Unbelievable for Many, but a True Occurrence (Part I)


Reproduced below is an individual's description of his having been restored to life after dying, which was published by Mr. K. Uekskuell in the "Moscow Journal" towards the end of the last century. In 1916, Archbishop Nikon, a member of the Holy Synod, reprinted the article in his publication "Trinity Pages" with the following comments: "in regard to this narrative, in due time, we had correspondence with its author, who, after ascertaining its validity, testified that his subject, after relating his experience, entered into a monastery. In view of the fact that nothing in his narrative is in contradiction to the stand of the Church on the mystery of death and the life beyond death, we feel it beneficial to reprint this article as a separate publication."

Taken from Orthodox Life, Vol. 26, No. 4 (July-August, 1976), pp. 1-36. 

I 

I shall not here devote myself to a general description of my personality, since it has no bearing on the matter to be presented, but try to describe myself to the reader only in terms of my relation to religion.

Having grown up in an Orthodox Christian and rather devout family, and thereafter having studied in a type of institution where faithlessness was not respected as a sign of student's genius, I did not turn out to be a vehement, arrant disbeliever, which the majority of the young people were in my time. In essence I turned out to be something very indefinite: I was not an atheist, and in no way could I regard myself as having been to any degree a religious man, and since both these mental states were not the result of my convictions, but came about, as it were, through being passively superimposed upon me by definite environmental forces, I shall ask the reader to find himself an appropriate classification for my personality with respect to this situation.

Officially I bore the name of a Christian, but undoubtedly never thought of whether I really had the right to such a name. I never even had the slightest inclination to check what the calling of a Christian demands from me and whether I satisfy these demands. I always said I believed in God; but if I were asked how I believe — how the Orthodox Church to which I belonged teaches to believe, without doubt I would have found myself in a rut. If I were further asked in greater detail, whether I believe, for example, in our salvation through the Incarnation and suffering of the Son of God, in His Second Coming as a Judge, what my relation to the Church is, whether I believe in the necessity of Her founding, in Her holiness and salvation for us through Her sacraments and so forth, I only can imagine what absurdities I would have given for answers. Here is an example:
Once my grandmother, who always strictly observed fasts, reprimanded me for my not observing fasts.

"You are still strong and healthy, you have a good appetite, it follows that you are able very well to get along with lenten food. How is it that one does not observe those Church laws which are not even difficult for us?"
"But grandmother, this is an entirely unreasonable law," I objected. "For you eat, as it were, mechanically, by habit, and no body with intelligence is going to subject oneself to such a custom."
"Why unreasonable?"
"Well, does it make any difference to God what I eat: ham or smoked fish?"
(Is it not true of this case — what an example we have here in profundity of understanding of the essence of fasting by an educated man!).

"How is it that you speak in such a manner?" grandmother continued. "Can one say: an unreasonable law, when the Lord Himself fasted?"

I was struck by such a reply, and only with the help of my grandmother was I able to remember the evangelical narration of this condition. But the fact that I completely forgot it, as you see, in no way hindered me from flinging myself into opposition, which took on a rather haughty character.

And do not think, reader, that I was more foolish or fickle-minded than the other young people of my circle.
Here is another example.

One of my colleagues who was considered to be well read and serious, was asked: did he believe in Christ as a God-Man? He answered affirmatively, but immediately thereafter further conversation revealed that he denied the Resurrection of Christ.

"Allow me, why you are saying something very strange," objected one old lady. "According to your belief, what further followed for Christ? If you believe in Him as in God, how is it you simultaneously allow that He died completely, that is to say, completely ended His being?"

We await some kind of slippery answer from our intelligent one, some kind of subtleties in the conception of death or a new explanation of the question under discussion. Not in the least he answered simply.
"Oh! I did not realize this. I said as I felt."

II

An exactly identical state of incompatibility of ideas with respect to one another settled upon me, and, due to heedlessness on my part, wove itself a secure, nest in my mind.


I seemed to believe in God as one should, that is, I understood Him as a Being personal, all-powerful, eternal; I recognized man to be His creation, but I did not believe in the life hereafter.


A good illustration of the fickle-mindedness of our relations to both religion and to our own spiritual state is seen in the following, that I did not know of this serious lack of faith in myself until, similar to my above mentioned colleague, a certain circumstance brought it to light.

Fate brought me together in friendship with a serious and very well educated man; together with this he was extremely sympathetic and lonely, and I liked to visit him from time to time once, having paid him a visit, I found him reading catechism.

"What is this, Prochor Alexandrovich" — that was what my friend was called — "are you preparing yourself to become a pedagogue?" I asked, astonishedly, pointing to the book.

"My dear fellow, what do you mean pedagogue! It would be fine if I could become a passable student. It is far removed from me to teach others. I have to prepare myself for the examination. Why, look at the graying of my hair, see, it increases with every day; and before you know it you are called out to account for it all, he said with his usual good-hearted smile."

I did not take his words literally, thinking that since he was a man who always read much, he simply found a need for some kind of correction in catechesis. He, evidently desiring to explain the reading that was strange to me, said:
One reads a lot of all kinds of contemporary trash, well, here I am checking myself so that I do not go off on a wrong track. For, you know, the examination that is awaiting us is a severe one, it is severe even in this, that no reexamination will be given.

"But do you really believe this?"
"Really, how can one not believe in it? What will become of me, let us find out? Do you really think one two three and I turn into dust. And if I do not turn to dust, then there can be no doubt that I will be called to answer. I am not foam, I have a will and a mind, I lived consciously and . . . sinned . . ."

"I do not know, Prochor Alexandrovich, how and from what our belief in the life hereafter could have arisen. It is natural to think that a man dies — and, well, it all ends here. You see him still and not breathing, all this decays, what ideas of some kind of life can there be here in this state?" I said, also expressing exactly that which I felt, in the order that these ideas must have previously arisen and formed my understanding.

"Allow me, and what do you think I should do with Lazarus of Bethany. Why, you know this is actually a fact, and he was also a man, molded from the same clay as I."

I looked at my interlocutor with frank surprise. Is it possible that this educated man believes such incredible things?

And Prochor Alexandrovich in turn looked fixedly at me for about a minute and thereafter, having lowered his voice, said:

"Or, are you an unbeliever?"

"No, why do you say so? I believe in God, I answered."

"And in divinely-revealed teaching you do not believe? But then, nowadays God is understood in different ways, and practically each individual begins to remake divinely-revealed teaching to meet one's personal needs, one finds classifications being set up here; in this, then, you must believe, but in this you may or may not believe, and in that you do not have to believe at all! As if there are several truths, and not just one. And they do not understand that in doing so they already believe in the products of their own mind and imagination, and if this is so, then, of course, there is no place here for belief in God."

"But one can not believe everything. Sometimes one meets up with such very strange things."

"That is to say, not properly understood? Make yourself understand. If you do not succeed, then you must admit to yourself that the fault lies here in yourself, and you must yield on this point. Begin reasoning like an ordinary uneducated man concerning the quadriture of a circle, or about some other wisdom of higher mathematics, and you will see that he also understands nothing of this, but from this it does not follow that one has to deny the study of mathematics itself. Of course it is easier to renounce, but this is not always ... fitting.

"Think carefully about what you have said, in essence, an absurdity: you say that you believe in God, but that there is no life after death. But God is not a God of the dead but of the living. Otherwise what kind of a God is this? Christ Himself spoke of life after death: do you really think He spoke untruths? Why even His bitterest enemies were not able to prove this. And why then did He come and suffer, if our whole future amounts only to being resolved into dust?


"No, that is not right. You must, by all means, by all means" — he suddenly spoke with intensity — "correct it. You must understand how important this is. Such a faith should cast an entirely new light into your life, give it a different purpose, give an entirely new direction to all your work. This will be a complete moral revolution for you. In this faith we take on a burden, but at the same time we have a source of consolation and support for struggle with the misfortunes of life that are inseparable for everybody."

III

I understood the whole logic in Prochor Alexandrovich's words, but, of course, a few minutes conversation could not implant in me a belief in that, which I was accustomed not to believe, and my conversation with him essentially only served to manifest my view on a certain important question — a view, which until then I myself did not know well because I had no occasion to express it, and even less occasion to think it through.

My unbelief evidently seriously worried Prochor Alexandrovich: several times in the course of the evening he returned to this theme, and when I was preparing to leave, he quickly picked out several books from his large library and, giving them to me, said:

"Read them, without fail read them, because one can not leave this the way it is in its present state. I am, certain that you will soon rationally understand and become convinced in the complete lack of foundation for your unbelief, but it is necessary to convey this conviction from the mind to the heart, it is necessary that the heart understand, otherwise in an hour or a day it will evaporate and be forgotten — because the mind is a sieve through which different thoughts only pass, and the storehouse for them is not there."

I read the books. I do not remember now if I read all of them, but it turned out that habit was stronger than reason. I recognized that everything written in these books was very convincing, however due to the scantiness of my understanding in religious matters, I was unable to raise the slightest of serious objections to the arguments that they contained — but faith, nevertheless, did not appear in me. I acknowledged that this was not logical, I believed that everything written in the books was truth, but there was no feeling of faith in me and death so continued in my understanding as the absolute final of human existence, after which only decomposition followed.


Unfortunately, it happened that soon after the above mentioned conversation with Prochor Alexandrovich, I had to leave the city in which he lived, and we did not see one another again. I do not know, perhaps as an intelligent man and possessing the charm of an intensely convinced man, he would have succeeded at least to a certain extent of deepening my views and my relations to life and things in general, and through this also to introduce certain changes into my understanding of death, — but left to myself and by nature not being a particularly serious-minded young man, I in no way was interested in such diverting questions, and due to my thoughtlessness, soon thereafter did not even give a grain of thought to Prochor Alexandrovich's words, which dealt with the seriousness of the insufficiency in my faith and the necessity of ridding myself of it.

And following this, changes of abode, meetings with new people not only faded this question out of my memory, but the conversation with Prochor Alexandrovich also, and even his mental image and my brief acquaintance with him.

IV

Many years passed. To my chagrin, I have to admit that morally I changed very slightly in the course of these years. Although I already was a man at the half-way mark of my life, that is to say I was a man of middle age, neither in my relation to life itself nor to myself was there a gain of seriousness. I did not understand the meaning of life, a kind of amazing knowledge of myself remained for me the same "chimerical" invention, as the reasoning of a metaphysician* in a well known fable of the same name, and I lived, being led by the same crude-like, empty interests, by that very same false and mean conception of the purpose of life by which the majority of secular people of my class and education lived.

My relation to religion also had remained unchanged, that is, to say, as previously I was neither an atheist, nor to any degree a consciously understanding religious man. As previously, by habit I now and then went to Church, went to confession by habit once a year, crossed myself by habit, when it was proper to do so — and this was everything in religion for me. I was not interested in any questions dealing with religion and did not even understand that there was something of interest there, besides, of course, the most elementary conceptions. I did not know anything here, and it seemed to me that I knew and understood everything, and that everything was so simple and "lacking any guile," that here an "educated" man had nothing to burden his mind with. A naiveté that reaches laughable proportions, but, unfortunately, very characteristic of "educated" people of our times.

It is quite obvious, that with the manifestation of these facts, there cannot be any possibility either of any progress in my religious feeling, or of a broadening of the scope of my conceptions in this realm.

V

It happened at this period of my life that my work carried me to K., and I became seriously ill there.

Since I had neither relatives nor even a servant in K., I had to go to a hospital. The doctors found it to be pneumonia.

At first I felt so well that not once I thought it was not necessary to lie in a hospital on account of such a trifle; but as the sickness developed and the temperature began to rise rapidly, I understood that with such a "trifle" it would not at all be wise to lie in bed alone in a room of some hotel.

The long winter nights in a hospital were especially annoying to me; the fever did not allow me to sleep at all, sometimes it was even impossible to lie, and sitting in bed was both uncomfortable and tiring: I did not feel like or was not able to get up and walk through the ward; and so one kept on tossing in bed, lay down, sat up, let my legs down and again lifted them up into bed, and all the while I continued to listen carefully: when will the clock begin to strike! I waited, waited and it seemed on purpose to ring only two or three times, — that meant a whole eternity to wait before daybreak. And how depressing on a sick man is the effect of this common slumber of many people, together with the quietness of the night. One literally feels oneself to be in a graveyard in company with dead men.

The degree to which my sickness approached a crisis, to that same degree I became increasingly worse and felt worse. At times I had such seizures that the ordinary unpleasant conditions became unnoticeable, and I did not notice the wearying effect of the endless nights. But I do not really know what to ascribe this to: is it because I always was and regarded myself to be very strong and a healthy man, or was it because up until that time I was never once seriously ill, and those sad thoughts which are sometimes called forth by serious sicknesses were alien to my mind — however, no matter how badly I felt at times, no matter how abruptly the seizures of my illness came on, not once did the idea of death enter my mind.

I awaited with confidence that today or tomorrow a change for the better was to take place, and impatiently asked each time the thermometer was removed from beneath my arm what my temperature was. But having reached a certain level, it literally froze at that point, and to my questions I constantly heard the reply: "40 and nine tenths," "forty-one," "forty and eight tenths."

"Ah me, what a drawn out process this is!" I would say with disappointment, and thereafter would ask the doctor if my recovery was expected to continue at the same turtle's pace.

Seeing my impatience, the doctor calmed me and said, that in my years and with my health there was nothing to fear, that recovery would not be drawn out, that under such favorable circumstances after each sickness one can recuperate in a matter of almost a few days.

I believed this whole-heartedly and strengthened my patience with the thought, that there remains only somehow to await the crisis, and then everything will immediately become completely normal.

VI

One night I felt especially badly; I tossed about from fever and breathing was extremely difficult for me, but towards morning it suddenly became so much easier for me, that I was even able to fall asleep. Having awakened, my first thought during the recollection of the night suffering was: "Well this must have been it, the crisis is past. And finally now there will be an end to this gasping and this unbearable fever."


And having seen a very young doctor's assistant entering a neighboring ward, I called him over and asked to have my temperature taken.

"Well, my lord, now things have taken a turn for the better," he said joyfully, removing the thermometer at the appointed time. "Your temperature is normal."

"Really?" I asked joyfully.

"Take a look for yourself: thirty seven and one tenth. And it seems your cough did not bother you as much."

I only realized here that since midnight I actually had not coughed until morning and that although I tossed about and drank a few gulps of hot tea, I also did not cough as a result of this.

At nine o'clock the doctor came. I told him that I felt badly at night and made the assumption that evidently this must have been the crisis, and that now I did not feel badly and before morning even was able to sleep for a few hours.

"Well that certainly is fine," he said, and walked up to the table and perused some sort of tables or notes that were lying there.

"Do you want to take his temperature?" the doctor's assistant asked him. "His temperature is normal."

"What do you mean by normal?" he asked him, quickly raising his head from the table and looking at the assistant with perplexity.

"That is exactly what I said, I just took it."

The doctor again had the temperature taken and this time even looked himself to see if the temperature was properly taken. But this time the temperature did not even reach thirty-seven: it turned out to be two tenths below thirty seven.

The doctor took his own thermometer out of the side pocket of his jacket, shook it, checked it, and evidently certain of its correctness again took my temperature.

The second showed the same as the first.

To my surprise, the doctor did not evince any sign of happiness with respect to my condition, not making, well, out of politeness sake, even the slightest expression of satisfaction on his mien, and, having turned around somewhat in a fidgety manner, he left the ward, — following a minute or so I heard a telephone begin ringing in the room.

VII

Soon the head physician appeared; they both listened to me and examined me — and had practically my whole back covered with leeches; following this, having prescribed a medicine, they did not give my prescription with the others, but sent an assistant separately to have it filled before the others.

"Listen here, what have you thought up for me now that I feel not at all bad, to burn me with leeches?" I asked the head doctor.

To me it seemed that my question confused or discouraged the doctor, and he answered impatiently:
"Oh, my God! Why you cannot be abandoned like this to the free course of the sickness because you feel somewhat better. We have to draw out of you all that mess that has accumulated in you during this time."

Three hours later the younger doctor again came to see me; he examined to see how the leeches were placed on me, asked how many spoonfuls of medicine I had taken. I said, "Three."
"Did you cough?"
"No, I answered."
"Not once?"
"Not once."

"Please tell me," I turned to the assistant doctor who was continually present in my ward, "what kind of loathsome stuff is mixed in this medicine. It makes me throw up."

"There are various expectorants here, also a little ippekaque," he explained.

In the given case I acted exactly as contemporary negators of religion often act, that is, understanding exactly nothing of what was taking place, I mentally judged and upbraided the doctor's procedure in my lack of understanding: they give me expectorants when I have nothing to expectorate.

VIII

In the meantime, an hour and a half or two after the latter visit by the doctors, all three of them again appeared in my ward: two of ours and a third, bearing an air of importance and imposing, not belonging to our ward.

They percussed and listened to me for a long time; a tank with oxygen appeared. The latter somewhat astounded me.

"Now what is this for?" I asked.

"Why we have to filter through your lungs a little. Why they almost have been backed in you," said the third doctor, who was not from our ward.

"But tell me, doctor what is it about my back that has fascinated you, that you are so concerned about it. It is now the third time this morning that you have percussed and covered it all over with leeches."

I felt myself so much better compared to those previous days, and therefore in my thoughts I was so far from anything pessimistic in nature, so that evidently no medical accessories were capable of bringing me to surmise my true condition; even the appearance of an important, strange looking doctor I explained away to myself as a change in the staff or something of a similar nature, in no way suspecting that he was specially called for me, because my case demanded a consilium. The last question I made with such an unconstrained and happy tone, that evidently neither of my physicians had the heart at least to hint at the oncoming catastrophe. And, in truth, how can one tell a man, full of the happiest hopes, that he perhaps has only a few hours more to live!

"It is namely now that we must percuss about you," the doctor answered me in an undetermined manner.

But this answer I also had understood in a manner desired by myself, and namely, that now, when the climax was past, when the strength of the infirmity was weakening, evidently it was necessary and more convenient to apply all possible means to chase out the remaining sickness and help restore all that which had been affected by the malady.

IX

I remember at about four o'clock I felt a kind of mild chill, and desiring to become warm, I covered myself snugly with the blanket and lay in bed, but suddenly I felt very dizzy.

I called the assistant doctor; he came over, lifted me from the pillow and raised the bag of oxygen. Somewhere I heard the ringing of a bell, and in a few minutes the head physician hurriedly walked into my ward, and shortly thereafter, one following the other, both of our physicians.

At another time such an unusual mass assemblage of the medical staff and the rapidity with which it was gathering undoubtedly would have astonished and confused me, but now I felt entirely indifferent to it, as if it had no relation to me.

A strange change suddenly took place in my mood! A minute before, full of optimism, now although I saw and understood fully well all that was taking place about me, there suddenly arose a kind of an incomprehensible indifference, such a remoteness, which, as it now seems, is completely alien to the living.

All my attention was concentrated on myself, but here there also was an astonishing, peculiar quality, a certain state of division within me: I felt and was conscious of myself with complete clarity and certainty, and at the same time I had a feeling of such indifference to myself, that it seemed as if I even had lost the capacity for perceiving physical sensations.

For example, I saw how the doctor extended his hand and felt my pulse — I saw and understood what he was doing, but did not feel his contact with my body. I saw and understood that the doctors, having raised me, continued to do something and were making a fuss over my back, where evidently the edema had begun, but what they were doing — I felt nothing and this not because I actually lost the capacity to perceive these sensations, but because this did not in the least draw my attention to itself, because having withdrawn somewhere deep within myself, I did not listen to or observe what they were doing to me.

It seemed as if suddenly two beings or essences were manifested in me: one — concealed somewhere deep within and this was the main part of me; the other — external and evidently, less significant; and now it seemed as if that which had bound these two either burned itself out or melted, and these two essences separated, the stronger of these being felt more vividly and with greater certainty, and the weaker becoming a matter of indifference. This weaker part or being was my body.

I can imagine how, perhaps even only a few days ago, I would have been struck by the manifestation in myself of this hitherto unknown to me internal being and the realization of its superiority over that other part of me, which according to my previous beliefs made up the whole being of Pan, but which I now did not even notice.

This state was most astounding: to live, see, hear, and understand all, and at the same time seemingly not to see or understand anything, to feel such alienation with regard to everything.

X

Thus, for example, the doctor asks me a question; I hear and understand that which he asks, but I do not reply, I do not give an answer, because I feel there is no reason for me to speak to him. And yet he fusses and worries over me, but he is concerned with that half of me, which now has lost all meaning for myself, and with which I feel I have nothing to do. But suddenly the other half asserted itself, and in so striking and unusual a manner!

I suddenly felt myself drawn somewhere downward with irresistible force. During the first minutes this sensation was similar to having heavy, massive weights tied to all the members of my body; but shortly following this such a comparison could not justly describe my state of feeling. This representation of such an attraction now seemed comparatively insignificant.
No, here some kind of law of gravitational attraction of most tremendous power was acting.

It seemed to me that no not only I as a whole, but every member, every hair, the thinnest tendon, each cell of my body was separately being drawn somewhere with such irresistibility, as a strong magnet attracts pieces of metal to itself.

And yet, no matter how strong this sensation might have been, it did not hinder me from thinking and being conscious of everything; I was also conscious of the strangeness of this phenomenon. I remembered and was conscious of reality, that is to say, that I lay in bed, that my ward was on the second floor, [and] that below me there was an identical room; but at the same time, according to the strength of the sensation, I was certain that if below me there were not one, but ten rooms piled on top of one another, that this would suddenly give way before me in order to let me pass . . . where?
Somewhere further, deeper into the earth.

Yes, namely into the earth, and I wanted to lay on the floor; I exerted myself and began tossing about.

Source: https://www.fatheralexander.org/booklets/english/unbelievable_but_true.htm



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