The young Orthodox priest Alexey rode through a snowstorm in a sleigh towards the new place of his ministry, shielding himself from the wind and frost by a not too suitable for this canvas, which was once used for covering hay. Some of that hay, left in the sleigh, was very helpful, protecting Alexey from the fierce cold.
A man who had agreed to take Alexey to a village where he was to live and serve from now on from time to time threw scattered curses against the weather and heated himself with moonshine.
A small village at the foothills of Urals, where Alexey was sent, was for him a sort of place of exile.
… But so recently Moscow life was in the very center of the events taking place in the country; studying in the Spassky Monastery, and then in the Greco-Latin Academy of Semyon Polotsky, just created on the model of European universities. Then — ordination in the presence of priests close to the royal court… This promised a bright future…
… And now — everything had collapsed!
At first, his guardian educator died — the honest and wise man. He led all the property affairs of Alexey. And Alexey — an orphan from a noble and rich family — was free from all the fuss of managing estates.
Alexey directed all his aspirations only to the spiritual. He chose for himself the way of monastic service to God — because from childhood he had dreams and intentions only about this.
After the death of the guardian, without thinking twice, Alexey handed over all his property and money — to the church and then took monastic vows. After all, “it is difficult for a rich man to enter the Kingdom of Heaven”. And very soon after that — everything happened: disgrace, exile…
It was painful for Alexey to remember this… After all, only considerable money and the lands that had belonged to him before — were very strongly needed by those who ordered the removal of his presence from Moscow… Each of them hastened to appropriate as much of this earthly good as possible…
And also — a young and passionate preacher for the transfiguration of spiritual life was disliked…
And now, everything has collapsed: all his dreams of transforming church life, all thoughts of doing good deeds to the glory of God at large, now so humiliated…
… Now he has become one of those who will never be able to change anything in the life of the church and the country as a whole…
… But it seemed… The bitter thoughts about his sad fate — like a gray fog — whirled in Alexey’s head:
“Now I’m nobody… I’m like a snowflake in this blizzard… And what’s the difference: will it melt now — or freeze in a snowdrift and wait for its end in spring?…
“Maybe to stay in some county town? To start another life? And no one will ever know: where I disappeared, what became of me?
“… But why? There is no reason!… Because not to that the soul rushed! After all, by its deep aspiration, I chose the monastic path!
“Or, perhaps, God needs my bitter fate for some reason?
“How many questions! And no answers!…”
From time to time Alexey mentally returned to the last weeks of his metropolitan life, remembered fiery speeches he spoke before many of his friends and mentors. It seemed to him that his words ignited other people’s love for God and the desire to transform the spiritual life countrywide. Alexey was sure that he knew how it could and should be done! If only those, who rule the life of the church, could hear it, so that they will tell the king about this…
And that’s — they heard…
… He recalled the last conversation with the one who announced to him the expulsion from Moscow. The mocking look on the speaker’s face, his arrogant tone of the “winner” in this life, always knowing on which side to stand in the intrigues of the courtiers — for him both to survive and advance…
“Now you’ll go,” — he said, — “to get liberation from your heretical thoughts and repent! That’s — the elder Nicholas also tried to reform everyone, wanted ‘to expel traders from the temples’… Nothing happened! He has come to reason! Even one word from him now is not heard each year…”
“What’s wrong in non-covetousness, if that is what Jesus commanded?”
“So we worry not about our own wealth! But about the richness of church! And you — blame! And it’s — a sin!”
… Alexey really caught himself on condemning thoughts, because he often saw the rich decor of the dwelling of the speaker, saw him eating food during fasts in great abundance: “with the blessing and for the correction of the weakness of the body”. Only what kind of infirmity it is? The abdomen is round, the cheeks are glossy with fat…
“Am I condemning? Was I offended?”
… “Love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who offend you and persecute you!”
Alexey tried to go into prayer.
The wind died down, the snowfall was over, everything began to sparkle in the light of the sun that had struggled out from behind the clouds.
Beauty and silence are snowy!
… The driver stopped the sleigh:
“There’s no more road, walk on foot!”
“How is it no?”
“No and was not! In the summer here is a path, but now — so go!”
“But where is the village?”
“And the village is not! All the people have long been relocated to the iron-ore plant. There are only a few houses left. Those, who are unfit for work in mines and smelting furnaces, are the only ones who live out their days here.”
… The driver waved his hand towards the crooked and blackened huts that were visible in the distance.
Then he turned to the other side and pointed out the direction in which Alexey was to go:
“Do you see the cross over the treetops? So go to it! There — the skit. And the elder Nicholas lives there.”
… Alexey took the bag with his modest belongings, fitted it to his back and walked in the direction of that cross.