Church in Russia - 4
K.P.Pobedonostsev, the Chief Procurator of the Holy Synod, 1880-1905
Archbishop Sergy (Stragorodsky)
Antony (Vadkovsky), the metropolitan of St.-Petersburg and Ladoga
Crowning of Nicholas II on May 14 (26) 1896
   Two opposing streams clashed in the spiritual development of Russian in the 19th century. At the very time when the cultural elite of the nobility, disillusioned with European culture after realizing its limited possibilities, were beginning to look for a return to Orthodox roots, to the dream about Kingdom of God on earth, the children of Russian peasants and priests were having their first taste of European education and suffering the same kind of philosophical shock winch the nobility had experienced under Peter. The result of the introduction of European culture into public education was disastrous for Russia, which had just been emancipated and was still alive and still holy. The Orthodox picture of the world which had become set several centuries ago, the Gospel way of feeling, the church structure of life - all this proved to be totally incompatible with the fruits of western culture, which "free-thinking" teachers began to put into the heads of peasant children, creating a truly intolerable dichotomy there between the Psalter and Buchner, between Chrysostom and Darwin.  At this point we would quote some ideas of the contemporary ethnographer Ksenia Myalo ("Novy Mir" 1986, №8) on "crisis cults" which arise when traditional cultures are destroyed. This destruction is followed by a "neurotic reaction of a mass character which frequently leads to the creation of a compensatory pseudo-religious system of values and the promotion of a charismatic leader-messiah and a cult center in the community affected by the crisis." Marxism became such a "pseudo-religious value" and Lenin a "charismatic leader". Marxism expressed in converse, non-religious form the main aspirations of Russian spirituality: universal proletarian brotherhood as an analogy of sobornost an harmonic communist society as the Kingdom of God on earth, and man's unlimited cultural development in place of synergistic growth. The aim of Marxism was to build a society in which "the free development of each would become a condition for the free development of all." All this was a great spiritual temptation for the Russians who could no longer find in "dried" Orthodoxy a response to his age-old aspirations.

The history of Russia could have different if the church administration at that time had done its utmost to support the spiritual rebirth connected with Seraphim of Sarov, Optino Pustyn and Theophanes the Recluse. At the decisive moment, however, full church power was concentrated in the hands of the new "Josephites" who took the path of ritual pomp and extinction of the spirit. Let us quote the objective evidence of the assistant to the last Ober-Procuror, Prince N.D.Zhevakhov, who was on the extreme right in his views:

"The authority of the clergy in Russia was indeed not high, but this phenomenon resulted not from a lack of belief or religiosity on the part of the Russian people, but quite the reverse, its heightened religious demands."
"The church authorities not only failed to support the state authorities, but survived only "with the latter's help."
"There was a dreadful struggle between the bishops and the monasteries, and although the bishops won, the monks were right."
"Eldership was abolished almost everywhere by the archbishops themselves. The shortsighted bishops saw it as a phenomenon which was undermining not only the moral, but also the juridical authority of the bishop."
"The bishops were scholarly monks with no experience of real monastic feats."
"The bishops were mainly from the common people with little culture... hierarchs strove for power, turning from the children of simple peasants and sextons into proud and arrogant church dignitaries and officials who copied the governors."
"The monasteries were ruined by the archbishops, the monasteries pay tribute to the archbishop, the father superior of a monastery is but a step towards an archbishopric."
He also quotes a remark made to him by the Empress Alexandra during a private talk:
"The church and the state stand opposite each other like enemies: the lines of church and state life have diverged in different directions."
"Russia is our wretched, neglected, ignorant and illiterate people who long for a good pastor and good teacher, but have neither the one nor the other..."
N. Zhevakhov. Vospominaniya. Munich.  1923, vols. 1-2.

During the quarter of a century of K.P. Pobedonostsev's  term of ruling   as an energetic and imperious Ober-Procuror (1880-1905) a style of church life developed which has largely survived to this day. Florovski   wrote  about  him  in  the  next  way.  The main tendency was the  oversimplification,  was to orientate the Church towards the little-educated part of churchgoers. Pobedonostsev openly disliked theology, speaking contemptuously of "searching for truth" and "various questions and needs" and trying to formalize religious enlightenment and reduce its scope. He regarded as dangerous and reeking of Protestantism any attempt at independent thought by future priests and bishops. It must be said that in the absence of any real Orthodox theology this danger was becoming a real one. He had no illusions about the level of the people's Christian consciousness, as can be seen from the following cynical remark which belongs to him:

"In all these uneducated minds an altar to the Unknown God has been erected by some unknown person... The people do not understand a word of the church service, not even of 'Our Father' ".

This is Pobedonostsev's attitude to the Russian Orthodox tradition: an altar erected by some unknown person to some unknown person! The worst thing is that the people's ignorance - and who is guilty of that if not the upper classes of society?  -  did not concern him very much. He thought that  bringing  up    of the sub-conscious sphere  of  the human soul was quite sufficient.

"Only that which is simple is right”, -  he was fond of repeating. Here he was unexpectedly in agreement with Lev Tolstoy:

"The most valuable concepts, -  the Ober-Procuror maintained,  -  lie deep down in the will in semi-darkness, where moral bonds are established most strongly and deeply -  in the unconscious part of being."
       The distrust of reason was engendered in the church by the intolerable contradiction between living religious experience of Orthodox liturgy and the dead rationalistic scholastics which withered the hearts of the future priests at seminaries. This distrust had by now become a firm tradition, which was even supported by some Slavophiles. Pobedonostsev merely legitimized and strengthened this harmful "tradition". And this was in a people which eight centuries before Pobedonostsev had said:

     "Great is the benefit from the reading of books... they are rivers that slake the thirst of the universe... for he who often reads books, converses with God or the Holy Fathers"!

      In his conservative ardor Pobedonostsev mistrusted and opposed such enlighteners of the spirit as Theophanes the Recluse or John of Kronstadt. He strongly opposed the canonization of the Venerable Seraphim. He strove to ensure that the composition of the church  hierarchy was in keeping with his premises, and thanks to the full support of Alexander III was largely successful in this. Pobedonostsev's last "act" was to prevent the convocation of a Local Council which it had been decided by Nicholas II and Metropolitan Anthony (Vadkovsky) to hold in 1906. This Council which did not take place is connected with a fine episode in the life of Nicholas II, when he suggested first to Metropolitan Anthony and then to the members of a deputation of the higher clergy that he should renounce the throne in favor of his son, become a monk and stand as candidate  for  patriarch.

Pobedonostsev supported the Petrine church reform whole-heartedly. In his convictions he was a moralist of Protestant persuasion.

"He almost succeeded in creating around himself a terrible illusion of icy calm," is how Father Florovsky sums up his pernicious activity (“Puti  russkogo  bogosloviya” /The paths of Russian theology.  Paris, 1937).

In some cases the harsh censorship exercised by the Ober-Procuror led to unexpected results.

Thus, at this time there was increased interest in the study of the Old Testament in the theological academies (of which there were four; in Petersburg, Moscow, Kiev and Kazan). Only in this sphere was it possible for independent religious thinking to find some kind of application. In relation to the New Testament and dogmatic theology church censorship was merciless. As a result by the beginning o the Russian revolution almost half the bishops had been brought up on the Old Testament - the subject of their dissertation usually remained a favorite one for them all their life, as their first and often only independent theological work. Deprived of access to the spiritual ontologism of the Holy Father, theological students found spiritual food in the religious realism of the Old Testament. Future bishops and archpriests made a careful study of the book of Genesis, the story of the "chosen people", the prophecies of a messianic kingdom and the prototypic meaning of the Old Testament feasts and sacrifices. Was this not also due to Divine Providence, which prepares the souls of priests for tragic trials and tribulations?

Patriarch Tikhon knew that he would be understood when he told the members of the Local Council of 1917-18:
"In Old Testament times the blood of animals was brought as a sacrifice for sin. Today the time has come when human sacrifices will be needed to atone for the sins of the people. And for sacrifice God chooses not the worst, but the best..."

The worst result of the "conservative" policy was the spiritual disarmament of the Church before a flood of non-Orthodox consciousness, mystical or rationalistic. In order to withstand these influences and to master their positive aspects a developed theology of the highest level was needed. Yet all the endeavors of the church administration were directed against precisely this. Non-Orthodox thought had a great advantage in the form of its creative freedom: as a result there were not enough forces to resist its invasion of church consciousness itself. When someone in the Church eventually dared to embark on the path of more or less independent theological reflection, he was easily swept aside from the Orthodox tradition due to the lack of serious, benevolent criticism.

Only in an atmosphere of "theological stagnation" could Sergius Stragorodsky (the future head of the Russian church administration) have acquired the status of an eminent and authoritative theologian. His main work, "The Orthodox doctrine of salvation," in the opinion of G.Florovsky is a mediocre work, profoundly un-Orthodox in spirit. The moralistic interpretation of the sacraments: the dissolution of dogma in ascetics and of ascetics by psychologism - practically nothing remains of Orthodox ontologism with  Sergius. He replaced true explanation of the truth by an artificial selection of quotations from the Holy Fathers to support conclusions prepared in advance which were quite unpatristic in spirit. And all these cunning constructions of a non-church and insincere mind were considered to represent Orthodox theology on such an important question as the doctrine on salvation! This was worse than any scholastics. Subsequently Sergius frequently expressed theological views of a dubious nature to say the least of it: rationalistic objections to lmyaslavic, the "bureaucratic" theory of First Hierarchical power, a spiritualistic interpretation of Christ's Resurrection, support for the theology of Vladimir Lossky, who stylized Palamism to look  like oriental mystical teachings and divided up the actions of the Persons of the Holy Trinity.

Antony Khrapovitsky (the future head of the Russian Church in Exile) was theologically close to Sergius and during his rectorship of the Moscow Theological Academy educated students in a spirit of moralistic pastorship, the psychological interpretation of dogmas, mistrust of Byzantinism and belittling the role of the sacraments. His dissertation bore the characteristic title of "Psychological data in support of freedom of will and moral responsibility." It was, of course, very important to arouse this sense of responsibility in future priests, and particularly in bishops, but not at the price of departing from Orthodox tradition! This responsibility interpreted in too secular a way led Anthony himself later to many "independent" acts and decisions. Anthony was fully justified in stressing the role of Jesus Christ's free human will in the matter of our salvation, but the way that he relegated the Death on the Cross, the Descent into Limbo and the Resurrection into the background in his theology (Anthony believed that the main event in the atonement was the prayer in Gethsemane) was not at all in the spirit of Orthodoxy. The basis of Anthony's religiosity is a mixture of the old Adam and the new Adam, i.e. Christ, a mixture of kinship unity with church "sobornost".

"The unity of kinship was restored in the new Adam," -

he maintained. It is no accident that this mixture provided the religious-psychological basis of the church nationalism which was subsequently propagated by Anthony in emigration.

Nevertheless, in spite of all obstacles, the Russian Church gradually emerged from its many centuries of torpor. The prayers of the Venerable Seraphim, the influence of Optina Pustyn, the preaching of Theophanes the Recluse and the example of John of Kronstadt bore fruit. An influential circle of lovers of monastic zeal and patristic theology gathered round Metropolitan Anthony Vadkovsky of St. Petersburg. The pro-council conference opened on Anthony's initiative with the support of Nicholas II aroused church thought and made not only the bishops, but also ordinary priests and laymen feel responsible for the fate of the Church. The last rector of the Moscow Theological Academy, Fyodor Pozdeevsky, just before the revolution put forward a detailed program for reorganizing church education on Eastern Orthodox lines. A profound study of the Church Fathers was to form the basis of this education: small, but real forces for this undertaking were also available. The planned Local Council was to have put all this spiritually reviving reforms into action. Many facts testify that the Russian Church, like Russia as a whole, was about to embark on a path of great flowering and ascent. But a different, tragic fate awaited Russia and the Church...

  To conclude our short historical outline we should like to put one more question: what kind of ideal of state government dominated in the church consciousness of the period immediately preceding the revolution? It is impossible to give a single answer to this question, as a very wide spectrum of state ideas appears in both church and socio-political literature of this period. But the closer we get to the gates of the Orthodox monastery, the steps to the elder's cell -  and it was here that the main mass of believers wended their way -  the more clearly we discern the Hesychast, synergetic image of the Orthodox Monarchy. We shall try to express the most general features of this monarchist ideal, which at that time was far from reality, but nevertheless influenced the actions and decisions of many church people.

The Tsar is the head of state, who is called upon to reconcile conflicting interests and demands - individual, personal, group, class, national and religious. The Tsar uses his power in exceptional and extraordinary situations, when agreement cannot be reached without his intervention. The more organic and spontaneous popular life, the less need there is for this intervention. The Tsar is a symbol of national unity: by praying that the Tsar be given the spirit of reason and strength, the whole nation helps the Tsar to govern it, shares the burden of government with  him  to acquire the Divine Grace and Divine Energy necessary to rule the State.

Popular unity is the personal concern of every subject, in which he has a vital interest, for each subject takes part in the rule - through his will, intellect, feelings and acts. The practical activity of each person is determined by his social status, on the one hand, and his personal vocation, on the other: the inter-relation of these two principles is determined by the concrete structure of the established and developing popular organism. This is one of the key questions of popular life, for the solution of which the Tsar's personal will, which overcomes the egoism of class interests, is particularly important.

   Translating into modern language the old parable used by the Apostle Paul to describe the Church (Rom. 12: 12-13 and Cor. 12: 1-31), one might say that in the social aspect each individual is a kind of cell of a single organism. Each individual carries within him the principle of the whole, just as each cell contains the genetic code of the whole organism. However, with regard to his public service each individual occupies a concrete place, just as each cell performs only a limited number of specialized functions. In its potential inner content each cell is "equal" to society as a whole organism, and in the same way each individual is equal to society as a whole, equal to any other individual. As an individual, the peasant farmer is "equal" to the Tsar. This reflects the basic Christian assertion of the absolute value of each human being. Eternal life opens up to each person an endless prospect of growth and the unfolding of the deep potential placed within him at creation. Any moment of his present life is included in one way or other in eternal life and therefore has absolute value. This also determines a person's responsibility for his actions. Each ruler and each subject answers to God for the performance of his service, for the proper application and augmenting of his "talent" (Mt. 25: 14-30)  -  first and foremost, the gift of life which each person receives during creation.

The comparison of a nation to an organism is only partially valid, of course. A people differs from an organism in the individual's infinitely greater freedom of self-determination in relation to society than that of the cell in relation to the organism. Even birth in a particular class is not experienced by the believer as a lack of freedom. If all those who take part in the birth of a person, first and foremost, the parents, reconcile their will with the will of God in the sacraments of marriage, conception and carrying in the womb, the person will be born in conditions which correspond best of all to the abilities and life forces invested in him.

Everything connected with the birth and education of the future Tsar (if it is a hereditary, and not an elected Monarchy) is a matter of the greatest responsibility of vital importance to the whole people; a matter in which each subject participates to the best of his ability, first and  foremost, in prayer. This participation is experienced as something perfectly real: who can say whose heartfelt prayer will tip the scales in the struggle of good and evil, sin and sanctity for the personality of the Heir to the Throne. However, the Monarch may also be an elected person, like the Patriarch in the Church: this does not change the essence of the matter. The essence of the Monarchy lies in synergism, in the fact that the supreme government of the state is carried out by the Individual who reconciles his will with the will of God.

"Without God the world cannot stand, without the Tsar the country cannot be ruled."
“The earthly Tsar is subject to the King of Heaven."

The Church, free from the burden of secular power and spiritually indeendent, serves as the bearer, witness and keeper of Divine Truth both for the Tsar and for the whole people. It is the voice of conscience which denounces the Tsar's sins. It nourishes the Tsar spiritually as an Individual, help him to conquer Ins sin and teaches him to win Divine Grace. The church does not guide the Tsar in his affairs of governing the state - the Tsar's service differs from that of the Church and is guided directly by God. The truth of popular life proceeds from God through the Tsar: the sanctity of the Tsar is therefore the main aim of all the endeavors and hopes of the Church and the people in earthly life. If the Tsar is just, he will "judge in truth", if he is a sinner, no laws will help:

"The truth of God is, the judge of Tsar."

To limit the power of the Tsar by laws, so that lie cannot be a bearer of evil and sin, carries the danger of also limiting his ability to be a bearer of grace and truth. However, here, as in general in the question of the relationship of the law and grace in earthly life, there was no unanimity of opinion between believers. Thus, the Slavophiles contrasted the monarchic ideal as a system of "universal mistrust" with the bureaucratic state of Peter I as a system of "universal mistrust". True freedom of speech, they believed, was necessary primarily so that the Tsar should know the main needs and hopes of his people. Hence the Slavophile call for

"fullness of opinion for the people and fullness of power for the Tsar".

The supporters of a "lawful Monarchy" objected to the Slavophiles that just laws do not hinder synergism, but limit the possibility of the abuse of power.

This type of monarchic structure was not established in Russia, of course, and not because society does not consist of saints - the struggle against sin was a part of the monarchic ideal: it was a realistic ideal.

It could not have been established primarily because the life of the Church and the nation was itself not imbued with the spirit of synergism, which is essentially directed towards overcoming sin, namely, rupture with God. Ever since Russia, in the person of its state and church power, departed from the path of Orthodox synergism, the main aim of human life was partially lost, the main stimulus of being and impulse to develop the popular organism - man's direct communion and personal link with God - was weakened. It is precisely for this, in the final analysis, that the Church itself exists, and the sacraments, moral law, and the Monarchy.

When faith in the possibility of such a link was shaken, however, when the practice of communion with God began to contract, rather than to expand, then the reconciling of human and Divine will began to be understood formally, as compulsory subjection to laws,   behests , church and state discipline. What was only an educative measure or secondary means of limiting the extreme form of human egoism became an end in itself. This opened up endless possibilities for abuse: sin, that is, man's rupture with God, was limited in its manifestations, yet somehow became "legalized". The monarchy turned from a national into an aristocratic, then a bureaucratic one; the birth and accession of the Heir as a means of manifesting the will of god became the object of court intrigue; from an educator of the people and the Tsar and a free witness to Christ's Truth, the Church was transformed into a servile instrument of state discipline.

In these conditions the Tsar himself could easily turn from expressing the interests of the whole people to being the mouthpiece for private and class interests and, what is most dangerous, could use his position and power for his own egoistic  self-assertion. Despotism and tyranny are the absolute antithesis of the Orthodox Monarchy: in a tyranny the Head of State does not serve the people, but makes the people serve him; does not obey the will of God, but misappropriates popular religious feeling; does not learn about spiritual life from the Church, but uses and alters the Church as he likes; and does not serve as bearer of Divine Energy, but becomes the instrument of dark spiritual forces.

The organic character of popular life is replaced by a mechanical one: free and sensible subjection to the Head of State, sanctified by authority and softened by spiritual control exercised by the Church, which is independent of his will, is replaced by the coercion of a ubiquitous bureaucratic apparatus and the secret police. It can be said that bureaucracy as a spiritual-historical phenomenon is, in the final analysis, the result of a formal attitude to the Source of life - to God.

A splintering of popular consciousness took place in Russia: the deep original hopes of sobornost and the Kingdom of God on earth did not disappear, but proved to be superfluous, unnecessary, for the purposes of state construction. Because the doctrine of the Church was not developing, these hopes became more and more vague and unrealized: the immense energy of their strivings found no real application. Since the Church and the Tsar were not realizing the people's expectations and not even providing religious hope for their realization, the people became receptive to the idea that the Church, the Tsar and, in the final analysis, God too, were "enemies" of these hope, obstacles on the path to the people meant Revolution...