Moist steam rolled across the lamp lit platform as the train's brakes screeched in Ivan's ears. Eyes nervously jumped between the slow rolling cars before him and the two guards standing watch at each end of Lytkarino station. Once fully stopped, the railcar doors slid open with a resounding clang in the cold morning air, and passengers began crawling out; singly, and then in pairs, and finally families grouped together in the near dark of the Russian dawn.
As the four roughly military-dressed soldiers walked among the milling people, pulling some along, pushing others, Ivan began to fear the worst. Over the passed years an even tighter rein had been enforced by the rising core groups of the communist party, breaking off any religious ties to the country. Books and documents that did not fit their personal view of things were gathered and burnt in great fires, and anyone found hiding them was executed on the spot. Whole families murdered for nothing more than a single book.
Schools could only teach what was prescribed by the new governmental party, libraries were closed and boarded up until all offensive material could be removed. Mainly, anything that spoke of free will or peace. The old churches and cathedrals were sealed as well, or used for field hospitals for the military only.
Then to add more to their trials, the military began its 'supply requisition and removals', which basically amounted to taking what they wanted. If the common people spoke up they were taken in, if not killed out right. Life had always been a struggle, but now it had become almost unbearable.
Order was expected, demanded, and enforced violently. Ivan knew of a few boarder towns far in the south that were left almost untouched by the present trials, but to leave his family home in Lytkarino would be hard.
Another burst of steam poured out from the train's engine as it slowly began to pull forward once more, headed north in route to Moscow. One man yet remained standing, alone and seemingly forgotten. The guards eyed him with suspicion and started toward him as Ivan stepped out from the greater shadows of the building, and walked quickly to his side.
"Comrade Trenton," the man's eyes grew wide in fear for a moment as a strange man extended a hand in welcome. "I am Peter's cousin, he could not come to get you, and asked me to welcome you in his place."
As fast as caution allowed, Ivan ushered the man away from the guards, towards the edge of the station house platform.
"Soldiers are always so thick at the stations" he spoke soft and quick. "Another one will be in the carriage on the way back to the warehouses, but do not worry, you are safe. Were you able to bring the papers?"
"A full section of the manuscript was copied off for you." The man, only known as Trenton, for fear of spreading his true name, patted the small bag he carried over his left shoulder.
"That is well indeed." Ivan suppressed a smile as they rounded the front of the building and drew near to the waiting carriage, nothing more than a horse drawn cart packed with people headed into the village. Sight of the armed guard standing beside the driver’s seat did little to curb his joy, yet the stranger was visibly nervous for the full three minute ride across the small village.
* * *
Though the morning air was still cold, smoke rose only from a few of the chimneys of unpainted shacks as they walked the last few blocks through the warehouse shanties. Ivan spoke very little, and the man Trenton, said nothing at all. His eyes seemed repeatedly drawn to the sad state of life he saw around him. People lived in a constant state of fear and worry over how to make it from one day to the next. Silent, so as not to attract more of the military to their small community. “Do little, and say even less,” had become a motto in many of the smaller towns and farming villages.
Finally, they came upon a larger dwelling; a combination Children’s home, school, and communal hall for dining. A soldier paced back and forth outside and gave a slight smile to Ivan as they passed. When he saw the stranger his eyes widened for a moment as he drew close.
"Is this him," the guard's excitement seemed to grow even more as the man stepped back and looked cautiously between Ivan and the approach of the armed soldier.
"All is well, comrade," Ivan assured him with a smile and a slap on the back. "Makael is a friend." He then turned, extended a hand to the young man and went on, "Good morning cousin, all is well?"
"The others are still arriving, but most are inside," Makael's enthusiasm did not lessen, though his voice was but a whisper, eyes darting to both ends of the rough dirt street. "All the children are downstairs with Petra and Yianalova, working on their studies." A sad look came to his eyes then, as he continued. "They took Leonov and his family last night, coming back from the markets. Excessive goods they said."
Ivan lowered his head, cap in hand, and silently spoke the man's name as a benediction. Many of their people had been taken this passed year, or shot, and for even less reason.
"He went to buy the new seed for this year’s crops," the young soldier went on. "How are we suppose to feed our families. Mother wastes away even now, it has been weeks since she has been able to even make the weekly gatherings."
"We can but hold to faith and wait, cousin." Ivan's reassurance did little to brighten the man's heart. "You must be going, if they find out you are one of the people. . . Who will watch out for us then, huh?"
Makael turned and slowly walked back to the rough dirt street, head down as he continued his appointed guard-post rounds of Lytkarino's empty warehouse and grainary.
* * *
Inside, the house was silent, except for the scratch of pencils on slate boards, as the children wrote out their school work that morning. A tall man in drab clothing greeted them, his eyes drifted toward a doorway at the back of the room, and the dim lit stairway beyond. Ivan led the way through, only to stop when a child looked up. He returned her warm smile, pointed at the half finished work before her, and patted her dark curls fondly.
“My daughter, Misha,” he told Trenton proudly. "Best in the class. She will do good things one day.” Then, more quietly, he added, ”If we survive what is yet to come.”
As they climbed the darkened stairs the sound of whispered voices became more noticeable; questions of Leonov being taken, the loss of their crops, and how long they would be safe, were foremost in the peoples hearts. All talk died completely as the two men entered-- weary eyes drawn to the face of the stranger. Ivan comforted the group as best he could, joined them in prayer for Leonov's family, and for them all in the days yet to come.
"But gather cousins, we have a guest," he placed a hand on the shoulder of the man beside him and smiled warmly. "This is the man Trenton, he brings us new papers to read, and a blessing should go to him for his courage."
Trenton was visibly amazed by the group, every elder of the community must have been in that small room. Even with the sad state of things, they gathered for the sake of faith he had taken for granted for year. He lowered the bag off his shoulder, dug around for a moment, drew out a large envelope and handed it to Ivan, then smiled as the man opened it and looked at each page with such reverence.
"Cousins, brothers and sisters, we have been truly blessed this day," Ivan spoke with growing enthusiasm as he rose the papers up for the others to see. "Not only a new section of text, but two whole chapters, with study notes as well."
The people gathered around excitedly, each trying to get a closer look at the manuscript, then slowly they took their seats-- eyes and hearts glued on Ivan as he began to read aloud.
"The Gospel of John, Chapter Three. . . 'There was a man of the Pharisees named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews. . . ' "
During the rise of the communist party in 1917-1927, the suppression of religion became so great that those of true faith had to smuggle biblical writing and manuscripts. At times even the smallest of religious script, a simple page of biblical writing or notes on scripture, were held with great reverence, even at the cost of one's life. In today's media there are signs of this type of suppression growing once again, but this time throughout the whole world. How long before such actions, as smuggling "contraband" bibles, is called for even in America?
PLEASE ENCOURAGE AUTHOR,
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Ed, you wrote this with such passion and clarity that you took me there. I could hear the steam escaping from the train, see the two men walking together and sense their reverence as they discovered the precious documents Ivan brought to them.
How very different to 1995 when 2.3 million New Testaments were sent to the newly opened Russia (from Australia) with the blessing of the Russian government, and even requested for schools.
If only we felt the same about the Word of God we, at the moment, possess so freely yet so often neglect. Beautifully written. Great message and perhaps warning as well.