Khomiakov and Orthodoxy

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…

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12 thoughts on “Khomiakov and Orthodoxy

  1. It is my understanding that Khomiakov was the first Orthodox thinker to fully articulate the idea that a Council or Synod must be accepted by the entire people of God, that is, the whole Church, before it is, essentially, ratified. This belief is extremely common among Orthodox today, though there are some who deny it. The belief makes it all the more easy to deal with the questions regarding council of Florence, etc.

  2. Yes, that’s what I’ve read as well. This is one of the points about which I need to read more.

  3. Yes, that’s what I’ve read as well. This is one of the points about which I need to read more.

  4. In short it seems that Berdyaev went over into Origenism and became obsessed with his “New age of the Holy Spirit” and a form of chiliasm. In his essay he’s mostly analyzing Khomiakov from a strictly “philosophical” (removed from the Orthodoxy that encompases it) point of view and that his thought isn’t in line with his “new age.” St. Pavel Florensky has some choice words about him, if you like I can send them to you. St. Pavel should know, he was in the same circle as Berdyaev. However, Berdyaev wrote a very nice little book on Dostoyevsky. That’s about 2 cents…

  5. In short it seems that Berdyaev went over into Origenism and became obsessed with his “New age of the Holy Spirit” and a form of chiliasm. In his essay he’s mostly analyzing Khomiakov from a strictly “philosophical” (removed from the Orthodoxy that encompases it) point of view and that his thought isn’t in line with his “new age.” St. Pavel Florensky has some choice words about him, if you like I can send them to you. St. Pavel should know, he was in the same circle as Berdyaev. However, Berdyaev wrote a very nice little book on Dostoyevsky. That’s about 2 cents…

  6. Here you go:
    These excerpts are from The Pillar and Ground of the Truth, St. Pavel’s tom. Sometimes they’re hard to understand outside of the context of the whole book…so you may have to read all 500 some odd pages of it…
    “Pre-Christian antiquity’s entire understanding of life and the world was the development of a single category, the category of fatherhood, birth, generation, however it is called. And to clarify the unclear features of their knowledge is just as impossible as it is to develop an underexposed photographic plate; and if one were to keep this plate in the developer past a certain time, the whole image would only become ‘veiled,’ would be covered with a gray shroud, as it were. In the same way, thought that wishes without holiness to perceive the Spirit is ‘veiled.’ By the way, that is precisely what happens to people of the ‘new consciousness.’

    “The main representatives of the ‘new religious consciousness’ are D.S. Merezhkovsky, Z.N. Gippius, and D. Filosofov. In different senses and to different degrees, Andrey Belyi (B. N. Bugaev), N. A. Berdiaev, and others are associated or have been associated with this ‘consciousness.’

    “They [speaking of the Prophets], great and holy, did not see Christ, in order ‘that they without us should not be made perfect.’ [Heb. 11:40] But they almost knew Him—at special times and by the purest minds. At such times their faces trembled with eternal life: this is the Spirit-Dove that had brushed their hearts with its snow-white wing. Just as the perception of God the Word trembled before the fathers and the prophets, so the knowledge of the Holy Spirit trembles before the saints of our time, almost touches them. But, here too, the fullness of time has not yet come; here too, the highest peaks of mankind must wait so ‘that they without us should not be made perfect.’ Their hearts have been purified. Their temple has been swept and put in order so as to receive the Comforter. But our hearts are full of filth. And here the higher wait for the lower, the seeing wait for the blind, the holy wait for the sinful, the living wait for the dead, the spiritual wait for the fleshly, those who run ahead and even anticipate wait for those who are inert and lag behind. Only at rare moments is the curtain of the future pulled open before them.
    ‘That they without us should not be made perfect.’ This explains why, despite their profundity, teachings of the Holy Spirit that have appeared in the history of the Church somehow have not received any response and have remained solitary. In addition, those aspects of Christian life which refer specifically to the Holy Spirit, i.e., Christian freedom, filiation, creativity, and spirituality, were falsified or distorted by various heretics who willfully desired to bring these aspects to premature life. People of the ‘new religious consciousness,’ from the 1st century to the 20th century inclusive, have always betrayed themselves by their words, for the rose bushes planted by them have always broughts forth thorns and thistles. The ‘new consciousness’ has always turned out to be not above the Church, as it has claimed to be, but against the Church and against Christ, anti-Church and anti-Christ. Anyone who possesses the Spirit to the same degree that the saints possessed Him clearly sees how insane it is to pretend to more. But in all ages it has been to easy for people who are utterly unspiritual to fall into self-delusion and to replace real spirituality with their subjectively human, psychic creativity, and then with demoniacal hallucination. Frenzy and enthusiasm, dreamy prophetism and somber exaltation were taken to be rejoicing in the Holy Spirit. Meanwhile, sin, left to itself, acquired ‘freedom.’ The search for the ‘two infinities’ began, and beyond this search was the submergence into the ‘two abysses’: into the uper abyss of gnostic theory and into the lower abyss of khlyst practice. And it was this that was passed off as the fullness of the life full of grace. Let me repeat, parallel to all of Church history there stretches the thread of this pseudo-religious consciousness that has always passed itself off as ‘new.’

    And here is Fr. Damascene’s summary of Fr. Seraphim’s view of Berdyaev and the “new consciousness” from Fr. Seraphim’s biography:

    [Of Soloviov and Berdyaev]- Both of these thinkers strayed far from Orthodoxy, though the former became, as Eugene put it, more ‘sober and serious’ in his last years.
    Eugene respected Berdyaev for his penetration into historical and social currents, but he thouroughly disagreed with Berdyaev’s vision of an earthly ‘New Age of the Holy Spirit,’ wherein the Church would even sanctify Communism. Martin Buber, the Jewish thinker whose works Eugene admired, had similar hopes for this world, but Eugene found his error ‘easier to understand’ than that of Berdyaev. As Eugene explained this was because ‘only to the Christian is the Truth fully revealed. The Jew still harks back to the old order, the time when the world was (or seemed to be) still whole; but after the coming of Christ the imminent end of this world is obvious. The ‘new time’ inaugurated by Christ can have its fulfillment only outside time.’

    “…Nicholas Berdyaev, a philosopher of profound historical and social insight who was carried away by an excessive ‘individualism’ that permitted him to place himself outside and above the Church, and to consider his own personal opinions on theological subjects (of which he had a very deficient knowledge) as of greater weight than the universal teaching of the Church.”

    “The whole idea of a ‘new age,’ of course, penetrates every fiber of the last two centuries with their preoccupation with ‘progress, and is the key idea of the very concept of Revolution (from French to Bolshevik), is the central idea of modern occultism (visible on the popular level in today’s talk of the ‘age of Aquarius,’ the astrological post-Christian age), and has owed its spread probably chiefly to Freemasonry…”

    Nicholas Berdyaev, claimed by Orthodox ‘charismatic’ apologist to be the ‘great spiritual prophet of our age,’ regarded it as absolutely essential that in the ‘new age of the Holy Spirit’ ‘there will be no more of the ascetical worldview.’ ‘The reason,’ Fr. Seraphim observed, ‘is obvious: the Orthodox ascetic worldview gives the only means by which men, having received the Holy Spirit at their baptism and chrismation, may truly continue to acquire the Holy Spirit in their lives; and it teaches how to distinguish and guard oneself against spiritual deception. The ‘new spirituality’ of which Berdyaev dreamed and which the ‘charismatic revival’ actually practices, has as entirely different foundation and is seen to be a fraud in the light of the Orthodox ascetical teaching.’

    “there may be those who will doubt that the ‘charistmatic revival’ is a form of mediumism; that is only a secondary question of the means or technique by which the ‘spirit’ of the ‘charismatic revival’ is communicated. But that this ‘spirit’ has nothing to do with Orthodox Christianity is abundantly clear. And in fact that ‘spirit’ follows almost to the letter the ‘prophecies’ of Nicholas Berdyaev concerning a ‘New Christianity.’ It completely leaves behind the ‘monastic ascetic spirit of historical Orthodoxy,’ which most effectively exposes its falsity. It is not satisfied with the ‘conservative Christianity which directs the spiritual forces of man only towards contrition and salvation,’ but rather, apparently believing like Berdyaev that such a Christianity is still ‘incomplete,’ adds a second level of ‘spiritual’ phenomena, not one of which is specifically Christian in character (although on if free to interpret them as ‘Christian’), which are open to people of every denomination with or without repentance, and which are completely unrelated to salvation. It looks to ‘a new era in Christianity, a new and deep spirituality, which means a new outpouring of the Holy Spirit’—in complete contradiction of Orthodox tradition and prophecy…”

    That’s that.

  7. Here you go:
    These excerpts are from The Pillar and Ground of the Truth, St. Pavel’s tom. Sometimes they’re hard to understand outside of the context of the whole book…so you may have to read all 500 some odd pages of it…
    “Pre-Christian antiquity’s entire understanding of life and the world was the development of a single category, the category of fatherhood, birth, generation, however it is called. And to clarify the unclear features of their knowledge is just as impossible as it is to develop an underexposed photographic plate; and if one were to keep this plate in the developer past a certain time, the whole image would only become ‘veiled,’ would be covered with a gray shroud, as it were. In the same way, thought that wishes without holiness to perceive the Spirit is ‘veiled.’ By the way, that is precisely what happens to people of the ‘new consciousness.’

    “The main representatives of the ‘new religious consciousness’ are D.S. Merezhkovsky, Z.N. Gippius, and D. Filosofov. In different senses and to different degrees, Andrey Belyi (B. N. Bugaev), N. A. Berdiaev, and others are associated or have been associated with this ‘consciousness.’

    “They [speaking of the Prophets], great and holy, did not see Christ, in order ‘that they without us should not be made perfect.’ [Heb. 11:40] But they almost knew Him—at special times and by the purest minds. At such times their faces trembled with eternal life: this is the Spirit-Dove that had brushed their hearts with its snow-white wing. Just as the perception of God the Word trembled before the fathers and the prophets, so the knowledge of the Holy Spirit trembles before the saints of our time, almost touches them. But, here too, the fullness of time has not yet come; here too, the highest peaks of mankind must wait so ‘that they without us should not be made perfect.’ Their hearts have been purified. Their temple has been swept and put in order so as to receive the Comforter. But our hearts are full of filth. And here the higher wait for the lower, the seeing wait for the blind, the holy wait for the sinful, the living wait for the dead, the spiritual wait for the fleshly, those who run ahead and even anticipate wait for those who are inert and lag behind. Only at rare moments is the curtain of the future pulled open before them.
    ‘That they without us should not be made perfect.’ This explains why, despite their profundity, teachings of the Holy Spirit that have appeared in the history of the Church somehow have not received any response and have remained solitary. In addition, those aspects of Christian life which refer specifically to the Holy Spirit, i.e., Christian freedom, filiation, creativity, and spirituality, were falsified or distorted by various heretics who willfully desired to bring these aspects to premature life. People of the ‘new religious consciousness,’ from the 1st century to the 20th century inclusive, have always betrayed themselves by their words, for the rose bushes planted by them have always broughts forth thorns and thistles. The ‘new consciousness’ has always turned out to be not above the Church, as it has claimed to be, but against the Church and against Christ, anti-Church and anti-Christ. Anyone who possesses the Spirit to the same degree that the saints possessed Him clearly sees how insane it is to pretend to more. But in all ages it has been to easy for people who are utterly unspiritual to fall into self-delusion and to replace real spirituality with their subjectively human, psychic creativity, and then with demoniacal hallucination. Frenzy and enthusiasm, dreamy prophetism and somber exaltation were taken to be rejoicing in the Holy Spirit. Meanwhile, sin, left to itself, acquired ‘freedom.’ The search for the ‘two infinities’ began, and beyond this search was the submergence into the ‘two abysses’: into the uper abyss of gnostic theory and into the lower abyss of khlyst practice. And it was this that was passed off as the fullness of the life full of grace. Let me repeat, parallel to all of Church history there stretches the thread of this pseudo-religious consciousness that has always passed itself off as ‘new.’

    And here is Fr. Damascene’s summary of Fr. Seraphim’s view of Berdyaev and the “new consciousness” from Fr. Seraphim’s biography:

    [Of Soloviov and Berdyaev]- Both of these thinkers strayed far from Orthodoxy, though the former became, as Eugene put it, more ‘sober and serious’ in his last years.
    Eugene respected Berdyaev for his penetration into historical and social currents, but he thouroughly disagreed with Berdyaev’s vision of an earthly ‘New Age of the Holy Spirit,’ wherein the Church would even sanctify Communism. Martin Buber, the Jewish thinker whose works Eugene admired, had similar hopes for this world, but Eugene found his error ‘easier to understand’ than that of Berdyaev. As Eugene explained this was because ‘only to the Christian is the Truth fully revealed. The Jew still harks back to the old order, the time when the world was (or seemed to be) still whole; but after the coming of Christ the imminent end of this world is obvious. The ‘new time’ inaugurated by Christ can have its fulfillment only outside time.’

    “…Nicholas Berdyaev, a philosopher of profound historical and social insight who was carried away by an excessive ‘individualism’ that permitted him to place himself outside and above the Church, and to consider his own personal opinions on theological subjects (of which he had a very deficient knowledge) as of greater weight than the universal teaching of the Church.”

    “The whole idea of a ‘new age,’ of course, penetrates every fiber of the last two centuries with their preoccupation with ‘progress, and is the key idea of the very concept of Revolution (from French to Bolshevik), is the central idea of modern occultism (visible on the popular level in today’s talk of the ‘age of Aquarius,’ the astrological post-Christian age), and has owed its spread probably chiefly to Freemasonry…”

    Nicholas Berdyaev, claimed by Orthodox ‘charismatic’ apologist to be the ‘great spiritual prophet of our age,’ regarded it as absolutely essential that in the ‘new age of the Holy Spirit’ ‘there will be no more of the ascetical worldview.’ ‘The reason,’ Fr. Seraphim observed, ‘is obvious: the Orthodox ascetic worldview gives the only means by which men, having received the Holy Spirit at their baptism and chrismation, may truly continue to acquire the Holy Spirit in their lives; and it teaches how to distinguish and guard oneself against spiritual deception. The ‘new spirituality’ of which Berdyaev dreamed and which the ‘charismatic revival’ actually practices, has as entirely different foundation and is seen to be a fraud in the light of the Orthodox ascetical teaching.’

    “there may be those who will doubt that the ‘charistmatic revival’ is a form of mediumism; that is only a secondary question of the means or technique by which the ‘spirit’ of the ‘charismatic revival’ is communicated. But that this ‘spirit’ has nothing to do with Orthodox Christianity is abundantly clear. And in fact that ‘spirit’ follows almost to the letter the ‘prophecies’ of Nicholas Berdyaev concerning a ‘New Christianity.’ It completely leaves behind the ‘monastic ascetic spirit of historical Orthodoxy,’ which most effectively exposes its falsity. It is not satisfied with the ‘conservative Christianity which directs the spiritual forces of man only towards contrition and salvation,’ but rather, apparently believing like Berdyaev that such a Christianity is still ‘incomplete,’ adds a second level of ‘spiritual’ phenomena, not one of which is specifically Christian in character (although on if free to interpret them as ‘Christian’), which are open to people of every denomination with or without repentance, and which are completely unrelated to salvation. It looks to ‘a new era in Christianity, a new and deep spirituality, which means a new outpouring of the Holy Spirit’—in complete contradiction of Orthodox tradition and prophecy…”

    That’s that.

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