The monk said nothing and walked on. Arseny and Ambrogio began following behind him, feeling for the uneven floor with their feet. Dawn and summer were sparkling overhead, outside, but only three candles tore into the darkness here. Darkness slipped away from the candles, though rather uncertainly and not very far. It would stay still under lo arches only an arm’s length away and then swirl, ready to close in again. It was already hot outside at this early hour but cool reigned here.
Is it always so cool here? asked Ambrogio.
Here there is never the frost nor the heat that are the manifestation of extremes, answered the monk. Eternity is tranquil and so it is characterized by coolness.
Arseny drew a candle toward the inscription near one of the shrines.
Salutations, O beloved Agapit, Arseny quietly uttered. I had so hoped to meet you.
To whom are you wishing health? asked Ambrogio. This is the Venerable Agapit, an unmercenary physician. Arseny dropped to his knees and pressed his lips to Agapit’s hand. You know, Agapit, all my healing, it is such a strange story… I can’t really explain it to you. Everything was more or less obvious, as long as I was using herbal treatments. I treated and knew God’s help came through the herbs. Well then. Now, though, God’s help comes through me, just me, do you understand? And I am less than my cures, far less, I am not worthy of them, and that makes me feel either frightened or awkward.
You want to say you are worse than herbs, asked the monk.
Arseny raised his eyes to the monk.
It means one must consciously rid oneself of sins, shrugged the monk. And that’s all there is to it. One must be more like God, you know, not expound on things.
The three men walked on and were met by ever more new saints. The saints were not exactly moving or even speaking, but the silence and immobility of the dead were not absolute. There was, under the ground, a motion that was not completely usual, and a particular sort of voices rang out without disturbing the sternness and repose. The saints spoke using words from psalms and lines from the lives of saints that Arseny remembered well from childhood. they drew the candles closer, shadows shifted along dried faces and brown, half-bent hands. The saints seemed to raise their heads, smile, and beckon, barely perceptibly, with their hands.
A city of saints, whispered Ambrogio, following the play of the shadow. They present us the illusion of life.
No, objected Arseny, also in a whisper. They disprove the illusion of death.
–Eugene Vodolazkin ‘Laurus’