A Christian Story from the Russian Christian Heritage
Under the title “The Lawyer and the Millionaire”, Rev. Augustinos Hanna wrote a story which Mr. Mohammed H. Heikal, the Senate former chairman previously translated and published in El-Helal Magazine in 1927
From the universal masterpieces by the Russian novelist A. Chekhov under the title “The Charm of the Bible”. I rewrote it in a style suitable for our youth.
A dialogue in the palace
In the large hall of the palace, sat some of the lawyers, businessmen and politicians to discuss the subject of justice and capital punishment. One of the lawyers who supported abolishing capital punishment, a youth, stood and said, “If eveldoers don’t mind their brethren and kill them is it good that the society do likewise and commit a similar crime killing them! Isn’t it enough to make them serve a lifetime sentence so that we can protect society from them without committing a crime? No matter how perfect justice on earth can be sometimes it errs and is affected by false witness, forgery and personal interests. It is better for justice to treat a thousand criminals gently than to kill one innocent person. If a person was killed then, he/she was proved to be innocent, how can it be corrected?”
The debate got hot. The old millionaire, the host, headed the supporters of capital punishment presenting his pretexts as follows, “I feel pain for every suffering person. I don’t bear to see someone sentenced to death. However, I have one question: if the criminals, who don’t have mercy upon their brethren, are not sentenced to death, society will lose control and humanity will be a mob. The aggressive will then kill their brethren unmercifully without being punished. Will the law stand thus bound and disabled? Divine justice has given the law an authority to kill criminals as a punishment (Gen. 9:6; Exod. 18:13-16). Capital punishment guarantees safety among people while, lifetime sentence costs a country large sums of money for feeding and treating murderers. Don’t you agree with me that lifetime sentence is crueler than capital punishment for it is a life-in-death? While, executing death penalty only takes few seconds or maximumly one minute.”
The young lawyer was agitated and asked for abolishing capital punishment even if this costs society money or effort in order not to kill an innocent person indeliberately.”
They challenged each other. When they made a vote the majority supported the lawyer. The millionaire was disappointed and said to the lawyer, “You didn’t taste to be imprisoned a night. Therefore, you think that lifetime sentence is more merciful than capital punishment. I’d give up all my wealth if you accepted to be imprisonned not for a lifetime but only for fifteen years.”
“I accept the challenge.” The lawyer answered.
The attendants tried to lessen the tension but in vain. The millionaire fetched a sheet of paper and gave it to the lawyer to write the conditions of their contract.
A strange contract
The lawyer wrote the contract as follows:
1. I certify upon my signature below … resident in the city of … that I shall give up all my wealth which is worth … [about 10000000 dollars] together with the palace in which I dwell for Mr. … on condition that he accepts to be imprisonned in a solitary cell for fifteen years in the room which is in the garden of the palace.
2. The first party shall pay the expenses for the second party during the period of his imprisonment and getting him what he needs of food, drink, books, treatment and guarding.
3. The second party may not leave the prison for any reason or else, the contract shall be considered null and void.
4. The duration of which contract shall begin from …to …
The contract was read in front of the attendants who were sad and bewildered. The two parties and the witnesses signed the contract.
“I’ll be a millionaire. I’ll be rejoicing in prison for the sake of this dear price.” The lawyer said smiling. His eyes were roaming left and right in the palace considering it his own together with the millions waiting for him. On the other hand, the millionaire looked at the audience and said mockingly, “You’ll see how in a year or two, he’ll lose his health and become disappointed for, he who lives free knows not the bitterness of imprisonment.”
The strange cell
The young bachelor returned home and recommended one of his relatives to sell all what he had and keep its price in the bank that it may become a valuable sum of money after 15 years though it may be of no value then compared to the millions he was waiting for. He did not think how he was going to spend those years in his cell since he was sure that expecting to possess the palace and the millions would make these years pass in few moments. The lawyer entered the cell while, the guard stood outside the door. The lawyer looked from the window to see the palace. After few minutes, he left the window and threw himself on a chair beside the bed. He caught a book to read yet, some thoughts wandered in his mind, “Am I right or is it madness? Is this decision a form of youthful rashness that will cost me all my happiness? Is it worth millions? Can I recoil before it is too late? What will people then think of me? After 15 years, shall I find a suitable wife who will accept me for my person not for the sake of my millions? Will I live till my children grow up?”
Minutes passed as if they were years. Thoughts sieged him. After a year, he said to himself, “I’ll not retreat. I’ll make use of my solitude to read and learn languages as if in an institute. I’ll learn perseverence also. The lawyer asked the millionaire for books and means of learning which he brought him. After the third year, he got restless and know not what to do. He thus asked the millionaire to get him musical instruments and he sent them to him with the guard. However, he asked him for a tutor to teach him and the millionaire did as was asked. He started to play music joyyfully. However, after a time, he tried to talk to the music teacher on another subjects but he refused saying that he was ordered not to talk about a subject other than music. The lawyer submitted to this order and continued playing for a year but got very weary of the instruments considering them a burden which he wanted to get rid of. They neither talked to him nor shared with him his feelings.
At the beginning of the sixth year, he asked for books about other religions. They were brought to him and he read them for a whole year. He was hungry for the Bible. He began reading it during the seventh year not as during his infancy when his parents obliged him to read it. On the contrary, he was crying to God to reveal Himself to him through His Word. After a whole year, the millionaire expected him to ask for something in the beginning of the eighth year but he did not.
“My master asks if you want anything.” The guard asked him.
“I thank him for his care and love. Tell him I haven’t finished reading the Bible yet and I need nothing.” He replied.
The lawyer went on reading and felt God’s presence in his cell which had become a pleasant heaven. After a year, the millionaire sent to ask him if he wanted anything. Nevertheless, his reply was the same as the previous year. The same happened the following year. Therefore, the millionaire was perplexed and felt that he would lose all what he had. He asked the guard about the lawyer. He replied, “he scarcely asks for anything even food. He no longer looks from the window to see the palace. He doesn’t seem restless. Conversely, his face is cheerful and his countenance full of peace. He spends long hours kneeling in front of the Bible and mixing reading with prayers and praises by day and by night. Verily, I regard him as an angel of the LORD. I am glad to listen to his voice which expresses his joyful heart. I envy him for he’s as if in Heaven. Honestly, I don’t talk to him as you ordered. However, I hear the voice of his depth which atracts me to a strange power within him. I think he is the happiest man on earth. He surpassed many monks and recluses.”
Only a month remained after which the lawyer was to take all the possessions of the millionaire. The latter was sleepless and said, “What a fool am I. I shall lose all what I inherited and won all my life because of a rash decision. What am I to do then?”
He wandered restlessly in his bedroom as if in a cell having no one to feel his suffering. He looked from the window. It was stormy, snowy and extremely dark. A thought leapt in his mind which he began to execute at once. He went to the kitchen, took a big knife and hid it in his clothes. He took the key of the cell and went to kill the man. Not finding the guard, who left because of the snowy storm, he calmly opened the door and went on his tip-toes. He found the lawyer throwing his head on the table in deep sleep, in front of him, there was a dim lamp. He lifted up the knife to strike the lawyer’s neck but stopped suddenly on seeing a sheet of paper on which it was written, “Assignment Declaration”
The millionaire took the paper and shook all over.
The millions destroyed
The old millionaire’s hand shook while gazing at the paper which reads,
I, the resident in the cell in my dear friend’s palace, certify in my full senses that I assign my right in the possessions of my friend the palace owner. I thank him for his love for he has been hospitable to me for about 15 years giving me all what I need. At first, I was bored. I learnt languages and music and read about other religions still, I was not satisfied. Finally, I read the Bible which is a living message from God to me. I fed on His Word and now I need nothing. He opened for me a door in Heaven. Thus, all the earth has become worthless. He changed my cell to a joyful heaven and united me with whom the angels desire to see. How I am glad to give up my right for my friend and escape lest my relatives accuse me of madness, after the end of the term of the contract, and take his money unjustly. Only one Divine statement changed my attitude, “In the sweat of your face you shall eat bread” (Gen. 3.19). How can I then take what is not mine. I ask my dear friend to enjoy God’s Word which I enjoyed in his cell and give a portion of his money for buying the Bible and distributing it for all people to taste what I have been tasting.
On reading this paper, the knife fell from the millionaire’s hand and threw himself on the lawyer bursting in tears. The lawyer woke up to find the millionaire kissing him. The millionaire wanted to give him half his possessions but he did not accept one cent. He went out and lived with his friend in his palace enjoying the living Bible and the unlimited heavenly love.
Need for a Smile
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