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The life of a remarkable man,
This review is from: Father Arseny 1893-1973: Priest, Prisoner, Spiritual Father (Paperback)
Having stumbled across this book during travels in the Caucuses I found I had come across a book which describes one of the most remarkable men of Soviet Russia.
The book was initially published in the west and smuggled into the Soviet Union due to the state repression of religion and its belief that the late father and his followers were members of a fanatical religious group (a term used often during the Soviet era to describe anyone remotely religious) It was also privately published and distributed amongst his followers and like minded individuals.
The late father was a scholar in art who had been ordained a priest. He was imprisoned during Stalin's most ruthless suppression of religion and transported to a gulag in Siberia where he was to spend 20 years of his life.
The book begins describing the late fathers life at the Gulag. Here it seems there were two main groups, criminals who were sent there for crimes ranging from petty crime to the most dangerous crimes of murder and robbery. Some of the men the father met where without doubt by our standards psychotic, they had raped, murdered and killed many without conscience. The second group were intellectuals, men who had fallen out of favour with the Stalinist regime, usually men who had rubbed party officials the wrong way or who had been condemned with trumped up charges put together by political rivals. These included, doctors, scholars, politicians, artists. There were a smaller group of men who had fought along side Germany in the second world war but they were featured later on in the book.
The first half of the book narrates stories recounted by former inmates at the Gulag who later on became the fathers spiritual childern examples of his generosity, his compassion to others and even of miracles that were performed. The stories give life to the every day life in the gulag, the punishments, the daily toil, how death was an every day event. There are stories such as when the father stood up for a young intellectual who had fallen foul of the criminals and they both ended up serving 3 days in a punishment cell, a punishment in the freezing conditions of Siberia that usually meant certain death. The father prayed and instructed the young man to do likewise and both were saved by the grace of God. The young man was later to become a follower of the father.
The second part of the book narrates the life of the father on his release from the gulag where he lived in a small town and his students who would visit him, some reaching important positions in the Soviet government others becoming men of the cloth themselves. Each story narrates the lives and struggles of the individual and how through prayer and belief in God they were able to overcome the trials they faced.
I found the book a fascinating one (In fact I read it in just over a day) and was personally moved by several of the stories (The husband devoted to his wife, the young man who became a priest in a small town after being a war hero in WW2, how the father reformed a known criminal and prayed for the dying monk) I would recommend reading this book to not only those interested in religion but also who would like to know something of the life of those who lived in the Soviet Union.