Tuesday, September 11, 2007

The Gulag Archipelago

At some point this summer, I picked up a copy of Aleksandr I. Solzhenitsyn's The Gulag Archipelago 1918-1956: An Experiment in Literary Investigation (New York: Harper & Row, 1973) at a yard sale. This exposé of Soviet oppression, compiled from the author's own experiences and testimonies of many others, has been popular in the West; but perhaps we have failed to identify with the special suffering of the Russian Church. For those who don't have time to wade through its intimidating 600 pp., here are some key passages about the Communist attack on Orthodox believers (page numbers are in brackets):
[36] In the spring of 1922 the Extraordinary Commission for Struggle Against Counterrevolution, Sabotage, and Speculation, the Cheka, recently renamed the GPU, decided to intervene in church affairs. It was called on to carry out a "church revolution"--to remove the existing leadership and replace it with one which would have only one ear turned to heaven and the other to the Lubyanka. The so-called "Living Church" people seemed to go along with this plan, but without outside help they could not gain control of the church apparatus. For this reason, the Patriarch Tikhon was arrested and two resounding trials were held, followed by the execution in Moscow of those who had publicized the Patriarch's appeal and, in Petrograd, of the Metropolitan Veniamin, who had attempted to hinder the transfer of ecclesiastical power to the "Living Church" group. Here and there in the provincial centers and even further down in the [37] administrative districts, metropolitans and bishops were arrested, and, as always, in the wake of the big fish, followed shoals of smaller fry: archpriests, monks, and deacons. These arrests were not even reported in the press. They also arrested those who refused to swear to support the "Living Church" "renewal" movement.

Men of religion were an inevitable part of every annual "catch," and their silver locks gleamed in every cell and in every prisoner transport en route to the Solovetsky Islands.

From the early twenties on, arrests were also made among groups of theosophists, mystics, spiritualists. . . . Also, religious societies and philosophers . . . . The so-called "Eastern Catholics" . . . . And, of course, ordinary Roman Catholics--Polish Catholic priests, etc.--where arrested, too, as part of the normal course of events.

However, the root destruction of religion in the country, which throughout the twenties and thirties was one of the most important goals of the GPU-NKVD, could be realized only by mass arrests of Orthodox believers. MOnks and nuns, whose black habits had been a distinctive feature of Old Russian life, were intensively rounded up on every hand, placed under arrest, and sent into exile. They arrested and sentenced active laymen. The circles kept getting bigger, as they raked in ordinary believers as well, old people, and particularly women, who were the most stubborn believers of all and who, for many long years to come, would be called "nuns" in transit prisons and in camps.

True, they were supposedly being arrested and tried not for their actual faith but for openly declaring their convictions and for bringing up their children in the same spirit. As Tanya Khodkevich wrote:

You can pray freely
But just so God alone can hear.

(She received a ten-year sentence for these verses.) A person convinced that he possessed spiritual truth was required to conceal it from his own children! In the twenties the religious education of [38] children was classified as a political crime under Article 58-10 of the Code--in other words, counterrevolutionary propaganda! True, one was still permitted to renounce one's religion at one's trial: it didn't often happen but it nonetheless did happen that the father would renounce his religion and remain at home to raise the children while the mother went to the Solovetsky Islands. (Throughout all those years women manifested great firmness in their faith.) All persons convicted of religious activity received tenners, the longest term then given.

(In those years, particularly in 1927, in purging the big cities for the pure society that was coming into being, they sent prostitutes to the Solovetsky Islands along with the "nuns." Those lovers of a sinful earthly life were given three-year sentences under a more lenient article of the Code. . . . Religious prisoners, however, were prohibited from ever returning to their children and their home areas.) . . .

[50] Religious believers, of course, were being arrested uninterruptedly. (There were, nonetheless, certain special dates and peak periods. There was a "night of struggle against religion" in Leningrad on Christmas Eve, 1929, when they arrested a large part of the religious intelligentsia and held them--not just until morning either. And that was certainly no "Christmas tale." [51] Then in February, 1932, again in Leningrad, many churches were closed simultaneously, while, at the same time, large-scale arrests were made among the clergy. And there are still more dates and places, but they haven't been reported to us by anyone.) . . .

[59] There were once again believers, who this time were unwilling to work on Sundays. (They had introduced the five- and the six-day week.) And there were collective farmers sent up for sabotage because they refused to work on religious feast days, as had been their custom in the era of individual farms.

And, always, there were those who refused to become NKVD informers. (Among them were priests who refused to violate the secrecy of the confessional, for the Organs had very quickly discovered how useful it was to learn the content of confessions--the only use they found for religion.) . . .

[86] (In fairness we must not forget the brief reverse wave of priests in 1947. Yes, a miracle! For the first time in thirty years they freed priests! They didn't actually go about seeking them out in camps, but whenever a priest was known to people in freedom, and whenever a name and exact location could be provided, the individual priests in question were sent out to freedom in order to strengthen the church, which at that time was being revived.) . . .

[131] N. Stolyarova recalls an old woman who was her neighbor on the Butyrki bunks in 1937. They kept on interrogating her every night. Two years earlier, a former Metropolitan of the Orthodox Church, who had escaped from exile, had spent a night at her home on his way through Moscow. "But he wasn't the former Metropolitan, he was the Metropolitan! Truly, I was worthy of receiving him." "All right then. To whom did he go when he left Moscow?" "I know, but I won't tell you!" (The Metropolitan had escaped to Finland via an underground railroad of believers.) At first the interrogators took turns, and then they went after her in groups. They shook their fists in the little old woman's face, and she replied: "There is nothing you can do with me even if you cut me into pieces. After all, you are afraid of your bosses, and you are afraid of each other, and you are even afraid of killing me." (They would lose contact with the underground railroad.) "But I am not afraid of anything. I would be glad to be judged by God right this minute." . . .

[322] This case, in Krylenko's opinion, is going to have a "suitable place in the annals of the Russian Revolution." Right there in the annals, indeed! It took one day to wring Kosyrev's neck, but in this case they dragged things out for five whole days.

The principal defendants were: A. D. Samarin (a famous man in Russia, the former chief procurator of the Synod; a man who had tried to liberate the church from the Tsar's yoke, an enemy of Rasputin whom Rasputin had forced out of office); Kuznetsov, Professor of Church Law at Moscow University; the Moscow archpriests Uspensky and Tsvetkov. (The accuser himself had this to say about Tsvetkov: "An important public figure, perhaps the best that the clergy could produce, a philanthropist.")

Their guilt lay in creating the "Moscow Council of United Parishes," which had in turn recruited, from among believers forty to eighty years old, a voluntary guard for the Patriarch (unarmed, of course), which had set up permanent day and night watches in his residence, who were charged with the responsibility, in the event of danger from the authorities to the Patriarch, of assembling the people by ringing the church alarm bells and by telephone, so that a whole crowd might follow wherever the Patriarch might be taken and beg--and there's your counterrevolution for you!--the Council of People's Commissars to release him!

What an ancient Russian--Holy Russian--scheme! To assemble the people by ringing the alarm bells . . . and proceed in a crowd with a petition!

[323] And the accuser was astonished. What danger threatened the Patriarch? Why had plans been made to defend him?

Well, of course, it was really no more than the fact that the Cheka had for two years been conducting extrajudicial reprisals against undesirables, the fact that only a short while before four Red Army men in Kiev had killed the Metropolitan, the fact that the Patriarch's "case had already been worked up and completed, and all that remained was to bring it before the Revtribunal," and "it was only out of concern for the broad masses of workers and peasants, still under the influence of clerical propaganda, that we have left these, our class enemies, alone for the time being." How could Orthodox believers possibly be alarmed on the Patriarch's account? During those two years Patriarch Tikhon had refused to keep silent. He had sent messages to the People's Commissars, to the clergy, and to his flock. His messages were not accepted by the printers but were copied on typewriters (the first samizdat). They exposed the annihilation of the innocents, the ruin of the country. How, therefore, could anyone really be concerned for the Patriarch's life?

A second charge was brought against the defendants. Throughout the country, a census and requisition of church property was taking place (this was in addition to the closing of monasteries and the expropriation of church lands and properties; in question here were liturgical vessels, cups, and candelabra). And the Council of Parishes had disseminated an appeal to believers to resist the requisition, sounding the alarm on the church bells. (And that was natural, after all! That, after all, was how they had defended the churches against the Tatars too!)

And the third charge against them was their incessant, impudent dispatching of petitions to the Council of People's Commissars for relief from the desecration of the churches by local authorities, from crude blasphemy and violations of the law which guaranteed freedom of conscience. Even though no action was taken on these petitions (according to the testimony of Bonch-Bruyevich, administrative officer of the Council of People's Commissars), they had discredited the local authorities.

Taking into consideration all the violations committed by these defendants, what punishment could the accuser possibly demand [324] for these awful crimes? Will not the reader's revolutionary conscience prompt the answer? To be shot, of course. And that is just what, Krylenko did demand--for Samarin and Kuznetsov.

But while they were fussing around with these damned legal formalities, and listening to too many long speeches from too many bourgeois lawyers (speeches which "for technical reasons" we will not cite here), it turned out that capital punishment had been . . . abolished! What a fix! It just couldn't be! What had happened? It developed that Dzerzhinsky had issued this order to the Cheka (the Cheka, without capital punishment?). But had it been extended to the tribunals by the Council of People's Commissars? Not yet. Krylenko cheered up. And he continued to demand execution by shooting, on the following grounds:

"Even if we suppose that the consolidation of the Republic has removed the immediacy of threat from such persons, it seems nonetheless indubitable that in this period of creative effort . . . a purge . . . of the old turncoat leaders . . . is required by revolutionary necessity." And further: "Soviet power is proud of the decree of the Cheka abolishing the death penalty." But this "still does not force us to conclude that the question of the abolition of capital punishment has been decided once and for all . . . for the entire period of Soviet rule."

That was quite prophetic! Capital punishment would return--and very soon too! After all, what a long line still remained to be rubbed out! (Yes, including Krylenko too, and many of his class brothers as well.)

And, indeed, the tribunal was submissive and sentenced Samarin and Kuznetsov to be shot, but they did manage to tack on a recommendation for clemency: to be imprisoned in a concentration camp until the final victory over world imperialism! (They would still be sitting there today!) And as for "the best that the clergy could produce"--his sentence was fifteen years, commuted to five.

Other defendants as well were dragged into this trial in order to add at least a little substance to the charges. Among them were some monks and teachers of Zvenigorod, involved in the Zvenigorod affair in the summer of 1918, but for some reason not brought to trial for a year and a half (or they might have been, but were now being tried again, since it was expedient). [325] That summer some Soviet officials had called on Father Superior Ion at the Zvenigorod monastery and ordered him ("Step lively there!") to turn over to them the holy relics of 5t. Savva. The officials not only smoked inside the church and evidently behind the altar screen as well, and, of course, refused to take off their caps, but one of them took Savva's skull in his hands and began to spit into it, to demonstrate that its sanctity was an illusion. And there were further acts of desecration. This led to the alarm bell being sounded, a popular uprising, and the killing of one or two of the officials. (The others denied having committed any acts of desecration, including the spitting incident, and Krylenko accepted their denials.) Were these officials the ones on trial now? No, the monks.

We beg the reader, throughout, to keep in mind: from 1918 on, our judicial custom determined that every Moscow trial, except, of course, the unjust trial of the Chekists, was by no means an isolated trial of an accidental concatenation of circumstances which had converged by accident; it was a landmark of judicial policy; it was a display-window model whose specifications determined what product was good for the provinces too; it was a standard; it was like that one-and-only model solution up front in the arithmetic book for the schoolchildren to follow
for themselves.

Thus, when we say, "the trial of the churchmen," this must be understood in the multiple plural . . . "many trials." And, in fact, the supreme accuser himself willingly explains: "Such trials have rolled along through almost all the tribunals of the Republic." (What language!) They had taken place not long before in the tribunals in North Dvina, Tver, and Ryazan; in Saratov, Kazan, Ufa, Solvychegodsk, and Tsarevokokshaisk, trials were held of the clergy, the choirs, and the active members of the congregation [326]--representatives of the ungrateful "Orthodox church, liberated by the October Revolution."

The reader will be aware of a conflict here: why did many of these trials occur earlier than the Moscow model? This is simply a shortcoming of our exposition. The judicial and the extrajudicial persecution of the liberated church had begun well back in 1918, and, judging by the Zvenigorod affair, it had already reached a peak of intensity by that summer. In October, 1918, Patriarch Tikhon had protested in a message to the Council of People's Commissars that there was no freedom to preach in the churches and that "many courageous priests have already paid for their preaching with the blood of martyrdom. . . . You have laid your hands on church property collected by generations of believers, and you have not hesitated to violate their posthumous intent." (The People's Commissars did not, of course, read the message, but the members of their administrative stalf must have had a good laugh: Now they've really got something to reproach us with--posthumous intent! We sh-t on your ancestors! We are only interested in descendants.) "They are executing bishops, priests, monks, and nuns who are guilty of nothing, on the basis of indiscriminate charges of indefinite and vaguely counterrevolutionary offenses." True, with the approach of Denikin and Kolchak, this was stopped, so as to make it easier for Orthodox believers to defend the Revolution. But hardly had the Civil War begun to die down than they took up their cudgels against the church again, and the cases started rolling through the tribunals once more. In 1920 they struck at the Trinity-St. Sergius Monastery and went straight to the holy relics of that chauvinist Sergius of Radonezh, and hauled them off to a Moscow museum.

[327] The People's Commissariat of Justice issued a directive, dated August 25, 1920, for the liquidation of relics of all kinds, since they were a significant obstacle to the resplendent movement toward a new, just society.

Pursuing further Krylenko's own selection of cases, let us also examine the case tried in the Verkhtrib--in other words, the Supreme Tribunal. (How affectionately they abbreviated words within their intimate circle, but how they roared out for us little insects: "Rise! The court is in session!")
This is already quite long, so I'll save for another post the last segment--a rather lengthy excerpt about the trials involving famine and the seizure of church valuables.

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