Sanctuary

A short story by Mary M. Isaacs.

                         

     The old wooden door opened noiselessly; a young woman hesitated on the threshold, looking in from the darkness outside. The brick walls of the room were in shadow, lit only by two oil lamps on either end of a plain wooden table and the glow of a hanging lamp: a candle in a red glass holder.

     “Sanctuary,” she breathed, closing her eyes in thankfulness.

     She entered the room and quietly shut the door behind her. In her arms she carried something wrapped in blankets; over her shoulder was slung a large knapsack, which looked more bulky than heavy. Her clothing was wrinkled and stained, as if she had been wearing it for many days–which she had been.

     There were a few benches along the walls. She crossed to one and sat down gratefully. While still carefully holding what was in her arms, she unslung the knapsack and set it on the floor beside her. She then leaned against the wall and sighed deeply. This was her penultimate destination; the difficult journey was almost over. Although she no longer had a watch—she had no metal objects of any kind on her, for that matter—she had a good sense of time. She knew she wouldn’t have to wait very long for the final service of the day.  She rested quietly, eyes on the hanging lamp.

     After a short while, a bell started to ring.

————–

     In a nearby room, an old man put down a large handbell and carefully retied the cincture around his long robe. In the small kitchen down the hall, a middle-aged woman finished putting away a few dishes and hung a towel up to dry. Both of them headed for the brick-walled room at the same time.

————–

     The young woman heard the sound of approaching footsteps. She stood up and, dragging the knapsack with her free hand, moved closer to the wooden table. She stood there silently as the footsteps came closer.

     The old man, followed by the woman, entered the dimly-lit room, but they stopped abruptly at the sight of an unexpected visitor. The three of them looked at each other for a moment, and then the old man stepped forward with a smile.

     “Greetings and welcome,” he said, inclining his head slightly. The young woman shifted the wrapped object in her arms as he spoke; the older woman’s eyes instinctively took in how it was being carried. 

     “Can we help you?” the old man said. “I am Brother Simon, and this is Sister Julianne.” He indicated the woman standing next to him. “We are…caretakers here.” 

     “I’ve come a long way to find this place,” the young woman replied. “There is something important I must do.” She turned down a fold of the blanket in her arms to reveal the sleeping face of a very young child. The older woman drew in her breath audibly. 

     Brother Simon looked sober. “It’s a boy?” he asked. When the young woman nodded, he lifted his eyebrows and then said, “How old is he?”

     “Seven months old,” she replied, holding the child a little closer. “And the Ceremony happens soon.”

     “Next week!” Sister Julianne said, moving forward while putting one hand over her heart. 

     The young woman looked at her, assessing—and then smiled. “I have come to the right place. God led me here.”

         “How long have you been travelling?” asked Brother Simon. 

     “A week or so—I’ve lost track of the days,” the young woman replied. “I travelled by night, when the child was asleep, and then hid and rested by day. I sold or traded away all my jewelry and there is no metal on our clothing, so they couldn’t track us the usual way. But they’re looking.  I did get a head start, though, and we have come a long way.”

     “You and the child are welcome to stay here,” said Brother Simon warmly.

     “No, they will search everywhere for me. Even here.”

     Still holding the child carefully, she pulled back her right sleeve and turned over her arm. They were silent as they saw the brand.

     “They will never stop looking for me until they find me—one way or another,” she said, as she shook down her sleeve.

     “What will happen to the child?” asked Sister Julianne in a whisper.

     “Nothing will happen to him–because they won’t find him. He will be here, safe with you. What’s one child more or less to them, anyway? There’s plenty more where he came from.” The young mother’s expression became bleak.

     “You brought him here to save him?” asked the older woman.

     “Yes, to save him.”

     “Of course he can stay here,” Brother Simon said. “And you can stay, too.”  

     The young woman shook her head. “I can only save one of us. And there is no saving for me,” she said, her face set. “They will kill me on sight because I escaped. And if they find him, they will take him back and—dispose of him. I won’t let that happen.”

     “But surely they know you escaped with the child,” the older woman said. “Won’t they keep trying to find him?” 

     “Open the knapsack and take out what’s on top.” Sister Julianne did as she was directed and pulled out a folded cloth.  “Look at it,” said the young woman. When the cloth was shaken out, it was revealed to be a baby’s nightgown, torn and stained with blood. The young woman reached for it.

     “I will carry this with me.  They will find it and think that the child was killed by animals. And because they must kill me, they will never know that he survived. The dead cannot speak. And he will be saved.”

     “Where did the blood come from?” Brother Simon asked the young woman. 

     “It’s mine,” she said simply, as she tucked the small garment into her sleeve. 

     There was a moment of silence, and then the old man spoke again.  “Is there anything we can do for you—anything at all?”

     She turned to him quickly. “Yes—please baptize him before I go. I want to see him baptized.” 

     “I am not a priest,” began Brother Simon, but she interrupted him. 

     “I know that—the few that are left are hidden better than you or I could ever find in time. But this is a church…”

     The old man shook his head. “It was a church.”

     She looked him straight in the eye. “It will always be a church. You are the caretaker of this holy place and you are a believer. In the absence of a priest, you can baptize.” When he still looked uncertain, she added “If the child and I were to be retaken, we both would die; me quickly and him terribly. Such urgency allows you to baptize.”

     “How did you learn these things?” asked Brother Simon.

     “I was taught well, God rest her soul,” the young woman closed her eyes and crossed herself. “I want him to be baptized, as I was.”

     “Who baptized you?” Brother Simon said, amazed.

     “A priest. God rest his soul, too,” the words came out in a sob. Sister Julianne came closer and put her arm around the young woman’s shoulders.

     The old man stood in silence for a moment. Then he turned to Sister Julianne. “We’ll need the candles,” he said. She nodded and left the room. While she was gone, Brother Simon went to the side wall of the room, kneeled down, and carefully slid a few bricks out of the wall. He reached into the space behind them and withdrew a silver dish and a small corked bottle. He carried them all back to the table. When the young woman looked closely, she saw that the bottle was filled with a clear liquid and the dish was shaped like a scallop shell.

     Brother Simon began speaking as he placed the dish on the table and uncorked the bottle. “The last priest who was here had a vision—a warning of a difficult time to come. He was right.” The old man smiled grimly as he poured a little of the water into the silver shell. “He dug out the space in the wall behind the bricks, in which to hide the holy water and the baptismal shell. And there are other things in there. He prepared quite a lot before…” his voice trailed off.

     “Before what?” asked the young woman sharply.

     Brother Simon looked up. “Before he was taken,” he said simply.

     “You never saw him again?”

     “No,” the old man shook his head sadly. “The night before they came, he hid everything in the wall and made me vow to guard it with my life. That it all would be needed some day…” The old man finished his preparations and turned to the young woman. “May I?” he said, holding out his arms. Without a word, the young woman carefully handed the sleeping baby to him. Brother Simon settled the child in his arms and gazed in silence at him. His eyes took in every detail.

     During this time, Sister Julianne had returned with several votive candles; she lit them and placed them in order on the table. She then came around to the front and stood beside the young woman. The two of them looked at each other,  then the young woman took the other’s hand in both of hers. 

     “Will you be his godmother, please? The only mother he will have after tonight.” The older woman nodded her assent, and then they both turned to face the old man and the child, still holding hands.

     Brother Simon looked up from his study of the child’s face. “We will begin. What is his name?”

     “Christopher Joel,” the young woman replied.

     The old man looked surprised.  “They wouldn’t have liked that…”

     “They don’t know anything,” she said scornfully. “They’ve all forgotten, or they refuse to remember.”

     Brother Simon held the sleeping child in one arm and made the sign of the cross over him. Then he picked up the small silver dish. Being careful not to let any liquid fall into the baby’s face, he poured some water on the top of the small head three times. “Christopher Joel, I baptize thee in the name of the Father…and of the Son…and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.” The two women echoed the final word. The child did not wake but continued sleeping peacefully.

     When he was finished, he gently handed the child to Sister Julianne, who gathered him into her arms with a smile of joy.  He then turned back to the young woman. “I would like to anoint you. What is your name?”

     “I can’t tell you that. It’s not safe for you to know who I am.” 

    Brother Simon looked at her and then said, “I understand, and you are right. But God certainly knows who you are, because you are his, and that is all that matters.” He took up the bottle of holy water and marked her forehead with the sign of the cross. “Into His hands I commend your spirit.”

     The young woman reached up to her forehead and traced the cross-shape. Then she looked at Brother Simon and asked, “Is there enough holy water for one more thing?” He nodded; she pulled up her right sleeve once again.  “Please put it on this, to take away the shame.”

     Brother Simon covered the brand with holy water and murmured a cleansing prayer. All at once, a look of release flooded her face. “Thank you,” she said simply as she lowered her sleeve.

     Turning to the other woman, she indicated the knapsack beside them on the floor. “There are blankets and extra clothing for him in there, and a bottle. I weaned him early, to make things easier for whoever would be taking care of him.” She looked at the older woman, who was cradling the baby protectively. “He’s a good baby—and you will be a good mother to him, I know. He will be safe here with you both.” She looked trustingly from the woman to the old man, and back again. Then she looked down at the child for a long moment. Curving her hands around his face, although not touching him, she whispered some words inaudibly, as if in blessing. When she finished, she bent over and kissed the sleeping child lightly on both cheeks and on his forehead. Then she straightened up and, with tears beginning to fall, kissed the older woman’s cheek. “Christopher is your son now. Guard him well.” 

     “I will–with my life,” answered Sister Julianne.

     The young woman turned her face up to the hanging lamp with a sharp look of longing–then tore her eyes away. “I need to leave. I don’t know how close they are, and I must lead them as far away from here as I can.” She turned quickly and raised the older man’s hand to her forehead. “Ring the bell for me after your prayers. Twenty-three times.” She looked to make sure that the old man understood, and then left the chapel silently, without a backward glance.

——————-

    The baby stirred; Sister Julianne began to rock him gently in her arms.     Brother Simon replaced the holy water and the baptismal shell in the hiding place in the wall, sliding the bricks back into their spots exactly. He picked up the knapsack and tucked it under his arm. Then he blew out the candles on the table and took up the two oil lamps. “Come,” he said to Sister Julianne, “You need to prepare a place for this child—for our Christopher Joel—to sleep. I will come back and say Compline for all of us. God brought this child here; he will understand your absence.”     

   “Remember to pray for her soul,” said the woman, holding the infant closer.  

   “Yes, we must pray for her; and keep her child safe always.” 

    The three of them quietly left the chapel, leaving the sanctuary lamp burning behind them.

Mary M. Isaacs copyright, 2020
(from a forthcoming book)

To enjoy and support works by Mary M. Isaacs visit out lower right hand sidebar and click THOUGHT PROVOKING CHRISTIAN SHORT STORIES.

16 Comments on Sanctuary

  1. Beautiful, reminds me of Sister Marguerite reading little stories to us like that in the fourth grade at St. Mary’s in Cortland New York

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  2. Such a dark and forboding depiction of a future world. I cannot classify this story as fiction given the demons currently fighting for total control of all souls in real life.
    Deep undertones of the mothers’ dialog vaguely suggesting Satanic ritual abuse pushes this story into the realm of horror for me.

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  3. Beautiful and frightening. I love Mary’s writing. Let’s pray it’s a cautionary tale and not a vision of our future.

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  4. I’m with Merry Poppet, too. Mary has captured the horror of what’s possible here and what’s happened elsewhere. It also depits the love and honor for God’s creations, especially the life of an innocent child.

    Heart breaking and heart warming at the same time.

    Thanks, Mary, for the wonderful stories you write!

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  5. Really stirring story Mary. It challenges us to relive the catacomb years, the Jewish genocide, the demonic persecutions of all peoples of faith throughout history. Timeless.

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  6. The devil will never understand that persecuting Christians makes Christianity spread, like throwing water on a grease fire. Every Time. Praise God

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  7. …late to the party, but the Bible says you’re never too late for God as long as you’re not dead, and this story was worth it.

    You can view it as a cautionary tale, but considering that our Christian brothers and sisters have ALREADY been murdered for their faith, burned in their churches, and had crimes so foul perpetrated on them using what were sanctified items and even the symbols of our Lord that I won’t speak them here, and considering the increasingly heavy hand of our own government on our churches that is clearly a prelude to more and worse oppression HERE, I’d say we’ve ALREADY crossed the threshold of “cautionary”.

    Hate is HERE.

    But take heart, it is as was spoken, so it affirms faith.

    It is in fulfillment of the words of our Lord.

    “And ye shall be hated of all men for my name’s sake: but he that endureth to the end shall be saved.”
    Matthew 10:22

    And indeed we ARE.

    The Lord did NOT promise us a peaceful faith walk. Again, in His words;

    “Think not that I am come to send peace on earth: I came not to send peace, but a sword.”
    Matthew 10:34

    Bad times are coming and nothing will stop them, or God is a liar.

    And God’s no liar.

    “6 And he opened his mouth in blasphemy against God, to blaspheme his name, and his tabernacle, and them that dwell in heaven.

    7 And it was given unto him to make war with the saints, and to overcome them: and power was given him over all kindreds, and tongues, and nations.

    8 And all that dwell upon the earth shall worship him, whose names are not written in the book of life of the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world.

    9 If any man have an ear, let him hear.”
    Revelation 13:6-9

    …Hell on Earth WILL happen, the Lord Himself says so.

    But like our baby in the sanctuary, we DO have a way out.

    In the sanctuary of Heaven.

    When it gets bad HERE – and it WILL – as Mr Miyagi once said, “Best block…no be there.”

    “16 For the Lord himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trump of God: and the dead in Christ shall rise first:

    17. Then we which are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air: and so shall we ever be with the Lord.

    18. Wherefore comfort one another with these words.”
    1 Thessalonians 4:16-18

    …what’s described in this story May well be the Tribulations. Those who are right with the Lord NOW won’t BE here for that: Those who are hoping to go on the second bus are going to live it.

    And it’s gonna be very, VERY difficult, as the Holy Spirit itself will be withdrawn in that time.

    “1 Now we beseech you, brethren, by the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, and by our gathering together unto him,

    2 That ye be not soon shaken in mind, or be troubled, neither by spirit, nor by word, nor by letter as from us, as that the day of Christ is at hand.

    3 Let no man deceive you by any means: for that day shall not come, except there come a falling away first, and that man of sin be revealed, the son of perdition;

    4 Who opposeth and exalteth himself above all that is called God, or that is worshipped; so that he as God sitteth in the temple of God, shewing himself that he is God.

    5 Remember ye not, that, when I was yet with you, I told you these things?

    6 And now ye know what withholdeth that he might be revealed in his time.

    7 For the mystery of iniquity doth already work: only he who now letteth will let, until he be taken out of the way.

    8 And then shall that Wicked be revealed, whom the Lord shall consume with the spirit of his mouth, and shall destroy with the brightness of his coming:

    9 Even him, whose coming is after the working of Satan with all power and signs and lying wonders,

    10 And with all deceivableness of unrighteousness in them that perish; because they received not the love of the truth, that they might be saved.

    11 And for this cause God shall send them strong delusion, that they should believe a lie:

    12 That they all might be damned who believed not the truth, but had pleasure in unrighteousness.”

    2 Thessalonians 2:1-12

    …Bad America WILL turn on the Lord. The Bible says so.

    “And in that day will I make Jerusalem a burdensome stone for all people: all that burden themselves with it shall be cut in pieces, though all the people of the earth be gathered together against it.”
    Zechariah 12:3

    …ALL nations, no exceptions.

    …so the President was not sent to rewrite the Bible and prevent the evil. He was sent to give a little more time for as many who may to come to the Lord, that they may go before it gets REALLY bad.

    The alternative is to live this story out, and without the loving guidance of the Holy Spirit.

    “And I saw thrones, and they sat upon them, and judgment was given unto them: and [I saw] the souls of them that were beheaded for the witness of Jesus, and for the word of God, and which had not worshipped the beast, neither his image, neither had received [his] mark upon their foreheads, or in their hands; and they lived and reigned with Christ a thousand years.”
    Revelation 20:4

    …few will make that terribly difficult path.

    A great and terrible day is coming.

    Don’t be here for it.

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  8. I got almost to the end and then realized I just read this last week! It sure if fun getting old and forgetful! 🙂

    Next spring I look forward to hiding my own EASTER EGGS.

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  9. It is a wonderful story, a heart-warming story and frightening. As I began reading; I thought I will want to share this story…then the infant “baptism” is there along with magical water. We are (I believe) moving to dangerous times for Bible believing christians. Sadly I can’t share a story that is not rooted in truth, even as wonderfully tragic as this story is.

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  10. DaveVA,
    What part of Our Lord’s words that you MUST be baptised with water and the Spirit is not understood? When were Jewish males circumcised? At Bar Mitzvah, or shortly after birth? Was not circumcision a foreshadowing of Baptism)

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  11. NIdahoCatholic, infant baptism and/or sprinkling is not in the Bible. Full immersion is. Anyway, Baptism does not guarantee entry into Heaven. I grew up in a Methodist church where they practiced infant baptism; calling it a christening. A beautiful ceremony, but that is all it is.

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