How Christ Visited a Man

A Christmas Story

Dedicated to Christian children   

A true story of how Christ Himself came to visit a man at Christmas and what he learned from this. I heard it from an old Siberian who knew about this event very well. I will convey in my own words what he told me.

* * *

Photo: Photo:     

Our area in Siberia is inhabited mostly by settlers,1 but it is a good trading place. My father came to these parts during the time of serfdom in Russia, and I was born here. We are fairly well off and satisfied with our situation, and we do not live in poverty. We keep the simple Russian faith. My father was well-read and encouraged me to read. Everyone who loved learning was my best friend, and I was ready to do anything for him. And once the Lord sent me a friend, Timofei Osipovich, to comfort me. So, I want to tell you how a miracle occurred to him.

Timofei Osipovich came to our area at a young age. I was eighteen at the time, and he was maybe in his early twenties. Timoshka’s behavior was very decent. We did not ask him why he had been exiled here by court order so as not to shame him, but we heard that his uncle had offended him. When Timofei was an orphan, his uncle became his guardian and squandered, or took away, almost all of his inheritance. In his youth, Timofei Osipovich was hot-tempered; he and his uncle had a quarrel, and he struck his uncle with a weapon. By the mercy of the Creator, the grave sin was not compounded by murder—Timofei just pierced his uncle’s arm. Thanks to Timofei’s youth he was not punished severely and was only exiled as a first guild merchant to our area.

Although nine-tenths of Timofei’s estate were taken away from him, it was possible to live on one tenth. He built himself a house and began to live near us, but his resentment tormented him, and for a long time he avoided everyone. He always stayed at home, and the only people who saw him were two-day laborers. At home he read all kinds of books, mostly the sacred ones. Finally, we got to know each other precisely because of the books; I began to pay him visits, and he accepted me willingly. He and I became chums.

* * *

My parents hesitated to allow me to see him at first. He seemed over-smart to them. They said, “Who knows what kind of person he is and why he hides from everyone. We don’t want him to teach you something bad.” But I, being obedient to my parents’ will, told them the truth that I did not hear anything bad from Timofei, but that the only thing we did was read books together and talk about the faith—how to live according to the holy will of God so as not to belittle and dishonor the image of God in ourselves. Then they allowed me to come and spend time with Timofei as long as I wished. My father himself paid him a visit, and then Timofei Osipovich came to see us. My old folks saw that he was a good man, and they came to love him and began to feel very sorry for him, because he was often gloomy. When he recalled his resentment, or especially when others said a single word about his uncle, he turned pale all over, became anxious and lost heart. Then he did not want to read, and anger burned in his eyes instead of the usual affection. He was an exemplary and intelligent man of great honesty, but due to his melancholy he did not take up any business. But the Lord soon helped him: He took a fancy to my sister, married her and stopped being depressed, and they lived happily thereafter. In the next ten years he became the most prosperous among us. His house was turned into a good mansion; he enjoyed everything he needed in abundance and everyone respected him; his wife was kind, and their children were healthy. What else would he need? It would seem that he could forget past grief, but he remembered everything and bore a grudge against his uncle. Once, when the two of us were riding in a cart and talking placidly, I asked him:

“Brother Timosha, are you satisfied with everything now?”

“In what sense?” he asked me.

“Do you have everything that you lost at home?”

He turned pale all over and did not answer a word, just holding the reins of the horse in silence. Then I apologized.

“Brother, forgive me for asking you such questions. I believed that the bad thing that had happened to you a long time ago passed and was forgotten.”

“It makes no difference that it was a long time ago. Yes, it passed, but I still remember...”

I felt sorry for him, although not because he had once had more possessions, but because he was in such a gloomy mood. He was well-versed in the Holy Scriptures and could speak brilliantly about the faith, but at the same time he had been harboring resentment towards his uncle for such a long time. So he did not derive any benefit from the Word of God.

I was thinking about it because I considered him to be smarter than me in everything and wanted to take his good advice, but he bore ill will... He noticed it and said:

“What are you thinking about now?”

“Nothing special—about random things.”

“No, you’re thinking about me.”

“I’m thinking about you too.”

“What exactly are you thinking about me?”

“Don’t get angry, but I thought the following: You know the Scriptures well, but your heart is embittered and does not submit to God. Is there any benefit to you from the Scriptures then?”

Timofei did not get angry, but only became clouded and sad, answering:

“You are unable to interpret the Word of God.”

“You are right. I have no ability to interpret the Bible.”

“And you don’t know what types of grievance exist.”

I agreed to his objection too, but he began to tell me that there are grievances that cannot be tolerated and revealed to me that he was not so angry with his uncle for money, but for something else that could not be forgotten.

“I would like to be silent about this for the rest of my life, but now I will open up to you as to my friend.”

I said, “If it can be good for you, open up.”

And he revealed to me that his uncle had mortally grieved his father, brought his mother to the grave with grief, slandered him (Timofei), and in his old age enticed a young girl, whom Timofei had loved from childhood and had always been dreaming of marrying, and cajoled some people to marry him, an old man, to her.

“Is it possible to forgive all this? I will never forgive him.”

“Well, yes, this offense is great—it’s true. But also true is the fact that you do not make use of the Holy Scriptures.”

And he reminded me again that I was less knowledgeable in the Scriptures than him and argued that in the Old Testament holy men themselves did not spare wrongdoers and killed them. He, the poor man, wanted to justify himself before me.

And I, in my simplicity, answered him simply:

“Timosha, you are a smart man, you are well-read and you know everything, and I cannot argue with you regarding the Scriptures. But I will tell you something based on what I have read, though I don’t understand everything, because I’m a sinful man and I have a very limited mind. However, in the Old Testament everything is old and breathes ambiguity, but in the New Testament everything is very clear. The words ‘love’ and ‘forgive’ shine above everything there (cf. Mt. 5:44). And this is more precious than anything else, like a golden key that unlocks every lock. And what else can be forgiven if not the biggest fault, and not the petty?

He was silent.

Then I thought, “O Lord! If Thou willest, speak a word to my brother’s soul through me!” And I reminded him how Christ was flogged, mocked, spat on and there was no place for Him alone anywhere, but He forgave everyone.

“Follow this rather than the custom of vengeance,” I said.

And he proceeded to give lengthy interpretations that some authors wrote that to forgive such things was supposedly the same as to multiply evil.

I couldn’t refute that, but I just said:

“I’m afraid that these words are about you: of making many books there is no end; and much study is a weariness of the flesh (Eccles. 12:12). Take care of your soul. As long as you remember evil, evil is alive in you; so let it die, and then your soul will live in joy.”

Timofei listened to me and then squeezed my hand hard, but said only briefly:

“I can’t, leave it—it’s hard for me.”

I left off that subject. I knew that he had mental anguish, and I was silent about that. Time went by. Six more years passed, and over that period I observed him and saw that he was suffering all the time and that if he had been given full freedom and had found his uncle somewhere, he would have forgotten all the Scriptures and worked for satan. But I had peace in my heart, because I saw God’s finger there. It began to appear little by little, and I was sure that we would eventually see a whole Divine hand. “May the Lord save my friend from the sin of anger,” I thought. But it happened in a very miraculous way.

* * *

Now Timofei had been in exile in our parts for the sixteenth year, and he had been married for fifteen years. So, he was about thirty-seven or thirty-eight years old, and he had three children and lived in prosperity. He was especially fond of roses and had a lot of those flowers on his windows and in the front garden. The whole space in front of his house was covered with roses, and through their smell the whole house was filled with perfume.

Timofei had the custom of going out into his garden before sunset, grooming his roses and reading a book on the bench. Besides, as far as I know, he often prayed there.

One day, as usual, he came there, taking the Gospel with him. He looked at the roses, and then sat down, opened the book and started reading. He read how Christ came to visit a Pharisee (Lk. 7:36:44) who did not even give Him water to wash His feet. And Timofei’s heart was so filled with pity for the Lord that it was unbearable to him. He even wept over how the rich host treated the Divine Guest. At that very point a miracle occurred. This is what he told me:

“I looked around me and thought: ‘I live in plenty, but my Lord was so humiliated!’ And my eyes filled with tears and I couldn’t blink them away; and everything around me was as though in a haze (even my tears). Thus, whether in a half-conscious state or a fit of fainting, I exclaimed: ‘My God! If You came to me, I would give myself to You!’”

And suddenly in response, from somewhere as in a breeze smelling of roses, he heard:

“I will come!”  

Timofei came running to me with trepidation and asked:

“How do you understand this? Can the Lord really come to visit me?”

I answered:

“Brother, this is beyond my understanding. Do the Scriptures say anything about this?”

And Timofei replied:

“The Scriptures say, Jesus Christ the same yesterday, and today, and for ever (Heb. 13:8). I dare not disbelieve.”

“Well, believe it.”

“I believe that I should set my table for Him every day.”

I shrugged my shoulders and answered:

“Don’t ask me—see for yourself the best that may be pleasing to Him. While I don’t think that setting your table for Him will offend Him, but isn’t it pride?”

“It was said, He eateth and drinketh with publicans and sinners (Mk. 2:16).”

“Even so, it was also said, Lord, I am not worthy that thou shouldest come under my roof (Mt. 8:8). I like that too.”

Timofei said:

“You don’t know.”

“All right, have it your way.”

* * *

Timofei told his wife to prepare an extra place at the table from the next day on. When the five of them (himself, his wife, and their three children) sat down at the dinner table, they always had a sixth place at the end of the table and a large armchair of honor in front of it.”

His wife was curious: “What is it? Why and for whom is it?” But Timofei didn’t tell her everything. He told his wife and others only that it was needed in accordance with his sincere promise “for the supreme guest,” and no one knew the whole truth except him and me.

Timofei waited for the Savior the day after the revelation in the rose garden, waited on the third day, then the next Sunday—but his expectations were still in vain. He had to wait for a long time—on every feast day, Timofei kept waiting for Christ and was exhausted with anxiety, but did not stop hoping that the Lord would keep His promise and surely come. Timofei confessed to me:

“Every day I pray, Even so, come, Lord Jesus (Rev. 22:20), but do not hear the desired answer: Surely I come quickly (ibid).”

I could not figure out what I ought to tell Timofei, and I often feared that my friend had fallen into pride and was in delusion. However, the Almighty saw it otherwise.

* * *

The Nativity of Christ came. It was a very frosty winter. Timofei came to me on Christmas Eve and said:

“Dear brother, I will receive the Lord tomorrow.”

I had been unresponsive to such words for a long time, and then I just wondered,

“How do you know?”

“Today, once I prayed, Even so, come, Lord Jesus, my whole soul was agitated and a voice sounded out like a trumpet: Surely I come quickly. Tomorrow is His Holy Nativity—and will He come on this day? Come to me with all your kin, for my soul is trembling with fear.”

I said, “Timosha! You know that I can’t judge this and I don’t expect to see the Lord, because I’m a sinner, but you’re our friend—we’ll come to you. If you are waiting for such a great Guest with hope, do not call your friends, but be a pleasant companion to Him.”

“I understand. And now I will send my servants and my son to go around the neighboring villages and invite all the exiles who are in need and in distress. If the Lord wills, He will show us His great mercy and come, and we’ll arrange everything according to His commandment.”

I wasn’t enthusiastic about those words either.

“Timofei, who can arrange everything according to God’s commandment? You don’t understand one thing, forget another, and can’t fulfill the third. However, if all this is trumpeting out in your soul so persistently, let it be just as it was revealed to you. If the Lord comes, He will replenish everything that is missing, and if you forget someone whom He needs, He will bring the missing one Himself.”

We came to Timofei’s house on Christmas Day with the whole family. We found his large mansion full of exiles to Siberia of all kinds. Men, women and children of all ranks and from different places—Russians, Poles, and Chukhna.2 Timofei gathered all the poor settlers who had not yet picked themselves up since their arrival to Siberia. The large tables were covered with tablecloths and overflowed with everything they needed. Day laborers were running around, serving kvass and bowls of pies. It was growing dusky outside, and there was no one else to wait for. A blizzard was raging outside, and it was like the end of the world.

Only one Guest—the most precious one—was missing.

It got dark, and it was time for us to light the lamps and sit down at the table (we were all waiting in the twilight with only the faint lights from icon lamps in front of the icons).

Timofei now walked, now sat, and was apparently very anxious. All his hopes were shaken: now it was obvious that the “great Guest” would not come.

Another minute passed, and Timofei sighed, looked at me dejectedly and said:

“Well, my dear brother, I see that either it pleases the Lord to make a laughingstock of me or you were right: I did not know how to gather everyone needed to meet Him. May His will be done. Let’s pray and sit down around the table.”

I replied, “Say the prayer.”

He stood in front of an icon and read aloud: “Our Father, Who art in Heaven…” and then: “Christ is born; glorify Him. Christ comes from Heaven; go to meet Him! Christ is on earth...”

And once he uttered the last word, something hit the wall from the yard so frightfully that everything shook, and then there was a noise throughout the wide inner porch, and suddenly the door to the room opened wide by itself.

* * *

All the people inside recoiled into a corner in indescribable fear, many fell, and only those who were bolder looked at the door. And in the doorway there stood a very old man, all in rags, trembling and, in order not to fall, held on to the door frame with both hands; and from behind him—from the inner porch where it was dark—an indescribable rose-colored light was shining, and over the old man’s shoulder, a snow-white hand was coming into the mansion. In it there was a long clay bowl with fire—such as is painted on icons of the conversation between Nicodemus and Jesus... A blizzard was blowing from the yard but without making the fire sway... And the fire was shining onto the old man’s face and his hand, and an old scar on his hand, all white from the cold, caught everybody’s eye.

When Timofei saw this, he cried out:

“My God! I see and accept him in Thy name, but Thyself do not come in to me: I am an evil and sinful man.”, and he bowed with his face to the ground. I prostrated with him out of joy from the fact that real Christian humility had touched his heart; and I exclaimed out loud to everyone:

“Hark, Christ is in our midst!”

And everyone answered:


* * *

Then the fire was brought in. When Timofei and I rose from the floor, the white hand was no longer visible—the old man was alone.

Timofei came up, took him by both hands and seated him in the place of honor reserved for Christ. You have probably guessed who the old man was—It was Timofei’s enemy, his uncle who had brought him to ruin. Very briefly he related that everything had fallen apart in his life; he had lost both his family and wealth and had been wandering for a long time to find his nephew and ask his forgiveness. He longed to be forgiven and was afraid of Timofei’s anger, but in the blizzard he lost his way, and freezing, expected only death.

“But suddenly someone unknown to me shone upon me and said, ‘Go and warm yourself in My place and eat from My cup!’ He took me by both hands, and I found myself standing here without knowing where I was.”

Timofei answered in front of everyone, “Uncle, I know your Guide: this is the Lord Who said, Therefore if thine enemy hunger, feed him; if he thirst, give him drink (Rom. 12:20). Sit in the place of honor in my home—eat and drink to His glory, and live in my house for the rest of your life.”

From that time on the old man lived with Timofei, and before his death blessed him, and Timofei became peaceful in his heart forever.

* * *

This is how a man was taught to arrange a manger in his heart for Christ born on earth. And every heart can be such a manger if it has fulfilled the commandment: Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you (Mt. 5:44). Christ will come into this heart as into an adorned chamber, and make His abode with him (cf. Jn. 14:23).

Even so, come, Lord Jesus, come sooner.


Nikolai Semyonovich Leskov
Translation by Dmitry Lapa


1 As was the practice in the Russian Empire, when many merchants were exiled from the European part of Russia to Siberia where they settled down over generations, and the majority of them were Old Believers.—Trans.

2 An obsolete Russian name for Finns, Estonians and Karelians, used in the Russian Empire.—Trans.

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