The Blue Ladder

A story by Nikolai Leskov

 

 

When the holy Apostle Peter’s earthly life had terminated, and he was called up to Heaven, the Lord gave him the heavenly keys to the gates of Paradise.

With earnest priestly devotion, the holy apostle went about his exalted business, unlocking the gates of Paradise to the souls of those who had earned heavenly blessedness in their earthly life, by the decision of the Most High and Righteous Judge. And so he  continued for many years, in a steady and habitual manner. But one day, the apostle Peter came before the Lord God in a very troubled state, kissed the sleeve of His luminous robe, and said: "O Lord, may Thy wrath not come upon me! I must bring my troubles before you. Lo, for many days now I have been seeing people whom I have not allowed in through the gates of paradise, in this Thy most illustrious garden. I cannot explain how they come to be here. Their faces do not in any way resemble the faces of the righteous. I fear that this may be a trick of the evil one. He and his servants are capable of every kind of craftiness. Knowing that the keys are always in my possession and that there is no other entrance, I am much perplexed, even saddened."

The Lord responded: "It is your duty and responsibility. Watch closely those who enter paradise, and there shall be no unwanted guests."

A few more days passed, and the apostle appeared again before the Lord Sabbaoth: "O great and merciful God, every day more and more strangers steal up to paradise, I know not how over the heavenly fence. I address Thy wisdom and power. I myself have no power, and my wisdom is insignificant. Thou alone art All-knowing.

Then God said: "Come with Me, Saint Peter. Let us visit together all the regions of paradise and let us see for ourselves what is the cause of these occurrences, that have provoked such justified and praiseworthy unrest in thee. Let us go!"

And off they went. The Lord in front, the apostle following. They walked for a long time, and even got tired. At last they reached an orchard of oranges and through the branches glimpsed a blue robe. Quietly they approached, and what did they see? At the foot of the hill, on a green, daisy-strewn clearing, stood the Most Holy Virgin looking down from the edge of the deep abyss, from where the earth and all the people on it could be seen. And in the hands of the Most-Pure One, barely visible, the most delicate ladder - woven from the finest blue silk.

             Passionate cries arose from the abyss. Fiery supplications from sufferers could be heard. And lo, suddenly the All-Pure One let down the feathery ladder. It unrolled, and one by one the wretched, tortured, tired, forgotten people, men and women, climbed it, poured into the clearing, and timidly disappeared into the flowered paths and forests of the gardens of paradise.

And as each saved one passed, the Most Holy Theotokos raised up her divinely beautiful hands and said with tenderness: "My Lord and God, Thou seest, hearest and knowest all. By Thy unfathomable mercy, forgive me for disturbing the order Thou hast established in Thy holy paradise. But I too have lived on the earth, and I as well, am a mother. Can I refuse a mother who prays for her son? Am I not the Mother of the entire weak and suffering mankind? Forgive my sin."

Then the Lord lay His mighty hand on the Apostle Peter's shoulder and said: "Let us depart quietly from here. We have no business here…"