Footnotes from The Gospel by St. Matthew

By: M. Jundurrahmaan

Darkened room. Loud, thudding noises. Crackling in a tittering-like manner; loud, harsh, and rough on each of it’s edges. All I heard was only those things through one singular motion when I was moving my books from the shelves into the cardboard boxes that I have brought from the storage room at the Church earlier. A few of them are mine, from my own attic--each I filled with my belongings, one of them have my robe stuffed. Somehow it’s rather odd when we usually thought we rarely have any of these senses sharpened like a dew of adrenaline drips into your nerves after you took a pill of painkiller, or a solidified ecstasy. Though I hardly ever do any of those things; in fact, I never even consumed a stimulative drug before, since my job--and what I believe is right--should, rightly so, prevent me from doing so. Maybe I’m just feeling sober, like the murderer in a short story by Poe I’ve read once before, where he killed an old man that he knew out of nowhere because his blue eyes, looking like a pair owned by a dead bird in the midst of it’s decay.

When I heard back those words in verbatim through my mind, I remember how everything came together to the senses that I felt, explained earlier in the first sentence of these words I’m writing right now. Actually, maybe I should get things a little bit clearer on the paper too—no, should you understand it, and I can’t pick an actual method to do what I must for kind readers like you all, but only from every one of those things that pops into my head from my ears can be the only sources that I think would be able to describe what is happening to me right now. Though in the end I should get myself together..

Simply put, I’ve always felt like I killed a man like the murderer in Poe’s story I’ve mentioned earlier, or at least on the surface-level. These senses purifying into a whole, oneness, maybe I really am a similar man like he was. Frankly enough, I never knew why even though a few of my friends, most of them came from other churches before finally from the Cardinal of Catholic Church, said if I really meant my dedication to this work as a priest of Christ’s teachings as well as His own messengers, then I could’ve saved him with every kind of ways that I undoubtedly would’ve done. It must be their convictions about me that finally convinced me that I really am the guilty one all along. I also affirm the Cardinal was right, in a sense; even though when I look back to the days I’ve spent together with him, it’s—

No, what can I do, really? Ever since Norman Firmansyah—his full name when he registered to be a member of the Church—came to me, I’ve known after a little while by other priests he was in Russia because of a scholarship he received by the government at Moscow. He was studying Philosophy. That I heard his reason to come into our Church was because he wanted to become a priest, is something that I can’t really think too much about. He was truly a brightly-minded kid, and nowadays the modern human science of compassion and rationality could get you anywhere, to any state of mind possible, including a rare kind of altruism I’ve seen so far in him. He’s very compassionate, centered and very delicate to others, incredibly friendly, though his only flaw was that he’s coldly apathetic to the girls who were attracted to him. He’s smart out of all these attitudes he had in him. Even at one moment when I came to visit his room, Norman already stuffed a lot of his books that he owned, from Blanchot to Sartre, into a small wooden bookshelf I gave him— and he has a lot more stacked on his desk, but I can’t really remember whose works most of them were. He spent most of his time, in the end, merely studying and helping around whenever he could (or if he felt like it, in his own words).

Though I certainly could say for sure that a few psalms and verses I’ve read before which I interpret as how time and human beings are both ephemeral, and so is humaneness. The only thing that we can do to each other is to spent a wholesome of ourselves to benefit each other, no matter if we’re strangers.

But I was taken aback with his uniqueness. His rare trait, to be precise; and after a while, since May he came here, I gradually—like most of the priests working at the Church, and also the kids from the Gospel Choir here—adored him as I personally would to my own children; though it left me question whether if I really have a depthness of reason to feel that. Should I love him before I tremendously know what his traits were, his backstory and interests? Nonetheless I counted on his passion to study and the reason why he wanted to join the Church. So I, together with other younger priests who became friends with him and always converse about Christ and what’s been happening in and outside the country, taught him everything including the actual Bible itself.

After a few months have passed, I started to see him with a book by Marx, Engels or an obscure theorist in his hand. It drastically became a lot more often when weeks are coming by.

I’ve been indifferent to anyone who’ve studied their works though I hardly ever approved if there was someone from the Church read something by Lenin or Stalin, after a group of priests who worked for me defected and left to work for the Party. Be as it may, I can’t instigate the same thing to Norman. After all I know he wouldn’t take anything he read or studied for granted; he consumes them like synthesizing two different chemicals into a singular, new formula. He even reassured me, in a delicate friendly tone that I and others are most familiar with, that he wouldn’t go anywhere because of these readings he have done.

After a few weeks have passed since we talked about this new habit that he’s been doing, in the earliest of October I assume, his expression started to become a little bit more gloomier. He’s a lot more withdrawn and quieter—he’d talk if he wants to, or at least when someone draws him to do so. I became curious about this sudden change. I asked a younger nun who’s been working for two months, and have became a close friend of Norman. She told me the news he apparently told her that a circle of his childhood friends in his hometown were detained by the military and a few of them who mostly worked for the Central Committee, have been executed, including his own big brother, Adit.

Driven by sympathy to console him, I came to his room one night when the others have asleep. He hasn’t, and I think was studying with a short candle as the only light on his desk. I took a sit on the edge of his bed and he went back to his chair after I told him I’ve heard what happened to him and I wanted to talk.

“Just that?” he asked, in a deadpan-like tone he usually has.

“Well, yeah,” I replied shortly before continuing. “I want to hear what you feel. Maybe I can help you out, to say the least.”

We went quiet for a few, maybe around fifteen minutes or so, before he pushed his head backwards and faces the dark ceiling of his room. He asked me thereafter if it’s normal to have an urge to avenge the loss of a relative or a loved one.

“I can’t answer from Our Beloved Father’s words I always have to teach, you know that. He’s—"

“Well, what do you personally think?” he asked again, jerkily interrupts, with an insisting manner. Something I’ve never heard from him before, which caught me off guard and made me think of an answer for a few minutes.

“Of course, I’d say. It’s an emotion that you feel intertwining altogether with anger. And feeling angry is normal,” I reflexed to take a short breath. “though I think the best way to make an avenge out of the death someone you love or very adore is by keeping them in your prayers.”

Another pause for a few minutes pass before I asked him again, “You’re not thinking about killing your fellow human beings, aren’t you?”

He reluctantly nodded without saying anything. Which I thought my guess was right, after he vaguely murmured that he does.

“Then when that thought grows into a drive to really do what you want to do, you’ll be on the same level as those people who killed your brother. The only thing that works is to show and teach them how to love each other without making a fuss about what they think about is different than all of us.” I blabbered, without thinking of the depth from every single one of these words, before I stopped for a few minutes later on continuing again. “Are you intending to attend his funeral? I’ve read from the papers anyone can’t come into—”
“the country if they, or their siblings or family members involved with the Party.” He continued, before stopping for a few seconds. “I know, J know. I don’t think I would. Even when my parents told me to come home.”
I shallowly nodded. “Then we can arrange a special prayer for his soul during tomorrow’s Mass. Though believe me when I say Father Christ and the Almighty will keep his kindred, beautiful spirit in safety.” I concluded thereafter, “You should sleep now at least. It’s gonna be 12AM in a few minutes. You’ll be tired for tomorrow if you keep being up, thinking about his death.”

Maybe I should’ve foresaw this selfish trait I only started to realize when I remember about him again right now. Granted though, he was present when we’re preparing for the Mass in the dawn, but none of us saw him as it starts. I didn’t see the young nun he’s close with, named Natasha, though after a few minutes two priests found her in his room, crying. We didn’t know what happened, and she couldn’t answer everytime we asked about it. Even with all these fuss, the Mass went on uninterrupted before someone bursts in to a crowd that were gathered near the altar, with a news that he shot himself in the clock tower next to the Church. When we’re about to pray for Adit, I took over the podium and told everyone regarding this. Funny enough that I had wanted everyone to pray for them both, but I couldn’t hold my sadness together while I do so.

No one found a suicide note for two weeks before Natasha gave one to me in private—a letter confessing in a reproachive manner on how wrong he was to stay strong because I told him to and wanted his death to be some sort of a protest for his brother’s death. Death, in his opinion, amazes anyone in despair to the point they could be honest according who they actually are.

(II)

Fascinatingly enough, for an outsider like him, a lot of people attended his funeral. Most of them were his own classmates, and colleagues from a newspaper he worked part-time for. I led the crowd of people carrying his casket together with Natasha by my side, who couldn’t stop crying as I also kept on trying to comfort her until we arrived at the cemetery. Thereafter I lead another prayer for him before delivering an eulogy, later on continued by one of our priests who were always together with Norman, and then came Natasha—later on a close colleague from the newspaper he worked for. It seemed like it was about to rain at first, as far as I could remember, but not even a trickle fell before we finished the ceremony. We ran with a glaring shade from the black umbrella Natasha opened it for us.

I came back to my car with Natasha. Crowds of mourners kept on overflowing, passing through as she watched them for a moment. We talked for a little bit—I can’t remember how it went, though. I can make up only one thing she told me that she’s moving back to a village in Leningrad where her entire family lives for a ‘while’. She didn’t said when she’d return. Nonetheless, we went back to our Church, welcomed in a similar layer of gloom—or at least the altar was silent and unoccupied when we came back—that I always see in Norman’s expression before he died.

There was a row of candles left lit by someone on a table besides the podium. It must’ve been for the Mass and I blew them all together and turned off the lights.

Things kept on going as usual, though everything became a little bit more somber than the moment before Norman came to our Church. We did the usual Mass every Sundays, trained the kids for choir, had studies of the Bible or a verse, a child of the Chorus here and there left because they fell sick and come a newer one, and so forth. The Archdiocese of Moscow summoned me just about two weeks prior Christmas. This was when I hear the Cardinal’s words as well as the Archbishop who gave the verdict that I have to be replaced after the Christmas celebration.

I couldn’t do anything to stand against this order. I still have to stick by the rules that always struck upon me ever since I worked for the Church, let alone opposing them is also a bad idea personally for me. Thereafter we had a meeting to talk about who’d replace my position and later on agreed that a Dutch priest, one of Norman’s close friend, will take the job after the New Year’s holiday we’d have.

Though I can’t bear a new, thick nuance that I feel after the meeting. I can’t describe for sure, but it’s similar—I’d say—to anywhen you feel like you’ve lost to something though with a more lesser weight. Maybe it was because I tried to keep myself and everyone together after a few weeks have gone by, at one moment I hear a group of priests had a precocious conversation that I am in the wrong for this. As well as the nuns too—though I don’t know for sure if a similar gossip went around them, but I always catched an air of scorn whenever I pass by. Fearing that it could’ve been the guilt that I feel after hearing the verdict by the Archbishop, the Cardinal’s reprimand as well as the gossip that were whispered about by the priests that I’ve mentioned before—and here I am, in my house, when I was supposed to be present during the Christmas celebration the Church have been preparing for a few weeks.

(II)

I don’t know for sure what I’ll be doing now. At the moment I’ve crammed every belongings that I could find into boxes that I brought from the Church and the basement. I have no one else living together with me, so I shouldn’t worry too much about emptying the contents of this house. I haven’t heard almost a single bit of news from Natasha--actually, the last time I ever did was that she fell sick of chronic tuberculosis. That was on the midst of November last month, and she’d return, in her father’s words, when she feels a little bit more better both psycho-and-physiologically. Though I still haven’t seen her up until this day.

If there was any moral message from these events that I could squeeze off, the only part that I can certainly agree with him is that death is magnetic, majestic in it’s own beauty. And I’ve thought another thing which was that the humaneness inside our souls is also rational and could be only seen through the rational view. You can’t concretely solve everything by referring to a verse or a psalm. And the only method and epiphany that I regained from his death—

Maybe is the fact that I should look for my own ways myself. No matter what my choice is, it’s the one that would make my loss of Norman as what I had picked to face it. For death itself is a meditation on how fragile human beings are, though there’s still a lot more to life by reshaping it from a state similar to Christ when He’s in the womb of our Virgin Mary.

Father Mikhail Borgevitchwas found drowned in Lake Ladoga after he was reported missing for three weeks.