Friday, May 4, 2012

The Conversion of Alexander Rzewuski

Thanks to Paula B. for sending me this extraordinary story.
Alexander was descended from a long line of Poles who had played a prominent part in the history of their country as hereditary "Hetman of the crown." At the last partition of Poland in 1795, they passed over to the service of the Russian Empire. Rzewuski's grandfather was in the personal suite of four Tsars, and his father, General Adam Rzewuski, born in Ukraine, was military Governor of the Caucasus region at the time of Alexander's birth there in 1893.

Alexander's mother was a Russian, from the St Petersburg aristocracy. He was baptised into the Russian Orthodox Church and spent his childhood partly in the Caucasus (with forays into Azerbaijan and Chechnya) and partly in Ukraine, where a series of French and English governesses educated him and his sisters at home.

As an adolescent of 14, he was sent north, far from the mountains of the Caucasus, to school in St Petersburg at the Imperial Alexander Lycée. Schooling completed, he passed on to the University there. As an undergraduate, he was profoundly, if imperceptibly, affected by the philosophy lectures. A cast of mind which was to stay with him until his student days as a Dominican, was introduced.

It is hard to imagine the life of careless comfort and extreme wealth lived by the nobility and aristocracy of the Russian Empire. It is even harder to try to depict it: a society multi-lingual, yet with a bias towards French, reverencing the values of personal honour and family tradition, possessed of a broad education in the humanities, but not a noticeably deep one. This was the world to which Rzewuski belonged, and it all came tumbling down after June 1914 with the assassination of Franz Ferdinand at Sarajevo.

Rzewuski served during the war as an officer in command of organising fleets of ambulances for the wounded. Two events, one public and universally cataclysmic, the other personal and hidden, set the pattern for his future career. The personal event was his sudden reception into the Catholic Church. With scant knowledge of religion, and lacking any insistent habit of church attendance, he could justify this sharp turn, only by stating that the idea of joining the Catholic Church would not leave him. He had very little knowledge of Orthodoxy, and less of Catholicism.

One night, towards the end of the war (at the very time when his friend Prince Felix Yussoupoff was planning the assassination of Rasputin), he knocked at the door of Italian Capuchins in Trebizond (of all places!) demanding to be received into the Catholic Church on the spot. (Read entire post.)

1 comment:

PV said...

Thank you for posting it my dear friend. Paula