- The Way: Religious Thinkers of the Russian Emigration in Paris and Their Journal, 1925–1940 by Antoine Arjakovsky
Antoine Arjakovsky, a professor of ecumenical theology at the Ukrainian Catholic University in Lviv and research director at the Collèges de Bernardins in Paris, has written a masterful history of Russian religious thinkers who left Russia after the Bolshevik Revolution, took up residence in the West (mainly in Paris), and established a journal called Put’ or The Way. The journal was published between 1925 and 1940 in Russian, usually in quarterly editions, and had sixty-one issues before the Nazis occupied Paris. It was a thoroughly Russian émigré endeavor that was led by Nikolai Berdyaev, a brilliant thinker who was a maverick among Russian Orthodox intellectuals, and was largely financed by such Protestant organizations as the YMCA, the World Student Christian Federation, and the Anglican Church. Its major contributors were Berdyaev, George Florovsky, Boris Vysheslavtsev, Vasilii Zenkovsky, Vladimir Ilyin, Sergius Bulgakov, Lev Shestov, Nicolas Zernov, George Fedotov, Nikloai Lossky, Simeon Frank, Nikola Arseniev, Mother Maria Skobtsova, and Sergei Bezobrazen. It also included contributions from such Catholic writers as Jacques Maritain and Cardinal Pierre-Paulin Andrieu, and such Protestant authors as Paul Tillich, Pastor Christoph Blumhardt, [End Page 627] Hans Erenburg, and Paul F. Anderson. Its core teaching—what united the Russian émigrés—was that God could not be separated from human life in any dimension. Thus it insisted upon examining every subject—including history, literature, art, science, psychology, philosophy, and politics—from a religious perspective. The Way was little known in the West or in Russia until after the dissolution of the Soviet Union. It finally was released in 1998 on CD-Rom in Russian.
In analyzing The Way’s files, articles, and archives, Arjakovsky was able to uncover what is clearly one of the most profound intellectual developments in the history of Orthodoxy—on par, perhaps, with some of the work of the Greek Fathers. Revealing the influence of Alexei Khomiakhov, Fyodor Dostoevsky, Vladimir Solovyov, and a bevy of fin-de-siècle German and French philosophers, as well as the enduring belief in Russia’s exceptionalism and spirituality, the Russian émigrés offered new insights on ecumenism, church-state relations, ecology, socioeconomic harmony, and especially theology, including such mythological notions as God’s personalism, ever-present Holy Wisdom (Sophia), and constant centrality in human existence and life. That these and other ideas had not come up before in Orthodoxy and appeared only outside of Russia in the freedom of interwar Paris speaks to a conundrum faced by Russians, whether exiled or not: the debilitating effect of authoritarianism on Orthodoxy under the Romanovs and the Bolsheviks.
In the end, Arjakovsky’s work is more than a history of the interwar Russian emigration and its periodical. It also is a thought-provoking reflection on some of the core values that led to separate Western and Orthodox civilizations, including such issues as papal primacy, the relationship of reason to faith, separation of church and state, and the critical importance of law in limiting government. Surprisingly, many of the Russian savants never found an adequate explanation for why Russian Orthodox civilization went awry with its adoption of Leninism-Stalinism. The émigrés were rightly worried about the future of Russia. None of them lived to see the fall of the Soviet Union and Vladimir Putin’s revival of the Romanov model of autocracy, orthodoxy, and nationality to guide Russia in the twenty-first century, but it is safe to say that they neither expected nor hoped for such a restoration.