Solzhenitsyn to the Patriarch; Zheludkov’s reply, March-April 1972 (25.5)

<<No 25 : 20 May 1972>>

In March 1972 A. I. Solzhenitsyn sent a letter to Pimen, Patriarch of All Russia [note 1]. In answer to the appeal in the Patriarch’s Christmas message to all “Orthodox believers living abroad,” [note 2] that they should instil in their children a love for the Church and strengthen this love by their own good example, Solzhenitsyn writes:

“Why do you call only on these children to be brought up in the Christian faith, why is it only your distant flock that you warn about ‘recognizing slander and lies’ and growing stronger in justice and truth? But we – should we not recognize them? Should we instil in our children love for the Church, or not?”

Solzhenitsyn goes on to write about the difficult position of the church, of faith and of believers in our country. “For every church which functions there are 20 which have been demolished and destroyed irrevocably and 20 which are neglected and defiled. Is there a sight more heart-rending than these skeletons, the property of birds and storekeepers? A church dictatorially directed by atheists is a sight not seen for two thousand years. Do not make us assume, do not force us to think that for the bishops of the Russian Church earthly power is higher than heavenly power, that earthly responsibility is more terrible than responsibility to God?”

Solzhenitsyn indicates the path along which lies the rebirth of the Russian church: sacrifice – in the traditions of early Christianity (“but then they were thrown to the lions, today one can lose only one’s prosperity”).


The priest Sergy Zheludkov, in his answer to this letter written in April 1972, wrote to Solzhenitsyn:

“I must say that in this case your moral sensitivity has, in a positive sense, betrayed you. You have written an indictment which has reached the whole world, and which accuses a man, who is known to be deprived of any opportunity of answering you.

“And you . . . you have not told the whole truth, just a half-truth. The FULL TRUTH is that the legal church organization [in the USSR] is unable to be an ISLAND OF FREEDOM in our strictly uniform and organized society, ruled from the one Centre … We have this system of ours, ruled with strict uniformity, and in it is preserved a remarkable form of alien body – the Russian Church organization. It exists under very rigidly defined conditions. We are not allowed to work for the education of children in the Church, or of adults for that matter, just as we are not allowed to do many other things that are essential to the realization of a life which is genuinely of the church. But what can we do in such a situation ? Say either everything or nothing? Try and go underground, which under the present system is unthinkable? Or somehow the system and use, in the meantime, all the opportunities which are allowed? The Russian hierarchy has taken the second decision. And it is from this that there stems all the evil which you justly describe, and all the evil about which you were silent.

“But there was no other choice . . . That is the FULL TRUTH . . . One of the consequences of your accusatory letter will be the even greater discredit of the Church hierarchy in the eyes of those who do not know the whole truth . . . today you . . . offend the defenceless Patriarch and us – not by slander, but by a well-written half-truth, which can prove, for many, to be more harmful than a downright lie . . . It is easy and safe, Alexander Isayevich, to criticise the bishops; but the real work of Our Lord is genuine difficult …”

In reply to Solzhenitsyn’s appeal for the path of sacrifice, Zheludkov answers: “There ought to be no compulsion to sacrifice and martyrdom in the Christian Church. We have enough voluntary martyrs as it is – both church ones and non-church ones (the distinction is fairly relative)”.



[1] For the full English text of Solzhenitsyn’s letter see in the Sunday Telegraph (London, 9 April 1972) The Russian text is in Possev No 5 and in the Vestnik RSKhD No. 103. which also prints Zheludkov’s reply and Solzhenitsyn’s reply to him, and also a favourable response by a Moscow layman, Felix Karelin.

[2] The text of Pimen’s Christmas message was published (in Russian) in the Journal of the Moscow Patriarchate, Moscow, No. 12, 1971.