The hot summer of 1916 brought to the peasants of the village of Ivanovka of the Nth Province the strain of waiting. The front lines were near the village, and the fighting had let up around the trenches in the area. The command had gone out to harvest the corn, but it had not been determined who owned the crops that were to be harvested. The peasants worked carelessly, met in small groups in the shade and discussed at length the advantages and shortages of life “under the Germans.” Every day villagers saw how the airplanes kept up their barrage, and rumors floated about “spies from the skies.” Fedor Petrov, an evangelical preacher and the founder of the local Baptist community, who had settled in Ivanovka with his big family a few years before, became the victim of such rumors according to incomprehensible Russian logic.
Everyone was aware of Petrov’s “non-Russian” faith: he did not have any icons at home; he never crossed himself; he did not share a glass of wine with his friends and neighbors. He worked the inferior fields that had been allotted him as if they were his own, sparing neither himself nor his wife nor his children. In addition to this, with his powerful sermons, he had persuaded some Orthodox souls to become a part of his sect, and they were in his house every morning, studying the bowing and bowing down there to the “German God.”
The parish priest, Father Luka, constantly wracked his brains as to how to stop this outrage. Even before the beginning of the war, he had seized the opportunity to try to complain to the governor-general as well as to the church authorities about the “disturbing sectarian.” But it was then to no avail. Neither civil nor spiritual powers (in the person of the bishop) stood up for the priest and the Orthodox Faith. ”Your Fedor Petrov,” they said, “has not committed any crimes punishable by existing law. His Imperial Majesty Nikolay Alexandrovich has given freedom to all sectarians. So wait, Father Luka, until your Baptist steals something, or gets drunk and starts a row. Only in such cases would it be possible to exile him from your village officially.”
That was good, but there was a problem: the antichrist was not a hard drinker, nor did he steal. Of course, he was not a saint. Some good laymen complained about him sometimes, but all of their information was rubbish. There was no real possibility of finding fault with him. But this was before the war. This was another time, a serious time. Luka has been promised that there will be an adequate reaction soon to his patriotic gesture. It is no joke, but a crime that Fedor Petrov has recently received a German into his home—also a Baptist preacher, a man by the name of--how ugly their names are to pronounce!--it’s a punishment from God—he must be a spy for sure—Wilhelm Friedrichovich Goppe! That is enough! There is the ticket to Siberia, for five years at least. Praise the Lord that the “mystery of iniquity” has finally been found out!
Glancing at their son Pet’ka, who appeared in the window waving with a pre-arranged hand signal to warn of the approach of the police, his wife placed in his hands a bundle of necessities that she had prepared, and urged her husband,
“Run, Fedor! Run, for God’s sake!”
”Is it possible to escape from them, Katia?” Fedor answered with hesitation, and fell deep in thought.
”Run by the kitchen garden and then to the hill!” exclaimed the wife, adding, “You will come back when the war is over. Please go. If you are not here, maybe they will leave the rest of us alone.”
Fedor embraced his wife.
”My poor darling, how will you live without me?”
”The Lord will help us.”
When the policemen approached the house on foot, Fedor ran through the kitchen garden. Katia did not answer the door for a long time to give her husband a chance to flee as far as possible. Suspecting that something was wrong, the policemen walked around the house and saw a running man. They were in on open field, the nearest hill was far away, and the fugitive was an aging man.
”We can catch him without shooting,” decided Gromov, the village constable, and commanded his three privates, “On the double!”
The policeman ran across the field, holding onto their sabers which hung from their side. Although the pursuers were young and athletic, the distance between them and the fugitive shortened very slowly. Soon the sectarian would have time to reach the slope of the hill. The policemen panted. Gromov wanted to shoot, but, noting the barren cliffs, where it would be impossible for anyone to hide, he decided to continue the pursuit.
Fedor knew the place almost as well as if he had been native to the place,
and despite the approach of his pursuers, he still hope to break away from them as he
climbed the hill. The villagers called the hill “Krivuha”, which means “Curved Hill”, and there were, among its whimsical shapes and contours, many
perils and surprises for any rock
climb with a lack of knowledge of it. Reaching the first of the stones that he hoped would prove his salvation, Fedor, despite his exhaustion, began to climb by means of a barely visible path.
”Go ahead,” commanded the constable, pointing his finger. ”Catch the spy!”
The three privates muttered and began to climb the hill. Gromov remained at the foot, and, recovering his breath, found a good place to observe.
Soon two pursuers halted before a steep rise, clearly unable to go higher. Their faces crimson, they looked guiltily at the constable and threw up their hands in a gesture of helplessness. Only the third policeman, a man of great endurance, who had grown up in the mountains, confidently continued his ascent. “Attaboy! Nobody gets away from Kravchuck!” thought Gromov, with satisfaction, watching the shrinking distance between the policeman and the fugitive.
Meanwhile, Fedor, losing strength and exhausted, leaned against a rock and pitifully began to call to God, “Help me, Lord!” Unsheathing his saber, the agile policeman inexorably advanced. ”Give up, spy!...I’ll slaughter you now!” the pursuer laughed threateningly. He was already just a few feet below his victim. “God will not help you!”
Fedor closed his eyes, not wishing to see how near his enemy was climbing. He could hear his saber striking against the stones and see its glittering blade approaching nearer and nearer his feet. “Thy will be done,” Fedor said, quietly ending his prayer. Immediately after that, something sudden and unusual happened.
The already exultant policeman suddenly stumbled and fell down. He fell a few feet only, down to the crag from which he had threatened Fedor two minutes ago, but that was enough. The pursuer struck his head against a stone, lost his balance, and had only enough time to catch hold of the very brink of the rock, and was now hanging in the air. His useless saber fell from his grip and lodged nearby between two stones.
At the bottom of the hill, Constable Gromov frowned. He would be held guilty of failing to carry out the command of the district superintendent of police, the order to arrest the sectarian preacher.
”Come on Kravchuck, get up!” he encouraged the private.
But Kravchuck had hurt his head badly and cut his neck. Blood covered his eyes, which were frozen in terror. His blood ran a cherry red stream on the tiny stone promontory onto which he had with frantic effort pulled himself and to which he was desperately attempting to cling.
”O my Lord!” were the only words that Fedor was able to utter, when he opened his eyes and assessed the situation, which had changed in a moment.
Nobody was threatening him any more. He could escape further into the
hills. But what about the policeman? Should he leave him hanging there? He would not be
clinging to the ledge for long. He would fall soon. Fedor remembered how his pursuer had
just bullied him, aiming at his legs with his saber. And now he was desperately clinging
to a rocky ledge with whitened fingers and his saber, recently so formidable, was swiftly sinking into a blood puddle that grew before Fedor’s eyes.
Fedor uttered a deep sigh and began his descent to his unlucky pursuer. Constable Gromov and the two policemen below were watching the actions of the sectarian with simultaneous astonishment and alarm. Soon Fedor’s feet stood on the ground flooded by his enemy’s blood. At that moment Satan came invisibly to the preacher, whispering in his ear the words of Scripture, “Look on the fulfillment of the prophecy: ‘The righteous will rejoice when he sees the vengeance; he will bathe his feet in the blood of the wicked.’” [Psalm 58:10] Your enemy wanted to mock the true faith, but now God’s punishment is at hand! Push him into the precipice, as it is written, ‘Happy shall be he who takes your little ones and dashes them against the rock!’” [Psalm 137:9]
Fedor grew cold with such terrible thoughts, but then, without losing a moment, he caught the policeman with both hands and pulled him, panting, with the words of the Gospel on his lips, “Get thee hence, Sa-tan! It is writ-ten again… ‘Love-your-ene-mies!’” [Matthew 5:44].
In a moment, the fugitive and the pursuer embraced each other and happily sat on the tiny promontory and together praised God. Fedor took off his shirt and used it to dress the wounded man’s head. For a moment they forgot about the reason why they were on the hill. The sky embraced them from all sides.
At the foot of the hill Constable Gromov also smiled. Nevertheless he glowered severely at the two policemen who had failed to make headway, and ordered them to climb the hill at once. The privates, rested now, bravely resumed their ascent, but when they came to the dangerous cliff where Petrov and Kravchuck were enigmatically sitting, they stopped again, fearing to turn their necks.
Gromov then with louring face tossed back his head and cried loudly, “Kravchuck! How are you?”
”Not bad. I am alive, praise God!” answered Kravchuck smiling. By miracle, his bleeding had already stopped. He was exultant and enthusiastic because of his escape from certain death.
”Kravchuck!” Gromov continued harshly, “listen to my order: I command you to arrest the sectarian and get him down here. If he resists, cut him down with your saber!”
Petrov and Kravchuck looked into each other’s faces. They were grave, but expressed neither fear nor hatred.
”I cannot do this, Gromov. He has saved my life!” cried Kravchuck, continuing to look Fedor in the face.
”Kravchuck!” The constable’s voice rang powerful and ominous. ”If you do not obey the order, according to war-time law, you will be subject to execution by shooting.” After that Gromov waited a little and then added, “And let your Samaritan take this into account if he feels so sorry for you.”
Kravchuck hung his head.
”Run,” he said quietly to Fedor.
”You will be shot.”
”You will be exiled to Siberia.”
”Well, it would be better than you being shot,” Fedor smiled. He already knew what he should do. The policeman looked on him in astonishment.
”Are you really going to Siberia because of me, while you can escape?”
”Let’s go down,” Fedor put his hand on the private’s shoulder. ”How much longer can we sit here?”
Kravchuck, turning pale and clinging to the rocky face of the cliff, stood up and then kicked his saber. It fell into the precipice below, spitefully striking the ground. Fedor Petrov suddenly and loudly sang a Christian hymn—it seemed as though the stones around him rang out—and, helping the injured policeman, began to come down. For all this, the weakened Kravchuck sobbed liked a child, “Forgive me, my friend. Forgive me, for God’s sake.”
At the bottom of the hill, the policemen were moved, watching the scene that seemed to come right out of the Bible. Even the severe Constable Gromov uttered a prayer under his breath and furtively crossed himself.
A week after these events, Fedor Petrov, with his wife and six children, dispossessed, with a group of other sectarians from the villages along the front line, were exiled under escort to Siberia. Several brave brothers and sisters in Christ saw them off. A man in uniform with a bandaged head followed for a short time near the last cart, where the family of Fedor Petrov was sitting. Most people who saw him thought he was a wounded soldier from the front. All the while he was sobbing and quietly repeating some words that were audible only to the brethren who were close by. They related that the man was saying, ”God exists...He will protect, He will help you.”
Translation by C. Bernard Ruffin