Tag Archives: Sergius Bulgakov

An Ordinary Exile: Fr. Bulgakov’s Spiritual Diary

by Andrew Kuiper

Image: Cover of Bulgakov’s Spiritual Diary, trans. Mark Roosien and Roberto De La Noval

Russian Sophiology has returned. For decades, speaking of Fr. Sergius Bulgakov or any of the Russian Sophiologists was usually to invoke a niche interest. Yet today, judging by translations and secondary literature, Fr. Bulgakov in particular has emerged as a force in systematic theology that far exceeds mere historical or confessional interest. His contemporary relevance as a daring theologian and religious thinker par excellence has not only caught the eye of contemporary Eastern Orthodox theologians, but (arguably even more so!) from Roman Catholic and Anglican thinkers as well. And while the major works of his systematic and experimental thought are now largely translated, we are only now getting the first glimpses of the more personal writings.

Roberto De La Noval has previously translated Bulgakov’s harrowing encounter with terminal throat cancer in The Sophiology of Death: Essays on Eschatology, and now he has teamed up with Mark Roosien to present Bulgakov’s spiritual diary from 1924-1925, a time of exile for him and his family, in translation and theological context. It should provide, even if implicitly, one of the greatest possible defenses of Fr. Bulgakov’s theology. The spiritual diary does not paint a portrait of someone addicted to novelty; it paints a remarkably ordinary picture of conventional spiritual topics and moods. He records the cycles of the spiritual life assiduously, marking all the difficulties of cultivating gratitude, patience, and forbearance. He speaks constantly of love for God and the great labor and joy that is prayer.  He encounters the same cycles of joy, tedium, despondency, and contentment that would be familiar terrain in most spiritual writers East or West. This diary presents a man of extraordinary intellectual gifts and vision encountering the same everyday duties and tasks of any husband, father, and priest.

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Over a Beer with Barth and Bulgakov: Cosmodicy

by Regula M. Zwahlen

Image: iStock.com/Chinnachart Martmoh

In September 1930, two of the greatest Protestant and Orthodox theologians of the twentieth century—Karl Barth and Sergii Bulgakov—met in the Kornhauskeller in the Swiss capital, Berne.[1] Although an elegant restaurant today, the Kornhauskeller was a famous “drinking hole” in a vaulted cellar hall then, especially popular among students. The genius loci is worth mentioning because today’s Russian Orthodox parish is located not far away in another of Berne’s old town cellars, namely the crypt of the Lutheran church. Hence, this is the story of how a rather insignificant encounter and seemingly parting of ways still reveal common ground for further ecumenical dialogue. Or, as Bulgakov put it in a letter to Nikolai Berdiaev of June 7, 1933, “Parallel spiritual lines, which do not meet in Euclidean space, will meet beyond Euclidean space, where ‘in the Father’s house are many dwellings.’”

After attending the Second East-Western Theological Conference in Berne, Karl Barth probably had at least one beer with Fritz Lieb, a Swiss theologian and Slavist known for his endeavors to engage East-West ecumenical dialogue, and Sergii Bulgakov, who had just given a lecture on the “Nature of the Russian Church”—including a passage about Orthodoxy’s cosmic character.[2] We know from Barth’s correspondence that the only lecture he found “fairly interesting and in its way plausible” was Bulgakov’s. Barth described him as a storybook Russian “pope [who spoke] with remarkable passion and not without speculative momentum,” and Barth “received further peculiar insights about the divine Sophia and other Russian theologumena.”[3]

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Sergii Bulgakov: Easter Thoughts

with commentary by Regula Zwahlen

български | ქართული | ελληνικά | Română | Русский | Српски

Image: M.V. Nesterov, from “Narod” Issue 1

This article was published in the first issue of the newspaper “Narod” (“People”), published in Kiev in April 1906, with Sergii Bulgakov and A. S. Glinka (Volzhsky) as editors. The newspaper “Narod” was conceived as a printed edition of the failed political project the “Union of Christian Politics.” In the period from April 2 to April 10, seven issues came out; then, the newspaper was closed by a court decision. All issues featured articles of Bulgakov.

The translated text is offered here with commentary by Regula Zwahlen.

SB: To the sounds of bells, with the rejoicing of nature and people, on the greatest of Christian feasts, we start our modest work.

Again the Christian world celebrates the final victory of good over evil, of life over death, of creative, constructive love over corrupting enmity; and it celebrates this victory, accomplished by the God-man and saving the world and people forever, as a pledge and an anticipation of the eternal resurrection of the world and transfiguration of creation. And, anticipating the final triumph by faith, the Christian world experiences it even now as a fact already being realized, as the shining of light in the darkness around us, as a flaming love and its joy in the midst of the kingdom of hostility and discord.

The Risen Christ still arises in the soul of every person, and in the soul of the nations and the bright radiance of the Risen One, breaking into the darkness of the night, not only blinds the joyful eye, but also pierces the darkness in which we live with the dazzling light of conscience, illuminating the Golgotha which we create from the world. And the singing of angels in heaven merges with wheezing and groans coming from the place of the execution. On the day of the Resurrection, we cannot forget about Golgotha, as long as we live, and we cannot and should not conquer Golgotha.

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Sergei Bulgakov and the Economics of Tradition

by Daniel Nicholas | български | ქართული | ελληνικά | Română | Русский | Српски

Written in 1912, Sergei Bulgakov’s Philosophy of Economy: The World as Household surprises in its embrace of a certain kind of materialism. Giving credit largely to the heavyweights of the German idealist tradition with an occasional nod to Marx, it quickly becomes evident that this materialism is rooted in a sense of embodied action and historical metamorphosis that might have characterized some of the revolutionary politics of the earlier half of the nineteenth century. Eschewing the armchair philosophizing of post-Kantian idealism and relying especially upon Schelling in order to articulate a yet highly original vision of the relation forged between the subject and the object through purposive activity, Bulgakov’s philosophy of economy can offer us some surprising insights toward developing an understanding of tradition as a living process.

Organicist thinking with regard to tradition and ecclesiology is of course nothing new. The romanticist reaction against the assertoric dogmatism of medieval ecclesiology is well documented in the work of Möhler, Khomiakov, and, to some extent, John Henry Newman. But how many of these organicist theories were so bold as to consider a theory of metamorphosis under the aspect of the human being as a creature of basically economic activity, who realizes itself through a complex interplay of pragmatist models and idealist projections in the vivification (or resurrection) of dead mechanism through a living process? Herein lies Bulgakov’s special relevance for us today.

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