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The books "My Job is a Healer".

Chapter 1
I HAVE GOT A FRIEND!

For me, it all started when I was about four. One day we were playing ball with a girl next door on the second-floor balcony of the two-storey old wooden building on the outskirts of Kemerovo. The girl was older than I and I could hardly catch the ball. One of her throws made me move backwards sharply. I struck my back against the wooden balcony railings which had probably completely rotted out since they caved in from the blow of my feather-weight body. So, I fell down on my back from the second floor. I remember only the fall and the flop as though I were sharply shaken. I came to in a completely unknown white room with a dull light bulb under the high ceiling. I started to call my mom, but instead of her an unfamiliar woman dressed in a white gown came up to me, patted my cheek and said, Thanks Goodness, back to his senses, brave young man.

My mom came in the morning, she was all in tears but not sad anymore, and she smothered me with kisses. As she told me later, I was lying unconscious for the whole week, which did not please my doctor at all. I stayed at the hospital for some time, and then my mom took me back home. I was not allowed to get up, so I spent the entire cold winter of 1944 in bed. My mom used to go to work, and I was lying wrapped up in blankets in the cold dark room, under the care of the old lady next door who came to see me from time to time. If you are only four and you are cold and bored for a long time having no one to complain to, finally youll invent something. So did I. I invented a FRIEND. We started playing, talking, singing. That way we shortened the hours of waiting for my moms coming back home.

Then I recovered, and a little later the winter was over. But even better my FRIEND was still with me. We were growing up, discovering many new interesting things, and we always had many topics to talk about. At first, my muttering scared my mom. She felt relieved only after the woman next door, who was a professor, said that for a young boy some mischief is quite normal. Besides, mom recollected that her grandfather used to mutter something under his breath. Even in his old age he was a big happy-go-lucky fellow, and I seemed to have inherited his feature. Because of this trait of his, peers used to shun him, but it didnt stop me. So, I was growing up as a mutterer. We were having fun, we were having a good time, enjoying ourselves as much as we could. What else could a five-year-old person dream of?

When I was five, we were celebrating the New Year together; even my dad came back from the war. It stuck in my mind that everybody stood up and clanged glasses together when the Soviet Union national anthem played on the radio. Everybody, except our cat called Manya who was lying next to me and sleeping despite the bustle of the celebration. I tried to make her get up, but she flatly refused to do so. The adults started laughing either at me or at Manya, which I didnt like very much.

After the celebration, my FRIEND and I sat down to hold a council, and we decided that we had to teach Manya good manners. The Soviet Union anthem thundered every morning over our heads as my mom was afraid to oversleep and be late for work. So, just to be on the safe side, she adjusted the volume of the radio to its maximum level. That made everyone jump up with the first sounds of the anthem. Everybody except Manya. My FRIEND and I managed to persuade her to rear onto her hind legs while the anthem was on by means of explaining the significance of the music followed by dragging the cat by ears. Manya learnt the lesson well. Since that time, whenever she heard the sound of the anthem which was on very often that time, she snapped to attention and was standing that way till its last sound.

The display of the cats patriotism scared my mom a lot. She was afraid that could lead to a visit from some serious people who would take us away to a very cold and unfriendly place. So, my mom had to buy an alarm-clock and turn the radio off, thus making that problem disappear. We were sleeping with my FRIEND together. To be more precise I was sleeping and he was sitting next to me. Sometimes, when I woke up at night, I saw some nebulous spots which took different shapes they were round at times or long and twisted like a thick rope. They happened to make faces at me and tried to reach me. But every time they started approaching, they were immediately thrown aside as if they were hit, obviously displeased. I knew for sure that it was HIS doing, and I felt reassured and comfortable.

The next winter HE really came to my rescue for the first time.

The old building where we used to live was separated from the industrial area with a fence made of thick metal rods. In the middle of the winter in bitter cold we were sliding down a slope on wooden crates with their bottoms specially iced to make them extra-slippery. The slope led to the fence, and while sliding we had to roll off the crate just at the right moment in order not to smash into the fence. It was a funny and exciting pastime, a lot of kids were tumbling about in the snow, crates with new participants flying in from above, everyone was making a fuss and yelling.

Trying to climb out of the snowbank, a boy grabbed my hand and pulled my mitten off, flinging it outside the fence. The mitten went through the fence and landed about half a meter on the other side. Any adult could pick it up easily, but I decided to do that by myself. I kept reaching for it until I finally got my head in between the rods and realized I couldn't get it back out. I wasnt worried at first. But then I realized that this wasn't a game anymore. I started calling out for help. To run around in freezing temperatures for half an hour is one thing but to get stuck in the fence is quite something else. My hands and feet started freezing, especially the hand without the mitten. I was shouting at the top of my lungs, but everyone around me was shouting too, so nobody paid attention to me. Faced with my own powerlessness, I, unexpectedly even for myself, turned to my FRIEND, Help me, or Ill freeze. I heard in response, Pull the rods, Ill help. I started pulling, they moved apart and I could pull my head free. Still excited, I did reach my mitten through the bent rods. At that point the women standing at the top of the slope saw me and rushed to help. Once there, they were surprised to see the thick rods bent and me rubbing my frozen hand with snow and heading off home. Later, the security officer from the factory came to my mom to ask where I got such a supernatural force from. She told him that I could have nothing else but supernatural folly. He ended up accepting that explanation for a lack of a better one.

Later, my mom, I and our cat Manya moved to Kharkov where we found so many new things that my FRIEND and I literally gushed with admiration. Manya quickly adjusted herself to the new surroundings and completely switched to self-sustainment. We lived on the second floor of a big four-storey house; there was a ledge about 30 cm wide running the entire perimeter of the building. It was too narrow for walking, but just the right size for storing food. This was late 1940s, mind you, and we didn't have fridges so storing food on the ledge in the cold was the obvious solution. It turned to be very beneficial for Manya. She used to leave late at night through the vent, and by the morning she would always be peacefully sleeping on her bedding. At home she only drank water, and my mom thought she was fully satisfied with mice that she caught. My FRIEND and I had another opinion in this respect but keeping in with our friendship with Manya, we didnt say a word. I could never understand how nobody caught on to her tricks, but my FRIEND said that she only takes a little and makes sure to close the lids when she's done. Manya was a very clever cat; she possibly could do that, so I stopped worrying about the problems of her subsistence. Though it did occur to me on more than one occasion that I wouldn't mind getting out onto the ledge with all those tasty saucepans.

The first cutlet appeared unexpectedly. Once in the morning, I woke up and found it right next to me, literally under my nose. It smelled so delicious that I ate it immediately. The people who lived next door on the same floor were wealthy, even rich that time. Apart from us, all who used to live on the second floor were bosses. Thus, one of our neighbors was a regional militia superintendent, another, whose apartment occupied half a section of the building, was Polevskoy, a plant director. Our other neighbors were also some important people.

For Manya and me the lean 1947 was not lean at all. But one event still got my attention. One day I woke up earlier than usual at dawn, and I saw Manya jump through the vent holding a small piece of meat in her teeth. Then, reluctantly, she brought it to me, put it down, and then reached for it again as if she wanted to take a bite. Suddenly, she was thrown back like the shadows that I used to see falling asleep. Displeased, she turned away from me and the meat, and with an air of indifference went back to her spot. I realized that there was something unusual going on and in the evening I asked my FRIEND point-blank if it was his doing. He answered something along the lines of nature not providing cats with good conscience but he was working hard to improve the situation. I am not sure his attempts paid off as Manya was soon caught red-handed (red-pawed?) and she had to switch to catching mice. Wishing to treat me to something delicious, she started bringing mice to me every morning, but they were immediately thrown back at the cat who was resting after a long night of hunting. Apparently, Manya was unaware of the intricacies of human cuisine. Finally, having figured out that mice were not a delicacy for people, she stopped her efforts.

After the war everybody was very nervous and therefore angry. That is why all the boys were always fighting, fighting bitterly, to blood. All the boys but me. Throughout all my childhood I did not fight a single time. I could not understand why I had to beat somebody up when I would never want that to happen to me. To my mothers surprise, other kids never tried to beat me up. Though there was one exception. In our school we had many "over-grown" students, called that way because they had missed classes during the war and after returning to school they were two to four years older then their classmates. Thus, there were kids of different ages in the neighborhood, too. A huge guy Vovka Basov with a strange nickname Mushlya used to frequent our neighborhood. Everybody was terrified of him because of his exceptional strength and unexpected fits of rage. He didn't fight often, but when he did, he was very mean. His favorite thing was to creep up behind a smaller kid (like myself) and kick him in the ass as hard as he could. The kid would fly away somersaulting and Vovka would be laughing his head off. I knew it would be my turn at some point, and I should at least try to turn sideways and block with my arm. I always watched Mushlya out of the corner of my eye, which he knew and therefore didn't mess with me, since he really valued surprise in what he did. Finally, he got his chance.

In our neighborhood every day we played football. We assigned players to our neighborhood teams at random, and we took turns refereeing to make sure rules are enforced and there's no fighting. Everybody had to obey the referee whether they liked it or not. On that day I was appointed the referee. The game started. I was standing on a pile of scrap bricks, from which I could see the entire game. I was whistling, calling penalties, keeping score, in other words, I was doing everything I had to do as a referee. All of a sudden the game came to an abrupt stop. Everybody froze for a moment looking at me and then people burst out laughing hysterically. I could understand nothing until I heard a blood-curdling howl behind me. Looking back, I saw Mushlya lying on the ground clutching his leg, howling like a jackal in an American film about cowboys. Turns out, he came into our yard through the fence which was right behind me, saw the opportunity and got ready to perform his master stroke. Fortunately, my FRIEND was wide on the alert, and Mushlyas foot rammed with all his might into the pile of bricks where I was standing. He had broken every bone in his foot that could be broken, to the greatest pleasure of all the boys who had been kicked by Mushlya before. Mushlya spent a very long time in the hospital and afterwards completely fell off our radar.

Sometimes, though, things went well beyond a sore ass. Right in front of our home there was a big house almost destroyed by bombing and fire. Above the second floor only charred walls remained. The burnt house was surrounded by a board fence, where holes for exciting expeditions could be easily made. The best part about it was that in the basement of that destroyed building we could find a great deal of extremely interesting and useful things, ranging from a German officer sabre and rusty Schmeisser to large-calibre cartridges full of high-quality powder, and aluminum flasks with screw caps. On the eve of one of such trips I clearly heard my FRIENDs voice, Dont go there, it is dangerous.

I was just having breakfast, mom was in the kitchen, and everything necessary for the trip namely hammer, chisel, flashlight and rope had been already packed. Dont go there. It is dangerous, the voice in my ears kept on. Yeah, right! I answered aloud. No sooner had I pronounced those words than my moms favourite vase fell off the piano in the middle of the room and broke to pieces with a deafening crash. Just as I rushed to the piano to see what pushed it, my mom ran into the room. My explanations were completely useless, everything was clear, so, I was grounded for the entire day. The trip did not take place without my flashlight. Two hours later the building was cordoned off and destroyed in a controlled demolition, out of my window I could see the big walls sinking in clouds of dust. I was greatly impressed by the scene I saw, and later I never argued with my FRIEND when he insisted on something. I obediently followed all his advice (if it was possible).

Quite often the troubles happened to me so quickly that my FRIEND had no time to say a word. The only thing left for him was to eliminate the problem rather than warn me about it. In my teen-ager time there was a great deal of funny stories, each of which could result in major drama. One of them happened during a physical training lesson, when I was in ninth grade. Boys were doing exercises on parallel bars, and girls were doing some gymnastics on the mats. It was a warm May day, and all the girls were wearing shorts and tank tops. Definitely, girls were much more interesting than some parallel bars. I mean, for a normal ninth grader, which I happened to be at the time.

I was never sports and competition minded. Nevertheless, when it was my turn, I had to climb on the bars and start swinging there. At the beginning of the lesson our physical education instructor showed what we had to do. He adroitly jumped on the bars, swung to and fro and after the forward swinging movement he jumped off over the left bar. I still remember that this exercise is called front swing dismount. Well, I started swinging to and fro, needless to say, watching the girls all the while. The instructor was shouting, Intensive swing! Intensive swing!. At the same time, the girls were doing such breathtaking tricks that I could not remove my eyes. Now dismount!

That's where I slipped up. I should have been looking at the bars, but I was looking at the girls, and my dismount went wrong. Instead of jumping on the ground, my tailbone landed directly with sharpshooter accuracy on a thing which is called adjustment screw. It sticks out from one side of the bar; it is used to adjust its height. It was very unpleasant, I even fell down. Lying on the floor, I heard all the class burst out laughing, including the instructor. I felt offended, and I did not understand why they were laughing. I fell down, hurt myself, was it so funny? I looked up and saw that they were not even looking at me but at the bars. First, I saw nothing special about the bars, but later I noticed that the adjustment screw that is a thing with a thread of not less than a centimeter in diameter with a big round knob at its end was bent at an angle of 90 degrees. You're one hell of a hard-ass, Novikov, said the instructor while everybody was laughing. You broke the equipment. Where on Earth shall I get a new screw from?

My FRIEND replied to him (in my head), I want to see your ass after it hit that screw, or whatever remained of it. Poor idiot, how they can entrust the children to your care! Unfortunately, the instructor could not hear that. As for me, my FRIEND tactfully noticed that he would have to save the bottom part of my back not a single time from extreme passion for the opposite sex. However, he would prefer me to be more self-disciplined. Life proved how right he was.

If you are twenty-two, you successfully passed a very difficult examination session and got the scholarship and you have a summer full of freedom in front of you, apparently you would be happy, too. From my parents perspective, my zealous studying deserved all-round approval and support. In addition they were not thrilled about my latest flame who was five year older than I, besides, she was married. Thus, it is understandable that they gave me a crazy sum of money (by our family's standards) one hundred roubles and told me to go on a long vacation. I gathered all my simple belongings and kissed my parents goodbye before they had a chance to change their mind. Then I was off to the train station, trusting my heart to choose my destination. I left things to chance, and everything fell into place. The first announcement on the radio when I came into the railway station was, Train Riga-Simferopol arrives at the first platform.

There were seats available on the train and I was right on time. In my compartment there were a couple of nice pensioners from Voronezh and a sad blond lady who was sitting comfortably with a book in her hand on the upper berth. As soon as the train began to move, my innate refinement inquired whether I could suggest my lower berth to her. Even a mammoth would have fallen down bedazzled by her thankful look.

We went for a smoke, had coffee in the dining car, went for a smoke again, had dinner and kept talking, talking and talking until our arrival in Simferopol with only a short break for sleeping. Alina, that was the ladys name, had a slightest Baltic accent, she was finishing her studies at the school of foreign languages, was engaged and was getting married in autumn. However, she had nothing against establishing and strengthening friendly contacts with fraternal republics on conditions of complete independence and equality of rights. Definitely, I was very much pleased; I literally was melting like a piece of butter in the oven. I followed her the whole way to the holiday hotel and rented a small room in the house for its staff.

Instinct and intuition without any assistance of friendly supernatural forces prompted me that the only right strategy was gentle friendship and respect, especially at the beach, where, she complained, she got so many filthy looks it would take her half an hour to wash them off. We spent the whole week together without even as much as holding hands, to say nothing of kissing. I was modest, deferential, courteous like a knight and a little sad at times. If a woman is given all the initiative, at first, she is very happy, then starts wondering what to do with it all, then starts verifying her guesses and ends up doing the very things she expressly intended not to do from the outset. We started walking along the coast farther and farther and once my fair lady confessed with quiet shyness that it had always been her dream to meet the sunrise high over the sea.

The moment of truth is always beautiful in its unexpectedness. Rucksack, hatchet, blankets, trip itinerary, food and a bottle of red wine materialized themselves, and the next day after breakfast we went to meet destiny and the sunrise. Later events happened as if in a fairy tale the farther, the more interesting it got. My soul stood still with delight and soared as soon as we went out of the holiday house and was flying somewhere over us watching what was going on from above. Having done two nice halts, at about five p.m. we got to a picturesque glade on the highest plateau thousands kilometers away from the entire inhabited world. I gathered enough firewood for an entire winter, constructed a shelter to protect from unexpected flood and lighted a campfire. The night fell unexpectedly and cut us off from the rest of the world. There was a splendid camp party at the fire, some words and toasts through the fog of time and space, then the ocean of delight two oceans which wiped off everything on their way, becoming intertwined, to blow up the Universe with the flash of a new life. Later, everything disappeared.

The day was barely breaking when I opened my eyes. I got out from under the blanket and had a look around. The trees were cloaked in light mist, the fire burnt out, and everything stood still in the ringing silence of the morning. The birds were singing only in my soul, and the rest of the world was silent as if trying to hear their singing. My princess was sleeping calmly, smiling and smacking her lips. It was already daylight, but I did not dare to wake her up. I decided to meet the sunrise alone and later to tell her how it all happened. The place to meet the sunrise was chosen very carefully; we did it so well that I had to cover the distance of about 300 meters to reach the nearest place where the sunrise could be seen. But it was worth it. The endless sea disappearing in the haze, some tiny ships in the beams of the rising sun created an illusion of unreality, fabulousness of the current events. Yalta could not be seen, it was covered from view by the smooth slope of the mountain. No sooner had I made several steps forward to watch what was beneath than I heard the voice, Stop! Its very dangerous. I could hear him well and tried to stop, but that time driven by my emotions rather than reason, my feet made automatically some more steps and the ground opened under me!

I slid down for about five meters and stopped myself by grabbing onto a thin shrub, barely anchored in the slope. I understood that I ended up on a rockslide, which meant the end of my short and not very bright biography. There were about twenty meters of a relatively smooth slope below, and about two hundred meters of a vertical cliff. The sun was rising, the birds were singing, there was a bitter smell of the grass and of something earthy dragging at my heart-strings, and I and my bush were sliding down to the abyss. Help me, dear! I croaked to my FRIEND.

Dont move. That's the most important thing, he replied, and try to dig your other hand in as deep as possible. I cant get you out but I will support you. In ten minutes you will be saved. Ten minutes seemed to be an eternity for me. At last I heard a squeak overhead and I screamed, Help! From above the slope over my head I saw an unshaven face with a cap pulled over the eyes. That was one of the best visions in my life. Wait, Ill be back, the man with the cap shouted to me as if I could stand up and walk away.

In a couple of minutes a pair of reins fell right on my head, and I grabbed them like a condemned man grasps for the last chance in his life. The man with the cap together with a plump woman, his companion, dragged me up onto the solid ground. There was a cart with cans nearby and an unharnessed horse next to the cart. My legs were trembling, I simply couldnt stand. The only thing that I could do was to say Thank you and to fold my hands in a strange way and sitting to bow awkwardly to the ground. Are you a Muslim? asked the man. No, Im not, I replied with my lips shivering. Its strange. But you thank in a way we do, he noticed humorously. I wonder where the Tatar family could come from in the Crimea in 1962. I have since kept a sincere gratitude and affection for the Tatars throughout my entire life. They harnessed their horse and went on, and I couldnt get over it for a long time, I was so happy that I was alive, that my life would continue the next day and that I would have many other different experiences later in my life.

When I finally got over it, for the first and only time in my life my FRIEND gave me a severe dressing down. Everything I had heard from my mom, dad and my dean all together was nothing compared to my FRIENDs emotional lecture. His main point was that I should always use my head for thinking rather than my organ of producing future generations, and if I didnt care about myself, I should think of my mom, dad and of him, namely my FRIEND, who really cared about me. In that one speech he apparently said more words than for the whole previous life. Eventually, he had mercy on me and said, Ok! Go back! Otherwise, she will go to look for you and will get into another mess.

When I was back, the princess had already woken up and was enthusiastically cooking coffee having no doubts that I was nearby. On seeing my confused face and hearing my story about my misadventures, she immediately understood that she first had to give me some coffee and than to calm me down. Taking into account that the most effective and powerful sedative we had available was right that one you are thinking about now, we started doing that vigorously deeply realizing the importance of positive emotions. At 22 the method fight fire with fire is very effective and even giggling that could hardly be heard at times could not distract me from the breathtaking beauty of what was going on.

We came down quickly without much effort and were back to the holiday house by lunchtime. I fell asleep after lunch. Alinas roommate knocking on my door woke me up. Excitedly, she told me that Alinas fiance had arrived and Id better not disturb her. The next morning she went away and disappeared forever from my life. In about ten years I was in Riga and wanted to see her. But my FRIEND contrary to his rule not to interfere with life advice persistently remarked that if God had arranged everything that way, I mustnt insist and interfere with the things I was not asked for. Id better go to the cathedral and pray for Alina and her daughter who were in difficult situation that time. He always liked praying very much. In contrast, I did not share his affection, however, I didnt object. Cathedral it is, I said, and that's what we ended up doing.

Life was going on, and I could not imagine how I could ever do without my FRIEND. Time after time he saved me from different tricky situations where I got into endlessly. In summer 1972, having sent my wife and sons to have a rest to Eupatoria, I managed to take a several-day leave and joined them two or three weeks later. I drove my car there; my intention was to stay with them for several days and to take them back to Kharkov. It was very hot and my wife worried how the children would endure the trip. I decided that it would be better to drive back at night, first, because it was not hot, second, there was less traffic on the road.

It is not so easy to have a rest before a drive when you have two little sons. Packing for travel, loading, saying goodbye to numerous new acquaintances all those things were very tiresome for me, I was already exhausted before the drive. Finally, we got under way, everybody calmed down and started dozing, and chaos subsided. I have always liked a night drive, soft music is playing and you are driving in the headlights beam as a pilot in a free flight. After our departure from Crimea it was getting nasty, and when we were about half way home, the weather became villainous. It was foggy, it started drizzling, the rain made the road slick. Under those weather conditions my car with smooth tires could play any tricks on the road, especially where the tractors drove from the fields onto the asphalt. The visibility was not more than 30 meters. Finally, I started following a big truck with bright marker lights which was driving rather slowly, and I covered like that most of the way. Later, either the driver was bored with the lights from behind as I had rather bright headlights or he decided to have a rest, but the truck driver pulled over on the side of the road and stopped there. I continued on.

Everybody was sleeping in the car; I was travelling at 70 km/h and caught up with a Lada which was driving even slower than I was. There were about eighty kilometers to reach Kharkov, it was after three a.m., and I decided not to pass the Lada, and I followed it at a very slow speed. The day will be breaking soon and we will get home quickly, I thought. Suddenly I heard my FRIENDs voice, Pull over on the side of the road right now and have a rest. I had the grace not to argue, I had done it for many years, and I immediately did everything the way he was telling me to. I pulled over, stopped and shut off the engine, but left marker lights on, and then I got out of the car and wiped them off, and the headlights, too. I got back in the car and fell asleep.

When I woke up, it was already daylight. I got out of the car, stretched, had a smoke and slowly got under way. In about five hundred meters I saw many people and cars with an ambulance among them. The people crowded the right side of the road examining something big in the ditch. I stopped a short distance from that crowd and got out of the car. At that time another ambulance drove up to the crowd and turned on the siren. The people parted to let it pass. Over the shoulders of the people standing there I saw a terrible scene a truck was lying on its side in the ditch with boxes of tomatoes scattered all around and a smashed Lada in front of it. It was the same car I was following the previous night. I remembered well two sixes on its number. The truck crossed into the oncoming lane and smashed head-on into it. I thought about the children behind my back and I started shivering. Why? I am next to you, I heard the voice. Suddenly I burst into tears and in a fit of anger asked where were their FRIENDS, motioning toward the bodies covered with sheets. They were shouting to them, he replied calmly, but nobody could hear them.

Year after year my FRIEND displayed more and more admiration to sacred places and prayer. In Kiev Pechersk Lavra caves he was so fascinated that I could hardly stand risking being uplifted from his admiration. In the icon hall of the Tretyakov Gallery we had been sitting for three hours until the attendant sent us out because the working day was over. In Italy my companions dragged me out of ancient cathedrals by hands suspicious that something was wrong with my head. Several times I got embarrassed because of this particularity of his.

A friend of mine Vasia Arestov was a Deputy Authorized Representative on Religion of the Kharkov region executive board. So, everybody who widely promoted the Faith in God deeply loved him like a father. One of the reasons why he was so deeply loved was the fact that his boss was a real bloodsucker and a torturer of church servants. As for Vasya, he was very kind, and thus he was their only protection from the Barking Beast, their patron and their Comforter. Aware of my interest in spiritual problems, once Vasia took me on a visit to a much respected hierarch, Metropolitan Nikodim of Kharkov and Bogodukhov, who he had a very warm relationship with. The owner was a very nice, refined and erudite man who had been to many countries, and had a deep knowledge of world and Ukrainian history and literature.

The welcome he accorded us cannot be described in a couple of words. The food was unbelievable. Nikodim Stepanovich managed all the actions with a golden bell, and some servants were running as if stung carrying delicatessens I only had known from hearsay. We felt as if we paid a visit to the British King. Toast after toast, the guests felt more and more relaxed, the owner started playing the piano and we started signing Ukrainian songs, which drew our souls even closer. In the moment of the highest elation the owner asked, Dear guest, would you like me to show you the most sacred things? Of course, wed love to! we howled in a chorus.

The most sacred thing turned out to be the owners room of worship, its area was not more than eight or nine square meters. All the walls of the room were covered with so fascinating icons that I felt giddy. The owner saw my sincere astonishment and delight and with paternal curiosity he asked, What do you think is the most sacred thing here? understanding without a doubt that we, the laity, would definitely give the wrong answer. You can imagine what my FRIEND was feeling, he stood still with fascination and when the tricky question was asked, he could not stand anymore and shouted in my ears, Of course, it is a small locker! I did not know for sure what a small locker meant, though I happened to come across this word combination in the books. I repeated aloud after my FRIEND either because of the alcohol that we had drunk and emotions or automatically, Of course, it is a small locker.

The owner stood still for a moment, got pale and replied with dignity, Right you are. It is a small locker. He went to the corner of the room and unveiled something standing there which looked like a high stool covered with a brightly coloured rag. There was a wooden box in the middle of which there were compartments like in a chocolate box. Instead of chocolates there were either some small rags or bones or something else that we could not see well. This is my pride, he said in a grand manner, these are holy relics that I have been collecting for all my life.

There was a lot of heat from the small locker like from the fireplace. He kept it open for some moments, closed it and covered it again. Now, dear guests, I am sorry, but I am tired and I would like to have a rest. His face dramatically changed, he was completely sober and cold like a steel fist which unexpectedly lost the kid glove. Even Vasias position could not add him diplomatic tactfulness. Our warm and friendly visit abruptly came to an end without any tea with sweets and friendly goodbye words. Even the most enlightened and cleverest reverend fathers are sincerely convinced that the laymans task is to listen gently to the things he is told and to follow them unflinchingly. As for trying to reach God and holiness without supervision, that is a complete heresy and blasphemy and as such, is strictly prohibited.

My FRIEND had quite a dissenting opinion, and he always repeated that to pray is of vital importance and that prayer is all-powerful. I perceived his words in an abstract and theoretical way as his personal ideas until the first incident happened.


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