Nikolai Berdyaev Channeled by Karl Mollison 04July2021
Nikolai Berdyaev was born at Obukhovo, Kiev Governorate (present-day Obukhiv, Ukraine) in 1874, in an aristocratic military family. His father, Alexander Mikhailovich Berdyaev, came from a long line of nobility. Almost all of Alexander Mikhailovich’s ancestors served as high-ranking military officers, but he resigned from the army quite early and became active in the social life of the aristocracy. Nikolai’s mother, Alina Sergeevna Berdyaeva, was half-French and came from the top levels of both French and Russian nobility. He also had Polish and Tatar origins.
Greatly influenced by Voltaire, his father was an educated man, who considered himself a freethinker and expressed great skepticism towards religion. Nikolai’s mother, on the other hand was a practicing Eastern Orthodox Christian. He spent a solitary childhood at home, where his father’s library allowed him to read widely. He read Hegel, Schopenhauer, and Kant when he was only 14 and excelled at languages.
Berdyaev decided on an intellectual career and entered the Kiev University in 1894. It was a time of revolutionary fervor among the students and the intelligentsia. He became a Marxist and he was arrested in a student demonstration and expelled from the university. His involvement in illegal activities led in 1897 to three years of internal exile to Vologda, in northern Russia, a milder sentence than that faced by many other revolutionaries.
In 1904, he married Lydia Yudifovna Trusheff. The couple moved to Saint Petersburg, the Russian capital, and the centre of intellectual and revolutionary activity. He participated fully in intellectual and spiritual debate, eventually departing from radical Marxism to focus his attention on philosophy and Christian spirituality.
A fiery 1913 article, entitled “Quenchers of the Spirit”, criticizing the rough purging of Imiaslavie Russian monks on Mount Athos by the Holy Synod of the Russian Orthodox Church using tsarist troops, caused him to be charged with the crime of blasphemy, the punishment for which was exile to Siberia for life. The World War and the Bolshevik Revolution prevented the matter coming to trial. After the October Revolution of 1917, as the Bolshevik régime began consolidating its power with a growing suppression of non-Lenin Marxist Intelligentsia, Berdyaev remained steadfast in his criticism of its totalitarianism and the domination of the state over the freedom of the individual. Nonetheless, he was permitted, for the time being, to continue to lecture and write.
His disaffection culminated, in 1919, with the foundation of his own private academy, the “Free Academy of Spiritual Culture”. It was primarily a forum for him to lecture on the hot topics of the day and to present them from a Christian point of view. He also presented his opinions in public lectures, and every Tuesday, the academy hosted a meeting at his home because official Soviet anti-religious activity was intense at the time and the official policy of the Bolshevik government, with its Soviet anti-religious legislation, strongly promoted State atheism.
In 1920, Berdiaev became professor of philosophy at the University of Moscow.
In the same year, he was accused of participating in a conspiracy against the government; he was arrested and jailed. The feared head of the Cheka, Felix Dzerzhinsky, came in person to interrogate him, and he gave his interrogator a solid dressing down on the problems with Bolshevism.:
Novelist Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn in his book The Gulag Archipelago recounts the incident as follows:
“[Berdyaev] was arrested twice; he was taken in 1922 for a midnight interrogation with Dzerjinsky; Kamenev was also there…. But Berdyaev did not humiliate himself, he did not beg, he firmly professed the moral and religious principles by virtue of which he did not adhere to the party in power; and not only did they judge that there was no point in putting him on trial, but he was freed. Now there is a man who had a “point of view”!”
The Soviet authorities eventually expelled Berdyaev from Russia, in September 1922. He became one of a group of prominent writers, scholars and intellectuals who were sent into forced exile on the so-called “philosophers’ ships”. At first, Berdyaev and other émigrés went to Berlin, where he founded an academy of philosophy and religion, but economic and political conditions in the Weimar Republic caused him and his wife to move to Paris in 1923. He transferred his academy there, and taught, lectured and wrote, working for an exchange of ideas with the French and European intellectual community, and participated in a number of international conferences.
During the German occupation of France during World War II, Berdyaev continued to write books that were published after the war, some of them after his death. In the years that he spent in France, Berdyaev wrote 15 books, including most of his most important works.
The aftermath of the Russian Revolution and Civil War, along with Soviet interference, caused the Russian Orthodox emigre diaspora to splinter into three Russian Church jurisdictions: the Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia (in schism from Moscow Patriarchate until 2007); the parishes under Metropolitan Eulogius (Georgiyevsky) that went under the Constantinople Ecumenical Patriarchate; and parishes that remained under the Moscow Patriarchate. Berdyaev was among those that chose to remain under the omophor of the Moscow Patriarchate.
Currently, the house in Clamart in which Berdyaev lived, now comprises a small “Berdiaev-museum” and attached Chapel in name of the Holy Spirit, under the omophor of the Moscow Patriarchate. On 24 March 2018, the 70th anniversary of Berdyaev’s death, the priest of the Chapel served panikhida-memorial prayer at the Diocesan cathedral for eternal memory of Berdyaev, and later that day the Diocesan bishop Nestor (Sirotenko) presided over prayer at the grave of Berdyaev.
According to Marko Markovic, Berdyaev “was an ardent man, rebellious to all authority, an independent and “negative” spirit. He could assert himself only in negation and could not hear any assertion without immediately negating it, to such an extent that he would even be able to contradict himself and to attack people who shared his own prior opinions”.
According to Marina Makienko, Anna Panamaryova, and Andrey Gurban, Berdyaev’s works are “emotional, controversial, bombastic, affective and dogmatic”. They summarise that, according to Berdyaev, “man unites two worlds – the world of the divine and the natural world. … Through the freedom and creativity the two natures must unite… To overcome the dualism of existence is possible only through creativity.
He died at his writing desk in his home in Clamart, near Paris, in 1948