Written by Vladimir Moss


     The love of one's country is one of those forces in human nature which can be used for good or for evil, for the love of God and the building up of His Kingdom, or for the hatred of one's neighbour and the destruction of mankind. In a sermon delivered in the revolutionary year of 1905, St. John of Kronstadt said: "The earthly fatherland with its Church is the threshold of the Heavenly Fatherland. Therefore love it fervently and be ready to lay down your life for it, so as to inherit eternal life there." Nearly forty years later, however, some Catholic Croat murderers of Orthodox Serbs, when told (by a Catholic) that they would go to hell for their actions, replied: "Alright, so long as the Serbs will be there also"! Such is the power of national hatred, that it can willingly barter eternal life for the grim satisfaction of destroying one's national enemy. 

     By the end of the twentieth century, it looked as if national hatred had replaced ideological hatred as the major passion tearing mankind apart. Whether in the former Yugoslavia or the former Soviet Union, in Somalia or Ruanda or East Timor, it was wars between tribes, nationalist wars, that were making rivers of blood flow and causing "the international community" to despair. And international organizations seemed powerless to stop them.

     Characteristic was the remark of Jacques Delors, president of the European Commission and one of the leading internationalists of the time: "I have lived through two humiliating moments in my life. The first was when I was 15 and the Germans invaded France. I saw the population fleeing before the enemy, including soldiers on bicycles whose only thought was to save their own skin. I swore then that such a thing must never happen again. But the same thing is happening again today, in Bosnia. I am ashamed, dishonored. Soon I will turn 69. One day I will die, and I will have done nothing to stop all that."[1] 

     However, instead of wringing our hands, we should take sober note why it is that, in an age of unparalleled international cooperation and gigantic efforts to overcome national antagonisms - the age of the League of Nations and the United Nations, of the Soviet Union and the European Union - everything seemed to be falling apart and nationalism in its evil mode was as virulent as ever. It is obvious that the world-view on which these grand schemes were based was false, that it had not penetrated to the mystery of the nation and the nature of nationalism. Their intentions may have been good (in some cases), but the experience of the twentieth century showed - and the experience of the first two decades of the twenty-first century has not disproved the contention - that such good intentions only lead to hell - hell on earth and hell in the life to come.

1. Democracy and Nationalism.

    One of the major lessons to be drawn from the collapse of the Soviet Union and Yugoslavia is that nationalism is a force that cannot be indefinitely suppressed, nor made to wither away. Leaders who ignore it usually end up by being swept away by it. Moreover, this is a lesson for democratic leaders no less than for communist dictators; for simply providing every citizen of a multinational state with a vote and certain human rights does not remove the potential for ethnic conflict. Only very few democratic states have successfully solved the problem of nationalism; the exceptions, like Switzerland, are better described as confederations of relatively homogeneous territorial nation states. As Michael Lind points out, even such highly civilized democracies as Canada and Belgium are threatened with disintegration by nationalistic demands for self-determination, while the United States, Russia and China, all have serious ethnic problems.[2]

     On the other hand, a strict application of the principle of national self-determination will not solve the problem. It is not simply that the oppressed minority in the larger unpartitioned state often becomes the oppressing majority in the smaller partitioned state; or that many nations, once independent, are too small to be economically viable; or that some ethnically homogeneous nations are completely surrounded by larger nations, as Tatarstan is surrounded by Russia.  Perhaps the strongest argument against self-determination is that the ethnic populations in most modern States are so mixed up that the attempt to separate them is practically impossible or is necessarily accompanied by enormous hardships and even war. Thus the idea of creating an ethnically homogeneous state for the Kurds is opposed by all the states in the region, while the idea of partitioning, say, Latvia between the Latvians and the Russians, is extremely problematic.

     Like sexuality in individual psychology, nationalism in social psychology must be contained without being suppressed, recognized without being incited or pandered to. And again like sexuality, nationalism must be recognized as a force that is vital for the perpetuation of the race. Thus Anne Applebaum writes: "Western diplomats should be interested in the Central European right and in healthy nationalist movements elsewhere in Eastern Europe. Not all 'nationalist' or even 'patriotic' emotion is necessarily a symptom of antidemocratic tendencies. Nor is it all extraneous to the progress of reform. The quality of the civil servants, diplomats, and soldiers in Central Europe, for example, will depend largely on whether Central European politicians manage to revive national pride, given that salaries in the public sector will remain low. One of the few emotions that can keep a good Slovak scientist in Slovakia, or a talented Ukrainian entrepreneur in Ukraine, is patriotism."[3]

     We could do with more enlightened patriotism; for it is the excess of benighted nationalism that is the real worry in international politics today. Nationalism should be purified and sublimated, not only to the level of enlightened patriotism, but to a higher, supra-national level which will allow the expression of national feelings without leading to international conflicts. The question is: how?

     Historically speaking, the only force, apart from force of arms, that has been capable of holding different nations together in one state for long periods of time has been religion. The Latin root of the word "religion" means "binding together", and there can be no doubt that universalist religions such as Confucianism in China, or Islam in the Middle East, or Orthodox Christianity in Eastern Europe have had a measure of success in binding together multi-national empires. Of course, religion can also divide; but it is important to understand the difference between religious and nationalistic conflicts. 

     Religious and ideological conflicts are, in general, conflicts about truth and falsehood, right and wrong. As such, they are at least theoretically capable of resolution by rational means, by discussion and argument, by the conversion of one side to the opinion of the other. Nationalist conflicts, on the other hand, are based on emotional ties and sympathies which are much more difficult to change. Of course, points of fact or morality are often hotly debated in nationalist conflicts - the justice of this or that change of boundaries, for example, or the agent of this or that murder or bombing. But it is a characteristic of nationalist conflicts that even when the facts are clear, the antagonists still cannot come to an agreement because the cause of the conflict actually has very little to do with truth or justice, but rather with the simple fact that the two nations hate each other, or, at any rate, feel the other nation to be so different, so strange, that real cooperation is considered impossible.

     The tragedy is that in most cases religious conflicts have become mixed up with nationalist ones in a manner that is very difficult to disentangle. Sometimes this is the fault of the religion, in that it consists of little more than an intellectual underpinning of nationalist prejudices. All religions that believe in a super-race are of this kind. Again, many pagan religions serve the purpose of exalting a particular territory in the minds of its inhabitants, assuring them that this territory is the object of particular favour by one, if not all the gods. Hence the ancient cults of Athene of the Athenians, or "Diana of the Ephesians" – or of Jerusalem in contemporary Judaism.

     But even universalist religions tend to become associated with those nations or regions that first embraced them or embraced them most ardently. Thus although Orthodox Christianity is a faith in which "there is neither Greek nor Jew", it came to be called "the Greek faith" because of the great importance of the Byzantine empire as the cradle of Orthodox civilization. Later, however, when the centre of power in the Orthodox world shifted northwards, the peasants of the Russian empire tended to use the words "Russian" and "Orthodox" as synonyms, so that, for example, Christ was "the Russian God" and the Apostles were "Russian" (although the peasants certainly understood that they were ethnically Jews), while a Russian who fell away from Orthodoxy would cease to be "Russian" and might well (if he became a Marxist) be classified as a Jew.

     These changes in linguistic practice are not necessarily evidence of the degradation of a universalist religion into nationalism. In many cases, they are rather an almost inevitable consequence of the fact that universalist religions acquire particular national incarnations and become particularly associated with those incarnations. Conversely, national identity and character are very profoundly affected by the religion or ideology which the nation adopts.

     Indeed, Solzhenitsyn and others have argued that religious, ideological and cultural criteria of national identity are much more important than purely genetic ones; and this idea, which would have seemed simply common sense in earlier, more religious and less nationalist times, has much to commend it today. First, very few people in today's world, especially in Europe, have no mixed blood or can be called genetically "pure", so that the idea of classifying people along genetic lines is scientifically useless even if it were not morally dubious. Secondly, the attempt to look at nations from a purely genetic standpoint means completely to misunderstand the nature of those nations whose continuing strong identity over the centuries is unlikely to have been the result of genetic inheritance, but is almost certainly the result of a commonly held faith - the Jews, for example. And thirdly, many nationalist prejudices and potential conflicts could be defused if the wrath of those who have these prejudices could be diverted from what they see as the offending genetic nation to the offending ideological nation.

     What would be the consequences of defining nations primarily in terms of their religious, ideological and cultural allegiances rather than in terms of their genetic inheritance? First, if accepted on a wide scale, it would help to defuse nationalist conflicts between nations that are ideologically and culturally close. It has been pointed out that relations between democratic states are usually harmonious[4]; but the same could probably be argued with regard to relations between many other states that share other religions or ideologies.

     Secondly, it should warn us against being too optimistic with regard to the resolution of differences between genetically similar, but ideologically disparate, states, such as Communist Korea and Democratic Korea, or Catholic Croatia and Orthodox Serbia. Genetic kinship actually appears to increase the depth of the differences in these cases, as if the fact that a man of a different ideological nation is related to one by blood makes his crime blacker and more unforgiveable. A lessening of ideological intensity, as in Western Europe after the Wars of Religion, or the imposition of a third ideology upon the other two, as when Communism was imposed upon Croatian Catholicism and Serbian Orthodoxy, may help to control the conflict temporarily. But no permanent cessation of hostilities can be envisaged until the different genetic nations become one nation religiously or ideologically. Moreover, the nations must become ideologically one not by imposition but by genuine conversion. 

     Thirdly, the definition of nations in terms of their ideologies rather than their genetic inheritance should focus our attention primarily on the vital task of finding the best ideology and defending it by all the intellectual and spiritual means at our disposal. The West forms a single ideological nation, its ideology being the belief in democracy, human rights and a free-market economy. This ideology has had a remarkable success in recent years, but its failures are also becoming more glaring and obvious in the eyes of those who hold different ideologies, such as Islam. We have mentioned one of its weaknesses: its failure to control nationalism. Another weakness is the moral corruption of its leaders and the lack of respect in which they are held in most democratic (not to mention non-democratic) countries. A third is its failure to provide any higher or deeper spiritual goal for its citizens than the provision of material goods on a fairly egalitarian basis. If democracy is the best ideology, then it must be the primary task of democrats to defend their ideology against these attacks, and to show that these weaknesses are unreal, or real but corrigible within the democratic framework. But in spite of the huge prestige gained by their victory over Communism in 1989-91, they have singularly failed in that task…

     Perhaps the gravest weakness of democracy, and the root cause why it seems to fail in relation to the strongest nationalisms and non-democratic religions, is that it tends to underestimate the importance of ideology. Indeed, democracy may be defined as the ideology that ideology does not ultimately matter, but only the will of the majority, however radically that that will may change over time. Thus democracy does not claim for itself that it embodies the ultimate truth about God, man and the universe; it only says that if the citizens of a state have differing views about God, man and the universe, and about how their different views should be embodied in law, they should simply vote on it, and accept the will of the majority… Of course, it is part of the democratic ideology that the will of the minority should be "respected". But in practice it is not, especially in recent times: it is a paradox of contemporary liberal democracy that while preaching the maximum of “freedom”, it is often extremely intolerant of those who do not believe in their “freedom” – for example, in sexual matters.

     In any case, it is obvious that questions of truth cannot be decided by a vote. Nor, if the matter is important, and the ethnic and religious minorities strong-willed, will a majority vote ever settle the matter for the minorities. For why should what they see to be the will of God, or of the nation as expressed by the traditions passed down from all past generations, be overthrown by a single vote in the present?

     For example, Judith Miller writes about two influential leaders of modern Islam: "for both Turabi and Fadlallah, the Western notion of democracy is alien: to Islam, rule is a prerogative not of the people, but of God, who appointed the prophet, who, in turn, prescribed the general precepts of governance in God's own words, the Koran. For both men, no parliamentary majority, however large, can nullify God's laws as codified in Islamic law."[5]

     A similar position is taken by Orthodox Christian nationalists, for whom democratic majorities have no validity if they involve the breaking up of the historic Orthodox nation or the permitting of phenomena such as pornography or abortion or homosexuality, which are contrary to the Gospel of Christ.

     Some democrats have argued that the only way to eliminate some of the most serious nationalist conflicts is to include both nations in one "super-nation" - with the important proviso, however, that both nations should have voted for entrance into the new "super-nation" by lawfully elected  majorities.  Thus the elimination of the rivalry between France and Germany was seen as the main justification for the creation of the European Union by some of its founders. Whether the peace was preserved in Europe after 1945 more by the EU, or by NATO and the American army, is a moot point – but it cannot be denied that, at least in the early days, the preservation of the Common European Market created an important motive for keeping the peace. 

     However, it is dangerous to believe that nationalism as such can be cured by abolishing the nations and merging them into some artificial kind of super-nation. The former Soviet Union is a vivid example of this fallacy. The Bolsheviks first tried to use and incite national feeling in order to destroy the multi-national empire of Russia. Then they tried to impose their own brand of anti-nationalism on all the nations of the former empire, suppressing the old nationalisms in favour of a new "Soviet patriotism". But the old nationalisms were not destroyed; and once the dead hand of Bolshevism was removed they emerged in a still more virulent form.[6]

     The European Union was created in a less crude, more consensual way. But just as you cannot “buck the market”, so you cannot “buck human nature” and its need to belong to larger bodies and communities. The old nationalisms show no sign of dying; and in traditionally insular countries, such as Britain, or traditionally Catholic ones, such as Poland, or traditionally Orthodox ones, such as Greece, attempts to force them into an unnatural union with other nations with quite different traditions appear to be increasing centrifugal tendencies.

     The problem with the creation of "super-nations" like the European Union is that the decision of a member-nation to "pool" its sovereignty in that of the larger nation is irreversible, which immediately puts it in a different and far more controversial category than the majority of reversible democratic decisions. Take the decision of Sweden to join the European Union, which was based on the "yes" vote by a narrow majority of the Swedish electorate. The Swedish government declared beforehand that the decision of this poll would be final, whichever way it meant. This is understandable in view of the fact that the legislation effecting entry into the European Union is binding on successive national governments. But is this really democratic? Why should the decision of the electorate in November, 1994 be more binding than one at an earlier or later time, especially when the consequences are so important and imponderable in the long term? Why should the Swedes be able to change their mind on all other issues, including the composition of their national government, but not on this one? If the powers of national vetoes continue to be whittled down, and Europe turns out to be a bureaucratic monster passing legislation which is consistently opposed by the majority of the Swedish electorate as being counter to Swedish interests, why should Sweden not be allowed to pull out? Can national self-determination ever be finally bargained away? Is it not, according to the principles of democracy, an irreducible right, like the right to practise one's religion?

     Most recently, of course, it is the British who have reversed the decision they made over forty years ago to join the European Union. The emotional intensity of this debate has revealed that it is not the economic arguments, still less the question whether Britain outside the EU might enter into war with the EU, that are the most important factors here, but three different types of nationalism: (i) British, as expressed by the vote of the great majority of the English people outside London to leave the EU, (ii) European, as expressed by the vote of the great majority of Londoners and the intellectual elites to remain in the EU, and (iii) Scottish, as expressed by the majority of Scots to remain in the EU and not in the United Kingdom. This demonstrates two important and apparently conflicting facts. First, that the full union between England and Scotland, which goes back to 1707 and has proved to be one of the most successful unions in political history, is still fragile. And secondly, that the partial union between Britain and the EU, which goes back only forty years, has already created a new kind of nationalism, a European nationalism, that has seriously undermined the old, British one.

     Two related factors are important in the understanding of this phenomenon: the rapid decline of religion in recent years, which undermines belief not only in God but also in tradition and in the importance of the past allegiances; and an increase in materialism. The whole of the West – indeed, the whole of mankind - has become more individualist than before, with the result that old allegiances have dissolved and new relationships created on the basis, essentially, of money alone. So those with strong economic ties to Europe will vote for Europe, generally speaking; while sentimental and cultural ties with “the old country” will count for less with them.

     But this works in the opposite direction, too: as trade becomes more international, trading blocs become less important, and a European identity becomes less strong. The rapidly increasing individualism and atomization of mankind is undermining all nationalisms. However, this brings us back to the psychological need to belong, which is the basis of nationalism: feeling alone in an increasingly atomized world, men will seek to join some nation – and the smaller and older sovereign nations are just as attractive, if not more so, than the big new “super-nations” in satisfying the need to belong to a community. 

     One thing is clear: democracy alone is not sufficient to bind the nations together if they are both very large and very diverse in language, culture and religion. There must be something stronger which makes the sub-nations or individual nations feel that they truly belong to the super-nation, which has its own individuality and ideology. In other words, the super-nations must be unions in spirit and truth, and not only in budget contributions and ballot-boxes. The greatest task facing the Western nations today is the finding of that spirit and truth. Otherwise they will succumb to the combined onslaught of disgruntled ethnic minorities from within and determined religious majorities from without.


     What do the Holy Scriptures teach us about nations and nationalism?

     Holy Scripture recognizes only two nations or races in the strict sense of the word: the race of fallen mankind, which derives its origin from the first Adam, and the race of redeemed mankind, which derives its origin from the last Adam, Christ. The race of fallen mankind lost its original unity as a consequence of sin - the sin of paganism in particular, and the building of the Tower of Babel. In order to check the spread of sin, God separated the nations both geographically and linguistically. However, the memory of their original unity was never lost. That they were and are of one blood is asserted by the Apostle Paul in his sermon to the Athenians: "God made from one blood every nation of men to dwell on all the face of the earth, and has determined their preappointed times and the boundaries of their dwelling." (Acts 17.26). 

     Nationalism contradicts this primordial fact of the original unity of mankind in Adam. Since we are all originally one, no man or race of men is essentially higher or lower than any other. For as the Apostles Paul and Barnabas said to the pagans of Lystra who wanted to make them gods: "We also are men with the same nature as you" (Acts 14.15; cf. James 5.17).

     At Pentecost, our original unity was restored by our receiving the Holy Spirit, which transplanted us, as it were, onto a new root - Christ; for "we hear [the word of God], each in our own language in which we were born" (Acts 2.8). From a physical, genetic point of view, there is no difference between the two races, but from the spiritual point of view the difference is enormous. In a word, fallen mankind has lost the Spirit of God, the only true Spirit of unity (Genesis 6.3), whereas redeemed mankind has been born again "of water and the Spirit" (John 3.5).

     In the race of redeemed mankind, which is the Orthodox Church founded by Christ, national differences become of minor importance. For "there is neither Jew nor Greek;... for you are all one in Christ Jesus" (Galatians 3.28). The very first Church Council, and the very first doctrinal decision of the Church, was concerned to abolish any essential distinction between Jews and Gentiles in the New Testament Church (Acts 15).

     At the same time, national differences continue to exist and play a role in the mystery of God's Providence. This is particularly emphasized by the Apostle Paul in his words on the relationship between the Jews and the Gentiles (Romans 9-11). The Jews, he says, have been cut off from the race of redeemed mankind, while the Gentiles have been grafted in. However, this position can be reversed, so there is no reason for "anti-semitism" - "do not be haughty, but fear" (Romans 11.20).

     Thus the Christians, both Jews and Gentiles, are "a chosen race, a holy priesthood, a holy nation, a people whom he has gained" (I Peter 2.9). Indeed, there is an important sense in which the Christians are the only true nation, the only nation that will endure forever; for "you [when you were pagans] were once not a people, but now are the people of God, and you did not seek after mercy but now have received mercy" (I Peter 2.10). As the Lord said through the Prophet Hosea: "I shall call [those who were] not My people and [those who did] not receive mercy [I shall call a people] having received mercy, and it will be in the place where it was said, 'You are not My people', there they will be called the sons of the living God" (1.9, 2.24; cf. Romans 9.25-26).

     This is a very brief summary of the first principles of the Orthodox Church's teaching on the nations and nationalism. Let us now turn to some more recent definitions of the nation, and how they apply to some contemporary nations. 

     In an article written in 1970, and entitled "Three Attitudes to the Homeland", the Russian Slavophile Vladimir Osipov proposed the following set of criteria: "What is a nation? Faith, blood, language and the land. Religion, and even a certain complex of rites, are a part - indeed, the most important part - of the spirit of a nation. An individual person can get by without religion. But without religion, an individual nation cannot survive as a nation... A people disintegrates literally before one's eyes when faith in God disintegrates..."[7]

     Here we find the religious approach to the problem of nationalism - the importance attached to the faith of the nation - that is characteristic of almost all Russian writers. It is not that the call of blood, language and land are not felt by Russians. But the strength of the Orthodox Christian tradition in defining the Russians' consciousness of themselves and of others remains strong, even after so many years of atheist and internationalist socialist propaganda. And this tradition declares that blood, after all, is not a defining quality of nations (especially in such a racially mixed nation as Russia). As for language and land, they change and develop without the essential spirit of a country changing - although there is no doubt that a deep knowledge of the language, and living contact with the land, have an important role in keeping the spirit of a nation alive.

     The Russian parliamentarian and philosopher Viktor Aksiuchits echoes this judgement: "The positivist definitions of a people - for example, common origin (blood), language, territory, economic structure, culture, state unity - do not embrace the concept of that mysterious unity which is the people, the nation. All such definitions are only partial. They cannot, for example, explain the existence of such a people as the Jews, who in the thousands of years of their existence have become mixed in blood, have changed their language and culture, have not had a common territory, or economic structure, or their own statehood, but have nevertheless been fully preserved as a people."[8]

     The example of the Jews is indeed instructive, and there can be little doubt that the only major bond holding them together as a nation since the destruction of their statehood in 70 A.D. has been their faith. This faith is a nationalistic faith - as Kartashev writes, "Judaism established itself on a primordial, ethnically closed-in-on-itself nationalism of the blood".[9] But while blood alone cannot hold a nation together, faith in blood, even though it must be a false faith, can give a nation a terribly powerful - and powerfully terrible - strength and unity, as the whole history of the Jews since Christ has demonstrated. When faith begins to weaken, however, a nation resorts to other means, such as land, language and blood, to hold itself together. Thus when the Jewish leaders felt that the identity of their nation was being threatened through assimilation with the European nations in the nineteenth century, they founded the Zionist movement in 1897 with the explicit aim of strengthening the Jewish identity by a return to the land of Israel. Since then, moreover, it has been felt necessary to resurrect the Hebrew language and to make common blood a condition of citizenship in the state of Israel.

     Also important in helping a nation to define itself and hold together is a common tradition of statehood. It is interesting that most nations with a strong sense of identity have been monarchies, while democracy has tended to undermine a nation's identity. This is because monarchy, being based on conservative, rather than revolutionary principles, helps to preserve a nation's memory and therefore its sense of who and what it is. Democracy, on the other hand, usually begins with a revolution that denies the validity and sanctity of the pre-revolutionary past. Moreover, every new democratic government comes to power on the promise of doing better than its inadequate predecessor; so the emphasis is on constant change and renewal - "permanent revolution".

     Now since faith is so important in defining a nation's identity, a change of faith can mean the death of one nation and the birth of another, even when genetic, linguistic and territorial ties have not been broken.

     Thus in a real sense the Jewish nation died when it killed Christ. And Holy Scripture affirms that anti-Christian Jews are not true Jews (cf. Romans 2.28; Revelation 2.9). And so the return of the Jews to Christ will indeed be, as the Apostle Paul says, "life from the dead" (Romans 11.15), the resurrection of the true spiritual identity of the Jewish people.

     Let us take another example, that of England. Now the faith that made England a single nation with a clear self-identity was Orthodox Christianity. And for several centuries before the Norman Conquest of 1066, England was a traditional hereditary monarchy of the Orthodox type. Her kings were crowned by the Church and revered, as in Byzantium and Russia, as the Anointed of God. Disobedience to the king was considered a sin, not only against the state, but also against the faith.[10]

     However, "apparently as the result of one day's fighting" in 1066, writes the historian R.H.C. Davis, "England received a new royal dynasty, a new aristocracy, a virtually new Church, a new art, a new architecture and a new language".[11] As the nineteenth-century historian Edward Augustus Freeman put it: "The Norman Conquest is the great turning-point in the history of the English nation... Its whole importance is not the importance which belongs to a beginning, but the importance which belongs to a turning point. So far from being the beginning of our national history, the Norman Conquest was the temporary overthrow of our national being."[12] This break in the national traditions, and therefore the national self-awareness of the English, was so radical that until recently English schoolchildren were taught English history beginning only from 1066 - as if the thousand or so years of earlier history were of no significance. There was some teaching about Britain's pre-Christian, pagan past; but England's Golden Age, the Age of the Saints, was dismissed as Dark Age barbarism. Only recently has some publicity begun to be given to English Orthodoxy, as in the recent excavation of an amazing hoard of gold objects dating from the seventh or eighth centuries in Staffordshire. 

     Together with the other English Orthodox traditions, the tradition concerning the monarchy also suffered damage after the Norman Conquest. Although the king continued to be crowned by the Church, the idea of the holiness of the monarchy was gradually lost. In 1216 the powers of the monarchy were limited by the Magna Carta to take account of the interests of the nobility; and further limitations followed. However, in the 16th century Shakespeare still had a strong feeling for it, as we can see in his play, Richard II; and even today, centuries after the democratic revolution of 1642 deprived the monarchy of any real power or sanction by making it constitutional, the English still have an instinctive veneration for the institution. This witnesses to a kind of schizophrenia in the English soul. For while the dominant faith of the English is undoubtedly democratic and materialistic, the monarchy still serves as a link with that past when England had a different faith - and was in effect a different nation...

     Another instructive, and still more complex example is Greece. Before their conversion to Christ, the Greeks had already had a long and complex existence as a nation. At first they lived in a multitude of independent city-states, each with his own god, such as Athene of Athens and "Diana of the Ephesians". But in spite of their political and religious divisions, the Greeks always felt their unity as a nation; and the distinction between Greeks and Barbarians is a very ancient one. Only the Jews and the Chinese, among the very ancient nations, have a similarly clear, ethnocentric view of the universe.

     Then, in the fifth and fourth centuries before Christ, the Greeks' faith in their gods began to wane under the influence of philosophy and democracy. For, as Alexei Khomyakov pointed out, the rise of democracy is usually accompanied by a decline in religion. This prepared the way for Alexander the Great, under whom the Greeks acquired a world empire and an imperialist state structure. Then Greece itself became simply one province in the new world-empire of Rome, although Hellenic culture continued to extend its influence. Indeed, Hellenism, with its mixture of eastern and western elements, was destined to become the foundation civilization of the whole of Europe and the Mediterranean world, from Hadrian's wall on the Scottish border to the Euphrates river on the Persian border.

     With the coming of St. Constantine the Great, the empire became Christian and the Greeks were reborn as the "Christian Romans" or Romeioi - a name that the Greeks of Pontus and the Eastern coast of the Black Sea continued to retain for themselves well into the twentieth century. During this period, the prestige of Christianity was so great that the Christian Greeks took no particular pride in Hellenism, which was associated with the pagan, pre-Christian past; for they now redefined themselves as Christians and Romans. The best elements in Hellenism were incorporated into the Byzantine Christian synthesis, while the pagan elements were discarded and derided.

     However, when Constantinople, the New Rome, fell in 1453, and especially after the liberation of Greece in 1821, the Greeks started redefining themselves again as Hellenes, and began to look back to their pagan past with pride, as if that were no less a real part of their national identity than their Christianity. And in our time this has led to a real crisis of identity. For the contemporary Greeks have to decide who their real spiritual ancestors are: the pagan democratic Greeks like Pericles and Sophocles, the pagan imperialist Greeks like Alexander of Macedon and Antiochus Epiphanes (one of the great persecutors of the people of God), or the Christian Roman Greeks such as the Fathers of the Church and the new martyrs of the Turkish yoke. Their membership of the pseudo-democratic and secularist confederation of the European Union makes them emphasize their pagan democratic past. The dispute over Macedonia leads them to emphasize their pagan imperial past. And only rarely do they hark back to their Christian Roman past in its spiritual, universalist profundity. It is this schizophrenia in the Greek soul that makes it so difficult for them to define themselves and their aims, both to themselves and to the outside world.


     From this discussion, we can see that a nation is in many ways like an person. Like a person, each nation can be said to have a spirit, a soul and a body. Its "spirit" is that which unites it with God and unites it with all other nations that are in God - what Vladimir Soloviev called "the idea that God has of it in eternity".[13] Since only the Orthodox Christian nations are united with God, only they can be said to be spiritual in this sense: the other nations are united in spirit to other gods, such as the god of Islam or of the god of revolutionary nationalism or internationalism, or Mammon…

     The spirit of a nation is sometimes so strong that it is felt that a person cannot belong to the nation in any way unless he also confesses the faith of that nation. A clear example is Old Testament Israel in its peak period from Moses to Solomon, when "Israel" referred both to a faith and to the people confessing that faith. A modern example is Iran, whose internal identity and external foreign policy are almost completely dependent on its self-appointed status as the guardian of the Shiite Muslim faith. Another important example is "Holy Russia" in the Muscovite period, when to be Russian meant necessarily to be Orthodox Christian.[14]

     At the same time, there are important differences, even in very religious societies, between the Church (in Christian societies) and society or the nation in general. One of these differences, as Fr. Stefan Krasovitsky points out, is that "the nucleus of society is the family, whereas the nucleus of the Church is the person. Within the Church a person is united with other persons without any loss of his individuality, for this unity takes place in the Super-Person (Divine Person) of Jesus Christ... [As to so-called 'human rights',] they are provided (in the conditions of a morally healthy society) within the family in accordance with the familial status of each member of this unit of society. So a normal society should defend, not 'human rights'… but the rights of the family, defending them from suppression and destruction."[15]

     Moreover, even in such spiritually intense and unified societies, the idea of the nation is never completely exhausted by the content of its faith; this remnant we may call the soul of the nation. For if the faith is a universalist one, it will also be incarnate in other nations having different souls but the same faith or spirit. And even if the faith is not universalist, but exclusive to one and one only nation, like "Diana of the Ephesians", the nation concerned will differentiate itself from the other nations not only in terms of its faith but also in terms of many other, less spiritual characteristics.

     For the soul of a nation is tied up in certain very specific and unique ways with its history, its geography, its climate, and its physical and psychological characteristics. Thus for an Englishman, regardless of his faith or the faith of his nation, his Englishness involves what might be called a specifically geographical element - the feeling of belonging to the island which Shakespeare in Richard II compared to "a silvery stone set in a silvery sea"; and this element may contribute to what other nations see as the Englishman's reserved, self-contained, insular nature. On the other hand, the expansiveness and tendency to extremism that characterizes the Russians in their own and others' estimation, has been considered by some - for example, Berdyaev - to be conditioned by the limitless flat steppes of their homeland.[16]

     In some nations, the spiritual element in its national feeling is so weak as to be almost non-existent. But since man cannot exist without some guiding principle, the spiritual vacuum thus created will be filled by the deification of the nation itself, or of the state or leader in which its national life is temporarily incarnate - that is, in nationalism or totalitarian statism. In pagan societies the tendency towards statism is expressed especially in the deification of the king. Hence the god-kings and emperors of Ancient Egypt, Babylon and Rome. In Western, post-Christian societies, this tendency finds a less religious but still powerful expression, as in Fascist Italy or Nazi Germany.

     However, there are some societies in which both religious faith and national feeling have been reduced to a pale shadow of themselves. The spiritual and emotional vacuums thus created will then be filled, on the one hand, by a frenzy of economic activity, and on the other hand, by an extreme elaboration of state structures of every kind. This indicates that the identity of the nation is almost exclusively carnal, consisting in the almost exclusive cult of the body. In both its personal and its collective forms, it is a comparatively modern development. But today, in the shape of western capitalist, democratic civilization, it has spread throughout the world.

     However, even when men have agreed that the main purpose of life is to satisfy material, bodily needs, and that the best instrument to this end is through the body of the nation - the state, they still remain essentially spiritual beings whose spiritual and emotional nature cannot be satisfied by bread alone. Therefore the builders of modern western societies have provided them with something else: circuses. For whereas the religious societies of the past spent vast sums on the construction of cathedrals or temples or mosques, and the nationalist societies of more recent times spent equally vast sums on the construction of the thrones and palaces of their god-kings, modern democratic societies spend substantial (but comparatively much smaller) sums on the construction of sports halls and stadia, cinemas and concert-halls. Here the need to worship something or someone greater than oneself - a sports team or a rock star - can be satisfied. And here nationalist passions can be expressed and defused in comparative safety.

     Thus just as in an individual person the weakening of the spirit inevitably leads to the domination of the flesh, so is it in the life of nations. When the soul of the nation ceases to worship God in the spirit, it worships either its own soul or its own body. This is the origin both of nationalism and of democratism, in which "the pursuit of happiness" – psychological and material happiness - becomes the constitutional foundation of society. It follows that to say of nationalism that it is "caused by wounds, some form of collective humiliation"[17] is misleading. For it implies that the excesses of fallen nationalism are purely psychological in nature and can be cured by some kind of "collective therapy"; whereas the roots of the disease are spiritual and come from a loss of faith. Just as the fire of fallen desire is kindled when the fire of the Holy Spirit is quenched in the individual soul, so the fire of nationalism is kindled when the fire of love for God and the truth is weakened.

     A true union of nations is possible only on the basis of the common acceptance of a single spirit or faith. If the basis of the union is not spirit, but flesh - economic self-interest - then the union is bound to fail; for materialism pits nations no less than individual men against each other. Or if it succeeds, it can do so at only at the cost of the physical disappearance of the weaker nations and the spiritual death of all of them. 

     But if a nation, like an individual person, is an eternal personality made in the image of God, the disappearance of a nation cannot be justified by any super-national aims, however superficially laudable. For this would be murder. So we come back to the question: to what extent can we say that a nation is like an individual person? Is it really as eternal as a person? Or are some – perhaps all - nations destined to disappear forever?

     The view that a nation is a person and therefore eternal in all significant respects was expressed by Alexander Solzhenitsyn: "Recently it has become fashionable to speak of the levelling of nations, and the disappearance of peoples in the melting-pot of contemporary civilization. I do not agree with this, but to discuss it is a separate question, and at this point I think it fitting to say only that the disappearance of nations would impoverish us no less than if all individual people were assimilated into one character, one person. Nations are the wealth of humanity, its social personalities; the smallest of them bears its own special traits, and hides within itself a special facet of the Divine plan...

     "It is precisely he who gives the highest value to the existence of nations, who sees in them not a temporary fruit of social formations, but a complex, vivid, unrepeatable organism that cannot be invented by men - he it is who recognizes that nations have a fullness of spiritual life, a fullness of ascents and falls, a range extending from holiness to villainy (though the extreme points are achieved only by individual personalities).

     "Of course, all this changes greatly in the course of time and the flow of history; that most mobile line dividing good from evil is always swaying, sometimes very stormily, in the consciousness of a nation, - and for that reason every judgement and every reproach and self-reproach, and repentance itself, is tied to a specific time, flowing away with the passing of that time and remaining only as memorial contours in history.

     "But, you know, in the same way even individual persons in the same way, under the influence of its events and their spiritual work, change to the point of unrecognizability in the course of their lives. (And this is the hope, and salvation, and punishment of man, that we can change, and are ourselves responsible for our own souls, and not birth or the environment!) Nevertheless, we take the risk of evaluating people as "good" and "bad", and noone contests this right of ours.

     "Between a person and a nation there is the deepest similarity - in the mystical nature of the uncreatedness of both the one and the other. And there are no human reasons why, in allowing ourselves to evaluate the changeability of the one, we forbid it for the other."[18]

     Viktor Aksiuchits has qualified, without radically changing, this idea of the nation-person: "A person is an individual subject, an eternal individual soul. But a people is a conciliar [sobornij] subject, its soul is conciliar. Therefore a people is not a person, but a conciliarity [sobornost'], although many characteristics of a person extend to the conciliar soul of a people. A people possesses the freedom of historical self-definition, but this freedom is conciliar, and not individual. The historical responsibility of a people and its moral accountability also have a conciliar character.

     "All the metaphysical characteristics of a people are structured around conciliarity. Conciliarity is not the mechanical sum of individuals, but their free unity. A people is a conciliar unity of eternal human souls... It is the idea of the Creator concerning their common mission and the responsible thought of eternal souls concerning the unity of their historical calling."[19]

     Even with this qualification, however, there are limits to the extent we can talk about nations as persons. Thus while persons have eternal souls, this can be said of nations only in a metaphorical sense. For, as Metropolitan Philaret of Moscow says, "for earthly kingdoms and peoples their kingly and popular existence can only have an earthly character". Again, as Dora Shturman points out, however much individual people change, each still has one mind and one conscience (unless he is schizophrenic). A nation, however, is composed of many people with often sharply differing aims and outlooks.[20]

     Another criticism of the nation-person metaphor is that whereas at the Last Judgement "all the nations will be gathered before Him" (Matthew 25.32), and men can be said to have a collective responsibility for their nation's actions, in the final analysis it is only individuals that are sent to heaven or hell. Thus a man can free himself from responsibility for the crimes of his nation by condemning them, like the Germans who refused to accept Nazism - or the Jews who refused to mock Christ. And in the same way a man can deprive himself of the honour of belonging to a great nation by his betrayal of its noble ideals, like the Greeks who converted to Islam - or the Russians who joined the revolution.

     We may wonder, moreover, whether every nation is called to an eternal destiny. In the Old Testament the Lord "destroyed seven nations in the land of Canaan" (Acts 13.19), demanding of King Saul the complete extirpation of the Amalekites (he disobeyed in obedience to "the voice of the people" and was removed from his throne). The Assyrians are an example of another nation that rises and falls so rapidly that it seems as if their only purpose is to chastize the people of God and then disappear once this purpose was accomplished (for "shall the axe vaunt itself over Him Who hews it?" (Isaiah 10.15)). That is perhaps why Metropolitan Philaret of Moscow explicitly denied that the nation has an eternal, heavenly destiny.

     But in every age there have been those who have fled from their doomed nation and joined themselves to the nation that lives for ever, such as Rahab the Canaanite or Ruth the Moabite or Cornelius the Centurion or Prince Peter of the Tatar horde. And if that doomed nation can be said to be eternal, it is only in the persons of these rare individuals who renounced it. For in them alone is the word fulfilled: "All the nations whom Thou hast made shall come and shall worship before Thee, O Lord, and shall glorify Thy name" (Psalm 85.9).

     Even those Orthodox nations which have over the centuries evolved a collective personality that can be termed essentially Christian and therefore eternal by nature have to struggle to preserve that personality to the end. Thus "the glory that was Greece" will remain a phrase in the past mode if the Greeks exchange the truly "great idea" (megali idea) of Christian Rome for the petty nationalism of a neo-pagan Greece. And Serbia will become "greater" only in the territorial sense if she abandons the universalist vision of St. Savva.


     Let us now look a little more closely at what the West sees as the "problem" of Russian nationalism.

     Since there can be no solution to any national problem unless there is an understanding of the nation in question, we must first try and penetrate to the mystery of the Russian national identity. And this is no easy task if we look only at Russia in this century; for in our century Russia has passed from theocracy to democracy to satanocracy to democracy again, from multi-national empire to anti-national anti-empire to nation-state. And yet from a longer historical viewpoint the perplexities disappear. "The Russian idea" is clear - it is Orthodoxy. For the Russians are sharply distinguished from other great Christian nations, such as the Greeks and the Romans, by the fact that almost their entire history has been Orthodox Christian. And this has been a great advantage for them in defining themselves; for whereas, as we have seen, the Greeks have often had a problem in deciding which is more essentially Greek - their pagan past or their Christian past, for the Russians there has been no contest: at least until 1917, the Russian soul was an Orthodox Christian one. It is as if the pagan Russian past had not existed: it was an obscure period of "pre-history" swallowed up in the blinding light of the primal act of her true history - her baptism at the hands of the enlightener of Russia, the holy Great-Prince Vladimir.

     Vladimir himself, by his dramatic and complete conversion from savage, lustful paganism to self-sacrificial Christianity, symbolized the rebirth that had taken place in the Russian soul. This was no tentative, half-hearted conversion, but a complete change of spirit; and so it was with the Russian people as a whole. Thus whatever other temptations Russia has had to endure since her Baptism in 988, a full-scale return to paganism was not one of them - until the critical turning-point of 1917. Paganism in Russia was comparatively weak, disorganized and, above all, provincial. It was no match for the superior civilization and universalist grace and power of the Christian Gospel, supported as it was both by the political power and charisma of St. Vladimir and by the spiritual power of the Great Church of Constantinople at her height.

     Now the history of the Baptism of Russia explains many of the antinomies which Berdyaev and others have seen in the Russian soul.

     First, the speed and completeness with which the Baptism of Russia  unified all the widely-scattered and hitherto disunited tribes of the Eastern Slavs, Finno-Ungrians and others goes some of the way to explaining why religion, the spiritual realm, is, and continues to be, so important in the Russian land, as opposed to the more worldly and material factors which have served to unite other nations and which have therefore played a greater role in their subsequent development. It was religion that united the Russian land. Only religion could have united the Russian land. Only religion will reunite the Russian land. Therefore it is in terms of religion that Russians see themselves and their relationship to other nations. In a perverse kind of way, this is true even of the Soviet period, when Russia seemed to lose her religion. For it was then as if the Apostle Paul returned to being the persecutor Saul without losing his burning zeal for religion.

     On the other hand, the great importance which St. Vladimir played in the Baptism - for it was indeed a conversion of the people "from the top down" - laid the foundations for the development of a powerful centralized State in Russia, and the close links between the State and the Church - closer than in any other Christian nation. Thus in the Russian soul, spirituality and statehood, the Cross and the Crown, are not felt to be the opposites that they have tended to become in the West; for it was the Crown, in the person of St. Vladimir, that won Russia for the Cross, and the Russian people have continued to see in the will of the Tsar the expression of the will of God.

     The holy Elder Barsanuphius of Optina expressed this relationship well: "The devotion of the Orthodox Russian people to their Tsars is not at all the same as the devotion of the western peoples to their sovereigns. According to modern western conceptions, the sovereign is nothing other than a representative of his people - and the western peoples love their representatives and willingly submit to them when they faithfully carry out this mission, or when by the power of their genius they draw the people after them and blind them by the brilliance of glory and state power, like Napoleon in France and Frederick in Prussia [and, we might add, Mussolini in Italy and Hitler in Germany]; but this love is self-serving and egoistical. In the West it is themselves that the people love in their sovereigns. If the king by his personal character is unable to be the faithful reflection and representative of the will of the people and the strivings, ideas and passions that rule in it, then they restrict and constrict his will by means of constitutional vices. But if the king does not submit to these attempts, and is unable to submit to the taste and character of his subjects, then he is deprived not only of the love of the people, but also of the throne, as it was with Charles X and Louis-Philippe and the Sardinian king Albert.

     "It is not at all like that with us in Russia: our Tsar is the representative of the will of God, and not the people's will. His will is sacred for us, as the will of the Anointed of God; we love him because we love God. If the Tsar gives us glory and prosperity, we receive it from him as a Mercy of God. But if we are overtaken by humiliation and poverty, we bear them with meekness and humility, as a heavenly punishment for our iniquities, and never do we falter in our love for, and devotion to, the Tsar, as long as they proceed from our Orthodox religious convictions, our love and devotion to God."[21]

     A second antimony in the Russian soul which is largely explained by the history of the Baptism of Russia is the contrast between the Russians' great receptiveness to foreigners and foreign ideas, on the one hand, and their great pride in their own country, on the other. For, on the one hand, the Baptism of Russia came from outside; Russia received its faith, literature and almost its entire civilization from the hands of Greeks and Bulgarians. For, as we have seen, the Christian faith and Christian civilization in Russia did not have to contend with a powerful and highly developed native pagan tradition, as it did in Greece and Rome. Hence the innate respect for foreigners, who brought to Russia almost everything that the Russians treasure in themselves. On the other hand, no nation has more thoroughly absorbed the Christian Gospel than the Russians. In spite of sins and falls, to which every Christian nation has succumbed, the Russians have equalled their foreign teachers in their devotion to Christ, as is witnessed by the extraordinary abundance of their saints and martyrs - not least in the Soviet period, when the Russian Church added many times more martyrs to the Heavenly Church than the 350,000 which, according to the menologia, were acquired by the whole Church from the time of the Apostles.[22]

     These two antinomies of the Russian soul - spirituality and statehood, and universality and nationalism - have marked the whole history of Russia. At particular times, one or the other pole of the antimony has become more dominant, but only temporarily. Thus if we examine the spirituality-statehood antimony, we note that during the later Kievan period, and under the Mongol yoke, the centralizing state disappeared and centrifugal forces appeared in the Russian lands. And this went together with a decrease in spiritual power. However, the revival of spirituality associated with the name of St. Sergei of Radonezh in the fourteenth century also led to the revival of a powerful centralized state in the form of Moscow. Again, the centralized state collapsed during the Time of Troubles at the end of the sixteenth century, when the Poles conquered Moscow and placed a Catholic tsar, the false Dmitri, on the throne. But a revival of faith and courage led by St. Hermogen, patriarch of Moscow, led to the restoration of the monarchy under the Romanov dynasty which survived until the revolution. Finally, a still steeper decline in spirituality led to the revolution and the collapse of the Russian state in 1917.

     With regard to the second, universality-nationalism antimony, we see a similar pattern. Generally speaking, the Kievan period may be described as broadly universalist, the Muscovite period increasingly nationalist, and the Petersburg period again universalist. But as long as the dominant religion and ethos of the state and people remained Orthodox Christianity, the poles of this antimony were kept in balance, and extremists, such as the anti-national universalist Socialists or the anti-universalist nationalist Old Ritualists, remained on the borders of society.

     However, the revolution of 1917 destroyed the balance of antinomies in the Russian idea and introduced what was in essence a quite different idea, the Soviet idea, corresponding to the emergence of a new nation, the Soviet nation.

     The balance between spirituality and statehood was destroyed by the complete dominance of the state in all spheres of life and the attempted complete destruction of the Orthodox Church and spirituality. Of course, the Soviet Union was not without a spirituality of its own, but it was a demonic spirituality, a spirituality that exalted "history" over morality, the flesh over the spirit, hatred over love. It was a state possessed by demons, like the town of Dostoyevsky's prophetic novel, The Demons.

     The balance between universalism and nationalism was also destroyed. Everything that was native and Russian was despised and trampled on; the very word "Russia" was removed; and the leaders of the revolution were almost all non-Russians who hated Russia. In the place of the ideas and traditions of the Russians were introduced the ideas and traditions of the West carried to their logical and absurd conclusions. Of course, the Soviet regime claimed to be internationalist; but in actual fact it was rigorously anti-nationalist, and was aimed at the destruction of all national cultures - first of all the Russian and Orthodox cultures, and then all the others, Catholic, Protestant, Muslim and pagan. Only in the "the Great Patriotic War", as the Soviets deceivingly called it, was a perverted form of Russian nationalism reintroduced in order to save the state against German Fascism - only to be vigorously suppressed again after the danger had passed. 

     The revolution therefore presented, as Solzhenitsyn eloquently argued, an almost complete break in the history and spiritual identity of the Russian nation.[23] Far from being a logical continuation of the Russian idea, as some have argued, it was a complete denial of that idea. So what the Mongols in the 13th century, the Judaizers in the 15th, the Poles in the 16th and 17th, and even the westernizing reforms of Peter the Great in the 18th centuries had failed to achieve was achieved by Lenin and Stalin. 

     In view of this, it is only natural to regard the revival of Russian national feeling that began in the 1970s and gathered pace under Gorbachev and Yeltsin as a lawful and healthy reaction to the nightmare of the Soviet period, and the only sure and organically based path to the restoration of Russia as the great and civilized nation she was before it. However, there is a view that is widely held both in the West and in Russia that this national-religious renaissance of Russia is in fact the greatest possible threat to the civilized world. According to this view, the nationalisms of the small countries of the former Soviet Union - of the Baltic states, of the Ukraine, of the Caucasian and Central Asian republics - are only right and natural; but the nationalism of Russia - the nation which suffered most from Communism, while offering the strongest opposition to it - is somehow of a quite different, and much more sinister nature, involving a kind of mixture between Communism and Fascism which has been given the name "National Bolshevism".

     The main critic of "National Bolshevism" in the Gorbachev period, Alexander Yanov, argued that all Russian nationalism, whether religious or irreligious, was irremediably inclined towards authoritarianism, and that all Russian regimes since Ivan the Terrible were simply phases (reform, counter-reform or stagnation) of a single, cyclically recurring authoritarian idea, which he called "the Russian idea". Soviet society under Gorbachev, said Yanov, was going through a reform phase of the cycle, which, if encouraged and not allowed, as previously, to stagnate, might lead to a breaking of the cycle and the introduction of "real" civilization, i.e. Western-style democracy, into Russia. If, on the other hand, this anti-Western, anti-semitic (as he claimed) Russian nationalism were allowed to triumph, this would represent a turning of the cycle towards counter-reform, i.e. the transformation and revitalization of the Soviet State into a neo-Fascist monster. For the sake of the peace of the world, said Yanov, this must be prevented.[24]

     In 1999 Alexander Dugin’s Absoliutnaia Rodina, “The Absolute Homeland”, presaged something similar. It duly came in the next year with V.V. Putin, who, after a cautious start has steadily transformed the Russian democracy into an authoritarian, neo-Soviet, neo-Fascist monster, thoroughly earning his nickname of “Putler”. As long as there exist people of a basically Soviet mentality whose knowledge of Russian history and true Russian spirituality is meagre, the possibility will exist of their claiming that their essentially Soviet "spirituality" is a continuation and incarnation of "the Russian idea".[25]

     But it is a grave mistake to label all Russian nationalists and patriots as "National Bolsheviks", still more to think that the whole of Russian history is simply a recurring cycle of authoritarianism interspersed with brief and insecure periods of relative democracy. And in fact Yanov's thesis was itself an example of the Soviet type of thinking which he claimed to be warning against. For this was precisely the distorted view of Russian history the West began to develop in the nineteenth century, which was taken over by the Russian westernizing liberals. The truth is that the true Russian nationalism is inextricably bound up with Orthodoxy. So the way to avert "National Bolshevism" is to revive the true Russian nationalism - that is, to regenerate Russian Orthodoxy, which, however, is impossible as long as the official Russian Church is in the hands of a KGB patriarch no less Fascist than Putin.

     A healthier - and more typical - example of Russian religious nationalism is represented by the thought of Vladimir Osipov. We may recall that Osipov considered that four elements go to make up a nation - faith, blood, language and land. But he accepted that the most important of these elements was the faith: "Christ and His teachings are in the final analysis more important for me than nationalism."

     At the same time he recognized at the time he was writing - over 40 years ago - that the national element in the Russian religious-national movement was more important than the religious: "I know the soul of the contemporary Russian: the national principle is at the moment more clear and alive for him than the religious principle. Hence patriotism, national self-consciousness and self-respect provide at the moment the only reliable bridge to moral, cultural and biological salvation."[26]

     But is it really reliable? The emergence and relative stability of Putin’s regime since 2000 indicates the opposite. It shows that the revival of “patriotism, national self-consciousness and self-respect”, while desirable in themselves, is bound to degenerate into a kind of Fascism unless it is underpinned and inspired by “the religious principle” - True Orthodoxy.

      Therefore the first priority is to remove the present "Soviet Orthodox" Church of the Moscow Patriarchate with its KGB hierarchs, its glorification of the Red Army and its whitewashing of the crimes of the Soviet past, together with its conniving at Putin’s blasphemous “Communist Christianity”. There are signs that a disillusionment with the MP is beginning to take place. But as long as the false church is supported by the false state, its position seems reasonably secure.

     It would be different if the state itself suffered some external humiliation or defeat, perhaps in a war against stronger nations such as China or America. And then, through the prayers of the millions of new martyrs of the Soviet period, a resurrection of Holy Russia led by a truly Orthodox Tsar will take place. Of this, as New Hieromartyr John of Latvia, one of the many non-Russians who acquired sanctity as a citizen of Holy Russia, said, "we can and must be convinced".

     In the meantime, the social basis for this resurrection can be prepared by a gradual national-religious regeneration of Russian society from below, under the leadership, not of the Moscow Patriarchate, but of the truly Orthodox Church. Alexander Kartashev, Over-Procurator of the Holy Synod under the Provisional Government in 1917, indicated how such a regeneration of society from below could proceed: "Through the Christian transfiguration of the 'inner man', by itself, gradually and imperceptibly, the whole environment in which the spiritually renewed Christian lives and acts - society, culture, the State - will be transfigured. The latter live and develop according to their own natural laws, which are exterior for Christianity, but can be subjected to its influences and, if only to a certain degree, transfigured. In the last analysis they are impenetrable for Christianity, for they are foreign by their nature. They are categories, not of a spiritual, but of a cosmic, order. The Lord opposed Himself to 'this world', and the apostle of love commanded us 'not to love this world'. The category 'society' is of 'this world', and for that reason the Christian heart must not cleave to it. Social life is a certain mechanism of the concatenation of personalities and is fatally subject to a certain mechanical conformity with law, which is foreign to the kingdom of spiritual freedom - that is, the Christian religion, the Church. Being a true member of this mystical society, the individual Christian, and through him the whole Church, is 'spiritually-automatically', inwardly, imperceptibly enlightening, exalting and transfiguring external, sinful society. All other methods except this, which goes from the depths of the personal transfiguration of the spirit, are non-Christian methods."[27]

     Aksyuchits writes: "The essence of what we are living through now could be expressed in the words: we as a nation have suffered a deep spiritual fall - we have renounced God, which is also to say, the meaning of life. But in spite of the 'common sense' of history, we have not been finally annihilated, we are still alive and have the chance of living on and being regenerated. But this is possible only if we become ourselves in our best qualities, and again bring to light the muddied image of God in ourselves.

     "Being at the bottom of a historical funnel, we as a fact of our lives have acquired the possibility of seeing in the past of Russia not only a series of errors and vices, but also the image of a renewed, transfigured Russia, and the contours of that ideal which the Russian people was giving birth to in torments, and to which it was striving in spite of all sins and falls. There were moments in the history of Russia when the Russian idea shone forth with an unfading light - this was the light, above all, of Russian sanctity. There were periods when the idea of a national calling was eclipsed and consigned to oblivion. But it was never cut off entirely, but was enriched by the tragic experience of history. And this unbroken line is the line of our life, it is the ordinance of God concerning the Russian people from generation to generation. And only the living spirit of this theandric ordinance, only the assimilation of the Russian idea gives us as a people and each one of us as a personality the possibility of holding out, surviving and transfiguring our lives..."[28]

     This truly Christian Russian nationalism is found especially among the holy new martyrs and confessors of Russia. For example, during the 1970s the great wonderworker nicknamed the "Tsar of Mordovia", Hieromonk Michael Yershov, after half a century in the Soviet camps and psychiatric torture-hospitals still retained a burning faith in the resurrection of Russia. And Eugene Vagin, who met Fr. Michael, reported that this faith was common to all the members of his Church: "All members of this Church, even the 'uneducated', are characterized by a special suffering over the fate of Russia, which is placed by them in the center of all the world's events (this is often interpreted in a very original way, always in apocalyptic, eschatological tones). Their 'Russianness' is not set aggressively against other nations and peoples, but is accepted inwardly and in confidential conversations, as a sign of a 'special chosenness'. I have often heard in their midst the old proverb applied to the fate of Russia: 'Whom the Lord loves more, He makes to suffer more.'..."[29]

     This faith in the chosenness of the Russian people by no means implies a blindness to their faults. On the contrary, Russia, in the understanding of the Catacomb Church, is suffering so much now precisely because by her actions she has rejected her great calling. For with a great calling go great responsibilities. Thus the Russian religious philosopher I.A. Ilyin described the true patriotism as follows: "To love one's people and believe in her, to believe that she will overcome all historical trials and will arise from collapse purified and sobered - does not mean to close one's eyes to her weaknesses and imperfections, perhaps even her vices. To accept one's people as the incarnation of the fullest and highest perfection on earth would be pure vainglory, sick nationalist conceit. The real patriot sees not only the spiritual paths of his people, but also her temptations, weaknesses and imperfections. Spiritual love generally is not given to groundless idealization, but sees soberly and with extreme acuteness. To love one's people does not mean to flatter her or hide from her her weak sides, but honourably and courageously criticize them and tirelessly struggle with them."[30] 


     Finally, we may ask the question: is the Russian idea, even when purified of all Soviet dross, really compatible with the national ideas of other nations - the Jews, for example, or the Chinese, or the Americans?

     Of course, the answer to this question does not depend only on the nature of the Russian idea, but also on the natures of the other national ideas. And even if the answer to the question may be "no" in a particular instance, we should not assume that the fault must lie with the Russian idea. Thus the Jewish idea, as we have seen, is in essence hostile to the ideas of all other nations, being in essence chauvinist and racist. Again, the Chinese idea is similar in essence to the ideas of the ancient pagan satanocracies, and is now allied with the definitely satanic idea of Communism. Even the American idea, in spite of the altruistic assertions of successive presidents, is felt by many nations as a threat to their own national identity; for "making the world safe for democracy" necessarily means making the world unsafe for those for whom democracy is not the supreme ideal.

     The Russian idea is in essence the Orthodox Christian idea. It is the idea that the whole of society, from the structure of the state to the personal lives of every citizen, should be subordinate to Christ in the Orthodox Church. As such, it is not chauvinist, but universalist; for Orthodoxy, even in its national incarnations, is a universal faith.

     Is it expansionist? Insofar as all universalisms have an implicitly messianic character, it is spiritually expansionist - that is, it seeks, out of love for one's neighbour, to communicate the truth of its own idea to other nations. But spiritual expansionism is a process of peaceful persuasion, and entails physical expansionism only in certain circumstances. Russia (as opposed to the Soviet Union) has never forcibly annexed any Orthodox territory to itself with the exception of Bessarabia in 1812. Even the annexation of Georgia in 1801 took place only after the repeated requests of Georgian princes over the course of more than two centuries. And the liberation of Romania, Bulgaria and Serbia by Russian troops in the late nineteenth century was just that - a liberation, not an annexation. 

     As regards non-Orthodox nations, the situation is more complex… Russia first began to expand eastwards in the sixteenth century, and this took place partly through the peaceful colonization of sparsely inhabited areas, as in the Russian north and Siberia, and partly through military conquest, as in Ivan the Terrible's conquest of Kazan. However, it must be remembered that the wars against the Tatars were wars against the former conquerors of Russia herself, and the Golden Horde continued for many centuries to be a threat to the existence of Russia both physically and spiritually. With regard to the West - to the Poles, the Swedes, the French and the Germans - Russia's wars have almost always been defensive in character, involving the recapture of Russian lands with large Russian populations whose spiritual and physical identity was most definitely under the most serious threat. Only very rarely has Russia embarked upon a purely offensive war; and as Henry Kissinger has remarked, "Russia has exhibited a curious phenomenon: almost every offensive war that it has fought has ended badly, and every defensive war victoriously - a paradox."[31] A paradox, perhaps; but one with a clear explanation: when Russia has fought in defence of her Orthodox Christian idea, the Lord has given her victory, withdrawing His support only when she has betrayed that idea. 

     Therefore as long as Russia remains true to her idea, we can expect her to come into conflict with other nations only when that idea is itself under threat. At the present time, however, that idea is not yet incarnate within Russia herself; for neither Putin’s “One Russia”, nor any of its political contenders, is the true Russia - Holy Russia. But as the true and holy Russia struggles to surface from under the rubble of forces and ideologies alien to herself, we can expect a reaction from her enemies. 

     First, and most immediately, there is the conflict between the Russian idea and the Muslim idea - two universalisms which have struggled with each other for many centuries and whose radical incompatibility is evident to any unprejudiced observer, however hard Putin may deny it. Conflicts between the present Russian regime and the Muslim world are already present in the Caucasus, in Central Asia, in the Balkans and, especially, in the Middle East. For the pseudo-theocracy of Islam is expansionist in both the spiritual and physical senses, and will always be tempted to undertake a jihad or "holy war" against the pseudo-Orthodox pseudo-autocracy of contemporary Russia. 

     Secondly, there is an inherent conflict between the Russian idea and the democratic ideas of the western states, such as the European Union and America. In the former case, Putinist propaganda mocks the LGBT agenda of “Eurosodom”, and is working hard to undermine the EU through rightist parties in several countries (Dugin, “Putin’s Rasputin”, is leading the way here), through the millions of Russian émigré fifth-columnists in the region, through its military intervention in Eastern Ukraine and through its more undercover interference against pro-western governments in Montenegro and Macedonia (while arming an anti-western police force in Bosnia). In the latter case, we see constant anti-Americanism reminiscent of the Soviet era, combined with attempts to subvert and recruit high-ranking American officials (not excluding the president himself), to undermine the petro-dollar and to undermine American power in the Middle East and other parts of the world, not least through the escalation of a new arms race in which Putin now claims to have an “invincible” new type of nuclear weapon.

     Thirdly, there is bound to come a conflict between Russia and China. Already in the early 1960s a gulf opened up between the world's two largest communist satanocracies, and now China, while keeping the communist regime intact (and greatly increasing the powers of the Communist General Secretary), has embarked on an ambitious, and so far very successful programme of economic liberalization which is making her more powerful than ever. It would be ironic - but also poetic and Divine justice - if the final death-blow to Sovietism, whether in its internationalist or nationalist form, should come in a war with the greatest achievement of Soviet messianism.

     In his famous "Pushkin speech", Dostoyevsky emphasized the "proclivity for universal susceptibility and all-reconciliation" of the Russian soul[32], as opposed to the narrow egoism of the non-Orthodox European nations. This judgement has been mocked by many, of various nations, who prefer to see in Russia the precise opposite. However, the present writer believes that Dostoyevsky's judgement is correct so long as we distinguish carefully between the Russian nation and the Soviet nation. Moreover, it contains a challenge, not only for Russians who might wish to distort the Russian idea in a democratic or chauvinist direction, but also for the West. This challenge might be formulated as follows. If you truly want a true, and not a false peace, and a real, and not an illusory harmony of nations, then you have nothing to fear from Russia becoming herself once again. On the contrary, since the Russian idea is universal and true, being in essence the same idea that the Creator and King of the nations has for all the nations, you should embrace it yourselves! For the Orthodox Christian idea, which has become the Russian idea, can also become the Jewish, and the American, and the Chinese idea, with each nation bringing its own physical and psychological individuality and talents to the service of every other nation, and the King of the nations, Christ God. For of His Kingdom and Nation on earth, the Orthodox Church, the Lord says: "Your gates shall be open continually; day and night they shall not be shut; that men may bring to you the wealth of the nations, with their kings led in procession. For the nation and kingdom that will not serve you shall perish; those nations shall be utterly laid waste..." (Isaiah 60.11-12).

February 17 / March 2, 2018.

St. Hermogen, Patriarch of Moscow.

[1] Delors, in "The Czar of Brussels", Newsweek, May 30, 1994, p. 24.

[2] Lind, "In Defense of Liberal Nationalism", Foreign Affairs, May/June, 1994, pp. 95-96.

[3] Applebaum, "The Fall and Rise of the Communists", Foreign Affairs, November/December, 1994, p. 12.

[4] Tony Smith, "In Defense of Intervention", Foreign Affairs, November / December, 1994, p. 39.

[5] Miller, "Faces of Fundamentalism", Foreign Affairs, November/December, 1994, p. 137.

[6] See Shafarevich, A., "Obosobleniye ili sblizheniye", in Solzhenitsyn, A. Iz-Pod Glyb, Paris: YMCA Press, 1974, p. 106.

[7] Osipov, in Philip Walters "A New Creed for Russians?", Religion in Communist Lands, vol. 3, no. 4, 1976.

[8] Aksiuchits, "O sovremennykh natsional'nykh problemakh" (On Contemporary National Problems), Posev, March-April, 1990, p. 111.

[9] Kartashev, Ocherki po istorii Russkoj Tserkvi (Sketches on the History of the Russian Church), Paris: YMCA Press, 1959, p. 501.

[10] See the tenth-century Abbot Aelfric's Catholic Homily on Palm Sunday.

[11] Davis, The Normans and their Myth, London: Thames & Hudson, 1976, p. 103.

[12] Freeman, The History of the Norman Conquest, vol. 1, p. 1.

[13] Soloviev, in Borisov, V., "Natsional'noye vozrozhdeniye i natsiya-lichnost'", in Solzhenitsyn, A. (ed.), Iz-Pod Glyb. Paris: YMCA Press, 1974, p. 208.

[14] As Archbishop Anthony (Khrapovitsky) wrote in 1916: "If you take away Orthodoxy from our Russian people and our Russian life, as Dostoyevsky justly observed, nothing specifically Russian will remain. In vain have people begun to talk about some kind of national Russian Church: such a Church does not exist, only an ecclesiastical nationality exists, our ecclesiastical people (and to some extent even our ecclesiastical society), which is recognized as our own and native only to the extent that it is in agreement with the Church and her teaching, and which does not recognize the Russian Stundists as Russian, but sees no difference between itself and foreign Orthodox - Greeks, Arabs and Serbs. Tell our peasant: 'Do not curse the Jews, you know - the All-Holy Mother of God and all the Apostles were Jews'. And what will he reply? 'That's not true,' he will say. 'They lived at a time when the Jews were Russians.' He knows very well that the Apostles did not speak Russian, that the Russians did not exist at that time, but he wants to express a true thought, namely, that at that time the Jews who believed in Christ were of that same faith and Church with which the Russian people has now been merged and from which the contemporary Jews and their ancestors who were disobedient to the Lord have fallen away.” ("Chej dolzhen byt' Konstantinopol'" (Whose must Constantinople be?))

[15] Krasovitsky, "Dva tipa kollektivizma', Angel Valaama, 9 July, 1994, p. 4.

[16] Berdiaev, N., Sud'ba Rossii, Moscow, 1990.

[17] Sir Isaiah Berlin, "The Bent Twig: On the Rise of Nationalism", in The Crooked Timber of Humanity, London: John Murry, p. 245.

[18] Solzhenitsyn, in Dora Shturman, Gorodu i Miru (To the City and the World), New York: Tretya Vol'na, 1988, pp. 327, 333-334.

[19] Aksiuchits, op. cit., pp. 111-112.

[20] Shturman, op. cit., p. 334.

[21] Schema-Archimandrite Barsanuphius (Plikhankov), Kelejnye Zapiski, Moscow, 1990, p. 44. It is this relationship between the Tsar and the people that explains the indifference of Russians to the idea of a constitution limiting the monarchy or "protecting" the people. As Dostoyevsky put it (cited in Lossky, N.O. (1994) Bog i mirovoye zlo, Moscow: "Respublika", 1994, pp. 234-35): "Our constitution is mutual love. Of the Monarch for the people and of the people for the Monarch."

[22] See Archbishop Anthony of Los Angeles, "The Glorification of the New Martyrs of Russia is our Sacred Moral Duty", Orthodox Life, vol. 29, no. 3, May-June, 1979, p. 31.

[23] Solzhenitsyn, "Imet' muzhestvo videt'“(Having the Courage to See), Russkoe Vozrozhdenie, (IV), no. 12, 1980, pp.13-14.

[24] Yanov, The Russian Challenge, Oxford: Blackwells, 1987.

[25] Aksyuchits, "Zapadniki i Pochvenniki Segodnya", Vestnik Khristianskogo Informatsionnogo Tsentra, no. 30, September 22, 1989.

[26] Osipov, in Walters, op. cit., p. 22.

[27] Kartashev, A., "Lichnoe i Obshestvennoe Spasenie vo Khriste", Russkoe Vozrozhdenie, 1984 (II), no. 26, pp. 26-34.

[28] Aksiuchits, V., "Russkaia Idea", Vybor, no. 3, pp. 191-192, pp. 191-192.

[29] Ivan Andreyev, Russia's Catacomb Saints, Platina: St. Herman of Alaska Brotherhood, 1982, p. 562.

[30] Ilyin, Put' dukhovnogo obnovlenia; in Fr. Victor Potapov, Put' Dukhovnogo Obnovlenia Rossii, p. 5 (MS).

[31] Kissinger, "Russian and American Interests after the Cold War," in Sestanovich, S. (ed.) Rethinking Russia's National Interests, Washington, D.C.: Center for Strategic and International Studies, 1994, pp. 4-5.p. 3.

[32] Dostoyevsky, The Diary of a Writer, 1880.




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