21 November 2009

Patriarch Pavle's Favourite Novel

Alas, long-suffering readers! It appears that once again my blogging may be limited for awhile. This time it is the screen on my laptop, which keeps switching off the moment I boot up. It looks like I may have to take it to a shop this time.

In the meanwhile, I have borrowed my wife's computer and would like to post just one little thing. Like many of you, I was profoundly moved last Sunday when I learned of the repose of His Holiness, Patriarch Pavle of Serbia, believed by nearly all Orthodox Christians to be a man of great sanctity. Well, of all of the wonderful eulogies out there, many of which can be seen at Fr Milovan Katanic's Again & Again, one of my favourites was Fr Milovan's translation of part of an interview with the Patriarch's grandniece, Snezana Milkovic.

Among other interesting reminiscences about His Holiness from this unique point of view, Milkovic notes, 'He answered our questions through anecdotes, stories, Chinese proverbs, lives of the Saints, interpretations. His favorite novel was Victor Hugo's Les Miserables and spoke frequently about Jean Valjean and Cosette. All of those discussions, in fact, were messages through stories, he never criticized anyone nor taught them directly, it was always through some anecdote, joke, good humor.'

This was enough to convince me at the delightful 30 Penn Books yesterday finally to buy a copy of the novel--Victor Hugo, Les Miserables, Complete & Unabridged, trans. Charles E. Wilbour (NY: Barnes & Noble, 1996). I've never read it, though a production of the musical that I saw when I was twelve impressed me and I later enjoyed the film starring Liam Neeson and Geoffrey Rush. The scene with the kind bishop giving Valjean his candlesticks has always stuck with me, particularly Peter Vaughan's delivery of his lines after the gendarmes have left. Here is the passage I love so much taken from Wilbour's translation:

The bishop approached him, and said, in a low voice:

'Forget not, never forget that you have promised me to use this silver to become an honest man.'

Jean Valjean, who had no recollection of this promise, stood confounded. The bishop had laid much stress upon these words as he uttered them. He continued, solemnly:

'Jean Valjean, my brother: you belong no longer to evil, but to good. It is your soul that I am buying for you. I withdraw it from dark thoughts and from the spirit of perdition, and I give it to God!' (p. 90)

Whatever Hugo's faults (see this post, and the comments), may the Lord forgive him for the sake of such a beautiful depiction of mercy and redemption.


Josh said...


Xeneteia said...

Josh took the words from my mouth - Amen.

Thanks for the post, Aaron.