"Is the Grace of God Present in the Soviet Church?"
by Professor I. M. Andreyev
St. John of Kronstadt Press says this book is " ... more pertinent today than when the work was written. Should be considered 'must reading' in assessing the future course of the Orthodox Church of Russia."
Monastery Press says this book is "A profoundly discerning and timely work that discusses the deeper spiritual reality..."
An excerpt from the Introduction to the English Edition of this book:
It should be noted that Andreyev does not conclude with a categorical conclusion that the "Soviet Church" is deprived of the Grace of God, only that there are grounds for uncertainty: "Therefore we do not have communion with the Soviet Church, because we have doubts as to whether the Grace of God is present."
This book is offered by both the St. John of Kronstadt Press and the Monastery Press.
To read the whole of the Introduction click here.
The present work falls into this category. Unfortunately, however, it will not be valued in this way but rather in terms of the reader's sympathies (or lack thereof) for the present day church organization in Russia known as the Moscow Patriarchate. However in future generations if, God willing, these ecclesiastical troubles cease to be of any practical relevance, this little book will continue to be of great value in terms of what it teaches us about Divine Grace and about the subtle but vital distinction between the realm of the soul and the realm of the spirit in man.
Bishop Theophan the Recluse summarizes the traditional teaching of the Church as follows:
"The natural relationship between the component parts of man should follow the law that the lesser should be in submission to the greater, the weaker to the stronger. Thus the body should be in submission to the soul, and the soul should submit to the spirit, while the spirit in accordance with its nature should be fully immersed in God. Man should abide in God with all his being and consciousness. Here the power of the spirit over the soul depends on the indwelling of the Divinity, the power of the soul over the body is dependent on the soul being ruled over by the spirit. When man fell away from God, inevitably man's whole structure fell into disarray. The spirit, having departed far from God, lost its strength and submitted to the soul, while the soul, no longer being held aloft by the spirit, submitted to the body. In all of his being and consciousness man became mired in sensuality. Before taking upon himself the new life in the Lord Jesus Christ, man finds himself in just this state where the relationship between the component parts of his being is turned on its head, like a telescope when its different sections are collapsed one into the next."
Professor Andreyev was well qualified to understand this along with all its practical implications in the Soviet "paradise." A devout Orthodox believer and confessor of the faith in times of persecution, he was also a qualified physician and psychologist. Ivan Mikhailovitch had three doctorates: in medicine, literature and philosophy, which he obtained from St. Petersburg University shortly after the outbreak of the revolution. However some years earlier he had been expelled from the gymnasia (high school) where he has studying on account of his own revolutionary ideas and sent to study in Switzerland. He had been raised in Orthodox piety but in his late teens went through a period of "rebellion" and became a very serious young man, questioning everything and seeking to find the true meaning of life, which at first he saw in revolutionary ideas which were popular with many of his contemporaries. During his studies in Europe he began to study philosophy (Bergson, Bulgakov, Lossky, Askoldov) and in this way gradually, step by step, came to understand the profundity of what was present in the Orthodox Church. He returned to Russia at the outbreak of the revolution, already clearly understanding the emptiness of materialism and atheism. Unlike many of his contemporaries, he did not become sidetracked in a pseudo-Orthodox combination of traditional teachings and modern inventions. He sought the true spiritual path of Orthodoxy. A decisive point in his life occurred in 1926 when he made a pilgrimage to venerate the relics of St. Seraphim of Sarov at Diveyevo monastery. During the special rule of prayer prescribed for pilgrims he suddenly became vividly aware of the reality and closeness of God and of an entirely real communion in prayer with Him. He asked to be deprived of all earthly things if only he could remember until his last day this blessed experience of the "quiet, joyful gentle and fragrant wafting of the Holy Spirit of the Lord." He wrote: "Everything had become new within me. Previously I had not understood such a simple truth, that spiritual things are more distinct from those of the soul than the latter are from bodily things. But now I understood this well. Within, in the depths of my soul, it was quiet, calm, joyful. The outward miracles at the shrine of St. Seraphim, which occurred before my eyes, did not astonish me. All this seemed simple and natural."
This is a quite astonishing statement, that there is a greater difference between the spirit and the soul than there is between the soul and the body. Mostly we do not clearly appreciate this at all -- that all the wonderful "heritage" of Orthodoxy which so impresses the outside world -- icons, singing, the order of our church services -- is only a vessel which contains, and makes us more receptive to the actions of the Divine Grace of God. By the same token it is quite possible to maintain a humanly constructed facade containing all the outward elements of the Orthodox "heritage" but lacking the true contact with the Living God. Blatant examples of this are the Uniate church, which is not Orthodox at all, but Roman Catholic, and the self-consecrated Ukrainian church, which was formed by nationalists in the 1920Õs and had no semblance of an apostolic succession in the consecration of its hierarchy whatsoever. It is only in rare moments of enlightenment that we are able to perceive this distinction between the things of the soul and those of the spirit in full clarity. Mostly we must have recourse to the Canons of the Church to help us in our need to "discern the spirits, whether they be of God," to avoid the risk of being deceived and accepting a surrogate in place of the Church of Christ. This is not a question of following the letter of the law, or self-righteously claiming to belong to the "right" jurisdiction, but rather following the striving of a loving heart which thirsts for prayerful communion with the Living God.
Thus this theme of distinguishing between the things of the spirit and the things of the soul was fundamental to Andreyev's understanding of Orthodoxy. It was only natural that he would apply it to find a way through the most burning problems of the day -- those caused by the Soviet persecution of Orthodoxy and the creation of a church apparatus subservient to the Soviet state following the infamous Declaration of Metropolitan Sergius in 1927. It is this ecclesiastical organization that Andreyev refers to as the "Soviet Church." He was actively involved in protesting against the declaration and then suffered imprisonment and exile for his religious views. In the 1930's he formed part of the "Josephite" movement of the catacomb church. Thus his convictions were far from being an abstract form of philosophizing, but on the contrary were born out by his own personal sufferings. The article appended at the end of this book gives a vivid illustration of this period in his life. During the German occupation Andreyev managed to escape to the west and in later life he became a teacher at the Holy Trinity Seminary at Jordanville, New York, where he was buried after his repose in the Lord in 1976.
During Andreyev's lifetime the Soviet Church was clearly enslaved to the Communist regime. Nobody ever imagined that it could outlive the Soviet system which had created it. In his book, "Motives of my Life," Archbishop Vitaly Maximenko wrote of how, in past ages, those who had fallen during times of persecution had been treated with varying degrees of condescension. Looking forward to the day of the collapse of the Soviet system, he urged compassion towards the repentant hierarchs of the Soviet Church who he assumed would be subjected to due ecclesiastical judgment by those who had not submitted to the communist yoke, which group would include the emigre hierarchs of the Church Abroad. What never seems to have been contemplated by earlier generations of hierarchs was that the Soviet Church would continue its existence, going from strength to strength, after the collapse of the Soviet system itself. Yet this is precisely what we see today, with the same church organization continuing its existence as a powerful ally of the emerging "post-Soviet" Russian state. Andreyev's profound analysis provides a basis for orientation in approaching the problem of the status of this organization. Specifically, he addresses the fallacy of the widespread "bottom up" approach to ecclesiology, which says that because many suffering, sincere people seek God within a given church organization it must be the true one. This approach, one could say, denies the Divine-Human nature of the Church and makes it only human-democratic. As a professional psychologist and a Solovki confessor he is the ideal spokesman for explaining this. It should be noted that Andreyev does not conclude with a categorical conclusion that the "Soviet Church" is deprived of the Grace of God, only that there are grounds for uncertainty: "Therefore we do not have communion with the Soviet Church, because we have doubts as to whether the Grace of God is present." We can recall the attitude of Metropolitan Cyril of Kazan, who had initially counseled caution in separating from Metropolitan Sergius. In the late 1930's, shortly before his execution, he wrote in a letter that since enough time had passed since the Declaration and Metropolitan Sergius had shown no sign of repenting, "the Orthodox can have no part or lot with him." "No part or lot" may not be a precisely definied scientific term, but its practical implications are quite clear. Andreyev's contribution is to demonstrate quite clearly, and in fact frighteningly, how it is perfectly possible for an organization to have retained all the trappings of an Orthodox "heritage" but have lost the essential thing, the one thing that is needful, the presence of the Holy Spirit of God.
As a philosopher who had come to Orthodoxy after a long intellectual search, Andreyev never lost sight of what is called "Apologetics" -- the study of why we believe as we do and how to explain it to others. His understanding of the difference between things of the soul and things of the spirit makes a very important contribution in this area in the face of present day indifference and unbelief. On the one hand we are surrounded by other forms of Christianity, which appear to have many of the same things as the Orthodox Church. People turn to God in prayer, they read the same Gospels that we have. And yet --an Orthodox soul will find that these religions are just religions, ultimately religions that it is possible not to believe in, because they are missing that "One thing that is needful." They fall down before the onslaughts of present day psychology which says that religions are the opium of the people and just feed certain needs of the psyche, or human soul. Andreyev is saying in effect, "Yes, you are quite right, it is quite possible to have a religion which is just made up of psychological effects." The same psychologists would look at our churches and say they too are just made with human hands. The iconostasis is carved out of wood, the altar table is erected and covered with cloths, we hang a lamp outside the sanctuary, and the lamp is made of glass and metal and filled with olive oil. Then we train our singers and organize church services of astounding majesty and beauty, but these too are all material and psychological effects. And Andreyev as it were replies, with that characteristic twinkle in his eye which you see in photographs of him, "Yes, I agree, it is quite possible to have the most impressive religion which would still be one that I would not believe in. That is why we are so cautious not to be deceived, because all you unbelieving psychologists are quite right, many of these religions really are human creations. What the Orthodox believer is seeking is something which goes beyond all the outward forms and is able to nourish the spiritual side of his being, not just the soul. We understand all your criticisms of religion in general and Orthodoxy in particular, but we invite you to probe more deeply and open yourselves to perceive the presence of God beneath all the outward forms in the Orthodox Church."
Much of the book is devoted to describing the process of formation of the Soviet Church and its separation from the confessing hierarchs who were either exterminated or went in to the catacombs. Andreyev writes with the authority and the suffering of heart of one who was personally involved in these tragic events. Yet at the same time there is no trace in his writings of that harshness which can be observed in some present day opponents of the Moscow Patriarchate -- those who have fallen into an error opposite to that indifference to the truth which is so generally prevalent today. Professor Andreyev was a man of great learning and a true "aristocrat of the spirit," whose writings will repay serious study.