Orthodoxy versus ‘Spiritualism’
Spiritualism (like spirituality) is a dangerous concept. This is because the demons are spiritual beings, spirits, bodiless. Indeed, many ‘spiritualities’ are in fact demonologies. This is why the very word ‘spiritualism’ is alien to the Church. In the Church we talk rather about Orthodoxy or, more simply, Churchliness. Already in the second century, anti-Incarnation ‘spiritualism’ was better known as ‘Gnosticism’. As the cult of esoteric spiritual knowledge, imparted by demons and cultivated by intellectual pride, it was declared a heresy by the Church.
Unfortunately, spiritualism was reborn in Russia in the late nineteenth century. Some of its foremost proponents were Russian philosophers like the alcoholic Soloviov and later the intellectual genius Florensky and, in Paris, the ex-Marxist Berdyayev and other philosophers and artists like Bulgakov, Kovalevsky and Evdokimov. They looked to Western ‘mystics’ such as Boehme, Eckhart and Swdenborg. Characteristically, their anti-Incarnation Gnosticism and ‘visions’, sometimes called ‘Sophianism’, meant, for example, that Berdyayev could not stand the sight of pregnant women and others of them rejected marriage. What exactly are the temptations and signs of ‘Orthodox’ spiritualism?
‘Orthodox’ spiritualism comes with its own agenda and, though quite carefully imitating Orthodox rites, forms its own marginal groups under various names. Interestingly, such spiritualist sects are always extreme, either of the conservative extreme, with a huge emphasis on ‘the rite’ and ‘the canons’, or, more often, of the liberal extreme, with a huge emphasis on ‘modernisation’ and ‘relevance’. In reality, neither reactionary conservatism, nor liberalism are Churchly, that is, neither is Orthodox, because they do not belong to the theological ‘primitivism’ of the Tradition. This is beyond mere human right-wing conservatism and left-wing liberalism, which are simply the two component parts of a human-invented vicious circle.
Indeed, members of these different spiritualist sects get on with each other, at least, they take inordinate pleasure in arguing with each other and attacking anyone who is Orthodox. In real Orthodox life, the families, grannies and others who know what we are doing, because that is way we have always done it and it works, keep things on the traditional straight and narrow. However, spiritualism shies away from all this, never adapting to real Orthodoxy in the slightest, speaking in its own elitist, pseudo-theological jargon which others cannot understand.
As spiritualism is disembodied, disincarnate, in the life of the Church, it generally deliberately uses curious premises, often private properties. This is deliberate, since spiritualism lives in selective ghettos – it does not want ordinary Orthodox joining its elite and superior groupings. Normal Orthodox would disturb and destroy spiritualist sects through their normality. If ever too many normal Orthodox start appearing among spiritualist sects, they break away and form new sects. As it is deliberately elitist, spiritualism never recruits many.
Every sect has its own uniform. The victims of ‘Orthodox’ spiritualism also. Even though sometimes married, they may dress in ways similar to monks and nuns, although without any of the actual, difficult obedience, humility and poverty of real, incarnate monastics. This is because, from misplaced and superficial zeal, they consider themselves to be ‘better’ than ordinary Orthodox. The effect is that of a sect not at all the effect of an ordinary Orthodox church. Curiously, spiritualists will often take off these uniforms as soon as their meetings are over and then dress like ordinary Orthodox.
Only those who are incarnate can be truly intellectual. ‘Orthodox’ spiritualism generally suffers from self-delusion (prelest/plani), fantasies and pretentiousness, deluding itself with pseudo-intellectual theories. Any real Orthodox can see the ego-bubble and ego-trip of spiritualism at once, but its victims cannot. Spiritualism is often full of itself, of the know-it-all, self-satisfied, but long-faced spirit. Spiritualist sects have lists of their own rules, petty invented rituals and sometimes contempt for human reality. This can be seen in attitudes to television, which spiritualism disowns, and yet talking, or rather arguing, with other little groups of ‘true believers’, is vital to it.
Spiritualism does not like ordinary human jobs and ordinary human lives. This would incarnate it into reality, away from fantasy, and so destroy it. To support illusions of self-importance, spiritualism organises endless meetings, talkshops, workshops, forums, quoting and misquoting this or that long-forgotten canon or custom. Spiritualism tries to impose its odd rules on the 99.99% of other Orthodox. Apparently, we have to follow their rules and not our ‘wrong’ practices, which we have inherited from older parishioners, parents and grandparents. We are accused of ‘aping’ these, ‘aping’ the Tradition! On the other hand, spiritualism, precisely because, despite all the talk, it is so ‘spiritual’, never actually does anything - cooking and cleaning are quite beyond it. Talk, talk, talk.
Spiritualism often refers to ‘spiritual fathers’, in fact gurus, who sound very frightening and are unknown in that form to real Orthodox. Usually, these particular ‘spiritual fathers’ are new to the Church and sometimes imagine that they possess an illusory, clerical superiority to the rest of the Orthodox world, which they may despise as ‘unspiritual’. Condemnations of bishops as such are commonplace among them. Only they are ‘pious’ and ‘religious’. This lack of interest in reality means that they always avoid real Orthodoxy, living in subcultures or ghettos.
Generally, spiritualism has no sympathy for Orthodoxy which is so unlike it. Spiritualists do not look forward to the resurrection of the body, which they often despise with immoderate fasting or extreme vegetarianism. As spiritualist philosophy is anti-Incarnation, it may have a great interest and trust in angels, angelology – which is dangerous, for demons are angels as well. Although spiritualists work under the camouflage of ‘universalism’, in fact they only accept those who are like themselves into their sects. They do not want to be disturbed by normality, which is not good enough for them. Interestingly, spiritualism is the same everywhere. Why? Sadly, because it is always the same spiritual illness of pride.
The tragedy of ‘Orthodox’ spiritualism is that it has never understood that real Christianity (two words for Orthodoxy) is the religion of the Incarnation, a way of life, and not some disincarnate, disembodied philosophy or ideology, with imaginary, head-born and head-borne delusions and self-delusions. Unlike the Church Fathers, whom it claims to admire and read, but which it has not understood, it has never understood the Gospel words, ‘Thy Faith has saved thee’.
Yes, ‘Faith’ saves – not booklore, philosophy and fantasy. The Church, Christianity, Orthodoxy, salvation, repentance, the acquisition of the Holy Spirit, deification, resurrection, a Christian way of life beseeching the mercy of God, call it what you will, all of this is about Faith. This saving Faith is in the Wisdom and the Word, not in abstract knowledge and digits. Away with the dictionaries – and the internet - let us go to Church and pray.