November 15, 2005

letter from Jordanville

"...I walked down the 3 stairways, completely dark, to the equally dark cellar-tunnel. No need for a light, I know every step. Walk around the monastery cat's waterbowl on the corner, feel for the lightswitch at the boiler room door, and I can see again. I dig through boxes of old parts, and find the box containing new sealing washers for water faucets, and find the one that matches the worn seal in my pocket.

I look behind the boiler, and find father Flor's toolbox. 84 years old, He has not been the same since old father Myfodi died last year. No longer able to keep ahead of simple repairs, he often says, "it has only been broken for a year", and things remain broken. He is confused by Alzhymer's disease, and is angered if someone tries to do the work he once did. But he is Archimandrite, second only to Vladika here in the diaspora. So I quickly find the wrenches I need, and notice that he now absurdly wraps some of the wrenches in food-wrapping aluminum foil! Tools ars oddly, carefully arranged, I try to remember placement to avoid his wrath.

Back upstairs to the infirmary. Father Cyprian has asked me to fix the broken faucet. He is one of the people closest to God in this world. There are no patients today, last was my dear insane friend Sergeius Ternapolsky, once an electrical engineer, died of old age in Fr. Cyprian's loving arms here 10 days ago.

The faucet screws are frozen with rust, I use the small gas torch from behind the iconostas, used to light censers, to heat and loosen screws and handles, then replace rubber washers. It works! Only God can fix a rusty, leaky faucet. Robert only turns wrenches, and prays old parts do not break.

Back into the dark tunnel, tools away, exactly as found! and escape, unseen... other end of tunnel, Constantine, the drunkard worker, cleans 4 nice fish he caught with old father Iov today. We will eat some in the tropezza after things quiet down tonite, but I will no longer give him the vodka he hopes for, but he will not ask me for. He is in alcoholic's recovery program, I don't want this dear friend to die. He beats me in chess always by my third move, shakes his head at my poor chess strategy, and says, "Robert, for what?" as if I were committing suicide or re-marrying or something.

Bell rings, we hurry to tropezza, I sit by Vaseli, the worker, who is a natural artist, in stone sculpture. I have missed him, last saw him a year ago, when we were a little drunk and he photographed me in his cossack uniform.

We are surrounded by beautiful tropezza paintings. Vladyka leads us in prayer, then, best food I ever ate. Good Kasha, clabbered milk, monastery bread, mushrooms and noodles, borscht, tea. I eat quickly, head down, bell rings, prayer, and all end eating, dishes to kitchen, I help pick up, new cook Oleg gives me some special bit of food, I give him some dried figs I always carry, we talk about our children and broken families.

Fissuke offers a Russian language lesson. He has birth defect, hands like the claws of a lobster.We take tea and bread to my cell, but on the way, we stopat the "little church" 2 doors away for little compline, sing something in Russian, venerate icons and what I think are finger-bones of dead Saints. Then to my cell, re-learn some simple words I have forgotten, and soon I ask to end lesson, and sleep untill morning liturgy.

These are the people I love, and the way I prefer to spend my time. But when offered tonsure, I said no. I think of airplanes too much to be monk..."

(напечатано с разрешения автора
- перевести на русский? - н.)