The Poem of Alexander Pushkin and the Bishop

Pushkin and Philaret

A friend recently shared with me a story about the famous Russian poet Alexander Pushkin, and Metropolitan Philaret of Moscow, from the book Orthodox Christianity by Metropolitan Hilarion Alfeyev:

The acute sense of a divine calling reflected in “The Prophet” contrasts with the emptiness of the worldly life that Puskin, due to his social standing, was obliged to live. As he grew older he became increasingly weighed down by this life, something he wrote about in his poems numerous times. On this twenty-ninth birthday he wrote:

A gift in vain, a gift by chance,
O Life, why have you been given to me?
And why have you been sentenced to death
By inscrutable fate?

Who has called me forth from nothingness
By his hostile power,
And filled my soul with suffering
And my mind with anguishing doubt?…

There is no goal before me:
My heart is empty, my mind lies idle,
And the monotonous din of life
torments me with anguish.

The poet, who at the time was wavering between faith, unbelief, and doubt, received an unexpected answer from Metropolitan Philaret of Moscow:

Not in vain or by chance
has life been given to me by God,
And it is not without God’s mysterious will
that I have been sentenced to punishment.

It is I myself who, by my wayward use of power,
have brought forth evil from the dark depths,
It is I myself who have filled my soul with suffering
and my mind with anguishing doubt.

Remember what you have forgotten!
Let it shine through the twilight of thoughts-
And through thee will be created
a pure heart and a bright mind!

Struck by the fact that an Orthodox Bishop had answered his poem, Pushkin wrote some “Stanzas” addressed to Philaret:

In moments of amusement or idle boredom,
I would entrust my lyre
with delicate sounds
of madness, sloth and passions.

But then unwittingly interrupted
The sound of the playful strings
When your majestic voice
Suddenly struck me.

I poured forth streams of unexpected tears,
And the pure oil
Of your fragrant words was
Soothing to the wounds of my conscience.

And now, from the spiritual heights
You stretch forth your hand to me,
And with your meek and loving power
you humble my turbulent dreams.

My soul has been warmed by your fire
and has rejected the darkness of earthly vanity,
and the poet attends to the harp of Philaret
in holy trepidation.

The poetic correspondence between Pushkin and Philaret was a rare nineteenth-century instance of the meeting of two worlds divided by a spiritual and cultural gap: the world of secular literature and the world of the Church.

 — Orthodox Christianity vol 1, Metropolitan Hilarion Alfeyev, pg 213

Author: Father Silouan Thompson

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