Sunday, December 20, 2009

Last Letters From Stalingrad: #16

...On the evening before the Holy Day, in a hut which was still fairly intact, eleven soldiers celebrated in quiet worship...It was not easy to find them in the herd of the doubting, hopeless, and disappointed.  But those I found came happily and with a glad and open heart.  It was a strange congregation which assembled to celebrate the birthday of the Christchild. There are many altars in the wide world, but surely none poorer than ours here. Yesterday the box still held anti-aircraft shells; today my hand spread over it the field-grey tunic of a comrade whose eyes I closed last Friday in this very room.  I wrote his wife a letter of consolation.  May God protect her. 
I read my boys the Christmas story according to the Gospel of Luke, chapter 2, verses 1-17; gave them hard black bread as the holy sacrifice and sacrament of the altar, the true body of our Lord Jesus Christ, and entreated the Lord to have pity on them and to give them grace.  I did not say anything about the fifth commandment.  The men sat on footstools and looked up at me from large eyes in their starved faces.  They were all young, except one, who was 51.  I am very happy that I was permitted to console their hearts and give them courage.  When it was over, we shook each other's hands, took down addresses, and promised to look up relatives and tell them about our Christmas Eve celebration in 1942, in case one of us should return home alive.
May God hold his hands over you, dear parents, for now the evening is at hand, and we will do well to set our house in order.  We will go into the evening and night calmly, if it is the will of the Lord of the world.  But we do not look into a night without end.  We give our life back into the hands of God; may He be merciful when the hour has come. 

This letter is read aloud here 

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