These persecutions cannot quench the flame of faith. Quite the contrary: they compel people to cling more tightly to their convictions which serve as a source of spiritual support in the dark world of totalitarianism." (Archbishop Anthony of Geneva)
Letter from Labor Camp
The following letter was written in Dec. 1981 by Alexander Ogorodnikov, imprisoned for his active participation in the Christian Seminar (see "Orthodox America", No.8). May the reader be moved to remember this young Orthodox confessor in his prayers- and the countless number of those like him who, for the sake of faithfulness to Christ have lost health, liberty, and the pursuit of earthly happiness.
"How can I express the love that fills my heart to overflowing and gives breath to my choking lungs. I love you very much, and that love has acquired a tenderness I have never experienced before and has strengthened between these bare, terrifying walls. It is as though an endless source or quiet feeling has appeared in my heart, a spring which had lain dormant somewhere deep in my subconscious in pre-prison days. My tongue cannot find sufficient words to express all that I feel and my thoughts and prayers for you.... How rarely your letters actually reach me!
"On October 9 I was placed in the punishment cell where the regime is harsher than in prison. Food is minimal rations, but I am refusing it. I have been conducting a hunger- strike since October 28, demanding the following: the return of my Bible and prayer- book, to be able to see a priest, to receive religious literature, to subscribe to those religious periodicals which are published in the USSR, to enroll as a correspondence student in theological academy, to receive visits from you and to register my marriage with Yelena. [Ogorodnikov married Yelena Levasheva in a church ceremony which is not recognized as valid by the state]. I am also protesting the lack of light in my cell (it is switched off from 10 a.m. until 4 p.m.). They used to switch it off even earlier, so you spend literally the whole day in semi-darkness....
'Although I am conducting a hunger-strike, instead of medical examinations I get lectures persuading me to stop fasting. They began ~force feeding me on the 27th day of the hunger strike, and have repeated this feeding every 7th, 8th or 9th day since. I have be come very weak, feel constantly dizzy and can barely drag myself up from my bunk. Pressure on me has increased; I am not given books; those I have are exchanged only every ten days. My health, unfortunately, is none too good. I have already lost nine teeth and it looks as though I will shortly lose four more. No dentist is available. My eyesight is deteriorating. The eyeglasses I got in May 1981 are no longer strong enough. This torture by darkness is really refined, for in the semi-darkness of the cell reading is impossible without strain. When the lights are switched on in the evening, my bulb is so weak that it merely creates a haze.... The administration misses no opportunity to exercise repression-it's impossible to describe all of it. In accordance with standing order, hunger-strikers must be hospitalized a month after the beginning of the strike. In my case, I have received a flat refusal. They violate their own legislation even though the legislation itself is harsh enough.
"Your letters are withheld from me because you, mother, include the words of prayers in them. The censor has demanded that I forbid you to quote prayers. How could I possibly do such a thing!
"All my religious literature has been confiscated, so has every scrap of paper and even my language textbooks.
"What can I say to you -nothing! Only that I am in hard labor camp, that I am not allowed to have any visitors. In accordance with camp regulations, I can only write one letter every two months, and even this letter is liable to be confiscated. My dear ones, don't be too downhearted as you read this. I am ashamed of myself for having written this much, although it is the harsh truth. I have been stripped of the right to all visits except one short one which was due in October; however, a few days before that date, I was placed in the punishment isolation cell and therefore lost the chance for a meeting and to register my marriage to Yelena.
..... I put my trust in God and firmly believe that all my trials carry His blessing and that He shall lend strength to my weakness by His merciful Grace. My faith in the Lord is in destructible. Don't grieve for me, as all my trials have come to pass so that I shall be cleansed of my sins. All is providential. Only pray for me. I do feel the support of your prayers, and they are of the greatest assistance to me.... The Lord gives us both trials and joys. His infinite Mercy brings me much spiritual rejoicing. I am not depressed or without hope. Spiritually I am of good cheer. I keep my mind active. I long for the day when I shall see you again. In the long, hungry and sleepless nights 1 reminisce about your cooking, dream about how we shall be reunited and try to envisage what our lives will be like once I am out of confinement and serving my term of exile where, I hope, you will come to me. My one grief is your loneliness, your inability to see your grandson and exercise a religious influence on his formative years...
"I would be especially glad to receive a letter from a priest. Perhaps you could arrange this, or ask my friends to do so. That at least one priest would write. It would mean a great deal to me... .Do not grieve too much about me... .I love you and my imagination is filled with joyful visions of our reunion.... Pray for me as I pray for you.
Your devoted son, Sasha December 26, 1981
(Translated by Keston College; reprinted by "Orthodox Action," Melbourne, Australia)
UN Hears Plea in Defense of Persecuted Orthodox
On Nov.23, 1982, the US delegate, Senator Robert Kasten, spoke before a committee of the UN in defense of persecuted believers. He reminded the delegates that last years General Assembly had adopted a resolution which declared freedom of thought and religious conviction to be an inalienable human right, and not merely a privelege which a government can grant or deny as it chooses. Kasten pointed to the case of the persecuted Orthodox in the USSR and specifically to the case of Zoya Krakhmalnikova, who was arrested last August: "This woman did not participate in anything which could be called political; she was arrested for directing a purely religious work. From 1976 Krakhmalnikova was the pub1isher-compiler of a samizdat anthology of Christian readings entitled "Nadezhda".... Materials published in "Nadezhda" were of a purely religious nature, without any political content."
Those attending the meeting noticed that the mention of Zoya Krakhmalnikova caused a stir among the Soviet delegates. When Kasten finished his speech, they immediately ran off-to call Moscow, no doubt.
("Possev", January, 1983)
RSFSR 403 810
(Orthodox woman unable to open a church in her village.)