"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
There was a knock on my door and Alyosha entered.
"Have you rested, little sister?"
"Oh, yes! Tell me, how does time work here? What day is it and what time is it?"
"You see, Annushka, there is no more time here, you have entered eternity. But according to tradition, in the Valley of the Disciples, counting continues for hours and days according to earth time: this is more familiar for those who have recently come to eternity. We say that it is six o'clock in the morning right now, and the liturgy will begin soon. Why did you ask about the time?"
"Well, Alyosha, because I was told that I have only six days here, so I want to know how much time I still have left to be with you. Could you give me a watch, or a clock?"
"Whatever one you like. You will probably like this one." There was a soft hiss, and then quiet early music began. Chimes. I looked around and saw a tall grandfather clock with a carved turret and a round dial with Roman numerals that had yellowed from antiquity against the wall. It was decorated with golden roses. The curly arrows stood vertically.
The chimes finished playing an elegant melody, and the clock chimed melodiously six times.
"How beautiful! How could I have missed them before?"
"They weren't here before, I just remembered them. This clock was in the children's library, where you and I went to borrow books. Do you remember, the one on Herzen Street?"
"I remember. There were also ceilings divided into squares by dark oak beams, and in each square was the plot from a children's tale. And this clock stood in a small room where we met with children's writers. But how did they get here?"
"From my memory. I thought that you would be pleased to know the time by this clock. It will show the time and at the same time remind you that, in fact, there is no time, that our childhood has not disappeared, that we have power over our past."
"Now I understand where there are so many beautiful antiques in the house!"
"You guessed right: we surround ourselves with things that were dear to us in life. There is no need for them, but they are pleasing to the heart."
"But you don't transport them from Earth with rockets?"
"Of course not. One memory is enough. If you want, try it yourself."
"What do I need to do?"
"Remember something you want, imagine it in all details and focus on the desire to see it in front of you."
I believed that I could do it. I closed my eyes, concentrated and almost immediately felt the warm weight of the old wood in my hands: in my hands was the Kazan icon of the Mother of God from our former Moscow apartment! I could not resist and kissed the edge of the icon, but immediately looked at Alyosha with dismay - was it allowed?
"Good job. And now repeat after me: "Holy Mother of God, save us!"
"Holy Mother of God, save us . . . "
And how good I felt after these words!
Alyosha took the icon from my hands and hung it in the corner of my room, just opposite the windows.
"And now, let's go wash up!"
"Wait, I want to think up something else!" I really wanted to earn one more praise from Alyosha, and I remembered the statuette of Our Lady of Fatima, which I saw at our German neighbor, Frau Wagner's, house. But no matter how much I wrinkled my forehead, now closing my eyes tightly, now bulging them with all my might, I couldn't make it happen.
"Why are you groaning?" asked Alyosha. I had to reveal my plan to him.
"You say the figurine was made of plastic? In that case, you are trying in vain, nothing will come of it: nothing artificial can exist in Paradise, there are no synthetics here. Come on, I'll take you to my favorite waterfall so you can wash up."
He took my hand and pulled me out of the room. As I left, I quickly imagined a Viennese rocking chair, the first thing I bought in exile. When we reached the door I had time, looking around, to see how it obediently swayed at the window. Even the striped pillow, on which Watermelon liked to sit, lay on the seat. I will have to ask, is it possible to bring Watermelon himself here?
We went out into the garden and walked along an alley between tall lime trees. On the way, I placed, wherever possible, bronze figures of animals — peacocks with tails green with patina, deer, and panthers and tigers in the bushes.
"You are a child, Anka!" said Alyosha. "Why do you want bronze tigers when you can call the real ones?"
He whistled, and I squeezed up against him with a squeal: a huge tiger jumped out of the bushes onto the path in one jump and rushed towards us. He cautiously walked around me, but he poked my brother in the knees with his huge head and purred deeply, demanding affection. Alyosha scratched him behind the ear and sent him back into the bushes with a slap. Yes, this is Paradise!
Through the garden we came to a mountain stream, which originates from a waterfall falling from a low cliff. The water fell not as a solid wall, but in many separate streams. There was a platform nearby, and from it a wide step went under the water; I stepped on it and found myself in a strong, cool shower. Refreshed, I stood on the sun-warmed area to dry off. Then the question arose about clothes: I was walking around in a hospital sheet tied in a knot under my arm.
"Alyosha, can I dress up somehow?"
"Of course, nothing could be easier!" Alyosha looked at my figure with concentration.
I laughed out loud when I saw a turquoise silk skirt around my legs of immense width and discovered a good three meters train behind me. A blue velvet bodice tightened my chest and waist: it's good that I didn't have to breathe, otherwise I would have suffocated from its tightness. My head was also somehow uncomfortable. Feeling it, I discovered that this mischievous boy had fluffed my hair into some kind of hair wedding cake, and placed a weighty crown on top.
"Take this disgrace off me now!"
"I won't take it off, the princess outfit suits you very well!"
That very moment Alyosha stood chained from head to toe in silver armor.
"Boo-boo-bee!" came from under the lowered visor.
"Okay! Take it all away and help me dress according to your fashion."
Immediately I was wearing a light tunic up to my knees, intercepted by a gold chain, on my feet — sandals made of straps, in my hands a small harp about five kilograms.
"The latest fashion for the celestials!" my brother announced.
"Alyoshka, stop playing the fool!"
"In that case, dress yourself — you're not a baby!"
I thought a little and made myself a simple long gray dress with wide sleeves and a belt made of blue ribbon. I wove the same ribbon into my waist-length hair. I didn't put on any shoes — there was no point.
"Enough jokes now," said Alyosha. "We must hurry, the liturgy is about to begin."
If the outside of Grandfather's church was the most beautiful building in the Valley, then inside it simply amazed one with its beauty and splendor. The frescoes reminded one of Dionysius, and the icons — of Andrei Rublev and Theophanes the Greek. People would crawl on their knees from the Russian Museum for a chance to see them.
The altar differed from the earthly Orthodox altars primarily in that it was not fenced off from the worshipers by a wall and was located on an open dais. Behind the throne was a wide open opening in a curved wall, and through it was visible Calvary with the Cross.
Against all physical laws, the top of the mountain was so close that I immediately went to the side pillars and hid behind one of them, fleeing from its blinding splendor.
Alyosha went to the altar to help Grandpa, and both my young grandmothers, Katya and Nina, came up to me. They each had a bunch of candles in their hands, which smelled sweetly of wax and honey. They gave me a candle each, telling me to put them in front of the icons for my living and the dead, and withdrew. While I was pondering how to do this, both candles in my hands melted and spilled on the floor. I discreetly wiped my hands on the hem of my dress and remained standing still.
There was no choir in the church, and when the service began, everyone sang at once - women on the left and men on the right. They sang very beautifully, sometimes I even parsed and understood individual words. Only words, no meaning, of course.
But when Alyosha stepped forward and, half-turning to see both the parishioners and Golgotha at the same time, began to loudly ask the Lord for mercy to all living things on Earth, in Heaven and in the underworld, I joined this prayer with all my being. Something seemed to burst inside me, tears flowed from my eyes like rain shower. I cried about myself, about my mother, even about my unfortunate George — what is it like for him, a fool, without me?
I also cried for all the people who, like me quite recently, do not know what awaits them after death, and do not try, poor ones, to find out at least something about their upcoming adventures after death.
Then something completely unexpected happened. Alyosha stepped forward and said loudly three times:
"Catechumens, depart! Let all the catechumens depart! Let none of the catechumens remain!"
That very moment I was carried out of the church by a whirlwind. And this is not an allegory at all: a strong elastic wind, which was impossible to resist, seized me, in front of everyone's eyes, turned me to face the door and threw me out of the church. I found myself standing outside, alone on the steps.
Many years ago, the same grandmother-neighbor who christened Alyosha and me called us "catechumens" when we, being naughty, made noise throughout our entire communal apartment. It did not occur to me that there was any direct connection between the folk expression and church vocabulary.
I didn't want to go into the empty house at all, and I wandered to the shore of the lake. I sat on the grass under a large golden willow bent down to the water and sat like Alyonushka until the bell ringing announced the end of the church service. Then I got up and went to meet those leaving the church.
After the service, everyone went to a common meal, arranged in a clearing under the largest tree in the garden. Tables of bread, wine and fruit were set out around the giant sequoia. I ate and drank with everyone. Then Grandfather and Alyosha took the students to the educational pavilions, and they told me to stay near the house and wait for the Guardian.
How glad I was when I suddenly noticed among the flock of birds in the height one, which was decreasing and becoming ever larger until it turned into my dear, my own Angel! I rushed to him, and he picked me up in his arms like a child.
"At last! I'm tired of waiting!"
"Did you really get bored here?"
"Oh, come on!"
"Why were you crying?"
I had to tell him about the "catechumens".
The Guardian Angel immediately became serious.
"The catechumens are those who have announced in the church that they are preparing for baptism. Those who do not go to church and do not receive communion are added to their number as a punishment."
"So, that means it was to show me I'm an outcast?"
"Not exactly, because you were admitted to the first part of the service."
"And also the candles melted in my hands..."
"What happened to you with the candles?"
I told him.
"There is nothing mysterious about it. Katya and Nina have already forgotten where these candles come from, or maybe they wanted to share their work of prayer with you. You see,the candles appear by themselves during prayer as its material symbols. You have not prayed for your offerings to God, and the gift is not given. What else were you doing today?"
I told him about the joys of this morning, and the Guardian Angel told me about my Grandfather's school. I learned that in the Valley, located in the region of Paradise closest to Earth, there is a preparatory school for souls who are not yet ready to exist in the higher realms of the Kingdom of Heaven. They spend the time here necessary for spiritual growth, to mature, so to speak, and then begin their ascent to the habitations that are next up in rank. This surprised me:
"It turns out that my Grandfather, although he is a saint, is not allowed into the highest heavenly abodes? That's not fair!"
"What do you mean, it's quite the opposite! Your Grandfather has a special ministry entrusted to him directly from God precisely as a saint and priest. This is a very high honor. And believe me, even at the very Throne of God he is received with great honor."
Since I was not invited to join the students of Paradise, the Guardian Angel offered to go on a walk with me.
"Do you want to fly together?"
I remembered hovering under the ceiling of the hospital, but then I was like a balloon; when we left the Earth, it happened so overwhelmingly fast that I did not have time to get scared, and the flight between tollhouses seemed more like an oncoming movement of space. Now I have grown plump, my body has become material, although somehow differently than during life. My feet did not leave marks when walking on the sand of the garden paths, but the grass under them bent to the ground, I noticed.
"Will I be able to take off now?"
I ran and jumped, hovered for a moment in the air, but then sank heavily to the ground.
"I'll have to teach you."
The angel grabbed me in his arms and took off.
At first I froze when I saw the treetops under my feet. Nearby, a bell tower with a cross was swaying — it smelled of heat, and finally, the whole Valley was under us.
The Guardian Angel, holding me on one hand and hugging me with the other, rushed to the rocky wall at the edge of the Valley. He quickly flew up to the white chalk rocks, soared upward, and we found ourselves on a high plateau overgrown with alpine meadows. From here, the Valley with a lake, a river and a town seemed like a charming children's toy. A cloud floated below us, and its shadow ran down the green valley below.
And then my Angel did what my father once did when teaching Alyosha and me to swim: he lifted me with both hands above his head and threw me off the cliff. I screamed, spread my arms and . . . flew.
"I'm flying! I'm flying! Look, Guardian Angel, see how I'm flying!" The angel was already floating in the air nearby and smiled. The flight was delightful.
I was flying standing, sitting, flying on my back, tumbling in the air. The angel instructed me, having fun, it seems, no less than me. I very soon learned to distinguish and catch upward air currents and soar on them. I rushed with delight through a lonely cloud and flew out of it all wet, but immediately dried up in the wind.
Flying lower turned out to be much more difficult: I had to be careful not to crash into a tree or hit the ground, but I soon mastered these tricks too. What a talent for flying died inside me when I flew off of my Munich balcony!
Most of all I liked playing over the lake, where curious fish jumped out of the water, wondering what kind of rare bird had visited them. It was very cool to pick up speed, dive into the water from all over the flight and immediately emerge and soar into the air.
Having flown to my heart's content in the Valley, I asked the Angel to fly with me somewhere beyond its limits. He agreed, but took my word that I would not leave the Valley without him or someone close to me:
"You could still get lost or fly where you should not. Well, where do you want to go?"
I pointed to the snowy peaks. We chose the tallest of them and flew to it, holding hands. Close up, it looked like a huge sparkling snowdrift. We flew around it, chose a flat area at the very top and sank down on it.
The snow lay underfoot, clean and not at all packed, as it happens in summer on glaciers in the earth's mountains. I walked with bare feet, sinking to the ankle, but did not feel the cold — the snow was no cooler than a fresh sheet. The angel suggested I taste it: "Many students like it!" I made a snowball and bit into it, and it tasted delicious to me, like vanilla ice cream with lemon juice.
"It turns out that the fairy tales of old church women about how the inhabitants of heaven sit on the clouds in Paradise and gobble up ice cream have a real basis?"
"Indeed! If you now returned to Earth and told about everything you saw, wouldn't it be like a fairy tale?"
"More like a parable . . . Oh, Angel, just you wait!"
My Angel . . . yup, he's definitely my angel and nobody else's. He made a snowball and threw it at me! I did not remain in debt and, in turn, began to bombard him with snowballs, and I did it much better — he clearly lacked the aggressiveness to win in the snow fight.
But when I pushed him aside with a hail of snowballs to the very edge of the platform, he suddenly flapped his wings and raised such a snow whirlwind with them that I could no longer come closer to him. The snow blown up by him sparkled in the sun, and it seemed to me that the whole world around us was sparkling and laughing.
When we returned from this walk, the people at home were already beginning to worry about me. As the day drew to a close, the whole family gathered in the living room by the fireplace, where a small fire was burning. We spent a lovely quiet evening, reminiscing. My grandfather and both grandmothers told me a lot of unknowns about the past of our family, and they very much regretted that I could not visit distant monasteries and get to know all my ancestors. No one knew anything about my father.
Hearing how the clock struck twelve times over our heads in my room, I said goodbye to everyone and went up to my room.
Standing in front of the Kazan Icon of the Mother of God, I said: “Most Holy Theotokos, save us. And good night to you! " Thus ended my first day in the Valley.
Source: Мои посмертные приключения (Russian)
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