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)