1874 - 1948
Quenchers of the Spirit
by Nikolai Alexandrovich Berdyaev
It has been a while since then, when these words were written, and already history has cruelly made mockery over them. This year in truth seemed significant for the Orthodox Church.
In every issue of the newspapers they write about the "Name-praisers" ("Imeneslavtsi") and "Name-contemners" ("Imenebortsi"), about the starets-elder Illarion, about the schema-monk priest Antonii Bulatovich, about the tremourings at Athos, about the measures of the Holy Synod against the new "heresy", about the terrors, from which all the blood seethes with indignation. Would the author of the quoted preface repeat his few rhetorical words, or would the events of recent times be too great an effort also for his Orthodox romanticism? Who are these several frivolous-minded and propped-up by rationalism monks", having dared to infringe upon the holy Name of Jesus? This is the Holy Synod and the Patriarchs, the Church Russian and the Church of Constantinople, having condemned in very harsh form "Name-praising", as a God-blaspheming heresy. Upon Athos there is smell "with the smoke of gunpowder" and, through "the laws of the earthly realms", its citizens "are punished with prisons". With interrogations and with mutilations they urge on the correctness of the Synod's faith. Where however is the voice of the Church, which would bespeak its powerful word on a dogmatic question, affecting the very foundations of Christianity? For the first time after long, long centuries the Orthodox world emerged from a condition of stagnation and is bestirred by a question of spiritual, of mystical experience, not by a paltry question of church governance, but by a larger dogmatic question. It was joyful, that in the XX Century people could be so passionately stirred up by religious questions. The disputes of the Imeneslavtsi and the Imenebortsi resembled those of ancient times, when in the Orthodox Church there was still spiritual life and spiritual movement. And with excitement there waited the best Orthodox people, people of genuine religious experience and genuine religious life, as to how the Church would give answer to a profound spiritual question, to a question of mystical experience. Here is not the place essentially to enter into the dogmatic dispute of the Imeneslavtsi and the Imenebortsi. I say only, that on the side of the Imeneslavtsi is a prevalence of a most keen spiritual life, for them there is the mystical tradition, and among them are people of a foremost religious experience. In the teachings of the Imeneslavtsi is that partial truth of pantheism, which purports, that the energies of God posit themselves immanently for the world and for man. On the side of the Imenebortsi appears the official, the public, the Synodal Orthodoxy, long ago having ruptured every connection with Christian mysticism, long ago indifferent to any spiritual life, long ago having declined into civil positivism and worldly materialism. In answer to the spiritual stirring of the Orthodox world, the stirring of the finest monks, elders and laymen, with all their heart devoted to Orthodoxy, there resounded the voice of the official, the public Church, and it covered itself with indelible shame. For the Synod Church and the Church of the Patriarchs this was a great trial, a testing, sent from above.
When the schema-monk priest Antonii Bulatovich arrived in Russia from Athos to seek out the truth of God in the Russian Church, they then subjected him to a search, after which the Holy Synod suggested to the Ministry of Interior Affairs to dispatch him from Peterburg as a troublesome man. They answered his spiritual thirst with police harassment. Archbishop Antonii Volynsky in "By a Russian Monk" gives out a burst of abuse, abuse--worthy of a cabdriver, but not a prince of the Church, against the book of the starets-elder Illarion 1 "On the Hills of the Caucasus", from which began all the movement. The Holy Synod was indignant, that the starets-elder Illarion, schema-monk priest Antonii Bulatovich and the Athos monks had dared to disturb the spiritual peace and stagnation, that they dared to think about matters of spiritual experience and knowledge. The Holy Synod, in everything the likeness of our state power, most of all fears and hates any vitality and any movement, and first of all it wants peace and quiet. Its first concern, is that nothing happen. No sort of dogmatic questions inside Orthodoxy are scrutinised, questions of spiritual life cease to bestir the Orthodox world. They are interested by such second-rate and lukewarm questions, as: to be or not to be a patriarch, whether to organise a parish, etc. No sort of mysticism should disrupt the deathly calm of the Orthodox world. And suddenly the very Orthodox from among the Orthodox were a tremble, they became restless, they thirsted. Our bishops, sitting in the Holy Synod, long ago ceased to be interested by essentially religious questions, and indeed the bishops never were strong in questions of religious knowledge and mystical contemplation. What is beyond the matter for them is the extent, and whether Jesus Himself is really present in the Name Jesus or whether the name is but an abstract mediative sign. They, being people subsisting by a worldly utilitarianism, are not able to penetrate into such questions, posited merely by mysticism, by religious philosophy or by people of profound contemplation. The Holy Synod declared as heresy the Imeneslavtsism for its disturbance, being caused to a people, long ago disaccustomed to any spiritual life or any spiritual stirring. The Holy Synod hates having any spiritual life, it reckons it dangerous and disquieting. Is it possible to turn to the positivists of the Synod Church and to the materialists of the Patriarchs' Churches, to people immersed in the lower sphere of being, with a question about the Name of Jesus, with a question of spiritual life and religious contemplation? When a serious question has arisen, then the official Church is rendered shamefully ineffective. Suddenly there is shewn, that there is neither the power nor the life of the Spirit in the Synod Church. The brutal punishment by Archbishop Nikon over the Athos monks, bestown with the great schema-rank, and having dwelt on Athos for 30 and 40 years, put to shreds by army-troops and the police, shoes an unprecedented degradation of the Church, its utmost debasement. They sometimes love to shout, that the Church is suppressed by the state. But it was the bishops themselves indeed summoning the civil powers to violent acts for their own ends, they are a thousand times worse than the soldiers and city-police. Archbishop Nikon urged the Imeneslavtsi monks into the correct faith of the Holy Synod with the help of bayonettes, maiming defenseless elders. By his spiritual power Archbishop Nikon could never persuade anyone. The Synod Orthodoxy is persuasive to no one: in it is no persuasive power of the Spirit (not one Synod missionary could ever persuade over a single sectarian). The eternal turning of the Synod Church to the power of state arms is a revealing acknowledgement, that its Orthodoxy is powerless, unpersuasive and untempting. After the monstrous punishment upon the hapless monks, the ancient bulwark of Orthodoxy Athos was laid waste, and the Holy Synod decided, that the Russian and Constantinople Churches had destroyed the heresy. The maimed monks remained material proof of the victory of the Synod's truth over heretical error.
The vast significance of the "Year of the Athos Disputes about the Name Jesus" is in this, that it marks a difficult and decisive moment for all the searching, the profound, the pure Orthodox. There certainly mustneeds occur a crisis of consciousness within Orthodoxy. And first of all necessary would be to inspect the traditional teaching about humility. Among the very best, the most spiritual Orthodox, both monks and priests, and also laymen, are many fervent adherents of Imeneslavtsism, --condemned both by the Russian Synod, and by the Patriarchs. The Holy Synod calls for humility, for a disavowal from sagacity. Are these to submit themselves, for whom the glorification of the Name of God and the Name of Jesus is "a nerve of the Church, in which collect together all the other nerves, this dogma, in the denial of which constitutes the denial of all dogmas, those holy things, which lie at the foundation of all the churchly holy", --are they to humble themselves before the Holy Synod? On the one side is the spiritual experience proper, corroborated by the experience of saints and elders, its religious conscience, and on the other side--the Holy Synod, no one of esteem, doubtful even from a canonical point of view, covetous Patriarchs, deceitful bishops, a visible voice, but perhaps merely the Church in appearances. Monks give a vow of obedience, humility possesses for them the significance of a formal principle of inner spiritual activity. This monastic spirit of obedience and humility has also carried over for Orthodox laity. They are prepared to serve evil and humble themselves before it. And we arrive at the question, is Christianity a religion of humility and obedience or a religion of freedom and love? The historical mode, the official old Christianity, the guardian of infants, has ultimately degenerated into a religion of humility and obedience, as the principle of the self-complacent. That one mustneeds humble oneself before God, in this there is no problem. But mustneeds one be humbled afront the world and people, to be humble afront evil, to be humble afront that which is an outrage against the religious conscience and religious experience, against that obtained of lofty spiritual life? The teaching about humility is transformed into an extinguishing of spirit, into a deadening of spiritual life, into a connivance for evil. The requirement of humility always and in everything is already long ago become the tool of the devil, a shielding of evil, a disarming in the struggle with evil. The Synod Church, in which the spirit lives not, knows only, that it requires always and in everything humility and submissiveness. It fears spiritual life, as though fire, and it seeks after methods to puff out the fire of the Spirit. Any mysticism frightens it, since mysticism has no need of external authority and does not admit of any authority. Ultimate reality is presented the mystic in spiritual experience, and for him the outward dogmas of the Synod bishops are pitiful and confused. The most lowly, the most swinish material life is more dear for the Synod Church, than sublime spiritual life, than upward ascent. The Synod Church wants to rule over the souls of people through their sins and weakness. Better it is to sin, but not to rise up spiritually, not to pursue wisdom, not to dare to get up too high. They tell, how some elder said to Vl. Solov'ev: "Commit sin, Vladimir Sergeevich, so as not to become proud". This is so characteristic for Orthodoxy. Sin is indulgently permitted, so that man should not be exalted too high. Official Orthodoxy hates any upward ascent, any growth, it gives blessing only to deathly peace and spiritual groveling. Any spiritual, any religious experience is first of all a liberation from the oppression of worldly utilitarianism, of worldly positivism, of worldly necessity and worldly reckonings. Official Orthodoxy--is wholly within utilitarianism and positivism, within worldly reckonings and worldly necessity; it injures the soul by its lack of spiritualness, by its bourgeois-ness.
That which for the holy fathers was never integrally original with the spiritual life, is become a corpse's poison in the contemporary "spiritual" world, a morgue-ish, hypocritical, veiling-over of the absence of spiritual life. It is impossible to deny with impunity the creative spiritual stirring. Humility was formerly an heroic resistance to the natural order, to paganish passions, a stripping away from oneself of the old Adam. But now humility is become a slavery to a rotting, putrified "this world". By their fruits do ye know them. This Gospel criterion remains eternal. What indeed are the fruits of the Synod Church, of official Orthodoxy? These are horrid fruits. Spiritual death, the demise and corpsification of the human soul--here are the fruits of a decayed, a putrified, a deadening teaching about humility and obedience, about sin and evil. At the present time decadent, decrepit Christians shout loudly about the freedom of man, when the talk concerns evil and sin. But when the talk gets round to the good or creativity, then they no longer talk about freedom, they then deny freedom. Freedom for them exists for evil, for good there does not exist freedom. Freedom is but an opportunity for non-belief in man, for a distaste towards man, for hostility towards the creative impulses in man. They believe more in the Anti-Christ, than in Christ. Christianity has degenerated into a religion of sin and evil, into human-hatred and human-extirpation. Be like swine, live in the mud--by this sinfulness, by this weakness it is possible to be complacent to a decrepit, a degenerate Christian consciousness. But God forbid that thou should be human, to be spiritually forceful, to reach higher, to discover one's own creative nature. To be human is much worse, much more perilous, than to be swinish. A swinish mode of existence is indulgently encouraged for the Orthodox world by the Church. Be humbled afront our divineness, and we shall through our fingers peek upon thine swinish life. It is possible to be beastly (the vast majority) and it is possible to be angelic (a not-large minority), but it is impossible to be human. Orthodoxy does not believe in the God-man, and it is not a religion of God-manhood. The recognition of Christ indeed not only as perfect God, but also as perfect Man makes obligatory for a faith in human nature, for an esteeming of man, for an acknowledgement of the free human element. But a monophysiting Orthodoxy would desire to extirpate man and acknowledge God alone. Man and the human--art hopeless mud and swinishness. Let the mud and swinishness remain until there is a complete disappearance. This would be humbly so. The mud and swinishness at the extreme do not make proud. Vl. Solov'ev taught about God-manhood, but his reflections upon this, that in the idea of God-manhood--is the essence of Christianity, were not utilised by the indulgent attention of the official Church. The monophysiting Orthodoxy believes in God, absolutely transcendent for human nature, God is remote and foreign, God is pre-Christian. In this old, and afront the judgement-seat of Christ heretical faith there is evidenced a non-belief in the transfiguration of life, in the ascent of man, in the revealing of Divine life in man. The monophysiting Orthodoxy regards as heresy any Christian immanentism. But the official Orthodoxy itself long ago already became a pernicious and anti-Christian heresy. In it there have not remained traces even of the Gospel Christian spirit, of Christian mysticism, of the religion of love and freedom, the religion of infinite rapprochement and unification of man and God. The monophysiting Orthodoxy makes a bloody human offering of sacrifice in the name of its un-Christian God. They denounce Catholicism in the foolish teaching about Redemption, but official Orthodoxy also confesses a pagan-foolish teaching about Redemption as a propitiation of God's wrath. Our bishops are most fond of the wrath of God and they frighten out the souls of men, disclosing to them the sole way to salvation as through the inherent to them grace of the priesthood. Christianity is reduced primarily to a fear of destruction, and redemption--to legal processes over transgressions.
In the world a deep crisis is happening, in the world is being born a passionate thirst for an higher spiritual life. In all the ends of contemporary culture there is seen a crossing-over to spirituality after a long period of immersion in materiality. It senses the breath of the Spirit. The Spirit breathes, whence it will. free mystics, theosophists, Steinerianists, Tolstoyans, dobroliubovtsi, sectarians of various sects, wanderers from the people and wanderers from among the Intelligentsia -- all thirst for spiritual life, transfigured life. All more and more withdrawing wanderers are to be met with, seeking life in the Spirit, having renounced the blessings of a lower life. Christ came into the world, and the power of Christ acts in the world. And the great task, wherein the world crisis of the crossing-over to a new spiritual life should be accomplished, is beneathe the banner of Christ. The official Church does nothing, so as to alleviate the spiritual thirst of the world and take on the uncertain spiritual yearnings for a Christian consciousness. Its cunning servants think only to curse and to resort to force. The Orthodox world is sunken to the depths of material life. Otherwise, it would not hold out as it were so rapaciously for civil utilitarianism. Even from Southern India with its old and remote for us wisdom, they come in their own way to help European mankind exit from the spiritual crisis. And the great spiritual experience of the Orthodox East does not have a voice to speak its own word of help in this critical hour, when Christian mankind stands at the cross-roads.
How tormentingly horrible our Orthodox life is. The Orthodox Church does not point to any ways of life, any ways of spiritual developement. In Khar'khov gubernia they call "shkopets" ("castrate") anyone, who is not drunken and who lives a little more spiritually, than what the national traditional manner of life requires.2 What kind of Orthodox indeed art thou, if thou dost not drink, art not licentious and dissolute, art not coarse in material interests, if thou art too interested in questions of spirit? Too keen a religious interest is already not Orthodox. Orthodox is the drunkenness, the dissoluteness, the coarseness of the material lifestyle. A spiritual manner of life is not--a ritualistic attitude towards religion, an absence of thirst for spiritual renewal -- the true signs of orthodoksal-ness.
The gates of hell have long ago prevailed over the Synod Church, just as they prevailed over the papist Church. And this signifies, that the Synod Church is not the authentic Church of Christ, against which the gates of hell cannot prevail. The tragedy of Imeneslavtsism unmasks the lie of the official ecclesialism, the absence in it of the Spirit of Christ. That "immobility of the Church", in which is seen its sublimity by the preface writer to the book of the schema-monk priest Antonii Bulatovich, is a sign of spiritual death. The Church of Christ is an eternal Divine-human dynamic. In this enthusiasm afront the "immobility" one senses this is all a monophysite tendency, a denying of man. The Church -- the Divine-human organism also presupposes action of the human element. God Himself egressed from a state of "immobility", from stillness, when He created the world. Man is called into churchly live to be active, to do. Man bears responsibility for the Divine-human organism, the Church. A downfall of the Church is a downfall of man. When the Church dwells in a spiritual "immobility", then in its dynamic it is reduced into soldiers, police, bayonettes and guns. This is a spiritual paralysis. And in the Synod Church the paralysis is transformed already into a deadening, it secretes a corpse's poison and poisons with it the spiritual life of the Russian nation. All they, that are alive in Russia, and spiritual, seeking after Divine life and Divine truth, ought to depart from this Church of rottenness and decay, they ought to guard the Russian nation from the effect of the corpsely poison. But this presupposes a shift in Christian consciousness, a radical revision of the decrepit teaching about humility and obedience, about evil and sin, an uncovering of the inner sources of the rebirth of spiritual life, an affirmative life, not a denigrative one. Necessary now is not humility and obedience, but the growth of spiritual life, a concentration of spiritual strength, opposing the deadly evil. Now is necessary to angrily drive out the money-changers from the temple.
The gates of hell will not prevail against the Church of Christ, for it dwells eternally in the Cosmos as an unification of Christ the Logos with the soul of the world and the soul of man, an eternally accomplishing in the Cosmos of the mystery of the Redemption. The Church dwells invincibly on the heights of spiritual life, in an unification of man with God and through God with other men. The spiritual flesh, about which the Apostle Paul speaks, ought ultimately to assume mastery over the lower flesh of ecclesiality, always bound up with the lower flesh of man. This lower physical flesh of ecclesiality has deadened and rotted. And salvation is perhaps found only in the revealing of its spiritual flesh. The matter of Archbishop Nikon and Archbishop Antonii is also a rotting of the physical flesh of the Church, its old attire, intended for the infancy of mankind. Mankind is now grown up out of these old clothes and should garb itself in the new spiritual flesh. The decaying physical flesh of ecclesiality prefers the beastly for man, it desires dirt, and wantonness and groveling more than purity, than dignity and spiritual ascent. It is very clear, that the end of the infancy of mankind approaches for the materialistic Church. It does not accommodate the life of spirit, the thirst of spirit, the stirrings of spirit. Everything is reaped in its own time, since the world lives by creative spiritual growth, by an eternal dynamic, by an eternal ascent. That, which earlier in the Church was an universal education and guidance of an immature mankind, that now has become coercion and a quenching of spirit. The Synod Church, the official Orthodox commit blasphemy against the Holy Spirit. And it was said, that blasphemy against the Son of God is to be forgiven, but not forgiven is blasphemy against the Holy Spirit. The Church is not that, the which is not given to breathe in the Spirit. Can the Church of Christ be quenchers of spirit, suppressors of every spiritual impulse? The restoration of the old patristic consciousness and the old Orthodox mode of life is a great obstacle on the pathway of Christian renewal. Schema-monk priest Antonii Bulatovich himself--is a man of the old consciousness, --his book is built up upon the dead authority of texts, and not upon spiritual life, not upon mystical experience. But a role was destined to be played by this book in the disintegration of the Synod Church. If the Imeneslavtsi "heresy" provokes a schism in the Church, then this can only be rejoiced at and greeted as a sign of life. Desirous and glad is everything, which frustrates the protection of this hypocritical lie, which obstructs everything felicitous and orderly in Orthodoxy. It is necessary to desire by all the powers of spirit, that there be revealed and disclosed every truth, the pravda, exceeding every conniving and every earthly blessing, so that an end may be put to "immobility" and quiet, so that the spiritual earth-tremour burst forth from beneathe the rotting physical flesh of ecclesiality. In this is the pledge of new spiritual life, the start of Divine-human doing. Authentic religious life is a victory over fear, an acquisition of courage, the penetration of secular life with a sense of good. Deadening ecclesiality mustneeds hold man in a condition of fear and terror. And therefore the highest virtues now--are audacity and daring. Are audacity and daring sufficient for those Orthodox, whom the Holy Synod compels to renounce their religious conscience and their religious experience? That, which man recognises in his own religious experience about the world is otherwise, it is more authoritative and more primary than any external authority. And the question about the Name of Jesus is perhaps only decided by a turning towards the spiritual life proper and towards people of the highest mystical experience, not towards the Holy Synod and not towards the Patriarchs, for whom it is not a matter of spiritual, mystical nor inner extent. Let the organisation of the physical flesh of ecclesiality resolve their positivo-material questions. Spiritual people can turn but to the spiritual flesh of the Church mystical.
1913 (Klepinina # 172)
("Gasiteli Dukha", -- in journal Russkaya Molva, aug. 1913, No. 232.)
(Incorrectly cited as journal Russkaya Mysl' in YMCA Press Vol. 3 of Berdyaev's Works -- "Tipy Religioznoi Mysli v Rossii" (1989) -- which reproduces the "Gasiteli Dukha" article on pp. 622-634)
1 Starets Illarion, whom they now want to lock up in a monastery prison, 90 years old. At present a monastic-hermit.
2 I lived considerably many
years in a village in Khar’khov gubernia and had occasion to observe this
This is that famously notorious article by N A Berdyaev, concerning which he said: "The issue of the paper, in which the article was printed, was confiscated, and I was remanded for trial on charges of blasphemy concerning the article, punishable by perpetual banishment to Siberia. My lawyer informed me the matter was hopeless. They postponed the matter because of the war and the impossibility to call all the witnesses. Thus it was put off prior to the revolution and the revolution ended the matter. If there had been no revolution, then I should not have been in Paris, but in Siberia, in perpetual banishment". (Samopoznanie, Ymca-Press, 1949-1983, pp. 234-235).
The title "Quenchers of the Spirit" derives literally from Saint Paul's 1st Epistle to the Thessalonians, Chapter 5 Verse 19 -- "Quench not the spirit", this but two verses before the "Pray unceasingly" command familiar to all that know of the "Jesus Prayer" in Orthodoxy. And immediately after exhorting us to "Quench not the spirit", Saint Paul bids us to "Contemn not prophesying", -- so significant a religio-philosophic motif of Berdyaev. The only surprise to the work is that there is no Scriptural citation given, but not surprising in light of its proximity to the "pray unceasingly" injunction for the Jesus Prayer, which would seem to relate directly to the Imeneslavtsi or Imyaslavtsi. Theirs would seem to be the Hesychiast tradition within the Church centring round the unceasing praying of the Jesus Prayer, in the literature of the Philokalia-Dobrotoliubie, and defended by Sainted Gregory Palamas (co-incidentally Archbishop of that same Thessalonika) in his theology arising out of his famed disputes with the Scholastic, Varlaam of Calabria. But perhaps it was some abuse of the Jesus Prayer that brought the bayonettes to Holy Mount Athos that we know not of?
Some might be confused when Berdyaev so strongly berates the Synodal Church, a term that since has become affixed to the legacy of the post-revolutionary Karlovtsi Synod, which in 1913 did not exist. The Holy Synod of the Russian Orthodox Church, berated by Berdyaev, is the highest governing organ of the Church--nowadays presided over by His Holiness the Patriarch of Moscow. In pre-revolutionary Russia, the sweeping reforms of Tsar Peter the Great abolished the dignity of the patriarch and on European models created a Synod of Bishops, headed by an Prokurator, a layman and government official with veto powers. Pobedonotsev, who died in 1907, has a certain reactionary infamy of reputation. Reforms that lose their inner dynamic of reform, can over the space of centuries become increased forms of stagnation. But the time of Berdyaev's article and the events preceding, 1912-1913, were unsettling times for Russia and perhaps reflect the further destabilising effects of Rasputin (died 1916) not only in government but also the Church, far beyond the long paralysis inflicted on it by the reforms of Peter. And perhaps the removal of Rasputin also removed the blasphemy charge for Berdyaev.
With historical hindsight, this article offers a glimpse on the eve of the apocalyptic time of the Old Order in Russia. It is extremely agonising to realise that the Church should not have been able to forestall the horrors brought on by the War and Revolution, and had to contribute so many of its best and finest to crowns of martyrdom, religious and social and political. As is all the terrible holocausts of this century, and the historical lesson of "Never again", it is imperative that the Church work while it is yet spiritual day. Freed of the reforms gone stale under the Old Order, the Church restored the patriarchate to Russia and was guided by the Holy Spirit to choose Sainted Patriarch Tikhon (Belavin). The Bolsheviks tried to turn the Church into a museum, but failed; it would be the ultimate blasphemy that believers should do with the Church what the Bolsheviks failed at.
Berdyaev's article offers a glimpse into an ancient dichotomy within Orthodoxy, not found in Western Churches, that of startsi-elders in a tandem of spiritual authority based on holiness and wisdom, in concert with hierarchical ecclesial authority based on apostolicity, both deriving from ultimate authority of Christ as Lord in the Church, and the Holy Spirit within the Church as the Sobornost' of God with all His people, not just clergy as in papism formerly. Starchestvo, the seeking out of experienced spiritual guides and elders, is anciently connected to monasticism and to such places as Holy Mount Athos.
The ultimate irony: in exile in Paris Berdyaev remained faithful and finished his life's course under the Moscow Church rather than that under Metropolitan Evlogii in the West, that selfsame Church so fiercely criticised years before in his audacious article, "Quenchers of the Spirit".
This translation © 1999, 2001 with revisions, by translator Fr.
Stephen Janos. (email@example.com)