Friday, September 7, 2012

I love this man

We have to hand it to Christian Orthodoxy for its honest willingness to make room for non-conformity. Unlike other forms of religion, Christian or not, that allow, nay, even demand, that their followers put up with all kinds of immoral and irrational individualism in their midst, Orthodox inclusiveness and its live-and-let-live mentality is not based on ethical, philosophical or dogmatic relativism. Believing themselves to be the heirs and custodians of unchanging truth in their Head and members, they make room for the unlimited personal expression of that truth among them. Any deviation from this practice and principle can be traced to an unconscious adoption of unorthodox attitudes and always results in an alienation from Orthodox identity that, once noted, is just as unconsciously corrected by mass reassertion of Christian liberty.

What's the practical application of the above?
Even geeks can witness.

The painting reproduced above depicts the Russian priest and martyr Pavel Florensky (left) walking with the philosopher Sergei Bulgakov. Although both men are notable for their Christian witness, it's Pavel Florensky, the geek and martyr, that is the subject of this post.

Pavel Alexandrovich Florensky was born in 1882 into a middle class family in western Azerbaijan (Russian Caucasia). After graduating from Moscow State University in 1904, he refused to accept a teaching position at the University. Instead, he proceeded to study theology at the Ecclesiastical Academy in Sergiyev Posad. Together with his fellow students Ern, Svenitsky and Brikhnichev he founded a society, the Christian Struggle Union (Союз Христиaнской Борьбы), with the revolutionary aim of rebuilding Russian society according to the principle of Vladimir Solovyov. Subsequently he was arrested for membership in this society in 1906. However, he later lost his interest in the Radical Christianity movement.

After graduating from the Academy, he taught philosophy there and lived at Troitse-Sergiyeva Lavra until 1919. In 1911, he was ordained into the priesthood. In 1914 he wrote his dissertation About Spiritual Truth. During his life he published works on philosophy, theology, art theory, mathematics, and electrodynamics. Those who are interested in finding out more about Pavel Florensky can read the article about him in Wikipedia, but our interest in him is not for his ideology, writings or other accomplishments, but his simple, matter-of-fact Christian lifestyle, which was a potent witness to those around him, and which led to his martyrdom in 1937.

After the Russian Revolution he formulated his position thus:
I am of a philosophical and scientific world outlook developed by me, which contradicts the vulgar interpretation of communism... but that does not prevent me from honestly working for the state service.’

Can you tell from this that he was a geek? Well, I can.

After the closing down, by the Bolsheviks, of the Troitse-Sergiyeva Lavra (1918) and Sergievo-Posad Church (1921) where he was the priest, he moved to Moscow to work on the State Plan for Electrification of Russia (ГОЭЛРО), under the recommendation of Leon Trotsky who strongly believed in Florensky's ability to help the government to electrify rural Russia. According to contemporaries, Florensky in his priest's cassock, working alongside other leaders of a government department, was a remarkable sight.

Can you imagine that? In a country controlled by atheistic, anti-Christian communism, here was a man who was not only a practicing Christian, but an ordained priest, working a secular job, doing his best for bosses who he knew hated everything he believed in and was, dressed in the visible garments of his true profession, and doing his best! And he really was a geek, thinking and knowing things that he could only have learned from his conversations with God, things others can hardly understand to this day. Among other things, for example, he proclaimed that the geometry of imaginary numbers predicted by the theory of relativity for a body moving faster than light is the geometry of the kingdom of God. Somehow, he was even able to publish his books during those awful times.

But there he was, as the record shows, ‘in his priest's cassock, working alongside other [communist] leaders of a government department.’ Even if he didn't witness to them in words (though he probably did), his presence among them was witness enough. And among people, let's remember, who were his declared enemies.

Pavel Florensky is an extreme example, maybe, but the fact of his witness for Christ among his contemporaries is a challenge, and an encouragement, to me every day. Like Christ, he did not run away from the world of sin and death. Instead, again like Christ making His descent into Hades, Florensky descended to the prison of his lost neighbors, at work and in the street, a priest of God without a visible church in a God-hating land.

In 1928 Florensky was arrested and exiled for ‘agitation against the Soviet system and publishing agitation materials against the Soviet system.’ What were these ‘agitation materials’? His monograph about the theory of relativity…

Later, he was moved and served at the Baikal Amur Mainline camp until 1934, when he was moved to Solovki, where he conducted research into producing iodine and agar out of the local seaweed. In 1937 he was transferred to Saint Petersburg (then known as Leningrad) where he was sentenced by an extrajudicial NKVD troika to execution. He was shot immediately after the NKVD troika session in December 1937. Most probably he was executed at the Rzhevsky artillery range and was buried in a secret grave in Koirangakangas near Toksovo together with 30,000 others who were executed by NKVD at the same time.

I love this man.

Anyone who loves his life loses it; anyone who hates his life in this world will keep it for the eternal life. If a man serves Me, he must follow Me, wherever I am, My servant will be there too.

John 12: 25-26a Jerusalem Bible

1 comment:

GretchenJoanna said...

Fascinating and encouraging! Thanks so much for telling about this wonderful man.