It’s been relatively quiet here at Jordanville since I got back from Russia. Due to the time difference I’ve been going to sleep and getting up very early, so making it to liturgy has been no problem for me this past week. I’m working in the monastery bookstore for the summer, and nearly everyone is gone. It’s quiet, almost like a ghost town.
My work duties are light. I’ve been doing this since my first year, so I have a good idea of what to do, especially when something unusual happens or someone wants an obscure book in Russian. I encounter the same customers, plus quite a few pilgrims. This weekend, we had a group from Ann Arbor, Michigan, who bought many books for their parish, as well as half the Easter Egg pendants.
Today, as I was finishing up, another regular came in: Mrs. Papkov. She lives not too far from the monastery, and is the mother of Fr. Andrei, the ROCOR priest in Chicago. Every time she comes into the store she has a story to tell. Or rather, a whole set of them. Being over ninety, she has quite a bit of life experience.
“Khristos Voskrese!” she said as she came into the store.
“Voistinu Voskrese!” I said, and congratulated her on the recent marriage of her granddaughter.
I’m not sure how it happened, but she launched into one of her stories set during the Second World War. She lived in a village, on the Azov Sea, which was occupied by the Germans. “The Communists left, and for one week before the Germans came there was anarchy,” she said. “Everyone did what they wanted, there was robbery.” When the Germans came they treated the villagers well at first, and played old Russian songs on the radio again. They told them about how life in Germany was great, and how everyone should go there. “They didn’t open the school, though, not beyond seventh grade, because they wanted us to go to Germany.” When the carrot didn’t work, the stick did, and the Germans forced people to go to Germany to work. Mrs. Papkov went to a brick factory to work. There, she saw a line of people being marched to a concentration camp. She said all this with a smile, something I guess you could do after living for so long.
She then told me about her mother, about how she was caught in an Allied bombing during the war. “The hospital was bombed and she was the only one to survive. Interesting, no?” She then took her leave of me. “You know my son? His daughter was married. She’s a smart girl!”
Moments after Mrs. Papkov left, a young girl with full cheeks and a yellow skirt wrapped around her legs came into the store asking to be shown the church with her family. The girl just graduated from college in Canada and was going back to the States with her family. We came out to meet the parents, who were from Belarus (“Ah, my friend is getting married in Belarus!” I said) and the very tall American boyfriend. I gave the short spiel about the church (I did write the Wikipedia article after all) and showed them the interior. The American had never been inside an Orthodox church before, and he found it pretty interesting. “No pews,” he said. He also found interesting how the dome inside was supported by the four pendentives instead of a circle of columns. “You know your architecture,” I said to him. The family thanked me and went on their way.
It was then that I realized that even on a “boring” day like today, interesting things still happen that are worth writing about.