Sunday, April 19, 2009

orthodox easter prison epistle

Today is Orthodox Easter. Christos Voskrese! I feel subtly connected to this day because of my husband's Ukrainian and Russian heritage. The prison aspect of Russia also resonates with me because hubby's great-grandfather had experience with the Russian penal system. After he converted to protestantism (ironically from the Orthodox faith) he was exiled to the nether regions of Russia for some years in the late 1890s.

For those reasons when a link to a "Letter from Butyrskaya Prison - Pascha 1928" hove into my part of the twitterverse, it caught my attention.

In this letter Georgy writes to his uncle Grishanchik (who had emigrated to Paris), from Butyrskaya Prison during the Easter season of 1928. In moving and poetic prose he remembers the last Easter spent with Uncle Grishanchik and Aunt Masha in their home town of Sergiyevskoye -- the Easter of 1918:

"... If you have not forgotten, Easter in 1918 was rather late, and spring was early and very warm, so when in the last weeks of Lent I had to take Aunt Masha to Ferzikovo, the roads were impassable. I remember that trip as now; it was a warm, heavy, and humid day, which consumed the last snow in the forests and gullies faster than the hottest sun; wherever you looked, water, water, and more water, and all the sounds seemed to rise from it, from the burbling and rushing of the streams on all sides to the ceaseless ring of countless larks.

We had to go by sleigh - not on the road, which wound through the half-naked fields in a single muddy ridge, but alongside, carefully choosing the route. Each hoofprint, each track left by the runners, immediately turned into a small muddy stream, busily rushing off somewhere. We drove forever, exhausting the poor horse, and, finally, after successfully eluding the Polivanovo field, one of the most difficult places, I became too bold and got Aunt Masha so mired that I nearly drowned the horse and the sleigh; we had to unharness to pull it out and got wet to the eyebrows; in a word, total 'local color.'”

He goes on to describe how the political changes had begun to impact the family. In the midst of that, came the memorable Holy Week services:
"I remember I walked out of the Sergiyevskoye church at that time overwhelmed by a mass of feelings and sensations, and my earlier spiritual fog seemed a trifle, deserving of no attention. In the great images of the Holy Week services, the horror of man’s sin and the suffering of the Creator leading to the great triumph of the resurrection, I suddenly discovered that eternal, indestructible beginning, which was also in that temporarily quiet spring, hiding in itself the seed of a total renewal of all that lives. The services continued in their stern, rich order; images replaced images, and when, on Holy Saturday, after the singing of “Arise, O Lord,” the deacon, having changed into a white robe, walked into the center of the church to the burial cloth to read the gospel about the resurrection, it seemed to me that we are all equally shaken, that we all feel and pray as one.

In the meantime, spring went on the offensive. When we walked to the Easter matins, the night was humid, heavy clouds covered the sky, and walking through the dark alleys of the linden park, I imagined a motion in the ground, as if innumerable invisible plants were pushing through the earth toward air and light."

He ends by recounting his Easter celebration this year (1928) in his prison cell in Moscow.
"My dear Uncle Grishanchik, as I’ve been writing to you the scattered ringing around Moscow has become a mighty festive peal. Processions have begun, the sounds of firecrackers reach us, one church after another joins the growing din of bells. The wave of sound swells. There! Somewhere entirely nearby, a small church breaks brightly through the common chord with such a joyous, exultant little voice. Sometimes it seems that the tumult has begun to wane, and suddenly a new wave rushes in with unexpected strength, a grand hymn between heaven and earth.

I cannot write any more! That which I now hear is too overwhelming, too good, to try to convey in words. The incontrovertible sermon of the Resurrection seems to rise from this mighty peal of praise. My dear uncle Grishanchik, it is so good in my soul that the only way I can express my spirit is to say to you once again, Christ is Risen!"


As Father Stephen says on his Glory to God For All Things blog where this letter is posted in its entirety: "The triumph of the Resurrection so transcends his prison cell it's a wonder that the walls remained."

Read all of "Letter from Butyrskaya Prison - Pascha 1928"

Hat Tip: @MichaelHyatt


Brendiferous said...

WOW!!!! Now THAT's some writing, hmm? Thank you so much for posting this piece, and for the way you've arranged it all and the spring photo. You must know how much it resonated with me, as well. Bless you, and praise our glorious risen Lord!

violet said...

Thanks for the comment, Brendiferous! Yes, some writing indeed. I love his way with words - the description of the spring, the mud - I was right there! That's partly why I posted it, plus all the blood connection (in-law though they are) I feel with it, and how it illustrates that God's presence can penetrate any dark place.

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