Reform of the Church


Reform of the Church

(1917 – xxx)


  A. V. Kartashev, in his talented and interesting brochure, “Reform, Reformation and the Manifestation of the Church”, says: “The reform of the Russian Church, in the precise and technical sense of this word, is of especially vital and intense interest to people either irreligious (upon societal-liberal motives), or of that religious type, which perceives religion, as something, not subject to any sort of creative experience and of interest merely from the point of view of the practical organisation of churchly life upon the best of principles… Genuine mystics in the church are little interested, with what is called church reform. Suchlike bearers of a churchly mysticism, as Theophan, bishop of Poltava, or of its theoretics, as the priest-professor P. A. Florensky, have no interest in these questions”. One mustneeds grasp the meaning of this phenomenon accurately noted by Kartashev. We live in an epoch of the rebirth of Orthodox religio-philosophic thought. This thought is profound and refined and will tend to blossom out later. Yet here is the remarkable thing, that in the loins of this Orthodox outlook, in its thinking so new in comparison with the old theologising, there are however no signs of a will to churchly reform, no sorts of an impetus towards the creation of the free church. In that circle of the Moscow Orthodox, which conditionally and not altogether precisely are called Neo-Slavophils, there is no pathos for church reform or a spiritual turnabout, which should be historically active. I speak about that religious current, which is represented by the priest P. Florensky, S. N. Bulgakov and others. Those reforms, towards which these currents tend, are quite anti-social and anti-historical in their tasks. The centre of gravity is transferred into a matter of the personal salvation of soul, into the deepening and refinement of personal religious experience, lived through as a churchly experience, oriented towards the sacred tradition of the church. It is pathetic to experience an all ever-continuing and endless conversion into churchly orthodoxy, the adoption of the churchly givenness with all the traditions, all the scope of which encompasses and extends across the spheres of civil and societal life. Apparent are the considerations of movement to the church, and with this is bound up all the whole dynamic of religious thought, all the refined apologetics. But there are apparent no sort of signs of stirrings from the church, from out of the church, as a creative dynamic process, as growth of developement within the church itself, by way of fulfillment of promises and prophecies. They await and expect everything from the church, but they desire to do nothing  for the church. It is as though they forget, that the life of the church, as human an organism for the good, involves also our properly own creative religious life, and it is not only an obedience to tradition, but also a forming of tradition. A person, sensing himself as insufficiently deep within the church, and in churchly life dwelling too much upon the experience of being a neophyte, a beginner, tends not to regard himself ready and worthy for creatively religious an involvement. And thus opens the perspective of that inculcation into the church and process of perfecting within Orthodoxy, by which one never attains to an awareness of worthiness to be a religious creator and initiator. All our churchly disorder, in having assumed such pernicious forms, gets explained away as private sins and failings, not allowing even for the proper right to render a judgement over this disorder. Everything thus gets caught up in an inescapable going in circles and consolidates forever every given, every gloomiest actuality, that most evil coercive constraint.

S. Bulgakov and Father P. Florensky can hardly be delighted with the synodal church structure, they cannot but be vexed over the abasement and enslavement of the church. But in all their spirit they tend only to strengthen the old and hinder every free impulse towards religious renewal. Their Christianity — is not a religion of freedom, but rather a religion of necessity, a religion of humility. Their Orthodoxy does not but want to be a religion of the priesthood and it recoils from the prophetic. They are totally concerned with certain individual saints as alone trustworthy of sanctity. And they are profoundly correct, in that they await little from external churchly reforms, such as transpire within the political realm. But they are profoundly incorrect in this, that they are opposed to that prophetic breathing of the Spirit, which has to bring for us a religious renewal and a consummation of the promises, and which breathes, whence it will [Jn. 3:8]. The church is situated in a great uncertainty and is experiencing both an inward and outward crisis, unprecedented in its seriousness. Through its historical trappings the church has been immersed in worldly elements and is bound up with processes, transpiring within the state, in the realm of Caesar. And from that side there inevitably has to occur churchly reform, a civil-political reform of the churchly structure. The church is unable to assume a role in the historical process of growth, and it has to be freed from its old connections with the state. But at its core the church at an ineffable depth is immersed in Divine life. And it is necessary therein to seek out the sanctities of the church, against which the gates of hell will not prevail. Within the depths of the spiritual life of the church there has to occur a certain creative stirring, opening up something new, something incomprehensible yet from within, something quite other from the greater part of those active in churchly politics. But in our modernmost Orthodox thought there is no trend towards churchly reform, no trend towards a new revelation. It wallows its way in an atmosphere of psychical reaction against the year 1905 and bears but a restorational character.


It is very instructive a matter to compare the Moscow Orthodox trend against that of the Kiev Orthodox trend, which is grouped around the journal, “Christian thought”. The Kiev current, represented chiefly by the group of professors of the Kiev Theological Academy — V. Ekzemplyarsky, banished from the Academy for an article on L. Tolstoy, P. Kudryatsev, V. Zavitnevich and others — are ever long since Orthodox. Those involved in this current are not caught up in getting converted into Orthodoxy, they dwell within it ever and initially. In the religious regard they are very conservative, very ortodoks, in them is no sort of a dynamics of religious thought, and unacceptable to them are suchlike Moscow novelties, as an aesthetic and erotic rapture over Sophia, threatening to transform it into a fourth hypostasis [of the Trinity] and swallow up the religion of Christ. These people are poor in thought in comparison with Father P. Florensky, in them is a greater simplicity, and the Orthodox manner of life for them is not an object of aesthetico-mystical a sort of delectation and taste. But it would seem, that in their total orthodoxness of Orthodoxy there is more heartfelt a directness, more immediate an awareness of Christ, more a sensing of oneself within the very bosom of the Orthodox Church and the Orthodox manner of life. They are somewhat leery of mysticism and in accord with tradition they safeguard churchly Christianity moreso in opposition to mysticism, rather than dabbling in it. This makes them religiously frozen in place, conservative, timid as regards new religious themes, insufficiently refined. But this also sets upon their Orthodoxy the seal of an especial integrity and unique pureness in its safeguarding. The safeguarding of Orthodoxy by Father P. Florensky — is something murky, distrustful, not free of an aesthetic dallying, decadent. The safeguarding of Orthodoxy by V. Ekzemplyarsky is the guarding of a simple heartfelt faith of the Galilean fishermen, such as is revealed to infants and hidden from the wise. Father P. Florensky tends more to believe in the power of the Anti-Christ and with this faith concurs also his vital values. V. Ekzemplyarsky moreso believes in the power of Christ. And yet this Kievan thoroughly conservative Orthodoxy, nowise wanting to hear anything about a new revelation, still nonetheless with all its heart and all its will has been striving for the reform of the church, for its deliverance from slavery, for the democratisation of the church. In the social-churchly regard the representatives of this current — are progressives and democrats, opponents of the domination over churchly life by the princes of the church and against the compulsory tying in the church with the state. In a certain sense they are more faithful to the legacy of Khomyakov, than are the Moscow Orthodox. They hold dear the Sobornost’-Communality of the people of the Church, and it is from within the church that they want to reform it, to cleanse and renew it. They do not want a reformation, such as may be understood in the Lutheran sense, while they also do not seek for more profoundly spiritual a turnabout within Christianity, such as may be bound up with the possibility of a new revelation. But their outlook is of benefit towards that external reform of the Orthodox Church, which is inevitable from all points of view, even such as may not be specifically religious.

Our whole church renewal movement, striving towards the reform of the church upon conservatively religious a basis, clearly has to be aware of that enormous significance, which in this matter involves the perestroika-restructuring of our state civil structure, and the activity of the State Duma. The ties of dependence upon the State Duma are not great, and less a dependency upon the secular realm, than that, which exists in our synodal arrangement. The incontrovertible process of the secularisation of the state is likewise a process of the liberation of the church and its significance yet in the final end is religious. However, so that within the state inwardly there should be realised religious ends and that an immanent religious energy should become active, it is necessary ultimately to repudiate “the Christian state”, with which has grown up so many an intolerable lie and association of servility. Then only will there be freely decided the questions concerning the relationship of Orthodoxy inwardly towards Catholicism and inwardly towards the Old Ritualists, the Old Believers, and sectarianism. A church of domination can never spiritually become dominant, this — is a law of spiritual life. Spiritual dominance demands freedom. This — is an external aspect of churchly renewal, which has to be apparent to everyone, but from which are averted the eyes of the bearers of the modernmost Orthodox thought, caught up in the temptations of the old theocracy. The inward aspect however is bound up with the creative spiritual life, in which is enkindled a new revelation of man. But this already goes beyond the bounds of the theme concerning the relationship of Orthodox thought towards the reform of the church. And it mustneeds be noted, that at present there tend very complexly to be interwoven for us motifs religio-restorative and motifs religio-reformative. The religiously new however can be created only by motifs religio-creative.

Nikolai  Berdyaev.

14/27  jan. 1917

©  2007  by Fr. S. Janos


REFORMA  TSERKVA.  Originally published in the Moscow daily gazette “Utro Rossii”, 1917, No. 14, 14/27 January. This is a Berdyaev article missed by T. Klepinina in her “Berdiaev Bibliographie”, and hence lacks a Klepinina # in following her coding.

The present article in Russian text has been republished in the 2004 anthology of Berdyaev articles (some previously unavailable in recent reprints) under cover title “Mutnye liki” [“Murky Figures”], taking its name from title of one of Berdyaev’s articles contained therein. Moskva, 2004, Kanon+, p. 277-281.