Spring came to Diveevo during Holy Week and really set in towards Pascha. It was warm throughout Bright Week, and the earth dried out thoroughly after the spring wetness. Vera worked in her kitchen-garden from the morning, eagerly turning over large thick layers of soil and then breaking them up, hitting them flat. After praying through Great Lent and celebrating Pascha it was high time to labor and see about her daily bread. More than that, her hands missed work and the soil.
The morning was gradually getting on into the afternoon, and the sun’s rays gave out warmth like in summer. Vera examined her smooth beds which she intended for radishes and herbs and felt pleased. Then in her mind she planned what she would grow in the rest of her small vegetable patch. Her gaze moved to her neighbor’s plot beyond the adjoining fence. Everything had remained untouched there since the previous autumn.
“For some reason I haven’t seen Valentina lately. I have been puttering about with the land for the second day now, but she hasn’t begun yet,” Vera thought.
She collected up her tools and went to have breakfast.
Over a cup of tea and the remainder of her kulich, Vera would cast an occasional glance at her neighbor’s porch through her window, but the Vera didn’t appear.
“I’m afraid something might have happened to her! I should call on her,” the woman got worried.
Going up to the lopsided porch of Valentina’s hut, Vera knocked and read the prayer loudly. A very faint voice said from inside, “Amen.”
“You’re alive, thank God!” Vera felt relieved. She stepped inside and it took her several moments to get used to the semi-darkness. The windows were curtained, and the room was in a complete mess. There were unwashed dishes, crumbs and some medicine on the table, the stove door was opened and firewood was scattered all over the floor. Valentina was lying on bed by the wall, which was covered with icons. There was an expression of exhaustion and melancholy on her face.
“Valya [a diminutive form of the name Valentina.—Trans.], what’s up? Are you sick?” the guest addressed the mistress of the house.
Valentina looked despondently at her cheerful neighbor, who was tanned from the spring sun, and uttered tragically:
“Verochka [an affectionate form of the name Vera.—Trans.], I am going to die.”
“What do you mean? What’s the matter with you?” Vera threw up her hands.
“It’s enough for me. I’ve lived on this earth for long enough and it’s time for me to go…” She nodded at the ceiling. “I have been lying for the second day without getting up. I feel the end is near.”
“Have you sought medical help yet?”
“Oh, my darling! This young physician visited me yesterday. And what’s the use? He prescribed vitamins and told me to do exercises. But if you are dying, you are in no mood for exercises! He must be joking! Oh, these young people…”
“But since it’s all so serious…” Vera stopped in confusion and went on. “Maybe you should call a priest?”
“A priest? H'm.” Valentina fell deep into thought for a moment. “Well, why not then? Invite him. Tell him that, so and so, Valentina is dying.”
“Alright. Hold on while I go and invite Fr. Vladimir.”
Vera stopped off at home to get some money and a bag and went to the center to buy something to console her sick neighbor. The first thing she did was to call on Fr. Vladimir who lived in an old house by the spring. After receiving his blessing, Vera gave it to him straight:
“Father, Valentina is about to die! Could you come and see her?”
“Is she really?” the priest was surprised. “Is Valentina sick?”
“She seemed to feel well on Sunday. But when I called on her today she was lying in bed. She doesn’t get up and says she is about to die.”
“Well, then I must certainly come and see her,” the priest decided. “God be with you! I will come later today.”
Vera spent most of the day at the center, buying seeds and seedlings. She also dropped in at the convent to venerate the relics of St. Seraphim and pray for the servant of God Valentina. Vera also didn’t forget about the gift—she bought some grapes, a piece of imported cheese and even grudgingly spent money on an expensive bottle of Cahors church wine to strengthen her neighbor’s health.
As the woman was walking back home, the sun was setting very low. As she opened her neighbor’s gate she was taken aback. Valentina who had been dying several hours earlier was raking the previous year’s plant remains into a heap in her kitchen-garden, as if nothing had happened.
“Valya! Thank God, you’re alive! What miracle has happed with you?”
Valentina drew herself up and rose, leaning against the rake:
“I’ve been healed,” she reported. And after a short pause she added, “Fr. Vladimir has healed me.”
“Has he really? Is our priest a wonderworker?!”
“I don’t know for sure, but it looks like he’s a wonderworker.”
“Please, tell me how it happened.”
“What should I tell you about?” Valentina grumbled at Vera, but only for show. “Okay, let’s sit down here.”
Valentina took some matches out of her apron pocket and set fire to the heap. They could smell the sweet smell of smoke. The women sat down on a pile of wood nearbe and Valentina began her story.
“Fr. Vladimir came less than an hour after you had left. He said, ‘Valentina, I’ve heard that you’re dying?’ I replied, ‘Yes, father. I’m dying. My time has come. I’ve prayed through Lent and now the Lord is going to take me in these Paschal days.’ Fr. Vladimir stroked his beard and proceeded, ‘Okay. If it comes to that, then prepare for death. You need to spend the final days of your life piously. Today read the Gospels and the Apostle as much as you can, along with the seventeenth kathisma before going to sleep, just in case—it is read for the repose of the departed. Tomorrow I’ll come to hear your confession and give you unction; and the day after tomorrow you will take Communion, and er…’”
“What do you mean—er?” Vera asked.
“Er,” Valentina spread her arms. “To eternity.”
The woman was silent for a while and added in an offended tone:
“He didn’t even ask me about the doctor (though you did) and didn’t offer to pray for my recovery. He just said, ‘Death is the much longed-for destiny of all Christians. We prepare for it our entire lives. And the Lord has vouchsafed you the joy of meeting Him very soon! Which means you’re ready!’”
“And what about you? Were you happy?” Vera wondered. It suddenly cheered her up to hear that.
“Happy?! No, not at all!” Valentina waved her hands. “I realized that I’m still not ready for the meeting, it’s too early for me!”
“And you got better at once, didn’t you?”
“As you see! It’s a miracle!” Valentina replied confidently. “As soon as Fr. Vladimir had walked out the door, I got my energy back as if from nowhere! I rose, tidied my room up, boiled some potatoes and fried some fish. And I’m even puttering about in my garden now! Our Fr. Vladimir isn’t an ordinary priest,” she added mysteriously.
“Truly it’s a miracle!” Vera was looking at her neighbor who had just come back to life with admiration and a joyful smile. “I’ve got a present for you to strengthen your health!” She slipped her hands into her bag and took the church wine out.
“You’re a generous soul, Vera!” Valentina said with admiration. “Let’s go. Let me treat you to some fried carp. And let’s each have a shot glass of wine to strengthen our health.”
Vera didn’t object, and soon they both were sitting at the table over hot fried potatoes and fish.
The next morning, when Vera went out to plant her radishes, Valentina had already been furrowing her new vegetable bed, singing Paschal stichera under her breath. Vera smiled and shouted over the fence:
“Christ Is Risen!”
“In Truth He Is Risen !” she heard the neighbor’s cheerful voice.
Valentina had come back to life completely.