"Then what are those swine complaining about!" the chief interrupted me. "Tell those good-for-nothings that I'll put them in solitary confinement!"
"It's not their fault," I replied. "After all, they didn't know the working conditions. They told you the truth, that the orderly came to them in the attic at twelve noon, and that the physician made their rounds only at two in the morning."
"Well," he said, scratching his head and yawning, "well, go."
Coming out of the interrogation, I immediately set out for the barracks ward. There I found the chief of the Sanitary Division, a physician who after serving out his term on a criminal charge (for an abortion which ended in death), remained to serve as "freely employed".
The chief of the Sanitary Division was shouting at the orderly because of something that was out of order.
"What an outrage to appear so late for work," he shouted at me.
I explained, and he left.
"Why is he so angry with you?" I asked Alexander.
"Because there is a strong odour here. I explained to him that 90 per cent of the patients have pussing wounds. Then he cried out, 'Silence!' and then you came in."
"Go and sleep," I told him. "Come at six o'clock in the evening."
For a long time now I had wanted to become better acquainted with Alexander and have a heart-to-heart talk with him; but because we were so extremely busy and exhausted, we could not manage to do this for a long time.
Once, however, on the feast of the Nativity of the Most Holy Mother of God, under the pretext of an inspection of a distant work point, I managed to arrange to get both of us assigned together. Early in the morning I came with him from the Solovki monastery itself, along the St. Sabbatius road, and after going several kilometres we went off to the side of this road into a pine forest. It was a marvellous, clear, warm autumn day, such as rarely occur on Solovki. In the rays of the sun the birch trees shone with bright melted gold as large spots in the pine forest. This Levitan-like landscape gave a quiet sadness of spiritual joy to the feast of the Mother of God. Going into the depths of the forest, I sat down with Alexander on some stumps, and I asked him to tell me about himself. Here is what he told me.
The son of a merchant of St. Alexander's Market in Petersburg, he lost his parents early and began to go his own way in life. Being a second-year student of the medical faculty, he became acquainted with and a friend of a certain geologist, a Jew who was a Tolstoyite, who attracted him with his tales of Leo Tolstoy and the teaching of the Tolstoyites. A strong impression was made on Alexander, not by the theological works of Tolstoy, but by his tales and stories: "God is Where Love Is", "What Men Live By" and others. A year later, being a third-year student, he became acquainted with an old physician who had known Leo Tolstoy personally. This physician, a convinced Orthodox Christian, explained to Alexander the essence of the Tolstoy sect, and revealed to him "the immeasurable treasury of the Orthodox Church". A year after that, Alexander was baptized and became an Orthodox Christian.
"After my baptism," Alexander related, "I could not look with indifference on religious Jews. The atheist Jews, as the majority are now, did not interest me much. But those Jews who believed in God began to seem to me to be simply unfortunate people in error whom I was morally obliged to bring to Christ. I asked why they were not Christians. Why did they not love Christ?"
The disputes and preaching of the newly-converted Jew became known, and Alexander was arrested.
"At one of the camp assignments," Alexander continued, "where I worked at the very difficult common labours, at lumbering, there was an exceptional beast for a chief. In the morning and evening, before and after work, he would line up the prisoners and order them to sing 'morning and evening prayers': in the morning the 'Internationale', and in the evening some kind of Soviet song in which were the words: 'All of us as one will die for the power of the Soviets'. Everyone sang, but I couldn't; I was silent. Going about the ranks, the chief noticed that I was silent, and he began to beat me on the face. Then I sang loudly, unexpectedly even for myself, looking at heaven: 'Our Father Who are in the heavens.' This beast of a chief became possessed with malice, and throwing me to the ground, he beat me unconscious with his heels. After being freed from the camp, I received a 'voluntary exile' to the city of Vyatka."
"Well, and how did you settle in Vyatka?" I asked him.
"When I came to Vyatka, a city totally unknown to me, first of all I asked where the church was. (At that time all the churches had not yet been closed.) When I came to the church, I asked whether there was not an icon there of St. Tryphon of Vyatka, and when his memory was celebrated. They showed me an icon, and said that the memory of the saint was to be celebrated the next day, October 8. My heart leaped for joy that St. Tryphon had brought me to his city for his own feast day. Falling to my knees before the saint's icon, I told him that I had no friend in Vyatka besides him, and that I had no one else to ask help of. I asked that he might arrange life and work for me in Vyatka. After prayer, my heart felt simple, at ease, and quietly joyful - a true sign that my prayer had been heard. Coming out of the church after the all-night vigil, I slowly walked along the main street, holding under my arms a little bundle with my things.
"'Well, my dear, have you just left hospital?' I suddenly heard a pleasant woman's voice saying.
Before me stood an old, plump, neatly dressed woman, looking at me with clear, kind eyes.
"'No, matushka,' I replied, 'I haven't come from hospital; I've come from prison. I was freed from a concentration camp and have been sent to Vyatka.'
"'Oh, for what crimes did you suffer punishment: for theft, for robbery, for murder?'
"'No, for belief in God, and because, being a Jew, I became a Christian,' I replied.
"A conversation was struck up. She invited me to come in. In her room everything was clean and orderly, and the whole corner above the bed was hung with icons, before which three lamps of different colours were burning.
"'Tomorrow is the commemoration of Tryphon of Vyatka, the defender and protector of our city,' the woman said, and showed me a little icon of the saint.
"I fell down on my knees before it and wept from joyful gratitude. And so I arranged to live with this pious widow, and two days later I found work as a truck driver. So I lived peacefully, glory to God, for half a year. But in the spring I was arrested again and this time received ten years, and came to the holy island of Solovki. Now it is Saints Zosimas and Sabbatius who are helping me with their prayers."
In silence I walked further with Alexander into the depths of the forest. And suddenly, totally unexpectedly, we stumbled upon an old, half-ruined stone chapel, with the windows and door boarded up. The boards were old and were easily torn off with a little effort. We went into the chapel and saw on the wall a large old icon of the Smolensk Mother of God. The paint on the icon was chipped off, and only the face of the Mother of God was preserved clearly - as a matter of fact, only her loving eyes.
Alexander suddenly fell down on his knees before this icon, raising both hands high, and in a loud voice he sang: "Meet it is to bless thee..." He sang the prayer to the end. Something gripped my throat, and I could not sing with my voice; but my whole soul sang and rejoiced, looking at the two pairs of eyes: the loving eyes of the Mother of God, and the contrite eyes of Alexander.
A month after this walk, Alexander was arrested and sent away, no one knows where. The arrest of a prisoner usually ended with the firing squad. (In fact, Professor S.V. Grotov, who was in Solovki at the time and knew Alexander Jacobson well as a fellow opponent of sergianism, testifies that he was shot in 1930.)
Almost forty years have passed since then, and before me there often appears with unforgettable clarity the wondrous picture of the prayer of this Orthodox Jew confessor, before the eyes of the icon of the Mother of God. And I hear his joyful voice resounding with unvanquished faith and a flaming, deep desire to glorify her who is "more honourable than the Cherubim..."
(Source: I.M. Andreyev, Russia's Catacomb Saints, Platina, Ca.: St. Herman of Alaska Brotherhood, 1982, chapter 3)
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