“EUROPEAN, MUSCOVITE AND SON OF THE CHURCH”
Although the editorship of The Muscovite was a short-lived career for Ivan, his relationship, assistance, financial aid and contribution to the publication of works that would spring out of his relationship with Optina Monastery began with the article on Blessed Elder Paisius.
Fr. Sergius describes for us the beginnings of the work of publishing that began with Elder Makary in the Kireyevsky’s home:
In the following year, 1846, while the Elder was visiting the Kireyevskys at their estate, he touched upon the question of the lack of spiritual books which guide one towards the active Christian life. He mentioned that he had a fair number of manuscripts of Elder Paisius’ translations of the works of the ascetic Holy Fathers, filled with spiritual understanding and power. It turned out that Natalia Petrovna Kireyevsky had preserved a few similar manuscripts as well, having received them as an inheritance from her former spiritual father, Elder Philaret of Novospassky. Then she herself raised the question – why not reveal these spiritual treasures to the world? The Elder, with his characteristic humility, remarked that he considered himself incapable of taking on such an important matter, that he had never done anything like this, that this was clearly not the will of God, etc. The Kireyevskys said that they would give a report about the matter to Metropolitan Philaret of Moscow and, if he blessed it, it would be necessary to begin printing the manuscripts. Then the Kireyevskys began to implore Fr. Makary to immediately write an introduction to the planned publication.
Having prayed to God, the Elder wrote the first page. On that very day the Kireyevsky’s sent a letter to Moscow, to the professor of Moscow University, S.P. Shevirev, asking him, in their own name, to obtain a blessing from the Metropolitan for the publication of the manuscripts of Elder Paisius. The Metropolitan was so kind that, not only did he give his blessing to the project; he even promised to provide them with his own personal support.1
The following year, 1847, was the beginning of the publications of Optina Monastery, the first book being, The Life and Writings of the Moldavian Elder Paisius Velichkovsky.2
Fr. Sergius further describes the environment and interactions that permeated such a holy activity for the next fifteen years.
All work was directly guided by the Elder himself – both the preparation for the printing of the Slavonic translations of Elder Paisius (with explanatory footnotes of the unclear words and expressions) and the translation of some of these into the Russian language. He was helped by his disciples from the Skete brotherhood: Hieromonk Ambrose, Monk Juvenal (Polovtsev),3 Fr. Leonid (Kavelin)4 and Fr. Platon (Pokrovsky).5
For their work, the aforementioned people gathered daily in Elder Makary’s reception cell. Though he did not cease his usual work with the brothers and guests, visiting them at a set time at the guest house, he nevertheless played the most active part in the labor of these disciples. One may positively state that not one expression, not one word was written in a manuscript that was sent to the censor without his personal approval… Who, being attentive to himself, would not have given a few years of his life to hear what their ears heard – the Elder’s explanations of passages in the writings of the Fathers, about which none of his disciples would have dared to ask him had it not been for the work they were engaged in. And had they dared, they would have undoubtedly
received the humble answer: “I don’t know about this, it’s beyond my abilities; perhaps you’ve attained to it, but I know only: ‘Grant me, O Lord, to see my sins! Cleanse my heart,’ then you’ll understand it!”
Who of his co-workers could forget how condescendingly the Elder heard out his childish remarks and made concessions, in the hope of expressing a thought more gracefully or clearly, as long as he did not see a violation of the spiritual meaning. He would accompany his concessions with a good-natured joke: “Let it be that way – I’m not familiar with the latest literature; but after all, you’re learned people!” If a disagreement arose in understanding, the Elder immediately eliminated it, or offered his own opinion, or left such a spot completely without explanation, saying: “This is beyond us – whoever does this will understand it; but what if we put our own rotten opinion in place of his (i.e., Elder Paisius’) lofty spiritual understanding?6
Alongside these publishing labors, Ivan wrote two more papers which revealed the maturation of his ideas that were expressed only in part in his earlier works. In 1852 he wrote, “On the Character of European Enlightenment and its Relation to Enlightenment in Russia.” The second work was entitled, “On the Necessity and Possibility of New Principles in Philosophy” but was published posthumously in the year of his repose, 1856. In these works he describes the deviation of the Patriarchate of Rome from the teaching of the Fathers of the first thousand years. In the briefest of summaries it can be said that the root of the problem in the Roman Church that was passed to the entire West was that of rationalism.
Ivan Kontzevitch correctly appreciates Kireyevsky’s diagnosis when he says:
The West overlooked Eastern wisdom. Its scholars mastered in detail all the ancient philosophies: Egyptian, Persian, Chinese, Hindu, etc. But the mysticism of the Orthodox East was closed to them. Russia, on the other hand, inherited from Byzantium great treasures of this spiritual wisdom contained in the writings of the Holy Fathers. Hence, Russia’s historical task was to build on the rich Byzantine heritage a new spiritual culture which would impregnate the whole world. Kireyevsky posed the problem in all its fullness. According to him, Russian philosophy was to be built on “the deep, living and pure love for wisdom of the Church Fathers, which is the embryo of the higher philosophic principles” [vol. II, p. 332, Collected Works].7
Kireyevsky’s thesis can be summarized thus:
This special fondness of the Roman world for the formal coherence of ideas represented a pitfall for Roman theologians even at a time when the Roman Church was a living part of the Universal Church and when the shared consciousness of the entire Orthodox world maintained a reasonable balance between all special traits. Thus, it is to be expected that after Rome’s separation this peculiarity of the Roman mind was bound to attain decisive predominance in the character of Roman theologians’ teachings. It may even be that this Roman peculiarity, this isolated rationality, this excessive inclination toward the formal coherence of ideas, had itself been one of the main reasons for Rome’s defection… What is not open to doubt is the actual pretext for defection – the new addition of a dogma to the earlier creed, an addition that, contrary to the ancient tradition and shared consciousness of the Church, was justified only by the logical deductions of the Western theologians.8
Fr. Seraphim Rose, elaborating on this point, says: “logicalness becomes the first test of truth and the living sources of faith second. Under this influence, Western man loses a living relationship to truth. Christianity is reduced to a system, to a human level… It is an attempt to make by human efforts something better than Christianity. Anselm’s proof of God’s existence is an example – he is ‘cleverer’ than the ancient Holy Fathers.”9
Amidst these accusations one must not assume that Ivan despised the West. It was quite the opposite. He clearly articulates his appreciation but with some reservation, saying:
I have no intention of writing a satire against the west. No one values more than I the conveniences of public and private life which are a result of rationalism. To speak frankly, even now I still love the west… I belong to it by education, by habit, by taste… by my disputatious turn of mind, and even by the habits of my heart.
I want to travel to Europe… And yet I know that I am only going to a graveyard; but it is a most precious graveyard, that is what it is!
For within a man’s heart are certain movements and demands of the mind… which are stronger than all the habits and tastes, more powerful than all the pleasantries of life and the benefits of outward reasonableness, without which no man, nor a people, can live… Therefore, while fully appreciating all of the separate benefits of rationalism, I think that in its final form… rationalism clearly reveals itself as a one-sided principle which is fraudulent, deceptive, and betrays.10
Ivan continues his contrast between the Roman mind with the tradition of the Fathers of the Church, saying:
For, striving for truth through introspection (umozrenie), the Eastern thinkers are concerned above all with the proper inner condition of the thinking spirit, while the Westerners are more interested in the external linking of concepts. Eastern thinkers, that they may achieve the complete truth, seek the inner wholeness of the intellect, that concentration, so to speak, of the mind’s forces, in which all the faculties of the spirit are fused into one living and exalted unity. Western philosophers, on the other hand, assume that the full truth may be achieved by the disparate forces of the mind acting automatically (samodvizhno) and in isolation. They used one faculty to understand the moral and another to grasp the aesthetic; yet a third they employ for the useful; they attempt to understand the true through abstract reason. No one faculty knows what the others are doing until the action has been completed.11
Further, Ivan describes what has been handed down through the tradition of the Fathers of the Church, saying:
…Believing thought [ie. religious thought (editor’s note)] is best characterized by its attempt to gather all the separate parts of the soul into one force, to search out that inner heart of being where reason and will, feeling and conscience, the beautiful and the true, the wonderful and the desired, the just and the merciful, and all the capacity of the mind converge into one living unity, and in this way the essential human personality is restored in its primordial indivisibility.12
Gleason’s final analysis of Kireyevsky and his last years is quite bleak. His conclusions of failure, despair and an overall pathetic life stems more from Ivan’s inability, in Gleason’s mind, which can be partly justified, to produce a magisterial philosophy that develops his ideas in more detail with application to the common man. It is unfortunate that Gleason’s valuable work shows no awareness of Orthodox life and spirituality or an understanding of the monastic life or elders. This lack clearly hinders him from understanding Kireyevsky, especially in the later part of his life.
Gleason, concluding, says:
…Kireyevsky’s pathetic dependence on Makary and his retreat from “the world” cannot be explained solely in religious or intellectual terms. At the end of his life, Kireyevsky was obviously prey to an overmastering sense of guilt and failure. He was desperately afraid of God’s judgment, feeling himself corrupt and unclean in the deepest recesses of his being. Nothing now remained of the optimism which he had set out on his odyssey in the twenties. Slowly and inexorably it had been drained from his life.13
Others, misunderstanding the Orthodox life, evaluate Ivan’s life and works in a less than complimentary if not erroneous way. The following paragraphs will explain a few of these misunderstandings but also how it is that Ivan is living within the Tradition of the Church. We will see that Ivan is a “mystic” insofar as all of the theology of the Orthodox Church is “mystical theology,” born out of the ascetical life not logical deductions.14 Ivan explains the ascetical life as being “pre-conditions” for knowledge of God. He does not develop an entire philosophic system, instead his emphasis focuses on the unity of the faculties within man.
Michael Hughes in his essay on Ivan as a “mystic” offers us a glimpse into his spiritual life. It began when Ivan started to move away from Hegel, was inspired more by Schelling but found its embodiment in his spiritual father, Fr. Filaret of the Novospassky Monastery. In this context, Hughes uses the term “mystic / mystical / mysticism” as terms which explain the way by which someone comes to true knowledge. He says, in affirmation of one of Ivan’s earlier biographers,
The previous pages have put forward a number of arguments that together make it reasonable to accept Gershenzon’s characterization of Kireyevsky as a “mystic.” The first of these arguments is the argument from source. Kireyevsky’s sustained interest in the patristic writings of such figures as Isaac the Syrian shows his intimate familiarity with a tradition that, at its heart, rested on the assumption that God was to be found above all in direct personal experience and contemplation rather than dry definitions and creeds. The second argument is the argument from context. Kireyevsky’s close links with the elders of Optina Pustyn brought him close to the most important focal point in the development of the hesychast tradition [relating to the Philokalia] in nineteenth century Russia, with its characteristic emphasis on inner contemplation and the search for a direct encounter with the divine, a teaching that found striking echoes in Kireyevsky’s focus on the existential condition of the observer in the cognitive process. The third argument supporting Gershenzon’s treatment of Kireyevsky as mystic – and perhaps ultimately the most important one – rests on the character of the language he used in articles such as “New Principles” when seeking to define the conditions by which an individual could obtain the highest insights that eluded ordinary reason.15
We can see the beginning of this in 1836 when he is reading Sts. Isaac the Syrian and Maximus the Confessor. This also sheds more light on his “conversion experience” as being an experience with lasting effects that continued to inspire the rest of his life. Herein we can also trace the maturation of his thought and how he focuses his writings on the pre-conditions of the individual knowing the truth and the importance of the integration of all the faculties of man and not only his reason.
To clarify the term “mystic” we should look at Henry Lanz’s work. He correctly sees the germination of Ivan’s thought not as being a product of German idealism,16 romanticism or any type of mysticism. Instead, he rightly says, “It is simply and solely a modern continuation of a religious tradition which has been dominating Russian life since the time of St. Vladimir, and which was temporarily driven into the underworld by the violent reforms of Peter the Great and his successors.”17 Therefore, Ivan is not saying something new. Instead, it is as old as Russia herself.
Ivan did not, as many of his critics note, produce that masterful, all-pervading philosophy by which society could function and from which Russian social thought could rise to new levels. Instead, as he came to focus his work more and more, it grew to be an expansion only of a foundation by which people can begin to think and function from.
Florovsky describes Kireyevsky as a “man of a single theme, if not a single thought.”18 This observation can be addressed by noting that Kireyevsky was not so much concerned with the development of ideas as much as he was attempting to “affirm what were the essential fundamentals of any true or desirable Weltanschauung [worldview]: integrity, conviction, faith and so on… [I]t seems clear that Kireyevsky’s concern for the construction and elaboration of a fully-developed Christian philosophy was less marked than his desire to lay down the foundations for such an exercise upon which others could be built.”19
Ivan is more than able to produce such a system. Chapman expresses it thus:
Kireyevsky could have been more precise had he wished. By all accounts he was polymathic in his reading and phenomenally cultured. He could have illustrated his points with specific references to a formidable range of examples drawn from half a dozen cultures, references which would not have been lost on the literary aristocrats who constituted his readership. Such a philosophical style was not just the result of following the European, and especially German, fashion for vague and superfluous expansiveness: precision was likely to lead a Russian intellectual into trouble with the authorities. In the event, even Kireyevsky’s consistent imprecision led to official disapproval and hostility: even after taking care to veil the references to political movements in the loosest sense, Kireyevsky found his journal Yevropeyets unacceptable to the authorities and his movements constantly under the watchful eye of the notorious “Third Section”, with its brief to report on “all events without exception.”20
Although Gleason correctly notes that Kireyevsky does not develop the magisterial philosophy which Gleason believes he should have been able to, Gleason ultimately misunderstands what Ivan does do through his collaboration with Elder Makary. Gleason describes this work with Elder Makary, saying: “There is curiously little substance in Kireyevsky’s letter to Makary about the works which they were together engaged in translating and publishing. Kireyevsky largely confined himself to rather timid suggestions about the translation of certain terms in the texts. One of his concerns was to avoid terminology in any way suggestive of the language of ‘Western’ philosophical speculation.”21 Given the rebirth of the writing of the Fathers at this time and their translation into modern languages through St. Paisius Velichkovsky and now through Optina Monastery, a very basic need was to develop a language that is able to convey the truths set forth by these Fathers; hence the importance of terms and terminology. Sergeii Chetverikov affirms the same point saying that the goal was to develop “a faithful philosophical language, in accordance with the spiritual language of Slavic and Greek Spiritual writers.”22 This was also what St. Paisius was doing before him.23
In his critics’ minds. Ivan clearly does not show a great command over the spiritual life. It seems as though Gleason, and others believe that he should have moved from the Elagin Salon to Optina Monastery to attain the heights of a Staretz. In reality the spiritual life that Ivan attained was not recognizable to his critics. In 1851 his friend Koshelev asks him about which Fathers of the Church he should read. Ivan replies saying,
You ask me… whom you should read first and whom later, and I have to tell you that this simple question has been difficult for me. In order that this reading be of real use, it must be in conformity with the particular nature of each person. In my case, before I had mastered what was fundamental and general, I grasped at the more lofty, proper only to him who has been tried and perfected, and I confess to you that by this arrogance I paralyzed my forces, nurturing in myself precisely that dividedness, the elimination of which is the goal of spiritual introspection.24
Gleason describes this letter as an example of Kireyevsky’s “basic uncertainty” with the “intimate sense” and “methodology” of the Church Fathers.25 To the contrary, we find that this is clearly no wavering when it comes to someone asking advice on reading the Fathers of the Church. As he already notes, Kireyevsky expresses the danger that he was in being caught up in reaching too high and grasping for things he was not able to understand. This is why he says that there are certain Fathers that can only be read by those who have been “tried and perfected” because we are not talking about reading something that is commonplace.
More to the point is the continuation in the letter that Gleason does not quote. In it Ivan shows discernment in noting that it takes spiritual wisdom and discernment to advise people. “More important than all the books and every kind of thinking is to find a holy Orthodox Staretz [Elder] who can become your guide, to whom you can communicate every thought and hear in reply not his private opinion – which might be more or less intelligent – but the very judgment of the Fathers.”26
In the last ten years of his life, Ivan, along with his wife Natalia, would grow closer in their relationships with Optina Monastery and to Elder Makary. Ivan would spend a lot of this time with Elder Makary in his cell working on translations. Ivan’s contributions to publishing, translating and/or correcting included Sts. Isaac the Syrian, Barsanuphius the Great, Mark the Ascetic, Symeon the New Theologian, Maximus the Confessor, Theodore the Studite, Thallasios, Gregory of Sinai.27
In 1856, Ivan set out from Dolbino for St. Petersburg to be with his son Vasily who was taking his final examination at the Lyceum. He stopped by Moscow on his way to see his mother and brother for what would be the last time. On June 10, Ivan contracted cholera in St. Petersburg and on June 12 he died, in the arms of his son.28
Eight years earlier, Alexei Khomiakov composed a few verses in honor of his friend which is a fitting tribute:
Beyond the sea of meditation
Beyond, like waves, your thoughts, your dreams:
A realm of bright illumination,
Transcendent beauty, radiance gleams.
Unfurl the sail, thou trav’ler bold,
Like the white wing of a swan;
Prepare to journey, and behold,
Before thine eyes, a new sun dawn.
Return again with precious treasure;
Bring nurture to the hungry heart,
Granting burdened souls new leisure,
Strength to weary wills impart.29
Ivan Vasilievich Kireyevsky was buried near the Optina Monastery Cathlicon, dedicated to the Entrance of the Theotokos into the Temple, at the feet of Elder Leonid, the first of the Elders of Optina. Ivan was the first layperson ever to be buried in the cemetery at Optina Monastery.30 Learning of this, Metropolitan Philaret of Moscow noted the great honor that Optina bestowed upon her son.31 On his tombstone was written: “I loved wisdom and sought her out from my youth… When I perceived that I could not otherwise obtain her, except God gave her me,… I prayed unto the Lord and besought Him… For they shall see the end of the wise, and shall not understand what God in His counsel hath decreed of him” (Wisdom of Solomon).32 Later, a portrait of Ivan lying in his coffin was hung on the western wall of the reception room of Elder Makary’s cell.33
Subdeacon Matthew Long
1 (Chetverikov), Fr. Sergius. Elder Ambrose of Optina. (Platina: St. Herman of Alaska Brotherhood, 1997), 126-127. Fr. Leonid Kavelin notes that often Elder Makary would work on these patristic publications at the home that was prepared for him on the Dolbino estate; see Ivan M. Kontzevitch, “The Life of Elder Macarius’ Disciple, Ivan V. Kireyevksy”; also in Elder Macarius of Optina. (Platina: St. Herman of Alaska Brotherhood, 1995), 113 note.
2 For a list of works published at Optina, see “An Annotated Bibliography of Optina Publications” in Leonard J. Stanton’s, The Optina Pustyn Monastery in the Russian Literary Imagination: Iconic Vision in Works by Dostoevsky, Gogol, Tolstoy and Others. (New York: Peter Lang, 1995), 273.
3 Later Archbishop of Lithuania and Vilnius.
4 Later the Superior of the Holy Trinity-St. Sergius Lavra and author of the biography Elder Macarius of Optina which was translated into English.
5 The confessor of Elder Ambrose and of the pilgrims to Optina.
6 Elder Ambrose of Optina, 127-130. For a brief description of the scarcity of Orthodox Patristic material at the time and the difficulty it took to have works published, see I.M. Kontzevitch, “The Acquisition of the Holy Spirit in Ancient Russia. (Platina: St. Herman of Alaska Brotherhood, 1988), 273-274.
7 “The Life of Elder Macarius’ Disciple, Ivan V. Kireyevsky,” 299-300.
8 Kireyevsky, Ivan. “On the Nature of European Culture and its Relationship to Russian Culture; Letter to Count E.E. Komarovsky” quoted in Boris Jakim and Robert Bird, trans. and eds. On Spiritual Unity: A Slavophile Reader (Hudson: Lindisfarne Books, 1998), 202-203.
9 Christensen, Fr. Damascene. Father Seraphim Rose: His Life and Works. (Platina: St. Herman of Alaska Brotherhood, 2003), 622.
10 Young, Fr. Alexey. A Man is His Faith: Ivan Kireyevsky and Orthodox Christianity. (St. George Information Services: Norwich, 1980), 32-33.
11 From Kireyevsky’s Collected Works as quoted in European and Muscovite, 255.
12 On Spiritual Unity, 285.
13 Gleason, Abbott. European and Muscovite: Ivan Kireevsky and the Origins of Slavophilism. (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1972), 293-294.
14 “Mystic” is this context is being used to accommodate an author that is describing what Ivan writes about. The Orthodox generally do not use the term “mystic” which is more of a Catholic and Far Eastern derivation. See note #17 regarding mysticism.
15 “Mysticism and Knowledge in the Philosophical Thought of Ivan Kireevsky” in Mystics Quarterly (vol. 30, no.1/2, 2004): 26. Gleason agrees with this point but adds that Kireyevsky’s emphasis on “the collective and the communal” which Gleason denies are part of the Orthodox tradition but are instead more closely related to German counterrevolutionary and anti-rationalist ideologies; see European and Muscovite, 283-284.
16 Which Lanz notes about Slavophilism generally; see Henry Lanz, “The Philosophy of Ivan Kireyevsky” in The Slavonic Review. (vol. 4, no. 12, 1926): 594.
17 Ibid., 604. In short, these “pre-conditions” are the ascetical life. This is also the explanation that Vladimir Lossky’s gives regarding “mystical theology”; see Lossky, Vladimir. The Mystical Theology of the Eastern Church. (Crestwood: St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 1998), 7. Regarding Ivan’s understanding of the relationship between thought and the ascetical life see “The Acquisition of the Holy Spirit in Ancient Russia, 279-283.
18 Georges Florovsky, Ways of Russian Theology: Part II. (Belmont: Buchervertriebsanstalt, 1987), 25.
19 M.C. Chapman. “The Role of Religious Belief and Astheticism in the Philosophy of Ivan Kireyevsky” in New Zealand Slavonic Journal. (vol. 1, 1978): 37-38. See also Edie, James M. et al. Russian Philosophy: The Beginnings of Russian Philosophy – The Slavophiles – The Westernizers. (Knoxville: The University of Tennessee Press, 1976), 1:169.
20 Ibid., 34.
21 European and Muscovite, 338, note #36.
22 Cited in On Spiritual Unity; A Slavophile Reader, 19.
23 See Elder Ambrose of Optina, 125-126.
24 European and Muscovite, 246.
26 From Ivan Kontzevitch and quoted by Fr. Alexey Young in A Man is His Faith, 17. Although seemingly unknown to Gleason, points such as this are strewn throughout the Fathers and we can say that they were known by Kireyevsky at least through the translation of St. Paisius Velichkovsky’s. See St. Paisius’ Letters in Blessed Paisius Velichkovsky: The Life and Ascetic Labors of Our Father, Elder Paisius, Archimandrite of the Holy Moldavian Monasteries of Niamets and Sekoul. Optina Version. By Schema-monk Metrophanes, trans. Saint Herman of Alaska Brotherhood. (Platina: Saint Herman of Alaska Brotherhood, 1976), 130-152.
27 Gleason lists and gives the dates of these publications as: The Life and Works of the Moldavian Starets Paisii Velichkovskii (1st ed. 1847, 2nd ed. 1848); Gleanings for Spiritual Refreshment (translations from the Fathers by Paisy Velichkovsky, 1849); Nil Sorsky, Conferences on Monastic Life (1849); Barsanuphios and John, Introduction to the Spiritual Life (1851); Twelve Sermons of Simeon the New Theologian (1852); Isaac the Syrian, Spiritual-Ascetic Sermons (1854); Abbot Dorotheos, Instructions and Letters (1856); Mark the Anchorite, Moral-Ascetic Sermons (1858); The Ladder of St. John Climacus, in several editions. (ibid. note 8, p. 337); see also Elder Ambrose of Optina, 130-133. Most of these works were financed by the Kireyevsky’s themselves; see The Acquisition of the Holy Spirit in Ancient Russia,” 273-274.
28 “The Life of Elder Macarius’ Disciple, Ivan V. Kireyevksy”, 306.
29 Quoted in Ibid., 302.
30 After the Elder’s repose, Natalia labored to collect all his letters and, using her own money published six thick volumes. “In order to gather them she visited many monasteries and convents – there is evidence that she visited about two hundred women’s convents alone!” Elder Macarius of Optina, 287.
31 Ibid., 304. Gleason is silent as to the value of Kireyevsky being the first layperson buried at Optina Monastery. Ivan’s brother, Peter, who reposed in the following year, is buried beside him as well as his wife, Natalia. Four years later, Elder Macarius would be buried besides Elder Leonid, at whose feet Ivan was buried.
32 Elder Ambrose of Optina, 65.
33 “The Life of Elder Macarius’ Disciple, Ivan V. Kireyevksy”, 143.