Orthodox America

  I cannot Remain Silent

    Arrested in June, Payel Protsenko (see OA #64) was tried on November 18 on charges of "anti-Soviet slander." His final statement at his trial, printed below, is an inspiring example of deep Christian commitment and spiritual maturity, so rare in our times·

     I am being tried for striving to live according to the commandments of Christ and His Church· As a Christian, politics are alien to me· I never had any inclination for drawing up social programs. As a Christian I am far from any thought about fighting the government, and I fully recognize my responsibility to follow all the laws. Christ did not contend with the government; He said, Render unto Caesar that which is Caesar's. He condemned evil and injustice· It is my duty as a Christian to be a law-abiding citizen. But when the authorities contradict their own laws concerning the Church and her domain, when they contradict the laws of truth and charity, I cannot remain silent·

     · .·According to the constitution, each person is guaranteed freedom of conscience, but in fact, believers--and there are millions of them--are denied the possibility of realizing the fullness of Christian life. The conscience of a Christian desiring to live according to Christ's commandments oft en comes into conflict with existing legislation.

    Christ commanded: "Suffer little children to come unto Me, and forbid them not," but here religious upbringing is taboo. Children have no opportunity to become acquainted with the Gospel.

    Christ commanded: "Blessed are the merciful, for they shall find mercy," but here charitable activity is forbidden to the Church, the Church is not allowed to have any community life, nor is it allowed to establish funds for assisting the needy.

     Christ commanded: "Preach from the housetops..." But here, while atheist propaganda is permitted, spreading the good news about Christ is not.

     What has the government left the Church? Only the struggle for peace...

     ·..Persecution of the Church began with the first years of Soviet rule. Many bishops, priests and laity received a martyr's death. They were all accused of fighting against the ruling powers. But in reply they declared: "We wrestle not against flesh and blood" (Eph. 6:12), i.e., not against people, not against the state, but against that spirit, that: form of life which contradicts the Gospel and the teaching of the Orthodox Church.

      The government subsequently acknowledged its excesses, but in many ways its anti-Church policy continues to this day. I cited examples of this in my article ["The situation of the Russian Orthodox Church"]. In this work, which was not intended for publication, I set forth my thoughts – and for this they have brought me to trial, which means that they dictate how I must think, and how and on what subject I must not think. All the facts gathered in the manuscript were carefully verified; they held up both in the pretrial investigation and in the court examination. The evidence given by the sole witness, Yura Vestel, confirms this. It was enough for Yura to go into a church and read the Six Psalms. And what happened? He was shown out the door of the Institute where he worked. In the attestation he was characterized as lacking a materialist world-view, and this was cited as a negative trait which provoked his dismissal. (This, by the way, contradicts the first decree of Soviet rule concerning freedom of conscience.)

     Everywhere you meet people who, upon hearing you're a believer, say: "No doubt you have encountered some unpleasantness on account of this." In the district youth library where I work, a friend--a visitor--described the following. He graduated from school as a gold medallist and applied to enter the Institute of Culture. As a medallist he was required to pass only one exam. The day after the exam he went to the notice board where the grades were posted. Seeing a"5" [the highest possible score] opposite his name, he made the signor the cross and said "Glory to God!" Nearby stood a woman, a member of the admissions board. She raised a cry, said that he wouldn't set foot in the Institute. With tears in his eyes, the fellow tried to persuade the board that he was an unbeliever, that he had made the sign of the cross merely after a popular custom. My arrest kept me from learning the final outcome of the story. And one can relate many similar incidents.

    What is especially appalling is the influence of atheist propaganda on today's older generation whose children are coming to the Faith and are striving to resurrect the way of life known to their grandfathers and great grandfathers. The believing children hear their parents say: "You'd be better off drinking than going to church,' or "You'd do better to run after women than to go to church."

     The forcibly implanted atheism is foreign to the way of life, the customs, the morality, the very sensibilities of the [Russian] people. Raised in the traditions of the Orthodox Church, our people always lived a healthy, meaningful life. In the '30's the collectivization undermined the sound method of farming developed over the centuries. As a result our rural areas and our agriculture are in a deplorable state to this day.

      I have always been troubled by the loss in man of the meaning of life. Deprived of this, a man becomes a member of a mob rather than an integral part of a nation. I fear the spiritual emptiness of [our] youth, the cult of power widespread in its midst. Hearing everywhere today complaints that life is boring or difficult or meaningless, I recall my childhood years. In the small town where I grew up, and later when my family moved to Kiev, the interests of our neighbors, the parents of my peers, revolved around salaries, entertainment and drink. But I also came in contact with another kind of people. They earned their bread in the sweat of their brow, and warmly invited visitors into their poor but tidy little apartments, where one always found icons hanging. The eyes of these people radiated with a kindliness which reflected another-worldly knowledge, I remember how in one of these homes I was first given an Easter egg; it was done with a special kind of love, with meaning.

     I have always been concerned about the fate of our people and the fate of all that they hold dear: the customs, traditions. This people--silent and long-suffering, not always able to stand up for itself, having absorbed into its flesh and blood the very essence of the Christian teaching, i.e., active charity and kindness--awoke in me a feeling of love and a burning desire to defend it, to serve it, to care for it. And if nowadays we hear from all sides about the barbaric destruction of churches, the desecration of things sacred, then, as a son of the Church and the son of my people, I cannot remain passive. And I am not alone. In their books the writers Valentin Rasputin, Vassily Belay, Vladimir Soloukhin, Vladimir Chivitikhin, have told of many similar cases.

    The prosecutor claims that in my writings I distort the situation regarding the Church. But churches, built on the donations of believers, are taken from the Church. Even church vessels, acquired with money given by the people, are used by the Church only on loan from the government. The very role of the Church in Russian history is distorted. From the beginning the Church has been the guardian of the moral genesis of the Russian people. This is attested by the works of Pushkin, Tolstoy, Dostoevsky. They did not depict simple people as being dark or oppressed; if they were uneducated, they possessed another kind of wisdom--from the heart.

    In his speech the prosecutor concentrated his attention on a few phrases from my manuscript, characterizing them as malicious slander. But how can there be any talk of fabrication when the primary sources upon which I drew for my work were books and pamphlets published in this country! It is from them I gleaned evidence of the number of closed monasteries, churches, orphanages, chapels; from them I gathered evidence concerning the destruction in the '30's of the clergy as a class. Russia became a Golgotha and so she will remain for as long as the government continues to ignore man' s inner life which it tries to supplant with external rituals contrived by petty officials.

    Whoever we may be, materialists or Christians, we represent one people, and in our relations one to another there should be no room for the spirit of malice...

    In their accounts of catastrophic events, our writers examined them also from a spiritual level, treating them as manifestations of God's Providence. Today, the whole world knows about the Chernobyl tragedy. But behind it lies another tragedy, even more frightful--the tragedy of devastated souls. The radiation of sin, the radiation of evil, which issues from a devastated soul, is incomparably more horrifying than the radiation from Chernobyl. If it were only possible to halt this radiation, there would never have been a Chernobyl, nor the tragic loss of the ship "Admiral Nahimov"; there would be no threat of nuclear war.

    A month ago I read in the paper the words of Gorbachev expressing his desire that the other part of the world would also understand the essential priority of those value systems common to mankind, over and above those interests favored by any one country or group of countries. This appeal may also be applied to the case at hand. You, judges, are government people and must understand that you are responsible for the course of affairs in this country. This trial may also prove influential.