PRIEST PAVEL FLORENSKY
January 22, 1882 – December 8, 1937
Father Pavel Florensky, widely regarded as one of the 20th century’s foremost Orthodox theologians, was also an iconologist, philosopher, philologist, polyglot, mathematician, physicist, electrical engineer, inventor, and polymath. He was born to a Russian father and an Armenian mother in Azerbaijan and raised in Georgia. His parents had him baptized as a gesture of social convention but did not bring him up as an Orthodox believer. At the age of 18 in 1900 he established himself in Moscow to begin his studies in mathematics at Moscow University. At age 21 he committed himself to the Orthodox Church as the culmination of the spiritual awakening that had begun when he was 16, and so became part of the movement known as the returning intelligentsia. At 22 he abandoned a promising secular career and enrolled at the Moscow Theological Academy. There he met and fell in love with Sergei Troitsky, a priest’s son a year his senior. They became roommates at the Academy.
For reasons examined elsewhere, their plans to spend the rest of their life together did not materialize. Sergei entered into an unconsummated marriage with Pavel’s sister, Olga. Pavel subsequently married Anna Giatsintova, with whom he went on to have five children. He was ordained to the diaconate and the priesthood in April 1911.
In 1914 Father Pavel published his theological magnum opus, an expanded version of his master’s thesis, with the title The Pillar and Ground of the Truth: An Essay in Orthodox Theodicy in Twelve Letters. Despite being a married priest and the father of his first child, he dedicated the book to the now deceased Sergei. The culminating chapter — “Friendship” — both memorializes their relationship and comprises the world’s first Christian theology of what we now call same-sex love, for which Orthodoxy in Dialogue editor Giacomo Sanfilippo has proposed the term conjugal friendship.
After spending many years interned in Soviet Russia’s Gulag away from his wife and children, Father Pavel was executed eighty-three years ago today. There is widespread popular anticipation that he will one day be formally glorified as a saint by the Russian Orthodox Church.
Avril Pyman writes of Father Pavel’s death: