N. A. Berdyaev (Berdiaev)
(1925 – #302)


  The Russian dispersal represents a quite exceptional and singular phenomenon in history. As regards its dimensions, this phenomenon can only be compared with the Jewish Diaspora. Outside the native-land, the Rodina, there have been displaced millions of Russian people of very diverse social segments, professions, intellectual trends. In its composition the Russian emigration is very complex and very different from the emigration in the era of the French Revolution. To it belong the frightened and angry common folk. But to it belong likewise our highest cultural stratum, the blossom of Russian culture, of Russian writers, scholars, painters, artists. An enormous number of Russian youth, having passed through the Civil War, is dispersed throughout all the world, to work in the factories, and to study in the highest institutions of learning in Western Europe. It is difficult to imagine for oneself a greater historical tragedy, than that, which the Russian people experience. Tremendous Russian energies have been rendered as though unnecessary for Russia, not, certainly, for the eternal Russia, but for the Russia of the present day. Christians, however, should not think that the lot, dealt them in life, is by chance and without meaning. It is not merely by the will of the Bolsheviks, but also by the will of God’s Providence that the Russian people have been dispersed across all the face of the earth. With this is connected not only the suffering and torment of being torn from one’s native-land, but also a positive mission. But has the Russian emigration been conscious of this mission? This mission cannot consist of some arrogant attitude of superiority over those, who have remained inside Russia, in the cultivation of a sense of malice and vengeful spite, in petty political hostility, based on fictions. This mission consists first of all in spiritual tasks, in the gathering and forging out of spiritual powers, the spiritual surmounting of a maliciously vengeful attitude to the tribulations sent down by God. The Russian people have been torn away by force from the good life, they have been freed from the enslavement to material objects, and by the will of God they pass through a severe school of ascesis, which they did not want to enter under their own will. But it is a relief for them, the possibility to return to a spiritual life, to the inner man, to get down to the depths, to love the other world moreso, than this world. We all bear the consequences of our sins and we can all hope at a better life, grounded in repentance. No one can regard himself without sin and make an innocent expression of face, seeing all the evil of life only in others. Such — is not a Christian attitude towards life. The Russian emigration is not comprised of guiltless people, as distinct from the guilty, dwelling in Russia. It is comprised of the guilty, and its positive spiritual mission can be fulfilled in the world only by a consciousness of its own culpability. “Rightists” ought to be aware of this no less, than the “leftists”. Russian cultural society, now recoiling in terror at the anti-Christian form of the Russian Revolution, betrayed a thousand times over its Christian legacy and little thought about the realisation of Christian truth. The path, however, of going contrary to the Christian legacy, the path of negating the Christian truth, now leads to its logical end in Bolshevism. But it was not the Bolsheviks that began it. We all, rightists and leftists, began it and however remotely have had an hand in this path. The evil began with those who were the lords of life, and was only brought to its logical end, by those who rose up against them. And the movement against Bolshevism can be based on principles, just as opposed to the Christian legacy, just as scornful to the truth of Christ, just as covetous, as there is in Bolshevism itself. And therein will be no blessing of God upon this movement. The malice, the hatred and vengefulness is all that same poison as exists in Bolshevism, whatever the lofty words these conditions might veil themselves under. The task likewise  of the cultural segment of the Russian emigration is a spiritual task of an awareness of this truth, that there is only one movement possible against the kingdom of the Anti-Christ, and  in which resides the power of God, this — is the movement of the realisation of the truth of Christ and inspired by it. “This sort [of devil] is cast out only by prayer and by fasting” (Mt. 17: 21). The consciousness of this religious truth does not mean the preaching of passivity. On the contrary, this is the call to an utmost of spiritual activity, which will lead also to activity both societal and historical. But the societal activity is sterile and empty, if it does not issue forth from spiritual activity, from a transformation of spirit, from a finding of spiritual power. The evil powers, acting in the Revolution and accumulated over the course of the old Russian life, can be overcome only by the new and creative powers of good, revealed as a result of lived-through experience.

         The Russian emigration, faced with a prolonged dwelling outside its native-land, is threatened by disintegration, by de-nationalisation, the loss of its connections with Russia, with the Russian land and the Russian people. Therein each can be transformed into a split-off atom, concerned exclusively with the maintainance of his own life. Only by an exertive spiritual life, only by fidelity to the idea of Russia can the Russian dispersal preserve itself, as a single Russian people, organically connected with the Russian people, so as to preserve in Soviet Russia the fidelity to the same idea. The schism-like split between the emigres and Russia, resulting under Bolshevism, has to be overcome. On this depends the future of the Russian people. The processes, transpiring in the emigration, of themselves have no significance, they have significance only in an organic connection with those processes, which transpire in Russia itself. And the split ought first of all  to be overcome spiritually, religiously. Its surmounting signifies a surmounting of the emigre psychology. On purely political grounds, it only deepens the split between the Russians abroad and the Russians in Russia, and within the emigration itself it but augments the hostility. There is an oneness that can be posited spiritually and Russians mustneeds seek it around the Orthodox Church. Only through the Orthodox Church can the emigration sense itself as one with the Russian people. Only in the religious stirring do the Russians in Russia and the Russians abroad comprise one spiritual organism. It is from whence only that there can begin both a national unification and restoration and perhaps be prepared a brotherly meeting of the severed segments of the Russian people. The Russian idea always was a religious idea. This is the idea of Holy Russia, and not the imperialistic idea of Great Russia. And here is why the task of the best part of the Russian emigration involves most of all the area of spiritual culture and religious life. The Russian emigration is called to preserve the legacy of Russian spiritual culture, and to the extent of its powers, to facilitate its creative developement. For it, however, the political task is secondary and derivative, subordinate to the spiritual-religious task. The political changes will transpire first of all in Russia itself, the action has to manifest itself there. The Russian people, having surmounted the Revolution inwardly, will decide its own fate, and nothing on the outside will change that. Politics is action, and not mere word-play nor doctrinal rhetorics. Politics presupposes action amidst its own people. After the Revolution, politics can only be post-revolutionary, not pre-revolutionary. And we would not at all deny such a politics. But in an era of crises and historic upheavals, when the old order of life stands destroyed, when nothing remains of the old social structure of society, the restoration of life ought to begin with the restoration of the spiritual organism of the people, with the change and restoration of the religious beliefs of the people. In Russia everything will be determined by the beliefs of the people, by its spiritual condition. It is utopian, mere vapid and unreal dreams, to build societal and political plans, whilst ignoring and scorning the societal and the people’s psyche, the spiritual drift, the defining beliefs. In Russia first of all is faced the colossal task of spiritual enlightenment and the enlightening of those fallen away under the old ways, getting the masses of the people to rouse itself into tempestuous activity. There mustneeds be spiritual preparation for this. And with this undertaking is bound up the first task of the emigration. Only abroad can the Russian spiritual culture express itself and be at freedom to gather up its creative religious powers for the coming national-cultural rebirth of Russia. And these powers should focus first of all in the youth, who thirst for a new Christian life, and not merely for the restoration of the old sinful life. The religious life in modern Russia is an exploit and heroism, it is more intense a thing there, than it is abroad. There, and not here, appear the confessors and martyrs. There the assertion of one’s spiritual freedom is already uniquely a martyrdom. A free breath there, contending against the poisons, presupposes a great exertion of spirit. And in reviewing the martyrs, in passing by the people making the effort, it befits the emigration, in aspiring to live a worthy life, to lift the hat and lowly bow the head. But in Russia at present the religious, the philosophic and scientific thought cannot express itself, there cannot be a totally free literature nor organs of print, and organisations of Christian youth are impossible. These tasks rely upon the emigration. And up to the present these tasks have been insufficiently met. The emigration has been hindered from fulfilling its authentic task by a false consciousness of itself as separate from the present day Russian nation, or even as the sole genuine Russian nation, transplanted abroad.

       There is still another mission, of which the Orthodox portion of the Russian emigration has not been sufficiently aware. It is not by chance that Russian Orthodox people have been brought into physical contact with the Western world, with the Christian West. Orthodoxy has an universal significance and it cannot continue to settle into a nationally-restrictive and isolated condition, it ought to become a spiritual force, active in the world. Russians, remaining faithful to the faith of their fathers, are compelled to live amidst a foreign world, or a world godless and irreligious, or a world that is Christian, but confessing a different Christianity. And there is possible a different setting in attitude towards Western Christianity. Russian Orthodox people of course can remain in a condition of isolation and restrictedness, they can assert their Orthodoxy timidly and with suspicion, everywhere seeing danger and temptation, refusing any spiritual togetherness or collaboration with the Western spiritual world, with people of other Christian confessions. This is a relict experience of the old psychology, quite unsuitable for our era, a psychology of weakness and ugly self-obsession, a psychology of relying on the outside help of a state power. On the soil of this psychology sprouts forth mistrust and suspicion, destructive to spiritual health, for creative spiritual life. We can no longer remain shut-in and isolated, nor can we still employ state protection. By the will of God’s Providence we have been sent forth into a community with the Western spiritual world, and we ought to strive to get to know it and enter into brotherly relations with it, associating with it in the name of the struggle against anti-Christian forces. But there can also be the bad in this relationship. Russians can gradually lose the uniqueness of their own spiritual type, they can be torn away from their own national-religious roots, can dissolve away into Western life, having adapted, entering into compromise. Such a sort of setting is altogether unacceptable for us and nothing further need be said of it. But there is still a third setting, the solely correct one. Russian people can remain true to their religious type, they can assert their faith, boldly and openly conscious of its universal significance and from the depths of their spiritual type, from the depths of their faith, and can enter into community with the Christians of the West, can collaborate with them, and they can establish closer brotherly relations between Christians of all the confessions. East and west cannot remain restricted and isolated. And this mustneeds be understood not in the sense of an abstract inter-confessionalism, creatively sterile, but in the sense of the setting of a great spiritual unity from the depths of each confession, through a stirring movement in the depths, vertically and not horizontally, not in the external spatial oecumene. Western Europe ceases to be a monopolistic culture, and in it there is to be sensed exhaustion. And the East, the Russian East first of all, herein assumes a greater world significance than it had earlier.

       The journal “Put” [“The Way”] strives to be an expression of the spiritual and religious tasks of the Russian emigration. This is an Orthodox organ, and together with this, it is connected with the traditions of Russian creative religious thought. The names of Khomyakov, Dostoevsky, Vl. Solov’ev, Bucharev, V. Nesmelov, N. Fedorov are near and dear to the directors of this journal. The idea of Christian freedom was stressed by the Russian religious thought of the XIX Century and we ought to be faithful to it. We have to struggle for the dignity and freedom of the human spirit, which at present is being trampled underfoot. And it represents a struggle on two fronts for the journal “Put”: against the tendencies, which think to find spiritual creativity in a splitting with the Orthodox Church, and against the tendencies, which are hostile to spiritual creativity and exclusively desire reaction and restoration. We proceed from the awareness, that the old world of “modern history” has been destroyed and that a new era in world history has begun. Within Orthodoxy there can be creative currents of rebirth and renewal, answering new inquiries. The position of the Orthodox Church in the world has acutely and catastrophically changed, and before stand new tasks. A new make-up of the Orthodox soul is taking shape, more active, responsive, creative, more manly and fearless. In Russian religious thought there have been brought forth creative ideas, which can make for a Christian renewal. There were problems sharply posited, to which there was given still no clear churchly answer, problems about man and the cosmos, problems of the attitude of Christianity towards culture and history, problems of the Christ-ifying of life. There exists an exclusive understanding of Christianity, as a religion of personal salvation, the denying of a creative attitude towards questions of life both of all mankind and all the world, the lack of resolution in a Christian spirit of questions of culture and the social order, and this manifests itself as a source of the terrible disorders in the Christian world. In the religio-churchly life of the Russian emigration there is a reactionary-restoration current, which as it were desires to return the Church to its old position, forgetting, that the Church was suppressed and degraded, that the relationship between church and state was intolerable for the Christian consciousness, that our old way of life was moreso pagan, than Christian, that much in our society was very little Christian. This current looks upon the Church, as upon a tool for a state and social restoration. We ought with all our powers to strive for the rebirth of Russia, but that its rebirth be in the truth of Christ. It would be madness to re-establish the falsehood and injustice, for which we suffer the chastisement. In the position of Christianity prior to the catastrophe there was injustice and falsehood, also which evoked the catastrophe. Capitalistic society is no less anti-Christian, than is Communistic society. The struggle of bourgeois society and socialistic society is not a struggle of good and evil, — in it is apparent only two forms of evil. The genuine struggle, however, is the struggle of Christ and the spirit of the Anti-Christ, which manifests itself externally in the polar opposite forms. Both the Russian people and all the world, with an unprecedented alacrity, have to face up to the tasks and seriously before the end to comprehend and accept Christianity, to realise it actively and actually in life, not only personal, but social. Upon the ruins of bourgeois society there needs to be built a Christian society, there needs to be used this favourable position, rather than reviving the disintegration of the anti-Christian old society. If however we fail to realise Christian truth in life, then the anti-Christian and the Anti-Christ’s principle will be all more and more victorious. In this is the meaning of our epoch. There mustneeds be an active opposition to the evil of the Anti-Christ, but it must be a Christian opposition and in the name of the Kingdom of Christ. The journal “Put” to the extent of its abilities will assist in the opening up of this awareness within the Russian emigration.

         The path of thought leads us into the path of life, as one of its defining moments. Knowledge assumes a creative role in life. The advancement of intellectual and spiritual culture for Russians is necessary in this era of overall confusion. Otherwise they will remain unarmed for the struggle, which transpires in the world. For the struggle in the modern world there is necessary a perfecting of intellectual and spiritual capabilities. And we desire to assist in the working out of this capability. The masses of the people are falling away from the Christian faith and from the Church, they pass through a sort of quasi-enlightening, through atheism and nihilism, whereas the Intelligentsia and the upper cultural stratum are returning to the Christian faith and the Church. This alters the style of Orthodoxy. It ceases to be cringing, and primarily peasant-like. Answers are needed upon the most complex mental questionings, upon most delicate matters of thought. And we intend to the extent of our abilities to give answer to these questionings, to assist in the advancement of religious awareness.


©  2001  by translator Fr. S. Janos

(1925 – 302 – en)

DUKHOVNYE  ZADACHI  RUSSKOI  EMIGRATSII.  Journal Put’, Sept. 1925, No. 1, p. 3-8.
This “From the Editor” Berdyaev article comprises the initial Preface work launching the Journal Put’, in September 1925. Unsigned article. Text in translation is italicised as in the original.