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Heliopher: A Story For Candlemas by Maxim Gorky


Once upon a time there was a race which was lost in a great, dark forest. The trees stood so close together that the light of the sun could not penetrate the thickly entwined branches. There were also numerous wild animals which fell upon the people, especially the children, when they wandered too far from their parents while they were playing. So everyone lived in a constant state of fear of death and destruction, and a hopeless despair took hold of the hearts of the folk.

Continuous black darkness had strangled all the light in their hearts. They could not love one another any more. They even hated and murdered one another in their rage. Yet they were forced to remain together, for it was impossible for any single man to defend himself against the attacks of the wild beasts. They had lost all hope of ever finding their way out of the forest. Many of the young people did not believe in the light they had never seen, and they mocked their elders, when, with a last weak light gleaming in their dim eyes, they recounted tales of the festive, sunny days of their youth.

Among the people however, there was a young man called Heliopher. He was very much alone, grieving over the misery of his people, and seeking a way of salvation. He bore in his heart an endless longing for light and love in the desolation which surrounded him. Heliopher left his people to seek the sun. For many months and years he wandered through the dangers of the forest and of his own soul, and often, very often, nearly lost all hope and confidence. But Heliopher bravely withstood his enemies, whether within himself or around him, and at last he reached the edge of the forest and saw the light of the sun. In terrible amazement he fell into a swoon, and when he awoke he saw in the twilight that he was watched over in his slumber by beautiful people. In the green meadows stood the simple huts of the sun-people, and Heliopher lived with them in peace and endless joy as the most beloved amongst living men.

Then Heliopher went back to the forest to seek his people. “Come, brothers and sisters,” he said to them, “I will lead you to the light.” At this there was murmuring and frowning, wavering and hesitation, wonder and questioning, incredulous laughter, and finally a jubilant “Yes!” And then, at last, the longed-for departure.

Then the light of the sun shone in Heliopher’s eyes, but the way was long and difficult, and demanded much suffering and sacrifice, and murmuring arose among the people. Some spoke and said, “Let us murder him, the betrayer of the people!” And the dark glow of hatred was in their eyes. Others were wiser and said, “No! let us judge him in the presence of all, for it is dangerous to give the people a martyr.” And Heliopher spoke to his people, and talked about light and love. But the wise ones answered, “You lie! There is no light, there is no sun, there is no love. Let us be darker than the forest and more cruel than the wild beasts. Then we shall be masters of the forest!”

Heliopher answered in great pain, “O believe not, ye wise men, that ye can be victorious over darkness by being more dark, that ye can overcome the wild beasts by being more beastly. Only love is stronger. Only the light of the sun can drive away darkness.”

“Be silent!” said the wise men. “There is no light, there is no sun!” And the people shouted, flinging their arms about in raging despair, “There is no light, there is no sun!” But Heliopher called out, “Follow me!” Then, with his nails, he tore open his breast, and his heart burned with love, and it glowed and shed its beams through the dark forest. He took it in both hands, held it high over his head, and strode forth in front of the people.

In reverent wonder and silence the multitude followed the burning heart.

As they came out of the forest, the people ran in jubilation towards the sun, dancing in its loving rays, and loving one another. But Heliopher knelt down at the edge of the forest, and with the last strength of his outstretched arms he held up his loving, pulsing heart to the light of heaven, and gave his last smile to his people.


4 comments on this post:

Sally Jarvis said...

Have your parish commented on whether this strucl a chord with Christianity?

01 February 2015 14:44
Lay Anglicana said...

Thank-you for commenting, Sally. I originally found this story on the Bruderhof website ( but it is no longer there – if you google ‘Heliopher Maxim Gorky’ you will see it reproduced on a variety of websites like mine, but I could not find the original.

When I was a Lay Worship Leader in my previous (adjoining) parish I used it as the basis for a Candlemas ‘sermon’ – we were not allowed to preach using our own words. I certainly regard it as an adapted version of the incarnation of Christ, and his eventual crucifixion when some of the crowd turned against him, and I have tagged the page accordingly. I expect many theologians might disagree – it is certainly not the whole story of Christianity.

In a way, I also think it is relevant when we are being asked by our archbishops to undertake a great programme of evangelisation – potential evangelists are likely to be met with some difficulties and opposition.

I hope you enjoyed it – it must be nine years since I last used it, and have always found it rather haunting.

01 February 2015 16:13
Joyce Hackney said...

I find echoes of Moses too, in the story.

Lay Anglicana said...

Moses certainly, and to some extent all the biblical prophets, who usually got a rough reception, at least at the beginning of their ministry.

When I feel sorry for parish priests, sometimes the unsung heroes of the Church of England, I think some at least must have moments of feeling they too are ‘bearers of the sun’ who cannot get through to their flock.

02 February 2015 12:53
01 February 2015 23:37

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