About the Author

Waiting for a Response
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.
The apostolic letter of Pope John Paul II directly addresses children of the Catholic Church; it is inspired by an ardent desire to overcome the discord of Christian churches, which represents a direct contradiction to the will of the Savior, expressed in the Pontificate's prayer at the Last Supper and thus comprising a mortal sin and "temptation (scandal) to the world" (section 17).

The theme of the Epistle is the beauty and richness of the Eastern tradition, the love for which the Roman Shepherd wants to share with his flock, prevailing upon it the importance of acquaintance with a different spiritual path. Reading the Epistle, it is impossible not to feel the deeply personal nature of this love and this respectful admiration for the "Light from the East" and the great experience of studying what stands behind the concise and graceful sketch of Eastern Christianity through its characteristic features. The heritage of Eastern spirituality is described in the Epistle not as a list of certain qualities that appear exotic for contemporary Western man, but as a centralized organic whole; each of the gifts that comprise this treasure house is connected with others, generating them and being generated by them: the Eucharistic experience and de¬ification, judicious prayer, abstinence, and apophasis. ... It is probably possible to see the apotheosis of this image in section 16, which concludes the first part of the Epistle: "In the humble acceptance of the creature's limitation before the face of the infinite transcendence of the one God, who never ceases to reveal Himself as God-Love, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ in the joy of the Holy Spirit, I see the expression of the prayerful orientation and the theological method which the East has chosen and which it continues to offer to all believers in Christ."

Much of that which speaks about Eastern spirituality in "Orientale Lumen" comprises a constant theme of Eastern Orthodox theologians and historians of the Church, and is usually expounded in a polemical context: as what divides us and Rome and opposes the latter, making any compromise impossible. The Epistle, elaborating on the direction of the Second Vatican Ecumenical Council, wants to see the different chinches not as mutually exclusive but as mutually complementary (section 5), "Here we will find answers to many of our questions, here there is what we, the Western Christians and the people of modernity in general, need," – such a gesture is seen in the discussion of many themes of the East's uniqueness. For example, speaking of the monastic tradition of spiritual fatherhood (section 13, "A Father in the Spirit"), the Epistle notes: "Our world desperately needs such spiritual guides"; from the treasure house of Eastern experience, orphaned modernity can learn "the great comfort and support of fatherhood in the Spirit can be." In section 16 dedicated to the hesychastic tradition it is said: "We all have need of this silence, filled with the presence of him who is adored… This is what man needs today." "All, believers and non-believers alike, have a need to learn this silence which allows the Other to speak, when and how He wishes, and for us to perceive His words." In many other positions expressed in the Epistle where commentary of this kind is missing, we can still surmise that the very assessment and the very description of the Eastern treasures, as they are given in the Epistle, presupposes a look at them through the prism of disturbed and empty modernity; they carry within themselves an answer to all its questionings. For example, the wonderful description of the monastery as a "prophetic place where creation becomes praise of God" (section 9) seemingly responds to the despair of modernity in regard to existence. Words about penance, the meaning of which is freed of slavery and unquestioning obedience – "penance, that is, the obedience that changes life" (section 10), offers a way out from that dead end to which the radical demand for individual independence leads contemporary man. The words about transfiguration of matter itself in the liturgical experience: "In the liturgy, things reveal their own nature, as a gift offered by the Creator to humanity" (section 11) – answers the contemporary alienation of humans from the cosmos, to the anti-cosmic nature of our civilization, the most evident expression of which have become ecological catastrophes.

Of course, the Eastern Orthodox Christian cannot help but be glad that the Roman Arch-Pastor seeks and finds answers to the most painful questions of modernity precisely in our heritage, which precisely here preserves what has been lost in all other places. But there is a lesson in this very statement: the comparison of the Eastern and Western experiences does not represent the goal of the Epistle because its final addressee, its deepest concern, is the entire world: "contemporary man, expecting the blessed news" (Section 4). Both the Christian East and the Christian West, which are summoned to "make a harmonious, illuminating life – giving response to the world's expectations and sufferings" (ibid.) appear according to the Epistle's intent, first of all as the church serving the world. In the presence of this "third" world, the relationships between the other "two" are measured by a different measure.

A similar praise for the Western tradition, similarly open, respectful, and attentive, and composed by a person authorized to represent the Eastern Orthodox Church could be a true answer to the Apostolic Epistle "Orientale Lumen," which, at least in its first part, represents inspired praise for the spiritual treasures of Eastern Christianity. But alas, such an answer is almost impossible to imagine at the present time! More than that, if such an answer had come in any form, even as silent trust toward the Christian West in the attitude of the Orthodox Christians, we could have said that the separation between them has been essentially overcome. But everyone who is at least somewhat acquainted with the rules of how the Russian church operates knows how far we stand from it. Almost everyone knows this often not-rationalized alienation in themselves.

The criticism of these or those aspects of our own tradition in Orthodox theology usually explains their nature as "Western" as the consequence of "westernization," of the invasion of "Latinism" (Father Georgy Florovsky, Christos Yannaras, and many others). Thanks to this persistent opinion we, not even really knowing the authentic Western tradition, can, as a matter of fact, list these negative "Western" effects: the substitution of life in faith with "religiosity," church – with intuition, knowledge by participation – with rationalistic knowledge, contemplation –with meditation, image – with a notion or allegory, the "heart" – with divided feeling and thought, etc., etc.

It does not matter whether such notions of everything "Western" are justifiable or not, but they become a part of our existence today, the unwritten piety of a common parishioner (to whose number the author of these notes belongs) who is not especially initiated in historical problems and problems of dogma. And this unwritten piety, the spiritual way of life – probably approximately what is called "spirituality" in works of Western authors and "faith" in folk language – is not a component of a local culture, one among many other cultures (the question of the cultural polylingualism of Christianity by itself is no less clear to the East as to the West: cf. the highest praise for the work of the Teachers of the Slavs in section 7 of the Epistle "The Gospel, Churches, and Cultures" and in the Encyclical "Slavorum Apostoli"). This is, perhaps, the very heart of the Orthodox church tradition; in any case it is a part that much more closely and immediately expresses the core, the heart of this tradition, and it is hardly possible to extract any kind of an extra-linguistic essence from it, just as it is to extract verbalized "meaning" out of a musical or poetic composition. It is stronger than anything else, and it is doubtful that it would be affected even by similarities in formal, verbal expressions of faith-teaching higher truths because a different experience would stand behind each word in these formulae.

Probably the very place of this unwritten piety in the modern church life of the East is very different from that of the West: in any case, this perhaps explains how differently the volume of the whole is seen from the East and from the West. Catholic authors often express a thought similar to a statement in the Epistle (section 3 with a reference to the Directive of the Second Vatican Ecumenical Council "Unitatis redintegratio," 14-18): "We have almost everything in common." Then Orthodox Christians even in our time are ready to repeat after Vasily Rozanov, who in 1901 summarized his impressions of Rome in the following way: "Yes, this is not a separation of the Churches, as it is written in textbooks, these are two completely different religions – Orthodoxy and Catholicism. It is easy to imagine that the convergence with a tradition in which some dangerous things that threaten you with "spiritual exhaustion" is constantly noted, is almost never really attractive and uplifting, and cannot inspire great enthusiasm. It usually has led those in Russian history who experienced "Catholic Eros" simply beyond the limits of Orthodoxy, and their voices were no longer heard by their contemporaries. That is why hearty praise for the Christian West from within Orthodoxy is so ill-prepared in our time.

At the same time the symbolism of the West in the East is neither empty nor negative: one of the most beautiful old liturgical hymns, "Quiet Light" sings of the Incarnation as of evening light: "In that we now have come to the setting of the sun and behold the light of evening, we praise the Father, Son, and the Holy Spirit, God." The image in Orthodoxy, as it is well known, is incomparably loftier than any definition; the image shows the future. And perhaps this astoundingly beautiful image of the "quiet (literally – bright, happy) light in the West," these words that live in the memory of every Orthodox Christian since his childhood, will one day be filled with concrete realization. And the beauty of the West, still unknown to us, will become clear and desirable.

What could this image of the Western light, the "light of evening," mean? A conceptual interpretation is incommensurate with the meaning, of the image as a straight line – with circumference, but it can point out something. While the experience of hope and joyful newness is connected most of all with the image of the "Eastern light" (the "East on the highest" in Slavonic), the solace of the evening light is most of all, as it seems to me, connected with liberation from some lengthy burden, with the lightness of freedom. And indeed, if from our distance we want to express our thanks to the West – not to the church of the West that we, I repeat, essentially have not known, but to the secular West, to European culture, then undoubtedly they begin with this word – freedom.

Translated by Slava I. Yastremski
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"In the Vestal Abyss of a Line of Verse": On Meaning in Poetry and Meaning in Doctrine
Mediocrity as a Social Danger
The Light of Life. Some Remarks On the Russian Orthodox Perception
The Art of translation. Some remarks
The Morality of Art, or the Evils of Mediocrity
Once again about Childhood, Poetry, and Courage. Answers for Elena Stepanian
Hermes. The Invisible Aspect of Classical Literature
A Discourse on Method
Poetry and Anthropology
On the Nature of Tradition
Freedom as Eschatological Reality
 Waiting for a Response
Totus Tuus
In Memory of John Paul II
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