Icon of the Resurrection.
Fallen Leaves wishes its readers, whoever they may be, a happy Orthodox Easter.
On the most joyous of all Christian holidays, we should remember God’s gifts and give thanks for them. A rare, unforeseen delight of our times is the convergence of culture and faith. Only a short time ago, people thought they had to choose one or the other. Secular culture was supposed to provide more freedom of expression and thought, which religion was supposed to suppress. Or, looking at it from the other side, if you had glimpsed the depth of conviction within religious faith, and felt drawn to it, this had to come at the cost of any other aesthetic experience; you had to permanently write yourself out of the world of secular culture. Often this became a point of pride. Alexei Losev wrote in The Dialectic of Myth that “It is impossible to be a Christian and to love so-called ‘fine literature,’ 99% of which consists of tedious pabulum about how he loved her very much, and she did not love him, or how he betrayed her, but she remained faithful, or how he abandoned her, the scoundrel, and she hanged herself, or perhaps it was some other third party that hanged themselves, etc., etc. Not only ‘fine literature,’ but all art, with all its Beethovens and Wagners, is nothing before…the Troparion and Kontakion of the Transfiguration; and no symphony will compare with the beauty and meaning of the ringing of bells.”
Well, far be it from me to disagree — and, in the 19th and 20th centuries, such an attitude may have been necessary to guard oneself against the tidal wave of solipsism, materialism, and crude sensuality that had swept over secular culture. Losev wrote this passage with obvious provocative irony, but what might seem like an intellectual pose now was gravely serious in the Soviet Union under Stalin: not long after Dialectic was published, in 1930, its author was arrested and sentenced to 10 years of hard labor. From his point of view, secular culture and philosophy was at the peak of its worldly triumph. But, barely a century later, Beethoven and Wagner will also become displaced wanderers with no place to belong. Secular individualism and religious piety, once enemies, are becoming companions in misfortune. To think that all those wretched Romantic hedonists actually believed that their “right” to enjoy life was going to be enshrined and protected by the world that they helped bring forth. “And he would fain have filled his belly with the husks that the swine did eat: and no man gave unto him.” Being judgmental now would just be uncharitable; let us not give in to sinful pride.
Fr. Seraphim (Rose) famously wrote, similarly to Dostoevsky, “Atheism, true ‘existential’ atheism burning with hatred of a seemingly unjust or unmerciful God, is a spiritual state; it is a real attempt to grapple with the true God Whose ways are so inexplicable even to the most believing of men, and it has more than once been known to end in a blinding vision of Him Whom the real atheist truly seeks… Nietzsche, in calling himself Antichrist, proved thereby his intense hunger for Christ[.]” If we must read this literally, I think he gave Nietzsche too much credit. The philosophical instinct is directed inwardly to begin with; the philosopher does not “grapple” with God, but seeks to replace Him with himself. Nietzsche simply did this openly, rather than clandestinely, made it the totality of his philosophy, both form and content. It is unlikely that he could have been moved by the most “blinding vision” (or he would have simply interpreted it in a way that suited him), because he never wanted dialogue in the first place, whether with God or with anyone else. I’m not sure that even spending time in the belly of a whale would have improved his disposition. But, in a broader sense…if we consider the intensity of Nietzsche’s poetic rage, and contrast it with how little came of it; how insubstantial he is, how powerless to answer any serious question, to show any real understanding of his readers; how utterly unserious all of his airs become when faced with the inhuman mechanism of the 21st century; then, perhaps, some greater significance appears in his squandered life after all.
Or, we might consider our ongoing antihero Nabokov. On his own merits, he is a cold narcissist, and the progression of his work is nothing more than a record of life and humanity withering away; even his signature wit deadened and calcified into empty punnery. But, taking a more panoramic view, Nabokov’s life exemplifies the struggle of the individual consciousness in a hostile world — the fierce will to live, the readiness to sacrifice anything and everything else to maintain its existence, and the ultimate futility of self-preservation even in success. Behind Lolita and Pale Fire, one glimpses Divine punishment, the kind where God withdraws and simply leaves one alone with oneself, in the cramped and stifling confines of one’s own endlessly repeating thoughts. But through this, the work also gains a tragic depth, which elevates it above its own author and, in the end, helps to rescue the author himself. The weakness and inadequacy of even the strongest individual is what makes it possible to envision any reconciliation with God.
Plotinus made it his life’s work to create a renewed version of classical Greek philosophy that would (he hoped) crowd out Christianity, rendering the latter obsolete by serving humanity’s spiritual need more effectively. Instead, he became an unwilling missionary: St. Basil the Great and St. Gregory the Theologian both attended Plato’s Academy, while St. John Chrysostom studied under Libanius, one of the last rhetoricians in the classical Greek tradition. The expression of human creativity eventually points back to God, whatever the sins and failures of those doing the expressing. Whatever was godless in their works will crumble into dust and vanish. On Pascha, let us celebrate all that will live.
Paschal homily, St. Nikolaj (Velimirović)
Христос воскресе из мертвых, смертию смерть поправ,
и сущим во гробех живот даровав!