Written by Vladimir Moss



     The Treaty of Berlin represented an unprecedented interference of the western Great Powers in the Balkans at the expense of Russia and the Christian Balkan States. As we have seen, it reignited tension between Russia and the West, as a partial result of which, writes Misha Glenny, "the 1870s saw another very dangerous development in great-power attitudes to the region. France, Britain and Russia had, in their dealings over Greece in the 1830s, acted in harmony with one another to protect their strategic interests. From the Congress of Berlin onwards, cooperation was replaced by competition, harmony by discord. The peoples of the Balkans would pay dearly for this transformation."[1]

     Russia's failure to conquer Constantinople was a great blow to the Slavophiles. "At a Slavic Benevolent Society banquet in June 1878 Ivan Aksakov furiously denounced the Berlin Congress as 'an open conspiracy against the Russian people, [conducted] with the participation of the representatives of Russia herself!'"[2]

     Dostoyevsky was also disillusioned. But his disillusionment was not the product of the failure of his “Pan-Slavist” dreams, as some have made out. For Dostoyevsky’s dreams were not “Pan-Slavist”, but “Pan-Human”, genuinely universalist. His dream was the conversion of the whole world to Christ, and thereby to real fraternity – that fraternity which the revolutionaries had promised, but had not delivered and would never be able to deliver. A major step on the road to this dream was to be the liberation and unification of the Orthodox peoples of the East under the Russian tsar through the planting of the Cross on the dome of Hagia Sophia in Constantinople by the Russian armies. Dostoyevsky found real brotherhood only in the Orthodox Church, and in that Orthodox nation which, he believed, had most thoroughly incarnated the ideals of the Gospel – Russia.


     “The moral idea is Christ. In the West, Christ has been distorted and diminished. It is the kingdom of the Antichrist. We have Orthodoxy. As a consequence, we are the bearers of a clearer understanding of Christ and a new idea for the resurrection of the world… There the disintegration, atheism, began earlier: with us, later, but it will begin certainly with the entrenchment of atheism… The whole matter lies in the question: can one, being civilized, that is, a European, that is, believe absolutely in the Divinity of the Son of God, Jesus Christ? (for all faith consists in this)… You see: either everything is contained in faith or nothing is: we recognize the importance of the world through Orthodoxy. And the whole question is, can one believe in Orthodoxy? If one can, then everything is saved: if not, then, better to burn… But if Orthodoxy is impossible for the enlightened man, then… all this is hocus-pocus and Russia’s whole strength is provisional… It is possible to believe seriously and in earnest. Here is everything, the burden of life for the Russian people and their entire mission and existence to come…”[3]


     It was for the sake of Orthodoxy, the true brotherhood of man, that the Russian armies had sacrificed, and would continue to sacrifice themselves. Russia, Dostoyevsky believed, had only temporarily been checked at the Gates of Constantinople, and would one day conquer it and hand it back to the Greeks, even if took a hundred years and more. Nor was this universalist love confined to Russia’s brothers in the faith: it extended even to her enemies in Western Europe – that “graveyard of holy miracles”. The lost half of Europe, immersed in Catholicism and its child, Protestantism, and its grandchild, atheism, would be converted from Russia: “The whole destiny of Russia lies in Orthodoxy, in the light from the East, which will suddenly shine forth to the mankind of the West, which has become blinded and has lost its faith in Christ. The cause of the whole misfortune of Europe, all of its ills, everything without exception, hearkens back to its loss of Christ with the establishment of the Roman Church, followed by its subsequent decision that it could manage just fine without Christ at all.”[4]


     But in the meantime, what sorrows, what torture and bloodshed, lay in store for Europe, and first of all for Russia, whose ruling classes were already Orthodox only in name! It was all the fault of the misguided idealism that sought, on the basis of science and rationalism, to force men to be happy – or rather, to give them happiness of a kind in exchange for their freedom. This rationalist-absolutist principle was common both to the most believing (Catholic) and most unbelieving (Socialist) factions in Western political life, and was typified in the Grand Inquisitor in The Brothers Karamazov, who “in his last remaining years… comes to the clear conviction that it is only the advice of the great and terrible spirit that could bring some sort of supportable order into the life of the feeble rebels, ‘the unfinished experimental creatures created as a mockery’. And so, convinced of that, he sees that one has to follow the instructions of the wise spirit, the terrible spirit of death and destruction. He therefore accepts lies and deceptions and leads men consciously to death and destruction. Keeps deceiving them all the way, so that they should not notice where they are being led, for he is anxious that those miserable, blind creatures should at least on the way think themselves happy. And, mind you, the deception is in the name of Him in Whose ideal the old man believed so passionately all his life! Is not that a calamity?….”[5]


     Since so many in Russia’s educated classes thought like Ivan Karamazov and the Grand Inquisitor (although much less seriously and systematically, for the most part), it was premature to think of the unification of the Orthodox peoples – still less, of the whole of Europe - under the leadership of Russia. The first need was to unite Russia within herself. And that meant uniting the educated classes with the bulk of the population, the peasants, whose lack of education and poverty, and attachment to the Orthodox Tsar and Church, repelled the proud, self-appointed guardians of the nation’s conscience…


     In his youth Dostoyevsky had been converted from the socialist ideas of his youth to the official slogan of Nicholas I’s Russia, “Orthodoxy, Autocracy and Nationality”.[6] But he wrote little directly about Orthodoxy or Autocracy, probably because this would immediately have put off his liberal audience.[7] A generation earlier, Slavophiles such as Khomiakov and Kireyevsky had been able to speak more or less openly in support of the Church and the Tsar. But the years 1860-1880 had entrenched liberalism and positivism firmly in the hearts and minds of the intelligentsia. So Dostoyevsky had to approach the subject more indirectly, through the third element of the slogan – Nationality.


     Dostoyevsky himself had returned to the faith by this indirect route: from the time of his imprisonment in Siberia, his eyes had slowly been opened to the reality of the people, their spiritual beauty and their Orthodox faith. At the same time, a whole pleiad of artists, the so-called pochvenniki, “lovers of the soil”, were coming to a similar discovery, giving a kind of second wind to Slavophilism. For example, in 1872, during the celebrations of the bicentenary of that most “anti-pochvennik” of tsars, Peter the Great, the young composer Modest Mussorgsky wrote to his closest friend: “The power of the black earth will make itself manifest when you plough to the very bottom. It is possible to plough the black earth with tools wrought of alien materials. And at the end of the 17th century they ploughed Mother Russia with just such tools, so that she did not immediately realize what they were ploughing with, and, like the black earth, she opened up and began to breathe. And she, our beloved, received the various state bureaucrats, who never gave her, the long-suffering one, time to collect herself and to think: ‘Where are you pushing me?’ The ignorant and confused were executed: force!... But the times are out of joint: the state bureaucrats are not letting the black earth breathe.


     ’We’ve gone forward!’ – you lie. ‘We haven’t moved!’ Paper, books have gone forward – we haven’t moved. So long as the people cannot verify with their own eyes what is being cooked out of them, as long as they do not themselves will what is or is not to be cooked out of them – till then, we haven’t moved! Public benefactors of every kind will seek to glorify themselves, will buttress their glory with documents, but the people groan, and so as not to groan they drink like the devil, and groan worse than ever: haven’t moved!”[8]


     Mussorgsky composed in Boris Godunov and Khovanshchina two “popular” operas which evoked the spirit of Mother Russia and the Orthodox Church as no other work of secular art had done. Dostoyevsky was to do the same in The Brothers Karamazov. He hoped, through the beauty of his artistic creations, to open the eyes of his fellow intelligenty to the people’s beauty, helping them thereby to “bow down before the people’s truth” – Orthodoxy. In this way, as the Prince said in The Idiot, “beauty” – the beauty of the people’s truth, the Russian God – “will save the world”.


     However, Dostoyevsky’s concept of the people has been widely misunderstood, and needs careful explication. Some have seen in it extreme chauvinism, others – sentimentalism and cosmopolitanism. The very diversity of these reactions indicates a misunderstanding of Dostoyevsky’s antinomical way of reasoning.


     Let us consider, first, the following words of Shatov in The Devils: “Do you know who are now the only ‘God-bearing’ people on earth, destined to regenerate and save the world in the name of a new god and to whom alone the keys of life and of the new word have been vouchsafed?”[9]


     The “people” here is, of course, the Russian people. And the God they bear is Christ, Who is “new” only in the sense that the revelation of the truth of Christ in Orthodoxy is something new for those other nations who were once Christian but who have lost the salt of True Christianity. Not that the Russians are considered genetically or racially superior to all other nations; for “Russianness” is a spiritual concept closely tied up with confession of the one true faith, which may exclude many people of Russian blood (for example, the unbelieving intelligentsia), but include people of other nations with the same faith.


     Thus Shatov agrees with Stavrogin that “an atheist can’t be a Russian”. And again, “an atheist at once ceases to be a Russian”. And again: “A man who does not belong to the Greek Orthodox faith cannot be a Russian.”[10]


     It follows that “the Russian people” is a concept with a universalist content insofar as her Orthodox faith is universal; it is virtually equivalent to the concept of “the Orthodox Christian people”, in which “there is neither Jew nor Greek, neither barbarian nor Scythian” (Colossians 3.11).


     For “if,” writes M.V. Zyzykin, “it is possible to call the fact that Christianity has become the content of a certain people’s narodnost’ the national property of that people, then such a property belongs also to the Russian people. But we should rather add the term ‘universal’ here, because the very nationality is expressed in universality, universality has become the content of the narodnost.”[11]


     Shatov continues: “The purpose of the whole evolution of a nation, in every people and at every period of its existence, is solely the pursuit of God, their God, their very own God, and faith in Him as the only true one… The people is the body of God. Every people is a people only so long as it has its own particular god and excludes all other gods in the world without any attempt at reconciliation; so long as it believes that by its own god it will conquer and banish all the other gods from the world. So all believed from the very beginning of time – all the great nations, at any rate, all who have been in any way marked out, all who have played a leading part in the affairs of mankind. It is impossible to go against the facts. The Jews lived only to await the coming of the true God, and they left the true God to the world. The Greeks deified nature and bequeathed the world their religion – that is, philosophy and art. Rome deified the people in the State and bequeathed the State to the nations. France throughout her long history was merely the embodiment and development of the idea of the Roman god, and if she at last flung her Roman god into the abyss and gave herself up to atheism, which for the time being they call socialism, it is only because atheism is still healthier than Roman Catholicism. If a great people does not believe that truth resides in it alone (in itself alone and in it exclusively), if it does not believe that it alone is able and has been chosen to raise up and save everybody by its own truth, it is at once transformed into ethnographical material, and not into a great people…”[12]


     It follows that what we would now call “ecumenism” – the belief that other nations’ gods or religions are as good as one’s own – is the destruction of the nation. And indeed, this is what we see today. For the ecumenist nations who recognize each other’s gods have become mere “ethnographical material”, members of the United Nations but not nations in the full sense of entities having a spiritual principle and purpose for their independent existence.


     Therefore, according to this logic, any nation that asserts its own truth in the face of other supposed truths must be “nationalist”, and steps must be taken to reduce or destroy its power. Universalism is declared to be good and nationalism bad. However this fails to recognize the possibility – a possibility that Dostoyevsky insisted upon as a fact in the case of Russia – that a nation’s particular, national faith may have a universalist content.


     And yet this is precisely what Dostoyevsky insisted on for Russia... “Dostoyevsky,” wrote Florovsky, “was a faithful follower of the classical Slavophile traditions, and he based his faith in the great destiny marked out for the God-bearing People, not so much on historical intimations, as on that Image of God which he saw in the hidden depths of the Russian people’s soul, and on the capacities of the Russian spirit for ‘pan-humanity’. Being foreign to a superficial disdain and impure hostility towards the West, whose great ‘reposed’ he was drawn to venerate with gratitude, he expected future revelations from his own homeland because only in her did he see that unfettered range of personal activity that is equally capable both of the abyss of sanctity and the abyss of sin…, because he considered only the Russian capable of becoming ‘pan-human’.”[13]


     “Do you know, gentleman,” he wrote in 1877, “how dear this very Europe, the ‘land of sacred miracles’, how dear it is to us, Slavophile dreamers – according to you, haters of Europe! Do you know how dear these ‘miracles’ are to us; how we love and revere with a stronger than brotherly feeling, those great nations that inhabit her, everything great and beautiful which they have created.”[14]


     The attainment of European civilization must be absorbed. But then they must brought home, as it were, and integrated with “the people’s truth”, Orthodoxy. Walicki writes: “Westernisation had widened Russia’s horizons, Dostoyevsky acknowledged, and this must be appreciated by all. The intelligentsia, too, had a valuable contribution to make: ‘We must bow down before the people’s truth and recognise it as such, we must blow like prodigal children who, for two hundred years, have been absent from home, but who nevertheless have returned Russians…’


     “Dostoyevsky, therefore (like Chaadaev before him), regarded divorce from the soil and ‘homeless wandering’ not just as a misfortune, but also as a chance to create a new type of ‘universal man’ freed from the burden of the past and from national prejudices – a man who would ‘bear the world’s sufferings’. He agreed with Herzen that ‘the thinking Russian is the most independent man in the world.’ The cultivated elite in Russia, says Vershilov in The Adolescent, has ‘produced perhaps a thousand representatives (give or take a few) who are freer than any European, men whose fatherland is all mankind. No one can be freer and happier than a Russian wanderer belonging to the “chosen thousand”; I really mean that; it’s not just a joke. Besides, I would never have exchanged that mental anguish for any other kind of happiness.’


      “Nevertheless, Dostoyevsky called on the ‘chosen thousand’ to give up their wanderings and return home. Only a ‘return to the soil’ and submission to ‘the people’s truth’ would enable them to find true peace and would heal their split personality. A symbolic expression of this is the scene in The Adolescent when Vershilov breaks the ancient icon of the old pilgrim Makar. Here we have the smashing of the folk (Orthodox Christian) heritage, the inner dualism (the icon breaks into two equal parts), and the hint of the return to the people through Sonia, a woman of the people. The marriage of the lost intelligentsia and the people who, in spite of temptation (Sonia’s seduction by Vershilov), have kept faith with their moral ideas and have preserved in their religion the pure, undefiled image of Christ…”[15] 


     This, Dostoyevsky’s fundamental insights on Russia were summarized and most eloquently expressed in his famous Pushkin Speech, delivered at the unveiling of the Pushkin Monument in Moscow on June 8, 1880.


     In this speech, writes Walicki, Dostoyevsky presents Pushkin as the supreme embodiment in art “of the Russian spirit, a ‘prophetic’ apparition who had shown the Russian nation its mission and its future.


     “In the character of Aleko, the hero of the poem Gypsies, and in Evgeny Onegin, Dostoyevsky suggested, Pushkin had been the first to portray ‘the unhappy wanderer in his native land, the traditional Russian sufferer detached from the people….’ For Dostoyevsky, the term ‘wanderer’ was an apt description of the entire Russian intelligentsia – both the ‘superfluous men’ of the forties and the Populists of the seventies. ‘The homeless vagrants,’ he continued, ‘are wandering still, and it seems that it will be long before they disappear’; at present they were seeking refuge in socialism, which did not exist in Aleko’s time, and through it hoped to attain universal happiness, for ‘a Russian sufferer to find peace needs universal happiness – exactly this: nothing less will satisfy him – of course, as the proposition is confined to theory.’


     “Before the wanderer can find peace, however, he must conquer his own pride and humble himself before ‘the people’s truth’. ‘Humble thyself, proud man, and above all, break thy pride,’ was the ‘Russian solution’ Dostoyevsky claimed to have found in Pushkin’s poetry. Aleko failed to follow this advice and was therefore asked to leave by the gypsies; Onegin despised Tatiana – a modest girl close to the ‘soil’ – and by the time he learned to humble himself it was too late. Throughout Pushkin’s work, Dostoyevsky declared, there were constant confrontations between the ‘Russian wanderers’ and the ‘people’s truth’ represented by ‘positively beautiful’ heroes – men of the soil expressing the spiritual essence of the Russian nation. The purpose of these confrontations was to convince the reader of the need for a ‘return to the soil’ and a fusion with the people.


     “Pushkin himself was proof that such a return was possible without a rejection of universal ideals. Dostoyevsky drew attention to the poet’s ‘universal susceptibility’, his talent for identifying himself with a Spaniard (Don Juan), an Arab (‘Imitations of the Koran’), an Englishman (‘A Feast During the Plague’), or an ancient Roman (‘Egyptian Nights’) while still remaining a national poet. This ability Pushkin owed to the ‘universality’ of the Russian spirit: ‘to become a genuine and complete Russian means… to become brother of all men, an all-human man.’


     “In his speech Dostoyevsky also spoke about the division into Slavophiles and Westernizers, which he regretted as a great, though historically inevitable, misunderstanding. The impulse behind Peter’s reform had been not mere utilitarianism but the desire to extend the frontiers of nationality to include a genuine ‘all-humanity’. Dreams of serving humanity had even been the impulse behind the political policies of the Russian state: ‘For what else has Russia been doing in her policies, during these two centuries, but serving Europe much more than herself? I do not believe that this took place because of the mere want of aptitude on the part of our statesmen.’


     “’Oh the peoples of Europe,’ Dostoyevsky exclaimed in a euphoric vein, ‘have no idea how dear they are to us! And later – in this I believe – we, well, not we but the Russians of the future, to the last man, will comprehend that to become a genuine Russian means to seek finally to reconcile all European controversies, to show the solution of European anguish in our all-human and all-unifying Russian soil, to embrace in it with brotherly love all our brothers, and finally, perhaps, to utter the ultimate word of great, universal harmony, of the fraternal accord of all nations abiding by the law of Christ’s Gospel!’


     “Before delivering his ‘Address’, Dostoyevsky was seriously worried that it might be received coldly by his audience. His fears proved groundless. The speech was an unprecedented success: carried away by enthusiasm, the crowd called out ‘our holy man, our prophet’, and members of the audience pressed around Dostoyevsky to kiss his hands. Even Turgenev, who had been caricatured in The Possessed [The Devils], came up to embrace him. The solemn moment of universal reconciliation between Slavophiles and Westernizers, conservatives and revolutionaries, seemed already at hand…”[16]


     The Slavophile Ivan Aksakov "ran onto the stage and declared to the public that my speech was not simply a speech but an historical event! The clouds had been covering the horizon, but here was Dostoyevsky's word, which, like the appearing sun, dispersed all the clouds and lit up everything. From now on there would be brotherhood, and there would be no misunderstandings."[17]


     And indeed, for a brief moment it looked as if the “the Two Russias” created by Peter the Great’s reforms might be united. With the advantage of hindsight one may pour scorn on such an idea. But, as Metropolitan Anastasy (Gribanovsky) writes: “However accustomed people are to crawling in the dust, they will be grateful to every one who tears them away from the world below and bears them up on his powerful wings to the heavens. A man is ready to give up everything for a moment of pure spiritual joy and bless the name of him who is able to strike on the best strings of his heart. It is here that one must locate the secret of the amazing success won by the famous speech of Dostoyevsky at the Pushkin festival in Moscow. The genius writer himself later described the impression produced by him upon his listeners in a letter to his wife: ‘I read,’ he writes, ‘loudly, with fire. Everything that I wrote about Tatiana was received with enthusiasm. But when I gave forth at the end about the universal union of men, the hall was as it were in hysterics. When I had finished, I will not tell you about the roars and sobs of joy: people who did not know each other wept, sobbed, embraced each other and swore to be better, not to hate each other from then on, but to love each other. The order of the session was interrupted: grandes dames, students, state secretaries – they all embraced and kissed me.’ How is one to call this mood in the auditorium, which included in itself the best flower of the whole of educated society, if not a condition of spiritual ecstasy, to which, as it seemed, our cold intelligentsia was least of all capable? By what power did the great writer and knower of hearts accomplish this miracle, forcing all his listeners without distinction of age or social position to feel themselves brothers and pour together in one sacred and great upsurge? He attained it, of course, not by the formal beauty of his speech, which Dostoyevsky usually did not achieve, but the greatness of the proclaimed idea of universal brotherhood, instilled by the fire of great inspiration. This truly prophetic word regenerated the hearts of people, forcing them to recognize the true meaning of life; the truth made them if only for one second not only free, but also happy in their freedom.”[18]


     But while Dostoyevsky was able to inspire, he was not really able to convince or elicit true understanding. Thus after his speech said sadly: “The main thing about me they don’t understand. They extol me for not being satisfied with the present political situation of our country. But they don’t see that I am showing them the way to the Church…”[19]




     June 8, 1880 was perhaps the last date on which the deep divisions in Russian society might have been healed, and the slide to revolution halted. However, the opportunity was lost. Disillusion and criticism set in almost immediately from all sides. This was less surprising from the liberals, who were looking for another, leftist answer to the question: "What is to be done?" from Dostoyevsky, another kind of criticism of the regime. They forgot that, as Chekhov wrote in 1888, an artist does not attempt to solve concrete social, political or moral problems, but only to place them in their correct context...[20] Somewhat more surprising was the less than ecstatic reaction of the right-wing litterati. Thus Mikhail Nikolayevich Katkov, a conservative who had published both War and Peace and Crime and Punishment, was very happy to publish the Speech in his Moskovskie Vedomosti (Moscow Gazette) - but laughed at it in private.[21] Perhaps for him, too, the Speech offered too little in the form of concrete political solutions or advice - an open endorsement of the monarchy, for example.


     And yet Katkov was not far from Dostoyevsky in his views. "M.N. Katkov wrote that the opposition between Russia and the West consists in the fact that there everything is founded on contractual relations, and in Russia - on faith. If western society is ruled by law, then Russian society is ruled by the idea. There is no question that good principles can be laid at the base of any state, but they are deprived of a firm foundation by the absence of religious feeling and a religious view of the world. Good principles are then held either on instinct, which illumines nothing, or on considerations of public utility. But instinct is an unstable thing in a reasoning being, while public utility is a conventional concept about which every person can have his own opinion."[22]


     Like Dostoyevsky, Katkov was striving to build bridges, and especially a bridge between the Tsar and the People (he, too, had been a liberal in his youth). Russia is powerful,” he wrote, “precisely in the fact that her people do not separate themselves from their Sovereign. Is it not in this alone that the sacred significance that the Russian Tsar has for the Russian people consists?”[23] “Only by a misunderstanding do people think that the monarchy and the autocracy exclude ‘the freedom of the people’. In actual fact it guarantees it more than any banal constitutionalism. Only the autocratic tsar could, without any revolution, by the single word of a manifesto liberate 20 million slaves.”[24] “They say that Russia is deprived of political liberty. They say that although Russian subjects have been given legal civil liberty, they have no political rights. Russian subjects have something more than political rights: they have political obligations. Each Russian subject is obliged to stand watch over the rights of the supreme power and to care for the benefit of the State. It is not so much that each one only has the right to take part in State life and care for its benefits: he is called to this by his duty as a loyal subject. That is our constitution. It is all contained, without paragraphs, in the short formula of our State oath of loyalty…”[25]


     This was all true, and Dostoyevsky undoubtedly agreed with it in principle. However, he was doing something different from Katkov, and more difficult: not simply state the truth before an audience that was in no way ready to accept it in this direct, undiluted form, but bring them closer to the truth, and inspire them with the truth by indirect, aesthetic means.


     And with this aim he did not call on his audience to unite around the Tsar. In any case, he had certain reservations about the Tsardom that made him in some ways closer to his liberal audience than Katkov. In particular, he did not support the “paralysis” that the Petrine system had imposed on the Church, whereas Katkov’s views were closer to the official, semi-absolutist position.[26]



     If Katkov may have preferred more on the monarchy in Dostoyevsky’s speech, Constantine Leontiev was scandalised by the lack of mention of the Church. Volgin writes that “at the end of the Pushkin festival Pobedonostev in a restrained way, without going into details, congratulated Dostoyevsky on his success. And then immediately after his congratulations he sent him ‘Warsaw Diary’ with an article by Constantine Leontiev. This article was angry and crushing. C. Leontiev not only annihilated the Speech point by point from the point of view of his ascetic… Christianity, but compared it directly with another public speech that had taken place at almost the same time as the Moscow festivities, in Yaroslavl diocese at a graduation ceremony in a school for the daughters of clergymen. ‘In the speech of Mr. Pobedonostev (the speaker was precisely him – I.V.),’ writes Leontiev, ‘Christ is known in no other way that through the Church: “love the Church first of all”. In the speech of Mr. Dostoyevsky Christ… is so accessible to each of us in bypassing the Church, that we consider that we have the right… to ascribe to the Saviour promises that He never uttered concerning “the universal brotherhood of the peoples, “general peace” and “harmony”…’”[27]


     We will recall that Leontiev wrote much about the invasion of the twin spirits of liberal cosmopolitanism and nationalism into the Orthodox world. So when he writes that Dostoyevsky “extracted out of the spirit of Pushkin’s genius the prophetic thought of the ‘cosmopolitan’ mission of the Slavs”[28], it is with scarcely concealed irony. This irony becomes crushing when he speaks about waiting for “the fulfilment of the prophecy of Dostoyevsky, ‘until the Slavs teach the whole of humanity this pan-human love’, which neither the Holy Fathers nor the Apostles nor the Divine Redeemer Himself was able to confirm absolutely in the hearts of men”.[29]


     But was he being fair? Dostoyevky was not looking to the fusion of the races into one liberal-ecumenist conglomerate, but to their union in spirit through the adoption of the Orthodox faith, the essential condition of true brotherhood among both individuals and nations. Nor was he a chauvinist, but simply believed that the Russian people was the bearer of a truly universal content, the Orthodox Christian Gospel, which it would one day preach to all nations; for “this Kingdom of the Gospel shall be preached to all nations, and then shall the end come” (Matthew 24.14).


     As he wrote in another place: “You see, I’ve seen the Truth. I’ve seen it, and I know that men can be happy and beautiful without losing the ability to live on earth. I cannot – I refuse to believe that wickedness is the normal state of men. And when they laugh at me, it is essentially at that belief of mine.”[30]


     Vladimir Soloviev was closer to understanding Dostoyevsky’s true meaning when he wrote: “The true Church which Dostoyevsky preached is pan-human, first of all in the sense that in it the division of mankind into rival and hostile tribes and peoples must disappear.” “He believed in Russia and foretold her great future, but the main earnest of this future was, in his eyes, precisely the weakness of national egoism and exclusiveness in the Russian people.”[31] This belief that Dostoyevisky was not a chauvinist is the more striking in that it was expressed by a man who was a sworn foe of Russian chauvinism…


     Leontiev returned to his criticism of this supposedly romantic, cosmopolitan or “chiliast” faith of Dostoyevsky’s, as he considered it, in an article entitled “On Universal Love”, in which he supported the liberal writer A.D. Gradovsky’s claim that Dostoyevsky was ignoring the prophecies of the Antichrist. “The prophecy of the general reconciliation of people in Christ,” he wrote, “is not an Orthodox prophecy, but some kind of general-humanitarian [prophecy]. The Church of this world does not promise this, and ‘he who disobeys the Church, let him be unto thee as a pagan and a publican’”.[32]


     Dostoyevsky himself replied to Gradovsky (and therefore also to Leontiev) as follows: “In your triumphant irony concerning the words in my Speech to the effect that we may, perhaps, utter a word of ‘final harmony’ in mankind, you seize on the Apocalypse and venomously cry out:


     “’By a word you will accomplish that which has not been foretold in the Apocalypse! On the contrary, the Apocalypse foretells, not “final agreement”, but final “disagreement” with the coming of the Antichrist. But why should the Antichrist come if we utter a word of “final harmony”.’


     “This is terribly witty, only you have cheated here. You probably have not read the Apocalypse to the end, Mr. Gradovsky. There it is precisely said that during the most powerful disagreements, not the Antichrist, but Christ will come and establish His Kingdom on earth (do you hear, on earth) for 1000 years. But it is added at this point: blessed is he who will take part in the first resurrection, that is, in this Kingdom. Well, it is in that time, perhaps, that we shall utter that word of final harmony which I talk about in my Speech.”[33]


     Leontiev counters by more or less accusing Dostoyevsky of the heresy of chiliasm: “It is not the complete and universal triumph of love and general righteousness on this earth that is promised to us by Christ and His Apostles; but, on the contrary, something in the nature of a seeming failure of the evangelical preaching on the earthly globe, for the nearness of the end must coincide with the last attempts to make everyone good Christians… Mr. Dostoyevsky introduces too rose-coloured a tint into Christianity in this speech. It is an innovation in relation to the Church, which expects nothing specially beneficial from humanity in the future…”[34]


     However, of one thing the author of The Devils, that extraordinary prophecy of the collective Antichrist, cannot be accused: of underestimating the evil in man, and of his capacity for self-destruction. The inventor of Stavrogin and Ivan Karamazov did not look at contemporary Russian society with rose-tinted spectacles. Dostoyevsky’s faith in a final harmony before the Antichrist did not blind him to where the world was going in his time.


     "Europe is on the eve of a general and dreadful collapse,” he wrote. “The ant-hill which has been long in the process of construction without the Church and Christ (since the Church, having dimmed its ideal, long ago and everywhere reincarnated itself in the state), with a moral principle shaken loose from its foundation, with everything general and absolute lost - this ant-hill, I say, is utterly undermined. The fourth estate is coming, it knocks at the door, and breaks into it, and if it is not opened to it, it will break the door. The fourth estate cares nothing for the former ideals; it rejects every existing law. It will make no compromises, no concessions; buttresses will not save the edifice. Concessions only provoke, but the fourth estate wants everything. There will come to pass something wholly unsuspected. All these parliamentarisms, all civic theories professed at present, all accumulated riches, banks, sciences, Jews - all these will instantly perish without leaving a trace - save the Jews, who even then will find their way out, so that this work will even be to their advantage."[35]  


     However, Leontiev accuses him also, and still more seriously, of distorting the basic message of the Gospel. Dostoyevsky’s “love” or “humaneness” (gumannost’) is closer to the “love” and “humaneness” of Georges Sand than that of Christ. Christian love and humaneness is complex; it calls on people to love, not simply as such, without reference to God, but “in the name of God” and “for the sake of Christ”. Dostoyevsky’s “love”, on the other hand, is “simple and ‘autonomous’; step by step and thought by thought it can lead to that dry and self-assured utilitarianism, to that epidemic madness of our time, which we can call, using psychiatric language, mania democratica progressiva. The whole point is that we claim by ourselves, without the help of God, to be either very good or, which is still more mistaken, useful… “True, in all spiritual compositions there is talk of love for people. But in all such books we also find that the beginning of wisdom (that is, religious wisdom and the everyday wisdom that proceeds from it) is “the fear of God” – a simple, very simple fear both of torments beyond the grave and of other punishments, in the form of earthly tortures, sorrows and woes.”[36]


     However, far from espousing a “dry and self-assured utilitarianism”, Dostoyevsky was one of its most biting critics, satirising the rationalist-humanist-utilitarian world-view under the images of “the crystal palace” and “the ant-hill”. Nor did he in any way share in mania democratica progressiva.


     Again, Leontiev rejects his call to the intelligentsia to humble themselves before the people. “I don’t think that the family, public and in general personal in the narrow sense qualities of our simple people would be so worthy of imitation. It is hardly necessary to imitate their dryness in relation to the suffering and the sick, their unmerciful cruelty in anger, their drunkenness, the disposition of so many of them to cunning and even thievery… Humility before the people… is nothing other than humility before that same Church which Mr. Pobedonostsev advises us to love.[37]


     However, “one must know,” wrote Dostoyevsky, “how to segregate the beauty of the Russian peasant from the layers of barbarity that have accumulated over it… Judge the people not by the abominations they so frequently commit, but by those great and sacred things for which, even in their abominations, they constantly yearn. Not all the people are villains; there are true saints, and what saints they are: they are radiant and illuminate the way for all!… Do not judge the People by what they are, but by what they would like to become.”[38]


     “I know that our educated men ridicule me: they refuse even to recognize ‘this idea’ in the people, pointing to their sins and abominations (for which these men themselves are responsible, having oppressed the people for two centuries); they also emphasize the people’s prejudices, their alleged indifference to religion, while some of them imagine that the Russian people are simply atheists. Their great error consists of the fact that they refuse to recognize the existence of the Church as an element in the life of the people. I am not speaking about church buildings, or the clergy. I am now referring to our Russian ‘socialism’, the ultimate aim of which is the establishment of an oecumenical Church on earth in so far as the earth is capable of embracing it. I am speaking of the unquenchable, inherent thirst in the Russian people for great, universal, brotherly fellowship in the name of Christ. And even if this fellowship, as yet, does not exist, and if that church has not completely materialized, - not in prayers only but in reality – nevertheless the instinct for it and the unquenchable, oftentimes unconscious thirst for it, indubitably dwells in the hearts of the millions of our people.


     “Not in communism, not in mechanical forms is the socialism of the Russian people expressed: they believe that they shall be finally saved through the universal communion in the name of Christ. This is our Russian socialism! It is the presence in the Russian people of this sublime unifying ‘church’ idea that you, our European gentlemen, are ridiculing.”[39]


     So Dostoyevsky’s “theology” was by no means as unecclesiastical as Leontiev and Pobedonostsev thought. The hope of universal communion in the name of Christ may be considered utopian by some, but it is not heretical as long as it is not understood in an ecumenist sense. And even if some of his phrases were not strictly accurate as ecclesiological theses, it is quite clear that the concepts of “Church” and “people” were much more closely linked in his mind than Leontiev and Pobedonostev gave him credit for. Indeed, according to Vladimir Soloviev, on a journey to Optina in June, 1878, Dostoyevsky discussed with him his plans for his new novel, The Brothers Karamazov, and “the Church as a positive social ideal was to constitute the central idea of the new novel or series of novels”.[40]


     In some ways, in fact, Dostoyevsky was more inoculated against Westernism than Leontiev. Thus Leontiev complained to Vasily Rozanov that Dostoyevsky’s views on Papism were too severe. And Leontiev was so fixated on the evils of liberalism and cosmopolitanism that he could have been called an ecumenist in relation to Papism – an error that Dostoyevsky, with his penetrating analysis of the kinship between Papism and Socialism, was not prone to. “Of particular importance”, writes Fr. Georges Florovsky, “was the fact that Dostoyevsky reduced all his searching for vital righteousness to the reality of the Church. In his dialectics of living images (rather than only ideas), the reality of sobornost’ becomes especially evident… Constantine Leontiev sharply accused Dostoyevsky of preaching a new, ‘rose-coloured’ Christianity (with reference to his Pushkin speech). ‘All these hopes on earthly love and on earthly peace one can find in the songs of Béranger, and still more in Georges Sand many others. And in this connection not only the name of God, but even the name of Christ was mentioned more than once in the West.’… It is true, in his religious development Dostoyevsky proceeded precisely from these impressions and names mentioned by Leontiev. And he never renounced this ‘humanism’ later because, with all its ambiguity and insufficiency, he divined in it the possibility of becoming truly Christian, and strove to enchurch (otserkovit’) them. Dostoyevsky saw only insufficiency where Leontiev found the complete opposite…”[41]


     This reveals the difference in between what we might call “pastoral” gifts of Dostoyevsky and Leontiev. Dostoyevsky started where his audience were – outside the Church, in the humanist-rationalist-utopian morass of westernism, and tried to build on what was still not completely corrupted in that world-view in order to draw his audience closer to Christ and the Church. In this way, he imitated St. Paul in Athens, who, seeing an altar with the inscription “TO THE UNKNOWN GOD”, gave the Athenians the benefit of the doubt, as it were, and proceeded to declare: “He Whom ye ignorantly worship, Him I declare unto you” (Acts 17.23). Constantine Leontiev would perhaps have objected that the Athenians, as pagans, were certainly not worshipping the True God at this altar. And he would have been formally right… And yet St. Paul saw the germ of true worship in this inchoate paganism, and, building upon it, led at any rate a few to the truth. This was also the method of Dostoyevsky with his semi-pagan Russian audience. And he, too, made some converts…


     Again, if Dostoyevsky emphasised certain aspects of the Christian teaching such as compassionate love and the humble bearing of insults, more than others such as the fear of God, the sacramental life and obedience to authorities, this is not because he did not think the latter were important, but because he knew that his audience, being spiritually infants, could not take this “hard” food, but had to begin on the “milk” of those teachings which were not so distasteful to their spoilt palates. And the results proved him right from a pragmatic, missionary point of view. For the unbelieving intelligentsia of several subsequent generations have been stimulated to question their unbelief far more by the writings of Dostoyevsky than by those of Leontiev and Pobedonostev, undoubtedly Orthodox though the latter were.


     An admirer of Leontiev, V.M. Lourié, has developed Leontiev’s line of criticism. Analysing Dostoyevsky’s remarks about “that rapture which most of all binds us to [God]”, Lourié concludes that “’deification’ is interpreted [by Dostoyevsky] as a psychological and even natural condition – a relationship of man to Christ, in Whom he believes as God. From such ‘deification’ there does not and cannot follow the deification of man himself. On the contrary, man remains as he was, ‘on his own’, and with his own psychology… In such an – unOrthodox – soteriological perspective, the patristic ‘God became man, so that man should become God’ is inevitably exchanged for something like ‘God became man, so that man should become a good man’; ascetic sobriety turns out to be simply inadmissible, and it has to be squeezed out by various means of eliciting ‘that rapture’.”[42]


     And yet what is more significant: the fact that there is a certain inaccuracy in Dostoyevsky’s words from a strictly theological point of view, or the fact that Dostoyevsky talks about deification at all as the ultimate end of man? Surely the latter… Even among the Holy Fathers we find inaccuracies, and as Lourié points out in other places, the Palamite ideas of uncreated grace and the deification of man through grace had almost been lost even among the monasteries and academies of nineteenth-century Russia. Which makes Dostoyevsky’s achievement in at least placing the germs of such thoughts in the mind of the intelligentsia, all the greater. For in what other non-monastic Russian writer of the nineteenth century do we find such a vivid, profound and above all relevant (to the contemporary spiritual state of his listeners) analysis of the absolute difference between becoming “god” through the assertion of self (Kirillov, Ivan Karamazov) and becoming god through self-sacrificial love and humility (Bishop Tikhon, Elder Zosima)?


     Leontiev was certainly insightful in his musing: “Who knows how soon this people, called [by Dostoyevsky] ‘God-bearing’, will become a people persecuting Christ and the faith?”[43] But Dostoyevsky had the same insight (expressed most powerfully in The Devils) without losing his faith in the potential of the Russian people…


     Leontiev also asserted (followed by Lourié) that Dostoyevsky’s monastic types are not true depictions of monastic holiness. “In his memoirs, Leontiev wrote: ‘The Brothers Karamazov can be considered an Orthodox novel only by those who are little acquainted with true Orthodoxy, with the Christianity of the Holy Fathers and the Elders of Athos and Optina.’ In Leontiev’s view (he himself became an Orthodox monk and lived at Optina for the last six months of his life), the work of Zola (in La Faute de l’abbé Mouret) is ‘far closer to the spirit of true personal monkhood than the superficial and sentimental inventions of Dostoyevsky in The Brothers Karamazov.’”[44]


     There is some truth in this criticism, and yet it misses more than one important point. The first is that Dostoyevsky was not intending to make a literal representation of anyone, but “an artistic tableau”. And for that reason, as he wrote to Pobedonostsev in August, 1879, he was worried whether he would be understood. The “obligations of artistry… required that I present a modest and majestic figure, whereas life is full of the comic and is majestic only in its inner sense, so that in the biography of my monk I was involuntarily compelled by artistic demands to touch upon even the most vulgar aspects so as not to infringe artistic realism. Then, too, there are several teachings of the monk against which people will simply cry out that they are absurd, for they are all too ecstatic; of course, they are absurd in an everyday sense, but in another, inward sense, I think they are true.”[45]


     Again, as Fr. Georges Florovsky writes: “To the ‘synthetic’ Christianity of Dostoyevsky Leontiev opposed the contemporary monastic way of life or ethos, especially on Athos. And he insisted that in Optina The Brothers Karamazov was not recognized as ‘a correct Orthodox composition’, while Elder Zosima did not correspond to the contemporary monastic spirit. In his time Rozanov made a very true comment on this score. ‘If it does not correspond to the type of Russian monasticism of the 18th-19th centuries (the words of Leontiev), then perhaps, and even probably, it corresponded to the type of monasticism of the 4th to 6th centuries’. In any case, Dostoyevsky was truly closer to Chrysostom (and precisely in his social teachings) than Leontiev… Rozanov adds: ‘The whole of Russia read The Brothers Karamazov, and believed in the representation of the Elder Zosima. “The Russian Monk” (Dostoyevsky’s term) appeared as a close and fascinating figure in the eyes of the whole of Russia, even her unbelieving parts.’… Now we know that the Elder Zosima was not drawn from nature, and in the given case Dostoyevsky did not proceed from Optina figures. It was an ‘ideal’ or ‘idealised’ portrait, written most of all from Tikhon of Zadonsk, and it was precisely Tikhon’s works that inspired Dostoyevsky, constituting the ‘teachings’ of Zosima… By the power of his artistic clairvoyance Dostoyevsky divined and recognized this seraphic stream in Russian piety, and prophetically continued the marked-out line…”[46]


     Whatever the truth about the relationship between Dostoyevsky's fictional characters and real life, one thing is certain: both Dostoyevsky and the Optina Elders believed in the same remedy for the schism in the soul of Russian society - a return to Orthodoxy and the true Christian love that is found only in the Orthodox Church. There was no substantial difference between the teaching of Elder Ambrose and Dostoyevsky (whom Ambrose knew personally and commended as "a man who repents!"). Dostoyevsky would not have disagreed, for example, with this estimate of Elder Ambrose's significance for Russia: "Fr. Ambrose solved for Russian society its long-standing and difficult-to-solve questions of what to do, how to live, and for what to live. He also solved for Russian society the fatal question of how to unite the educated classes with the simple people. He said to Russian society that the meaning of life consists of love - not that humanistic, irreligious love which is proclaimed by a certain portion of our intelligentsia, and which is expressed by outward measures of improvement of life; but that true, profound Christian love, which embraces the whole soul of one's neighbour and heals by its life-giving power the very deepest and most excruciating wounds. Fr. Ambrose also solved the question of the blending of the intelligentsia with the people, uniting them in his cell in one general feeling of repentant faith in God. In this way he indicated to Russian society the one saving path of life, the true and lasting foundation of its well-being - in the first place spiritual and then, as a result, material..."[47]


September 26 / October 9, 2019.

[1] Glenny, The Balkans, 1804-1999, London: Granta Books, pp. 133-134.

[2] Hosking, Russia and the Russians, pp. 372-373.

[3] Dostoyevsky, in K. Mochulsky, Dostoyevsky: His Life and Work, Princeton, 1967.

[4]Dostoyevsky, “Letter to A. N. Maikov”, 1870. V. Weidle writes: “’Europe is a mother to us, as is Russia, she is our second mother; we have taken much from her and shall do so again, and we do not wish to be ungrateful to her.’ No Westernizer said this; it is beyond Westernizers, as it is beyond Slavophiles. Dostoyevsky wrote it at the height of his wisdom, on the threshold of death… His last hope was Messianism, but a Messianism which was essentially European, which developed out of his perception of Russia as a sort of better Europe, which was called upon to save and renew Europe” (The Task of Russia, New York, 1956, pp. 47-60; in Alexander Schmemann, The Historical Road of Eastern Orthodoxy, Crestwood, NY: St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 1963, p. 338).

[5] Dostoyevsky, The Brothers Karamazov, Penguin Magarshack translation, p. 307.

[6] Lebedev, Velikorossia, St. Petersburg, 1999, p. 331.

[7] Among his few sayings on the subject is the following: "Our constitution is mutual love. Of the Monarch for the people and of the people for the Monarch." (cited in Lossky, N.O., Bog i mirovoe zlo (God and World Evil), 1994, Moscow: "Respublika", pp. 234-35).

[8] Mussorgsky, quoted in Richard Taruskin, “The Power of Black Earth: Notes on Khovanschina”, Classic FM Magazine. May, 2006. In Boris Godunov Mussorgsky tried to "view the people as one giant being, inspired by one idea" (Julian Haylock, "Mussorgsky", Classic FM Magazine, May, 2006, p. 31).

[9] Dostoyevsky, The Devils, p. 253.

[10] Dostoyevsky, The Devils, p. 255.

[11] Zyzykin, Patriarkh Nikon, Warsaw: Synodal Press, 1931.

[12] Dostoyevsky, The Devils, pp. 256, 257-258.

[13] Florovsky, Puti Russkogo Bogoslovia,  pp. 105-106.

[14] Dostoyevsky, The Diary of a Writer, 1977, in Brasol’s translation, p. 782.

[15] Walikci, A History of Russian Thought, Oxford: Clarendon, 1988, pp. 322-323.

[16] Walicki, op. cit., pp. 323-325.

[17] Dostoyevsky, in Igor Volgin, Poslednij God Dostoevskogo (Dostoyevsky's Last Year), Moscow, 1986, p. 267.

[18] Metropolitan Anastasy (Gribanovsky), Besedy so svoim sobstvennym serdtsem (Conversations with my own Heart), Jordanville, 1948, pp. 9-10.

[19] Dosotyevsky, in David Magarshack, translator’s introduction to The Brothers Karamazov, London: Penguin, 1958, p. xxiii.

[20] Volgin, op. cit., p. 266.

[21] Volgin, op. cit., p. 271.

[22] K.V. Glazkov, "Zashchita ot liberalizma" ("A Defence from Liberalism"), Pravoslavnaia Rus' (Orthodox Russia), N 15 (1636), August 1/14, 1999, pp. 9, 10, 11.

[23] Katkov, Moskovskie Vedomosti (Moscow Gazette), 1867, N 88; in L.A. Tikhomirov, Monarkhicheskaia Gosudarstvennost’ (Monarchical Statehood), St. Petersburg, 1992, p. 31.

[24] Katkov, Moskovskie Vedomosti (Moscow Gazette), 1881, N 115; in Tikhomirov, op. cit., p. 314.

[25] Katkov, Moskovskie Vedomosti (Moscow Gazette), 1886, N 341; in Tikhomirov, op. cit., p. 314.

[26] For example: “The whole labour and struggle of Russian History consisted in taking away the power of each over all, in the annihilation of many centres of power. This struggle, which in various forms and under various conditions took place in the history of all the great peoples, was with us difficult, but successful, thanks to the special character of the Orthodox Church, which renounced earthly power and never entered into competition with the State. The difficult process was completed, everything was subjected to one supreme principle and there had to be no place left in the Russian people for any power not dependent on the monarch. In his one-man-rule the Russian people sees the testament of the whole of its life, on him they place all their hope” (Moskovskie Vedomosti (Moscow Gazette), 12, 1884; in Tikhomirov, op. cit., p. 312). Again, “[the Tsar] is not only the sovereign of his country and the leader of his people: he is the God-appointed supervisor and protector of the Orthodox Church, which does not recognize any earthly deputy of Christ above it and has renounced any non-spiritual action, presenting all its cares about its earthly prosperity and order to the leader of the great Orthodox people that it has sanctified” (in Tikhomirov, op. cit., p. 313).

[27] Volgin, op. cit., pp. 269-270.

[28] Leontiev, “G. Katkov i ego vragi na prazdnike Pushkina” (G. Katkov and his enemies at the Pushkin festivities), in Vostok, Rossia i Slavianstvo (The East, Russia and Slavdom), p. 279.

[29] Leontiev, op. cit., p. 282.

[30] Dostoyevsky, The Dream of a Ridiculous Man.

[31] Soloviev, Sobranie Sochinenij (Collcted Works), St. Petersburg, volume III, 1911-1914, pp. 201, 202.

[32] Leontiev, “O vsemirnoj liubvi”, op. cit., p. 315.

[33] Dostoyevsky, Polnoe Sobranie Sochinenij (Complete Works), Leningrad, 1984, vol. 26, p. 323; in Leontiev, op. cit., p. 717.

[34] Leontiev, op. cit., pp. 315, 322.

[35] Dostoyevsky, The Diary of a Writer, Haslemere: Ianmead, 1984, p. 1003.

[36] Leontiev, op. cit., p. 324.

[37] Leontiev, op. cit., pp. 326, 327.

[38] Dostoyevsky, The Diary of a Writer; in Figes, op. cit., p. 331.

[39] Dostoyevsky, “The Pushkin Speech”, in The Diary of a Writer, January, 1881, p. 1029.

[40] Soloviev, in David Magarshack’s introduction to his Penguin translation of The Brothers Karamazov, pp. xi-xii.

[41] Florovsky, Puti Russkogo Bogoslovia (Paths of Russian Theology), Paris, 1937, pp. 300-301.

[42] Lourié, “Dogmatika ‘religii liubvi’. Dogmaticheskie predstavlenia pozdnego Dostoevskogo” (The Dogmatics of ‘the religion of love’. The Dogmatic ideas of the late Dostoyevsky), in V.A. Kotel’nikov (ed.), Khristianstvo i Russkaia Literatura (Christianity and Russian Literature), St. Petersburg, 1996, p. 305.

[43] Leontiev, cited in interview with Fr. George  Orekhanov, “Rozovoe Khristianstvo (part 1)”, Foma,

[44] Magarshack, op. cit., p. xviii.

[45] Magarshack, op. cit., p. xvi.

[46] Florovsky, op. cit., pp. 301-302.

[47] Fr. Sergius Chetverikov, Elder Ambrose of Optina, Platina, Ca.: St. Herman of Alaska Brotherhood, 1997, p. 437

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