It was 1948 when Gulag Irkutsk, a Christian believer in Siberia, received a 25-year sentence. After refusing to work on Sabbath, he was ordered to stand in a three- by four-foot cell for 10 days with only water for nourishment. For a year Irkutsk went through the same routine, in confinement for 10 days and out for four days.

After a year a general came to inspect the prison camp, and found Irkutsk in solitary confinement. When the general inquired about his confinement, Irkutsk explained about the Sabbath. "I am a believer in God," Irkutsk said. "A sign of my loyalty to Him is to rest on the Sabbath. However, I am prepared to work twice as much the day before in order to have the Sabbath off."

Irkutsk was ordered to carry enough water for the 1,000 prisoners - filling the reservoir by transporting well water. Prison officials provided Irkutsk with an ox, and for 10 years they followed the same routine of working twice as fast the day before and resting on Sabbath.

Later Irkutsk was released for his outstanding work record, but the ox remained and assisted another prisoner as he transported water. When the first Sabbath came, that ox lay quietly chewing his cud. Nothing would move the beast - neither shouting, pulling, threatening, nor beating. Every Sabbath the same drama happened. Finally the exasperated jailer told the prisoner, "You will never change the ox's behavior. The Sabbathkeeper has made the ox into a Sabbathkeeper. And Sabbathkeepers are very, very stubborn!"

- John K. McGhee,

Originally from: David Hodge
Originally dated: Tue, 11 Mar 1997 09:40:17 -0500

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