News of the arrest spread like wildfire. “Vissarion has been arrested, Vissarion has been arrested.” Yelled the young boy from atop a bucket in the middle of the village square. People gathered around him, waiting for more news. Suddenly, I was surrounded by people. I began to tap my foot where I stood uncomfortably. My eyes searched for the boy through the cracks that formed as people shuffled back and forth. “Kremlin authorities captured him in Taynoye last night along with Vadim and Vladimir.”
“On what charges?!” yelled a voice from the back. I think everyone was wondering the same thing. I sure was.
“According to the newspaper report, they plan on charging him with organizing an illegal religious organization…and extortion of its members” the boy continued yelling for all to hear.
“Are they calling our Church fake?” someone behind me asked to no one in particular.
“Extortion?!” said someone else outrageously.
“How different are we from the Catholic church?” said another voice, this time much louder. The crowd had grown anxious.
“What does the village provost say of all of this?” asked someone in the front.
“He is calling for a meeting of the village elders and leaders tonight to discuss the next steps.” And with that the young boy stepped off the bucket and walked off the village square. The crowd, however, remained, discussing amongst each other the news of Vissarion’s arrest. I snaked my way through the multitude and caught my breath, ridding myself from the claustrophobia that had been building up since the crowd had gathered. I pictured Vissarion in cuffs, his gray hair long and his beard unkempt. I began my walk home to deliver the news to my father who, by virtue of being one of the village elders, would be invited to tonight’s convocation.
As I walked, I thought of my fellow villagers and their deep devotion to Vissarion. He rarely stopped by Korbik, and when he did, it was for a few hours. I heard stories of him staying in other villages for days or weeks at a time. I was always bothered by this. In my lifetime, I have seen Vissarion maybe four times in 19 years. But that has never stopped the villagers from sending to him their monthly tithe.
I believe in God, but I don’t believe that Vissarion is the son of God. Forgive me father if I am sinning in my belief. I just cannot believe this man is your son. He has not performed any miracles. He has not cured a cancerous person. Or brought back to life the dead; made the mute speak; the deaf hear or the blind see. I feel no sympathy for his current situation. But I must keep my thoughts private as to not upset my fellow villagers or my father, who is a devout follower.
I arrived home and went straight to my father who was laying down in a reclining chair in the living room, watching TV. “Papa,” I began, crouching down and grabbing his forearm softly as he was frail due to his advanced age, “they have arrested Vissarion.”
“Who’s they? Why? What are you talking about, Radimir?” he said turning to me.
“Kremlin authorities. They have arrested him because they said he started an illegal religious organization that has been extorting its members.” I spoke softly as to not alarm him, but provided all the details as to not insult his intelligence. My father patted my hands and leaned back on the chair, making himself more comfortable.
“It’s going to be okay, Radimir. Vissarion was arrested by the Romans in his first life and made it out okay.”
“Papa, when he was arrested by the Romans he was turned over to the Jews and was crucified. I don’t think that was a good turn of events,” I said smiling back at him, trying to contain my sarcasm.
“It’s going to be okay. Besides, he created a structure to the Church in case he ever went missing.” His voice was strong despite his age. It resonated through the living room.
“Yeah, about that. The young boy who delivered the news said that the provost would be calling a meeting of the village elders and leaders tonight. Of course you’re invited. I will take you,” I explained, taking my hands off his forearm, and standing up.
“Yes, yes. I will definitely go and make sure that everything is in order. I may not be able to walk anymore but I sure can make my voice be heard and make sure order is kept in the village just like Vissarion would’ve wanted. He may be arrested but life must go on.” He smiled at me, my father always kept up his optimism, even when my mother died. I respected that about him.
“All right then, Papa, you keep watching the television, I will go upstairs and rest a little bit.” And with that I walked up the stairs and into my room. I felt a tiredness wash over me and I fell onto my bed and into a deep sleep thinking of Vissarion in cuffs in a Kremlin jail.
I awoke several hours later as the sun was setting with a feeling of unease about the meeting that would take place in just a few moments. I dressed well for it, putting on my finest black slacks complimented by black shoes, a white button-down shirt, and a tan suit jacket. I went downstairs and helped my father dress as well. I dressed him in his usual olive-green jacket, a reminder from his days in the Soviet army and placed his side cap square on his head. He’d been told to stop wearing it by the village provost many times, but my father could not stop wearing it. It reminded him of my mother, who he met while he was stationed in a far post in on the Eastern side of Siberia. She loved how he looked with the side cap. The last thing we put on was his favorite cologne. I made some coffee and asked him if he knew what he would say to quell any uneasiness that the village elders and leaders may feel about the arrest.
“I will tell them the same thing I told you earlier,” he retorted, bringing the cup to his thin lips. “Radimir, you must remember that in the face of adversity Vissarion never gave up on his mission. He didn’t before so why would he do it now?”
I wanted to tell him that Vissarion was a charlatan, that Jesus came and left this Earth, and we had to die to meet him. But I felt sick to my stomach, and I didn’t have the fortitude to break it down to my father, he was such a devout follower. Vissarion was just a man, there was nothing holy about him, and the Kremlin would expose that. But then what? What of the thousands of followers? What about the money he had stolen from them? From me! We paid our monthly tithe with the little money we made from our farming, and what did he do with it if not enrich himself.
“Come Papa,” I said, downing my cup of coffee like a shot of vodka. “Let’s get you into the wheelchair.” My father wrapped his arms around my neck and I grabbed his legs with one arm and his back with the other, lifting him. He felt so light. My father frowned every time I picked him up to put him in the wheelchair. He felt embarrassed that he could no longer walk or lift himself up. That someone needed to wipe him after using the bathroom, not that I minded, he was my father after all. Nevertheless, I could feel his anger so I placed him in the wheelchair quickly, as to avoid his wrath.
We left our house sometime after the sun had set and walked to the village house, a large community building located in the village square. It was close to the house but the walk was made longer by me having to push my father in his wheelchair. I asked him about the last time he had to convene with the village elders and leaders.
“You were about 12 years old; don’t you remember? There was a huge flooding in Korbik, a deluge some say. It had been raining for 10 days straight, and Vissarion was on his way to the village.” My father turned his head halfway to face me. “Your mother had recently passed from that damned cancer. If only she could’ve lived a month longer then maybe…” he stopped himself short of calling for a miracle.
“Tell me about mama, Papa. How did you two meet?”
“Well, I was stationed in one of the forsaken posts. You know what that means right?”
“I think so,” I replied, unsure of what he meant.
“Well, I was in the far east, in Tigil to be exact. I was almost 45 when I met her. She was only 19. But something attracted her to me. I don’t know what it was but she really liked me.”
“Really, an old fart like you liked by a 19-year-old?”
“I know it’s hard to believe but yes! And don’t make fun of me, you wouldn’t be here if it weren’t for her attraction to me.”
“Did you have any kids before me?”
“No. I had flings here and there but I was never married or had kids. Impossible to believe but you gotta understand life in the Union was hard. The only thing that kept me afloat was being part of the military. And even that was hard of its own.”
“I can see that. You rarely talk about it,” I said, not necessarily showing any interest in it.
“Regardless, I met your mother in a bar near the military station. She worked as a waitress there. She slipped her number in one of my orders once. And when I called her, she told me she wanted to meet. It was wintertime, and we met outside my apartment. Let’s just say things went well. You were born out of that chance meeting.”
I laughed as I pushed my father up the small hill into the village square. From where I was walking, I could see the three story community building. I looked at the door and could see people entering it. “Almost there, Papa.” As I continued walking and getting closer to the building, I felt my stomach tie itself in a knot. Something felt off though I couldn’t put my finger on what. I didn’t want to enter the building, it felt as though I would never come out. As we arrived, I saw Sergei Utkin welcoming people at the door. He wore loose, yellow button-down shirt green slacks. He was the son of the village provost and one of the village leaders.
“Radimir and Misha Sokolov! Welcome!” he said cheerily, though he sounded drunk. He came over to help me bring my father up the stairs as there was no ramp to bring him to the door. His breath reeked of vodka. “I hope you’re both doing okay. Incredible news we received today; don’t you think?”
“I don’t see why they would think he’s running an illegal religious organization!” My father said as he was being brought up the stairs though the question was directed at me.
“I don’t know, Papa,” I muttered.
“You don’t know? This is the leader of our Church!” Sergei pressed on. He was beginning to annoy me. I couldn’t tell if this was his usual annoying self or the drunk version of himself, but I didn’t like it either way.
“I agree with my father, Sergei.” I said annoyed. “Now can we please drop the topic. We will discuss it enough once inside.” I implored him. He smiled at me and helped me placed my father on the floor.
“Of course, Radimir. We’ll have plenty of time to discuss this inside.” He closed his eyes and brought his hands together and mumbled some words as though he were praying. I pushed my father inside the large hall ignoring him.
Inside, the hall was illuminated by a large chandelier hanging from the center, and several small lights attached to the walls. A large table was set on the middle with twelve chairs, taken up by the village elders and leaders. A large chair was in the middle for the village provost who had yet to arrive. I walked to the table and removed one of the chairs and pushed my father in.
No one spoke to us as we waited for the village provost to arrive. I sat in silence and thought of Vissarion as he sat in a jail cell. I wondered if he was isolated from other prisoners or if he was thrown in with the rest of the jailed population. I wished deep down that he was isolated so that he couldn’t spread more of his poisonous ideology. But I knew that would be impossible. He would have his converts in jail, and this would make him a martyr. I wished otherwise, but my heart knew the reality.
As I wondered about our dear leader, Sergei interrupted my silence to announce the arrival of his father. “Please stand up and welcome Mikhail Utkin, your village provost.” Everyone but my father stood up and began applauding as a man in white robes entered the large hall from the back door. He walked to the large chair and motioned everyone to sit down.
We sat down and stared at him in silence eagerly waiting for his word. I could feel the tension in the air, the majority of the people in the hall needed some guidance now that their leader was captured by authorities. I could tell they felt lost and lonely and insecure. The man raised his hand and index finger and began to speak.
“Our leader, Vissarion has been captured by authorities we do not recognize as legitimate. We are a sovereign nation of people who follow the teachings of our Church, not what the Kremlin calls their laws. We answer only to God and to his son, Vissarion.” Everyone clapped at the words. They even stood up from their chairs. The feeling of uneasiness returned to me. My stomach knotted itself, and I wanted to vomit. My father was eagerly applauding those sickening words. I vehemently disagreed with everything Mikhail said.
I sat in silent disapproval, unnoticed. But I wanted to yell at the man, tell him he was wrong. That Vissarion deserved to be jail and that he deserves to rot in a cell. That he is guilty of what he is accused of, and probably many more things. But I couldn’t muster the strength by myself, I knew I didn’t even have my dad’s backing in this and so I remained quiet.
“We’re facing hard times my brothers,” began Mikhail after the applauses had subsided. “Our great leader has spoken to the Congregation of Provosts about this before. Of what we should do should he ever be captured by the Kremlin.” Again, my heart dropped to my stomach, and I felt uncomfortable to be alive. I feared the words that would come next.
“And so, with what has happened, we must gather all our collective strength and carry out the next phase of his Godly plan.”
The room fell silent. No one had any idea what he was talking about. The leaders and the elders looked at each other in confusion. My father turned his head around and stared at me, seemingly searching for answers I did not have. And I felt even more sick, wanting to vomit more that I had before. Something bad would be coming out of this man’s mouth. I wanted to take my father away from this building, away from Korbik and away from Rossiya if it meant never being part of this ridiculous religion ever again.
“Please open your ears and your hearts because what I will say next is not for the weak willed, or the faint hearted,” began Mikhail with a strong tone, “Vissarion knew he would not make it if he was to ever be captured by the state of Rossiya. The Kremlin does not like to have its power questioned by anyone. They will take anyone out by any means necessary. And so, he gave us the following orders,” he motioned towards Sergei who had with him a large blue tome and who then brought it to him. “The following words are a direct edict from Vissarion himself,” Mikhail cleared his throat and proceeded, “My fellow brothers, if you are hearing these words, that means the State has captured my body. It is in their interest to dispose of my body by any means necessary: jail, banishment or even death. Regardless of the method they choose, my soul has already left this mortal plane. It is time for your soul to reunite with mine. I have made preparations with the village provost to ensure that in three days’ time all of our souls are reunited. We cannot lose focus and continue to strive for eternal life with God.”
Preparations? I didn’t like anything the provost just said. Everything sounded like it would lead to our deaths. I began to feel claustrophobic, I almost reached for the handles on my father’s wheelchair and wheeled him away but I stayed in place for his sake. He turned around and smiled at me. I couldn’t tell if we had listened to the same speech.
Mikhail closed the book and began speaking again, “for those who didn’t get it, we will be shedding our mortal bodies to join Vissarion and God in their eternal glory!”
People stood up and began applauding again. I stood up but didn’t applaud. When they stopped applauding and sat down I remained standing. I stared down Mikhail, who stared back at me. “What is it, my brother?”
“How exactly are we ‘shedding’ our mortal bodies?”
“Ah, great question.” He then motioned to Sergei once more, who withdrew a small pill from his pockets and handed it to his father. Mikhail held it between his fingers and proudly showed it to the room. “This pill here contains a toxin that will kill you in 3 seconds when consumed.”
“Yes.” Mikhail answered without missing a beat, and with a smile.
I felt a tug from my father on my jacket. He shook his head, as if he knew what was going to happen next. But nothing could stop me. I had had it with the feeling in my stomach. The claustrophobia had peaked and I needed an escape.
“This is ridiculous,” I said to audible gasps from the elders and the leaders.
“Excuse me?” Mikhail said.
“I will not lay my life down for a false prophet, who cannot even perform miracles!” I said raising my voice. “I will not let my father lose his life over a charlatan who steals money for what? Suicide pills? This. Is. Ridiculous!”
“Radimir, right?” Mikhail asked, “you better watch the next words that come out of your mouth.”
“Or what? This is a farce! You’re asking everyone here to lay their lives down for a fake! I’m sick of biting my tongue!” I said.
By then I was a hysterical mess. My father was staring at me in disbelief as was everyone else. Sergei had a smile on his face as he watched my descent into madness. I wanted to vomit; vomit in Mikhail’s face and run out of the community building. At this point I wanted to leave my father behind with his crazy beliefs. I wouldn’t be a martyr for something I didn’t believe in.
“I will give you one chance to repent, or else we will arrest you, Radimir.” Mikhail said condescendingly.
“Go fuck yourself,” I said back to him.
He motioned with his hands to two guards who were standing by the doors to grab me from where I stood. They grabbed and I flailed all over as the took me to the back door from where Mikhail had entered. Once outside they put me in cuffs and took me to a desolated building behind the community building that served as the village jail.
I sat on the lonely bench, thinking of Vissarion sitting on his own lonely bench. Thinking of why he would force so many people to kill themselves and for what? After taking their money, and breaking their psyche with his messed-up ideology, why force them to kill themselves? I sat on the lonely bench thinking of my father who for sure would take that pill without question whatsoever. I wondered what would happen to me. I knew deep down they would force me to take the pill, but for now I was away from the madness that was the Church, and all the feelings of uneasiness, and the claustrophobia ceased to exist within me. Tiredness washed over me and I laid down on the lonely bench, thinking of Vissarion in cuffs, in a lonely jail cell.