Loading ...
Sorry, an error occurred while loading the content.

Clean Monday

Expand Messages
  • Fr Mark Gilstrap
    http://roca.org/OA/47/47g.htm A Child s Lent Remembered An excerpt from Ivan Shmelyov s Anno Domini , a wistful recollection of life in his pious,
    Message 1 of 6 , Mar 10, 2008

      "A Child's Lent Remembered"

      An excerpt from Ivan Shmelyov's "Anno Domini", a wistful recollection of
      life in his pious, old-fashioned, well-to-do home in pre-Revolutionary

      translated from the Russian by Maria Belaeff and published in "Orthodox
      America", v5, #7, February 1985. Posted with permission of the editors.


      Clean Monday

      I waken from harsh light in my room: a bare kind of light,
      cold dismal. Yes, it's Great Lent today. The pink curtains, with
      their hunters and their ducks, have already been taken down while
      I slept, and that's why it's so bare and dismal in the room. It's
      Clean Monday today for us, and everything in our house is being

      Greyish weather, the thaw. The dripping beyond the window is
      like weeping. Our old carpenter - Gorkin, "the panel man" - said
      yesterday that when Lady Shrovetide leaves, she'll weep. And so
      she is - drip...drip...drip... There she goes!

      I look at the paper flowers reduced to shreds, at the gold-
      glazed "Shrovetide" sweetcake - a toy, brought back from the baths
      yesterday; gone are the little bears, gone are the little hills -
      vanished, the joy. And a joyous something begins to fuss in my
      heart; now everything is new, different. Now it'll be "the soul
      beginning" - Gorkin told me all about it yesterday. "It's time to
      ready the soul." To prepare for Communion, to keep the fast, to
      make ready for the Bright Day.

      "Send One-eye in to see me!" I hear Father's angry shouting.

      Father has not gone out on business; it's a special day today,
      very strict. Father rarely shouts. Something important has
      happened. But after all, he forgave the man for drinking; he
      cancelled all his sins; yesterday was the day of Forgiveness. And
      Vasil-Vasillich forgave us all too, that's exactly what he said in
      the dining room, kneeling: "I forgive you all!" So why is father
      shouting then?

      The door opens, Gorkin comes in with a gleaming copper basin.
      Oh, yes, to smoke out Lady Shrovetide! There's a hot brick in the
      basin, and mint, and they pour vinegar over them. My old nurse,
      Domnushka, follows Gorkin around and does the pouring; it hisses in
      the basin and a tart steam rises - a sacred steam. I can smell it
      even now, across the distance of the years. Sacred... that's what
      Gorkin calls it. He goes to all the corners and gently swirls the
      basin. And then he swirls it over me.

      "Get up dearie, don't pamper yourself," he speaks lovingly to
      me, sliding the basin under the skirt of the bed. "Where's she hid
      herself in your room, fat old Lady Shrovetide... We'll drive her
      out! Lent has arrived... We'll be going to the Lenten market, the
      choir from St. Basil's will be singing 'My soul, my soul arise;'
      you won't be able to tear yourself away."

      That unforgettable, that sacred smell. The smell of Great
      Lent. And Gorkin himself, completely special - as if he were kind
      of sacred too. Way before light, he had already gone to the bath,
      steamed himself thouroughly, put on everything clean. Clean Monday
      today! Only the kazakin is old; today only the most workaday
      clothes may be worn, that's "the law."

      And it's a sin to laugh, and you have to rub a bit of oil on
      your head, like Gorkin. He'll be eating without oil now, but you
      have to oil the head, it's the law, "for the prayer's sake."
      There's a glow about him, from his little grey beard, all silver
      really, from the neatly combed head. I know for a fact that he's
      a saint. They're like that, God's people, that please Him. And
      his face is pink, like a cherubim's, from the cleanness. I know
      that he's dried himself bits of black braed with salt, and all Lent
      long he'll take them with his tea, "instead of sugar."

      But why is Daddy angry... with Vasil-Vasillich, like that?

      "Oh, sinfulness..." says Gorkin with a sigh. "It's hard to
      break habits, and now everything is strict, Lent. And, well, they
      get angry. But you hold fast now, think about your soul. It's the
      season, all the same as if the latter days were come... that's the
      law! You just recite, "O Lord and Master of my life..." and be

      And I begin silently reciting the recently memorized Lenten

      The rooms are quiet and deserted, full of that sacred smell.
      In the front room, before the reddish icon of the Crucifixion, a
      very old one, from our sainted great-grandmother who was an Old
      Believer; a "lenten" lampada of clear glass has been lit, and now
      it will burn unextinguished until Pascha. When Father lights it -
      on Saturdays he lights all the lampadas himself - he always sings
      softly, in a pleasant-sad way: "Before Thy Cross, we bow down, O
      Master," and I would sing softly after him, that wonderful refrain:

      "And Thy ho-ly.. Re-sur-re-e-ec-tion, we glo-ri-fy!"

      A joy-to-tears beats inside my soul, shining from these words.
      And I behold it, behind the long file of lenten days - the Holy
      Resurrection, in lights. A joyful little prayer! It casts a
      kindly beam of light upon these sad days of Lent.

      I begin to imagine that now the old life is coming to an end,
      and it's time to prepare for that other life, which will be...
      where? Somewhere, in the heavens. You have to cleanse the soul of
      all sinfulness, and that's why everything around you is different.
      And something special is at our side, invisible and fearful.
      Gorkin told me that now, "it's like when the soul is parting from
      the body." THEY keep watch, to snatch away the soul, and all the
      while the soul trembles and wails: "Woe is me, I am cursed!" They
      read about it in church now, at the Standings.

      "Because they can sense that their end is coming near, that
      Christ will rise! And that's why we're a-given Lent for, to keep
      close to church, to live to see the Bright Day. And not to
      reflect, you understand. About earthly things, do not reflect!
      And they'll be ringing everywhere: 'Think back!... Think back!..."
      He made the words boom inside him nicely.

      Throughout the house the window vents are open, and you can
      hear the mournful cry and summons of the bells, ringing before the
      services: think-back.. think-back. That's the piteous bell, crying
      for the soul. It's called the Lenten peal.

      They've taken the shutters down from the widows, and it'll be
      that way, poor-looking, clear until Pascha. In the drawing-room
      there are grey slip-covers on the furniture; the lamps are bundled
      up into cocoons, and even the one painting, "The Beauty at the
      Feast," is draped over with a sheet. That was the suggestion of
      His Eminence. Shook his head sadly and said: "A sinful and
      tempting picture!" But Father likes it a lot - such class! Also
      draped is the engraving which Father for some reason calls "the
      sweetcake one", it shows a little old man dancing, and an old woman
      hitting him with a broom. That one His Eminence liked a great
      deal, even laughed.

      All the housefolk are very serious, in workday clothes with
      patches, and I was told also to put on the jacket with the worn-
      through elbows. The rugs have been taken out; it's such a lark now
      to skate across the parquet. Only it's scary to try - Great Lent:
      skate hard and you'll break a leg. Not a crumb left over from
      Shrovetide, mustn't be so much as a trace of it in the air. Even
      the sturgeon in aspic was passed down to the kitchen yesterday.
      Only the very plainest dishes are left in the sideboard, the ones
      with the dun spots and the cracks... for Great Lent.

      In the front room there are bowls of yellow pickles, little
      umbrellas of dill sticking out of them, and chopped cabbage, tart
      and thickly dusted with anise - a delight. I grab pinches of it -
      how it crunches! And I vow to myself to eat only lenten foods for
      the duration of the fast. Why send my soul to perdition, since
      everything tastes so good anyway! There'll be stewed fruit, potato
      pancakes with prunes, "crosses" on the Week of the Cross... frozen
      cranberries with sugar, candied nuts... And what about roast
      buckwheat kasha with onions, washed down with kvass! And then
      lenten pasties with milk-mushrooms, and then buckwheat pancakes
      with onions on Saturdays... and the boiled wheat with marmalade on
      the first Saturday... and almond milk with white kissel, and the
      cranberry one with vanilla, and the grand kuliebiak on
      Annunciation... Can it be that THERE, where everyone goes to from
      this life, ther will be such lenten fare!

      And why is everyone so dull-looking? Why, everything is so...
      so different, and there is much, so much that is joyous. Today
      they'll bring the first ice and begin to line the cellars - the
      whole yard will be stacked with it. We'll go to the "Lenten
      Market," where I've never been... I begin jumping up and down with
      joy, but they stop me: "It's Lent, don't dare! Just wait and see,
      you'll break your leg!"

      Fear comes over me. I look at the Crucifixion. He suffers,
      the Son of God! But how is it that God... How did He allow it?...

      I have the sense that herein lies the great mystery itself -
    Your message has been successfully submitted and would be delivered to recipients shortly.