Solzhenitsyn on Sitting Down


In Twilight

I well remember the very widespread custom, back in the South, of “twilighting.” Carried over from before the Revolution, it might have also been fortified by the meager, perilous years of the Civil War. Yet this practice had come about much earlier. Was it born of the months-long warmness of the Southern dusk? Many became accustomed never to rush lighting their lamps, yet, having completed their chores (or tended to the livestock) before nightfall, they were in no hurry to get to bed. Instead, they emerged outside to sit on dirt ledges or benches, or just lounged inside with the windows wide open – no light to draw in bugs. One after another they would sit softly down, as if lost in thought. And long remained silent.

If someone did speak, it was quietly, delicately, unobtrusively. Somehow, in those exchanges, no one got fired up to argue, or to reproach spitefully, or to quarrel. Faces could barely be made out, then not at all; and, lo, one began to discern in them, and their voices, something unfamiliar, something one failed to observe through the prior course of years.

A feeling would take hold of everyone, of something impalpable and unseen that descended gently from the dimming after-sunset sky, dissolved in the air, streamed in through the windows: that profound seriousness of life, its unfragmented meaning, that goes ignored in the bustle of the day. Our brush with the enigma that we let flit away.

From “Minatures 1996-99,” published in First Things, December 2006, Number 168, pg. 5

Solzhenitsyn writes of an older time in his own land – which like ours has had its own brush with modernity (some parts of Russia never quite got brushed). But I remember our own summer nights in the American South – in my childhood air conditioning was unknown. It was far too hot to go inside until well after dark. People sat on porches, talking quietly, children playing, chasing lightning bugs (“fireflies” for the foreigners reading this). There was a quiet – perhaps even an inner stillness. Strangely, it was too hot even to venture in to the television set. We knew our neighbors for at least the reason that we were all forced outside to sit.

Place, like stability, and even economic and human condition are sacramental (all life is sacramental). There is truly the rare saint who can make a place for silence in the bustle of the world if the bustle never quietens down.

Fr. Thomas Hopko says that a man cannot possibly be a priest if he isn’t silent (doing nothing) for 30 minutes a day.

I think I’ll go work on my priesthood now. Goodnight.

About Fr. Stephen Freeman

Fr. Stephen is a retired Archpriest of the Orthodox Church in America, Pastor Emeritus of St. Anne Orthodox Church in Oak Ridge, Tennessee. He is also author of Everywhere Present: Christianity in a One-Storey Universe, and Face to Face: Knowing God Beyond Our Shame, as well as the Glory to God podcast series on Ancient Faith Radio.





5 responses to “Solzhenitsyn on Sitting Down”

  1. fatherstephen Avatar

    Photo: It’s one of those English country lanes I spent time in this summer. It invites you just to linger and do nothing much at all.

  2. Stephen Avatar

    One of the things I love about my summer job, treeplanting, is precisely this. We live and work in the bush six days of the week without internet, tv, phones, and it is wonderful. This summer the company thought we wanted satellite tv, and tried to bring it in, and I am sure some people wanted it, especially to watch hockey, but thankfully it rarely worked though many people tried. With nothing else to distract it does force you to just hang out and be with people, especially this summer when we had a major heat wave, and the tents were just way too hot to be in in the evenings.

  3. handmaidleah Avatar

    Fr. Bless!
    After I had posted on Spruce Island, and if you have ever been there the beauty is… really there are just no words to describe that particular piece of ground. I read this from Mother Gavrilia, “The scenery was unique. The greatness of God dominated the place and made Prayer to flow…”
    We were there in the summer, it was always twilight and the birds kept singing until late. We always spoke in hushed voices, even to work.
    I remember the first time my son saw lighten’ bugs! He was 3 and that was the biggest treat! Too dry in Colorado for them and one of my best memories as a kid. I always thought my sister and her friends way mean for making jewelry out of them…
    the handmaid,

  4. ggwfung Avatar

    The old tradition of the post-dinner walk is something sorely missed. It meant a sense of community, seeing the people in your area, acknowledging them, talking with your close ones, and just being active.

    There are so many simple beauties in life that are passed over.


  5. fatherstephen Avatar

    One curious Russian custom (I do not know whether it is still practiced or not) – I’ve run across it in places like 19th century novels – was that of sitting down for a few minutes before going on a journey. We sometimes do this at our house. All the hustle and bustle of getting packed and loaded.

    Sitting down for a few minutes befoe leaving, not only lets the head clear and even to remember what you were going to remember 5 to 15 minutes into the trip but also to gather yourself into yourself and to offer a short prayer before leaving. I like the custom.

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  1. Greetings, Father Stephen, Thank you so much for this reflection and all of the tremendous amount of work you have…

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