from the heart of SERGEI BULGAKOV

Last night I was reading through a collection of autobiographies and I paused with captivation on some words from Sergei Bulgakov (1871-1944)
I've highlighted some of his statements that stick with my heart, and remind me of places I've been and the prickles that I've felt. I think these few paragraphs depict true and fervent honesty on the human end, and the richness of grace from the Divine. Please read through it, I know it's long, but it's really beautiful.

"In early adolescence, during my first or second year at the Seminary, I went through a religious crisis--painful but not tragic--which ended in my losing religious faith for many, many years. From the age of fourteen to about thirty the prodigal son withdrew into a far country to the sorrow and dismay of many, principally of his parents. I had a great deal to lose, and I gave it up with seeming ease, without any struggle (though in my godlessness I did think of suicide)...

In losing religious faith I naturally and, as it were, automatically adopted the revolutionary mood then prevalent among the intelligentsia. Without belonging to any particular party, I was bitterly opposed to the monarchism which was dominant in our clerical circles. In short, at that period in my life I went through the same experience as my predecessors in the Seminaries. I fell victim to a gloomy revolutionary nihilism, though in my case it was always combined with a love of art and literature which saved me. The general atmosphere of the theological schools, based on tradition and compulsion, was impotent to combat this nihilism and grew more and more unendurable to a proud and independent boy who genuinely loved truth and freedom.

How did I come to lose my faith? I lost it without noticing it myself. It occurred as something self-evident and unavoidable when the poetry of my childhood was squeezed out of my life by the prose of seminary education. As soon as I experienced my first doubts, and my critical faculty was early awakened, I realized that I could not be satisfied with the apologetics of the text-books. Instead of helping me, they further undermined my faith. My seminary education constantly raised before me many religious problems, but I was unable to cope with them, and the instructions given to me by my teachers only confused my mind. This conflict was further aggravated by compulsory attendance at the long services. Orthodox piety only irritated me, for its mystical side had ceased to exist.

I was twenty-four years old. For a decade I had lived without faith and after early stormy doubts, a religious emptiness reigned in my soul. One evening we were driving across the southern steppes of Russia, and the strong-scented spring grass was gilded by the rays of a glorious sunset. Far in the distance I saw the blue outlines of the Caucasus. This was my first sight of the mountains. I looked with ecstatic delight at their rising slopes. I drank in the light and the air of the steppes. I listened to the revelation of nature. My soul was accustomed to the dull pain of seeing nature as a lifeless desert and of treating its surface beauty as a deceptive mask. Yet, contrary to my intellectual convictions, I could not be reconciled to nature without God.

Suddenly, in that evening hour my soul was joyfully stirred. I started to wonder what would happen if the cosmos were not a desert and its beauty not a mask or deception--if nature were not death, but life! If he existed, the merciful and loving Father, if nature was the vesture of his love and glory, and if the pious feelings of my childhood, when I used to live in his presence, when I loved him and trembled because I was weak, were true, then the tears and inspiration of my adolescence, the sweetness of my prayers, my innocence and all those emotions which I had rejected and trodden down would be vindicated, and my present outlook with its emptiness and deadness would appear nothing more than blindness and lies, and what a transformation it would bring me!

(My readings were drawn from the book Pilgrim Souls edited by Amy Mandelker and Elizabeth Powers. It's a great collection of spiritual autobiographies from biblical writers to philosophical scholars. )


TulipGirl said...

That was beautiful. Thank you for sharing it.

And yet, I think, you would agree, that embracing anti-intellectualism isn't a virtue or mark of holiness. . . While they may seem just like words in an academic text, I find that nearly every time I pick up my favorite Systematic Theology, my heart is driven to worship our Lord, in spirit and in truth.

Anonymous said...

Would you happen to know when Sergei wrote this piece? It would be interesting to understand more of the context of his writing.

I think this is a wonderful illustration of the power of revelation. God truly does provide all that we need for salvation, but when we take less than all, we have less than we need. So often we, in the "civilized" world, grab hold of gifts of higher thinking, but leave behind the simple general revelation God has woven into creation--it too is a great testimony to the love and creativity of El Shaddai.


aprilchristeen said...

In reply to both comments,
I don't have the book with me, but this piece of writing comes from his autobiography.

And yes, I think you are right Tulipgirl. It's interesting to me how easy it is to take knowledge and academics and indulge in them. (at least it's easy for me to do that)But then when I'm faced with God, or with bigger questions, I come up so short handed...there just aren't academic answers to all of the hugest questions. What I like about Sergei's words, is that he found a way to grasp the simpler things in life as a bigger part of the glory of God. And he realized that you couldn't grasp the little things without touching God. And for me, when I'm sitting by the water, gazing at the stars, hiking in the woods...these are the moments when I'm most inspired to study study study because I want to know my God who is so fantastic!