October 22 is the memory of St. Sebastian of Karaganda (1884-1966), a former monk of the Optina Pustyn who spent seven years in a correctional labor camp near Karaganda (Kazakhstan) on false accusations and who later devoted himself to serving the people of this land – the place of mass exile, drenched in human suffering. Let us share the memories of the elder’s spiritual daughter about his saving perspicacity.
It was in September 1958 that I had to go on an urgent trip to Moscow during my vacation. It was hard to get tickets at that time. I had to go to the station, register in a queue and sit there all night, because every two hours there was a roll call for those who had registered. It was a painful sleepless night outdoors. I got a good ticket to a sleeping car that morning. The next day I went to see Father Sebastian. He met me with a smile, “Have you got a ticket? Fine, fine. Let’s have a prayer service for the travelers. When are you going to leave?” – “Wednesday, Father.” He lifted his eyes and looked up. Suddenly he froze, turned to me and said strictly, “Don’t hurry. It’s too early to go on Wednesday.” – “How come, Father? How come? My vacation begins and I must get back in time, I got a ticket with such pains!” However, the priest frowned: ” You must return this ticket. Go to the station straight after the service and return it.” – “I can’t do that, Father, I can’t delay my trip.” – “I order you to return the ticket! You must return your ticket today, can you hear me?” and he stomped his foot angrily. I came to my senses: “I’m sorry, Father, I’m sorry; if that’s your blessing, I’m going to go and return it now.” – “Yes, now go and come back to me, and the service will still be going on,” Father Sebastian said and blessed me. He had never been so demanding with me before.
I returned the ticket and went back to church. My mood was calm and I was glad that I had obeyed my spiritual father. What will he say now?
Father Sebastian came out to me cheerfully and contentedly, “Have you returned your ticket? That’s great. When do you plan to depart?” – “What do you mean? I’ve just returned my ticket.” – “Well, go and get a new one tomorrow. You can go to the station on your way home and register for the queue. You won’t have to stand there at night, so you can go home and sleep. You will come and get your ticket in the morning.” All I could say was, “Okay.” I went to the station and thought to myself, “Father Sebastian used to sympathize with me so much. Why is he so pitiless now?”
There was a man at the station with a list. The registration had just begun, and I was the seventh. I told the man that I had already spent one night at the station, to which he replied, “I’m not going anywhere so you can go home. I’ll be filling in for you on the roll call. Come back tomorrow at eight o’clock in the morning.” He made a note of my last name. The next morning I came back, joined the queue and got my ticket.
There was a moleben before my departure; Father Sebastian gave me a big prosphora, blessed me, and I left.
When our train approached the Volga and stopped at Chapaevsk station, I saw that all the passengers rushed out of their compartments and to the windows in the corridor. I went out, too. “What happened?” I asked. One of the passengers let me look through the window.
I saw passenger cars on the adjacent track, piled up on each other. They also blocked the next track. Some cars were standing upright and formed a huge heap. Everyone was overwhelmed by fear. They rushed to the attendant with questions. She explained: “A fast train like ours, the one that got out of Karaganda on Wednesday, crashed into the rear of a freight train at full speed, so the cars piled one on top of another. It was such a disaster! There were ambulances brought in from Kuibyshev. These cars won’t be pulled out of the way soon, there is a lot of work to be done. Freight trains do not run through Chapaevsk for the time being. They follow a different route.”
I went to my compartment, lay down on my bed facing the wall and started crying, “Father, Father! Dear Father!”
Translated by The Catalogue of Good Deeds