Ivana Noble






In this paper1 will explore three different visions of ecumenism found in three Orthodox thinkers of the last century, Nikolai Berdyaev, Fr Sergius Bulgakov and Vladimir Lossky. With the exception of Bulgakov, they are not the most frequently cited figures in relation to the ecumenical movement, and yet they all were deeply engaged in conversations and cooperation with Christians from other churches, and tried to spell out what these relationships meant for them and in what sense they made visible both already existing and desired unity. As they all are related to the controversial figure of Vladimir Solovyov, I will first briefly turn to him. Then I turn to Berdyaev's discovery of creative and free Orthodoxy, which should be instrumental in overcoming the divided life of the Christian world, followed by Bulgakov's sophianic and pastoral concepts of unity, and finally to Lossky's mystical-eschatological reading of the Christian sources and his devotion to various saints which did not follow divisions into confessional camps. In the conclusion I will ask what of these ecumenical visions could be fruitfully revived to provide inspiration in our search for unity, and strengthen our focus on what is experientially real.


1. Solovyov's Conversion


When Vladimir Solovyov (1853-1900) decided to join the Roman Catholic Church while at the same time remaining Orthodox, it was a resolution of both a spiritual and intellectual process that had started


1 This paper is part of the research project "Symbolic Mediation of Wholeness in Western Orthodoxy", GACR P401/11/1688.



long before, first with his mystical visions of Sophia,2 and then by working out what he sa was its philosophical, theological and practical consequences.3 Solovyov's notion of pan-unity mediated by Sophia, as the unity of Truth, Goodness an d Beaut y was influenced by Ivan Kireyevsky (1806-1856), 4 an d his friend Fyodor Dostoyevsky (1821-1881). 5 It involved the whole of the cosmos, and, especially in his later works, the church, which played a mediating role in the cosmos.6 I n this light a division of the church into Easter n an d Western parts became for Solovyov unbearable.7 According to him, for pan-


2 See Vladimir Solovyov, "Three Meetings", in: Poems of Sophia, trans, and ed. by Boris Jaki m and Laury Magnus, New Haven: Variable Press, 1996; Judith Deutsch Kornblatt, "Who Is Solovyov and What Is Sophia?", in: idem (ed.), Divine Sophia: The Wisdom Writings of Vladimir Solovyov, Ithica: Cornell, 2009, 1-97; Paul S. Fiddes. Seeing the World and Knowing God: Hebrew Wisdom and Christian Doctrine in a Late Modern Context, Oxford: OUP, 2013, 381-387.

3 Kateřina Bauerová writes: "In Solovyov's work, Sophia is primarily linked with the vision of the mystic unity of all, that is, pan-unity. In his work and life pan-unity covers all aspects of reality: knowledge (of religions, politics, and society), human beings together with all creation, and also of God himself. Pan-unity is the key idea that lies at the source of all his thoughts and is expressed by various terms: integral knowledge, Godmanhood, sophiology, or theocracy." Kateřina Bauerovi, "The Mysticis m of Pan-Unity: Sophiology Revisited", in: Ivana and Ti m Noble, Kateřina Bauerová and Parush Parushev, Ways of Orthodox Theology in the West, Yonkers, NY: St Vladimir's Seminary Press, 2015, Chapter Four, pp. 157-197.

4 This was despite the fact that he also criticised Kireyevsky and slavophilis m as a whole for tidying the vision of the Church unity to an idealized Russian Orthodox nation. See Karel Slidek, Vladimir Solovjov: mystik a prorok. Osobnost a dilo Vladimira Solovjova pohledem (nejen) ceske reflexe, Velehrad-Rome: Refugium, 2009, 101.

5 See Vladimir Solovyov, "Три peчи в пaмять Достоевского", in: Сочинения в двух томах, II, Mocква: Mысль. 1988, 290-323. Balthasar shows the influence of St Maximus on Solovyov, see Hans Urs Von Balthasar, The Glory of the Lord: A Theological Aesthetics, Volume III: Studies in Theological Style: Lay Styles, San Francisco: Ignatius, 1986, 287-288; this statement is further developed by Jeremy David Pilch, "Breathing the Spirit with both Lungs": Deification in the Work of Vladimir Solov'ev, Ph.D. Thesis, University of Bristol, 2015, see esp. pp. 124-133. See David Grummet, Teilhard de Chardin: Theology, Humanity and Cosmos, Leuven: Peeters, 2005.

6 Like later for Bulgakov, the church as mother and the Mother of God are both interpreted as Sophia's feminine expressions. See Vladimir Solovyov, La Russie el I'Eglise Universelle, Paris: Albert Savine, 1889, 258-62.

7 Karel Slidek points out that the divisions were for Solovyov's experience present in Russian-Polish relations, where two Slavic nations, one Orthodox, the other Catholic lived in deeply embedded antagonism. See Sladek, Vladimir Solovjov, 99-104.



unity to be reached the opposites need to be united.8 In the 1880s Solovyov became convinced that both the Orthodox and the Catholic churches were but parts of one universal church, the mystical body of Christ, and that the unity of this body was never really destroyed by the historical and purely external division. 9 The external divisions were not unbridgeable givens and thus did not need to be respected as such.

In 1896, Solovyov put his convictions into practice, as he accepted papal authority, made a profession of the Tridentine Creed, and received communion from the hands of Fr Nicholas Tolstoy in the chapel of Our Lady of Lourdes in Moscow. 10 But this did not mean exchanging one part of divided Christendom for another. He did not consider his act as a conversion to the Roman Catholic Church. In his under-standing, he became a member of the universal church, and regarded himself as both Orthodox and Roma n Catholic. In his last work, Russia and the Universal Church, written in 1899, Solovyov explained why the primacy and the universal authority of the Pope were acceptable


8 "[I]n order to be that which it is, [the infinite] must... be the union of itself and its opposite." Vladimir Solovyov, "The Sophia: A 'Mystical-Theosophical-Philosophical-Theurgical-Political' Dialogue", in: Judith Deutsch Kornblatt (ed.), Divine Sophia, 128.

9 See Leon Tretjakewitsch, Bishop Michel d'Herbigny SJ and Russia: a Pre-ecumenical Approach to Christian Unity, Wurzburg: Augustinus-Verlag, 1990, 39.

10 A facsimile of the original testimony of witnesses was published in the Polish magazine KITEZH in December 1927. It was signed by Fr. Nicholas Tolstoy, the Russian Catholic priest who received Solovyov's Tridentine Profession of Faith, Princess Olga Vasilyeva Dolgorukova, and Dimitry Sergeyevich Nevsky, and read as follows: "After his confession heard by Fr. Tolstoy, Vladimir Seergeyevich in our presence read the Profession of Faith of the Tridentine Council in the church-Slavonic language and then during the liturgy which was performed by Fr. Tolstoy according to the Greek, or Eastern rite but with the mention of His Holiness, our Father, the Pope, he, Solovyov, received the Blessed Sacrament. Besides ourselves, at the memorable event, there was present also a young Russian girl who was helping about the house in Fr. Tolstoy's family; unfortunately, it has not been possible to ascertain her name." Chrysosto m Frank, "The Proble m of Church Unity in the Life and Thought of Vladimir Solovyov", in: St. Vladimir's Theological Quarterly 36/3 (1992), 194; see also James Likoudis, "Vladimir Sloviev 'The Russian Newman': On Christian Politics and Ecumenism", in: The Catholic Social Science Review 16 (2011), http://credo.stormloader.com/Ecumenic/soloviev.ht m (downloaded 25/8/2015), footnote 27. Hans Urs von Balthasar mentions the dispute concerning whether this event actually took place, and he concludes that the evidence is overwhelming. See Hans Urs von Balthasar, Studies in Theological Style: Lay Styles, 282, fn 5. From the Orthodox side it has been contested by Heinrich Falk, "Vladimir Solowjews's 'Stellung zur katholischen Kirche"', in: Stimmen derZeit (1949), 421-435.



for the Orthodox too,11 while a year later, on his deathbed, he felt free to receive the last rites from a Russian Orthodox priest.12 Solovyov's conversion towards a universal church, although contested by most of his Orthodox contemporaries,13 had an impact on all three thinkers we are going to look at now.


2. Berdyaev's Vision of Ecumenism


Nicolas Berdyaev's (1874-1948) vision of ecumenism grew both out of his grasp of Orthodox tradition, and out of his contact, conversations and cooperation with Christians from other confessions.

Although Berdyaev was baptized as a child, he had no other connection with the Orthodox Church till his adulthood. He came from a liberal aristocratic family and his first conversion was to Marxism.14 This was formative of his attitudes and reflections. As Donald Lowrie puts it, in Berdyaev's young adulthood, "[ajlmost no one as yet considered entering the Church: in the minds of those thinkers [Berdyaev, Merezhkovsky, Kartasheff, Frank] the Russian Church was so completely identified with reaction that a believing Christian would scarcely be considered a member of the intelligentsia."15 Round 1905, after the February Revolution, Berdyaev was among a small group of those who found Marxism ultimately unsatisfactory, who were concerned with spiritual as well as social problems, with art and philosophy, and who turned to religion. Lowrie says, "Led by Bulgakov


11 See Vladimir Solovyov, The Russian Church and the Papacy: An Abridgement of "Russia and the Universal Church", ed. by Ray Ryland, San Diego: Catholic Answers, 2001, 92-93.

12 See Gregory Glazov, "Vladimir Soloviev and the Idea of the Papacy", Communio 24 (Spring 1997), 135; Aidan Nichols, O. P., "Solovyov and the Papacy: A Catholic Evaluation", Communio 24 (Spring 1997), 156; James Likoudis, "Vladimir Soloviev 'The Russian Newman': On Christian Politics and Ecumenism", footnote 26 and 28.

13 Paul Allen, Vladimir Soloviev: A Russian Mystic, Barrington: Lindesfarne Books, 302-306.

14 In 1898 as a student he was arrested by the Tsarist regime for his illegal revolutionary activities, and sent to exile to northern Russia for three years.

15 Donald A. Lowrie, "Ten Significant Dates in Berdyaev's Life", in: idem (ed.), Christian Existentialism: A Berdyaev Anthology, London: George Allen & Unwin, 1965, pp. 15-24, here 19.



whose father was a parish priest, there was a gradual rapprochement with the Church."16

Lowrie notes that since the time of Berdyaev's conversion towards Christianity, freedom played a central role. In his work from 1907, Sub Specie Aeternitatis, he wrote that "freedom is above happiness and satisfaction ... freedom is God."17 Berdyaev, practising the freedom of the Spirit so vital for his Christian life, criticised the Holy Synod in 1913, and as a result was accused of blasphemy and was to be sent to Siberia for a lifetime exile. The war and the Bolshevik Revolution, however, interfered. Being knowledgeable in Marxism, knowing well its own weaknesses and its distortions in the Bolshevik system, Berdyaev became for the new regime an unwanted critic. He was twice arrested, and then in 1922 expelled from the country.

For Berdyaev, because of freedom, people were co-creators with God.18 Although remaining Platonist in his philosophy, after his conversion to Christianity Berdyaev followed the teaching of St Paul, and of the Church Fathers, especially Irenaeus, Athanasius, and St Maximus the Confessor. He accepted that human creative powers were weakened by the fall, but restored in the God-Man Jesus Christ. His belief in redemption and in the transfiguration of human nature helped him to see human existence eschatologically - as theanthropic19 - and in this light we need to see also his understanding of the unity of the church.

Like Solovyov, Berdyaev was strongly influenced by the Slavophiles, especially by Alexei Khomyakov (1804-1860), and by Dostoyevsky. The Christian tradition that he embraced was, for him, an experience of sobornicity, a possibility of going beyond himself to Christ, the "eter-


16 Lowrie, "Ten Significant Dates in Berdyaev's Life", 19.

17 Lowrie, "Ten Significant Dates in Berdyaev's Life", 19. Compare to Nikolai Berdyaev, Sub specie aeternitatis: Onbimu (pwiocoqbcKue, couuajibHbie u numepamypubie (1900-1906), St Petersburg: Publishing House of M. V. Prirozhkov, 1907.

18 See Nicolas Berdyaev, http://www.krotov.info/library/02_b/berdyaev/1914_sense. html Смысл творчества. Опыт оправдания человека, Moscow: G. A. Leman and S. I. Sacharov, 1916.

19 See Nicolas Berdyaev, Meaning of Creative Act, New York: Harper and Brothers, 1954, 105-106, 110; Destiny of Man, New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1960,23, 69, 72, 99.



nal contemporary" of all.20 In that contact with Christ, he believed, he was at the same time joined to his brothers an d sisters, all the others who had the same experience of being united in "the memory which brings resurrection, the victory over corruption, the affirmation of eternal life."21 Echoing Khomyakov, he saw the Church, as the order of love and freedom that represented the unity of "the whole Christian world, to apostles, saints, and to all who are in Christ whether living or departed."22 Dostoyevsky taught Berdyaev about redeeming beauty but also about the proximity of good and evil, and the spiritual discipline necessary for the discernment. At the same time, Berdyaev says, Dostoyevsky "share d the inner divisions which belong to the Russian character".23

The attempts to overcome these divisions were to be found in the concepts of integrated knowledge and sobornicity among the Slavophiles, but most of all by Solovyov's notion of pan-unity stemming from his understanding of divine-humanhood.24 Coming to the unity of the church, however, Berdyaev critically comments on Solovyov's converting to Roman Catholicism while remaining Orthodox, saying: "Solovyov's point of view is out of date, and in any case Solovyov never really experienced Catholicism spiritually from within."25 For Berdyaev, "Communion implies reciprocity: there can be no communion in unrequited love."26

For Berdyaev, until the Kingdom of God comes, the Church leads a divided life.27 In this context two questions emerge: Who is the true church, an d where are its borders? Berdyaev asks: "Is the sphere of the Church as a mystic organism limited to the visible structure of the


20 Berdyaev speaks of Christ as "our eternal contemporary", cited in Lowrie, Christian Existentialism, 265.

21 Nicolas Berdyaev, Freedom and Spirit, London: The Centenary Press, 1948, 331. In Russian original: http://www.krotov.info/library/02_b/berdyaev/1927_23_00.html Философия свободного духа. Проблематика и апология христианства, I-II, Paris: YMCA, 1927-28.

22 Berdyaev, Freedom and Spirit, 329-330.

23 See Berdyaev, Dostoievsky: An Interpretation, London: Sheed & Ward, 1934, 226

24 For Berdyaev's interpretation of Solovyov, see Nikolai Berdyaev, Русская идея, Paris: YMCA, 1946, 169.

25 Berdyaev, Freedom and Spirit, 356.

26 Berdyaev, Solitude and Society, London: The Centenary Press, 1938, 111.

27 Sec Berdyaev, Freedom and Spirit, 332.



church an d its appurtenance to one or another confession?"28 And in response to this question he proposes: "The sphere of the Church ought to be at once widened and narrowed."29 That means that the Church needs to recognize that it is not only the mystical body of Christ but also a social institution, acting in history, and as such it is "fallible and bears the same limitations as all social phenomena, everything historic: it has served worldly interests, has soiled its hands, has passed off the temporal for the eternal."30 Because of that the Church is in a permanent nee d of repentance of "treason toward God, toward Christ and the Holy Spirit."31 It is more than the personal sins of clergy or lay people, these are "the sins of the Church, the distortion of Christianity."32 And thus the people in the church, are to blame for the godlessness of the modern world, according to Berdyaev. He reminds his readers that: "Man y have left the visible church with high motives of the love of truth, rather than for lo w motives."33 And if the "new epoch in Christianity" has to have any meaning, the Church has to include the vast majority of people who are outside of the church institution into its work of salvation.

The unique mission of the Orthodox Church, according to him, does not consist in preserving something that others do not have, but in a greater freedom of the spirit than is found in Roma n Catholic authoritarianism,34 or in the Protestant antithesis between freedom and grace.35 The true reality of the Church, its being, is inward and mysti-


28 Cited in Lowrie, Christian Existentialism, 265.

29 Ibid.

30 Ibid.

31 Ibid.

32 Ibid.

33 Ibid., 266.

34 Berdyaev says: "If the Pope condemns a book or the opinion of a fervent Roman Catholic his action has a profound importance for the person concerned because it proceeds from recognized authority." But only a naive realist would, according to Berdyaev, assume that this is what God thinks on the matter. He says: "Authority does not provide us with any outward demonstration of truth which is unshakeable, tangible, or coercive in character; it provides no escape from the burden of freedom." Berdyaev, Freedom and Spirit, 141-143.

35 Berdyaev criticized Protestantis m saying: "The Protestant mind inclines towards individualism...The fault does not lie in the fact that Protestantis m makes an exaggerated claim to the freedom of the human spirit, but that it does not make a sufficiently deep and radical affirmation of it." What causes it, according to Berdyaev, is "an extreme antithesis between freedom and grace". Against such a view Berdyaev asserts that ultimately there is no difference between what a human being desires and what God desires, from within grace, autonomy and theonomy coincide into one. Berdyaev, Freedom and Spirit, 146.



cal, and is something beyond buildings, clergy, rites, councils, etc. Its nature is spiritual, for it belongs to the spiritual rather than to the natural world."36 But the Church is always incarnate. "The visible Church is only the partial actualisation of the invisible Church; it is only an incomplete form of its substance and of the life of humanity and of the world."37 To affirm a visible unity of the universal church here and now meant for him nothing else but that a part of the church was mistakenly identified as a whole.38

Most of Berdyaev's work both in Germany and in France was the fruits of conversations with others. Berdyaev flourished in discussions with others, although, it also needs to be said that when he got bored, he moved on. Berdyaev was heavily involved with the establishment of the Russian Student Christian Movement. The style of meetings, lectures and discussions influenced the Religious Philosophical Academy he established during his time in Berlin to encourage intellectual lite among the exiles.39 Both in Berlin and then particularly in Paris Berdyaev actively stepped into the local intellectual and spiritual life, and was instrumental in organising meetings of theologians and philosophers from various traditions and sharing their search for a Christian identity that would sustain them and their contemporaries in the quickly changing world.40


36 Ibid., 329.

37 Ibid., 334. He says further: "The visible Church cannot consist only of a minority of the elect for it has a message for the whole mankind and of the universe." Ibid., 337.

38 "It is only by assimilating and identifying the part with the whole that the visible unity of the universal Church can be affirmed." At the same time he insists: "But although there is no apparent unity that does not mean that the principle of universality is not active in the visible sphere." Ibid., 348, 349.

39 The book is Donald Lowrie, Rebellious Prophet: A Life of Nicolai Berdyaev, New York: Harper and Brothers, 1960. The story of the founding of the academy is on pp. 164-166.

40 For Berdyaev's acrivities, see Tim Noble, "Springtime in Paris: Orthodoxy Encountering Diverse Others Between the Wars", in: Andrew Pierce - Oliver Schuegraf (eds.), Den Blick weiten: Wenn Okumene den Religionen begegnet: Tagungsbericht der 17. Wissenscliaftlichen Konsultation der Societas Oecumenica (Beiheft zur Okumenischen Rundschau 99), Leipzig: Evangclische Verlagsanstalt, 2014, 295-310.



When Berdyaev came to Paris, he was invited to take part in the Décades de Pontigny, an annual ten-day meeting, where he met a number of French leading intellectuals.41 But he also organised meetings himself, first, bringing together Russian Orthodox theologians and philosophers with Roman Catholics and Protestants at the Russian Centre at 10 Boulevard Montparnasse.42 Later, when the Roman Catholic hierarchy forbade Catholic participation, he moved these to his own home in Clamart, and with the help of his friend, Jacques Maritain, continued to provide space and inspiration for numerous others43 Although Berdyaev was somewhat bored with the inter-confessional agenda of the meetings,44 the deep friendships despite confessional belonging and even more despite fundamental differences in opinion, continued to inspire him. In 1946 he taught at what was to become the Ecumenical Institute of the World Council of Churches in Switzerland. 45

Perhaps, due to these experiences he says: "It is impossible for us not to desire earnestly a reunion of the Churches, in which sinful divisions of Christendom may be brought to an end", but abandoning one's confession and opting for "a state of interconfessionalism" would lead, according to him, to embracing an abstraction devoid of existence.46


41 They were founded by a philosopher Paul Desjardins in 1910, they were interrupted by the First World War and then continued again from 1922. They lasted there till 1942, when, again, due to the war they were moved to Mount Holyoke in New York, and after war returned back to France. See on this, Francis Chaubet, "Les Decades de Pontigny (1910-1939)", in: Vingtieme Siecle: Revue d'histoire 57 (1998), 36-44. For a list of the themes, see http://www.ccic-ccrisy.asso.fr/colloques2.html (downloaded 29/8/2015).

42 Among Protestant participants we find Pastor Marc Boegner and Wilfred Monod, among the Catholics, Father Martin Gillet, Abbe Laberthonniere, Etienne Gilson and Jacques Maritain. Berdyaev, Dream and Reality, 259

43 Among the Orthodox, both Berdyaev's old friend Sergei Bulgakov, and George Florovsky, were fairly frequent attenders. Others such as Lev Gillet, and the recently converted Elisabeth Behr-Sigel (though this was prior to her marriage), George Fedotov, and Boris Vycheslavtsev, also took part. The Roman Catholics included people like Etienne Gilson, Gabriel Marcel, and possibly others such as Yves Congar and Jean Daniélou. Certainly, both knew Berdyaev and his work. The Protestant participation, unfortunatelly, disappeared.

44 See Berdyaev, Dream and Reality, 260

45 See Lowrie, "Ten Significant Dates in Berdyaev's Life", 15-24, here 23.

46 See Berdyaev, Freedom and Spirit, 355. This is what Solovyov did, according to Berdyaev; sec Freedom and Spirit, 356. Berdyaev himself is inconsistent in ascribing a positive or negative role to other confession and even more so to other religions. On the one hand, following his Platonic vision of unity, he says: "In the visible world there is no external unity in the Church; its ecumenicity is not completely actualized. Not only the division of the Churches and the multiplicity of Christian confessions but the very fact that there are non-Christian religions in the world at all, and that there is besides, an anti-Christian world, proves that the Church is still in merely potential state and that its actualization is still incomplete." On the other hand he insists that "Christianity should be capable of existing in a variety of forms in the universal Church." Berdyaev, Freedom and Spirit, 348, 349



When speaking about organic and genuine unit y Berdyaev preferred to link it to the Christian world rather than speaking about one church – whether interconfessional or one confession (or a group of confessions) assuming itself to be the whole. He insists that "the unity of the Christian world must be approached not from an external point of view, but from within. The churches will never be united by treatises signed by their respective governments or by mutual conventions and concordats. In order to achieve a real union of the churches it may eve n perhaps be necessary to avoid having union as our objective."47

While Berdyaev did not belong to those who opposed the institutionalised form of the ecumenical movement, he always preferred spiritual ecumenism, the inward communion that transformed the outer relationships48. Berdyaev was convinced that the "Eastern and Western Christianity are to be distinguished not by the differences of dogma and ecclesial organisation, but by the character of their spiritual experience"49. Throughout the Christian world, distortions have taken place which led to the alienation of others, but also to a continuation of a genuine quest for God which has an inward orientation towards communion. Thus he stated:


47 Berdyaev, Freedom and Spirit, 356. Berdyaev emphasized the value of communication from a person to a person. He said: "The symbolis m of communication is that part of the inner life which transpires into the objective and disintegrated world. This symbolism, which helps to establish communication as well as to indicate a state of disintegration, permeates both our knowledge and art." Berdyaev, Solitude and Society, 110. For him: "Only the Holy Spirit can unite the Churches; reunion can only be the result of grace and cannot be secured by purely human efforts." Such efforts on their own can contribute to further conflicts and divisions, according to Berdyaev. See Berdyaev, Freedom and Spirit, 356.

48 He pleaded for an "inward and spiritual union of Christians of all confessions ...an attitude animated by love which permits of mutual recognition of other confessions as also living in the same spiritual world". Berdyaev, Freedom and Spirit, 356.

49 Ibid., 349.



I wish to be united with Joan of Arc, but not with bishop Cauchon who burnt her; I wish to be united with St Francis of Assisi but not with the ecclesiastics who persecuted him; I can be in union with Jacob Boehme, that great mystic who had the heart of a child, but not with the Lutheran clergy that condemned him. And it is the same everywhere and throughout the Christian world.50

For the Christian world to be reunited, and to overcome the positivism and materialism of his time, a kind of “spiritual revolution” is needed.51 Berdyaev speaks about a holistic conversion which includes both a deepening of the mystical life and moving away from standing on the side of the powerful and grounding the social and political life in the genuine spirit of Christian love and solidarity with the needy.52 The mystical and the political tasks remain united for Berdyaev. And he sees the gift of freedom as a key to both.


3. Bulgakov’s Abstract and Pastoral Visions


Fr Sergius Bulgakov (1871-1944) shared with Berdyaev both a Marxist past, the desire to find a socially and politically relevant Orthodoxy in Russia, and exile. Bulgakov came from a priestly family and yet his own mature faith was born after twenty years of alienation from the church, when he embraced first Marxism and later a kind of Christian socialism.53 In his Autobiographical Notes Bul-


50 Ibid., 357.

51 See ibid., 322.

52 Ibid., 357. He says: “But why has Orthodox and Catholic Christianity not sought to modify social relationships in the spirit of Christian love, and why has it so often supported a system founded on the anti-Christian principles of violence and cruelty? Why has it so often in its history defended the rich and powerful at the expense of the poor and weak?” Ibid., 319.

53 For more details, see Sergius Bulgakov, “Autobiographical Notes”, translated in James Pain and Nicolas Zernov (eds.), Sergius Bulgakov: A Bulgakov Anthology, Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1976, Iff, here 5-6; the whole text was published posthumously in Russian, Sergius Bulgakov, Avtobiogrqficheskie zametki, Paris: YMCA, 1946; Winston F. Crum, “Sergius N. Bulgakov: From Marxism to Sophiology”, in: St Vladimir’s Theological Quarterly 27/1 (1983), 3-25; Anastassy (Brandon) Gallaher, “Bulgakov's Ecumenical Thought”, in: Sobomost 24/1 (2002), 24-55, here 29-31.



gakov speaks about a staretz in the remote North of the country, who helped in his return, reconciliation and partaking in the Eucharist.54 Dostoyevsky, the Slavophiles and in particular Solovyov55 and Pavel Florensky (1882—1937)56 opened for him new possibilities in Orthodoxy, provided it would get rid of its provincialism and exclusivism. Berdyaev was conversant with the Scriptures and the Fathers, as well as classical and modern Western philosophy.57 This underpins his seeking for the tangibility of the sacred presence of God. But here we need to mention other prominent influences, namely Russian symbolism and Dostoyevsky.58 They helped him to see how in Sophia “the creative labour of common human life” could be combined with “the revealing of God’s beauty in Christ,”59 a theme so prominently present in Russian thought through the work of Dostoyevsky. Beyond that, Rowan


54 See Gallaher, “Bulgakov’s Ecumenical Thought”, 31-32; he cites Sergius Bulgakov, “Autobiographical Notes”, 12.

55 For the details about the relationship between Solovyov and Bulgakov see Natal’ja Anatofevna Vaganova, Софиология протоиерея Сергия Булгакова, Moscow: Izdaterstvo PSTGU, 2011, 259-69.

56 For the relationship between Florensky and Bulgakov, see Gallaher, “Bulgakov’s Ecumenical Thought”, 33-34; Katefina Bauerovä, “Setkäm hisychasmu se sofiologie u Solovjova, Florenskeho a Bulgakova”, in: Karel Slädek (ed.), Filokalie: Kniha, hnuti, spiritualita, Olomouc: Velehrad, 2013, 118-31.

57 Bulgakov was heavily influenced by St Paul, and among the Church Fathers, especially by Clement of Alexandria, Origen, the Cappadocians, Maximus the Confessor, John of Damascus, Dionysius, whom he considered “the true father of apophaticism” and Palamas all feature frequently in his thought. See Paul Gavrilyuk, “The Reception of Dionysius in TWentieth-Century Eastern Ortohodoxy”, in: Sarah Coakley and Charles M. Stang (eds.), Re-thinking Dionysius, Chichester: Wiley-Blackwell, 2009, 177-194, here 180.

58 See Catherine Evtuhov, The Cross and the Sickle: Sergei Bulgakov and the Fate of Russian Religious Philosophy, 1890-1920, Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1997, 210-215, where she refers to Bulgakov’s Philosophy of the Name. With the symbolists, according to Rowan Williams, Bulgakov shared the idea that “Language has to be liberated from its servitude to the ‘practical’, the functional, so as to recover its sacred quality: It must once again manifest realities that we do not habitually see, the intersections of the world with the eternal.” Rowan Williams, “General Introduction”, in: idem (ed.), Sergius Bulgakov: Towards a Russian Political Theology, Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 1999, 1-19, here 12. Williams points out that Bulgakov borrowed directly from Vyacheslav Ivanov, a leading Symbolist thinker. But Bulgakov did not agree with the symbolists’ hostility to social reform, and in 1905-1917 criticized “art for the art’s sake”. Yet, while Bulgakov was too political for the symbolists, he was also too mystical for the social reformers. See ibid., 13.

59 Williams, “General Introduction”, 13.



Williams places Bulgakov as well as Florensky among the defenders of the “name worshippers”60 from Mount Athos, claiming that “the invocation of the name of Jesus in prayer affects the presence of the divine Person”.61 Bulgakov’s notion of Sophia as active presence of God was informed both by the Palamite notion of energia and by Ilarion’s notion of name.

Especially in his pre-revolution theological writings we find a strong apophatic strand. It comes across in Bulgakov’s theology of the light62 and of kenosis, the divine self-emptying calling for a human response.63 While Bulgakov took inspiration from Solovyov, he came to criticize his understanding of pan-unity as uniting of the opposites, especially when this was applied to Christology. This critique gave rise to his notion of antinomy, which had broad influence on other Orthodox theologians, including Vladimir Lossky.64

Bulgakov was ordained priest in 1918, shortly before his forty- seventh birthday. A year later he was forced by the Bolshevik govern


60 The first statement concerning the role of the Name of Jesus came from Ilarion, a Russian monk on Mount Athos and a hermit in the Caucasus. (Ilarion, На горах Кавказа, Balapashinsk, 1907) After a period of controversy the Synod of the Russian Church condemned the “name worshippers”. Anthony Khrapovitsky, later leader of ROCOR, then Archbishop of Volhynia, was among those who radically opposed the “name worshippers”. Against him and against S. V. Troitsky the “name worshippers” were defended by a curious mixture of figures, Pavel Florensky, Eugenii Trubetskoi, but also by Ioann Sergiev, who appealed in the defence to the memory of Fr John Kronstadt. Also Bulgakov published a brief article in defence of the “name worshippers”, see Sergius Bulgakov, “Афонское дело” [The Athos Affair], in: Русская мысль (Russkaya mysl’) (1913), 37-46. He was then elected by the Council of the Russian Church that was to meet in 1917 to the commission that was to examine major doctrinal disputes. The theme of “name worshippers” re-emerges in his work Философия имени, and in a paper published in German, “Was ist das Wort”, in: Festschrift flir T. G. Masaryk zum 80. Geburtstage, Bonn, 1930, 25-46. See Williams, “General Introduction”, 8-10.

61 Williams, “General Introduction”, 8-9.

62 See Sergius Bulgakov, Свет невечерний: Созерцания и умозрения, Moscow: Путь, 1917; in English: The Unfading Light: Contemplations and Speculations, Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2012.

63 Williams speaks of “the governing model of kenosis, the divine self-emptying, in creation as well as in incarnation, and indeed in the life of the Trinity itself’. Williams, “General Introduction”, 18.

64 See Brandon Gallaher, “Antinomism, Trinity and the Challenge of Solov’ävan Pantheism in the Theology of Sergij Bulgakov”, in: Studies in East European Thought 64/3-4 (November 1, 2012), 205-225.



ment to stay in Crimea, and in 1922, like Berdyaev, he was exiled from his homeland. Bulgakov first stayed in Prague, where, as a priest, he looked after the Russian refugees, and at the same time taught Church Law and Theology at the Russian Research Institute. In this time he became involved with the Russian Student Movement. Invited to take part in establishing St Sergius Orthodox Theological Institute, he moved from Prague to Paris, and from 1925 taught there as professor of dogmatic theology and also the first dean, positions he hold till his death in 1944. I will not go here in detail into the sophiological controversies which took place there in the second part of the 1930s,65 but will concentrate on his ecumenical vision.

In his early work published in the year of his ordination, Bulgakov wrote about the potential of Eastern Orthodoxy to ground a united ecumenical church. As a first step towards this unity he saw the respectful reintegration of Western Christianity, which at this stage for him means Roman Catholicism.66 The question now was how to do that. At the beginning of the 1920s, during Bulgakov’s forced stay in Crimea, he encountered an educated Lithuanian Catholic priest, Fr Matthew, who convinced him that papacy and Russian Orthodoxy were compat


65 While Sophiology was present throughout his work, in his later trilogy On God- manhood: The Lamb of God (1933), The Comforter (1936) and The Bride of the Lamb (1939, published posthumously in 1945), as Lossky critically noted, it lacks the apophatic reserve. This affected his understanding of the Holy Trinity, in particular the distinction between the inner divine life and divine economy, or to use the Palamite language, between the divine essence and energies. See Vladimir Lossky, The Mystical Theology of the Eastern Church, Crestwood: SVS, 2002, 80. See Gavrilyuk, “The Reception of Dionysius in Twentieth-Century Eastern Ortohodoxy”, 181. See also, Bryn Geffert, “The Charges of Heresy against Sergii Bulgakov: The Majority and Minority Reports of Evlogii’s Commission and the Final Report of the Bishops’ Conference”, in: St Vladimir’s Theological Quarterly 49/1-2 (2005), 47-66; Alexis Klimoff, “Georges Florovsky and the Sophiological Controversy”, in: St Vladimir’s Theological Quarterly 49/1-2 (2005), 67-100; Stoyan Tanev, “ENΕPГEIA vs ΣОФIА: The contribution of Fr. Georges Florovsky to the rediscovery of the Orthodox teaching on the distinction between the Divine essence and energies”, in: International Journal of Orthodox Theology, 2/1 (2011), 15—71; Katerina Bauerovä, “The Experience and Theology of Russian Émigrés”, in: Ivana Noble et al., The Ways of Orthodox Theology in the West, 241-275.

66 See Gallaher, “Bulgakov’s Ecumenical Thought”, 38; he cites Bulgakov, “At the Feast of the Gods”, in: The Slavonic Review 1/3 (1923), 604-622, here 617-618.



ible. Bulgakov was tempted to make a profession like Solovyov, and to accept the Roman pontiff as the source of ecclesial unity.67

This vision of ecumenism, however, was given a fatal blow in 1922-1923, when as a refugee in Constantinople he sought for a kindred spirit and met the Ukrainian Jesuit of Polish origin, Stanislas Tyszkiewicz, who was in charge of the Eastern rite centre in Istanbul.68 The experience with the Roman Catholic anti-Orthodox propaganda disguised as a help to the needy disgusted Bulgakov. In Istanbul another event marked his ecumenical vision, namely his first visit to Hagia Sophia, where Bulgakov experienced something similar to Solovyov’s mystical encounters. As he said: “Hagia Sophia revealed herself to me as something absolute, undeniable, self-evident.”69 Thus, papacy, which he for a time saw as the absolute principle of unity, was from now on replaced by Sophia.

While residing in Prague, Bulgakov became involved with the Russian Christian Student Movement, and this led to further contacts especially with the Protestant Young Men’s Christian Association


67 See Gallaher, “Bulgakov’s Ecumenical Thought”, 39-40; he refers to Bulgakov, У стен Херсониса, written between 25 April and 30 August 1922, and a letter to Pavel Florenskii (dated 1 September 1922), describing how he realised that papal authority was the solution to the contemporary upheaval of Russia (cited in Bulgakov, Sous les remparts de Chersonese, Geneve: Ad Solem, 1999, 33, 287-291).

68 Bulgakov noted: “Count Tyszkiewicz visited me and made a really negative impression ... The whole time he played the fool. He’s really not very clever and repulsive in a Polish way (‘po-pofski protiven’) ... It was clear to me that a person such as he, in spite of all his fervour, was out to ‘seduce’ Russians ... To be brief, it’s not unity but a trap ... and so very many Tyszkiewiczes are sitting about in Rome. Once again that awful question arises: why are the papacy and Jesuitism historically the same thing? ... Until now I was convinced that Dostoyevsky was completely wrong [in his anti-Catholicism] ... and now I wonder.” Sergius Bulgakov, “Из дневника”, in: Вестник РХД (Vestnik RKhD) 130 (1979), 258; in Constantin Simon, “how Russians See Us: Jesuit Relations Then and Now”, in: Religion, State & Society 23/4 (1995), 343-357, here 347. Simon refers to Tуszkiewicz’s anti-Orthodox propaganda, which did not cease even after he moved from Constantinople to Rome, where he taught Oriental Theology. According to him Tyszkiewicz refused to call the Russian dissidents Orthodox, but referred to their spirituality and their ecclesiology as an illness that is seriously dangerous for the church. His position, however was not well received by his other Jesuit colleagues who were more open towards Orthodoxy. See ibid., 348, Simon refers to Stanislas Tyszkiewicz, “Quelques considerations sur la preparations des nos scholastiques pour l’apostolat en Russie (Letter from Tyszkiewicz to the Slavic assistant)”, 30 April 1956, in the archives of the Russicum.

69 See Sergius Bulgakov, Автобиографические заметки, Paris: YMCA, 1991, 94.



(YMCA). In this circle Bulgakov met three American ecumenists, who were later very helpful in founding the new Orthodox school of theology in Paris; a Methodist, John Mott (1865-1955), the first secretary of the World’s Christian Student Federation, his colleague Donald Lowrie (1887-1974), who had previously worked as a volunteer with prisoners of war in Russia, and an American Episcopalian Paul Anderson (1894-1985), who was the first director of the YMCA Press in Paris.70 In 1927, already as dean of St Sergius in Paris, Bulgakov participated in the first Anglo-Russian Congress at St Albans, which gave rise to the Anglican-Orthodox Fellowship of St Albans and St Sergius in 1928.71 Bulgakov was elected vice-president.

Bulgakov’s ecumenical vision is expressed in his exposition on the Creed in the book The Orthodox Church (1933). He starts the book with an inclusive statement: “Orthodoxy is the Church of Christ on earth”.72 Primarily, it is not an institution of any confession including his, “it is a new life with Christ and in Christ, guided by the Holy Spirit.”73 This Church is one, and he adds that it is inadmissible to think of the pluralism of the different confessional churches as being themselves the universal church or to accept the theory of the branches of the church, according to which each is a different opera


70 For their support in founding St Serge, see Katerina Bauerovä and Tim Noble, “The Ways from Diaspora to Local Churches”, in: Ivana Noble et al., The Ways of Orthodox Theology in the West, 183-239, here 202-207.

71 These conferences were organised by Nicolas Zernov under the Student Christian Movement, and brought together young Eastern and Western Christian students to discuss theology. The Orthodox were represented mainly by the Paris-based Russian refugees, with a few Greeks and non-Chalcedonian participants. The Western Christians were mainly High Church Anglicans, and initially also some evangelicals, Methodists and Scottish Presbyterians. The fellowship was founded in 1928. See http://www.sobornost.org/Zernov_History-of-the-Fellowship.pdf The Fellowship of St Alban and St Sergius: A Historical Memoir by Nicolas and Militza Zernov published in 1979, in: http://www.sobornost.org/about-2.php (downloaded 29/8/2015). Brandon Gallaher notes: “In the mid 1920s the relationship between the Orthodox and the Anglicans was very close indeed. In the period of 1922-3, the patriarchates of Constantinople and Jerusalem, as well as the Churches of Cyprus and Sinai, recognised the validity of Anglican orders, given it was believed that the Anglican Church had a valid apostolic succession.” Gallaher, “Bulgakov’s Ecumenical Thought”, 44.

72 Sergius Bulgakov, The Orthodox Church, London: The Centenary Press, 1935, 9.

73 Ibid., 9.



tion of the one true church.74 The unity and plurality problem needs to be resolved differently. Like Berdyaev, Bulgakov insists that a genuine ecumenism “cannot be a sort of amalgam or compromise, like a religious Esperanto, still less indifference to all dogmatic questions”75 What was for Berdyaev a spiritual quest, becomes for Bulgakov also a dogmatic and an ecclesial quest. And here there are some fundamental problems.

Bulgakov saw only two ways of realising unity: “the authoritarian monarchy of Catholicism” or the “Orthodox conciliarity (sobor- nost)”.76 In his rejection of the first way77 and opting for the second one,78 he placed the Orthodox Church, now as an institution, above other churches. He said: “The Orthodox Church is aware that she is the true Church possessing the plenitude and plurality of the truth in the Holy Spirit”,79 or that, unlike others, the Orthodox Church is the measure of Orthodoxy.80 Out of these deficient views, Bulgakov sees the vocation of Orthodoxy as follows: “To save the Christian world


74 This is, for him, “an ecclesiological axiom, evident to every Christian”. Referring to Ephesians 4: 4-6: “There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to the one hope of your calling, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is above all and through all and in all.” See ibid., 104, 105. According to him, the different forms of historic Christianity, Orthodoxy, Catholicism and Anglicanism, are not different operations of one true Church. See ibid.

75 Ibid., 215.

76 Ibid., 216.

77 He argued that the type of unity we find e.g. in Roman Catholicism, deviated from Orthodox tradition. There, he says, due to the assimilation of Roman Law, “the ecclesiastical organization possesses decisive value.” Bulgakov, The Orthodox Church, 107. His critique of papacy, which we find further developed in pp. 106-112, however, needs to be understood in relation to his life-experience. Bulgakov also criticized Roman Catholic refusal to participate in the inter-confessional, ecumenical movement, see ibid., 217-218. And still, despite of his sharp criticisms, Bulgakov admitted that in the Roman Catholic Church, there were always produced also “antitoxins” against “the poisons of ‘statehood’, of judicial authority, or ecclesiastical monarchy.” In his time he saw such anti-toxins e.g. in the liturgical movements among the Benedictines or the “Union” movement of the Priory of Amay (Belgium). See ibid., 216.

78 He speaks here more of an ideal than of a lived reality of his time, when he mentions “the decentralized organization of Orthodoxy, that co-existence of national Churches, autonomous but united”. Ibid., 112.

79 Ibid., 213.

80 See ibid, 114. Bulgakov speaks of Orthodoxy as a privileged attribute of the Eastern part of the Church, when he refers to “the unchangeable unity and the continuity of tradition” that is “preserved by the Orthodox Church”, now meaning the institution, and not in its deepest sense by the “ecclesiastical societies”, meaning churches without historic apostolic succession, but neither by Roman Catholicism. See ibid., 105.



from the indefinite subdivision to which Protestantism leads and from despotic uniformity as advocated by Rome”.81

At the same time, Bulgakov hoped for re-establishment of unity with Anglicans in the near future.82 And here a different facet of Bulgakov’s ecumenical vision can be found, that which grows more explicitly from a lived contact with others. In 1933 and in 1935 Bulgakov presented two proposals concerning partial intercommunion between the Orthodox and Anglicans who participated in the meetings of the fellowship of St Alban and St Sergius.83 And even if the proposals were sidetracked as too radical, they continued to be of inspiration to some of the Anglican as well as Orthodox members.84 Bulgakov did not see common Eucharistic table as the eschatological end in history, this would be either a contradiction in terms or utter impossibility. Shared communion was possible, when there was enough of the common faith, and a willingness to repent what each participant’s tradition contributed to the collective sin of breaking of the universal church. Like Solovyov, Bulgakov believed that the universal church goes deeper than the sep-


81 Ibid., 112. First, it is not clear whether he means the vocation of the universal Orthodoxy or the vocation of the particular Orthodox Churches, but when the theme re-emerges, and Bulgakov says that the this vocation, is given by the election, the second interpretation seems to be more accurate. See ibid., 213.

82 See ibid., 217.

83 For the details, see Anastassy (Brandon) Gallaher, “Bulgakov and intercommunion”, Sobornost 24/2 (2002), 9-28. Bulgakov wanted to include the hierarchy into the process. He proposed that the Anglican and Orthodox bishop could bless the priests of the other confession and through this sacramental act of unity enable them for the eucharistic celebration tor all the members of the fellowship. See the second proposal of Bulgakov, in Gallaher, “Bulgakov and intercommunion”, 12-15. Bulgakov recommended a special sacramental blessing of the Anglicans by the Orthodox, to safeguard Orthodox ecclesiology, without entering into a theological debate concerning the validity of Anglican orders. According to an Anglican historian Roger Lloyd, Florovsky claimed “that the sacramental blessing could not absolve schismatics from the duty and obligation of submitting to the sacrament of penance before admission to the Church”. Roger Lloyd, The Church of England in the Twentieth Century, Vol. II (1919-1939), London: Longmans, 1950, 281; in Andrew Blane, Georges Florovsky: Russian Intellectual and Orthodox Churchman, Crestwood: St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 1993, 65.

84 While on the Anglican side this proposal was much more welcome, among the Orthodox side, Nicolas Zernov continued to appreciate this possibility throughout his life.



aration of confessions, even if by now he disagreed with Solovyov’s solution of the problem.85

Besides Bulgakov’s engagement with the Anglicans, he also participated in the initiatives which gradually led to the establishment of the World Council of Churches. In 1927 Bulgakov together with Metropolitan Evlogii attended the first world conference of Faith and Order in Lausanne. Bulgakov managed to alienate the Protestant representatives there, as he spoke of the Virgin Mary as the mystical unifier of the universal church.86 A similar incident happened in 1937 at the second meeting of Faith and Order in Edinburgh. In his sophiological understanding, the Mother of God was the Wisdom of God calling her various children to unity, she was “the mystical head of humanity in the Church, the Bride of the Lamb”.87

Despite the accusations of heresy during the sophiological controversies in his own church, and the mismatch between his desire for a common veneration of Theotokos and the attitude of the Protestant majority, Bulgakov was considered as the most senior and influential Orthodox theologian in ecumenical circles. He was invited to lecture tours in Canada and the United States, and was counted on to take part in the formation of the World Council of Churches. In 1939 he was, however, diagnosed with throat cancer, and the rapid advance of the illness forced him to stop his active ecumenical work.

As we have seen, in Bulgakov we find different ecumenical visions in different periods of his life. Moreover, his abstract vision described


85 Gallaher summarises: “Open communion (such as Solov’ev’s attempt to become Roman Catholic while remaining Orthodox) - a church experiment through personal union - must be defined as an individualistic attempt to breach church divisions without recourse to any dogmatic minimum. It certainly ignores the proper canonical authorities.” Gallaher, “Bulgakov and intercommunion,” 24.

86 Paul Valliere, Modern Russian Theology: Bukharev, Soloviev, Bulgakov: Orthodox Theology in a New Key, Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark, 2000, 283; See Bulgakov’s “The Papal Encyclical and the Lausanne Conference”, in: The Christian East 9/3 (1928), 127; in Gallaher, “Bulgakov’s Ecumenical Thought”, 43.

87 Brandon Gallaher, “Fr. Sergius Bulgakov”, in: Pantelis Kalaitzidis, Thomas Fitzgerald, Cyril Hovorun et al. (eds.), Orthodox Handbook on Ecumenism: Resources for Theological Education, Volos: Volos Academy Publication, 2014, 201-206, here 202. See Sergius Bulgakov, “The Question of the Veneration of the Virgin Mary at the Edinburgh Conference” which includes a short introduction and “A Brief Statement of the Place of the Virgin Mary in the Thought and Worship of the Orthodox Church", Sobornost 12 (1937), 28, cited in Gallaher, “Bulgakov’s Ecumenical Thought”, 43.



in The Orthodox Church, and his pastoral vision, which he tried to put into practice in the Fellowship of St Albans and St Sergius, differ. At the abstract level, however, Bulgakov held surprisingly narrow views, when compared, for example, to Berdyaev, but also, as we will see, to Lossky. Unfortunately, his abstract vision had greater impact on the subsequent generation of Orthodox theologians, even on those who openly opposed his sophianic project, such as Fr Georges Florovsky, while his pastoral vision still awaits rehabilitation.


4. Lossky’s Vision of Shared Call and Aim


Vladimir Lossky (1903-1958), although, like others, exiled with his family from Russia, took his position differently. As his son, Fr. Nicolas Lossky, reminds us, he had made a free choice to live in the West. France was for him not only an asylum, but his new beloved homeland. Through his love for France he learned to love the whole of the western world, and while criticizing some aspects of its cultural and religious tradition, he did so from within, from a deep appreciation of what nourished and sustained his own life.88 Lossky was, like Berdyaev, part of the Orthodox Church under the Moscow Patriarchate, and he was associated with the Institute of St Denys. He agreed with the mission of the institute to teach theology in French, to open its courses also for non-Orthodox believers, and to seek new ways to find indigenous expressions of French Orthodoxy, participating in the western Christian world together with others and bringing its specific gifts, which in his understanding included particularly the mystical tradition stemming from the church fathers.


88 See Nicolas Lossky, “Preface”, in: Vladimir Lossky, Sept jours sur les routes de France: Juin 1940, Paris: Cerf, 1998, 7-14. Nicolas Lossky writes that his father Vladimir especially appreciated the French martyrs and saints, especially St Genevieve and Joan of Arc, who both saved France in the times of war, but also the medieval ideal of knighthood, which deeply inspired his life, and can be found even in his work for the Brotherhood of St Fotius, an organisation for young Russian emigrants under the Moscow Patriarchate to support living out and developing Orthodoxy within French culture, which Vladimir entered in 1928 and was heading for several years. Sec ibid, 10-11.



His vision of ecumenism was not formulated in terms of abstract principles. In fact, Lossky despised such approaches, and considered them as false, devoid of life. And even if the ideals are right as such, the ideologies that are built on them are not, because the ideologies no longer stem from the actual experience, from “the deep and healthy spring, which alone could transform them into ‘thoughts of power’.”89 Thus, when ecumenism becomes an ideology, Lossky is not interested. We can only speculate whether for this reason he kept a distance to the initiatives gradually leading to the formation of the World Council of Churches, while he participated in the Fellowship of St Alban and St Sergius.

In the Mystical Theology of the Eastern Church, which he wrote in 1944, to introduce what he saw as most valuable in Orthodoxy to western readers,90 Lossky cites two leading western theologians, one Roman Catholic, Yves Congar, and one Protestant, Karl Barth, on what kind of ecumenism is needed and why. Congar stated: “We have become different men. We have the same God but before him we are different men, unable to agree as to the nature of our relationship with him.”91 Barth, addressing the type of ecumenism which is desirable,


89 Lossky, Sept jours sur les routes de France, 22. In this aspect perhaps, most illuminating is a passage in his reflection of a journey he undertook in June 1940, when he wanted to become a soldier and defend France against German invaders. In Seven Days on the Roads of France, Lossky writes first about the “artificial soul“, about the “ideology” of the holy war, of crusades, but then he says that such ideology has different forms: the fight for democracy, freedom, human dignity, western culture, Christian civilisation or divine justice. See ibid, 21-22.

90 See Vladimir Lossky, Essai sur la theologie mystique de I’Eglise d’Orient, Paris: Aubier, 1944; the first English translation appeared in 1957. Vladimir Lossky also presented a historically structured introduction to Palamism in a series of lectures at the Ecole practique des Hautes Etudes at the Sorbonne in 1945-6, which was published posthumously as Vision de Dieu, Neuchätel: Delachaux & Niestlé, 1962; in English, The Vision of God, London: The Faith Press - Clayton, WI: American Orthodox Press, 1963.

91 Yves Congar, Chretiens desunis: Principes d'un ‘ecumenisme’ catholique, Paris: Cerf, 1937, 47; in English Divided Christendom, London: Bles, 1939, 47; in Vladimir Lossky, Essai sur la theologie mystique de I’Eglise d’Orient, 19; in English: The Mystical Theology of the Eastern Church, Cambridge: James Clarke & Co, 2005, 21.



said that it is when: “The union of the Churches is not made, but we discover it”.92

Lossky’s own contribution is to rehabilitate the “mystical centre”, which, according to him, emerges in any form of the living tradition, which is a permanent source of both renewal and unity. Lossky unites the desire to acquire the mind of the Fathers with what he calls “the religious factor,” which in historical studies was often displaced by other factors, such as political, social, or cultural. According to him both Eastern spirituality and dogmatic theology, to which he dedicates this book, but also Western spirituality and dogmatic theology need to focus on “an inner experience of truth,” where knowledge transcends itself, and ultimately leads to union with God, to theosis. For him, “all the history of Christian dogma unfolds itself about this mystical centre,” and theological doctrines that rose out of that centre “appear as foundations of Christian spirituality.”93 The relationship between eastern and western Christianity cannot have any other meaningful programme.94 The experiential approach to ecumenism for which Lossky argues goes back to his student days.

In St Petersburg between 1920 and 1922, before his family was exiled, Vladimir devoted himself to French medieval studies. There he became familiar with the work of Ferdinand Lot (the husband of Myrrha Lot-Borodine), a medievalist from the Sorbonne under whom he later studied in Paris. His life-time interest in the mystical theology of Meister Eckhart also started there.95 He continued in his studies under Nikodym Pavlovich Kondakov in Prague, and then in


92 Karl Barth, “L’Église et les églises”, in: Oecumenica 3/2 (July 1936), cited in Lossky, Essai sur la theologie mystique de I'Eglise d'Orient, 20; in English, The Mystical Theology of the Eastern Church, 22.

93 See Vladimir Lossky, The Mystical Theology of the Eastern Church, 13,9, 10-11. At the same time Lossky is aware of the simple fact, that “the personal experiences of different masters of spiritual life ... more often than not remain inaccessible to us,” because we do not have a standpoint from which to understand them and even less to judge them, but can still be nourished by their fruits that continue to live in the church. See ibid., 20-1.

94 Ibid., 10.

95 Three of the teachers were particularly influential on young Lossky in St Petersburg, Olga Antonovna Dobiasz-Rozdestvenska, a former pupil of Lot, and Ivan Michailovich Grevse, an expert on western church fathers, who turned his attention to Eckhart, and Lev Platonovich Karsavin, who inspired his broader interest in the teaching of the church fathers. See N. Lossky, “Preface”, 9.


Paris, under Lot and Etienne Gilson. Both inspired him to write a thesis on his greatest theological love, Meister Eckhart, something which became a life-long project.96 Lossky had an academic training in philosophy but not in theology. Here he was self-taught, and it is possible to say that the most important theological themes in his works, such as apophaticism, antinomy, the person-nature distinction, the kenosis of the Son and of the Spirit, come from reading Bulgakov.97 And yet, in 1935-36 he was drawn into the sophiological controversy, and under pressure from the Metropolitan and future Patriarch Sergius (Stragorodsky) he wrote an analysis of Bulgakov’s theology in which he criticized sophiology for becoming a kind of Christianised version of pantheism, and for blurring a clear Trinitarian teaching.98

A polemical track can be found in Lossky’s theology of various periods, when he thinks that the living stream of tradition is under a threat. But it does not come from an Orthodox confessional superiority complex. In fact, the belonging to one or other confessional camp does not


96 In order to be fit for the theme, Lossky had to study Aquinas, and later Dionysios, who, besides Eckhart heavily impacted on his own theological work. Another influence which we should not omit, was Fr Sergius Bulgakov. Fr. Nicolas Lossky says that it is vital to understand the key role of his father’s teacher and friend, Etienne Gilson who stimulated his interest in Western mysticism, especially Meister Eckhart, but also the whole of the medieval western theology and philosophy. All else was a waste of time for Vladimir, according to Fr Nicholas, including the books that he wrote because others asked him to. See Notes from the interview with Fr Nicolas Lossky, Paris, 3 May 2010. His thesis Negative Theology and Knowledge of God in Meister Eckhart was posthumously prepared for publication by Olivier Clement, and Etiene Gilson wrote a preface for the book. See Vladimir Lossky, Theologie negative et connaissance de Dieu chez Maitre Eckhart, Paris: Vrin, 1960.

97 See Aristotle Papanikolaou, “Eastern Orthodox Theology,” in: Chad Meister-James Beilby (eds.), The Routledge Companion to Modern Christian Thought, London: Routledge, 2012, 538-48, here 544; Brandon Gallaher, “The ‘Sophiological’ Origins of Vladimir Lossky’s Apophaticism”, in: Scottish Theological Journal 66/3 (2013), 278-98, here 281.

98 Vladimir Lossky took a very strong position against Bulgakov, accusing him of a very unclear Trinitarian teaching. Alexander Schmemann, who was very fond of Bulgakov on a personal level, found fault with him because, though he did indeed start with an interpretation of the Fathers, he tried to get “behind them”, and instead of using Hellenist categories, which Schmemann held to be permanently valid, he used Russian religious philosophy of his day. So, instead of transforming the thought of his time so that it corresponded to the spirit and method of the Fathers, he transposed the theology of the Fathers so that it corresponded to the spirit and methods of his time. See Alexander Schmemann, “Russian Theology: 1920-1972, An Introductory Survey”, in: St. Vladimir's Theological Quarterly 16 (1972), 172-94.



interest him much. He is aware that identities are complex, whether national or ecclesial. In his wartime reflections he speaks about himself as a Frenchmen, while he calls his friend, Maxim Kovalevsky, a Russian refugee.99 As a Frenchmen he seeks admission to the army to defend his country, he asks French saints for protection, be it St Joan of Arc, St Genevieve, whom he venerates as patroness of Paris, or St Aigan, a bishop who saved Orleans from the Huns.100 He understands these saints as part of his church, or himself part of their church, or still better, part of one church, which deep down is not and cannot be divided.

The war period brought Lossky closer with Christians from other churches both spiritually and intellectually. Afterwards he took part in the seminars organised by Marcel More,101 which gathered theologians and philosophers from various confessions. Meetings and a common quest with others mark his understanding of unity in a similar way as we found in Berdyaev.102 In 1947 Lossky, already dean of the newly founded Institute of St Denys,103 participated for the first time in the Fellowship of St Alban and St Sergius. Over the years, he made many Anglican friends, and these ecumenical contacts survived even his leaving of St Denys, when in 1953 the Kovalevsky brothers


99 See Lossky, Sept jours sur les routes de France, 17.

100 Ibid., 22, 25, 35-37, 69-70.

101 These seminars led to founding a periodical, Dieu vivant. Lossky was in the editorial board and published there his studies in 1945-48. See “La théologie de la 1umiere chez Saint Grégoire de Thessalonique”, Dieu vivant 1 (1945), 95-118; “Du troisième Attribut de l’Église”, Dieu vivant 10 (1948), 77-89.

102 According to his son, Nicolas Lossky, The Mystical Theology of the Eastern Church, these were originally lectures for his Catholic friends who knew Orthodoxy only from the polemical writings of an Assumptionist Jugie: See Notes from the interview with Fr Nicolas Lossky, Paris, 3 May 2010. Olivier Clement writes about how Lossky introduced him to the practice of Jesus prayer, which was at that time shared also with the Catholics, and in the group there was also Fr Sophrony, who later founded the monastery in Essex. See Olivier Clement, L'autre soleil, Paris: Desclée de Brouwer, 2010, 120, 135, 139-154.

103 In 1945, when the Institut of St Dionysios was founded, Lossky was nominated its dean, and he taught there dogmatic theology and church history. An example of his teaching emphases can be found in a course in dogmatic theology which was edited by his pupil and friend Olivier Clement. See Vladimir Lossky, Theologie dogmatique, Paris: Aubier, 1944; compare also to the re-edited version including additions from his lectures in 1957-58; Théologie dogmatique, eds. Olivier Clément et Michel Stavrou, Paris: Cerf, 2012.



broke with the Moscow Patriarchate, and started the Orthodox Church of France.104 In 1954—55 he also participated in ecumenically organised patristic research events, the International Augustinian Congress, and the second International Conference of the Patristic Society.

In ecumenical circles Vladimir Lossky criticized what he saw as some theological and spiritual deviations of the Christian West. They included the juridical spirit which pushed away from theology a sense of mystery and a respect for the unknown and the unknowable, or the separation of the abstract dogmatic principles from lived spirituality. He pointed out that the Western insertion of Filioque, in consequence, weakened the role of the Spirit in Western theology.105 Following the Palamite heritage, he argued for the real character of the communion between God and creation, visible in the saints whose lives were transformed by the uncreated light. Theology, in his understanding, had an anagogical task, to lift people up to the call and task of theosis.106

He was aware that both with regard to juridically broken Orthodoxy and with regard to confessionally broken Christianity, the past could not be changed, and yet healing was needed. In his view, it would not come through any other door than that of repentance. For Lossky, such healing could be conferred only by the great Mystagogue, the Holy Spirit.107


104 Since then, it has changed jurisdictions several times, today they are under the Coptic Orthodox Church of Alexandria. See “A Propos de l'Eglise Catholique Orthodoxe de France’ Questions poshes par six theologiens orthodoxes (Pere Cyrille Argenti, Pere Boris Bobrinskoj, Olivier Clement, Michel Evdokimov, Nicolas Lossky, Jean Tchekan)”, in: Supplement au Service Orthodoxe de Presse (SOP) 39 (June 1979), document 39.A, 1-18.

105 See Vladimir Lossky, Orthodox Theology: An Introduction, Crestwood, NY: St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 2001, 32-3; The Mystical Theology of the Eastern Church, 238-9; In the Image and Likeness of God, Crestwood, NY: St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 2001, 99.

106 See Aristotle Papanikolaou, Being with God: Trinity, Apophaticism, and Divine- Human Communion, Notre Dame, IN: University of Notre Dame Press, 2006, 24.

107 Lossky, The Mystical Theology of the Eastern Church, 239.



5. Conclusion


The three Orthodox thinkers whose visions of ecumenism I have explored in this paper represent a remarkable heritage, which has been slightly overshadowed by the forms of Orthodox ecumenical theology and engagement that has been more strictly tied up with the World Council of Churches. Of course, none of the positions discussed here was perfectly coherent, which is also good, because this does not make them into instructions that could be mechanically followed. Rather they testified a deep personal search, messy, creative, open-ended. Where they deviated from the experiential realities, they became less useful.

Berdyaev rightly criticized Solovyov for not having been at home with lived Catholicism when he made the step towards becoming part of the Roman Catholic Church as well as remaining in the Orthodox one. We can further point out that for him the Western Church equated with Roman Catholicism. This comes from the lack of experiential knowledge of the varied and fragmented face of the Western Christianity. Berdyaev himself at times adhered to the comparison of Orthodoxy when it works to other Christian confessions when they do not work, as when he says that the Orthodox Church preserved more freedom than Roman Catholicism, and less separation between grace and freedom than Protestantism.108 Similar faults can also be found in Lossky, as he seems to exaggerate the validity of his own theological discoveries. And we can rightly question whether, for example, the Filioque was the cause of eliminating the role of the Spirit in Western theology or whether an understated sense of the mystery of God is connected to lacking the essence/energy distinction.109

But the abstract view is most visible in Bulgakov’s account in The Orthodox Church. Although here Bulgakov, like Berdyaev, spoke about the Christian world, the role of the Orthodox Church as an institution in that Christian world was different. Bulgakov lacked a middle term that would enable him to talk about the Eastern Church analogically to the Western church, with an eschatological distance to partaking fully in the universal Orthodoxy.110 And yet of the


108 See Berdyaev, Freedom and Spirit, 141-146.

109 See Lossky, In the Image and Likeness of God, 71-96.

110 Bulgakov, The Orthodox Church, 9.



three, Bulgakov’s abstract vision, which included the superiority of the Orthodox Church as an institution, had the strongest following. However, as was also pointed out, the problem of ascribing the Orthodox Church the role of a supreme judge of what is and what is not Orthodox, was at least partly deconstructed by Bulgakov’s pastoral practice. And, perhaps, this strand of his heritage is still waiting to be more fully appreciated. There, maybe like Lossky, Bulgakov sensed that he did not need to be accepted in a western church, whether Roman Catholic or Protestant, because he felt that he was already part of one Christian stream of life, united in its roots, vivified by one Spirit. Living deeply from this stream meant also discovering its inherent unity.

To conclude, I want to say that each of the thinkers bring insights from which the contemporary search for common ground and a common journey can learn. These insights include Berdyaev’s notion of the Christian world but also his emphasis that the aim of ecumenism is in the process, and that if unity is not the final and explicit aim, it could, perhaps, be more easily reached. Further examples are Bulgakov’s desire for partial communion, and his proposals as to how this might be possible, or Lossky’s spiritual and practical ecumenism based in sharing the treasures of tradition and inhabiting the shared places with the same heavenly presence of the saints who lived there before us. They all form an admirable heritage to be creatively developed, including the anarchic solution of Solovyov, to whom they formed a kind of response. All are real to the degree they moved beyond the realm of abstraction and engaged with real others.

Summary: Facing the current division among Orthodox Theologians concerning relationship to the ecumenical movement, this article sets to explore various visions of Christian unity, especially those that did not flow into the institutional face of ecumenism represented mainly by the World Council of Churches. Starting with Vladimir Solovyov’s notion of pan-unity which led him to embracing Roman Catholicism while remaining Orthodox, three approaches to unity are examined: Nikolai Berdyaev’s perception of Orthodoxy as necessarily belonging to a broader Christian world, Fr Sergius Bulgakov sophianic and pastoral approaches to others, Vladimir Lossky’s insights into the inherent unity of the mystical tradition and communion of saints. In the conclu-



sion it is spelled out in which ways each of the thinkers developed and challenged Solovyov’s approach, but also how their different visions of ecumenism, provided and still can provide inspiration for searching for a Christian unity complementing the official institutional negotiations.


Keywords: Orthodox Theology - Ecumenism - Vladimir Solovyov - Nikolai Berdyaev - Fr Sergius Bulgakov - Vladimir Lossky.




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