Saturday, January 17, 2009

Book Review: The Traitor

Grigori is a traitor. But whom and how many has he betrayed?

Book Review: The Traitor
Author: Lvar Divomlikoff
Publisher: Popular Library, 1976
Originally published in French as Le Traitre.
By Editions Robert Morel, 1972

This novel tells the story of Grigori, KGB officer at the end of World War II, who is offered a twenty-year mission to infiltrate the Russian Orthodox Church. Twenty years later he still thinks in his mind that believers are suppositious fools, but when meeting with his superior, his first thought is how to save the superior’s soul. His superior tells him the mission will be terminated. He is to write a letter to a noted professor ”confessing” his error in being a priest, denouncing the Church and the faith, after which he will be given a cincture as a professor of atheism at the university, and undoubtedly serve as a spy there.

He first walks into a seminary and states he had a conversion during the war and wants to be a priest. He is accepted with little checking because it is impossible in post war confusion. After three years while the seminary is being closed by local authorities, he attacks the soldiers who are closing it against the instructions of the Rector. He is thrown in jail by the local police who know nothing of his mission. In doing this he has betrayed both the Church and the Service.

After letting Grigori stew a while and a solid reprimand the KGB gets him released with instructions to find the proper authorities and be ordained. In the Orthodox Church one can be ordained a celibate monk or after reaching a certain age as a celibate priest. Otherwise he has to be married. To be a Bishop, which is the eventual goal, he has to be a celibate monk or priest. The last surviving member of the faculity recommends him as a priest but not a monk. He is too young to be ordained without being married. But in looking for the proper authorities he met a girl who dreams of being the wife of parish priest. He proposes and she accepts. He does not see this as a problem to becoming a Bishop because she can be run over by truck in a year or two. He is validly, if sacrilegiously and blasphemously, ordained.

He spends the next seventeen years in several parishes; to maintain his cover he enthusiastically performs his priestly duties, often illegally. He becomes influential in the affairs of the Church. His wife’s tenderness wins and softens his heart, and she makes the best borsht in the world.

Grigori turns in his “confession.” Waiting for the summons to be recalled, he celebrates what he expects is his last Divine Liturgy, glad that he will never participate in that farce again. At the consecration he bows, comes up, and Christ is present on the altar. A fact of which he is absolutely certain. He does not like it but a fact is a fact, the party and KGB are wrong and the Church is right. Pondering on his way home to some of his wife’s borsht he is arrested.

His mission is reviewed under torture, his new faith gives him the strength to survive it, but he is never asked the question about his current belief that would send him to a firing squad. He passes the test, his wife is run over by a runaway truck and he is released from jail. Between his reputation, his witness to the faith under torture, and KGB string pulling, he is ordained a bishop. He confesses the truth to the Patriarch who tells him not worry, there is plenty of time for martyrdom and he will do much good before the KGB figures it out.

This psychological drama is good read. Mildly annoying is the translator used the terminology of the Western Church in describing the Russian Orthodox Church. The plot is completely in agreement with everything I have heard of life under the Soviets. Long out of print if you find a copy it is worth reading.

I found this book which I read a long time ago while moving things at home. The story has remained with me especially since the fall of the Berlin Wall. As the news stories of how the Church survived and of clergy at various levels of loyalty came out my mind ran back to poor Grigori. No great lessons just a context to view the events.

If he survived until the overthrow, a Grigori would have betrayed to many to ever be restored to anything more than a back pew parishioner, but there is the strange irony that to maintain his cover he was a more effective priest, who brought Christ and salvation to more people, than a sincere priest could ever have done without being arrested. And he betrayed them to martyrdom.

Pray for the persecuted Church everywhere.

Related (added 11/12/11): Resurection


El Jefe Maximo said...

I've often thought that being a long term penetration agent, or a sleeper, would be one of the most psychologically confusing and troubling predicaments imaginable.

To whom is loyalty due? I would expect that the percentage of such persons who "go native" to greater or lesser degrees is extremely high. Certainly the intelligence and police organizations who use such persons account for this. The number of persons who could work in these conditions and not become crazy, or at least serious alcoholics, must be vanishingly small.

hank_F_M said...

El jefe

Thanks for the comment.

I get tthe impression that long term sleepers can hardly exist outside of fiction.

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