Funeral rites under way for dissident writer Solzhenitsyn

August 6th, 2008 - 5:25 pm ICT by IANS  

Moscow, Aug 6 (DPA) The funeral was held for dissident Soviet writer Alexander Solzhenitsyn Wednesday ahead of his burial at Moscow’s 16th century Donskoy Monastery. Several hundred people crowded the vaulted church where white-gowned priests chanted and swung thuribles, or incense-burners, over his open coffin.

Solzhenitsyn, remembered as Russia’s moral conscience for his unflinching exposes on the horrors of the Soviet prison camps, died Sunday aged 89.

His widow Natalya wore a black beret for the service and stood with Solzhenitsyn’s son, other friends and officials, holding candles in a half arc around the bier.

Russian President Dmitry Medvedev attended the service ahead of Solzhenitsyn’s burial.

A devout Russian Orthodox Christian, Solzhenitsyn chose Donskoy Monastery as his final resting place five years ago, asking special permission from the Moscow Patriarchy to be buried alongside the many other Russian dissidents and artists there.

The Nobel writer, distinguishable in his last years for his full Orthodox beard, was a firm Russian patriot, and prayed to be buried at home during his long years of exile.

When he won recognition in 1970 for his monumental documentation of the Soviet Union’s forced labour camps in the “The Gulag Archipelago” and “One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich”, he refused to leave the country fearing he would be barred from returning.

But in the 1970s, the KGB redoubled its efforts to silence public mention of the camps where Solzhenitsyn spent eight years, and he was expelled from his homeland.

On his homecoming in 1994, former president Vladimir Putin awarded Solzhenitsyn Russia’s highest accolade in a pomp-filled Kremlin ceremony honouring his devotion to the “motherland”.

But the return was also a shock to the former Soviet writer who hardly recognised his country in the newly wealthy nation, and, in rare public appearances during his last years, he criticised society’s lack of Orthodox Christian values.

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