Tuesday 25 June 2019

My Russian Way - Alexandre Havard - A Spiritual Autobiography

My Russian Way: 
A Spiritual Autobiography
Alexandre Havard
Anthony T. Salvia (Translator)
University of Mary Press
ISBN 9780965288095

After reading From Temperament to Character: On Becoming A Virtuous Leader, I became fascinated with this book. It is currently the only one by Alexandre Havard that is not available as an eBook in English. This book was a fascinating read. While reading it I have mentioned it to at least 20 people and shared numerous quotes from the book with friends, family and co-workers. Here are some numbers based on my first reading of this book:

91 pages of text
52 quotes or references in the book
43 highlights
4 pages of photos
2 full page icon’s: 
     Saint Josemaria Escriva
     Our lady of Fatima

Alexandre begins with his grandparents. And works his way through their history, and his own history. He writes clearly and succinctly. And yet there is a passion and power in his prose. He is writing about his life but more importantly about his spiritual life. One quote appears twice in the book, in the dedication and as part of a longer quotation later on, from Anton Chekhov’s The Student: 

“The past is linked with the present by an unbroken chain of events flowing one out of another. It seemed to him … that when he touched one end the other quivered.”

Alexandre writes about the strings that impacted him, and he writes about some of the impact he has had. Other than a brief conclusion the book ends with:

“I sense that my life is about to take a new turn. I feel this is not the end of my Russian way but merely the end of the beginning. I feel I am entering into one of the most rewarding periods of my life – even if, objectively, all if fraught with uncertainty. But that is a story for another time. For now, enough is enough.”

I hope someday he writes that next story, and that it becomes available in English. Alexandre was shaped and influenced by men whom I have only known through their writings, writings about them, and their impact on others. Specifically, Saint Josemaria Escriva and Blessed Alvaro del porta. Their impact on his life, it’s direction, and his lifelong mission is undeniable. And as the chains travel through time, their impact on Alexandre has ripples and impacted me, and I believe will impact any who read this volume. 

I cannot share all the quotes that impacted me while reading this volume but a random selection below will give you a sampling. 

Speaking about Modern Education:
“The modern university outs the accent more and more on information, and less and less on education in the broad sense of the term. It produces managers rather than leaders, knowledge rather than wisdom, techniques rather than courage. It Concerns itself more and more with things, and less and less with persons. The Crisis of the modern world is not a crisis of information, it is a crisis of formation, a crisis of authentic education.”

Recalling part of his family heritage:
“The descendants of Gedeon and Elioz—the Gedevanishvilis — were charged by royal decree with protecting the cloak and the cathedral. On my family’s coat of arms are the Ten Commandments engraved on two tablets (indicative of our Jewish origins), the cloak of Christ, the episcopal miter and scepter, the sword and the banner, and the keys to the cathedral at Mtskheta.”

Remembering his grandfather:
“Pavel is an intense worker. He is tough and persistent. His motto is: “As long as the ball isn’t punctured, it bounces back.”

He is highly intelligent. He listens a lot and says little.

Everyone comes to him for advice.

This man who suffered so much has a hard time smiling,
but he is gentle and humble of heart.”

Family wishes:
“In 1991, the Soviet regime falls. A year later, my parents move to Georgia, thus fulfilling my maternal grandfather’s most cherished dream—that the family return to liberated Georgia. My mother is 54 years old.”

About his attraction to Russian literature:
“What strikes me about Russian literature is its moral and Christian content. It is aimed at the reader’s heart. It seeks to ennoble and transform.”

Speaking on Vocation:
“It is 1979 and I am 17 years old. In a few months, I will graduate from secondary school.

I must decide on a career but am more concerned about what kind of life I will lead, what kind of man I will be. I know that if I do not decide the matter soon, others will do it for me—my parents, my friends, the girls I know, French
society with its empty slogans and fads.

I seek refuge at the famous Sacré Coeur Basilica at the summit of the Montmartre butte. Sacré Coeur is French for the Sacred Heart of Jesus, in which I now find comfort and consolation.”

“One of the most important Russian theologians of the emigration, Alexander Schmemann, says that the Christian’s on-going flight from the world stems from an inability to square the circle of a basic Christian paradox: to be “in the world” but “not of this world.”

Saint Pope John Paul II:
“During my university years, it is John Paul II who shapes my thinking.

Later, I would have the chance to be in his presence, to listen to him and speak to him in Rome, Helsinki and Tallinn.

John Paul II, like Escriva, is a giant. For me, he is also a father and a master.”

And a final quote:
“The years pass and nothing happens.

Or so it seems outwardly. In reality, these are years of great spiritual intensity.”

This book is an excellent read. This book was also an inspiring read. I have loved his leadership material I have read, and now I want to read the rest of his works. I just wish an eBook was available or it was easier to lay your hands on. This is a book I will keep buying copies of to give away. I give it my top recommendation. 

Note: This book is part of a series of reviews: 2019 Catholic Reading Plan! You can access a PDF of this book at the Virtuous Leadership Institute site.

Books by Alexandre Havard:
Virtuous Leadership: An Agenda for Personal Excellence
Created for Greatness: The Power of Magnanimity
From Temperament to Character: On Becoming A Virtuous Leader
My Russian Way: a spiritual autobiography

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