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Today is the Feast of the Annunciation, previously discussed here, when the Ghvtismshobeli was addressed by the angel Gabriel and told of her destiny as the Mother of God.

This is one of my favourite hymns for this feast, although it is not Georgian. Called “The Pre-Eternal Council” or “Sovet Prevechny”, it was written by Russian composer Pavel Chesnokov.

Gabriel stood before thee, O Maiden,
Revealing the pre-eternal counsel,
Saluting thee and exclaiming:
“Rejoice, O earth unsown!
Rejoice, O bush unburnt!
Rejoice, O depth hard to fathom!
Rejoice, O bridge leading to the heavens
and lofty ladder, which Jacob beheld!
Rejoice, O divine jar of Manna!
Rejoice, annulment of the curse!
Rejoice, restoration of Adam:
the Lord is with thee!

Sovet prevechnyi otkryvaya Tebe Otrokovice,

Gavriil predsta,

Tebe lobzaya i veshaya:

“Raduisya, zemle nenaseyannaya:

Raduisya, kupino neopalimaya:

Raduisya, glubino neudobozrimaya:

Raduisya, moste k Nebesem privodyai,

i lestvice vysokaya, yuzhe Iakov vide:

Raduisya, Bozhestvennaya stamno manny:

Raduisya, razreshenie klyatvy:

Raduisya, Adamovo vozzvanie,

s Toboyu Gospod’ “

Pavel Chesnokov’s  biography by Robert Cummings states;

Pavel Chesnokov was arguably the foremost Russian composer of sacred choral works during his time. He wrote around 500 choral works, about 400 of them sacred. Chesnokov was a devout follower of the Russian Orthodox Church and was inspired to write most of his works for worship in that faith. His best-known composition, one of the few works he is remembered for today, is Salvation is Created, a Communion hymn based on a Ukrainian chant melody. During the Soviet era, Chesnokov was better known as a choral conductor than composer. Indeed, he was praised, even by the Soviets, for his skills in choral conducting, though they remained hostile to his sacred music throughout his lifetime…….. 

…..Pavel Chesnokov was born into a musical family on October 12, 1877. His education was extensive: his first advanced studies were at the Moscow School of Church Music (he graduated in 1895); he next worked privately with composer Sergey Tanayev and later studied at the Moscow Conservatory (graduating in 1917), where his list of teachers included Mikhail Ippolitov-Ivanov. In the end, Chesnokov would go down as one of the most highly trained musicians in Russia, having spent years studying solfège, composition, piano, and violin.

But Chesnokov was not just a student during these years: he taught choral conducting in Moscow, served as choirmaster or conductor at several prominent schools and choirs (most notably the Russian Choral Society Choir), and most importantly, composed a spate of sacred choral works, including his most popular, Salvation is Created (1912). After the Bolshevik Revolution, Chesnokov was forced to abandon composition of sacred music, owing to sanction against such activity by the anti-religious Soviets. He thus embarked on composition in the secular choral realm.

From 1920, Chesnokov headed a choral conducting program at the Moscow Conservatory. He also remained busy, regularly conducting the choirs of the Bolshoi Theater and Moscow Academy. In addition, Chesnokov became the choirmaster at Christ the Savior Cathedral. In 1933, however, on orders from Stalin, the cathedral was demolished to make way for construction of a skyscraper that would never be built. Chesnokov became so distraught over the cathedral’s destruction that he stopped composing altogether. He continued teaching and conducting various choirs in Moscow until his death there on March 14, 1944.

Christ the Saviour Cathedral in Moscow was reconstructed in the 1990’s. The history of the demolition is heartbreaking, if not a little ridicuous;

“Under the state atheism espoused by the USSR, many “church institution[s] at [the] local, diocesan or national level were systematically destroyed” in the 1921-1928 antireligious campaign. As a result, after the Revolution and, more specifically, the death of Vladimir Lenin, the prominent site of the cathedral was chosen by the Soviet leader Joseph Stalin as the site for a monument to socialism known as the Palace of the Soviets. This monument was to rise in modernistic, buttressed tiers to support a gigantic statue of Lenin perched on top of a dome with his arm raised in the air.

The economic development in Russia during the 1930s required more funds than the government had at the time. On 24 February 1930, the economic department of the OGPU sent a letter to the Chairman of the Central Executive Committee asking to remove the golden domes of the Christ the Saviour Cathedral. The letter noted that the dome of the church contained over 20 tons of gold of “excellent quality”, and that the cathedral represented an “unnecessary luxury for the Soviet Union, and the withdrawal of the gold would make a great contribution to the industrialization of the country.” The People’s Commissariat of Finance did not object to this proposal.[5]

On 5 December 1931, by order of Stalin’s minister Kaganovich, the Cathedral of Christ the Saviour was dynamited and reduced to rubble. It took more than a year to clear the debris from the site. Some of the marble from the walls and marble benches from the cathedral were used in nearby Moscow Metro stations. The original marble high reliefs were preserved and are now on display at the Donskoy Monastery. For a long time, these were the only reminders of the largest Orthodox church ever built.

The construction of the Palace of Soviets was interrupted owing to a lack of funds, problems with flooding from the nearby Moskva River, and the outbreak of war. The flooded foundation hole remained on the site until, under Nikita Khrushchev, it was transformed into the world’s largest open air swimming pool, named Moskva Pool.”

From Wikipedia

For those with Georgian language competence, this short documentary from the Georgian Patriarchate’s Ertsulovneba TV Station examines the Annunciation and contains many traditional Georgian hymns for this feast.

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Today is the feast of Ghvtismshobloba, the Nativity of the Virgin Mary, which I have referred to previously here.

Coincidentally, it is the commemoration of two Georgian monks who laboured diligently in the dark days between the Soviet invasion of 1921 and their eventual repose in the late 1950’s. Working closely with crypto-Christians within the Soviet government, they were able to keep the flame of faith alive in Georgia despite persecution by both Stalinist and Krushchev regimes.

Persecution of the Church was most pronounced in the 1920’s and 1930’s. The German invasion of the Soviet Union during the Second World War prompted a modest liberalisation of religious freedoms by the Stalinist government; observing that German occupiers of Ukraine and Belarus had emancipated both Orthodox and Roman Catholic churches to an extent, the Soviet government decided that permitting limited religious activity was necessary for maintenance of morale and national cohesion, lest the Germans win over hearts and minds of the millions of crypto-Christians of the Soviet Union.

The death of Stalin in 1953 prompted a reverse of this policy and new repressions of the Church in Georgia and elsewhere in the Soviet Union. When one hears senior Georgian clergy expressing admiration of Stalin, this may seem confusing due to Stalin’s earlier vicious persecution of the Church, but it must be borne in mind that many clergy were genuinely grateful for Stalin’s re-institution of the Church during the war, and that most older clergy in Georgia were raised during the period of Stalin’s personality cult. It is only human nature that some element of awe associated with a Georgian peasant rising to rule the Soviet Union and defeating the Nazis will persist, even amongst those who suffered persecution.

Both saints faced physical peril during their lives as a result of their commitment to God; Saint Ioane was shot and left for dead by the Bolsheviks,, and Saint Giorgi-Ioane was badly beaten in 1924 by communist agents. Saint Giorgi-Ioane was personal secretary to Saint Ilia the Righteous, and a close associate of the martyr Bishop Nazar, so he served as a vital link between the great religious and social figures of Georgian society in the pre-Communist period and the modern era. Saint Ioane was well acquainted with Patriarch Ilia II, the current Patriarch of the Georgian Church.

 Archimandrite Ioane (Vasil Maisuradze in the world) was born in the town of Tskhinvali in Samachablo ( South Ossetia) around 1882. He was raised in a peasant family and taught to perform all kinds of handiwork. Vasil was barely in his teens when he helped Father Spiridon (Ketiladze), the main priest at Betania Monastery, to restore the monastery between 1894 and 1896.

From his youth Vasil was eager to enter the monastic life, and in 1903, according to God’s will, he moved to the Skete of Saint John the Theologian at Iveron Monastery on Mount Athos. Among the brothers he was distinguished for his simplicity and obedience. He was tonsured a monk and named Ioane (John)  in honor of Saint John the Theologian, whom he revered deeply and sought to emulate.

The monk Ioane was soon ordained to the priesthood. Throughout his life the holy father dedicated himself to serving God and his brothers in Christ in hopes that his own life might be fruitful for them.

Father Ioane remained on Mount Athos for seventeen years. Then, due to the increasingly troubling circumstances there, he left the Holy Mountain with the other Georgian monks sometime between 1920 and 1921. He settled at Armazi Monastery outside of Mtskheta, where the Bolsheviks had left just one monk to labor in solitude. Once a band of armed Chekists broke into the monastery, led both Father John and the other monk away, and shot them in the back.

Believing them to be dead, they tossed them in a nearby gorge. A group of people later discovered Father Ioane’s nearly lifeless body and brought it to Samtavro Monastery in Mtskheta. The other monk suffered only minor injuries and returned to the monastery on his own.


Saint Ioane the Confessor of Georgia

When his health had been restored, Father Ioane went to Betania Monastery, where his first spiritual father was still laboring. He was appointed abbot shortly thereafter. Accustomed to hard work from his childhood, he skillfully administered the agricultural labors of the monastery. When visitors came to the monastery seeking advice or solace, Father John welcomed them warmly, spreading a festal meal before them. He enjoyed spending time with his guests, especially with children.

It is said that he always had candy or a special treat to give to the little ones. The children loved him so much that on the feast of Saint John the Theologian, while he was sprinkling the church with holy water, they skipped around him and tried to tousle his hair. The children’s parents were ashamed, but Father John cheerfully assured them that it was fitting to be so joyous on a feast day.

Truly Father Ioane was endowed with a deep love for young people, and he was also blessed with the divine gifts of prophecy and wonder-working. Once a certain Irakli Ghudushauri, a student at Moscow Theological Seminary, visited him at the monastery. Father Ioane received him with exceptional warmth, blessing him with tears of rejoicing. This student would later become Catholicos-Patriarch Ilia II, the beloved shepherd who continues to lead the flock of the Georgian faithful to this very day.

Father Ioane disciplined himself severely. He worked hard all day and slept on a single piece of wood. He would spend entire nights praying. Many wondered when he rested and where he had acquired such a seemingly infinite supply of energy.

Occasionally thieves would steal food or domestic animals from the monastery. But the monastery also had many protectors, even within the Soviet government. A group of Christians who worked for the government while secretly practicing their faith supported Father Ioane and Father Giorgi (Mkheidze) (see below), explaining and justifying them to the government as “guardians of a national cultural monument.”

Many of the miracles performed by Father Ioane are known to us today, though he was wary of receiving honor for his deeds. Fathers Ioane and Giorgi healed the deaf, and many of the terminally ill were brought to them for healing. After spending several days in the monastery, the infirm would miraculously be cleansed of their diseases. Father Ioane bore the heaviest workload in the monastery. He sympathized deeply with Father Giorgi, who was ailing physically and unfit for strenuous labour. But Father Ioane departed this life before Father Giorgi. Father Ioane became ill and reposed in 1957, at the age of seventy-five. He was buried at Betania Monastery.


St Giorgi-Ioane, Confessor of Georgia

Father Giorgi (Mkheidze) was born in the village of Skhvava in the Racha region around 1877. He received a military education—a highly esteemed commodity among the Georgian aristocracy—but instead of pursuing a military career in defense of the Russian empire, he dedicated himself to Georgia’s national liberation movement. At one point the pious and learned George worked for Saint Ilia the Righteous as his personal secretary. He often met Saint Ilia’s spiritual father, the holy hierarch Alexandre (Okropiridze), and the holy hieromartyr Nazar (Lezhava), and hwas acquainted with other important spiritual leaders of the time as well.

Desiring to sacrifice his life to God, Giorgi was tonsured into monasticism by the holy hieromartyr Nazar. His rare character combined a nobleman’s deportment with a monk’s humble asceticism. Father Giorgi was ordained a priest and soon after elevated to the rank of archimandrite.

Filled with divine love and patriotic sentiment, the holy father willingly endured the heavy burdens and spiritual tribulations afflicting his country at that time.

In 1924, while Father Giorgi was laboring at Khirsa Monastery in Kakheti in eastern Georgia, an armed Chekist mob broke into the monastery. The perpetrators beat him, cut off his hair, shaved his beard, and threatened to take his life. He sought refuge with his family, but to no avail—his brothers, who were atheists, shaved off his beard while he was sleeping. (One of Father Giorgi’s brothers later committed suicide, and the other, together with his wife, was shot to death by the Chekists.) In the same year, Father Giorgi visited Betania Monastery and was introduced to Father Ioane (Maisuradze), with whom he would labor for the remainder of his life.

Father Giorgi’s health was poor, and he was able to perform only the lightest of tasks around the monastery. He tended the vegetable garden and took responsibility for raising the bees. He was extremely generous. At times he would give all the monastery’s food to the needy, assuring Father Ioane that God Himself would provide their daily bread.

 Tall, thin, and with an upright posture, Father Giorgi was strict in both appearance and demeanor. He spoke very little with other people, and children did not play with him as they did with Father Ioane. Knowing his character, they tried to please him by reciting prayers and behaving themselves. Father Giorgi did not like to leave the monastery, but it was often necessary for him to travel to Tbilisi to visit his spiritual children— among whom were many secret Christians who worked for the government.

Father Giorgi was endowed with the gifts of prophecy and healing, but he was careful to hide them. When constrained to reveal them, he would pass them off as though they were nothing extraordinary. Once a certain pilgrim arrived at the monastery and was surprised to discover that Father Giorgi knew him by name. Sensing his great amazement, Father Giorgi told the pilgrim that he had attended his baptism some thirty years earlier, thus concealing his God-given gift. Father Giorgi knew in advance when his nephew was bringing his sisters, whom he had not seen in forty-eight years, to visit him at the monastery during Great Lent. Enlightened with this foreknowledge, Father Giorgi prepared fish and a festal meal in honor of the occasion.

The prayers of Father Giorgi and Father Ioane healed the former’s nephew, who was afflicted by a deadly strain of meningitis. They restored hearing to a deaf child and healed many others of their bodily infirmities.

In 1957, when Father Ioane reposed in the Lord, Father Giorgi was tonsured into the great schema. He was given the name Ioane in honor of his newly departed spiritual brother. Father Giorgi-Ioane now bore full responsibility for the affairs of the monastery. His health deteriorated further under the weight of this heavy yoke. His spiritual children began to come from the city to care for him.

Once a twenty-year-old girl arrived at the monastery, complaining of incessant headaches. She had been told that the water from Betania Monastery would heal her. She remained there for one week and was miraculously healed. When she left to return home, Father Giorgi-Ioane walked five miles to see her off, in spite of his physical frailty.

The Theotokos appeared to Father Giorgi-Ioane in a vision and relieved his terrible physical pain. The protomartyr Thekla also appeared to him, presenting him with a bunch of grapes. Several days before his repose, the holy father was in the city when an angel appeared to him and announced his imminent repose. The angel told him to return to the monastery to prepare for his departure from this world.

Saint Giorgi-Ioane (Mkheidze) reposed in 1960. He was buried at Betania Monastery, next to Father Ioane (Maisuradze). These venerable fathers were canonized on September 18, 2003, at a council of the Holy Synod under the spiritual leadership of His Holiness Ilia II, Catholicos-Patriarch of All Georgia. Fathers Ioane and Giorgi-Ioane have been lovingly deemed “one soul in two bodies.

From ‘Lives of the Georgian Saints” by Archpriest Zacharaiah Machitadze, Saint Hermanns Press.

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It has long been a source of annoyance to some people, local and foreign, that the Georgian government provides funding to the Georgian Church. For those coming from countries with a complete separation between Church and State, such as France or the United States, it is a very unfamiliar situation. For people coming from countries with an official State Church, such as the United Kingdom or Denmark, it is a more familiar situation.

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The relationship between Church and State in Georgia is an interesting one. The Republic of Georgia is a secular state without a State Church. Unlike other states, there are no seats in parliament allocated to bishops or other religious leaders (as is the case in the United Kingdom and China). However, the Church has a very large role in people’s lives and State leaders not infrequently canvass the opinion of the Patriarch and bishops when determining policy directions.

In 2002, a Concordat (agreement) was signed between the Georgian State and the Georgian Orthodox Church (more formally known as The Georgian Apostolic Autocephalous Orthodox Church (Georgian:საქართველოს სამოციქულო ავტოკეფალური მართლმადიდებელი ეკლესია,sak’art’velos samots’ik’ulo avt’okep’aluri mart’lmadidebeli eklesia).  The terms of this agreement were:

(1) The agreement confirmed that all churches and monasteries on Georgian territory are owned by the Georgian Church, with the exception of those in private hands.

(2) The agreement recognises the special role of the Georgian Church in Georgian history and devolves authority over all religious matters to the Georgian Church.

(3) The agreement grants the Patriarch immunity from prosecution and exempts clergy from the Georgian Church from compulsory military service.

(4) The agreement grants the Georgian Church an exclusive role in operating the military chaplaincy.

(5) The agreement grants the Georgian Church a substantial advisory role in government, particularly in the educational sphere.

(6) The agreement recognises the validity of marriages performed in the Church (while still requiring government registration for legal issues).

(7) As a partial owner of assets confiscated by Soviet authorities during the Soviet rule of Georgia (1921-1991), the State agrees to compensate, at least in part, the Georgian Church for its financial and asset losses incurred during that period. 

The seventh point is an interesting one.

The Concordat was agreed in 2002 between His Holiness Patriarch Ilia II and President Eduard Shevardnadze. The President was from a Gurian Bolshevik family with revolutionary credentials, and in addition to having been Foreign Minister of the Soviet Union, he had also been the First Secretary of the Georgian Communist Party (the de facto Head of State of the Georgian Soviet Socialist Republic (GSSR)). The Party which he had headed had in the past engaged in atrocities and persecution of Georgian Christians, but a mere 11 years after the collapse of the Soviet Union and in the immediate aftermath of a brutal civil war, Shevardnadze was not willing to admit substantial responsibility for past misdeeds of his former Party or government.

From the 1990’s to the current day, most of the political and business elite in Georgia were children or close relatives of Communist Party officials, or had developed a power base in the Komsomol (  All-Union Leninist Young Communist League  ). During the Soviet era, identifying publicly as an Orthodox Christian had serious consequences; one could not join the Party or Komsomol, admission to universities was almost impossible, and promotion within State bodies was seriously hampered. Hence, when Georgia became independent, very few of the political elite or intelligentsia came from openly practicing Christian families, and many had engaged in discrimination or persecution of Christians during their official duties prior to 1991. Faced with a resurgent Church, the elite needed to make some compromises with the Church, lest their own conduct and the conduct of their families in the past be brought to light. Church and State negotiated the best deal they could realistically get at the time. With the chaos of the 1990’s in such recent memory, the Church also was wary of going after Communists for compensation and justice too vigourously lest the delicate political balance established be upset.

The Bolshevik takeover of Georgia in 1921 was followed by serious persecution of the Church, as mentioned in my posts before, here, and here. Many thousands of clergy were murdered or exiled to labour camps where they died of disease, cold or malnutrition. Tens of thousands of ordinary Orthodox Christian laity likewise were murdered for their faith, or died in prison camps. Hundreds of thousands had their lives and careers ruined by persecution and discrimination by Communist authorities. To date, not one cent of compensation has been paid to the Church for the wrongful deaths of its martyred clergy. Likewise, the families of martyred laity have yet to receive any compensation. As a successor regime to the GSSR, the Government of the Republic of Georgia bears responsibility for achieving justice for those wronged by its predecessor, but to date nobody has had the courage to do so. Given that many of the elite have family members complicit in past atrocities and persecution, this is not surprising.

It is therefore perplexing to Georgian Orthodox Christians when local secularists and foreigners complain about State funding of the Church. A local article disclosing financial transfers from the State Treasury to the Church can be found here . I cannot vouch for the veracity or otherwise of those figures but they appear to be based on valid government records; a total of GEL200 million since independence is suggested. Given that the new Parliament House in Kutaisi alone has cost over GEL325 million since work started in 2012, the Church’s subventions are a rather minor part of State expenditures in comparison.

In 1921, the Georgian Church was the largest single landowner in the country; that land was confiscated and most of it has not been returned. No formal mechanism of restitution for these assets has been settled upon. Seventy years worth of lost revenue from those assets has also not been considered.

Hundreds of temples and monasteries were razed to the ground by the Bolksheviks;  State funding for the building of new temples and renovation of old structures is hence an appropriate measure of compensation under the terms of the Concordat. Anyone walking around a temple on Sunday morning in any town or village in Georgia can attest to the overcrowding that is routine, with many hundreds of people often standing in the rain or snow outside for services at Feasts. Hence, State support for such construction activities is a compensation payment rather than a subsidy per se.

Some State funds provided to the Church are dedicated to the Church’s charitable activities, such as its hospitals, orphanages, educational facilities and charitable funds, such as the Lazarus Fund. As the most trusted institution in the country, government officials obviously consider subvention of Church charity work to be a worthwhile use of public funds.

Some Georgian political parties have lobbied for the Concordat to be superseded by the Georgian Church becoming an official State Church and therefore an arm of the State.  To date the Patriarch has rejected this concept, saying that he would prefer the existing arrangement to be implemented more fully. No doubt the Church hierarchs are aware that countries with State Churches tend to suffer decreasing levels of religiosity amongst the laity. Likewise,  they are aware of the Georgian Church’s forcible incorporation into the Holy Synod of the Church of Russia in the early 19th century, where as an arm of the official State Church they were ruled by Russian civil servants instead of bishops. The experience was not a happy one and clergy are aware that the Church needs a certain level of autonomy from the State to fulfil its mission faithfully. The freedom for clergy to occasionally criticise State policy where appropriate can only be preserved if the Church is not an arm of the State.

Personally, I believe that a one-off property settlement between Church and State would be preferable to ongoing year-by-year subvention, as this would allow the Church to be financially independent of the State and to faithfully fulfil its mission without fear of of State officials cutting off funds when displeased. Other Georgian Orthodox Christians will have opinions very different to mine of course.

 

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Should at any time we feel ourselves to be alone, or for the secular world to be so overwhelming and powerful as to render spiritual life redundant, we can reflect on the difficulties of our predecessors and be inspired by their cheerfulness and joy in the face of tremendous privations.

As mentioned before, the mid 1920’s was a period of ferocious attacks upon the Church by the Bolsheviks, both clergy and laity. Many of the faithful were executed or imprisoned in the Gulag for extended periods on nonsensical charges. The Solovetsky Island concentration camp (Solovki for short), formerly a remote monastery on an island in the White Sea region of Russia’s far north, was reserved for particularly “recalcitrant” prisoners, in particular priests from throughout the Soviet Union, including the newly annexed Georgian Soviet Socialist Republic. Conditions were brutal and fatalities commonplace.

This letter from Bishop Maxim of Serpukhov, a Russian priest, is a moving testament to the resilience and cheerfulness of interned clergy during tremendous oppression. The Paschal context of his letter is poignant for us this week.

At Solovki we had several secret Catacomb “churches,” but our “favorites” were two: the “Cathedral Church” of the Holy Trinity, and the church of St. Nicholas the Wonderworker. The first was a small clearing in the midst of a dense forest in the direction of the “Savvaty” Assignment Area. The dome of this church was the sky, The wails were the birch forest. The church of St. Nicholas was located in the deep forest towards the “Muksolm” Assignment Area, It was a thicket naturally formed by seven large spruces. Most frequently the secret services were conducted only in the summer, on great feasts and, with special solemnity, on the Day of Pentecost. But sometimes, depending on circumstances, doubly secret services were celebrated also in other places. Thus, for example, on Great Thursday of 1929, the service of the reading of the Twelve Gospels was celebrated in our physicians’ cell in the 10th Company, Vladika Victor and Fr. Nicholas came to us as if for disinfection. Then, catacomb style, they served the church service with the door bolted. On Great Friday an order was read in all Companies informing that for the next three days no one would be allowed to leave the Companies after 8 p.m. save in exceptional circumstances and by special written permit of the Camp Commandant.

At 7 p.m. on Friday, when we physicians had just returned to our cells after a 12-hour workday, Fr. Nicholas came to us and told us that a Plashchanitsa (burial shroud with the image of Christ) the size of one’s palm had been painted by the artist R. The service-the rite of burial–was to be held and would begin in an hour. “Where?” Vladika Maxim asked. “In the great box for drying fish which is closest to the forest, next to Camp N. The password: three knocks and then two. It’s better to come one at a time.”

In half an hour Vladika Maxim and I left our Company and started out for the indicated “address.” Twice patrols asked for our permits. We, as physicians, had them. But what about the others?–Vladika Victor, Vladika Ilarion, Vladika Nektary, and Fr. Nicholas? Vladika Victor worked as-a bookkeeper in the rope factory. Vladika Nektary was a fisherman; and the others weaved nets. Here was the edge of the forest. Here was the box, about nine yards long, without windows, the door scarcely noticeable. Light twilight, the sky covered with dark clouds. We knock three times and then twice. Fr. Nicholas opens. Vladika Victor and Vladika Ilarion are already here… In a few minutes Vladika Nektary also comes. The interior of the box has been converted into a church. On the floor, on the wails, spruce branches. Several candles flickering. Small paper icons. The small Plashanitsa is buried in green branches. Ten people have come to pray. Later another four or five come, of whom two are monks. The service begins, in a whisper. It seemed that we had no bodies, but were only souls. Nothing distracted or interfered with prayer… I don’t remember how we went “home,” i.e., to our Companies. The Lord covered us!

The bright service of Pascha was assigned to our physicians’ cell. Towards midnight under various urgent pretexts arranged by the section, without any kind of written permit, all who intended to come gathered, about fifteen people in all. After the Matins and Liturgy, we sat down and broke the fast. On the table were Paschal cake and cheese, colored eggs, cold dishes, wine (liquid yeast with cranberry extract and sugar). About three o’clock we parted.

Control rounds of our Company were made by the Camp Commandant before and after the services, at 11 p.m. and  4 a.m. Finding us four physicians headed by Vladika Maxim, on his last round, the Commandant said: “What doctors, you’re not sleeping?” And immediately he added: “Such a night…and one doesn’t want to sleep!” And he left.

“Lord Jesus Christ! We thank Thee for the miracle of Thy mercy and power,” pronounced Vladika Maxim movingly, expressing our common feelings.

The white night of Solovki was nearing its end. The delicate, rose-colored Paschal morning of Solovki, the sun playing for joy, greeted the monastery-concentration camp, converting it into the invisible city of Kitezh and filling our free Souls with a quiet, unearthly joy. 

 

 

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John Sanidopoulos’ excellent “Mystagogy” blog alerted me to this ignoble anniversary.  We should be grateful that this ugly programme failed, while remembering those who were martyred during those terrible times and those who suffer still for their faith in China, North Korea and Vietnam.

1929 magazine showing Jesus being dumped from a wheelbarrel by a muscular industrial worker; the text suggests that Industrialization Day can be a replacement of the Christian Transfiguration Day.

May 15, 2012
 
On Tuesday, there will be 80 years since the Soviet government issued a decree on the “atheistic five-year plan.”
 
Stalin set a goal: the name of God should be forgotten on the territory of the whole country by May 1, 1937, the article posted by the Foma website says.
 
Over 5 million militant atheists were living in the country then. Anti-religious universities – special educational establishments for training people for decisive attack against religion – were organized.
 
According to the plan on religion liquidation, all churches and prayer houses should have been closed by 1932-1933, all religious traditions implanted by literature and family by 1933-1934, it was planned that the country, and firstly youth, would be grasped by total anti-religious propaganda by 1934-1935, clerics were to eliminated by 1935-1936, and the very memory about God should have disappeared from life by 1937.
 
However, the census of 1937, where a question about religion was included on Stalin’s instruction, puzzled Bolsheviks: 84% of 30 million illiterate USSR citizens aged over 16 said they were believers; the same was said by 45% of 68.5 million literate citizens.
 
Churches were again closed in big numbers in 1937. About ten thousand churches were closed in 1935-1936, eight thousand in 1937, over six thousand in 1938. According to the modern data, about 350-400 churches from pre-revolutionary churches were open in the early war years.
 
When bishops were arrested, Metropolitan Sergy (Stragorodsky) had to dissolve the temporary Synod on May 10 and administer all dioceses with the help of his vicar bishop and chancellery, which included a secretary and a typist.

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