Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn

As I mentioned in a previous post, I need to read more great literature (and have been saying this for far too long). I'm drawn to Russian literature, art, worship, culture, you name it...maybe it's the Kievan blood my great-grandfather Dmente Prokopenko, a.k.a. David Prokof, has given me. Anyhow, I've been enjoying reading the Journals of Father Alexander Schmemann and he writes about his friendship with Solzhenitsyn. This lead me to read Solzhenitsyn's 1978 Harvard Address and in it he makes a statement which resonates deeply with me which I'd like to share. I think it captures the spirit of some of my recent posts.
He is speaking here of the suggestion that the United States might offer a cultural model for the oppressed Russian people. The struggle for "three decades for the people of Eastern Europe" hits home for me, I can remember as a little kid the friends and family coming to the U.S. from Communist Poland to my great-grandma's house and telling us stories of the endless lines one had to stand in for food and the political suspicion they constantly lived under.
I most like this excerpt from Solzhenitsyn's speech because he shows the danger of becoming shallow when we're immersed in leisure and plenty. Of course, we should give abundant thanks to God for all we have, however, this prosperity does not absolve us from pursuing "whatever things are true, noble, just, pure, lovely, of good report, virtuous and praiseworthy."
But should someone ask me whether I would indicate the West such as it is today as a model to my country, frankly I would have to answer negatively. No, I could not recommend your society in its present state as an ideal for the transformation of ours. Through intense suffering our country has now achieved a spiritual development of such intensity that the Western system in its present state of spiritual exhaustion does not look attractive...
Six decades for our people and three decades for the people of Eastern Europe; during that time we have been through a spiritual training far in advance of Western experience. Life's complexity and mortal weight have produced stronger, deeper and more interesting characters than those produced by standardized Western well-being. Therefore if our society were to be transformed into yours, it would mean an improvement in certain aspects, but also a change for the worse on some particularly significant scores. It is true, no doubt, that a society cannot remain in an abyss of lawlessness, as is the case in our country. But it is also demeaning for it to elect such mechanical legalistic smoothness as you have. After the suffering of decades of violence and oppression, the human soul longs for things higher, warmer and purer than those offered by today's mass living habits, introduced by the revolting invasion of publicity, by TV stupor and by intolerable music.
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