Sententia synodalis

January 29, 2010

Below is presented a translation of a formal declaration made by a synod held in Constantinople on Friday, May 3rd, 1280 under the presidency of Patriarch John Bekkos. The synod dealt with the case of the referendarius Michael Eskammatismenos, who had erased the word ἐκ (“from”) from a theologically-significant passage of St. Gregory of Nyssa’s On the Lord’s Prayer, found in an ancient manuscript belonging to his brother-in-law, Penteclesiotes (a modern, critical text of the passage is found in J. Callahan, ed., Gregorii Nysseni de oratione dominica; de beatitudinibus [Leiden: E.J. Brill, 1992], pp. 42-43). Penteclesiotes’ manuscript originally read as follows: “Now the Spirit both is said to be from the Father, and is further testified to be from the Son” (Τὸ δὲ Πνεῦμα τὸ ἅγιον καὶ ἐκ τοῦ Πατρὸς λέγεται, καὶ ἐκ τοῦ Υἱοῦ εἶναι προσμαρτυρεῖται). By erasing the second ἐκ, Eskammatismenos changed the sense of this to, “Now the Spirit both is said to be from the Father, and is further testified to be of the Son” (or, “to belong to the Son”). When Eskammatismenos later confessed to the erasure, it presented a dilemma to John Bekkos, who reasoned that, if the word were written back into the manuscript, the obvious difference in handwriting would raise suspicions as to the word’s genuineness. The synod decided to leave the passage as it stood, that is, lacking the second ἐκ, but to place the synodal act in the book as an annotation, declaring to future readers what had happened there to the text.

Many readers of St. Gregory of Nyssa’s sermon have doubted that the second ἐκ, the reading favored by Bekkos, was in fact what Gregory of Nyssa wrote. The general editor of Nyssa’s works, Werner Jaeger, devoted much attention to the subject, and concluded that the word doesn’t belong there. John Callahan, who produced the GNO edition of the work (Gregorii Nysseni Opera, VII/2), agrees with Jaeger that the word is probably not what Gregory of Nyssa wrote, but stresses that that is not a conclusion one would reach on palaeographical grounds alone. Comparing the Greek manuscripts with an early Syriac version of the text, Callahan sees the word ἐκ as already present in the earliest witnesses to the textual tradition; it was certainly there, in some manuscripts, before the eighth century, that is to say, well before the major conflicts between the Greek and Latin Churches over the Holy Spirit’s procession. Callahan writes:

“…regarding the text tradition itself, we must conclude that the ἐκ belongs in the text as far as we can be guided by strictly palaeographical evidence. But, in the second place, it is very difficult to justify its presence in the text from the standpoint of Gregory’s own line of argumentation, as Jaeger has indicated.” (Callahan, op. cit., p. xii.)

In his own edition of the work, Callahan retains the word, but places it within brackets to stress that he finds its presence in the text dubious.

One may note that Eskammatismenos later went back on his support for union; he was one of the signatories to the Tome that condemned John Bekkos in 1285; later, Gregory of Cyprus made him his chartophylax, that is, his archivist and secretary, although, apparently, he ultimately turned on him, too.

I have translated the following synodal act from the Greek text edited by Leo Allatius in the seventeenth century and reprinted by J.-P. Migne, Patrologia graeca 141, 281-290, and H. Laemmer, Scriptorum graeciae orthodoxae bibliotheca selecta I (Fribourg 1864), pp. 411-422.

Annotation by the synod

On the third day in the month of May, the sixth day of the week, [i.e., Friday], the eighth indiction [1280], with his All-Holiness, our most-holy master, Lord John, Patriarch of Constantinople, New Rome, presiding in his rooms adjacent to the church of St. Theophylact, and, meeting in synod with him, the most reverend high priests: the most honorable Nicholas of Chalcedon, the most honorable Meletios of Athens, the most honorable Nicander of Larissa, the most honorable Leo of Serrai, together with Theodore of Cherson, Theodore of Sougdaia, Nicholas of Proeconesus, and Leo of Berrhoea, as well as the imperial magistrates, most beloved of God, who were also present:

1. Even the tiniest of hairs, if it should fall into the eye, produces both a darkening of the eye itself and considerable damage to the rest of the body. For if the eye is the light of the body, when it is in a bad state it follows of simple necessity that the whole body must be in conformity with its bad condition, and, as the body’s light has been quenched, there must be an obscuring of its ability to direct its own steps, which it derived from that light. And in the same manner, if by chance Holy Scripture should be damaged, and should suffer either addition or subtraction even to one tittle (cf. Mt 5:18), no slight damage would accrue to the whole body of the Church. In fact, what else is reckoned to serve the order and function of the eyes in that Body whose head is Christ if not the writings of the holy fathers, which have gained, from that head, principles of [spiritual] vision, and which illuminate the way for those who encounter them? What then ought to be done in the case of the bodily eye, and what is to be understood in the case of this spiritual eye of which it is said that no one who lacks rightness in respect of it shall see the Lord (cf. Heb 12:14; Mt 5:8)? Undoubtedly, just as it is the custom of those who are skilled in such matters to cleanse that physical eye and restore it to its function of benefiting the whole constitution of the body, so also it is fitting to make sure, as far as possible, that whenever there may appear a mote or, more seriously, a very beam in this other eye, it should be taken away with a view to doctrinal propriety and authenticity, so that, this eye being again healthy and restored to its former state, the light may shine and darkness may be banished. And to whom else is such a business a matter of concern if not to us who, by the mercy of the God of the fathers, have been accorded administration over such matters and over all the other written and paternal traditions that have been passed down, so that we may be shown to be genuine sons who grieve when we see the fatherly testaments falsified, or rather when we see the injustice done to ourselves in respect of that truly great and ever-abiding inheritance which, from the fathers, we possess — and so much the more when, in these texts, we see the blessing of peace shining forth and the reconciliation of the Churches confirmed? And perhaps such injustice occurs exactly to the extent that these texts become corrupted. For there are many incidental consequences when people mangle the truth and alter texts to suit their purposes; as a result, not only is their sinning with regard to the truth left uncorrected for them, but it is even thought to be supported out of the divine writings. And if the one who is wronged is the light of the church of Nyssa, and the book which suffers falsification is old and reliable, how much anguish of soul does this cause to those who have been betrayed even as touching their own souls, since, for the sake of the peace of the Church, they would wish that no one should have had to face a stumbling-stone. And, again, how vital is it that this issue should be addressed, and how solicitous ought we to be that the truth may find open expression, and, in the future, may be completely secure in all respects. And how fitting it is that we should devote our energies to matters of this kind and, to our ability, bring them to a just conclusion. In what way, then, the matter unfolded, and what sort of origins it had, will be most clearly shown in the following sections of this report.

2. When with God’s help the ecclesiastical peace had now already been consummated, and the perennial scandal had been put aside by the grace of the Spirit (for it had to be that, at some point, such dark raving madness would be nullified, and the light of concord would again shine, and the God of peace would triumph in a great plenitude of victory), it was our own task to contribute to this peace to the extent of our abilities, and to support it out of the sacred Writings, as was proper, so that we should not be accused of speaking out of our own belly (cf. Isaiah 8:19 LXX), but out of rivers divinely struck, and from bellies that have been filled with living water (cf. Exod 17:6-7; John 7:38). Thus it was that, receiving into the hearing of the ear now this text and now that one, then again yet another, and, simply put, all of them, we were, by God’s mercy, while going through these one by one, granted a fair voyage towards the peace that has been consummated, and were pointing out to others the way. And if in some way there remained some scandal for these others, by reason of a commendable fear, we had no trouble in holding such people as lacking faith, and as bearing no serious opposition to us and to those who supported our position. But (O the envy and the cunning wiles of Satan!) even some of our own people took a stand with the opposing side, and, as they took it to be a good thing, and something glorious, if they should wage war against the peace, they separated themselves from our Church and became a sect unto themselves. It is true that, burdened at all times by the weight of those Holy Writings that make for peace, they were at some point going to come forward and put aside obstinacy and enmity, and would cherish peace with us and be joined to the whole body of the Church; that, in fact, took place later. But, at that time, as long as their obstinacy still held sway, and they set their own preferences before the wealth of truth, what else was left for them to do when faced with texts of this kind except to act as occasion presented itself to them? For these men were versatile in speech and understanding, able to reconstrue some texts, interpreting them in another sense, as though they accorded with their own position, while other texts they claimed were inauthentic; and again, in the case of some texts, although they admitted that they were written by the fathers (which was the sole point about them that they got right), they would bring forth the excuse — a miserable excuse indeed and wholly unworthy of the fathers’ purposes — that, since the fathers produced these writings in opposition to the arguments that were being circulated back then by the heretics, there exist places where the fathers fell short of what is fitting; although it fails to register with the people who make this claim that it is in no way to God’s glory and to the upholding of the truth when arguments are compounded of falsehoods and of things unworthy of the Spirit. But, as we were saying, these aforesaid men, being at that time entirely given over to their own will, acted cunningly against their own best interests, and were fearless in producing arguments that only aggravated their lack of what is beneficial, while the many and various things they spoke were all directed towards the same end, the impugning of peace and a warring against the truth of the Scriptures; so many were the ways in which they labored to procure their own ruin. But all these things were tolerable to us, that is to say, to the Truth, so long as the Scriptures were preserved whole and they merely gave them such false interpretations as they would. But when someone resorts to a piece of iron, and scrapes off writing, one immediately understands that this is done for no other reason than the soul’s mere appetite; and anyone who gives due consideration to this will discern that, since such people had no grounds upon which they could contradict so clear a truth, they decided to expunge it. In what manner this was done, and by whom, and how, our report will now relate.

3. Along with other books belonging to a certain son-in-law of the grand economos Xiphilinos, a man named Penteclesiotes, who, together with his fellow son-in-law, the referendarius of our Church, Eskammatismenos, at that time stood with the opposing party, there was a book that was much revered on account of its antiquity; in it were various divinely-wrought treatises by the great and wonderful father Gregory, the light of the people of Nyssa. One of the works contained in it was his sermon On the Lord’s Prayer, which begins, “When the great Moses had brought the people of Israel to the mystical initiation at the mountain.” At the point in this work where this father had come to speak about matters of theology and to teach concerning what is common and what is particular among the hypostases of the Godhead, he went on to say: “But the Holy Spirit both is said to be from the Father, and is further testified to be from the Son.” So then, when the aforesaid grand economos, Xiphilinos of blessed memory, had gone through this book and had arrived at this passage, after he had borrowed this book of Penteclesiotes’ in order to read it, he concluded by bringing this section of the discourse, and its agreement with the peace, into common awareness. And it became known to everyone, and known to us, too, as well as to the owner of the book, even though he was opposed to our position. And so it was that no little support for peace came about for the fulness of the Church on account of this, by the mercy of God. So when the referendarius, who was brother-in-law to the book’s owner and who shared the same opinions, had seen this text with his own eyes and had no other way of coping with it, since it was obvious, and its reliability was supported by many features of the book, he determined to erase this plain refutation, in his then-opposition to our views, and so he takes a piece of iron and scrapes off the word ἐκ (“from”), failing to take account of the fact that the same reading was given by still other copies of the book, that these likewise contained this text and supported the word ἐκ, and that the uncorrupted reading had escaped destruction.

4. But when at length his self-satisfied obstinacy had abated in him, and he had come to be on the side of peace, and had held communion with us, as many others also did, then did we, in our Mediocrity, frequently take counsel with him about various things. And it so happened that, on a certain occasion, we in our Mediocrity were reminded of the aforesaid book. But the referendarius, as though constrained by some inward pressure, praised the book, and said such things about it as seemed to him appropriate; but in the midst of this, while he was talking about the book, he confessed that, in the place where the text had read “and is further testified to be from the Son,” he had taken a knife and had scraped the word ἐκ (“from”) from the discourse [yielding the reading, “and is further testified to be of the Son”]. I don’t know just why he confessed this, or what cause impelled him. But, however it was, this came entirely from the Truth and from the God of the fathers. What then was to be done under these circumstances? An anxious consideration and a moth eating away at the bones befell us, in our Mediocrity, how it could have happened that this statement was corrupted, that this text, which had greatly contributed to the ecclesiastical peace, had lost its reliability, and how, although it had escaped damage for so long a time during the days when warfare was being waged against the Church of Old Rome, it had just now been debased by a slapdash cutting, so that henceforth neither would the text, left as it stands, give the authentic sense, nor would it still possess reliability and authenticity even if the word were put back in its place again, since people would conclude that the word had been added later on, given the suspicion engendered by the erasure.

5. We therefore, in our Mediocrity, conferred about this matter with our brothers and concelebrants, the most reverend high priests who were found near at hand, and sought to remedy the situation; with them, we considered how the Church’s rightful possession might be preserved for it. And there came about a common counsel and a synodal determination, that the place where the word ἐκ had lay should be left empty — for it would not be safe to write this word back in again, since this would raise suspicions for those who should come later, given the more recent character of the writing — but that notice should be made of the circumstances of the incident, and that there should be, in that place, a common testimony and certification, for the safety of future generations, explaining how the word that was written there had been erased. For thus, with the truth having been indicated in this way, there would not be cause for anyone to become distrustful on account of this passage, and to frame improper arguments against the authenticity of the text.

This thing seemed good to all, and now, this day, it is brought to pass by this present synodal act, while the referendarius confesses again, and makes not the least denial, that the word ἐκ (“from”) was crossed out by him, and he seeks pardon, for he did such a thing during the time when he was divided from us in schism. Whence also the present synodal act, which has come about for the sake of making clear what happened, has been entrusted to our chartophylax, for the security of those who shall come afterwards, and for a help to those who shall encounter the book, who, from this, may learn the pure and unadulterated truth.

On being cursed

January 28, 2010

What in fact is there to say
when one tells you you are cursed?
Like King David, shall you pray
that his curses be reversed?
Shall you trade a list of sins,
show who loses and who wins,
stand before the public’s bar,
show the soul’s each wound and scar?

Those who seek the throne of grace,
caught up in their deepest faults,
flung far from the Father’s face,
find that man’s unkind assaults
make their misery no worse.
Jesus who became a curse
when he hung upon a tree
blessing is enough for me.

By the Still Waters

January 21, 2010

The Spirit of Orthodoxy Choir, in which I have been singing, as a bass/barytone, for the past year and a half, has come out with a double CD, titled By the Still Waters. CDs can be ordered at the Spirit of Orthodoxy website, for $21 till the end of March 2010, and for $24.95 thereafter.

Chains of St. Peter

January 16, 2010

The story of St. Peter’s deliverance from the prison in Jerusalem, where he was held bound with two chains between two soldiers, is told in the Book of Acts, ch. 12. It is said that an angel came by, whacked him on his side while he was sleeping, told him to be quiet and to follow him, and led him out of his cell, past the prison guards and through the prison gates; passing a corner, the angel left Peter alone; only then, when he was out on the street by himself, did he realize that all this was real and not a dream. He headed directly for the house of Mary, the mother of John Mark, where the disciples were gathered and were praying for him; there he stood and knocked on the outside gate. Every time I read this story I am reminded of the home that belonged to Fr. Martin Ritsi, now the director of the Orthodox Missions Center in St. Augustine, Florida, when he and his family lived in Tirana, Albania in the 1990′s, and I was an Orthodox missionary there; like all the homes in that dusty neighborhood, his small front yard was enclosed with a fence and metal gate, and, when visiting his home, one had to ring the doorbell at the gate and hope that someone inside would hear it. Since the doorbell, like most things in Albania in those days, did not always work properly, one had to be very persistent in pressing the button, and sometimes, abandoning technology, one had to bang loudly on the gate until someone inside would hear. I often think about that gate when I read about St. Peter and the little girl Rhoda, who was so thrilled to learn that Peter was standing out in the street that she forgot to open the door.

The time of Peter’s arrest can be determined fairly closely; it must be placed between the years 41 and 44 A.D.: that is, between the return of Herod Agrippa to Judaea from Rome following the death of the Emperor Caligula, and Herod’s own death a few years later. (Luke states that this arrest occurred in the days leading up to Passover; perhaps it would make sense to place this scene in February or March of the year 42.) The immediate political background to the persecution of the Church that took place during these years is succinctly described by W.H.C. Frend in his book The Rise of Christianity (Philadelphia 1984), p. 90:

“In 41-42 other significant events occurred. While the Christians were expanding their influence, Palestine had experienced a series of incidents that foreshadowed the breakdown of relations between Jews and Romans that took place a quarter of a century later. During the winter of 39-40 the Jews in Jamnia destroyed an altar erected by the pagan Greek minority in the town. News of this event reached the emperor Caligula, and as a punishment he ordered that a gilded statue of himself should be set up in the Temple. Rome was moving away from the Jewish alliance, but for the Jews this step, reminiscent of a similar move by the Seleucid Antiochus IV Epiphanes, was intolerable. Very many (Philo suggests ‘thousands’) were prepared to commit suicide or allow themselves to be killed by the Romans rather than acquiesce in this ‘abomination of desolation.’ They found a sympathetic advocate in Publius Petronius, the legate of Syria, who managed to postpone carrying out the order at some personal risk. At Rome, Herod Agrippa, a grandson of Herod I, who in 37 had been appointed tetrarch of the dominions of Philip and Lysanias (Upper Galilee, Abilene, and parts of Lebanon) managed to get the order rescinded. Caligula’s murder on 24 January 41 prevented its renewal. Agrippa returned to Palestine determined to represent his people to the uttermost within the bounds of client-kingship. His territories had been enlarged to include Jerusalem and Judea and he had been granted the title of king. Jerusalem became his capital and the Sadducean high priesthood his allies. ‘No day passed for him without the prescribed sacrifice,’ commented Josephus. He appointed a new high priest, ordered those who had taken a Nazarite vow to display this by having their heads shorn, and turned on the Christians. ‘He killed James the brother of John with the sword; and when he saw that it pleased the Jews, he proceeded to arrest Peter also’ (Acts 12:2-3). The first organized persecution of the church had broken out.”

In other words, as political tensions began to rise between Judea and Rome, and as the newly appointed governor of Judea, King Herod Agrippa, sought to win favor with his subjects, he encouraged religious uniformity; dissident groups like the Christians, who were critical of the Sadducean high priesthood, were an easy target for persecution.

I sometimes wonder why there is no traditional Orthodox icon commemorating St. Peter’s escape from prison, although the feast of the Chains of St. Peter is celebrated on January 16th, in the East as in the West. For that matter, traditional iconography seems to neglect a whole range of biblical material. The only scenes in the Book of Acts commonly represented in traditional Eastern Christian art are the ascension of Christ into heaven and the descent of the Holy Spirit upon the apostles at Pentecost. (Perhaps occasionally one sees images of St. Paul being let down outside the walls of Damascus in a basket.) Even the conversion of St. Paul on the road to Damascus is depicted only infrequently. And as for depictions of events in the Old Testament, they are even rarer. Why is this?

In the case of the feast of the Chains of St. Peter, I recall reading that it began to be celebrated in the Eastern Church in the sixth century, after the healing of the Acacian Schism in 519. It may simply be that the feast never had a very important place in the Byzantine calendar, whereas, in Rome, Peter’s chains are housed in a basilica (San Pietro in Vincoli, first built in the fifth century), so it is not surprising that the feast should have a more important place there.

This still does not explain, however, why other scenes from the lives of the apostles are not represented more often in Orthodox iconography. It makes me wonder: is it that they are simply too pedestrian? There is nothing terribly awe-inspiring about Peter standing out in a cold street in the small hours of the morning, waiting for a little girl to open the door; it is hard to envision such a scene in hieratic poses, against an atemporal background of uncreated light.

In other words, the icon is, perhaps, misunderstood if it is viewed as primarily a historical image. It is, one may say, primarily a theological image, something whose function is to teach a theological truth. But, does theological truth ignore history? If so, why not throw out most of the Acts of the Apostles and the Old Testament?

But perhaps my view of Byzantine art is skewed by the fact that I am looking at it from the vantage point of an American in the early twenty-first century; I am, perforce, given a certain idea of it by the things that I have seen in churches that I have been to and in books that I have read. If I were living in the eighth or tenth or fourteenth century, and had other icons or illuminated texts in front of me, perhaps I would have a significantly different picture of what Christians of those times saw as important and worth communicating by way of visual art.

I went out this morning to sing at Ss. Peter and Paul Russian Orthodox Church in Jersey City; Metropolitan Jonah, the primate of the OCA, presided at liturgy, and some clergy from the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia were also present, having brought with them the Kursk Root icon of the Mother of God for veneration. (The icon is said to be over 700 years old, and to have worked many miracles. Mention was made at liturgy of the healing of St. Seraphim of Sarov when he was a little child; his mother placed him on the ground so that the icon would pass over him as it was being carried in procession, and he recovered from his sickness. The OrthodoxWiki article on this icon mentions that it was brought out by the Russian Church both during the Polish-Lithuanian incursion of 1612 and in 1812 against Napoleon.*) After the service, I left fairly quickly, because I was planning to make a long trip in the afternoon; a 40-day memorial service is being held tomorrow morning for my Aunt Becky at the chapel of Holy Cross Greek Orthodox Seminary in Brookline, and I was intending to drive up to Boston to attend it, in spite of predictions of snow.

When I got home from liturgy, I found two new messages on my answering machine. One of them was from my choir director, Carol Wetmore. She told me that my friend Walter Clifton had died last night. The other message was from Walter’s wife, Fanya, who sounded distraught. I called my Aunt Mitzie in Brookline; she told me the weather was bad, I told her about Walter, and, to make a long story short, I decided to stay here in New Jersey.

Walter Clifton was born Vladimir Kryloff; on emigrating from Russia to America in the 1950′s, he Americanized his name. If I’m not mistaken, he once told me that his parents died in a Soviet labor camp. I first met him about twenty years ago, when I began attending the OCA parish in Randolph, New Jersey. We would often fall into long conversations at coffee hour after liturgy, sometimes on biblical matters, sometimes on politics or mathematics or science. Walter had one of the characteristic traits of a philosopher, which was that he never stopped asking questions. In recent years, as he entered his ninth decade of life, getting around had become increasingly difficult for him, lately he had begun using a wheelchair, and his eyesight was now nearly gone, but his mind continued to be sharp, and his heart and spirit never aged.

The last time I saw Walter was last Sunday; he and Fanya came to church and received communion. I had been to his house the day before; his two daughters and sons-in-law and four granddaughters were also there, celebrating Christmas; a box of Christmas cookies, given to me by his daughter Anastasia, is still in my kitchen, half-finished. Two weeks ago his youngest granddaughter, Lydia, was baptized in our church.

The Wisdom of Solomon says that God did not make death (Wisd. 1:13; cf. 2:23). The sort of question Walter would love to ask is, how then does one reconcile this claim about death with the biological record, which presents death as an inherent part of earth’s history from life’s earliest traces? (We would not have gasoline with which to drive our cars if, hundreds of millions of years ago, algae and plankton had not died in vast quantities and their remains had not settled at the bottom of the sea under anaerobic conditions; it is worth bearing in mind that the quantity of algae and plankton that did this is finite, and that, once we use up the petroleum currently under the ground, it will be quite a long time before we get any more of it.)

I am not sure what the proper answer to this question is. But it does not seem that it is necessarily a true interpretation of Holy Scripture to suppose that nothing had died before Adam and Eve ate the forbidden fruit of the knowledge of good and evil. It seems clear, for one thing, that other plants had been eaten before the forbidden one. The larger question, of course, is whether the biblical narrative excludes an interpretation that would allow for an earth some billions of years old, and an evolution of life. I don’t know that I have a ready answer to that question, but I would like to think that the God who wrote the Bible also wrote the geological record, and that the two writings, properly interpreted, are not in contradiction with each other.

I will miss my friend Walter and his incessant questions. But I have reason to think that he is in a better place now than in Russia or New Jersey, and that his questions are being answered, perhaps in the way Job’s questions were, when God spoke to him out of the whirlwind.

* I happened to listen to Tchaikovsky’s 1812 Overture some while ago on the radio while driving my car, and noticed how, at the end of the piece, when Napoleon and his troops are being driven away, one hears the strains of a liturgical hymn, together with church bells; I think it is the melody that is sung to the words O Lord, save Thy people, and bless Thine inheritance; grant victory to the Orthodox Christians over their adversaries, and by virtue of Thy Cross, preserve Thy habitation.

In Tolstoy’s War and Peace, Book Three, Part Two, ch. 21, there is a description of an icon being brought out for veneration before the Battle of Borodino; it is not the Kursk Root icon, but the description is still worth reading:

A church procession was coming up the hill from Borodino. First along the dusty road marched a company of infantry with their shakos off and trailing arms. From behind them came the sound of chanting.

Soldiers and militiamen ran bareheaded past Pierre to meet the procession.

“They are bringing her, our Holy Mother, our Protectress! … The Iberian icon of the Mother of God!”

“The Holy Mother of Smolensk!…” someone corrected.

The militiamen, both those who had been in the village and those who had been at work on the battery, threw down their spades and ran to meet the procession. Behind the battalion which came marching along the dusty road walked the priests in their vestments — one little old man in a hood — with attendant deacons and choristers. Behind them soldiers and officers bore a huge icon with a blackened face and silver mountings. This was the icon that had been brought away from Smolensk and had since accompanied the army. Behind, before and all around walked or ran crowds of soldiers with bared heads, making obeisances to the very ground.

At the top of the hill the procession stopped. The men who had been holding the icon aloft by the linen bands attached to it were relieved by others, the chanters relit their censers and the service began. The scorching rays of the sun beat down vertically; a faint fresh breeze played with the hair on bared heads and fluttered the ribbons trimming the icon; the singing sounded subdued under the open sky. A huge bare-headed crowd of officers, soldiers and militiamen stood round the icon. In a space apart, behind the priest and a chanter, were gathered the personages of rank. A bald general with the order of St. George hanging from his neck stood directly at the priest’s back, and not crossing himself (he was evidently a German) patiently waited for the end of the service, which he thought it necessary to listen to, probably so as to arouse the patriotism of the Russian people. Another general stood in a martial pose, looking about him and making swift little signs of the cross in front of his chest. Standing among the crowd of peasants, Pierre recognized several people he knew in the circle of officials, but he did not look at them — his whole attention was absorbed in watching the serious expression on the faces of the throng of soldiers and militiamen, who were all gazing raptly at the icon. As soon as the weary chanters, who were singing the service for the twentieth time that day, began languidly and mechanically to sing: “O Mother of God, save thy servants from all adversities,” and the priest and deacon came in with: “For to thee under God every man doth flee as to a steadfast bulwark and defence,” all those faces were fired with the same consciousness of the solemnity of the approaching moment which Pierre had seen on the faces at the foot of the hill at Mozhaisk, and by fits and starts on many faces he had met that morning. And heads were bowed more frequently and hair tossed back, and there was the sound of sighing and beating the breast as men crossed themselves.

The crowd round the icon suddenly parted and pressed against Pierre. Someone, a very important personage to judge by the haste with which they made way for him, was going up to the icon.

It was Kutuzov, who had been reconnoitring the position and on his way back to Tatarinova had stopped to join in the service. Pierre recognized him at once by his peculiar figure, which distinguished him from everybody else.

In a long overcoat over his enormously stout, round-shouldered body, with his white hair uncovered and his puffy face showing the white ball of the eye he had lost, Kutuzov advanced with his lunging, staggering gait into the ring and stopped behind the priest. He crossed himself with an accustomed movement, bent till he touched the ground with his hand, and sighing heavily bowed his grey head. Behind Kutuzov was Bennigsen and the suite. Despite the presence of the commander-in-chief, which drew the attention of all the superior officers, the militiamen and soldiers continued their prayers without looking at him.

When the service was over Kutuzov stepped up to the icon, dropped ponderously on his knees, touched the earth with his forehead, and then for a long time struggled to rise to his feet but he was too heavy and feeble. His grey head twitched with the effort. At last he got himself up, and naïvely thrusting out his lips as children do kissed the icon and again bowed and touched the ground with his hand. The other generals followed his example; then the officers, and after them the soldiers and militiamen, came up with excited faces, pushing each other and shoving breathlessly forward.

From L. N. Tolstoy, War and Peace, Rosemary Edmonds, tr., vol. 2 (Harmondsworth: Penguin Books, 1978), pp. 906-908.


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