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Using the words of St. Perpetua herself (which you can read here) I wrote this akathist to the Saint Perpetua and Her Companions over ten years ago. I was very impacted by St. Perpetua’s story. She is one of the earliest women writers whose work has been preserved throughout history. And so, I based the akathist on the events she herself relates. I received a blessing from Archbishop Irenee of Ottawa and all of Canada to distribute it.

I also wrote a novella called Out of the African Lands: The Story of Saints Perpetua and her Companions (Lumination Press) and painted her icon (shown above). As you can tell, she means a great deal . I give glory to God that He is glorified in His saints and we benefit from their life and sacrifice.

May you have the prayers and blessings of Saints Perpetua, Felicity, Saturus, Saturnius, Secundulus and Revocatus!

When the Lord deemed it fitting He called His saints out of the African lands: holy Perpetua, Felicity, Saturus, Saturnius, Revocatus and Secundulus, to witness to their faith through suffering death. Thus, we have as an inheritance the flourishing tree of Orthodoxy, for they shed their blood, watering the seedling. Wherefore we cry aloud:

Rejoice, Holy Martyrs Perpetua, Felicity, and your companions

As a catechumen, O holy Perpetua, thou wast taken captive and while in prison thy father besought thee to denounce Christ. But boldly thou didst proclaim that thou couldst be called by no other name but Christian. Wherefore we marvel at thy conviction and cry out to thee thus:

Rejoice, thou who art a shining example for all catechumens

Rejoice, thou who chose the heavenly over thine earthly father

Rejoice, thou who refused to be called anything other than a Christian

Rejoice, being freed from the bondage of sin through baptism while yet in prison

Rejoice, for being informed by the Spirit thou prayed only for endurance of the flesh

Rejoice, Married Matron mother of a son

Rejoice, thou who wast tempted by womanly anxiety for thy suckling child

Rejoice, thou who wast ministered to by the holy deacons Tertius and Pomponius

Rejoice, thou who didst commend thy son to the care of thy mother

Rejoice, thou who didst comfort thy brother, a catechumen in the faith

Rejoice, thou who didst look upon the dungeon as a palace

Rejoice, Bold One asking the Lord whether thou wouldst die a martyr’s death

Rejoice, Holy Martyrs Perpetua, Felicity and your companions

Beholding a heavenly vision, holy Perpetua wast informed of her martyrdom. She was found worthy to see with spiritual eyes the contest of salvation. And looking upon the bronze ladder she didst see holy Saturus going up ahead of her, calling after her to follow. Wherefore we call to her:

Alleluia

Contemplating the narrow ladder holy Perpetua didst understand the struggle to enter Paradise, for as a vile serpent the devil lies waiting to strike. Yet encouraged by her teacher she didst trod on its head and ascended the ladder, her gaze fixed upward. Wherefore we cry to her:

Rejoice, thou who didst declare the serpent powerless in the name of the Lord

Rejoice, thou who didst proclaim the way to Life impossible for the negligent

Rejoice, thou who didst follow holy Saturus’ example in death as in life

Rejoice, thou who didst ascend and enter a vast garden

Rejoice, thou who didst stand in the company of many clothed in white

Rejoice, thou who wast greeted by the venerable Shepherd

Rejoice, thou who wast given to eat food sweeter than honey

Rejoice, thou who didst awake from thy vision at the word ‘amen’

Rejoice, Holy Saturus who wast found worthy to ascend the ladder first

Rejoice, O father who gave thyself up for the sake of the catechumens

Rejoice, Encourager of Perpetua to follow after thee in thine ascent

Rejoice, you who confidently forsook all hope in this world

Rejoice, Holy Martyrs Perpetua, Felicity and your companions

During their meal the martyrs were all called to the tribunal, and once there they all proclaimed themselves Christians. Refusing to offer sacrifice to the idols for the Emperor’s prosperity, they left the procurator Hilarian baffled, who knew not how to chant:

Alleluia

Ever faithful to the Lord the martyrs professed their faith before the procurator, and the crowd which had gathered. The sentence was read out against them, they were to be sent to the beasts. Cheerfully they returned to the dungeon, and thus we cry out:

Rejoice, Holy Contesters in the stadium of Carthage

Rejoice, Firm Pillars of the faith, convicted for the sake of Christ

Rejoice, Blessed Martyrs whose blood watered Orthodoxy

Rejoice, Holy Perpetua whose father once again tempted thee

Rejoice, thou who didst refuse to sacrifice even for the sake of thy child

Rejoice, thou who didst sorrow for thy father in his ignorance of the Faith

Rejoice, thou who didst proclaim nothing happens outside of God’s providence

Rejoice, thou who stood firm though confronted by the familial bonds of nature

Rejoice, thou who didst trust God would provide for thy son

Rejoice, thou whose child wast miraculously weaned though still a small infant

Rejoice, Band of Martyrs bound together by common love for Christ

Rejoice, you who were led to the dungeon as though to a bridal-chamber

Rejoice, Holy Martyrs Pertetua, Felicity and your companions

Fervently praying, Perpetua didst hear the name “Dinocrates”, who wast her departed brother in the flesh. As she didst behold in a dream, the little one was in a dark place and thirsty. But he was unable to drink of the fountain for the height was very great. Wherefore, she didst supplicate for him and we cry to her:

Alleluia

Great was her joy when Perpetua saw yet another vision wherein Dinocrates was healed of his infirmities. He drank his fill from the fountain – for he had been benefited by her ardent prayers, wherefore we praise her thus:

Rejoice, thou who didst help thy brother though a gulf was fixed between you

Rejoice, Deliverer from the suffering torments of Hades

Rejoice, thou who didst deem it laudable to pray with tears for thy brother

Rejoice, thou who didst spend thy days and nights supplicating God

Rejoice, Holy Martyr who supplicates for us on earth as thou didst for thy brother

Rejoice, little Dinocrates for thou wast delivered by thy sister’s prayers

Rejoice, thou whose face was healed once diseased by ulcers

Rejoice, thou who is now clothed in fine apparel

Rejoice, all ye in Hades, comforted by the prayers of the righteous

Rejoice, O fountain for thy ledge was lowered

Rejoice, O ever-flowing water who dost satisfy those who drink of thee

Rejoice, Golden Cup who dost provide nourishment for the thirsty

Rejoice, Holy Martyrs Perpetua, Felicity and your companions

Having seen the joy of her brother, Perpetua didst rejoice that he no longer was tormented – for where once was an ulcer there remained only a scar. And in drinking the water from the golden cup his thirst was quenched. Whenceforth, he ran off to play as children do, and we cry to her:

Alleluia

Influenced by the grace of the martyrs, Pudens, the prison-guard’s heart was softened and he began to magnify them. Thus being filled with mercy he permitted many to enter the dungeon so that all might be comforted. Wherefore they extolled the martyrs thusly:

Rejoice, Bold Intercessors before the throne of God

Rejoice, Bright Lamps burning in Northern Africa

Rejoice, for you patiently abided in dark dungeons

Rejoice, for you are now delivered into the light of Paradise

Rejoice, Perfect Examples of Christian friendship

Rejoice, Salt of the earth and light of the world

Rejoice, for you were condemned to death by the earthly Emperor

Rejoice, for you are now crowned with life by the Heavenly King

Rejoice, Contesters with unconquerable courage

Rejoice, Brave Warriors setting out to do battle for Christ

Rejoice, Peaceful souls eagerly awaiting His embrace

Rejoice, for from your bloodshed an abundance of life sprung forth

Rejoice, Holy Martyrs Perptua, Felicity and your companions

Just before the games, holy Perpetua beheld a vision of the upcoming day’s spiritual contest: hearing a loud knock she opened to the deacon Pomponios, clad all in white. He besought her to follow him and with much effort they arrived at the arena, wherefore we cry:

Alleluia

Knowing she was to contend with beasts, Perpetua marveled that none were sent out against her, but soon saw an Egyptian of ill-repute approach as her opponent. Thus she was striped and clothed with oil, while the Egyptian wallowed in dust. Wherefore encouraged by her vision we cry out:

Rejoice, thou who didst not shrink back in fear of the Egyptian

Rejoice, Brave Contender against the forces of evil

Rejoice, thou who wast found worthy to have angels as thine helpers

Rejoice, thou who wast offered a branch of golden fruit if victorious

Rejoice, Solider of Christ combating in the front lines

Rejoice, Fierce Fighter who didst smote thine enemy while trotting on air

Rejoice, Champion who didst dash thine enemy to the ground

Rejoice, thou who didst step on his head as though on a serpent

Rejoice, Victor over the enemy who hinders our ascent to heaven

Rejoice, thou who didst receive thy prize from the master of the gladiators

Rejoice, Conqueror of him who leads us to the gate of death

Rejoice, thou who didst understand that thine was the victory

Rejoice, Holy Martyrs Perpetua, Felicity and your companions

Lifted into the air by angels, O holy Saturus, in thy vision thou and holy Perpetua wert carried into the heavens. For contending well you were granted the promise the Lord had given you. Wherefore with the angels we cry out to you:

Alleluia

Marvelous trees with flowers of all kinds didst you pass by while being upborne by angels to venerate the Heavenly King. Trembling, they laid you down and you entered clothed in white raiment, and thus we cry out:

Rejoice, you who were carried by angels toward the East

Rejoice, you who didst pass over the Earth’s edge

Rejoice, Blessed Ones who didst overlook wondrous gardens

Rejoice, Marveled at by angels more glorious than the rest

Rejoice, Witnesses to the beauty of the heavenly kingdom

Rejoice, you who looked upon trees unknown to this earth

Rejoice, Spectators of leaves that sang without ceasing

Rejoice, you who met thy fellow-martyred companions

Rejoice, called upon by angels to go in and salute the Lord

Rejoice, Worthy Ones clothed in white raiment

Rejoice, Observers of a palace with walls made of light

Rejoice, Hearers of the thrice holy hymn chanted unto the Trinity

Rejoice, Holy Martyrs Perpetua, Felicity and your companions

Noticing in that place a man sitting, having hair like white as snow – yet youthful of countenance – you were borne up by angels to reverently kiss him. Whereupon he passed his hand over your faces and you offered the kiss of peace to the surrounding elders. And thus, together with them we cry to you:

Alleluia

Optatus the bishop, and Aspasius the priest and teacher stood on either side of the door from which you exited. Falling at your feet they supplicated the two of you to make peace between them. Wherefore you rose them up and embraced them with love. Marveling at your humility we cry to you:

Rejoice, Holy Ones worthy to see divine visions

Rejoice, Encounterers of spiritual parents in the heavenly garden

Rejoice, you who didst keep company in heaven with those on earth

Rejoice, you who didst receive humble bows done in your honour

Rejoice, you who didst humbly reciprocate the simple gesture

Rejoice, Peacemakers among thy fellow Christians

Rejoice, Poor in Spirit who didst win the kingdom of heaven

Rejoice, Mourners who art comforted eternally

Rejoice, Thirsters for Righteousness who have been satiated

Rejoice, Meek Ones who shall inherit the earth

Rejoice, Merciful Ones who have obtained much mercy

Rejoice, Pure of heart for you see God perpetually

Rejoice, Holy Martyrs Perpetua, Felicity and your companions

Putting aside the dissensions between them, Optatus and Aspasius followed the instructions of the angels and took heed of the advice given them. Thus did the angels warn Optatus to correct his people so that they might not continue in their crooked ways; wherefore we cry:

Alleluia

Quivering at the thought that thou might be prohibited to contend – for thou wast with child – O holy Felicity, thou and those with thee didst pour out your supplication to the Lord, that He might grant thee His favour. Immediately He didst hearken unto thy prayer and thou didst bring forth a daughter, wherefore we cry to thee:

Rejoice, thou who didst join in prayer with thy fellow martyrs

Rejoice, Slave in this life but servant of God eternally

Rejoice, Contester for the grace of martyrdom

Rejoice, Fervent Supplicator to God for His favour

Rejoice, Worthy One granted the grace of a safe and early labour

Rejoice, thou who wast not hindered by the ties of thine kindred

Rejoice, thou who didst entrust thy babe to a fellow Christian

Rejoice, thou who didst answer wisely in the face of insult

Rejoice, Wise Councilor proclaiming the strength of Christ in weakness

Rejoice, Sanctified One through the act of childbearing

Rejoice, Brave Martyr who dost remember those in want of children

Rejoice, thou who tasted of the felicity of dying for our Lord

Rejoice, Holy Martyrs Perpetua, Felicity and your companions

Readily prepared to die a martyr’s death, holy Secundulus wast called from this life while still in prison. For though his body knew not the sword his soul had suffered a martyrdom. Wherefore, in His ineffable mercy God preserved him from the beasts, and thus we cry to Him:

Alleluia

Spectators having gathered to gawk at the martyrs, the holy Saturus didst prophetically rebuke them: “Remember our faces for us you will see on the fearful Day of Judgement”. Wherefore, many departed astonished and of those that heard many were converted, and thus we proclaim:

Rejoice, Holy Martyrs whose martyrdom was recorded by the faithful

Rejoice, you who were treated harshly by the fearful tribune

Rejoice, Persecuted Ones out of fear of your escape

Rejoice, Bold Perpetua who didst scold the cruel adjutant

Rejoice, Faithful Ones who didst convert many while in prison

Rejoice, Workers of the vineyard who converted more by your common passion

Rejoice, Partakers of an Agape meal instead of common food

Rejoice, Communioners of the feast of the Body and Blood of our Lord

Rejoice, you who longed to be nourished by Christ instead of meat

Rejoice, you who forewarned the spectators of the coming Judgment

Rejoice, Brave Contesters prepared to fight on the birthday of Caesar

Rejoice, Saints of the Lord eagerly awaiting your death in His name

Rejoice, Holy Martyrs Perpetua, Felicity and your companions

The day of the games having dawned, the holy martyrs prepared for battle. Bravely entering the stadium, they were filled with joy as though in heaven. At the sight of Perpetua many cast down their eyes. Felicity came to her second baptism – from blood to blood, from midwife to gladiator. Wherefore we cry out:

Alleluia

Unable to convince the martyrs to put on the robes of idolaters, the tribune suffered that they should be brought forth as they were. Perpetua began to chant psalms, Revocatus, Saturninus, and Saturus mocked the senseless Hilarian, saying, “Thou judgest us and God thee,” and in this way displayed their bravery. Wherefore we cry to them:

Rejoice, Holy men refusing to wear the robe of the priests of Saturn

Rejoice, Holy women refusing to wear the dress of the priestesses of Ceres

Rejoice, you who refused to have anything to do with lifeless idols

Rejoice, for by your boldness injustice didst yield to justice

Rejoice, for you were scourged before the line of the gladiators

Rejoice, Rejoicers in your sufferings for the sake of Christ

Rejoice, Brave Soldiers fighting in the trenches of a spiritual battle

Rejoice, Holy Perpetua, singing as though trampling on the head of the Egyptian

Rejoice, Holy Felicity, rejoicing that thou wast not left behind in prison

Rejoice, Holy Revocatus, who didst boldly glare at the gawking crowd

Rejoice, Holy Saturninus, who didst taunt the darkened Hilarian

Rejoice, Holy Saturus, who didst yearn only for the heavenly kingdom

Rejoice, Holy martyrs Perpetua, Felicity and your companions

Virtue being her first concern the holy Perpetua bound up her disheveled hair, lest any should think she mourned her glory. Being brought out against the mad cow – placed there to mock their sex – the crowd shuddered at the sight of milk running from the breasts of holy Felicity. Wherefore, we cry to them:

Alleluia

Wishing to wear the more glorious crown, holy Saturninus asked to go against all the beasts, while Revocatus faced the leopard and the bear. In one bite by the leopard holy Saturus was bathed in much blood, wherefore the crowd mockingly called out, “saved and washed,” but we cry out thus:

Rejoice, Holy Revocatus who wast torn by a bear on a raised bridge

Rejoice, Holy Saturninus who wast granted thy desire to fight all beasts

Rejoice, Holy Saturus who would die first as thou didst prophesy

Rejoice, for the wild boar didst instead turn on its huntsman

Rejoice, for the bear knew better than to attack a martyr

Rejoice, Holy Martyrs for you were covered in the blood of a second baptism

Rejoice, Holy Perpetua, being caught up in theoria while in the arena

Rejoice, for thou wast more concerned for modesty than thy pain

Rejoice, Counselor of catechumens to keep the faith and love among them

Rejoice, Holy Felicity who wast smote for Christ’s sake by the fierce cow

Rejoice, for thy fellow martyr, Perpetua, didst raise thee up

Rejoice, Fair Maidens who didst forsake the beauty of your youth for eternal life

Rejoice, Holy Martyrs Perpetua, Felicity and your companions

Xenial friendship did the holy Saturus extend to Pudens when he did leave him a token of his love – a ring soaked in the blood of his wound. Joining the rest, assembled to be slain by the sword, each did die a martyr’s death. Perpetua directed the hand of the gladiator to her throat, by this showing that the evil spirits feared her most of all. Wherefore, moved by their sacrifice, we cry:

Alleluia

Through the prayers of our Holy Fathers, Lord Jesus Christ our God, have mercy on us and save us. Amen.

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Merry Christmas to all our Old Calendar friends and family!

THE KING, THE PAGE, AND THE HERMIT:

A CHRISTMAS STORY

by Matushka Constantina R. Palmer

Chapters 1 & 2 are HERE

Chapters 3 & 4 HERE

Chapters 5 & 6 HERE

Chapters 7 & 8 HERE

Chapter 9 HERE

Chapter 10 HERE

Chapter 11 HERE

Chapter 12 HERE

Chapter 13 HERE

Chapter 14 HERE

Chapter 15 HERE

Chapter 16 HERE

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THE KING, THE PAGE, AND THE HERMIT:

A CHRISTMAS STORY

Read Chapters 1 & 2 HERE; Chapters 3 & 4 HERE; Chapters 5 & 6 HERE; Chapters 7 & 8 HERE; Chapter 9 HERE; Chapter 10 HERE; Chapter 11 HEREChapter 12 HERE; Chapter 13 HERE; Chapter 14 HERE; Chapter 15 HERE.

CHAPTER SIXTEEN

“Blessed are they whose iniquities are forgiven” (Romans 4:7)

Arriving at the hut, secluded and partially hidden by the surrounding oak trees, Podevin didn’t think to knock. He was too desperate. Instead he barged in and fell to the floor, exhausted from running, overcome with tears of repentance.

“Father! Father, forgive me!” he shouted. “I acted out of anger. I’ve killed a man! He deserved death, truly he did, but it wasn’t for me to decide his fate,” the grieving page’s words spilled out of his mouth between sobs.

Father Jiří, entering the room from the narrow passageway leading to the chapel, approached Podevin calmly and slowly, as if he were expecting him, as though he already knew the act, and the outcome.

He didn’t speak however; he didn’t ask any questions or offer any advice. He simply listened, standing close to the page, his eyes full of mercy, locked on Podevin, weak and weeping.

Podevin narrated the whole account of what took place in the last two days: how he distrusted Boleslav, how he had warned Vácslav but was sent away, and how he returned to avenge his Master’s unjust death. Father Jiří entered the chapel and came back out wearing a long priest’s stole.

He placed it on Podevin’s head, who was still kneeling on the floor. Whispering a prayer, barely audible, he placed his hand on Podevin’s head and blessed him. “Your sins are forgiven you, arise and give thanks to God that He has granted you time for repentance.”

Podevin kissed the hem of the priest’s stole and rose from the floor. 

“You and I both know they are coming for you as we speak,” Father Jiří spoke in a solemn voice as he rested his hands on Podevin’s shoulders and peered into his eyes, as he had at their last meeting, as though wanting to make sure Podevin took in every word.

“Do not fear death, you have repented and the Lord has seen fit to forgive you your sin. Be at peace, die honourably with the knowledge that even your good deeds will be remembered for ages to come. You served your Master not only in household matters, but in the Faith of our Fathers. The Lord will not forget you in His kingdom. Now is it is time for you to leave. They have already reached the forest. Meet them in prayer at St. Agnes’s spring. Be sure to pray for those who will kill your body. But do not be grieved, for they cannot kill your soul,” Father Jiří finished, his soft voice pouring out comfort on Podevin’s wounded heart.

“Pray for me, Father,” Podevin said, his voice growing weak as tears once again began streaming down his pale cheeks. Bowing to the holy priest and clasping his old, worn right hand he kissed it for the last time. Then he turned and left.

***

Just as Father Jiří said, so it happened. Boleslav sent three men to apprehend Podevin. He waited for them at St. Agnes’ fountain. Watching their arrival, rather than dread, Podevin felt at peace. He was grateful to be found worthy to greet them while kneeling in prayer.

POSTSCRIPT

The memory of the just is blessed” (Proverbs 10:7)

Duke Vácslav, or Wenceslaus as his name was later pronounced, was given a Christian burial and laid to rest in St. Vitus’ Cathedral. His God-bearing relics began working miracles immediately, testifying to his holiness both in life and in death.  He was posthumously granted the title ‘King’.

Podevin, his faithful page, was brought to the gallows of the city and executed. For years afterward faithful Christians would visit his grave as well, proclaiming him a true Christian – a faithful, obedient servant of his Master, the King of Bohemia, Saint Wenceslaus.

Therefore, Christians pay heed, whether king, priest, or servant you may be, good deeds and heartfelt prayers will follow you beyond the grave, and you will not only be remembered by men for ages and ages, but by God, in Whose memory we long most to remain.

The End and Glory be to God!

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THE KING, THE PAGE, AND THE HERMIT:

A CHRISTMAS STORY

St. Wenceslaus being adored by his sister-in-law Emma

Read Chapters 1 & 2 HERE; Chapters 3 & 4 HERE; Chapters 5 & 6 HERE; Chapters 7 & 8 HERE; Chapter 9 HERE; Chapter 10 HERE; Chapter 11 HEREChapter 12 HERE; Chapter 13 HERE; Chapter 14 HERE.

CHAPTER FIFTEEN

“Vengeance belongeth unto me, I will recompense, saith the Lord” (Hebrews 10:30)

Word spread quickly of the Duke’s murder. Podevin was on his way to the rotunda church dedicated to St. Vitus for the daily divine services when a merchant called out the dreaded news.

Hearing this, Podevin’s stomach twisted violently. Despite his weak knees he rushed to the merchant, grabbing him by his tunic, “What did you say? It can’t be true! I was just with him last night.”

“Forgive me, page, it’s true. They say it was Bolslav who ordered it,” the merchant said as he pulled his hat off in respect.

“How?” was all the page could manage to ask as his arms fell limply to his sides.

“With a sword…” the merchant said with downcast eyes. “They say he was run through in front of the church of the Unmercaneries and nothing can be found to remove his bloodshed from the marble floor. His innocent blood remains as a testament that his death was unjust.”

Podevin thought he might be sick; he fell to his knees. Wailing, he began pounding the ground. His ruler and Master –his friend– was dead. He had died an unjust death, a horrible death, with no companion by his side.

Overcome with grief and anger Podevin made haste to acquire a sword. Without a second thought he set out to avenge his Master’s death.

Podevin couldn’t think straight; in fact he didn’t think at all. He acted, propelled by intense feelings of rage mingled with hopeless sorrow for his Master, even perhaps anger at himself for not having been by his side to at least die with him if not defend him.

He arrived at Boleslav’s castle without rightly knowing how he got there. He concealed the sword under his cloak and entered without drawing suspicion to himself. There were servants in like-garb all about rushing here and there in the wake of the ruler’s execution.

Podevin knew who killed his Master because everyone knew who Boleslav’s main conspirator companions were: Tira, Čsta and Hněvsa. They were at Boleslav’s side at all times, and were known for doing all of the coward’s dirty work.

While he and the Duke walked to the guest bedchamber the night before, Podevin happened to see Tira enter a chamber not far from the one Vácslav stayed in. Podevin stealthily crept toward that chamber door now.

With a burning anger in his chest, Podevin quietly entered the chamber. He watched as Tira sat at table, eating. As his back was to the door; he hadn’t noticed Podevin’s entrance.

“You miserable wretch,” Podevin sneered drawing the sword, “God will care for my health and salvation, but you have lost both your health and salvation long ago!”

As Tira jumped to his feet, whirling around to see who was speaking to him, he was met with the blow of Podevin’s sword, “Now you will die in sin for eternity!” he shouted.

Tira fell to the ground dead still clutching his supper’s bread.

The loyal page threw down the sword next to Tira’s body. Looking on the man whom he had killed Podevin’s grief and anger were suddenly transformed into horror and remorse. He stumbled back in shock. His mind seeming to return to itself for the first time since the dreadful news of the Duke’s death burned his ears not one hour prior.

Those who live by the sword, die by the sword… what you’re about to do, do quickly. Father Jiří’s words now rang in Podevin’s ears, as though they had always been there in his mind, something merely stood in the way of the page’s understanding them.

Return and repent, was all Podevin heard now. In a trance-like stupor he dropped his bloodied sword and fled the castle, drawing far more suspicion to himself now than when he arrived.

He nearly ran the entire way to Father Jiří’s hut; not once stopping to see if he was being pursued. He hastened with the hope that he would find that dear old priest in enough time to repent. Although his feet traveled quickly, it was as though his thoughts traveled in slow motion.

He now understood Father Jiří’s every word. He realized the priest-hermit had foreseen his vengeance. He understood that his “youthful loyalty” – as Father Jiří had labelled it – was the reason he rushed to avenge his Master. He anticipated his own death every moment that passed, knowing Boleslav would order him to be killed.

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THE KING, THE PAGE, AND THE HERMIT:

A CHRISTMAS STORY

Read Chapters 1 & 2 HERE; Chapters 3 & 4 HERE; Chapters 5 & 6 HERE; Chapters 7 & 8 HERE; Chapter 9 HERE; Chapter 10 HERE; Chapter 11 HEREChapter 12 HERE; Chapter 13 HERE.

CHAPTER FOURTEEN

“Behold my servant, whom I have chosen; my beloved in whom my soul is well pleased: I will put my spirit upon him, and he shall proclaim judgment to the Gentiles” (Matthew 12:18)

The next morning Boleslav called on Vácslav as he was standing in prayer.

“Well brother, shall we be off?,” he said coming into the room unannounced. “The service is about to start,” he said leering at Vácslav making the sign of the cross as he finished his prayer.

I will sing unto the Lord throughout my life, I will chant unto my God for as long as I have my being, Duke Vácslav finished with a bow.

Turning to meet his younger brother he smiled brightly, “We shall.”

The Duke had an uneasy feeling from the moment he and Podevin arrived, though he did not understand it. However, he obeyed his pressing conscience and sent Podevin home, not because he knew evil would befall him, but because he feared that if evil did indeed await him, his page might act rashly in his zeal.

Walking together, Vácslav noticed Boleslav’s countenance grew more and more stern as they approached the church. Nearing the doors his angry expression now seemed set in stone. Finally the silence was broken.

“Brother,” Boleslav’s sharply turned toward Vácslav, “why did you insist on ruling in your own fashion, contrary to what was best for Bohemia?” the sudden harshness in his brother’s voice took the Duke by surprise.

“Why did you insist on playing the role of father to the wretched instead of a royal leader, a great warrior?” he nearly shouted.

“My dear brother,” Vácslav responded calmly, “I did not choose this fate. I was offered it and I accepted. I was set at the head of our nation. A people which I loved much has served me, no sooner than their ear had heard, they obeyed me,” the Duke answered. Laying his hand on his brother’s arm he said with a titled head, “Offering them love and mercy in return was the least I could do.”

“You are always speaking in riddles!” Boleslav forcefully pushed Vacslav’s hand off .“I despise your lukewarm approach to pressing matters of the state! You’d rather play the monk than the monarch!” Boleslav placed his hand on his sheath.

Seeing his brother draw his sword, Vácslav was no longer perplexed at Boleslav’s unexpected angry outburst. In fact, it occurred to him it wasn’t unexpected at all, but very well planned: “Brother, why do you want my head? Are you, like a second Cain, jealous? But we, like the unmercanaries, could have worked together, side by side in love.” In that moment Vácslav’s thoughts were not for his own safety but for the soul of his brother, which he could tell had fallen into the shadow cast by sin’s darkness.

“You know very well why I want your head, brother. The throne should be mine!” Boleslav answered as he shoved Vácslav.

Looking past Vácslav, Boleslav smiled. The righteous Duke sighed, he knew without turning around who was behind him and why his brother smiled so. 

“May God forgive you, my dear brother,” he said, and he turned toward his executioners, if only because they stood in front of the church.

He lowered his head in the direction of the church and whispered, “Into Thy hands I commit my spirit.” He crossed himself and felt the first blow come down on him. He fell to the ground.

One among the band of Judases pierced his side with a sword and his blood poured out onto the marble floor as he prayed for God to have mercy, to forgive, and to save. He could hear Boleslav’s voice more full of malice than ever before, “Take him away,” he sneered.

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THE KING, THE PAGE, AND THE HERMIT:

A CHRISTMAS STORY

Read Chapters 1 & 2 HERE; Chapters 3 & 4 HERE; Chapters 5 & 6 HERE; Chapters 7 & 8 HERE; Chapter 9 HERE; Chapter 10 HERE; Chapter 11 HERE; Chapter 12 HERE.

CHAPTER THIRTEEN

“It is better to trust in the Lord than to put confidence in princes” (Psalm 117:9)

Before the Duke knew it almost a whole year had passed since his reunion with his beloved Father. He often recalled their conversations, the fragrant smell in the hut, the priest’s compassionate eyes, his soft, though confident, voice.

Above all, though, Duke Vácslav called to mind the mystical encounter that took place that blessed Christmas evening. From the first moment he found himself adoring the new-born Christ Child, he felt that it was through the prayers of his holy and precious Father Jiří that he was granted such a sweet vision. To this day, the memory of that night filled him with inexpressible joy, his eyes with tears. Of course he had visited his beloved tutor many times since then but nothing held his affections so much as the memory of that night.

He understood, however, that a great temptation awaited him, for when one feels the sweetness of Christ draw closer he can be sure the wiles of the enemy are waiting just around the corner to drive away the newly-acquired grace. The form it would take though, of this he was still uncertain. He nevertheless did not wait to do as Fr. Jiří instructed; he immediately began buying the children sold into slavery in order to protect them.

He looked down at the papers on his desk; there was much civil business to attend to. Picking up his writing pen he set to work until the sound of approaching leather-padded shoes interrupted his work.

“Sire,” Podevin said as he strode across the hall and approached the Duke’s desk. “Your brother, Boleslav, has requested your presence at the consecration service of the newly built church in honour of the holy unmercenaries, Cosmas and Damian.”

“To God be the glory,” the Duke’s voice echoed throughout the chamber, the tall arched ceiling lending itself to the reiteration of acoustic sounds. “Of course I’ll be in attendance, Podevin. Send him word immediately to expect me this evening,” he said cheerfully.

“Master, I’m uncomfortable with this,” Podevin shifted his stance. “Why would he suddenly play the role of pious duke? I’m afraid he may be planning an ambush,” he whispered with a grave face as he leaned his hands on the desk. 

“Podevin! He is my brother. He has his faults, but let’s not be rash in our judgment,” the Duke leaned back in his chair nonchalantly. “This is a wonderful occasion, the feast of two holy brothers, unmercenary saints. He simply extended me this invitation out of brotherly love,” the Duke said as he turned his attention back to the papers on his desk.

“Well, Master, if you insist on going, I insist on accompanying you,” Podevin folded his arms resolutely. He had become more like the Duke’s friend than servant since their encounter together in the holy and humble cave. Although the Duke had always treated his young page kindly, he spoke to him now as a confidant.

The Duke saw Podevin, in just one year, grow from a boy into a young man. He was now eighteen and his youthful exuberance had given way to emerging sobriety. He was as loyal, obedient, and zealous for the sake of his Master as he had always been, but he appeared firmer in his convictions and stronger emotions seemed to accompany these qualities.

***

That evening they arrived at Duke Boleslav’s castle and were given fine hospitality. After his meal Vácslav retired to his bedchamber and asked Podevin to accompany him there.

“My dear page, I understand that you distrust my brother and I thank you for your loyalty to me. But I do not need your assistance here. I will be fine on my own. Tomorrow I will attend the divine service in honour of Saints Cosmas and Damian and I will promptly return to Prague Castle. You need not worry for me. Only pray. Remember, prayer works miracles; you and I have both witnessed this truth. So, I am sending you back to Prague Castle. I will call on you when I return,” the Duke said, his expression full of mercy.

“But Master, no, I cannot and will not leave you here alone with that villain plotting some harm against you!”

Podevin began pacing. He distrusted Boleslav through and through and was not about to allow his Master to be alone with that cunning man.

“Podevin, you have always served me faithfully and obediently. Tonight I ask nothing more of you. Please, obey me; return home,” the Duke said resolutely.

“As you wish, Master. May it be blessed,” Podevin submitted. “Only, be careful, and do not trust that wretch who so clearly takes after your wicked mother who gave you only a body, but contributed nothing to your noble character!” Podevin knew he was taking advantage of his newly blossomed friendship with the ruler of Bohemia, but he could not contain his candor.

“Enough, Podevin, it is finished,” the Duke sighed with a disapproving frown.

Podevin bowed and turned to leave.

“Go with God, my page,” Vacslav said slowly, and almost, Podevin thought, sorrowfully. He turned back to the Duke and thought he caught a glimpse of sadness in his kind, dark eyes.

“Thank you, Sire,” Podevin bowed again and left.

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THE KING, THE PAGE, AND THE HERMIT:

A CHRISTMAS STORY

Read Chapters 1 & 2 HERE; Chapters 3 & 4 HERE; Chapters 5 & 6 HERE; Chapters 7 & 8 HERE; Chapter 9 HERE; Chapter 10 HERE; Chapter 11 HERE.

CHAPTER TWELVE

“Then I was told, ‘You must prophesy again’” (Revelation 10:11)

“Perhaps we should set out, my page,” the Duke said, rising from his seat.

“If you will permit it, I’d like to speak with the boy alone before you depart,” Fr. Jiří asked as he rested his tired hand on Podevin’s shoulder.

The Duke nodded his ascent and the priest and page walked toward the chapel, entering behind the curtain.

“It is said that those who live by the sword will die by the sword,” Father Jiří turned to Podevin.

“What you are about to do, do quickly.” Hearing these words Podevin felt a wave of unease wash over him. “Afterward return, so that you may be granted time to repent,” the priest spoke close to him, in an authoritative whisper. He rested both hands on Podevin’s shoulders as his soft, powerful eyes locked on the page’s.

“Father, I do not understand. Your words are a mystery to me,” Podevin shook his head. “They fill me with a perplexing fear,” he said, his voice growing weak.

“You have much love and reverence for your Master, but you also have a youthful sense of justice and loyalty. Not long from now my words will come back to you and you will understand their meaning. For now do not dwell on them. Only dwell on this: Many take upon themselves great deeds of repentance, fasting, and vigil, but it is rare for someone to guard his soul from pride, greed, jealousy, hatred of others, remembrance of wrongs, and judgment. In this they resemble graves which are decorated outwardly, but filled with stinking bones. Become a vessel of humility and repentance, Podevin. God will take care of the rest.”

Father Jiří finished. Pulling the page close and wrapping his arm around him he led him back to the table where the Duke was still sitting, reading a large book with a foreign script.

“Are we off then?” the Duke asked, smiling broadly and looking as kind and loving as he always did.

“You are,” the priest-hermit said with a nod.

Podevin still felt uneasy but made the choice to focus on the advice Fr. Jiří gave him that he could understand.

Rising up from his seat jovially, the Duke quickly made a prostration before the priest could inhibit him, and kissed Father Jiří’s right hand.

“Take this with you,” Father Jiří said, handing the Duke and Podevin small, hand-carved crosses.

“Thank you, my Father, O thank you! What a wonderful gift!” the page proclaimed as the Duke smiled.

“Pray for us, Father,” Vacslav said as he flung his heavy fur cloak over his shoulders. Opening the door of the hut he filled it with sunlight.

Podevin followed behind, holding the small cross close to his heart, his gentle smile reflecting his joy.

***

Although they did not sleep for most of the night – the Duke not even a wink – Vácslav and Podevin’s trek back to Prague castle seemed much shorter and easier than it had the evening before. Then again, the Duke reflected, everything that is praiseworthy takes time and effort to attain.

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THE KING, THE PAGE, AND THE HERMIT:

A CHRISTMAS STORY

Read Chapters 1 & 2 HERE; Chapters 3 & 4 HERE; Chapters 5 & 6 HERE; Chapters 7 & 8 HERE; Chapter 9 HERE.; Chapter 10 HERE.

CHAPTER ELEVEN

“But thou, O man of God, flee these things; and follow after righteousness, godliness, faith, love, patience, meekness”  (1 Timothy 6:11)

“You know well how your mother, after you inherited the throne, took advantage of your youth and began reintroducing pagan customs. You will also remember how your holy grandmother opposed this. Due to the hardness of your mother’s heart, she came to hate holy Ludmilla, to the point of death.   

“The hour at which your wicked mother’s barons came to kill your grandmother we were in the Castle’s chapel praying, as we were accustomed to do every day,” Father Jiri spoke in a low voice. The playful joy he exhibited earlier now gave way to visible sorrow.

“I was in the altar; she was at the reader’s stand. It pleased her a great deal to read the Word of God aloud,” he looked up at the Duke and smiled before casting his eyes down again and returning to his tale.“While she yet read the Psalter, ‘Let my prayer arise as incense before Thee,’ I was preparing the incense.

“Suddenly I heard her gasp and as I turned to peer out the curtain I beheld two barons, one holding her while the other tore off her head covering. Before I had the chance to speak I saw them wrap her scarf around her neck, and she, fixing her eyes on mine shouted, ‘Flee and be saved!’

“I didn’t think then. I acted. I quickly entered the door in the altar that led directly to my chambers, grabbing only a few items; I hastily left the castle, disguised as a beggar. I didn’t stop until I reached St. Agnes’ fountain.    

“Your grandfather had this hut, my small sanctuary, built for me when I yet tutored your father.  He wanted me to have a place to rest and pray in seclusion. It was once very regally decorated but I have no need of décor so I gave what I had away to the poor when I came to live here permeantly.

“News of the evil barons’ capture and your grandmother’s honourable burial reached me here and I rejoiced that she was found worthy to die for Christ. May the Good God perpetually smile upon her!”

Here Fr. Jiří paused his tale. Silence reined. The Duke’s chest was heaving with emotion. He had never heard such detail about his beloved grandmother’s death. Those details were only known by one person, a person he thought dead until now. His heart was full of love and longing, rejoicing and sorrow. He took a deep breath and with a face constricted by a strange combination of pain and relief he began.

“For so many years my heart yearned for your guidance, your care, your counsel,” the Duke said with a voice thick with emotion. “I have felt alone in the world since the day grandmother – and you – were taken from me.

“All those who shared my most intimate thoughts and desires, my longing to live and serve Christ, I believed were dead. I alone survived and this grieved me profoundly,” the Duke said, paying no attention to the fact that his servant was also hearing his most intimate confession. Vácslav was not a respecter of persons, but loved Podevin like a younger brother.

“Your holy grandmother, my dear Duke, was as wise and intuitive as she was good and merciful,” the priest-hermit responded. “I understood in my heart that her statement, ‘Flee and be saved’ did not refer to the barons killing me, so much as fleeing the world for my spiritual salvation.”

“She perceived the dilemma I had been living through for some time,” Fr. Jiřípaused here, exhaling slowly. “Ever since your father’s death, I began to contemplate death more frequently and more intensely. Night and day the same burning question probed my mind: ‘Will I be saved while occupying such a place of honour?’ 

“A strong desire had formed in my heart to flee the world and live in solitude; it was to this thought your grandmother spoke,” he inflected his voice here and gestured toward Vácslav with raised eyebrows.

“She understood the path I needed to walk in order to find salvation, for the man who lives for pleasure is dead even while he still lives. And I feared that I was dead,” he looked at Podevin here.

“I feared that the pleasures of this life inhibited me from my repentance. And so, I have been living here in this hut, unknown to the world, since that time, eight years ago. My intention was not to leave you alone and without assistance, but to seek union with God who brings about perfect peace in unworthy vessels and on account of His great mercy guides and protects those the ascetic prays for.

“Revealing myself to you would have meant the end of my solitude, for if I was not thought to be dead not only would your mother’s barons possibly come to kill me but undoubtedly others would have come to the ‘imperial tutor’. And many times I spoke and afterward was sorry, but I have never regretted my silence. It is this silence that I hold so dear, for in it I hear the voice of Christ.” Here Fr. Jiří reached out and gently squeezed the Duke’s arm as though he was offering consoling words to the thirteen year old boy who loved him dearly, instead of the twenty-six year old ruling monarch of Bohemia.

“I understand, Father. I glorify God for our reunion. I humbly beg of you, do not turn away from me; but rather, receive me once again as a pupil, or more rightly, a disciple,” the Duke said with concentrated eyes.

“Come to me at night, alone, when the moon is full and I will, with God’s help, teach you what I can,” the priest-hermit smiled with tired eyes.

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THE KING, THE PAGE, AND THE HERMIT:

A CHRISTMAS STORY

Read Chapters 1 & 2 HERE; Chapters 3 & 4 HERE; Chapters 5 & 6 HERE; Chapters 7 & 8 HERE; Chapter 9 HERE.

CHAPTER TEN

He sitteth alone and keepeth silence, because he hath borne it upon him. (Lamentations 3: 28)

“Behold the man…” Vácslav translated slowly, furrowing his brow in confusion.

“How is it that you, a poor hermit, know Latin?” he asked, surprised.

And suddenly as if Vácslav had caught sound of a whisper indicating the hermit’s identity, he said: “Can it be that you are my old, beloved tutor? No! But yes! Your eyes, your eyes, betray you! I thought you were dead! Oh my dear Father Jiří!” Vácslav leapt to his feet, quickly bowing down he took the old hermit’s right hand in his and kissed it.

“Podevin, arise, for you are in the presence of a great priest of Christ!” he commanded in his deep voice.

***

Podevin jumped from his seat in surprise. Taking his cue from the Duke, he also bent low and kissed the right hand of the hermit.

“My dear priest, all these years I feared they had killed you…” great emotion sounded in the Duke’s voice as he knelt before the hermit. He paused and examined the hermit’s face for some time, his own expression conveying what Podevin took to be a mixture of joy and sadness.

“I, I feared they disposed of your body in a dishonourable way,” Vácslav said as tears began to trickle down his freckled cheeks. “Can my ears believe what they are hearing, my eyes, what they are seeing?”

“I understand your confusion my child,” the hermit bowed his head, his own eyes filling with tears. “I will explain everything to you. But first let us not leave the young page in the dark,” he said, stretching out his large, worn hand toward the seats, he gestured for them to sit.

Podevin, himself in a state of confusion, looked expectantly from the hermit to his Master with wide eyes. He had heard of the Duke’s imperial tutor but he – like Vácslav – had been under the impression he had died years ago.

“As you wish,” Vácslav answered the hermit, pausing for a moment he squeezed Fr. Jiri’s hand. Sitting down he gestured for Podevin to do likewise. Taking a deep breath, he began.

“The hermit in whose presence we now find ourselves, is the famous imperial tutor, Priest Jiří. He was a close friend and confident of my deceased grandfather, Duke Borivoj the First. Together with my grandmother, Ludmila, they were converted by the great missionary from Constantinople, Methodius.”

“They had, in fact, been baptized together by the very hands of that holy missionary saint,” the Duke explained, though his eyes frequently strayed from Podevin to the priest-hermit. “Isn’t that right, my dear priest?”

Father Jiří nodded with a gentle smile as he listened with folded hands resting in his lap, his head bowed.

“From that day on they remained close and Father Jiří was invited to live as one among equals during my grandparents’ retirement years at Tetín Castle.”

“After my faithful father’s death, I was sent to live with my grandmother. She enlisted Father Jiří as my personal tutor of Latin and Greek education. Above all else, holy Ludmila wanted her thirteen year old grandson to learn the Christian faith and piety from a venerable priest,” at this Vácslav smiled at Fr. Jiří.

“That’s right my boy,” Father Jiří took up the story with a faint smile. “I, the unworthy one, was the young Duke’s tutor until his eighteenth year, whereupon he inherited the rule of Bohemia,” the priest-hermit explained.  

“Father Jiří’s disappearance coincided with the murder of my holy grandmother. Until now I always believed he was secretly murdered in like manner by grandmother’s enemies,” the Duke finished, his gaze now firmly fixed on the holy hermit.  

“How was it that all these years you have been living in solitude, seeking salvation alone, with God alone?”  Duke Vácslav asked, his face betraying pain, his deep voice becoming thick with emotion once again.

“My dear boy, now that God has seen fit to reunite us I will explain everything,” Father Jiří said with a hand gently resting on Vácslav’s arm.

Podevin was unaccustomed to hearing someone speak to his Master in such an informal manner. However, he was beginning to understand the relationship between this hermit and his Master was anything but customary. 

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THE KING, THE PAGE, AND THE HERMIT:

A CHRISTMAS STORY

Read Chapters 1 & 2 HERE; Chapters 3 & 4 HERE; Chapters 5 & 6 Here; Chapters 7 & 8 HERE.

CHAPTER NINE

I have had a dream, and my spirit is anxious to know the dream.” (Daniel 2:3)

Arise my faithful page. You have slept well it seems,” the Duke said, gentling stirring Podevin from his rest.

“Sire!”Podevin said, jumping to his feet.

“The dream I had was incredible! The wonders we beheld! The angels, the saints, the Virgin, the Christ Child! It was overwhelming,” the page said excitedly, straightening out his tunic. “How was it that I felt like we were transported to the cave?” he asked, looking wide-eyed from Vácslav to the hermit.

“So many generations and lands between us, and yet we were there, worshipping with whole nations,” the page exclaimed. His bright eyes, wide with enthusiasm, filled with tears.

“Peace be with you, my child,” the old hermit said, placing his hand on the young page’s disheveled hair.

“It was for our benefit, Podevin. As unworthy as we may be, the multitude of the Lord’s love and mercy is always present, guiding us to worship him more perfectly, more purely, more truly,” the hermit explained.

“So I wasn’t dreaming? It was real?!” Podvein exclaimed.

“Sometimes,” the hermit continued as if uninterrupted, “this requires special gifts of grace, to encourage us on the way to our own personal Golgotha. Can you understand that, my boy?” he asked, gently titling his head to one side.

“Yes Father, I think so,” Podevin answered, feeling a mixture of serenity and excitement. 

“Then that is all that needs to be said of that,” the hermit nodded.

So, the hermit experienced that too, Vácslav silently reflected. Who is this man, a prophet? Is it on account of him that we beheld such mysteries?

***

“Here, have a little breakfast, my dear guests,” the hermit said, laying down a wooden board on the table and placing a chunk of brown bread on it next to a piece of oily yellow cheese.

“May it be blessed,” the Duke said, breaking off a piece of the stale bread.

“You chant very well,” the hermit said, addressing the Duke with inquisitive eyes.

“Yes, my grandmother – may her memory be eternal – made sure I was well versed in the Scriptures and the hymnology of our Faith from the time I was a boy,” Vácslav affirmed. Slowly nodding his head he cast his pensive eyes down. He allowed himself a moment to hold the memory of his holy grandmother– whom he loved more than his own mother– in his heart and mind. 

“And you, my dear old man, also know how to chant well…” the Duke said, looking up and engaging the hermit once more. He wanted to ask the hermit about the presence of a fully-adorned chapel in his hut, about his identity, how he knew what he did, and why–with his clear gifts of prophecy and prayer–had his reputation not reached him in the Castle.

“And what a great thing it is, to know how to read the Holy Scriptures well!” the hermit interjected before he could pose even one of his many questions.

“When we have the words of the Holy Scriptures on our lips, temptations flee. For the little devils who torment us are unable to bear the words of the Holy Spirit Who speaks through His prophets and apostles.” The hermit’s eyes shone in the light of the fading fire with what the Duke almost thought looked like playful joy.

“My grandmother was wont to say that very same thing regarding the Holy Scriptures,” the Duke said with some surprise.

“She was a righteous woman, full of good deeds; with prayer ever on her lips and humility marking her every stride,” the hermit responded with a confident voice.

“She was indeed,” Vácslav said, narrowing his eyes he studied the hermit’s face with concentration and maybe with a little hope.

“Her reputation has spread far and wide and she, to this day, is revered by all Bohemians. But knowledge of her intimate works and virtue is held by few. Tell me, my dear father, how is it that you speak of her as if you knew her? Has God revealed these things to you?” Vácslav asked. Knitting his brow he twisted the ends of his reddish-brown beard with expectation.

“Has it been so long that you no longer remember? Is it on account of my unkempt hair and beard? Have too many years of hardship and toil disfigured me so that I am no longer recognizable?” the old hermit said gesturing toward his simple clothing, his somewhat gaunt face and dishevelled, long grey hair.

Hearing this, Vácslav’s heart started to beat faster; he searched the hermit’s face for a clue.

“Oh, my boy, and what good would it have done for you to remember me, a sinful old man?” he sighed with downcast eyes. “No, no, better to forget,” he said, shaking his head, “Better to be forgotten… forgotten by the world in order to be remembered by God!”

“Forgive me, dear friend, I am unaware that we have previously met,” the Duke said, though deep within he knew there was something mysterious about this hermit whom he was attracted to from the moment he saw him outside his window.

“Ecce homo,” the old hermit said, locking eyes with the Duke. Laying his hand across his chest he bowed ever so slightly.

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