Pain is not the path to Christ, yet The Path to Christ is paved with pain. After serving in the Red Army during the second World War, Dimitry Dudko entered the seminary in Moscow. In 1948, he was arrested and sent to the Gulag camps for writing poems that were deemed to be critical of Stalin. After his release in 1956, he returned to the seminary and graduated in 1960.
The Last Man in Russia is not a biography of Father Dudko. Oliver Bullough attempts something even more meaningful and ambitious. His story is a travelogue and critique of the failures of Soviet Russia. With the world’s attention turning toward Russia in the wake of Edward Snowden and the upcoming Winter Olympic Games, Bullough’s timing is perfect. If you want to look into Putin’s eyes read this book.
Russia is a country in free fall. In the West, we associate Russia with criminal gangs, computer crime and ultra-rich oligarchs. Actually, according to Bullough, the key debilitating element is alcohol abuse. From 1965 to 1995, the death rate in Russia from alcoholism tripled. The ongoing collapse of Russian society has a long history. In the tenth century, King Vladimir declared, “drinking is the joy of the Russians. We cannot exist without that pleasure.”
Dimitry Dudko was born in 1922 to a peasant family in Bryansk. His father was imprisoned for refusing to join a collective farm following the October Revolution. As a Christian revolutionary priest, his reputation spread in late 1973 when he gave a series of outspoken sermons at St. Nicholas Church in Moscow. He candidly addressed issues of faith and sin. He welcomed questions — submitted anonymously but answered publicly — that often addressed issues such as abortion, alcohol abuse, and despair. His response to the dilemma his country faced was a simple one. “As the communists use the slogan ‘Workers of the world, unite’, we must say ‘Believers of the world, unite.’ We must create the Kingdom of God here on earth,” he said. “If you do not defend others, then you are not defending yourself, and you are leaving the field open for attack.“
Father Vladimir Sedov is one of those interviewed by Oliver Bullough as he traveled around Russia in search of Father Dimitry’s legacy. “It is hard to fight a totalitarian system. People who were scared, who needed support, they went to him. They were poets, artists. They had heard of this priest that you could freely talk to. A lot of people sensed what I sensed, that Father Dimitry was the most life-loving and optimistic man we ever met, and he was a man who had lived the hardest life.”
As for the authorities, they wanted to make certain that this optimism did not spread. Father Dimitry was sent away from Moscow, silenced and betrayed. In 1980, the KGB broke him, then paraded him on television to recant his activities. He later said, “I consider my confession to have been treacherous, if not before God and the church, then toward those friends with whom I was walking along the same path and doing the same work.” He died in 2004, crushed under the totalitarian heel of the Russian government. The real loser was the soul of Russia. Father Dimitry’s soul remained intact.
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 . . . In order to renew all things, we’ve got to become 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. — Father Dimitry Dudko
It is no surprise that the Virgin Mary places the greatest emphasis on Russia’s role in the world. On July 13, 1917, she told three children in Fatima, Portugal, I shall come to ask for the consecration of Russia to my Immaculate Heart, and the Communion of reparation on the first Saturdays. If my requests are heeded, Russia will be converted, and there will be peace. If not, she will spread her errors throughout the world, causing wars and persecutions of the Church. As we know, the Blessed Mother’s hopes for Russia have not been realized. Just ask the people of Syria or the Copts — the First Christians — in Egypt. We clearly see that Russia needs our prayers.
Teresa of Avila, (March 28, 1515 – October 4, 1582), revered from the first and for several centuries, has become a favorite of feminists, a model of assertion and triumph in the face of the most enduring male hierarchy in Western history (T. Nevin). Teresa established the foundation which became Western Christian mysticism. Using the analogy of a garden, she declared four methods of prayer.
Now let’s see how this garden should be watered, so that we understand what we have to do and how much work it requires, whether the end result is worth the effort, and how long it’s going to take. It seems to me that the garden can be watered in four ways: you can draw the water from a well, which as we know is very labor intensive; or by using a waterwheel and buckets, worked by a crank (I’ve sometimes drawn it in this way, which is less work than the first, and brings up more water); or you can get it from a stream or spring, which does a much better job of soaking the ground, because the soil retains more moisture and needs watering less often–and that’s less work for the gardener; or from a heavy rain, when the Lord is watering it Himself with no help from us. And this last method is far and away better than all the others . . . Beginners in prayer, she goes on, are the ones who have to pray with their heads–their hearts aren’t ready yet . . . The beauty of the prayer of quiet–the second stage of prayer–is that it comes unannounced . . . Let’s talk about the third water now, which irrigates this garden–now the Lord wants to help the gardener so badly he almost becomes the gardener, and does practically everything . . . the fourth level of payer, ecstasy comes without warning, so swiftly and powerfully that the soul ‘sees and feels this cloud or mighty eagle lifting it up and bearing it away on its wings’.
— From Teresa of Avila: The Progress of a Soul by Cathleen Medwick. Bear in mind Teresa was writing about mysticism in Spain at the height of the Spanish Inquisition. She lived her motto: Lord, either let me suffer or let me die.
We often associate St.Thérèse de Lisieux (January 2, 1873 – September 30, 1897) with the treacle paved path to sainthood. Perhaps this is due to her nom de guerre, Little Flower, which sounds dainty, delicate, gentle and balanced. To understand the toughness of her spirit, it is enough to examine her motivating force. She wrote, “Most of all do I imitate the behavior of Magdalene, for her amazing–or rather I should say her loving–audacity, which delighted the Heart of Jesus, has cast its spell upon mine.”
Thérèse followed in Teresa’s footsteps, becoming only the second female Doctor of the Church, a testimony to her overarching intellect and discipline. The Last Years of Saint Thérèse: Doubt and Darkness, 1895-1897 by Thomas R. Nevin examines Thérèse’s final writings. Much of the appeal that Thérèse has won over several generations lies at this subterranean level of the mythic, even though it is not centrally a part of Christian tradition. She is, along with Joan of Arc the Patron Saint of France. The Cathedral of Lisieux is second only to Lourdes in the number of pilgrims it draws.
In early December 1941, while teaching at St. Bonaventure, Thomas Merton was torn between working at Friendship House in Harlem or going to Kentucky and becoming a Trappist. In the woody grove, at the shrine of St. Thérèse, the dark was intense, and there was a silence, cold as the chilling rain. ‘Please help me.’ He clasped his hands in anguish. ‘What am I going to do? I can’t go on like this. Look at the state I am in. Show me the way. Show me what to do.’ Suddenly in the strange silence a sound came, clear, not imaginary. It was a bell. The great bell in the big gray tower of Gethsemani was ringing. Thomas Merton by Cornelia and Irving Sussman.
My introduction to the power of praying to St. Thérèse came in the fall of 1999. My wife, Angelina, and I had just begun writing our novel PURE VISION: The Magdalene Revelation, the story of a worldwide women’s march to create a world peace capital coupled with a search for the mythic land of Shambhala. During my lunch break, I ventured to St. Patrick’s Cathedral in Manhattan not knowing that St. Thérèse’s relics (bones) were on display in a small ornate casket. Having only the barest thread of a storyline to begin work on our novel, I prayed, “Thérèse please give me a hook, something to build our story around.” On my way back to work, I received the answer. The spear thrust into the side of Christ by the Centurion Longinus was also carried into battle by Constantine and Charlemagne and was eventually possessed by Hitler. The spear’s story and it’s reputation as a sacred talisman would provide an important key to our book.
When I returned to our apartment that evening and conveyed the idea to Angelina, she shared my excitement. We now had a central element around which to craft a tale.The occult’s appeal to powerful men is universal although the spiritual face of mysticism is feminine. We could use this tension in our novel. We could explore how imperative it is that the voice of women rise to the fore and drown out the drone of weaponry and monetary gain.
One of the most powerful spiritual experiences of my life occurred during Easter Week of 1969, spliced halfway between my mother’s death and the Woodstock Festival. With a college group, I visited Piskaryovskoye Memorial Cemetery outside St. Petersburg, where close to 500,000 people who died during the German siege of Leningrad (as it was known then) during WW II were buried in mass graves. In the summer, the cemetery was a huge rose garden. On the day of our visit, the rose bushes were all protected by wooden boxes which were covered with about two feet of snow. It was so cold! Prokofiev’s score for Sergei Eisenstein’s classic film Alexander Nevsky was playing over loudspeakers. At that moment, the immensity of Russia’s tradition of sacrifice, depth and cultural-spiritual excellence was totally embedded into my mind. Russia — Tolstoy, Chekhov, Dostoyevsky, Tchaikovsky, Nijinsky, Rudolf Nureyev, Dmitri Egorov, The Way of a Pilgrim and Peter the Great.
It is with that appreciation in mind that I call on all persons no matter what your faith or lack thereof. Heed the call of the Divine Mother and begin the journey homeward where spirit resides. Pray for Russia, as you would a fallen sister in despair, for her fate parallels the world’s.