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194. Oct. 10/23, 1975

Dear Fr. Michael [Azkoul],

Bless! Enclosed is the text of Bulgakov and Florensky; I have pencilled in a few comments. You show quite clearly their gnostic tradition. May God grant the work to be printed. We look forward to seeing the summary.

Enclosed also are the two quotes you wanted; I hope they are what you needed.

We hear that you have written a short article on Orthodox Monarchy, which Fr. Neketas Palassis doesn’t care to print; could we see a copy of it? This is a subject little understood among American Orthodox—and an “American” presentation might be more comprehensible than our own “Russian” one.

We ask your prayers for us.

With love in Christ,
Seraphim, monk

1. Quote from Nikita Struve in his lead editorial in the Messenger of the Russian Christian Movement, 1974, II-III, pp. 5-6 (with reference to Metr. Philaret’s reply to Solzhenitsyn’s Letter to the Third All-Diaspora Council, 1974):

“And how proud sounds the completely incorrect assertion that without ‘the Russian Church Outside of Russia’ nothing Russian would have remained in the West! However paradoxical it might be, it is precisely that part of the Russian Church in the Diaspora which went to the Greeks’ or ‘became American’—precisely it that has continued in the West the great Russian spiritual culture, that has not buried its talent in the ground but has multiplied it. It is to the creativity of this Church that the religious movement now being reborn in Russia now turns, for there has been no other religious-spiritual creativity in the Diaspora.”

(Another part of the same editorial, p. 4:)

“Paris was the place of the blossoming of the Russian religious-philosophical renaissance, and up to now it remains a significant center. To New York was transferred the more dynamic wing of Parisian Orthodoxy, and in the new conditions of a young, no longer Russian but American, Church, it actively applies to life the testament of Russian theology….

“The Messenger, in answer to the desires from Russia, at one and the same time broadens and defines its direction: leaning upon the glorious Parisian traditions, upon the dynamism of the American Church, it will reflect the spiritual rebirth in Russia, and, as far as it is able, will help it.”

2. Quote from Archbishop John Maximovitch, “The Veneration of the Theotokos and John the Baptist and the New Direction of Russian Religio-philosophical Thought,” in Church Life, 1936, no, 6, pp. 94-96: After refuting Bulgakovs quotes on the “sinlessness” of the Mother of God from the Holy Fathers, he goes on to refute his quotes from Orthodox Divine services (I take this citation because it is doubtless impressive to the riot-completely-informed to hear: Bulgakov cites 50 passages from Divine services to prove his point—how deep into the Fathers and Divine services he is:)

“Archpriest Bulgakov says that the Holy Orthodox Church firmly and clearly teaches the sinlessness of Mary in her innumerable Divine services which are devoted to the Mother of God. As a proof he cites about fifty excerpts from hymns in honor of Her. However, not in a single one of these is She named either sinless or any other equivalent term. In them She is called holy; but, even though in the full sense only “One is holy, One is God, Jesus Christ,” all the pleasers of God can also be called holy, relatively. In their ranks is such a number of great sinners who repented that there is no need to prove that the word ‘holy does not signify ‘sinless.’

“The Theotokos is called blameless, [as Bulgakov notes]. Blame is a growing hard in sin, devotion to sin, sinful habit. A man is called blameless if he leads a God-pleasing life without being enslaved to any passion. ‘Go before Me and be blameless,’ said God to Abraham (Gen. 17:1). In sacred Scripture Job is called blameless and considered himself such (Job 1:1, 8; 2:3, 9:21). Concerning the righteous Zachary and Elizabeth it is said that they ‘walked in all the commandments and statutes of the Lord blameless’ (Luke 1:6). Using the word ‘blameless’ many times in the Psalms, David understands by it a fulfiller of God’s law. ‘Blessed are the blameless in the way, who walk in the law of the Lord’ (Ps. 118:5). This expression is applied also to certain saints in the Church services.* (*For example, Dec. 6, Canticle 6; Dec. 12, Canticle 7; the canon to Martyrs Juliana and Eugenia.) Nevertheless, none of the Old or New Testament righteous ones are considered sinless, and in the accounts of the lives of those who are called blameless, their sins and temptations are not concealed. Thus, in calling the Theotokos Blameless, and even All-Blameless, Most Blameless, the Church indicates Her devotion to the law of the Lord and the absence in Her of any blame of any kind, but not at all the absence of sins in Her.

“Like wise, one cannot see indications of the sinless [ness] of the Theotokos in the words ‘undefiled’ (which is used of the Three Youths*) (*Irmos of the 8th Canticle of Great Monday.), ‘Pure,’ ‘Incorrupt,’ ‘Faultless,’ since here only Her exalted moral character is referred to, but not the absence of any sin whatever. The expression, ‘the body did not receive the course of sin speaks of the chastity and inviolate virginity of Mary.

“The remaining expressions cited by Archpriest Bulgakov from church hymns have even less relation to the question of sinlessness. ‘Sanctified’ (Jer. 1:5), the One Foretold,’ ‘Full of Grace,’ ‘Blessed,’ ‘Dwelling of God,’ ‘Most Glorious’—all these are exalted names of the Mother of God, but they nevertheless give no answer to the present question. And it is totally incomprehensible why there are quoted various figurative expressions such as ‘New Heaven,’ ‘Book sealed by the Divine Spirit,’ ‘Divine Ladder,’ ‘Great Throne,’ and the like, which clearly depict the great dignity of the Mother of God without touching at all on the present question, not to mention the fact that expressions which must be understood in a metaphorical sense cannot be set against those in which the Church’s teaching is expressed clearly and definitely.

“By his proofs’ taken from the Divine services, Archpriest Bulgakov demonstrates only that he could find nothing which confirms his view in the Orthodox Divine services and prayers, in which it is only to God that it is said: ‘There is no man who shall live and not sin; for Thou alone art without sin (Prayer after the Ectene for the Reposed); and ‘Thou alone art sinless’ (Prayer for the Rite of Confession and many other prayers). The doctrine of the sinlessness of the Theotokos is not only foreign to Orthodox doctrine, but is contrary to it. Having many testimonies against itself, it has none for itself. Therefore, in order to prove its Orthodoxy, Archpriest Bulgakov has to resort to a selection of fragmentary expressions which either prove nothing at all, to else give the impression that his teaching is really confirmed by them if only one does not [consider] as a whole the work from which the expression is taken.”


(My comments always in parenthesis, outside quotes.)

I. From the article “Tri Obraza” (Three Images”) by Archpriest Alexander Schmemann, in the Vestnik (Messenger) of the Russian Student Christian Movement, Paris, No. 101-102, III-IV, 1971, pp. 9-24.

“Let us even allow that his teaching is ‘heretical’ and worthy of condemnation. But men have written and continue to write about heretics also, and not one of them was condemned without a real and conscientious analysis of his teaching.” (p. 10)

(Thus, your study of him should be welcome! Long overdue! Let’s give him his due!)

“Of him (Bulgakov) men have written and said that he is a ‘heretic.’ But despite this, following after him, or, in the phrase of V. V. Weidle, ‘delighting’ in him, I felt with all my being: no, this man is not heretic, but on the contrary, he is shining with the most important, most authentic thing which is contained in Orthodoxy.” (p. 12)

After describing Fr. Sergius Bulgakov serving at the All-night Vigil of Palm Sunday: “I will never forget his eyes, shining with some kind of quiet ecstasy, and his tears, and all this striving forwards and upwards, precisely to that ‘upper room’ where Christ is preparing the last Pascha with His disciples.

“Why do I remember this minute so well? Because, I think, the remembrance of it involuntarily returns to me every time I have read and heard accusations against Fr. Sergius of‘pantheism’ and gnosticism,’ of obliterating the boundary between God and creature, of the divinization of the world, and so forth. I do not know to what extent one might objectively draw this out of the texts of Fr. Sergius; for, I repeat, a real, serious analysis of his writings has not yet been begun; but he himself rejected these accusations with disgust. I know, however, that this remembrance returned because these accusations so evidently contradicted that which, in all probability, then struck me and has always struck me most of all in Fr. Sergius: his ‘eschatologism,’ his constant, joyful, bright orientation towards the end. Of all the people whom I have happened to meet, only Fr. Sergius was ‘eschatological’ in the direct, simple, early-Christian sense of this word, meaning not only a teaching about the end, but also an expectation of the end.” (pp. 16-17).

“I do not know of such an eschatological orientation as compatible with ‘pantheism.’ But with my whole being I feel that it is impossible without a personal, all-embracing love for Christ…. It was precisely this love for Christ that streamed from the image of Fr. Sergius and it, of course, struck me at that Palm Sunday Vigil…. Without understanding this, without feeling this penetration of the whole creative work of Fr. Sergius by eschatological expectation, it is impossible, I think, either to understand rightly or value rightly his theological thought.” (p. 18)

(Schmemann sees in Bulgakov system of Sophiology a “fall”; his experience and ideas, he thinks, are richer than Bulgakov’s system.)

“He himself, I do not doubt, will remain in the Church’s memory what he actually was: a prophet and seer of mysteries, a leader into some exalted and splendid land, into which he has called us all by his countenance, his burning, his spiritual authenticity.” (p. 22)


(1. An interesting thought for a “theologian”: that we are to understand someone’s theology by how he felt (or how we feel). It may be Schmemann is right: Bulgakov is better than his theology; but then the answer is clear—see the end of our quote from Archbishop John below: “Then let him renounce what he has written….”)

(2. A footnote on Schmemann: his whole defense of Bulgakov here is typical of his writings in Russian—he uses an emotionalism that plays on the feelings of Russians about certain Church customs or words, which allows him to be quite vague intellectually.)

(3. A deeper point: Bulgakov is probably worse and more dangerous than the icy-cold Berdyaev because he attracts to his heresies not only by logic and words, but also by his personality and “spirituality.” So what if Bulgakov is “eschatological,” is oriented toward the end—he was oriented toward the end in a chiliastic sense, was he not—and therefore not only his words, but his very feelings are heretical. He not only thinks, he also lives and feels his heresy!)

(Archbishop John)

II. Archbishop John Maximovitch: from his article “The Veneration of the Mother of God and John the Baptist and the New Current of Russian Religio-Philosophical Thought,” (actually a review of two of Bulgakov’s books: The Unburnt Bush, 1926; and Friend of the Bridegroom, 1927), in Church Life (Tserkovnaya Zhizri), Yugoslavia, 1936, nos. 6, 7, 8-9, 10-11, and 1937, no. 1. (This was written by Archbp. John when he was Hieromonk in Yugoslavia, and was first printed in Golos Vernopoddannago (Voice of the Loyal Subject, the newspaper of Count (later Protopresbyter George Grabbe, in 1928.)

(In the issue of 1937, no. 1, p. 134, after criticizing in detail Bulgakovs teaching and showing his many blunders in church knowledge—this fact by the way is proof that at least part of Bulgakovs teaching has certainly been subjected to close analysis, Schmemann notwithstanding—[Archbp. John] writes:)

“The teaching of Archpriest Bulgakov on the veneration of the Mother of God and John the Forerunner, which, as has been explained, can in no way be considered Orthodox, is dangerous not so much in itself as because, in the present case as in many others, the author appears as the mouthpiece of ideas which have taken possession of certain circles of Russian intellectual society. These ideas are bound up with the teaching of Sophia the Wisdom of God.” (Here follows a brief discussion of Sophia, created vs. uncreated, which I omit because it is rather general and without quotes from Bulgakov, and you probably have something more specific—but if you want I can translated this paragraph also.)

p. 14: “One recalls the first centuries of Christianity, when as a result of a striving to obtain a precise knowledge of God, and the world there appeared the new, harmonious system of Valentinus, which presented fifteen pairs of Aeons, proceeding one from the other, where likewise in each pair there are sharply distinguished a masculine and feminine principle. The new philosophers (i.e. of today) have not gone as far as the conclusions of Valentinus; there are no grounds as yet, likewise, to affirm that they have borrowed their teaching from him. However, the same foundations have been placed both there and here—human reasoning being adjusted to oneself and not yielding before Divinely revealed truths. This is an effort to analyze and confuse what God has revealed and what man has found himself. Both before an now, similar results are obtained from this. Our philosophers as it were feel their closeness to the ancient heretics, not concealing their sympathies toward then and seeing in them preachers of the truth. (Thus, Karsavin, “The Holy Fathers and Teachers of the Church.”) The pridefid mind cannot be reconciled with the humble falling down before God. It is more pleasant to pluck the fruit oneself than to receive it from the Creator. This is what Vladimir Soloviev expressed in his speech in honor of Auguste Comte when he cried out that religion must become Divine-human, that more of the human should be fused into it, because now it is too Divine.

“Without concealing it, the partisans of the new philosophical current are striving to reform Orthodoxy. ‘The Orthodox order of things must be remade. A new style is arising in Orthodoxy,” writes Berdyaev. From the editor of their organ Put’ is proclaimed: A new order of the Orthodox soul is being formed, one more active, creative, more manful, fearless.’ (Put’, Sept. 1925). Thus it is declared outright that Orthodoxy up until now has been unsatisfactory on all sides. The Fathers of the Church did not sufficiently understand Christian teaching, the holy Martyrs were not sufficiently fearless and manful, and probably Sts. Peter, Alexis, Jonah, Philip, and Hermogenes of Moscow, Sabbas of Serbia, and Peter Tsetinsky (d. 1830) were totally inactive, even though these enlighteners, while being spiritual shepherds, were also outstanding men of active life in public life. They wish to create a new Orthodoxy’ with a new teaching, a new order of life, even a ‘new soul.’

“But will this be Orthodoxy, or even Christianity at all? It is incomprehensible how this is not noticed by some people who are evidently sincerely devoted to Orthodoxy. It is incomprehensible how Archpriest Sergius Bulgakov, while zealously performing the Divine services, studying with love the Church hymns, can preach what is contrary to them. Perhaps in the depths of his soul he feels his incorrectness, and this explains the wavering in his conclusions, the blunders which do not suit his calling and position (note: Archbp. John had pointed these out in detail in the earlier part of this article), things which one can fail to see only by closing ones eyes. But if so, then let him renounce what he has written and not lead into error those who read his works. Let those who desire to remake the Church, which is ‘the pillar and ground of truth’ (I Tim. 3:15), stop their work. Let us hope that they will hear, if not our voice, then the voice of the Apostle Paul: Ό Timothy, keep the tradition, avoiding the profane novelties of words and oppositions of knowledge false so-called, which some professing have erred concerning the Faith’ (I Tim. 6:20-21). But if, all the same, the seeking for a new faith and a new wisdom should continue, let the true sons of the Church remain unwavering in Orthodoxy, singing with one heart and one mouth: ‘Not in wisdom and power and wealth shall we>boast, but in Thee, the Hypostatic Wisdom of the Father, О Christ; for there is none holy but Thee, О Lover of mankind,”’ (end of article; this last quote is a 4th-tone Irmos; I can look up the exact reference if you need it.)

III. Archbishop John Maximovitch: summary and excerpts from the rest of the same article as above (If you need any of these specific points, I can translate them for you.)

1. Bulgakovs teaching on the perfect sinlessness of the Most Holy Theotokos. Archbishop John shows how Bulgakov’s teaching is against the Holy Fathers, that all his patristic quotes are unconvincing, and quotes B. who ways that one of his sources is “the testimony of immediate feeling,” which, Archbp. John notes, “without the testing of it by the positive Church teaching, has often led to heresy.” Archbp. John refutes one by one Bulgakov’s “sources” for this new teaching—several Holy Fathers whom he misunderstands, and fifty quotations from the Divine services. Archbp. John concludes: “The teaching of the sinlessness of the Mother of God is not only foreign to Orthodox teaching, it is contrary to it. Having many testimonies against itself, it has none for itself. Therefore, in order to prove its Orthodoxy, Archpriest Bulgakov has to resort to a selection of fragmentary expressions which either prove nothing at all, or else give the impression that his teaching is really confirmed by them if only one does not read as a whole the work from which the expression is taken.” (Church Life, 1936, No. 6, pp. 95-96.) This whole passage takes up 5 pages in Archbishop John’s Russian text.

2. Bulgakov identifies the Theotokos with Sophia and makes a parallel between Christ and the Theotokos. Here Archbp. John notes: “Making use of many Orthodox expressions, the author puts into them an entirely different meaning.” (1936, no, 7, no page numbers visible in my Xerox copy.) Bulgakov declares that the nature of the Theotokos is no longer human nature, but a “creaturely revelation of the Holy Spirit”: the Holy Spirit acts in the world through Mary. Here Archbp. John remarks: “According to him it turns out that the Holy Spirit cannot appear in the world without the intermediary of the Virgin Mary. From where did Archpriest Bulgakov take his teaching? In this part of his teaching he does not cite any works of the Holy Fathers or any Church prayers at all. Here he is philosophizing, reasoning, but he is not in the least setting forth or seeking for the teaching of the Church.” (no. 7, no page no.) Again Archbp. John says: “Archpriest Bulgakov wished to depict the Virgin Mary as a link binding together the Deity and humanity. Finding it insufficient that ‘there is one God and one Intermediary between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, Who gave Himself as a redemption for all,’ he wishes to find yet another intermediary, uniting the feminine principles in the Deity and in humanity. It need not be said that in these searchings he no longer even tries to base his teaching on the Holy Fathers and Church prayers…” Here Archbp. John thoroughly sets forth the Church teaching on these subjects. (5 pages altogether on these subjects.)

3. St. John the Baptist. Archbp. John points out how Bulgakov exaggerates his importance, make him something “special” (as he has done to the Theotokos). B. teaches that in His Baptism Christ became perfect God-man, to which Archbp. John replies: “This thought is completely un- Orthodox and is a deviation toward the ancient Gnostic teaching that Jesus precisely in the Baptism became Christ.” (1936, no. 8-9, p. 144) Archbp. John sets forth Bulgakovs and the Church’s teaching thoroughly. Then Bulgakov’s ideas of the “sinlessness” of the Forerunner etc. To emphasize specialness of the Forerunner, B. cites his “Synaxis” (“Sobor” in Russian) in service books, Jan. 7—to which Archbp. John answers in detail how “this view of the author testifies only of his complete ignorance of the Church books and the Typicon.” (1936, no, 10-11, p. 167). Bulgakov then cites the Proskomedia to emphasize special position of the Forerunner—but Archbp. John shows he is mistaken in his facts and interpretations. This whole part is 6 pages long.

4. After all this Archbp. John remarks: “Perhaps it will seem that all these are such insignificant mistakes of Archpriest Bulgakov, that it would not be worthwhile to touch on them; but they show upon what fantastical and theologically unfounded proofs he builds his theories.” (1937, no. 1, p. 10)

5. Next Archbishop John refutes, with some humor, Bulgakov’s demonstration that the Forerunner has the nature of an angel, was an “angelman,” and gives the Church’s true teaching on the Forerunner. This part is 3 pages long. Then comes the conclusion which I have already translated in Part II above. )

(Comments: Bulgakov’s many quotations from Holy Fathers and Divine services apparently create the impression in many readers that he is quite an “expert’ in them, and our Brotherhood has been accused by Schmemann and Archbp. Silvester of base “slanders” against him by printing in Russian that he knew the Fathers very poorly. Against this common belief it might not be bad to quote one whole section from Archbp. John, where he refutes Bulgakovs quotations point by point and shows what a rank amateur he was in the study of the Church’s sources; Archbp. John himself quotes many other sources with obvious broad and deep knowledge of them. If you want, I could translate any of the passages I have here summarized.)


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