Facial Expression

Christ by Ivan Turgenev

Translated by Isabel Hapgood

I saw myself as a youth, almost a little boy, in a low-ceiled country church. – Slender wax tapers burned like red spots in front of the ancient holy pictures.

An aureole of rainbow hues encircled each tiny flame. – It was dark and dim in the church…. But a mass of people stood in front of me.

All reddish, peasant heads. From time to time they would begin to surge, to fall, to rise again, like ripe ears of grain when the summer breeze flits across them in a slow wave.

Suddenly some man or other stepped from behind and took up his stand alongside me.

I did not turn toward him, but I immediately felt that that man was – Christ.

Emotion, curiosity, awe took possession of me simultaneously. I forced myself to look at my neighbour.

He had a face like that of everybody else, – a face similar to all human faces. His eyes gazed slightly upward, attentively and gently. His lips were closed, but not compressed; the upper lip seemed to rest upon the lower; his small beard was parted in the middle. His hands were clasped, and did not move. And his garments were like those of every one else.

“Christ, forsooth!” I thought to myself. “Such a simple, simple man! It cannot be!”

I turned away. – But before I had time to turn my eyes from that simple man it again seemed to me that it was Christ in person who was standing beside me.

Again I exerted an effort over myself…. And again I beheld the same face, resembling all human faces, the same ordinary, although unfamiliar, features.

And suddenly dread fell upon me, and I came to myself. Only then did I understand that precisely such a face – a face like all human faces – is the face of Christ.

December, 1878.

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