Once a year, in the summer, Alexey went to the town, where there was a trade in salt. This town on the way to Siberia originated near the salt deposit, and therefore it had a commercial development.
Alexey bought here that little — which in his with the elder Nicholas’ life — was necessary. Also he sent letters, which the elder ordered, and supplications from other people of the village if there were any to send. For these few days in the town, he stayed with the local clerk or the voivode. He made papers for various people coming with their problems, and for that he had a stock of ink, paper, and a little money — for their needs with the elder: the same salt, for example — so that mushrooms and vegetables should be preserved for the winter.
But this summer, it was not possible to do it.
It was already late autumn, when Alexey, having completed all the economic affairs in the hermitage, went to the town. Everything went well there.
Alexey returned in a joyous mood. It was easy in the heart because of the feeling that a small benefit was given to people by his advice and help, although not great. It was from deeds and his words to the people with which he had conversations.
The weather was clear, the first frost took hold of the roads that had been sodden from the rains, and it was easy to walk.
The sun — as if in a farewell caress — stroked by its rays the last golden leaves on the birches…
… Robbery on the roads was in those days unsurprising.
People fled to the forests from penal servitude, from conscription, from monasteries off the cruel foundations of the “new faith” or fanaticism of the “old faith”, fled both from the brutality of landowners and new factory owners of mining. They found shelter in the taiga distances, but some of them got into gangs and looked for livelihood on the roads of trade.
* * *
Four robbers attacked Alexey.
The robbers were angry because Alexey had nothing to steal… Salt and paper a bit — that was all. They began to brutally beat him, taking out their malice to the whole world and for their life — broken, hopeless…
Then they threw the body of Alexey, beaten almost to death, in the ravine…
“It would be necessary to kill him! He will report, an investigation will be done!” — the leader of the bandits said.
“Relax! As it is everywhere they patrol for! And I do not want to take the sin of killing on myself!” — replied a broad-shouldered, grim-looking robber, the tallest and strongest of the attackers.
“Are you righteous? Do you want to stay clean? It will not work!” — the leader spat with anger.
He held out the ax to the broad-shouldered:
… Alexey calmly and clearly realized that here it is — the hour of death.
He was not afraid of death. He even somehow was delighted that now it will all end and he, perhaps, will see Jesus, he will know everything that he did not know, but would like to know, he would understand what has not yet been understood…
He said, speaking to the robbers, the words that he forgives them the pain and death that they cause.
Alexey began to say prayers for the forgiveness of sinners for their ignorance, for what they are doing. Understanding that now his prayer for these erring ones is something small that he can do, added calmness. About the enlightenment and salvation of the souls of sinners who have lost the ability to love in the spiritual darkness, Alexey’s words flowed from the depths of his being. He turned to Jesus, Who was, probably, the One Who knows how to help them, these unhappy…
The robber, standing with the ax in hand, listened in surprise, then dropped the ax:
“I cannot… You kill this blessed one…”
“What? Are you pulled back to ‘schismatics’? Where was it, your ‘faith’, when you came to me? Look, maybe his God will save him — for being a monk and ‘pincher’ who does not cross with a double-finger? Or will not save? Well? To test? In my hands — now is his life!”
… The leader approached, took the ax, wanted to swing and… suddenly met by his eyes a clear, as if radiant and surprisingly calm look of Alexey.
He was surprised and did not finish off too…
The three accomplices silently looked on at what was happening.
The leader asked Alexey:
“If you are so brave, will you join our gang? Then I’ll save your life! I need courageous!”
“No, not for that life is given…”
“Do you know what for?”
“Right now — ‘in the world beyond’ — maybe I’ll find out…”
… The leader has spat, sworn…, but did not kill.
Alexey, bleeding, was left to die slowly in the ravine…
He crawled up to the road and went into coma.
* * *
Unexpected, indescribable and blissful peace embraced Alexey. The sensation of the body with the pain disappeared…
Alexey saw in the waving flame of candles the Face of Jesus on the icon. This Face suddenly began to revive. Jesus smiled to Alexey and held out His Hands to him! Alexey reached out to Him, but could not touch… Like a transparent wall was separating…
He saw the movements of Jesus’ moving lips: “I’m waiting for you, My son, but not now: you still need to cognize and do a lot!”
… Alexey heard or just understood these words… Jesus was watching — and the soul was filled with Love of Jesus! Alexey knew that this Love of Jesus is the Most Important!
Then he did not see or feel anything…
* * *
The elder Nicholas left the hermitage for the first time in fifteen years.
He came to that hut in the village, where the lame old man had the only horse in the whole district. Asked to harness:
“I’ll go to search for Alexey: trouble with him was done! Harness, for Christ’s sake!”
… The grim host of the horse harnessed his skinny mare to the cart without objection. He himself went with the elder.
… They found Alexey. The first snowstorm has already powdered the road with snow.
They found him — still alive. With difficulty they lifted the body and put it into the cart.
“Not a tenant,” — the lame old man shook his head gloomily… But he took off his quilted jacket and covered Alexey.
They started on the way back.
The elder Nicholas was silent. The head of Alexey rested on his laps. He carefully held his body: the cart shook violently on the frozen potholes.
Alexey’s deathly pale face was surprisingly calm and beautiful… The streaks of coagulated blood from the light-brown strands seemed to adorn the face…
Before the elder Nicholas, the Face of Jesus appeared with His Eyes penetrating into the depths of the soul. The elder Nicholas looked into Jesus’ Eyes and prayed: “May everything be according to Your Will, oh Lord!”
* * *
Alexey survived, but recovered slowly.
The elder Nicholas took care of him, like a small child. He fed Alexey with a spoon.
For a long time the elder stood before the icon, and tears glistened in his bright eyes…
Sometimes he sat next, and they were talking.
Alexey remembered that time as one of rest and happiness, despite the slow recovery of bodily health.
He almost did not feel the body, and the soul rejoiced because he was granted to see Jesus!
He told the elder:
“Maybe it’s just a vision, illusion of the disease… But as I recall — the heart is filled with happiness!”
“It’s not for me to judge about this… Here — Jesus saved your life, revealed Himself — and, therefore, there is good reason for that… He is aware of it, but not us, sinners…
“And that you saw Jesus — save in the heart. And do not talk about it to people in vain…
“Tests, including the infirmities of the flesh, are often given to us for the uplifting and strengthening of the soul!
“And to see your own death so close — this is a great gift from God!
“It’s good to summarize the results of the past and entrust the future to the Lord!”