Oh, our Russian peasant women! They don’t know how wonderful they are. It’s as if, together, they represent all the longings and fears of the Orthodox soul. The first woman – the mother who was grieving her baby boy – she wrestles, though she doesn’t understand it, with the eternal question of suffering. If only she could embrace her suffering, and accept it as God’s will, then she might come to understand its transformative powers. And the second woman, who wants to say a prayer for her absent son. She represents the age-old desire to test God: she asks for proof so that she might believe and be comforted. And the third woman – what torments she has in her soul! She believes that her sin is so great that God cannot forgive or love her.
These are the dilemmas of our Russian soul. And did you hear how our elder answered? “God will forgive everything. There is not and cannot be in the whole world such a sin that the Lord will not forgive one who truly repents of it. A man even cannot commit so great a sin that would exhaust God’s love. With love everything is bought, everything is saved…Go, and do not be afraid” (52). Wonderful words. Wise words. They answer all the dilemmas of the human soul. Don’t you agree?
I think that our Russian peasants understand more about love and genuine suffering than our landowners do. Did you hear the elder’s talk with the wealthy woman, Madame Khokalkov? In her leisure, she has the time and the luxury to torment herself with doubt. But does she suffer like our peasants do? The elder is generous when he tells her that he believes in the “genuineness of her anguish.” And he is wise when he tells her that the answer to her doubt is love. But the catch is that she must love actively, not passively. Our good woman has trouble with this instruction. And in that “trouble” you have our gentry. They can love their neighbor from the comfort of their drawing rooms, but they can’t deal with the odors and irritations of loving their neighbors in the flesh. How, then, can our gentry be saved?