Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 656
On the night before Easter, the narrator waits on the riverbank for a ferry to take him to the monastery on the other side of the river to see the Easter ceremonies. It is dark; only the stars are shining as if they have come out for the festival procession, with each of them renewed and joyful, and each softly twinkling and beaming. The river is flooded and looks like a lake. It is as though nature itself celebrates Easter.
Soon the narrator finds out that he is not alone. Not far from him, a peasant is waiting for the illumination. He does not have the five kopecks for the ferry and refuses to accept the money when the narrator offers it to him. Instead he asks the narrator to put up a candle for him in the monastery. He likes it better this way. The ferry does not come, however, and on the other side of the river, the Resurrection is declared. The religious ceremony can be seen and heard only from across the river.
The ferry, whose shape resembles a gibbet, finally arrives. The narrator meets Ieronim, the ferryman, who is a monk from the monastery. The ferry slowly floats toward the other bank, where the illumination has begun. Now the Easter celebrations can be observed from the ferry. A rocket cleaves the darkness and brings a roar from the other bank. The narrator and Ieronim admire the scenery, although Ieronim is sad. It turns out that today his dear friend, the monk and deacon Nikolay, has died during a celebration of the Mass. He was an unusual person: not only intelligent, kind, and sweet but also exceptionally talented at writing hymns of praise. Although Nikolay had not studied anywhere, he could do something no one else in the monastery could do, not even educated elders and monks. Nikolay wrote the hymns for his own comfort. With loving detail and admiration, Ieronim describes the art of writing canticles. One should possess a sweet, harmonious tongue in order to write them. No one, except Ieronim, appreciated them in the monastery. There were some who even laughed, considering Nikolay’s writing a sin.
In the meantime, the ferry has approached the bank. The narrator shares the joyful excitement and agitation with the crowd outside the church. He observes the same unrest and sleeplessness in nature. An endless stream of people is going in and out of the church. The narrator does not forget about Ieronim and his late friend.
In the church, where the elation and agitation are felt more than outside, there is no concentrated prayer, just continuous, childish joy. The narrator sees the expression of triumph on the faces, but he also notices that no one is listening to the choir. Who can appreciate the song of praise better than Ieronim? Why is such a sensitive man deprived of this joy? Why must he work the ferry and mourn the death of his friend while other monks celebrate the holiday?
In the early morning, the crowd and the narrator come out of the church after Mass. The narrator wants to have a look at the dead Nikolay, but he does not know in which cell his body is lying. Subsequently, he is glad he has not seen it; he might lose the picture created by Ieronim’s story.
In the morning, the excitement is gone, and everybody and everything, including nature, looks exhausted and sleepy. Returning on the ferry to the other side of the river, the narrator is finally able to see the monk Ieronim clearly. No one has relieved him from his duty, and he looks exhausted and sad. Working the ferry across the river, he looks at the face of a young merchant’s wife. There is nothing masculine in his gaze, however. It appears that he is trying to find in her face the tender features of his dead friend.
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