Iconic: From a Cathedral Wall


April 4, 2013 by Nichole Eck


She is wearing her headscarf, and she is alone.

So she is come to pray this morning. Come to light a candle and send its smoke to the vaulted ceiling. Come to cross herself three times and kiss my smudged glass. “Mother of God, full of grace, deliver me from everlasting punishment.”

Sometimes she brings a man with her and kisses him instead. Kisses him differently and in the dark. She doesn’t wear her headscarf then, doesn’t cross herself, doesn’t light a candle to undim the black.

She comes in to pray only when the batushka is here. And he sees her and smiles to himself and nods and thinks, “What a fine daughter I have. My priesthood has certainly saved her. Thank the Holy Mother for watching over her.” And he gives me an extra prayer or candle for her, to keep her straight.

But I cannot change men.

Although one changed me. I am told he was a master. I am told it took him weeks to get the golden curls just right, the illuminations in line, the colors finely saturated.

I am told, but I don’t remember. My first memory is his prayer, standing before me with bearded face, hammer and stone dust framing his feet. A prayer with wings flying me to heaven and back every instant.

I carried his words, but still I could not change him. Cannot change her. Men must change themselves.

But at night, I watch as she kisses the man and wish to God that I could.

WordPress DPchallenge: Iconic

This is not an icon of me; it’s an an icon of Russia. It’s what I remember best from my 9 weeks living there.

The churches. Minutely adorned walls and altars. A hundred candles propped in sand or votive stands or many-armed candelabras. Intricacies carved perfectly and patiently into wood or gold. So much time, so much care put into even the smallest window of the most remote chapel it astounds me.

I especially am awed by imagining the men and women who worked such difficult beauty for their worship, who spent hours and days of careful work and candlelight to craft such glory. What men they must have been—and yet only men. Brilliant, holy, flawed men of choice and of consequence.

Everything about Russian churches makes me think of the people involved—builders, artists, worshipers. They make me look outside myself and my beliefs. Plus, I’ve always loved imagining untold stories and the objects that may have witnessed them. This was a chance to do that in a new way. Thanks for the prompt, WordPress!

Any feedback on this piece of flash fiction? I’d love to hear it!


5 thoughts on “Iconic: From a Cathedral Wall

  1. Hello, Nichole! Church of the Savior on Blood (Храм Спаса на Крови) is really astonishing – both from the inside and from the outside! Regards, Sergey.

    • nicholeck says:

      Sergey, I’m impressed that you knew which church the picture is from! I think this church was my favorite that I saw while I was in Russia, although Храм Христа Спасителя (Cathedral of Christ the Savior) was a close second. The bronze sculptures on the outside are perfectly stunning!

      And of course St. Basil’s Cathedral was beautiful and is probably the most iconic of Russia’s churches (it being on Red Square and all).

      Regardless, I’m glad to have found another person interested in Russia. Glad you stopped by!

      • The explanation that I knew which church the picture is from is simple – I visited it recently. Some of my friends and relatives were involved in the restoration of Russian churches, so my knowledge of the latter is nothing in comparison with theirs. There are many churches in Russia which are not so famous but are equally beautiful. Unfortunately their condition is often poor due to the environmental impact. But what surprises me most of all are Russian wooden churches some of which are 3 centuries old, e.g.:

        My interest in Russia is a sort of identity building – the more I study my country, its history and culture, the better I understand myself. I’m glad you are unterested in it too! Keep in touch. Удачи, Сергей.

  2. Maddie Cromar says:

    I really, really like this short piece, Nichole! Fascinating.

  3. […] Iconic: From a Cathedral Wall | A Writer’s Touch […]

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