During the Passion Week (Holy Week)

Concerning Confession

by Anton Chekhov

1885

"Go, go, they already ring the bells. And see don't be naughty in the church, or God will punish you."

Mother thrusts me few copper coins for expenses and, immediately forgetting about me, runs with the already cold iron into the kitchen. I know very well that after a confession they will not let me to eat or drink, and, before leaving home, force into myself a slice of white bread and drink two glasses of water.

Spring is all that is on my mind. Roads are covered with a brown mash in which future paths are already traced; roofs and sidewalks are dry; under the fences tender young verdure is fighting its way up through the rotten grass of the yesteryear . In the ditches, gaily murmuring and babbling, a muddy water runs and the rays of sun are bathing in it without any disdain. Slivers, straws, sunflower husks are briskly rushing in the water, turning around and around and hanging upon the dirty foam. Where, where to they swim, these slivers? Most likely, from this ditch they will get into a river, from the river into a sea, and from the sea - into an ocean... I try to imagine this long and scary journey, but my fantasizing is interrupted before I even made it to the sea.

A church patio is dry and flooded with the sunlight; not a single soul is on it. Uncertainty, I opened the door and stepped into the church. Here, in the dusk, which today appears to me thick and gloomy as never before, I feel utterly sinful and worthless. First thing I see is a huge Crucifix and at its sides the Mother of God and John the Theologian. All candle stands are draped in the heavy black slip-covers; icon lamps are twinkling dimly and timidly; a sun, as if on purpose, is avoiding the church windows. The Theotokos and the beloved disciple of Jesus silently watch the unendurable sufferings and do not notice my presence. I feel that I am a stranger, superfluous, imperceptible for them; that I cannot help them neither by word, nor by deed; that I am a loathsome little boy who is only capable of pranks, rudeness and telling tales. I recall all the people I know, and they all appear to me small and incapable of reducing even a little that horrible grief which I now see. The church dusk is getting still thicker and gloomier; and the Mother of God and John the Theologian look so lonely to me.

Beyond the lightly painted counter there is Porphyry Ignatievich, a warden's helper, an old soldier in retirement. Raising his brows and stroking his beard, he explains to an old woman in half-whisper:

"The Matins will be tonight, straight after the Vespers. Tomorrow at eight they will ring the bell for the Hours. Understand? At eight."

On the right, between the two wide columns, where there is a chapel of the Great Martyr Barbara, next to the screen, stand those who came for confession, waiting for their turn.

Ahead of them is a lavishly dressed beautiful lady in a hat with the white feather. She is visibly nervous; she waits with strained attention, and one of her cheeks is feverishly red from the excitement.

I wait five minutes, ten... A respectably dressed young man comes from behind the screen. The lady flinches and goes behind the screen. It's her turn.

Through the gap between the two parts of the screen I can see the lady is approaching the stand and bowing down to the ground. She gets up and, not looking at the priest, in expectation droops her head. The priest stands his back to the screen, and all I can see is his curly grey hair, a chain of his pectoral cross and his broad shoulders. I cannot see his face. He sighs and, not looking at the lady, begins to speak quickly, slightly shaking his head, here raising his voice, here lowering it to the whisper. The lady listens submissively, like being guilty, gives short answers, and looks to the floor.

"What are her sins?" I think looking onto her meek and beautiful face with reverence. "O God, do forgive her her sins! Make her happy!"

Finally, the priest covers her head with the epitrachilion.

"And I, an unworthy priest..." his voice is heard, "through the power given unto me by Him, do forgive and absolve thee from all your sins..."

The lady makes a prostration, kisses a cross and goes away. Now, already both of her cheeks are red, but her face is calm, bright, happy.

"Now she is happy," think I, looking at her and at the priest who forgave her her sins. "But, how happy must be he to whom the right to forgive sins is given!"

Now it's me who is going behind the screen. I don't feel anything under my feet, I am like walking on the air... I am approaching the stand, which is higher than I am. For a brief moment a tired face of the priest is flashing in my eyes; then all I see is only his sleeve with the blue lining, his cross and the edge of the stand. I feel him near me, the smell of his ryassa; I hear his stern voice; and my cheek turned towards him starts to burn... I can't hear much because of my excitement, but I answer his questions sincerely, with not mine but with a kind of strange voice. I remember the lonely Theotokos and John the Theologian, the Crucifix, my mother... and I want to cry, to ask for forgiveness.

"What's your name?" asks the priest, covering my head with the soft epitrachilion.

How light, how joyful is now my soul! There are no more sins; I am holy, I have right to go to paradise! It seems to me that I even smell like that ryassa; I am coming from the screen and going to a deacon to be registered, and still smell my sleeves. The church dusk doesn't appear to be gloomy to me anymore.

"What's your name?" asks the deacon.

"Fedya."

And your patronymic?

"I don't know."

"What's your Dad's name?"

"Ivan Petrovich."

"Your last name?"

I am silent.

"How old are you?"

"Eight."

I came home and in order not to see them having a dinner, I quickly lie in bed and close my eyes. I dream that it would be so good to suffer tortures from some kind of Herod or Dioscoros, to dwell in a desert, and, like Starets Seraphim, to feed a bear, to live in a cell, and eat only one prosphora a day; to give all belonging to the poor, to travel to Kiev... I can hear that in the dining room they are setting a table, they are getting ready for a dinner; they will eat salad, pirozhki and fried pike perch. I want to eat so badly! I agree to endure all tortures, to dwell in the desert, without my mother, to feed a bear from my own hands, but first if only I can have one, just one little pirozhok with cabbage!

"O God, cleanse me a sinner," I pray, pulling a blanket over my head. "O guardian angel, protect me from an evil spirit!"

Next day, Thursday, I wake up with the soul as bright and clear as a good spring day. I go to the church happily and bravely; I feel myself a communicant; I am dressed in the sumptuous, expensive shirt, sown from the silk dress left from the grandma.

In church everything breathes joy, happiness and spring; the faces of the Theotokos and John the Theologian are not as sad as they were yesterday; the faces of the communicants are lit up with hope. And it seems to me that the past is buried in oblivion, and all is forgiven...





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