The Orthodox Schism and Schismatic Communism1

Konstantin Konstantinovich Ivanov

1. "Holy Russia": Spiritual Roots of the 17th-century Schism

This essay is devoted to religious issues surrounding the 17th-century schism in the Orthodox church. I wish to discuss 19th-century problems which led to the appearance of communism in Russia but are essentially connected with that schism. On this question we are indebted to Nikolai Berdiaev and, even without fully supporting his positions, must credit him for discernment on spiritual issues of Russian history. In his Origin and Meaning of Russian Communism Berdiaev drew connections between the schism and the ideology of the Russian intelliнgentsia, and also connected Russian Bolshevism and the ideology of the intelliнgentsia. As a religious thinker, Berdiaev examined religious motives at the founнdations of Russian history, and even viewed the entire history of Russia from the perspective of the schism as a religious problem.

We must remember that before the revolution Russian scholars were preнvented by state-imposed censorship from speaking freely about the schism. After the revolution Soviet historians neglected religious problems. But Russian emigre thinkers did study the schism, and among them Berdiaev went so far as to claim that schismatic behavior was common, and even defined Russian history tragiнcally. But he warned that "it would be a mistake to think that the religious

K. K. Ivanov, "Raskol'nicheskii kharakter russkogo kommunizma,"published as "Intelligentsiia i khristianskaia mysl' v Rossii" [The intelligentsia and Christian thought in Russia], in Fenomen ros-siiskoi intelligentsii: htoriia i psikhologiia [The phenomenon of the Russian intelligentsia: History and psychology] (St. Petersburg: Nestor, 2000), 207-22.

N. Berdiaev, Istoki i smysl russkogo kommunizma [The origin and meaning of Russian comнmunism (Moscow: Nauka, 1990); the work was translated by R. M. French as The Origin of Rusнsian Communism (London, 1937/1948). In my discussion I will start with quotations from this work, and will also refer to Georges Florovsky's [Georgii Florovskii] Puti russkogo bogosloviia (Paris, 1937), trans, by R. L. Nichols as Ways of Russian Theology, vols. 5 and 6 of the Collected Works of Georges Florovsky (Belmont, MA: Nordland Publishing Co., 1979). I also use Vasilii V. Zen-kovskii's htoriia russkoi filosofii (Leningrad: Ego, 1991), trans, by George L. Kline as A History of Russian Philosophy, (New York: Columbia University Press, 1953). [Please note that translations of these works given in the text of the article here are original; page references to English translations of French, Nichols, and Kline respectively are given for the convenience of the reader. Trans.} Helleman, Wendy, ed. The Russian Idea: In Search of a New Identity. Bloomington, IN: Slavica, 2004, 129-36.


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schism arose exclusively from a superstitious adherence to ritual among the Rusнsian people. At issue was the question of whether the Russian kingdom was truly Orthodox, and the Russian people really carried out their Messianic vocation. While the low cultural level of the clergy, ignorance, and superstition played a role, these are quite inadequate to explain an event of such magnitude, particuнlarly judging by its consequence: the schism. Among the Russian people a suspiнcion arose that the Orthodox kingdom as "Third Rome" had been destroyed, and they were facing a betrayal of true faith."

The well-known historian of Russian philosophy V. Zenkovskii also writes that the schism was certainly "a phenomenon of much greater significance than has usually been thought." This schism was important, as other religious histoнrians have noted, for the wave of apocalyptic feelings which took hold of the peoнple, the shock at the terrible spiritual deception and betrayal of what was sacred. It seemed that the Antichrist had come, that the end times had begun. Florovsky agrees with Berdiaev on the source of apocalypticism: "It was certainly not a question of rite; the theme and mystery of the Russian schism was the Antiнchrist__The entire sense and spirit of the first resistance to the schism consists

not in "blind" commitment to specific rites or ordinary "trifles," but in this apocalyptic suspicion." Suddenly it seemed as if the Third Rome had already beнcome the kingdom of the Devil. Florovsky concludes that "the schism arose from disenchantment." In other words, an initial spiritual "enchantment" had been lost; here we note one of the fundamental causes of the split in the church.

The Muscovite kingdom, which considered itself the Third Rome mainнtained a combination of conceptions, confusing an ideal of the kingdom of Christ, or kingdom of righteousness, with that of being a powerful state, ruling over the unrighteous. Berdiaev tells us that "the schism meant the discovery of a contradiction, resulting from that mixture." According to Zenkovskii too, "it is important to note the idea of the special mission of the Russian people, of the Russian kingdom. It was precisely in the 16th century when this teaching about "Holy Russia" was first promoted." Evidence for such a mood can be found in the (late 15th to early 16th century) position of Iosif Volokolamskii: "The tsar is like an ordinary man by nature, but in his position and authority he is like God.'

3 Berdiaev, Istoki, 10; cf. French, 11.

Zenkovskii, htoriia russskoi fdosofii, 52; cf. Kline, 40.

Florovskii, Putt russkogo bogosloviia, 69; cf. Nichols, 5: 98. Cf. Florovsky: "This frightened cenнtury ends with an apocalyptic convulsion, a terrible attack of apocalyptic fanaticism" {Puti russkogo bogosloviia, 58; Nichols, 5: 87).

Florovskii, Puti russkogo bogosloviia, 67; Nichols, 5: 97-98. 7 Berdiaev, Istoki, 11; cf. French, 12.

Zenkovskii, Istoriia, 47; cf. Kline , 36.


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Similarly, Metropolitan Makarii (contemporary of Ivan IV) is quoted as saying, "God has chosen you, ю Sovereign, to rule this land in his place, and placed you on the throne, entrusting you with mercy and the life of all of great Orthodoxy.

The schism was based on a popular perception of the Orthodox kingdom. Florovsky refers to the schism as a "socio-apocalyptic Utopia." This Utopia was closely connected with the idea of "Moscow as the Third Rome," thought to have been introduced by the monk Philotheus in his correspondence with Tsar Ivan the Terrible: "Blessed tsar, you should observe and consider that all the Christian kingdoms have flowed together into one single state, yours, and that two Romes have fallen, while the third Rome is still standing and a fourth there will never be. Your Christian kingdom will never fall into the hands of others." Philotheus speaks of the "Christian kingdom" as the "kingdom of God." And in this sense "the theme of schism is not a question of the 'ancient rite' but 'a kingнdom."'11 The Utopia of Russia as a Holy Kingdom, for schismatics "turned out to be the kingdom of the Antichrist." Zenkovskii notes that "Russian ecclesiastical consciousness paid a high price for the dream, for the Utopian interpretation of the theocratic idea of Christianity," and continues that

in the historiosophical poem about the Third Rome, ecclesiastical conнsciousness of the sacred authority of the tsar and of its own universal mission led to an identification of the two orders of existence. Since 'the natural historical process' could no longer be understood clearly as a 'holy kingdom' it was regarded as the kingdom of the Antichrist. An enormous sacrifice was brought by Old Believers on the altar of a sacred dream...

Berdiaev notes that a "sharp nationalization" of the Russian church had already occurred by the time of the schism.

2. Nationalization of Christianity

We must be clear about the catastrophe of the nationalization of Christianity in Russia, and its catastrophic impact on the Christian church and its preaching. It was both an ecclesiastic and social catastrophe. But if we take a deeper look, we also find in it a punishment for the prior spiritual catastrophe of nationalization of Christianity in Russia. "The Orthodox faith is the Russian faith. If it is not the

Zenkovskii, htoriia, 48; cf. Kline, 36. Florovskii, Puti russkogo bogosloviia, 67; cf. Nichols, 5: 98. "ibid.

Florovskii, Puti russkogo bogosloviia, 69; cf. Nichols, 5: 99. Zenkovskii, /storiia, 54-55; cf. Kline, 41-43.


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Russian faith, it is not Orthodox faith."14 The consequences of this process are so far reaching that they are with us even today in explicit and crude forms of reнligious nationalism, simply identifying religious ideas with national ones. Many who call themselves "Orthodox believers" understand this as an expression of being Russian. Such "Orthodox" believers, when asked whether they believe in God, are puzzled: "What does that have to do with God?"

In Russian history nationalization of faith expressed itself in more dangerous ways, introducing proud dreams and irrational Utopias. National and state interнests, confused with religious ones, perverted them, and became perverted in turn. The roots of Russian communism can be traced to religious nationalism opening a wide path to substitutes for religion. The nationalist Utopia modified itself into a Communist one (even though the latter long claimed an internationalist ideolнogy). Russian ideology finally immersed everything in one irrational stream of distorted Utopian religiosity, freely borrowing ideas from the West, including Marxism itself and ideas of Nietzsche, which once also seemed so attractive. Demagogic ideology can easily be manipulated. In contemporary history we find the same extravagant religious behavior, rushing from one extreme to another, ending with confusion.

3. The Schism and the Russian Intelligentsia

In the schism nationalized religious feelings were injured and expressed themнselves most painfully. They began to focus on questions of power in political and secular life, and thus began to lose their religious content. The schismatic ideolнogy finally gave birth to the godless revolutionary ideology of the Russian intelliнgentsia, one full of irritation and bitterness at human life, under the pretext of righteous indignation. If we look more deeply, we note that God himself was the object of their irritation. "The intelligentsia took on the schismatic character which is so characteristic of Russians. Themselves living in separation from the surrounding reality, which they regarded as evil, the intelligentsia worked out a fanatic schismatic morale."

Berdiaev himself did not notice that the pain from such schismatic irritation had turned into rebellion against God, for he spoke of this revolt with sympathy-"The source of atheism was compassion with people, and the impossibility of beнing reconciled with God because of excessive evil and suffering in life.... It was an atheism arising from ethical pathos, from love of good and justice." But what kind of compassion is this? Here we can easily recognize the approach or Nietzsche, who regarded compassion as the main obstacle for human develop-

14 Berdiaev, Istoki, 10; cf. French, 11.

15 Berdiaev, Istoki, 34; cf. French, 40.

16 Ibid.


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ment. And what kind of limitation does Berdiaev have in mind when he says that "the Russians became atheists out of pity, compassion, and the impossibility of enduring suffering"? Superficially the intelligentsia expressed their experience in terms of bitter criticism of the authorities. But above all, they expressed hereby an irresistible desire for personal self-affirmation. Criticism was experienced as a spiritual mission. A righteous self-consciousness characterized their ideology; later, in their collision with the government, the consciousness of the "martyr" also characterized them, if not overtly.

Even while criticizing the ideology of the intelligentsia, Berdiaev is comнpletely on its side. In writing of the Russian intelligentsia naturalizing a percepнtion of holiness and repentance, he says, "They did not understand the mystery of the Cross, but were nonetheless capable of sacrifice and self-denial. In this they distinguished themselves favorably from Christians of their time." "Theirs was a structure of soul which gave birth to saints," Berdiaev writes of Dobroliubov and Chernyshevskii.18 With reference to Dobroliubov he adds, "He had a strong feeling of being a sinner, and an inclination to constant repenнtance." And, "Chernyshevskii was a very humble man; he had a Christian soul and his character bore the marks of sanctity."

Striving for Utopian ideas, the intelligentsia wanted to escape the inner bankнruptcy which, in the final analysis, had a spiritual origin, although Russian hisнtorians have typically reduced it to national and social causes, or considered it "groundless" {bespochvennyi). "Superfluous people" (Jishnie liudi) first appeared among the bored aristocracy, and then among the pretentious "raznochintsy." In their very Russian concern with the question "to be, or not to be" for the state and society, they ended up asking in a simple-minded way, "What should be done?" {chto delat') This credo of bored idleness seemed to be extraordinarily sigнnificant in the romantic culture of the time. Berdiaev lyrically sympathizes with the ideology of emptiness, explaining its romantic and pantheistic position on social problems in terms of its religious self-consciousness. He explains the appearance of "superfluous people" through social causes. "Discord with reality made Russian people inactive, and this produced a type of "superfluous people."20

Yet in its final substitution for religious feelings this ideology carried within 'tself a spiritual vacuum, more precisely identified as "nihilism." "Nihilism is a typical Russian phenomenon.... We are all nihilists, Dostoevskii says. The Rusнsian intelligentsia denied God, the spirit, the soul, standards, and higher val-

Berdiaev, htoki, 39; cf. French, 47.

1 R

Berdiaev, htoki, 41; cf. French, 49. Berdiaev, htoki, 41-42; cf. French, 49-50. Berdiaev, htoki, 32; cf. French, 39.


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ues.' A spiritual emptiness served as a "space" for the unfolding of Utopian dreams. These dreams were mostly focused on the state: what kind of state ought it to be, or not to be, and what kind of state it really was. Berdiaev concludes that "the Russian intelligentsia was finally formed as a schismatic type. They always refer to themselves as 'we', and to the state and its authorities as 'they.'" In this way they expressed the previously mentioned obsession of hatred towards the authorities. Yet theirs was a dreaming consciousness which regarded true reality as a strange "it," while the world of its dreams represented something much closer to itself, as "ours."

4. Russian Messianism: Church and State

Russians began to idealize their state and exalt their nationality. Russians themнselves regarded their country as a bastion of Orthodoxy; the Russian people were likewise regarded as bearers of true Christianity, a "God-bearing" people {bogo-nosets) by nature and race. We need not look, with Berdiaev, for an analogy with Israelite self-consciousness, also considering itself as specially "chosen by God." Such a view was encouraged by 15th-century political and ecclesiastical-political events: the Union of Florence (1439) and fall of Constantinople (1453). Accordнing to Zenkovskii, "after the Union of Florence the Russian clergy completely lost confidence in the Greeks who welcomed this union. The Russian church began to consider itself the single guardian of Christian truth in its purity." "After the fall of Byzantium they began to affirm strongly the idea of "a wanderнing kingdom"; the first two "Romes" (Rome itself and Constantinople) had fallen; where was the third, the new Rome? Russian thought adamantly and conнfidently considered Moscow as the Third Rome, for only in Russia, according to Russian understanding, was the Christian faith maintained in purity.'' On the other hand, Russian tsars were constantly concerned about ruling a country such as Russia, which was notoriously difficult to govern. There was a strong temptaнtion to acquire additional religious power over the minds and souls of the people. Berdiaev affirms "Ivan the Terrible ... [as the one] who taught that the tsar should not only rule the state but also save souls."

Because the people connected their godliness with a cult of State, the spiriнtual shock of the schism was all the worse. This was caused by a disillusionment with both the State and Church. In popular consciousness State and Church were merged in such a way as to include even the sanctity of God. Here we note

21а Berdiaev, Istoki, 37; cf. French, 45.

22 Berdiaev, Istoki, 25; cf. French, 25. Zenkovskii, htoriia, 46; cf. Kline, 34. Zenkovskii, htoriia, 47; cf. Kline, 35.

25 Berdiaev, Istoki, 10; cf. French, 11.


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the introduction of an idolatry, for which, according to biblical teachings, naнtions are rigorously punished by God.

Russian scholars have long recognized false Christian ideas of authority among the causes of the Schism; yet analysis has commonly been restricted to external historical reasons. No doubt Russia inherited from Byzantium the state-church relationship of the Church submitting itself to the State in the person of the tsar. Most scholars who recognize such "reasons" for the merging of secular and Church authority imply unspokenly that whatever the reasons, they themнselves need not take any responsibility for them. Although secular historiography may confine itself to such "reasons" our present discussion of the spiritual founнdations of history looks for deeper reasons underlying the above-mentioned "reasons." Why have Russians appealed to the Byzantine tradition? Why have they adopted the diseases and distortions of this tradition in worshipping God? From which human roots have our national troubles arisen?

I am convinced that such roots exist, and that they determine our personal and national history. The roots of human responsibility lie in the depth of the soul, where an individual or a nation mysteriously defines its relationship with God. This is best expressed in the religious faith of a people or the distinct indiнvidual. It is not a matter of dispute, but the necessary background for the quesнtion being considered.

5. Residual Paganism in Russian Religion

The nationalization of Christianity represents a relapse of paganism in the Rusнsian religious consciousness; it clearly testifies to an inadequate appropriation of Christianity in Russia. False religious ideas of authority, with their tragic conнsequences for Russian history, witness to this residual paganism. To define our paganism accurately we must also note failure in affirming essential Christian poнsitions on repentance and the depth of human sin. Russian pantheism and paнganism has essentially expressed itself in a failure of repentance, more than a tenнdency to rites or speculations.

The tragedy of Russian history focuses on problems of spiritual life and Christian faith in Russia. The problem of faith in Russia is often defined by residual" pantheist and pagan elements in popular religious consciousness. Central to such an element is an "indulgent" attitude to sin, an overly "kind" atнtitude to sinners, and intolerance for punishment of sin, all rooted in an inadeнquate grasp of essential Christian teachings on repentance. On such a religious basis only two extreme reactions to authority are possible: a Utopian idealization ░f power, or (after the first religious collision with the reality of authority, given 'n the Schism) its anarchic rejection.


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In Russia the collapse of the Utopia of power with the Schism generated an anarchic tendency: at first in the religious form of "schismatics" (raskolniki) and later, in the secular revolutionary intelligentsia. Both tendencies misunderstood a true Christian idea of authority. The Utopian choice did so implicitly and essenнtially; the anarchic secular choice, formally and explicitly. Russian communism which arose from the combination of these tendencies, also took advantage of them after it had become established as state ideology. Without at this point anaнlyzing all the political or social forces of that period of Russian history, I only want to clarify the spiritual channel of these events, and the peculiar spiritual problems determined by Russian history, namely the problems of sin and auнthority in correlation.

We conclude this discussion with a suggestion for solving these problems from a theological perspective. Although widely regarded as an affirmation of a strong central government, the assertion that "all authority comes from God" (Romans 13.1) must be understood in terms of a triangular relationship of God/authority/sin; we must reject its delegation of all authority to the state. A fuller Christian understanding of human sin and need for repentance can help solve Russia's problems with respect to the spiritual basis of political authority. It recognizes the righteousness of God that does not tolerate sin; the depth of salvaнtion can only be understood by recognizing the depth of judgment on sin. Yet God did not give up on his people; he sent his own Son. God's love for mankind should not be confused with an all-forgiving humanistic tolerance and compasнsion blind to sin, which supports a political Utopia demanding no repentance or sacrifice. God's love cost him his Son; it meant the cross.

True Christianity does not rebel against divine or human authority when experiencing the trials of life. Nor does it simply endorse any use of authority; repentance gives patience to accept earthly punishment, without excluding the right of opposing abuse of power. The example of Christ gives strength to endure unfair punishment. Repentance eliminates the split in the depth of our soul, first in its relation to God, and then in relation to earthly life and authority, both of which are given from God. Only repentance allows for a full eradication of the roots of religious schism, which has sent out its destructive shoots on Russian soil from the 17th-century schism to our communist and post-communist epoch.


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