|Nicholai Sergeyevich Leonov|
About thirteen years ago, I was in the Pskov Caves Monastery with one of our parishioners, Nicholai Sergeyevich Leonov, a professor of history and lieutenant general in military intelligence, with whom we had been working for many years on the television program, “Russky Dom” (Russian House). There in the Pskov Caves Monastery, Nicholai Sergeyevich had met Fr. John (Krestiankin) for the first time. As Nicholai Sergeyevich later related, the elder had not only made a very deep impression on him, but had greatly helped him by his prayers.
During those years, Nicholai Sergeyevich was just beginning to enter into the life of the Church, and he still had many questions. One of those questions he asked me was regarding the Orthodox teaching on the angelic world; about guardian angels. I tried very hard, but to my dismay, I still felt that he was disappointed by my artless explanations.
That early summer morning, Fr. John saw us off as we left the monastery for Moscow. The road ahead of us was a long one, and so I asked the mechanics in the monastery garage to look over the car and check the oil before we left.
We sped along the deserted road. I was at the wheel, listening attentively to a story about one of his overseas assignments. He had long promised me that he would tell me that one. I have never met such an interesting storyteller in my life—Nicholai Sergeyevich’s stories leave you breathless. That was how it was that time.
Suddenly and unexpectedly, I caught myself strangely thinking that something was happening to us right then, at that very minute, which was out of the ordinary and threatening. Our automobile was driving along as usual. Nothing—not the indicators, nor the smooth ride, nor any sort of smell—signified any trouble. Nevertheless, I was feeling increasingly uncomfortable.
“Nicholai Sergeyevich, it seems to me that there is something wrong with the car!” I said, making the decision to interrupt my traveling companion.
Leonov is a very experienced driver with many years of practice behind him. Attentively appraising the situation, he finally reassured me that there was nothing wrong. But this did not relieve my inexplicable anxiety in the least. To the contrary, it increased with each passing minute. I felt ashamed about my faintheartedness, but I was simply overwhelmed by a gripping fear.
“Probably we should stop!” I finally announced, feeling that I was breaking out in a cold sweat.
Nicholai Sergeyevich again looked carefully at the indicators. Then he looked through the windshield at the hood. He listened to the automobile’s movement. Looking at me with surprise, he repeated that from his point of view, everything was alright.
But when I repeated for the third time—not understanding why—that we had to stop, Nicholai Sergeyevich consented.
No sooner had we come to a stop, when black smoke came billowing out from under the hood.
We jumped out onto the road. I lunged to lift the hood, and an oily flame burst forth from the motor. Nicholai Sergeyevich grabbed his jacket from the back seat and smothered the flames with it. When the smoke cleared and we were able to investigate what had happened, we could see that the monastery mechanics had forgotten to replace the cap after filling the oil pan. It was still lying next to the battery. Motor oil had been spilling out over the heated motor the entire way, but because of our high speed, the smoke had spread under the wheels, and we did not feel anything inside the car. Just two or three more miles, and the whole thing could have ended tragically.
After cleaning up under the hood a little, we slowly returned to the monastery, and I asked Nicholai Sergeyevich if he needed any additional elucidation concerning guardian angels and their participation in our fate. Nicholai Sergeyevich answered that this was quite enough for today, and he has satisfactorily assimilated that question of dogma.