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irinaIt’s funny sometimes, how things come together. Last night, I was looking at some old posts on NEO, thinking about rerunning a few over Christmas. Some are mine, and some are Jess’. Two that really struck me were two of hers speaking about Alexander Solzhenitsyn, and his not all that favorable view of the west.

This morning I read in the Catholic Herald, from our friend Francis Phillips, about an interview on Radio Four with Irina Ratushinskaya. She was, as I’m sure few of you know, I hadn’t, sentenced to four years in the Soviet labor camps, mostly, I think, because she was a Christian. Well, make that present tense, because she still is.

Here is some of what Francis says.

By coincidence, I happened to visit the friend who had introduced me to Ratushinskaya on the evening of the morning I had heard the broadcast. We both listened to the interview again and I borrowed Ratushinskaya’s subsequent book, In the Beginning, about her life before her mock trial in 1982, from my friend’s book shelf.

It struck me how God can penetrate the most improbable places, such as the rigidly atheistic school environment in Odessa, where Ratushinskaya grew up in the early 1960s. Stalin might be dead but under his successor, Khrushchev, the penalty for anti-Soviet behaviour, such as writing religious poetry, was still extraordinarily harsh.

As a child Ratushinskaya started to pray, convinced that God existed because her teachers kept insisting that He didn’t. She understood almost instinctively that that only through religious faith would her soul “remain my own: nobody will be able to manipulate me.” Later she learnt that her grandmother had her secretly christened when she was a baby.

It struck me, as it seemed to strike Francis, as remarkable how in a society as aggressively atheistic as the Soviet Union, she still managed to think her way into Christianity, as did her husband. It’s also remarkable that they were able to find things like an Orthodox priest to marry them, and to soldier on, carrying the flame of Christ, now finally in the open.

What a remarkable story, do read the whole thing.