The opening plan takes place during the World War II. A German frigate captures a small barge in the sea, carrying Russian coal. The Nazis occupy the ship, forcing stoker Anatoli to give up the captain and kill him with a gun. Trembling with fear, he shoots his captain, who falls into the see. Anatoli is left alone on the booby-trapped ship, that explodes within minutes.
Then, the action moves in 1976, when Anatoli lives in a small Orthodox Christian monastery, on an isolated northern russian island. He works as a stoker at the boiler room of the monastery, all day carting a wheelbarrow with coal, sleeping on a pile of coal, praying and living there. He acts very weirdly -e.g. clucking like a cock-, and his strangeness confuses his fellow monks, who call him a prankster. But lay people arrive on the island from all around the region to see him, believing that Anatoli is a holy man, able to provide wise counsel and to cure sickness.
However, Anatoli suffers mourning for his past…
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