The  Free  Church


The  Free  Church

(1917 – #013)


      In the life of the Russian people there has occurred a turnabout, which entails beyond it enormous consequences, not only material, but also spiritual. Such catastrophes do not happen often in the history of a people. Something had to have changed in the soul of the people, in its spiritual composition, in order for it so suddenly to alter the foundations of its historical existence. It is only on the surface level that such changes seem sudden and instantaneous, in actuality they are the result of a prolonged and profound inner process. Religious life always serves as the primal basis of every people, it is the basic wellspring of its nourishment. And the organic complex of the life of a people begins to crumble away then, when in the religious life of a people there has occurred a crippling fracture, when some sort of lie has penetrated into religious life and idolatry has poisoned the soul of the people. Such an idolatrous lie has poisoned the life of the Russian people and swayed it from the true faith. The Kingdom of God and the kingdom of Caesar, separated apart by Christ, have become jumbled together in Rus’: “Caesar” became substituted for “God”, and to “Caesar” was the requital due “God”. But every creation of an idol and graven image of itself enslaves, it deprives of freedom. Only worship of the One, the Living God, makes people free. From the time when the imperial power of the autocracy was transformed into an idol, into something idolatrous not only for worldly life, of the state, but also for life religious and churchly, the Russian Church lost its freedom, and fell into slavery. Dostoevsky from Orthodox a perspective said, that the Russian Church has been in paralysis from the time of Peter the Great. The Slavophils Khomyakov, Yu. Samarin and I. Aksakov, and the prophet of universal a Christianity, Vl. Solov’ev, wrote much about the abnormal position of the Russian Church within the Russian state, about its captivity by the state power. The official Russian Church was transformed into a government department, into a ministry of the Orthodox confession. During the final years of the reign of Nicholas II this abasement and enslavement of the Church reached unprecedented dimensions. The upper Church hierarchy, in worshipping Caesar like God, fell under the sway of the rascal and khlystyite Grigorii Rasputin. By virtue of his exclusive influence upon the tsar and tsarina, almost the whole of those comprising the Holy Synod was rendered into “Grigorians”, and not Orthodox, becoming composed of the cronies of Grigorii Rasputin. The Petrograd metropolitan Pitirim and the Moscow metropolitan Makarii were of the “Grigorian” confession. The Church’s upper hierarchy, having lost all sense of churchly propriety, became so mixed up with the Rasputinite element, just as did the upper bureaucracy. It has long since lost any spiritual influence upon the people. The finest Orthodox people, believers not out of fear, but out of conscience, have viewed the Holy Synod with contempt. Orthodox missionaries, who were as such the agents of the corrupt state power, just like gendarmes and police detectives, have poisoned the religious life of the people, they have inspired an abhorrence towards the Church, their activity has led to a falling away from the Church and to the growth of sectarianism. There has arisen the expression, the “official Church”, and it has served as a blocking screen over the true and eternal Church of Christ, and it has made within the Church impossible for many. Russia received from Byzantium an onerous legacy, it acquiesced to the Byzantine temptation and bears from it the grievous consequences. The pre-death hours of Russian tsarism are reminiscent of a page out of Byzantine history with its intrigues and deceits, with its falsehood, with secret influences, with conspiracies and betrayals, with the slavery of the Church to all sorts of rascals, with a special role of women and their favourites. The soul of the people was in dismay over all this, such as had occurred in churchly life, from the servile idolatry of the spiritual powers in facing the growing might of the state. This dismay and division in the soul of the people found expression in the dissipation of the religious energy of the Russian people into a multitude of sects as well as a complete falling away from Christianity. The greatest preserving was done by the Old Ritualism, the Old Believers, since they sought to preserve their faith at a distance away from the “official ecclesiology”.

Revolutions are inevitable in the life of peoples, but they are always a matter of sickness, they always bespeak the accumulated evil from the past; the detritus of evil of the Russian state and churchly life have set an unhealthy imprint upon the spiritual aspect of the Russian Revolution, with similarities to that, as happened during the major French Revolution. The Revolution has proven bereft of positive spiritual foundations, it was not the result of an accumulation of creative spiritual energy, it has come about chiefly through the putrid processes of rot from the Old Order. Within the elements of the Revolution there has not been heard the voice of the liberated Church. The Free Church is as it were totally absent from the active powers of the currently happening Russian history. The Church, even after the Revolution, after its liberation from the grip of the old powers, seems to play but a servile role. Within the life of the people, in dealing with the Revolution, there occur stormy spiritual processes. And within the souls of simple and ignorant people, old sanctities and idols fall in an instant and new ones arise. But the Church in all this does not play any sort of active and creative a role. Though indeed the Russian people with its enormous masses always has been a Christian and Orthodox people, and the Church in the past was a great initiating force in Russian history, the significance of which cannot but be acknowledged even by people who are non-believers. But it is only the Free Church that can have spiritually an influence upon national life.

What kind of effect has the Revolution had upon churchly life? Has there occurred for us a turnabout not only political, social and in way of life, but also a religious turnabout? No, the religious turnabout for us is still in the future, it will come about only after this, when the people will have spiritually worked its way through the experience of the Revolution. The experiences of the revolutionary epoch can lead to a religious renewal. Meanwhile, however, the Church has mechanically accepted the Revolution, almost as though it did not sense the catastrophic events taking place. The Church had become so abased in the Old Order, so enslaved to the old powers, the religious hierarchy so morally dissolute, that the outward powers of the Church were unable to play any sort of active role in the historic turnabout. If there was any sort of religious energy that might act, then it was underground, invisible. The Name of Christ had become forgotten amongst the revolutionary element and it was not in His Name that the revolutionary upheaval was made. The revolution took place within the “kingdom of Caesar”. But the Church was connected by a thousand threads with the “kingdom of Caesar” and the catastrophic changes within it cannot but have an impact upon its life. The Revolution struck a blow to the old connection of Church and state and inwardly has led to a stirring within the whole churchly organism. The Church had become free, just like everything in Russia. So they say and so it seems from the side-lines. But it would be insulting to the dignity of the Church to think, that it could receive its freedom outwardly from the Revolution, from the changes in the world outside Christianity. The Church can draw forth its freedom only from within its own depths, from Christ its Head, and it itself is the wellspring of freedom for people, living in the slavery of passions and sins. How are we to reconcile this contradiction?

When they say, that after the Revolution the Church was set free from its long slavery to the state, then this inwardly and religiously can be understood only thus, that the temptation of idolatry afront Caesar, to which churchly people and the Russian Church were subjected on its human side, has vanished, it fell away and has given churchly people a moment of free choice of an utmost religious path. From a deeper point of view the old connection of the church with a state, enslaving it and degrading it, was a partial separation from the Universal Church of Christ, which the gates of hell will not prevail against. But for church people, who now face the tasks of a restructuring of the entire churchly order of things, new temptations are possible, there can arise the fashioning of new idols and a new slavery. The autocratic imperial power, having so deformed our church life, has fallen, the Church has been liberated from this idol. But the “kingdom of Caesar” continues to live in new forms. An idol can be created whether from democracy, or from socialism, or from the people itself, and church life can fall into slavery to these new idols. The free Church has to be free not only from the old state, from the autocratic kingdom, but also from the new state, the kingdom of democracy. And in this transitional time, in which we live, the Russian Church has been faced with great trials. The Eastern Orthodox Church is entering into a boundless freedom. And this boundless freedom is a tremendous testing of the spiritual powers of churchly people, of churchly humankind. In this human freedom there can begin divisions in place of church unity, there can be the enslavement to a new idol, as occurred within Protestantism. For the Russian Church’s impetus in our troubled and changeable days it is most important to realise, that the Free Church has nothing in common with Protestantism, and this Russian religious renaissance cannot be some sort of a movement towards a Lutheran Reformation. The inevitable restructuring of the Church upon democratic principles ought not to include within itself anything of the “Protestant”, and it should be in accord with the precepts and traditions of the OEcumenical, the Universal Church. In the externals, with the historical structure of the Church there is no other sort of principle besides the elective principle, besides democratism and to conceive it otherwise is impossible, unless one acknowledge papism and if the holy tsardom had not fallen. But inwardly in the Church there ought to be preserved an eternal hierarchism. The free Church — is hierarchical. If it became democratic, then it would fall under the grip of human arbitrariness, it would lose its connection of succession from Christ and the Apostles.


The infamous downfall of the imperial power in Russia cannot be a matter of indifference for eastern Orthodoxy. The Russian Revolution should have a greater significance for the Orthodox Church, than all the Western revolutions had for the Catholic Church. The Catholic Church is not broken up into autocephalous national churches, it always was little dependent upon the state and the nation, it possesses its own independent hierarchical structure, headed by the pope. No sorts of any revolutions within states or nations alter essentially anything within the structure of the Catholic Church, its organisation remains worldwide. This is not so in the Eastern Orthodox Church. The Eastern Orthodox Church, although it defines itself as the Church Universal, in fact was at first primarily the Byzantine Church, and then the Russian Church. The Eastern Orthodox Church does not possess an outward universal unity nor an outward universal organisation, it does not possess a centre, which could be connected with any sort of state or national rule. The Orthodox Church from the time of Constantine was always in fact a matter of nation and state. The autocephaly, the national self-independence of the Church is the source of its slavery, and not its freedom, since the autocephalous national church inevitably falls into dependence upon the state power, and inevitably subjects itself to the national element. The autocephaly of the Russian Church meant its being headed by the tsar. At first in Byzantium, and then in Russia the nationalising of the Orthodox Church was interwoven and held in place by the imperial power, which was accounted as sacred. The Byzantine emperor was of a sacred rank within the Church, and his role was exclusive. This sacred significance of the imperial power passed over from Byzantium to Russia, it was transmitted on to the Russian tsars and emperors. Even if they did not speak of it as such, it was a tendency towards Caesaropapism, i.e. the acknowledging of the tsar as the head of the Church, both in the Byzantine and in the Russian Church. The Byzantine imperium and the Russian tsardom regarded themselves as sacred rulers and the Church gave blessing to this self-awareness of the ruler. Neither the power of the Byzantine emperor, nor the power of the Russian emperor was merely a mundane worldly state power, this was a spiritual power, a theocratic power. The sacred Byzantine imperium long ago disintegrated and fell. The theocratic hopes, connected with the imperial power, passed over to the Russian tsardom. Moscow was acknowledged as the Third Rome. And now there has fallen the sacred Russian tsardom, the last holy kingdom in the world.

There has burst forth a great historical chain of events, striking a blow to the matter of state and Church. The Eastern Orthodox Church imperceptibly has survived a catastrophe: it has lost a limb, which over all the expanse of its history it regarded as sacred and holding in place the outward organic unity of the Church. The sacred imperial power created the outward appearance of the unity of the Orthodox Church, by force it held down and kept all parts of the Church in co-subordination. The Eastern Orthodox Church itself has failed to notice, how it has entered into a domain of boundless freedom, unknown by the Western Catholic Church, nor existing either within Protestantism. There has ended the worldwide historical period of life of the Eastern Church, which began with Constantine. Outwardly the Church has returned to the condition, which existed prior to Constantine. Inwardly, however, churchly mankind on the one hand has become enriched, which on the other hand overwhelmed by the enormous and difficult experience of all its history, and by the demands of modern mankind. There has fallen off the rotting limb, through which infection had come to all the whole churchly organism. And in the organism of the Eastern Church what happened, was but that nothing replaced it. The Church became free, but this freedom was exclusively formal, it was the freedom of a choice of path, a negative freedom. The free Church in the positive sense of the word,  in the religious sense, is a spiritual power, it is a religious capacity, of knowing its own direction.

The free Church is the One, Universal Church of Christ, having apostolic succession from Christ its Head, drawing forth all its revelations from its own depths in contrast to all the fickle elements of “this world” and the temptations of “the prince of this world”. This Church dwells eternally and the gates of hell cannot prevail, but the outward image of the free Church is twofold or threefold, it is enveloped by the trappings of this world and distorted by the dominion of the failings and sins of the masses of mankind. All the divisions within the Universal Church, all the disputes, all the temptations and distortions come from the human element, without the free activity of which there could not be the Church, as Divine-human an organism. And now the human element within the Church is summoned to an exclusively spiritual direction, towards a concentration of churchly will-power. The catastrophe within the Universal Church must be lived through, it signifies an uprise of human energy and human activity within the Church.


It is necessary to make a distinction between churchly freedom and religious freedom. Churchly freedom is the freedom of the Church itself, its independence from the state. In this sense, the greatest churchly freedom is within the Catholic Church, which moreso is independent, than the Orthodox Church, or than the Protestant Church, which even cannot be termed a church in the strict sense of the word. Churchly freedom is an utmost churchly worthiness, of which we have too little, a pride not personal, the human is always sinfully so, but rather the churchly pridefulness of the sanctities of the Church, upon which nothing in the world ought to infringe. Churchly freedom is a strengthening of the Church, a defending of it from the surging elements of the world, preventing the disintegration of the Church. Religious freedom however, religious freedom of conscience, is altogether a different principle. Churchly freedom already presupposes a definite and strong faith and is concerned over its fate in the world. Religious freedom is a freedom of the choice of this or some other faith, of this or some other religious path. It is oriented towards the human person and guards not the faith itself, but rather the freedom of faith, the freedom of a love for a confession. Coercion in matters of faith is impossible. To come to any faith is possible only by the path of freedom. And this most mustneeds be said for the Christian faith, since Christianity itself is a religion of freedom. To confess Christ is possible only by freely having accepted and having come to love Him. Where there is the Spirit of Christ, there also is freedom. Knowing the Truth of Christ, is to be made free. The Spirit of Christ breathes, whithersoever it will. The freedom of conscience for the Christian is not exclusively formal a principle, as it might appear to non-religious people, it is an inner principle of Christianity itself, as a religion of freedom, the religion of the free filiation-sonship of man to God. The Church is preeminently a kingdom of freedom, a kingdom of grace, in distinction to the state, — a being the kingdom of necessity and force. In the Church everything ought to be accepted freely, everything ought to be the object of love. Compulsion and coercion in matters religious, in matters churchly, signifies but a false and distorted relationship between the Church and the state, between “God” and “Caesar”, it always transpires within a sphere civil, and not churchly, it always makes use of the sword of Caesar, since the Church itself possesses no weapons for compulsion and force. Both the Church Catholic and the Church Orthodox, when they resort to coercion and force in matters of faith, always make use of the sword of Caesar, and they debase themself to the kingdom of necessity. Wherefore herein it can be said, that the loss of religious freedom and the coercion over the religious conscience always has led and has to lead to the loss of churchly freedom, to the enslavement of the Church to the state, by the means of the implements it makes use of. The Free Church does not possess the wherewithal to violate religious freedom, it lacks the tools for this. Its sword, by which it cleaves the world, is a sword that is spiritual, and not material. The greatest freedom in the Church was that prior to Constantine, not when it was the one chasing and persecuting, but when they chased and persecuted it. Within Christianity then the churchly freedom and the religious freedom coincided. After the uniting of the Church and the state, the Church lost its freedom when it infringed upon religious freedom, when “God” and “Caesar” became confused.

The Gospel words of Christ to “render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and unto God the things that are God’s”, is also an eternal Christian resolution of the question concerning the relationship of the Church and the state, a riddle which the Christian world has to resolve. With these words Christ divided the two kingdoms, He affirmed churchly freedom and religious freedom, and religiously He justified the existence of the state, as an independent and necessary principle in this world. The wisdom of these brief words is extraordinary and it resolves the enigma spanning across the whole of Christian history. It was only Christianity that first placed limits to the all-powerful might of the state, such as existed in the ancient world. The Christian revelation also promulgated religious freedom, the freedom of the boundless human spirit, incommensurable with any state, or any kingdom of this world. Paganism was powerless to guard the freedom of the human spirit against the unknown boundaries of infringements by the state, the kingdom of Caesar. The great wise men of the ancient world could not accomplish this liberation of the human spirit. The apotheosis of Caesar, the cult of Caesar also takes to the limit the unbounded power of the state, the religion of the kingdom of this world. The “things of God” were ultimately bestown “unto Caesar”. And here then, when the world was in worship of Caesar as God, Christianity came into the world with the good news about God, crucified upon the Cross for the sins of the world, God the Redeemer. Man was filiated in sonship to God and within man was revealed a boundless freedom, an infinite spirit, surpassing all the kingdoms of the world. Christianity revealed the infinite worth of the human soul, the eternity enclosed within it, and its independence from the elements of this world. Man, redeemed by the Blood of Christ, is liberated from the dominion of the lower nature, he ceases to be a slave, he spiritually stands on his own feet. When the first Christians refused to worship Caesar and underwent tortures, they eternally affirmed within the world a religious freedom, the freedom of the human spirit, and they set in place the foundations of the free Church. The Christian Church gave blessing to the state power, acknowledged its positive mission in the world, but it did not permit of its apotheosis, of an absolute obedience to it, and from its side it refused infringement upon the boundless life of the human spirit. The things of God ought entirely to be bestown to God. This truth was sealed by the blood of the martyrs. For every state there is a moral boundary regarding the Church and the transgressing of this boundary is already a demand for bestowing to Caesar the things of God, i.e. it is a betrayal of Christ and of that commanded by Him. Only Christianity promulgated freedom of conscience. Thomas Aquinas indeed promulgated the religious right of rising up against the state power and he went so far, that he even justified regicide, if that ruler transgressed the religiously allowable limits. This limiting of the powers of the state was possible only upon the basis of the Christian consciousness. The denial of freedom of conscience, of the freedom of the human spirit, has always led to the enslavement of the Church by the state, both in the West and in the East. The Christian world has not always remained faithful to the Christian revelation about freedom, it was exposed to temptations and fell.


The Free Church signifies likewise the affirmation also of freedom within the state, the guarding of the boundless rights of the human soul from the infringements both of state and of society. Freedom of conscience is a right, received not from citizenship in society, nor from the state, nor from democracy, but rather from the spiritual life, from Christ Himself. The fact that democracy of itself does not guarantee freedom of conscience, is something which can be seen from that apostle of democracy, J. J. Russo, who denied freedom of conscience, he regarded as obligatory for each citizen his own pitiful and contrived religion, and he did not recognise any sort of inalienable rights for the human person. The sovereign nation and democracy as it were at their pleasure can deprive man of any right, since here the source of every right of man lies not within man, not within his boundless spirit, but in the external, in the will of the people, in the majority of voices. But the majority of voices can at its pleasure take away from man that which it at its pleasure prescribes him. This is a return to the ancient, the pagan power of the state over the human soul. Freedom of conscience was also denied by that apostle of socialism, K. Marx, and by the social-democracy subsequent to him. In the social-democratic teaching there does not exist a boundless nature of the human soul and its inalienable rights. Man is rendered entirely a child of the material societal means, he receives everything from it, he is totally dependent upon it, and he possesses nothing unique to himself. Socialism itself per se guarantees the rights of the freedom of conscience just as little, as does democracy. In the social-democratic programme there is a paragraph, which proclaims, that religion is a private matter. But this is only a formal method of disposing of religion. The social-democratic freedom of a religious conscience does not presuppose the existence of the religious conscience itself, as a principle unique to the human spirit. As regards its own teachings of belief, Marxist socialism is deeply hostile to every religion and is hostile most of all to the Christian Church. To be a genuine Christian within the social-democrats is an impossibility, though the Christian can acknowledge the partial truth of socialism.

The Church has to be free from the elements of this world. And the Church then can be the source of freedom for every human soul, living within society and the state. The Church defends the human soul from the dominion of the elements of this world, from the pretentions of “the kingdom of Caesar” for transgressing every boundary, even though such should assume the form of democracy and socialism. But the Church ruling within the state and through the state is a Church dependent, it loses its freedom and cannot be a source of freedom, nor safeguard freedom. A Church resorting thus to rule cannot be the free Church, its spiritual power is always undermined and diminished. The free Church cannot be an official, ruling Church. We know this only too well regarding the fate of the Russian Orthodox Church. The Western papocaesarism and the Eastern caesaropapism — are two temptations, enslaving the Church to the elements of this world, to the kingdom of Caesar. In the West the Church was more free in its original foundations, but it transformed itself into a state and utilised the weapons of a state. In the East the Church was subordinated to the state in its primal foundations and likewise was utilised by the state. Now in the East, in Russia, the Church is entering into a new world period, wherein its structure has to be rendered democratic. And the whole purpose of this — is so that this new democratic structure of the Church does not become a new form of its dependence upon the kingdom of Caesar. Yet always it is proper to remember, that the Church is a kingdom qualitative and not quantitative, within its structure can be an elective principle, but nothing in its spiritual life is decided by majority voice-vote. The hierarchism of the Church is a guarantee of its freedom. Democratism however, passing over into the inner life of the Church, can become a source of slavery, since it places the spiritual values into dependence upon a majority of voices. And insofar as within the Church there has to be manifest human activity and human creativity, it has to be manifest as humanly qualitative, and not quantitative.


It would be very erroneous to think, that the Reformation created the Free Church, that within Lutheranism the Church became more free, than it was in Catholicism. Within the Lutheran Reformation there was a negative truth, and no little there was a just criticism and a just indignation against the moral decline of the Catholic world, against the human sins of papism. But the Lutheran Reformation was a secularisation of the Church, remaking it into a state-Church and subordinating it to the elements of this world. Freedom of conscience was acknowledged within Protestantism only as something relatively so, the faith-toleration of Luther was limited. But most importantly, the promulgation of religious freedom was surrendered away into the domain of being developed by the elements of this world, it lost its own unshakable churchly foundation. If one might speak, with pushing the point about the Protestant Church or Protestant Churches, then it is that they surrendered over into the hands of the princes and became subject to the territorial principle. Ultimately, there was extinguished the idea of the Free Universal Church. Luther did not liberate the church from the state, but rather the state from the church. The church was abased also within Protestantism in the triumph of the state-church. The human defects of Catholicism ought not to prevent us seeing, that at its core there was a greater religious truth, than in Protestantism. In Catholicism in the West, and not in Protestantism, there is preserved the eternal sanctity of the Church and the true churchly freedom. The Catholic world fell into the sin of pride and self-affirmation, considering itself the fullness of the Universal Church and denying the whole of Eastern Christianity. But Catholicism is an inalienable and great part of the Universal Church, inwardly one, and only on the outside, as regards human limitations, in ruin. At present, the consciousness of the Russian Church stands at the crossroads and is subject to the danger of swaying towards Protestantism in this or that form. Our Church has to be reformed and we await the religious rebirth of the Russian people. But in Russia a Protestant Reformation is impossible. This would be a betrayal of the Russian religious spirit and the Russian religious vocation.

Sects of the Protestant type have long since already existed in Russia and in the latter times they all tend towards the Baptists. The position of the official Church within the old order quite assisted in the spread of sectarianism and provided all the sects, including also the Baptists, the aura of being strugglers for religious freedom, the prestige of persecution. In the new, in the free Russia, this abnormal appearance should tend to cease. And then will be manifest all the limitedness and defect of sectarianism, for which always there was seen a portion of religious truth, its one only ray of light, while not allowing for all its fullness. The religious poverty of the Baptists and their profound opposition to the Russian national spirit has to be evidenced in an atmosphere of churchly and religious freedom. From the hands of the sectarians would be removed their chief weapon — there would no longer be the coerciveness of the ruling official church, and the church hierarchy would no longer be officials of the state power. It mustneeds be remembered, that Protestantism in its fatal developement was a secularisation of religious life, and therefore also a loss of religious freedom through processes, transpiring in this world. Elements of Protestantism have long since already entered into the life of the Russian Church. The synodal churchly structure, established by the will of the autocrat Peter, was a triumph of state absolutism. This was a process completely analogous to that, which led in the West to the system of the state-church. The so-called Jozefism, i.e. the system of the Austrian emperor Jozef II, which subordinated the Catholic Church within the limits of his empire to the state, was the introduction of a Protestant spirit into Catholicism, a Protestant subordination of church to the territorial principle and the princely power. The lack of freedom of the Russian Church came about from the Protestant spirit of our civil realm since the time of Peter. The greatest churchly freedom has been within the Old Ritualism, the Old Believers. The whole synodal period of the Russian Church was already a secularisation, a making mundane of churchly administration. The princes of the church, appointed to the Holy Synod, were agents of the imperial power, and during the final period they were agents of Grigorii Rasputin. And the task of the free Church in the free Russia is the restoration of the spiritual character of churchly power. The forceful actions of the Uber-Prokurator in the new Provisional Government, directed at cleansing the composition of the Holy Synod, are justified, since the old staff of the Holy Synod was imposed upon the Church by the old order; it was not in a true sense churchly, and the revolutionary powers ought to undo and liquidate the old compulsory connections of church and state, so that the Church as already free might recreate its structures. The Uber-Prokuratorship, which is to be transformed into a Ministry of Confessions, ought not in future to play any sort of churchly role, but the first Uber-Prokuratorship after the Revolution has to display an exceptional power, just as ought also in everything to be manifest the Provisional Government of the transitional epoch. This is but the liquidation of the sinful past. When the lived-through experience of the Revolution provides depth to our religious life, then it will become clear, that the Church cannot be fully free, if it remains nationally-isolated and cut off from universal Christianity.


The free Church and the free Russia ought with love to turn to the Western Catholic world and to seek with it an inner unification into the Universal Church. The division of the Christian East and the Christian West can be justified only as the expression of two types of Christian spiritual experience, which ought to be preserved within the Universal Church. The division of the Church itself and the taking of a separate part from the whole is but human a sin and human self-assertion. But the unification of the churches is impossible to expect, as resulting from the Unia or a confab of churchly rulers of East and West. This external path will lead to nothing, except political intrigues. And least of all can it be wished, that the Orthodox Church should reunify with the Catholic Church, by renouncing its own spiritual path and its own truth. Reunion can be expected only from an inward turning of the two Christian worlds each to the other with love. Such is one of the worldly tasks, which faces the Free Church in Russia. But the Russian Church has many inward tasks, left unresolved under the old order, under the old relationship of church and state. Such first of all is the task of reunion with the Old Ritualists, the Old Believers, the overcoming of the historical schism within the Russian Church. For the reuniting of the Old Ritualists with the Orthodox Church, which was termed official and which forever has ceased to be official, there can be no sort of religious impediments. The Old Ritualists are Orthodox people entirely and the schism transpired within “the kingdom of Caesar”. The people religious sensitivity was aroused over the bestowing of “the things of God” “unto Caesar”. In the persecution of the Old Ritualists there was accumulated a tremendous religious energy and there was formed a powerful religious discipline. This energy ought now to go towards the renewal of the Russian Church. Under the current conditions the disdain for unity can be perceived, as the manifestation of a religious egoism. Much religious energy in Russia has been dissipated upon the sects, and much of it in turn was squandered in the struggle against the Church and against the fullness lodged within it. Sectarianism is always a rising up of the part against the whole, in it there will never become that universal Christian spirit, which only is what gives freedom. Within the sects there is no freedom in the spiritual sense of this word, their freedom is purely negative, and not positive. The sects are doomed to degenerate, in them always there prevails a rationalistic spirit and the religious energy, accumulated in the sects, falls away and loses itself in worldly elements, torn off from the religious churchly centre. In the sects there is an endless and ugly splintering. The sectarians await not the free Church, but rather freedom from the Church. The question about the sects — is an agonising question of Russian churchly life. But its resolution can be very much mitigated by the turnabout happening. Churchly freedom and religious freedom ought to lessen the quantity of sects, and they would remove a whole series of reasons for falling into the sects. People having accepted Christ in their hearts would return to the Church and would remain in it. Into the sects, however, would go and would stubbornly remain in them only those, who in their spiritual depths have broken off from the Universal Church and in something have betrayed Christ. The free Church of Christ in a free Russia would, actually, number less a quantity of members, than with the official church, in which formally, according to passport, all Russians have belonged. Many would fall away from the Church. But the lessened quantity would make up for it with an increase in quality. In the Church would remain only its worthy and faithful sons. The true Church of Christ maintains itself upon the qualitative, and not upon the quantitative. And in the interim would be at least some few righteous, at least some few faithful to Christ, and the Church will exist upon the earth. The freedom of falling away does not terrify the free Church. But the boundless religious freedom, opening forth before the Russian people, is a testing of the strength of its spirit.


Great danger threatens from a mixing up of religion with politics. The triumph of democracy and socialism can facilitate acceptance of the renewal and growth of Christianity. The Christian Church cannot be against true freedom, equality and brotherhood. Moreover, true freedom, true equality and true brotherhood are possible only within the Church. In the democratic socialistic “kingdom of Caesar” everything is based upon necessity and compulsion, and people can become attracted to one another through common interests, but never are they rendered brothers. Socialism knows of “tovarisch-comrade”, but it does not know of “brother”. The social class struggle can be acknowledged as a bitter necessity, but never can it be acknowledged by Christian truth and blessing. Christianity sees an utmost truth in this, that one gives off one’s riches to neighbour, but sees it not in this, that one takes away what is of the neighbour. Christianity does not believe, that the kingdom of God can be attained by an outward path and material means, nor that it be possible or desirable to want compulsory virtue and compulsory social brotherhood. The kingdom of God comes unnoticed and externally its triumph is impossible within the bounds of this sinful world. Christianity demands a spiritual sobriety in the matters of this world and does not allow for boundless social fantasising. All the chiliast religious movements, awaiting the quick onset of a sensual thousand-year reign of Christ on earth, always were heretical and hostile to the Church. They all rest upon this mistake, which also is Montanism, the denial of mutual responsibility and a responsibleness for the evil of the world, on a denial of the working and burden of history, on a mixing up of the absolute and the relative. And at present in Russia there can arise similar kinds of chiliast movements, in which everything gets jumbled, and revolutionary socialism gets accepted as the onset of a thousand-year reign. Principles, anti-Christian in spirit, can be mistaken for Christian ones, they can tempt with equality, imperceptibly demolish the churchly hierarchism and destroy every quality, everything, that rises up. The Church of Christ can be democratic as regards its outward structure, but inwardly it is aristocratic and hierarchic, just like everything in the Divine order of the cosmos is hierarchic and aristocratic. This has to be clearly recognised within our churchly stirrings, so that the Church should not fall into a new slavery, so that it not be humbled before a new “kingdom of Caesar”. It would be a fatal error to mistake the political and social energy as being a religious and churchly energy. The most radical political and social turnabout of itself is insignificant in the face of eternity, it changes nothing in the life of the Church. The churchly impetus is still forward, it has to have its own inner wellspring.

The new democratic state will not be a Christian state, just as the old autocratic state was not. The new state power ought to receive its blessing from the Church, just like any power, insofar as it fulfills its purpose. The authorities bear not the sword in vain. The state has a mystical basis, although this does not at all mean, that the state is theocratic. Even the secularised state in democratic republics preserves its mystical, trans-rational basis. The free Church cannot from the outside make the new Russian state, as yet unknown and enigmatic in its structure, to be Christian and Orthodox. In the old order the Christian Orthodox character of the state degenerated into an hideous lie, into ugly hypocrisy and coercion. In the new order there ought first of all to be honesty and truthfulness. Inevitably the state will be secularised. Nor does it even exclude the possibility, that the Church will be persecuted. But the Free Church can in the measure of its spiritual power from within influence the life of the state and spiritually direct it upon the path of truth. Insofar as the Russian people remains a Christian people, its Christianity has to be expressed in its state, it has to influence it from within, to define not the body of the state, but rather its soul. The Free Church remains only but an inward spiritual power in the state and its activity will be dependent upon the religious energy of the people itself, on its fidelity to Christ and His Church. The Free Church in the free Russia has to be more active, than was the official Church in the old order.


In the question concerning the relationship of church and state, for every Christian more important and more precious is the freedom of the Church, than the freedom of the state. Unbelieving people, hostile to church, want a separation of church from state, in order to free the state from every influence of church, so as ultimately to secularise it. The separation of church and state in France was conducted by the militant atheistic ministry of Emile Combes and assumed the form of a persecution against the church. The French form of the separation of church from state cannot be desired for Russia and in any case such a form of separation the Church itself would be unable to accept. For the Church better to be persecuted, than itself to persecute, and persecution could even lead to a strengthening of religious energy. Persecution of the Catholic Church by the anti-Christian forces of the French Republic led to a renewal of Catholicism. But the Church itself cannot desire, that they should persecute it, and therefore it cannot separate itself from the state in the French method, which is singularly radical. The division of church and state is always conditional and relative a matter, it cannot be absolute within the external plane of life. The Church by a thousand threads is connected with the kingdom of Caesar. Yet there has to be a radical religious division of the two kingdoms — of God and of Caesar. This means also, that the Church has to be free and that “the things of God” ought never to be bestown “unto Caesar”. But in the outward historical plane the state penetrates all the pores of life, even the Church represents for the state a component part. And herein arises the question, whether the Church be an institution publicly-legal or partially-legal? The state of a Christian people comprising it overwhelmingly cannot acknowledge the Church as a partial-legality institution, equating it with some sort of partial society. If also there ought not to be an official and ruling church, then indeed the Orthodox Church cannot occupy an exclusive position in Russia, for the Russian people. This is determined not by the state privileges of the Orthodox Church, but by its churchly and religious prerogatives, its connection with the heart of the Russian people, with the spirit of Russian history, with the vocation of the Russian people within the world. The Church of Christ ought to become a prevailing spirit and inward power of the Russian state. We ought to desire, that the free Russian state in form should be secular, while in spirit Christian, so that within it the cruel beastly principle not win out, though it be with the most progressive and democratic trappings.

The Russian people is experiencing a spiritual and religious crisis. The soul of the people goes about its path in agitation. This crisis began already long ago. Long ago the Christian faith was jostled and shaken. This found expression also in the enslavement of church to state, in its creation of the idolatry of “Caesar”, in a falling-away from the Church, in sectarianism, in the growth of unbelief, in the triumph of materialism in life. In the people at present the Revolution has cast down the old idols, but there has begun the creation of new idols, the idols of “Revolution”, “Democracy”, “Socialism”, “Internationalism”, and many others. The Living God, Christ, has long ago already become forgotten, and His Name is not to be heard in these storms and catastrophes, which the Russian people experiences. To the new Russia there can be put this selfsame question, which Vl. Solov’ev put to the old Russia: “What sort of East desirest thou to be, the East of Xerxes or of Christ?” The “East of Xerxes” can be not only a beastly cruel autocracy, it can be also a beastly cruel democracy. In democracy can be revealed the human image, reflecting the image of God, but there can be revealed also the image of beastly cruelty. And the Russian people is at the crossroads. In the Revolution there has been burnt away the old lie, the old hypocrisy, the fetters have fallen away, which held tight the Church to the decaying power of the state. But if the religious will of the people takes to the false path, then there will reign a new lie, a new hypocrisy, and new fetters will be set upon the Free Church of Christ. In such a time it is necessary, that the voice of the Free Church ring out, that it ring out not only concerning the question of the external arrangement of the Church, but also concerning the more profound, the inward questions of religious creativity, connected with the fate of man and mankind. Within the Church there ought to blaze the fire of eternal truth, which the surging of the elements of the world cannot extinguish.


All the hopes for the renewal of the Russian Church have been set upon convening of a Sobor-Council. Since the year 1905 the Russian Orthodox world has been living with the hope, that the local Church Council would resolve all the burning questions of Russian ecclesial order and renew the ailing body of our Church. Under the old order there were made insincere preparatory steps towards the Sobor, but its convening seemed impossible. The old powers were afraid of a Sobor. The conciliar principle in the Church was smothered. After the fetters were removed from the Church, the convening of the Council was rendered a possibility, and it is being convened, without sufficient preparation within the churchly currents and churchly organisation from below. We need the Sobor. Without it the Free Church cannot restructure itself on new principles. But one should not overestimate the significance of the Council and put too great an hope upon it, since then one will not be disappointed. It is impossible to expect from the Russian local Sobor, to be convened in the near future, a religious creativity, and resolution of the religious headaches of modern mankind. It is unlikely that a prophetic spirit should breathe within it. The Sobor will be the same way as the churchly people are. The local Church Sobor of itself cannot create that creative religious energy, if such exist not within the churchly people elected to the Sobor. If the religious energy in the people be weak, then it will not be great either at the Sobor. The Sobor will, in all likelihood, be concerned with what can be called “the churchly prosaic”, with questions of the relationship of church and state, and of churchly manner of life. The most important thing, that the Sobor could do, would be to conclusively liquidate the old relationships of church and state and reconstruct churchly life upon elective and democratic principles. There are no special grounds to hope, that at this Sobor the voice of the Free Church of Christ would authoritatively and mightily resound concerning the catastrophes being experienced by Russia and the world. There are grounds to be apprehensive, that as regards churchly creativity they might accept a denial of the old order and the establishing of a new democratic order. But in this there would still be no  sort of churchly creativity. And herein there might be a tendency towards Protestantism. Within Protestantism was no religious creativity, no sort of new revelations. Religious creativity does not negate the old revelation and tradition, but rather gives a new revelation and initiates a new tradition. The Russian Revolution, as in every revolution, is not the revelation of new life, of a new spirit, it is rather but the consequences of the old sins, the crisis of the old sickness, God’s chastisement for allowing in the past an intolerable lie. A creative religious stirring lies still for the future, after the experience of the Revolution will have been lived out in the soul of the people.


Freedom of conscience cannot be for the churchly Christian consciousness merely a formal principle, it cannot be rendered into a religious indifference. The Christian freedom of conscience presupposes the existence of a religious conscience and a positive religious energy, which is something non-binding for a negative freedom of conscience, such as is proclaimed by unbelievers, unconcerned and indifferent to religion. Christian freedom of conscience possesses and has its source in Christ, the Deliverer, the Bestower of all freedom. Freedom having been received through Christ, this freedom cannot be deprived from a single human soul, it has to be granted to all. We desire churchly freedom and religious freedom, but we wish for it from within our faith, for the triumph of the working of Christ in the world. But this nowise means, that for the Christian it can be a matter of indifference, as other people might confess their faith, in that they are prepared to accept “religion as a private matter”, as non-religious liberals and socialists admit for this. For non-religious liberals and socialists religious freedom is a negative freedom from religion. For Christians, however, religious freedom is the positive source of their religion. Religious freedom is the path to the triumph of the working of Christ in the world. Churchly freedom guarantees better the spiritual triumph of the Church in the world, than does the chaining of the Church to the state and the use of the weapons of the state in matters of the Church. Religion however is not a private matter, as an indifferent liberalism hostile to religion would tend to affirm, religion is an universal matter, it makes pretense to be the fullness of everything. Religion as the fullness of all, of being everything in all, is done not by way of external theocratic pretensions, not by way of a compulsory Christian state, but by its own inner spiritual power, directing the world. A chiliastic faith in the triumph of the thousand-year reign of Christ in this sinful world, in a sensual thousand-year reign of Christ upon the earth cannot be acknowledged as a churchly faith, and it cannot be spiritually justified. Such a chiliastic hope always was a slippery slope within religious experience, the mixing-up of various planes, the forgetting of apocalyptic prophecies about the growth within the world of the power of an anti-Christian spirit and of the Anti-Christ. The manifestation of this spirit is too apparent even now already. And all the positive Christian powers ought to unite for counteracting the rising surge of the anti-Christian powers. The state, society and culture are that neutral medium, which is subject to the influence of these contrary spiritual principles, in which transpires the spiritual struggle. It is impossible to render the state and culture externally and forcibly Christian, they ought to remain principles formally free, revealing their own particular powers. But a diverse spirit can inspire the state and culture. There stands ahead an inevitable and great religious struggle of two spirits, of two world principles. And in this worldwide struggle the voice of the Free Church of Christ, One an Universal, ought to resound from within, from the depths, as the voice of spiritual life, free from enslavement to the elements of the world, rising above everything political, above every temporal power, free from all temptations, such as were repudiated by Christ in the wilderness, but through which mankind passes. The churchly stirrings have to become animated by a new spirit, by a new life, and in it ought to be heard new words. Fidelity to the eternal in the old ought not to hinder the creative stirrings in the Church. The Free Church will be faced with new tasks, with new themes, with new torments of the human spirit. But the deciding of these tasks and the relieving of these torments presupposes a spiritual surge, of which as yet there is not. The Free Church has to itself manifest the greatest spiritual energy, wherein nothing in its life can be imputed to the state and its organs.

Nikolai Berdyaev.


©  2007  by Fr. S. Janos

(1917 – 013 – en)

SVOBODNAYA  TSERKOV’.  Pamphlet published under the auspices of the Moskovskaya prosvetitel’naya komissiya pri Vremennom komitete Gosudarstvennoi Dumy (Moscow Elucidation Commission on behalf of the Committee of the Provisional State Duma); Moscow, 1917, 31 p.

Republished in V. V. Sapov et al. collection of wartime and revolutionary period Berdyaev articles in tome entitled, “PADENIE  SVYASCHENNOGO  RUSSKOGO  TSARSTVA, Publitsistika 1914-1922”;  Izdatel’stvo Astrel’, Moscow, 2007, p. 708-725.