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Παρασκευή, 27 Μαΐου 2011

FR. ABBAKUM AND THE PSKOV RELIGIOUS AFFAIRS COMMISSIONER.


One summer, one of the ancient Pechori monks, the gatekeeper, Fr. Abbakum, announced in the refectory after evening prayers that he will no longer allow anyone into the monastery who is not Orthodox. Enough! Painted lady tourists come in, hanging on the arms of atheist louts, you can smell the tobacco a mile away, or communists with Baptists, or newly revealed ecumenists, or Moslems with their arms around infidel Jews. This should be put to an end!

The brothers did not pay much heed to the grumblings of an old man, but someone nonetheless asked him, "And how will you know whether or not a person is Orthodox?"

Abbakum thought hard, but not long. "Well, if they can say the Creed, I'll let them in! But if they can't—let them take a walk outside the gates, they have no business in the monastery."

Everyone laughed at his words, and then forgot them. However, the next morning, when the monks were dispersing from services to their various obediences, they noticed with amazement that the monastery was unusually empty. Pious pilgrims were milling around the churches and crossing themselves, familiar old ladies were coming up for blessings, wanderers with their little bundles rested after Liturgy, while a fool-for-Christ ran around the well. But the usual annoying crowd of tourists had disappeared. It was simply Holy Russia! Apparently, Fr. Abbakum had really done what he said he'd do.

That is just how it was. From early morning, at his post by the Holy Gates, Fr. Abbakum, demanded that every person entering the monastery read the Nicene-Constantinople Creed, composed by the fathers of the first and second Ecumenical Councils in the fourth century. His calculation was ingeniously simple: every church-going Orthodox person knows this text by heart.

From 6:30 to 10:00 a.m., no one who came to the monastery had any problem with the Creed. But after 10:00, the first tourist bus arrived. It goes without saying that none of the soviet tourists were able to pass Fr. Abbakum's examination. They all just cursed and threatened him as they stood before the tightly closed gates. But to a seasoned soldier like Fr. Abbakum, whose chest was covered with medals by the end of the war, those threats were just laughable. Then another bus arrived, then the Intourist bus with foreigners according to schedule… In short, by noon, a huge, angry crowd had gathered outside the gates of the monastery. This is what the chief superintendent over all the religious life of Pskov saw through the window of his black "Volga" when he drove up; this was the Pskov Province Religious Affairs Commissioner, Nicholai Alexandrovich Yudin.

In the monastery, everyone intentionally pronounced his surname as "Iyudin," which means, "Judas's." Not because that commissioner was any worse than any other commissioners. It was just that any superintendent over Church life was a symbol of the Church's external enslavement. To be fair, it must be said that Nicholai Alexandrovich was actually a very good-natured man, who had worked in the government organs for many years without becoming hardened from an excess of authority. Nevertheless, he was the most powerful boss, and decided the fates of all the clergy who fell under his area of responsibility. He could revoke the so-called registration of any priest as he saw fit, and then that priest would not have the legal right to serve in a church. That was the least of what he could do. The commissioner's displeasure could very easily result in the full array of problems that a KGB staffer was able to bring down upon anyone deemed dangerous to the soviet state. Therefore, all Church rectors—never mind simple batiushkas— always came to the commissioner's office at the first summons.

Everyone but the Father Superior of the Pskov Caves Monastery, Archimandrite Gabriel. He was the only one to whom Yudin came himself if he had any questions. Why was that? I think that it was because the abbot knew how to present himself that way. Also, because Fr. Gabriel was a strong and independent abbot. He was also very tough—he always got was he was after.

True, some people maliciously supposed that Yudin was called to the "carpet" at the monastery because the abbot was of a higher rank. But that was just mean talk. Although, everyone knows that abbots and rectors in those days had to have some interrelationship with government representatives. But about that later.

Seeing the outrageous disorder taking place in his "domain," Nicholai Alexandrovich Yudin immediately jumped out of the car. Quickly assessing what was going on, he decisively pushed his way through the crowd to the gates and menacingly banged his fist against the large antiquarian, iron bound, oaken doors.

"Who's there?! Open the door right now!"

"Recite the Creed!" came the stern, solemn voice of Monk Abbakum from behind the gate.

"What?!" the commissioner said, not believing his own ears. "What creed? Open up, I say!"

"Recite the Creed!" just as resolutely came from the other side of the door.

Nicholai Alexandrovich was even gasping with indignation. "Who do you think you are? How dare you? I am the commissioner! I am Yudin! Open up now, or you'll be sorry!"

"Recite the Creed!"

This elevated dialogue went on for about ten minutes.

Finally, the commissioner looked at his watch and gave up. "Open up, I beg you! I am already a quarter of an hour late for an appointment with your abbot. Can't you imagine how he is going to greet me now!"

From behind the door came a pause. Apparently, Fr. Abbakum could indeed imagine what awaited the poor wretch.

"Yes, you'll have to pay for that..." he sighed with understanding. But then he immediately repeated, "Recite the Creed!"

"I don't know your Creed!" the commissioner implored. What is it, after all?"

Fr. Abbakum again thought hard, and finally made his decision. "Well, alright, then!... Repeat after me!"

Then, from beyond the gate was heard the ancient, magnificent words of the Nicene-Constantinople Creed. "I believe!" pronounced Fr. Abbakum.

"I believe…" the cornered commissioner squeezed out of himself, glancing back at the tourists.

"In One God the Father!... Abbakum continued triumphantly.

"In One God the Father…" the condemned Yudin repeated.

"Almighty!"

"Almighty…"

"Maker of Heaven and Earth!"

"Maker… of Heaven and Earth…"

After the Commissioner of Religious Affairs for Pksov Province had publicly confessed the final dogma contained in the great prayer, "I look for the resurrection of the dead, and the life of the age to come. Amen," the gate opened slightly to allow him into the monastery grounds.

Literally incinerating his inquisitor by his gaze and cursing him through clenched teeth, the commissioner sped toward the abbot's quarters, where the Father Superior was waiting for him in a very irritated mood.

"So, Nicholai Alexandrovich! What made you decide to be late? I have been waiting for you a half an hour already!" he met his guest with displeasure.

"Why are you asking me?!" the commissioner leapt at him. "What is going on here? You have a mental patient for a gatekeeper. He won't let anyone in—he makes everyone recite some sort of Creed!" Out there on the drive are buses, tourists!... Foreigners!!! Do you imagine what a scandal will come of this?

At this, the abbot got worried. He sent the steward forthwith to find out what was going on and to straighten things out, and to bring Fr. Abbakum to the abbot's quarters immediately for a reprimand.

By the time Fr. Abbakum entered the hall, the commissioner had calmed down, with the help of a generous meal and French cognac.

When he saw the gatekeeper, Father Superior rose angrily from his armchair. "What have you done?! Without a blessing, self-willed, you set up your own rules in the monastery?!"

Well, self-will really is a sin for a monk. Father Superior was absolutely right about that. And Fr. Abbakum immediately admitted his sin. He stepped resolutely over to the table and threw himself at Fr. Gabriel's feet.

"I am sorry! Forgive me, Father Abbot!"

"Get out, self-willed!" the abbot thundered over him, and even kicked him away with his boot.

The commissioner was triumphant with revenge. When he left, the abbot again summoned Fr. Abbakum, who fell at his feet as soon as he came into the room.

But this time, Father Superior had not summoned him for a scolding. "Alright, well done! Here, take this!" Fr. Gabriel said good-naturedly, and thrust a bottle of "Napoleon" into Fr. Abbakum's hand.

That evening, Fr. Abbakum and a few other old war veteran monks tasted with pleasure the famous abbatial cognac.

Archimandrite Tikhon (Shevkunov)
Translated by Nun Cornelia

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