The lollowing excerpt is taken from Ivan Shmelyov's Anno Domini, a wistful recolleclion of life in his pious, old-fashioned, well to-do home in pre-Revolutionary Moscow.
waken from harsh light in my room: a bare kind of light, cold, dismal.
Yes, it's Great Lent today. The pink curtains, with their hunters and
their ducks, have already been taken down while I slept, and that's why
it's so bare and dismal in the room. It's Clean Monday today for us, and
everything in our house is being scrubbed. Greyish weather, the thaw.
The dripping beyond the window is like weeping. Our old
carpenter-Gorkin, "the panel man"--said yesterday that when Lady
Shrovetide leaves, she'll weep. And so she is--drip...drip...drip...
There she goes! I look at the paper flowers reduced to shreds, at the
gold-glazed "Shrovetide" sweetcake--a toy, brought back from the baths
yesterday; gone are the little bears, gone are the little
hills--vanished, the joy. And a joyous something begins to fuss in my
heart; now everything is new, different. Now it'll be "the soul
beginning"--Gorkin told me all about it yesterday. "It's time to ready
the soul," To prepare for Communion, to keep the fast, to make ready for
the Bright Day.
"Send One-eye in to see me!" I hear Father's angry shouting.
has not gone out on business; it's a special day today, very strict.
Father rarely shouts. Something important has happened. But after all he
forgave the man for drinking; he cancelled all his sins; yesterday was
the day of Forgiveness. And Vasii Vasillich forgave us all, too, that's
exactly what Ire said in the dining room, kneeling: "I forgive you all!"
So why is Father shouting then?
The door opens,
Gorkin comes in with a gleaming copper basin. Oh, yes, to smoke out Lady
Shrovetide! There's a hot brick in the basin, and mint, and they pour
vinegar over them. My old nurse, Domnushka, follows Gorkin around and
does the pouring; it hisses in the basin and a tart steam rises a sacred
steam. I can smell it even now, across the distance of the years.
Sacred... that's what Gotkin calls it. He goes to all the corners and
gently swirls the basin. And then he swirls it over me.
up, dearie, don't pamper yourself," he speaks lovingly to me, sliding
the basin under the skirt of the bed. "Where's she hid herself in your
room, fat old Lady Shrovetide... We'll drive her out. Lent has arrived
.... We'll be going to the Lenten market, the choir from St. Basil's
will be singing 'My soul, my soul arise;' you won't be able to tear
That unforgettable, that sacred
smell. The smell of Great Lent. And Gorkin himself, completely
special--as if he were kind of sacred, too. Way before light, he had
already gone to the bath, steamed himself thoroughly, put on everything
clean. Clean Monday today! Only the kazakin is old; today only the most
workaday clothes may be worn, that's "the law". And it's a sin to laugh,
and you have to rub a bit of oil on your head. like Gorkin. I'll be
eating without oil now, but you have to oil the head, it's the law, "for
the prayer's sake." There's a flow about him, from his little gray
beard, all silver really, from the neatly combed head. I know for a fact
that he's a saint. They're like that, God's people, that please Him.
And his face is pink, like a cherubim's, from the cleanness. I know that
he's dried himself bits of black bread with salt, and all bent long
he'll take them with his tea, "instead of sugar."
But why is Daddy angry...with Vasil Vasillich, like that?
sinfulness..." says Gorkin with a sigh. “It's hard to break habits, and
now everything is strict, Lent. And, well, they get angry. But you hold
fast now, think about your soul. It's the season, all the same as if
the latter days were come...that's the law! You just recite, "O Lord and
Master of my life...' and be cheerful."
And I begin silently reciting the recently memorized Lenten prayer.
rooms are quiet and deserted, full of that sacred smell. In the front
room, before the reddish icon of the Crucifixion, a very old one , from
our sainted great-grandmother who was an Old Believer; a "lenten"
lampada of clear glass has been lit, and now it will burn unextinguished
until Pascha. When Father lights it--on Saturdays he lights all the
lampadas himself--he always sings softly, in a pleasant-sad way: "Before
Thy Cross, we bow down, O Master," and I would sing softly after him,
that wonderful refrain:
"And Thy holy... Resurrection, we glorify!”
joy-to-tears beats inside my soul, shining from these words. And I
behold it, behind the long file of lenten days--the Holy Resurrection,
in lights. A joyful little prayer! It casts a kindly beam of light upon
these sad days of bent.
I begin to imagine that now the old life is coming to an end, and it' s time to prepare for that other,
life, which will be,..where? Somewhere, in the heavens. You have to
cleanse the soul of all sinfulness, and that's why everything around you
is different. And something special is at our side, invisible and
fearful. Gorkin told me that now, "it's like when the soul is parting
from the body." THEY keep watch, to snatch away the soul, and all the
while the soul trembles and wails: "Woe is me, I am cursed!" They read
about it in church now, at the Standings.
they can sense that their end is coming near, that Christ will rise!
And that's why we're a-given Lent for, to keep close to church, to live
to see the Bright Day. And not to reflect, you understand. About earthly
things, do not reflect! And they'll be ringing everywhere: 'Think back!
..Think-back!..." He made the words boom inside him nicely.
the house the window vents are open, and you can hear the mournful cry
and summons of the bells, ringing before the services:
think-back...think-back. That's the piteous bell, crying for the soul.
It's called the lenten peal. They've taken the shutters down from the
windows, and it'll be that way, poor-looking, clear until Pascha. In the
drawing-room, there are gray slipcovers on the furniture; the lamps are
bundled up into cocoons, and even the one paintlng, "The Beauty at the
Feast," is draped over with a sheet. That was the suggestion of His
Eminence. Shook his head sadly and said: "A sinful and tempting
picture!" But Father likes it a lot--such class! Also draped is the
engraving which Father for some reason calls "the sweetcake one"; it
shows a little old man dancing, and an old woman hitting him with a
broom. That one His Eminence liked a great deal, even laughed. Ali the
house folk are very serious, in workday clothes with patches, and I was
told also to put on the jacket with the worn-through elbows. The rugs
have been taken out; it's such a lark now to skate across the parquet.
Only it's scary to try--Great Lent: skate hard and you'll break a leg.
Not a crumb left over from Shrovetide, mustn't be so much as a trace of
it in the air. Even the sturgeon in aspic was passed down to the kitchen
yesterday. Only the very plainest dishes are left in the sideboard, the
ones with the dun spots and the cracks...for Great Lent. In the front
room there are bowls of yellow pickles, little umbrellas of dill
sticking out of them, and chopped cabbage, (art and thickly dusted with
anise--a delight. I grab pinches of it--how it crunches! And I vow to
myself to eat only lenten foods for the duration of the fast. Why send
my soul to perdition, since everything tastes so good anyway! There'll
be stewed fruit, potato pancakes with prunes, "crosses" on the Week of
the Cross...frozen cranberries with sugar, candied nuts... And what
about roast buckwheat kasha with onions, washed down with kvass! And
then lenten pasties with milk-mushrooms, and then buckwheat pancakes
with onions on Saturdays... and the boiled wheat with marmalade on the
first Saturday...and almond milk with white kissel, and the cranberry
one with vanilla, and the grand kuliebiak on Annunciation .... Can it be
that THERE, where everyone goes to from this life, there will be such
lenten fare! And why is everyone so dull-looking? Why, everything is
so...so different, and there is much, so much that is joyous. Today
they'll bring the first ice and begin to line the cellars--the whole
yard will be stacked with it. We'll go to the "Lenten Market," and the
Great Mushroom Market, where I've never been... I begin jumping up and
down with joy, but they stop me: "It's Lent, don't dare! Just wait and
see, you'll break your leg!"
Fear comes over me. I look at the Crucifixion. He suffers, the Son of God! But how is it that God... how did He allow it?...
I have a sense that herein lies the great mystery itself--GOD.