N. A. BERDYAEV (BERDIAEV)
Discord in the Church and Freedom of Conscience
Nicholas Berdyaev, Put' Oct/Nov 1926, No. 5, p.42-54
(Translation © 1999 by Alvian N. Smirensky)
Clericalism is alien to Orthodoxy. This negative phenomenon rather
was developed upon Catholic soil. But we are now witnessing the
birth of Russian clericalist tendencies and clerical ideology. Our
Orthodox youth, even in their better parts has been affected by
this malady. Among the youth, this is a childhood disease of Russian
religious renaissance: a passionate reaction to a long period of
separation from the Orthodox Church. Among the elders, the pre-Revolutionary
generation, this is more likely to be a geriatric sclerosis, a complete
incompatibility with creativity and freedom.
The last Council of Bishops in Karlovtsy stepped on a path of
a schism in the Church. It devastated the Metropolitans. It practically
condemned the Student Christian Movement. It fomented a poison
of malicious suspicion, desiring to infect healthy souls with
its senseless mistrustfulness. Its clericalist tendencies produced
a frightful shock, forcing one to think about the primary questions
of the Church's self-consciousness. And this is a positive aspect
of this miserable Council. Sometimes good arises out of evil.
Divine Providence even makes use of evil for purposes of good.
The pus-filled boil burst open. And this is good. The horrible
blow was delivered to the authority and prestige of the Russian
bishops in Yugoslavia and Bulgaria, which has governed all these
years by spiritual fear. This ordeal must likewise be painfully
experienced by all those who were susceptible to the illusions
A certain part of Russian youth, which was ardently and sincerely
religious, but which had not completely thought through or even
grasped the fundamentals of Orthodoxy, developed a tendency to
consider each bishop to be infallible, and seeing him as something
like the pope. The generation, which developed a reaction against
the Revolution's destructive calamity, and which needs to lean
against an unshakable pillar of authority, has developed a fear
of the freedom of spirit, a freedom of choice. However, such tendencies
must lead to tragic conflicts of conscience.
It is only within Catholicism that the concept of external, infallible,
hierarchical authority has been fully developed, with its resultant
conclusions. In Orthodoxy such a concept can only be incomplete
and contradictory. If one can live satisfactorily with one Pope,
then by trying to live with twenty five popes who are constantly
arguing and condemning each other, one can easily land in an insane
asylum. Actually, Orthodoxy differs from Catholicism not because
it has twenty five "popes" instead of one, but because it does
not have any "popes." This must be thoroughly understood.
Orthodox consciousness does not know of any infallible authority
of its bishops. Only the whole Church, only the Church's sobornost'
(catholicity), enjoys infallibility within itself, and those who
bear it constitute the whole people of the Church of all Christian
generations beginning with the Apostles. The 1848 Encyclical of
the Eastern Patriarchs states: "Infallibility is found in the
oneness of the Church's ecumenicity, united by mutual love and
the unchanging dogmas, along with the purity of rites. It is not
entrusted to the hierarchy alone but to the whole people of the
Church which constitute the Body of Christ". The bearers and guardians
of Christian Truth are the whole people of the Church and not
the hierarchy alone. And there are no formal and legal guarantees
for expressing the internal authority of the Church. A single
Orthodox individual can be more correct than the predominant majority
of bishops. There was a time when St. Athanasius the Great, while
still a deacon, i.e. in an insignificant hierarchical office,
was the defender of true Orthodoxy against almost the whole of
the Eastern episcopal establishment which was inclined towards
Arianism. Clericalists of that time who supported the external
hierarchical authority, should have been against Athanasius the
Great and on the side of the Arian bishops. It is entirely conceivable,
for Orthodox consciousness, that the lay author A.S. Khomiakov
expressed the spirit of Orthodoxy much better than some Metropolitans
who were influenced by scholastic theology, both Protestant and
Orthodoxy was tolerant of a wide variety of freedom of religious
thought. The great advantage of Orthodoxy is found in precisely
its lack of external guarantees, that it does not view the Church
in terms of the kingdom of this world, analogous to the State,
which demands formal juridical conditions, believing as it does,
in the direct activity of the Holy Spirit. A question which is
presently obscure but which must be acutely posited, is the question
whether Orthodoxy does or does not recognize freedom of conscience
as the preeminent basis of spiritual life. [Russian poet and thinker
Feodor] Tyuchev once wrote with reference to Pope Pius IX: "they
were overcome by the fatal word - freedom of conscience is nonsense".
These words, so dear to our Slavophils, make sense and are justified
only if Orthodoxy itself firmly affirms that freedom of conscience
is not nonsense but is the greatest treasure of Christianity.
But we are living in a time of fear and timidity in the face of
the freedom of conscience, refusing to take upon ourselves the
burden of freedom, the burden of responsibility.
Today's clericalist tendencies reflect a Catholic distorted view
in the understanding of the Church and Church authority. And this
Catholic view is especially strong among those who consider themselves
fanatically and exclusively Orthodox, who hate Catholicism and
are incapable of understanding its positive qualities. Today there
is a reaction not only against Russian anti-religious thinking,
which is very good, but also against Russian religious thought
of the XIX century, which is rather ingratitude and an uncalled-for
breach of continuity. The Russian religious, Orthodox thought
was exceptionally freedom-loving, it nurtured the idea of the
free spirit, the freedom of conscience and was preparing a creative
spiritual reform, a spiritual renaissance which was wrecked by
the forces of the long growing atheistic revolution and its inseparable
forces of deadening reaction which quenches the spirit. Now the
creative and regenerative movements in the Church are curbed and
paralyzed by the lies of the Living Church and the falseness of
Church reform in Soviet Russia.
For me the problem of the freedom of conscience is fundamental
in Christian consciousness and it must be articulated with the
greatest clarity and radicalism. Freedom always enjoys primacy
over authority. Even in the Catholicism the search for unshakeable
authority with its perceptible signs is, in the final analysis,
a fiction based on illusions. The Pope's infallible authority
assumes that it is accepted and confirmed by the free will of
the believing Catholic.
Papal authority is not an external objective reality, it is not
a reality of a natural and a material order, such as the reality
of a stone thrown at us or a tree branch striking us from without,
but it is a reality of a spiritual order. But the Papal authority
becomes a spiritual reality only as a result of an act of faith,
which is an act of freedom, resulting from the acceptance of a
The particularity of the predominant Catholic perception is that
it sincerely wants to quickly put a stop to the exercise of the
freedom of conscience, that it does not recognize the permanence
of its exercise. In principle, the Orthodox perception does not
recognize this curb on the freedom of conscience, or that such
exercise is the exclusive prerogative of the highest Church organs.
Freedom of conscience acts without ceasing. That freedom keeps
the catholicity of the Church alive. The life of the Church is
the unity of love in freedom. In essence, everything, which is
significant spiritually, in the Catholic world as well, presumes
the freedom of conscience, the creativity of the free spirit,
and not the action of an external formal authority.
Freedom of conscience in Orthodoxy does not mean Protestant individualism.
Within itself, in its depth, it is united with sobornost' (catholicity).
The Reformation was absolutely correct in its affirmation of the
freedom of conscience but in the end it placed itself upon the
false path of individualism. Freedom is not the isolation of the
soul, opposing it to all other souls and to the whole world. In
the realm of freedom, of Christian freedom, there is a mystical
union of that which is uniquely individual with the universally
common. But freedom can never be ended or interrupted, it cannot
be delegated to another, it can only be enlightened.
I can never accept anything against my free conscience, not even
God Himself, since God cannot be a violence over me. My humility
before the Highest can only be an enlightenment and a transfiguration
of my free conscience from within, as my mystical communion with
a Higher Reality.
Even an Ecumenical Council, Orthodoxy's highest organ, does not
enjoy formal authority. An Ecumenical Council does not have formal
and juridical signs, consciously discernable, does not have a
legalistic status. A Council should not be made into an idol or
an absolute. A Council could be a Robber Council, having all signs
of legitimacy. Well-known is a sharp criticism of St. Gregory
of Nyssa who did not want to attend them. An authentic Ecumenical
Council is one in which the Holy Spirit is truly present. The
authenticity and the spirituality of an Ecumenical Council is
being discerned and affirmed by the free conscience of the people
of the Church. The Holy Spirit acts within the Church's people,
in the Church's sobornost' (catholicity) and makes a distinction
between truth and falsehood, between authenticity and imitation.
The order of ecclesiastical existence as a spiritual existence,
is distinguished in that it has no external guarantees, it has
no legal or materially discernable signs of authenticity. Everything
is resolved through spiritual life, through spiritual experience.
The Holy Spirit does not act like natural forces and social forces.
There are no analogies here. Too much of such analogy is a temptation
and is an attempt to identify the Church with this world.
The Church's hierarchical structure is historically inevitable.
Canonical development is a secondary development and not of the
first order. Of primary order is the spiritual life only and that
which develops within it. This is what holds the Church in its
holiness. The confirmation of the primacy of external hierarchical
authority is always a self-deception and an illusion. Those who
definitively submit themselves to the external hierarchical authority
are the ones whose internal convictions are identical or comparable
with the authority's. No one has ever submitted to external authority
if his conscience definitely opposed it, or the submission was
only in accordance with purely external discipline.
This must likewise be said about Catholics. External authority
of itself has never been able to convince anyone of anything.
Conviction always arises from within and always presumes a collaboration
of the freedom of conscience and God's Spirit. Clericalism is
convincing only for convinced clericals, for those who treasure
the clerical structure of life more than anything else, those
who desire and anxiously await the triumph of clericalism and
its party. The defenders of authority and enemies of freedom usually
recognize complete and unlimited freedom for themselves but they
do not want others to have it. Such are the least humble and the
most self-willed people around.
This is obvious from the example of the direction of the Rightist-clericalist
trend in the emigration. The extreme and at times fanatical supporters
of the Karlovtsy Synod's line against Metropolitan Evlogy represent
the extreme rightist monarchist group which selects the highest
Church organ and the Metropolitans not on the basis of ecclesio-canonical
principles but on the basis of their particular political sympathies
and Black-Hundredish reactionary aspirations. If the Synod of
Bishops and the Council of Bishops would adopt a more liberal
and freedom-loving direction for the Church, if they would break
with the Rightist monarchist course, then their present supporters
would desert it and would begin to reject its ecclesiastical authority.
The Communists are just like that: they recognize complete freedom
for themselves but do not let others breathe freely.
All these extreme Right monarchists in the emigration recognize
complete freedom of conscience and freedom of choice for themselves
and admit authority of the Church where they want and where they
like, clothing with authority those metropolitans and bishops
who cater to their whims and sympathize with them. In Berlin,
I heard Russians say on more than one occasion that they do not
recognize the authority of the Metropolitan [Evlogy], to whose
jurisdiction they are subject, because they don't like the direction
he is taking. These people would never listen to the voice of
the Church, which would condemn their aspirations and political
sympathies, nor accept it as the Church's voice. They never wanted
to listen to Patriarch Tikhon, i.e. the highest organ of the Russian
Orthodox Church. Nor did the bishops who did not like the direction
the Patriarch was taking, listen to him. The very formation of
the Synod of Bishops was contrary to the wishes of the Patriarch
and was an arbitrary act.
All these self-willed people of the Rightist camp have never
recognized freedom for the Church and always supported the State's
dominance over the Church, not so much of the State but of their
own political direction and interests. The first Karlovtsy Council,
which was condemned by the Patriarch, was conducted under the
banner of the Rightist monarchist organization which exercised
its dominance over the Church. Of what use is hierarchical authority
here? They do not recognize it when they don't like it.
Today, within the Rightist émigré circles, Church authority is
recognized where it endorses and encourages the reactionary restorative
political desires, where there is an aura of the spirit of obscurantism
and the spiteful paranoia over the "Judeo-Masonic" conspiracy.
No one pays much attention to canons unless they are needed for
a false and hypocritical cover. It is quite clear that, from the
canonical point of view, legitimacy is on the side of Metropolitan
Evlogy, but the Rightist-clericalist sector recognizes that the
ecclesiastical authority belongs to the Synod of Bishops inasmuch
as the latter expresses their spirit and their aims. The Rightist-clericalist
sector in fact consists of those people who want to dominate the
Church with their politics and monarchist type of government.
It also recognizes the primacy of freedom over authority but only
of their own freedom. It projects its freedom or its will upon
the organ which it likes and which is convenient for them. This
lie must be exposed and it is being exposed by life itself.
The Karlovtzy episcopate is a certain party, a certain trend
and it is not the voice of the Church. The pretension of such
a trend of the émigré Orthodox Church to autocephaly and as the
head of the whole Russian Orthodox Church is pathetic and laughable.
A significant part (not all of them) of the émigré hierarchy consists
of bishops who deserted their flocks and for that reason it cannot
have any significant moral authority for the whole of the Russian
Orthodox world. Not a single bishop or priest in the emigration
has any moral right to pass judgement upon bishops and priests
who are doomed to a martyr's life in Russia. There are those who
speak with disdain and judgement about Patriarch Tikhon and about
Metropolitan Benjamin. This is a godless and a repulsive manifestation.
No one can know how the disdainful and judgmental individual would
behave himself in Soviet Russia. Would he not join the Living
Church, as did a number of former Black Hundred supporters, since
they are so experienced in servitude and spying? We now know that
both Patriarch Tikhon and Metropolitan Benjamin, in their own
ways, suffered martyrdom.
We have entered upon a lengthy epoch of Church discords. For
one who knows Church history, there is nothing new in this. But
we, Russians, have become used to a lengthy period of peace and
stability in the Church. The Orthodox people lived in a stable
milieu, in a strong cohesion of Church and State. In the XIX century,
the Russian world experienced some stormy movements, which resulted
in a crisis and catastrophe, but the Church remained in appearance
in a state of deathly calm and immobility. Perhaps the catastrophe
is the result of the Church's inertness. The monarchy protected
the Church's repose but along with this it stood in the way of
any creative activity, even forbidding the calling of a Council.
Many Orthodox people thought that this calm and inertia would
be eternal. But for a more acute view it was evident that not
everything was all right and peaceful in the Orthodox Church.
Internal processes took place, internal contradictions occurred
which were not exposed because the Church was enslaved by the
State. The prevailing style of the imperial Church was one of
deathly inertia and immobility. There were no Church discords
or disputes because there was very little creative activity, or
it was so insignificant that it was powerless to express itself.
When disputes arose in the first century Church, there was also
a stormy creative life. Church disputes could be the other side
of a vital internal life, of religious tension and internal struggles
of the spirit.
We are entering upon such an epoch, one very difficult and trying,
full of responsibility but also joyful in seeing the beginning
of a creative movement. The structure of the Orthodox soul must
undergo a change. A new order is coming to Orthodoxy. One must
prepare his soul for a violent era of discords. There is no turning
back to the old calm and stability nor can there be. One cannot
divest oneself of the burden of the freedom of choice; one cannot
lean against an external unshakable pillar for support. We must
find support within the depth of our own spirit.
We are witnessing that history of the Orthodox Church which is
seeing the end and liquidation not only of the Petrine Synodal
period but of the whole Constantinopolitan period in Christianity's
history. We are now at the beginning of a new Christian era. The
Church must redefine its relationship to the world and to the
processes that are taking place there. The Church must be free
and independent of the State, of Caesar's kingdom, of worldly
moods. It must relate to the creative processes of the world in
a more meaningful way, to bless the world's move towards Christ
and Christianity, which are as yet unrecognized, to welcome the
prodigal son's return to the Father in a way other than was done
up to now.
In times of a historical crisis and change, during the destruction
of the old world and the birth of the new, the Church's hierarchy
does not always, or in a timely manner, become fully cognizant
of the magnitude of the events taking place, nor does it assess
the religious significance of what is taking place and its effect
upon the Church. A part of the hierarchy remains completely in
the past and longs for restoration of the old, peaceful, immobile
life. It is not sensitive to the historical reality. It is blind
to that which is taking place in the world. It looks upon the
tragedy of mankind without love or compassion. It remains full
of pharisaical self-justification and with a closed mind. Another
part of the hierarchy begins to sense that some changes are taking
place but without being fully conscious of them. A third part
recognizes these changes more fully. Such a variation of feeling
and consciousness engenders strife within the hierarchy itself
and results in discord within the Church. As always, ideal motivations
will become compromised with personal and class agendas, class
struggle and personal competition.
The Karlovtsy bishops, the Karlovtsy Synod and the majority of
the Sobor represent the trend within the hierarchy which completely
finds itself in the decaying past, the period in Orthodoxy which
is withering away. They neither see nor understand what is taking
place. They are spiritually blind and are embittered at the tragedy
that is taking place in the world and in mankind. They are contemporary
lawyers and Pharisees for whom the Sabbath is greater than man.
The last Karlovtsy Council and its condemnation of everything
creative in Christian movement is the final convulsion of the
Church's expiring era. It is Monophysical in spirit in that it
rejects man; it is Caesaropapist in the flesh in that it deifies
Caesar upon earth. This kind of a trend must hurl anathemas at
everything that is taking place in mankind and in the world. It
has been made captive by malicious mistrustfulness and suspicion.
It sees only the advent of evil, since it is only interested in
the old life and hates any new life.
It is tied not to the eternal in the Church but only to that
which is corruptible and transient. It stands in the way of the
emergence of young life in Orthodoxy. Such a tendency not only
lacks spiritual truth but it has no canonical truth. The Rightist
Synodal trends within the emigration is formally compatible with
the Leftist [Living Church] synodal trends in Soviet Russia. There
is no freedom for the Church in either place.
Spiritual truth and canonical truth is completely on the side
of that part of the hierarchy, which guards the freedom of the
Church, which places the Church above worldly elements and political
passions, which discerns the magnitude of the historical revolution,
which has taken place and which precludes forever any possibility
of returning to the past. This portion of the hierarchy abroad
is represented by Metropolitan Evlogy. The point here has nothing
to do with Metropolitan Evlogy's personal views, but in that he
is the instrument of the Highest Will, of Divine Providence, during
this difficult and torturous transitional period being experienced
by the Orthodox Church abroad. Such was Patriarch Tikhon for all
Russia. It is clear that here we have help from God.
Neither the Patriarch nor the Metropolitan can be spokesmen for
any kind of an extreme trend in the life of the Church, and they
rarely are the initiators of anything other than a placid movement.
Their mission is to maintain the Church's equanimity in the face
of discord and disturbances. But in their mission they should
not interfere with emerging creative initiatives, they can give
them their approval and incorporate them into the basic course
of the Church's life.
The equilibrium of the Church's life, her unity, cannot be supported
by way of compromise with the decaying segment of the hierarchy
that condemns creative life and stands in the way of letting the
Church enter into a new epoch. This decaying trend is doomed to
be sloughed off. The Church's development is found on the opposite
side of that deadening policy, which chokes off the spirit. I
believe that a split is inevitable sooner or later. [The possibility
of a temporal truce is of course cannot be excluded, but it won't
be substantial.] The Orthodox Church will not cease to exist because
of it and will not lose its unity. Essential is the unity in truth
and not a compromise of truth with falsehood. The fear that the
reactionary-restorative trend will fall off for good and then
die is not a religious-ecclesiastic, but rather political fear,
since this would be the mortal blow to the entire Rightist monarchist
movement. This blow must be administered since that movement stands
in the way of the healing of Russia and the Russian people. It
is blocking the begetting of a better life.
The extreme Rightist party in Orthodoxy adheres to the idea of
an ecclesiastic nationalism. It wants to isolate Orthodoxy from
the Christian world. It does not understand the ecumenical spirit.
In all likelihood we will experience a new Old Believer and an
Old Ritualist split, but in the worst possible meaning of those
terms. The old split somehow had the people's truth in it, which
will not be so in the new split. This new split is possible in
Russia itself as well as in the emigration. One should prepare
for it spiritually. It will demand courage and decisiveness.
Our own epoch in the Church's life presents us with a very difficult
and complex spiritual problem. What does it mean, when a bishop
-- well-known for his ascetical life, an authentic monastic, who
carries out the testaments of the Holy Fathers, who is known for
his spirituality -- turns out to be spiritually blind, unable
to test the spirits and sees in the world around himself and in
mankind nothing but evil and darkness and is doomed to disseminate
about himself nothing but condemnation and gloom? This is a very
alarming problem that calls forth some thoughtful concern. Apparently
asceticism in and of itself does not bring about higher spiritual
achievements and does not result in spiritual insight. It might
even dry up and harden the heart. The devil is also an ascetic.
Another element is necessary in the spiritual path without which
asceticism is deprived of its transfiguring and enlightening purpose.
Asceticism without love is fruitless and dead.
"If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not
love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic
powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if
I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love,
I am nothing. If I give away all I have, and if I deliver my body
to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing.&uot;
"Love is patient and kind; love is not jealous or boastful; it
is not arrogant or rude. Love does not insist on its own way;
it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrong,
but rejoices in the right. Love bears all things, believes all
things, hopes all things, endures all things." (I Cor 13:1-7)
The hierarchs who gathered for the Council of Bishops in Karlovtsy
failed to carry out the testaments of Apostle Paul. There is no
love in their words and deeds, only a profound malevolence, a
lack of love for man and for God's creation. They are neither
"long-suffering" nor "merciful". They "put on airs", are "irritated",
"conceive of evil", they "shield" nothing, they "hope" for nothing,
they "bear" nothing. The monk-ascetic can observe the commandment
to love God but if he does not observe the commandment to love
his neighbor, does not love man or God's creation, if he sees
nothing but evil in man, then his love for God is perverted and
distorted. Then he is nothing but "a noisy gong, a clanging cymbal."
The monastic ascetical malevolence, lack of love, suspicion of
the world of man and of any activity in the world is a perversion
of Christian faith. Christianity is the religion of love of God
and love of man. Love for God alone without love for man is a
perversion of the love for God. Love for man without love for
God (humanism) is a perversion of love for man. The mystery of
Christianity is the mystery of Godmanhood. The monk-ascetic in
whom the heart has hardened and cooled, who loves God but treats
man and the world without love is a practical, living Monophysite.
He does not confess the religion of Godmanhood. He is the culpable
source of the advent of Godless humanism in the world.
Orthodoxy has experienced this Monophysite tendency and now we
are seeing its evil fruits. We are witnessing the last vestiges
of a Monophysite, misanthropic Orthodoxy, or -- more correctly
-- of a psudo-Orthodoxy. This spirit is bound for oblivion. It
evilly acts against man and condemns any progress in life. This
problem is pointedly raised in the discord within the Church.
Presently there is a struggle for Christianity as the religion
of Godmanhood that unites within itself the fullness of love for
God and man. Asceticism without love is dead. It makes one blind,
without vision. It makes of man a self-made eunuch [refers to
Skoptsy, a Russian Manichean heresy]. This truth must be realized
through suffering in the time of our discord. He who is exclusively
concerned with the salvation of his soul while being cold and
cruel to his neighbor, that person kills his soul. The bishops
who carried out their resolutions at the Karlovtsy Council show
no signs of Christian love. They are carrying out a deed without
love, one, which is inimical to man. They are Monophysites in
the spiritually-ethical meaning of that word no matter how loudly
they profess the irreproachable ecclesiastical and dogmatic formulas.
In this is the metaphysical meaning of current state of things.
Much is being said in out time about "Churcifying" life. This
is the maxim of the Russian Student Christian Movement. The maxim
is undoubtedly sincere but it needs clarification and an explanation
of its context since one can attribute completely different meanings
The "Churching" or "Churchification" of life could be understood
in the spirit of a false "hierarchism" or clericalism, in the
spirit of the old Byzantine theocratic idea that has been done
away with in history and cannot be restored. Some understand "Churchification"
as a submission of all facets of life to hierarchical authority,
subject to their direct rule. This is more like a Catholic rather
than an Orthodox understanding of "Churchification," a Catholic
theocratic idea, from which even many Catholics free themselves.
It is not understandable where such an idea came about among a
certain part of our youth, which looks upon the hierarchy as possessing
some kind of infallibility and a special charisma of knowledge
and teaching authority. Actually, there is no such teaching in
the Orthodox Church although some individual hierarchs espoused
it. Basically, it contradicts the principle of sobornost' [catholicity]
that lies in the foundation of the Orthodox Church. The sobornost'
of the Church, which cannot have any kind of a formal and juridical
expression, is incompatible with the assertion of the infallible
authority of the episcopate and its exclusive charismatic privileges
in doctrine and teaching authority.
The Spirit breathes where it wills. For the Orthodox, the Church
is not an unequal organization. The priesthood has, before anything
else, a liturgical meaning, and in this it is inerrable and does
not depend upon human qualities or talants. But the Christian
truth is revealed to and is guarded by the whole people of the
Church amongst whom may be people with a special kind of individual
gifts of teaching.
To the priesthood belongs the leadership on the spiritual path
for the salvation of souls but not on the path of creativity,
which is the prerogative of mankind. For example, starchestvo
[spiritual leadership of startsi, i.e., elders], which is so characteristic
of Orthodoxy, proves that even spiritual gifts for the guidance
of souls are not directly linked to the hierarchical order. The
starets is an individual, gifted with personal charisma, discerned
by the people, a spirit-bearing individual and not of a particular
hierarchical order. The startsi, more often than not, were persecuted
by bishops. [Very enlightening in this sense is the life of Father
Leonid, one of the first great startsi of the Optina monastery.]
It is without question that disciplinary power, without which
Church administration would be impossible, belongs to the bishop
within his diocese. But this does not constitute infallible authority
or a special gift of teaching. The bishop is at the head of the
hierarchal structure of the Church; he maintains the unity of
the Church and preserves Orthodox Tradition. But the lordship
over all creative life of the individual and of people does not
belong to him. He does not lord over the people's knowledge, over
their social endeavors. Not even creative initiative in spiritual
life belongs to him. Even Catholics recognize that internal priesthood
belongs to all Christians and in a certain sense all Christians
are priests. It is only in the external plan that the Catholics
affirm the hierarchical principle in an extreme form.* Orthodoxy
recognizes the potential general priesthood even more. This is
in conformance with the teaching of the Apostles and many teachers
of the Church. Meanwhile, "hierocraticism" is a deviation and
a distortion, is the refusal to recognize that the Holy Spirit
acts in all of the Christian mankind, that Christ is present among
His people. This is the temptation of the Great Inquisitor [in
Dostoyevsky's Brothers Karamazov], the rejection of the
Spirit's freedom and the throwing off of the burden of the freedom
of choice, the delegation of responsibility to the few and its
removal from the conscience of all Christians. It isn't fair to
blame only the Catholics for this.
The "Churchification" of life can be understood in a diametrically
opposite sense, to see in it precisely the placing of greater
responsibility upon all the people of the Church, upon all Christians,
a more powerful action by freedom of the spirit. One can and must
recognize as potentially "Churchly" that, which does not have
an official, formally juridical stamp of "Churchliness".
The "Churchification" of life is an invisible process, it does
not hit one in the eyes. God's kingdom comes invisibly, in the
depths of people's hearts. The people are tired of the conventional
lies of external Churchliness, which symbolically sanctifies life
without any real transfiguration and improvement. The authentic
"Churchification" of life does not include only the processes
that formally belong to the Church's hierarchy and are subject
to a symbolically established form of sanctification. It primarily
covers those processes, which truly change and transfigure life
in accordance with the spirit of Christ and in which Christ's
truth becomes manifest. These processes on the surface can remain
free and can appear autonomous, but within them Christ's Spirit
can act. Bukharev, one of the most remarkable of Orthodox theologians,
says it well when he speaks of the "descent of Christ upon the
earth," about our assimilation with Christ in every act of our
The "Churchification" of life is an actual, an ontologically
real Christianization of life, the introduction of Christ's light,
Christ's Truth, Christ's love and freedom in all spheres of life
and creativity. Such a process demands spiritual freedom. It cannot
be the result of an action or of a coercion on the part of an
The "Churchification" of life is not merely a sacramental process,
a process of the sanctification of life, but it is also a prophetic
process, a creative process that transfigures life, changing it
and not merely sanctifying it. For this reason it cannot flow
from the exclusive, authoritative provenance of the hierarchy
because Christian freedom must act in that process.
The assertion that Divine grace acts only under authority and
not in freedom is mistaken and arbitrary. It has been pointed
out that freedom has been responsible for many mischiefs in this
world, that it has been dark and without grace. However, authority
has also been responsible for no small amount of mischief and
it did increase darkness and malice in the world. There is no
guarantee in either authority or freedom since behind authority
there can be a manifestation of malicious freedom, self-volition
and arbitrary rule. But freedom can be enlightening and full of
Grace. The Spirit of God acts through freedom.
Where God's Spirit is, there is freedom. Without freedom God's
Will can not be executed in this world. Man's free conscience
may have been darkened by Original Sin but it has not been destroyed.
Otherwise the image and likeness of God in man would have been
erased and he would have been incapable of receiving any revelation
and religious life would have been impossible for him. Man's freedom
was reborn and enlightened from within through Christ's redemption
and a free conscience was affirmed in man as a direct result of
Christ's light within him.
Fearless affirmation of the freedom of spirit, freedom of conscience
has a special significance in our critical epoch, in this epoch
of ecclesiastical trouble and religious storms. Freedom is harsh,
and it requires the strength of spirit. But this harshness and
this strength are much needed today. Exactly in our epoch, it
is impossible to lean exclusively on an external authority, on
a pillar that towers above us and is not within us. We have to
experience this absence of any external guarantees and external
unshakable support in order to realize this. Only then that immovable
foundation will be discovered within us.
This does not mean in the least that God has abandoned us. The
work of the Holy Spirit might even be greater than ever. The vacillation
of all external authorities, the crushing of all illusions have
the providential significance. This has been sent to us as a test
of our Christian freedom, of our internal fortitude. Not a single
Orthodox Christian is exempt from the freedom of choice, from
carrying out the act of a free conscience. One cannot cowardly
run from this seeking a safe shelter. The highest levels of hierarchy
will need the free conscience of Christians, the freedom of their
choice, during this time of trouble and confrontations. God needs
man's free conscience, man's free resoluteness, man's unfettered
love. The whole meaning of the Creation lies in this. The rejection
of the freedom of conscience as the supreme origin and the primary
principle of religious life is the rejection of the world's purpose,
is a slavish opposition to God, is a temptation and a derangement.
The spirit of a free conscience is not the spirit of a formal
and indifferent liberalism. It is part and parcel of the very
content of Christian faith.
Everything that I said here I said not about that freedom, which
I demand from God, but about that freedom, which God demands from
me. The discords in the Church that are now taking place inside
Russia and in the emigration, demand firmness, fortitude and strength,
they demand the power of freedom in us. Without the spirit of
freedom one cannot conquer the temptation of Communism and can
offer nothing in its stead.
It has not been given to us to cast off the burden and difficulty
of freedom nor the striving towards freedom. As paradoxical as
it sounds we, in a certain sense have been forced towards freedom
by the very tragic events taking place in the world. Our consciousness
must stand on the highest levels of the historical events. The
sorrowful events that took place at the Council of Bishops, have
their positive side -- they liberate us from illusions and enticements,
in their negative ways they remind Christians about their birthright,
about their higher calling. The suspicious attitude towards the
Russian Student Christian Movement, the most valuable thing in
today's emigration, teaches the youth that Christian rebirth is
impossible outside of the freedom of spirit. It is clearer now
than ever before, that the Orthodox Church holds fast not to external
authority, not to an external organizational unity, but to the
internal freedom of the Spirit, Christ's freedom, the freedom
and grace in man, through the action of the Holy Spirit.
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