Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Choose Life

Deuteronomy 30: 15-20 (KJV):
See, I have set before thee this day life and good, and death and evil; In that I command thee this day to love the LORD thy God, to walk in his ways, and to keep his commandments and his statutes and his judgments, that thou mayest live and multiply: and the LORD thy God shall bless thee in the land whither thou goest to possess it. But if thine heart turn away, so that thou wilt not hear, but shalt be drawn away, and worship other gods, and serve them; I denounce unto you this day, that ye shall surely perish, and that ye shall not prolong your days upon the land, whither thou passest over Jordan to go to possess it. I call heaven and earth to record this day against you, that I have set before you life and death, blessing and cursing: therefore choose life, that both thou and thy seed may live: That thou mayest love the LORD thy God, and that thou mayest obey his voice, and that thou mayest cleave unto him: for he is thy life, and the length of thy days: that thou mayest dwell in the land which the LORD sware unto thy fathers, to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob, to give them.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Feast of the Transfiguration

Today we celebrate the Feast of the Transfiguration of Our Lord, God, and Saviour, Jesus Christ. Here are a few online resources you may find valuable:
Links updated August 20.

Friday, August 15, 2008

With God On Our Side

Much has been written about the ongoing military conflict between Russia and Georgia, both traditionally Orthodox nations. My own small contribution is to offer a text for reflection:
Now when Joshua was near Jericho, he looked up and saw a man standing in front of him with a drawn sword in his hand. Joshua went up to him and asked, "Are you for us or for our enemies?" "Neither," he replied, "but as commander of the army of the LORD I have now come." Then Joshua fell facedown to the ground in reverence, and asked him, "What message does my Lord have for his servant?" The commander of the LORD's army replied, "Take off your sandals, for the place where you are standing is holy." And Joshua did so.
This is, of course, Joshua 5:13-15 (NIV).

Schmemann on Solzhenitsyn

Borrowed from the website of St Vladimir's Orthodox Theological Seminary.

Sholem Asch

Those who have read Protopresbyter Michael Pomazansky's essay "The Old Testament and Rationalistic Biblical Criticism" (originally published in Orthodox Life, and later included in Selected Essays), will remember this paragraph about an intriguing-sounding novel entitled Moses:
Among recent creative literature there has been a successful attempt at retelling the story of Moses, the exodus and the wandering in the desert of the Jewish people, by Sholom Ashe, a twentieth century Jewish writer. The name of this writer is well known because of the part he took in several Russian periodicals of the pre-revolutionary period, and now, from a whole series of novels dealing with American life, written in English. The long work Moses (comprising some 500 pages) merits our attention because it shows the naturalness and the quite viable possibility of the entire course of events which are set forth in the books of Moses. The value of this work lies in that the author does not depart from the text of the Bible but fully preserves the idea of God leading the people of Israel in those days, concerning himself only with enlivening the narrative with a picturesque rendering of events which are given in compressed form in the sacred account in the Bible. In particular the author sets before the reader a method for the technical organization of notes for the future Pentateuch which was feasible at that time: the preparation of solid material for writing, the obtaining of inks from seaweed or shells; further — the collection of sacred traditions from the lips of the elders of Israel, the selection of scribes. In like manner, described on a large scale, is the possible picture of the preparations for equipping the tabernacle during the people’s annual sojourn at the foot of Sinai, and the works of the equipping itself: how Moses, ascending Sinai, amid the outcroppings of copper ore, discovers an area covered by thick vegetation which has a wonderful aroma and a thicket of huge acacias; how later this costly wooden material is fashioned into parts of the tabernacle, and the aromatic plants into fragrant incense for the services; how the collection of gold and silver objects is conducted so that they may be worked into utensils for the services of the tabernacle; the temple — a free labor, not carried out under the whips of overseers, a labor for their own people, not for their oppressors; with what diligence master craftsmen took to their specialities which they had acquired in Egypt — some men took to the dry reworking of metal, beating gold into sheets with stone hammers, others to smelting silver, having obtained it locally on Sinai, and to smelting copper; others were masters of woodworking and of the tooling and cleaning of leather; women, according to their skill, labored in preparing and dying wool, in spinning thread, and those skilled in fine work were found as well, for embroidering designs after the spinning, for preparing vestments and objects for the services. Everything took place under the observation of directors of labor who were chosen by Moses and the council of elders. Later comes the description of the sanctification of the tabernacle and the organization and consecration of the Aaronic priesthood, etc. In a word, all that which has been considered unfeasible in those far-away times and under those conditions by some critics of the Bible is not disregarded. The testament and vows of Moses, and his death, as they are set forth in the book of Deuteronomy, end the account.
I searched for this book years ago, to no avail. Now, through the magic of the Internet, I've located it. The author's name is not Sholom Ashe, but Sholem Asch, and the novel, which is indeed entitled Moses (not to be confused with the same author's Uncle Moses), can be purchased on Amazon for pennies. I've just ordered my copy, and hope to post about it, should I be up to it.

Thursday, August 7, 2008

As Wax Melts In the Presence of Fire

The letter of condolence to Solzhenitsyn's widow by Metropolitan Hilarion, First Hierarch of the Russian Orthodox Church Abroad:
Dear Natalia Dmitrievna, beloved in the Lord!

It is with a sense of profound pain that I received the news of the repose of Aleksandr Isaievich Solzhenitsyn, who during the horrific years of the godless regime bore incredibly courageous witness to the truth, speaking out about the sufferings of our fellow Russians. Thanks to Aleksandr Isaievich, we who found ourselves in foreign lands we able to learn and understand those in lonely confinement, and with them all who were undergoing tribulation in our homeland, especially those imprisoned behind the icy walls of the all-embracing Soviet prison cell, persecuted for their faith and conscience.

Glory to God! Through the prayers of the Holy New-Martyrs and Confessors of Russia, Christ has risen in the hearts of many Russian people, the builders of that prison cell have been dispersed as enemies of God, and its icy walls have vanished "as wax melts in the presence of fire." Even there, the suffering confessors sensed our prayers, our participation. It fills our soul with joy that Aleksandr Isaievich, who always zealously testified to the sufferings of Russia, was able to witness the gradual spiritual rebirth of our nation, which began twenty years ago, in the year marking the millennial anniversary of the conversion of Russia to Christianity.

For his testimony, for his active love for our traditions and the ideals of Old Russia, for his priceless contribution toward the preservation and increase of our rich Russian culture, which was nurtured by the spirituality of our God-bearing nation, for his service to God and neighbor, we believe that the Lord will bless Aleksandr Isaievich with everlasting rest and peace, and you, dear Natalia Dmitrievna, and your whole family, with help from above, good health and length of days.

May his memory be eternal, and his rest with the saints!

With love in the Lord,

+Hilarion, Metropolitan of Eastern America & New York, First Hierarch of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia.

4 August 2008
Photograph: Solzhenitsyn being bid farewell by his son and grandson.

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!

Monday, August 4, 2008

Hap What Hap May

I am afraid that, after a very short experiment as an outpatient, I have been readmitted to the hospital. I now have only occasional access to my laptop, and even more occasional access to the internet. I will likely need to stay put as an inpatient through most of August.

I am afraid that I will be unable to check my email, either my personal account or the account attached to this blog, for some time. I once again ask for your patience and prayers.

I was very saddened to learn that Alexander Solzhenitsyn reposed yesterday at the age of 89. Please see my previous posts on this great man here, here, and here. He was our greatest contemporary writer and political prophet. If you do nothing else today, read his justlyfamous "Harvard Address," and then purchase a copy of The Solzhenitsyn Reader: New and Essential Writings, 1947-2005. May his memory be eternal!

Photograph: the late Alexander Solzhenitsyn with Fr Alexander Schmemann.