What is a palladium? The name originates in Greek myth. There was, it is said, an ancient wooden image of the goddess Athena kept in the city of Troy, and the image — said to have fallen from heaven — was the great protector of the city. By extension, a palladium is any image believed to protect or ward off evil from a city or country.
This notion of a palladium did not end with the fall of the classical world. It was adopted by Byzantine Christianity — which we now call Eastern Orthodoxy. According to the story of Aeneus, the Troy palladium was eventually brought to Rome. Whatever the truth of the matter, when the Emperor Constantine (considered a saint in Eastern Orthodoxy) founded Constantinople, a statue of him was placed on a hundred-foot stone pillar there. In the hand of the statue was an image of the goddess Tyche, who was believed to protect a city; the Romans called her Fortuna; and it is said that within the pillar itself was placed a mixture of “pagan” and Christian relics, among them an axe used by Noah, the ointment container used by Mary Magdalene, pieces of the loaves from the miraculous feeding of the multitude by Jesus, and notably the Palladium image of Athena that Aeneas had supposedly brought from Troy to Rome.
Now we need not concern ourselves with the authenticity of these items; what is important is that they were believed at the time to be genuine, and belief can be a powerful force.
So not only did the “New Rome” Constantinople continue the notion of a city-protecting image, but it also transferred that notion from the pre-Christian “pagan” world into the new Christian world of Byzantium.
Not surprisingly, when Eastern Orthodoxy came to Kievan Rus and that state was converted to Christianity by edict of the Great Prince Vladimir in 988 c.e., this notion of a city-protecting sacred object was not abandoned. But now, instead of an image of the warrior Goddess Athena, the new protecting images depicted Mary, called “Mother of God” in Eastern Orthodoxy.
That is why we find the icon as palladium repeatedly in Russian history. Let’s take a look at some examples of palladia:
Here is the very well-known image known as the Znamenie or “Sign” icon of Mary:
In the 1100s there was a very important merchant city-state on the long trade route from northeastern Europe (think northern Germany and Scandinavia) down to Constantinople. It was the city of Novgorod (literally “new town”), called Novgorod the Great, which gives you an idea of its significance. All kinds of wares and valuables passed to and fro through the city, which made it a rich prize.
About 1169-1170 it was attacked by the forces of Great Prince Andrei Bogoliubskiy (see my article on the “Bogoliubskaya” Mother of God icon). To protect the city, the icon of the “Sign” Mother of God was taken from its place in the Transfiguration Church to the walls of the city, facing the attacking Suzdalians.
The Suzdalians shot a great volley of arrows at those on the walls, one of which struck the face of Mary. According to the legend, the icon turned its face away from the Suzdalians toward the city, and began to weep. At the same time the attackers were seized by a great fear, their sight was obscured, and they began to fight one another. Seeing this, the Novgorodians opened their gates and poured out upon the Suzdalians, defeating them at this moment of great weakness. The Novgorodians were said to have been assisted in their attack on the Suzdalians by saints and angels.
Not only are there countless renditions of the “Sign” Mother of God icon, but there are also old icons depicting the attack of the Suzdalians and their repulsion by the icon, such as this example:
We see from this not only how an icon may be used as a palladium, but also another example of how, in Russian (and Greek) Orthodox tradition, icons can behave like living beings. The icon is “wounded”; it “turns its face”; it “weeps.” We also see the intimate historical connection between Church and State, which extended from the conversion of Russia in 988 c.e. up to the fall of the last Tsar, Nicholas II, and the Russian Revolution. Now, unfortunately, we are seeing a revival of that old Church-State bond, in spite of all the trouble it has caused over the centuries.
The city-state of Novgorod flourished long as a republic, and was never conquered by the Mongols. Nonetheless, in 1478 Novgorod was taken over by the greater power in Moscow, and its importance faded.
The battle of the Novgorodians and the Suzdalians is not the only instance of the “Sign” icon used as a palladium. When a great fire broke out in 1566 (remember that wooden construction was common in those days), Metropolitan Makariy again went to the church, prayed before the icon, then carried it in formal procession along the Volkhov River. It is said that the wind then changed direction, and the fire was halted.
When the Swedes captured and plundered Novgorod in 1611, it is said that some of them came to rob the church where the icon was kept, but every time they tried to enter, they were pushed back by an invisible force, so the church was left unharmed.
In 1636 it is said that a silvermith named Luka Plavisshchikov hid in the church one evening after the service, planning to rob it; by night he took the silver vessels from the altar, as well as money, and then went to the icon to rip off the valuables with which it had been ornamented. But when he touched the icon, he was knocked unconscious to the floor. The next morning the church sexton saw him lying there before the icon, and thought he was drunk. It is said that the thief lost his mind for some time, but eventually recovered and told the story of his attempted robbery and of how the icon prevented it.
The next great palladium icon is also the most famous icon of Russia — the “Vladimir” image of Mary. Here is a rendition of it in the later “red” style that was popular in the late 18th and 19th centuries:
Icons painted in this “red” style can vary from a simple and very folkish manner to more sophisticated renditions. The example shown here is one of the finest in this style that I have seen. These “red” icons should not be cleaned, if it can at all be avoided, because the gold backgrounds are the result of a tinted varnish over a metal leaf background, not real gold leaf; so if that varnish is removed, the color of the background changes completely, from the intended gold to silver.
But back to the original image of the type:
It has an extensive story, but here are a few highlights: In 1164 Great Prince Andrei Bogoliubskiy took it in his military campaign against the Volga Bulgars and his victory was attributed to the help of the icon.
After Andrei was killed by boyars in 1173, the city of Vladimir broke out in looting and chaos. A priest named Nicholas then took the Vladimir icon in procession through the streets, and the outbreak subsided.
At the end of the 14th century, with the invasion of Russia by Tamerlane, the icon was taken from Vladimir to Moscow, much to the dismay of the people of Vladimir, who were said to have wept and cried to the departing icon, “Where are you going from us, O Most Pure One? Why are you leaving us orphans?”
Along the way to Moscow, crowds lined both sides of the road kneeling and shouting, “Матерь Божия, спаси землю русскую!” — Mater Bozhiya, spasi zemliu russkuyu — “Mother of God, save the Russian Land!” When it reached Moscow, the icon was greeted there by all the clergy of the city, as well as the nobles and the family of the Great prince.
As a result of all this, Tamerlane, sleeping in his tent, is said to have had a dream in which he saw Mary in a blaze of light, surrounded by angels with fiery swords. He awoke in great fright, summoned his council, and told his dream, asking what it meant. They told him that he had seen the Protectress of the Russian land. Tamerlane, regarding all this as a very bad sign, then turned his forces back and gave up the attack. The icon is said to have again protected Moscow from the Tatars in 1408, as well as several times in later years.
Finally, today, we come to the latest of these three famous palladium icons, the “Kazan” icon of Mary. Here is just one of countless renditions:
The Kazan icon is said to have appeared after its existence was revealed in a dream (you will have noticed by now that this “dream” motif is very common in the tales associated with icons). It is said to have saved Russia during the “Time of Troubles” in 1605-1612, when the country was invaded by the Poles, who even took control of Moscow. A special commemoration of the saving of Moscow by the icon was set on October 22 annually. That date is significant also because, during the French invasion of Russia under Napoleon, it was on the October 22nd memorial of the icon that the first major Russian defeat of the French in battle took place. It is said that thanks to the Kazan icon, on that day snow and freezing weather began that was so severe an obstacle to the French troops that it led to their ultimate defeat.
It is not difficult to see the psychological value in war of palladium icons that are supposed to be divine protectors of a city or country, and that of course contributes to the attribution of victories to them. Defeats receive far less attention. There was, for example, a “new” icon that was painted at the time of the Russo-Japanese War of 1914-1905 by Pavel Fedorovich Shtronda.
The story is that Mary appeared to an old sailor in Kiev in a dream (again, that dream motif!) on December 11, 1903, telling him that a war was coming, and that an icon should be painted of her as she appeared in the vision, and sent to the church at Port Arthur on the Pacific Coast. She promised it would protect and bring victory to the Russian troops there. The cost of painting the icon was paid by thousands of donations by those who heard the tale of the old man’s vision. Two months after the supposed vision, the war began. But when the icon was sent, it only got as far as Vladivostok, because Port Arthur itself was under siege, surrounded by Japanese troops. An attempt was made by a retired captain to bring the icon into the city, but on January 11th of 1905 he reported that the icon could not be delivered because Port Arthur had already fallen to the Japanese.
The Port Arthur icon fell completely from notice as a consequence, until it was said to have been found in an antique shop in Jerusalem by some pilgrims from Vladivostok in February of 1998. On May 6, 1998, the icon was received back in Vladivostok. There are not many copies of this Порт-Артурская — Port-Arturskaya — “Port Arthur” icon, and those that exist are likely to be quite recent. Being a “State Church” icon, it is painted in the Westernized manner.
It is interesting that the notion here is that the icon — like a person — has to be actually present in the city to protect it. In any case, these palladia may or may not “work.” The believers will say something like “It is due to whether the people sincerely repent or not,” but most of us will see the victories supposedly won by palladium icons as just a reflection of the ironic remark by Higgs in Samuel Butler’s Erewhon: “As luck would have it, Providence was on my side.”
And that brings us back full circle to the statue of Constantine, standing atop its pillar in Constantinople, holding a miniature image of the Goddess Tyche (Τύχη) on its outstretched hand. Tyche is Luck, she is Fortune. And she might protect your city, or as history has demonstrated, she might not. It’s all a matter of luck — “As luck would have it, Providence was on my side.”
Today I read a news article mentioning a historian’s initial puzzlement at an illustration in a 16th-century military manual by Franz Helm. It depicts a pigeon and a cat with seeming “jet packs” with flame exhaust strapped to their backs. Perhaps rockets?
The illustration did not puzzle me for a moment, nor would it puzzle anyone who has read the Russian Primary Chronicle and its account of the life of the very unsaintly Russian Orthodox saint Princess Olga of Kiev.
Here is a very Westernized icon showing the Evangelist John (Ioann) and Princess Olga. It was likely painted for a husband and wife who had those saints as their “name saints.” Look at Olga, all sweetness and light. But according to the Primary Chronicle, she could be absolutely vicious and completely unforgiving.
What did Olga do?
Well, first she married Prince Igor of the Rurik Dynasty. In 945, Igor went to obtain tribute from a tribe called the Derevlians, but he was very greedy and demanded a great deal, which he then violently took. Making matters worse, on his way home he turned back to demand even more. The Derevlians saw there was no satisfying his wolfish greed, so they came out of their city of Iskorosten and killed him.
That left Igor and Olga’s son Svyatoslav as heir to the rulership of Kiev. But Svyatoslav was only three, so Olga became regent, ruler in his place.
Meanwhile, the Derevlians, perhaps trying to make amends (the Chronicle ascribes another lesser motive), sent representatives — twenty of them, to Princess Olga asking her hand in marriage for their good Prince Mal, proposing a union that would have united the two factions. They came to Kiev by boat.
When Olga heard their proposal, she lied to them and told them she was pleased. But she asked them to return to their boat, saying that on the next day she would, to honor them, have them carried to her in their boat.
That seemed a flattering prospect, so the ambassadors left, and the next day they were carried, sitting richly dressed and still in their boat, to a hall where Olga sat. However, Olga had previously ordered a large hole to be dug in the hall, and when the Derevlians were carried in, they were dropped, boat and all, into the hole. Olga, peering in, asked them if the honor shown them was to their taste, then she had them buried alive.
Next, Olga sent a message to the Derevlian land, telling them that if they would send their most distinguished men, the people of Kiev would be impressed by them and would permit Olga to go with them to Prince Mal in honor. So the Derevlians sent their most important authorities. When they arrived, Olga told them she would give them an audience after they had gone to the bathhouse and had bathed. When they entered the bathhouse, Olga had the doors locked and the bathhouse set on fire. They all burned to death.
Then Olga sent a message back to the Derevlian land, saying that she was coming to them, but that they should prepare a great quantity of honey mead so that Olga might mourn at the grave of her husband. When Olga arrived among the Derevlians, she went to Igor’s tomb and lamented, then asked those in her retinue to prepare a funeral feast in which the Derevlians were invited to join. They were served mead by Olga’s followers, and when they were very drunk, she had her followers kill them, and she “went about herself egging on her retinue to the massacre of the Derevlians. So they cut down five thousand of them; but Olga returned to Kiev and prepared an army to attack the survivors.”
When Olga threatened them with her army, the Derevlians, now realizing the kind of person they were dealing with, offered her tributes of honey and furs. But Olga asked instead for something else:
“Give me three pigeons,” she said, “and three sparrows from each house. I do not desire to impose a heavy tribute, like my husband, but I require only this small gift from you, for you are impoverished by the siege.”
The Derevlians, relieved and encouraged by this, gladly took three pigeons and three sparrows from every house, and sent them to Olga to fulfill her request. Olga told them that they could go back to their city now that she was satisfied, and said that the following day she would return home. When the Derevlians returned to Iskorosten and reported this to the people, everyone was very happy.
Now, however, comes the horrible event that explains the “jet pack” on bird and cat in the 16th-century illustration:
Now Olga gave to each soldier in her army a pigeon or a sparrow, and ordered them to attach by thread to each pigeon and sparrow a piece of [incendiary] sulfur bound with small pieces of cloth. When night fell, Olga bade her soldiers release the pigeons and the sparrows. So the birds flew to their nests, the pigeons to the cotes, and the sparrows under the eaves. The dove-cotes, the coops, the porches, and the haymows were set on fire. There was not a house that was not consumed, and it was impossible to extinguish the flames, because all the houses caught on fire at once. The people fled from the city, and Olga ordered her soldiers to catch them. Thus she took the city and burned it, and captured the elders of the city. Some of the other captives she killed, while some she gave to others as slaves to her followers. The remnant she left to pay tribute.
Delightful lady, huh?
Sometime between 948-955, Olga went to Byzantium, to Constantinople, which the Russians called Tsargrad (“Emperor-City”). Constantine, the ruler at that time, was impressed with her cleverness, and wanted to make her his wife and Empress. Olga, still a pagan, requested to be baptized into Christianity by the Emperor himself. Constantine was willing to comply, so he baptized her and Olga became a Christian.
Then Constantine formally proposed marriage to her.
Her response, however, was “How can you marry me, after baptizing me yourself and calling me your daughter? For among Christians that is unlawful, as you yourself must know.”
Constantine remarked, “Olga, you have outwitted me.” So he sent her back home loaded with gifts.
When Olga’s son Svyatoslav had grown and taken on rulership, Olga asked him to become a Christian, saying that if he did his subjects would convert as well. He, however, preferred to remain pagan.
The Primary Chronicle ends the tale of Olga by calling her “the precursor of the Christian land, even as the dayspring precedes the sun and as the dawn precedes the day. For she shone like the moon by night, and she was radiant among the infidels like a pearl in the mire, since the people were soiled, and not yet purified of their sin by holy baptism. But she herself was cleansed by this sacred purification. She put off the sinful garments of the old Adam, and was clad in the new Adam, which is Christ… She was the first from Rus to enter the kingdom of God, and the sons of Rus thus praise her as their leader, for since her death she has interceded with God in their behalf.
In 1547 Olga was officially “glorified” as a Russian Orthodox saint, and was given the title Ravnoapostolnaya — “Equal to the Apostles.”
Well, I doubt that Olga was any less of a tough customer after conversion. There seems little evidence of it. The illustration below is likely closer to representing her dark personality than the pious image in the icon shown earlier:
The inscription just to the right of Olga’s head reads SV[yataya] KN[yagina] Olga — “Holy Princess Olga.”
Though Olga failed to convert her son Svyatoslav, her grandson Vladimir became a Christian and ordered his subjects — under threat — to become Christian as well in 988 c.e., the date of the “conversion of Russia.”
In Tolstoy’s time the following article was prohibited in Russia, because it essentially calls the Tsar and the Orthodox clergy robbers and misleading thieves. Though it could not be printed in Russia, nonetheless some handwritten copies managed to circulate. It is noteworthy that the 100th anniversary of Tolstoy’s death — 2010 — passed virtually ignored by the Russian Government and the Russian Orthodox Church, in spite of Tolstoy being the most famous of Russian authors. See for example: http://www.themoscowtimes.com/arts_n_ideas/article/state-church-ignore-tolstoy-anniversary/425477.html?photo=2
CHURCH AND STATE
What an extraordinary thing it is! There are people who seem ready to climb out of their skins for the sake of making others accept this, and not that, form of revelation. They cannot rest till others have accepted their form of revelation, and no other. They anathematize, persecute, and kill whom they can of the dissenters. Other groups of people do the same — anathematize, persecute, and kill whom they can of the dissenters. And others again do the same. So that they are all anathematizing, persecuting, and killing — demanding that every one should believe as they do. And it results that there are hundreds of sects all anathematizing, persecuting, and killing one another.
At first I was astonished that such an obvious absurdity — such an evident contradiction — did not destroy religion itself. How can religious people remain so deluded? And really, viewed from the general, external point of view it is incomprehensible, and proves irrefragably that every religion is a fraud, and that the whole thing is supersitition, as the dominant philosophy of today declares. And looking at things from this general point of view, I inevitably came to acknowledge that all religion is a human fraud. But I could not help pausing at the reflection that the very absurdity and obviousness of the fraud, and the fact that nevertheless all humanity yields to it, indicates that this fraud must rest on some basis that is not fraudulent. Otherwise we could not let it deceive us — it is too stupid. The very fact that all of mankind that really lives a human life yields to this fraud, obliged me to acknowledge the importance of the phenomena on which the fraud is based. And in consequence of this reflection, I began to analyze the Christian teaching, which for all Christendom, supplies the basis of this fraud.
That is what was apparent from the general point of view. But from the individual point of view — which shows us that each man (and I myself) must, in order to live, always have a religion show him the meaning of life — the fact that violence is employed in questions of religion is yet more amazing in its absurdity.
Indeed how can it, and why should it, concern any one to make somebody else, not merely have the same religion as himself, but also profess it in the same way as he does? A man lives, and must, therefore, know why he lives. He has established his relation to God; he knows the very truth of truths, and I know the very truth of truths. Our expression may differ; the essence must be the same — we are both of us men.
Then why should I –what can induce me to — oblige any one or demand of any one absolutely to express his truth as I express it?
I cannot compel a man to alter his religion either by violence or by cunning or by fraud — false miracles.
His religion is his life. How can I take from him his religion and give him another? It is like taking out his heart and putting another it its place. I can only do that if his religion and mine are words, and are not what gives him life; if it is a wart and not a heart. Such a thing is impossible also, because no man can deceive or compel another to believe what he does not believe; for if a man has adjusted his relation toward God and knows that religion is the relation in which man stands toward God he cannot desire to define another man’s relation to God by means of force or fraud. That is impossible, but yet it is being done, and has been done everywhere and always. That is to say, it can never really be done, because it is in itself impossible; but something has been done, and is being done, that looks very much like it. What has been, and is being done, is that some people impose on others a counterfeit of religion and others accept this counterfeit — this sham religion.
Religion cannot be forced and cannot be accepted for the sake of anything, force, fraud, or profit. Therefore what is so accepted is not a religion but a fraud. And this religious fraud is a long-established condition of man’s life.
In what does this fraud consist, and on what is it based? What induces the deceivers to produce it? And what makes it plausible to the deceived. I will not discuss the same phenomena in Brahmanism, Buddhism, Confucianism, and Mohammedanism, though any one who has read about those religions may see that the case has been the same in them as in Christianity; but I will speak only of the latter — it being the religion known, necessary, and dear to us. In Christianity, the whole fraud is built up on the fantastic conception of a Church; a conception founded on nothing, and which as soon as we begin to study Christianity amazes us by its unexpected and useless absurdity.
Of all the godless ideas and words there is none more godless than that of a Church. There is no idea which has produced more evil, none more inimical to Christ’s teaching, than the idea of a Church.
In reality the word ekklesia means an assembly and nothing more, and it is so used in the Gospels. In the language of all modern nations the world ekklesia (or the equivalent word “church”) means a house for prayer. Beyond that, the word has not progressed in any language — notwithstanding the fifteen hundred years’ existence of the Church-fraud. According to the definition given to the word by priests (to whom the Church-fraud is necessary) it amounts to nothing else than a preface which says: “All that I am going to say is true, and if you disbelieve I shall burn you, or denounce you, and do you all manner of harm.” This conception is a sophistry, needed for certain dialectical purposes, and it has remained the possession of those to whom it is necessary. Among the people, and not only among common people, but also in society, among educated people, no such conception is held at all, even though it is taught in the catechisms. Strange as it seems to examine this definition, one has to do so because so many people proclaim it seriously as something important, though it is absolutely false. When people say that the Church is an assembly of the true believers, nothing is really said (leaving aside the fantastic inclusion of the dead); for if I assert that the choir is an assembly of all true musicians, I have elucidated nothing unless I say what I mean by true musicians. In theology we learn that true believers are those who follow the teaching of the Church, i.e. belong to the Church.
Not to dwell on the fact that there are hundreds of such true Churches, this definition tells us nothing, and at first seems as useless as the definition of “choir” as the assembly of true musicians.. But then we catch sight of the fox’s tail. The Church is true, and it is one, and in it are pastors and flocks, and the pastors, ordained by God, teach this true and only religion. So that it amounts to saying: “By God, all that we are going to say, is all real truth.” That is all The whole fraud lies in that, — in the word and idea of a Church. And the meaning of the fraud is merely that there are people who are beside themselves with desire to teach their religion to other people.
And why are they so anxious to teach their religion to other people? If they had a real religion they would know that religion is the understanding of life, the relation each man establishes to God, and that consequently you cannot teach a religion, but only a counterfeit of religion. But they want to teach. What for? The simplest reply would be that the priest wants rolls and eggs, and the archbishop wants a palace, fish pies, and a silk cassock. But this reply is insufficient. Such is no doubt the inner, psychological motive for the deception, — that which maintains the fraud. But as it would be insufficient, when asking why one man (an executioner) consents to kill another against whom he feels no anger, — to say that the executioner kills because he thereby gets bread and brandy and a red shirt, so it is insufficient to say that the Metropolitan [high church official] of Kiev with his monks stuffs sacks with straw and calls them relics of the saints*, merely to get thirty thousand rubles a year income. [*Tolstoy is referring to an account that once, when a fire broke out in the Kiev Catacombs — a famous site of religious pilgrimage — people hurrying to save the supposedly “incorruptible body” (a sign of sainthood in Eastern Orthodoxy) of a monk found that the relic was in fact just a bag stuffed with straw.] The one act and the other is too terrible and too revolting to human nature for so simple and rude an explanation to be sufficient. Both the executioner and the Metropolitan explaining their actions would have a whole series of arguments based chiefly on historical tradition. Men must be executed; executions have gone on since the world commenced. If I don’t do it another will. I hope, by God’s grace, to do it better than another would. So also the Metropolitan would say: External worship is necessary; since the commencement of the world, relics of the saints have been worshipped. People respect the relics in the Kiev Catacombs and pilgrims come here; I, by God’s grace, hope to make the most pious use of the money thus blasphemously obtained.
To understand the religious fraud it is necessary to go to its source and origin.
We are speaking about what we know of Christianity. Turn to the commencement of Christian doctrine in the Gospels and we find a teaching which plainly excludes the external worship of God, condemning it; and which, with special clearness, positively repudiates mastership. But from the time of Christ onward we find a deviation from these principles laid down by Christ. This deviation begins from the times of the Apostles and especially from that hankerer after mastership — Paul. And the farther Christianity goes the more it deviates, and the more it adopts the methods of external worship and mastership which Christ had so definitely condemned. But in the early times of Christianity the conception of a Church was only employed to refer to all those who shared the beliefs which I consider true. That conception of the Church is quite correct if it does not include those that make a verbal expression of religion instead of its expression in the whole of life — for religion cannot be expressed in words.
The idea of a true Church was also used as an argument against dissenters. But till the time of the Emperor Constantine and the Council of Nicaea, the Church was only an idea.
Since the Emperor Constantine and the Council of Nicaea the Church becomes a reality, and a fraudulent reality, — that fraud of metropolitans with relics, and priests with the Eucharist, Iverskaya* Mothers of God, synods, etc., which so astonish and horrify us, and which are so odious that they cannot be explained merely by the avarice of those that perpetuate them. [*The Iverskaya or “Iberian” icon of Mary is one of the famous supposedly “miracle-working” icons in Eastern Orthodoxy, of which many copies have been made] The fraud is ancient, and was not begun merely for the profit of private individuals. No one would be such a monster of iniquity as to be the first to perpetrate it, if that were the only reason. The reasons which caused the thing to be done were evil: “By their fruits ye shall know them.’ The root was evil — hatred, pride, enmity against Arius and others; and another yet greater evil, the alliance of Christianity with power. Power, personified in the Emperor Constantine, who in the heathen conception of things, stood at the summit of human greatness (he was enrolled among the gods), accepts Christianity, gives an example to all the people, converts the people, lends a helping hand against the heretics, and by means of the Ecumenical Council establishes the one true Christian religion.
The Catholic [universal] Christian religion was established for all time. It was so natural to yield to this deception that, to the present day, there are people who believe in the saving efficacy of that assembly. Yet that was the moment when a majority of Christians abandoned their religion. At that turning the great majority of Christians entered the heathen path, which they have followed ever since. Charlemagne and Vladimir* continued in the same direction. [*Vladimir was the Russian ruler who in 988 A.D. forced the conversion of Russia to Eastern Orthodoxy by royal decree; the Church made him a saint.]
And the Church fraud continues till now. The fraud consists in this: that the conversion of the powers-that-be to Christianity is necessary for those that understand the letter, but not the spirit, of Christianity; but the acceptance of Christianity without the abandonment of power is a satire on, and a perversion of, Christianity.
the sanctification of political power by Christianity is blasphemy; it is the negation of Christianity.
After fifteen hundred years of this blasphemous alliance of pseudo-Christianity with the State, it needs a strong effort to free oneself from all the complex sophistries by which, always and everywhere (to please the authorities), the sanctity and righteousness of State-power, and the possibility of its being Christian, has been pleaded.
In truth, the words a “Christian State” resemble the words “hot ice.” The thing is either not a State using violence, or it is not Christian.
In order to understand this clearly we must forget all those fantastic notions in which we have been carefully brought up, and must ask plainly, what is the purpose of such historical and juridical science as has been taught us? Such sciences have no sound basis; their purpose is merely to supply a vindication for the use of violence.
Omitting the history of the Persians, the Medes, etc., let us take the history of that government which first formed an alliance with Christianity.
A robbers’ nest existed at Rome. It grew by robbery, violence, murders, and it subdued nations. These robbers and their descendants, led by their chieftains (whom they sometimes called Caesar, sometimes Augustus), robbed and tormented nations to satisfy their desires. One of the descendants of these robber-chiefs, Constantine (a reader of books and a man satiated by an evil life), preferred certain Christian dogmas to those of the old creeds: instead of offering human sacrifices he preferred the mass; instead of the worship of Apollo, Venus, and Zeus, he preferred that of a single God with a son — Christ. So he decreed that this religion should be introduced among those that were under his power.
No one said to him: “The kings exercise authority among the nations, but among you it shall not be so. Do not murder, do not commit adultery, do not lay up riches, judge not, condemn not, resist not him that is evil.”
But they said to him: “You wish to be called a Christian and to continue to be the chieftain of the robbers, — to kill, burn, fight, lust, execute, and live in luxury? That can all be arranged.”
And they arranged a Christianity for him, and arranged it very smoothly, better even than could have been expected. They foresaw that, reading the Gospels, it might occur to him that all this (i.e. a Christian life) is demanded — and not the building of temples or worshipping in them. This they foresaw, and they carefully devised such a Christianity for him as would let him continue to live his old heathen life unembarrassed. On the one hand Christ, God’s Son, only came to bring salvation to him and to everybody. Christ having died, Constantine can live as he likes. More even that that, — one may repent and swallow a little bit of bread and some wine* [*meaning the Eucharist], and that will bring salvation, and all will be forgiven.
But more even than that: they sanctify his robber-chieftainship, and say that it proceeds from God, and they anoint him with holy oil. And he, on his side, arranges for the congress of priests that they wish for, and orders them to say what each man’s relation to God should be, and orders every one to repeat what they say.
And they all start repeating it, and were contented, and now this same religion has existed for fifteen hundred years, and other robber-chiefs have adopted it, and they have all been lubricated with the holy oil, and they were all, all ordained by God. If any scoundrel robs every one and slays many people, they will oil him, and he will then be from God. In Russia, Catharine II, the adulteress who killed her husband, was from God; so, in France, was Napoleon.
To balance matters the priests are not only from God, but are almost gods, because the Holy Ghost sits inside them as well as inside the Pope, and in our Synod with its commandant-officials* [*In Tolstoy’s time the Russian Orthodox Church was under the control of the so-called “Holy Governing Synod”].
And as soon as one of the anointed robber-chiefs wishes his own and another folk to begin slaying each other, the priests immediately prepare some holy water, sprinkle a cross (which Christ bore and on which he died because he repudiated such robbers), take the cross and bless the robber-chief in his work of slaughtering, hanging, and destroying.
And it all might have been well if only they had been able to agree about it, and the anointed had not begun to call each other robbers, which is what they really are, and the people had not begun to listen to them and to cease to believe either in anointed people or in depositories of the Holy Ghost, and had not learned from them to call them as they call each other, by their right names, i.e. robbers and deceivers.
But we have only spoken of the robbers incidentally, because it was they who led the deceivers astray. It is the deceivers, the pseudo-Christians, that we have to consider. They became such by their alliance with the robbers. It could not be otherwise. They turned from the road when they consecrated the first ruler and assured him that he, by his power, could help religion — the religion of humility, self-sacrifice, and the endurance of evil. All the history, not of the imaginary, but of the real Church, i.e. of the priests under the sway of kings, is a series of useless efforts of these unfortunate priests to preserve the truth of the teaching while preaching it by falsehood, and while abandoning it in practice. The importance of the priesthood depends entirley on the teaching it wishes to spread; that teaching speaks of humility, self-sacrifice, love, poverty; but it is preached by violence and wrongdoing.
In order that the priesthood should have something to teach and that they should have disciples, they cannot get rid of the teaching. but in order to whitewash themselves and justify their immoral alliance with power, they have, by all the cunningest devices possible, to conceal the essence of the teaching, and for this purpose they have to shift the center of gravity from what is essential in the teaching to what is external. And this is what is done by the priesthood — this is the source of the sham religion taught by the Church. The source is the alliance of the priests (calling themselves the Church) with the powers-that-be, i. e. with violence. The souce of their desire to teach a religion to others lies in the fact that true religion exposes them, and they want to replace true religion by a fictitious religion arranged to justify their deeds.
True religion may exist anywhere except where it is evidently false, i. e. violent; it cannot be a State religion.
True religion may exist in all the so-called sects and heresies, only it surely cannot exist where it is joined to a State using violence. Curiously enough the names “Orthodox Greek,” “Catholic,’ or “Protestant” religion, as those words are commonly used, mean nothing but “religion allied to power,” — State religion and therefore false religion.
The idea of a Church as a union of many — of the majority — in one belief and in nearness to the source of the teaching, was in the first two centuries of Christianity merely one feeble external argument in favor of the correctness of certain views. Paul said, “I know from Christ Himself.” Another said, “I know from Luke,’ And all said, “We think rightly, and the proof that we are right is that we are a big assembly, ekklesia, the Church.” But only beginning with the Council of Nicaea, organized by an emperor, does the Chruch become a plain and tangible fraud practised by some of the people who professed this religion.
They began to say, “It has pleased us and the Holy Ghost.” The “Church no longer meant merely a part of a weak argument, it meant power in the hands of certain people . It allied itself with the rulers, and began to act like the rulers. And all that united itself with power and submitted to power, ceased to be a religion and became a fraud.
What does Christianity teach, understanding it as the teaching of any or of all the churches?
Examine it as you will, compound it or divide it, — the Christian teaching always falls with two sharply separated parts. There is the teaching of dogmas: from the divine Son, the Holy Ghost, and the relationship of these persons — to the Eucharist with or without wine, and with leavened or with unleavened bread; and there is the moral teaching: of humility, freedom from covetousness, purity of mind and body, forgiveness, freedom from bondage, peacefulness. Much as the doctors of the Church have labored to mix these two sides of the teachings, they have never mingled, but like oil and water have always remained apart in large or smaller circles.
The difference of the two sides of the teaching is clear to everyone, and all can see the fruits of the one and of the other in the life of men, and by these fruits can conclude which side is the more important, and (if one may use the comparative form) more true. One looks at the history of Christendom from this aspect, and one is horror-struck. Without exception, from the very beginning and to the very end, till today, look where one will, examine what dogma you like, — from the dogma of the divinity of Christ, to the manner of making the sign of the cross, and to the question of serving the communion with or without wine, the fruit of mental labors to explain the dogmas has always been envy, hatred, executions, banishments, slaughter of women and children, burnings and tortures. Look on the other side, the moral teaching from the going into the wilderness to commune with God, to the practice of supplying food to those who are in prison; the fruits of it are all our conceptions of goodness, all that is joyful, comforting, and that serves as a beacon to us in history.
People before whose eyes the fruits of the one and other side of Christianity were not yet evident, might be misled and could hardly help being misled. And people might be misled who were sincerely drawn into disputes about dogmas, not noticing that by such disputes they were serving not God but the devil, not noticing that Christ said plainly that he came to destroy all dogmas; those also might be led astray who had inherited a traditional belief in the importance of these dogmas, and had received such a perverse mental training that they could not see their mistake; and again, those ignorant people might be led astray to whom these dogmas seemed nothing but words or fantastic notions. But we to whom the simple meaning of the Gospels — repudiating all dogmas — is evident, we before whose eyes are the fruits of these dogmas in history, cannot be so misled. History is for us a means — even a mechanical means — of verifying the teaching.
Is the dogma of the Immaculate Conception* [*the teaching that Mary was conceived without sin] necessary or not? What has come of it? Hatred, abuse, irony. And did it bring any benefit? None at all.
Was the teaching that the adulteress should not be sentenced necessary or not? What has come of it? Thousands and thousands of times people have been softened by that recollection.
Again, does everybody agree about any one of the dogmas? No. Do people agree that it is good to give to him that has need? Yes, all agree.
But the one side, the dogmas — about which every one disagrees, and which no one requires — is what the priesthood gave out and still gives out, under the name of religion; while the other side, about which all can agree, and which is necessary to all, and which saves people, is the side which the priesthood, though they have not dared to reject it, have also not dared to set forth as a teaching, for that teaching repudiates them.
Religion is the meaning we give to our lives, it is that which gives strength and direction to our life. Every one that lives finds such a meaning, and lives on the basis of that meaning. If man finds no meaning in life, he dies. In this search man uses all that the previous efforts of humanity have supplied. And what humanity has reached we call revelation. Revelation is what helps man to understand the meaning of life.
Such is the relation in which man stands toward religion.