He had a profound influence on a whole generation of Orthodox thinkers of the twentieth century. It is no coincidence that contemporaries call him “Russian Leonardo”. Philosopher, scientist, naturalist and engineer-inventor, philologist and mathematician, encyclopedist and art theorist, artist and poet – all these are aspects of the talent of a candle. Paul Florensky (1882-1937). And yet, despite all his versatility, he remains to the end a theologian and a priest, that is, a shepherd of human souls, their guide on the path to Truth, Goodness and Beauty. With the patience of a true Christian, he carries the cross of genius throughout his life, clearly aware of it and almost physically feeling its weight.
Pavel Alexandrovich Florensky was born on January 21, 1882 in the village of Yevlakh, Elizabethan Province (now Azerbaijan). His father, Alexander Ivanovich Florensky, worked as a construction engineer for the Transcaucasian Railway. The mother – Olga (Salomiya) Pavlovna Saparova (Saparashvili-Saparyan), comes from an ancient family of Karabakh Armenians.
Among the young Paul’s hobbies is poetry. Prepared in 1905 in Tiflis, the collection of poems “Steps” does not see the light of day (it has been preserved in the archives of the Florenski family). The collection In the Eternal Azure (1907), influenced by the poetry of the Symbolists, remains his only published collection of poems.
He graduated from high school in Tiflis in 1899 with a gold medal and became a student at the Faculty of Physics and Mathematics of Moscow University.
During his student years he met the symbolist poet Andrei Beli, and through him Konstantin Balmont, Valery Bryusov, Alexander Blok…
His interest in the teachings of Vladimir Solovyov, which influenced the atmosphere of the Russian Silver Age so much, dates back to that time. He studied the works of the original Christian philosopher and theologian Archimandrite Serapion (Mashkin). He began to publish texts in the magazines “Libra” and “New Way”.
Pavel Florenski spent almost 30 years in Sergiev Posad. Here he established long-term friendly relations and cooperation with famous contemporaries – artists Favorski, Nesterov, scientists Olsufiev, Ognev, pianist Yudina.
With the blessing of Bishop Anthony, rector of the Moscow Theological Academy, in 1904 Pavel Florensky entered the Academy. After graduating, he remained at the Academy as a professor of history of philosophy.
Again, between the walls of the Academy, the idea of his most famous work “Pillar and Support of Truth” arose, originally conceived and defended as a master’s thesis. In 1914 it was published by Put. This is the main book of his life. For her, Florenski was awarded the Makariev Prize.
In 1911, Florenski was ordained, first a deacon and then a priest. In the same year, Grand Duchess Elizaveta Fyodorovna invited him to become the head of the hospital church in honor of St. Mary Magdalene at the Mariinsky Shelter of the Sisters of Mercy of the Red Cross, located not far from Vitania Street, next to the railway. He served here until May 1921.
In 1910 Pavel Florenski married Anna Mikhailovna Giacintova. They have five children – three sons and two daughters: Vasily, Cyril, Michael, Olga, Maria. In 1915, the Florenski family settled in Sergiev Posad in a house on Dvoryanska Street (now 19 Pionerska Street).
They are visited by Maximilian Voloshin and Boris Shergin. The philosopher Sergei Bulgakov often visits them. In his memoirs he describes his meetings with Fr. Paul:
“Father Paul was for me not only an obvious genius, but also a work of art: his image was so harmonious and beautiful. It takes a word or a brush or a chisel from a great master to tell the world about him. And he was not just born that way – he had created himself as his own work, for which he had all the necessary finesse of spiritual and artistic taste. The features of his appearance are preserved by Nesterov’s brush on his famous portrait: graceful silence and enlightenment, an image of a celestial being, who is also the son of the earth, who knew and overcame its hardships.
In May 1917, Mikhail Nesterov created the painting The Philosophers in the garden of Florensky’s house on Dvoryanska Street, a double portrait of Florensky and Bulgakov.
In Soviet times, Pavel Florensky, without abandoning his priestly rank, began to serve the state with his universal scientific knowledge.
He is a member of the Central Electrotechnical Council of Glavelectro at the Supreme Council of National Economy, is the basis of the electrification plan for the whole of Russia, heads the Department of Materials Science and works at the All-Union Electrotechnical Institute. He is a member of the Commission for Standardization of Scientific and Technical Designations, heads a number of significant scientific initiatives and developments on the forefront of science and technology. Its technical developments give the country significant savings and independence from foreign markets.
Along with this Fr. Paul not only remained faithful to his spiritual vows, but also stood bravely in defense of the Church’s shrines and Russia’s spiritual heritage. In 1918 he became a member of the Commission for the Protection of Monuments of Art and Antiquities of the Trinity-Sergius Lavra, thus saving for us the cultural treasures of the Lavra.
“To understand Russia,” Fr. Paul – you have to understand the Lavra, and in order to understand the Lavra, you have to look carefully at its founder, even during his lifetime, recognized as a saint “wonderful old man, St. Sergius”, as his contemporaries testify.
In connection with the activities of the commission Fr. Pavel Florenski developed the principles of museum work, compiled and published inventories of works of art from the monastery assembly, and also created such famous works as “Iconostasis”, “Temple Art as a Synthesis”.
… The eldest grandson of Fr. Pavel Florensky, Doctor of Geology and Mineralogy, and Professor at the Russian State Oil and Gas University Pavel Vasilyevich Florensky told me the family legend of the Florensky family about saving the holy relics of Rev. Sergius of Radonezh – one of the greatest feats of Fr. Paul.
One late evening (presumably March 26-30, 1920) Pavel Florenski entered the Assumption Gates of the Lavra and went to the abbot’s cell. Only God knows what they talked about with Archimandrite Cronid. Witnesses to the “Last Supper” at which members of the Commission Florenski, Olsufiev, and possibly Count Komarovski and the later priests Mansurov and Shik, gathered in the abbot’s cell, are only the walls of the ancient monastery.
The participants in the secret meeting secretly entered the Trinity Cathedral and prayed in front of the river with the relics of Rev. Sergius of Radonezh. Then they opened the rake and took out the venerable head of the Reverend, and instead laid the skull of Prince Trubetskoy.
The Reverend’s head is temporarily hidden in the armor. Then Fr. Paul and the others leave the Lavra, making a vow of silence that they do not break for the rest of their lives.
Shortly afterwards, Count Olsufiev secretly moved the Reverend’s head to an oak chest and carried it from the armor to his home (Sergiev Posad, Valovaya Street). In 1928, fearing arrest, he buried the chest in his garden.
In 1933, after the arrest of Fr. Pavel Flonsky Count Olsufiev fled to Nizhny Novgorod, where he dedicated Pavel Golubtsov to this story. Golubtsov managed to secretly move the chest with the head of the Venerable Sergius from the garden of Count Olsufiev in the vicinity of the monastery “St. Nikola Ugreshki ”near the town of Lyubertsi near Moscow.
On January 24, 1938, Olsufiev was arrested. After the start of the war, guarding the Reverend’s head in Lyubertsy became too risky, as Olsufiev’s wife was also awaiting arrest (as she did on November 1, 1941), and Golubtsov could be mobilized in the army at any moment.
Elena Vasilchikova, the adopted daughter of Count Olsufiev, would then remain the only one who knows where the head of Rev. Sergius is, and this is too risky, especially given the German offensive.
Probably sometime between the beginning of the war (June 22) and the receipt of a summons (August 20, 1941) Golubtsov transferred the head from Lyubertsy to the elder Shiarchimandrite Hilarion (1863-1951), who from 1936 served in the church in honor of Vladimir icon of the Mother of God in the village of Vinogradovo near Moscow (on the Savelovskaya railway, near Dolgoprudnaya station).
After the end of the war, Golubtsov moved the oak chest with the Reverend’s head to the home of Vasilchikova, who became her last guardian of the shrine.
On Easter, April 21, 1946, the Trinity-Sergius Lavra was reopened. The relics of the Venerable have been returned to the Church. Vasilchikova secretly handed over the head of the Venerable to Patriarch Alexy I. With his blessing – again secretly – she took her previous place in the cancer…
… In 1933 Fr. Paul repeats the fate of thousands of other Russian clergy – he was sentenced to ten years in prison. He spent his first year as a prisoner in a camp in the Far East, where he worked in the research department.
In September 1934 he was transferred to the infamous Solovetsky camp. And during his long miseries in camps and prisons Fr. Paul remains a confessor and devotee of the Orthodox faith.
Letters from Sergiev Posad keep coming from him: about 150 – to his wife, his mother, the children. Pavel Florenski’s letters from the camp occupy a special place in his legacy. They are filled with amazing power of spirit, with a sense of deep harmony of all that exists. Addressed to those closest to them, they are addressed to the “inner man”.
Despite the harsh conditions, he continued his research. The Patent Office registered 12 of his inventions at the Solovetsky Camp Plant “Yodprom” (1935-1937). 50 applications for inventions made by Pavel Florenski have been preserved.
On December 8, 1937, 509 prisoners from the Solovetsky camp, people from different social strata and religions were shot in the vicinity of Leningrad: clergy, writers, actors, scientists, pedagogues, civil servants, officers, peasants… Among them was Pavel Florensky.
The two sentences, from 1933 and 1937, were reviewed and overturned in 1958-1959. Investigators noted the lack of “evidence of guilt in anti-Soviet activities.”
The first monument in Russia to Fr. Pavel Florenski was erected in the center of Sergiev Posad, at the crossroads formed by Vitania (№2) and Pionerska (№16) streets within the historical-memorial complex “To all victims of faith in Christ in the years of persecution” “. On July 18, 2019, the complex was consecrated by Moscow Patriarch Kirill.
In addition to the monument to Paul of Florence, the memorial complex contains busts of other new martyrs – his spiritual associates, with whom he shares part of his life and Golgotha: the Venerable Martyr Grand Duchess Elisaveta Fyodorovna and the Venerable Martyr Cronid, the last abbot of Trinity-La Sergius. was shot in 1937 at the Butovo firing range.
The complex was established on the initiative of the Pavel Florenski Foundation. The sculptures were made by the monumental artist Maria Tikhonova.
At the same time, a museum center was opened, dedicated to Pavel Florenski, representing the fate of the Orthodox ascetics and new martyrs of Sergiev Posad.
… In his memoirs, the former camper from the Solovetsky camp, academician Dmitry Sergeevich Likhachev (1906-1999) writes:
“So what is the fundamental integrity of Pavel Florenski’s worldview, what of his legacy must be mastered by our time?” Pavel Florensky, who was formed as a thinker at the crossroads of different cultures – Russian and Caucasian, European and national, secular and ecclesiastical – was one of the first people to point out the doom of the spiritless path of the then intelligentsia. And the fact that our time insists on the original sources of native culture and spirituality, on the search for eternal truths, testifies that Florensky was right in his insights.
He is compared to Leonardo da Vinci, to Blaise Pascal. This shows that Florensky is a phenomenon not only in Russian but also in world culture.
Yet Florensky has a trait that makes him a predominantly Russian thinker. As with any Russian thinker, Florensky’s thought is always seeking to establish itself in the phenomena of life, it wants to be embodied in action.
This has undoubtedly exacerbated and made inevitable the tragic end of Pavel Florenski.
The numerous inventions, discoveries and predictions of Fr. Pavel Florenski in the field of exact sciences have served to strengthen the defense forces of our country and have placed his name among the names of the world’s great scientists.
Today the works of the theologian, philosopher, scholar encyclopedist Fr. Pavel Florenski has been translated into most languages around the world, and numerous books and studies about him, written by scholars from around the world, testify that the life and work of Fr. Paul have universal significance.
Photo: Fr. Paul in the Solovetsky camp
Author: Nikolai Golovkin · 26/01/2022, Source: Stoletie.ru
Translation (with abbreviations): P. Gramatikov