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Where there is no law, but every man does what is right in his own eyes, there is the least of real liberty
Henry M. Robert

"The Apocalypse of Our Time"

13 November, 2012 - 00:00

80 years ago, Vasily Rozanov, a prominent Russian philosopher, composed his swan song, a short essay called “The Apocalypse of Our Time,” committing to paper what would be branded as “heretic and barbarian” views on the historic role of Christianity, mainly its impact on Russia. Perhaps no one before him had taken such a critical approach to this doctrine, including the Gospels. Rozanov was positive that Christian ideology had an expressly negative effect on Western civilization in general and the European mentality in particular. He thought that Christianity was unable to “organize man’s life... Countless church services have been celebrated, but man’s life has not become any easier.” Rozanov was especially disgusted by Christian asceticism and indifference to the beauty of nature and earthly joys. “The Sun was shining before Christendom and will continue to shine after Christendom is over. The Sun is more powerful than Jesus Christ.”

“The Apocalypse of Our Time,” however, focuses on the mystery of Russia and the Russian Revolution. The author sees the events of the first two decades of this century as the Revelation of St. John the Divine come true. Rozanov was on the verge of death from cold and hunger at the time and now many of his ideas are received as sinister prophecies, strikingly tallying with modern realities. Consider some brief excerpts from his “Apocalypse”:

“The iron curtain descended over Russian history with much noise, creaking and screeching. The play was over and people in the audience rose to collect their fur coats and go home. They looked around and saw neither their coats nor homes.”

“Russia faded away over two days (1917), three at the most. Even Novoe vremia had been impossible to close down as quickly as it happened to Russia. The most amazing thing is that this country broke down at once, falling into the smallest of pieces. History has never experienced such a cataclysm, including even the Great Volkerwanderung at the end of antiquity, for it marked a whole epoch and now everything happened in a couple of days. The Empire, Army, and Church were all gone. What, then, is left? Unbelievable but true: nothing. Nothing very serious seems to have occurred, yet everything has fallen apart. Did God himself shrug and blow out the candle? Why?” {The next powerful Soviet empire would collapse in 1991, also practically overnight. Another coincidence?}

Rozanov further writes that we are dying unnaturally, like braggarts or actors. Without making the sign of the cross or offering up a prayer, which is most characteristic of Russians. Strange, isn’t it: they made the sign of the cross and prayed all their life, but when it came time to give up the ghost they disowned the cross. With the muzhiks and soldiers, the transition to socialism — i.e., atheism — came so easily, so naturally; it was as though they went to the public baths and poured fresh water over them... {One ought to remember that generations of Russian intellectuals sang hallelujah to the people called upon by the Lord Almighty to save the world from atheism.}

So what are we dying from? There is but one and very important cause: our lack of self-respect. This is understandable. Hard work and sweat can be respected, but we have never worked like that. In our great and strong autocracy our people, all industrious, obedient, and with wit enough, have not even learned to make nails, sickles, or scythes. And so the planet Earth has shaken us off its surface... {This is one of Rozanov’s most dramatic insights: the ability to work is the underlying principle of man’s existence, that root which keeps him firmly on his feet.}

Russia today is like an impersonator of a general over whom a false priest sings a memorial service. In reality, this was no general but a fugitive actor from a provincial drama group. {It would be interesting to watch the author’s reaction when seeing our modern politicians in action.}

At the end of his “Apocalypse of Our Time,” Rozanov quotes from Dostoyevsky as he did often: “All were in despair. No one knew whom or how to judge; no one knew what to consider evil or good. They knew not who to accuse and who to vindicate.” These words apply well not only to Rozanov’s Russia, but also to its current condition. Even worse, these words address us Ukrainians with our remarkable gift for mutual recriminations (instead of compromise), chronic despair (instead of work), and constant wavering between good and evil.

By Klara Gudzyk, The Day