Like My Very Heart
Inspired by a story told by James Ryle
By Douglas Batson Copyright 2008
The New Testament book of Philemon set in Czarist Russia. This 1-Act play runs about 25 minutes; it requires 4-5 actors: Pavlov, Onesimskiy, Huttonov (Philemon), Ivan/Tychicus, and a narrator.
1. Narrator.1. In Czarist Russia 100 years ago a mutual acquaintance in the city of Donetsk cements a bond of biblical proportions between three very different men [each walks onto the stage and faces the audience as his name is called]:
Huttonov, a businessman who enjoys the wealth and prominence he has amassed, but who is deeply conflicted.
Onesimskiy, a descendent of serfs, who, after committing a crime, is a fugitive on the run.
And Pavlov, a highly-educated foreigner. Very controversial, Pavlov’s revolutionary talk has incited mobs to attack him, and he is no stranger to the Czar’s prisons. [The three exit stage]
SCENE I a tavern in the city of Donetsk
[Huttonov paces nervously in a tavern as the scene opens. Outside police whistles and/or searchlights unnerve him. Enter Ivan, wearing an eye patch and a cape]
2. H.1. [excited, talking fast] Ivan, there you are at last, you scoundrel. I was getting nervous waiting here with…[whispered]... the Czar’s police in the street.
3. I.1. [very measured speech] My dear Huttonov, that you left your comfortable villa to come to… this side of Donetsk…astonishes the mind. Waiter, [calls out to unseen bartender] a double vodka for the traveling tycoon whose courage is greater than his.…nervous disposition [laugh]. [Both men take seats across from the other at a table].
I must say, my dear Huttonov, you do have a nose for business. Metal prices are up 50% since you monopolized the trade. And the stolen armaments have found numerous…
4.H.2. [Interrupting emphatically, fist pounding the table] Surplus military equipment! That is surplus military equipment!
5.I.2. Of course, the surplus military equipment has found several buyers in Serbia, and even some Turkish officers have inquired. Perhaps the Sultan himself had best beware of revolution [laughs, then pauses because Huttonov is not laughing]. Hey, why so glum, my dear Huttonov? Business is…..literally booming![gesturing with a hand grenade]
6.H.3 Yes, business is good, but you had to mention Turkey, it reminds me how that ingrate, Onesimskiy, [angry] stole my family’s silver and escaped to Turkey! [pause]
When my wife’s father freed their serfs, Onesimskiy’s grandfather was among them. Onesimskiy’s parents died some years back and the old grandfather filled the youth’s head with stories of our benevolence [rolls eyes] and sent him to us. Feeling obliged, my wife took him in…. He did well in the menial jobs I gave him. I was even thinking of promoting him when he robbed us blind! [angry, pounding table] I’ve been publicly humiliated! If I ever get my hands on him, I’ll rend him…..
7.I.3 [Interrupting] My dear Huttonov, your reputation for maltreating those close to you is as renowned as your business acumen. How can you blame this servant when your own son rails against you at the university?
8.H.4. [Incensed] My family matters are none of your [damn] business!
9.I.4 [remains relaxed]. Touchy, touchy, [lecturing, leans forward, wagging finger] but denial is not a river in Egypt. Now, let us return to what is my business, precious metals. Silver prices have plummeted since Pavlov arrived. Rumor has it that even the house of Demetrius is nearly bankrupt.
10.H.5. What, silversmith extraordinaire, Demetrius, facing ruin? And just who is this Pavlov who is now reaping the silver profits?
11.I.5 [laughs hysterically] Pavlov? Profits? That’s a good one. Obviously, you have never heard of him, my dear Huttonov…..because Pavlov is not into profits, he’s into [laughs, pause] prophets [laughs]. Yes, prophets---like Moses. Pavlov is a Jewish rabbi. [pause] Although I heard recently that he may not be Jewish after all. Anyway, he is a religious figure with great influence here….The Rasputin of Donetsk, yes, that is what he is, this Pavlov [laughs with delight in coining a new phrase].
12.H.6 Hmmmh, I have always wanted to penetrate the Jewish market. Maybe this Pavlov can be co-opted.
13.I.6. And maybe the silver-tongued Pavlov can co-opt you into his movement. Yes, he is as clever as he is….odd. Pavlov attended Gamaliel University, and with this great education all he has to show for it is something like a leather shop, where he makes [pause] camping gear with his own hands, all the while propagating his religious views to very large crowds, yes.
14.H.7. A GMU man? Who makes tents and tarps? In my employ, I would better his situation---and he mine. How can I meet this Pavlov.?
15.I.7. My dear Huttonov, tomorrow morning I shall take you to his market stall. Yes, I should charge admission to what is sure to be a two-man, [laughs]….clash of civilizations.
SCENE II the next morning at the Donetsk marketplace
[Ivan & Huttonov enter the market near Pavlov’s stall]
16.I.8. My dear Huttonov, yes, today you are lucky; the big crowds have not yet arrived. Wait, Pavlov is rising to speak. [Ivan pays no attention, but Huttonov listens closely].
17.P.1. And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms, in order that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus. For we are God's workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works….(Eph. 2:6)
And you surely ask, what does His kindness look like in human vessels?
Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails. (1 Cor. 13)
18.I.9. [glances at timepiece] Finally, after 30 minutes of discourse, he is finished. Come….Hey, old man,….Pavlov!
19.P.2Extra: Excuse me, but do I know you?
20.I.10. No, you do not. But I remember you from our imprisonment together. At first your singing in the cell was soothing, but not when it went on all night, huh! Now, let me introduce you to my [pause] broker, Yev [pronounced E.F.] Huttonov, and remember [sarcastically], when Yev Huttonov talks, people listen [laughs as he moves away].
21.H.8. My dear Sir. I apologize for my associate. While I can boast about success in business, I, [looks askance at Ivan, whispers] might I speak to you in private? [Huttonov leads Pavlov away; Ivan exits]. My heart is conflicted, because…I have delighted in what is evil. What can I do to earn God’s favor?
22.P.3 . [Pavlov & Huttonov exit stage together, Pavlov’s arm around Huttonov] Nothing, sir, absolutely nothing. For it is by grace you can be saved, through faith. It is not of yourself, it is the gift of God – not by works, so that no one can boast. (Eph. 2:8)
And Huttonov would be the first to admit that he was not looking for God when he sought out Pavlov. Yet over several weeks, Huttonov pondered the question “what does it profit a man to gain the whole world, but to lose his soul?” Huttonov committed his life to Christ and the transformation was complete. His villa became known in Russian as “the place of outpouring.” Nearly a year after the two first met, Huttonov visited Pavlov for what turned out to be the last time.
SCENE III One year later
24.H.9 [Pavlov is writing when Huttonov arrives, Pavlov stands; they embrace]. [Excitedly] Pavlov, I have wonderful news! My son, Archippus, has returned home and put his faith in Christ. Now he is even preaching the Good News in the marsh lands. And our villa! It was once a foreboding place, with the gates barred. Now it is not only a sanctuary for weary travelers, but also a genuine sanctuary where the Christ is exalted. The gates are as wide open as the arms of our Heavenly Father!
25.P.4. Huttonov, my joy in you is complete. I have heard about your hospitality to even the low born, the descendents of the serfs. How they trek from the marshes on Sundays to worship in your house!
26.H.10. Yes, but there is more news…disturbing news. Let us sit. [Pavlov & Huttonov sit] Do you recall my associate, Ivan, who brought me to you last year? [Pavlov nods] Both he and his bodyguard were murdered in Serbia, double-crossed in an arms deal gone bad. [Huttonov takes Pavlov’s hands] I am sure had Christ not found me, I also would have been a victim. [pause] Pavlov, I owe you my very life. [weeps, wipes cheek] Look at me, even after one year I still weep when I survey the wondrous cross [makes the sign of the cross in the air]. Pavlov, you will soon be on your way to Rome. Pray for me that I may live my life in a manner worthy of the One who died for me [Pavlov & Huttonov exits].
27.Narrator.3. Because Huttonov truly desired to love like Christ, Pavlov prayed confidently. And Pavlov did go to Rome, but not as a free man. In fact, his revolutionary ideas about Jesus the Christ landed him in a low-security prison.
And Onesimskiy, who had stolen Huttonov’s silver, found that he could not sell it for what it was worth. For years a fugitive on the run, Onesimskiy, having taken the alias of Olav, made his way to Rome only to be arrested for allegedly belonging to a gang of foreign thieves.
SCENE IV Rome one year later [opens with Pavlov and Onesimskiy chained in a prison cell, both reclined]
28.P.5. [waking up] Young man, I haven’t seen you here before.
29.O.1 [haltingly] I am sorry, but my Italian is not good.
30.P.6 Did I detect a Russian accent? I speak Russian.
31.O.2 My God, you sure do! [extends hand] I am O--….Olav, from Donetsk. Who are you and what are you in for? [Olav (Onesimskiy) exits]
32.P.7: That, my young friend, is a long story….and fortunately for us….we have much, much time…
33.Narrator.4. Pavlov and Onesimskiy became well-acquainted and Onesimskiy proved very useful to Pavlov. So much so that when Pavlov learned that Onesimskiy was to be transferred elsewhere, Pavlov requested that Onesimskiy remain to help him with Russian language correspondence. And due to Pavlov’s failing eyesight, the warden honored the request….Months later an ecstatic Onesimskiy ran into Pavlov’s cell.
SCENE V Three months later
34.O.3. Pavlov, Pavlov, did you hear? [kneels beside P, raising arms] I have been released! I am free. I am a free man!
35.P.8. Olav, I am glad that you are free from these iron chains [lifts his chain]. But are you free from your inner prison?
36.O.4. Pavlov, you know I respect you and your faith. But I have told you already that I cannot trust this loving God of yours [turns away]….Not after all the injustices I have endured.
37.P.9. That is not a valid argument. Even when you have been shown mercy you rejected it and committed injustices of your own,…Onesimskiy!
38.O.5. [recoils and stands up, shocked] Perhaps you are a prophet like they say. How did you know my real name is Onesimskiy? And what do you mean I committed injustices? I have been released, I just told you.
39.P.10. Although your master was a harsh man, he took you in, fed you, and gave you employment. But you, Onesimskiy, repaid the generosity of Yev Huttonov by stealing his family silver!
40.O.6. I am a free man…I could flee now… and never have to deal with this---and with you---again. But…you knew. You knew about me all this time….and said nothing!! You befriended me, loved me even. [Sighs, bows head] I am cut to the quick. [kneels by Pavlov, takes his hands and entreats]. Pavlov, what must I do to be saved---from myself? [Onesimskiy exits].
41.Narrator.5. Once Onesimskiy realized his need for a Savior it was God who affected the change in his heart. Onesimskiy became even more useful to Pavlov as he grew in his Christian faith. Months later Pavlov again summoned Onesimskiy to his prison cell.
SCENE VI Nine months later
42.O.7 [kneels beside Pavlov, joyously] Pavlov, only when I speak in my native Russian can I fully express the joy I have in knowing that my name, Onesimskiy, is recorded in the Lamb’s Book of Life!
43.P.11. Onesimskiy, how would you like to spread the Good News of salvation in Christ back in Russia? I want you to deliver a letter to Philemon, the leader of the Church in Donetsk.
44.O.8. Pavlov, you know I would do anything for you. But I am still a wanted man there. The man I stole from, Huttonov, surely has a bounty on my head.
45.P.12. I am persuaded that your joy, and that of Huttonov, will be made full when you deliver this [show scroll] letter to him.
46.O.11. I am confused. Did you say to deliver the letter to…
47.P.13. [Interrupting] Onesimskiy, not long ago I too lived in Donetsk. Huttonov and I became fast friends. He not only committed his life to Christ but dozens of believers worship in his villa, which has become the Church in Donetsk. He sold much of what he owned to aid the marsh dwellers. Hundreds from the marshes profess Christ and, based on an ancient Greek myth about hospitality, they now refer to the former Mr. Huttonov as Philemon, because of his great love.
48.O.12. [jumps up] Impossible…Incredible!
49.P.14. You must go and see for yourself. Besides, your prospects are better in Russia amongst your own people. This letter to Philemon will make your return to Donetsk not only possible, but useful for Christ’s kingdom there. [waves Tychicus in] I have arranged for my fellow-laborer, Tychicus, to accompany you on the journey. Philemon and Tychicus are acquainted. Let me now say a blessing over you both and be on your way. [Tychicus and Onesimskiy kneel for prayer; Pavlov lays his hands on them. Pavlov exits]
SCENE VII Donetsk three weeks later
50.Narrator.5. Tychicus and Onesimskiy made their way to Russia. No doubt that Onesimskiy had grave doubts about what he was doing. Had the haughty Huttonov really been so transformed by the grace of God that descendents of serfs now call him Philemon because of his great love for God and for them? Even so, his former master could still exercise his legal right and have Onesimskiy imprisoned and the key thrown away. The journey became one of faith. As the two approached the villa...
51.T.1 My, Onesimskiy, I have never seen anyone safeguard any document as you have that letter [pointing]. Listen, do you hear the praise music? And just as I said, the gates are always open now. There is a new butler since you were last here; I’ll ask him to arrange the meeting with Philemon. Everything will be fine. You knock.
[Philemon answers the door himself; both Onesimskiy & Philemon are astonished at the sight of one another].
53.O.13. Good Sir! [Trembling, loudly] Pavlov sent me…with this letter [outstretched].
54.H.12. You? know Pavlov? [Philemon takes letter and begins to read] “Pavlov, a prisoner of Christ Jesus,” [looks up and exclaims] Pavlov, a prisoner? I didn’t know this. [makes eye contact with Tychicus, who confirms this news with a nod, and continues reading]
“to Philemon our dear friend and fellow worker, to [your wife], Apphia, and to [your son], Archippus, our fellow soldier, and to the church that meets in your home. Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
I always thank my God as I remember you in my prayers, because I hear about your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love for all the saints. I pray that you may be active in sharing your faith, so that you will have a full understanding of every good thing we have in Christ. Your love has given me great joy and encouragement, because you, brother, have refreshed the hearts of the saints.
Therefore, although in Christ I could be bold and order you to do what you ought to do, yet I appeal to you on the basis of love. I then, as Pavlov—an old man and now also a prisoner of Christ Jesus— I appeal to you for my son, Onesimskiy, who became my son while I was in chains. Formerly he was useless to you, but now he has become useful both to you and to me.
I am sending him—who is like my very heart—back to you. I would have liked to keep him with me so that he could take your place in helping me while I am in chains for the gospel. But I did not want to do anything without your consent, so that any favor you do will be spontaneous and not forced. Perhaps the reason he was separated from you for a little while was that you might have him back for good— no longer as a servant, but better than a servant, as a dear brother. He is very dear to me but even dearer to you, both as a man and as a brother in the Lord.
So if you consider me a partner, welcome him as you would welcome me. If he has done you any wrong or owes you anything, charge it to me. I, Pavlov, am writing this with my own hand. I will pay it back—not to mention that you owe me your very soul. I do wish, brother, that I may have some benefit from you in the Lord; refresh my heart in Christ. Confident of your obedience, I write to you, knowing that you will do even more than I ask.” [overcome with emotion his voice trails off, Philemon lowers the letter, walks toward Onesimskiy arms outstretched, they embrace, then both step back to wipe away the tears of joy].
55.T.2. [walks between Onesimskiy and Philemon and addresses the audience] Love always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love truly never fails. (1 Cor. 13)
Note: Old Testament epic stories (Creation, Noah’s Ark, the Exodus, Daniel and the Lions’ Den), love stories (Jacob and Rachel, Ruth and Boaz) and larger than life characters (Joseph, Moses, David) have been celebrated in books, film, and on stage for centuries. Aside from the life of Christ, New Testament stories and characters enjoy far less renown. The reading of the Pauline (Pavlov = Paul in Russian) epistle in Scene VII concludes the New Testament story of reconciliation between Philemon and Onesimus. This drama, a fictional account of how Philemon and Onesimus separately came to faith through the Apostle Paul, deliberately obscures with a Czarist Russia setting, the fact that it is a biblical story, although four hints on the identity of Pavlov from the Acts of the Apostles are woven into Scenes I & II:
1. Acts 22:3 Paul was educated under Gamaliel, whose wisdom is mentioned in Acts 5:34
2. Acts 19:24 Demetrius, a silversmith whose business suffered from Paul’s preaching
3. Acts 18:3 Paul was a tent maker by trade
4. Acts 16:25 from his jail cell, Paul (and Silas) sang hymns to God at midnight
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