Just before the revolution in 1916 Gregory Zhuravlev laid on his death bed, his face was calm and like a willing soldier he faced death straight on. At the bottom of his bed his sister wept tears of grief when he took his last breath. On his chest was his final icon which at that time was yet to completed. His sister’s tears were joined by those of not only of their village, but villages near by and as far away as Samara.
A few years earlier Grisha who loved to fish was on the banks of a nearby river when he fell asleep and had a vision. He had already been battling sickness off and on earlier to his vision in which he saw hard times, a time when his work and icons would no longer be needed. This was quite unlike him because he was always cheerful, witty, and full of life. His icons were being sent far and wide to the distant parts of Russia, and even across it’s borders in to other countries in which the Orthodox religion was being practiced.
The Reverend Bishop ordered that Grisha be buried in the churchyard, at the altar. As the coffin was being lowered into the ground those who were there sang “Eternal Memory” and “Holy God, Holy Mighty”. The monks read the Psalms and shared remembrances of the deceased. Many passed by to pay their last respects carrying yellow candles and performing rituals to the icons. At the grave site itself a simple Orthodox Cross was set, written upon it was “Behold the Man“.
At the time of his death Russia was in the middle of a war with Germany, the motherland had suffered great defeat. It was a time when many would die, the number of wounded would be hard to count, and the numbers gassed could not be told. When in the marketplace many would be found begging, the legless in leather bags with out stretched arms looking for hand-outs. This was the beginning of a time that was approaching when things would get worse, much worse. The Civil War brought hunger, typhus, and the destruction of the Orthodox way of life, it ushered in the seventy years of the kingdom of Ham.
Who was this man that they buried? What was his story?
In the village of Utevka in the year of 1858, a cry was heard not only of a newborn baby but of Dasha the sister-in-law of the mother giving birth. Mary in the semi darkness of the hut illuminated only by a flashing torch gave birth to her third child. The father of this child had been taken away to fight in the Caucasus where he participated in the suppression of those who were rebellious in Chechnya and Dagestan. In waiting was the mid-wife, sister-in-law, and Grandmother ready to bring this new life into the world. But none of them where prepared for what was received. Grisha was born without arms, legs, nor a penis. Those who were in waiting came to the table after receiving the news to look upon this perceived horror. The child had been born a freak! When the Father of the Church arrived he stood performing rituals with his mouth open in surprise. After a few minutes had passed those present asked the clergyman why this had happened. His reply, “only doctoral science is able to answer”, but as for my opinion, “I believe that Satan himself is responsible”, the devil himself willfully took the arms and legs away from this baby. Maybe the Lord appointed him to be a General or even a bishop.
Within eight days the baby was brought to the church. Grisha was baptized a servant of God, In the Name of the Father, And the Son, And Holy Spirit. Amen. Because the child had no limbs and having nothing to hold on to he nearly drowned in the font. The Uncle taking Grisha in a dry cloth, grumbled: And what is this useless one as such, only one mouth. Father Basil, looking reproachfully at the godfather said: We, still do not know what God’s work is for this baby. As for the mother of this child, she herself had been given a dream from God about him.
A hundred years later, in 1963, a Serbian by the name of Zdravko Kaimanovich, an art historian was searching through the records and artworks of a Serbian Orthodox Church. It was in the village of Purachin, near Tuzla, that the discovery of an Icon was made. On the reverse side of the Icon was the message, “This Icon was painted in the Samara province, Buzuluksky County, Utev-tion of the township, the same village, by a peasants teeth, by one Gregory Zhuravlev who is armless and legless, 1885, July 2”. The State Archive of the Soviet Union gave confirmation of this information.
Grisha himself grew up a clever boy, looking at the world through the eyes of God, clear and thoughtful. Because he had neither arms nor legs he had to look to his older brother and sister, who were constantly there to help him. It was not only his brother and sister who attended him, but an entire village. Even the children who could have been ruthless to his condition, never hurt nor did they tease Grisha. It’s interesting to note that his father did from a bullet, but that his family never suffered. They were taken care of by the villagers.
Grisha’s drawing talents emerged early, his childish mind was able to penetrate to the heart of things, events, and sometimes his reasoning even surprised the elderly. He was taught well by his teacher, but he was especially attracted to the church. He was constantly asking to be taken to temple of God, this was done by his ever patient brother and sister. This had a great impact on him and later in life he asked for consent from his mother to go to school in Samara to be schooled. He had to go before Samara’s governor who arranged everything. During his schooling his sister and brother took care of everything from cooking, shopping, and even stayed with him in the classroom. Surprisingly to all, Grisha was a good student. He was always of cheerful disposition, had uncommon intelligence and ability, he especially loved singing folk songs which he sang with a strong beautiful voice.