So, after we had eliminated the dubious alternative of buying a false passport, or relying upon the mercy and understanding of government officials, or even of endlessly hiding Augustine in various apartments, we settled upon the trip to Georgia. After praying about it, Fr. Augustine agreed to go. Only one hindrance remained: I needed good reason to go to Georgia for a week. I considered it impossible to tell Vladyka Pitirim about the underground monk, Augustine, because I did not want to put him, a responsible Church hierarch, a man under continual surveillance by the secret services, in a difficult position.
Then, a thought came to me—to make a film about the unity between Russia and Georgia, within the framework of program preparation for the anniversary of one thousand years since the baptism of Russia. I have to say that the officials from the Council on Religious Affairs, that terrible and vigilant overseer of ecclesiastical life, had insisted several times that I make an ecumenist film. Having been raised in Pechory on monastic, resolute anti-ecumenism, I categorically refused all their proposals. But now, a plan had taken shape to present a film on the ecclesiastical unity of Georgia and Russia as something ecumenical, and thus obtain the Council’s support for the trip, and for the shooting.
I wrote the scenario in one night. The images in the film would be: the symbols of Russia, wheat and bread, and the symbols of Georgia, grapes and wine. Russian peasant farmers work the land, sew the grain, gather the harvest, grind the flour… In Georgia, peasant farmers dig the grape seed into the warm earth, a vine grows, they pick the bunches, crush the grapes with their feet in huge vats… It is all very beautiful, and you can feel that it is leading to some very important goal. Finally, the goal becomes clear—the highest aim of this ancient and great labor is the Liturgy, the Bread and Wine, the Holy Eucharist! This is our true unity.
Vladyka Pitirim really liked the scenario, and with his own talent was quickly able to convince the official from the Council on Religious Affairs that the long-awaited ecumenical film was finally being made. Had the bureaucrat been better educated, he would have understood that this scenario had nothing whatsoever to do with ecumenism; the Russian and Georgian Churches are both Orthodox, while ecumenism means communion with the heterodox.
But the main thing was that the problem of the trip to Georgia was immediately resolved; although another problem thereafter arose: before we could go to Georgia, we had to film a wheat harvest in Russia. Otherwise we would have to wait a whole year until the next harvest. This was a problem. It was already September, and in central Russia, never mind the south, all the wheat had long been gathered. I called the Ministry of Agriculture to find out where they were still harvesting wheat. But to my misfortune, they thought I was an investigator, and reported to me that the all the grain in the entire territory of the Soviet Union has been successfully harvested and poured into the silos. No matter how hard I tried to discover just one shabby, lazy collective farm, where footage of wheat harvesting could be filmed in September, the representatives of the Ministry of Agriculture withstood to the death, swearing that they would never allow such an outrage to happen. Finally, I got lucky: the editors of Agricultural Life took pity on me and told me that according to their information, the only place in the USSR where they were still gathering wheat would be in Siberia, or more precisely, in one of the regions of Omsk province; and if we were to fly there that very day, we could catch it.
That same evening, I and the camera man (whose name was, as I now recall, Valery Shaitanov), rushed off to Domodedovo airport, and managed to get on the next flight to Omsk. Meanwhile, Zurab Chavchavadze was supposed to buy tickets on the express train to Tbilisi, which would leave in two days. In those days, you did not have to show your passport to purchase a train ticket as you did for airplane tickets, and we would not have to worry about Augustine at boarding time.
Those in Omsk had been informed by the Council on Religious Affairs of our arrival, and were waiting there to drive us three hundred kilometers out of town to a collective farm where the wheat would be harvested for the next couple of days. The driver of Archbishop Maxim of Omsk, Deacon John, took us in the hierarchical “Volga” to that far-flung collective farm. The Archbishop himself was out of town. He had been recently transferred to one of the Belorussian dioceses by the Synod, and Archbishop Theodosy of Berlin had been appointed to replace him in Omsk. As they used to say then, he was “sent to Siberia to turn red.” However, he was apparently not in a hurry to “turn red,” and had not yet arrived. Therefore, Deacon John was the sole representative of ecclesiastical authority for us in Omsk diocese; he was also our driver.
Sheitanov and I filmed everything beautifully—the boundless wheat fields at sunset, the heaps of stalks, the happy harvesting with combines, the threshing floor, the golden grain, the peasants’ joyful, comely faces…
Toward evening, satisfied and tired, we set off in the archiepiscopal car for Omsk in order to fly back that night to Moscow. Tomorrow evening we would be leaving for Tbilisi. Sheitanov dozed in the back seat, while the deacon and I chatted about everything in the world. When all themes had been exhausted, the deacon said, “Please, talk with me about something—otherwise I will fall asleep at the wheel.”
I understood that he simply wanted to hear some stories from the capital city, and I did not refuse him that pleasure. I told him everything I could remember about Church life in Moscow, until I finally got to the story about how a swindler impersonating the son of the last Emperor had recently been hanging around Vladyka Pitirim. The deacon became animated:
“We also have swindlers around here! A year ago, a young fellow, an orphan, showed up at one of our churches. The babushkas took him in. He started helping out—chopping wood, cleaning candle stands, and then learned to acolyte and read on the cliros. He so gained the trust of the rector and warden that they even gave him money to pay a donation to the Peace Fund. This was on their Church patronal feast. Vladyka and I served the Vigil service there that day, and in the morning, when we came to the Liturgy, we found that the church had been robbed! That fellow had stolen the church money, taken the cross from the altar table, and much more…”
“Did he really take it from the altar table?” I said in amazement.
“Moreover,” here the deacon got really upset, “he stole my cassock! I, a fool, had left it in the church after the Vigil. And what a cassock it was! Vladyka brought me the buttons from abroad. What buttons! I’ll never have such buttons again! If you looked at them from one side they were greenish, if you looked from another, they turned reddish, if…”
“Yes, some representatives of our clergy like those dandyisms!” I thought to myself, no longer listening to the deacon. “Belts embroidered over half their stomachs, and now buttons… Buttons…”
I suddenly recalled that not long ago I had seen funny buttons like that somewhere… But where, on whom? Then, I remembered absolutely graphically: such buttons where on the cassock of… Fr. Augustine. At the time, I was surprised—a mountain monk, wearing such a “trendy” cassock. But Fr. Augustine had answered my perplexed question quite simply:
“I wear whatever our benefactors give me. There are no clothing stores in the mountains.”
I even repented to myself then. “There—you’ve judged again! Don’t you see… he is wearing the wrong kind of buttons!”
But anyway, just to disperse this passing, foolish thought, I asked the deacon what that orphan looked like who took a cross from the altar table and carried it out of the church with a cassock. As Fr. John eagerly described him, I slowly slid off my seat. He was describing Augustine!
I could not believe my ears. Interrupting the deacon, I almost shouted, “Does he like ice cream?”
The driver looked at me with surprise and replied, “Like it? Give him a hundred servings and he’ll eat them straight off! The babushkas used to joke that he would sell his own mother for ice cream.”
This was absolutely unbelievable!
“Wait a moment,” I said. “What else did he steal from the church?”
“What else did he steal?” the deacon repeated my question. “Let me think; we were dragged back and forth to the police station for two months over that affair. He took a hierarchical censor, a gold one…”
“With little bells?” I whispered.
“With little bells. A St. Vladimir medal, second degree—the rector had received it last year. Let’s see… what else? Money, three thousand rubles that we had collected for the Peace Fund. And a cross with semi-precious stones.”
“And what did the cross look like? Did it have any defects?”
“I don’t know about the cross. Why do you ask?”
“Because, it seems that I have that orphan with your cassock sitting in Moscow!”
Now it was the deacon’s turn to be amazed. I told him the whole story, as much as I could, and we sped off to that priest whose church had been robbed. On the priest’s cross, which Fr. Augustine had supposedly been given by his elder, was one particularity: a pendant made of green stone was partially fractured.
The priest did not want to speak with us at first on this subject; he had been so frightened during the investigation, when they suspected him of robbing his own church. But finally he described the stolen cross. The stone on the pendant was fractured.
That night I returned to Moscow by plane. But of course, I couldn’t sleep. The only place in the entire Soviet Union where they were gathering wheat up until yesterday was in Omsk province. The only person who eagerly talked about this thief was my driver-deacon; and even he only talked about it because he simply couldn’t forget his precious buttons. And I was only able to hear all this from him because the old Omsk archbishop had left for another diocese and the new one had not yet arrived—otherwise Fr. Deacon would have been driving his archbishop around, and not a young novice from Moscow. How did that scenario with the wine and bread come into my head, anyway? Could it only have been in order to send me here to find all this out?
But what do I know? What can I know for sure? Who is this Augustine? An evil-doer, who could even have murder, blood, and violence on his record? Or is this all demonic delusion?! Our Augustine is the real Augustine—a monk and ascetic; a man who knows my acquaintances and beloved mountain monks: Fr. Paisius, Fr. Raphael…
Nevertheless, the more I thought about all of this during that sleepless night, while gazing into the black, starry sky outside the airplane window, the clearer it became to me: I had been led from Moscow to that far away Siberian town by the almighty arm of God’s Providence! And nothing, nothing was accidental!
Now Augustine’s strangeness became clear to me like bright flashes: his bad reading of Church Slavonic, his priest’s cross, his hierarchical censor, his love of ice cream, his ecstasies over commentator Nicholai Ozerov, and much else. We had justified him with all our might about these strange and incomprehensible things! We were even afraid of judging him! Or, perhaps the Lord so miraculously revealed the truth to us precisely because we were afraid of judging? Or perhaps it was because it would have been just too horrible had Zurab Chavchavadze and I actually taken him to Patriarch Ilya, who would have answered for him and helped him to get his documents. How we would have betrayed the Patriarch—it was horrible to imagine!
Over and over, the thought would not leave me alone: who is this person? Why is he hiding? Why is he always around the Church? What other crimes has he committed? And although reason persuaded me that everything I had learned in Omsk, where I had been for the first time in my life and had spent no more than a day was true, my heart refused to believe it. Our disappointment—and Augustine’s deceit—were likewise all too monstrous and unthinkable.
I needed to calmly and thoroughly be convinced of it all. I remembered that Augustine had told us that he lived in the St. Sergius Lavra before he came to Pechory. As soon as I arrived in Moscow, I said good-bye to my camera man and took a taxi from the airport to Sergius Posad, to the Lavra.
I was well acquainted with the then dean of the Lavra, Archimandrite Onuphry—a remarkable monk and spiritual father, who now bears the duty of Metropolitan of Chernovitsy and Bukovina. When I told him the whole history, Archimandrite Onuphry immediately recalled that a rather strange young hierodeacon from Omsk diocese, who fit the description of Augustine, really was staying in the Lavra three months ago. Fr. Onuphry called in his assistant, Hieromonk Daniel (who is now bishop of Sakhalin), and we asked him about it in detail. He was the one who had in fact taken care of the guest from Omsk.
Fr. Daniel related that in early summer, a very young hierodeacon, whom nobody knew, had come to the Lavra from Omsk diocese. He called himself Fr. Vladimir. He had been robbed on the road, and therefore he had no documents or money, and only one cassock. The solicitous monks of the Lavra took pity upon their brother. They took him to the monastery vestry, where they quickly fitted him with a klobuk, ryassa, and mantia. A half an hour later he appeared before the Father Superior in full monastic regalia. He was given a blessing to live in the Lavra until he could restore his documents.
Fr. Daniel said that he was a typical young monk, but with some quirks—as have many young provincials who are ordained at such an early age by their bishops. For example, he had a medal of St. Vladimir—a very high award, which even venerable old archpriests are not always granted. When they asked him perplexedly about this, he replied that he was awarded the medal for restoring a church in Omsk diocese. “So young, and he has already succeeded in doing such a great work!” they exclaimed with admiration. But Fr. Daniel was most surprised by the fact that the hierodeacon never participated in the Divine Services. He would only pray somewhere in the corner. When they invited him to serve he would refuse, excusing himself with his fatigue, or most often with his unworthiness to stand before the altar table. In the end, the monks of the Lavra began to worry about their young brother’s spiritual life, and resolutely insisted that he serve the Sunday Liturgy.
“And he served?!” the dean and I asked with one voice.
“He served,” replied Fr. Daniel. “Of course, not here in the Lavra, but in the neighboring parish church. But what sort of service was it? Well, the bishops truly are ordaining in the dioceses candidates who are totally unprepared. He didn’t know a thing! Not how to put on the vestments, or how to go out for the ectenia. We had to do everything with him. In our seminary he would not even have been given examinations, never mind ordination!”
Now I was completely beside myself. To serve the Liturgy, take Communion as a clergyman without having been ordained… This was all incomprehensible.
“Where did he disappear to?” asked Fr. Onuphry.
“He didn’t succeed in getting his documents. He complained that the bureaucrats in Omsk were dragging. He asked if it weren’t possible to get documents here in Zagorsk (Sergeev Posad), and even found someone to help; but in the end, nothing came of it. He lived in the town for about a month, renting a corner of some elderly ladies’ house. I even became friends with him, and helped him however I could. Then he left for Abhazia, for the mountains. He was very interested in the life of the desert dwellers, and asked about them all the time. By the way, I received a postcard from him about a month ago. He says that he had made it to Sukhumi in one piece; but there was a rather strange postscript: “I now have a new nickname—Augustine.”
Thus, the situation became clear, with God’s help. A certain person, whose prehistory we don’t know, appears in Omsk. There he gives himself out as an orphan and lives for eight months at the church. Then he robs the church, after which he arrives at the St. Sergius Lavra, where he introduces himself as Hierodeacon Vladimir. He tries somehow to get identification documents, and when he does not succeed, he leaves for Sukhumi. The life of the mountain monks, outside of soviet officialdom and, what is especially important and essential, without any identification documents, apparently interests him greatly. But living for a time amongst the hermits he rapidly understands that in such ascetical conditions (especially with a total absence of ice cream!) he will not last very long. When he heard about the tragedy that had in fact happened to a monk named Augustine, he decides to impersonate him. He also learns that the Superior of the Pskov-Caves Monastery, Archimandrite Gabriel, regardless of his reputation as a tough administrator, not only caringly accepted the sick, elderly monk who had come down from the mountains, but even got him a passport, circumventing all the laws.
He departs for Pechory. At first everything goes smoothly. The monks believe his tale and fervently set about helping him. But then there is a misfire: the only person who sizes him up correctly and immediately, saying, “What kind of monk is he? He’s a swindler! Take him to the police!” turns out to be that same “unspiritual,” “chekist,” “beast,” Archimandrite Gabriel. As Fr. John (Krestiankin) later explained to me, the Mother of God, the Heavenly Protectress of the Pskov-Caves Monastery, spiritually revealed to Fr. Gabriel as to her deputy, what sort of person this man was. Meanwhile, the kind monks, outraged at the Father Superior’s backward cruelty, save “Augustine” from his claws and quickly send him to Moscow. We know the rest.
But of course, that is by far not all! We don’t know the most important thing—who in fact is this Augustine? What did he do before he appeared in Omsk? And what might he decide to do when he understands that we know the truth about him? What if he has a weapon? And what if, after we expose him, he grabs a child—four-year-old Nastya, for example, Volodya’s daughter—holds a gun or a knife to her and says, “Well, guys! We’ve played the game, and now you’ll do what I say!”
(Conclusion to follow.)