near the gates of the monastery

Like one sick, I wandered for many days, full of heavy heartache. A
fire raged in my soul, that quiet piece of land of mine, and lit it up
like a meadow in the wood, and my thoughts now crawled ahead of me,
together with my shadow; now dragged behind, like biting smoke. Was I
ashamed or not? I do not remember and I cannot say. A black thought was
born in my mind and fluttered about me like a bat. “They are Godless
ones, not God-creators.”

But heavier and broader than all my thoughts, was a hollow stillness
in me, lazy and deep; a certain peace like a turbid pool, in the
depths of whose heart dumb thoughts swam about with difficulty, like
frightened fish who struggle but cannot rise to the light from out of
the oppressive depths.

Little reached me from the outside, and I remember my meetings with men
as through a dream. Somewhere near Omsk, at a village market, I woke
up. A blind man sat on the road in the dust and sang a song. His guide
knelt near him and accompanied him on his accordion. The old man looked
up at heaven with his empty eyes and sang the words with a faraway,
rusty voice, describing the past, under the reign of Ivan Vasilef, and
the accordion gave out its hollow accompaniment, “U-u-u.”

I sat down on the ground next to the blind man. He took hold of my
hand, held it, let it go again, but did not stop singing: “Once there
lived Ermak, a son of Timotheof.” “A-a-a,” the accordion repeated.

And around the singers a crowd collected quietly, listening
thoughtfully and seriously to the story of the past, with heads bowed
to the ground. A dry warmth enfolded me and I saw curiosity light up
the eyes of the men, and some one asked:

“Won’t he sing?”

“He will. Wait.”

I had often heard these robber ballads, but I never knew whose were
the words nor whose the soul mirrored there. But now all at once I
understood. The ancient people spoke to me with a thousand tongues. “I
pardon your great sins against me, man, for your small service.”

People still looked at me with, curiosity, and my spirit was aroused.
The old man finished his song, and I arose and said:

“Orthodox Christians, here you have heard about a robber who plundered
and robbed the people, but, afterwards, his conscience troubling him,
he went away to save his soul, wishing to serve the people with his
great strength. And he served them. But to-day you are living among
robbers who exploit you mercilessly, and in what way do they serve the
people? What good do you see in them?”

The crowd thickened around me, almost embracing me, and their
attention made my words grow strong and gave them tone and beauty, and
I lost myself in my words. I only felt a close alliance to the earth
and to the people. They lifted me up towards themselves, drawing me on
by their silence: “Speak; speak the whole truth as you see it!”

Of course a policeman arrived and cried: “Move on!” asking what was the
matter and demanding my passport.

The people melted quietly away, like a cloud in the sun, and the
policeman questioned and made inquiries as to what I said. Some
answered: “About God; about many things; mainly about God.”

I saw a workingman standing apart. He leaned up against his wagon and
gazed steadily at me, smiling tenderly. The policeman had taken hold
of my collar, and I wanted to shake him off, but I saw that the people
looked sideways at me, with half-closed eyes, as if they were asking:
“Now, what are you going to say?”

I paled at their lack of faith. Conquering myself in time, I shook off
the hand of the policeman and said to him:

“Do you want to know what I said?”

And again I began to speak about injustice in life. Again the market
people gathered around me in great crowds, and the policeman was lost
in them and effaced.

I recalled Kostia and the factory children, and I felt proud and
happy. I became strong and as in a dream. The policeman whispered, many
faces passed before me, many eyes burned; a warm cloud of people were
around me, pushed me along, and I lay lightly among them. Some one took
me by the shoulder and whispered in my ear: “Enough. Go.”

They pushed and pushed me, and soon I found myself in a kind of court,
and a black-bearded man was on one side of me and on the other a young
boy with no cap on his head. The dark man said:

“Climb over the wall.”

I climbed it, then went over another. It seemed to me queer, yet
pleasant.

“Eh,” I thought, “is that who you are?”

The black-bearded man hurried me along. “Lively, comrade, lively!”

I asked him on the way: “Who are you?”

“One of yours,” he answered.

The boy without the cap followed us silently. We crossed gardens, came
to a ravine at the bottom of which a stream ran along, and found a
footpath in the brush. The dark man led me by the hand, looked into my
eyes and said, smiling:

“Well, good luck to you. Here, Fediok will conduct you to a good road.
Go.”

“You had better hurry. They might get you.” The dark man bent down,
began crawling up the mountain, and Fediok and I went along by the
stream.

“Who is that man?” I asked him.

“A blacksmith. An exile–for political reasons.”

“I know such people,” I answered.

I felt happy, but he was silent. I looked at the young man. His face
was round, his nose short. His head seemed cut out from stone, and
his gray eyes bulged far apart. He spoke low, walked noiselessly and
held his head forward, as if he was listening or was pulled from
above by some great force. He kept his hands behind his back, as my
father-in-law used to.

“Are you a native here?”

“Yes, I am a farm hand at the priest’s.”

“Where is you cap?”

He felt his head, looked at me and asked:

“Why do you care about the cap?”

“Just so. It is night, and you will be cold.”

He remained silent. Then he muttered unwillingly:

“What does it matter about the cap as long as one’s head is saved?”

The ravine became deeper, the stream sounded clearer, and night rose
from the underbrush.

My soul was unclear, yet I felt happy, and I wished to speak with the
young man.

“Have you only one exile here?” I asked.

Here the young man opened himself as one opens an overcoat. Slowly and
low, he said:

“Four. There is a nobleman from Moscow and three from the Don. Two of
them are quiet fellows. They even drink vodka. But the nobleman and
that Ratkof who was here before, speak, though in secret, with whomever
they can. They have not yet begun to speak openly before the people.
There are many of them here, many around us. I, from Birsky–Fedor
Mitkof, am here five years. During this time there were eleven men
here. In Olekhine there are eight; in Shishkof there are three.”

He counted for a long time, and he reached about sixty. When he
finished he became thoughtful; then began to speak, gesticulating with
his finger.

“There are even some peasants among them. They all say the same thing;
this life is unbearable; it stifles them. I lived in peace until I
heard these words, and now I see I am not yet full grown and I must bow
my head. Then, in truth, it must be that this life is stifling.”

The young fellow spoke with difficulty, tearing each word from under
his feet. He walked ahead of me and did not look at me. He was
broad-shouldered and strong.

“Can you read and write?” I asked him.

“I once knew how, but have forgotten. Now I am studying again. It
doesn’t matter, I know how. When one has to, one can do everything. And
I have to. If it were the noblemen who spoke about the difficulty of
this life, I would not take any notice of it, for their beliefs were
always different from ours. But when it is your own brothers, the poor
working class, then it must be true. And moreover, some of the common
people go even farther than the noblemen. That means that something
social and human is beginning. That is what they always say–social,
human. I am human. Then it means my way lies with them, that is what I
think.”

I listened to him and said to myself: “Learn, Matvei.”

“What is the use of thinking about such a thing?” I said to him. “It is
God’s affair.”

He stopped, suddenly standing stiff upon the ground, so that I almost
fell upon Iris back. Then he turned his face towards me and asked
sternly:

“Is it really God’s affair? Here is what I think about it. This is
why they say, 4 Honor your father.’ And they say the authorities are
also from God. And this they confirm by miracles. But then if the old
laws are changed, new miracles should have come. But where are they?
There were no signs when new laws came, none whatever. Everything is
as it was. In Nijni they discovered relics which performed miracles.
But then a rumor arose that they were not true relics, for Seraphim’s
beard was gray and this one was red. The question is not the beard,
but the miracle. Were there any miracles? There were, but they don’t
want to admit it. They call all signs false, or they say faith creates
miracles. There are times when I want to beat them to stop their
confounding my soul.”

Again he stopped, and around him the night rose from the earth. The
path fell more steeply, the stream flowed on more hastily, and the
brush rustled, moving quietly.

“Go on, brother,” I said to him, low.

He went forward. He did not stumble in the darkness but I almost fell
on his back every step I took. He seemed to roll down like a stone, and
his strange voice resounded in the stillness.

“If I believed them, it would be an end of everything. I am not
especially kind-hearted. I had a brother in the military, and he hanged
himself. My sister worked as a servant in a farmer’s house near Birsky,
and she gave birth to a child who is lame. It is four years old now and
cannot walk. It means that a girl’s life was ruined on account of a
man’s caprice. Where should she go now? My father is a drunkard and my
elder brother has taken all the land. I have nothing.”

We turned into the underbrush in the gray darkness. Now the stream went
away from us into the depth, now again it flowed at our feet. Over our
heads the night birds flew noiselessly, and above them were the stars.

I wanted to walk fast, but the man in front of me did not hurry and
muttered to himself unceasingly, as if he were counting his words, and
taking their weight.

“That dark one, Ratkof, is a good man. He lives according to the new
law and takes the part of the oppressed. A policeman once beat me with
a club and he immediately felled the policeman to the ground. He had to
sit fourteen days for it. ‘How can you fight the authorities?’ I asked
him when he came out. He immediately explained his law to me. I went
to the priest, and the priest said, ‘Ah, are these the thoughts you
are plaiting?’ Ratkof was sent to the prison in the city. He sat three
months, and I nineteen days. ‘What did he say?’ they asked me there.
‘Nothing.’ ‘What did he teach?’ ‘He taught nothing.’ I am no fool
myself. Ratkof came out. ‘Forgive me,’ I said to him, ‘I was a fool.’
But he laughed. ‘It was nonsense,’ he said.”

My guide remained silent, and then, in a new voice, and lower, he
continued:

“Everything is nonsense to him. He spits blood, that is nonsense; he
starves, that too is nonsense.”

Suddenly he began to swear grossly, turned about and faced me, and
hissed through his teeth:

“I can understand everything. My brother died–that happens in the
military. My sister’s case is not a rare one. But why do they torture
that man to death? That I cannot understand. I go like a dog wherever
he sends me. He calls me Earth. ‘Eh, you Earth,’ he says and laughs.
But the fact that they are always torturing him, that is like a knife
in my heart!”

And again he began to swear like a drunken monk.

The ravine opened, broadened its walls down into the field, leveled
them and vanished into the darkness.

“Well,” said my guide, “good-by.”

He pointed out to me the road to Omsk, turned back and disappeared. He
was still without his cap.

When his heavy steps died in the stillness I sat down, not desiring to
go farther. The night lay heavily on the earth and slept, fresh, and
thick, like oil. There were no stars in the heavens, no moon, no light
about. But there was warmth and light within me.

The heavy words of my guide burned within my memory. He was like a bell
that had lain a long time on the earth, and had been covered by it and
eaten out by rust, and though his tone was dull yet there was a new
sound in it.

The village people stood before my eyes as they listened to my speech
seriously and wonderingly. Their troubled faces passed before me as
they dragged me away from the police.

“Is that the way it is?” I thought, marveling, and I could scarcely
believe what had happened to me.

Again I thought. “This young man seeks signs and omens. He himself is
a miracle. It is a miracle to preserve love for man in this horrible
life. And the crowd who heard me, that, too, was a miracle, that it
should not be deaf or blind, though many for a long time have tried to
deafen and blind it. And a still greater miracle were Mikhail and his
comrades.”

My thoughts flowed calmly and easily. I was unaccustomed to it and did
not expect it. I examined myself carefully, searched my heart quietly,
wishing to find there anxiety and troubled doubt.

I smiled in the silent darkness and feared to move, lest I drive away
the unwonted joy which filled my heart to the very brim. I believed and
yet did not believe this marvelous fulness of my soul, this unexpected
Godsend which I found in me.

It was as if a white bird, who was born long before, had slept in
the shadow of my soul, and I had not known it or felt it. I stroked
it accidentally and it awoke and began to sing quietly within me and
flutter its light wings in my heart, and its hot song melted the ice of
doubt and turned it into grateful tears.

I wanted to say something, to arise, to sing, to meet human beings and
to embrace them. I saw before me the shining face of Juna, the kind
eyes of Mikhail, the stern wit of Ivostia. All the familiar, dear and
new people became alive to me, united in my breast and broadened it
with happiness till it ached.

So it had happened before while saying Mass at Easter, that I loved
people and myself. I sat down, and thought tremblingly:

“O Lord, is it not Thou, this beauty of beauties, this joy and this
happiness?”

Darkness reigned about me, and in it were the shining faces of the
Believers sitting quietly. But my heart sang unceasingly.

I stroked the earth with my hand, I patted it with my palm, as if it
were a horse, which understood my caress.

I could not sit still. I arose and walked on through the night. I
remembered Kostia’s words. I saw before me the look of childish
sternness in his eyes, and I Went on, drunk with joy, walking over the
earth towards the very end of autumn, gathering up into my soul its
precious new gifts.

At the station in Omsk I saw emigrants, Little Russians. A great part
of the earth was covered with their bodies, those friends of labor. I
walked among them, heard their soft speech and asked them:

“Are you not afraid to lose yourselves, so far away?”

A man gray and bent by work, answered me:

“As long as we have a piece of land under our feet, we do not care how
far it is. It is suffocating on earth when a man has to live by his own
labor.”

Formerly the words of pain and sorrow fell like ashes on my heart, but
now they were keen sparks which lit it up, for every sorrow was my
sorrow, and I too suffered from the want of liberty, as did the people.

There is no time nor place for general spiritual growth, and this
is bitter and dangerous to the one who outstrips the people, for he
remains alone in advance of them, and the people do not see him and
cannot strengthen him with their strength; and alone and uselessly he
burns himself up in the fire of his desires.

I spoke in Little Russian, for I knew this tender language.

“For ages the people have wandered over the earth, hither and thither,
seeking a place where they may in freedom build up a righteous life
with their own strength, and for ages you have wandered over the
earth, its lawful masters, and why? Who is it that gives no room to
the people, the real Czar of the earth? Who has dethroned them? Who
has torn the crown from their heads and driven them from country to
country, these creators of all labor, these exquisite gardeners who
planted all the beauty on the earth?”

The eyes of the people burned. The human soul which was just awakened
in them glowed, and my own glance also became wide and keen. I saw the
question on each face and immediately answered it; I saw doubt and I
fought with it. I drew strength from the hearts which were opened about
me, and I united this strength into one heart.

When you speak to people some word which touches them as a whole,
which lies buried secretly and deep in each human soul, then their eyes
shine with glowing strength and fill you and carry you above them. But
do not think that it is your strength which carries you. You are winged
with the crossing of all strength in your heart. It surrounds you from
without; you are strong by its strength just as long as the people fill
you up with it; but should they go away, should their spirit vanish,
you again fall back to the level of all.

So I began my teaching modestly, calling the people to a new service in
the name of a new life, though I did not know how to name my new God.
In Zlatout on a holiday I spoke in the square, and again the police
interfered, and again the people hid me.

I met many splendid men and women. One whose name was Yashka Vladikine,
a student in a theological seminary, is now a good friend of mine and
will remain so for all my life. He does not believe in God, but he
loves church music to tears. He plays psalms on the organ and weeps,
the dear wonder-child.

I asked him laughing: “What are you howling at, you heretic, atheist?”

He cried out, tremblingly: “From joy at the knowledge of the great
beauty which some day will be created. If already in this worldly and
wretched life beauty has been created with the insignificant strength
of individuals, what will be created on earth when the whole spiritual
world shall be free and shall begin to express the order of its great
spirit in psalms and music?”

He began to speak about the future, which stood out with blinding
clearness to him, and he was himself surprised at his visions.

I have much to be grateful for to this friend of mine, as much as to
Mikhail.

I have seen marvelous people by tens, for they send me to one another
from city to city. I go as with fiery signals, and each one is kept
burning by the same faith. It is impossible to enumerate the various
people and to describe the joy at seeing the spiritual unity which lies
in all. Great is the Russian people and indescribably beautiful is
life.

It was in the government of Kazan that my heart received the last blow,
the blow which finished the construction of the temple. It was at the
monastery of the Seven Seas, at a procession of the miracle-working
ikon of the Holy Virgin. They were expecting the return of this ikon to
the monastery from the city–the day was a holiday.

I stood on a little hill above the lake and gazed about me. The
place-was filled with people, and the body of human beings streamed
in dark waves to the gates of the monastery, and fought and struggled
around its walls. The sun was setting and its autumn rays shone with
bright red. The bells trembled like birds ready to fly and follow their
own songs, and everywhere the bared heads of the people shone red in
the rays of the sun, like double poppies.

Awaiting the miracle, near the gates of the monastery, stood a small
carriage, in which lay a young girl, motionless. Her face was set as if
in white wax, her gray eyes were half open, and all her life seemed to
be in the quiet fluttering of her long lashes.

Next to her stood her parents. The father was a tall man, gray-bearded
and with a long nose. The mother, stout, round-faced, with uplifted
eyebrows and wide open eyes, gazed in front of her. Her fingers
moved and it seemed to me that she was about to give a piercing and
passionate cry.

The people walked up to them, gazed upon the sick girl’s face, and the
father spoke in measured tones, his beard trembling:

“Orthodox Christians, I beg of you, pray for the unfortunate girl.
Without arms, without legs, she has been lying thus for four years.
Beg the Holy Virgin for aid. The Lord will reward you for your holy
prayers. Help deliver the parents from sorrow.”

It was plain that he had been carrying his daughter from monastery to
monastery for a long time and that he had already lost all hope of her
recovery. He poured out these same words over and over again and they
sounded dead in his mouth.

The people listened to his prayers, sighed, crossed themselves, and the
lids which covered the sorrowful eyes of the young girl trembled.

I must have seen about a score of weakened girls, about ten who were
supposed to be possessed, and other kinds of invalids, and I was always
conscience-stricken and ashamed before them. I pitied the poor bodies
robbed of strength and I pitied their vain waiting for a miracle. But
I never felt pity to such a degree as now. A great silent complaint
seemed frozen on the white half-dead face of the daughter and a silent
and indescribable sorrow seemed to control the mother.

It was oppressive and I went away. Thousands of eyes were looking
toward the distance, and like a cloud there floated toward me the warm,
dull whisper: “They are carrying it.”

Heavily and slowly the crowd proceeded up the mountain like a dark wave
of the sea, and the golden banners burned like red foam, shooting out
their sheaves of bright sparks. The ikon of the holy virgin floated and
swung like a fiery bird shining in the rays of the sun. From the human
body a mighty sigh arose, a thousand-voiced song: “Intercede for us, O
mother of the Lord, most high.”

The song was cut short by cries: “Hurry! Move faster! Hurry!”

The lake smiled brightly in the frame-work of the blue wood; the red
sun melted, sinking into the wood, and the copper sound of the bells
rang out gaily. Around me were anxious faces, the quiet and sorrowful
whispering of prayers, eyes dimmed with tears, and the waving of many,
many arms, making the sign of the cross.

I was alone. All this was sad error for me, weak despair, a weary
desire for grace.

The procession marched on, their faces covered with dust, streams of
sweat pouring down their cheeks. They breathed heavily, they gazed
strangely as if they saw nothing, and pushed one another and stumbled
along.

I pitied them. I pitied the strength of their faith which was wasted
on the air. There was no end to this stream of people. A vigorous and
mighty cry arose, but it was dark and sounded reproachful:

“Rejoice, O merciful one,” and again, “Hurry! Hurry!”

In this whole cloud of dust I saw hundreds of black faces, thousands
of eyes like stars on the milky way. I saw that those eyes were fiery
sparks from one soul, eagerly awaiting an unknowm joy.

The people went down as one body, pressing close upon one another,
holding one another’s hands and walking fast, as if the road was
terribly long, but they were ready to go to what was their end without
stopping.

My soul trembled with an unknown pain. Like a prayer the words of Juna
rose in my memory: “The people–the creators of God.”

I started forward. I rushed from the mountain to meet the people, went
along with them and sang with a full throat: “Rejoice, beneficent
strength of all strengths!”

They seized and embraced me, and I seemed to float away and to melt
under their hot breathing. I did not know that the earth was under my
feet, nor did I recognize myself. There was no time nor space, only
joy, vast like the heavens. I was like a glowing coal, flaming with
faith. I was unimportant yet great and resembled all who were around me
at the time of our general flight.

“Hurry! Hurry!”

The people flew over the earth irresistibly, ready to stride over all
obstacles and abysses, all doubts and dark fears. I remember that the
procession stopped close to me, that confusion occurred, that I was
dragged near the wagon of the sick girl and heard the cries and the
murmuring:

“Let us sing the Te Deum; let us sing the Te Deum.”

There was great excitement. They pushed the wagon, and the head of
the young girl rocked to and fro, helpless and without strength. Her
large eyes gazed out with fear. Tens of eyes poured their rays out upon
her; hundreds of force streams crossed themselves over her weak body,
calling her to life with an imperious desire to see her rise from her
bed.

I, too, looked into the depths of her eyes, and an inexpressible desire
came over me, in common with all, that she arise; not for my sake, nor
for her own sake, but for some special reason, before which she and I
were like a bird’s feather in a fire.

As rain saturates the earth with its live moisture, so the people
filled the dry body of the girl with their strength, and they whispered
and cried to her and to me:

“Rise, dear one, rise. Lift your arms. Be not afraid. Arise, arise
without fear. Sick one, arise; dear one, lift your arms.”

Hundreds of stars arose in her soul and a pink shadow lit up her
death-like face, and her surprised and happy eyes opened still wider.
Her shoulders moved slowly and humbly she raised her trembling arms and
obediently held them up. Her mouth was open like a fledgling’s about
to leave its nest for the first time. A deep sigh rose around her. As
though the earth where a copper bell, struck upon by a giant sviatogor
with all his strength, the people trembled, and laughing cried:

“On your feet. Help her. Arise little one, on your feet. Help her.”

We caught the girl, lifted her and put her on her feet, holding her
lightly. She bent like an ear of corn in the wind, and cried out:

“Oh, dear one, Lord; oh, Holy Virgin!”

“Walk!” the people cried. “Walk!”

I remember their dusty faces, tearful and sweaty. Through the damp
tears a miraculous strength shone out masterful, the faith in the power
to create miracles.

The recovered girl walked quietly among us. Confidently she pressed her
revived body against the body of the people, and smiling and pale like
a flower, she said:

“Let me go alone.”

She stopped, swayed, then walked. She walked as if on knives which
cut her feet, but she walked alone; fearful yet bold, like a little
child; and the people around her rejoiced and were friendly as to a
little child. She was excited. Her body trembled. She held her hands
out before her as if she were leaning against the air. She was filled
by the strength of the people and she was sustained from every side by
hundreds of luminous rays.

I lost sight of her at the gates of the monastery, and recovering
myself, I gazed about me. Everywhere there was holiday tumult. There
was a ringing of bells and the powerful talk of the people. The evening
red fell brilliantly from the heavens and the lake clothed itself in
the purple of the reflection. A man walked past me, smiled and asked:

“Did you see it?”

I embraced him and kissed him, like a brother after a long separation,
and we found no words to say to each other. Smiling, we remained silent
and separated.

* * * * *

At night I sat in the wood above the lake. Again I was alone, but now
forever and inseparably united to the soul of the people, the masters
and miracle workers of the earth. I sat and listened to all that I had
seen and known grow and burn within me in one fire.–I, too, would
reflect to the world this light in which everything flamed with great
significance and was clothed with the miraculous. It winged my soul
with a desire to accept the world as it had accepted me.

I have no words to describe the exultation of that night, when, alone
in the darkness, I embraced the whole earth with my love and stood on
the height of my experience and saw the world, like a fiery stream
of life-force, flowing turbidly to unite into one current, the end of
which I could not see. I joyfully understood that the inaccessibility
of the end was the source of the infinite growth of my soul and the
great earthly beauty. And in this infinity were the innumerable joys of
the live human soul.

In the morning the sun appeared to me with a new face. I saw how its
rays cautiously and lovingly sank into the darkness and turned it
away; how it lifted from the earth the veils of night, and there she
stood before me in the beautiful and magnificent jewels of autumn; the
emerald field of the great play of peoples and the fight for free play
was the holy place in the procession of the celebration of beauty and
truth.

I saw the earth, my mother, in space between the stars, and brightly
she gazed out with her ocean eyes into the distance and the depths. I
saw her like a full bowl of bright red, incessantly seething, human
blood, and I saw her master, the all-powerful, immortal people.

They winged her life with a great activity and hope, and I prayed:

“Thou art my God, the creator of all gods, which thou weavest out of
the beauty of thy soul and the labor and agony of thy seeking.

“There shall be no God but thou, for thou art the one God, the creator
of miracles.”

This is what I believe and confess.

And always do I return there where people free the souls of their
neighbors from the yoke of darkness and superstition and unite them
and disclose to them their own secret physiognomy, and aid them to
recognize the strength of their own wills and teach them the one and
true path to a general union for the sake of the great cause, the cause
of the universal creating of God.