Christ on the Stage

The main theatre in Moscow was getting ready for the opening night of a anti-religious play called “Christ in Top Hat and Tails”. Schools, youth organisations and youth workers were required to include the piece in their programme for the year. The main part, portraying Jesus Christ was played by the famous actor and committed communist Alexander Rostowzew. The theatre was full, every ticket had been sold months before. The curtain opened to a scene with an altar in the middle, covered with empty beer bottles. Around the altar were drunken priests and monks. At the second act Rostowzew came onto the stage. In his hands he held a copy of the Holy Bible and wore a top hat and tails. The audience laughed and clapped, waiting for his humorous lines and superb acting. He opened the Bible and started to read: “Blessed are those who are poor before God, then theirs is the Kingdom of heaven; Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted…” The Director stood at the side of the stage, he knew that soon Rostowzew would break into dancing and the whole theatre would erupt with cascades of laughter. But nothing happened.  Rostowzew continued reading: “Blessed are those who are peacemakers, for they will inherit the land…” The audience didn’t move. They realised that something was happening in the heart of the actor. The theatre was completely silent, only the firm voice of  Rostowzew could be heard. He continued reading, in fact, in read the complete forty-eight verses of the Fifth Chapter of St Matthew’s Gospel. No-one interrupted him, no-one called out, everyone remained completely silent, listening to every word. He finished with the verse: “You should be perfect, just as your heavenly Father in heaven is perfect!” Rostowzew closed the Bible. It seemed that a chapter in his own life was also being closed. Very slowly he made the Sign of the Cross and repeated in a firm and clear voice the words of the repentant thief at the side of Jesus on Calvary: “Lord, remember me, when you come into your Kingdom”. No-one protested, there were no whistles or booing. The audience slowly left the theatre in silence. The production was never repeated anywhere.  After that evening, Alexander Rostowzew was never seen again.