(Based on the city legends)
The end of the 16th century, Ozeryiana Plain, Ukraine...
Being still half awake Nikolka felt chilly and opened his eyes.
His lashes quivered and the first thing he caught sight of was a huge drop of dew on a blade of grass right in front of his face.
Thick, tall herbs he flung himself down into at the sunset yesterday have been covered with big drops of dew since then. – How did I happen to fall asleep? Oh! What a scolding I’m to get from Mum! – thought he.
But then he recollected that long before his escape to the open field to stay alone with something large, huge and kind, the name of which he wasn't aware of, he had told his mother that he would spend the night in the hay of the loft.
– Nay! Mum ain’t be scolding, – he thought with a sigh of relief.
A smile softened his childish face and as a breeze brushed away his frown. – Oh, it’s high time me going! – sighed he rising from the grass and looking around.
A dense haze was floating above the field, as though the milky-white clouds that had been stately sliding along the sky yesterday afternoon, have settled for a night rest in the soft lush grass of Ukraine either.
But there the sun rose a bit higher, the haze turned pink and started to move sluggishly, whether evaporating or coming back to the heaven.
Finally a copse emerged from the milky gaps in the haze; along its border, as Nikolka knew, a road to Ozeryiana was winding.
Having adjusted his long shirt, crumpled and humid with the dews, the boy girded himself with a string belt and hastened towards the road, his legs rising high in the tall thick herbs.
While hurrying home after the night spent in the steppe, his thoughts returned to the yesterday evening.
He remembered the moment when being unable to bear his mother’s sobbing he ran away never knowing where to, desperately suffering from his smallness and helplessness.
Mother was sobbing again, scolding his father for going to Cossacks, Tatars who raided their land and forced them to hide in the wood to survive, the devastation and something else, her own, female, that Nikolka being too young wouldn't yet realize.
He raced for long unaware where to and what for. He had no strength to bear his mother’s tears as they made his eyes steep in a great deal of his own ones.
But he considered himself be old enough to be ashamed of them. On reaching the open field, Nikolka threw himself down onto the grass and gave way to his tears.
Having had a good cry, he rolled onto his back and turned his gaze to the sky. Words of a pray came to his mind, gradually becoming his private pleading with God and his Mother.
He asked them to help his Mum about the house and the harvest, bring his Dad back home and frighten the Tatars away from Ukraine and his dear Ozeryiana forever...
He kept on revealing his soul to that unknown One whose existence he always so evidently sensed in the steppe under the tremendous, unbounded heaven.
Unheeded by the boy sun rolled down, having hid behind the rim of the copse and coloured the sky pink; Nikolka kept on talking to God in his thoughts.
First the boy tried to persuade Him that if He existed He might hear him, Nikolka who needed Him so much at that moment, then he began questioning: “Where are Thou?!”
The time flew for him and he didn't notice as he fell asleep to have the sweetest dream he had ever in his life.
He dreamed something incredibly beautiful and it seemed that someone's soft and kind voice was telling him something very important and vital, something that Nikolka tried to recollect after waking up, but all in vain.
Only several words that came into his night-dream with a milky-honey flavour have imprinted themselves in his young pure soul: “... Where the Light... ...there I am...”
Old Matvey, a famous skilled mower from Ozeryiana has been already working for several hours in the field. The sun reached the zenith making the man’s head hot even through his straw hat.
Waving away bees and butterflies now and then Matvey was smoothing the field enjoying a habitual song of his old friend – a well sharpened scythe. “Zhick-zhick” – the scythe was singing…
And it seemed to Matvey that the swarm of midges and cicadas were merely singing along with it…
But suddenly a new sound burst into between two “zhicks” – as if a woman’s moan.
Matvey stopped frightened and made a sign of the cross. – Good heavens! What if a woman was sleepin’ there in the grass and I wounded her with my scythe?! God forbid! – thought he.
He put his scythe down and moved tufts of the grass apart with a great care dreading the things he was to see there. – Jesus Christ! What’ve I done?!
Whence did it come here?! – exclaimed he. From the crushed by someone grass the eyes of the Holy face – Virgin Mary's – were looking at him.
The icon of Virgin Mary which had appeared in the field out of nowhere lay in the grass, cut into two by Matvey's scythe.
Near the two halves of the seemingly alive canvas there was a candle lit by someone and set on a tussock.
– How hath it happened? – having made again a sign of the cross old Matvey stuck to his astonishment. – Whence did Virgin Mary come to the open field, besides along with a lit candle!?
Hath it fallen from the sky or somehow else? What a sin I've done – I’ve cut the holy icon into two!
What should I do now?! – the old mower muttered scratching helplessly his head.
He mused a little, picked up the two pieces of the canvas, the candle and the scythe from the grass and continuing his lamentation hurried home.
On returning to his house the first thing he did was to go to the Holy corner asking God for forgiveness for his unintentional sin.
Then the best he could do was to mix an egg with some flour and then with the gluten he got to fix two pieces of the icon together.
He feasted his eyes upon his work then put the icon into the Holy corner and lit the candle found near the canvas again.
The rest of the day and the evening the old mower spent in sincere praying till he, the same like Nikolka, dropped into a deep sleep.
The next morning the first thing he did after he woke up was to look for the image of Virgin Mary that he had cut into two yesterday. But to his astonishment the icon was not there.
Matvey splashed some water from the wooden keg in the inner porch onto his face, then made the sign of a cross and ran out of the house. He was heading for the place in the open field where he had found the icon.
His thoughts were whirling around the yesterday incident and the disappearance of the icon in the morning. – Did I dream it all? – questioned Matvey himself. – But I remember everything, it was real!
So, where hath it gone then? Yesterday it appeared nobody knows whence and in the morning it hath gone! Lo and behold!
And if it's a token, so, what’s in store? Good or evil? – reflected he. – Nay! It can't bring evil... The Virgin Mary – the Hallow Patroness, can’t come for the evil! ‘Tis for the good, ‘tis only for the good!
Maybe she’ll protect us from the damned Tatars… But…maybe all that hath just seemed to me?
And the night-dream was such a weird one! Like a town in the heaven, silver domes… Oh, what a beauteous dream I saw this night!
And I forgot it being half-asleep... And it seemed as though a gentle voice was tellin’ me something… I don’t remember what… – sighed he.
When returned to the open field he retraced his own path to the mysterious place of the icon appearance.
He briskly moved tufts of the unmown grass apart and stared at the crumpled by someone place in the herbs.
Such was apparently Matvey's fate those days – to get so greatly amazed, that words slipped out of his mind abandoning him without any help and alone with life and... miracle…
The holy face of Virgin Mary with the child Jesus in her arms was gazing at him from the totally undamaged canvas. And next to the canvas a fount has suddenly gushed out...
For long time Matvey's knotty fingers were probing the canvas with care and veneration.
Neither groove nor trace of his mending was there – nothing at all, as if both Matvey’s sharp scythe and his hand had never touched the holy icon…
The only word his lips whispered was “Miracle!”
The icon found by the mower at the end of the 16-th century has since been known as Ozeryiana miracle-working icon of Virgin Mary.
Healing and miracle-working brought it the glory.
In the place where the icon and the fount had appeared a monastery was built many years later and the holy icon first dwelt in the Ozeryiana St. John the Baptist church and after in the Kuryazh Transfiguration monastery.
Afterwards it was regularly carried with the cross procession from Kuryazh to Kharkov and the residents of Kharkov have regarded it to be the Patroness of their dear city for many years, till…
September 1930, Kharkov is the capital of the Ukraine…
Gregoriy Mihailovich Borodai, a mayor of Kharkov, got up before dawn that morning. No ray of the night city lights penetrated into the room through the closed shutters, the unusual silence reigned over the house.
The governor was lying in his bed long seeking for the explanation of his night-dream, such things he neither had seen nor could he believe in the existence of such visions.
The remains of his night-dream lingered in his memory counter to all his reasoning and wouldn't leave him alone.
Having lost all the hopes to get rid of the obtrusive reminiscences the mayor called the car, hastily had breakfast and left his apartment for the city hall.
He arrived unusually early and proceeded straight to his office.
The sentry on night duty was surprised by the mayor’s early arrival, but he saluted the chief according to all the rules and after Gregoriy Mihailovich shut the office door behind his back, telephoned the secretary Vasiliy.
The latter lived nearby in Rimarskaya Street, that's why looking a bit unkempt but very cheerful he was making tea for his boss ten minutes later.
Gregoriy Mihailovich was pacing up and down his vast office. Now and then he stopped at the window to cast a wistful glance at the picturesque ruins outside.
The remains of the Cathedral of St. Nickolas, exploded in March by the NCIA immediately after the Myrrhonosizkaya church explosion, were now raising their arms-like debris towards the sky as though from the yawned wound.
Were they beseeching the new city’s masters for clemency? Or were they demanding vengeance? Little by little Gregoriy Mihailovich's brows were frowning more and more deepening the crease between them.
And the idea crept into his mind after his waking up seemed to grow and get stronger every time he glanced at the ruins outside the window, a silent reproach tormenting his soul.
Quiet as a cat, Vasiliy scratched the door. He was fully aware of his chief’s disposition – if he is sent away, it's better not to interfere. But the mayor let him in.
– Good morning, Gregoriy Mihailovich, would you like to have a glass of tea? – the secretary asked entering the room; the glass of tea in a silver holder in one hand, a porcelain saucer full of lump sugar in the other one.
– Yes, sure! Come in Vasiliy. Share my meal, you, surely, would love to have a glass of tea, wouldn't you? – a tense smile stiffened Gregoriy Mihailovich’s face. – With sugar!
– Why not? I’ll take some hot water and will be back in a second! – glad Vasiliy put the mayor’s glass and the saucer with lump sugar on the green cloth of the desk and disappeared in the waiting room.
A minute later he was back and put timidly his glass in a brass holder onto the edge of the desk.
– Take a seat, Vasiliy, let’s talk, – Gregoriy Mihailovich hospitably pointed out a chair. – And help yourself with sugar! Don’t be shy! – He pushed the saucer with the sugar to the other end of the desk.
– Hearty thanks! – said Vasiliy and shifted the chair closer to the desk, sat on its edge and took modestly two lumps of sugar. Having drowned them in the tea he began stirring it with a teaspoon.
His face kept a pleased smile.
– Vasiliy, have you heard about the underground tunnels that are so much spoken of now? The entry into these tunnels is believed to be found under the Cathedral of St. Nickolas, – Gregoriy Mihailovich’s voice sounded deliberately indifferent.
– Sure, I have! Why shouldn't I? The locals have known about them for long time!
– Tell me!
– Haven’t you heard? – Vasiliy’s eyes sparkled with astonishment. – How is that? At your post you should know such things! – he shook his head in a doubt. – Well, listen to me then. In the mid of the last century a fire happened in Mordvinov lane.
My Granny told me about that. An awful throng gathered there at once. You know, ordinary folk are like that – they are fond of having any kind of fun and show, they are either fond of gaping at other folk’s misfortune.
So, well, a horsed gendarme galloped up there and suddenly fell down into a gap in the earth! Right with his steed! That was the moment the throng came in handy.
People jointly dragged him out, safe and sound. And the gap happened to be an underground tunnel! So, you may well guess that none of the crowd volunteered to go there to explore that tunnel.
And then the authorities found two lifelong convicts and told them that if they explored the tunnel they would have liberty and Tsar would forgive them all their sins. Well, they certainly knew which side their bread was buttered and agreed.
They spent three days underground and suddenly got out inside the Cathedral of St. Nickolas.
– How did they get out? – Gregoriy Mihailovich asked after listening without interruption. – Did they find any door?
– Well, there could possibly be a door. But they didn't find it. They broke the floor and got out from the tunnel. That was all!
On hearing those words Gregoriy Mihailovich jumped to his feet and approached the window again. His gaze penetrated through the window glass and fixed on the black gap in the middle of the Cathedral ruins.
The images of his night-dream came to the surface of his mind and he bethought a kind gentle voice strongly suggesting him to do such things which sent shivers down his spine…
– Now then, – Vasiliy’s voice dragged him back to the reality. – Thereupon the convicts asked for some food to last for several days and went back underground to explore the tunnels.
The next time they came out was the yard of the governor’s mansion in Ekaterinoslavskaya Street. After that they got out near the Holodnogorska prison. And the tunnels were said to lead even to the Kuryazh monastery.
And the men were said to see there an enormous underground hall and straight in the centre of that hall there was a huge table with 12 chairs around it… All that seemed to be intended for the holy apostles…
Well..., – muttered Vasiliy wistfully. – So it was…
Gregoriy Mihailovich went back to the desk and retook his seat.
His brain was working in an unusual for him direction and he was so astonished by his own thoughts, which had so sharply changed after his night dream, that he still felt some prostration.
He, who used to be a convinced communist who sincerely believed that the religion was a tale invented by the bourgeoisie for poor, oppressed people in order to enslave them and make them work without any payment, suddenly doubted his own persuasions.
The principles of the atheism that once had seemed to be ultimately solid and inviolable suddenly gave way after being grazed by the gentle and incredibly kind voice from his night dream.
As though everything that party had taught him turned out to be a fragile construction built either on the swamp or on the deadwood.
And being now in his working office the mayor was dumbfounded at his own thoughts. He was totally at a loss wondering whether his persuasions are to be crumbled to dust or stuck in the marsh.
After finishing the story Vasiliy took another lump of sugar and treated himself to tea. The mayor rose again and approached the window.
– I saw a strange dream this night, – his aloof voice reached Vasiliy’s ear. Gregoriy Mihailovich whether became oblivious or presumed to confide in his secret which had haunted him since the very morning.
Vasiliy, astonished by such a confidence, listened to his boss with bated breath.
– I saw a town in the sky… – the mayor told wistfully. – Marvelous one – a real treat to feast one’s eyes on! …Silver domes, white houses, pink quartz-like paths... And a sudden voice, such a gentle, kind one, tells me:
"Take the miracle-working icon of Oseriana Virgin Mary and descend into the underground tunnel beneath the Cathedral of St. Nickolas, there you’ll find help…" And the voice said something else, but I wouldn't recollect it!
I've been tormenting all the morning by the desire to recollect it. And I felt so well hearing that voice, so sweet… As though the Paradise exists indeed and I happened to visit it…
Vasiliy’s eyes wide with astonishment were piercing Gregoriy Mihailovich’s back. His hand with the glass of tea in it hung over the desk. At last, he pulled himself together, put the glass onto the desk and stammering, almost in a whisper, asked:
– And where is the icon?
– It’s in my lockbox, – the mayor replied without turning his head to him. His eyes have suddenly riveted on a girl walking along the pavement in the street.
She seemed to him so happy, so striking, as though there was an extraordinary glare radiating from her.
– And why is it in your lockbox? – wondered Vasiliy.
Gregoriy Mihailovich’s eyes were still fixed on the girl walking in the street. He was so absorbed in that scene that having forgotten the fact that it was a secret data absent-mindedly answered to his secretary.
– We’re going to explode it at the altar of the Annunciation Cathedral when it’s destroyed…
– Oh! – Vasiliy's involuntary exclamation reached his ear. – Is it our Mother-Patroness going to be blasted?!
Oh, she’s made so much good! She’s healed so many of folk, saved Kharkov from cholera, helped out so many people! Why do you treat her so?! – Vasiliy didn't notice that he began sniffling.
Presently he got a grip on himself and rose. – I think I had better go, – he mattered frowned.
He gathered the empty glasses, turned his back on the saucer with sugar and took his leave, his head bent. – After such news any sugar would get stuck in a throat, tyrants! – angrily thought he.
Gregoriy Mihailovich kept on standing by the window. The last Vasiliy’s words about Mother-Patroness didn't pass unheeded. They were banging the tocsin in his heart now.
– What if Karl Marx and Lenin hadn't known everything either? – thought he, – any person is said to make mistakes, hadn't it been proved by the ancient Latins?
They had been used to say about that fact in such a weird way… I’ve forgotten! His glance kept on following the happy girl in the street.Suddenly she raised her eyes to the sky and he caught sight of their expression. Light!
That was the Light he saw that night in his dream! All of a sudden the words said by the gentle voice, which he tried to recollect all the morning, as though jumped from the dark box, where his rational conscience had hidden them from him!
“… where the Light has sighted Its reflection…” The next day the mayor of the Ukrainian capital of such turbulent times disappeared without any trace.
The Miracle-working icon of Virgin Mary was gone either. Perhaps that was the reason why the Annunciation Cathedral wasn't blasted, having remained an architectural gem of the city.
And years later it again became the site of religious services.
The beginning of the 21-th century, Kharkov…
Katusha sat on her parents’ wide bed playing with a toy bear. She massaged the bear’s legs and promised it would have healthy legs and a nice pace.
There was a little icon of Virgin Mary with the child Jesus in her arms on the bed-side table – a diminished copy of a replica of the lost miracle-working icon of Ozeryiana Virgin Mary.
Katusha’s mother had gone to the church, having left her daughter with her grandmother.
Granny was now busy cooking in the kitchen, four-year-old Katusha despite of the orthesis’ on her legs has been quite independent in her walking about the flat long since.
Yes, she still couldn't walk like other children did, but since her very birth she has been massaged regularly and every time she was promised that she would walk elegantly.
Her mother believed. Either did her father. And Granny with her elder brother believed too. Could they afford to cease doing that?
The toy bear massaged properly, Katusha pressed gently his paunch to listen to his song and laid her head onto her Mother’s pillow. Her glance met the eyes of the icon near the bed.
For some time the Holy Mother and the little girl have seemed to gaze at each other till Katusha’s eyelids closed and she dropped into a dream.
In her slumber she found herself in a wonderful town with silver domes, white houses and pink pavements.She felt so wonderful there, so sweet…When mother returned home she found Katusha sleeping on her own pillow.
She put her palm on her daughter’s forehead and were gazing at her sleeping angel; her eyes shining with such a glow which only mother’s eyes can radiate.
Presently Katusha woke up, smiled at her mother and began industriously unfastening her orthesis’. – Have your legs got tired? – mother asked tenderly. – No, Mum, the Virgin Mary told me I wouldn't need orthesis anymore.
I can walk beautifully, look at me! Her eyes were shining brightly like stars; her mother smiled and helped her to put off the orthesis'.
Katusha got down on the floor, made one step, then another one… Mother was watching her little daughter walking and failed to recognize her gait. All of a sudden Katusha dashed forth! Like any healthy child!
But they have been waiting for that miracle for long four years! Katusha burst out laughing cheerfully showing her Mum how she could beautifully walk and run.
Mother was wiping the tears running down her cheeks; Granny and Katusha' brother ran into the room, a happy noise burst out, and the mother all of a sudden recollected the words which she has tried to remember since her waking up this morning.
In her night slumber an incredibly kind voice was telling her something, comforting her tormented by suffering heart, and the last words that had seemed to be so important and right only now emerged from her memory:
“Where the Light has sighted Its reflection I am…”
Elena Amberova 2012