Pravmir.com, a Russian site, has published an English translation of an interview given by Archpriest Nikolai Chernyshev, who is identified as “the spiritual father of the Solzhenitsyn family during the final years of the writer’s life.” The interview touches on Aleksandr Solzenitsyn’s upbringing in a deeply religious Russian Orthodox family, his encounter with militant atheism ( … he joined neither the Young Pioneers nor the Komsomol [All-Union Leninist Young Communist League]. The Pioneers would tear off his baptismal cross, but he would put it back on every time). Fr. Chernyshev describes the writer’s later “period of torturous doubt, of rejection of his childhood faith, and of pain.” The priest talks of Solzhenitzyn’s return to the faith after his experience in the Gulag and how “he suffered and fretted about the Church being in a repressed state. For him this was open, obvious, naked, and painful.” Excerpt from the interview:
Today many people remember the writer’s famous “Lenten Letter” to Patriarch Pimen (1972) and say that Solzhenitsyn expected, and even demanded, greater participation by the Church in society. What were his views in this regard at the end of his life?
Fr. Chernyshev: Solzhenitsyn was one of those people who could not remain silent; his voice was always heard. And, of course, he was convinced that the Savior’s words Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature should be fulfilled [Mark 16:15]. One of his convictions, his idea, was that the Church, on the one hand, should naturally be separate from the government, but by no means should be separate from society.
He felt that they are quite different, that they are completely opposite things. Its inseparability from society should become more and more manifest. And here he could not but see the encouraging changes of recent years. He joyfully and gratefully took in everything positive taking place in Russia and in the Church – but he was far from complacent, since all of society had become twisted and sick during the years of Soviet rule.
He understood that if the sick lead the sick, or if the lame lead the lame, then nothing good will come of it. The activity he was calling for, that inseparability from society, should by no means be expressed in violence, in the suppressive structure of thought and action customary of the Soviet era.
He felt that, on the one hand, the Church is called to lead society and to have a more active influence on the life of society – but today this should by no means find expression in those forms used by the ideological machine that broke and mangled people. The situation has changed in recent years – and he could not help but sense new dangers.
Once he was asked what he thought about the freedom for which he had fought and what he felt about what was going on. He replied with a single hammered-out phrase: “There’s plenty of freedom, but little truth.” He keenly perceived the danger of a false substitution – and, therefore, was far from calm.
When he returned to the Motherland and began to travel around Russia, he saw the country’s whole plight – not only the economic side, but also its spiritual condition.
Of course, he saw a fundamental difference between the thirties or fifties and the present state of things. He was not a dissident in a state of constant confrontation with everything. This wasn’t the case. There are people who try to make him into this, but this wasn’t who he was. Despite exposing these terrible societal wounds, there was always a powerful life-affirming force in what he wrote and did. He had a Christian’s positive, life-affirming, and luminous attitude.
Read “There’s Plenty of Freedom, But Little Truth”: Solzhenitsyn Remembered, an interview on Pravmir.com
Read PowerBlog posts related to the life and work of Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn (1918-2008) here.
Read the Religion & Liberty interview with Solzhenitsyn scholar Edward E. Ericson Jr. here.