01-07-2011 - Traces, n. 7


Certainty is an
Entrusting of Oneself

As an opening day speaker, the Russian poetess Ol'ga Sedakova will present the exhibit on Boris Pasternak. From Doctor Zhivago to the saints, she tells us how her certainty grows.


When she heard the title of the Meeting for the first time, she wanted to reread it slowly. The reference to "immense certainty" brought to mind the flaunted certainty of those who no longer have doubts or questions, simply because they had let themselves be conquered by ideology. She still remembers the parades in Red Square and the singing: "In the place of the heart, a flaming engine…." Ol'ga Sedakova, born in 1949, is considered one of the greatest living Russian poetesses. A professor at the Department of History and Theory of World Culture at the University of Moscow, she will lead one of the first sessions of the Meeting on Sunday, August 21st: "My Sister-Life: Boris Pasternak," presenting the exhibit dedicated to the author of Doctor Zhivago, a man who knew true certainty well. "He knew certainty first of all in divine action in the world," explains Sedakova. "He used to say, 'With every human life, God builds a cathedral that reaches for the sky.'" And you? "Mine, rather, is a matter of trust: trusting the fact that everything is going where it must go, perhaps in a way I don't understand, beyond what I could expect and want. Trusting the fact that everything has a meaning: this is the horizon that, in the midst of confusion, anxiety, the loss of balance, enables me not to collapse entirely." Why this emphasis? "I think of the experience of the twentieth century, which destroyed certainty as a value. Who, more than totalitarian man, was so certain about everything? The easy fix: he unloaded all his doubts and choices onto doctrine, the leader of the moment, the party. For this reason, I've always been suspicious of anybody who is too sure of something." This point is also emphasized in the organizers' description of the Meeting theme: "The certainty we are looking for is not an ideology, nor a strategy, nor a psychological persuasion, but it is the certainty that makes us recognize what we already 'are.' Not so much that things will be fine as we expect them, but that we ourselves are in relationship with the One who makes us continuously."

NOURISHED BY SOMETHING. But, even without having experienced the tragedy of totalitarianism, the need of certainty in life touches every person. "I think of Hamlet's question, or Pascal's abyss: at times you have the sensation that you lack the earth under your feet. Certainty, then, must be nourished by something." In your case? "It is made to grow by many things: the magnificent works of man, nature, and, above all, the saints. For me a great maestro was my spiritual father, Dimitrij Akinfiev, called 'the starets of Moscow.' He was such not with lessons on morality, but in what he did–sometimes just with a quip. He straightened the backbone of my life. Everything returned to being full of meaning and hope."
In the midst of the confusion of our times, the value of the Meeting, according to Sedakova, is that "it enables you to see the other face of contemporary life, a totally different face from the one we meet in all the cultural festivals, film series, exhibit openings, conferences… It is a face in which hope shines out, peace, thought for the future, a true openness to and embrace of the other. For me, it is an honor to participate in it." In this, a great contribution can come from Pasternak: "Our era never stops dwelling on the past; instead, he always repeated, 'The past is the past.' Finally, we will go to the heart of his work, in his own intentions: the great newness of Christianity."