Last Reviewed on March 5, 2020, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 971
Bishop Pyotr was tired. His breathing was laboured and rapid, his throat was parched, his shoulders ached with weariness, his legs were trembling.
From the second paragraph, the decline of Bishop Pyotr is foreshadowed. His physical health is in decline; regardless, he presses on through every duty that is his. He maintains the routine of his life and is resolved to continue doing his work.
The white walls, the white crosses on the tombs, the white birch-trees and black shadows, and the far-away moon in the sky exactly over the convent, seemed now living their own life, apart and incomprehensible, yet very near to man.
As he travels home, the bishop is bathed in moonlight. Much like the moon, he has dedicated his life in an attempt to shine light on the darkness of the world. The color white here represents the life of purity and goodness the bishop has lived. It is also important to note that the moon lives apart from man, just as the bishop lives apart from his community. Near the end, he begin to second guess this life he has chosen.
And in spite of the affectionate tone in which she said this, he could see she was constrained as though she were uncertain whether to address him formally or familiarly, to laugh or not, and that she felt herself more a deacon’s widow than his mother.
When the bishop's mother arrives, he notes that she is unsure how to relate to him. Just prior to this, he recalls fond memories of his childhood with his mother, noting how "tender and sympathetic" she was and how fond he was of their relationship. But his position has changed that; now her son is not simply her son but holds a title: Bishop. She is unsure what role she should play, and the pair proceed in a formal conversation lacking in true maternal warmth.
He could not get used, either, to the awe which, through no wish of his own, he inspired in people in spite of his quiet, modest disposition. All the people in the province seemed to him little, scared, and guilty when he looked at them. Everyone was timid in his presence . . . . The whole time he had been here, not one person had spoken to him genuinely, simply, as to a human being; even his old mother seemed now not the same!
The bishop sees the sacrifices he has made to serve in this capacity. Revered by his congregation of worshipers, he is estranged from enjoying everyday companionship. He has their respect, but that in itself comes with a price. He is not simply a man, a friend, another soul to share tea with. Because the people hold him in such great regard and because his very job is to nourish their souls and address their sins, his presence also makes people feel innately guilty. He never wished to live so separately, and this thought gains new clarity as he realizes how much his relationship with his own mother has transformed.
He thought that here he had attained everything a man in his position could attain; he had faith and yet everything was not clear, something was lacking still. He did not want to die; and he still felt that he had missed what was most important, something of which he had dimly dreamed in the past; and he was troubled by the same hopes for the future as he had felt in childhood, at the academy and abroad.
Realizing that the end of his life is drawing near, the bishop has regrets. He recalls that in childhood, he longed for more than he has become. This almost stands counter to reason as he realizes that he has reached the pinnacle of success for the life he has chosen. Yet he feels that his life isn't a fulfilled life. He has dedicated himself to serving others but along that journey he has given up dreams he once held for himself.
And to her, too, it seemed that he was thinner, weaker, and more insignificant than anyone, and now she forgot that he was a bishop, and kissed him as though he were a child very near and very dear to her.
Although his illness is certainly making him thinner and weaker, the weight of his responsibilities is also crushing the life from the bishopt. As he lies in bed, unable to move or to maintain the duties of a bishop, his mother sees him once again as simply her child. She is moved to treat him with warmth, which is exactly what he desired when she first arrived.
By now he could not utter a word, he could understand nothing, and he imagined he was a simple ordinary man, that he was walking quickly, cheerfully through the fields, tapping with his stick, while above him was the open sky bathed in sunshine, and that he was free now as a bird and could go where he liked!
In his death, the bishop finds the freedom he longs for. There are no more routines, no more responsibilities, and no more people who desperately need him. He is "ordinary," free to do and go as he desires. His death occurs on Easter Sunday, a day which celebrates new life and which is arguably the most significant holiday in his faith. However, the irony follows:
A month later a new suffragan bishop was appointed, and no one thought anything more of Bishop Pyotr, and afterwards he was completely forgotten.
Bishop Pyotr dedicates his life to service, and within a month he is replaced and soon forgotten. While everyone revered him so greatly in life that they could not interact with him as simply a man, his impact is quickly diminished as the living move on without him.
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