Archpriest Tikhon Pelikh Once in the summer of 1991, I arrived at the Pskov Caves Monastery and found myself immersed in a very strange, yet unusually joyful life that I never had before, which was both wondrously endearing and special. I remember how I would go to two Liturgies every day, both the early and late morning services, yet never resolving to give confession or receive Communion. By that time I had never taken Communion consciously, despite having gone a few times to confession. I was truly living as if in a dream. During Great Lent our friend Valentin, the only experienced Orthodox Christian among us at the time, invited Liudochka and me to come to a church in the village of Otradnoye. “Why?” I thought. “To see ancient icons and architecture?” As if I didn’t know that people go to church to pray. I knew it, of course, but it seemed as if it wasn’t enough just to know. Try to explain what was going on inside my heart! But I did come to Otradnoye, even if I was upset that I had to cross myself before entering the church. I simply couldn’t do it! And what was I supposed to do?!
“Why? Do I have to do it?”
“Yes, you should”, Valentin insisted, softly but firmly.
As I was standing in front of the church (what a disgrace!), I managed to force myself to make the sign of the cross, hiding behind people’s backs.
It was Wednesday of Great Lent. Fr. Valerian Krechetov was serving the Liturgy of the Pre-Sanctified Gifts. When the faithful kneeled, Liudochka and I kneeled, too. This part wasn’t difficult as there was no other thing to do, with everyone in the church kneeling and paying no attention to others. Then I got tired of standing in one place and walked around the church. I saw people standing in line in the left side chapel and somehow I understood they were there to have a confession. I can’t remember how, but I ended up standing in line, too, taking in what was happening around. The line extended as far as the solea, and an extraordinary-looking old man was seated there. People would come one by one to this wondrous elder, drop on their knees, and tell him something. The elder wore a white robe and looked so transparently ethereal in his white garments that you couldn’t take your eyes off him.
Then a woman walked up to me and whispered:
“Take off your hat, it’s like a man’s.”
She was right; I was wearing a new muskrat fur hat I had borrowed from my husband. I dutifully took it off and wrapped a scarf over my head. While I was observing everything around, I didn’t notice how I had come close to the place where the elder was seated. All right, I thought, I’ll stay here for a little while longer and then go elsewhere. As soon as I said that to myself, the same woman came up again and said firmly:
“It’s your turn now.”
Mine? But I never intended to see anyone and I had absolutely nothing to say. As soon I had this thought, my feet as if walked me to this elder as white as snow and I kneeled beside him. I felt dizzy, then cried, and took the elder by his hands. He took my hands into his. I suddenly felt so peaceful and my hands felt so cozy in his hands, looking almost transparent as if they no longer belonged to our restless world. It seemed I could have stood beside him crying my heart out for ages. But the elder was waiting and I had to say something.
“It’s my first confession.”
“Your first?” he seemed surprised. “Well, then tell me what your conscience reveals to you.
I remained silent not knowing what to say.
“Have you got any sins that go against your conscience?”
“Of course, I have,” I nodded quickly.
“Against your conscience?”
That’s when I got really scared. Maybe he meant any special sins? But what if my conscience condemns me daily, no, every minute of my life as soon as I get out of bed, or does it mean that anything I do is against my conscience? Why did he sound surprised then? Or is it something else? I remained silent. And the elder waited in silence. But I couldn’t keep standing on my knees and holding the elder’s hands forever. I had to tell him something. But what? What should I say?
“My daughter wasn’t baptized!” I whispered.
“Pray to the Mother of God”, sighed the elder and covered me with the epitrachelion for absolution.
I stepped away from batiushka, and as I happened to be facing the icon of the Mother of God, I just kept standing there in silence. To pray to the Mother of God? But how? I wish I knew! But Fr. Tikhon (the renowned elder, Fr. Tikhon Pelikh [1895-1983]) interceded for me to lay the foundation for my future life as a member of the Church.