by Fr. John Hainsworth
Every year during Holy Week I read to my congregation an eyewitness account of a certain Pascha night on Solovki Island in 1925. For centuries, this island in the White Sea had been the home of a venerable and remote monastery. After the Bolshevik Revolution in Russia, the monks were replaced by political and religious prisoners. The once-beautiful monastery became a concentration camp. The climate of that region was especially harsh and the island well out of sight, and the newly formed gulag became a place of unspeakable horror for its inhabitants.
Among the few who survived was a prisoner who worked in the camp's archives, and he left us the description of an extraordinary occurrence. Through some favor-gained by one of the prisoners, Bishop Illarion-all the prisoners were allowed by the communist authorities to celebrate Pascha in the camp. But only that one night and never again. Preparations were made, vestments were secretly liberated from the vaults of the former monastery, and on Pascha night the whole camp gathered together. Here is the prisoner's description of that evening: