Monday, August 3, 2020

The year was 2008, and we remember Alexander Solzhenitsyn. The reading is a poem from Solzhenitsyn's "Gulag Archipelago."

It is the 3rd of August 2020. Welcome to the Christian History Almanac brought to you by 1517 at, I'm Dan van Voorhis.

The year was 2008.

Yesterday we were back in the 7th century, so we apologize for the whiplash coming into a year you can probably remember. As we do on this show with particularly modern dates, we will throw you a grab bag of items about the year in the lead up to our entry for the day.

2008 saw the beginning of the Great Recession. Housing prices plummeted, banks failed or were taken over, and we all thought that would be the most important financial story of our lifetimes.

In another story with parallels to 2020, 2008 saw the writer's strike in America, as production on movies and television programs were shut down for almost three months. The strike came in response to failed negotiations over compensation for shows on streaming networks.

The highest-grossing movie of the year was "The Dark Knight," the second installment of the Christian-Bale-has-a-sore-throat Batman trilogy. It beat out "Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull." Despite that terrible film, several remarkable movies came out that year. The comedy "In Bruges," "The Wrestler" starring Mickey Rourke, the first "Iron Man" movie, and the touching, coming of age story "Step Brothers."

It was the 50th anniversary of the Grammy Awards. Amy Winehouse nabbed many of the top awards. The singer of "Rehab" took home Record of the Year, Song of the Year, and Best New Artist. In the Best New Artist category, the now-deceased pop star beat out a young Taylor Swift. Swift had the third bestselling album of the year with her "Fearless." She was only beat out by Coldplay's "Viva La Vida" and Lil Wayne's "Tha Carter III." 2008 saw the debut albums of Bon Iver, Fleet Foxes, and Vampire Weekend. All are solid debut albums.

Thousands of Chinese babies were born in 2008 with the name “Aoyun,” which is Chinese for "Olympics." The popularity of the name obviously came with the 2008 Summer Olympics held in Beijing.

In 2008 new research at Stonehenge revealed that the site was not only older than previously thought but that it was also likely a place used for healing, not a burial site as was once thought.

If the end of the year felt a little longer than usual, that is because it was. In 2008, a leap second was added to the final day of the year as part of the regular maintenance designed to keep our 365-day calendar from slipping.

There were many sad deaths in 2008. Heath Ledger died of an overdose the same year he was nominated for an Oscar for his role in the Dark Knight. A veteran of the “Jaws” movies and “SeaQuest DSV,” Roy Scheider, died as did legendary comedian George Carlin. Screen legends Paul Newman and Charlton Heston also died in 2008.

And it was on this, the 3rd of August, in 2008, that Alexander Solzhenitsyn died. The Russian novelist won the Nobel Prize for literature in 1970. The Soviet dissident and Christian was especially harsh on the repressive Soviet regime for what he called the "eradication of Christian Religion and Morality." Alexander had been baptized into the Russian Church but left it as he embraced the atheistic forms of Communism in his homeland. Upon being arrested for anti-Soviet expressions in intercepted letters, he found himself in a labor camp where he, by his admission, came to re-embrace the Christian faith of his youth.

Solzhenitsyn's Gulag Archipelago was a stinging indictment of the forced labor system in the Soviet Union. While it made him unpopular in the Soviet Union, he was welcomed to America, where he lived a quiet life in Vermont. In 1979, Alexander was invited to give the commencement address at Harvard. Hoping for a stinging indictment of the USSR, both conservatives and liberals anxiously awaited the speech. However, most left unhappy as Solzhenitsyn decried both the autocracy of the Soviet Union, but also the permissiveness and legalism in American culture. While the speech, entitled "A World Split Apart," is broadly hailed today, at the time, it was considered quite controversial. In it, he wrote, "Gradually it was disclosed to me that the line dividing good and evil passes not through states, nor between classes, nor between political parties either—but right through every human heart."

Like so many Russian authors before him, Solzhenitsyn's genius lies in his ability to see the root problem of sin and then fleeing to Christ who promises to set all things right again. Solzhenitsyn left to be with Christ on this, the 2nd of August, in 2008.

The reading for today comes from Solzhenitsyn. This is a poem in his "Gulag Archipelago."

I look back with grateful trembling
At the life I have had to lead.
Neither desire nor reason
Has illumined its twists and turns,
But the glow of a Higher Meaning
Only later to be explained.
And now with the cup returned to me
I scoop up the water of life.
Almighty God! I believe in Thee!
Thou remained when I Thee denied

This has been the Christian History Almanac for the 3rd of August 2020 brought to you by 1517 at The show is produced by a man who prefers his batmen to be played by the likes of Adam West and Michael Keaton, Christopher Gillespie. The show is written and read by Dan van Voorhis. You can catch us here every day. and remember that the rumors of grace, forgiveness, and the redemption of all things are true…. Everything is going to be ok.

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