The last lover of the Empress – Іван Корсак

The boy palmed his eyes perplexedly, understood that he was nodding in the sun.

“Shall I know my future?” he asked again for show.

“No, nobody can know his future. But if you know future of other people, you will know what you shouldn’t do.”

“Can I tell the others about their future?”

“You can.”

“Will they listen to the warnings?”

“God gave people free choice.”

The boy began to hesitate suddenly.

“How to understand if it is not the dream?”

“Doubting Thomas hesitated too” – smiled the foreigner – “to make sure it’s not a dream take…”

Arceniy awaked, the sun rose and was parching, there wasn’t anybody on the road. He recalled his dream and looked at his palm.

Wooden cross on scratchy thread lay on his palm, it was ordinary cross made of dark wood.

…When Dimitriy recalled an anathema, Arceniy was first terrified. He understood that fear for life and dignity misled Novgorod metropolitan. Arceniy didn’t think about himself, he really changed an ancient text so that it could be understood as anathema for the empress and for other offenders of the Church whose avarice to monastic estates could deprive the Church of independence. Arceniy was shocked by Dimitriy’s spiritual betrayal…

But Dimitriy couldn’t stop.


“Metropolitan, you addressed yourself to the Synod with a letter on March 6… Everything written there is an offence for the Majesty.”

“Woe is us, poor pontiffs, and trouble not from foreigners but from ours who consider themselves to be true believers.”

“It would be easier for pontiffs if the secular clergy and the regular clergy were generally on the pay from treasury.”

“A pontiff isn’t a pontiff if he has a pay from treasury that means from state persons… Bless the state without pontiffs” – Arceniy breathed and kept silent for a minute – “otherwise there will be a great defection from our ancient apostolic Church. Otherwise any other belief will overrule and even atheistic state will appear…”

… The trial continued. The empress Catherine II was listening to it for show, reluctantly, looking without interest at flame from candles shining on the medals of Glebov and Sheshkovskiy, or looking at severe faces at the top, in the darkness, faces painted by ancient artists, those faces became severer because of melting light. In fact she made an effort to control herself, there was fever in her soil, and every word told by insolent metropolitan created new flames by sudden wind. “This metropolitan is not honest. He tells here one things and he tells absolutely other things to the charge…” – the empress thought.

Regular report about metropolitan’s talks in Rostov was put on her table three days ago. Somewhere in his set Arceniy Matsievich told, “Our Majesty isn’t natural and she isn’t steady in laws and she needn’t have mounted the throne, Ivan Antonovich should have done this. Nothing is constant and real heirs aren’t respected.”


Catherine II was preparing for metropolitan’s trial before: she asked dignitaries’ opinion, personally looked through hundreds of beslavered pages from reports of sleuths of the Secret expedition, spitting upon fingers squeamishly. There was nobody she could be afraid of, because some were dead, others were imprisoned in immovable casemates, and the last recourse for possible opposition to throne was the Church. The higher clergy was being chased and it was helpful. She remembered when archbishop Warlaam was deported because he had written in private letter the words “Her Majesty” instead of “Her Empror’s Majesty.”

For the empress Arceniy Matsievich’s case wasn’t only his case, danger was greater and more important. In fact in her opinion metropolitan of Moscow spoke on behalf of the whole higher episcopacy, there were even rumours that in the next exactions and expropriation of churches they could reach inhibition to say a service in the whole state.

One day the empress invited Stepan Ivanovich Sheshkovskiy and asked straight, without cunning and looking in his eyes without winking, “You know about the Secret expedition even more than Attorney-General Glebov knows… Can you advice what to do with that clergy who didn’t become a tower of strength for the throne?”

“But they all are tarred with the same brush” – Sheshkovskiy understood her scrutiny and ammiable smile appeared on his oval face – “take one of them and teach him a lesson…”

“Do you advice me to arrange hierarchs’ revolt?” – One empress’s eyebrow was rising up slowly, another didn’t move as if it were frozen.

“No, Your Empror’s Majesty” – Sheshkovskiy shook his head as if he was adjusting it more comfortable on his short body, then he looked at the handle of his famous stick – “no, we can take one of them but the rest pastors must judge him themselves.”

“But what if they won’t judge?” – Empress’s eyebrow went down slowly, only her lips fastened.

“They will” – Stepan Ivanovich went on inspecting handle of his stick cut with curlicue, as if it were the main theme of their conversation – “there is much direct evidence.”

Sheshkovskiy recognized his speech very well. He understood that the metropolitan Dimitriy’s case was the easiest: Catherine II granted him, not the churches, thousands of bons after she had mounted the throne. Stepan Ivanovich was looking through the private letters of Amvrosiy and Timophey carefully and deliberately, they had a fear to contradict to their own aims aloud, but it looked as if they pushed Rostov metropolitan to it, called him “great-hearted”, “alive”, “true well-doer” – lists from those letters are saved in the Secret expedition, in Petropavlovsk fortress. Sheshkovskiy also knew that patronage of world dignitary would be vain. Bestuzhev-Ryumin tried to write moderate and delicate letter to the empress, but he became (and thank heavens!) full resistance from her Empror’s Majesty, “I have never seen such patronage for the offender of the Majesty as for Rostov metropolitan who is now arrested by the whole Synod. I don’t know the reason for doubting in my clemency and humanity. Priests were beheaded without ceremony and form long ago, and even for not so important matters.”


… The trial continued, though slowly, day by day, sad words of charge were flying off the ancient walls, rising to the arch and falling down like heavy stones on an old Arceniy’s head.

“Metropolitan, you dared to send discourteous letter to Saint-Petersburg which was given to the Majesty at the congregation of generals by hierarchy monk Luka and was read with stops by the secretary… That letter caused great anger of a prince… and their anchoret went out of his head because of fear and was sent to Nevskiy monastery, where he was secured for six weeks. And now he is in the cell under surveillance. You are a causer, metropolitan…”

“Why did turn against empress’s will, metropolitan, against the empress’s will which called us to observe the rules of mind, to dispose of vanity and to serve God on a state pay? Why do you need herd of six hundred horses and ten thousand tithes if treasury can subsist us without difficulties?”

“Didn’t you offend pontiffs for obedience to throne, saying that they were looking like dumb dogs without barking?”

After the regular trial, on the porch Sheshkovskiy told Glebov, peeping by force of habit, “What does Attorney-General think?”

“Stepan Ivanovich, our Secret expedition has already hunted him down.” Glebov was watching his step on stony stages slowly as if he weren’t sure in their strength. “When he sees the rack, and how executioners check their whips and ropes, prepare fire-pans and instruments for torture… He will confess of everything immediately, he will even recollect that he is the Vicar of Christ’s cousin and Turkish sultan’s godfather.”

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