“It’s not so much that I think he will criticize how we live, but why I left. “
“I saw how menacingly cold that man was about you. It was chilling.”
“You never said.”
“You didn’t seem to want to talk about it.”
“Some people think you have to make up with past connections, no matter what.”
“What if he does?”
“Then he will have to choose whether to give you communion or not. You should at least try.”
“How much does he know about our situation?”
“Nothing. Mischa called me Papa in front of him and told him that his mother was at home far away.”
The three travelers avoided the center of town and made their way to the rustic wooden Church which had a single dome and a three-bar cross bridging it to heaven. They were a little early for Saturday night Vigil, which meant that the Church was empty enough for them to pick their place in the back. Elena felt at home with the icons. Slowly peasants came trickling in, dressed as she was used to from all those years before. Her own home-woven flax clothing was not that different. The Priest made his way to them.
“Mischa and Pavel! I’m so glad you made it back.” Mischa and Pavel asked for and received his blessing. As he turned to Elena, Pavel introduced her. “It is good of you to come,” he said to her eyes.
“Thank you. Father bless,” she said as she bowed to kiss his hand in hers.
“I hope your journey was pleasant.”
Pavel and Fr. Raphael discussed some of the details before the Priest made his way back to the alter, greeting other parishioners on his way.
“That wasn’t so bad, was it?” Pavel said to Elena.
The choir was lead by the Priest’s wife and consisted of a weathered man, a younger man, a woman his age, and a young boy. The younger man did the readings, and the young boy sang soprano in a clear, angelic voice. Elena thought it was the most beautiful sound she had ever heard.
After the service Elena and Pavel stepped outside on the porch while Mischa went with a group of children in the side yard. He looked very intently at them, and Elena was glad to see him even talking a little.
As the last of the families left, Fr. Raphael found them on the porch. “Mischa seems a fine boy. He said you have been living in a cave in the mountains?”
“Yes,” Pavel said. “Before he was born, his mother and I found a cave where we believe a hermit Old Believer died. He left behind icons painted on the walls and service and theology books. We have been trying to live as he did. Elena is not my wife, and Mischa is not my son.”
“We have been living as brother and sister.”
“And Mischa’s father?”
Elena interjected, “I left him and his family and found Pavel on the road away from where he and his family live. Pavel has been helping me.”
“They are very cold people. I tried to return her shoes to them, and they said they had no use for her.”
“That all sounds very difficult.”
“Pavel is very capable.”
“So Mischa has brought you here?”
“If he is to be accepted by these families, your situation should be normalized. A single man and a married woman living together, no matter how chaste they actually are, will be unacceptable to them.”
“I understand,” said Pavel. Elena looked down.
“I could make inquiries about your husband, Elena.”
“I don’t want him to know about my life, and I don’t care about his either.”
“Does he know about Mischa?”
“Does Mischa know about him?”
“Yes. That he is a mean man that I couldn’t handle.” Elena started to cry.
“Ok. It is good that you have been honest with him and didn’t say that Pavel is his father.”
“I could write to the Priest in his town and ask him to make inquiries. He doesn’t have to reveal who is asking.”
“Ok,” Elena said.
“Pavel, you, Elena, and Mischa can stay at our house.”
“We are used to the ground, that wont be necessary.”
“Well good, because there is only one spare bed for Elena.”
Pavel smiled. “Ok.”
Fr. Raphael called to his son, the boy with the angelic voice.
“Take Mischa to our house and fix your room for his mother.”