Countless were the times that Valentina had heard from her parents the family legend of her paternal grandfather!
It went as follows: As the nineteenth century drew toward a close, Grandfather Fedot Ivanovich Borotinski had for some years, eking out a precarious living as a lector, or tonsured church reader, at a small Orthodox church in a shabby corner of the great city of St. Petersburg. At that time, St. Petersburg was the capital of the vast realm of Imperial Russia, had opened its window on the cultured nations of the West—in particular France and Prussia. By all reports Fedot was a good and guileless man. Yet despite his best efforts, it was increasingly difficult for him to feed and clothe his family of five sons and one daughter on his scant benefice alone.
One evening, at a time when they were feeling the bite of poverty most keenly, Fedot and his wife, Praskovia, sat up late casting about for a way out of their predicament, but they fell asleep without coming up with a single practical solution. Night deepened. Suddenly the bedroom door flew open and in bustled a stranger wearing an overcoat and carrying his hat in hand. Without a word, he drew a chair up close to the astounded couple’s bed and in a low voice began to speak: “First thing tomorrow morning”, he said “write out a request to serve at the Uspensky Church in Sennaya Square. Take it there yourself. You must go in person.” Then, without uttering another word, he rose to his feet and just as suddenly as he had arrived, their visitor turned and left. A mystified Fedot immediately rose and went to the front door, only to find it securely locked from the inside. Someone would have had to let the stranger in but the children were all sound asleep. The next morning he questioned the entire household, but no one had heard the bell ring or the front door open.
How bizarre, he thought. Even so, Fedot decided to follow to the instructions given by his mysterious midnight caller. He set out, petition in hand, for the great Uspensky Church, fondly referred to by the people of St. Petersburg as the “Sennaya Savior”. To Fedot’s surprise when he arrived he was informed that three days earlier one of the Church’s readers had died. He was offered the job. This is the family story that explains how Fedot found employment in the great Church in Sennaya Square, saving them all from abject poverty.
Fedot had five sons and one daughter. It was long the custom in Russia for the sons of priests to receive their schooling at a seminary while their daughters attended a boarding school run by the church. No fee was charged for their education. In most cases sons married the offspring of other clergymen and succeeded to their father or father-in-law’s position in the church.
Following in his father’s footsteps, Valerian, Valentina’s father, also answered the call to religious service and became a Russian Orthodox priest. However, he did not conform to the custom of marrying a priest’s daughter. Instead, he fell in love with and married a distant cousin who attended his father’s church on Sennaya Square. As the girl was not the daughter of a cleric, Valerian’s mother, in particular, was stubbornly opposed to the match. However, Valerian refused to yield and in the end the family received into their midst Maria Kapitonovna, who was not a child of the Church. Valerian’s mother forever regretted her lapse of parental rigor. Whenever a problem arose concerning this marriage, she would say: “After all, what can you expect? She isn’t one of us.”