One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich

One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich is a compelling account of life in the Russian gulag system, based on Solzhenitsyn’s experiences. It deals with the various trials of living in labour camp, and strikingly presents the idea of the relativity of good fortune. A perfect example is the apparent good fortune of Ivan, because he sleeps in the barracks instead of the cells (165). However, the alternative example that I wish to focus on, is Solzhenitsyn’s  commentary on the Russian Orthodox Church. He describes Alyosha, a fellow prisoner who has been imprisoned for his Baptist beliefs. He is described as a naive prisoner, who does not understand the methods for survival within the camp. However, in one exchange between Ivan and Alyosha, the latter talks about the betrayal of the Orthodox Church. He implies that the Orthodox Church’s attempts to work within the communist system is a sin, and that those men who are imprisoned are more righteous in the eyes of the Lord (162-3). This opinion that prison is a method of penance raises a question pertaining to the legality and authority of the Orthodox Church. While the Church collaborated with the government to ensure it’s survival, what was the sentiment of the common man? Did the everyday Orthodox priest loyally follow the Church’s orders, or were they defiant like Alyosha and the other sects of Christianity?

5 thoughts on “One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich

  1. I dont think that there is one right answer to this question. Religious faith is a very individual in nature and there must have been priests how abided to the communist system and some who where defiant like Alyosha. It does seem that men like Alyosha who was of the baptist faith were more devout then the common Orthodox Russian because of the small nature of the baptist faith.

  2. I have to agree with Goldstein on this. The common man must choose which he follows more closely his belief in religion or his belief in the state. Also that is not to say that one is not compatible with the other. Individual choice within the Soviet system was obviously extremely limited so it is possible that state acceptance was the case and its possible that people suppressed their feelings in fear leaving historians with a lack of evidence. Solzhenitsyn is also biased in his portrayal with his history of being outspokenly critical of the Soviet government and being imprisoned himself, so one must see and understand his possible goals of creating characters who stand for principle not the state.

  3. I believe that many Russian Orthodox priests behaved similarly to Don Benedetto from Bread and Wine. In Bread and Wine, Mussolini’s fascist regime had subverted the Catholic church. Benedetto remained a loyal member of the church, but he refused to conform his christian ideals to that of the fascist party. In Russia I believe that many priests behaved the same was as Benedetto, but instead of fighting fascism the church’s enemy was communism.

  4. Throughout Soviet rule, generally, the upper-level priests conformed more to the demands of the state than the local priests. During the early years of the USSR, however, the reactions of the Church were more clandestine due to the executions of many priests. Moreover, those that fully disagreed with the Church split off into a new branch of the Russian Orthodox Church that went underground to clandestinely practice their faith, becoming known as the Catacomb Church.

  5. I agree with the first two comments that religion really depended on each individual. Although the Soviet Union did not necessarily encourage individuality, religion varied based on each individual’s beliefs. This was problematic in the Soviet Union, because Stalin focused on quelling dissent, and religion was no exception. For this reason, devoutly religious Soviets were forced to choose whether they should take the risk to openly practice their religion.

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