"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
It was the sixth day of my stay in the Valley. The time of my heavenly vacation was coming to an end, and there was only one last day left. My soul was anxious that morning. Alyosha canceled his classes to spend this day with me.
"What are you going to do?" asked Grandfather.
“We’ll just take a walk, I think,” Alyosha answered.
"I was told that Olga wants to see Annushka. Anya, would you like to meet the first Christian woman in our family? This is your great-great-great...very many greats, actually, great-grandmother, she lives nearby."
"Is she old?"
"There are no old people here. She is thirty-three years old, like everyone else."
"I meant to ask, how long has she lived here?"
"More than two thousand years."
"But I was told that over time, souls go into such depths of the Kingdom of God, that I'm not even worthy to hear about them."
“She stayed here at the edge of Paradise, and there is a special reason for that. Perhaps she will tell you about it. I suspect that this is why she is calling you to her. Go on, fly, my dear ones!"
And we flew to visit my I-don't-know-how-many-times-great-grandmother. On the way, Alyosha said that the place where she lives is called the Crystal Valley. To get into it, one had to fly over a ridge with eternal snows and cross several valleys.
As we began to descend over the Crystal Valley, I gasped in amazement. The whole valley glistened and sparkled in the sun, and this brilliance would have been unbearable if it had not been softened by the smallest amount of water drops dissolved in the cool air. In this mother-of-pearl mist, the bottom of the valley was not visible from above, only numerous waterfalls were visible, some not larger than a string of crystal beads. They fell from green multilayered cliffs overgrown with bushes and ferns, and scattered downward in countless streams.
We landed on the bank of a mountain stream running in the middle of the valley, and I saw that everywhere from the mountain slopes to the water pools was overflowing with flowers. But what colors! Neither on Earth nor in Paradise have I seen anything like it. If these flowers did not grow from the ground, I would have thought they were made of crystal — they were transparent!
I rushed to the nearest bush of large bells and knelt down in front of it. I looked at them reverently, caressing them with my fingertips. Their delicate bells were, as it were, touched by the finest rainbow brush along the edges and veins; through the walls of the bells one could see the silvery stamens and even my fingers touching the flowers.
The was another wonder, not for one's eyes, but for one's ears — these bells gently rang at the slightest breeze. Taking a closer look, I realized the nature of this ringing: the balls of the stamens hung on thin threads and, shuddering, the stamens hit the walls of the flower from the inside, emitting a barely audible ringing.
"Annushka, they are waiting for us!" Alyosha touched my shoulder. I barely looked up from the contemplation of the crystal wonder, got up from my knees and looked around.
Not far from the shore there was a small log house, almost a hut, under a thick and shaggy reed roof, pushed up almost to the windows. On the ridge of the roof a long curtain of irises grew, transparent, with a smoky purple hue, a simple house, as it were, topped with an amethyst crown.
On the doorstep of the hut stood a blonde beauty in a white dress trimmed with a wide border of blue and lilac tones, with a thin silver hoop on her loose hair. I guessed that this was Olga.
"So you are my very last descendant from Earth? Thank you, Alyosha, for fulfilling my request and bringing her. Come into the house!"
The hut had only one room. One corner of it was occupied by a roughly folded hearth of wild stone, in the other there was a wooden loom, very ancient in appearance. A many-colored cloth was stretched on it. In front of two small windows was a large oak table, and next to it, on one side and on the other, there were two wide benches. Another similar bench by the opposite wall was covered with a homespun blanket, and on it lay heavy old books and earthen and copper vessels, and a rope with bunches of dry herbs was stretched along the wall above the bench.
Olga put a jug of milk and mugs on the table. She laid out bread cut into thick slices on a round carved board, from which an appetizing warm smell emanated. She also put out a bowl with pieces of honeycomb.
"Help yourself, dear guests, my dear great-grandchildren!"
Alyosha said a prayer and blessed the meal. We silently drank milk and ate bread and honey, glancing at Olga, and she looked at us thoughtfully, sitting opposite us with her hands folded on her knees.
"May the Lord save you, Great-Grandma!" Alyosha thanked her in the heavenly manner when we had eaten.
I liked that instead of repeating: "Great ... great ... great ..." like a little crow, he even shortened "Great-Grandmother" to "Great-Grandma."
After the meal, Olga showed us her valley and told us about the crystal flowers that she herself designed and grew:
"They can grow only with an abundance of moisture in the air. In direct sunlight, they immediately wither and dry out. Of course, even when they dry out, they do not lose their beauty and transparency, but they become very fragile. Sometimes people take them to decorate churches for feast days. But mostly these flowers are for decorating waterfalls and mountain streams."
A stone bench stood by the water's edge, covered with moss and lichen. Great-Grandma invited us to sit down.
"I want to tell Anna my story. And you listen too, Alyosha, I never told it to you either."
I was born and raised on the Baltic coast many years before our Savior was born in distant Judea. My husband was a famous Varangian warrior who went plundering across many waters. Now we would call his glorious trade simple sea robbery, but in those days sagas were composed about his exploits.
He died early, but did not fall in a sea battle. He fell by the hand of a vile killer sent by an envious neighbor. We already had a little son, but he could not hold me back: I kissed the child, handed him over to my mother and threw myself from a high cliff into the sea, just a few hours behind my beloved husband on the way to the afterlife."
I listened to my ancestor very incredulously: do madmen find shelter in Paradise and keep their madness here? Well, okay, there is no need to argue about our Varangian roots, the blonde hair and blue eyes that dominate our family even confirm the Varangian theory in our family alone. But in general, it turned out to be obvious nonsense. No matter how little I was educated in Christianity, one thing was clear to me: Olga, or rather, Helga, was a pagan, was born before Christ, and even committed suicide — she could not be in Paradise!
Meanwhile, my great-grandmother continued:
"For more than a hundred years, my husband and I wandered in the infernal gloom, holding hands, and there we continued to love each other. He thought that he had gone to hell only because he hadn't died in battle, but from being stabbed in the back: if he had fallen in battle, as befits a Varangian, he would have feasted in the heavenly palaces of Valhalla with the valiant warriors who had fallen in battle, and would not have wandered in the valleys of sorrow.
In hell, we saw our gods, whose images we worshiped during our life. You can guess that they were demons. We died young, we loved beauty, and therefore did not want to recognize the vile and evil creatures as our gods, although we were in their full power. My husband even tried to fight them, as the heroes of the sagas did, but, becoming a poor shadow, he lost his strength, although he did not lose his courage. As punishment for the rebellion, we were thrown into the impenetrable darkness of black hellfire, and we suffered and were tormented there for a long time, but we still did not part from each other.
Thus, many, many years passed in terrible agony. But one day the darkness of the underworld dissipated: John the Baptist appeared and began to preach Christ*. He was defended by God's Grace, and the demons did not dare to approach and interfere with him. He said that Christ the Savior would soon descend into hell and save all who believe in Him and follow Him. To be saved, a person must repent of sin and be baptized. He explained what sin is and why it is displeasing to God, and to those who committed suicide he sternly announced that suicide was not a feat of courage at all, but a crime against God. Many believed him and found hope of salvation, including me. We bitterly repented of our sins and received absolution from them, from John the Baptist. He baptized us, with our tears taking the place of water.
My poor husband kept groaning about the inaccessible Valhalla and could not cope with his despair. But we did not part with each other.
And then the time appointed by the Creator came, and the Savior descended into hell.** He scattered the demons like gnats, and blessed all those who were baptized and even those who did not have time to be baptized, but believed when they saw Him. However, some souls stubbornly turned away from Christ, including my husband.
The Savior led us all to the exit from hell — and what a long round dance of shadows it was!
We walked and walked, the darkness receded, and finally the first rays of the sun appeared ahead. I pulled my husband along with me, but he pulled his hand out of my hand and remained in hell. He could not accept the fact that a woman, even his beloved wife, wanted to save him, a glorious warrior. We parted, and almost two thousand years have passed since then.
Having arrived in Paradise, I asked Christ the Savior if my husband could still be saved. He told me to wait for the Last Judgment and hope. And then I asked the Lord to let me wait for my husband on the very border of Paradise, so that if he is pardoned and comes here, he would not pass me by, so that we would not lose each other again. And the Lord blessed me to wait for him here in this valley. So I'm waiting.
We were the first inhabitants of Paradise after the expulsion of Adam. Paradise was beautiful, but it looked like a neglected garden. I was glad that it was possible to work here — to preserve and cultivate Paradise, as the Lord commanded us. In work and prayer, centuries followed centuries, and I kept waiting. Perhaps suddenly a miracle might happen one day, and my Olaf will come down into the Crystal Valley and call me:
“Meet me, my Helga! I'm back and I'm tired. Take off my boots! " as he always said, returning from a raid.
The first thousand years of my stay here passed, and our first Christian descendants began to come from Earth. They were already Russian. All of them were worthy people, and until now none of our kin had to go into the depths of hell — they visited it, but only to see what troubles they managed to avoid, and they did not meet my Olaf. It can be seen that he is in such depths where access was denied to them.
And now, two thousand years later, I found out that you appeared, and you have to go from here to the underworld. I visited the Valley of the Disciples, but I did not find you — you were flying away somewhere. I asked my descendant, your grandfather, to tell you that I want to meet with you. Can you guess why?"
It was cruel to remind me of Hell and give me errands there just because the opportunity turned up. But I decided that it was in the nature of the Varangians, and I should also show courage and loyalty to blood ties.
"Yes, I understand why you chose me. Tell me how I can recognize your husband and what should I tell him if I meet him?"
“Tell him that I love him as much as I loved him on earth and in hell. Tell him that we will certainly meet, at least at the Last Judgment. Also tell him, let him believe that husband and wife are one whole, and one half of the whole cannot forget the other half. — And it will not be difficult to recognize him: he has no right eye, but his surviving eye is as blue as the sky; two fingers are missing on the left hand, his little finger and his ring finger, his hair and beard are shaggy and red, and his nose is broken in two places. Two thousand years ago, he was still wearing a red cloak with a long gap in the back from the knife stab. His name is Olaf Redbeard. When you see him, you will know him immediately, there isn't anyone else like him!"
Having said everything she wanted to, Olga got up.
"Do you want," she said, "for me to show you the flower that I prepared as a gift for the Tsaritsa? Maybe you can help me finish it."
"What can I do! I have not done anything worthwhile in my life, all of it has gone, as it turned out now, to idle talk and idle deeds, I have not even learned to love ... And who is this Tsaritsa?"
"What a strange child has appeared at the end of our family, she doesn't know the heavenly rank of the Mother of God!"
"Well, if you had said it that way... I know the Mother of God, but without any ranks."
The gift turned out to be a flower growing in a pot of pinkish quartz, somewhat similar to an earthly lily of the valley, but with larger flowers, transparent and slightly pearlescent - not whiteness, but only a shadow of whiteness. Its curved stem swayed slightly, the bells rang.
"How do you like the smell?" Olga asked, and there was concern in her voice.
The scent of the flower was delightfully subtle, the scent of earthy lilies of the valley on a fresh May morning in comparison with it would have seemed like a rough perfumery.
"Well, what do you think?"
"In my opinion, this is perfection itself!"
"Your flower is beautiful, Great-Grandma!" Alyosha supported me. Olga sighed:
"Well ... Would you like to fly with me to the Queen of Heaven's place to give Her the gift?"
"Great-Grandma!" I exclaimed. "Will they let me go there? I am unworthy, I am an outcast ..."
"The Queen of Heaven has not rejected anyone yet. Let's go! There is nothing more I can do with this flower."
Olga lifted the pink pot with her gift, easily rose into the air and flew towards the exit from the Crystal Valley, and Alyosha and I followed her.
After a rather long flight, we found ourselves above a huge park and sank into a clearing among trees, tall and flowering. I immediately noticed that white and blue flowers predominate here. Olga said that these are the favorite colors of the Mother of God.
Angels and people were moving along the white paths of the park in different directions. We walked along one of the alleys, then around the bend a magnificent palace of marble lace appeared in front of us. The fence around the palace and the wide-open high gates had the same lace-like appearance.
I did not notice where from or how it came, but as I approached the palace of the Tsaritsa, an incomprehensible feeling of love and sadness, a kind of piercing longing for something unknown and beautiful and dear, began to embrace and fill me. I stopped because there was no way for me to go any further: a little more, a few more steps, and my whole being would have burst and melted from this incomprehensible feeling.
I suddenly remembered Snegurochka's "Love or melt..." But it was only a faint hint of what was happening to me. I pressed both hands to my chest and knelt down.
"What's the matter with you, my child?" Olga exclaimed.
"What's wrong, Annushka?" Alyosha hugged me, trying to lift me off my knees.
"I can’t go on, it hurts so much right here!" I grabbed Alyosha's hand and pressed it to my chest. Great-Grandma also leaned towards me, not letting go of her flower. The wonderful plant swayed, the flowers trembled in fright and suddenly a short sad melody rang out distinctly. A cloud of a new fragrance splashed out from the quivering bells and enveloped our heads bowed towards each other - mine, Alyosha's and Great-Grandma's.
"That's it!" Olga exclaimed. "This is what the fragrance of my flower lacked! Can you hear this new shade?"
“A slight sorrow has become part of it,” said Alyosha. "But there is even more love, although now it is a sad love."
"This is what I was looking for, I could not name it correctly. Now my gift is completely ready: this flower will speak of the love of the Mother of God for all people."
"This is a little bit my gift too, right, Great-Grandma?" I asked imploringly. "Now I know that I love the Mother of God, and I want her to know that!"
"I'll tell her. Are you coming with me?" I shook my head.
"I don't dare go to the palace. Let's say goodbye here, dear Great-Grandma, it's time for my brother and me to return. I love you and I will not forget your request!"
"I love you too, Anna, and I will pray for you." Here we parted: Olga went straight to the white gate, and Alyosha and I flew back to our Valley.
The whole family and my Angel were already waiting for us.
Seeing me, he said to Grandfather:
"It was in vain that you let Anna go without me. I didn't want her to be sad today!"
"I think that this acquaintance was necessary," said Grandfather. "Tell us, Alyosha, how was your meeting with Olga?"
When Alyosha had told everything, and about the flower for the Mother of God, too, the Angel and Grandfather, and after them all the others were delighted and cheerful. Katya and Nina brought another pie with delicious jam of unknown origin, Grandfather took out glasses and wine, and that evening we were not sad anymore.
The next morning I said goodbye to everyone.
I cried, because we were parting until the Last Judgment. Goodbye, goodbye, beautiful Valley, goodbye, all my relatives!
Only my Guardian Angel undertook to guide me on this terrible, unknown path.
He picked me up, and we climbed over Grandfather's church, over the roof of our lovely house, made a farewell circle over the lake and the Valley and began to climb higher and higher. Then we turned steeply to the West and entered the thick clouds. The angel rocked me in his arms and softly hummed some kind of prayer, and I cried, hugging his shoulder.
Source: Мои посмертные приключения (Russian)
*For a time, those who were destined for salvation were kept in Hades. John the Baptist went to hell after his death to preach about the Savior who came to earth. The Orthodox Church sings in the troparion written in his honor: “The memory of the righteous with praises, you are enthused by the testimony of the Lord, Forerunner: you are truly the most honest of the prophets, as if you were honored by the Preached in the streams of baptism. By the same, having suffered for the truth, rejoicing, you preached to those in hell the good news of God in flesh, taking away the sin of the world and giving us great mercy. "
** Jesus Christ Himself descended into hell with His Divine soul to sinful souls and stayed there three days before the Resurrection. As St. John Damascene writes: “The deified soul (of Jesus Christ) descended into hell, so that as on earth the Sun of righteousness would shine, so under the earth the light would illuminate those who sit in darkness and the shadow of death; so that, as on earth, Christ proclaims peace, forgiveness to the captives and sight to the blind,... so He did in hell, ... and thus setting those free who had been chained throughout the ages, He finally rose from the dead, showing us the way to salvation. " (John Damascene. Accurate exposition of the Orthodox faith, book. 3, ch. 29).