As I promised yesterday I am going to offer up a few thoughts on Alexei Khomiakov’s thought and it’s relation to modern Orthodoxy. I am by no means qualified to do so but I will try to make something coherent.
Alexei Khomiakov (1804-1860) is most well known for his treatise on the unity of the Church entitled The Church is One and as the founder of the so-called “Slavophile” thought circle. [By the way: This page is linked only because it has a very good introduction to Khomiakov and his life. I in absolutely no way endorse anything else that may be found therein.] This essay was not published until after Khomiakov’s death so it is interesting to see the reception that Khomiakov had during his life and after his death in relationship to his writings. Khomiakov was first known as a poet (unfortunately I’ve only found one translated poem). Here is the one that I have found:
Oh, grief afflicts me! There descends thick gloom
In the distant West, the land of holy wonders:
The former lights are fading, burning out,
And the brightest stars are tumbling from the heavens…
Oh! Since creation earth has never seen
Above itself such fiery lights of heaven!
But grief! Their age has passed, a deathly veil descends
And covers up the West. There shall be gloom so deep…
So hear the voice of fate, arise in a new glow,
Awake, O sleep-bound East!
This poem illustrates the biggest question for Russia during the 19th century (now that I think harder it was a question longer than that, but I’ll leave it be…) – What is/should be Russia’s relationship to the West? Has, indeed, their age passed? This question was approached from different points of view, with different aims and with different goals. For Khomiakov, as a faithful Orthodox, this question, of course, was looked at from a spiritual point of view. He looked at the schism that had created by the Christians of the West by the breaking of unity with the Church:
In the ninth century the West, unfaithful to the tradition of the Church, appropriated the right to alter the ecumenical creed without consulting with its Eastern brothers and sisters… What was the inevitable logical consequence of this usurpation? When the logical principle of knowledge expressed in the exposition of the creed was separated from the moral principle of love expressed by the unanimity of the Church, a protestant anarchy was established in practice. … No sophistry can allow one to avoid this consequence. Either the truth of faith is given to the union of all and to their mutual love in Jesus Christ, or it can be given to every individual without regard to all other individuals.
For Khomiakov the schism was a breaking of the bond of love “because it [the West] received death itself into its bosom when it decided to imprison itself within a dead letter; because it condemned itself to death when it decided to be a religious monarchy without organic principle”.
Khomiakov, along with his associates, had many interactions and debates with the Westernizers from the 1830s to the 1850s; however most of this took place in verbal interactions in salons or in personal correspondence. The government was very weary of Khomiakov’s “extreme” patriotism. In the words of an attendant of the Empress Khomiakov
shocks polite society very much because he wears a beard and dresses like a peasant…Government people call him a red revolutionary, and consider it very daring for anyone to have a greater mind and greater patriotism than they.
For Khomiakov Russian patriotism and Orthodoxy went hand in hand as he saw the Russian social structure, which had always been based upon the mir–the organic village commune, as inherently Orthodox. Khomiakov’s patriotism was one of the main reasons why he wasn’t allowed to publish during his lifetime. The ecclesiological essays published during his lifetime were published under a pseudonym ignotus [The Unknown One] and in the foreign press. These essays are responses to various articles by Western Christians, and his responses are generally clarifications about Orthodoxy and, I won’t mince words, condemnation of “Romanism” and Protestantism.
However, for all Khomiakov critique of the spiritual path of the West he did not totally discount everything about it. He was quite interested in the mechanization/electrification of Russia and even exhibited an engine in London that he had invented.
So now I will just state some general thoughts on Khomiakov’s acceptance in the Orthodox world. [I realized I’m going to have to do a lot more research in that area.] Since Khomiakov’s time there have been many critiques of the “Slavophile” school and, of course, as Khomiakov was at its head these critiques mainly focus on him (at least the ones I’ve seen). After Khomiakov’s death in 1860 his works began to be published in Russia and an introduction to his collected works was written by his good friend and pupil Yuri Samarin in 1867. He concluded this glowing appraisal of Khomiakov with a bang in describing him as a “teacher of the Church”—one who “by a logical clarification of one or another side of Church teaching, could win for the Church a decisive victory over some error or other”. I’m not going to analyze the validity of this statement at the present time but I will just move on to something else…
Fr. Pavel Florensky wrote a short essay on Khomiakov in 1916 that is highly critical of the above statement of Samarin and of Khomiakov’s way of reasoning in his critique of Catholicism and Protestantism. I’m not in a capacity to completely analyze this critique so I will just put that fact out there.
Berdiaev wrote a book on Khomiakov of which I’ve read the three chapters that have been translated; however, I’m not even going to venture on that territory…
After all this reading I’ve realized that as with all Orthodox writers (and saints) one has to take out what is beneficial and, depending on the leftovers, not put on the same level or even disregard some of their thought. In Orthodoxy there is no one authority but Christ and all others are seen through his eyes.
One thing that I have noticed in all of this, as I have many times before, is the wonderful harmony we have in Orthodoxy between our various thinkers and saints, and that it takes all of them to make the world go round…