Augustine Tagaste

Author of Poetry and Prose

Obsequium

Long Story Short

The last time I felt human, St. John Chrysostom was refining his liturgy and there was only one Church. We were all just Christians back then, but now the faith has devolved into a series of fiefdoms vying for temporal power at the expense of their souls.

 

No one could teach The Word like my old friend John, God rest his soul, and he could never have foretold my fate as an undying presence on this earth. However; this story is not about the Church or even about me, this is the story of the longest and deadliest war the world has ever known but none of you have ever heard about.

 

That being said, I get ahead of myself. Let’s go back to the beginning.

 

In the year 398, I saw my beloved friend become Patriarch of Constantinople and I lost any illusions I had about life and reality; it was a big year for me. I rented a small room as close to the Sacrum Palatium as I could get. Back then I thought of myself as a merchant, even if the most I had ever done was trade a small cart of wine using money borrowed from my father. Fortunately, that mundane dream would soon fade away.

 

One night I was quietly counting my last remaining coins when I heard a knock on the door. As I made my way to answer a group of soldiers forced their way into the room.

 

“Barea Sorano?” They demanded.

 

“Yes gentlemen, how may I help you?”

 

“Come with us, His Eminence the Patriarch wishes to speak with you.”

 

And off we went in a hurry to visit my childhood friend.

 

Entering his chambers I noticed his entire personal entourage was there and all of a sudden I began to feel like I was in serious trouble. I walked towards His Eminence, bowed and kissed his hand out of respect for his office.

 

“My dearest Barea, you of all people are not required to do that.” He humbly stated

 

“Regardless of our history, I must respect the man you have become.”

 

“Thank you, but I need you as a friend this night.”

 

Over the next hour, he would explain to me that he had a vision of Our Lady Theotokos, and in that vision she instructed him to find me and bring me into the service of the Church.

 

“I am flattered, but shouldn’t you be looking for someone more religious and less corrupt?” I asked

 

“True, I asked her the same question but she wants you.”

 

“So what does that mean?”

 

“You are to be inducted into the Pauline Circle. This is a hidden group dating back to the beginning of the Church, established by Saint Paul and tasked with protecting its servants and the faithful.”

 

“What does that mean?”

 

“It means you belong to Christ now.”

 

“I am not interested in becoming a priest.”

 

“And I would not want you as one, this is not an official position and you will not be clergy. After this meeting, you will be taken to the Circle’s leader and we will never meet again.”

 

“Are you instructing me as my Patriarch or as my oldest friend?”

 

“Both.”

 

There was no way to say No, something in my gut could never resist a request from John. So, I accepted and said farewell. Nothing was ever the same again.

 

From that night until now, centuries later, I have lived an underground existence. My name and relationship to the Church have always remained barely a whisper at the highest levels. Funding and identity changes were always available when I needed them but my exchanges with high officials were always handled through intermediaries. I became the man who was not there, a ghost.

 

Immortality was never an official part of the plan, it just sort of happened. After my 40th birthday, I simply stopped aging. That is when I started to basically change identities when it was time to theoretically die. No one knows that all this time it has been the same person carrying out missions, they just assumed that I was good at training my replacements.

 

But nothing could prepare me for the strangest side effect of my new profession. In the sixth century, I was protecting the Hagia Sophia construction site in Constantinople after we got information that an illegal group of Greek apostates intended to destroy it. While spending an evening in the main sanctuary I had an unexpected companion.

 

“Hello, Marcus. I didn’t want you to work alone this evening.” She softly offered.

 

“Who are you?!”

 

“I am Mary, but you always call me Theotokos.”

 

“Madame, you are crazy or drunk but either way you need to leave.” I fired back

 

“Your real name is Barea and you have been working for us for a long time. I remember the night when I told your friend John to hire you.” She said plainly

 

My face went pale and the world around me seemed to stop. If it wasn’t for the fact that I should have died a long time ago I would have had a hard time believing her. But that coupled with the facts she knew was enough to convince me. This was the mother of our Lord.

 

“My Lady, I don’t know what to say…” I mumbled as I sloppily bowed.

 

“Nonsense, you are my son as all men are my sons. A good servant of God will never be alone; I will be with you when all others have left you.”

 

She kissed me on the head and disappeared before my eyes. Since then she has been a regular participant in my escapades. My partner when I had none. Over the centuries we became so close that we might even be called friends, but I would never claim that out of respect for her noble status. The only friendly indulgence I dare to claim is in calling her Mary.

 

Fast forward to today and here I sit in a small bar in East Atlanta having a beer and watching a young man that will determine my fate and the fate of the Church, although he has yet to find that out.

 

“He is a fine young man. He has a good heart.” She said as she appeared seated next to me

 

“Oh! You startled me. I’m sorry but I will never get used to that.” I blurted out

 

“My dear, you need to focus.”

 

“Yes, ma’am. I am working up the nerve to talk with him.”

 

“Take your time, only approach when it is right.”

 

And she disappeared again leaving me with my thoughts. It was always that way; she appears for a moment to encourage me when I am at my weakest point.

 

Once I snapped back I looked down at the file on the table and continued to study my mark. Marcus Barea was your typical 25 year-old trying to figure out the rest of his life. Born and raised in Atlanta, he graduated from Georgia State University with a degree in Journalism and a depressingly large student loan debt. Unable to find work in his field he was now an assistant manager at a local thrift store. It was doubtful that this plan would work but there was no choice, it had to work.

 

The Approach

 

Considering that Marcus was an aspiring journalist I thought it would be best to approach him that way. My favorite forger conjured up some fake media credentials and an online profile. Armed with centuries of experience in lying I paid a visit to the thrift store and promptly asked to see the manager.

 

“Hello Sir, my name is Marcus and I am the assistant manager. How may I help you today?” He said politely

 

“Well, I am looking for an old Corona typewriter and I didn’t see one in your office equipment section. Is there any chance you get them in from time to time?”

 

“That would be a tall order; we don’t usually get classic pieces of equipment like that.” He responded with a smile

 

“It sounds like you appreciate a good typewriter, and I don’t expect that you get this question often.”

 

“It’s unusual for our store but I studied journalism and used to work on a typewriter for fun. It gave me a sense of history and style while I wrote.”

 

“Amen to that. I’m actually a writer and a journalist myself, where did you study?”

 

With that, the floodgates were opened and we talked for another twenty minutes. Before I left I gave him my card and invited him to meet with me to discuss his future.

 

He cautiously waited a couple of days before he reached out to me and I acted surprised by his call. We arranged to meet at his favorite bar in Little Five Points that Saturday.

 

I chose a quiet corner with a panoramic line of sight of the entire place (an old habit). He finally arrived and stumbled over to my table with a large leather portfolio brimming with short stories and articles. It was somewhat sweet to see how devoted he was to his work, so I decided to indulge him a little bit and actually read some of his stuff. It was unimaginative at best but technically well written.

 

After an hour of that game, I suggested we meet again to discuss the possibility of bringing him on board with my organization. He leaped at the chance and said he was ready to get back to his vocation.

 

“I am staying at the Drake Hotel downtown in room 201. Meet me there tomorrow afternoon and we can discuss the details.”

 

“But I have to work tomorrow, retail hours.” He lamented

 

“Then call-out. We all have thirty seconds to make the decision that will change our lives forever, this is your moment. What will you do?”

 

“It’s a lot to risk.”

 

“I will be waiting for you tomorrow. If you show up, great, and if you don’t then I will not bother you again.”

 

Then I promptly got up and left the bar paying my bill along the way. This was going to be a little test. If he shows up that would make my life easier but if he doesn’t I do have other ways to get him.

 

The Turn

 

As I expected, he showed up with his portfolio in hand.

 

“So, you decided.” I welcomed

 

“Well, I called in sick but I didn’t quit my job yet.”

 

“Okay, fair enough.”

 

We exchanged a few pleasantries and small talk but eventually, I handed him a rather large binder that I had been using to track my existence on this earth. It was time to reveal the truth.

 

“What is this?”

 

“The truth about who I am and who you are…”

 

“This just got weird.” He said cautiously while backing away

 

“Wait! Hear me out and if you aren’t convinced then you will be free to go.”

 

Somehow this worked and he started to read my odd scrapbook. After a while, he went pale and looked up confused.

 

“Why do you have info and pictures of my grandparents and my parents? You have a section here for my whole family tree.”

 

“That is because I am the root.” I confessed calmly

 

“Now you freaked me out, I am out of here!”

 

So, he left me no choice but to show him. I pulled out my old semispatha (Roman/Byzantine short sword) and ran to block him from leaving. As his eyes grew wider I promptly stabbed myself in the heart. He fell to his knees in shock but never screamed. This gave me time to slowly pull it out and show him the wound as it immediately healed. Soon afterward he fainted.

 

About an hour later he woke up and stared at me dazed and confused.

 

“Was that real?” He asked

 

“Real and painful, but necessary”

 

“Who…what are you?”

 

“My name is Barea and I have been around for a long time.”

 

“But that isn’t what your card says. Are we related?” He asked stupidly

 

“The card is fake and we are related. In fact, I am the reason your family name is your family name. Before your little head explodes let me tell you the facts: Barea is originally a Roman first name but I changed that by establishing it as a family name. This makes it easier to track my descendants.”

 

“You are what?” He uttered still not getting it

 

“Let me explain it this way: if your last name is Barea then you are one of mine.”

 

For the next three hours, I explained my whole history to Marcus. He humored me because of what he saw but I was sure he wasn’t really internalizing my story. Finally, he started asking questions.

 

“But if you’re a priest, how can you have kids?”

 

“I am not a priest and I am human. There are times when a good woman is all I need. When those unions bore fruit I would keep track of them.”

 

“So everyone with our name comes from you originally?”

 

“Yes.”

 

“Why do you need to tell me this?”

 

“Good question. I’ve lived long enough and it is my time to die. The only way that can happen is if one of you takes my place.”

 

“You want me to join you so you can train me to replace you and then you can finally die?”

 

“This is my plan.”

 

By dinner time it was clear that Marcus could not absorb any more of this and I sent him home with the promise of contacting him again.

 

The Mission

 

The following Wednesday I invited him to meet me at St. Mary’s Orthodox Church for vespers. It was now time to bring him fully into the fold.

 

“You were never baptized and you need to be a Christian before you can enter into this service.”

 

“I’m not sure about religion or becoming what you want me to be.”

 

“Let’s talk and then participate in this evening’s Vespers, after that you can decide. Father Cyprian is ready to baptize you right away if you are willing.”

 

“That sounds alright to me; we’ll see how it goes.”

 

“What do you want to know?”

 

“Everything”

 

It’s hard to summarize months of Catechism into one conversation, but I did my best. I figured that if I covered the basics he could learn the rest as we went along. Marcus was receptive and asked some good questions, but I could feel that he was still unsure.

 

Eventually, it was time for the service and I think it affected him more than he expected. You could see on his face that this was the first time he ever felt connected to a higher power. I guess growing up in modern America killed any sense of mystery or honest faith that he could have had. Afterward, it came time to decide.

 

“What will you do?” I asked plainly

 

“I am a product of my generation and before I commit myself to God I still need proof that he does exist.”

 

“Hahaha!”

 

“Why is that funny?”

 

“My dear boy, the proof is standing here in front of you. I could not exist if it were not for the power and grace of God. The question you need to ask yourself is if you believe in me enough to believe in God.”

 

After a short pause, he accepted my point and he pledged himself to the Faith. Father Cyprian baptized him with me as his godfather. It was done.

 

“How do you feel?”

 

“I’m feeling good, but who is that lady that keeps staring at me smiling?”

 

“You see her? Excellent! That’s Mary, Our Lady Theotokos. She will be your guide.”

 

“Who?”

 

“The mother of Jesus Christ, the Virgin Mary.”

 

“Don’t worry Marcus, I will protect you and intercede on your behalf.” She said as she approached him and kissed his cheek

 

She disappeared in front of him and Marcus seemed to feel a calm he had never felt before. He gave me a grateful look and sat in the sanctuary to meditate.

 

The next morning we met in Grant Park to begin his education. The first thing we needed to discuss was why we were necessary.

 

“Since the first days of the Church, we have experienced opposition and threats from all corners of the world. Saint Paul created a special circle of volunteers to defend the early Church and protect the faithful. We are the latest embodiment of that mission.”

 

“So, are we fighting terrorists or something like that?”

 

“Sometimes we defend against attacks from conventional enemies, but mainly we have one ancient enemy to focus on. The others are usually taken care of by governments and armies.”

 

“Are you talking about the Devil or demons?”

 

“Not directly. You see, when Christianity became official in the Empire there were many powerful people who did not accept the Emperor’s dictate and covertly rebelled. These individuals did not succeed in reversing the trend, but they did survive through their descendants and they still attack us whenever they can. I call them Erisians after Eris the Greek goddess of discord.”

 

“But, there isn’t a single Church anymore. Which one are we defending?”

 

“The original Church became the Orthodox Church and that is the one we mainly defend. However, this does not mean that we abandon the others. If we uncover a threat to the Roman Catholic Church or any of the Protestant churches we will inform them and work with them.”

 

“That seems a little hypocritical and weird to me.”

 

“All life is precious; therefore we do unto others…”

 

“What about Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists, etc.?”

 

“If we uncover any threat to any innocent people then we are obligated to inform them about it and help them. There are no exceptions to this rule.”

 

“So, we are Orthodox Christians defending Orthodoxy but we also serve all our fellow human beings if they need us?”

 

“Yes”

 

I ended the first lesson there in order to give him time to digest. But it was only the beginning; there was a lifetime of training and experience to be gained.

 

Now that I have him it is time for Marcus to disappear into the shadows with me. The first step in that process will be a visit to the monastery in Mount Athos, Greece. He will spend a year living as a Novice for his religious education and I will visit him from time to time and train him in trade craft.

 

I should be sad to be at the end of my adventure, but I am happy to pass on the torch and to see one of my sons carry on the family tradition. This life has been too long and it is time to rest.

 

The End, but not really…

 

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