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Perhaps the most well-developed Christian personality in all Solzhenitsyn's writings is Dmitri Sologdin in
In The First Circle. The original and complete version of In the First Circle has only recently (2009) been published (under that title) in an English translation. The First Circle, published as far back as 1968, is actually an abridged version Solzhenitsyn had, in his own view, mangled in the hopes of getting it published in the USSR. One of the great revelations of The Gulag Archipelago was that Solzhenitsyn saw the Stalinist repression, not as a deviation in the course of Communist history, but as a logical continuation of the process initiated by Lenin. Until then, Solzhenitsyn was still keeping up a pretense of being willing to accept the Leninist foundation of the state. But that pretense is already dramatically exploded in the pages of the original In The First Circle.

The 1968 version - 'Circle 87' - so called because of its 87 chapters, as opposed to the original 'Circle 96' - maintains a sort of balance between Solzhenitsyn's two particular friends, Lev Kopelev ('Lev Rubin' in the novel), who still believes in the essentially progressive nature of the Soviet regime despite the abuses which he sees and denounces courageously, and the Christian, Dmitri Panin (Sologdin). In 'Circle 96', however, the balance falls on the side of Panin/Sologdin - the more so if I am right in speculating that another figure, who plays a larger part in Circle 96 than in Circle 87, Ilarion Gerasimovich, may also have been based on Panin.

The theme of the battle between Good and Evil looms large in In The First Circle, especially in Circle 96. One of the many conversation which take place over the three days covered in the book is between Nerzhin (Solzhenitsyn himself) and the yardman, Spiridon. On the face of it a simple peasant, the conversation is largely a matter of teasing out the details of Spiridon's very complicated life. In 1917 he supports the Revolution and in the light of his later, appalling experiences, Nerzhin exclaims:

'"Dear oh dear oh dear! What extraordinary things you tell me, Spiridon Danilych! I can't take it all in. You went over the ice to Kronstadt; you were one of those who set up this Soviet regime of ours; you forced people into the collective farms ..." [...]

And Spiridon replies:

'"Well, its like that sometimes; we plant rye, and what comes up is goosegrass."'

The conversation continues with more dreadful details. At the end of it, Nerzhin turns to the questions that are tormenting him:

'He laid his hand on Spiridon's shoulder, still leaning back against the sloping underside of the stairs, and began hesitantly framing his question: "There's something I've been wanting to ask you for a long time, Spiridon Danilych [...] are there really people on this earth who deliberately set out to do evil things? Who say to themselves, I want to hurt people, to inflict all the pain I can, to make their lives impossible? I don't really think so, do you? That saying of yours about sowing rye and goosegrass coming up ... At least it was rye they sowed, or so they thought. It may be that all human beings want to do good or think they are acting for the best, but nobody is infallible, we all make mistakes, and some people are quite brazen about it, which is why they do each other so much harm. They can convince themselves that they're doing good, but the results are bad [...] What if I push you off your perch and take your place, and then if things don't go the way I want, it's my turn to pile up corpses? What I mean is, if you can't be sure that you're always right, should you or shouldn't you intervene at all? When we're at war, we always think we're in the right, and the other side thinks they are. Can anyone on this earth possibly make out who's right and who's wrong? Who can tell us that?"'

Spiridon, who has appeared throughout the book as the very model of the patient suffering of the Russian peasant, replies that '"I can tell you: Killing wolves is right; eating people is wrong."'

Circle 87 leaves it at that, but Circle 96 continues:

'"Gleb, if someone told me right now there's a plane with an atom bomb on board - d'you want it to bury you like a dog here under the stairs, wipe out your family and a million other people, only old Daddy Whiskers and their whole setup will be pulled up by the roots so that our people won't have to suffer any more in prison camps and collective farms and logging teams" - Spiridon braced himself, pressing his tensed shoulders against the stairs as though they threatened to collapse on him, with the roof itself and all Moscow to follow - "believe me, Gleb, I'd say, 'Come on, then! Get on with it! Drop the thing!"' 

I quoted earlier Solzhenitsyn's saying he would never compare Lenin and Yegor Gaidar - 'Question of scale'. Its something of a smaller scale than the deaths of millions of people under the atom bomb but there is what might be called a parallel moment when Nerzhin is talking to Sologdin. Nerzhin is recalling a question he had asked him earlier ('"Of the Karamazov variety"', Sologdin says):

'"I asked you what should be done with professional criminals. Remember what you said? 'Shoot the lot.' Right?"

'Nerzhin, now as then, looked hard at Sologdin, as though giving him a chance to retract.

'But the bright blue of Dmitri Sologdin's eyes was untroubled. He folded his arms picturesquely over his chest, one of his most becoming poses, and loftily declared, "My friend! Those who want to destroy Christianity, and only they, would have it become the creed of eunuchs. But Christianity is the faith of the strong in spirit. We must have the courage to see the evil in the world and to root it out. Wait a while - you, too, will come to God. Your refusal to believe in anything is no position for a thinking man; its just spiritual poverty."'

He goes on to insist, against Nerzhin's desire to pick and choose, that the doctrines of the Church must be accepted in their entirety: '"There's no other way! If you begin to doubt a single dogma of the faith, a single word of the scriptures, all is lost! You are one of the godless!"'

The dogmas in question include '"the Trinity, plus the Immaculate Conception ..."'

The 'immaculate conception' of the Virgin is a dogma of the Roman Catholic Church but it is not accepted by the Orthodox Church. We might think the translator is confusing it with the virgin birth, but Sologdin's Christianity, looked at from an Orthodox point of view, is distinctly odd. At one point Solzhenitsyn, who has compared Sologdin's face to the icon of Christ 'not made by human hands', remarks that he looks like Alexander Nevsky, the thirteenth century Russian prince who, though still paying tribute to the Tatars, fought against the Roman Catholic Teutonic Knights. We may remember that the Templeton lecture I quoted earlier referred to 'iniquitous blows from the swords of Western crusaders.' But this is not Sologdin's view. In the course of the ongoing quarrel between him and the Bolshevik Lev Rubin, Rubin appeals to Nerzhin:

'"Tell him what a poseur he is! I'm fed up with his posturing! He's forever pretending to be Alexander Nevsky!"'

Sologdin surprises them by responding:

'"Now that I don't find a bit flattering!"

'"What do you mean?"

'"Alexander Nevsky is no sort of hero as far as I am concerned. And no saint. So I don't take what you said as a compliment."

'Rubin was silenced. He and Nerzhijn exchanged a baffled look.

'"So what has Alexander Nevsky done to upset you?" Nerzhin asked.

'"Kept chivalry out of Asia and Catholicism out of Russia. He was against Europe," said Sologdin, still breathless with indignation.

'Rubin returned to the attack, hoping to land a blow.

'"Now this is something new! something quite new! ..."

'"Why would catholicism have been good for Russia?" Nerzhin inquired, looking judicial.

'"I'll tell you why!" the answer came like a flash of lightning. "Because all the people who had the misfortune to be Orthodox Christians paid for it with centuries of slavery! Because the Orthodox Church never could stand up to the state! A godless people was defenseless! The result was this cock-eyed country of ours! A country of slaves!"'