I. N. (Ignatii Nikolaevich) Potapenko.

A Russian priest online

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his choir. ... So take care ! "

" Although I was never a singer, I
must beg you to leave my house, as you
do not know how to behave properly ! "
said Cyril, hiding his vexation with
difficulty. Here was a young pastor,
who had scarcely entered on his duties,
who already demanded money so per-
sistently and angrily — who demanded
the right to turn his vocation into a
trade ! This maddened him, and vexed
and grieved him most profoundly. And
he had counted on his youth, which, as
he had imagined, could not have been
hardened by custom. Father Rodion
was an old man and infused with old
ideas, and even he had not insisted so
determinedly on his right to income.

When Silodmski heard this request to
leave the chief's house, made in a very
stern way, his wrath suddenly cooled
down. He had not wished to insult the
chief, and did not even wish to quarrel
with him. Such a course of action was
contrary to his principles. But in his
outburst of indignation he forgot that


he was speaking too loud and generally
misbehaving himself.

" Pardon me," said he to Mdria
Gavrilovna, and bowed to her ; " in my
impulse I really . . . went too far, and
perhaps said something insulting. Allow
me to explain."

But Cyril was no longer listening to
him. He was walking about the room
in great agitation. His peace was
again disturbed. For more than six
months he had been alone in the parish,
and he had begun to think that the new
institutions founded by him had taken
permanent root, and had become a law
about which there could be no question.
But he was chiefly vexed that this young
man understood him as little and even
less than Father Rodion. Did this mean
that he was ever to wage war, alone in
the field ? Was it possible that this
traditional atmosphere, amidst which
the new generation of pastors was
educated, had so entirely invaded and
permeated them, that their minds were
perfectly inaccessible to more enlight-
ened ideas, and that they were absolutely
incapable of grasping the nature of the
problems before them ? What were
their problems ? Merely those that
were common to all mankind — namely,
to live for their pleasure, and to provide
tor their old age.

Cyril stopped and looked sadly at
Silodmski. He said in a low and weary
tone, " What is the use of explanations,
Father Makdrii ? It is perfectly clear
that we cannot understand one another.
You and I are absolutely different — the
gulf between us is too great ! We have
different ideas, different objects, and


different tendencies. You want income,
and I do not : to you income is a
pleasure, to me it is an insult ! You
have come here to provide for yourself,
and I to serve the poor and ignorant.
How are we ever to understand each
other ? I will tell you this : you may
do what you like, but the customs which
I have introduced I will never give up.
That is all I have to tell you."

Cyril sat down on the sofa, pale, and
thoroughly unnerved. Silodmski looked
at him from under his eyebrows, then
looked at Mdria Gavrilovna in the same
way, took up his hat, turned to the door
and went out.

For a week Silodmski remained in a
sulky state and undertook no business.
After Cyril's tirade, he felt that the
decision expressed by him to claim his
rights at all hazards was considerably
weakened. He understood that this
was not mere obstinacy on Cyril's part,
and, strangely enough, he attributed it,
just as Father Rodion had done, to

Aweek passed. One evening Siloamski
invited the deacon Simeon to come and
drink tea with him and the matoushka.
The latter was a very young and pretty
blonde ; she had a sonorous voice.
" You know, father deacon, this is
dreadful — simply dreadful!" said she to
the deacon, in a lisping tone, and her
bright eyes looking as though they were
just going to cry. "We have spent
money, bought this house, and suddenly
... I can hardly believe that the
authorities will allow such arbitrary pro-

" Yes, we must make the best of it J


I and Demcntii Ermilitch have suffered
for a whole year!" said the deacon, with
false sympathy, forgetting of course
about Cyril's land.

" But tell me, if you please, father
deacon, what sort of person is the
lady of the manor?" asked Siloimski.

" The lady of the manor ? The Lord
only knows what sort of person she is.
We never see her. She sits in her
garden like a bear in a hole. She mixes
with no one, and avoids the clergy.''

" H'm ! That's suspicious."

" She is on very good terms with
Father Cyril ; they often visit one

" Oh ! . . . that's very suspicious . . .
very ! I shall go to the bishop and
inform him of this."

•' To the bishop ? I wouldn't advise
you to."

" Why ? The bishop is very fond of
me. I used to sing in his choir."

" Yes, it's perfectly true. He even used
to render the solos sometimes," said the
mitoushka, not without a certain amount
of pride.

"All the same I would not advise
you to go to him," said the deacon.

"But why? tell me, please. He is
acting in a perfectly illegal manner."

" I allow it. But Father Rodion said
the same thing, and went to the bishop,
but the affair turned out badly. The
bishop said to him, ' I set up this priest,
that is Father Cyril, as an example to
the whole diocese, and approve of all
his doings ! ' That is the bishop's
opinion. And when Father Rodion
hinted about his being transferred to
another place, the bishop said, ' I have


no cause for punishing him, but if you
like it I will transfer you ' — that is Father
Rodion — and he transferred him. Such
are the opinions of the lord bishop ! "

"Perhaps so," replied Siloamski,
with assurance. " But Father Rodion
and I are quite different people."

" Certainly ! " interrupted the mi-
toushka. " I have already told you that
he even sang the solos. It's not every
one that can do that ! "

To put matters shortly, Siloamski re-
solved to follow Father Rodion's example
and go to the bishop. He started off
in company with his wife, who was a
native of the town.

After Father Rodion's trip to the
government town, reports about the
young priest had become current, as to
how the young " magistrant" Obnovlien-
ski had taken a country parish, and had
established a new order of things, and
declined to take money from the people.
But these reports had not made much
impression. No one thoroughly be-
lieved them. Father Rodion had told
two or three of his friends in his out-
burst of dissatisfaction, but after his
conversation with the bishop he had
•said no more about it.

Siloamski looked up all his numerous
acquaintances in the town. Father
Makarii visited the bdtoushkas and his
spouse called on their wives. Siloamski
even went to the rector of the seminary,
Father Mejof, and told him about Cyril.

" Yes, yes, it's just as I foresaw, and I
warned the bishop of it. Even when he
left here for the academy, there was
something strange and presumptuous in
his character."


"He was always a bit cracked, but
now he is quite mad ! " remarked young
Mejof, who was present at this interview,
and who at the present time was very
successfully fulfilling the post of inspec-
tor of the seminary. "What right has
a ' magistrant ' to bury himself in the
country ? There is not an atom of sense
in it ! "

'* I tell you what, Silo^mski," pro-
posed the rector — " don't you rush off to
the bishop. I will go to him first and talk
to him seriously. We must put all our
forces together to bring this young man
to his senses ! Or, better still,' you be at
the bishop's at ten o'clock to-morrow
morning, and I will meet you there."

Reports of Cyril's eccentricities soon
reached the houses of the clergy in the
government town, and towards evening
Father Gavriil Fortificantof and his wife
heard of them.

" Whatever are we to do ? " exclaimed
NikoMevna. " He has succeeded in
getting himself talked about in the town
and in the whole government. And this
is my son-in-law, the husband of my
daughter ! This cannot go on ! Father
Gavriil, you must take steps to remedy
this ; you must go to the bishop's, and
beg, demand, I don't know what ! . . .
You must save my daughter ! "

Father Gavriil was a man of a calm
disposition, and always acted on the
maxim that every evil rights itself in
the end ; nevertheless, in consequence of
his wife's persistent demands, he started
off to the rector to consult him. They
arranged to go together to the bishop.

Arriving at the episcopal palace the
following day, they found his lordship's


carriage standing at the door, harnessed
with four black horses. They hastened
upstairs. The rector took the lead,
walking with an air of great importance,
Silocimski followed him, ascending the
stairs very briskly, and at some distance
followed Father Gavriil, with his head
bent down and moving slowly. The
bishop came to them at once. He was
dressed in a dark green cassock, and in
a long mantle with a hood to it. In his
right hand he held a thick walking-stick
with a handsome top, and in the left
hand the rosary, but not the black ones
hung on a silk thread, which he usually
had in his hands, but one used on state
occasions made of rare and beautiful
stones. He was evidently starting off

" Ah ! what an honourable triumvi-
rate ! " said he, in a joking tone. " I can
guess already what you have come about !
You, singer, have come to complain of
Cyril Obnovlienski, haven't you ? I can
see it by your eyes. And the father
rector wants to support you with his
authority ! and as for you, Father GaV-
riil, I can only suppose that you have
come for the sake of good company !
Well, what is it ? Speak ! Who is going
to speak ?"

" Your lordship has guessed aright,"
ventured Siloamski.

" I thought so — I thought as much ! I
guessed it at once ! And what's your
complaint? No income? Eh?"

" I consider it my duty to say that for
my part ..." began the rector, with
importance ; but the bishop would not
let him go on.

" You should be ashamed of your-


selves, my friends, you should !"said he,
decisively. " We ought to rejoice at
such an apparition as this young priest
— and you come with a complaint ! He
has refused the advantages of a town
living, he has declined honours, and
disinterestedly serves those around him.
What is there bad in that ? You, father
rector, you are a famous dogmatist : tell
me, is there anything essentially bad in
his action ? "

"But, your Reverence, his relations
with the lady of the place, Madame
Kroupieev are suspicuous ! " hastily said
Siloamski, as though fearing that the
bishop would interrupt him at the first

At this statement the rector's face
assumed an expression of surprise, and
Father Gavriii got red from vexation.

'• You foolish fellow ! " sternly s;:id
the bishop ; " for such a lie I ought to
send you to the monastery for a month !
There is nothing suspicious in his
doings — his mind is as pure as a child's."
With these words the bishop went out.
The triumvirate stood where they were,
distressed by the unexpected turn affairs
had taken. When they descended to
the courtyard the carriage had gone ;
they all three went away in different
directions, and Siloamski disappeared in
an unknown direction very quickly : he
had an unpleasant impression that the
effect of his exclamation about the lady
of the manor had been to spoil the whole

After this episode the relations be-
tween the clergy at Liigovoe became
more peaceful. Siloamski returned from
the town and pretended that nothing


special had occurred. Neither he nor
his wife said a word to any one about
the interview with the bishop. When
the deacon, who took a keen interest in
the progress of events, asked Silodmski
one day what the bishop had said, the
latter answered in a calm and innocent
sort of way, " Oh, you know, I changed
my mind, and did not go to him after
all. It is awkward, you know, to
speak ill of one's companions — it would
be almost like slander. No, I have de-
cided to stay on here a little and then
simply ask to be transferred somewhere
else, without explaining the reason."

Siloamski was wonderfully polite and
respectful to Cyril : he never raised his
voice, and by way of extra courtesy sent
his wife to call on Mura. They talked
together for a quarter of an hour, and
Madame Siloamski carefully observed
the most perfect politeness. Mura re-
turned the visit, and here their acquain-
tance ended.

At length Siloamski could stand it no
longer. He received no income, and
neither managed to cultivate or let his
church land ; he looked upon a further
stay in Lugovoe as so much loss of time.
So he again visited the town, brought all
his influence to bear among his musical
friends, and got transferred to another
place. In July Father Rodion's house
was empty, and Cyril, to his great de-
light, again found himself alone in the


>N the meanwhile the inhabi-
tants of Lugovoe, and of the
whole district, were being
threatened with a famine.
Scarcely a drop of rain had
fallen during the whole of
&y$L£^jff May and June. The rye,

'" *■ * which had attained about

half its growth, turned prematurely
yellow and produced a miserable ear
without any grain in it. The rye failed
everywhere in the district, and they
mowed it for the sake of the straw.
There was still a hope that rain would
fall towards St. John the Baptist's Day,
and that the wheat might be saved ; but
this hope was not fulfilled, and the half-
grown wheat crop faded away, without
even showing signs of an ear. The
steppe for ten versts around, presented
the sad spectacle of yellow pasture land
and black fields. The cattle wandered
sadly over the dried-up pasture, and,
exhausted by hunger and by the insup-
portable scorching heat, stood in the
bare fields looking for whole hours at the
blue sky, which showed no sign of the
smallest cloud. At times the whole
herd seemed to be seized with a sort of
sudden impulse, and, trampling with
iheir hoofs on the dried-up earth, they


rushed down to the meadow streamlet,
but instead of water they saw the
winding narrow bed, long since dried
up, and expressed their grief with heart-
rending lowing. The water from the
wells was preserved as carefully as gold.
They gave the cattle water in handfuls,
fearing that the supply would dry up
and that they would die from thirst.
The villagers had a supply of grain from
last year which they dealt out very care-
fully. However, their hopes were not
yet quite exhausted. The rye had
failed — they had placed their hopes on
the wheat ; the wheat began to turn
yellow — then they relied on the millet.
But at length July drew to an end, and
St. Elijah's Day passed without rain,
and when August arrived all hopes were
at an end.

Cyril found gloomy faces everywhere,
both in church and on his visits among
the people, and he himself became
gloomier every day. Going past the
public-house he heard shouting, singing,
and abusive language, and the thought
struck him that, during better times,
this shouting was not so often heard,
and was less noisy. It seemed to him
strange that these unenlightened country
people, even in the days of famine,
managed to find something to spend on
drink. He stopped, admonished, and
tried to bring them to reason.

" What difference does it make,
batoushka?" answered one of them,
considerably under the influence of
vodka. " We have got to die of hunger,
and it's better to die in a jovial frame of

" It's not necessary to die ; you must


struggle against the famine," said Cyril ;
but he seemed to feel himself that
these were mere empty words because
the struggle was an impossible one.
He thought to himself, " It's not a case
of struggling, but of bearing the evil
patiently in the hope of things taking a
turn for the better."

Cases of cattle plague occurred in the
middle of August. The cattle died from
exhaustion and thirst, and- fell down
dead in the fields. Lamentations were
heard in various parts of the village.

" It will soon be with us as with the
cattle ! " said the moujiks, looking at a
dead cow and weeping as if they had
lost their nearest relation.

Cyril returned home exhausted and
gloomy. Unpleasant thoughts crowded
into his head. He saw before him per-
fectly helpless people threatened by
famine. He had spoken consoling
words, but recognized with a heavy
heart that words in such a case are of
no use, and that help was required in
the form of bread. A sort of indecision
seized him. There were moments when
all his practical work, on which he had
laid so great a stress, seemed a mere
empty amusement, and nothing more.
What had he really done ? He had
taught, he had enlightened, and perhaps
he had made a few people wiser, or
instructed some erring soul, but now,
when it was a question of preserving the
health and even the life of the people,
he was powerless. He had put a stop to
taking money from the people, but that
was no advantage to them now, as they
had none to give.

One day, when he was dining with


Mura, a boy, in a dirty, worn-out shirt,
with bare feet, with a pale face, spotted
with patches, came to inform Cyril that
his mother had died.

"What did she die of?" asked Cyril,
in a tone betraying emotion. Three
days before, he had seen the boy's
mother tottering under the weight of
pails of water which she was carrying
from the well.

"The Lord knows!" said the boy,
stupidly gazing into space. " From food,
I suppose."

" What do you mean, ' from food ' ? "
continued Cyril, with still greater
anxiety, and with a presentiment of
evil in his mind.

" She made some porridge out of the
siftings, and it finished her off."

" The siftings — that means bran !" ex-
plained Cyril to Mura, in a very low
voice. " It has come to this, that they
have to eat bran."

He walked about the room almost
deliriously. A terrible storm awoke in
his breast. He felt as though some
unknown force drove and urged him on
to action, and that he had ceased to
belong to himself. Mura looked at him
with alarm and wonder. She quietly
said to the boy — " Go, the Mtoushka
will follow ! " and when the boy had
gone out, she asked — " Cyril, what is
the matter with you ? " She got up and
went to him. His face was pale ; his
large eyes sparkled as though he had a
fever. She took his hand ; he stopped.
*' What is the matter with you, Cyril ? "
repeated Mura, in a trembling tone.

"Ah, Mura ! " and his head sank on
her breast.


Mura felt that he was weeping, and
tried to calm him, although she could
not understand the cause of his

"What! you don't understand? A
famine is beginning ; this is the first
death from hunger. A mortal famine,
Mura, is beginning-, not far from busy
towns where commerce goes on in its
usual way and people amuse themselves
and provide themselves with super-
fluities ! This is terrible, Mura ! One
cannot stand by and look on with one's
arms folded. How can we eat our
dinner when a poor woman dies from
eating bran. . . . It's impossible ! . . .
We must do something active."

This he said in a halting voice, and
looking out of the window at the village.
He imagined to himself that death had
already begun to visit every hut, and that
he was too late with his help. Anyhow,
he was too late to help this woman who
had died from eating bran.

" But what can we do, Cyril ? We are
in a state of destitution ourselves,"
said Mura. Cyril did not answer her.
He hastily put on his cassock, seized his
hat and ran out of the room. He almost
ran along the road to the manor-house.
The wind blew around the skirts of his
cassock and filled the long sleeves, and
as he strode along waving his arms, he
resembled some huge bird flying very
low over the land.

"Where is our bdtoushka rushing off
to ? " asked the moujiks, among them-
selves, in surprise; "something must
have happened. See how pale he is,
and how his eyes glitter ! "

Cyril scarcely noticed how he got


over the three versts. He impulsively
opened the garden gate, and walked up
to the house without taking any notice
of the furious barking of a chained dog,
who, although he frequently saw Cyril,
could never get accustomed to his
cassock. He ascended the steps leading
to the front door and went into the ves-
tibule. There he met a housemaid.

" Where is Nadieshda Alecsieevna ? ):
asked he ; and not waiting for an answer,
entered the dining-room.

Nadieshda Alecsieevna had only just
sat down to dinner. The small boy sat
next to her on a high chair with a
napkin tied round his neck. Seeing
Cyril, she put down the soup-ladle and
got up. His expression was so extra-
ordinary that she did not even think of
asking him if he would dine with her,
but said —

''What has happened? Tell me,
quickly ! Is anything the matter with
Maria Gavrilovna or the child ? "

" No, no ! It's the famine — people are
dying of hunger ! " answered he, with an
increasingly loud voice, and pointing in
the direction of the village—" There ! "
added he.

The tone of his voice and his move-
ments were majestic. As though in-
spired with a command, he could not
speak in an ordinary way at that
moment, he could only summon, arouse,
and preach. Those words which he
had just uttered would have seemed to
him half an hour before bombastic, and
that grandiose gesture, theatrical.
_ " Where ? " asked Nadieshda Alec-
sie'evna. She knew that the crops had
failed, and that her own farming opera-


tions had suffered, although not in the
same degree, because she had a great
deal of land and on some parts of her
property things had turned out better.
But she had no idea that it was a case
of famine. ■

" In the village," answered Cyril, in
the same tone as before. "They are
beginning to come to me to bury the
dead ; a woman has already died from
eating bran. That means that there is
absolutely nothing to eat. And you and
I eat plentiful dinners and have all the
comforts of life. Listen, Nadieshda Alec-
sidevna — I will give up everything I
possess, to the very last crumb. Sub-
stantial help is required ! You can
help — you ought to help — you ought
to — and you will ! I know you have a
kind heart."

In ordinary moments he would
never have brought himself to say this
to her. He would have considered it
importunate and meddlesome on his
part, and, although the request was for
others, he would have thought it quite
inexcusable. But at such a time he
could not trouble himself with the
exigencies of polfteness. He looked
straight at the matter and saw one fact
— a terrible death from hunger. His
pale face expressed stern command, and
his ardent look penetrated Nadieshda
Alecsieevna's spirit. She now saw
before her, not the meek and mild
clergyman, who at times hesitated
even to utter his opinions, and when he
became excited, evidently tried to stifle
his feelings and speak quietly. Before
her now stood an inspired prophet, in
long biblical attire, with the pale face of


an ascetic, with the expression of a
deeply suffering martyr."

She was greatly agitated by his
speech, looks, and manners. She, too,
felt as though carried away by impulse,
and as though seized by a desire to aid
him in the work of charity.

In such a frame of mind she warmly
grasped his hand, and then quickly dis-
appeared into another room.

In a couple of minutes she returned
went up to Cyril, and handed him a
small bundle of bank-notes.

" Here is a small sum," said she, in a
trembling voice ; " about three hundred
roubles. But I have more in the town.
... I can get it ! . . . Excuse me,"
added she, putting her hand to her
forehead, as though she had a sudden
idea, " I must speak to the bailiff. Call
the bailiff!"

He was an old man with a long
beard, and intelligent, penetrating eyes,
who had served during Madame Krou-
pieev's father's lifetime, and had begun
life as a serf. He had held this post
both under young Kroupie"ev, and also
under the disorderly, drunken regime of
Madame Kroupidev's cousin, and now
had the management of the whole

" How much corn have we got ? "
asked Nadieshda Alecsieevna, when he

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Online LibraryI. N. (Ignatii Nikolaevich) PotapenkoA Russian priest → online text (page 11 of 13)