Two Apple Orchards

The following reflection is an excerpt from His Grace Bishop Seraphim Sigrist’s 2017 book Tapestry, in which he reflects upon themes of peace and conflict as they are seen through the lens of two apple orchards.

The apples are gone now from the tree out front . . . These orchards from other years and other places. . . The tree here today standing between the seasons. Those trees which seem in memory to suggest not only the past but also the future.

Butovo: Apples Falling from the Past
In the afternoon we travel from Moscow to Butovo a place to the south of Moscow which was a killing ground used by the Communists for people from the Moscow area, and in particular in 1937 and 1938.

On the way a lady speaks of Fr. Pavel Florensky’s scientific work on seawater during the days before his execution in the northern Solovki camp, and of his intention to do a second volume of Pillar and Ground of Truth, this time focused on humanity, as the first is on God. Since we do not have it, drafts were destroyed, we do not know what the final position of his thought was. Then she says we are getting near Butovo and she wishes to be silent for these moments.

There is a new church and a bell tower and there are stones with the inscriptions of many names of those murdered here. In the church the attendants tell us that the names of 10,000 are known but countless others unknown. Included are 900 bishops and priests. Enough record remains of them,that 250 of the 10,000 here have been formally recognized as saints by the Church. 10,000 in the Moscow region in 1937-1938 in just this one place. Think of the whole land and of the whole Communist period.

But we will remember also the day when they will return, and all our mothers and fathers and brothers and sisters and ourselves also will return. I think of Peter de Vries, who wrote, “The recognition of how long, how very long, is the mourners’ bench upon which we sit, arms linked in undeluded friendship—all of us, brief links ourselves, in the eternal pity,” and so it is not wrong that there are flowers and apple trees also even, beside a mourners bench long enough to stretch to Eden where there were also apples and flowers, or perhaps, indeed, it must be the same garden because it will return. Will return and has returned. We walk in the apple orchard,and there are flowers now and apples on the trees. When we leave, ladies from the church follow us to the gate with a big plate of apples newly fallen, and we eat them in the car.  Someone says,“Every centimeter of this place is soaked with blood . . . eating these apples is like communion.”

Krakow: Apples Falling from the Future
Now we have come to the chalet-like retreat center of Andrej and Samita on a hillside near the ancient Polish city of Krakow. Here we will spend the night. It is a good place with apple trees everywhere and I know I must be deeply feeling it a good place because I feel the desire to climb the trees,as when a boy. We sit around a table under the trees,and there is nothing lacking,and the apples are falling continually. This year there are more than ever, it seems, now one falls, now three but it almost seems they are growing faster than falling and how perfect and round they are and how fine the taste . . . and there is watermelon and coffee too and talk about interior monasticism. . . and Andrej says . . . we must open ourselves to God who is coming not from the past but from the future . . .apples falling like cherry blossoms into, or rather from,a future momentarily at least made present in love and peace.

And under the apple trees Anika played the guitar and sang beneath the weaving branches.

The next morning we spread a cloth on a table in the middle of the orchard and in the early bright light do our service of shared bread and wine . . . Apples falling still . . . some great joyful mystery in these ripening and falling apples somehow offering themselves as we offer all things as best we can . . .and again the growth seeming to more than keep pace with the falling . . .a circulation of heaven and earth. Our host Andrej says in conversation after that there is much writing about Spirit, about the Holy Spirit, about Pneumatology as it is called, but this is to make it an abstraction and an object not the subject, not the One who acts. . . what is needed he said is “Pneumatics,” the seeing of the Spirit’s operation in persons and in the world . . .

Bishop Seraphim (Sigrist)