A Pilgrim, by Sergey Nikolayevich Rusin Oksana and Arina went to Valaam for the first time following the advice of a mutual Catholic friend.
“You have to go there, girls! It’s such an amazing place. People come from all over the world, and tons of miraculous things happen there.”
Having begun their Church life not long before, the friends were each secretly dreaming of a miracle. Well, maybe not exactly dreaming, but they were hoping for it in the depths of their souls. It simply couldn’t be for nothing that they stood through long services, fasted, and went on pilgrimages, while their peers were going to nightclubs, resorts, and restaurants. They both went to Valaam to pray for a job. In principle, they were ready to get married too, but they were more in need of their daily bread at the moment. However, these intelligent young ladies from the capital refused the obedience of weeding the fields. It was too much for them.
Off they went to seek Fr. N’s blessing to get an obedience in the library or some office. And, truth be told, he did promise them something like that. But then, either there wasn’t actually any work there, or Batiushka got too busy, but our young ladies had the feeling he was simply avoiding them. Very strange… Maybe he didn’t like how these well-read gals started bombarding him with tricky questions about the writings of the Holy Fathers? Or that Arina and Oksana (“Aksinya and Arinya,” as Fr. N called them) pleaded with him to become their spiritual father? After all, Batiushka had served overseas and was a disciple of Anthony of Sourozh. Such an igumen definitely knows more than the ordinary local priests.
Having begun their Church life not long before, the friends were each secretly dreaming of a miracle
Anyhow, our pilgrims were wandering around the island, restless and jobless like sheep without a shepherd. They dutifully attended all the services, for as long as five hours each (Arina even managed to faint once during a Vigil)! They got up at dawn to attend the Midnight Office (one sunrise was so nice that they had to go back to their room to look for a camera). They visited the sketes, admired the beauty of the island and the prayer-rich life of the monks, and diligently read the prayer rule sitting on the banks of Lake Ladoga, arguing—should they chant the prayers or just read them?
There were, however, drawbacks to this wonderful island: the mosquitos and gnats who staunchly guarded the forest blueberry bushes and dug into their flesh, taking no notice of even the best repellants; the seagulls who chose to pass the night on the roof of the pilgrim house; and even the pilgrims themselves. Able-bodied and mature, they weren’t afraid of laboring in the fields. They lived together amicably, and loved to eat and joke together late into the night. Their way of life was nothing like the rhythm of “Aksinya and Arinya,” and both parties looked at each other a bit askance. The situation in their room got even more complicated when, awakened at 4 AM by rustling of plastic bags, the workers didn’t appreciate the wondrous sunrise, and bluntly let the pilgrims know.
Falling asleep in the unfriendly women’s dormitory, both lamented how their dreams of that wondrous Valaam were so far removed from reality
Falling asleep in the unfriendly women’s dormitory, under a roof that that heated up during the day and the ear-piercing cries of the seagulls, both girls lamented how their dreams of that wondrous Valaam were so far removed from reality. But they didn’t even get a chance to fall asleep. One of the noisiest and liveliest laborers, Marina, rushed into the room and loudly voiced her outrage:
“Who does that batiushka think he is?! How dare he not give me a blessing to have Communion? I always had Communion at home, but here they need a stamp in my passport! He’s too big for his britches!”
Her friends tried to calm the fuming Marina down and find out what had actually happened. It turns out this Russian woman and her son had moved to England a long time ago. There she met and started living with a man, who, as he said, wasn’t going to marry a foreigner with a child. She was okay with it, they all lived quite happily, and Marina even occasionally went for Communion at a local Orthodox church. But then someone advised her to travel on Valaam, and that’s how she ended up a part of our pilgrim-laborer group. She even went to have confession, and the priest told her point-blank: Either get married, or break up with this British guy. Otherwise, he wouldn’t bless her to have Communion.
Marina was telling her story, crying so loudly that it was no longer clear who she was most angry with: Batiushka, her Paul, or herself?
“Come on, Marina, is it worth it to be so upset?” her compassionate neighbors consoled her. “Call him—isn’t he a man, after all? Explain the situation, and maybe he’ll agree?”
“No, ladies,” Marina said, wiping away the tears, “we’ve discussed it many times. He doesn’t want to get married.” And she left the room holding on to her phone.
While she was gone, the women’s dorm was divided into two camps: those who were sure Marina would come back victorious, and those who disappointingly kept saying that miracles don’t happen. Arina and Oksana were the only ones who didn’t take part in the dispute, as they considered it beneath their dignity to even talk about cohabitation.
“Well, ladies, Paul agreed!” Marina cried out breathlessly when she returned ten minutes later. “Imagine, it was like we’d never discussed it before. He answered me so calmly: ‘Sure, Mary, let’s get married. I was already planning to propose to you myself.’”
In response, Marina was showered with kisses, hugs, tears, and congratulations from the other women, who until quite recently had been strangers to her.
She personally hadn’t the slightest doubt that what she experienced was truly a miracle
In the morning, the priest who had heard Marina’s confession blessed her to receive Communion. She returned from the service glowing from the inside, as beautiful as a bride. She personally hadn’t the slightest doubt that what she experienced was truly a miracle. Although this strict batiushka at first wouldn’t allow her to take Communion, he had prayerfully entreated her happiness, she thought.
As “Arinya and Aksinya” were leaving, they thought: “No more Valaam!” Fr. N, who didn’t take them on as spiritual children, promised at their parting to get one of them a job as an iconographer in a convent in St. Petersburg and the other as a secretary in the chancellery. Our young ladies with their higher education were insulted to the core.
Soon, though, one of them did become an iconographer and the other left a well-paying job, went to Valaam again, and later did get hired as the secretary for the diocesan administration. But that’s a completely different story…