Senais laikais, turbūt niekur taip iškilmingai ir džiaugsmingai nešvęsdavo Velykų, kaip Vilniaus krašte ir pačiame Vilniaus mieste………….
English translation by Gloria O’Brien
In the old days, probably
nowhere was Easter more gloriously or joyously celebrated than in the city of
The Easter celebration lasted four days and during those days all the stores in town were closed, even though many of them belonged to people of different faiths. City offices were closed, and even the police conscientiously observed those four days, confident that even those persons inclined to criminality would follow their example. And in fact, during those holydays there were no thefts or other offenses against the law. If it happened that some crime were committed, it was almost a certainty that the criminal was not a resident, but had arrived from some other place or territory.
The holidays began with
solemn devotions in the
The devotions in the
The people were squeezed
From the old days, there
had spread a legend, that if anyone participated in the
During 1740 the bishop of
-- For this statue, even the
But there was an obstacle, because the elderly pastor steadfastly refused to give the statue to the bishop.
-- This is the only valuable thing we own in this parish – he protested.
The bishop threatened to take the statue by force, and shut the old pastor up in a monastery. The old man, weeping, gave in. The bishop felt guilty and very uncomfortable, seeing the old man in tears, and in payment for the offence, he promised to enlarge the parish’s limits, thereby greatly increasing its income.
The statue journeyed to
The rumor soon spread in
Within the city of
There was no lack of work, and they were often called upon to fix or build a stove, hearth or fireplace, correct a chimney, or to perform some larger bricklaying job. They earned good wages, though they had no other wealth besides their house and garden.
The son, when he was 14
years old, had attended the Easter celebration at the
-- For someone like us, an ordinary person without wealth, it would be very difficult to do. Our work takes us to various places, and time rules us, rather than the opposite -- he said.
But Peter wouldn’t change his mind, and from that time, each year he went to the
Resurrection Mass at
Slowly the day drew near. The great Lenten fast was tiring, but the hope of seeing the Risen Christ gave Peter renewed energy. Holy Thursday, Good Friday and the long-awaited Holy Saturday arrived.
That year, spring was somewhat early; during the past week much snow had melted, and the resulting waters rushed from the hills, swelling rivers and streams. The melt continued and the waters increased even after nightfall, as cold as it was.
On Holy Saturday, as he
approached the crossing of the
Immense slabs of ice, carried by the current, piled up on each other, then slid aside and, diving back into the waters, continuing in the flooded river’s current, flowed along pushing against each other. Crossing this river was impossible.
Peter was despondent. He had attended the Resurrection Mass for eight years, and now, just when he was about to reach his goal, this obstacle had arisen to make all his hopes and efforts worthless. Suddenly, he remembered that, near the Hill of Gediminas, there was a place where a boatman ferried people over to the other side. He rushed over, but in despair he saw that the boat had been docked high on the ground, and the boatman was nowhere to be seen. Coming closer, through the darkness he saw a person standing at the riverbank, leaning on a long stick. Peter recovered hope, believing this was the boatman. Walking closer he asked,
-- Could you take me across the river? I’m hurrying to get to the Resurrection Mass and will pay you well.
The man raised his head, and Peter realized that it wasn’t the boatman, but a complete stranger.
You are hurrying to the Easter celebration at the
Peter looked toward the cottage – the water was indeed about four feet away, and would surely overtake the house in a half-hour. Forgetting about his Easter plans, he grabbed the shovel and began to dig. The earth was not frozen in that area and the spade went in easily. He worked quickly; though it was cold, heavy perspiration covered his forehead. The waters were just two feet away from the cottage, when Peter with two strong strokes dug out the last clumps of earth that had prevented the water from running off. A strong stream caught the loosened earth and with a roar slammed through the ditch into the river. The danger past, the waters calmed and no longer threatened the little house.
Peter wiped his brow and watched with pleasure, the rapid course of water in the ditch.
-- Now we can think about getting to the other side – he heard the stranger’s voice. – If you aren’t afraid to risk your life, I’ll get you there. There is still time, and you can easily make it to Mass.
Only now did Peter remember the Easter service, and he asked the stranger urgently to get him across the River Neris. The man led him to the edge of the river where ice-floes of all sizes were thundering past, carried on the swift current.
--- Do as I do, and do not hesitate -- he said.
They were standing on the riverbank. It was frightening to see the swollen river’s swiftly running waters with their burden of ice. Fear overtook Peter, and he wanted to move away from the water’s edge, but his wish to attend the Easter service won out.
As a particularly large block of ice moved past the bank, the stranger jumped up on it and so did Peter. The current ripped the floe away from the bank and carried it to the middle of the river, but the stranger, using his staff to push away surrounding ice, slowly guided them toward the opposite bank. He used the staff so deftly, it seemed as if they traveled in a boat instead of on a block of ice. Soon they reached the other side, and they safely jumped to the ground.
--- Now you can go to the Resurrection Mass -- said the stranger.
--- Are you not going? --- Peter asked.
--- I will be there, and you will see me -- the stranger answered, walking away into the shadows.
Peter arrived at the
Peter raised his eyes to the statue and was stunned to recognize the statue as the stranger who told him to dig the ditch, and who later carried him across the river. The statue held a long staff and its pierced right hand was raised in a blessing. Peter remembered the stranger’s words:
--- My hands are injured, and my side hurts -- and falling to his knees, raising his eyes to the statue’s face, he whispered,
--- My Lord, forgive me, but I didn’t know you.
Through the flickering flames of the candles, it seemed to him that a forgiving smile passed over the statue’s face.
--- The Lord be with you --- intoned a priest from the great middle altar.
Peace washed over Peter, and he felt as an exhausted traveler after a long and hard journey, reaching a place of rest. And he understood, that the half-hour he had spent digging a trench to protect the home of a poor widow with two small children, had brought him much closer to the Lord than nine years’ attendance at Easter Mass in Vilnius Cathedral.
He left the church another person, confirmed in his faith and with a peaceful soul. The ice had passed by, and boatmen were ferrying people over the river. Arriving home, Peter told his father,
--- Father, I saw Him.
The details of his experience, he told to others only in his old age, having reached 81 years. This story of his was remembered for a long time by those to whom it had been told, and they repeated it again many times, remembering that Peter reached a gray old age without ever being sick.
After that Resurrection
Mass in the
--- I am going there, from whence I came.
The bishop forgot about the statue and didn’t search for it. With time, people forgot, too. But the poor parish’s boundaries remained expanded.
“Vilniaus Krašto Legendos” by
Songinas, printed in
1988, Draugo Spaustuve
Publisher Linas Raslavičius
© English translation - Gloria O’Brien 2005
This article was printed in Bridges Martch 2005