I lay awake a long time praying for Mom. Her surgery would be in the morning. Grateful for the comfort and warmth of Koshka sleeping beside me, I thanked God for creating cats. They were infinitely better than teddy bears!
I dozed finally, but it was all too soon when Mother Euphemia knocked at our cell. As she chanted the Jesus Prayer, I pulled the blankets over my head, muffling Faith’s groggy response of “Amen!”
After breakfast Father Andronic arrived to do another Molieben for Mom. Kneeling under the opened Gospel, I was embraced with a warm calmness and deep peace. Whatever news received about my mother today I would remember it was God’s Will.
It was to be a bittersweet day all around, as Marina was going home sometime after lunch. Faith and I were sad to see her go, but she promised to keep in touch. It was amazing how her expression had softened. That old constant frown was replaced with a countenance of serenity and compassion.
Marina’s parents arrived in the middle of afternoon obediences. A car door closed, and there were voices outside. I glanced out the refectory’s window. Marina’s parents slowly walked up the stairs and hesitantly approached the convent entrance. Marina burst out through the door, and raced out to greet them. They group-hugged long and hard, and I went back to helping wash and dry the lunch dishes from a meal I couldn’t touch. I hadn’t heard anything from home yet.
Marina’s dad received Abbess Everild’s blessing, and quietly passed to Matushka what looked like a donation envelope. He brought Marina’s bags out to the car, and loaded them into the trunk. Farewells were said inside to the other nuns. Faith and I watched Marina prostrate herself humbly on the ground before Abbess Everild, and Matushka did the same. They stood up together and Matushka blessed Marina, giving her pectoral cross to kiss.
“Thank you, Matushka,” said Marina. Smiling at the rest of us she whispered with a catch in her throat, “God be with you all.” Then she was in the car, driving away.
Faith and I went inside. I turned once to see Matushka standing alone on the porch, continually making the sign of the cross over them until they turned a corner, and were seen no longer.
I phoned home several times but there was no answer. I wished Dad would call the convent soon. A flutter of worry churned my stomach, and I stomped a foot in frustration. “Come on, ring!” I barked crossly.
Abbess Everild strode in from the library and caught me glaring at the refectory phone. “Does the Force run strong in your family?” She asked mildly, quirking an eyebrow.
“You appear to be willing the phone to ring. Wait one moment please.” Matushka disappeared and returned a few minutes later with Sister Juliana in tow.
“I don’t think you have seen our lovely little incense studio yet, and Sister Juliana just happens to be free to give you and Faith a tour.”
“You just want to distract me,” I grumbled to Matushka.
Sister Juliana herded us downstairs into the cool basement. An ancient, industrial size freezer sputtered from one far corner, and wet black laundry hung in orderly fashion upon a large wooden clothes drying rack. We entered the little incense studio which had one huge screened window. It filled the little room with bright light and fresh air. Although there were many wonderful fragrances, the breeze from the window stirred up the unavoidable dust. I stifled a sneeze and accidentally bit my tongue. I hate it when that happens!
Sister Juliana pointed to the studio’s various tables. “Normally, we use the gummy resins of the frankincense and myrrh plants,” she said. “These form a base for our incense, but we also use the resin from fir trees too. Then we infuse these resins with combinations of spices. For example, cinnamon and ginger, as well as pure floral oils,” She picked up a small dark brown glass bottle. “These produce a fragrant scent when burned. We often sprinkle the incense with clay dust to prevent the granules from clumping together. It’s always fun to create a new fragrance and name it.”
I picked up a small glass vial labeled Spikenard. Sister Juliana gently took it, opened the cap, and held it under our noses. The heavy fragrance filled the room. “Spikenard! The type of oil used to anoint our dear Saviour’s feet!” Sister Juliana inhaled the essential oil. “Very uplifting… This is a very, very high quality of nard.”
“What do you do with all the incense you make?” asked Faith.
“We ship them to various parishes and customers who order them.”
“My Dad often burns incense at home.” I scrunched up my face remembering. “He sometimes uses a hand censer during Morning and Evening Prayers. When I was little and said prayers with my parents, Dad would bless our home’s Beautiful Corner. He would also bless Mom and me with the hand censer.”
“My family does that too,” said Faith.
“How lovely for familial prayers to arise together in His sight, as incense,” sighed Sister Juliana.
“Just like the piece from the Psalms “Let My Prayer Arise” which the trio sings at the Presanctified Liturgy during Great Lent!” exclaimed Faith.
“Exactly!” nodded Sister Juliana.
“Speaking of Great Lent,” I giggled, the distraction seemed to be working… “This year Father Paul used some brand new incense. I think it was a gift from a parishioner. Anyway Father used it a couple of times during Great Lent. But, only a couple times… The fragrance was… um… unique.”
“Splendid,” uttered Sister Juliana. “And what did the undertones of fragrance, call to mind?” she asked.
“A roasting lamb. The Readers complained that the scent made them drool, so Father Paul stopped using it.”
“Sounds like a very heavy-handed addition of Rosemary oil,” quipped Sister Juliana.
We wandered about the studio and Sister Juliana let us sniff samples of various floral oils. Although the studio’s clay powder in the air was too dusty for my sniffer, we poked around for awhile longer, until I began sneezing in earnest.
Later, when we came out of Compline the phone rang shrilly. I froze. “Dad, it must be Dad!” I whispered. My heart pounded in my ears.
Mother Stephania handed me the refectory phone. I turned my head and leaned against the wall. Was Dad crying? He tried to speak, but couldn’t. I felt woozy, and chilled to the bone. I couldn’t see properly. Why were black dots floating in the air? Why was Mother Stephania’s voice sounding so far away? The floor rushed up to meet me, and I fell into darkness.
I came to, with one of the sisters sitting me upright, and Matushka handing me a glass of cool water. I had fainted, and it really wasn’t the romantic thing I had envisioned what fainting would be like. I even had a bump on my head.
Faith was talking to Dad on the phone. Her eyes were shining with brimming tears.
I grabbed the phone from her. Dad spoke coherently now. I put him on speaker phone. “Tell me!” I shouted.
“Your Mother… ”
“WHAT? What happened?” I interrupted impatiently.
“The doctors can’t explain it. We have two different prognoses from both specialists. The first is, and they simply can’t understand it; is that they were completely mistaken… even with all the tests, and previous biopsy! The second is that your mother was healed. By a miracle! Sweetheart, Mom is fine!” Dad laughed joyfully, sniffing at the same time.
It was like a dam had burst. Everyone was ecstatic!
Then Father Andronic barged into the refectory. Evidently he had been knocking at the door outside for quite some time, and nobody had heard him.
“WHAT news?” Father Andronic bellowed in concern, seeing some of us crossing ourselves, in tears.
I grabbed Father Andronic’s arm and hollered, “Father, Mom’s healed! It’s a miracle!”
Father Andronic crossed himself, grabbed the phone shouting “GLORY to God, Victor!” and hung it up abruptly.
Before I could squeak with protest, Father Andronic beckoned and bellowed, “COME! THANKSGIVING Molieben!”
And we did!
© Barbara Bruce