During my TV apprenticeship, the then management urged our team to include a religious show in the program. None of us expressed a desire to take over such a show. We all stemmed from a regime that had been hostile to the Church. So we had a draw, and I drew the “short” straw.
Initially, I didn’t know where to start. Most of the publications on the subject were inaccessible. There were no Google, Wiki, or other search engines available. It was just me with the Bible, which I would read several times, not knowing then that it would offer me numerous topics in my life as a writer as well.
Along with the captivating lectures from the Old and New Testaments, I met the servants of the Lord, but also many of their vices. This is how the novella The Sacraments of Matrimony and many pages from the novel The City of the Last Eclipse were born.
I suggest authors who feel short of ideas to search boldly in this area. They will not regret it. Until then, I offer you an excerpt from the novella The Sacraments of Matrimony.
Excerpt from The Sacraments of Matrimony
Emma glances at her watch, the Vespers Service should be about to end. She makes it in time to meet the parish priest.
The priest is in his sixties, but still spry, with graying hair carefully parted in the middle and plastered down with gel. His eyes are prying and too small for his Pantagruelian stature. The face is waxen, the beard trimmed short and well-groomed, contrary to clerical tradition. His featureless countenance does not seem capable of expressing either joy, sadness, satisfaction, hatred or wonder. Unlike the prying eyes, which, at certain times, scrutinize you until they tire you out and make you go insane. At other times, it is his ignoring you that drives you crazy. He can talk and expound for several minutes without so much as glancing at you, as if you were not even there. Just when you think you might as well be howling at the moon, he reprojects that intense look into your brain, stripping you of any trace of sympathy. You then want to shut your ears, and cut and run to take shelter in a hole at the very center of the Earth.
But Emma keeps her composure. It is not the first time she has come across such specimens. She blinks, simulating a kind of hello and whispering more to herself.
“…Dare, daughter of my people, shake the sin’s dust off your shoes and enter clean in the house of your Father, to receive His forgiveness,” the man speaks gravely and imposingly, examining Emma from head to toe.
“Forgive me, Father,” she plays along, assuming an air of innocence, “but I don’t know the right place where to arrange my shoes.”
Taken aback by the unexpected reply of the young woman, the churchman lets up a little.
“Yes… Father Varsanufie,” he snaps bitterly. “By the will of the Lord the parish priest of the Holy Church St. Nikephoros the Confessor in our city,” he concludes proudly, emphasizing the last words.
“Emma Majore, Orthodox Christian,” she replies quickly, on the same note.
The response of the girl makes him ponder for a while.
“Daughter of Sion, do not exalt yourself before your master, lest you should claim a place among his great men. For it is better to be told, come up here on this divan, rather than to come down from it and get lost in the desert dust.”6
“Forgive me again, Father, and pray be kind and have someone remove the dross from the silver, so that a silversmith can produce a clean vessel7, from which all those invited will drink to their hearts’ content”.
For a second time, the loquacity of the stranger affects the servant of God. He asks curtly.
“Who are you and what brings you to us?”
“Emma, Father, Emma Majore. As I have already informed you, I would like to confess. So that I can then receive Communion as quickly as possible, if I am not asking too much,” she ends, smiling coyly.
“Have you come to us before?” he asks distrustfully.
“No. This has been the first time,” she confesses, a little embarrassed.
“So why all the hurry, my child,” he goes back to his priestly routine.
“Because I will receive the Holy Sacrament of Matrimony,” she answers weakly.
“Oh, why didn’t you say so from the beginning. Now I understand. Take a seat, so that I read you the exhortation.”
Zarsanufie ends the prayer with an indiscreet question.
“So what do you do for a living in this foreign country?”
“Does the question bare any relevance to the Sacrament of Penance, so that I have to answer it?”
“Not necessarily,” the father seems to offer an excuse. “I was just thinking that a better understanding would facilitate our dialog.”
“I have just finished my studies. Recently, I have also found a job, if you find this helpful in any way. Rest assured, it is not the world’s oldest profession…”
“Oh, this thought has not even crossed my mind,” the priest confesses apologetically. “We can tell such women from afar, even before they get to open their mouths. No, you are not one of them. I was just wondering whether you have any theological or biblical studies…”
“Oh, not in the least, Father. It’s just that, occasionally, like so many others, I have been curious to know a little about what is hidden between the thick covers of the Bible. Merely this and nothing more.”
The parish priest keeps quiet for a while. He does not feel too convinced of the young woman’s words. She seems to know a lot. If he will put her questions according to his priestly ritual, this confession might never come to an end.
“My daughter, if you have committed any sins, now it is the right time to confess them. I will believe you after your word and pray to God to forgive all your wrongdoings,” the priest changes his mind, putting his priestly pride aside.
“Dear father, for want of better words, I will quote from Terence8. I am human and consider that nothing human is alien to me. So I ask of you, dear Father, to pray to God to forgive my sins, whether many or few.”
“May the Mercy of God come upon you, my child. Amen,” he concludes with a sonorous prolongation of amen, relieved to have gotten out of a mess that seemed unsolvable. This devil of a girl is not confessable.
“How much do I owe you for the Sacrament of Penance, Father,” the categorical voice of the stranger cuts coldly and unsparingly through the brain of the priest, making his circumvolutions quake from one hemisphere to the other.
This was the last thing he needed, disgracing the priestly order by asking money for confession. No priest would have ever imagined that a parishioner would one day dare put such a sordid question. Nobody in his parish would have ever dared commit such wrongdoing. Every single one of his parishioners would leave on the cassock however much they saw fit, but, no matter how poor or rich they were, never less than 25 Euro. Anger begins to well up inside of him. But the priestly ritual comes once again to his rescue.
“My daughter, we do not put a price on the Holy Sacrament of Penance. We, poor sinners, want nothing else than to be of use to those that come to humiliate themselves before God. If we succeed in doing a good deed before the All-powerful and the parishioner is pleased, he will leave a farthing from his overabundance for the helpless orphans that look for protection in our holy church.”
“And where is the orphanage in question,” she feigns curiosity. “I would like to leave something in the poor box for the less fortunate.”
“The poor box is right in front of the altar, near the Blessed Virgin,” the clergyman points wearily towards it. “As to what the project for building the orphanage is concerned, it has been submitted for approval. We are only waiting for a positive answer, if possible, before autumn, so that we can start digging the foundation at the latest by next spring.”
“Yes, yes, I see,” she syllabifies, a little vexed and not at all convinced of the good intentions of the parish, slipping in a fifty euro note under the prying eyes of the dear father, who hastens unusually to end the confession.
“Is there anything else?” the man of the cloth asks, obviously irritated and hoping to get rid of the stranger as soon as possible.
“Oh, dear Father,” the young woman doesn’t give him a moment’s rest. “I almost forgot what’s most important. When can I receive Communion, that is the very reason why I am here.”
“Tomorrow, after the conclusion of the Holy Liturgy. Do not drink or eat anything, so that you may receive the Sacrament of Holy Communion,” priest Zarsanufie adds, crossing himself behind her just to play it safe and make the evil one disappear.