My unease with seeing Russia today as an unadulterated incarnation of "Holy Russia" or the "Third Rome" or a new model of Christian "symphonia" or other pious rubbish is only magnified after having just finished reading Koenraad De Wolf's fascinating and moving new book, Dissident for Life: Alexander Ogorodnikov and the Struggle for Religious Freedom in Russia (Eerdmans, 2013), xii+303pp. About this book we are told:
This gripping book tells the largely unknown story of longtime Russian dissident Alexander Ogorodnikov -- from Communist youth to religious dissident, in the Gulag and back again. Ogorodnikov's courage has touched people from every walk of life, including world leaders such as Bill Clinton, Ronald Reagan, and Margaret Thatcher.
In the 1970s Ogorodnikov performed a feat without precedent in the Soviet Union: he organized thousands of Protestant, Orthodox, and Catholic Christians in an underground group called the Christian Seminar. When the KGB gave him the option to leave the Soviet Union rather than face the Gulag, he firmly declined because he wanted to change "his" Russia from the inside out. His willingness to sacrifice himself and be imprisoned meant leaving behind his wife and newborn child.Though having read works on the Gulag, the de-Kulakization and collectivization campaigns of mass starvation, the NKVD/KGB, the Russian Revolution, the state of the Russian Orthodox Church and the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church under communism, and biographies of figures such as Stalin, Khrushchev, and Solzhenitsyn--as well as wider works on imperial policy, the tsars, the Romanovs, Russian spirituality and iconography, Russian theologians, and Russian wars, including the Crimean War, and World War I and II--I was still repeatedly taken aback by the descriptions of the abuse suffered by Ogorodnikov for simply being a Christian. I was well aware of what communism did to Christians, and the millions of martyrs it created. But perhaps my memory has gone a bit soft after two decades since the collapse of the evil empire. This book is a fresh reminder of all those horrors, and not just in the dark days of the Brezhnev era, but even well after the USSR officially collapsed and ended. Even through the 1990s, and into the last decade, Ogorodnikov was still being severely harassed by various Russian officials for the "crime" of running a shelter and soup-kitchen near Moscow. How he has survived all this can only be seen as a miracle and gift of God.
Ogorodnikov spent nine years in the Gulag, barely surviving the horrors he encountered there. Despite KGB harassment and persecution after his release, he refused to compromise his convictions and went on to found the first free school in the Soviet Union, the first soup kitchen, and the first private shelter for orphans, among other accomplishments.
Today this man continues to carry on his struggle against government detainments and atrocities, often alone. Readers will be amazed and inspired by Koenraad De Wolf's authoritative account of Ogorodnikov's life and work.