In this second half of Natalya Irtenina’s essay “Holiness as a National Ideal,” the author shows the bankruptcy of humanism and liberal ideology’s reduction of man to a bestial state. As St. John of Kronstadt understood, recovery of the divine image entails struggle for holiness, the language of which was given to us in Christ the eternal Logos, our one salvation. Translated by Mark Hackard.
Humanism against Holiness
Without any exaggeration, the ancient language of holiness founded the Russian state and cultivated the Russian people; it laid the basis of the most important cultural and social phenomena. It sustained the language of political action (defense of national sacred places, the peaceful colonization of frontier lands and the enlightenment of foreign pagans, their inclusion into the orbit of high Christian culture), the language of social service, and finally the languages of everyday life and art.
From the end of the 18th century, the language of holiness was expelled from Russian life by another language that had arrived from the Age of the European Renaissance and the new Age of Enlightenment. Very quickly the latter created around itself a special stratum of men in Russian society who spoke it – the Russian intelligentsia. Its essence amounts to liberal, sentimental humanism, or simply humanism. John of Kronstadt saw through the sorry, conceited and arrogant soul of the intelligentsia and dedicated more than a few sharp strokes of his pen to this ruinous social phenomenon. In a 1909 speech honoring the memory of the Shepherd of Kronstadt at the Russian Assembly of Monarchists, another saint, Archbishop John Vostorgov, called the Russian intelligentsia an exalted harlot “looking slavishly to bow before something great in some foreign land…for someone to whom they can bend their knee…for someone before whom they can grovel…for someone from whom they can hear patronizing words and a smile of praise and approval.” This harlot’s language began to set the direction of Russian history in modern times.
“The Russian intelligentsia have declared war upon God Himself,” Father John wrote in his diary.
They dream of the improvement of mankind without Christ, and meanwhile, they themselves are far from perfection and devoted to every passion…Not knowing themselves, their baseness, their infirmity, their sinfulness, poverty, blindness and nakedness, they only mock Christ and the Church.
The language of holiness speaks of man as a person open to God for cooperation with Him in overcoming evil (sinfulness) within himself, for the deification of man himself and the consecration of the world. In other words, holiness sees in a person the image of God. Sentimental humanism, having looked upon man, sees in him only man, just a reasoning animal.
The language of sentimentality speaks of man as a closed being, self-sufficient and atomized, in the grip of feelings and emotions, sufferings and endless implacable desires, and endowed with creative potential that is “god” in man – it is this “god” we must serve, to whom we must render honor and whose dignity we must cherish. Thus, on the one hand, it follows to endlessly nurture pride in a human being, and on the other, to pity him and love him with endless, compassionate love. But nothing other than the abysses of Satan’s depths can be uncovered by this combination of hubris and self-pity within sinful man. The language of sentimentality is frivolous and sufficiently primitive; it glides along the surface rather than delving inside and examines not the eternal – the immortal soul – but temporary manifestations of the human being: his conveniences and inconveniences, his opinions, whims and experiences.
In the language of holiness, love for man is reasoning and sober-thinking, and it divides good from evil within him; it demands that the former be strengthened and the latter overcome. In the language of sentimental humanism, pseudo-love is based upon pity, accepting man in his entirety while patronizing his evil, making no demands of his good, and finally blending both into conceptions of “personal freedom” and “human rights.” Holiness does not place earthly life and its comforts at the apex of the scale of values. Sentimentality above all else esteems the earthly and bodily and bows before the idol of comfort and a comfortable, easy life, and for this reason it fears death terribly – the spectacle of death captivates it like nothing else.
The cultivation of fallen man’s passions is now considered something correct, a cultivation of one’s nature, and this is enabled; that’s what our teachers have come to. But Christian faith teaches the crucifixion of the passions and whims of the flesh, for otherwise man will perish eternally.
Having deviated from truth, the liberal intellectual lost the ability to understand the language of holiness. It is easier for the blind and deaf to communicate with an extraterrestrial than for a humanist to comprehend the meaning of holiness. And for the humanists, Father John himself became the stumbling block upon which they tripped and brought themselves to injury, and for that they would unleash streams of filth against him.
In literature alone, for example, the language of holiness, though often in a dimmed form, was cast in the primordial psychologism of the golden 19th century with its search for human limits and its immersion into the dark night of the soul. Only Chernyshevsky and Saltykov-Shchedrin were able to force sentimentality out of themselves at their height, as well as the later heretical Tolstoy with his perversion of simple living. On Tolstoy and other self-proclaimed prophets from the intelligentsia, John of Kronstadt would write, “He mocks the sacred and the saints; he deifies and worships himself as an idol.” Having made man a reasoning animal, the intellectuals reduced Christ to the same.
The Silence of the Vegetables
It’s difficult to stop a fall from a mountain midway through descent: the next phase of man’s degradation and the transformation of his language of existence was Bolshevism, conceived through the “infirmity and sinfulness” of liberal humanists. The Communist dispensation narrowed man even further, having seen in him nothing worthy of compassionate love. The object of Marxist-Leninist ideology was deprived of creative potential and left exclusively with the ability to produce. Man was equated to his labor and made into a machine for carrying out work – a slave.
Then the dispensation was found to be unsatisfactory and non-viable, and so the trajectory of decline veered slightly to the right. The language of liberal humanism had returned to Russian discourse in triumph. For seventy years, of course, it wasn’t static and had proceeded down a certain path of “development.” This language became even more simplified, and ever more it blended notions of good and evil, black and white; it became more intelligible to the masses, and consequently, the masses set about conforming it to themselves.
Emotions and feelings have finally crushed everything under their weight, and it is wholly unimportant what evokes them, whether the dark or the radiant aspects of life – our main concern is that these powerful impressions reside with us. A horror film has the same energy conversion efficiency as a good comedy. In terms of the power of emotions evoked, the seizure of hostages by terrorists is equal to a football game or a television game show. The media have long understood this and activate in their work the means capable of “switching on” feelings, “tear-jerking,” and giving the public the most diverse basic emotions. Even news reports and information bulletins are turned into either sugar-coated childish prattle or somber ventriloquism to frighten us with bad weather over the coming days.
A man in his right mind, one who does not suffer from an excess of sentimentality, perceives such a presentation of information as appalling banality and the retardation of the populace. Yet for a person who understands no language other than that of liberal humanism, this seems the norm. He will not be made to recoil by the behavior of a television reporter who, doing a segment on a train crash, sticks her microphone into the faces of bloodied victims and asks them to tell what they felt when their carriage derailed.
The language of infantile sentimentalism makes real life an endless soap opera; Santa Barbara can go on seasonal break.
In the paradigm of a language declaring democracy a goal in itself rather than an auxiliary means of authority, an authentic and natural democratic ethos is impossible. Although the masses and the state speak in one language today, the falsity and artificiality of sentimental humanism is well understood at the upper levels of society. In this language, it’s easy to deceive and manipulate, as it appeals to the emotions, the most capricious human element. The times of honest dissidents who called for “adherence to the Constitution” are long gone.
The “development,” or more specifically the degradation, to which sentimental language was subject during its seventy years of non-being in Russia, consisted of the continuing and active reduction of the individual. Just as man was equated to his labor in the Soviet revelation, liberal humanism limited him through an opposite ideal – consumption. It even adapted his creative potential to expand the circle of consumption: “If you’re so smart, than make more money.” The simplification of this language and man’s debasement will continue until we reach the level of mumbling, and after that, total muteness.
“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” At the basis of the language of holiness is Christ the Word, the Divine Logos, Wisdom. God’s image in man, the Logos, is Wisdom.
When human language completely switches black and white, men lose the Logos. They become mindless and speechless, without creative powers. Man is made into a zero. He will converse as a parrot does, repeating a confined set of catch-phrases (which are already actively formed and used by liberal-oriented “talking heads” in the media). Yet this will be not a man but a vegetable, fit only for consuming as a meal – and we can hardly exclude that cannibalism might flourish and become the norm, just as sodomy now thrives and is considered the norm. All previous historical experience and all classical culture, science, art, etc. would be pointless; no one would understand them. All of this shall die at that moment when evil will finally be declared as good, and good evil. How can one understand anything when viewing everything from upside-down?
If holiness is the uncovering of God’s image and likeness in oneself, then the muteness of future humanity is the uncovering of the image and likeness of the devil. Christ is replaced by Antichrist.
The language in which Holy Rus spoke has not disappeared, of course. It has been totally preserved, but only seven to ten percent of Russia’s population take the effort to comprehend it. Joining the life of the Church, they are learning to understand it and are attempting to build their lives according to the rules of this eternal language. God willing, there will be new saints already living, living among us.
It is well known to psychologists, linguists and teachers that language in its usual conception as an oral-sound means of communication is the most important instrument of education. In every language of the world, there exist mechanisms that play a mediating role in the formation of a certain worldview among their given speakers. But an even more powerful instrument of influence is the language of being that directly forms culture and the individual – or directly destroys both.
A people unable to resurrect the image of God within itself is historically doomed.
The language of holiness must be completely restored in the consciousness of Russians, the inheritors of the great saints.
Speaking for ourselves, this is the genuine Russian language, the language of national consciousness. Just as for the Serbs it is genuine Serbian, for Greeks authentic Greek, for Georgians Georgian, and so forth.