On Spiritual Sovereignty - Sergeii Kornev
Translated by Matthew Raphael Johnson
This short piece comes from the website of the Pormorskii Bezpopovstsii, (priestless Old Believers) from the northern part of Russia and Latvia, the spiritual heirs of the Vyg community. This is one of the best works in the Old Faith I have come across in Russian, as it shows the Old Belief not about mere ritual problems, but about spiritual liberty in general and the true religious culture of Russia. It is a must-read for all who want to get to the bottom of the Old Faith controversy, a controversy that claimed nearly 20 million Russian followers by 1800. As always, my translations are rough and highly liberal. I am capable of no other – MRJ
A spiritual sovereignty of the nation, its people and culture, this is faith in the ancient ways, to stand on ones own two feet, to think for oneself. Opposed to this is spiritual slavery: the absence of faith and a clear fear of freedom. This is typified by the desire or acceptance of life by a strange doctrine and strange minds. It is the mind of renunciation. Spiritual sovereignty can not be confused with a vulgar isolationism or a weak willed nationalism. There are only two ways of dealing with a strange culture: either by dominating it, or allowing it to dominate us. Either we are to benefit from it, or when the stranger uses us for his own uses and purposes. Only a true spiritual freedom can permit us to look into the face of a stranger and see something good. Freedom is security.
For 300 years Russia has been deprived of spiritual freedom. The slightest attack from without brings it great harm and destruction. The worship of the west in the 19th century led to the dominance of Leninism in the 20th. This is not a mere historical happening, but a genuine crisis of faith, the rejection of what Russia is and was. The Russian Empire fell both to westernism and Aarxism because it no longer had and sense of itself and its purpose. Spiritual servility is never strong, it is always weak and can never really destroy its opponents.
The rejection of spiritual freedom came in the 17th century. The monarch of the country took over completely and sought to impose a strictly top down kind of control. The bureaucratization and militarization of the country destroyed personal independence and the old Russian life. The ancient system of the sobor was by the new regime, and the old life of sobornost was eliminated. Serfdom helped in this process. The church subordinated its people to the government combine. Independence, once cherished by Russians, was destroyed by church and state. The destruction of the dual power (i.e patriarch and tsar) was another manifestation of this: political policy based solely on material needs. Without spiritual sovereignty, this newfound Russian empire had no backbone: no real reason to exist. As this new empire expanded, it was embroiled into more and more warfare and conflicts, which raised taxes and drained the blood of the people. In other words, the increase of Russian material might was not balanced by spiritual freedom: hence, she was always ripe for revolution.
Right on the heels of the church reform in the middle of the 17th century came the political reform: these are one and the same movement. Independence was destroyed in the church, as well as in the fields. The Old Russian church was not merely a religious establishment, but the very heartbeat of the country. Independence and theology were natural parts of this nature: once this was done, there was nothing left but dissent. The center of the people’s self-consciousness was questioned and eventually destroyed, leaving a church and state as mere machines, devoid of life. The most steadfast Orthodox people were quickly destroyed and banished, leaving only the core of Nikon’s followers: the hangers on and career bureaucrats. The church, from that point on, was frightened and humbled to the earth, it did not take long to completely bureaucratize the church. Part of this process was the destruction of the church’s independence by confiscating all its properties and placing priests on a state salary. From here, she became, not the Nikonian tool, but the Sergianist one. Same principle, different time.
The NIkonian reform, followed immediately by the Petrine, was a revolution in church governance and church life similar to the British one carried out by Henry VIII and Elizabeth. The point in both cases was to destroy church independence and make it a tool of the state. The chruch was a focus of revolt against serfdom, etc., and to bring it under the control of the state was to coopt this Christian revolution, as was seen in Razin and Pugachev. The “synod” that peter replaced the patriarchate with was often led by non-Orthodox people and Masons, and was also forced to cooperate with other religions, often outright enemies of Orthodoxy. The secrets of confession were abolished, and the state became part of the confessional. This revolution of Peter’s was no different than the revolution by Lenin: both materialistic, both anti-Orthodox, and both were designed to create the shall of a church that was designed to deceive the population. The revolution was necessary, in a cosmic sense, to cleanse the church of its servility and worship of the state and social rank.
The Romanovs in Russia was a disaster: serfdom was strengthened, the national culture was sacrificed on the altar of westernism, and foreign culture took over at the highest level. The people were converted into slaves. Any independent spiritual life was violently suppressed. There was no independent Orthodox though in the kept, official, state church, and instead, a vulgar censorship was placed on the unstoppable scions of westernism: the leftists, the marxists and the materialists. They were the only outlet for non-official philosophical thought in the country. The kept nature of the church and the Latin-nature of the seminary instruction eventually drove seminarians to the arms of the leftists. Independent journals of all sides were shut down: Slavophiles and westnizers alike. The most patriotic element of the population were look at in suspicion. rally brought to zero, and slavophiles remained in the opal and the isolation. While the revolutionaries roamed free in the 19th century, the gendarmes were busy arresting harmless old men and women because they had old Russian books: and this under the reign of Alexander II!
The essence of the old faith is not liturgical or dogmatic. This is the Nikonian propaganda. It is about spiritual freedom and the freedom of the congregation. Even writers such as Chaadaev uses the Old Belief to conodemn the backwardness of Russia, ignorant of the fact that the true communal spirit of freedom was preserved only by these people! The Old Believer fanatic, burning himself alive! What an image! But it existed solely in the imagination of the isolated intelligencia who believes all of this was done in the name of the double Alleluia. Such nonsense. This is lie saying the millions of Russians who died fighting Hitler died for Marxist dogma. The essence of the Old Rite is not the rite per se: it is the sobor, the way of life.
People were killed not for reading the old books, but for defending communal and individual independence. The Russian people alone have the right to decide what is right and best: not the state. The Russian state imposed everything on the people: ideology, doctrine, absolute monarchy, etc. The Old Believers died for questioning the “divine right” of kings and the absolute state of Peter: the state that had no precursor in Russia, not even Ivan III: Peter took his ideas from Sweden and Prussia. The soul of Russia was murdered with every killing of an Old Believer.
The Orthodox religion under the Romanovs was merely a state cult: the worship of the state and the foreign policy goals of the divinely appointed emperor. After the church division (which was a division in lifestyle and outlook) the Russian no longer saw himself as a free being: he saw himself as part of a state, an empire. He became a serf, someone without rights or even a purpose.
The Old Faith differs from the new in its view of Russian life: the Romanov view was that the faith was a mere external set of dogmas, canons or liturgies. It was a state cult and not an integral element of life. The state was involved in the a-moral, Machiavellian world of power politics, where Orthodoxy has absolutely no place. The Russian became compartmentalized. Strict dogma is not the center of the Old Rite, but the fluidity in liturgical practices and monasteries, which remains at the center of the Old Faith. To externalize the faith into a set of isolated canons quoted mechanically is not the Orthodox faith. After the division the canonical dogmas were petrified in the contest with the Old Rite. Before the reforms of Nikon, the Russian church developed its own, independent approach to Orthodox life and customs. This was the manifestation of Russian freedom: there was never any slavish borrowing from the Greeks or Serbs. Russia built its own faith without violating and of the ancient canons or monastic traditions. Once the Old Rite was removed and the Old believers destroyed, the church destroyed also any serious originality in Orthodox life and thought. What filled its place? Western ideologies, luxury goods and fads.
The tragedy of Russian life came from the church schism. Spiritual independence was destroyed. The church ceased to be a vital part of Russian life. The state decided everything for you. The later terror, the camps and murders derived from this: the filling of real Orthodox thought with the asceticism of the New Men. From Nikon and Peter can be traced the rise of materialism from Nicholas I to Lenin to Yeltsin. The state from Peter’s time on was a rejection of all liberty and a rejection of all independence. But the rearguard action fought by the Tikhonite church, too late, as it turns out, against the Leninist regime was the identical fight that the Old Rite fought centuries earlier. The world of the Old believers was only appreciated with the heirs of Nikon hiding in the same Siberian forests as their Old Rite victims generations before.
Repentance is necessary for rebuilding: repentance of the church for seeking worldly glory from the state, whether the Petrine “synod” or the Living Church or the Sergainists–all one and the same. The old Russian nobility had become decayed, and the materialist service class took over. The old nobility traded their birthright for Parisian schick. A Holy War for the faith must be launched: a war for the hearts of the Russian people: who are they? Heirs of Boris and Gleb, or heirs of Nikon and Peter? What is needed is not authoritarianis but repentance, repentance individual by individual.
The national idea is not created by the state: it is destroyed by it. The state sucks from the nation, attempting to gain legitimacy from it. The ideas from the state ministers are not important, but will, determination, independence and a readiness to solve problems of the good and the bad in say to day life. The first step is to prove to the world that the Russian man is not merely a part of a herd of cattle, who seeks security and contetedly chews his cud, but one who possesses his own faith and will. It is frightening and uncomfortable, but what good has ever come from comfort? Not in this world. We will speak of the “spiritual revival of Russia” only when this is done.