Orthodox America

The Book Shelf - Our Hope, by Father Dimitry Dudko

St. Vladimir's Seminary Press

We're afraid of strictness. We're afraid of life's difficulties. We consider an easy life the height of blessedness. But let's be critical of ourselves. We've already been indulgent with ourselves....No. In order to renew all things, we've got to be- come ascetics. Indulgence threatens us with destruction....You call upon us to adjust to the 20th century and to make religion into a comfortable mockery. But we shouldn't tailor religion to our caprices. We should follow its demands.

These words, by the courageous sufferer for the Faith in the Soviet Union, Fr. Dimitry Dudko, sum up his whole message to Christians in Russia as well as to those in the free west. Fr. Dimitry is a Russian priest who has recently become well-known as a dissenter behind the Iron Curtain, having previously served an 8 _ year imprisonment in Siberia. His book, Our Hope, is a collection of his sermons, as well as discussions with believers and non-believers, starting in 1973, and originally circulated by the Russian underground press. The book deals with what we should call basic Christianity, for Fr. Dimitry writes simply that his goal "Is to appeal to each person's conscience." For this reason his book seems to have been written especially for the "comfortable faith", the self satisfied faith of the west, as we can see from this passage of the subject of promiscuity and holiness:

Words like 'chastity' and 'innocence' have become almost incomprehensible for us. We even make fun of them. At times even 10-year-olds lose their virginity, becoming promiscuous at this tender age. What do you think? Can the promiscuous be holy? No. If there is no holiness, then everything is permissible. Without holiness a person cannot really live as a human being.

When someone described FR. Dimitry's discussion groups as "propaganda and agitation," and warned him, "they can get you for that," Fr. Dimitry replied: "What can I say? 'They'll get you...' So what? Should I stop doing God's work out of fear?... It won't do any good to threaten me. I'm ready for anything. By the way, a sermon acquires even greater power when people suffer for it. I'm ready to suffer."

And indeed he was. Early last winter the KGB broke into his apartment, arrested him, and confiscated his icons and books. He was placed in isolation and confinement and subjected to only-God-knows-what kinds of physical or mental tortures. After four months, the KGB succeeded in forcing a so-called "confession" from him, and a nervous and weary Fr. Dimitry was paraded before Soviet cameras and made to say he had committed "anti-Soviet activities." According to news reports, he is now liable to a sentence of 10 years at hard labor, followed by 5 years of exile as a "repeat-offender."

The long martyrdom of Fr. Dimitry Dudko is not yet over. We cannot know what yet awaits him in this life. But we can read his book, and take courage and inspiration, and above all allow our consciences to be pricked, as in this powerful passage where Fr. Dimitry speaks harshly of mere outward religious activity and tells us what is the very essence of Christianity:

Sometimes it happens that our entire religiosity takes the form of mere ritualism. Come to church. Light a candle. Request a prayer service. And sometimes it's limited to just discussing God very esoterically. We dispute, but we go on living the same life that the pagans and unbelievers do...

Let's recall the words with which Christ parted from Mary (Magdalen) once she'd recognized Him: "Go to My brothers and tell them what you've seen and heard." What does this mean? Simply that, having recognized the risen Christ, you can't lock yourself up in your own private world. No one who tries to protect his faith by running away from all trials and tribulations knows Christ yet....Can we look on calmly as people perish, not knowing Christ? Could Mary have left the tomb without saying a thing to anyone? Could threats have made her be afraid?... If you've been with Mary to Christ's tomb, if you've been convinced that it's empty because Christ is risen, then go and tell everyone about it. Christ is risen!

Our Hope cannot be too highly recommended, particularly to the new Orthodox Christian, the inquirer, or to the adult who is discovering the wonders of his Orthodox faith for the first time.