Individual and Communal Salvation in Christ

Anton Kartashev

Each time the question arises about communal, political, cultural (and not merely individually-spiritual) significance of the Gospel and the Church, one must first know: at which level is the inquiry made? Practical thinkers are generally satisfied with the premise that Christianity "in some manner" (the manner of which is not delved into too deeply) did have an influence not only upon the souls of individual believers, but upon whole nations, their institutions, their lives and their accomplishments as a whole. Thus they could expect to see the Church’s full participation in every one of today’s painful and burning issues. These problems have become world-wide and all-encompassing. One cannot run and hide from them in some desert. Practical thinkers oblige the Church to participate actively in these problems on the basis that the Church is one of the ideological forces along with other such forces that govern nations and mankind and, therefore, it must make use of the same methods as those of other forces, i.e., propaganda, the organization of masses and the rule of a majority. With the obvious exclusion of coercion and armed revolutionary struggle.

Metaphysical and mystical minds cannot look at all this so simply. Although the historical fact of Christianity’s influence on world culture, even for them, is beyond dispute, the manner and methods of such influence are not seen by them to be so uncomplicated nor in some cases, acceptable. They see the individual human persona, its heart, its soul, as the only object of Christianity’s direct influence. Following the Christian transfiguration of the "inner man" the whole milieu in which the spiritually renewed person lives and acts must, of itself, be transfigured from within, imperceptibly and gradually: community, State, and culture. These latter entities live and develop in accordance with their own natural laws, alien to Christianity, but they can be subjected to its influence and to some degree, be transfigured. They cannot be fully permeated by Christianity inasmuch as they are unrelated by their nature. These are categories of a cosmic, and not a spiritual order. The Lord placed Himself in opposition to "this world," and the Apostle of Love commanded us "not to love this world." The category of "community" is from "this world," thus the Christian heart must not adhere to it. Social life is a kind of a mechanical linkage of personalities and is fatally subject to a certain mechanical conformity with a law, which is alien to the realm of spiritual freedom which is the Christian religion, the Church. It is only in this spiritual "society", the communion of saints in the Church, where the human personality is embraced in its royal fullness, and not as a mechanical molecule or particle. Only that single "community" is genuinely a Christian one. By being an actual and living member of that mystical community, the individual Christian, and through him, the whole Church, "spontaneously spiritually" and thus internally, unnoticeably, enlightens, elevates and transfigures the external and fallen society. All other methods, except this one that comes out from the depths of the personal, transfigured spirit, are methods that are not Christian. In certain fortuitous cases they may even be acceptable for a Christian conscience. In others, they are perceived by it as something alien and even antithetic to Christianity.

Thus, the multitude of Christian Churches and denominations, with small, uncharacteristic and numerically insignificant exceptions, relate to the social sphere with a cool ascetical indifference, dispassionately, with estrangement, and even with hostility. It is especially characteristic and significant that the Eastern Church — the most ancient and closest group to the cradle of Christianity and to the voices of the first Evangelical preaching – is in principle permeated with that ascetical, eschatological indifference towards cultural and historical achievements. This does not call for any special proofs. This is evident in every line of the Eastern liturgy, which more than adequately reflects the spirit of Eastern piety, as well as every line of the didactic literature of the Fathers and the startsi, the leaders of Eastern holiness.

Instinctively in line with, and true to that spirit, the Orthodox conservative milieu, both clerical and lay, looks upon all appeals for social action as appeals of the flesh, pagan, non-Christian, and distracting from the Church and even away from Christianity. We must admit this in good conscience in order not to obscure the difficulties of attempting to attract the Church towards social action.

Meanwhile, Orthodox dogmatics and Orthodox ethics, as well as all Christian ethics demands without exception, from every Christian and from the Church, in addition to individual ascetic efforts, ascetic efforts in social service; in addition to personal, individual salvation, the salvation of society as well. Social and communal, not only in the sense of the mystical communion of saints in the Church, but in the sense of a more efficient drawing of human society, alien to the Church, onto the path of Christian salvation. In a broad perspective, this is a maximum Christianization of human society, saturating it with the principles of Love, so that the society be like a Church. We usually speak of the "Churching" of society. This does not mean turning it into a church, but precisely the transfiguration of its aims, forms, and methods, in the image of the Church and in the spirit of the Gospel.

For us, all these are self-evident conclusions from the dogma of God-manhood. The Christ is not only the High Priest and Prophet, but he is also a King. As the King, He is not just the Ruler of the mystical, invisible, intimate kingdom of souls. But, that kingdom of souls must unavoidably become incarnate into a visible, external and even material life of the inwardly Christianized community of mankind. The mystical theocracy must become manifest and prove its reality in an external theocracy or more to the point, an external Christocracy. When Roman Catholic Christians sing "Christus vincit, Christus regnat, Christus imperat," one is justified in asking them, in the words of Apostle James: "Show me your faith apart from your works." (James 2:18) Christians, in good conscience, carried out various examples of Christocracy throughout their history: in the creation of Christian governments, Christian culture, philosophy, scholarship, art, literature, philanthropy. Throughout all of the Middle Ages Christian nations believed without any doubt that all human creativity must be carried out "in the name of Christ"; that Christ reigns over all undertakings of mankind, especially those common to all people and society as well as activities of the State. They believed that the kings and rulers of nations were merely servants of Christ and the Church in all their earthly and human dealings. In principle, Christians could not nor did they have the right to think otherwise. But, alas! in later times Christians fell away from their enduring, child-like faith. They doubted its rightness. They pusillanimously forfeited their commanding and leading position in culture to the secular-dominated enlightenment that was not merely emancipated from religion, but was hostile to it. The conductor’s baton guiding mankind in its world-wide cultural structuring has long ago fallen into the hands of secular forces. The Church has been pushed aside and often forcibly banished from any influence in the sphere of social life with the declared aim that it would not dare to Christianize life and build the visible Kingdom of Christ.

Thus the Church’s rival and enemy – world-wide secularism — tells the Church where its strength lies and where is its vocation in the social sphere. It wants to be the soul, the center and the head of all life – the position once held by the Church. Being universal, secularism wants to usurp the place of religion, to abolish it and to replace it. It has already paganized all spheres of life. The Church must once again conquer those lost positions, to baptize and Christianize anew all governments, laws and communities, science, culture, economics and technology. This inescapable struggle for a new Christianization of the world removes all ascetic doubts from us: is it lawful, is it Orthodox, to summon the Church to serve society? It is too late to have doubts when a defensive war is going on with the principal enemy of Christ’s Kingdom. For the enemy, the Church’s ascetical retreat into the area of merely the personal, individual salvation of faithful souls is, pure and simple, a surrender and capitulation of the Church. This is just what the enemy wants. To annihilate the Christocratic realism of the Church — this is the aim of "the prince of this world." The Church that does not participate in the activities of this world is no longer Christ’s Kingdom. It is a kind of an impotent Buddhism. This is a desertion from the field of battle in the age of the Gospel’s decisive struggle with the world’s anti-Christian onslaught.

On the contrary, today we must sound the alarm and mobilize all those who believe in Christ and all the forces of the Church, in order to work for the resolution of all universal problems common to all mankind from a Christian perspective, from the Church’s point of view. We can grant the Order of ascetics and hermits the privilege of following their own contemplative life-style, as to any such specialized Order within the Church. But the obligatory type of the Church’s ministry and of Christian activism (especially in this war time for the Church) must precisely be social service in the broad meaning of that term. It is self-evident – and this is basic for a Christian – that this "Christian social service" must take place only upon the firm foundation of the internal belonging to the Church, in accordance with her mystical and authoritative direction, being nourished and transformed by the power of the Church’s grace. By no means can this be on a self-standing, simply humanitarian basis. Only then it will not be diverted from the path of the Gospel and will have the means to channel the general trend of even secular culture towards the goals of Christ’s Kingdom.

The Church must be able to provide her answers for all questions of social life. Not the technical questions of course, but those of principle nature. The Church’s sphere is axiological, she must be able to evaluate everything in conformity with the Kingdom of God. A free market or a planned economy, capitalism or socialism, democracy or Caesarism, pacifism or militarism, nationalism, fascism, communism, etc., absolutely all forms and expressions of mankind’s collectivism must be evaluated by the Church. The Church must give its members direction and guidance for each of the existing systems of common life and how each one must conduct himself within these systems, both in principle and in practice. One may need to struggle against some, defend another, reform the third one, recreate the fourth in accordance with one’s own new plan.

The question — where or in what spheres of the Church can one look for such guidance for social service, leads to the problem of the forms of Church authority. Not having an infallible center in Rome, we do have sufficient, efficient and viable forms of "Sobornost’" in all its degrees, from the lowest to the highest "ecumenical," that allow us to function with assurance, knowing that we can always find control, judgement, direction and help — without recourse to the Old Testamental "Urim and Thumim" — within that "Sobornost’."

Would the Church’s participation in the world’s social structure imply that the hierarchy or the priesthood would be diverted from their altars or from their specifically Apostolic "service of the Word"? Would this lead to the secularization of pastors and their preoccupation with the vanities of the world? By no means. The Church, as any organized establishment, follows the principle of the division of labor. If the priesthood is for service of the Word and the altar, then there is a substantial reservoir of talent among the multitude of laity for every kind of social service in the name of Christ. In the Church, the layman vocation is primarily an obligation for public and cultural service. For the maximum effectiveness of such service the laity, in common with their pastors, but primarily and specifically the laity, should be organized into a number of special brotherhoods or leagues and to make up, on the whole, as a technically perfected army of Church servants with every type of spiritual weaponry. This army must be interspersed into the system of common life and common relationships and from there, shape the activities in the spirit of the Gospel and thus try to achieve the transfiguration of the world in the image of the Church, thus "Churchifying" life.

There are two methods for the Church to influence culture and society. Let’s, conditionally, call one method "clerical." This is when the Church, through the hands of her hierarchy, takes over the power of the State, when she forms her own ecclesiastical parties in politics, when she forms her own schools, her own social and economic factions, etc. We will call the other method "molecular," when the Church, through her members and through its brotherhoods and organizations, participates in the numerous government and cultural establishments, corporations and organizations, in the various already existing political parties, in educational institutions, universities, in the public press, in secular life in general, for the purpose of disseminating her Christian influence. Such a method is more feasible and adaptable. Its feasibility is prompted by the fact that today there are no longer any patriarchal conditions where all governments, the whole nation, all institutions, were solidly Christian. Then all theocratic designs were carried out directly, through clericalism and government enforcement. There is nothing like this today in the nature of things. Today, real and not just nominal, Christians constitute a minority even in officially Christian States. Being a minority they have neither the right nor the opportunity to impose their Christocratic plans upon the heterodox and unbelieving majority. All they can do is work for Evangelical foundations by way of the "molecular" influence within the common forms of life. This predominant method does not exclude, in necessary situations, the implementation of specific methods, which we conditionally defined as "clericalism."

It is the "minority" status of Christians in our times within the secular forms of government and society that precludes the practical influence of purely ecclesiastical and canonical entities made up of parishes and dioceses. While these sacred institutions are absolutely essential for the intimate and mystical life within the Church, these canonical organizations are frequently completely overlooked within the structures of the extra-ecclesial secular society. Parishes as entities, are meaningful only within the boundaries of their specific denomination and cannot as such, have a meaningful vote power in political, economic and cultural matters. Individual Christians who make up these parishes must, either personally or as organizations or brotherhoods, participate in the institutions of secular society and thus introduce that, which is necessary for the Church, into the common way of life.

The canonical system of Church organization is thus inadequate for the Church’s service within society among the heterodox and unbelieving majority. Here, the organization of brotherhoods and leagues consisting of Christian members sharing a common profession or specialty could be the most effective way for working in the interests of the Church. Without the development and strengthening of such a system one cannot expect the Church to be successful in efforts for the Christianization of life on a broad field.

This Christocratic process of the transfiguration of the cosmic, pagan and anti-Christian way of life into a life compatible with the spirit of the Gospel, is difficult and far-fetched. However, no individual Christian nor the Church as a whole can live without the hope that they somehow are creating on this earth, in this sinful and imperfect milieu, a kind of a City of God. They save not only their own souls but are saving their sinful society, their common life and all of their common historical creation, carrying out not only their own salvation, but at the same time, the salvation of society in Christ, creating a new Theocracy – Christocracy.

April 14, 1934

(Put’ No. 45, 1934, pp. 30-36)

Translated by Fr. Alvian Smirensky. English translation © 1999 Alvian Smirensky

First publication in English in the Holy Trinity Cathedral LIFE, Vol. 7, No. 1, September 1999.

The distinguished Russian Church historian Anton Vladimirovich Kartashev (1875-1960) was Russia’s first and only Minister of Confessions in the Provisional Government of A. Kerensky (1917) and was instrumental in organizing of the All-Russian Church Council of 1917-18. He was arrested on November 7, 1917 and kept in Ss. Peter and Paul fort. On December 31, 1918, he escaped persecutions of the Soviet regime by crossing Russo-Finish border. In 1925-60, Professor Kartashev taught Church History, Old Testament and Hebrew at St. Sergius Orthodox Theological Institute in Paris and authored many books and articles.