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Pavel Florensky




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Pavel Alexandrovich Florensky (also P.A. Florenskiĭ, Florenskii, Florenskij, Russian: Па́вел Алекса́ндрович Флоре́нский ) (January 21 [O.S. January 9] 1882 - December 1937) was a Russian Orthodox theologian, philosopher, mathematician, electrical engineer, inventor and Neomartyr sometimes compared by his followers to Leonardo da Vinci.



Early life

Pavel Aleksandrovich Florensky was born on January 21, 1882, into a family of a railroad engineer (Aleksandr Florensky) in the town of Yevlakh in western Azerbaijan. His father came from a family of Russian Orthodox priests while his mother Olga (Salomia) Saparova (Saparashvili) was of the Armenian nobility.

After graduating from Tbilisi gymnasium in 1899 Florensky entered the department of mathematics of Moscow State University and simultaneously studied philosophy. During this period the young Florensky, who had no religious upbringing, began taking an interest studies beyond, "the limitations of physical knowledge..." In 1904 he graduated from Moscow State University and refused to accept a teaching position at the University: instead, he proceeded to study theology at the Ecclesiastical Academy in Sergiyev Posad. During his theological study he first came into contact with who would become his spiritual father and mentor, Elder Isidore on a visit to Gethsemane Hermitage. Together with his fellow students Ern, Svenitsky and Brikhnichev he founded a society, the Christian Struggle Union (Союз Христиaнской Борьбы), with the revolutionary aim of rebuilding Russian society according to the principles of Vladimir Solovyov. Subsequently he was arrested for membership in this society in 1906: however, he later lost his interest in the Radical Christianity movement.




Philosophers Pavel Florensky and Sergei Bulgakov, a painting by Mikhail Nesterov (1917)



Intellectual interests
During his studies at the Ecclesiastical Academy, Florensky's interests included philosophy, religion, art and folklore. He became a prominent member of the Russian Symbolism movement, started his friendship with Andrei Bely and published works in the magazines New Way (Новый Путь) and Libra (Весы). He also started his main philosophical work, The Pillar and Ground of the Truth: an Essay in Orthodox Theodicy in Twelve Letters. The complete book was published only in 1924 but most of it was finished at the time of his graduation from the academy in 1908.

According to Princeton University Press: "The book is a series of twelve letters to a "brother" or "friend," who may be understood symbolically as Christ. Central to Florensky's work is an exploration of the various meanings of Christian love, which is viewed as a combination of philia (friendship) and agape (universal love). He describes the ancient Christian rites of the adelphopoiesis (brother making), joining male friends in chaste bonds of love. In addition, Florensky is one of the first thinkers in the twentieth century to develop the idea of the Divine Sophia, who has become one of the central concerns of feminist theologians."

After graduating from the academy, he taught philosophy there and lived at Troitse-Sergiyeva Lavra until 1919. In 1911 he was ordained into the priesthood. In 1914 he wrote his dissertation, About Spiritual Truth. He published works on philosophy, theology, art theory, mathematics and electrodynamics. Between 1911 and 1917 he was the chief editor of the most authoritative Orthodox theological publication of that time, Bogoslovskiy Vestnik. He was also a spiritual teacher of the controversial Russian writer Vasily Rozanov, urging him to reconcile with the Orthodox Church.

Period of Communist rule in Russia
After the October Revolution he formulated his position as: I am of a Philosophical and scientific world outlook developed by me, which contradicts the vulgar interpretation of communism... but that does not prevent me to honestly work for the state service. After the closing down, by the Bolsheviks, of the Troitse-Sergiyeva Lavra (1918) and the Sergievo-Posad Church (1921), where he was the priest, he moved to Moscow to work on the State Plan for Electrification of Russia. (ГОЭЛРО) Under the recommendation of Leon Trotsky who strongly believed in Florensky's ability to help the government to electrify rural Russia. According to contemporaries, Florensky in his priest's cassock, working alongside other leaders of a Government department, was a remarkable sight.

In 1924, he published a large monograph on dielectrics, as well as his The Pillar and Ground of the Truth: an Essay in Orthodox Theodicy in Twelve Letters. He also worked simultaneously as the Scientific Secretary of the Historical Commission on Troitse-Sergiyeva Lavra and published his works on ancient Russian art. He was also rumoured to be the main organizer of the plot to save the relics of St. Sergii Radonezhsky whose destruction had been ordered by the government.

In the second half of the 1920s, he mostly worked on physics and electrodynamics, publishing his main hard science work Imaginary numbers in Geometry (Мнимости в геометрии. Расширение области двухмерных образов геометрии) devoted to the geometrical interpretation of Albert Einstein's theory of relativity. Among other things, he proclaimed that the geometry of imaginary numbers predicted by the theory of relativity for a body moving faster than light is the geometry of the kingdom of God.

1928-1937: Exile, imprisonment, death
In 1928, Florensky was exiled to Nizhny Novgorod. After the intercession of Ekaterina Peshkova (wife of Maxim Gorky), Florensky was allowed to return to Moscow. In 1933 he was arrested again and sentenced to ten years in the Labor Camps by the infamous Article 58 of Stalin's criminal code (clauses ten and eleven: "agitation against the Soviet system" and "publishing agitation materials against the Soviet system"). The published agitation materials were the monograph about the theory of relativity.

He served at the Baikal Amur Mainline camp, until 1934 when he was moved to Solovki, there he conducted research into producing iodine and agar out of the local seaweed. In 1937 he was transferred to Saint Petersburg (then known as Leningrad) where he was sentenced by an extrajudicial NKVD troika to execution. According to a legend he was sentenced for the refusal to disclose the location of the head of St. Sergii Radonezhsky that the communists wanted to destroy. The Saint's head was indeed saved and in 1946, the Troitse-Sergiyeva Lavra was opened again. The relics of St. Sergii became fashionable once more. The Saint's relics were returned to Lavra by Pavel Golubtsov, later known as archbishop Sergiy.

Official Soviet information stated that Florensky died December 8, 1943 somewhere in Siberia, but a study of the NKVD archives after the dissolution of the Soviet Union have shown that information to be false. Florensky was shot immediately after the NKVD troika session in December 1937. Most probably he was executed at the Rzhevsky Artillery Range, near Toksovo, which is located about twenty kilometers northeast of Saint Petersburg and was buried in a secret grave in Koirangakangas near Toksovo together with 30,000 others who were executed by NKVD at the same time.
 

 

 
 
 
 
 

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