conspirator. For years, decades, - any day expecting an arrest.
Father Alexander, Alexander Vladimirovich, Sasha! What can I do for you, except praying?!
What hatred is provoked in the upper circles of the hierarchy by the fact that you have Jewish blood flowing in your veins! Blood of the Apostles, the Holy Virgin, Christ Himself! They also hate you out of envy. A person who, under persecution of religion, is attracting, through his preaching, his serving, thousands of hearts, who all by himself accomplished a work of the worldwide importance. The church pastors, to their disgrace, manage to avoid publishing your works in the editions of the Patriarchate. Together with other «pastors» from the organs of State Security, they cannot wait for a moment to isolate you from people, to get destructed.
- What are you mourning of, Colonel?
- Nothing. Nothing special, batyuska.
I’m driving my hand geared «zaporozhets» recently obtained through a social security department, blessed by you today at the church gate. Driving with all my care: next to me, there’s the most precious of human lives.
- Slow down, Colonel, stop! – you ask.
On a steep hillock, we leave the car, getting to the side.
- Look, how beautiful it is! There, down the valley, is Radonezh – the native place of Reverend Sergij! I've been looking forward to show you this place.
Lovingly, you are telling about the saint hermit granted with arising of the Holy Virgin. The great patriot of the Russian land.
I am hearing you and regret that certain bosses of the Russian Orthodoxy can’t see, can’t hear you now. Every day they seem to call others to repentance. So if some day they are going to read these lines, may they belatedly repent themselves which fate they prepared for Alexander Men’!
Father Alexander, Alexander Vladimirovich, Sasha! Your lips are moving. You are standing at the side of the road on a steep slope, praying:
- Î godlike brow, reverend and godly father Sergije…
I am listening carefully, shyly repeating after you:
- By your prayer, and your faith, and your love to God, and by purity of your heart…
Then we arrive in Semkhoz, and for the first time I get into your place.
Today, here I will tell you an idea of the book to have thought up in the space of the recent years. I feel excited. The whole experience of my inner life seems to be crystallizing, developing a strong feeling that I am just obliged bringing it to people.
- Be ready to have dinner. Let me fix you this little soup, – say you, and indeed start cooking dinner.
- Thank you, batyushka. If it’s for my sake, I never have soup. Besides, I’m not hungry. We’d rather have a talk.
- No, Colonel, no, dear! Ladles always disappear! – you’re crooning, stirring something in the saucepan, putting a frying pan on the stove, pouring water into the kettle.
Cooking seems to give you a pleasure. Same as anything you start doing, - you do it with pleasure.
As rajah-yogi believe, man’s positive or negative vibrations tend to pass into the things he makes, be it cooked food, a piece of art, or, say, a built house.
In any case, you treat me to a very tasty dinner, then we have coffee, me sharing an idea of my future book.
You are sitting with your beard propped in your hand, now frowning, now smiling. Then you get up and start walking by the table. Suddenly you interrupt me:
- Start writing immediately!
- But I don’t seem to be ready. And then, who is going to publish it?
- And this shouldn't worry you. All is in the Lord’s power. You business is to have it written. It’s imperative. How much have you already done?
- Not a line.
- Well, Colonel, you are simply a lazy-bone! We must hurry while we are alive. Who knows what is expecting us… I bless you! – You are crossing me. – Write freely, to your utmost. And mind, however busy I might be, I will come listening what you are going to scratch.
This is how it started.
It is difficult to imagine if I could finish the novel without your support. Over those years I lost my parents – first mother, then father. They arrested the people whom I thought to be my best friends. And every day – the sick from every town.
Due to desperate hardships the work on the book stretched over seven years. All that time you are staying close by. Once or twice a month, be it summer heat or hard frost, you come to my place, and I open a blue paper-case with the manuscript pages piling up. Start reading aloud. You now have tea, now stand up, walking up and down the room, or making notes-the-hooks on a sheet of paper.
I can’t recall a single case when you criticized the text or composition. But if you feel that I am not clear enough in terms of the world vision, or if I am shy drawing certain conclusions which seem to me too much stunning for a reader, you deliver the whole lecture. Indeed inspiring.
After that I drive you to Yaroslavsky station.
- God save you! – You cross me, get out of the car and without turning back stride to a train. A broad-shouldered figure with a hat and raincoat on, holding an invariable bag in your hand. Now you are already hidden by the crowd…
One summer day there’s a phone call. It’s Lyidochka Muranova – a parishioner from our temple, a professional sound recordist, a dressmaker, an all-round expert.
- Vladimir L’vovich! I have father Alexander at my place. It is bad with him. A high fever, might be about forty! Something is wrong with his spine. I’m calling secretly, he doesn’t allow to bother you.
I write down the address, racing my “zaporozhets” into one of the Arbat lanes. Step into the apartment where you stand dictating to a tape recorder, wincing with pain.
I touch your forehead. Indeed, burning. Lyida and I make you taking your temperature. It is thirty eight point nine.
It turns out that you periodically suffer from suppuration of the inborn spinal cyst. Presently, it is a particularly acute case.
I call a familiar surgeon at Hospital 71 in Kuntsevo. He says it’s a serious case. The suppuration should be urgently opened through a minor surgery. He promises meeting us at the reception ward.
- Alexander Vladimirovich, let us go! Immediately.
- What’s the harm, Colonel? It will resolve.
Lyida and I forcibly help you to get ready, taking down to the car. I see that you already can’t sit in a proper way, leaning against the seat with your side.
I leave a tangle of the Arbat lanes, hearing an inviting call of a black “chaika” which, leaving us behind, brakes down by the kerb. In the “chaika”, there is a person in the metropolitan white vest.
- It is Juvenal. Slow down, Colonel!
In a minute, all lost, I follow the “chaika” alone. The metropolitan’s car together with you drives into the gates of the Patriarchate foreign department in Ryleev Street.
I am waiting by the kerb. For ten, twenty minutes, half an hour. In the reception ward, the surgeon is waiting as well.
Finally, you leave out. Moving somewhat sideling, limping. You are smiling.
- Excuse me! Juvenal seems to be the only hierarch treating me well. Rescuing as much as he can…
- And do you know, batyushka, that in your state any delay is dangerous?
- All is in God's power!
The surgeon is indeed waiting for us in the reception ward. We take the lift to his room. From there you are taken for an examination.
Soon you show up again accompanied by the surgeon.
- In principle, there is a need in a major surgery, - he says, - and now we must at least open the inflamed locus. Under local anaesthesia. And mind, after that the patient will have to stay here until morning.
You are looking at me inquiringly, like a child.
- Maybe we shan’t do it, shall we?
I give my consent. This is the only case when I take a decision for yourself. And I stay in the doctor’s room alone.
While you were out in the surgery, I thought myself sick. Your relatives, they don’t know anything… What is left is to be praying for everything to go off safely.
- Colonel! Have you been bored here to death? – The hospital attendants bring you in, put on the sofa. Looking pale, bandaged all over.
You are followed by the surgeon.
- I’m leaving. Here is the key from my room. Here are some medicines. In the morning they will put a new bandage – then you could slowly go home. By the way, here is a thermometer. In some one hour – an hour and a half, take his temperature.
- What's the time? – you ask as soon as we are left by ourselves.
- Between four and five.
- Great! Might get home before dark.
- You won’t go anywhere.
- I will! I will! – you’re crooning, starting to rise. – I feel fine! Just fine!
- Now the anaesthetic is about to stop – and you will see!
- Colonel, if you indeed treat me well, help me with my jacket and shoes.
- Not on your life! Lie down! Mind, batyushka, it’ll come to a fight. I will let you nowhere.
- All right. I’ll be lying for another half an hour, and then we’ll start. Agreed?
I decide to avoid answering. Hopefully, you will get relaxed, falling asleep. I come up to the window, looking into the hospital yard, at the green of the trees.
- Look here, the temperature seems to have fallen. Colonel, stop being sulky. Let us take it.
In a minute you triumphantly hand me a thermometer.
- Thirty six point eight!
- Did you shake it before putting?
- Let us put it again, - I shake the thermometer, thrusting it under your armpit. – Alexander Vladimirovich, it is not good to deceive your neighbour!
In five minutes I take it back – it is thirty seven point four.
- But is it really temperature?! – you start rising again. – Vladimir L'vovich, Volodya, for Christ’s sake, let us leave the place. I want to be back home. At home even walls are helpful, I mean it!
You are disarmingly smiling, entreating. And I surrender.
We pick up the medicines and leave the hospital. I support you, helping you with your heavy bag. - And hear you laughing. You are roaring with laughter, even though it hurts you a lot.
- What is it, batyushka?
- From aside, we are but two dervishes. One is hardly dragging himself, while the other is limping. A very nice couple!
At long last we get to the “zaporozhets”. Instantly, there’s a new attack.
- I hope you are driving toward Yaroslavsky station, aren’t you?
Certainly, not. I’ll be taking you right home, to Semkhoz.
- In no case! I will go by train. It hurts me to go by car, it’s too jolty.
- Do you mean it is smooth on the train?
- It is! Since long, a train has become my good home, my study. If I’m lucky to take a seat I keep busy writing, reading. Got accustomed to it. And now it hurts me on the car. All right, Volodya?
- All right, Sasha, - it then escapes me for the first time.
At Yaroslavsky station I put you into a train. Instantly, you take out a pen and a sheet of paper from your bag, laying a paper-case underneath.
After you come to my place to listen to new pages of the novel, I normally don’t take you back to the station at once. Very often we have to travel through Moscow streets and lanes for hours, visiting the apartments where you conduct your occasional rites, giving communion to the sick and dying, christening, marrying. I try to help you as I can.
One hot summer evening you ask me to take you to the area of Tushino. We are long straying in search of a senior citizens home. At last we drive into a yard overgrown with poplars.
You leave the car, saying:
- Wait for me here. It is terrible inside.
- It’s all right, batyushka. I’m coming with you.
- No. You can’t imagine what is going on there. You won’t stand it.
You walk down a path through the poplar fluff, opening a shabby door.
Left in the car, I think about your loneliness. Official christening, marrying, administering Eucharist being allowed only inside the church. Every time when meeting people you take risks…
And we, your spiritual children, often forget of it, tending just to use you, forget of the environment your serving goes on. Many just compromise you. This one happens to get divorced after a church wedding, while that one, hardly has he repented his sins, manages to commit monstrous deeds. Today you told me about a guy addicted to nonconformity, and then from an isolator (in former USSR, special prison for political detainees and espionage suspects) he wrote a slanderous letter against you from dictation. You described this, not in the least condemning the weak, silly guy.
When I got indignant I heard:
- And what do you expect? If you could notice, in the temples there are many who are simply insane. We have the very human material which we have. It it not to angels that Christ came…
In an hour the shabby door opens again. You approach me, looking strangely grey, suddenly grown old.
- Excuse me, Colonel. I kept you waiting.
In silence we drive to Yaroslavsky station.
- What was it there, batyushka?
- Loneliness, humiliation, desperateness, terrible poverty, urine smell, dirty torn bedsheets. Poor old women! By the way, almost all of them have prosperous children, grandchildren. Handed them over to the state to die.
- What on earth is happening? Batyushka, you have to listen to confessions from hundreds of people. What do they think of themselves?
- Îh, Colonel! This one comes to be blessed to have his tooth extracted, this is angry with his mother-in-law, while that one is laying claims to God – see, He seems never to be hearing his prayers. They are all victims, underloved people who never got a grain of love, and hence, unable to give it to anybody. We should be patient…
- Alexander Vladimirovich, you look tired. Isn't it time to have vacations?
- Honestly, have nowhere to go. In the past, for many years used to go to Koktebel’, taking a room. It was good there. I would work, bathe. The very last time, when I was out they unexpectedly fell down with a search, turning everything upside down… Frightened the landlady. Can I let anybody down?
On Wednesday, in the afternoon, you are to come to my place. And on the table I have an unfinished chapter, maybe the most important in the novel.
I get up early. A summer morning. I am picturing you, canonically dressed, standing in the sunlight streaming from the temple’s windows: «Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Ghost!»
For all that like all other parishioners I regularly visit Novaya Derevnya, confessing and receiving communion, I always lack that feeling of involvement, attachment to the high.
And still, just the awareness of the fact that in a little church near Moscow there is a service, a liturgy on, by the altar behind the royal gates (central doors in iconostasis in Orthodox churches) you are appealing to the Lord, - only this gives confidence that nothing bad will happen – either to myself, or to other people, or to the whole world.
I know there are believers from other countries – members of the Orthodox Church and Catholics from Italy, France, Belgium, even the United States who go to big expenses only to arrive here, and, let it be just once, to join, from the bottom of their hearts, a service in your temple.
After saying prayers, I sit down to work, in hope I could manage to be through with the chapter before we meet.
Suddenly, there’s a phone call.
- Colonel! I have just arrived. Calling to warn you that today we shall scarcely see each other.
- What’s the matter?! I thought you were serving.
- No way! By ten I am urgently summoned to the Patriarchate. And by twelve – to the Council for Religious Affairs.
- Is anything wrong?
- It’s all the same. Pray for me.
- Just a minute! Alexander Vladimirovich, Sashen’ka, hang on! I’m leaving at once. I must be staying with you. Where shall we meet?
- Colonel, you must be writing. Why spoiling the work morning?
- Can you really think that now I could write just anything?!
- All right. In the area of Zubovskaya. By the monument to Tolstoy. At eleven thirty.
… Well in advance, I drive up to the public garden. It’s a hot, sultry day heating up. There are pensioners with their papers sitting on the benches, mums wheeling prams with babes.
«Good Lord, save and have mercy upon my batyushka, father Alexander, guard him from every trouble, every evil…» I am standing by the monument, praying as I can.
Lately, they’ve started having articles in the papers where Alexander Men’ almost directly is called the CIA agent. It is more than once that you received letters from anti-Semites, threatening with murder…
At last, at the end of the boulevard alley, I see you. You’re coming toward me, broadly smiling.
We get into the car, setting off.
- They are summoning me for an interrogation. To the Council for Religious Affairs.
- Why not to KGB?
- Perhaps it’s more convenient to them. So to speak, under the religious protection… Or, rather, the anti-religious one.
We get out into Sadovoye circle, driving up to a big mansion.
- Batyushka, I’ll be waiting for you.
- Thank you. But I don’t know how long it could be.
- No matter how long.
The sun is burning. Nearby, there is Sadovoye circle roaring. Through the smell of burning, it is driving along an endless stream of cars. Under the stunted lime-trees there are passers-by walking about. Almost each of them, just in some one or two years, will learn the name of the person being interrogated within this mansion.
There are «volgas» with curtained back glasses, driving out therefrom. Perhaps, in one of those you are taken to Lubyanka, or Lefortovo…
«Good Lord, Jesus Christ, I beseech You, defend and save my batyushka Alexander!»
Finally, you show up, smiling. Get into the car.
- Anyhow, it is great, Colonel, that you’ve been waiting here! I felt, heard how you were praying.
- Is that all, batyushka?
- No way! They are having a dinner break you know. Until two o’clock we could be free. Let us go to your place listening to your new chapters.
- We don’t have time. It's only fifty minutes left. You should also fortify yourself.
- I don’t feel hungry. Would rather have some soda water.
I get you to the Writers’ Club, getting sandwiches, coffee, and pepsi at the bar.
- Batyushka, what do they want from you?
- Not to publish anything else abroad, - you’re having one glass of pepsi after another. – They are interested how my manuscripts got there. By the way, when we go back, don’t stop so close to this institution. I’m afraid they have already notched you.
- And I’m not afraid. It is long ago that I decided not to be afraid. After all, we are doing nothing wrong, aren’t we?
We again drive up to the Council for Religious Affairs. I again stay alone. An hour passes after an hour. You are never back. I follow every black «volga driving out».
Now the heat of the day is beginning to fail. At long last, at a quarter to six you approach the car.
- Is that all, batyushka?
- For today, yes.
- What do you mean?!
- Tomorrow I must be here again. By ten o’clock in the morning. And now let’s go listening to your new chapters.
- But, father Alexander, you are tired, you don’t look yourself. Let me drive you to the station.
- In no case! Come on!
- At home I make tea, hastily fix sandwiches. Read out the unfinished chapter.
- Are you acquainted with philosophy by Henri Bergson?
- It’s amazing! Actually, you write about the same things, only artistically shaped. Next time I am sure to bring you Bergson’s work. It will be extremely interesting for you to read it. Extremely so! He is one of the few philosophers who had a great influence over me. Know what? I will now give you a concept of his basic works. You need it, it’s just necessary for you.
- Thank you! But tomorrow you must get up early, you again have this Calvary lying ahead.
- It’s all right. Only let me make a few calls. And I will tell you everything.
In some three hours, I take you to the station in order to meet you again the next morning, and again to go – there.
In this way, there are several days passing by. Just within that time your hair obviously turned grey.
On a warm night, we landed in an unknown city with its mosques and minarets, lighted up with projectors, towering into the starry sky.
You are holding the keys from an empty flat they gave you in Moscow. In the downtown, by the very Registan, we find Komarov Street.
- Here we are in Samarkand! – You are dropping a travelling bag on the chair. – Let’s have tea and stroll about the night town, breathing in the air of Asia.
In half an hour we are striding through deserted streets among sleeping trees and mediaeval mausoleums.
- It is exactly how I pictured all this! – say you.
Seeing that you urgently needed to relax, switching to other things, I knocked out a business trip in one of the central newspapers with an obligation to write an article on problems of building new residential quarters in Samarkand, Bukhara, and Khiva, taking you to accompany me.
- How are you going to introduce me under our further travel I wonder? An architect? Or maybe the secretary of the oblast committee? Besides, in hotels they require to indicate my occupation.. It is not all that simple, Colonel. I might get you into trouble I’m afraid.
- Batyushka, don’t you yourself constantly repeat– “all is in the Lord’s power”! To avoid tempting the fate, I’ll be saying that you are a professor, an expert in the Oriental history, especially as it is the whole truth. Aren’t you really an expert?
At dawn I wake up from a turtledove’s cooing behind the open window. Cast a glance at the sofa where you are sleeping. Your face looks anxious, not yet relieved of Moscow troubles.
Quietly, I go outside, deepening into a labyrinth of pise walls, getting to a little bazaar where they sell hot flat cakes, fresh saltyish cottage cheese, grapes, and pomegranates.
With a bag thick with food, I return. There’s a kettle already singing on the gas-stove, and you, all washed, with a towel over your shoulder, come to meet me.
- Excuse me, slept almost too long. Let us pray.
You approach the window where in the blue air the sun is rising over the tops of the trees. Cross yourself. I repeat the prayer words after you. From now on, this is how we start every morning.
Then we go out into the city, visiting museums, Tamerlan tombs, ancient palaces, archaeological excavations. Meeting with architects, too. Together with me, you get into problems of creating modern dwelling-houses. A local architect - a young Uzbek - shows us projects and designs of white residential quarters-makhalya made in the folk tradition. Each apartment is supplied with a personal shady courtyard, and has a big loggia screened off from the others
The architect guides us through Samarkand, opening its secret corners inaccessible to ordinary tourists.
- Colonel, be sure to write about this man, he must be supported through newspaper, - say you, adding – What a talented nation!
We usually dine at the bazaar or in the chaikhana by the khauz-pond. You get accustomed to green tea, pilau, and manty. Your forehead acquires a delicate sun-tan.
Once on our way home, when passing a street photographer, you suddenly suggest:
- Let’s have our photo taken!
- Don’t like it. Is it really worth doing?
- It is. Who knows what might happen. There will be memory.
You put your hand on my shoulder, and we remain imprinted full length against Registan with its ancient minarets.
Next day, we take a trip to even more ancient Shakhrisabz. A bus is slowly wheeling down a dusty road amid cotton fields. Here is a herd of cattle dragging by the roadside. You grasp my hand.
- Look! See a light-coloured strip along the bulls’ spine? It is the very breed they used to have in Assyria. Isn’t it amazing? All this has stayed, living until today…
In dirty Shakhrisabz, after touring mosques and ruins of mausoleums, when it is already dark we come up to a new pompous “Intourist” hotel flooded with light. I show my travelling authority, asking for a double room.
- And who is it accompanying you? – asks a suspicious hotel manager.
- It is not him, it is me who is accompanying him, a famous historian! Alexander Vladimirovich, give me you passport.
When in the room, we have a wash.
- This time we have got through, - say you. – It is just awful to realize that you are totally deprived of every right.
- Don’t be upset, batyushka, perestroika has begun. Everything will be changed.
We get down to the restaurant to dine. There’s a dance orchestra roaring on the stage, with a semi-drunk raging sea around it.
After having a bite we get into a little square by the hotel, sitting down on a bench.
- Even in the Crimea and the Caucasus, I have never seen such stars! You know, I’m often questioned – when are we going to have Doomsday? And I answer that it could start in a second. Any moment. We should be always ready. It is indeed so. But deep in my heart I’m convinced that Christianity is just starting. For God a thousand years is like one day… You have just seen those people. Utterly unmoved neither with the Sermon by Mohammed, nor, the more so, by Christ.
- How could they come to know about it?.. The mosques are ruined. I’m not mentioning the churches. In the space of seventy years the atheists did their best.
- Do you really think it is the atheists to blame for destructing the churches? - No, the true culprits being false Christians, all those merchants and noblemen, bloodsuckers torturing serfs, drinking, leading dissolute life, while before death, trying to pay off from their sin through making donations to build temples. It is also clergymen who are to blame, those drinking, fitting in with secular authorities, blessing all sorts of disgrace. The atheists were but a tool of the Lord’s wrath. Reread the Prophets, and you will see everything.
We sit with our heads thrown back, looking into the black cosmos studded with stars.
Meanwhile, early in the morning we are to be back in Samarkand so that before noontime to fly to Bukhara - our next destination.
We are thumbing a lift by the roadside. There’s a “zhiguli” coming to a halt. Its driver – a thin aged Uzbek is heading just to Samarkand. He drives through a different, mountain road across a pass.
The window glasses are turned down. A cool breeze is fanning our faces. A furious twitter gets louder and louder. There are mountains towering in the distance, and a dazzling sun disc getting out from behind…
A week in Bukhara flashes by. Here, too, the local architects take us around the city, sharing their problems. We visit Ulugbek’s madrasah and the Samonids’ mausoleum.
Once on the platform in a chaikhana, we find ourselves in a company of elders-the-aksakals. These grey-bearded people with their heads in turbans involve us into a talk on ancients customs, Avitsenna, gods and heroes of early times. You talk to them so respectfully.
Satisfied with green tea we are about to leave. One of the elders stops me asking:
- Who is that man? A scholar? May Allah make his days longer!
Meantime, there comes the morning when upon saying good-bye to the architects, and checking out from the hotel we arrive at the airport to leave for Khiva, our final destination, where we are to be met by the chief city architect.
It is more than an hour before the departure.
- Colonel, why languishing in the stuffy hall? Look, there’s a gorgeous summer-house over there, wound with vines. Let’s go and talk at ease. Remember, you promised telling me of your mystic experience.
In the summer-house it is really nice. The sun is penetrating through dry grape leaves. Sparrows’ twitter doesn’t muffle the announcer informing of flights.
- Batyushka, I’m sorry but it pretty aches at the back of my head. To tell the truth, I don’t feel like discussing any mystic experience.
- Poor thing! Curing everybody, while having your own pressure jump up. – You place your palms upon my crown, praying. The pain is over.
- So you can cure, can’t you?
We are talking about the mystic experience. Mine. Yours. You turn out to have had striking things. And again, you ask me never to mention this to anybody.
- See, we happened to live through the things that should be kept deep in the heart. I’m not mentioning the people seeking for an object of adoration… Isn’t it high time for them to announce the flight? Let me go and see.
In a few minutes you return crying from afar:
- Only don’t collapse! Our plane has left. Already three hours ago! And there won’t be any other flight today.
- What’s the matter?
- You and I, two great mystics, managed to mix over the date and the month indicated on the tickets with the hour and the minutes of the departure! And it is great!
- How can you speak like that? Laughing, too!
- And what is left? You’ll see, everything will be fine.
- “Fine”, indeed! Here, we have checked out from the hotel, while there in Khiva, were met by the architect… Give me the tickets. I am going to the ticket agent.
- Only don’t worry. Don’t forget - God wills everything.
From the ticket agent, I learn that indeed there’ll be no more flight to Khiva, that soon, in transit via certain Turtkul located somewhere near Khiva, there will be “Yak-40” making a brief stop. If they could find an empty seat they will give me a ticket.
- And if not? I need two tickets!
- If there are two seats I will give you two tickets, - answers the ticket agent. – But mind, there’s another passenger who needs leaving.
The passenger is already nearby, listening jealously to the talks. He wears a tyubeteyka, a grey suit, boots and galoshes.
- You know, - he says, - I had sent out a truck of pomegranates to be sold in Khiva, while I myself decided to go by plane. And overslept a bit.
- And how can we get to Khiva from that Turtkul?
- There’s a ferry across the Amu-Darya. Then you can go by taxi. It’s not that far.
In some thirty minutes the three of us fly to the unknown Turtkul.
- Colonel, stop frowning. Can’t you realize that life grants us with another design on its magic veil?
- Well said! – intrudes the companion, adding mysteriously: - What they have now in Turtkul you will not see for the rest of the year.
Here we are, landing close to the ferry crossing over the wide Amu-Darya.
Next to the crossing, the whole shore looks but hills of Middle Asian melons brought here by barges, trucks, and carts. Round melons, long, yellow, greenish, striped ones – any sort available in Asia are towering before us, oozing an incredible fragrance.
Any of them could be taken for one rouble.
We are still hesitating which to choose while our companion, taking a knife from the top of his boot, is already cutting the first melon, treating us to long slices pouring with juice.
– Try this!
Hardly are we through with the treatment when he comes bringing new huge slices.
– This one is called «red-meaty»! And that one is the tsar of all melons!
We are already full. But our companion is running up with new and new slices.
At last there’s a ferry. Its direction is calculated the way that the current itself brings it down to the other bank through a long broad arch. The ferry is just slightly supportive with the motor.
You are standing, with your back leaning against a rail.
- Just look, Volodya! Everything was exactly the same thousands years ago, at the time of peoples’ great migration and the origin of civilization. It is exactly the same way that the Nile, Tigris, and Euphrates are flowing through deserts, except perhaps there are palms scattered on the banks… We are extremely lucky that we are here! How’s your head? All right?
- All right, batyushka.
The ferry moors. While we are getting out, our quick companion already invites us into a car.
Now we speed to Khiva. It is between five and six in the afternoon. God knows where to search for the architect who failed meeting us at the airport in the morning. We make up our mind to get out by the Oblast Party Committee. It’s only here that we could hope to learn just something.
- Colonel! I’ve got some stunning news! Guess which!
– What’s the matter?
– It is not Khiva! We’ve got to another town.
On the massive door there’s a big signboard: “The Khoresm Oblast Committee of the CPSU”. A militia guard is loitering about in the lobby.
– Everybody is away at the cotton picking, supervising the business, – he says suspiciously. – There’s nobody here.
– And where is Khiva?
– Thirty kilometers from here. This is Urghench.
– If Urghench, why is it written “The Khoresm Oblast Committee”?
– That’s how it came. Our typical mess. By the way, what are you doing here?
Hardly start I explaining when he interrupts me:
– So it’s you, aren’t you? You’ve been expected by the city architect since morning. He was here, inquiring. Can you see that building? He stays there, on the first floor.
Finally everything is settled. The architect takes us to the Intourist hotel where your passport is long studied by the hotel manager asking who you are, and why you have no travelling authority…
– Cheer up, Colonel! We should constantly remember where we stay. If you only could learn what I happened to endure from my own church brothers ever trying to indicate that I am alien, non-desired.
– Haven’t you ever planned to depart?
– Once in dispair I thought of serving an Orthodox preacher in Palestine. Quite soon though, I collected mysef. If you can shine in the dark just to somebody, leaving is an act of treachery. And what do you think?
- Batyushka, I’m a man of letters, writing in Russian. The country you are born in is your fate. Man is made under the biggest resistance… So I can only thank God for all the trials. For meeting you, too. Just here.
– And now, – catch you up. – “Here and Now”. Not a bad name for your novel, is it?
- Isn’t it amazing? This is exactlly how I’m going to entitle it! Have the name at home in Moscow, written on a paper. Could it be telepathy?
- Why not? I’m sure telepathy does exist. All this is wonderful. The only bad thing is that due to our travels both of us can’t work. I’ve already started writing a Dictionary on Bibliology you know. Of everything related to the Bible. From A to Z. It is going to include five or six volumes.
- But this is a work for the whole institute!
- Well, since such institute doesn’t exist there must be somebody doing it. Well then, who is the first to take a shower?
- You’re welcome.
- No way. Let us draw.
You are tossing up a coin. It falls to my share.
When I leave the bathroom I find you sitting over a writing pad with a fountain-pen in your hand. You are thoughtfully twirling your beard, writing with your illegible letters rather looking hooks by a shorthand writer. As if somebody is dictating.
Like in Samarkand and Bukhara, in the morning we are picked up at the hotel by a local architect. There’s a “black volga” waiting downstairs. We go to Khiva. It is the same morning wind of travels bursting into windows. Our eyes are dazzled by the head sun.
The architect is sharing his business while I’m taking notes without yet knowing that in Moscow the article will never be published due to global perestroika things, screening off all particular problems for the editors.
You are hotly participating in the talk, continually turning your head, until your eye is caught by a bulky unit fixed between you and the driver.
- What is it?
- A telephone, - answers the driver. – You can call to any city in the Soviet Union.
- Directly from here? On the move? It’s impossible!
- Have a try.
- Pity I can’t calling home, to Semkhoz! There you need an extension, too much complicated. What about calling to somebody in Moscow?
- You’re welcome.
You dial the number and, transported with delight, report to Alec Zorin, our common acquaintance:
- Speaking from the car that is speeding at ninety kilometers per hour! Together with Colonel, passing donkeys, poplars, and mulberry trees. Heading for Khiva. Greetings to everybody! Arivederci!
You are delighted all right, while I am sitting behind, thinking: “What sort of car could it be, having such phone, and to what department could it belong?”
All day through, we are busy touring Khiva museums, and architectural monuments, while by the night (at the architect’s request) we visit the City Council in order to have a meeting with its Chairman.
We are sitting in a big room under Lenin’s portrait. It is strange to see you in such environment, while you, as if nothing is wrong, are sipping green tea from a piala, participating in the talk touching upon the city troubles, and ruining of historical monuments.
The next morning is spent in Khiva. Then we are taken far into Khiva outskirts toward a desert borderline. Here, by a little pond, there is a house. In one of the rooms, on the carpet spread on the floor they are laying dinner in honour of our visit.
In the yard there are shashliks frying on the spits. In the pot, there’s fish boiling. A dozen of stray dogs are hovering nearby attracted by the smell.
- Colonel, is this a true desert?
- Absolutely. The Kara-Kum. If you move this way several hundred kilometers through the dunes to the South you will cross the whole of it, getting into Turkmenia, toward Ashkhabad.
- Great! I’m off now. – You turn round, starting to move away through the sand.
- Where on earth are you going, batyushka?!
- Want just once staying in a desert. Don’t worry. I’ll soon be back.
To my amazement, all the stray dogs forgetting about the tempting smells, are directing after you.
Man surrounded by dogs goes far away. Now he is no longer seen behind the dunes…
There is dastarkhan laid. All the guests are sitting cross-legged around the carpet piled with viands. But you are never back.
Worried in earnest, I leave the house, I don’t know how many times, to meet you. At last, I can notice a moving point in the distance.
- Îh, Colonel! – you say when in the yard I am pouring on you from a ladle. – Our whole travel was great! But the stroll through the desert!.. Do you know how I needed it?! To check my feelings: I wrote so much about ancient tribes you know…
Perestroika. Glasnost. Democracy. There is general interest flaring up toward true national history, history of the revolution. Dogmatic thinking collapses. The state seems to be changing its attitude toward the church. Suddenly many people fell to thinking on life values, the eternal questions of existence. The majority gets into a terrible muddle.
My friends, acquaintances, patients are constantly addressing me, asking their questions. Not to mention you, batyushka, bombarded by thousands of people. Nevertheless, when one day I mention that in this bustle I can never finish the novel, that at times I am simply at a loss how to answer people, you suggest:
- Let them write down their questions, and I’ll try answering them in writing.
I don’t know how you manage to find time, but very soon I get little papers with typed answers. Several of them have been kept.
- What is your attitude toward “The Rose of the World” by Daniil Andreyev?
- No doubt, “The Rose of the World” is a talented book which reflects certain experience by Andreyev. Still, I believe that this experience being rather of occult nature than of mystic one. What is meant by occult is that its source lies not in the higher spheres of existence, but so to speak, in the intermediate, “astral” ones. It is known that this sphere is notable for decep.