Russian Folk-Tales/The Brother of Christ
THE BROTHER OF CHRIST
An old man was dying, and he was enjoining on his son not to forget the poor.
So on Easter Day he went into the church, and he took some fine eggs with him with which to greet his poor brothers, although his mother was very angry with him for so doing—for she was an evil-minded woman and merciless to the poor.
When he reached the church there was only one egg left, and there was one dirty old man. And the lad took him home to break his fast with him.
When the mother saw the poor man, she was very wroth. "It would be better," she said, "to break your fast with a dog than with such a filthy old beggar." And she would not break the fast.
So the son and the old man broke their fast together, and went out for a walk. Then the son looked and saw that the dress of the old man was very shabby, but the cross on him burnt like fire.
"Come," said the old man, "we will change crosses; you become my brother by the cross."
"No, brother," the lad replied, "however much I may wish it; for I should get such a fine cross as you are carrying, and can give you nothing in return."
But the old man overbore the youth, and they exchanged. And he asked him to come as his guest on Tuesday in Easter week. "And if you want to find your way," he said, "follow the path yonder. You need only say, 'The Lord bless me!' and you will find me."
That very Tuesday the youth set out on the footpath, and said: "The Lord bless me!" and set out on his way journeying forth. He went a little way, and he heard children crying: "Brother of Christ, speak of us to Christ, whether we must be long in pain?" And he went on a few steps farther; and he saw maidens ladling water out of one well into another. "Brother of Christ!" they said to him, "speak of us to Christ, how long we must remain in torture?" And he went on still farther, and saw a hedge, and beneath that hedge there became visible old men, and they were all covered with slime. And they said to him: "Brother of Christ, speak of us to Christ, how long shall we remain in pain?"
And so he went on and on. Then he saw the very old man with whom he had broken his fast. And the old man asked him: "What did you see on the way?"
And the youth recounted all that he had met.
"Well, do you recognise me?" said the old man. And it was only at this moment that the peasant boy understood that he was speaking to Jesus Christ Himself.
"Why, O Lord, are the children tortured?"
"Their mother cursed them in the womb, and they can never enter Paradise."
"And the maidens?"
"They traded in milk, and they mixed water with their milk; and now for all eternity they must ladle out water."
"And the old men?"
"They lived in the white world, and they used to say: 'How pleasant it really might be to live in this world! But, as it is, there is nothing worth caring about!' So they must bear up against the mire."
Then Christ led the boy into Paradise, and told him his place was ready for him there, and you may be sure the boy was none too anxious to leave it on that day. And afterwards He led him into Hell, and there the peasant's mother was sitting.
So the peasant boy began to beseech Christ to have mercy on her. "Have mercy on her, Lord!"
And Christ bade the lad plait a rope of brome-grass. The peasant plaited the rope of brome-grass, and the Lord must have supervised.
And he brought it to Christ, Who said: "Now you have been weaving this rope for thirty years and have laboured sufficiently for your mother, rescue her out of Hell."
And the son dangled the rope down to the mother who was sitting in the boiling pitch. And the rope never burned nor singed: so did God provide. And the son tried and tried to drag his mother up, and caught hold of her head, and she cried out to him: "You savage dog! Why, you are almost choking me!" Then the rope broke off, and the guilty soul once more flew down into the burning pitch.
"She had not desired to escape," said Christ, "and all of her heart is down there, and she must stay there for all eternity."
- Cf. Dante, Inf.
Fitti nel limo dicon; 'Tristi fummo
Nel dolce mondo che dal sol s'allegra. . . .
Or c'attristiam' nella belletta negra.