DISCORD IN THE CHURCH AND FREEDOM OF CONSCIENCE
by Nicholas Berdyaev
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 of clericalism.
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 Catholic.
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 religious subject.
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."
"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 to it.
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 life.
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 external authority.
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.
No. 5, October/November 1925
Translated by Alvian N. Smirensky
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