THE FATE OF RUSSIAN THEOSOPHISTS
[Speech on the Theosophical Congress in Germany, 1991]
In these recollections I should like to honour those little-known people who devoted their lives to theosophy. After the revolution, when the Theosophical Society was dispersed many of Its members shared the destiny of the dissidents who were shut in prisons. Some of them, very few, escaped this misfortune, and only separate persons survived and came back from prison. Their names and their destinies are worthy of the memory of the descendants because in their hearts they kept the light of the teaching they served. It helped them to stand hard trials which, in spite of all, did not break their will, their Spirit. They went through the ordeal of fire bravely and could pass over to others the knowledge, to be more precise, their longing for it which was so characteristic of them. In all its errors Russia has remained and will be a land of Seeking for the Spirit, and this Is the guarantee of that eternal life in which sooner or later we reach the light of the truth.
In my life I met with theosophists In various situations, at various times, that Is why my recollections are somewhat confused and inconsistent, but that's what life has externally seemed to be. I underline «externally» because the Internal laws, like the law of similarity, guide the destiny, and interest In some aspect always attracts the same kind of situations.
I has been lucky since the moment of my birth because my grandmother, Sophia Slobodinskaya. who was born in 1870, lived In Kiev and led a group that studied the works by H. P. Blavatsky, A. Besant, C. Leadbeater and others at the beginning of the century. According to my mother's, Nina Konradovna Slobodinskaya's recollections, my grandmother was a very talented and enthusiastic woman who drew all her close friends and relatives to the theosophical movement. Also her husband, my grandfather, Konrad Slobodinsky, shared her interest. At first he was Interested In spiritualistic sittings, later on he was seriously engaged In theosophy. He studied Sanskrit, helped to translate the Bhagavad Gita and poems by Rabindranat Tagor. He intended to travel to Adyar, but the circumstances did not allow him to. After the revolution he was arrested for his views were incompatible with the basic revolutionary policy and he died In prison In Tashkent In the 30's. His wife, Sophia, died In the Caucasus In 1927. At her request she was buried on a slope of the mountains, in the place of a small theosophical colony.
Alexander Alexandrovich Usov, Sophia Slobodinskaya's brother, lived In 1872—1941. He wrote books for children and travelled much. He wrote stories about animals, his pseudonym was 'Cheglok'. He travelled around the world twice with his friend, ananimalist Vasiliy Vatagin, who shared his theosophical ideas. In 1905 Alexander Usov took part in the revolutionary movement In Sochi, later on he lived abroad. He influenced his friend A. A. Lunacharsky who then became People's Commissar of education. In 1914—1915 Usov and his friends founded a little theosophical ashram in Lazarevskaya, near Sochi, In the Caucasus. In a village called Guarek he wanted to build the temple of the Sun In the shape of a star where through a system of mirrors the sunlight would have stayed In every corner all day long.
In the evening the theosophists used to light a fire by the seashore, they read poems, meditated and discussed problems. Among those who visited this ashram was M. Voloshin, a famous poet, who was interested in anthroposophy. At the end of the 30's, when A. Lunacharsky died, Usov was arrested and exiled to Siberia. In 1941 he left his home to die in freedom, he never returned.
Among the Russian theosophists I'd like to mention a good friend of M. Voloshin, a poetess Adelaide Gertsyk-Zhukovskaya, who lived in Sudak in the Crimea. I heard about her a lot from her son. She was a very courageous woman. Having gained a torture-chamber experience she wrote the recollections the manuscript of which is now going around «Torture-chamber Essays». They consist of very fine psychological observations of innocent people who went to prison for their noble background or for their religious and other convictions. One can judge these essays by the title of a series dedicated to prison — «Sanatorium of the Souls». Adelaide Gertsyk-Zhukovskaya saw how these unbearable conditions changed the psyche of the people and how the people were transformed. The prosaic, outer trumpery disappeared and in the people arose unusually deep and noble features. The hate between the old enemies who shared the same destiny disappeared and the vicinity of death made the people put up with the things which hadn't really been so essential in the discrepancies, it made them see life and beauty in a new light. The people who in their everyday life had been inconspicuous and very egoistic suddenly became heroic and showed sensibility, depth, mutual understanding and wisdom. I hope that these essays will come out some day. In them can the heroism of the author be felt who could transform the hardest trials into a lesson which she could learn without turning bitter,
Anyway, let me go back to the other workers of the theosophical movement. The son of Sophia Slobodinskaya, Leonid, was born in 1900. He took part in children's lodges — a movement of spiritual knights and «pages» («The Order of the Star in the East.»). If I am not mistaken the name of this knights' brotherhood was «Golden Link» or «Ring of Golden Chain». Theosophical ideas were always present in Leonid Slobodinsky's life. He was an agronomist and wrote a diary about his life. As the atmosphere in which he lived did not exclude his being informed on, he was writing his diary in symbolic drawings and the description of his taking part in the spiritual movement of the «pages» was in a form of a shield inside which there was a drawing. If I meet no obstacles in the customs I'll be ready to demonstrate these diaries in which the symbolism of light and emotion is very harmoniously presented and all the elements are harmoniously intertwined. Luckily, Leonid Slobodinsky escaped crackdown in spite of his active participation in the activity of the theosophical centre in Lazarevka organized by Usov (Cheglok).
Among the members of this society were the Obnorskys: Aleksei who was born in 1898 and his wife Olga. Aleksei Obnorsky belonged to an old aristocratic family. He was highly educated, he got exclusively good education, he knew six languages, was profoundly interested In philosophy and professed theosophical Ideas. Obnorsky, a very fascinating person, was always surrounded by young people whom he provided with the banned theosophical literature. He himself translated the works by Krishnamurti, maintained contacts between the theosophists of Moscow, Leningrad and other cities who had survived. In 1952 he was arrested — he was informed on — and only the death of Stalin and the amnesty which followed later on saved him from the concentration camp. Olga Obnorskaya was a woman of exclusive spiritual character. She wrote poems, was good at drawing and she was an unusually strong medium. She received information from the Teachers of the East through a telepathic contact, this information was written down in a poetical manuscript «Garden of the Teacher». She died In 1957. It is worth mentioning that she predicted precisely the day of her death a few years before it. Interesting is also that her telling fortunes with respect to her relatives and close friends was amazingly precise. The theosophists of Leningrad used to gather at the Obnorskys' place. Among them we should name Olga Yenko. She was a wonderful, sunny nature, always happy and cheerful.
She helped her husband In translating «Kalevala» into Russian. She never parted with an ivory cross with roses. With deep respect she mentioned the Rosicrusian movement. She was a close friend of Unkovskaya whose work «Light—Sound—Number» was published by the Theosophical Publishing House in St. Petersburg.
To this society also belonged Sophia Lesman. Together with her husband, Joseph Lesman, who was a violinist of the Auer chamber orchestra she belonged to the Theosophical society. She was a daughter of a Greek manufacturer who lived in Russia. She left her home to help those who were starving in Povolzhye. She went through the hardest trials. She was a close and confidential friend of Anna Kamensky, chairwoman of the Russian theosophical movement. After the dispersing of the Theosophical society and after Anna Kamensky left Russia Sophia Lesman worked in Russia instead of her, she kept safe the literature, helped those In need and kept contact with other theosophists. She was exiled to Alma-Ata together with her husband who founded a music school there. His pupils were under the influence of theosophical ideas. On coming back to Leningrad Sophia Lesman lived alone in a small dark room. Her husband and son had died. She didn't tell much about herself for she was afraid of another crackdown, but her presence itself at the meetings created an atmosphere of seriousness, depth and wisdom. She was a remarkable person who could win the love of people who knew her. She was always calm, simply dressed and she never parted with the amethyst beads given to her by Sophia Gerye who was also a well-known Russian theosophist. Sophia Lesman attached great importance to the violet color of the beads and said that they helped her to feel the contact with the great Masters who gave life to the theosophical movement. In her room she kept the portraits of Blavatsky, Besant, Jinarajadasa, Leadbeater, Arundale and Krishnamurti. Her hard life Sophia Lesman lived with amazing strength, seeing in it a manifestation of Karma. She died in the 70's in an old people's home.
To the society belonged the Timofeyevskys. The head of the family, medical professor Pavel Timofeyevsky, a friend of a famous academician Bekhterev, was a prominent member of the theosophical society in St.Petersburg. His publications about the spiritual freedom of man and about immortality, the basic ideas of theosophy, are well-known. After the revolution he was arrested, he died in prison. His daughter, Yekaterina Timofeyevskaya, was exiled but not imprisoned.
His son, Timofei Timofeyevsky, fell victim to crackdown as «a son of the people's enemy», because he refused to admit that his father was «the people's enemy». Yekaterina Timofeyevskaya was a painter and a poet. Her works were not published because of their religious contents. Fortunately, her poems were preserved in manuscripts and may some day be published. The heroic pathos and the remarkable sincerity of these poems speak for themselves. The basic idea in them is the conquering of oneself and confidence in the Higher Powers. If we can apply the epithet of a knight to a woman this concerns Yekaterina Timofeyevskaya. The full honesty in thought, words and deeds drew to her everybody she met. She died in 1987. She was found by her bed kneeling, her head lying on a pile of old copies of the journal «Messenger of Theosophy». On the table in front of her there was a portrait of Master M.
I shall go over to a group of theosophists in Moscow whom I was lucky enough to meet. Ariadna Arendt was a sculptor, a descendant of the doctor who treated the great Russian poet Pushkin. Ariadna Arendt was a woman who preserved an amazingly strong will and joy of life in spite of the fact that early in her youth she lost her legs. She was a friend of M. Voloshin and the ideas of the «Agni Yoga» by the Roerichs permeated through her. Her house was always open for the young and her library was available to everybody who was interested in it. In her home the works by Blavatsky, the Roerichs, Steiner, translations of Krishnamurti, Ramacharaka, occult works, the novels by Kryzhanovsky (Rochester) could be found in spite of cruel times. Her invalidism and openness, great enough, defended her and her husband, Anatolli Grigoryev, from repression, A. Grigoryev married her in spite of her disability, kept close to her and served her till the last day of his life. Ariadna is still alive.
Among the theosophists in Moscow I met awonderful woman, Yevgenia Dementyeva. She has been a well-known musician, who has in the old age preserved a very clear mind, she has been translating Krishnamurti and writing poems of her own. As an example of her thoughts I'd like to quote one of her poems. At the age of about 90, sick, with a broken hip, helpless, deaf, nearly blind, she writes as follows:
Louder and louder is the call of the skies.
Weaker and Weaker the song of life.
I wish the end of my way came soon.
Somebody whispers me a silent reproach:
«Understand: as long as you live, you must not wish to go...»
«Everything is not finished yet. Many duties still.
Not yet reached is the silent world of the spirit.
Excitement and restlessness have not gone away yet —
Don't rush to end your earthly life».
«Only those who fulfilled their duties, go,
or those who could not, or did not want to.
Accept, blessing as a gift, your suffering,
so that every new day may be a step on the Path».
In the theosophical circles the name of Kora Antarova is well-known. She was a talented singer who had some remarkable visions which helped her to create a work called «Two Lives» in which through literary means the occult side of the Masters' work was opened. Among the characters in the book was mentioned Leo Tolstoi. This literary work keeps in it many occult revelations and theosophical ideas.
Sergei and Maria Antonyuk were amazingly wise and kind people. They were teachers and their devotion to the theosophical movement inspired many of their pupils. When Sergei Antonyuk spoke about the ideas dear to him he became consumed with emotion and grew inspired. Greyhaired, short, he got transformed into a very happy person and people could not help rejoicing with him seeing this transformation. Those who were close to him could not help feeling happy because of the fact that the world is so rational that the stars shine with love, the grass smiles, all around is filled with beauty and thought. With his joy of life he reminds us of Franciscus Assisiensis — that's what kind of man he was.
One could not help loving and admiring everyone of these people. They were like sparks of a whole epoch, of a teaching that came simultaneously from the past and from the future and like seeds that fall into the ground they promote the great sprouts of the ideas of uniting people, religion and philosophy.
I want to close my speech with a quotation from the poems by Dementyeva:
Don't cry for me with wearisome helplessness,
hoping to keep me when my time comes.
Understand — there is no death. I'll stretch out my wings,
they'll carry me to a rapid flight.
It is birth, not death... The spiral leads all steeper.
Dimly I see a continuous row of curves.
And ahead, in mist, steep, unknown precipices.
When going up don't look back.
But I love you, my dear earth,
and I'll return to you when the time comes.
Will it be sooner or later — I know not...
There's no time There, only the stream of the Eternity.
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