The Truth of Orthodoxy is a theological essay by Nikolai Berdyaev (1874–1948) about what makes Orthodoxy different from all other Christian Churches. In beautiful and nuanced language, Berdyaev examines the revelation of the Holy Spirit throughout Orthodox history, the holy mysteries in the interactions between the material and spiritual, and the liturgical means of teaching people about salvation and the life after death. In this excerpt, we learn why the Orthodox Church has changed so little over the centuries.
The Truth of Orthodoxy
The Christian world doesn’t know Orthodoxy too well. It only knows the external and for the most part, the negative features of the Orthodox Church and not the inner spiritual treasure. Orthodoxy was locked inside itself, it did not have the spirit of proselytism and did not reveal itself to the world. For the longest time Orthodoxy did not have such world-wide significance as did Catholicism and Protestantism. It remained apart from passionate religious battles for hundreds of years, for centuries it lived under the protection of large empires (Byzantium and Russia) and preserved its eternal truth from the destructive processes of world history.
It is characteristic for Orthodoxy’s religious nature that it was not sufficiently actualised nor exposed externally, it was not militant, and precisely because of this the heavenly truth of Christian revelation was not distorted so much. Orthodoxy is that form of Christianity which suffered the least distortion in its substance as a result of human history. The Orthodox Church had its moments of historical sin, for the most part in connection with its external dependence on the State, but the Church’s teaching — her inner spiritual path — was not subject to distortion.
The Orthodox Church is primarily the Church of tradition, in contrast to the Catholic Church, which is the Church of authority, and to the Protestant Churches which are essentially churches of individual faith. The Orthodox Church was never subject to a single externally authoritarian organisation and it unshakenly was held together by the strength of internal tradition and not by any external authority. Out of all forms of Christianity it is the Orthodox Church which remained more closely tied to early Christianity.
The strength of internal tradition in the Church is the strength of spiritual experience and the continuity of the spiritual path, the power of superpersonal spiritual life in which every generation shakes off a consciousness of self-satisfaction and exclusiveness and is united with the spiritual life of all preceding generations up to the Apostles. In that tradition I have the same experience and the same authority as the Apostle Paul, the martyrs, the saints and the whole Christian world. In tradition my knowledge is not only personal but superpersonal and I live not in isolation but within the Body of Christ, within a single spiritual organism with all my brothers in Christ...