(1916 – #252a)


  The type of religious thought, which conditionally might be called  Spiritual Christianity, possesses a great significance and occupies a large place in Russian national life, but it is not [yet] altogether possible for it to be defined through purely bookish sources or separate religious thinkers. This current — is from life, but not literary, and it is moreso a matter of the people, rather than cultural. Much is shady in this current, but it is possible all the same to discover in it a characteristic type of religious thought and a religious sense of life. This religious movement subsists within the very sediment of national life, in sectarianism, in the popular search for God and the Divine pravda-truth in life. This is a withdrawal from cultural life, a flight from the sins of civilisation, a search for Divine simplicity. This — is wandering Rus’, a total absorption by questions of faith and righteous life. Wandering Rus’, seeking the City, having detached itself from the way of life of Russia and from the way of life of religiosity. To it belongs not only folk from the “people”, peasants, but from all the levels of Russian society, beginning with the very highest stratum, sensing the impossibility to live further with the unrighteousness and godlessness of worldly life. The moral pathos is very strong in this type of spiritual life, but the moral problem is concerned here not at the summits of personal and social life, but in the religious depths. L. Tolstoy belongs to this type and was of influence upon all this spiritual movement. From the vast life of L. Tolstoy and all its path there resulted jolts felt in the spiritual life of our nation. The split of Tolstoy from cultural society and his passionate search for the Divine simplicity of life was felt by many, as a return to the wellsprings of nature and national life, distorted by all the fatal process of civilisation. And those, who directly sensed themselves as natural or as people of the people, were wont to have sympathy for Tolstoy and consider themselves close to him. I do not think, that the actual teachings of Tolstoy have had so much a great significance, as rather what might be called Tolstoyanism. The weakness [and dullness] of Tolstoy’s religion is quite easily discerned and to criticise the Tolstoyan doctrine is all too easy. Tolstoyanism in the narrow sense of the word — is an insignificant manifestation and quite incommensurable with the greatness of Tolstoy himself, with the extent of his spiritual thirst and his destiny. But the tremendous significance of Tolstoy is in this, as a manifestation of spiritual life, as a path and a destiny. Indeed even the antipode of Tolstoy, Nietsche, is first of all a matter of destiny, a great manifestation of life, and not as a teacher, not as the founder of a school. It is an artistry of life, and in its significance it goes beyond all the artistry of thought, the artistry of writing. This artistry is altogether not that, in which people carry out in life their idea. These — are people of a remarkable and exceptional inner destiny, and not people practical in external attainments. But this current, which thus it might be characterised, takes on all more and more a mystical hue. The Tolstoyan and sectarian rationalism conquers by another spirit. At the centre of this religious vital current stands the image of Aleksandr Dobroliubov. Dobroliubov’s trend they sometimes call a mystical Tolstoyanism. This definition is too external. But undoubtedly A. Dobroliubov, in contrast to Tolstoy, — is a mystic, and he like Tolstoy flees from culture, flees the untruth of contemporary society for the simple life, to nature and to the people. In contrast to Tolstoy, Dobroliubov has no set of teachings, no doctrine, nor any sort of religious philosophy. In this, perhaps, is his superiourity. Dobroliubov is first of all a vital destiny, a vital path, a manifestation of Russian spiritual life. He has fled culture and fled from all the books, from all the literary. Tolstoy to the end of his days remained a writer, a teacher, a man of books. And indeed the recent “withdrawal” of Tolstoy occurred only shortly before his death. And even when he had already made his inner spiritual “withdrawal”, he still for quite a long while continued to live in his household, on his estate, having not the strength to break the thread with the past. Dobroliubov withdrew more radically and consequently attained greater simplicity. It is known moreover, that the life of Dobroliubov was a matter of reproach for Tolstoy, and the meeting with him heightened in him the tormenting urge for a final withdrawal. But it mustneeds be remembered, that for Dobroliubov it was easier to give up books, and writing, and teaching, than it was for Tolstoy. Too tremendous was everything that Tolstoy needed to renounce and depart from. Dobroliubov was more free a man, for him the only thing acute was lived-through decadence, having begotten nothing of the literary-remarkable, only essays on Satanism in the modern style, only the deadly anguish of the final words of a decayed culture. He knew neither great glory, nor riches, nor the pathos of family kinship, nor sweet attachment to his estate. Tolstoy was very burdened, weighed down, and in comparison with him Dobroliubov was at ease and up in the air. In Tolstoy there was an attraction towards the land, which did not permit him to become a genuine wanderer. Dobroliubov was more aethereal, and he became a genuine wanderer. For many years he [was already living] (lived) with simple people at Privolzha and [was wandering] (wandered) through the Russian land. And this former decadent with wasted soul succeeded in seeking out a whole religious movement amidst the wandering and searching of the City of Rus’. He creates a new Franciscanism. And mystically the Tolstoyans are rendered Dobroliubovians.

A. Drobroliubov with his book, “From a Book Invisible” (“Iz knigi nevidimoi”), finished with his old life in culture, his wanton and sinful life. Of itself this book is an end of the old life, and not the beginning of a new, it is all still within the cultural and worldly life, and not in the life Divine. This is felt in the non-simplicity of style, in the imitation of the language of Nietzsche, in the fragmentedness and absence of inspiration. This is all just a book, in the old sense of the word, and not new life. But in the book are the remarkable words: “I forsake forever all visible books, so as to take part in Thy Book. All this written down I do but think little, as small the law of Moses in front of grace. With visible paper never wilt Thou express the Primal Truth and Mystery. Enter ye therefore into the Book of Life”. In these words he reaches the ultimate acuteness of the tragedy of creativity and the tragedy of culture, in them is sensed the Russian thirst to transform literature into life, culture — into being, to direct the creative act onto the creation of a new heaven and a new earth. This thirst was already there with Gogol, with Dostoevsky, with Tolstoy. Ibsen knew also this problem. Dobroliubov comprehended, that a book is a law and not grace, and that in writing and art there is not wrought Life. And his comprehension he expressed not in books, not upon “visible paper”, but by entering into the “Book of Life”, by his sacrificial pathway. The words of Dobroliubov very much bring to mind the words, which conclude the book of the great mystic Angelus Silesius, entitled the “Cherubinischerwandersmann”:

Friend, tis enough. If thou dost wish the moreso on to read,
Go and thyself be the writer, thyself become its source-becoming.

It is possible to doubt, whether Dobroliubov would have become a writer and source-becoming, and whether his thirst would be allayed. But the tremendous significance of his life is impossible to deny. One cannot term Dobroliubov a religious thinker, but in everything of his spiritual type it is possible to discern a type of religious thought, characteristic of Russian Spiritual Christianity.

        A. Dobroliubov, weary and tormented, flees from man and human culture to the simplicity of nature and the lifestyle of the people. He seeks salvation and respite in religious populism, always connected with a religious naturalism, with a deifying of the natural order as being benevolent. This religious naturalism is often joined in together with the Spiritual Christianity. Drobroliubov neither wants to nor can he acknowledge, that culture is a pathway of the human spirit, possessing religious meaning. Culture is rather a falling-away from an essentially Divine world-order. Thus thought Tolstoy, thus feels Dobroliubov, and thus too is the religious frame of mind of all the Spiritual Christians from among the people. This — is not a creative religious pathway, and within it there is not posited the religious problem about man. For this religious type there is characteristic a denial of the religious meaning of history and a departure, a falling out from the reciprocal responsibilities of the world process. In it there is sensed a passivity, an utmost submissiveness, something non-human, a tendency towards Buddhism, towards the religious consciousness of the East, towards pure monism, a negation of multiplicity and individuality. With the Dobroliubovians, as regards their spiritual type, there is no person, no man, and there is only but — in general, only God. The individualism of the religious path, affirmed by them, leads to the negation of person. Only the way of Sobornost’ Communality, an avowing of reciprocal responsibility in the worldly and historical process, leads to an affirmation of person. The entering upon the “pathway” of the Dobroliubovian, just as the sectarian, and also the theosophic, transforms man into a means of a generalised oneness, an impersonal divinity. It is a denying of the religious self worth of man, the denial within God of an human countenance, and the denial of the need of God within man. This — is a Monophysite tendency. This religious tendency always possesses its own historical denial of the mystery of the Divine-human natures of Christ, and instead only acknowledging the one Divine nature. Man is required to dissolve away within God, to extinguish his own human nature, so as to give place to God, the sole Divine power, to the Divine law, to the sole Divine truth. For L. Tolstoy at the centre stands the Divine law, for A. Dobroliubov — Divine love. But with Tolstoy, and with Dobroliubov, and a large part of the sectarians — Spiritual Christians, there is a denial of man as an independent being, as a religious principle, in which is situated half of the religion of Christ. This type of religious thought does not know a multiplicity of countenances, as being worthy of the actual Divine efficacy. And even with the consciousness of such mystics as Dobroliubov and certain of the sectarians, rationally there is not the accepting of the antinomy of the one and the many, of God and the (human) person. Man is a downfall, false-being, which ought ultimately to be surmounted in the Divine modality of being. Such a Christianity is interpreted in the spirit of Eastern monism, the rational mysticism of the One. There is no autonomous nor free human activity, only but the singular pure Divine will. Everything human is only a covering, and not the kernel. In the depths we find only the Divine, and not the human “I”. Upon this spiritual ground there can be neither justified nor conceived a world historical process. The whole of human creativity comes off as false and an illusory covering. There is a peculiar conjoining of naturalism with an acosmism. The denial of man leads to a rationalisation of evil and to the denial of everything darkly-irrational in life. Spiritual Christianity, too smoothed-out and simplifying the complexity of life, begets too much the happy faces and types. A. Dobroliubov does not proceed from out of spiritual freedom, and he seeks for the centre not within himself, but in the simplicity of the people and the simplicity of nature.

        It is very difficult to characterise the religious searchings in the people and in that wandering Rus’, which is formed from all layers of society, as regards books and printed sources. In this characteristically Russian religious medium there can be met with genuine religious thinkers, theosophists with very complete a religious system. But these people do not write books. They enter into the Book of Life. There exists a mistaken literature about sectarianism, but it is devoted to some separate sects, and this literature does not cover the deep matters of sectarian religious life. In the majority of instances it investigates sectarianism from a social, and not from a religious point of view, it treats only the external and goes not to the soul of sectarianism. The missionary investigations of the sectarians are interested exclusively in the exposing of heresy and putting down the sectarians. The liberal literature about sectarianism is interested exclusively in the defense of sectarianism in legal and political regards. But neither the one, nor the other approach can be termed free and pervasive into the soul of that which is the subject of investigation. It likewise would seem, that the most interesting, from the inwardly religious point of view, are not the crystallised and formalised and seclusive sects, but rather the individual and free searchers of God and God’s truth, living an unconstrained, creative religious life. Many such people have passed before me, and I remember their faces with an altogether special sense of their vital significance. I happened to live some years at a village in Khar’kovsk gubernia nigh to a spiritual centre, at which not only lived Tolstoyans, prone to mysticism, but also Dobroliubovians, and free seekers of the truth of God, and various sectarians, Spiritual Christians, free Christians, and fast-keepers, and constantly also they passed through this centre seeking God from all the ends of Russia. I spoke much with these people, and certain of the spiritual type remain forever in my memory. I know assuredly, that Russia is unthinkable without these people, that without them the soul of Russia would be deprived of its most characteristic, essential and valuable features. I would not presume to characterise out separate images of these people. My intent only is to touch upon the sort of general spiritual type, the typical religious thought and religious world-perception. I met a whole series of the self-initiated, of representatives of the people’s theosophy, and each had his own system of the salvation of the world. None would be reconciled with anything less, than the complete and ultimate salvation of the world. It is a feature purely Russian, foreign to the European consciousness. One saw this salvation in a complete denial of good and evil, and from a burning thirst for the good he denied the existence of evil and saw the Fall to be in the emergence of the very distinction between good and evil. Another saw salvation to be in this, to “be wrapped up in the moment”, to emerge out from time, so as to conquer the past and the future. A third saw salvation solely in a certain non-resistance and nothing besides the non-resistance did he want to see or know. A fourth had his own particular, firsthand revealed to him teaching about Christ and only with it did he connect the salvation of the world. And for all very characteristic was the lack of desire to know the world heritage, the lack of desire to be bound up with the experience and thought of mankind. To these people the spirit of Sobornost’-Communality was foreign, and even more foreign to them was any cultural tradition of thought and creativity. This, perhaps, gives them a greater freedom and daring, but it leads them to the revealing of the long already revealed, and towards a reservedness in their own particular truth as being unique. The sundering of individual religious thought away from world thought and from the historical paths of culture leads to simplicity. There is no shouldering of the past, there is no feel within the soul of the array of old cultures. Every complexity disappears, all the problems seem simple. For this simplified monism of mind all the multiplicity of being is brushed away. Suchlike always is the sectarian spirit.

        Russian sectarianism — is an integral part of the spiritual life of the Russian nation. A quite unique spiritual array can be discovered in Russian sectarianism — the Russian thirst for righteous life, life freed from this world, the thirst for a life in God, but distorted and impaired. The sectarian consciousness often becomes affected by rationalism, but there is a great mystical thirst, hidden within some of our sects. The sectarian — is a man, struck and wounded by the untruth (external) of the Orthodox mode of life and the churchly order of things. The Russian sectarian is not to be reconciled with the relative, he adapts the absolute towards the relative, he wants absolute life. And in each sect there is a piece of fragmented truth, there is a distorted truth. The sectarian is inclined always to affirm a portion of the truth exclusively and fully, he mistakes one ray of light for the sun. In sectarianism there is a constrictedness and small capacity for awareness, the narrowness of an horizontal life, a Judaeic spirit. With this is connected a self-affirmation and exclusiveness within the psychology of the sect, and a blindness towards the endless variability of worldly and historical life, a disdaining of the experience of world culture. The sectarian does not want to know anything individual, he does not value and does not love the individual, he is immersed exclusively within a single common principle, which he sees not in the whole, but in the partial. The sectarian detaches himself from the world, from the cycles of the cultural and socio-civil life. But the attaining of the absolute in the life of this world is always an illusion within sectarianism, it is always a self-delusion. Every even domestic act leads the sectarian into the world cycle and subjects him to culture. Planting a potato, the sectarian or Tolstoyan already accepts the kingdom of Caesar, he lives in law and by law. The impossibility of overcoming the order of nature and the laws of nature in this sinful world limits every striving to live by absolute, by Divine truth, of repudiating every compromise. The sectarian consciousness of the Spiritual Christians, the Tolstoyans, the Dobroliubovians, etc., posits all untruth and all sin only within human life, in the human community and culture, whereas the natural order they regard as beneficent and Divine. Problems of cosmic evil do not exist for this consciousness. This type of religious thought possesses no sort of cosmology. In it human life is sundered from cosmic life. And this leads always to utopianism. This consciousness is helpless in the delimiting of the absolute and the relative, it absolutises the relative. Upon this soil are begotten exaggerated trifles and the readiness to die for trifles. I have in mind the features, common to all the Spiritual Christians of various shades. A weakness of awareness is characteristic to all the sects. And the very search for light by the sectarians is immersed in darkness.

Moralism is common to almost all the sects, except the Khlysti. The moralistic trifling and pedanticism of many of the Spiritual Christians is intolerable. This is indicative of too external an attitude towards the evil in life. Of interest to us is the type of religious thought which denies the self-sufficiency of law, of the kingdom of Caesar. But the obverse side of this denial appears to be a subordination of the spiritual life to law, legality, the Old Testament understanding of Christianity. The imputing of an absolute significance to the relative, the small the trifling — is from an insufficiency of spiritual freedom and enlightenment. This absorption with moral trifles, for which some Tolstoyan or sectarian is prepared to undergo great sacrifices, gives rise to an unique sort of Sabbath-keeping, from which it would seem, Christ has forever set man free. Man is higher up than the Sabbath, man — is lord also of the Sabbath. The fear to profane oneself, to dirty one’s white clothes — here is a moral Phariseeism, completely foreign to the spirit of Christ. Christ ate and drank with publicans, He preferred the sinner over the righteous Pharisee, He did not fear to transgress the law, and love became higher than any norm of purity. The Gospel morality is infinitely free, and this is not a normative, not a legalistic morality, this — is a morality of love, an inner morality. The meekness of the Russian non resisters, the Tolstoyans, the Dobroliubovians — is not a Christian, but rather a Buddhist meekness. In it there is a sense of a deficiency of life, a withdrawal from being, the righteousness of law, but not the righteousness of grace. The non-resisters too much fear the suffering in the world and they would prefer to withdraw from the suffering. But man is bound to bear out the suffering, he is bound to temper his spirit. It is a mistake to confuse the spirit of Christianity with the spirit of sheep. A sheepish irresponsibility and passivity is altogether unbecoming a Christian. Bloodlessness and passionlessness cannot at all be acknowledged as a favourable ground for a Christian tempering of spirit. The religion of the God-Man Christ first of all presupposes man and human nature, which can lift itself up upon the Cross, which can assume great sacrifices and renunciation, but which mustneeds also forever be human. And the most evil human passions ought to be transformed and transfigured into good, and not be extinguished and eradicated. All evil in man is but the distortion of the Divine good.

There is rationalism also in the so-called mystical sects. This is shown first of all in the rejection of all the antinomic, out of a fear of dogmatic folly, and in the constant tendency towards monism and Monophysitism. The sectarian consciousness does not admit of the two natures and the two wills, the Divine and the Human, co-united and rendered in unity. This consciousness recognises only the Divine nature and the Divine will, but from the human however it flees. There is rationalism also in the iconoclastic tendency, in the lack of understanding of the symbolics of the cultus, and in the estrangement from religious aesthetics. All the sectarians and all the Spiritual Christians do not ultimately understand the mystery of Redemption, the mystery of the Eucharist, its power — the setting free from sin and transgression. For them the very chief thing — is a moral perfection, the fulfilling of Divine law. The sects of a rationalist tendency deny grace and their approach is to a religion of moral law. The sectarians have almost no sense of the Church, not only in the external sense, but neither also in the cosmic sense. The whole of sectarianism is in opposition to the universality of spirit. immersion within oneself, self absorption, makes contact with the world impossible. Certain of the sects attempt to create their own church, cleansed of all the accretions of the world and history, and also too their own sacramental-mysteries. But religious creativity cannot be directed upon an arbitrarily created church, upon its invented mysteries. Religious creativity is not a denial of the old sanctities, their re-minting and replacement by the new, — it is connected with new religious themes and new revelations. But in sectarianism never will there be new revelations, it is always occupied by the re-minting of the old revelations as regards some sole fragmentary, partial truth, assumed of as in entirety. Sectarians usually want to return back, to some sort of lost primordial purity, and not go forward.

         There is a deep mystical thirst lodged within our sectarianism. And truly amazing is the spiritual effort and energy of the Russian people comprising the sects, wandering through the Russian land, aspiring to the City of Kitezh, conversing about faith in the “Yama-Pit” — a Moscow inn. But this exertive religious searching is beset with darkness. The consciousness of the mystical sectarianism — is of the night, and not of the day. This darkness and night is sensed with the Khlysti, the Bessmertniki, the Netovsi, and with many, many others. Passionately our mystical sectarianism yearns for deliverance from the falsehood of the world and the untruth of outward life, passionately it desires to pass over into the kingdom of Spirit, tensely it awaits the end of the old world and a new advent of the Holy Spirit. But at present, spiritual freedom and the religious deliverance of person within sectarianism is not achieved. In Russian sectarianism, even in the most remarkable of its forms, the person is not yet fully emerged from a primordial naturalistic collectivism. And the truth about man, about the human person, remains undisclosed. In the popular sectarianism there is then a flight from man to God, which we [saw] (see) in the religious currents of the Intelligentsia. There is no purely human principle, of human activity. Human activeness is acknowledged in the sects even less, than it is in Orthodoxy. The revelation about human creativity can least of all be found in our Spiritual Christianity. That religious populism, which seeks for a religious centre within the spiritual life of the people, in the people’s sects, is [false and] self-deluded. [From it — it is necessary for us to be set free.] The People — the common-folk — are however people the same as is everyone, and within the People is much darkness, greed and limitedness, not only in the ranks of its masses, but also in its chosen parts. The best people from among the People themselves seek light, an egress from the darkness characteristic of the People’s life, and least of all do they themselves revere themselves, as the People, as the source of the light. Those, which are closely in contact with these finest people from among the People, know well the untruth of religious populism. At a certain depth of spiritual and religious association there vanishes completely  every distinction between the simple peasant and the man of culture, whether the nobleman or of the intelligentsia, and there is found a common language and the possibility of a most intimate mutual understanding. The “muzhik-peasant” in spirit might sense the “baron” as closer to himself, than his fellow muzhik-peasants. At the beginning of the XIX Century, during the Alexander era, there was a rapprochement and the kinship of a mystical stirring in the upper stratum of Russian society, in the aristocracy, and also in the lower stratum, among the people. 1  Populism is the transference of social categories upon spiritual life, which essentially is not connected with these categories. This — is an intelligentsia tendency, all the more difficult an approach to the people. I know through personal experience the possibility of spiritual association with people from among the People, and have heard their own testimony about the untruth of Populism.

Never shall I forget my mystical talks with a simple peasant unskilled-worker, a genuine mystic, very sophisticated, so curiously memorable for me in his mannerism, in semblance of Andrei Bely. The most sophisticated problems of mystical gnosis he understood better, than many people of the upper cultural strata, readers of Eckhardt and Boehme. He related to me the extraordinary facts of his life, his inner experience. As a twelve year old lad he was pasturing the cattle and he went along the field on a bright sunny day. And heavy doubts tormented him. He was doubtful about the existence of God, and as the measure of his doubt in God grew, he began to doubt everything. And he sensed, that nothing was. And suddenly for him the sun darkened and amidst the white daylight there became darkness, and he was plunged into complete darkness and nothingness. And here suddenly he perceived, that he himself was nothingness. And from this nothingness everything began to emerge, everything was begotten anew. Again it became very light, again he beheld the field and the bright sunny daylight. And he discovered anew not only the world, but also God, begotten out of the nothingness, from the darkness. This — is a very keen and clear description of mystical experience, of the mystical path, which can be found with the greatest mystics. This simple peasant had not read Eckhardt nor Boehme, he had not even heard about them, but there was revealed to him what had been revealed to them, and he comprehended the begetting of light from the primordial darkness, from the Ungrund. When we spoke about his undergoing of the experience, he was not a muzhik-peasant, and I was not a man of culture and of the nobility. The very question about “the People” vanished. This mystic from among the People very much esteemed knowledge and he sought knowledge, the People’s darkness was dreadful for him, and he valued people of learning, thinkers moreover, than even the people of culture tend to value. The highest type of spiritual life needs to be searched out not in crystallised sects of the People, and not in the lifestyles of the religiosity of the People, but with the individual innately-talented, full of a flaming religious thirst, and those from among the People that are theosophists, and wanderers, contented by nothing, never cooling. In the sects it is unacceptable to detach oneself off from the world and guard one’s purity. The sects start out with a spiritual fieryness, with a spiritual ascent, but they end up with the mannerisms of s self-satisfied sectarian way of life, cooled down, congealed and limited. Most unacceptable is the spirit of the Baptists, who in going about in the circles of the sects pride themselves as saved, whereas all the rest of the world — are dwellers of darkness and wont to perish. This element is in all the sects. The sects have an innate tendency towards degeneration.

        A significant segment of the sectarians strives purely towards a Gospel-evangelical Christianity, cleansed from all the layers of historical developement. And all our sects can be divided into two basic types as regards their various attitudes towards the Gospel. For some the Gospel text possesses an external authority, and in this type prevails a literalism, which is not in the Church, which acknowledges Holy Scripture as but part of Holy Tradition. For others the Gospel is an inner spiritual fact, and in this type the attitude towards the Gospel text is completely free. The first type of sectarianism, which can be called Evangelical Christianity, is of little interest to me. More interesting and more remarkable is the second type, which can be called Spiritual Christianity. But this Spiritual Christianity also is inclined to deny the historical religious unfolding, and to affirm a certain static spiritual evangelism. These features have a kinship with Protestantism, which [always] seeks for purity backwards, in primieval Christianity, and it repudiates the dynamic process of churchly developement. Even with the spiritual, rather than the literalist understanding of evangelism, the Gospel is understood statically, and not dynamically, only as a prepared revelation and not as itself new life, discovered and unfolded by mankind. Religious dynamism is not characteristic of sectarianism, neither to the Evangelical nor to the Spiritual Christianity. Churchly Christianity is more dynamic as regards its religious principle, although it can chill down in certain epochs. And the modernist Catholics have [every] basis to look upon Protestantism, as upon a reaction, turned backwards, denying the principles of religious developement. This particular reaction is also in Russian sectarianism. The pathos of sectarianism — is not a dynamic, but rather a static pathos: this is a search for a lost and primordial purity, and not for a new creativity. The return to a primieval Christianity is not in any sense possible nor desirable, just as a return to primieval nature is neither possible nor desirable, to a naturalness, a spiritual elementalness and non-revealedness. The Gospel is not a collection of congealed laws and commands, it — is the leavening of new life. And we ourselves ought to uncover that, which in elusive and unrevealed form is enclosed within the Gospel. In Russia a repeat of the Reformation of the Lutheran type, of the Protestant spirit, is both impossible and undesirable. In Russia, among the Russian people there is the potential of an other, of an higher religious life, a creative life, oriented forwards, towards the end. And in the chaotic sectarian elements, in which form and vanish the unseemly multiplicity of sects, it is necessary to discern the genuine mystical thirst, the apocalyptic presentiments, the tellings of the City to Come, the wanderance away from the rationalistic and Protestant spirit. Sectarianism — is twofold, it is religiously revolutionary and it is reactionary, it is oriented forwards and backwards, dynamic and static, mystical and moralistic, elemental and rational. An extreme iconoclasm, an extreme attitude towards the churchly cultus and churchly dogmas, a disdain for the foreignly sacred is of the abstractive rationalism and the abstractive moralism in sectarianism, and an insensitivity towards the mystical in history. In the sectarian pathos too much is defined negatively, — the baseness of our Orthodox manner of life, the corruptness of the clergy, the sins of the churchly establishment. The official ecclesiality does not satisfy the spiritual thirst of the Russian people, it leaves them insatiable seekers of the water of life, alone, left to themselves. But a definition of religious life by means of negative sanctions evidences a spiritual slavery, an insufficiency of spiritual freedom. It is needful likewise to distinguish within sectarianism the searching for the City to Come, of the Kingdom of God, as distinct from the false presentations of an earthly paradise, easily to be attained by a carrying out of the evangelic law. Sectarianism  – is extraordinarily complex a thing. And it is with great difficulty that there can be discovered within this chaos certain typical elements of religious thought.

In Russian sectarianism there is prevalent a type of Dukhoborism, altogether an unique and peculiar religious type. This religious type is more extensive than that which appeared as, and which in the narrow sense of the word is called, the Dukhobor movement. Nearly within every Spiritual Christian there sits a Dukhobor. In his spirit there is a narrowness, a diminishing of the scope of being in the name of a righteous life. This spirit has no room for history nor for all the multiplicity of created values. The Dukhobor is too much beset by evil. Diabolic temptation besets the Dukhobor with an affirming of the Divineness of beauty. Only the most simple, the most elemental, presents itself to him as Divine. All the flesh of history is repudiated by him with disgust. In Dukhoborism there coincide religious searchings at the bottom of Russian life, together with religious searchings at its summit, as in L. Tolstoy. The spiritual turn-around in such a remarkable man, as Prince D. Khilkov, occurred under the influence of the Dukhobors. And many a religious seeker from among the Intelligentsia has an attraction towards the Dukhobors. Of the actual Dukhobors there are already almost none in Russia, for they have resettled (to America), but there remains a Dukhobor ferment. The Dukhobor thirst for truth passes over into an eradication of the richness of being. Dukhobors have no love for creative richness, for creative surfeit. Dukhoborism was begotten as a negative reaction to a dark and oppressive untruth, and it was poisoned by the old crush of external evil. And its positive and creative attainments were thus crippled and impoverished. Divine being was presented in the form of a diminished, castrate manner of being. This was not the Franciscan cult of poverty, from which was born the beauty of the early Renaissance, this was not the Gospel poverty of the lilies of the field and the birds of the air, this — is the poverty of a fulfilling of the law, dull and despondent, not mystical, but moralistic. The Dukhobor consciousness does not recognise steps of developement, the hierarchy of values. From it is spun a cold attitude towards the individual man, as in general towards everything individual.

Another type of Russian sectarianism — is Khlystyism. Khlystyism, as a type of popular mysticism and Russian thought, are widespread sects, called by this name. Dukhoborism is not ecstatic, not orgiastic. Khlystyism — is first of all, ecstatic and orgiastic. Wherein Dukhoborism seeks truth, Khlystyism seeks joy and blessedness. Both the Dukhobors and the Khlysty want to pass over from this world into spirit, and they seek after inspiration. But how different, how opposite the paths by which the spirit is inspired in the Khlysty and in the Dukhobors. Both Khlystyism, and Dukhoborism — are a Spiritual Christianity, but spirit and spirituality within these two religious types is denoted altogether differently. [Actually, whether with these or others, it is difficult to consider them Christians.] With the Khlysty there is a “spiritual drinking”, an ecstatic drunkenness, completely unknown to the Dukhobors. Khlystyism — is Dionysian, and its origins mustneeds be sought out in the ancient Russian paganism of old. In Dukhoborism there is no Dionysianism, there is rather more a tendency towards Buddhism. Khlystyism is erotic right through and through. The ecstasies of the Khlysty — are erotic ecstasies. In an offshoot of the Khlysty — are the Skoptsi-castrates — for whom the religious problem of sex is perceived as a fiery problem. In Dukhoborism, as also in Tolstoyism, there is something sexless. In this religious type the erotic is completely absent. For the Khlysty what is important is not the occasion of the orgiastic ecstasy, what is important is what follows, the actual energy of the ecstasy. The Khlysty seek joy, blessedness upon the earth, they seek it within the body and they want to make with the body something, such that it not meddle with nor hinder the joy of the spirit. They seek this upon the paths of a collective ecstasy, in the collective act they spin round in the Khlysty spirit. The Dukhobors seek individual paths, and their social life in common is devoid of any ecstaticism, of any community in spirit. The Dukhobors — are monists, they want to live a pure spiritual life, in this world so as to overcome the world. The Khlysty — are hidden dualists, they live a twofold life — in the world, in the natural order, and in the spirit, in the Divine order. Both with the Khlysty, and with the Dukhobors, there is a breaking off from the regular lifestyle and manner of religiosity, the forsaking of kin, and the repudiation of fleshly life. But how varied is this withdrawal. The Dukhobors form farming colonies, as an oasis within the worldly wilderness, and they arrange their life domestically without conflict or force. The Khlysty arrange their vigils, and in a collective ecstasy the spirit spins round in them. Both the one and the other seek an inward Christ, — a Christ, born within them. But both the one and the other misuse the Christian name for designating an experience not Christian, a mystical religious experience of the East, a Buddhist or perhaps pagan an experience, not knowing the human face. Khlystyism — is a most remarkable manifestation in our popular mysticism. But it is twofold. In the Khlysty experience there is always the assumption of a Khlysty Christ and a Khlysty Mother of God, always connected with the concrete figures of people, situated on the edge, so that a split is possible on the opposing sides. One subtle, hardly perceptible feature separates these two religious assumptions: either in this Ivan — is the Christos, the reincarnated Christ, or else in that Ivan — is the Christos. The Khlysty seek after the bodily concrete in the assuming of Divine life. This leads them to the edge of the abyss. And eternally they break off into the abyss, and tumble down into the element of darkness. The Khlysty want to transfer the whole of the Gospel history over into themselves, into their ship, into their brothers and sisters. But this great mystical task is accomplished by them not in the depths of the life of the spirit, immersed in the life Divine, but upon the superficiality of body, immersed in the pagan naturalistic element. In Khlystyism there is a great mystical thirst, a [rightful] anguish as regards the ecstatic life of spirit. But in Khlystyism also is a pagan darkness and demonic frustration. Khlystyian Russia is immersed in the dark, the non human East. And man vanishes, he drowns in this dark primordial element. Within Orthodoxy itself the ecstatic tendency tends frequently and imperceptibly towards Khlystyism. (Such as with John of Kronstadt.) In the expression of the eyes can be discerned people of this tendency. But it mustneeeds be acknowledged, that in the Khlysty religious type there is an immeasurably deeper positing of the problem of sex and the problem of community, than there is in Dukhoborism, which always tends towards moralism. The Khlysty element among the Russian people ought to be enlightened, and logos ought to penetrate this darkness. And then an enormous mystical energy would be discovered for the religious rebirth of Russia. Without this dark element of the Russian Land there would be held back the human developement in Russia.

          [An unique religious thinker, having developed an entire system of Spiritual Christianity, is M. M. Tareev, who stands apart amidst the professors of the Spiritual Academy. 2  With Tareev there is a stronger consciousness than that, which is in our popular sectarian Spiritual Christianity, and he succeeds consciously in delimiting the sphere of the absolute and the relative. He is decidedly also an extreme dualist, and all his system is constructed upon the opposition of the absolute Divine life, in contrast with that of the relative naturo-historical life. Christianity is exclusively a personal religion, oriented towards the infinite spiritual life of the person, and it is completely inapplicable to life that is fleshly, natural and historical, whether of the state, society, family or culture. The sphere relative to the natural life ought to be liberated and it ought to be developed according to its own laws. But in the spiritual Christian life there are no sort of steps, no sort of evolution, nothing relative; there everything is absolute, everything is incompatible with natural life. The concepts of Tareev have much in common with R. Aiken, 3  though evidently it is arrived at quite independently. Tareev is stronger in his critique, in his negative delimitations and oppositions, than he is in his positings. He is unable to tie up the loose ends, and his dualism is fruitless, there are neither paths nor egress. Tareev — is a Monophysite. His absolute spiritual life — is Divine life, and in it man sinks down and disappears, as does also his activity. The religious question about man and human creativity is not set forth by him. But in his critique of historical Christianity there is much that is noteworthy and true, much that is made clear. This critique, regretably for him, goes astray towards Protestantism, and he does not see and does not want to acknowledge the cosmic hierarchy.]

        The feeling of the co-incidence of spiritual life at the summits, at the peaks of culture, and at the bottommost popular life, makes for a very strong joy and hope for an impending Russian religious renaissance. A religious renaissance can only be with the people. But the people is something qualitative, and not quantitative. The depths of the spiritual life of the people is locked up within select individuals, and not in the masses, not in the People’s lifestyle, which is always but peripheral. The tearing away of more spiritual the Christians from their innate lifestyle is happening both above and below. The falsehood and untruth of visible life is unmasked, and the searching for the invisible meaning of life has begun. The spiritual wandering — is a supreme manifestation of the Russian soul. But for an authentic religious renaissance and the onset of religious creativity to ensue, there is necessary a liberation from the sectarian spirit, which is always a false direction for spiritual energy. The will for unity and universal (churchly) reunion ought to prevail over the will for discord and closed-off separateness. A true esotericism is non-sectarian, and in it is lodged a true universalism, a true affirmation of cosmic hierarchy. To the national religious stirring there ought to open up the religious meaning of culture, as a pathway of mankind. In the spiritual life of the nation, J. Boehme, — in the so-called “masonic” translations of the beginning XIX Century, and the other mystics also, would be preserved yet more and more alive, than it is in our cultural strata and in our literature. But in this national spiritual life there ought to enter in all the fruits of culture, and there ought to be manifest their religious meaning.

At present the religious stirring in Russia still has not begun. But there are the great possibilities of such a stirring in the spiritual life of Russia. In all the types of Christian religious meaning there is its own truth. All seek to get out from the ossified, petrified, deadening, external lifestyle of the civil-utilitarian religiosity, and all variously seek a new religious life. Invisibly is begotten the new man. And in Russian religious thought there is always the propheticism about a new world epoch, there is always a sensing of the end of the old world. The religious shifting ought to go down into the depths of the Divine-human nature. But this creative shifting cannot and should not be sectarian nor a mutinous split from the OEcumenical Church, from its inner essence. A creative religious revolution will happen within the Church (itself), in its hidden depths. And at the same time there are wrong both those, which cleave (only) to the external trappings of the Church, and also those, which deny its (eternal) inner core. [The religious will ought to be directed towards creative revelation, the principle of which is a safeguard for man himself.]

Nikolai Berdyaev

©  1999  by translator Fr. S. Janos
(1916 – 252a – en)


Reprinted in YMCA Press Paris in 1989 in Berdiaev Collection: “Tipy religioznoi mysli v Rossii”, (Tom III), ctr. 441-462.

N.B. The Klepinina Bibliographie lists as #252 this article together with the article “Theosophy and Anthroposophy in Russia”, which also appeared in the nov. 1916 issue of Russkaya Mysl’. Neither the Klepinina Bibliographie nor the YMCA 1989 reprint indicate the page numbers for either article in the nov. 1916 Russkaya Mysl’; I however follow the sequence suggested in the YMCA text and also by Y Krotov, and consider this other named article on “Theosophy and Anthroposophy…” to be the second in sequence, thus encoding it (1916 – 252b – en).


1 It is very characteristic, that the upper strata of the nobility were attracted to the mystical popular sects, but never to the rationalistic. Vide: A. S. Prugavin, “Raskol  vverkhu” (“Schism at the Top”).

2 Vide his four volume “Fundamentals of Christianity” (“Osnovy khristianstva”). Very much of interest is the second tome, “The Gospel”.]

3 R. Aiken affirms the dualism of the spiritual world and the natural world, and the breaking through of spiritual energy from within into this world.]