“Wood chips! Firewood!” Everyone knew who it was the moment his slightly trembling voice was heard outside the church refectory doors. Because of his famous cadence Pete was nicknamed the Wood-chip.
Petya was a man with a big heart and a childish mind. As a child, he suffered from meningitis, which affected his brain, and, despite the grey hair, Pete was a large, affectionate six-year-old. Nobody called him formally, preferring the hypocoristic Petya, or simply Wood-chip.
Entering the refectory, Pete would take off his old, greasy low-visor cap, sit down on a bench near the window and deliberately begin his ceremony of taking out of his bag the daily load of his famous scrap-wood; his treasure, mainly consisting of broken-up wooden boxes.
At that time, in the late nineties, I was an altar boy at the Holy Trinity Church, located in one of Krasnoyarsk cemeteries and famous for its prosphora. Prosphora and bread were baked there in a real Russian oven. The chips needed for kindling it were made from Petya’s firewood. The women working with the prosphora always thanked Petya with a good portion of porridge.
He ate only porridge, or “gruel-gruel”, as he called it. He was offered, of course, meat, cutlets, fish and soup, but he just shook his head and refused to take anything but the porridge.
One day, Petya came once again to the refectory, sat down on a bench and cried avidly. He cried so bitterly and so sadly, as only small children cry, and this made everyone’s heart sink even deeper.
For a long time he was disconsolate. When he finally calmed down and wiped his tears, we began to ask him what had happened. Sobbing, he said: “There is no firewood today. So there will be no porridge.”
There is no trick that they haven’t tried to convince him to take his usual plate. They even sprinkled it with sugar, all for nothing. He looked at those present somewhat in alarm and shook his head. Then he said, “Unearned gruel will taste bitter even with sugar! Don’t you know that?”
These words, said with childlike faith, astonished me. As educated adults, we are often surprised when children say something that, due to their age and development, no one expects from them. This is exactly what happened. The words of this big child amazed me. This is what the Savior was speaking about when he said, “Truly I say to you, unless you are converted and become like children, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven.” (Matt 18: 3). In his simple and so sincere and childish way Petya expressed something that even the smartest of people sometimes cannot understand.
On that day Petya left hungry, without having any of his favorite porridge.
Later I was ordained a priest and assigned to another parish. Some time after I visited Krasnoyarsk once more. I went to the Trinity cemetery to pray at the grave of my confessor. When I arrived, I discovered another grave, a quite recent one. On the cross it was inscribed “The servant of God Peter Ivanovich Kruglov.” Below, in parentheses it said “Wood-chip”.
There was a plate of porridge on the grave mound. From time to time some birds flew up to it and pecked the remaining grains. A prayer then sounded in my head, “Remember me, Petya, in the Kingdom of Christ.”
Translated by The Catalogue of Good Deeds