‘The light shines in the darkness and the darkness cannot overcome it’

Thinking Anew: Solzhenitsyn’s ‘ways of goodness’ cannot be stopped

It was good to see St Patrick’s Day parades take place again in towns and cities across the country – a return to what we consider normal.

A feature of some parades is often a figure representing St Patrick complete with mitre (headdress) and crosier (staff), symbols of the office of bishop. However, neither adornment would have been used by the real saint as croziers only came into use in the seventh century and mitres four centuries later.

God and his goodness are never without witnesses, lives lived for and strengthened by the spirit of God

Fact quickly becomes a casualty when we distort the past. Indeed, the Patrick story has suffered in much more significant ways. Patrick did not come to sponsor things Irish; he did not promote a political cause, draft a constitution, or even design a flag. Instead, he brought a gift from the East – the gospel of Jesus Christ which has much to teach us today.

For example: we see ourselves as victims of history demanding apologies for wrongs done to us while ignoring our own past which included assaults on Britain of which Patrick was a victim. Yet when Patrick the disciple of Christ returned, he did so free of bitterness; he refused to allow his past to define his future.

Further we claim Patrick to be our national saint but for many he has become a nationalised saint, slave again, this time to our prejudices and ambitions. We make him the affirmation of who we are rather than the inspiration of who we ought to be.

It has been said that when Christianity shakes hands with the world it's goodbye Christianity. Today that challenge faces the leadership of the Russian Orthodox Church based in Moscow which seems reluctant to withdraw its support from president Putin and his cruel war in Ukraine.

Despite the protests of a number of its priests, loyalty to the nation and its policies however sinful, take precedence for the leadership over the demands of the gospel, a well-trodden path in church history.

But God and his goodness are never without witnesses, lives lived for and strengthened by the spirit of God whatever the cost.

The poet Irina Ratushinskaya who was born in Odessa, Ukraine in 1954 was arrested and accused of anti-Soviet agitation for writing collections of poetry some of it religious. In her early 20s she was tried in Kyiv and given the maximum sentence of seven years in a labour camp. They failed to break her or destroy her faith even though she wasbrutally treated as we see from these lines written secretly in 1983 in prison camp number ZhKh -385/3-4: "From me they have taken/ my friends and my folk, /Torn my cross from its chain /and removed my clothes, /and then with their boots /kicked me senseless, /Beating out with prejudice /the remnants of hope."

The Russian author Alexander Solzhenitsyn found a deeper faith while imprisoned by the Stalinist regime for dissent.

That faith and lived experience enabled him to pray: “How easy it is for me to live with you Lord. How easy it is for me to believe in you. When my mind is distraught and my reason fails, when the cleverest do not see further than this evening and do not know what must be done tomorrow – you grant me the clear confidence that you exist and that you will take care that not all the ways of goodness are stopped… I gaze with wonder at that path through hopelessness to this point from which even I have been able to convey to others some reflection of the life which comes from you.”

As evil does its worst in the Ukraine, God is ever present and active in the lives of those in the Ukraine and elsewhere who refuse to surrender to evil and give comfort and refuge to those who need it.

Solzhenitsyn’s “ways of goodness” cannot be stopped. “The light shines in the darkness and the darkness cannot overcome it.”

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