Archive for August 8, 2008

One Day at a Time – Of Good and Evil

I don’t think it possible to belabor Alexander Solzhenitsyn, there is so much that has not been covered of this great man.  The Olympics opening in China today could possibly mute any more of his voice reaching out to the masses, the media will be so taken in with the extravaganza.  After all, 08-08-08 will not come around again and besides it is my birthday.  My mind will be on other matters of celebrating as well.  But for now, I wanted to quote from the Op-ed page of the Wall Street Journal titled “Of Good and Evil” of what the editor wrote on Solzhenitsyn.  Then I will post what I wrote on May 22, 1976 when I was in Moscow Russia, Day 19 of my 36 day tour as a college senior.

“Russians found in Solzhenitsyn, who died Sunday in Moscow at age 89, their own story told with clarity, courage and humanity.  Ivan Shukhov’s prison camp was, in reality, all of the Soviet Union.  When “Gulag Archipelago,” his monumental history of the Soviet penal system, was published in Paris in 1973, Solzhenitsyn made it impossible for serious people anywhere to excuse Stalin’s crimes or the inhumanity of communist totalitarianism.  His documentation showed that the commissars had the blood of 60 million victims on their hands.  Communism’s essence was exposed in relentless detail as slavery, terror and imperialism.”

Zoom back 32 years and this is what I first observed as I had left the airport on a tour bus entering the city of Moscow, the Russia that Solzhenitsyn had left behind:

“…we saw a lot of billboards and statues of pro-Lenin and pro-people.  It shows the striving forward and looking in the distance to the ideal in the future.  The statues show power and strength in their very material and build, they are the only expression of art to speak of that can be seen.  Nothing else of real beauty can be described to be seen that might have existed before 1917.  The only thing of beauty wherever you turn is the onion-domed spires of the once 700 churches in Moscow.  Now, our guide noted with a tinge of pride, there are only 43 churches operating.  I thought that interesting since the first time she gave us a tour of Red Square, she quickly dismissed the subject of the huge icon that used to face out to the square and also said rather quickly that St. Basil’s was a museum now after it had been a den for robbers in the 16th century…”

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Solzhenitsyn’s Purpose According to Natalya

Q: “Life given back to me has not been mine in the full sense: it is built around a purpose,” he [Solzhenitsyn] wrote.  What in your [Natalya Solzhenitsyn] view, has been the core of that purpose?

A: “He himself saw it this way, that God spared him, life was preserved for him, he was not killed in the camps, he was not killed in the army, or by cancer.  Concurrently, he was a witness.  He was born in 1918—born at the same time as the Revolution.  His life mirrored, took place in parallel with, the life of Russia after the Revolution.  He was an unprotected grain in that movement and subject to the wild squalls of Soviet history that he experienced no less than any denizen of that country.  Yet he did not perish, while so many others perished.  He felt it a duty to speak for them, to what he had seen.  He survived, others did not.

For many years he feared greatly he would run out of time, and that is why he did not spare himself, worked tirelessly, and without ceasing.  For some years now he feels a great sense of liberation, and that he has fulfilled in time the chief purpose of his life.”

“Natalya Solzhenitsyn on Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn” Center News, Russian, East European, and Eurasian Center, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, No. 110, Fall 2007.


The following is from my former pastor’s blog in Minneapolis, Minnesota:

Thank You, Lord, for Solzhenitsyn

August 4, 2008  |  By: John Piper
Category: Commentary

Yesterday Alexander Solzhenitsyn died at the age of 89. I pause here on my vacation in the woods of Wisconsin to say, Thank you, heavenly Father, for the inspiration of this man’s life.

No one did more than Solzhenitsyn to expose the horrors of the failed communist experiment in Russia. Hitler’s purge would pale, if such things could pale, when compared to ten times the carnage in Stalin’s gulags.

Solzhenitsyn inspired me because of the suffering he endured and the effect it had on him. Here is the quote that I have not forgotten. It moves me deeply to this day. After his imprisonment in the Russian gulag of Joseph Stalin’s “corrective labor camps” Solzhenitsyn wrote:

It was granted to me to carry away from my prison years on my bent back, which nearly broke beneath its load, this essential experience: how a human being becomes evil and how good. In the intoxication of youthful successes I had felt myself to be infallible, and I was therefore cruel. In the surfeit of power I was a murderer and an oppressor. In my most evil moments I was convinced that I was doing good, and I was well supplied with systematic arguments. It was only when I lay there on rotting prison straw that I sensed within myself the first stirrings of good. Gradually it was disclosed to me that the line separating good and evil passes not through states, nor between classes, nor between political parties either—but right through every human heart—and through all human hearts…. That is why I turn back to the years of my imprisonment and say, sometimes to the astonishment of those about me: “Bless you, prison!” I…have served enough time there. I nourished my soul there, and I say without hesitation: “Bless you, prison, for having been in my life!” (The Gulag Archipelago: 1918-1956, Vol. 2, 615-617)

O that I would be done with murmuring against my tiny prisons. Lord, grant me greater faith to live in the coming day when I will say, “Bless you, all hardship and pain! You have cut me off from the death of prosperous idolatry again and again.”

Thank you, God, for the life and work of Alexander Solzhenitsyn.




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