An unworthy Deacon, named for the brother of God: James, striving to "work out his salvation with fear and trembling" within the Tradition (paradosis) of the Eastern Orthodox Faith. It is a strange and marvelous journey, and I am accompanied by the fourfold fruit of my fecundity. My wife, the Matushka or Diaconissa Sophia, is my beloved partner in the pursuit of Theosis, and she ranks me in every way.
Fell upon Solzhenitsyn's Harvard commencement speech HERE. I'm about half way through it and am enjoying it immensely. I want to finish it before I comment much on it, because I'm anxious to see if he offers some "solutions" to his criticisms of the west - particularly with regard to abuse of freedom and legalism.. What I've heard thus far rings very true to me...a few interesting excerpts that I think are arguably prophetic and more poignant today:
The defense of individual rights has reached such extremes as to make society as a whole defenseless against certain individuals. It is time, in the West, to defend not so much human rights as human obligations.
I do not know where to begin proclaiming the truth of this statement in today's society of extreme political correctness and lawsuits ad nauseam.
Society has turned out to have scarce defense against the abyss of human decadence, for example against the misuse of liberty for moral violence against young people, such as motion pictures full of pornography, crime, and horror. This is all considered to be part of freedom and to be counterbalanced, in theory, by the young people's right not to look and not to accept. Life organized legalistically has thus shown its inability to defend itself against the corrosion of evil.
But what shall we then do? Tighten censorship rules? Impossible...we are too far gone for that. Many of you know my opinion on such matters: the government cannot change our society through legislation, at least not to any large degree.
When a government earnestly undertakes to root out terrorism, public opinion immediately accuses it of violating the terrorist's civil rights. There is quite a number of such cases.
Remember, this was said in 1978.
This tilt of freedom toward evil has come about gradually, but it evidently stems from a humanistic and benevolent concept according to which man ---- the master of the world ---- does not bear any evil within himself, and all the defects of life are caused by misguided social systems, which must therefore be corrected. Yet strangely enough, though the best social conditions have been achieved in the West, there still remains a great deal of crime
So true. Of course fans of fixing social systems will simply say we have not done enough and that is why there is still rampant crime. I think I am going to agree with Solzhenitsyn (if he heads the direction I am thinking) in that social systems are symptoms not causes.
I am going to continue reading and will comment more later...
Freedom cannot possibly be neutral, except in the meaningless abstractions of philosophers. Not even inaction is neutral, for it is itself a choice against known and available options. There is not one square inch of reality that the risen and exalted Lord Christ does not point to and say, "Mine."
The world does not contain its own meaning. It exists derivatively, and therefore it must point beyond itself to its Origin if it is to have any meaning at all.
On the other hand, those who do not understand this are doomed to the everlastingly impossible task of finding ultimate meaning within the world as such. As soon as they make this choice, they put on mind-forged manacles and believe in some kind of -ism: Conservatism, liberalism, totalitarianism, nationalism, populism, environmentalism, and so on.
Now, let's try to understand this correctly: I am not saying that the world is meaningless. I am saying that the world does not contain its OWN meaning. Reality is not self-defining. Either the meaning of everything is precisely and only what the Triune God says it is, or meaning is given by some idol (thus resulting in falsehood, or, most typically, caricature), or meaning does not exist.
So Solzhenitsyn said this in 1978, and that is supposedly prophetic? There were other voices, WAY before him, who were/are similarly ignored. Of course, that's not Solzhenitsyn's fault; my point is that he is merely saying what has been said over and over and over again. It is amazing to me, for example, that Christians do not hear the exact same notes being sounded by the prophets, Christ, and the apostles.
The amazing thing about Solzhenitsyn is that he discovered what so many have said, as Patrick rightly appoints out, from the abyss of Soviet gulags, where those voices had long been snuffed out.
Many people who had been exposed to the great spritual truths, sitting in overstuffed chairs in the West, had long since forgotten them, but Solzhenitsyn, an atheist, had literally nothing to start with except the torments handed to him by his prison guards, and yet he found enough truth in prison to make his way to the Light and to astound the world with the Truth.
Do we not acknowledge in our prayers every day that the Holy Spirit is *everywhere* present? And yet how many have been found worthy to be able to encounter Him in a Soviet labor camp?
What makes it prophetic is that he paid so dearly for saying it and would not stop, when no one else was willing to say it.
Memory Eternal to the Servant of God Alexandr! I thank God for the privilege of having lived to witness such a man.
As another modern prophet once said, "the destiny of man is not measured by material computation. When great forces are on the move in the world, we learn we are spirits--not animals." Solzhenitsyn bore witness to the same truth, and yes, this has been said for centuries, but it is -- alas -- discovered anew in every epoch.
There is much in the Harvard Address that is truly prophetic - remembering that it is not requisite that a prophet's message be original in thought.
There is so much that is beautiful, strong, wise in this man. Do you know this prayer of his?
How easy it is for me to live with you, Lord. How easy it is to believe in you when my mind reels from not understanding, or when my mind weakens– when the most intelligent people cannot think beyond the evening and do not know what must be done tomorrow. You convey to me the lucid assurance that you exist, that you will see to it that not all paths toward good will be closed. At the peak of earthly renown I look back with amazement at that road which by no stretch of the imagination I could have devised– A remarkable road through despair which has led me here where I too have been able to send mankind reflections of your rays– As for what I won’t have time or ability for– This means that you have reserved it for others.
Agreed. I did not mean to minimize either his heroism or the truth of his insights.
I find similar prophetic force in Fr. Schmemann's writings about Orthodoxy in America --- and he is also ignored. Phyletism (officially condemned at the Synod of Constantinople in 1872), and the parallel heresy of jurisdictional jockeying and personal kingdom-building, still abound.
It is interesting, and perhaps you know this better than me, that when he was in Russia, Alexandr S listened carefully to Fr. Alexander's sermons on Radio Free Europe (disclaimer: he may have been broadcast on a similar channel, can't remember). When Solzhenitsyn came here, he was a frequent visitor to Fr. Alexander, but then the relationship blew apart over differences that I could never entirely get my mind around.
Schmemann's journals show him writing a good deal about Solzhenitsyn and the impression I got (it's bee a while) was that Schmemann grew weary of Solzhenitsyn's inability to let go of Russia and his need to save it. I'd have to go back and read it all again...but you definitely see their relationship not wholly working out and Schmemann's preconceived notions of him being a bit smashed upon really getting to know him.
Anyway...I recall this while at the same time seeing that Fr. Alexander 's son serge wrote an article recently entitled:
"Solzhenitsyn in Search of the Russia That Always Eluded Him"
There is a discussion of this at fatherstephen.wordpress.com the August 3rd post. Fr. Shmemann's Journals clearly show an impatience with AS' fixation on a particular future for Russia (and there may have been additional unpublished comments on this and other subjects in the manuscript), but their relationship - from all reports - remained one of mutual respect and appreciation. Let's remember that the Journals were a place of private reflection, much like a diary might remark on private difficulties with an otherwise deep friendship. -- James, Portland
Yes and though I cannot recall blogging about it...I did NOT enjoy reading Schmemann's journals for numerous reasons not the least of which was that I often wondered to what extent he would have wanted me to be doing so.
Sorry, I'm causing us to stray from the topic of Aleksandr to Alexander, but wanted to remark that, upon first reading the Journals, I also had a strong feeling that I was intruding. (And I cringed for the surviving friends of deceased fools not suffered gladly!) But I trusted the family's decision to publish what they did. I recently re-read the Journals and realized how much Fr. Schmemann had affected my thinking about church life and personal life, all for good I believe. -- Jim, Portland