My Adventures After Death (Chapter 12)

"Julia Voznesenskaya . . . [writes] about our life after death, the knowledge of which is kept by the patristic experience and the Tradition of the Orthodox Church." — Olga Golosova

Previous chapters:

Chapter 12

Resting my head on the broad shoulder of my Angel, I gazed at the desert floating below, stretching below us in the entire circumference of the horizon. With the waviness of the sand, it resembled the seabed. Yellow tornadoes were rushing across the desert, and there was no more life.

"Where are we going now?" I decided to ask the question that tormented me.

"We're going to the place where the souls of sinners, about whom no definite decision has been made, dwell before the Last Judgment."

"Will you leave me there?" 

"No. The decision about you has already been made." 

"The decision that nothing has been decided?" 

"A different decision. But more on that later. You must first meet with one person." 

"With Lop-eared?" 

"I don't know any such Orthodox name — Lop-eared. Please be patient, we are already flying up." 

A neat yellow slice was cut from the closed circle of the horizon ahead, and there the whitish blue of the sky filled the part of the desert truncated along the chord. We flew there.

First, the desert broke off below us, and we flew into the vast blue space. Having made a circle in it, we again flew to the ground. The spectacle was amazing.

The cut edge of the desert was a yellowish-white monolithic wall that went down to such depth that its lower edge was drowned in a smoky blue, where the eye could no longer distinguish anything.

Along the entire wall, narrow cornices ran in steps, fenced off from the abyss by rather high barriers made of the same light stone. Along these stone galleries were the darkened entrances to the caves. If there were hundreds of cornices, then there were probably many, many thousands of caves. From above, I could make out small, dark figures moving through the galleries.

When we flew up and landed on one of the cornices, I saw that it was quite wide, about the size of a city street. The similarity was aggravated by the fact that dark figures, very similar to monks with their long black robes and posture, moved along them, observing the right-hand traffic.

"Is this a monastery?" I asked my Guardian Angel.

"What are you talking about? We are still on the edge of hell, what kind of monastery could there be? Although there are monks here, there are very few of them. These are all souls that have had no decision made about them. True, they could also be called "novices" — they live strictly, as in a monastery, and constantly pray. But they are, of course, deprived of the bliss and joys of real monastic life."

Seeing us, the novices who were nearby rushed to us, shouting excitedly:

"An Angel of God! Look, brothers and sisters, a messenger from Heaven has appeared to us! Look, an Angel has flown to us!" 

They surrounded us in a dense crowd and stretched their hands to the Guardian Angel:

"Bless! Bless us, Angel of God!" The angel blessed all and everyone, looking at them with love and a smile.

"Have you brought us the Good News, Angel of God?" an old "novice" asked.

"Not the one you're waiting for, elder. But I have good news for you. Listen! 

Church prayer is strengthening and growing in Russia, millions of new Orthodox Christians have appeared, and all of them are praying for you as well." 

"Thank God!" exclaimed the novices, joyfully listening to the Angel.

"And now, brothers and sisters, escort us to the church of St. Mary of Egypt. We have an appointment there." 

We were led along the gallery. On the way, the Guardian Angel blessed all the sisters and brothers who passed by. We went to one of the caves and entered it.

The air in the cave was very dry, it smelled like wax and stone dust. Niches were carved into the walls, at human height, at an equal distance from each other, and thin candles burned in them. A black cross had been drawn in soot above each niche on a roughly hewn wall. Occasionally there were side passages, near which stone benches were stacked against the walls.

"There are the cells of the sisters and brothers," said the Angel. Several times we saw chambers carved into the walls, almost completely filled with stones. I looked into one of them over the masonry: there was candlelight glowing, and in its shaky light I saw the novice's back. He was praying.

"A recluse," the Guardian explained. Then he listened and added:

"In seclusion for over two hundred years. Strengthen him, O Lord!" 

A long corridor led us to a small hall. It was a cave church carved into the rock. It was quite light here from the multitude of candles burning on low stone candlesticks. The front wall was decorated with a high relief depicting an old and very thin woman with short hair and in rags. A clear circle had been carved over her head.

"The Venerable Mary of Egypt," said the Angel. I crossed myself and bowed to the image. On the walls, I saw high-relief images of other saints, but which ones, I did not know. Narrow benches were carved along the walls beneath them. On one of them, with his head bowed and thoughtful, a man was sitting. Hearing our steps, he got up and walked towards us.

As he slowly approached us, I blinked and shook my head: no, this could not be! No, no! But he approached, and I realized that I had not deceived myself.

It really was my husband.

"George!" 

"Anna!" 

We approached each other and stopped, shocked and silent.

The silence, in which only the crackling of candles was heard, was broken by the Guardian Angel.

"You need to talk. I will leave you. I'll be outside waiting for you, Anna." 

He left, and we continued to be silent, staring at each other. Finally, George said:

"Let's sit down. My head is spinning with joy. How long it's been since we've seen each other!"

We sat down.

"Where did you come here from, George?" I asked, recovering a little.

"I died before you. My plane crashed just after leaving Munich." 

"My God! I hope you died right away, you didn't suffer?" 

"It was an instant death." 

"Yes . . . So you finished your flying to your Moscow girls . . ." 

"Anna! I wasn't flying to any girls . . ." 

"George! Are you going to lie to me now too? Come to your senses!" 

"I'm not lying, Annushka. Listen to me. Now I have to tell you the whole truth. I flew, not to a girl, but to a boy. I have a son in Russia. I hid him from you." 

"You always hid something from me!" I said plaintively. To be honest, I was at a loss. I was not at all ready for such news. I did not even know how to take it now.

"I did hide it! Yes! Because, if I told you the truth, you would again decide everything for everyone and in your own way. You've always done this! It was you who decided to move from St. Petersburg to Moscow — and we moved. It was you who was dissident, and they teased me as a "Decembrist"! It was because of you that we had to leave our homeland and . . . I'm not talking about everything else!" 

"It’s not my fault that you could not be relied on for anything, that you didn’t know how to make decisions. And if I was so bad, why didn't you leave me?" 

I was getting carried away. It would seem that I had long since repented of my spousal dictatorship, a hundred times regretted that I considered George to be a little boy and tried to lead him. But now the meeting with him and this amazing news took me by surprise, and again it came out of me! I hated myself and couldn't stop.

"Anna! I loved you until my death and after death — you know that!" 

"All I know is that I knew nothing about your son." 

"But I knew how you suffered from the fact that we could not have children. After all, we didn't check with the doctors, and I didn’t want you to know that it wasn't my fault, but yours. I had had a son for a long time." 

"And who is his mother? Why did you love her?" 

"I didn't love her. It was a casual connection. A film expedition to the provinces, a country girl, stunned by just one acquaintance with how 'real cinema' is made. Well, you know how it happens with filmmakers . . . Well, and . . . And the girl was the daughter of a village priest, and she, thank God, did not want to get rid of the child. I couldn't persuade her. The result is a son — Alexander." 

"How old is he?" 

"Twelve." 

"My God! And all these years you kept in touch with them and deceived me?" 

"Yes. Forgive me if you can." 

"So it turns out that those endless affairs of yours, for which you asked forgiveness, and which I forgave, didn't exist?" 

"They did not. Forgive me." 

"Why did you deceive me for so long, George? Why didn't you just tell me how it was? I would understand and let you go." 

"That was something I did not want and was afraid of. I know you! You would certainly send me to my son." 

"Perhaps, yes . . . It wasn't the child's fault at all." 

"Yes, that's clear! I adopted him." 

"Did that make the boy feel better? Having an overseas tourist daddy?" 

"You are always like that! Better tell me, do you forgive me or not?" 

"What is there to forgive? You are still better than I thought. God will forgive!" 

"Maybe He will forgive. But if you have not forgiven . . . well, . . . I didn’t deceive God for almost thirteen years, but you." 

"Yes, but that's history . . ."

"That's not all, Annushka. I was on my way to Tatiana's funeral then. She died, and my son stayed in the village with his sick grandmother, a widow. I wanted to take care of them, but then I died and did not have time to do anything. I can't imagine how they are there now . . ." 

I was silent because I had nothing to say.

"Anna, do you remember we signed insurance for each other?" 

"Yes, there was something like that. But what does it matter now?"

"Because I deceived you about that too. I later changed the insurance in favor of Alexander." 

"Well, you did the right thing." 

"Do you remember that on the shelves in my room was Salul's 'History of Cinema'? There in it, in the second volume, I kept Alexander's birth certificate, his photographs, and my insurance." 

"I'll run and look for it now! Where is Tatiana now?" 

“In Paradise, of course. After all, she spent all her life, until her death, in atonement for our common sin. She felt guilty for what she had done to you, and she always prayed for you, that you would come to the Faith. She was very nice, so quiet, meek." 

"Have you seen her after her death?" 

"Where could I see her? Do not be jealous, please, even now!" 

"Have you not been to Paradise at all?" 

"Not everyone is as happy as you — not everyone is so lucky to have a grandfather among the saints. I died as if I were falling head over heels. One moment I was alive, and the next moment I was dead, and I woke up, surrounded by demons. It was scary, because I had never thought about death, and was absolutely not ready for it." 

"Yes, I can imagine! How did you get through the toll houses?"

"Don't ask! I didn't pass all the way through them, and the demons threw me into Hell." 

"Wait . . . How do you know that I have a grandfather who is a saint?" 

"You told me yourself." 

"When? What are you talking about?"

"What do you mean, when . . . very recently, when we were sitting on the balcony of our villa, drinking wine and you were telling me about your vacation in Paradise . . ." 

"Whaaat?" 

"What, indeed! Also, we should see, who cheated on whom? 'Lop-eared, Lop-eared!'"

"Aren't you ashamed! To be jealous of a boy! And how do you actually know about him?" 

"Anna! Don't you recognize me at all? And the ears?"

Oh my word! But how . . . I stared dumbfounded into the face of my husband. Then, with a squeal, I threw myself on his neck:

"Lop-eared! My beloved monster!" 

When I burst into tears and laughed, George Lop-eared asked:

"Would you like to see my work?" 

"Of course!" 

"Do you see the unfinished ornament over there, over the entrance to the church? That is my work! Well, not only mine, of course . . . I have only learned how to carve straight stripes and zigzags. See, right there!" 

I could not distinguish zigzags in George's complex ornament, but I was very happy for him.

"What a wonderful ornament! It is so great that you are working for the church. And where do you live? Do you have any corner of your own?" 

"A cell, like everyone else. Come on, I'll show you!" 

We went out of the church into a wide corridor, from which George led me into one of the side passages. This narrower corridor was dotted with shallow low caves on both sides. They had no doors and were not even hung with anything. In some it was dark, in others candles were burning. As we passed, we saw sisters and brothers praying or simply sitting in thought on stone pews.

"And here is my cell,” said my husband, leading me to one of the last cells.

The cave was rather just a depression in a stone wall. A taper was burning in a small niche. A bench was carved into the opposite wall, and a large Orthodox cross was painted above it in soot. Choral singing was coming from somewhere, "Holy God, Holy Mighty, Holy Immortal, have mercy on us!" 

Male and female voices sang, softly and very sadly.

So this will be our last home now? Well, I like it more than all the other houses George Lop-eared and I lived in. 

Here one can pray, and there is a church.

Maybe my Guardian Angel will come by sometimes...

"My Angel is waiting for me. Let's go to him!" 

"Don't you like it here?" 

"I like it, although I'm not used to it. But here we will live. I will have time to get used to it, but I don't know when I'll see my Angel again." 

"Didn't he tell you anything?" 

"About what?" 

"Then I won't say anything either. Well, let's go to your Guardian Angel." 

We left the cave. The angel sat on the parapet, legs dangling over the abyss, waiting for me.

"Did you say goodbye?" he asked.

I went cold.

"Didn't your husband tell you anything?"

I shook my head.

"Anna! You are returning to Earth. Into your body, into your life." 

I was silent.

"Aren't you happy?" 

"I don't know. Did the Lord decide that?" 

"Yes. Since your body there, in a hospital on Earth, continues to remain alive, your Grandfather pleaded with the Lord to give you the opportunity to return and live until your natural death. He asked me to tell you that it should be a different life. Now you know what kind." 

I nodded.

"Why are you silent, Anna?" 

I nodded a little more, shook my head, and then somehow squeezed out of myself:

"What can I say to that? Only one thing. Glory to God for everything!" 

The Angel smiled. How I love his smile! Am I really, really not going to see it on Earth, up until my next death? Well, then I will at least try to make him always smile when he looks at me. I may not be able to see it, but I will try to guess, is my Angel smiling at me, or not?

"Well, for your humility, there will be a reward for you. Maria, come to us, don't be afraid!" 

On the sidelines, novices stood in a quiet flock, looking at my Angel with enthusiastic smiles. And among them I saw . . .

"Mommy!" 

We rushed to each other, collided, hugged. Lord, this too . . . With what a generous hand — no, with both hands! You give out mercy abundantly when You have mercy on us!

It turned out that Mom and George had met immediately, as soon as the Angel brought him here.

Of course, they were delighted with each other. Mom told him about our meeting at the hospital.

He, of course, told her about our joint wanderings through the hellish deserts and villages.

You can imagine my mother praying for my release from the quicksand!

I was very happy that George and my mother were together, that they had a family here, however small.

"Mom, I'm returning to Earth again!" 

"I know. Look, do not repeat the same mistakes! And pray — pray for yourself and for us. I hope that now you will be able to prepare for death as befits a Christian, and when your real time comes, you will go straight to Paradise, and not here." 

"Is it so bad here?" 

"Oh no! Of course, there is neither a bird nor a blade of grass, but Lord! we didn’t deserve this mercy either, to live in prayer, with the church, and most importantly, apart from the demons. Angels even occasionally visit us . . ." 

Our conversation was interrupted by a strange, uniform knock on wood.

"What is it, Mom?" 

"It's the semantron,” she said. "This is how we are called to evening prayer." 

Mom said goodbye to me and, hiding her tears, went to the cave church with the other novices.

George came up to me and hugged me by the shoulders.

"Thanks to you, I ended up here. If it weren't for you, either the demons would have devoured me in the camp, or I myself would have gone to the Lake of Despair and died there." 

"You’re wrong, George,” intervened the Guardian Angel. "Anna saved you from a worse fate. Souls are immortal: those who are devoured by the demons in one circle of Hell are thus transferred by them to another, even more terrible one." 

"You see, Annushka! How am I going to live without you now? You will come back to life and, perhaps, you will live for a long, long time . . . but you will not forget, you will not leave me? Please remember that a husband is saved by his wife! Pray for me there." 

"Did you yourself come up with the idea that a husband is saved by his wife?" I asked, smiling involuntarily.

"No, that's what they say here. Tell me, will you do something for my little Alexander?" 

"Are you still asking me that? If I am not a complete invalid there, then, as soon as I can, I will go to visit him. And I will pray for you. Yes, I won't leave church now! I'll go to the monastery! I will get tonsured as a nun!"

"Anna, don't get carried away!" my Guardian Angel stopped me. "Go, George, it's time for you to go to the service. Otherwise, she will not be ready to leave until the Second Coming." 

My husband and I hugged one last time, and he went after my mother. Goodbye, Lop-eared!

"It's time, Anna!" said the Angel. 

"My Angel! My dear one! Couldn't we stay a little longer and fly away into the depths of Hell? Not the most dangerous places, of course." 

"What are you talking about, Anna!" 

"I so want to at least try to find Olaf Redbeard! Tell me, in theory, is it possible?" 

Has anyone ever seen a confused Guardian Angel? I have.

"Well, Anna, I won't ever get bored with you! I never had such a pupil! Wait, I have to get permission to do this." 

From the folds of his clothes, the Guardian Angel took out a small round object that seemed to me like a mirror. He said something to it, but the language was unfamiliar to me, and then he waited a long time for an answer. Finally, the answer apparently came.

"Let's fly!" said my Guardian Angel as he held out his hands to me.

We found our Varangian, as expected, on the seashore. Only the sea was as black as fuel oil. It was dusk and bare all around. Black stones stuck out on the shore, and if the Angel had not suggested it, I would not have guessed that one of them was a man. He was black himself, even his hair and beard. And he was not wearing a red cloak, just rags of stone. But there was only one eye, and two fingers were missing on his left hand.

"Olaf!" I called out to him. The stone figure remained motionless for a long time, and then a dark eyelid rose and an eye flashed. He stared at me and looked like that for a long time.

Then Olaf, barely parting his petrified lips, whispered:

"Helga!" 

"No, I'm not Helga. I am her granddaughter." There was no need to delve into the details of the genealogy — he would not have understood.

"And where is Helga?" 

"Helga is in Paradise." 

"So she . . . was saved?"

"Yes, because the Savior led her. Trust in Him, Olaf! Ask Him for salvation! Helga loves and waits for you. Remember: the husband is saved by his wife." 

He closed his one eye again and fell into a heavy sleep. Would he be dreaming about Helga now?

“Nothing else can be done here,” said my Guardian Angel. "It's time for us to leave, Anna!" 

My return to the half-dead, exhausted body was painful and difficult. It was cold, cramped, and painful inside of it. For many long, long days I lay in the same position in which death overtook me. Smart machines made my lungs and heart work, pumping blood and oxygen to my dormant brain. I patiently listened to my body from the inside. At first, only I caught the flutter of my own heart, which began to beat out of the rhythm imposed on it by the machine. The doctors only discovered this after a few hours. Later still, I began to breathe on my own. Consciousness at first was dim, but then it also woke up. I remembered everything and opened my eyes. There was a whole commotion in the hospital.

After all, I had been in a coma for almost six months!

The doctors came running and congratulated each other.

Someone remembered to congratulate me too. When I was able to speak, the first thing I asked was:

"Please invite a Russian priest to see me." 

Epilogue

Today, exactly ten years have passed since the day my adventures after death began. Now I am sitting at my son's desk over a shared notebook with my memories. A tear-off Orthodox calendar hangs on the wall opposite me — on it the date is July 21, 2000, (July 7 according to the old style calendar), Friday. Today is our family holiday — the Appearance of the Kazan Icon of the Mother of God.

Here it is, in an icon case, decorated with a wreath of wildflowers.

My son, known to others as the priest, Father Alexander, has already gone to church. He needs to get ready for the service. Today there will be many communicants. My daughter-in-law Zina left with him. She is very young, only twenty-one years old, but nevertheless she is a matushka, and all the housekeeping of the church is on her. Although our rural church of the New Martyrs of Russia is small, the matushka has a lot of things to take care of.

The morning is so wonderful today — the garden is full of flowers and fog. The fog comes up from our river. During the day it will be hot, and I'll be able to take Tanechka and Nastenka to the river and go swimming with them. They love it. For fun and protection, we will take our dog, the French bulldog Danilo. Alexander and I picked him up at the train station in Moscow when we were returning from Munich.

I finished the Rule for Holy Communion, but it's too early to go to church. The girls are still asleep. Therefore, I took out my notebook and decided to finish my story today, while there is silence in the house: Tatianka and Nastenka will wake up, and grandmother will not have any peace. If today, on the tenth anniversary of my first death, I will not finish these notes, then when? So where did we stop . . . 

I went to Russia as soon as I could walk without crutches. In the "History of Cinema" by Georges Saloul, I found not only all of Alexander's documents, but also a letter from him to his father, in a self-addressed envelope.

I came here and found everyone in terrible grief. Tatiana's father, a priest of our church, passed away two years ago. In one year, Tatiana herself died of leukemia, and Alexander's father and my husband George died in a plane crash.

The twelve-year-old orphan boy stayed in the house with his grandmother, a widow, who could hardly walk by herself. The neighbors were already talking about the fact that the boy should be taken to an orphanage, and the grandmother should be sent to a nursing home. The village gossips explained to me that they, the neighbors, had long liked the beautiful orchard that the late priest had kept, and the grandmother was ready to sell the house for any money, since she had no money at all. What kind of pension could a rural priest have in his ninetieth year? They were fed by the orchard and the vegetable garden, but those had to be cultivated, and who could do it? A twelve year old boy, and a disabled grandmother?

Then an unknown relative from Germany appeared and turned everything upside down. I adopted Alexander. He didn't even have to change his surname. We immediately fell in love with each other. I fell in love with him because he was a copy of George, with the same lop-ears. And he fell in love with me because he, a boy, lost from grief, had to rely on someone. So he clung to me.

I rebuilt the house, took care of the grandmother, and she lived for another seven years after that.

She died shortly after Alexander's ordination as a priest. He himself gave her her last sacraments and served the funeral service, because he stayed in our village to serve in his grandfather's place. He only serves in the new church, which we built with the money received from George's insurance and dedicated to the New Martyrs of Russia. The old church, of St. George, began to serve as a cemetery chapel. There we serve memorial services for all our departed.

Alexander studied at a seminary in Moscow, but before ordination he married a local girl. She is the daughter of a school teacher and, oddly enough, has been a believer since childhood. It happens! Less than a year later, they had a daughter, Tatiana, and a year later, a second, Anastasia.

Both are named after the martyred princesses.

Alexander and I fly to Munich almost every year to visit George's grave. He is buried in the cemetery near the Russian Cathedral dedicated to the New Martyrs of Russia (this is my second church in which I can pray to my Grandfather, the New Martyr Archpriest Eugene). The grave is always in order, even if we don't come for a long time. My beloved Munich friend Natasha takes care of it (the one who gossiped about me in the hospital hallway). She is my beloved friend, because she was the one who gave the prosphora for the proskomedia on my behalf, which my Guardian Angel brought straight to me in Hell — the very "bread" that gave me and George strength and courage, which nourished and saved us.

Of course, I'm not getting younger, but my granddaughters don't let me get old either — one can't get bored with them, as my Guardian Angel said! And yet when they grow up, over time I think about taking care of my soul, about preparing for death. 

There's a women's monastery dedicated to the Mother of God nearby, with a myrrh-streaming icon of the Mother of God. A copy of the one from Kazan, by the way. When I am there on a pilgrimage, it always seems to me that the myrrh from the miraculous icon smells just like my dear great-grandmother's flower, which she made as a gift to the Mother of God. But I also took a little part in it . . . So, if it is Her holy will . . .

Oh, what's wrong with me, I almost forgot! The cat Watermelon, having fully enjoyed hunting for live mice (not foam rubber ones), having learned the joy of fishing with Alexander, having sired striped watermelon kittens throughout the village, peacefully reposed at fifteen years of age. He was buried in a petunia flower bed. Now his son lives with us, the cat Watermelon II. 

Oh! The girls seem to have woken up. All right, grandma, it's time to end the memoirs. I'm coming, coming, my dears!

And glory to God for everything.

Source: Мои посмертные приключения (Russian)




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