T-Minus One Week and Counting!
My final week at the convent seemed to race by. Every day seemed like two or three days rolled into one. Every thing also took on special meaning and importance.
At breakfast, I looked across at the faces I had come to know. How I would miss them all! I also ached with solving the case of Mother Julitta and the jam spoon.
As we listened one morning at breakfast to Mother Thecla reading from the analogion, I felt the reading again hit home with me. I swallowed a lump in my throat and listened attentively. I can’t remember who the author was, but the message pierced my heart.
Mother Thecla read from somewhere, “In our daily lives, we are faced with a multitude of difficult choices and decisions. We may feel pulled about in many directions, uncertain of which way to go. Unfortunately, we seldom think of turning to the Church for help. And yet, it is here, where we can find the answers to our most serious questions. It is only in the Church, that our life is given real meaning and purpose. The Church defines the purpose of our lives, and guides us along the path of life to reach our eternal goal.”
When the Grace After Meal was sung, we were given obediences for the day. The spiritual yum-yums acquired at breakfast, immediately flew the coop… the stupid cattle troughs were to be mine- again! Faith, the lucky wretch, was being sent to the incense studio!
I opened my mouth to comment, but Faith rolled her eyes interrupting. “Don’t whine,” she said. “You’ll just sneeze your head off in there… it’s dusty work.”
We kept busy the rest of the morning. After lunch Matushka asked if we would like to go for a hike, and caught the guarded expressions Faith and I exchanged.
“I promise… NO stampedes whatsoever, this time!” Matushka assured us.
Mother Stephania and Sister Juliana accompanied us again. I grabbed a walking stick, kept one ear furled for pounding of hooves, and both eyes peeled for an escape tree to climb in case of emoogency.
It was extremely hot, and my shirt clung wetly to my back. I should have been used to that by now, but it was very uncomfortable. More than usual.How did the nuns bear wearing black ryasas and apostolniks in the heat? Plus, they always seemed to look cooler and more rested than either Faith or I felt?! A phrase from liturgy came to me. “A mercy of peace, a sacrifice of praise.” What a sacrifice… and how these nuns who had left the world, offered themselves up so joyfully and completely to God!
Matushka led us along a tiny forest path. I delighted in the shade and the wonderful earthy, grassy scents. The track was very narrow, possibly a deer trail. We continued walking, soaking in the beautiful scenery. Sister Juliana followed behind me, quietly working her prayer rope, praying as she walked.
Ahead of me, Mother Stephania and Faith were talking, and I heard bits and pieces of their conversation. It sounded interesting, so I quickened my pace and caught up to them.
“So then how can one be saved, living in the world?” asked Faith. “I’m finding things like the Fasts and stuff really hard now!”
“It’s all relative,” said Mother Stephania. “We have to persevere until the end, whatever our path. St. Barsanuphius said: White garments do not ruin you, and black ones by themselves do not save you. Of course, he’s referring to either marriage, or monasticism. But, either way, salvation is hard work, a lifelong work.”
Faith was silent. Mother Stephania continued. “Never forget the Lord! Keep His commandments according to your strength! Prize the Orthodox faith and never exchange it for any treasure of this world whatsoever.”
We had arrived at a clearing on the edge of a huge meadow. Matushka stopped suddenly and held her hand up. We halted too, hearing what sounded like several noisy monster trucks roaring our way, shattering the stillness. The pressing air suddenly felt tighter. Looking up I thought I was seeing things, as the sky above had turned a weird green colour.
Across the meadow, a dark funnel cloud, about the height of a three story building, careened over the tall grove of birch and touched down. It tore up tender saplings and ripped off mature tree limbs. Anything caught directly in its path was sucked up into the whirling vortex and spat out. Then it raced toward us. My ‘you’ve got to be kidding‘ thought was interrupted by Matushka exclamation, “Dust Devil! Follow me!”
We could barely hear her. The nuns grabbed our hands and pulled us close together behind Matushka. Bizarrely, the dust devil followed. We turned to flee in the other direction, dodging pieces of flying detritus. The whirlwind altered course again to follow us. We spun around and dashed the opposite way, and unbelievably, it did too… pursuing us again!
Abbess Everild halted, calmly turned and faced us. “Pray!” She commanded.
Then, she strode forward, away from us. What Matushka said into the wind, I could not hear. But she made a huge sign of the cross into the air, and the dust devil literally exploded into nothingness. Branches, shrubs, boughs, bark, and dirt, fell harmlessly to the ground. The resulting silence was almost deafening. Gazing at one another in astonishment, we crossed ourselves with gratitude… stunned to see the destruction this “little” anomaly had caused.
“God is good!” Matushka sighed and crossed herself again, thankfully. Taking a deep breath, she turned to us and said with a real, rascally grin, “Well my dears… I did promise there would be no stampedes!”
Faith began laughing… a bit hysterically, until my elbow plowed her in the ribs.
As we traipsed back to the convent, Matushka hinted that a pot of hot, very strong black tea would be most welcome. Bumping into Father Andronic along the way, Matushka shouted the latest news of our adventure to him.
Once he understood, Father shook his great lion’s mane and hollered, “COME. THANKSGIVING Molieben!”
That’s what we did before the promised tea and Compline. Knowing I might not see Father Andronic before Aunt Kat came to pick us up tomorrow, I went to thank him for everything and receive his blessing.
Forgetting to air kiss his hand quickly enough, I was rewarded with yet another inadvertent cuff on my mouth! Later, as I sipped my steaming mug of hot tea, I relished its soothing warmth to my puffy lip…
After all, it only hurt when I laughed.
© Barbara Bruce
Chapter 10: Jiggity Jog