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Freedom as Eschatological Reality
(A Paper Presented at the International Conference “Freedom is the Gift of the Spirit and Calling in the Church and in Society,” Moscow, August 16-18, 2006)
We are grateful to the Publishing house Bucknell University Press for the permission to use the fragment of the book on this site. The complete article is published in: Olga Sedakova. Freedom to believe: philosophical and cultural essays. Bucknell University Press, 2010.

I will venture to summarize: freedom (“Born in order to know you, / In order to give you a name...”) constitutes the very nature of poetry, its favorite theme, its form, and its content. Freedom is the first condition of creation itself (it is a well-known theme: you can not sing in a cage). Every completely successful composition represents a glorification of freedom as well as its direct demonstration. Beauty cannot be where the law of freedom is violated. Everything that is slavish, calculated, and cowardly is insincere and ugly. (In order not to be misunderstood, I must say that insolence, no less than timidity is also a sign of slavery: cf. the episode in which the seer Hamlet guesses the low origin of the Queen by the “insolence in the way she looks.” In freedom there is peace and great harmony, as art shows us. Here is one of the most beautiful lines of verse in Russian poetry: “A gloomy season, the enchantment of eyes.” These words, these sounds together are seemingly freer than if they were apart. We do not feel even the slightest constraint in their combination – it is as though they have chosen to be together.

In a contemporary context, as I have already said, freedom looks prosaic. It is in no way the “last thing” or the “last word.”

Freedom is seen there as an empty and primarily negative notion. Empty because it is suggested that freedom can be filled with anything one wants and one can use it whichever way one likes – for evil or for good (having just begun to speak of freedom, people immediately slip into an opportunity to “abuse” it, and the conversation is quickly short-circuited somewhere with the issue of same-sex marriages: and this will also be allowed?). In order to distinguish between a “good,” necessary freedom and a harmful and inadmissible one, they resort to various auxiliary divisions: cf. such refinements as “freedom from” and “freedom for” or “freedom” and “permissiveness,” etc.; or to qualitative measuring: “too much freedom,” “freedom to a degree.” If we proceed from that meaning of “freedom” of which art speaks, from the “mysterious,” that is, mysterial freedom, it sounds approximately the way we would think: we can be “alive” but it depends on alive for what purpose. Or: we must be “alive” to an extent, a little alive, but dead in the rest. This comparison between freedom and living came to me not by chance, because “life” is what a poet approximately means when he speaks about freedom. Can you imagine that “life in abundance,” which the Lord bestowed, is not free? Are we alive when we are not free? The extreme degree of non-freedom is death. It is described in the Psalms. The highest degree of freedom is eternal glory, as Dante said: the righteous soul, he says, passes ad aeternae gloriae libertaten, to the freedom of eternal glory.

The emptiness of the basic notions of life (such as “to be”) is the misfortune of modern history, a customary misfortune. In contrast to that, Sergei Averintsev (The Poetics of Early Byzantine Literature) reminded us about the positive meaning of these notions in Byzantine thought (and in Middle Age Christian thought – Averintsev’s examples are taken from Thomas Aquinas; and, generally speaking, in classic Christian thought that, for example, even our contemporary, Christos Yannaris, can have). The positive meaning of “freedom” is similarly incommensurable with the quantity and division into variants such as “life” and “existence,” if you wish.

From where did this emptiness, this neutrality of notions come? From the fact that their existence, the miracle of their reality, is no longer perceived. Non-existence is forced out of the beginning of this thought that moves in the present (“existing”) as though it stands to reason. That is why non-being and death lie in wait for this thought only in the end, as an always unexpected horror, as the “main concern of man,” in the words of many of the newest philosophers describing the essence of man as “being-toward-death.” If it, the non-being, were included in the thought from the beginning, then the present would be comprehended as a miracle, as a gift and call forth for gratitude, which would become the “main concern of man,” the “being-out-of-death.” But somehow we have forgotten that we belong to non-being not after life but yet before it. “You have already been resurrected when you were born and failed to notice it,” as Pasternak’s character remarks. Being appears before a person out of its impossibility, and freedom – from its own impossibility. In light of this void, these notions become filled.

In the Books of the Prophets the Messiah is expected as someone who will release prisoners from prison, free them from an enemy, or buy them out from captivity. We habitually think about this image and his actions mostly in connection with the descent into hell, with crushing the locks of this prison, and taking souls out of hell. “Captive captivity,” “being captured is hell,” “buried by your imprisoning kingdom of hell.” But the freeing of Adam also has another meaning. It is the living,who are freed, bought out from an enemy at a costly price. The “decisive (liberating) passions,” as the liturgical hymn says about Christ’s passions, liberate us not after our death. The gift of not only freedom but also of the power to liberate man is passed on to the Apostles and constitutes the activity of the church.

The liberation that is accomplished here is impossible to fit into the image of the release from captivity, from a prison, the removal of shackles. In order to let a person freely straighten his or her back (like the stooped-over woman) and to walk (like the crippled man healed by the Apostle Peter), s/he is supposed to be freed from his or her inner unfreedom to which ugliness and sickness doom him/her. Liberation in this case means healing the sick or even the creation of new health, as is the case in the episode with the man born blind. Man must be freed from his own past (and such a past that holds us in captivity is formed very early, it is suggested that an eight-year-old child has something to free him/herself at confession). Man has to be freed from the world in which he is born, from the world with its physical, social, and similar laws. It means that liberation suggests the creation of everything new. Perfect freedom acts on the new earth, under a new sky. Perhaps only there does it act fully. That is why I called my presentation “freedom as an eschatological reality.” But flashes of this new sky and new earth, this world of the conquered death, as we know, are not transferred completely into the “other” world. It is their possibility here that constitutes the blessed news.

Translated by Slava I. Yastremski
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