November 1916, meditation one


There is no way to do an adequate review of Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn’s November 1916.  I’ve decided to break it in numerous smaller segments so I can reflect on his teachings.  Every page is Truth.

If August 1914was specifically about the encirclement and defeat of Russia, November 1916 explores more of the causes leading to Lenin. There was no fixing Russia.  Solzhenitsyn is clear.  He outlines several probable courses of action, but there was little chance of their being enacted.

Solzhenitsyn continues his “nodal theory of history,” and in these nodes we see tinier knots within the knot.  One of these sub-knots is the problem of the Old Believers, illustrated in a dialogue between Sanya and a chaplain. The Old Believers were Russian Christians who maintained that their traditions were unchanged from time immemorial.  Consequently, they opposed the reforms of Patriarch Nikon.

The Old Believers specific arguments and praxis were often wanting, but the evidence was on their side.  In any case, the Tsars, otherwise orthodox good men, attacked them and relegated them to the edge of society.  As a result, Russia lost its most pious and monarchical section of society. It also lost a fighting segment whose frenzy in battle could have stopped the Communists.

Unfortunately, the Russian establishment (and church) didn’t simply attack the Old Believers’ bodies.  They targeted their souls as well.  Sanya mused: “If they refuse communion–burn them: that was Sofia’s decree. If they take communion under protest–burn them afterward. Lower jaws were wrenched open and the ‘true host’ stuffed down their throats.  For fear of weakening, of accepting the sacrilegious element, they had sometimes set fire to themselves” (Solzhenitsyn 43).

It isn’t surprising that the Old Believers saw the establishment as the Antichrist. Sanya continued his musing by thinking “Maybe we trampled the finest of our race.  Maybe there was no schism.”

From there the narrative moves to an attack on Tolstoy, which is right and proper to do. After the proper bashing of Tolstoy, the priest explains, quite correctly, that war is not the greatest evil.  Tolstoy said abolishing the state, while entailing smaller evils, would get rid of the greatest of evils.  This is not so. The state was created to protect us from violence (53). 

War isn’t the vilest of evils.  “An unjust trial, for instance, that scalds the outraged heart, is viler…Or the ordeal at the hands of a torturer. When you can neither cry out nor fight back….All these things are spiritually dirtier and more terrible than war” (53).

We choose not between war and evil, but peace and evil. War is just a specialized form of evil, limited in time and space.


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