Ways of Russian Theology



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Russian Freemasonry.


Freemasonry proved to be a major event in the history of Russian society — that society born and elaborated in the upheaval of the Petrine era. Freemasons were men who had lost the “eastern” path and who had become lost on western ones. Quite naturally they discovered this new road of freemasonry by starting from a western crossroads. The first generation raised in Peter's reforms received its education in the principles of a utilitarian state service. The new educated class arose from among the “converts,” that is, among those who accepted the Reform. At that time such acceptance or acknowledgment defined one's membership in the new “class.” The new men became accustomed and schooled to interpret their existence only in terms of state utility and the general welfare. The “Table of Ranks” replaced the Creed [Simvol very] and all it implied. 106 The consciousness of these new men became extroverted to the point of rupture. The soul became lost, disconcerted, and dissolved in the feverish onslaught of foreign impressions and experiences. In the whirl of construction during Peter's reign there had been no time to have second thoughts or recovery. By the time the atmosphere became somewhat freer, the soul had already been ravished and exhausted. Moral receptivity became addled; religious needs choked and suffocated. The very next generation began speaking with alarm on the corruption of morals in Russia. 107 The subject was hardly exhausted. This was an age of absorbing adventures and every sort of gratification. The history of the Russian soul has not yet been written for the eighteen century. Only fragmentary episodes are known. But a general weariness, sickness, and anguish clearly echo and reverberate in such episodes. The best representatives of Catherine's age testify to the searing ordeal, which compelled them to set forth in search of meaning and truth during an age of freethinking and debauchery. They had to contend with passing through the coldest indifference and the most excruciating despair. For many, Voltarianism became a genuine disease both morally and spiritually.

A religious awakening — a revival from a religious faint — occurred in the second half of the eighteenth century. Not surprisingly, such an awakening often bordered on hysterics. “A paroxysm of conscientious thought,” as Kliuchevskii described this freemasonic awakening. Yet freemasonry was more than a simple paroxysm. Russian freemasonry's entire historical significance lies in the fact that it was anascetic effort and attempt at spiritual concentration. The Russian soul recovered itself through freemasonry from the alien customs and dissipations in St. Petersburg.

Freemasonry did not signify a passing episode, but rather a developmental stage in the history of modern Russian society. Toward the end of the 1770's freemasonry swept through nearly the entire educated class: In any case, the system of Masonic lodges, with all its branches, extended throughout that class.

Russian freemasonry had a history rich in disputes, divisions, and fluctuations. The first lodges were, in essence, circles of Deists who professed a rational morality and natural religion, while seeking to achieve moral self-knowledge.108 No distinctions or divisions existed between “freemasons” and “Voltarians.” The mystical current in freemasonry emerged somewhat later. 109 Yet the circle of Moscow Rosicrucians became the most important and influential among the Russian freemason centers of the time.

Freemasonry is a peculiar secular and secret Order with a very strict inner and external discipline. And it was precisely its inner discipline or asceticism (not just healthy spiritual hygiene) which proved to be most important for the general economy of Masonic labors in squaring the “rough stone” of the human heart, as the expression went. A new type of man was reared in such asceticism; a new human type which is encountered in the subsequent epoch among the “Romantics.” The “occult sources” of Romanticism are by now incontestable.

Russian society received a sentimental education: an awakening of the heart. The future Russian intelligent first detected in the masonic movement his shatteredness and duality of existence. He became tormented by a thirst for wholeness and began to seek it. The later generation of the 1830's and 1840's repeated such searching, such Sturm und Drang. This was particularly true for the Slavophiles. Psychologically, Slavophilism is an offshoot of the freemasonry of Catherine's reign (as it certainly did not derive from any rustic country customs).

Masonic asceticism embraces quite varied motifs, including a rationalistic indifference of the Stoic variety, as well as ennui with life's vanities, docetic fastidiousness, at times an “outright love for death” (“joy of the grave”), and a genuinely temperate heart. Freemasonry elaborated a complex method of self scrutiny and self-restraint. “To die on the cross of self-abnegation and perish in the fire of purification,” as I.V. Lopukhin 110 deigned the goal of the “true freemason.” One must struggle with oneself and with dissipation; concentrate one's feelings and thought; sever passionate desires; “instruct the heart”; and “coerce the will.” For the root and seat of evil is found precisely within oneself and in one's will. “Apply yourself to nothing so much as to be in spirit, soul and body, utterly with-out `I'.” And in the struggle with yourself, you must once more avoid all self-will and egoism. Do not seek or choose a cross for yourself, but bear one if and when it is given to you. Do not try to arrange for your salvation as much as hope for it, joyously humbling yourself before the will of God.

Freemasonry preached a strict and responsible life; moral self-direction; moral nobility; restraint; dispassion; self-knowledge and self-possession; “philanthropy” and the quiet life “amidst this world without allowing one's heart to touch its vanities.” Yet freemasonry not only demanded personal self-perfection but also an active love — the “primary expression, foundation, and purpose of the kingdom of Jesus within the soul.” The philanthropical work of Russian freemasons of that time is quite well known.

Mystical freemasonry constituted an inner reaction to the spirit of the Enlightenment. All the pathos of freemasonry's Theoretical Degree 111 was directed against the “inventions of blind reason” and “the sophistries of that Voltarian gang.” The accent shifted to intuition, the counterpoint to eighteenth century rationalism.

The age of scepticism was also the age of pietism. Fenelon 112 was no less popular than Voltaire. The “philosophy of faith and feeling” is no less characteristic of the age — the age of sentimentalism — than the Encyclopedie. Sentimentalism is organically linked to freemasonry and not only designated a literary tendency or movement, but initially signified a mystical trend: a religio-psychological quest. The sources of sentimentalism must be sought in the writings of Spanish, Dutch and French mystics of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. Sentimentalism educated the soul in reverie and feeling, in a certain constant pensiveness, and in “holy melancholy” (cf. the spiritual path of the young Karamzin 113 as well as the later development of Zhukovskii).114 This was not always accomplished by the concentration of the soul. The habit of too ceaselessly and excessively examining oneself often resulted in quietism of the will. Men of that period frequently fell ill from “reflection,” and this “sentimental education” most powerfully influenced precisely the formation of the “superfluous man.” “Holy melancholy” invariably contains an aftertaste of scepticism.

In those days men became accustomed to living in an imaginary element, in a world of images and reflections. They may have penetrated the mysteries or they may have been having bad dreams. Not accidentally, the epoch witnessed on all sides an awakening of a creative fantasy — a powerfully great poetic plasticity and modelling. The “Beautiful Soul” [Prekrasnaia dusha] became paradoxically impressionable, starting violently and trembling at the slightest noise in life. Apocalyptical presentiments had been gaining strength since the end of the seventeenth century. The so-called “awakening” [Erweckung] typified the age, especially among the broad mass of the population. The theoretical appeal to the heart provides additional testimony about this awakening. The “awakening of Grace” [Durchbruch der Gnade], as the pietists expressed it, above all meant a personal ordeal: a gift of experience.

“Dispassion” is wholly compatible with such a vision. Contemporary mysticism possessed a restrained will, but not a temperate heart or imagination. A new generation grew up with this outlook. Scarcely by accident did the Rosicrucian A.M. Kutuzov 115 translate Edward Young's Complaint, or Night Thoughts. 116 Young's book did not merely serve as a confession of a sentimental man, but as a guide for this newly awakened and sensitive generation. “I twice read Young's Nights as the good news, not as a poem,” recalled one of that generation. The qualification should be made that such a melancholic “philosophy of sighs and tears” signified only a transfigured humanism. “O be a man, and thou shalt be a god! And half self-made. “ Man alone has been summoned to labor, not in the world but within himself, in “seraphical dreams.” “Mankind was not created for broad knowledge or for profound understanding but for wonder and reverent emotions.” The call was to inner concentration. “Our worldly deeds have been curbed — one must not conquer things but thoughts — guard your thoughts as best you can, for Heaven attends to them.” Such an attitude served as a barrier to freethinking. I.G. Schwartz 117 reportedly devoted a very large portion of his lectures to criticizing “freethinking and godless books,” of such writers as Helvetius, Spinoza, and Rousseau 118 and vanquishing “those rising obscurantists.” As A.F. Labzinlly recalls, “a single word from Schwartz struck corrupt and godless books from many hands and put the Holy Bible in their place.”

The turn to mysticism produced an abundant literature (printed and in manuscript), most of it translated, as can be seen in the activities of the Typographical Company, opened in Moscow in 1784, as well as in the productions from secret presses. Western mystics were best represented, with Jacob Boehme, 120 Claude de Saint-Martin 121, and John Mason 122 the most widely read. S.I. Gamaleia 123 translated all of Boehme's writings (the translation remained unpublished). Valentin Wiegel, Johann Gichtel and John Pordage 124 also appeared in translation. A great many “Hermetic” writers were translated, including Welling, Kirchberger, Triridarium Chymicum, the Chemical Psalter by Penn, Chrizomander, and Robert Fludd. 125 Moreover, there was a wide assortment of modern and ancient writers such as Macarius of Egypt, St. Augustine's selected works, the Areopagitica, and even Gregory Palamas, The Imitation of Christ, Johann Arndt's On True Christianity, L. Scupoli, Angelus Silesius, Bunyan, Molinos, Poiret, Guyon, and Duzetanovo's Mystery of the Cross. 126 A great deal of reading was done in the lodges according to a strictly prescribed order and under the supervision and guidance of the masters. Those outside the lodges read with equally great avidity. The publications of the Moscow freemasons sold well. Thus, the newborn Russian intelligentsia all at once acquired a complete system of mystical enthusiasms and embraced the western mystical-utopian tradition and the rhythm of post-Reformation mysticism. The intelligentsia, studied and grew accustomed to quietist mystics, pietists, and (to some extent) the church fathers. (Late in life Elagin 127 developed a complete system of patristic readings, apparently as a counterweight to Schwartz.).

Freemasonry did not limit itself to a culture of the heart. Freemasonry had its own metaphysics and dogmatics. Its metaphysics made freemasonry an anticipation and premonition of Romanticism and Romantic Naturphilosophie. The experience of the Moscow Rosicrucians (and later of freemasonry' during Alexander I's 128 reign) prepared the soil for the development of Russian Schellingianism 129 (especially in Prince V.F. Odoevskii) 130 which germinated from those same magical roots. Two motifs are important in this magical mysticism, this “divine alchemy.” The first is the vital feeling for world harmony or universal unity, the wisdom of the world and the mystical apprehension of nature. “We always have before our eyes the open book of nature. Divine wisdom shines forth from it with fiery words.” The second motif is a vivid anthropocentric self awareness: man as the “extract of all beings.”

Naturphilosophie was not a chance episode or deformity of freemasonry's worldview; it was one of freemasonry's essential themes, representing an awakened religio-cosmic awareness — “nature is the house of God, where God himself dwells.” 131 Naturphilosophie also represented an awakened poetic and metaphysical sense for nature (for example, the renewed sense of nature in eighteenth century “sentimental” analysis). Yet, ultimately mystical freemasonry gravitated toward disembodiment. Symbolic interpretation makes the world so attenuated that it is nearly reduced to a shadow. In essence, the dogmatics of freemasonry signified a revival of a Platonized gnosticism: a revival which had begun during the Renaissance. The fall of man the “spark of light” imprisoned in darkness — prevides freemasonry's basic conception. This acute sense of impurity, not so much of sin, is highly characteristic of the movement. Impurity can rather better be removed through abstinence than through penitence. The entire world appears corrupt and diseased. “What is this world? A mirror of corruption and vanity.” The thirst for healing (and for cosmic healing) aroused by the “search for the key to Nature's mysteries,” derived from this view of nature.

None of the freemasons of Catherine's reign was an original writer or thinker. Schwartz, Novikov, Kheraskov, Lopukhin, Karneev, and Gamaleia 132 were all imitators, translators, and epigoni. Such qualities, however, do not diminish their influence. During the 1770's Moscow University stood entirely under the banner of the freemasons, and its “devout-poetic” mood was preserved in the university pension for the nobility established later.

G.S. Skovoroda (1722-1794) 133 provides the only original mutation in this mystical strain. He spent little time in the masonic lodges, yet he was close to masonic circles. In any case, he belongs to the same mystical type. He sympathized even more deeply with German mysticism of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, preferring Valentin Wiegel to Jacob Boehme. Hellenistic motifs are also powerfully present in him.

In his Life of Skovoroda, Kovalinskii 134 enumerates Skovoroda's favorite authors: Plutarch Philo the Jew, Cicero, Horace, Lucian, Clement of Alexandria Origen, Nil, Dionysius the Areopagite, Maxim the Confessor “and similar writers among the moderns.” Skovoroda's patristic reflections fused with the motifs of the Platonist renaissance. Latin poets exercised a strong influence over him, as did some modern ones, for example, Muretus, 135 whom he often simply translated, thereby allowing the influence of the schools to be seen. However his book on poetics composed at the Pereiaslavl' Seminary is a highly unusual work. In any case, Skovoroda's Latin was stronger than his Greek. As Kovalinskii notes: “He spoke Latin and German flawlessly and quite fluently, and he had a sufficient understanding of Greek.” Skovoroda's Latin style was graceful and simple, but generally speaking he felt less at home in Greek. Curiously, when using Plutarch in the parallel Greek and Latin edition, he read only the Latin translation. Skovoroda did not acquire his Hellenism immediately and directly. His philological inspiration must not be exaggerated. He always used the “Elizabeth Bible,” 136 while simply borrowing all his mystical philology from Philo.

How Skovoroda developed his outlook is difficult to determine. Little is known about the places he stayed or the people he met when he was abroad. Probably he had already acquired his Stoic, Platonic, and pietist interests in Kiev. His wanderings and lack of native roots (he had “the heart of a citizen of the world”), which lent him the quality of a near apparition, constituted a peculiarly characteristic feature of Skovoroda's make-up. His personality vividly displays an ascetical pathos, a concentration of thought, an extinction of emotions (which are insatiable), an escape from the “emptiness” of this world into the “caverns of the heart.” Skovoroda accepted and interpreted the world according to the categories of Platonic symbolism. “At all times and in all places he was like the shadow of the apple tree.” Shadow and sign were his favorite images.

Basic to Skovoroda's view was his counterposition of two worlds: the visible, sensible world and the invisible, ideal world. One is temporary, the other eternal. He always had the Bible in his hands. (“The Bible was the most important thing,” as Kovalinskii notes). But for him the Bible formed a book of philosophical parables, symbols, and emblems: a peculiar hieroglyphics of existence. “A world of symbols, that is to say, the Bible,” as Skovoroda himself said. He sharply reacted against any historical understanding of the Bible by “those Christian historians, ritual sophists, and theologians of the letter.” He sought a “spiritual” understanding and saw the Bible as a guide to spiritual self-knowledge. Curiously, Skovoroda totally rejected monasticism. “In monasticism,” writes Kovalinskii, “he saw the sinister web of compressed passions unable to escape themselves, while pitifully and fatally suffocating life.”

In an important sense, Skovoroda's wandering led him away from the church and away from church history. (Even Ern 137 admitted that Skovoroda was a “potential sectarian.”) His return to Nature is a variety of pietist Rousseauism. He trusted nature: “the entire economy throughout nature is perfect.”

Freemasonry provided the nascent Russian intelligentsia with many new and acute impressions. This development gained complete expression only with the following generation at the turn of the century. Yet the experience of freemasonry was a western experience, and in the final analysis such asceticism outside the church served only to arouse dreaminess and imagination. The soul developed an unhealthy inquisitiveness and mystical curiosity.

The second half of the century also marked an increasing dreaminess and mysticism among the people. All of the basic Russian sects — the Khlysty, 138 Skoptsy, 139 Dukhobors, 140 and Molokans 141 developed during those years. In the Alexandrine age, these two currents, the mysticism of the lower and the higher classes in many ways converged, thereby revealing their inner affinity. They shared precisely that “anguish of the spirit” which was by turns dreamy or ecstatic. It should be noted that during Catherine's reign substantial settlements, or colonies, of various German sectarians had been created in Russia and included the Herrnhutters, the Mennonites, and Moravian Brethren. Their influence on the general development of contemporary spiritual life still has not been sufficiently investigated and studied, although that influence became perfectly obvious during Alexander's reign. The majority of these sectarians brought with them this apocalyptical dreaminess, or often outright adventism, and the disposition toward allegory and a “spiritual” interpretation of God's Word.

Oddly enough, the colony of Herrnhutters in Sarpeta had been approved by a special commission which included Dimitri Sechenov, 142 the metropolitan of Novgorod, who had investigated the dogmatic teachings of the “Evangelical Brethren.” The Synod also stated that in its dogmatics and discipline the brotherhood more or less conformed to the organization of the early Christian communities. 143 The Synod found it inconvenient to openly permit the colonists to do missionary work among the natives, as they persistently requested. Permission to do so was granted informally. However, such missionary work did not develop.

The freemasons of Catherine's reign maintained an ambivalent relationship with the church. In any event, the formal piety of freemasonry was not openly disruptive. Many freemasons fulfilled all church “obligations” and rituals. Others emphatically insisted on the complete immutability and sacredness of the rites and orders “particularly of the Greek religion.” However the Orthodox service, with its wealth and plasticity of images and symbols, greatly attracted them. Freemasons highly valued Orthodoxy's tradition of symbols whose roots reach back deeply into classical antiquity. But every symbol was for them only a transparent sign or guidepost. One must ascend to that which is being signified, that is, from the visible to the invisible, from “historical” Christianity to spiritual or “true” Christianity, from the outer church to the “inner” church. The freemasons considered their Order to be the “inner” church, containing its own rites and “sacraments.” This is once again the Alexandrian dream of an esoteric circle of chosen ones who are dedicated to preserving sacred traditions: a truth revealed only to a few chosen for extraordinary illumination.

Members of the clergy sometimes joined masonic lodges, although they did so very infrequently. In 1782, when the Moscow masons opened their “translation seminary” (that is, they formed a special group of students to whom they provided stipends), they chose the candidates for it from among provincial seminaries by consultation with the local hierarchs. During the investigation of 1786, Metropolitan Platon found Novikov an exemplary Christian. However, the Moscow metropolitan's standards were not very strict.




The Reawakening of Russian Monasticism.


The end of the eighteenth century did not resemble its beginning. The century had begun with an effort to realize the Reformation in the Russian church. During Catherine's reign “reforms” were also drafted but in the spirit of the Enlightenment. 144 Yet the century ended with a monastic revival and with an unmistakable intensification and increase of spiritual life. Deserted and devastated monastic centers such as Valaamo, Konovitsa, and others were reinstated and took on a new life. Curiously enough, Metropolitan Gavriil Petrov 145 zealously promoted this monastic restoration. This great and important bishop of Catherne's reign (to whom the Empress dedicated her translation of Marmon tel's Belisaire 146) strictly observed the fasts, devoted himself to prayer and pursued an ascetical life not just in theory but in practice. His close supervision secured the publication of the Slavonic-Russian edition of the Philokalia 147 translated by the elder [starets] Paisii Velichkovskii and his disciples. Thus the church replied to the shallowness of an Enlightened Age with a renewed spiritual concentration.

The image of St. Tikhon Zadonskii (1724-1782) 148 stands out in bold relief against the background of the eighteenth century. His personality contains many unusual and unexpected traits. In spiritual temperament Tikhon entirely belonged to the new post-Petrine epoch. He studied and then taught in the Latin schools (in Novgorod and Tver'). In addition to the church fathers, he read and loved modern western writers, and particularly enjoyed “reading and rereading Arndt.” That his chief work, On True Christianity [Ob istinnom khristianstve] bears the same title as Arndt's book is scarcely an accident. As Evgenii Bolkhovitinov long ago pointed out, another of Tikhon's books, A Spiritual Treasury Gathered from the World [Sokrovishche dukhovnoe ot mira sobiraemoe], is very similar in content to that of a Latin pamphlet by Joseph Hall. 149 Tikhon's language is suffused by the new age. Frequent Latinisms occur in turns of phrase which, however, increase his range and strengthen his expressiveness. He had a great gift for words; he was artistic and simple at the same time. His writing is always surprisingly limpid. This limpidity is his most unexpected quality. His grace and lucidity, his freedom — and not merely freedom from the world but also in the world — is the most striking quality in St. Tikhon's personality. He has the easy grace of a pilgrim or traveler neither deflected nor restrained by this world. “Every living being on earth is a wayfarer.” However, this conquering grace was achieved through painful trial and ascetic effort. The dark waves of deep weariness and despair are quite clearly visible in Tikhon's limpid spirit as they rush over him. “Constitutionally he was a hypochondriac and somewhat choleric,” writes Tikhon's “cellsman” (monk servant). His peculiar subjective despair, his special temptation to melancholy as a form of uncustomary disclosure of the soul, is wholly unique in Russian asceticism and more readily suggestive of the Dark Night of the Soul by St. John of the Cross. 150 At times Tikhon would fall into a helpless torpor, confinement, and immobility, when everything around him was dark, empty, and unresponsive. Sometimes he could not compel himself to leave his cell; at other times he seemingly tried to escape physically from despair by moving about. Tikhon's whole spirit had been overwhelmed in this ordeal, yet that trial left no traces or scars. The original luminosity of his soul was only purified in his personal progress.

His was not merely a personal asceticism, for St. Tikhon's temptations were not just a stage in his personal progress. He continued to be a pastor and a teacher in his monastic retreat. Through his sensitivity and suffering he remained in the world. He wrote for this world and bore witness of the Savior before a perishing world, which does not seek salvation: an apostolic response to the senselessness of a free-thinking age. Tikhon's encounter was the first encounter with the new Russian atheism (for example, the well-known episode of the Voltarian landowner who struck Tikhon on the cheek). 151

Dostoevskii cleverly detected this phenomenon when he sought to counterpose Tikhon to Russian nihilism, thereby disclosing the problematics of faith and atheism. Tikhon had still another characteristic trait. He wrote (or more often dictated) with inspiration, under the influence of the Holy Spirit. His “cellsman” recounts this practice.

As I heard it from my own lips, but also as I observed myself, whenever I took dictation from him, the words poured from his mouth so rapidly that I scarcely succeeded in writing them down. And when the Holy Spirit became less active in him and he became lost in thought or began thinking of extraneous things, he would send me away to my cell; while he, kneeling, or at times prostrating himself in the form of a cross, would pray with tears that God should send him the All-Activating One. Summoning me once again, he would begin to speak so torrentially that at times I failed to follow him with my pen.

St. Tikhon constantly read the Scriptures and at one time contemplated making a translation of the New Testament from Greek “into the modern style.” He considered useful a new translation of the Psalter from Hebrew. His favorites among the church fathers were Macarius of Egypt, St. John Chrysostom, and St. Augustine.

Tikhon's writings contain all the borrowed ideas about redemptive “satisfaction,” the distinction between form and substance in the sacraments, and so on. 152 Such is his tribute to the schools and to the age. Far more important is the fact that several western features are expressed in his experience. Above all this means his unremitting concentration on the memory and contemplation of Christ's sufferings. He saw Christ “covered with wounds, lacerated, tortured, and bloody,” and he urged the contemplation of His suffering. “He had a great love for the Savior's sufferings, and not only as he beheld them in his mind, for he had portrayed in picture nearly all of His holy passions” (The pictures were painted on canvass). Tikhon preserved a peculiar insistence and a certain impressionism when speaking of the Humiliation and the Passion of Christ. Moreover, a renovated Byzantine contemplative life is powerfully present in his experience, in his radiant visions, illuminations by the light of Tabor, pathos of the Transfiguration, and premonitions of Resurrection spring.

The resurrection of the dead is a constantly recurring thought for Tikhon and is embodied in the image of spring. “Spring is the image and sign of the resurrection of the dead.” This will be the eternal spring of the God-created world. “Let faith guide your mind from this sensible spring to that sublime and longed for spring which the most gracious God has promised in His Holy Scripture, when the bodies of the faithful who have died since the beginning of the world, germinating from the earth like seeds by the power of God, shall arise and assume a new and exquisite form, shall be clothed in the garment of immortality, shall receive the crown of blessedness from the hand of the Lord.” This will be no idyll of apokatastasis. On the contrary, nature stained by sin will be condemned even more for its aridity and tarnish and will acquire a still more niggardly appearance. Eternity is not the same for all: there is an eternity of bliss and an eternity of weeping. Tikhon had these visions of Tabor frequently, sometimes daily. The heavens would be torn asunder and would burn with unendurable radiance. Occasionally he even saw this light in his cell and his heart would rejoice in such contemplations.

St. Tikhon combined an intense concentration of the spirit with an exceptional capacity for tenderness and love. He spoke of love of thy neighbor, of social justice and charity no less resolutely than did St. John Chrysostom. St. Tikhon was an important writer. Grace and plasticity of images adorn his books. His On True Christianity in particular has historical significance. The book is less a dogmatic system than a book of mystical ethics or ascetics, yet it marks the first attempt at a living theology; the first attempt at a theology based on experience, in contrast and as a counterweight to scholastic erudition, which lacks any such experience.

Tikhon Zadonskii and the elder Paisii Velichkovskii (1722- 1794) 153 had little in common. As spiritual types, they little resemble one another. However they shared a common labor. The elder Paisii, was not an independent thinker, and he was rather more a translator than even a writer. Yet he occupies his own prominent place in the history of Russian thought. There is something symbolic in the fact that as a young man he left the Kiev Academy where he was studying and wandered first to the Moldavian sketes and then to Mount Athos. In Kiev he had firmly refused to study and had ceased to do so, for he did not wish to study the pagan mythology which alone was taught in the Academy: “where I often heard of Greek gods and goddesses and pious tales, and heartily despised such teaching.” Obviously he had in mind the mere reading of classical authors. At the Academy, Paisii got no farther than syntax, and “I had studied only the grammatical teachings of the Latin language.” Sil'vestr Kuliabka, 154 served as rector at that time. According to tradition, Paisii reprimanded him for the fact that the church fathers were so little read at the Academy.

Paisii left the Latin school for the Greek monastery. However, he did not retreat from or reject knowledge. His actions mark a return to the living sources of patristic theology and thinking about God. Above all, Paisii was a founder of monasteries — both on Athos and in Moldavia. He restored the best “rules” of Byzantine monasticism. He seemed to be returning to the fifteenth century. Not accidentally, the elder Paisii was very close to St. Nil of the Sora, 155 whose interrupted work Paisii revived and continued (his literary dependence on St. Nil is fully obvious). This work signified the return of the Russian, spirit to the Byzantine fathers. While still on Mount Athos, Paisii began gathering and verifying Slavic translations of ascetical writings. This turned out to be an arduous task, due to the lack of skill of old translators and to the carelessness of copyists. Moreover, even collecting Greek manuscripts proved extremely difficult. Paisii did not find the books he needed in the great monasteries or sketes but in the small and isolated skete of St. Basil built not long before by newly arrived monks from Caesarea in Cappadocia. There he was told that “since these books are written in the purest Hellenic Greek, which now few Greeks other than scholars can read, and which the majority cannot understand, such books have been almost completely forgotten.”

After his resettlement in Moldavia, the elder Paisii's translation project became more systematic, especially in the Niamets monastery. Paisii clearly understood all the difficulties of translation and the thorough knowledge of languages it required. At first he relied on Moldavian translators. He formed a large circle of scribes and tranlators, and he sent his students to learn Greek even in Bucharest. He engaged in this work with great enthusiasm.

How he wrote occasioned wonder: his body was so weak from sores: sores covered his right side; however, until he went to rest on his deathbed, he surrounded himself with books: there, side by side, stood the Greek and Slavic Bibles, Greek and Slavic Grammars, and the book from which he was making a translation by candlelight; and like a little child he sat bent over writing all night, forgetting his bodily weakness, severe illnesses and difficulty.

Paisii was an exacting translator and he was afraid to circulate his translations widely “if they were lame or imperfect.” His disciples also made translations from Latin.

Under Paisii's guidance, Niamets monastery became a great literary center and a source of theological-ascetical enlightenment. This literary activity was organically linked with spiritual and “intellectual construction.” The biographer of the elder Paisii notes that “his mind was always joined with love for God; his tears serve as witness.” The message of spiritual concentration and wholeness possessed particular significance for that age of spiritual dualism and cleavage. Publication of the Slavonic-Russian edition of the Philokalia constituted a major event not only in the history of Russian monasticism but generally in the history of Russian culture. It was both an accomplishment and a catalyst.

Feofan Prokopovich and Paisii Velichkovskii make an interesting comparison. Feofan lived entirely on expectations. He stood for what was modern, for the future, and for progress. Paisii lived in the past, in traditions, and in Tradition. Yet he proved to be the prophet and the harbinger of things to come. The return to sources revealed new roads and meant the acquisition of new horizons



The Russian Bible Society.


[...] This personal conviction and sense of being a prophet who has been called or sent, the perception of an extraordinary mission or task, and a certain ecstatic egocentricity all characterize this type of fanatic. Fotii might be termed a man possessed rather than a hypocrite. In any case, the voice of the church's history and ancient traditions can scarcely be detected in Fotii's violent appeals and outbursts. He was too ignorant to do so, for he knew very little about patristic or even ascetical writings. He almost never refers to them. “I do not possess the [writings of the] Holy Fathers, I have and read only the Holy Bible.” In this regard, Fotii did not depart from the custom of that “Biblical” age. Neither a rigorous defender nor guardian of the church's customs and traditions, Fotii loved to do everything to suit himself, which, resulted in quarrels with the church authorities. Usually he argues on the basis of personal revelations and inspirations; on the basis of visions apparitions, and dreams. In short, Fotii was not so much superstitious as fanatical.

Fotii studied at the St. Petersburg Theological Academy “under the sharp eye of Archimandrite Filaret.” But he did not graduate because of an illness, which took the form of a paroxysm induced by fears and spiritual exhaustion. Fotii became confused and paralyzed by the mysticism then prevalent in society. Many at the academy read too deeply in the poisonous books of the liar and apostate Jung-Stilling.

Newly published writings, such as Stilling, Eckartshausen, and similar novelistic and freethinking books could be read at the academy. . .Quarrels broke out over the Thousand Year Reign of Christ on earth, eternal damnation, and other religious questions; some loved to deviate from the Holy Scriptures, others found mysteries everywhere. The academy library would not lend the works of the Holy Fathers, for no one gave permission or provided the example. German and other foreign commentators on the Holy Scriptures, who caused more harm than they did good, were recommended and passed around.

Fotii became utterly confused in such an environment. He also seems to have learned a good deal during the little more than a year he spent at the academy, although there is little likelihood that he learned and became trained “to discover mysteries everywhere.” Nor did the academy infect him with a fashionable mania for interpreting the Apocalypse and divining the times through apocalyptical texts used as signs. Where Fotii's actual or imaginary enemies adduced the Kingdom of a Thousand Years from such texts, Fotii discerned the Antichrist. “The wood is already stacked and the fire is being kindled.”

After leaving the academy, Fotii became a teacher at the Aleksandr Nevskii schools, where he was under the supervision of Rector Innokentii. 111 In 1817, Fotii accepted tonsure and was quickly appointed a teacher of religion in the second military academy. 112 While his field of vision expanded, Fotii continued to gather polemical materials, reading, re-reading, and reviewing newly printed seditious books, “especially those either manifestly or secretly revolutionary and pernicious.” His assortment and inventory of such books was rather diverse and disjointed and included books on English materialism, French pornography, freemasonry and magic, German philosophy, the sorcery of Boehme, Stilling, and similarly “satanic books,” “revolutionary and evil” books, “wretched Masonic” books, the works of that “Masonic heretic” Fenelon and that “foul French woman “ Guyon, and other works such as those “setting forth the teachings of the Methodists and the quietists, that is, of that Jacobinism and philosophy which hides behind the mask of Christianity.” Fotii always remained mistrustful of the “newly educated” clergy: “not a single collaborator was found suitable; each was prepared to put the truth up for sale.”

The Russian Bible made its appearance against this background. At first Fotii attacked actual Masons. As he put it, “At the risk of my life, I acted to counter Messenger of Zion [Sionskii Vestnik], Labzin, the Masonic lodges and heresies, trying to halt the spread of their schisms.” Fotii was correct about many things, but he described all such defects with an hysterical intensity which could be more irritating than convincing. He possessed a peculiarly ecstatic suspiciousness which disfigured his accurate observations through the addition of imaginary and imperceivable traits. Metropolitan Mikhail appointed Innokentii to calm Fotii. But Innokentii only further aroused him with his own bitter remarks about the snares of the devil. Fotii later wrote a Life [Zhitie] of Innokentii after his own likeness or in keeping with his imagined ideal. In reality, Innokentii was more subtle and profound, although he lacked sufficient self-control and patience.

Fotii soon came to be too obstreperous for the capital and was dispatched to Novgorod as abbot of the Derevianits Monastery, then Skovoroda Monastery, and finally the Iur'ev Monastery, where he served as archimandrite. While at the Iur'ev Monastery, Fotii formed a close friendship with Countess A.A. Orlova, 113 which proved to be the decisive event in his life. Through “Countess Anna,” Fotii unexpectedly began his friendship with Prince Golitsyn during those same years. Their correspondence which has been preserved, possesses a warm and sincere character. 114 In his “autobiography,” Fotii recalls his long and extensive conversations with Golitsyn at Countess Orlova's home. These talks sometimes lasted nine hours without interruption. Fotii emphasizes that Golitsyn passionately came to love him and was prepared to fulfill his every wish. Judging by Golitsyn's actual letters, Fotii did not exaggerate. He succeeded for a time in reconciling Golitsyn with Metropolitan Seraphim. Golitsyn saw in Fotii another St. John Chrysostom and a “youthful starets” [elder]. At the time, Fotii was barely thirty. Fotii did not conceal his own warm feelings: “You and I — the two of us — are like one body and soul, one mind and heart; we are one because Christ is in our midst.”

The “uprising” broke out in 1824. As Filaret recalls, “The uprising against the Ministry of Religious Affairs and against the Bible Society and the translation of the Holy Scriptures had been organized by people guided by personal interests, who not only spread farfetched and exaggerated suspicions, but even produced fabrications and slanders, hoping to attract other, well-intentioned people to their cause.” Arakcheev's115 role in this intrigue needs no elaboration. For him the intrigue was the denouement and the means for removing from authority and influence a powerful rival with personal ties to the Tsar.

The appearance of Gossner's book On the Gospel of Matthew [O Evangelii ot Matfeia] in Russian translation served as the occasion and the pretext for decisive action. The translation could only have been an excuse, for the book was indistinguishable from the multitude of such edifying and pietistic works then being published. Several times Fotii wrote frenzied letters to the Tsar, warning him of danger. He did so with the knowledge and conviction that he had been consecrated and sent to testify in defense of the beleaguered church and fatherland. An angel of the Lord had been sent to him on Palm Sunday. The angel, appearing before him during a dream, held in his hand a book with large letters inscribed on its cover: “this book has been composed for revolution and at this moment its intention is revolution.” The book, it turned out, was A Summons to men to follow the inner inclination of the Spirit of Christ. 116 Fotii defines the basic idea of this cunning and impious pamphlet as “an appeal to apostasy from the faith of Christ and a summons to alter the civil order in all of its parts.”

The only argument which might possibly undermine the combined ministry in the eyes of Alexander I was “revolution.” Fotii candidly says that: “Such political activities and plots had much greater influence on him [Alexander] than did the welfare of the whole Church.” Religiously, Alexander was no less radical than Golitsyn. Fotii testified that “residing in this city for one and a half months, I secretly observed Gossner and learned that he was preparing revolution in those minds which he had been brought here to teach. He has been so well protected that no one dares touch him; he was summoned here because none among our Orthodox clergy could be found capable of such schemes.” Fotii's letters aroused the Tsar's interest precisely because of their hysterically apocalyptical character. Consequently, he wished to meet Fotii personally. He had earlier met with Metropolitan Seraphim. After his audience with Alexander, Fotii twice visited Golitsyn and at the second meeting cursed him to his face.

Fotii stands before the holy icons: a candle burns, the holy sacraments of Christ are before him, the Bible is open (at Jeremiah 23). The prince enters like a beast of prey (Jeremiah 5:6), extending his hand for the blessing. But Fotii gives him no blessing, speaking thus: in the book Mystery of the Cross [Tainstvo kresta], printed under thy supervision, it is written: the clergy are beasts; and I, Fotii, a member of the clergy, am a priest of God, so I do not want to bless thee, and anyway thou dost not need it. (He gave him Jeremiah 23 to read). However, Prince Golitsyn refused to do so and fled, but Fotii shouted after Golitsyn through the door he left ajar: if thou dost not repent, thou shalt fall into Hell.

That is Fotii's version. In his Notes [Zapiski], Shishkov adds that: “Fotii shouted after him; `Anathema! Thou shalt be damned.'”

That same day, a rescript was issued exiling Gossner from the country and ordering that the Russian translation of his book be burned at the hand of the public executioner. Furthermore, the translators and censors were to be placed under arrest. Fotii greatly feared the Tsar's wrath for his daring anathema, but he continued to send his appeals to the court, including one outlining a “plan for the destruction of Russia” as well as “directives for the immediate destruction of this plan in a quiet and felicitous manner.” The question of the Bible Society was posed most forcefully. “The Bible Society must be eliminated on the pretext that since the Bible has already been printed, it is now no longer needed.” The Ministry of Religious Affairs was to be abolished, and its present dignitary deprived of two other posts. Koshelev 117 should be removed, Gossner expelled, Fessler 118 banished into exile, and the Methodists driven out, or at least their leaders. Once again Fotii invoked divine inspiration: “Divine Providence does not now reveal that anything more should be done. I have proclaimed God's commandment; its fulfillment depends on Thee. Precisely twelve years have elapsed from 1812 to 1824. God conquered the visible Napoleon who invaded Russia. Through Thy person let Him conquer the spiritual Napoleon:” During the ensuing days, Fotii sent the Tsar several more of his alarming “massives.” “A great, fearful, and illegal mystery is at work, which I am revealing to thee, O thou powerful one with the strength and spirit of God.” The goal was achieved and on 15 May 1824, Golitsyn was dismissed, the combined ministry abolished, and the former departmental divisions reestablished. Nevertheless, Golitsyn did not fall into disfavor or lose his personal influence, even after Alexander's death.

The aged Admiral Shishkov, “the half-dead Shishkov dug up from oblivion,” was appointed minister of a separate Ministry of Education. Although Shishkov did not become Minister of Religious Affairs, inertia perpetuated the politics of the combined ministry only in reverse, for he persistently interfered with Synodal affairs. Shishkov had no very precise religious views. He was a moderate free-thinker of the eighteenth century, who limited his rationalism out of national-political considerations. Even close friends who were well disposed toward him testified that Shishkov held “views closely approximating, if they did not actually coincide with, Socinianism.” 119 Fotii referred to him rather evasively: “He defended the Orthodox Church to the extent that he possessed any knowledge.” Fotii knew perfectly well such “knowledge” was rather meager and related more to the church's role in a state, which had called upon it to be a pillar and a bulwark against rebellion and revolution. However, Shishko had his own firm opinions about Biblical translation. The very idea of translating the Bible seemed to him the foulest of heresies, although above all a “literary heresy,” in Sverbeev's 120 clever phrase. For Shishkov denied the very existence of a Russian language. “As though it was something distinct,” he would say perplexedly. “Our Slavic and Russian language is one and the same, differentiated only into higher language and common speech.” This was Shishkov's basic religious-philological thesis. Literary or colloquial Russian in his view and understanding is “only the dialect of the common people” within a Slavic-Russian language. “What is the Russian language divorced from Slavic? A dream, a riddle!. . . .Is it not odd to affirm the existence of a language which does not contain a single word?” The lexicon is one and the same for both styles of dialects. “By Slavic we mean nothing else than that language which is higher than colloquial and which, consequently, can only be learned by reading; it is the lofty, learned literary language.”

In the final analysis, Shishkov distinguished between the two languages: the “language of faith” and the “language of passions “ or to put it another way, the “language of the church” and the “language of the theater.” Biblical translation appeared to him to be a “transposition” of the Word of God from the lofty and dignified dialect to that low-styled language of the passions and the theater. He believed that such a step was being taken in order to deliberately belittle the Bible, hence his constant fuss over “the observance of Orthodoxy in literary style.” He also considered the translation hastily made; “thrown to a few students at the Academy with instructions to do it as quickly as possible.” The Russian translation's departure from Church Slavic cast a shadow on a text, which had become familiar and hallowed by church usage and thereby undermined confidence in it. “The pride of some monk [Filaret?] or learned braggart says: thus it is in Hebrew. Well, who will convince me that he knows the full force of such a little known language, written so long ago?” Quite frequently Shishkov speaks as if Slavic was the original language of Holy Scripture. “How dare they alter words considered to come from the mouth of God?”

Shishkov was not alone in these religious-philological reflections. Curiously enough, for similar reasons, Speranskii also completely opposed a Russian translation of the Bible. The language of the “common people” seemed to him less expressive and precise. Would it not be better to teach everyone Slavic? Speranskii advised his daughter to use the English translation, not the Russian, when she encountered difficult passages. Many others shared this opinion. 121

Shishkov detected a particularly sinister scheme in the publication of the Pentateuch “separately from the Prophets.” Whereas in fact, the Pentateuch represented the first volume of a complete Russian Bible and had been planned for publication prior to the succeeding volumes in order to speed the work. Shishkov suspected that this separate publication had been conceived and executed in order to push the common people into the arms of the Molokane heresy or simply into Judaism. Might not someone understand the Mosaic law literally, particularly the observance of the Sabbath? . . . .Should not a qualification be added that all this can be explained figuratively and as shadows of the past? With the support of Metropolitan Seraphim, Shishkov succeeded in having the Russian Pentateuch burned at the brick factory of the Aleksandr Nevskii Monastery. Subsequently, Filaret of Kiev 122 could not recall this destruction of the Holy Scriptures without a terrible shudder.

Shishkov saw no need to distribute the Bible among laymen and the people generally. “Will not this imaginary need, by demeaning the significance of the Holy Scriptures, result in nothing other than heresies or schisms?” Would not the dignity of the Bible be lowered by having it in the home? “What can come of this? . . . .A vast sum will be expended in order that the Gospel, heretofore regarded with solemnity might suffer the loss of its importance, be sullied, ripped apart, thrown under benches, or serve as wrapping paper for household goods, and have no more ability to act on the human mind than on the human heart.” Shishkov writes still more emphatically that “this reading of the sacred books aims to destroy the true faith, disrupt the fatherland and produce strife and rebellion.” He believed that the Bible Society and revolution were synonyms.

Quite consistently, Shishkov also objected to translation of the Bible into other languages such as Tatar or Turkish, for who could vouch for the fidelity of the translation? Shishkov also feared commentaries on the Bible. Who will explain the Scriptures once they are so widely distributed and so easily accessible?

Without qualified interpreters and preachers, what will be the effect when large numbers of Bibles and separate books of the Bible have been disseminated? Amidst such an unchecked (and one might say universal) deluge of books of the Holy Scriptures, where will room be found for the Apostolic teachings, practices, and customs of the Church? In a word, for everything which heretofore has served as a bulwark of Orthodoxy? . . . All of these things will be dragged down, crushed, and trampled under foot.

Similarly, Shishkov viewed the publication of the Catechism [Katekhizis] as a dire plot. Why print so many copies, if not to spread an impure-faith? (A total of 18,000 copies had been printed). Once again the Russian language more than anything else frightened Shishkov. “It is unseemly in religious books to have such prayers as `I believe in One God' and the Pater Noster transposed into the common dialect.” The Catechism contained scriptural texts in Russian.

The catechism composed by Filaret (a task originally entrusted to Metropolitan Mikhail) had been issued in 1823 with the approval of the Holy Synod and by imperial directive. “At the request of the Minister of Education,” accompanied by the use of the Emperor's name, the Catechism was removed from sale at the end of 1824. Filaret immediately lodged a protest against its removal and openly raised the question about Orthodoxy. “If the Orthodoxy of the Catechism, so solemnly confirmed by the Holy Synod, is in doubt, then will not the Orthodoxy of the Holy Synod itself be called into question?” In reply, Metropolitan Seraphim insisted that the question of Orthodoxy had not been raised and that there was no doubt or dispute on that point. The Catechism had been suspended solely because of the language of the Biblical texts and of the “prayers.” Seraphim, with some disingenuousness, went on to say, “You may ask why the Russian language should not have a place in the catechism, especially in its abbreviated form intended for young children entirely unfamiliar with Slavic and therefore incapable of understanding the truths of the faith expounded for them in that language, when it, that is, Russian, has been retained in the sacred books of the New Testament and in the Psalms. To this and many other questions, which might be asked in this connection, I cannot give you any satisfactory answer. I hope that time will explain to us that which now seems clouded. In my opinion, that time will soon come . . .”

Seraphim's answer could signify that he either had not personally or actively participated in the new course of events, or that this apparent inconsistency could be quickly overcome by extending the ban to include both the Russian translation of the New Testament and the Bible Society. In any case, Seraphim simply lied when he denied that the Catechism's Orthodoxy had been questioned. Fotii emphatically and publicly pronounced it heretical, compared it with “canal water,” and unfavorably contrasted the Catechism with the older Orthodox Confession of Peter Mogila. 123 The Catechism was subjected to examination, if not officially, then at least officiously. Apparently Archpriest I.S. Kochetov (1790-1854), a candidate for a higher degree, who had graduated with the first class of the reformed St. Petersburg Academy, and at that time a religion teacher at the Tsarskoe Selo lycee, had been entrusted with the review. His evaluation, quickly arrived at, did not favor the catechism. Kochetov took more interest in questions of language than of theology. As a philologist, he served as a member of the Russian Academy, beginning in 1828. Later he achieved full membership. 124

Metropolitan Evgenii, 125 who recently had been summoned to attend the meetings of the Holy Synod, maintained a very critical attitude toward the Catechism. Filaret's successor at Tver' and Iaroslavl', Simeon Krylov-Platonov, 126 contemptuously dubbed the Catechism “a miserable pamphlet,” containing unheard of teaching and “insufferable insolence.” In any event, a revised edition of the Catechism was recirculated only after careful re-examination of all Biblical texts and citations, including their “presentation in Slavic rather than in the Russian dialect.” Even the language of exposition was deliberately adapted or made more nearly approximate to Slavic. However, only insignificant changes in content were made at that time.

Shishkov obtained Emperor Alexander's permission to forbid translations of the Bible as well as to close the Bible Society. He was able to supply some arguments himself, and others were suggested to him by such zealots as M. Magnitskii 127 and A.A. Pavlov 128 (who worked in the office of the Over Procurator of the Holy Synod). Fotii described Pavlov as that “brave warrior of 1824.” Metropolitan Seraphim acted as one with Shishkov. However, Seraphim acted on suggestion. A timid man, he lacked “sufficient clarity of mind” to distinguish responsibly enthusiasm and suspicions amidst the cross-currents of rumors and fears. Left to himself, Seraphim would have insisted only on the dismissal of the “blind minister.” All further reasons were suggested or even imposed on him. At one time Seraphim had studied in Novikov's “seminary,” and he had been an active member of the Bible Society, both as archbishop of Minsk and later as metropolitan of Moscow. He often delivered speeches filled with pathos in the meetings of the Moscow Bible Society. However, his sentiments were changed when he transferred to St. Petersburg. He immediately broke with Golitsyn. Following Golitsyn's removal from office, Metropolitan Seraphim, as president of the Bible Society, began to importune Emperor Alexander about abolishing and closing down all Bible societies and transferring all their affairs, property, and translation projects to the Holy Synod.

Such demands were not quickly realized, coming as they did only during the next reign under the fresh impact of the Decembrist revolt, 129 the responsibility for which Shishkov convincingly blamed on the “mystics.” However, the rescript of 12 April 1826 closing the Bible Society contained an important qualification: “I sanction the continued sale at the established price for those who desire them the books of the Holy Scriptures which have already been printed by the Bible Society in Slavic, Russian, and in other languages spoken by inhabitants of the Empire.” Even Nicholas I 130 was not fully prepared to follow Shishkov. In practice, however, the publications of the Bible Society were taken from circulation and only the committees concerned for prisons continued to supply the Russian translation of the New Testament to exiles and prisoners from their stocks.

Curiously enough, in 1828, Prince K.K. Liven, the former superintendent in Dorpat and a prominent and influential figure in the former Bible Society, replaced Shishkov as Minister of Education. Later, in 1832, he became the head of the revived German Bible Society. Prince Liven belonged to the Moravian Brethren. “Sometimes an official sent from somewhere with an important dispatch would discover him in the reception hall in front of the lectern, loudly singing the Psalms. Turning to the official, he would listen to him, but without answering, continue his liturgy” (Vigel'). Of course, Liven was a German and a Protestant; and it was the German Bible Society, which was restored. Yet as Minister of Education, he was called upon to administer to the whole empire. In any case, by that time, “the views of the government” had changed once again.

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