In a bottle

Publish date 02-09-2022

by Flaminia Morandi

The Russians in Cherson: U sten Chersonisa, Near the walls of Chersonese comes to mind. The author is Father Sergej Bulgakov, according to Olivier Clément the greatest of Russian theologians, born in 1871, who wrote this book-prophecy in 1922, at the time of the triumph of the Bolshevik revolution which is transforming Russia into the USSR. It is also the time of the "Great Famine", one of the greatest forgotten tragedies of the twentieth century, which began for natural causes but exasperated by political choices, with its five million deaths and chilling phenomena of cannibalism. It is the time of the new penal code that legalizes terror, with the desolate Solovki islands becoming the prison of the new criminals: the opponents of the regime, the critical intellectuals, the clergy.

Father Sergej Bulgakov is all of this. Former Marxist, intellectual and convinced atheist, he made a tiring journey back to the church which culminated in 1918 in his priestly ordination. As a priest he was no longer able to teach at the University of Moscow, he joined his family in Crimea who had fled the bombings, he taught here until he was expelled from the Soviet Union at the end of 1922. At the age of 54 he began his life as an exile, first in Prague then in Paris, where he will teach all his life at the Institut Saint Serge , founded to guard Orthodox theological research during the long Russian night. Before leaving for exile, Bulgakov writes this strange dialogue between four characters on a moonlit night, in the same Cherson today occupied by the Russian army: the sacred place where perhaps the Byzantine baptism of Prince Vladimir began. Christian history of Russia, but also the "crater where the earthquakes of the Russian tsunami start". "Like a castaway who puts his will in a sealed bottle which he then throws into the sea, entrusting it to future generations," Bulgakov reflects on the fate of Russia with the pathos of directing historical events as they happen. Why this tragedy? The roots lie in the Byzantine baptism itself, through which the Russian Orthodox Church has also absorbed its evils: the schismatic spirit, the dangerous identification between autocracy / ecclesiastical power, a source of confessional exclusivism, closure, presumption of superiority, separation. But we don't strip ourselves of the “dysfunctions” of our own tradition like a dress.
“The homeland is a sacred mystery to each man, just like his birth. Through the same mysterious and inexplicable bonds that unite him, through the womb of his mother, to his ancestors and to the whole tree of human descent, thanks to his native land man is tied to the Mother Earth and to all divine creation ".

Recognizing the "dysfunctions" of one's own culture is the first step towards universal communion: "Salvation results in the abolition of the barriers that lock every human being in the cage of his own individuality, every human group in the its specificity, each human category in its own "difference" ». sobornost , unity, is not the sum, but the communion of diversities. The life of the church is not the life of "one" church: it is the story of the progressive transformation of humanity into Divine humanity.

Flaminia Morandi
NP April 2022

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