Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Solzhenitsyn's Cross

Today Alexander Solzhenitsyn was laid to rest behind the altar of the Church of St John of the Ladder in the historic Donskoy Monastery in Moscow.

Here is my translation of the statement of His All-Holiness, Patriarch Alexy II of Moscow and All Russia, read at the funeral:
Your Excellency, Deeply-Respected Dimitrii Anatolevich, Much-Respected Natalia Dimitrievna, Honorable fathers, Dear Brothers and Sisters!

Today Russia accompanies Alexander Isaevich Solzhenitsyn on “the way of all the earth.” As the departed had desired, his funeral and burial are taking place, with Our blessing, at the Donskoy Monastery – the place of repose of many worthy sons of the Church and Fatherland. Five years ago he appealed to Us in writing, witnessing: “Dear to my heart – spiritual, devout – and so inextricably bound up with Patriarch Tikhon – is the atmosphere of the Donskoy Monastery.” Now his request is fulfilled.

The Lord gave Alexander Isaevich a strong and original talent, and longevity of life and creativity. His fate and literary output reflect the entire difficult history of our country in the past twentieth century.

An outstanding writer and public figure, he will always remain in our memory not only as a righteous and uncompromising servant of the word, but as an honest and courageous citizen of his Fatherland, winning the deep respect and sincere love of the people. All the troubles and misfortunes of Russia, and the difficulties and spiritual quests of the people, found a devoted response in his heart.

The Lord gave him the strength and courage to bear on his shoulders the difficult cross of standing up for the truth, of tirelessly working in the world of letters for the memory of those who in the past evil century, suffering for faith and truth, did not lose the ability to live honestly and according to conscience. Today, for his solace and hope, are heard the words of the Gospel: Blessed are they which are persecuted for righteousness' sake: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven (Mt 5:10).

The entire life of the departed serves as a worthy example of service to truth, of fidelity to his vocation and his Divinely-foreordained mission. He strove to do everything possible so that people would know the truth about the tragic yet heroic past of our country. Witnessing to the truth, and suffering for it, he steadfastly followed the life principle he had adopted for himself: one word of truth will win over the entire world. His spiritual testimony for the present and coming generations rests on this conviction and commitment to truth.

Alexander Isaevich raised his voice in defense of the freedom of the word, for the preservation of the Russian language and culture, for spiritual and moral rebirth, and for the strengthening of the family and the preservation of the nation. He also did much in order that religious freedom become not simply a proclamation, but a real property of the spiritual life of the Russian people.

On this day of grief and sorrow, the Lord has providentially appointed us to raise our heartfelt and fervent prayer for the repose of his soul and the forgiveness of the and transgressions, voluntary and involuntary, of His newly-departed servant.

I express my sincere condolences to You, Natalia Dimitrievna, and the children, grandchildren, relatives, and friends of the departed. I recognize how difficult it is for you now, and what an irreplaceable loss we all bear. The mystery of death is great and unapproachable. But Alexander Isaevich contemplated this with Christian dignity and calm, believing that death is a passing from temporal being to eternal life, to God, Who is the source of all good: “For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so them which sleep in Jesus will God bring with Him”(I Thess 4:14).

I give my last kiss to the departed in thought and pray to the Master of life, our Lord Jesus Christ, for the repose in the eternal dwelling-places of the newly-departed servant of God, Alexander.
May his soul dwell amid good things, and his memory be from generation to generation!

Just today I received notification of a new book about Solzhenitsyn, providentially released just a few days ago by the Intercollegiate Studies Institute: The Soul and Barbed Wire: An Introduction to Solzhenitsyn, by Edward E. Ericson, Jr., and Alexis Klimoff. I have not yet seen this book, but I have long admired the word of Professor Klimoff – whom I've also had the great pleasure of meeting – and ISI publications are, as a rule, excellent. I therefore have no qualms in recommending it as an essential purchase, sight unseen.

I encourage you also to revisit an interview entitled "I Am Not Afraid of Death" given by Solzhenitsyn to the German magazine Spiegel one year ago. This was his last major interview. It is as lucid as any of his writings, and an important antidote to the anti-Russian bias that dominates the Western press. (When, for instance, was the last time anyone saw a pro-Russian statement in the Wall Street Journal?)

Here is an exchange about the "moral qualification" of the Orthodox Church in Russia:
SPIEGEL: The idea of the influence of Orthodox Christianity on the Russian world can be traced throughout your works. What is the moral qualification of the Russian church? We think it is turning into a state church today, just like it was centuries ago -- an institution that in practice legitimizes the head of Kremlin as the representative of God.

Solzhenitsyn: On the contrary, we should be surprised that our church has gained a somewhat independent position during the very few years since it was freed from total subjugation to the communist government. Do not forget what a horrible human toll the Russian Orthodox Church suffered throughout almost the entire 20th century. The Church is just rising from its knees. Our young post-Soviet state is just learning to respect the Church as an independent institution. The “Social Doctrine” of the Russian Orthodox Church, for example, goes much further than do government programs. Recently Metropolitan Kirill, a prominent expounder of the Church’s position, has made repeated calls for reforming the taxation system. His views are quite different from those of government, yet he airs them in public, on national television. As for "legitimizing the head of Kremlin," do you mean the funeral service for Yeltsin in the main cathedral and the decision not to hold a civil funeral ceremony?

SPIEGEL: That too.

Solzhenitsyn: Well, it was probably the only way to keep in check public anger, which has not fully subsided, and avoid possible manifestations of anger during the burial. But I see no reason to treat the ceremony as the new protocol for the funerals of all Russian presidents in the future. As far as the past is concerned, our Church holds round-the-clock prayers for the repose of the victims of communist massacres in Butovo near Moscow, on the Solovetsky Islands and other places of mass burials.
And here, finally, are his thoughts on faith and mortality, which demonstrate that the late writer did indeed contemplate his coming death with what the Patriarch called "Christian dignity and calm":
SPIEGEL: In 1987 in your interview with SPIEGEL founder Rudolf Augstein you said it was really hard for you to speak about religion in public. What does faith mean for you?

Solzhenitsyn: For me faith is the foundation and support of one’s life.

SPIEGEL: Are you afraid of death?

Solzhenitsyn: No, I am not afraid of death any more. When I was young the early death of my father cast a shadow over me -- he died at the age of 27 -- and I was afraid to die before all my literary plans came true. But between 30 and 40 years of age my attitude to death became quite calm and balanced. I feel it is a natural, but no means the final, milestone of one’s existence.

SPIEGEL: Anyhow, we wish you many years of creative life.

Solzhenitsyn: No, no. Don’t. It’s enough.
Also worth reading are the posts "Trying to Trim Solzhenitsyn Down to Size" by Terry Mattingly and "Solzhenitsyn and Where the Battle Begins," by Fr Stephen Freeman. (Both writers are Orthodox; hat tip to Orrologion.)

May his memory be eternal!

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