The end of Volume 1

by Andrea Elizabeth

At the end of Gulag Archipelago and in his speech at Harvard, Solzhenitsyn says that he does not envy modern society with all of its frivolous, materialistic cares. After all the deprivation he experienced, when he found a transit camp that had a little better conditions, he was content and even happy. This was after he had come to terms with his capture and resigned himself that his life had been taken away from him. But people who haven’t had their lives taken away can’t have the same appreciation for being allowed to sleep, on a bunk, with a meal in their stomachs. After reading Gulag maybe they can. We can learn vicariously to some extent. But at the same time, most of us aren’t called to leave our homes and families and go camp out in prison, unless one is single and has monastic yearnings. Bernie Madoff also feels relief in prison, but when he left his family and everyone else in such a pickle, I don’t think it’s justified. I think the lesson Solzhenitsyn learned was to try to be content in whatever circumstances we find ourselves in. We have to find a way to come to terms with where we are and who we are with. I can sense the freedom of spirit that Solzhenitsyn gained by letting go of having to have things his way. You can tell he admired the ones who fought back, and wondered if it was cowardice not to. But when prisoners give up their meager bread in order to make a point about something else, what kind of gain is that really? There are gains to be made by fasting, but if it’s just for some material comfort or for an ounce of respect, then it seems a futile battle. We should be willing to fast to gain the Holy Spirit, as St. Seraphim says.

Involuntary suffering is inhuman, and we need to hear the cries of those who are experiencing it. But I think there is a tendency to feel sorry for and glorify people just for the fact that they suffered. The glory that can be gained through suffering isn’t for sufferings’ sake, but because it somehow releases us from earthly cares to make us available, if we will let it, for heavenly ones.