As AK-47 inventor Mikhail Kalashnikov neared death, the man whose gun became one of the world's most prolific killing machines wrestled with guilt from the countless lives taken with his invention, telling a church leader "my soul aches."
The inventor, who died last month at age 94, wrote a letter to the Russian Orthodox Church's top leader, Kirill I, six months prior to his death, expressing his remorse and asking if creating the gun favored by Muslim terrorists around the world and known by his last name made him guilty. Some 100 million AK-47s have been manufactured, and used to kill countless people in conflicts throughout the globe.
"My soul aches; it is unbearable. I face the same unsolvable question: If my gun killed people, then I, Mikhailo Kalashnikov, 93 years old, a peasant's son, a Christian and Orthodox believer, is guilty in people's death, even if they were enemies," Kalashnikov wrote, according to a report in the Russian newspaper Izvestia.
"The longer I live," he continued, "the more this question drills itself into my brain and the more I wonder why the Lord allowed man to have the devilish desires of envy, greed and aggression."
The letter, typed on Kalashnikov's personal stationery and published in Izvesita Monday, is signed "a slave of God, the designer Mikhail Kalashnikov."
Church spokesman and Protodeacon Alexander Volkov said Kirill I, who leads a 150 million-member church, "received Kalashnikov's letter and wrote an answer." Although the reply was not released, Volkov said Kirill I offered comforting words.
"This letter was very appropriate at the time of attacks against the Church. The Patriarch thanked the legendary constructor for his attention and position and answered that [Kalashnikov] was an example of patriotism and right attitude to the country," Volkov told Izvestia.
"He invented this gun to defend his country, not for the Saudi Arabian terrorists," Volkov stressed.
Kalashnikov also pressed the spiritual leader about the state of religion in Russia, where the Russian Orthodox Church has grown more powerful since the fall of communism.
"Yes, the number of churches and monasteries grow in our country, but the evil does not decrease!" he wrote. "The good and the bad live as neighbors, fight and, what is the most terrific, submit to one another in people's souls -- that is what I discovered in the dawn of my earthly life. It is similar to the eternal engine which I wanted to invent in my early years. Light and shadow, good and evil are the opposites of the whole thing and they can't live without each other? Is it possible that the Lord set this order?" Kalashnikov wrote.
Other topics covered in the letter included the state of the Russian defense industry and the role of the Russian Orthodox Church that "bears holy values of good and mercy to the world."
The AK-47 -- short for "Avtomat Kalashnikov," or Kalashnikov's machine, and 1947, the year it went into production -- is favored by guerrillas, terrorists and the soldiers of many armies. Kalashnikov invented it after being wounded while fighting in the Red Army.
Kalashnikov, who died Dec. 23 in a hospital in Izhevsk, the capital of the Udmurtia republic where he lived, had not always been conflicted by his invention.
"I sleep well. It's the politicians who are to blame for failing to come to an agreement and resorting to violence," he said in 2007.