Tea, More Tea, and Cattitude
Dad phoned after breakfast with news that Mom’s surgery was scheduled tomorrow morning. I spoke with Mom for a long time. Her voice was weak, but her spirit sounded strong. “As I can’t get to church,” she said, “Father Paul is coming by this afternoon… to give me Confession and Communion before my surgery,” Mom added gratefully.
I was pleased to hear that, told her I loved her, and we were all praying for her. I mentioned that Father Andronic was here at the convent, and he remembered her and Dad. Mom was surprised. “Please ask him to pray for me too.”
When I hung up the phone, I realized I forgot to tell her about the Molieben again.
Matushka blessed me to visit Father Andronic’s cabin with Faith, to pass along Mom’s prayer request. His cozy little cell was about a ten minute walk from the convent. Once there, Father invited us to stay for tea, and I watched in fascination as he heaped six spoonfuls of sugar into each of our mugs. The tea brewed all day long in an old open pot at the back of a wood stove. It was so black and strong you could probably stand a spoon upright in it. We sat at a rough, dented pine kitchen table, and one of Faith’s chair legs was uneven. A few old icons lined the wall, and it was very peaceful.
Father offered us some hard biscuits to go with our achingly sweet tea. I wanted to decline as they were no doubt stale, but thought it might seem rude. However, after the second bite, they seemed as delicious as anything you could ever hope for! Strange thing about monastery food, Faith and I debated on the walk back to the convent… it’s so simple, but always tastes so good after it’s been blessed!
After our visit, I kept busy so not to fret about Mom’s surgery. After lunch I helped Sister Anna and Mother Matrona weed and water the large vegetable garden. They had an abundance of chard, tomatoes, radishes, lettuce, and zucchini. We soon decided it was too hot and should stop awhile. I agreed and I plunked down in the dirt, exhausted, right where I had stood.
“Mind the radishes!” squeaked Sister Anna, mopping her moist face with a long black sleeve.
Mother Matrona returned from a quick trip to the kitchen, bearing a pitcher of ice tea and three tall glasses. We moved over, to sit in the luxurious shade under a nearby tree.
“How long have you been here?” I asked Mother Matrona.
“Hmm… Let’s see… I’ve been a monastic for nearly thirty years,” she said. I was tonsured at another convent, and have been here at Annunciation for almost ten years now!
Sister Anna said she had been here for nearly three years, and was still a novice, like Sisters Maria and Juliana.
Mother Matrona said she used to visit here as a youngster. “The last time I came here, before considering becoming a monastic, I was nearly eighteen years old. I. Did. Not. Want. To. Come. But, my parents insisted.
To their horror, I spitefully wore my shortest shorts, accompanied with a skimpy halter top. And oh yes, I also sarcastically donned the required head scarf too, with the ridiculous outfit! While my parents ignored me, and visited with the then Abbess Lydia and Father Andrei, I strolled around the grounds, to work on my tan.”
Sister Anna puckered her brow at Mother Matrona. It appeared this was all news to her.
“There’s a little monastic cemetery near our current Father Andronic’s cabin. I peered over the fence awhile, and then decided to go in and view the crosses with names and dates of people interred there. Upon opening the entry gate, a nearby grave’s tall wooden cross toppled over for no reason, right in front of me, blocking my way. It didn’t fall completely over, but it seemed I was barred from going further. It really bothered me. I knew it a coincidence, but I was startled, scared, and backed out.” Mother Matrona paused, and asked Sister Anna for a refill of ice tea.
Sister Anna poured more ice tea, and her expressive, gentle, doe-like brown eyes were enormous as she waited to hear more.
Mother Matrona collected her thoughts and continued after a few sips. “I walked back along a different route to wait for my parents in our car. I was uncomfortable and wanted to leave. As I approached the little convent church something caught my eye.
Standing beside the church was a tall monastic woman. She was regal, beautiful, and wore a deep, sky-blue ryasa. By her piercing gaze I understood I had displeased her terribly. She slowly turned away from me and silently travelled down the path I had just come by. I felt compelled to follow her. I wanted to speak with her, but she wasn’t there. She had disappeared, and I felt completely bereft!
I bumped into Father Andrei returning from his visit with my parents. I asked who the nun was, and described her in detail. He crossed himself thoughtfully, while frowning at my ludicrous attire, and insisted there was nobody here at the convent fitting that description… It must have been the Theotokos herself, as this was her convent.”
Mother Matrona paused again, swallowed the last sip of her ice tea lost in thought, leaving us hanging.
“Then what?” Both Sister Anna and I shouted together at the exact same time. I yearned to add the childish word ‘jinx’, but thought perhaps that would be just way too immature… Besides, Sister Anna might not know about the silly game and think I was uber ridiculous.
Mother Matrona sighed interrupting my thoughts. “I waited in the hot car for my parents while they finished visiting with Mother Lydia. I felt ashamed for wearing what I had worn to the convent. I never told my parents what I saw. For months afterward, I kept thinking about what happened, and longed to return. Then, in God’s time it became vividly clear, and that was when I knew.”
“Knew what?” I asked breathlessly.
“I was being called. After that, I visited another convent closer to our home, many, many times. I needed to make sure this was what I truly wanted. I couldn’t return here initially, for financial reasons, but did so when I was able. It took a long time, but now this is my earthly home. What sweeter life is there?”
“Thank you for sharing this with me,” I said earnestly. Sister Anna sniffled.
Mother Matrona inclined her head and when she looked up again she smiled radiantly. “They that live in the wilderness, have an unquenchable longing for God, as they are far from the tumult of life.”
I stood up and decided to go for a walk. Eventually I wound up at the little monastic cemetery, and searched for Father Andrei’s and Mother Lydia’s graves. Picking some wildflowers, I placed them at the foot of each of their crosses.
“God rest your souls,” I breathed, “Memory eternal!”
Father Andronic appeared from off to the side, he was busy tidying the graves.
“Ah yes,” Father nodded at the wildflower bouquets. “Very good, to remember reposed.” He pointed over to Father Andrei’s grave. “Sometimes pilgrims see blue light over grave.” He crossed himself. “Batushka Andrei, very holy man.”
“Father bless,” I received Father Andronic’s blessing, sans cuffing, and continued along on my walk. The sun shone at an odd angle through the trees. It was getting late, and the cattle should be watered. The trough might have evaporated quickly in this heat. I decided to stop by the barn in case Faith or Marina hadn’t done so yet.
As I jogged along, I wondered what I would say, if I accidently bumped into the Theotokos along the path. This being the Convent of the Annunciation… these were her grounds after all! There was an unexpected rustle from the woods beside me, and my heart skipped a beat.
A black and white blur scooted out from the underbrush, and Koshka trotted along the rest of the way with me, her tail held high.
“Koshka,” I chided, “We’re both a couple of silly girls!” I giggled.
Arriving at the barn, I unkinked the water hose, turned it on, and directed it into the trough. The water level was down and the sound of the running water tantalized the thirsty cattle grazing close by. They meandered over.
Koshka hopped up and sat on the rail surveying the scene below. As the cattle butted their heads together to drink from the trough, Koshka jumped down a rung, and swatted her paw at them through the fence rail. One backed away, lowing loudly in protest, and then returned, dipping its huge muzzle back into the trough. Again Koshka swiped her paw, parading back and forth, swatting and irritating the parched cattle. It was so funny I couldn’t stop laughing.
Then Koshka gracefully leaped back up onto the top of the fence. She came close, and when I bent my head down, she rubbed both her cheeks against mine. Her little black nose was cold, and she had a tiny white beauty mark of a spot on her black chin. I liked the way her long white whiskers stood way out on end as she rubbed my face.
Then, looking disdainfully down at the cattle, Koshka hopped off the fence, flicked her tail, and without a backward glance trotted off, apparently continuing on with her rounds.
Yup. Word was out… I had an axe to grind with the bovine race!
© Barbara Bruce