Orthodox America

  A Labor of Love



 Fr. Victor Potapov: Zoya Alexandmvna! It is a great honor for me to meet and converse with a person who, as the compiler of the anthologies of Christian reading, Nadezhda (Hope), has so enriched the religious broadcasts of the Voice of America. Here in Moscow we have had conversations with you and your husband, Felix Grigorevich, about the significance of the Millennium of the Baptism of Rus'. In Moscow today, not only believers but even secular circles are in some way observing this event. Every day on Soviet television and radio the festive occasion of the Millennium is mentioned so that this event in one way or another touches all people. The Russian Church convened a Local Council, the first Council since 1971. There, decisions were taken which can substantially change the external life of the Church, and we hope that the internal church life will also be changed----provided the reforms proposed at the Council do not remain only on paper. You do not particularly share this optimism. You are not so hopeful as others. I should like to learn why? 

Zoya Krakhmalnikova: For me Christianity has, primarily, a sacramental meaning, a meaning which I had to experience, to learn, in my prison ordeals, in exile, and for this reason I am rather disturbed to hear so much talk round about Christ, around Christ, around the Church, while nothing is said about the very essence of Christianity. I experience the Baptism of Rus' on a somewhat different level from that about which we were speaking, about which we all have heard from official sources, from the media. For me the Christianity of Rus' is above all, Holy Baptism. You as a priest understand that Baptism is a Mystery. It is the mystical union of a people with Christ. It appears that in the history of Christianity there is no other case of a whole people being baptized? 

Fr. Victor:. Not as far as I know... 

Zoya Krakhmalnikova: In the Mystery of Holy Baptism we are buried in the baptismal waters with Christ, we take up the Cross, death. Herein lies the meaning, that meaning which I see after 1000 years in the life of our Church today, in those trials which she has endured. This is the union with the Cross, the ordained calling of Holy Russia. I should like to be a bit more precise. I do not attribute any messianic meaning to this idea. While there have been such tendencies, I do no share them. At one time Dostoevsky called the Russian people "God-bearing." Many times this was spoken of ironically and thus distorted. The question is not about any messianic mission of Holy Russia the question is about the calling to the Cross.

       What is the world celebrating today? The world is celebrating the Baptism of Rus' as some cultural, political event· But we, Christians, are celebrating the Millennium of the Baptism of Rus' as the. triumphant victory of the Cross, as the triumphant victory of Christ, as the victory of our God, Who overcame the world through the Cross. The interpretation given by our official theologians, our hierarchs, and our philosophers conceals one important thing. The Mystery of Christianity is so deep, so incomprehensible for the worldly mind that they are not given to understand that the holy Baptism c Rus' is a baptism into a death which leads to Resurection, Our interpreters of the Baptism of Rus' peceive all this as some cultural event, overlooking the fact that this cultural event is taking place today, when Christian culture has almost been destroyed We do not have books, we do not have Holy Scriptures in the quantity necessary for an Orthodox pea pie, we do not have a single religious publishing house for authors of religious books. It is impossible to publish their books. Only yesterday they threw people onto prison plank-beds, into psychiatric hospitals on account of those books. Only yesterday they carried off those books in sacks by tens of thousands and then destroyed them. That was yesterday. Today we are waiting for changes. But nonetheless, yesterday's consciousness, yesterday' norms do not allow us to comprehend this phenomenon which we are commemorating today. 

Fr. Victor: There are people who consider that it is impossible to commemorate the Baptism of Rus' in spirit of triumph while the Russian Church continues to remain, so to speak, in Babylonian captivity. This is, however, a great event; it cannot be ignored How would you suggest it be commemorated? Let us suppose the hierarchs had invited you to some preconciliar conference or had asked your advice what would you say to them? 

Zoya Krakmalnikova: I cannot even conceive of such a possibility... 

Fr. Victor:. But in the event of a genuine, conciliar principle in the Church? They might say: “Now come, we want to hear…” 

Zoya Krakhmalnikova: Should there be a real, conciliar principle, a spirit of sobornost in our Church, then they would not ask me---it would be obvious.

      We Christians are celebrating the Baptism of Rus' spiritually, we worship Him with Whom we were united in the Jordan waters of the Dnieper. We know that "through the Cross joy has come to all the world..." So sings the Church. And this is enough for us because nothing can take from us this innermost blessing. No persecution of the Church, no torments which our Church has suffered, no false testimonies of those who come forward in the name of the Church and say that she prospered during the last terrible decades of her history--nothing can take from us this joy, can deprive us of this blessing. For us, therefore, what Christ has given us is enough, and each one celebrates this feast according to the measure of his understanding and the tasks life sets before him. 

Fr. Victor: At the beginning of this conversation I remarked that Nadezhda has enriched the religious programming of the Voice of America. In the West also, people who have access to a great variety of religious literature read Nadezhda with great gratitude. Are you preparing to undertake publication of Nadezhda again? I am aware that you wrote a letter to the head of the publishing department of the Moscow Patriarchate, Metropolitan Pitirim, with a proposal to resume work on Nadezhda within the framework of the Russian Orthodox Church, within the framework of its publishing department. 

Zoya Krakhmalnikova: I completed work on Nadezhda before my arrest. Ten volumes were put together and all the materials which I had succeeded in gathering I included in those anthologies. But when I returned from exile I thought about how essential Christian reading was for our Orthodox people. I had received letters from Australia, Japan, America, from many countries of Europe, from Canada. Only the Russian reader does not have access to Nadezhda. I decided that today's perestroika, today's glasnost' gives me the possibility to hope that the Moscow Patriarchate will be able to undertake such work and to publish spiritually uplifting or Christian reading of the type that had appeared in Nadezhda. For 70 years such readings have not been published. For 70 years not a single book of Christian reading has been printed in Russia, and I am convinced that an Orthodox people cannot be Orthodox unless they know the treasures of Orthodoxy. I appealed to Metropolitan Pitirim and explained that I consider it a matter of conscience, of my religious duty to continue work on Nadezhda, to continue work on Christian readings and to compile a library dedicated to the Millennium of the Baptism of Rus' into which would go scores upon scores of texts indispensable to the believing people of Russia. Metropolitan Pitirim did not answer my letter. That caused my deepest regret. 

Fr. Victor:. Have you lost hope that he will answer? 

Zoya Krakhmalnikova: I have lost hope that he will answer because enough time has passed....He could simply have said that he cannot or that he does not wish to, but politeness should have obliged him to answer. I sent him two copies of the letter: one to his home address the other to the publishing department. I received notification that the letter was received. As I understand it he simply did not wish to reply. 

Fr. Victor:. How did you create Nadezhda? How did you gather the materials?    Did you have collaborators? 

Zoya Krakhmalnikova: I consider Nadezhda a miracle. I don't know how those materials came into my hands. I don't know how they came to be in the possession of those people who unexpectedly brought them to me. They came as I was preparing to put together the next number. I compiled Nadezhda during Great Lent and Nativity Lent. It was due to come out twice a year. And each time, before I prepared to put together the next volume, exactly as much material was found in my hands as I needed for the book to be whole and for it to fulfill those aims which I had set for myself as the compiler. I wanted the texts which I gathered in Nadezhda to be read by people of diverse spiritual levels; I wanted there to be material on asceticism, texts for beginners, catechetical discussions. In Nadezhda there was an extremely wide spectrum of material. But I myself did not search for them. People brought them to me. I consider that God sent them to me. 

Fr. Victor:. And you always compiled Nadezhda during Lent? 

Zoya Krakhmalnikova: Yes. I considered Nadezhda my service, my missionary, Christian duty. Nadezhda was necessary for me--I understood that in prison. It seemed to me that 1 was compiling it for myself. When during interrogations I managed to receive issues of Nadezhda, I copied out texts from them, and thinking that I would end up in a camp for a long period, where I would have neither a Bible nor spiritual texts, I committed them to memory. Throughout the nine months of my confinement in Lefortovo prison I studied texts of the Holy Fathers which had appeared in Nadezhda. I studied texts from the Bible. For nine months I had such a routine in prison: during certain definite hours I memorized texts from the Bible which I had copied out during my investigation. Then, when they took all this from me, before deportation, I refreshed my memory in the transit prison and there I succeeded in giving those texts to prisoners who were thirsting for Christ. There were occasions when women came up to me who had committed terrible crimes. I gave them texts from Nadezhda. One of these women asked me to be her godmother. On being released from prison she was baptized. When the priest asked her: "How is it that for so long you were not baptized? How did you come to Christ now?" she answered: "Through sufferings." She became my goddaughter. These were criminals but they were thirsting for God. Thus Nadezhda helped me even in the transit prisons. 

Fr. Victor:. You spoke just now about prison, about your confinement. Do you feel bitterness towards the authorities for this well-beaten path of prison and exile which fell to your lot? 

Zoya Krakhmalnikova: I think that what happened to me was a mercy of God. Only in prison did I understand that I must learn Christianity. Only in prison did I begin to live a Christian life. In prison I experienced the torments of abandonment and the highest assistance. This was a new birth. This was a trial by fire which I had not expected. Therefore, today it seems to me that everything that happened to me was a blessing for my soul. I remember with pity and compassion those people with whom I conversed during investigation. During these interrogations I had various meetings with my investigator. At first he did not believe me when I said that I believed in God. But when we parted he said to me: “Now I see that you are a believer.” 

Fr. Victor:. You were not baptized as a child. You accepted Christ at a mature age. You had a very promising literary career and you abandoned it for a spiritual life. I am sure that for many non-believing people, and for believers also, it is hard to comprehend how a person in his right mind can do such a thing. To give up, in any case, to risk giving up a good career in order to endure sorrows with which this world is filled. How would you explain to such a person that you had nevertheless made the right decision? How in simple language would you tell someone who knows nothing about Christianity that to know Christ is the greatest blessing? 

Zoya Krakhmalnikova: When I think of what Christianity is, I am always struck by the spiritual height which is granted to a person in the experience of faith. When I think about this I realize that not one human thought can compete, if one may use this word, with Christianity, which promises man a blessed eternity. Christianity is not dissent. Christianity is not a moral system. Christianity is another existence. It is the submergence of the soul into that state to which it is called. It is the hope of Resurrection, an unshakeable hope, which grows as one becomes aware of this blessing.

       For a long time, a decade and a half, I worked on the study of Orthodoxy, which led me as a professional, a writer, a journalist, to the compiling of Nadezhda. But that was not yet Christianity. That was still only a dream about Christianity. That was still around Christ. That was still only approaches to Christ. I called it Old Testament faith. This is a serious matter. This is what our Church lives by today, that which is being converted into ritualism. In the fires of prison sufferings I began to draw near to Christianity. They offered me release. Very simple. I had only to renounce my service. I had only to say that Nadezhda undermines Soviet authority (which was absurd). I thought: 'What can you offer me? What can you offer me in place of Resurrection, in place of eternal blessedness, in place of the Kingdom which has been promised to me by my God?! Why do I need this freedom?" It was precisely in prison, in non-freedom that I began to apprehend spiritual freedom, in that fire of constant repentance, of the realization of my own insignificance, my guilt before all men, guilt before God, before my dear ones. Guilt even before those who interrogated me, guilt before those who were summoned to be agents in order to inform against me. I understood that I could not be part of Christianity--which is called the "salt of the earth," the "light of the world”-- because I am still so far from it, from that beauty, from that blessing which has been granted me. And therefore the entire path of prison and exile was a path leading to the acquisition of Christianity. It led through the most difficult, painful search and repentance, rejection of my previous life, a feeling of shame for what had been done, for what had been said. And this gave me strength to stand fast. Everything in my previous life came to seem so insignificant, so small, even there in the prison cell where I was constantly being threatened, because everything that surrounded me, even, thing hated me. I had to overcome all that through love, and that was the hardest work. I understood that Resurrection is the greatest, most grandiose work bequeathed to us. I understood that this is not simply going to Liturgy, as I had previously supposed, that this is not simply the fulfillment of prayer rules, to which I had aspired, that this is not simply the reading of books, which used to be of some comfort. This is work which my soul must continue to perform until my very last breath. 

Translated from the Russian transcription by Mr. M. W. Mansur

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