An electrical fire late Monday night ripped through our small mission church here in rural Indiana. The damage was, if not serious, not inconsiderable.
Our iconostasis was the chief object of what damage resulted before the good men of our local volunteer fire department arrived to douse the fire.
The icon of Saints Boris and Gleb was hardest hit: Those two venerable saints find their beards singed around the edges. Saint Euphrosyne of Polatsk’s tender white throat was blackened with soot. Saint Olga Nikolaevna of Urkutsk also finds herself a bit the worse for wear, but she’s used to rough treatment: A slight toasting on a cool Hoosier night is nothing compared to the trial by torch, not to mention the cannibalism and the gang-rape, to which she was subjected by the Hebrew Coven of Mstislav-Ropchinsky during her Most Blessed Martyrdom on November 29 of the Year of Our Lord 1646 (Old Calendar).
Father Nicodemus is optimistic about the fire damage. I’ve written before about the portrait of Stalin that Father Nicodemus at one point placed on our church altar. Well, Father long since removed it from the altar, owing to a certain discomfort with Stalin on the part of one or two members of our congregation. But he never removed it completely from the church premises. And it’s the slight damage to this portrait that, of all the damage the fire did, has exercised Father Nicodemus most.
“Looks like Comrade Stalin’s pipe burned a little too hot last night,” Nicodemus told me with his charming cackle, his close-set eyes twinkling as he licked at that portion of his beard that his tongue could easily reach.
“But actually,” he continued, “Stalin was a rather wide-ranging smoker, one who favored Soviet-made Belomorkanal cigarettes just as often as he did his wonderful pipe. Either way, he was no stranger to a good smoke.
“Oh yes, Stalin,” Father went on. “The Father of All the Russias was a very effective smoker. He ‘smoked’ several million of the Little Russian bastards in the early 1930s, back when that counter-revolutionary filth was sabotaging the Great Russian communist experiment by lying about their crop yields and holding back their grain to starve Great Russian children. He ‘smoked’ another several million Enemies of the People who stood in the path of the Historical Destiny of Holy Mother Russia.
“He also ‘smoked’ hundreds of thousands of Crimean Tatars after the Great War for the Fatherland, packing them off like the Nazi animals they are to their deserved Central Asian exile, ordering the men of Beria’s secret police to throw their corpses out of the freight cars when they expired. At his death, Stalin was in the process of ‘smoking’ the so-called ‘Doctors’—those Jews, sent by the West to pantomime Soviet doctors and, by wicked craft, poison the man whom the brave Americans of the Popular Front loved to call Uncle Joe, history’s most illustrious recipient of a Russian Orthodox seminary education. Oh, he was a fine smoker indeed, was Comrade Stalin.”
At which point Nicodemus melted into that phlegmy laughter that, along with his mastery of American slang like “to smoke,” makes him a “favorite” among the wide-hipped Great Russian immigrant women of our small congregation. I should add that Nicodemus is himself, like Stalin, a heavy smoker.
I must say that there’s a residually “American” aspect to my identity that makes me uncomfortable in the face of what some might construe as Father Nicodemus’s open praise of Josef Stalin. But my role is not to cavil with my Great Russian priest; it is to accept churchly authority, and to humbly submit to greater wisdom.
The good news is that the damaged iconostasis will be fixed for a song!
Our parishioner Lyuba Valentinovna, a Russian immigrant (presumably legal) whose heart is as generous as her gold-toothed smile is radiant, has a cousin, Arkady Arkadovich, who was trained as an icon-painter in one of the “underground” seminaries of Brezhnev’s Russia.
This latter-day Andrei Rublev, a double amputee due to a hazing accident he suffered as a Brezhnev-era Red Army conscript, is currently living on public assistance in Ozone Park, Queens. He makes a fitful living riding the outer-borough subway lines, singing Red Army funeral songs in a lusty baritone to the accompaniment of a speaker he pulls behind himself, roped to the rolling board to which the doctors in Pskov Oblast. Lyuba Valentinovna believes she can persuade him to come and repaint our iconostasis—and at a reasonable fee!
By the way, our church community humbly requests monetary donations. Please mail checks to the attention of Russ Smith at Splice Today, 2639 North Charles Street, Baltimore, MD, 21218.