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:

What none of them knew positively but many felt instinctively was that, precisely for the more educated and this politically undesirable prisoners, Solovki was now a death camp. An order…required that STON be decreased by 1,200 people, all to be properly bureaucratically processed and done away with extraterritorially, as though they were simply being moved elsewhere. In the meantime, they were expendable. [A] letter of 19 September 1937 records a desperate shortage of food and money for the prison shop.
At the end of October 1937, this twilight existence came to an end. There was a hurried evacuation of more than a thousand men to the mainland. A witness recalls seeing Florensky…among the lines of four who were marched out to the Bay of Content. Weighed down with cases and rucksacks, they could only nod as they passed. They were conveyed to the so-called Workers’ Island where Florensky, with 12 others, was brought up before a troika, accused of counter-revolutionary Trotskyite propaganda and condemned to be shot.
On 25 November the condemned were moved near Leningrad, where they were delivered to a Major Frenkov, who carefully checked each one against his photograph. On 8 December Florensky’s turn came. He was shot with two others whose fate had had no previous connection with his own and the bodies tipped into a communal grave.
…[I]f this was martyrdom, it was the very twentieth-century, existential martyrdom of a sentient, living human being, ground down to silence and consigned to an anonymous grave. 
From Pavel Florensky: A Quiet Genius (New York: Continuum, 2010), pp. 180-82.
Memory eternal. Вѣчная память.
See also:
Conjugal Friendship, Public Orthodoxy
The Vocabulary of Conjugal Friendship, Orthodoxy in Dialogue
Father Pavel Florensky and the Sacrament of Love, The Wheel
Excerpts from “Two Worlds,” “Friendship,” and “Jealousy”, Orthodoxy in Dialogue
Pavel Florensky: A Quiet Genius: The Tragic and Extraordinary Life of Russia’s Unknown da Vinci, Avril Pyman
Doctoral Thesis Proposal: “Conjugal Friendship and the Sacrament of Love: Father Pavel Florensky’s Orthodox Theology of Same-Sex Love,” Giacomo Sanfilippo
Click here to make a donation to feed the homeless on Christmas in memory of Father Pavel.



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