A Russian Hero: Christ on Stage in Moscow

A Russian Hero: Christ on Stage in Moscow

In the Moscow State Theater the premiere of the long-awaited play "Christ in Coattails" was taking place. Schools and youth workers were being required to discuss the play as part of their cultural program.

The famous actor Alexander Rostovsev was chosen for the lead role of Christ. It was no wonder, then, that the performance was sold out. On the stage was an "altar" on whch vodka and beer bottles were scattered, presenting the scene of a bar in which drunken, squalling priests, nuns and monks lurched about. At the beginning of the second act, Rostovsev stepped on stage with a Bible in his hands. He was to read from this the first two verses of Jesus' Sermon on the Mount. According to the stage directions, he would put the audience in hysterics with jokes and antics. Everything connected with Christ and superstition was one big joke and a cause worthy of laughter. After two verses were read, he was to cry out: "Give me a top-hat and coattails!"

Rostovsev began and read the verses from the Bible: "Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are the meek, for they wll inherit the earth." In a few seconds everyone would be howling with laughter, the director smirked to himself backstage. Now the actor was supposed to throw the book and his cloak away and call for a top-hat and coattails. But it didn't happen. Rostovsev read on: "Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be consoled." And then he was silent. The people didn't move, they sensed immediately that something was going on inside Rostovsev. Everyone hald their breath. Then, after a brief pause, he read further. There was now a different tone to his voice. The power of the Word of God seemed to have taken hold of him. It was deathly silent in the theater.

The actor stepped out front with the Bible, looked in it as if entranced, and read....and read ... all 48 verses of the fifth chapter of the Gospel of Matthew. Nobody interrupted him; they all listened to his words as if the Lord jesus Himself stood before the and not a man named Rostovsev.... "You should be perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect." The words came softly from the lips of the actor, but everyone understood him and bowed their head. Rostovsev closed the book and it seemed that he was doing something definitive for his life n this act. He crossed himself in the Orthodox manner and spoke the words of the good thief on the cross loudly and clearly: "Lord, remember me when you come into your kingdom!"

What was intended as a play of ridicule and contempt for Christ became a sermon of Jesus and the profession of faith of a man who, at the peak of his fame, displayed the courage of the martyrs. Nobody cried out or jeered or protested, but everyone left the theater in silence. It was as if a storm had passed and the lightning had struck and hit everyone. The play was never performed and Rostovsev disappeared forever after this premiere. God will remember him.

The words of Alexander Solzhenitsyn occurred to me as I thought about the people of that evening. Maybe they can explain why the audience was so moved. "A nation," says Solzhenitsysn,, "is not the collection of all those who speak the same language. People join together not because of birth, not because of the work of their hands, and not because of their education. What binds them is the soul." On this night in the theater, God Himself touched this soul.

(from "Millions in Russia Believe in God", by Fr. Chrysostomus Dahm)