…We walked without thinking about time. And no one had a watch back then. We were guided by the stars, the sun, or the roosters… We walked and prayed.


In my youth, I was very much surprised by the story of my grandmother Pelageya, simply called Poli, about their walking tours to Chernihiv.

Before the war, she lived in a village where there was a church in the name of St. Nicholas the Wonderworker, but it was closed in 1938, and the nearest church was 62 km away in Chernigov. My grandmother told me how they used to go to the regional center at least once a month for the Twelve Great Feasts.

Before the war there were quite a lot of wolves in that area, which in winter gathered in large packs and often attacked people. Therefore we would gather in groups of 10-15 people and set out on their journey. They set out very early, after the third cock crows[1]. We took teenagers with us. We walked slowly and quietly. And somehow it turned out that they came to the Chernigov church accurately to the beginning of services.

That’s what I could not understand. If the average speed of a person walking was 5 km / hour, then they would have needed at least 12 hours one way. They would have spent no more than 7 hours!

After the service (another 3 hours), after taking something to eat and some rest (another 1-2 hours), they would head back. In summer we would go back by sunset, in winter — when the chickens had been on the roost for a long time already (another 12 hours).

If you add up all my calculated hours, you get 12+3+1 (or 2) +12 = 28-29 hours. And there are only 24 hours in a day! But even those hours were not fully used, not more than 18…

This was an inexplicable mystery to me.

As a student, young and healthy and into sports, I found myself in that area. I had a great bike, an accurately laid out route that my grandmother had once taken, a good day, and a good mood.

Since the average speed of a cyclist, as my school textbook said, is 12 km / hr, then on the road there and back I set aside for myself 10-11 hours, well, another 1-2 hours for lunch and rest in Chernihiv. Leaving at 9 am, I planned to return at 9-10 pm, that is, by sunset.

With that I set off, figuring that my speed was much faster than that of the pre-war travelers.

The road was asphalt, only in some places I had to take an unpaved road. It was a pleasure to drive.

I turned my head to the sides, watched the changing scenery, flashed birds, gave way to cars and counted crows.

I had already been on the road for almost four hours, but hadn’t even made it halfway. After quickly calculating that it would take me at least another 3 hours to get to Chernihiv, I realized just as quickly that I would not make it back in time by midnight. In Chernihiv I had nowhere to stay, so I decided to turn back.

How is that possible? It turns out that I rode my bicycle slower than the pilgrims walked?

I rode and wondered: how was it that I, being so fast, young and healthy, could not get ahead of the slow-walking worshipers — old people and children?

My grandmother was no longer alive, and it was impossible to ask everything again, but my aunt Evdokiya[2], who went with my grandmother to Chernigov as a teenager, was alive.

So I asked her how it was possible that they managed to make it there and back in less than a day, and I did not!

  • I do not know, — she sincerely told me. — We walked without thinking about time. No one had a watch. We were guided by stars, the sun, or roosters… We walked and prayed.

The mystery remained unsolved for me for a long time.

As the years passed. I learned that there is sacred space in the church and that church service is not accidentally conducted in the present tense, which gives us the opportunity «here and now» to live the Gospel events of 2000 years ago and to be a part of them. And that prayer is a conversation between man and God, that is, a communion with Eternity.

In the summer of 1990 I had to go to Lviv for our first reunion of graduates of the philological faculty of the Ivan Franko State University of Lviv. After work I went home, changed my clothes, took my briefcase, and went to the train station.

The route was well known to me: 10 minutes to the subway, 10 minutes to the train to Kievsky station, and 10 minutes from train to train. I’ve already ridden this way many, many times.

Looking forward to meeting my classmates, I completely forgot about the ticket! Together with my passport it was left on the desk in my office! And I had already walked halfway to the subway and wasted 5 minutes! I had to go back, and I had lost another 5 minutes.

The situation was hopeless. So I went back. The train was 20 min before it left. Of course I could theoretically get there in that time, but in practice — it’s not realistic. Even if I ran to the subway (which is not decent at my age!), and from the subway to the train, anyway, the train would not go faster in the subway!

So I pondered, standing in my office in front of a large icon of Christ the Savior on the wall.

Suddenly I remembered my grandmother, who used to walk to Chernigov and always made it to church services. And it dawned on me: they walked with prayer, in union with God, and time slowed down for them! Everyone has noticed: when you are in a hurry, time runs fast, but when you are waiting, it slows down…

  • We need to go with a prayer! — I realized. — And don’t look at the time, i.e. at the clock.

I leisurely read «Our Father,» took my ticket and passport, my briefcase, and slowly, with a constant prayer, left the apartment.

It was clear that I was already late and there was no hurry. But the goal remained — to catch the train. I did not stop reciting prayers in my mind — when I walked along the boulevard to the subway, when I got on the subway (it was important to keep from looking at my watch), on the train, on the escalator, and when I walked down the underpass, shortening my way to the platform. And I turned to St. Nicholas, the patron saint of travelers:

  • Father St. Nicholas, help me to make it!

And suddenly in the underpass I heard:

  • Five minutes left before the «Moscow-Lvov» train departs!

At this point my nerves just couldn’t take it anymore. In one fell swoop I flew up the stairs, saw the train standing under the platform and got into the nearest carriage.

I made it! The trip took me only 17 minutes!

A hundred times I tried to shorten the trip to the Kievsky station, when I went to the market for dried fruit, but I never got less than 30 minutes.

And all those hundreds of times I drove without praying…

I once told this story to my students at a special course on categories of Russian medieval culture at the State Academy of Slavic Cultures. The conversation was just about time and space. The story surprised them, but I do not know whether they believed me.

One day I was walking down Ostozhenka from Moscow Linguistic University, where I also gave lectures, to the metro station «Park Kultury». Suddenly I hear:

  • Alexander Nikolayevich! Alexander Nikolayevich!

I looked up: female students from GASK were running towards me.

  • What was it? — I didn’t understand.
  • How about that! Do you remember you told us how your grandmother walked to Chernigov, and then you yourself caught the train with a prayer? Well, we, too, were late for the train, we were definitely out of time, and we remembered your story. And someone said: «Let’s pray together!» So we prayed, and we made it!

Great is the power of prayer, I thought, if it controls time!

Just one more time in my life I almost missed my train. And I would have been, but for the help of St. Nestor, but that’s another story.

Alexander Uzhankov



This text has been translated by an automated translator. If you think it is translated incorrectly somewhere, please write in the comments where and how to translate it correctly. In any case, thank you 🙂

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