“But she comes from far away!” He pointed to a woman who was not at all old, yet very thin and haggard, with a face not tanned but, as it were, blackened. She was kneeling and stared at the elder with a fixed gaze. There was something frenzied, as it were, in her eyes.
“From far away, dear father, far away, two hundred miles from here. Far away, father, far away,” the woman spoke in a singsong voice, rocking her head gently from side to side with her cheek resting in her hand. She spoke as though she were lamenting. There is among the people a silent, long-suffering grief; it withdraws into itself and is silent. But there is also a grief that is strained; a moment comes when it breaks through with tears, and from that moment on it pours itself out in lamentations. Especially with women. But it is no easier to bear than the silent grief. Lamentations ease the heart only by straining and exacerbating it more and more. Such grief does not even want consolation; it is nourished by the sense of its unquenchableness. Lamentations are simply the need to constantly irritate the wound.
“We’re townspeople, father, townspeople, we’re peasants but we live in town. I’ve come to see you, father. We heard about you, dear father, we heard about you. I buried my baby son, and went on a pilgrimage. I’ve been in three monasteries, and then they told me: ‘Go to them, too, Nastasia’—meaning to you, my dear, to you. So I came; yesterday I was at vespers, and today I’ve come to you.”
“What are you weeping for?”
“I pity my little son, dear father, he was three years old, just three months short of three years old. I grieve for my little son, father, for my little son. He was the last little son left to us, we had four, Nikitushka and I, but our children didn’t stay with us, they didn’t stay. When I buried the first three, I wasn’t too sorry about them, but this last one I buried and I can’t forget him. As if he’s just standing right in front of me and won’t go away. My soul is wasted over him. I look at his clothes, at his little shirt or his little boots, and start howling. I lay out all that he left behind, all his things, and look at them and howl. Then I say to Nikitushka, that’s my husband, let me go on a pilgrimage, master. He’s a coachman, we’re not poor, father, not poor, we run our own business, everything belongs to us, the horses and the carriages. But who needs all that now? Without me, he’s taken to drinking, my Nikitushka, I’m sure he has, even before I left he’d give in to it, the minute I turned my back. And now I don’t even think about him. It’s three months since I left home. I’ve forgotten, I’ve forgotten everything, and I don’t want to remember, what can I do with him now? I’m through with him, through, I’m through with everybody. And I don’t even want to see my house now, and my things, I don’t want to see anything at all!”
“Listen, mother,” said the elder. “Once, long ago, a great saint saw a mother in church, weeping just as you are over her child, whom the Lord had also called to him. ‘Do you not know,’ the saint said to her, ‘how bold these infants are before the throne of God? No one is bolder in the Kingdom of Heaven: Lord, you granted us life, they say to God, and just as we beheld it, you took it back from us. And they beg and plead so boldly that the Lord immediately puts them in the ranks of the angels. And therefore,’ said the saint, ‘you, too, woman, rejoice and do not weep. Your infant, too, now abides with the Lord in the host of his angels.’ That is what a saint said to a weeping woman in ancient times. he was a great saint and would not have hold her a lie. Therefore you, too, mother, know that your infant, too, surely now stands before the throne of the Lord, rejoicing and being glad, and praying to God for you. Weep, then, but also rejoice.”
The woman listened to him, resting her cheek in her hand, her eyes cast down. She sighed deeply.
“The same way my Nikitushka was comforting me, word for word, like you, he’d say: ‘Foolish woman,’ he’d say, ‘why do you cry so? Our little son is surely with the Lord God now, singing with the angels.’ He’d say it to me, and he’d be crying himself, I could see, he’d be crying just like me. ‘I know, Nikitushka,’ I’d say, ‘where else can he be if not with the Lord God, only he isn’t here, with us, Nikitushka, he isn’t sitting here with us like before!’ If only I could just have one more look at him, if I could see him one more time, I wouldn’t even go up to him, I wouldn’t speak, I’d hide in a corner, only to see him for one little minute, to hear him the way he used to play in the backyard and come in and shout in his little voice: ‘Mama, where are you?’ Only to hear how he walks across the room, just once, just one time, pat-pat-pat with his little feet, so quick, so quick, the way I remember he used to run up to me, shouting and laughing, if only I could hear his little feet pattering and know it was him! But he’s gone, dear father, he’s gone and I’ll never hear him again! His little belt is here, but he’s gone, and I’ll never see him, I’ll never hear him again . . . !”
She took her boy’s little gold-braided belt from her bosom and, at the sight of it, began shrieking with sobs, covering her eyes with her hands, through which streamed the tears that suddenly gushed from her eyes.
“This,” said the elder, “is Rachel of old ‘weeping for her children, and she would not be comforted, because they are not.’ This is the lot that befalls you, mothers, on earth. And do not be comforted, you should not be comforted, do not be comforted, but weep. Only each time you weep, do not fail to remember that your little son is one of God’s angels, that he looks down at you from there and sees you, and rejoices in your tears and points them out to the Lord God. And you will be filled with this great mother’s weeping for a long time, but in the end it will turn into quiet joy for you, and your bitter tears will become tears of quiet tenderness and the heart’s purification, which saves from sin. And I will remember your little child in my prayers for the repose of the dead. What was his name?”
“Alexei, dear father.”
“A lovely name! After Alexei, the man of God?”
“Of God, dear father, of God. Alexei, the man of God.”
“A great saint! I’ll remember, mother, I’ll remember, and I’ll remember your sorrow in my prayers, and I’ll remember your husband, too. Only it is a sin for you to desert him. God to your husband and take care of him. Your little boy will look down and see that you’ve abandoned his father, and will weep for both of you: why, then, do you trouble his blessedness? He’s alive, surely he’s alive, for the soul lives forever, and though he’s not at home, he is invisibly near you. How, then, can he come to his home if you say your now hate your home? To whom will he go if he does not find you, his father and mother, together? You see him now in your dreams and are tormented, but at home he will send you quiet dreams. Go to your husband, mother, go this very day.”
“I will go, my dear, according to your work, I will go. You’ve touched my heart. Nikitushka, my Nikitushka, you are waiting for me, my dear, waiting for me!” The woman began to murmur, but the elder had already turned to a very old little old lady . . .