Article

SWEDENBORG IN EASTERN EUROPE
Translated by GF Dole
from
Swedenborg i Ísteuropa
by Anders Hallengren


Friday, December 12, 1999



Spring returns to Prague, and the new head of state, author Vaclav Havel,

made it clear that we can no longer say one thing, think another, and do a

third. There must be a harmony within us and throughout humanity.

"Openness" is the watchword of a time of change.

The New-Church pastor Christopher Hasler returned to Czechoslovakia after

forty-three years in exile to ordain his countryman Samuel Marik in Mähren.

Years of threat, oppression and enforced secrecy came suddenly to an end in

the autumn of 1989, when the Communist control over eastern Europe broke

down in Czechoslovakia, Poland, Hungary, and the Baltic states. In a moving

ceremony, since pastors could for the first time be openly recognized and

could work freely, Hasler knew that on that day in eastern Moravia he was

giving something back to the Czech nation, where before the war he had done

his own studies of Swedenborg's teachings. At that time, a revolution was

brewing.

In Poland, where there were individuals interested in Swedenborg as early

as the 1790s, a society formed in Teschin in Schleswig. Swedenborg is a

recognized name in Poland even today, largely because he influenced some of

the country's most famous authors. His literary influence, which increased

sharply among the Romantics of the nineteenth century, stretched from the

philosopher Towianski to Poland's national poet Adam Mickiewicz and on to

the Nobel laureate Czeslaw Milosz. Milosz, who said a great deal about

Swedenborg when he was in Sweden to accept his Nobel prize, wrote about

Swedenborg in many of his books, for example I Am Here and The Land of

Ulro; and he also took some themes from Swedenborg. One of his friends,

Zenon Chizhevzki, has written about the interest in Swedenborg in Poland

and especially about Swedenborg and Milosz. Chizhevski is professor of

literature at the university in Gdansk, and has recently published, among

other things, a history of literature in Swedish, in which Swedenborg is

regularly mentioned. Further, he has written a biography of Swedenborg

which was published in 1988. He also took part in a Swedenborg symposium

held in Warsaw in 1986, whose subject was "Swedenborg's significance for

European culture." Participating from Sweden were Inge Jonsson, Harry

Lenhammar, Olle Hjern, Hans Helander, and Karl-Erik Sjöden. Chizhevski

advised me that his friend Milosz had happened to read Swedenborg for the

simple reason that people read about Swedenborg in school. As a result, he

went to the library and read Swedenborgian literature. Several translations

of Swedenborg into Polish are in process, as are several into Czech; and in

both instances we have to do with a labor that continues from one that had

come to a halt in the late 1930s. The first Swedenborg volumes in Czech are

from 1912, while the oldest Polish ones are from the 1880s. In Poland,

though, people read Swedenborg in Latin and in modern languages other than

Polish. During the period from 1940 to 1963, there was distribution of

translations from German done by Ludmila Mari Magdalena Kubatova. The Rev.

Marik we have mentioned is at the moment engaged in translating True

Christian Religion. So in both Poland and Czechoslovakia, Swedenborgian

literature is coming out again.

In Hungary, there has also been for about ten years a small group of

members led by Emy Harsan. The New Church had been founded there toward the

close of the 1800s, and developed into a fairly strong group until the

Second World War altered the political map of Europe. The fact is, though,

that the earliest, or more precisely the oldest Hungarian translations came

out only in 1986, among them Divine Providence.

We find a somewhat similar picture in Latvia. The New Church had a

significant position and many members there when the country became

independent in 1918. In 1936 there were four established societies with two

ordained ministers, Karl Grosch and Igor Edomski, along with the legendary

layman Rudopfs Grava, translator, who died in 1990 at the age of

ninety-seven. In 1938 the Jewish-Christian Union, an international

organization, named Karl Grosch as its representative in Eastern Europe.

That year marked the 250th anniversary of Swedenborg's birth, and to

celebrate it the London-based Swedenborg Society, in cooperation with

friends from other countries, published Swedenborg's The New Jerusalem and

its Heavenly Doctrine in a number of languages--Czech, Hungarian,

Polish,Russian, Serbo-croatian, and Latvian--the Latvian version being

translated by Grava.

It was, as the Newchurchman Julian Duckworth recalls in a retrospective

view published in the English journal The Plough in 1990, "at a time when

many of these nations had become independent and had everything to hope

for, and New Church centers had reached a pinnacle of activity and growth."

But that was 1938 . . . .

Then came the war. Church work was abandoned until further notice.

Communication was cut off when Latvia was incorporated into the Soviet

Union. Pastor Edomski, who had supervised the Russian translation of The

New Jerusalem and its Heavenly Doctrine in 1938, died at the hands of

Russians. Grava lived to the end of his life in a camp for displaced

persons [?] in Nürnberg.

Since then, there has been nothing new--until the historical moment where

we now find ourselves.

It suddenly seems as though religion and politics have become one in many

of the eastern nations--in the Baltic states, as also in Poland,

Yugoslavia, and Hungary. Churches--Protestant, Catholic, and orthodox--have

become symbols of freedom and of national identity. However, there is also

a general longing for spirituality, which is presently waxing as though

after an ice age.

Swedenborgian organizations in England and the USA report that they are

hearing from interested individuals in Latvia and Hungary, from republics

of the former Soviet Union, from what was East Germany, from

Yugoslavia--from practically all of the newly freed eastern bloc. Old

Swedenborg circles are bubbling up, others are holding on and coming into

being [?]. There is a demand for translations, not least into Russian, and

in 1991 there was published a translation of Synnestvedt's familiar

Swedenborg anthology, a publication which later received notice in Russian

journals.

In this manner also we find symbols of change. The new, seen from one

perspective, takes itself to be a renaissance, a rebirth whose coming has a

long history behind it before the time when everything comes loose from its

moorings. The icebreaking and dissolution that is happening currently,

whose consequences we cannot ignore, began with the introduction of

glasnost (openness) and perestroika (reorganization) in the Soviet Union

six years ago.

There is good reason to search out the motive forces behind this

revolution. In stark contrast to what has often happened with the collapse

of a Utopia in the East, there is incentive for a new Utopia. This is what

the prime mover of the reform, Mihail Gorbachev, wrote about in his book

Perestroika (1987). In it, he comes ultimately to [the conclusion] that the

goal is a "golden age"--a new era of peace, arms reduction, and

international cooperation and exchange. In its longer view, his dream

agrees with the idea of international disarmament which Tsar Nicholas II

once proposed (and which was also applauded in the English New-Church

periodical New Church Life in 1898). Perestroika is from its beginning, in

Gorbachev's own words, "a new way of looking at our land and the world."

And in spiritual matters, something quite new is happening as well. There

is a measure of clear indications. Gorbachev's meeting with Pope John Paul

on the first of December 1989 symbolized a release--both an opening and a

change--in relations between the Kremlin and the Vatican, between politics

and religion. The Pope's repeated wish that the Soviet Union should grant

the same freedom to Catholics as to the Russian Orthodox Church was

answered by the Soviet leader with the promise that under the coming laws

of freedom of conscience "all believers would come to enjoy religious

freedom." This law on freedom of belief was approved by the Supreme Soviet

and ratified and announced by the president on October first, 1990. It

meant a liberal view of religion in general, accompanied by the cessation

of registration of all religion organizations. Gorbachev himself put in an

appearance that year at, among other events, an international meeting in

Moscow on spirituality and human survival, expressing his own metaphysical

outlook on the world, according to which humanity's collective

consciousness, nous, was a unity in which every [individual] was dependent

on the whole, a force impelling us forward into a new era. The conference

opened with a Hindu prayer. The Soviet leader participated along with his

friend, the Russian Orthodox Metropolitan Pitirim, one of the hosts of the

conference. Gorbachev offered thoughts related to the philosophy of oneness

developed by the thinkers Vernadski and Teilhard de Chardin.

There is no turning back in Russia now--even less in the newly [formed]

Sodruzjestvo Njezavisimych Gosudarstv. But still, utopianism and optimism

have been shaken and undermined by internal problems which are presently of

fearsome proportions. Nationalistic and chauvinistic currents are welling

up, suffering among the common people is severe, and no turning point is

presently in sight. I myself have seen mothers of small children standing

in line day after day, waiting in vain to get necessities for their

children, while the elderly were dying from lack of medicine or

nourishment. Hope for the future is failing, and people are looking back to

the past. This in itself may be either for the better or for the worse.

But the earth-shaking days, August 19-21, 1991, demonstrated that it is too

late to turn the clock back, now that people know what [the score is].

The Meeting of East and West

East is East and West is West, and never the twain shall meet

`Till earth and heaven together stand at God's great judgment seat.

Rudyard Kipling, The Ballad of East and West

Leonid Brezhnev started the process of change as early as the 1970s when he

paid homage to the genuine Old Russia , the pre-revolutionary, and wanted

attention directed to the original land of Russia, Rus, and its earliest

history. At the same time, primarily for economic reasons, he left the door

ajar for Western breezes, which contributed to the undermining of

centralization and cleared the way for a rebirth of pre-bolshevik

traditions. In a way, he built a bridge then across the chasm which

separated the socialist-internationalism and the Slavophile currents of the

nineteenth century, which would eventually break out in the many national

liberations in the eastern states when the grip finally loosened. Western

influences in Russia, particularly avant-gard "westernism," zapzcnichestvo,

are actually almost normal. They have been common since early times

(perhaps even from the very earliest, if our vikings from the Ros-regions

had their part in the old Rus. The ideological imports of Marx and Engels

are in and of themselves a modern example.

Peter the Great breached the wall of Greek Orthodoxy and tsarist Russia

against the West, but even before his time Western spiritual literature had

reached Russia, often via Poland and the Ukraine. So, for example,, Thomas

a Kempis' De imitatio Christ and some of Jakob Boehme's writings had

already been translated in the seventeenth century. Toward the close of the

eighteenth century, many translations came from the circle around Nikolai

Ivanovitch Novokov. These were works of the Bavarian mystic Friedrich

Christoph Oetinger (1702-1782), Emanuel Swedenborg's well-known friend by

letter and translator, who had a good deal to say about Swedenborg in his

works. This was equally true of Heinrich Jung-Stilling (1740-1817), in whom

Tsar Alexander I came to be particularly interested, and whose output was

considerable. As the author of Scenes from the Spiritual World and

Spiritual Teachings, Jung-Stilling was known for his citation and

documentation relating to Swedenborg's paranormal abilities and his

contacts with the other world. By these routes, at first indirectly,

Swedenborgian texts were introduced and found interested individuals both

in Moscow and St. Petersburg, but also outside Russian proper, in the

Ukraine.

Western transcendental philosophy came increasingly to attract influential

authors and thinkers, theologians, scholars, and literary critics--the

Aksakov family, Bakunin, Herzen, and Belinsky. The interest was

particularly directed toward Kant, Schelling, Fourier, and Hegel, but there

was no less interest in mystical literature from the West, represented by

Franz von Balder, G. H. von Schubert, Boehme, Saint-Martin, Jung-Stilling,

and Swedenborg. During the first decade of the nineteenth century,

countless circles and movements took shape. Prince Vladimir Odoevsky, for

example, was a member of the circle around Semyon Egorovitch Raich

("Amfiteatrov"), as well as being a member of the radical Decembrist

society "The Welfare Union," which was founded by the well-known

Swedenborgian adherent Aleksandr Muravyov; and later he was president of an

association for [philosophy], Obsjtjestvo ljubomudrija (1823-1825). An

interesting item of information follows from the name--ljubomudrije is a

literal translation of the Greek philosophia.Odoevsky, the central fixture

in the Russian romantic and humanist movement, was especially drawn toward

natural science and mysticism, and studied Swedenborg, Saint-Martin,

Boehme, and Baader. After the Decembrist uprising of 1825, which tried to

abolish despotism and worked for more humane treatment of the wider social

strata, the lovers of wisdom destroyed their minutes and became in part a

fragmented or scattered underground movement. Odoevsky fled to St.

Petersburg and as a kind of public functionary there would make major

contributions to public education and musical culture. He is also known for

his short stories, often with a mystical or futuristic cast, such as

Kosmorama (1840), The Possessed (1842), and the utopian vision The Year

4338.

Other cultural contributors who served as channels of Western impulses were

Nikolai Strakhov, the philosophical mentor of Dostoevsky and Tolstoi, the

spiritualist Aleksandr Aksakov, who translated Swedenborg into Russian, and

the Ukraine's great philosopher, P. D. Yurkevitch, who ranked Boehme,

Leibniz, and Swedenborg as the West's last great philosophers.

Among Yurkevitch's young pupils was the thinker Vladimir Solovyov

(1853-1900), also a reader of Swedenborg. Solovyov is said to appear as a

fictional character in Dostoevsky's The Brothers Karamazov under the name

of Alyosha. Solovyov's visionary, eclectic philosophy of oneness, which

took inspiration from many philosophical worlds, Eastern as well as

Western, is reflected not only in Dostoevsky, but also in the religious

thought of Nikolai Aleksandrovitch Berdyayev (1874-1948), in the modern

symbolism of Bulgakov, Bely, and Blok, and in the essays of the Swedenborg

reader Dmitri Merezhkovsky, as well as in the many religious awakenings of

the beginning of the twentieth century with Paven Florensky and Evgeniy

Trubetskoy. Solovyov borrowed inspiration and ideas from Boehme,

Paracelsus, Swedenborg, gnosticism, and kabbalism for his organic dualism,

in which material things were taken to be reflection of an eternal reality,

and in which love was understood to be the motive power of being.

The supernatural and spiritual elements of the national poet Aleksandr

Pushkin are obvious. In 1833 he cited Swedenborg by name in his prose work

The Queen of Hearts, a novel that in many respects mirrors the very lively

contacts between St. Petersburg and Stockholm of that time, and both

[cities] build on knowledge and oral lore about Swedenborg (and [f. ö.]

possibly took direct inspiration from Clas Livijn's epistolary novel The

Queen of Spades from 1824, whose fictional letter-writer was admitted to

Danvik's asylum--the mental hospital where irate clergy of the state church

once wanted to confine Swedenborg).

The main character in Pushkin's novel, "Hermann," made a strong impression

on Dostoevsky, and was to inspire him to create his own fictional

character, Raskolnikov.

If Solovyov served as the model for Dostoyevsky's Alyosha, and echoes of

him can be heard in Ivan's heated discussions with the Grand Inquisitor,

[then] Swedenborg was in some measure a model for various statements of

another main character in The Brothers Karamazov, namely Alyosha's saintly

master, Zosima. Swedenborg's reports from the other side recur in the

dialogue. Swedenborg's significance for Dostoevsky has been surveyed in an

essay, among others, by Czeslaw Milosz (I Am Here, Brombergs 1980).

Like many of his contemporaries, Dostoevsky was interested in all kinds of

mystical literature he could locate, and his library owned Russian

translations of Swedenborg, the classical work on spiritualism by the

translator Aksakov, studies relating to animal magnetism and other

psychical and parapsychological phenomena. At one of Aksakov's seances, we

find Dostoevsky present along with Solovyov.

Nevertheless, Dostoevsky regarded himself as a realist in literary terms

and as an orthodox believer confessionally. In his opinion, there was

nothing contradictory about that.

Humanism

When Alexander Herzen died in 1870, he was called by Dostoevsky, in a

letter to Nikolai Strakhov, a "poet without equal." Tolstoy and Leontiev

are mentioned among those who were impressed by Herzen's ideas. Until he

left Russia in 1847, Herzen belonged to a group of young authors whose

membership also included Dostoevsky, Turgenev, and Goncharov. Their

schooling was as much west-European as Russian. At Moscow University,

Herzen became a participant in a radical student group which took its

inspiration from Fourier, Saint-Simon, and other radical utopianists.

These students were arrested in 1833, and Herzen served out his sentence in

an internal exile in Perm and Vyatka in Siberia. This kind of punishment

was one factor in bringing on the Russian revolution. There were early

omens of it. Ten years later, Dostoevsky suffered the same fate. For a

while, he too had admired Fourier, and had been a member of an underground

organization. One of Herzen's comrades in exile was the architect and

mystic Alexander Vitberg. He was of Swedish extraction, but had been born

in Russia. His artistic talent and his mystical convictions impressed Tsar

Alexander. Vitberg fascinated Herzen with his symbolism, which he had

borrowed from Swedenborg, Paracelsus, and Freemasonry.

In Siberia, too, the prisoners were therefore considering Swedenborg, as we

can see from Herzen's memoirs, in which "Aleksandr Lavrentevitch Vitberg"

has his own chapter.

Underground movements, like samizdat literature, have deep roots in Russia.

Examples are found in the Decembrists of the 1829s, among whom we find both

Freemasons and Swedenborgians.

Several of these bore the name Muravyov, and one of them in particular was

an active adherent of Swedenborgianism. Aleksandr Nikolayevitch Muravyov

(1792-1863) also spent some years sentenced to exile, but in his later

years he wan named a general by Alexander II. This Muravyov was the most

influential Swedenborgian in Russia.

After having [passed] his examination at Moscow University, he entered the

army, and rose to the top after the war of 1812 and in the years following.

More and more caught up by humanitarian questions, he was attracted to the

radical activism of the times. He founded the "Welfare Union" mentioned

above, are became the leader of its Moscow branch. This was the heart of

the flame of the December uprising of 1825. In 1826, Muravyov was sentenced

to exile in Siberia. From 1828 on, however, as time passed he was invested

with administrative posts in various regions of the country. As adviser to

Alexander II, he became a driving force behind the peasants' reforms of

1861 which prohibited serfdom and distributed shares of land to peasants

and farmers. Gone were the landed proprietors, among them some who had

carried out the reform. The Muravyov family, for example, had maintained

the old boyar traditions in feudal style. this kind of radical humanism and

altruism is the main theme in Tolstoy and Dostoevsky. the English

Newchurchman Jonathan Bayley, who was a personal friend of the Muravyov

family, reported, "Muravyov's delight at the dawn of freedom knew no

bounds, in spite of the fact that it means the loss of half his own

possessions."

Bayley, who thought sorrowfully about how peacefully liberation happened in

Russia in comparison to the United States, where the Civil War raged over

the slavery question, was himself involved in what was happening. People

who shared his faith, Swedenborgians and friends of the New Church, had

fought against slavery and the slave trade since the 1790s, in England,

America, and Africa. Among them, Bayley had particular praise for Ralph

Waldo Emerson. Later, on the basis of his reading of Swedenborg, Carl

Bernhard Wadström and others contributed to the founding of Liberia and

Sierra Leone as homelands for freed slaves. (The largest groups of

Swedenborgians today are entirely black African, principally in South

Africa.)

When Bayley wrote his eulogy of Muravyov in 1865, published in The

Intellectual Repository and New Jerusalem Magazine of the same year, he had

known about his labors on behalf of New Church teachings for thirty years.

Muravyov was also at New Church meetings in Western Europe, in Germany

meeting with Immanuel Tafel, among others. His acceptance of New Church

principles was in accord with his love of human freedom and justice.

Bayley considered that this was a natural corollary of teachings which

declared that "humans should act in freedom according to reason" and that

without this prerequisite, "people cannot be regenerated." Freedom is a

prerequisite for repentance/improvement.

This was just the way Muravyov reasoned. freedom was the road to progress

and perfection. Bayley reported that Muravyov always held himself to the

divine maxim, "If the truth shall make your free, then you shall be free

indeed." He was fully aware that freedom would make things worse for

himself and for other landowners. He tried not to conceal this fact without

preaching an assurance that they would reap a rich reward which consisted

simply of their behaving justly! They should all climb to a higher moral

level. What held for him first and foremost, first and last, was to take

the great commandment in earnest: to love one's neighbor as oneself.

In 1858, a committee was formed to prepare for the abolition of serfdom and

to sketch out the peasants' reforms. Muravyov served as chairman. In his

opening address, delivered in what is now called Gorky but was then called

Nizhni Novgorod, governor Muravyov referred to the saying of Jesus in

Luke's gospel:

The Lord has appointed me to preach good tidings to the poor, to proclaim

release to the prisoners and freedom to the oppressed!

He was now chosen as messenger.

The committee prepared means of liberation, and on the same day three years

later, the peasants' reform was an historical fact. It did not, though,

last/take [lit. "go"] as long as Muravyov and others had hope.

He was now nearly seventy years old, and two years later he died while

someone was reading aloud to him from the translation of the Gospels and

the Psalter which he himself had done twenty-seven years earlier. Muravyov

had devoted himself to the Russian church and its history after his time in

Siberia. At the same time, he shouldered the role of disseminator of

Swedenborg's message. At one time he had two secretaries appointed to make

handcopies of Swedenborg's works, which he distributed among family

members, friends, and acquaintances.

There is nothing inconsistent about this. His position is expressed in an

insightful pamphlet which was published in France in 1872 for distribution

among interested Russians. This work, "The Eastern Church and Swedenborg"

(Introduction au Journal: `Orient et swedenborg, printed in London), had an

anonymous author who called himself "an orthodox reader of Swedenborg's

writings." In the work itself, the author was Princess Cleopatra

Mikhailovna Shakhovskaya (1809-1883), General Alexander Muravyov's devoted

sister-in-law, one of the many Swedenborgians among his relatives.

Light from the East

Shakhovskaya looked at Swedenborg from the East, ex oriente, and found a

perspective in which the New Church and orthodox theology coincided. "When

one looks at Swedenborg," she wrote, " from the position that they are

neither Protestant nor catholic, then Swedenborg can come to be a major

resource for the whole Christian world. He can unite what is new in the

West with what is already old in the East. This way of looking at

Swedenborg can revive the languishing brotherly love among Christians,

fragmented as they are by all kinds of theological disputes, polemics, and

hostilities. Both East and West should stand forth as worthy

representatives of this new Christian love; not in some strained and

compulsory forms of an impossible union of all the various religious views,

apart from the mutual and universal spirit of love--the blessed and

overflowing love without which everything wastes away and dies."

Through Swedenborg's purifying force, which on a deep level is at one with

the orthodox emphasis on deeds and bridges the gap between East and West,

she announced and prophesied, "Now the ferment has been interjected, the

impulse has been given, and thought, freedom of speech and opinion, the

true and potent companions of the present age, are themselves opening the

depths in human sensibility for the acquisition of regenerative truth."

This is a work of reconciliation, this is a message of peace. We may recall

Dostoevsky's word some years earlier, in his address to Pushkin, saying

that the Russian sensibility was broad enough to embrace everything

European, all aspects of the West. According to Dostoevsky, the opposition

between occident and orient, between friends of the West and Slavophiles

and Eastern church adherents, was "a mistake" (--roughly the way we are

presently beginning to suspect that the global opposition between East and

West was a mistake).

Shakhovskaya's message aimed in the same direction. Both, it seems, had

found a key.

Cleopatra Shakhovskaya never departed from the orthodox church--nor did

Muravyov or other readers of Swedenborg's writings in Russia. To her

English friend William Mather, whom she often met on his visits to Moscow

in the 1860s and later, Shakhovskaya frequently expressed her profound

grief at the ever-increasing number of sects. She was afraid that

Swedenborg's great truths would be hemmed in within the procedures of a

sectarian organization. "Her conviction," Mather wrote later, "was that we

should be able to carry out all forms of religious worship by `living

spiritually,' and she certainly never experienced any antagonism between

her wholehearted faith in the truths which Swedenborg presented (the

writings which she almost knew by heart [? utantill) and the form of divine

service in which she participated, the Greek church." In a certain sense,

Swedenborg's teachings are ecumenical or universalizing because of their

emphasis on moral living over beliefs. In one of the texts which reached

Eastern Europe by several routes, the much translated tract The New

Jerusalem and its Heavenly Doctrine, it is stated that "The Lord's church

is with all people in the whole world who live in the good according to

their own religious system." And doing justice means living in the truth.

The Newchurchman William Mather wrote concerning his friends in the

Shakhovskoy family, "Never has the seed of truth fallen on better ground or

brought forth more blessed fruit." IN spite of the fact that full freedom

for the poor [? hjonen] of the land could impoverish the nobility, "they

fulfilled their purpose," wrote Mather, "with enthusiasm and

self-sacrifice. Others, inspired by them, were drawn to them [? Till dem

slöt sig].Tsar Alexander provided courage and firmness through such a

purpose" and at last granted freedom to millions of people. "I made the

acquaintance of this family in the midst of these events, and I saw the

general and all his family, and the princess Shakhovskaya, leave the luxury

of the high standing to which they had been born and live in a simple and

meager style."

When Jonathan Bayley visited Moscow in 1866, he noted in his travel diary

(Dr. Bayley's observations . . .) that Swedenborg's works were still being

read mainly in French. They are not able to print them here yet," he

reported, " but when I was in Moscow it was announced that a Russian

translation of Heaven and Hell, printed in Leipzig, was coming to Russia;

the book is for sale in St. Petersburg."

Living in St. Petersburg, where he got a copy for himself, was Feodor

Dostoevsky.

Tsar of the Tsars

Now it was the seventh of September, 1991. Leningrad became St. Petersburg.

After having given a presentation at a conference on earlier Russian

philosophy, held at the Art Institute on Isaaks-plats, I looked out through

the huge, gold-framed window of the town hall. **** ************ [Tsariu

Tsarstvujushchikh, roughly, "Tsar of the tsars"). Over the 114-ton columns

of the Isaak cathedral is this imperial praise to the almighty carved in

huge letters over the doorway. King of kings. This majestic church, which

covers an area of a hectare and rises a hundred meters above the street,

had on that day recovered its old symbolism. Religion and the time of the

tsars were present. On his visit to St. Petersburg in 1866, the noted

Newchurchman Jonathan Bayley had been granted access to the holiest room of

the cathedral, behind the stand for the icons [? ikonostasen] and was

allowed to move freely about the imperial palace, which was otherwise

closed to the general public--because he knew several eminent Russians, all

Swedenborg adherents, well-known to the bishops.

An intensive exchange of ideas and thoughts took place at a conference on

the rebirth of Russian philosophy which was held in St. Petersburg and

Moscow shortly after the failure of the coup. Not least, however, the

inclusive and transcendent was sought in thinkers like Berdyaev and

Solovyov. The sponsor of the conference, the Transnational Institute, with

offices in Norwich (Vermont) and Moscow, has long worked with the "Bridges

for Peace" project, and is characterized precisely by its engagement in

both directions--an economic as well as a cultural and scholarly exchange.

An extensive source of Russian interpretation and Russian thought has been

opened for us. By studying the Russian reception and critique of Western

literature and philosophy, we can not only gain an understanding of the

partially hidden wealth of Russian culture; we can also learn something

about ourselves, see ourselves as in a distant mirror. This holds also for

Russian interpretations of Swedenborg.

In Moscow, I looked up a professor at the Lomonosov University, Aleksandr

Dobrokhotov. He have me a historical/analytical book he had written about

Dante, published in Moscow in 1990. Now he wants help in determining the

existence of Russian translators of Swedenborg in order to bring out new

editions. We spent an evening together and I left him information about a

half dozen translations which had come out between 1860 and 1914. He will

now proceed to try to publish some of these during the next few years.

Some days later, when I was urged to attend a talk on Solovyov's

eclecticism, East-West bridging, and reciprocal exchange, a professor of

literature from the Gorky Institute advised me that there are many people

who want to reissue Alexander Aksakov's introduction to and translation of

Heaven and Hell, the one which Dostoevsky and so many of his contemporaries

read. He have me an article he himself had written about interpretations of

Swedenborg in the occult tradition, represented by the author Daniil

Andreyev, among others.

A new world has opened for the people of Eastern Europe; and this is true

for us as well.




 
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