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Dostoevsky and Memory Eternal

Donald Sheehan

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An Eastern Orthodox Approach to the Brothers Karamazov

Photograph of Don SheehanCentral to Eastern Orthodox Christendom is the singing, at the end of every Orthodox funeral, of the song known as "Memory Eternal" (in Church Slavonic: Vechnaya Pamyat). This song also concludes Dostoevsky's great, final novel, The Brothers Karamazov, when, following the funeral of the boy whom Alyosha Karamazov (and the circle of schoolboys around Alyosha) had deeply loved, Alyosha speaks to the boys about the funeral and about the meaning of the resurrection, with this brief song as their steady focus.

My thesis is simply this: to know something of this song's meaning is to comprehend both the Eastern Orthodox faith and Dostoevsky's greatest novel.

We can best approach the meaning of this song through following the connection between the Orthodox funeral services and the crucifixion of Christ. Fr. Pavel Florensky, recently canonized by the Church in Russia, articulated the connnection by first asking, "What did the wise thief ask for on the cross?" (144) and then answering by quoting from St. Luke's Gospel: "Lord, remember me when Thou comest in Thy kingdom" (23:42). Florensky then continues:

And in answer, in satisfaction of his wish, his wish to be remembered, the Lord witnesses: "Verily, I say unto thee, Today shalt thou be with me in Paradise." In other words, "to be remembered" by the Lord is the same thing as "to be in Paradise." "To be in Paradise" is to be in eternal memory and, consequently, to have eternal existence and therefore an eternal memory of God. Without remembrance of God we die, but our remembrance of God is possible only through God's remembrance of us. (144)

Read the entire article on the Brothers Karamazov website (new window will open).

Posted: 24-Aug-06



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