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Chapter 3 Peasant Women Who Have Faith

  • NEAR the wooden portico below, built on to the outer wall of the precinct, there was a crowd of about twenty peasant women. They had been told that th_lder was at last coming out, and they had gathered together in anticipation.
  • Two ladies, Madame Hohlakov and her daughter, had also come out into th_ortico to wait for the elder, but in a separate part of it set aside fo_omen of rank.
  • Madame Hohlakov was a wealthy lady, still young and attractive, and alway_ressed with taste. She was rather pale, and had lively black eyes. She wa_ot more than thirty-three, and had been five years a widow. Her daughter, _irl of fourteen, was partially paralysed. The poor child had not been able t_alk for the last six months, and was wheeled about in a long reclining chair.
  • She had a charming little face, rather thin from illness, but full of gaiety.
  • There was a gleam of mischief in her big dark eyes with their long lashes. He_other had been intending to take her abroad ever since the spring, but the_ad been detained all the summer by business connected with their estate. The_ad been staying a week in our town, where they had come more for purposes o_usiness than devotion, but had visited Father Zossima once already, thre_ays before. Though they knew that the elder scarcely saw anyone, they had no_uddenly turned up again, and urgently entreated "the happiness of lookin_nce again on the great healer."
  • The mother was sitting on a chair by the side of her daughter's invali_arriage, and two paces from her stood an old monk, not one of our monastery, but a visitor from an obscure religious house in the far north. He too sough_he elder's blessing.
  • But Father Zossima, on entering the portico, went first straight to th_easants who were crowded at the foot of the three steps that led up into th_ortico. Father Zossima stood on the top step, put on his stole, and bega_lessing the women who thronged about him. One crazy woman was led up to him.
  • As soon as she caught sight of the elder she began shrieking and writhing a_hough in the pains of childbirth. Laying the stole on her forehead, he read _hort prayer over her, and she was at once soothed and quieted.
  • I do not know how it may be now, but in my childhood I often happened to se_nd hear these "possessed" women in the villages and monasteries. They used t_e brought to mass; they would squeal and bark like a dog so that they wer_eard all over the church. But when the sacrament was carried in and they wer_ed up to it, at once the "possession" ceased, and the sick women were alway_oothed for a time. I was greatly impressed and amazed at this as a child; bu_hen I heard from country neighbours and from my town teachers that the whol_llness was simulated to avoid work, and that it could always be cured b_uitable severity; various anecdotes were told to confirm this. But later on _earnt with astonishment from medical specialists that there is no pretenc_bout it, that it is a terrible illness to which women are subject, especiall_revalent among us in Russia, and that it is due to the hard lot of th_easant women. It is a disease, I was told, arising from exhausting toil to_oon after hard, abnormal and unassisted labour in childbirth, and from th_opeless misery, from beatings, and so on, which some women were not able t_ndure like others. The strange and instant healing of the frantic an_truggling woman as soon as she was led up to the holy sacrament, which ha_een explained to me as due to malingering and the trickery of the
  • "clericals," arose probably in the most natural manner. Both the women wh_upported her and the invalid herself fully believed as a truth beyon_uestion that the evil spirit in possession of her could not hold if the sic_oman were brought to the sacrament and made to bow down before it. And so, with a nervous and psychically deranged woman, a sort of convulsion of th_hole organism always took place, and was bound to take place, at the momen_f bowing down to the sacrament, aroused by the expectation of the miracle o_ealing and the implicit belief that it would come to pass; and it did come t_ass, though only for a moment. It was exactly the same now as soon as th_lder touched the sick woman with the stole.
  • Many of the women in the crowd were moved to tears of ecstasy by the effect o_he moment: some strove to kiss the hem of his garment, others cried out i_ing-song voices.
  • He blessed them all and talked with some of them. The "possessed" woman h_new already. She came from a village only six versts from the monastery, an_ad been brought to him before.
  • "But here is one from afar." He pointed to a woman by no means old but ver_hin and wasted, with a face not merely sunburnt but almost blackened b_xposure. She was kneeling and gazing with a fixed stare at the elder; ther_as something almost frenzied in her eyes.
  • "From afar off, Father, from afar off! From two hundred miles from here. Fro_far off, Father, from afar off!" the woman began in a sing-song voice a_hough she were chanting a dirge, swaying her head from side to side with he_heek resting in her hand.
  • There is silent and long-suffering sorrow to be met with among the peasantry.
  • It withdraws into itself and is still. But there is a grief that breaks out, and from that minute it bursts into tears and finds vent in wailing. This i_articularly common with women. But it is no lighter a grief than the silent.
  • Lamentations comfort only by lacerating the heart still more. Such grief doe_ot desire consolation. It feeds on the sense of its hopelessness.
  • Lamentations spring only from the constant craving to re-open the wound.
  • "You are of the tradesman class?" said Father Zossima, looking curiously a_er.
  • "Townfolk we are, Father, townfolk. Yet we are peasants though we live in th_own. I have come to see you, O Father! We heard of you, Father, we heard o_ou. I have buried my little son, and I have come on a pilgrimage. I have bee_n three monasteries, but they told me, 'Go, Nastasya, go to them'- that is t_ou. I have come; I was yesterday at the service, and to-day I have come t_ou."
  • "What are you weeping for?"
  • "It's my little son I'm grieving for, Father. he was three years old- thre_ears all but three months. For my little boy, Father, I'm in anguish, for m_ittle boy. He was the last one left. We had four, my Nikita and I, and no_e've no children, our dear ones have all gone I buried the first thre_ithout grieving overmuch, and now I have buried the last I can't forget him.
  • He seems always standing before me. He never leaves me. He has withered m_eart. I look at his little clothes, his little shirt, his little boots, and _ail. I lay out all that is left of him, all his little things. I look at the_nd wail. I say to Nikita, my husband, 'let me go on a pilgrimage, master.' H_s a driver. We're not poor people, Father, not poor; he drives our own horse.
  • It's all our own, the horse and the carriage. And what good is it all to u_ow? My Nikita has begun drinking while I am away. He's sure to. It used to b_o before. As soon as I turn my back he gives way to it. But now I don't thin_bout him. It's three months since I left home. I've forgotten him. I'v_orgotten everything. I don't want to remember. And what would our life be no_ogether? I've done with him, I've done. I've done with them all. I don't car_o look upon my house and my goods. I don't care to see anything at all!"
  • "Listen, mother," said the elder. "Once in olden times a holy saint saw in th_emple a mother like you weeping for her little one, her only one, whom Go_ad taken. 'Knowest thou not,' said the saint to her, 'how bold these littl_nes are before the throne of God? Verily there are none bolder than they i_he Kingdom of Heaven. "Thou didst give us life, O Lord," they say, "an_carcely had we looked upon it when Thou didst take it back again." And s_oldly they ask and ask again that God gives them at once the rank of angels.
  • Therefore,' said the saint, 'thou, too, O Mother, rejoice and weep not, fo_hy little son is with the Lord in the fellowship of the angels.' That's wha_he saint said to the weeping mother of old. He was a great saint and he coul_ot have spoken falsely. Therefore you too, mother, know that your little on_s surely before the throne of God, is rejoicing and happy, and praying to Go_or you, and therefore weep, but rejoice."
  • The woman listened to him, looking down with her cheek in her hand. She sighe_eeply.
  • "My Nikita tried to comfort me with the same words as you. 'Foolish one,' h_aid, 'why weep? Our son is no doubt singing with the angels before God.' H_ays that to me, but he weeps himself. I see that he cries like me. 'I know, Nikita,' said I. 'Where could he be if not with the Lord God? Only, here wit_s now he is not as he used to sit beside us before.' And if only I could loo_pon him one little time, if only I could peep at him one little time, withou_oing up to him, without speaking, if I could be hidden in a corner and onl_ee him for one little minute, hear him playing in the yard, calling in hi_ittle voice, 'Mammy, where are you?' If only I could hear him pattering wit_is little feet about the room just once, only once; for so often, so often _emember how he used to run to me and shout and laugh, if only I could hea_is little feet I should know him! But he's gone, Father, he's gone, and _hall never hear him again. Here's his little sash, but him I shall never se_r hear now."
  • She drew out of her bosom her boy's little embroidered sash, and as soon a_he looked at it she began shaking with sobs, hiding her eyes with her finger_hrough which the tears flowed in a sudden stream.
  • "It is Rachel of old," said the elder, "weeping for her children, and will no_e comforted because they are not. Such is the lot set on earth for yo_others. Be not comforted. Consolation is not what you need. Weep and be no_onsoled, but weep. Only every time that you weep be sure to remember tha_our little son is one of the angels of God, that he looks down from there a_ou and sees you, and rejoices at your tears, and points at them to the Lor_od; and a long while yet will you keep that great mother's grief. But it wil_urn in the end into quiet joy, and your bitter tears will be only tears o_ender sorrow that purifies the heart and delivers it from sin. And I shal_ray for the peace of your child's soul. What was his name?"
  • "Alexey, Father."
  • "A sweet name. After Alexey, the man of God?"
  • "Yes, Father."
  • "What a saint he was! I will remember him, mother, and your grief in m_rayers, and I will pray for your husband's health. It is a sin for you t_eave him. Your little one will see from heaven that you have forsaken hi_ather, and will weep over you. Why do you trouble his happiness? He i_iving, for the soul lives for ever, and though he is not in the house he i_ear you, unseen. How can he go into the house when you say that the house i_ateful to you? To whom is he to go if he find you not together, his fathe_nd mother? He comes to you in dreams now, and you grieve. But then he wil_end you gentle dreams. Go to your husband, mother; go this very day."
  • "I will go, Father, at your word. I will go. You've gone straight to my heart.
  • My Nikita, my Nikita, you are waiting for me," the woman began in a sing-son_oice; but the elder had already turned away to a very old woman, dressed lik_ dweller in the town, not like a pilgrim. Her eyes showed that she had com_ith an object, and in order to say something. She said she was the widow of _on-commissioned officer, and lived close by in the town. Her son Vasenka wa_n the commissariat service, and had gone to Irkutsk in Siberia. He ha_ritten twice from there, but now a year had passed since he had written. Sh_id inquire about him, but she did not know the proper place to inquire.
  • "Only the other day Stepanida Ilyinishna- she's a rich merchant's wife- sai_o me, 'You go, Prohorovna, and put your son's name down for prayer in th_hurch, and pray for the peace of his soul as though he were dead. His sou_ill be troubled,' she said, 'and he will write you a letter.' And Stepanid_lyinishna told me it was a certain thing which had been many times tried.
  • Only I am in doubt… . Oh, you light of ours! is it true or false, and would i_e right?"
  • "Don't think of it. It's shameful to ask the question. How is it possible t_ray for the peace of a living soul? And his own mother too! It's a great sin, akin to sorcery. Only for your ignorance it is forgiven you. Better pray t_he Queen of Heaven, our swift defence and help, for his good health, and tha_he may forgive you for your error. And another thing I will tell you, Prohorovna. Either he will soon come back to you, your son, or he will be sur_o send a letter. Go, and henceforward be in peace. Your son is alive, I tel_ou."
  • "Dear Father, God reward you, our benefactor, who prays for all of us and fo_ur sins!"
  • But the elder had already noticed in the crowd two glowing eyes fixed upo_im. An exhausted, consumptive-looking, though young peasant woman was gazin_t him in silence. Her eyes besought him, but she seemed afraid to approach.
  • "What is it, my child?"
  • "Absolve my soul, Father," she articulated softly, and slowly sank on he_nees and bowed down at his feet. "I have sinned, Father. I am afraid of m_in."
  • The elder sat down on the lower step. The woman crept closer to him, still o_er knees.
  • "I am a widow these three years," she began in a half-whisper, with a sort o_hudder. "I had a hard life with my husband. He was an old man. He used t_eat me cruelly. He lay ill; I thought looking at him, if he were to get well, if he were to get up again, what then? And then the thought came to me-"
  • "Stay!" said the elder, and he put his ear close to her lips.
  • The woman went on in a low whisper, so that it was almost impossible to catc_nything. She had soon done.
  • "Three years ago?" asked the elder.
  • "Three years. At first I didn't think about it, but now I've begun to be ill, and the thought never leaves me."
  • "Have you come from far?"
  • "Over three hundred miles away."
  • "Have you told it in confession?"
  • "I have confessed it. Twice I have confessed it."
  • "Have you been admitted to Communion?"
  • "Yes. I am afraid. I am afraid to die."
  • "Fear nothing and never be afraid; and don't fret. If only your penitence fai_ot, God will forgive all. There is no sin, and there can be no sin on all th_arth, which the Lord will not forgive to the truly repentant! Man canno_ommit a sin so great as to exhaust the infinite love of God. Can there be _in which could exceed the love of God? Think only of repentance, continua_epentance, but dismiss fear altogether. Believe that God loves you as yo_annot conceive; that He loves you with your sin, in your sin. It has bee_aid of old that over one repentant sinner there is more joy in heaven tha_ver ten righteous men. Go, and fear not. Be not bitter against men. Be no_ngry if you are wronged. Forgive the dead man in your heart what wrong he di_ou. Be reconciled with him in truth. If you are penitent, you love. And i_ou love you are of God. All things are atoned for, all things are saved b_ove. If I, a sinner, even as you are, am tender with you and have pity o_ou, how much more will God. Love is such a priceless treasure that you ca_edeem the whole world by it, and expiate not only your own sins but the sin_f others."
  • He signed her three times with the cross, took from his own neck a little iko_nd put it upon her. She bowed down to the earth without speaking.
  • He got up and looked cheerfully at a healthy peasant woman with a tiny baby i_er arms.
  • "From Vyshegorye, dear Father."
  • "Five miles you have dragged yourself with the baby. What do you want?"
  • "I've come to look at you. I have been to you before- or have you forgotten?
  • You've no great memory if you've forgotten me. They told us you were ill.
  • Thinks I, I'll go and see him for myself. Now I see you, and you're not ill!
  • You'll live another twenty years. God bless you! There are plenty to pray fo_ou; how should you be ill?"
  • "I thank you for all, daughter."
  • "By the way, I have a thing to ask, not a great one. Here are sixty copecks.
  • Give them, dear Father, to someone poorer than me. I thought as I came along, better give through him. He'll know whom to give to."
  • "Thanks, my dear, thanks! You are a good woman. I love you. I will do s_ertainly. Is that your little girl?"
  • "My little girl, Father, Lizaveta."
  • "May the Lord bless you both, you and your babe Lizaveta! You have gladdene_y heart, mother. Farewell, dear children, farewell, dear ones."
  • He blessed them all and bowed low to them.