That day Fadora decided to become a heretic with Savka.
Published on: 05-31-2019
“‘The Lord is my shepherd.’”
Savka Vaselenko read the words carefully, hearing the crisp clatter of the consonants and the soft mushy sounds of the vowels.
“‘I have everything I need.’”
Savka spoke the words aloud, whispered phrases that fogged the cold air of their bedroom.
“Mama,” the farmer whispered to the woman at his side, “God is our shepherd.”
Mama smiled. It was her job to watch for neighbors, police, the priest, or anyone else who might be sneaking up to their farmhouse, hoping to catch them reading the Bible.
Everyone knew they had it. Everyone had heard Savka speak of the joy he found in touching the large printed words, and hearing the Creator speak, “in my own bedroom.”
The police had searched the bedroom, the kitchen, the barn, the outhouse, and everywhere else they thought the Bible might be. They had searched individually and in groups, but no one had found anything except coats, potatoes, straw-filled mattresses, piles of rough blankets, a few old schoolbooks, a wood stove.
Never the Bible.
The Bible was large, filled with God’s words spelled out in clear Ukrainian. The language of thick consonants and muddy vowels as spoken by the farmers and shepherds of Ukraine. Like those who lived in their village.
* * *
Savka wouldn’t tell even his wife, Fadora, where he had gotten the Bible; he just held it close and smiled the contented smile of one who had discovered the love sounds of God.
On the afternoon when their first baby was born, Savka was in the fields, working the clods far away from the newborn’s cries. Fadora had begged the women who had helped with the birth to carry the baby boy to the church so the priest could give him “the name God wants him to have, before his father comes home.”
They had obeyed, and a small clutch of women joined her at the church where the priest (a man far more powerful than even the mayor) named their son Ulas. “Son of the heretic.”
Ulas. The very sound of it made Fadora angry. Why would God want her son to receive such a name? With it he would never be able to attend school, enter church, or be employed in a good job. Her son, the son of Savka the heretic, who believed God speaks directly to anyone who reads His Word, was being cursed! How could that be the will of God?
Once, when the priest decided to gather a gang of angry men and destroy Savka the heretic, Fadora hid with Ulas in the bedroom. She heard the men approach the farm. She heard their excited shouts when they found Savka in the paddock. Then she heard the sounds of whips, sticks, and stout farm implements being pounded into her husband’s flesh.
She shouted at them and they stopped, surprised to see her there, and even more surprised to see she was commanding them to stop. She stood, puffing like a steam engine leaving the station, until the men left, a band of wolves that had made a kill and left before eating their fill.
“How can God command the priest to gather mean men and beat and nearly kill my husband? My Savka could never be part of a rabble like them! He is the softest and kindest and most generous man in the entire village.”
That day Fadora decided to become a heretic with Savka. For days she nursed her husband back to strength. Warm water, cold water, hot soup, soft singing. Good medicine.
* * *
Now Fadora was in charge of hiding the Bible. They had considered the pile of cow dung, but decided God’s Word would not be comfortable there. Together they had finally settled on three protected spots. One would be deep in the canvas bag of flour beside the stove. Another would be Savka’s rough cashuk, the heavy coat he wore whenever he worked outside. The coat was large, and when it hung beside the door, there was room to place the Bible in its left sleeve.
The third spot was her favorite. She had found a small cloth sack, the color of bread, that perfectly fit the Book. If anyone were nearby, she would slip the Bible into the sack and add it to the dough she was tending for today’s bread. Then she would sing her bread songs and knead the Scripture along with the dough.
They read only in the daytime, when they could see if anyone was coming. Daily they read, line by line and page by page, leaving lines of red beneath words that touched them.
A neighbor came, asking why the book was so important, wondering if he might hear the words also. Then others, until a small flock of heretics met regularly in the kitchen, each eager to know the kindness, gentleness, and hope Savka and Fadora had found in the book.
Finally, they taught young Ulas to read with them. Son of a heretic. Son of God.
When Ulas was 8 the family immigrated from the Ukraine to North Dakota in the United States where the gray empty land was similar to what they had known. They built a simple house from earth and stone and filled it with love. In the spring they planted a field of wheat, another of hay, and filled a garden plot with potatoes, beets, carrots, and onions.
At the town store Savka spoke of his treasured Bible and described some of the discoveries he had made while reading in it.
“Did you know that Saturday is the Sabbath; that when people die and are buried, they just lie there until the great resurrection; that you’re to be baptized by dunking clear down under the water, not just by sprinkling a bit of water on your head; and best of all, that Jesus is coming back to take His children home?”
Savka spoke with power and passion, just as he had always lived. The storekeeper listened and asked questions, as did several other men in the store. As Savka was lifting his purchases into the bed of his wagon, a young man approached him and asked where he had learned about Saturday being the Sabbath.
“Why, it’s right there in God’s Word,” he answered. “In the book of Exodus, where Moses is writing down the law of God on the top of the mountain.”
“Do you know there are other people who believe as you do?” the young man asked.
“No!” Savka responded. “Who are they? Where do I find them?”
“Ah, that’s quite easy,” the young man answered. “They are members of the Seventh-day Adventist church, and many of them live just a few miles away. Would you like to meet them?”