But even if Fr. Dimitry's voice has now been
silenced—which was obviously the aim of the atheists—his message remains for
us. Let us look now at some of its main points.
The Spiritual Battle
of Our Times
First of all, he looks realistically at the world and
sees a tremendous battle going on: atheism is trying to swallow faith. He
sees this first-hand in the world's first atheist state, which placed constant
pressure against believers of a kind that we can scarcely imagine, a pressure
that often erupts into crude violence.
Father Dimitry describes this battle in his Paschal sermon
in 1977: "We are in the front lines, and this front line is
everywhere. We are surrounded by atheists on all sides. There is no
place where this is no shooting going on. The press, art, theater,
schools, institutions—everything has been occupied by the atheists. The
laws are all directed towards our suffocation." As results of the
influence of atheism, Fr. Dimitry notes the low level of morals in the Soviet
Union, the destruction of the family, people's denseness to
religious influence. "Throughout the whole of Russia,
one sees only the ruins of our people's inheritance, even though they try to
cover up the ruins with the boxes of standardized houses."
Fr. Dimitry himself suffered 81/2 years of
imprisonment in a concentration camp in his youth for writing a religious poem,
and in 1975 he was involved in a planned automobile "accident" that
broke both his legs and barely left him alive. He has felt the constant
pressure both of the Soviet State
and the Moscow Patriarchate to stop his religious activity. We in the
free world, although we can sense the godless air about us, are still left free
to do whatever we want with regard to religious faith. Fr. Dimitry faces
this godless spirit of the times much more directly than we do.
His answer to this battle is not a weak one, like ours is:
we are satisfied with the freedom to worship as we wish, we easily mix a few
hours weekly devoted to church matters with an overwhelming preponderance of
worldly things in our lives; few of us are really transformed by
Orthodox Christianity. But Fr. Dimitry calls on Orthodox Christians to counter-attack.
He says: "Christianity must become the content of the whole life… We
must illuminate all questions with Christianity; it cannot be limited within
strict bounds. The Church at the present time must include also the club
and the workers' assembly. We must bring the Church to the life which is
outside the church building… The Christian cannot close himself up in
some kind of shell; he must be pained over the pains of others."
"Everyone who can respond must respond… Atheism is a plague.
It must be stopped—otherwise it will spread over everyone, devouring everything."
He concludes his 1977 Paschal sermon with this cry: "Hear you, all you who
can hear! We are alive! After all the frightful bombardments, we
are alive! But we need help. In whatever way you can, help
us. Do not remain indifferent. Indifference in our days is perdition,
not only for us. There should begin a decisive, final war for the
liberation from captivity, for the salvation of all alive, a universal sacred
war." And he signs this sermon: "Priest Dimitry Dudko, soldier
of the Russian army."
Seeing reality in this way—that is, being really aware
of what is happening in the world, and not closing his eyes to it as we in the
free world so often do, insulated by our temporary freedom and prosperity, Fr.
Dimitry speaks in a tone that is urgent and full of crisis. He is
constantly saying: Russia
is perishing, the whole world is perishing—let us act,
let us start being Christians right now!
The tone of spiritual crisis is what has "turned
off" some people in the West, even Orthodox people, from Fr. Dimitry—he is
too "emotional," too "apocalyptic," too
"messianic". How blind and insensitive we are! This is
precisely the tone of true, Apostolic Christianity—the tone of St. John of
Kronstadt, St. Cosmas of Aitolia, and all who are on fire with Christ's message
of salvation. This is precisely the tone of the Catacomb Church in
Russia—the tone of crisis and urgency in the face of overwhelming evil—and one
can well say that in Fr. Dimitry this aspect of the message of the Catacomb
Church has surfaced in contemporary Russia—a message that is absent, not only
in the Moscow Patriarchate, but in most of the Orthodox of the free world as
well. Our "Disneyland" experience in America
has not equipped us to understand this sense of urgency, but Fr. Dimitry has
begun to awaken us.
And the situation is even worse than we might think; not
only is the enemy outside, he is even within our own ranks. Fr. Dimitry
writes: "Many of us have fallen into captivity… our whole front is in
captivity. And there is something even worse: There is an internal
corruption of the generals of the army. The will to resist has become
paralyzed. Those who g out to battle are hindered by
their own people in league with the enemy." Let us not feel
smug because we are not in the Moscow Patriarchate, whose generals (bishops)
indeed have been corrupted and are paralyzed. The Sergianist spirit of
legalism and compromise with the spirit of the world is everywhere in the
Orthodox Church today. But we are called to be soldiers of Christ in spite
Solzhenitsyn spoke of Gulag—a secular term; Fr.
Dimitry speaks of Golgotha—the Christian
understanding of the Soviet experience. The central part of Fr.
Dimitry's—and contemporary Russia's—message to us is that all the sufferings
inflicted by atheism have a meaning—we can find Christ in them… Here are
a few passages of Fr. Dimitry's teaching:
"In our land has occurred Golgotha;
the torments of all the martyrs begin gradually to cleanse the air… The
present crucifixion of Christ in Russia,
the persecutions and mockings only lead to the resurrection of faith in
men… This gives us strength, firmness, makes us better than we are
now… Let us imagine the state of our martyrs. Did the thought of
sinning occur to them at this moment? No matter what kind of sinners they
may have been in this minute they become saints… And those who suffer for those
condemned to death also become better. How many martyrs there have been
therefore, how many holy feelings! Will these holy feelings really give
no fruit? And perhaps we live and will live only by the feelings of the
holy martyrs, being supported by them… In our country now is Golgotha.
Christ is crucified. Golgotha is not merely
sufferings, but such sufferings as lead to resurrection and enlighten
men… Our time can be compared only with the first three centuries of
Christianity, and perhaps then it was even easier; then they did not yet know
all the refinements of subtle torture… If one compares the religious state
here and in the West, the balance is on our side. Why? Because here we have Golgotha, and there they don't. Does an abundance of material
goods give a religious rebirth? … Here we have nothing, but if people believe
they are ready to die for their faith."
experience is for the whole world: the martyrs are the seed of Christianity,
New Martyrs are the source of new life for Orthodox Christians not only there,
but everywhere. Suffering, Golgotha, martyrdom is
what we lack in the West, and this is why our Christianity is so feeble; but we
become stronger by learning of and participating in Russia's
The resurrection of Russia
is occurring… In fact, Fr. Dimitry is a chief witness of this
resurrection. It is not merely the fact tat he has baptized so many
thousands of people who have found Christ, or that he inspires his spiritual
children to self-sacrificing Christian life; his own voice is a proof that
Orthodox Christianity is coming back to life in Russia.
He is a forerunner of resurrected Russia,
and the fact that he himself now seems to have fallen, that is, is no longer
able to speak out as he did before, is only a proof that this resurrection is
still in process. It cannot be completed while atheism still reigns
in Russia and
the church organization bows down to the commands of the atheists; but it is
presently underway and in God's time will produce its full fruits,
despite the immense odds against it.
We Must Participate
But Fr. Dimitry, for all his belief and hope in Russia's
resurrection, still warns us that it will not happen without us, that
is, each Orthodox believer. In one of his final letters before his
imprisonment he wrote: "It is precisely now that, not only for those
living in Russia,
but for the believers of the whole world also, the most responsible moment is
approaching: when the resurrection that has begun will touch our souls…
One must begin increased prayer for all the persecuted in Russia…
All possible help should be shown to them… If Russia
is not resurrected, Golgotha threatens the whole world,
and who knows whether this Golgotha will lead to
resurrection; perhaps it will only be the Golgotha of
the foolish thief. Either resurrection or the perdition of everything—it
is before such a choice that not only Russia,
but the whole world now stands."
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And this is his final message to us—and the message of all
of suffering Holy Russia today.5