“We should try to live in such a way that if the Gospels were lost, they could be re-written by looking at us.”
Metropolitan Anthony Bloom of Sourozh
…It is the story of a woman of whom we know nothing except the name. She was called Natalie. The story was told me by the other people involved in it. In 1919 at a moment when the Civil War was raging like a storm over Russia, when our cities were falling prey to one army after the other, a woman with two young children was trapped in a city which had fallen into the hands of the Red Army, while her husband was an officer of the White Army. To save her life and theirs, she hid in a small cabin at the outskirts of the city. She wanted to wait until the first surges were over and try to escape afterwards. On the second day someone knocked at her door towards the evening. She opened it in fear and she was confronted with a young woman of her age. The woman said ‘You must flee at once because you have been discovered and betrayed; you will be shot tonight’. The other woman, showing her children that stood there, said, ‘How could we do that? We would be recognised at once, and they can’t walk far.’ The young woman who so far had been nothing but a neighbour, someone living next door, became that great thing which one calls a neighbour in the Gospel. She grew to the full stature of the Gospel of God, of the good news of the dignity and graciousness of man, and she said ‘They won’t look for you, I shall stay behind.’ And the mother said ‘But they will kill you.’ ‘Yes’, said the woman, ‘but I have no children, you must go.’ And the mother went.
It is not easy, I would say it is almost sacrilegious, to try to imagine what happened in the heart and mind of this woman in the course of the hours that preceded her death. But we can look back to the Gospel and see what happened in the Gospel to those who were the prototype, the archetype of this great and holy woman. Almost two thousand years before, a young man of her age was waiting for his death. His name was Jesus. He was in a garden wrapped in the darkness of the coming night. There was no reason within him why he should die. He was young, healthy; he had done nothing wrong. He was waiting to die in a vicarious way other peoples’ death. He was waiting in the darkness of the night, and death was coming to kill life eternal itself. Three times he went towards his disciples, hoping for a word that would strengthen his heart, for companionship: not to be released, not to be saved from the oncoming death, but to feel that there was a human presence, compassion, love and awe. The disciples were asleep. He got no help.
Natalie in the coming night, in the gathering darkness, in the cold that was falling from the walls and the roof, had nowhere to turn; there was no-one to whom she could turn. She was alone, facing the coming of another woman’s death that would be enacted in her body, in her destiny. She could have walked out. The moment she had passed the threshold, she was again Natalie, not the mother. Two thousand years before on that same cold night when Christ was betrayed into the hands of his murderers, the strongest, the most daring of his disciples was challenged three times, twice by a little maid in the courtyard, once by a group of standers-by; he was not asked ‘Are you Jesus?’ he was told ‘You were with him!’ and three times he said ‘No’, and walked out of the courtyard. Into what? Into security. He turned round and the eyes of Christ met his eyes, and he remembered and he wept. But he walked out. Natalie did not walk out, she stayed inside…
This is the answer which the Christian can give to the tragedy of history. The place where we must stand. Natalie stood where Christ had stood, and where indeed Christ stands now, risen in Heaven with his hands and sides seared with nails and the spear. He stands at the very heart of human history, human suffering, human death, human anguish and tragedy. But He stands there like a rock. He stands there firm, having endured everything, every human suffering in thought and body, and he says to us Christians, ‘ That is where you must stand, not in the dreamland of a faith that gives you the illusion that you are already in heaven while you have never been on earth. No, at the heart of human suffering and tragedy but with a faith unshaken, with the certainty that He who was expected by Job, has come’. And if we stand there, we may undergo all that was promised by him. You remember the passage: ‘Are you prepared and capable of drinking of the cup which I shall drink, of undergoing what I shall go?’ ‘Yes’, said his two disciples. This must be our answer, and when tragedy comes, we must answer again as Isaiah spoke: ‘ “Whom shall I send?” said the Lord. “Here I am, send me.” ‘ Like a sheep among the wolves; like the Son of God among men.