Thursday, August 7, 2008

The Lord has loved him

Prophet Isaiah has a short verse: "The Lord has loved him - אהבו ה - HaShem ahevo" (Isaiah 48:14) which has different meanings with regards to liturgical cycles and God's love granted in prayers. This was an essential quotation for the Khazars (see below). I do hope that this verse will now be the share that the Lord will share with His servant Aleksandr Isayevich Solzhenitsyn who passed away on Aug. 3/July 21, 2008. He reposed at the Academy of Sciences in Moscow before being buried in the Donskoi Monastery on August 6th.

Two major aspects of the life of the great Soviet and Russian writer: he was firstly a scientist, a mathematician and a teacher of physics. When he was sent to jail after the war, all his fellow inmates were scientists of high rank, a specificity which is typical for the Soviet culture based on rational sciences and "computerization, calculation, supputation". He was born into a pious family and his mother taught him the articles of the Eastern Orthodox faith. Nonetheless, he followed the normal route of the Soviet atheistic youth and joined the pionners and the Komsomol when he was a teen.

He returned to faith and "repented", converting to the Orthodox faith that is so deeply rooted in the Russian soul and culture. "Repented"? Penance is at the heart of the Russian spiritual ways of reflecting the relationship beteen God and the believers. During all the Eastern Orthodox services, a litany quests: "Grant us to spend the rest of our life in peace and penance, we ask to the Lord - Прочее время живота нашего в мире и покаяний скончати у Господа просим". "Pokaianie/покаяние" refers to some mystic and inscrutable movement of penance from sin to pardon. In Russian, "Kaius'/каюсь" firstly refers to sinful, weird and emotional matters. It does mean "I regret, I confess and repent". It does not sound like Greek "metanoia" which means "conversion" but essentially "a revolving move of conscience (nous)", which is postiive and does not focus on irremediable sin and judgment of awe. Hebrew "teshuvah\תשובה " is the original root and means "response, conversion as an answer to God by renewing one's mind and soul ("shuv\שוב - anew, to rotate). Thus, Solzhenitsyn fundamentally turned to the creed of the Russian Orthodox Church in the context of a full apostasy shown during the atheistic period of the communist system. He repented and this sealed his soul in this tormented and though joyous faith of the Russian Church, marked by violent passions, cruel fates, love and hatred, distress and despair.

He repented and tried to break through this civilization of doomed inmates infected by some unescapable destiny. The Christian Orthodox faith is far more joyful and full of hope. But in his repenting, he became a man of conscience. He took up the horrible burden of apostasy that affected Russian society.It should be noted that Western Churches can hardly reach this point of getting aware of a parallel apostasy during the time of the Nazis. This apostasy happened in christened countries during the Nazi regime.

Indeed, it makes sense that Aleksandr Isayevich slept into death during the celebrations of the 1020th anniversary of the baptism of the Kievan Rus', as the Eastern Orthodox Church celebrated the vigils of Saint Maria Magdalene's feast.

True, Solzhenitsyn was as strong as these immense Russian forests, strong as an ox, which recalls the biblical "oaks and terebinths" and the sacrifices offered in the Temple (cf. Psalm 51:21). No human political, ideological system has ever been able to dissect or cut down the writer. We can say that Aleksandr Isayevich is brought into the Russian earth as he was in the likeness of the Soviet Man by his education, culture, language and speech. He reposes in this Russian soil and his burial prolongs the long-term process of disappearance of the communist system that connects with much subtlety his era with the 21st century.

Solzhenitsyn asked to be buried at the Donskoy Monastery/Донской монастырь. This is a significant sign of the continuum that exists in the development of the Russian Orthodox Church and the Russian culture as a specific walk of civilization. The holy icon of the Lady of the Don had been found in that place. Saint Sergius of Radonezh had his church there. The icon of the Lady of the Don was brought in procession during the famous Kulikovo battle in 1380 and, as a consequence the Tatars left without combating.

Interestingly, the monastery is located on the way to Crimea on a borderline that always faced the challenge to stopping the invaders that often arrived from Asia. The Lithuanian and Polish or Ukrainian cosacks, in particular in the years 1612 and 1628 tried to seize the monastery.

The Donskoi monastery is also linked to the roots of the revival of the Russian Orthodox Church by the time of the Bolshevik Revolution and the re-establishment of the Patriarcate of Moscow. Saint Tikhon was the first patriarch elected just before the revolution. He could not carry out the huge project of spiritual "perestroika" that he highly wanted to implement by launching the council of the Russian Orthodox Church. This project is on hols at the present, but we should note that the Church officially came out only less than 25 years ago. Patriarch Tikhon was imprisoned in the monastery and he remained there. He was killed in 1927 and his relics were found in the monastery in 1989, only one year after the millenium of the baptism of the Rus. This creates a long-term continuum with the destiny of the Russian Orthodox Church and the Russian way to adhere to the creed.

It has often been said that Solzhenitsyn was a Russian nationalist bording some sort of Slavic fanatism or stubborn framing toward other cultures. Indeed, we have the problem in Israel. The Soviet newcomers to Israel usually left their faraway Russian style and walks of living and arrived in Israel, keeping them in mind and a bit afraid of the local Israeli and intercultural situation. Soviets were framed and facing lies in place of truth in the former Soviet Union. In Israel, lies and truth mix but mainly frighten people who jumped from the plane and do not know the world. Say, they know it but reluctantly look at it. They would take the best and the worse. Aleksandr Isayevich, in a repenting move, condemned both the Soviet and Western styles alike with much insights. But this led to a lot of misunderstandings.

His language is composed of sophisticated highly esoteric words and phrases. Russian is very flexible and as many other Indo-European languages (German, Icelandic) allows creating new words by using ancient roots. German went through this system slightly during the Nazi period, by the way. Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn scarcely wrote with the same views. Still, he loved and corrected the Russian dictionary. He enhanced the vocabulary. He acted in accordance with the Slavophile movement that is very ancient, both nationalistic and showing the profound love and connection of the Russian people with their tongue and its dialects. His long life of solitude and "intelligentsia outcast" has influenced his literary insights and increased his abilities to widen the Russian Slavic weltanschauung. Curiously, the most famous and undoubtedly best Russian writer was Aleksandr Pushkin, poet and novelist. His tongue was clear and he could write short as well as long paragraphs. He was of Ethiopian origin...

Solzhenitsyn was a nationalist in the sense that Russians are "lost" when they are cast out and obliged to live "abroad". He was somehow connected in his Slavophile style with Ivan A. Bunin (1870-1953) who was awarded the Nobel Prize of Literature in 1933 and was also a Russian purist and word-creator.

Solzhenitsyn returned to Russia in 1994 as a writer and reporter. He started to analyze the development of the Russian society. He came as an Eastern Orthodox believer, definitely participating in the spiritual reinvigoration of the Russian Orthodox Church. His faith is inscribed in the same line as Hans Urs von Barthasar's views detailed in his broad-minded book "Der Glaube Christi/the Faith OF Christ". The writer could be repenting in the footsteps of the Russian tradition. The link with Hans Urs v. Balthasar is not so subtle in fact. The German theologian highlighted our age and our continuum in history as a positive consequence of the glory of the Cross and the Resurrection that grants us a "surplus of grace" by keeping the human in life.

Aleksandr Isayevich had been touched by the grace of God. God's finger had given him the grace of being cured and saved from cancer and hatred in the society obsessed by destruction and death. We think that everything has been written about the labor camps (GUlag), cancer wards or psychiatric units. Thus, only faith - real and not ritual faith - could help survive beyond personal egos and overcome the indescribable slaughtering of humans.

Is Israeli society concerned by the passing away of the biggest Russian writer of the past 50 years? Israeli media are rather "neutral" and do not thrillingly comment the event. Good enough... Solzhenitsyn was a nationalist and showed at times "anti-Semitic". In his books, the author avoid to describe the sufferings of the Jews as in "A day in the life of Ivan Denisovich" and the only Jewish character is too close to the tormentors. There are some anti-Semitic elements in the "GUlag archipelago" and no statement about the sufferings of the Jews in "August 14".

In fact, Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn had been fashioned in the century-long tradition of rejection and disregard toward the Jews. It is a very delicate and tricky relationship that combines hospitality and live, rejection and hatred, irrational psychotic will of power and erotic attractiveness. These are simply the usual standards. Jews gave Jesus of Nazareth. They also "infected" Holy Russia with the messianic hope of a proletarian international socialism. Marx and Engels, Karl Liebknecht and Rosa Luxemburg entered tzarist Russia via Lenin-Trotsky(Bronstein) and numerous socialist preachers that participated in the creation of the communist party.

How did Solzhenitsyn consider Judaism? How Aleksandr Isayevich, being a Russian Christian Orthodox believer could sympathize with the destiny of the Jews? He did write a book ("Two centuries together") about his views on the rlationships between the Russians and the Jews. At least, he was really courageous to face a problem that is mostly hidden. The emancipation of the Jews after the Revolution evolved into a system of mixed marriages. The screen neutralization of the two nations slowly drowned into in the fraternal realm of the Soviet "comradeship".

I hear all the time a very special and unbelievable statement in the Russian-speaking Israeli society. "We are simply anti-Semitic by nature", declare some simple faithful. This group is often composed of uncertain, low-gear people sitting put on quicksands. Some are more Slavophile and Orthodox than any Russian citizen. Others adapt their style to Israel and slightly depart from Mother Russia. This will be over in one or two decades. But the connection with the former Soviet Union is significant. This is the point.

Israelis will not show much compassionate toward any society that went through some hell that are seemingly similar or parallel. The pogroms, the revolution, all the wars, deportations and psychiatric asylums are carved in the human and spiritual memory of any Israeli of Jewish descent. Some of our citizens are not Jewish and still went through these events. Slowly, the non-Jewish citizens get closer to the meaning of such an experience and they take it over. Thus, Israel has taken up so many Soviet camp survivors that Solzhenitsyn's essential testimony may not be correctly valuated. Too banal; ordinary experience.

Israel must also build up her own Jewish heritage and look forward, not only backward. I often visit the Diaspora Museum (Beyt HaTfutsot\ית התפוצות ) in Tel Aviv with former Soviet-new Israeli citizens. They often show a mal d'etre that must be taken into account. What with the Jews, would they say when the Soviet Union lost 60 million people during World War II? It sounds a bit weird to hear such statements in Israel. They are free to discuss the matter and this is great.

It seems that Solzhenitsyn was never challenged as a historical witness, writer, thinker and believer by the re-emergence of the State of Israel. He knew about the Jews. Israelis were not "real" as inducing an era of ingathering of the exiled.

Today, Israel is the "second Russian country in the world" (L. Putin). This is not exact. Indeed, the Israeli society has been built upon the pattern of East-European and Russian ways of living. Some people will go through great difficulties, as any other tribe coming back to Zion. The Ethiopians have their problems. Pushkin's pupils jump into the building of another collectivity. And this also concerns the way the Israeli Christian Orthodox may participate in a solid structure. Solzhenitsyn noted - as a lot of specialists of Russia did over centuries - that the Russians are too versatile and lack a substantial sense of structuring organization.

How strange! Aleksandr Isayevich is married to Natalya (Svetlova; a nickname = bright). Natalya's mother was Jewish. This means that, according to the Law of Return in force in the State of Israel, she might virtually be able to emigrate to Israel according to the fundamental law of the State. True, this is entirely imaginary... They married in an Orthodox church just after the writer divorced his first wife (Natalya). But this family pattern is just ordinary in Israel. A lot of newcomers arrived in Israel in the same family context as the Solzhenitsyn's. The scenario is really banal though ignored or unknown. Subsequently, Solzhenitsyn's children could potentially become Israeli because their mother is ("ethnically") Jewish. The family is profoundly Christian Orthodox.

At this point, we track back like boomerangs into history and the spiritual development of Russia. From the 7th to the 10th century, the Turkic tribe of the Khazars adopted Judaism. They lived in the South of Russia, the Crimea up to the North of Caucasus. They were known as very pious Jews and had close relationships with the Persian Jews. They strongly influenced the ritual and spiritual tradition of official Judaism as the Spanish theologian Yehudah Halevi wrote in his "Kuzari".

Khazars and Christians had conflicting relationships. Saint Cyril, the Greek apostle of the Slavs, had imposed the Slavic-Slavonic tongue as the liturgical language with the blessing of the patriarch of Constantinople and the bishop of Rome ("Patriarch of the West"; the title was recently suppressed by the Roman Church). He tried but failed to convert the Khazars to Christianity.

When Saint Vladimir/Volodymyr decided to be baptized and obliged his nation to adopt the Christian faith, the Russian Legend accounts that he called the Jews, the Roman Latins, the Muslims. He chose the Greek Byzantine rite or Oriental rite and rejected Judaism and Islam. This rejection developed in the Russian Eastern Orthodox Church into a constant fear of any form of "Judaization" of the Russian creed and rituals.

It may be important to have an Israeli approach to the death of Solzhenitsyn. He is a major writer and witness, a fighter, a man of courageous protest, compelling to reach out to the truth. He combated as a Christian Orthodox believer who raised from the Russian soil. Interestingly, he inherited in the Church the same questions about "the others" that showed from the first commencements of Christendom. How can we teach freedom when people desperately require to be in bondage and afraid of the others.

Interrogated about the personality of A. Solzhenitsyn, Fr. Aleksandr Borisov (Moscow) declared that Aleksandr Isayevich left an important mark in the society. The priest compares the writer to Metropolitan Anthony of Surozh, Fr. Aleksandr Men, Andrei Sakharov, concluding: "He intervened in the moral awakening in Russia. His actions, at this point, have a huge ("colossal") historical dimension" ("Его роль в правственном пробуждении России. В этом его колоссальное историческое значение").

Av Aleksandr

August 8th/July 25th, 2008 - ז באב מנחם תשס"ח

sun eclipse in Siberia (August 2008)

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