A conversation with the historian Pavel Kuzenkov
Byzantine Empire in many respects was the forerunner of Russia in the spiritual, cultural and political terms. Nevertheless, we still know very little about it, although the knowledge of its history might have warned us against many mistakes in the past and in the future. About Byzantium and its significance for Russia, we decided to talk with the candidate of historical sciences, the teacher of the Sretensky theological seminary Pavel Kuzenkov. Today we publish the first part of the conversation.
- How well do we know Byzantium and its history today?
- It is generally quite a dramatic story - the dissemination of knowledge about Byzantium, not only here, but also in European culture in general. For a long time, until the XX century, the European cultural tradition rejected Byzantium. Especially the French enlighteners tried, for whom Byzantium was associated with the hated Bourbon monarchy and gloomy clericalism. The Englishman Gibbon, a disciple of the encyclopaedists, described the history of Byzantium as the epoch of decline and disintegration of the great Roman Empire.
The same attitude, oddly enough, took place in Russia. Peter the Great greatly disliked Byzantium. He more than once said bluntly that "the monarchy of Greece" is a bad example of how you can ruin a country if you give libation to priests and monks and forget about military affairs.
Mythical image of Byzantium as a "loser state", allegedly disintegrated due to ostentatious piety, duplicity and amorality, was fueled by the realities of the European Catholic monarchies of the XVIII-XIX centuries. Byzantine authors themselves did not know much, although they gradually published and translated it. It was a very special field of knowledge, where, moreover, all sorts of prejudices dominated.
A definite breakthrough came about thanks to the German "Corps of Writers of Byzantine History". This series was published by the best German historians in Bonn during the entire 19th century. The texts published there included the abbot Min in his famous Greek patrology. With Byzantium began to get acquainted more closely, it began to be studied - first of all, in Germany, France and Russia. These were the three main centers of study of Byzantium.
A state that existed for over a thousand years in an extremely difficult situation
The world began to recognize Byzantium and realize that it is not at all what it seemed until recently. Moreover, many scientists began to consider it as one of the most successful countries in the world history, which lasted more than a thousand years in an extremely difficult situation. Byzantology was in demand in the political sphere, where there was a request for the so-called Byzantine stratagems - a model for successfully solving problems in obviously hopeless situations. It was especially interesting for the British when they faced the threat of losing their huge empire. How, having lost military power, to maintain dominance? This, in fact, is one of the main "know-how" of Byzantine civilization - the preservation of leadership by small forces, without major victories and conquests, surrounded by often much stronger and more aggressive competitors. Now we would call this type of domination "soft power".
Unfortunately, in our country the study of Byzantium, which was so successfully developed at the beginning of the twentieth century, actually ceased for reasons known to us. In the Soviet era, the empire, and even the Orthodox, could not cause enthusiasm. Byzantium fell under what the Romans called damnatiomemoriae (erasure of memory - lat.). It's not that they condemn it - they just tried not to notice or noticed it in a flash, and only in a negative sense. In particular, the plans of the tsarist government to take Constantinople were sharply condemned, which, according to the mythology of that time, caused a senseless slaughter of Russian soldiers in the fields of the First World War. Needless to say, Orthodoxy as the foundation of Byzantine civilization did not contribute to its study in the atmosphere of militant atheism.
However, after the Great Patriotic War, along with a certain rehabilitation of Orthodoxy and the growing interest in Russian history, there is again a certain interest in Byzantium. Suddenly, the academic journal "Byzantine Season", founded in 1894, is reviving, with a cover not differing from the pre-revolutionary one. In the Institute of History of the Academy of Sciences of the USSR, a Byzantine group is formed, the Department of Byzantine Studies is opened at the Historical Faculty of the Leningrad University. Apparently, the Soviet authorities tried to look for some roots that would be more reliable than the proletarian ideology.
"But they were, perhaps, enough abstract scientific studies and studies?"
- It was a kind of "political order". After the war around the USSR, a military-political bloc was formed in Eastern Europe, which included several historically Orthodox countries. Perhaps then the Soviet leadership thought about recreating a certain similarity of the Byzantine world on the Moscow platform. It was even planned to hold a new Ecumenical Council in Moscow. However, this project, which frightened the Americans, frightened, first of all, because it was impossible to combine the communist ideology with the Byzantine heritage.
After that interest in Byzantium at the state level disappeared, it remained only within the limits of the academic studies of a narrow circle of experts mentioned by you. In the people of Byzantium no one had any idea. There were only half-mythical, half-caricature images, like the matchless Smoktunovsky and Terekhova in the film "Primary Russia." That Justinian, that the Baghdad Caliph - it all seemed from the same opera, some oriental flavor.
The main paradox was that Russia, like no other civilization, closely associated with Byzantium, always knew very little about it.
- It's in Soviet times?
- And in the Soviet, and in the post-Soviet. Yes, and in pre-Soviet times, Byzantium, too, just started to learn. Even Konstantin Leontiev, the author of the well-known concept of "Byzantium," admitted that he knows almost nothing about true Byzantium. Interest was revived, strangely enough, due to the fact that access to the achievements of Western science was opened. Russian scientists suddenly saw all the enormous wealth that over the past century was developed on this topic abroad, where interest in Byzantium has steadily increased.
A big role in this was played by the exhibitions of Byzantine art, which passed with great success throughout the Western world. In general, art is one of the most important ways of promoting a particular culture or civilization in the modern world. And in this respect, Byzantium has a lot to show. In the best museums of the United States and Europe, regularly held Byzantine exhibitions under sonorous titles: "The Age of Spirituality", "The Glory of Byzantium", "Treasures of Byzantine Art", "Heaven and Earth", etc. In the 1990-ies, they received a rather wide resonance, and arose a kind of fashion for Byzantium, which partly came to our country.
But for Russia Byzantium, of course, is more than just luxury and greatness. This is evidenced by the unexpected resonance caused by the film of Bishop Tikhon "The Death of the Empire. Byzantine lesson ", published in 2008-th year. Of course, it was, rather, a parable on the Byzantine theme, an attempt to introduce the theme of Byzantium into the Russian information space. But the film caused a real cultural shock. Many and many people discovered for themselves an unknown, but so similar to our world, not oriental and not Western, with a great and tragic history.
- In general, do you think that the knowledge of Byzantium today is at a satisfactory level or not?
Alas, it is far from satisfactory. To date, there is no Byzantinism in Russia as a full-fledged historical discipline. Although practically in all countries of the world, more or less developed, there are entire institutions that specialize in Byzantium, even in Denmark and Slovakia. And in our country there is no full-fledged faculty where we would engage in Byzantine studies. Only at the philological faculty of Moscow State University. Lomonosov is a mixed department of Byzantine and Modern Greek philology, and even separate centers - in St. Petersburg, Yekaterinburg and several other cities. And that's all. The most sad thing is that quite recently, namely after the "Byzantine lesson", the subject "Byzantology" was expelled from the programs of the national theological schools, where it safely existed even in godless Soviet times ...
- Why did this situation develop?
It is astonishing to wonder how insistently we ignore our civilizational roots
- The scientist always, and today in particular, is in the service of the society. He can not engage in what is interesting to him personally, but only by what is claimed in this particular "scientific and political" situation, for which he is ready to pay those who have money. Today in Russia money for science is distributed by officials and "foreign agents" in the guise of NGOs. For the first, Byzantium is incomprehensible and boring, for the latter it is dangerous. So there is a vicious circle: in society there is no request to study Byzantium, because the Russian person does not know anything about it, and he does not know because science (and in art, culture, the media) does not have a request from representatives of society. It is surprising that we are ignoring the insistence, even deliberately cutting off our own civilizational roots. We prefer to study some exotic things, but do not notice what our thousand-year-old statehood is rooted in, which is vitally important for ourselves. It is comforting, however, that living Byzantium can be seen every day in any Orthodox church.
- Why did Byzantium feel such alienation in Western European culture, besides political reasons?
- Among other things, this is due to the peculiarities of Byzantine culture. Western Europeans in modern times and the truth it was difficult to understand it. Indeed, in Byzantium, another cultural tradition dominated, which reproduced with great accuracy from century to century. For example, often we can not determine with certainty whether this or that work is written in V or in the XIV century. But this is 11 centuries! Imagine that in Russia in the XXX century someone will write poems in Pushkin's language ...
Although, of course, Byzantine culture does not exclude creative thought and development. Only it has a specific form, it is inherent in even a certain excitement of imitation and reincarnation. If we compare Byzantium with Western Europe, then, indeed, we can clearly see how quickly everything changes in Western Europe from the 10th to the 15th centuries. But great cultures are like mighty trees. When the tree is small, it's easy to see how fast it grows, but the centuries-old oaks are the same from year to year. Western European culture was then young, its growth at that time is very noticeable. And Byzantine culture is a culture that is a thousand years old, it goes back to ancient Greece. And, of course, its metamorphosis is harder to notice. But this does not mean that it is less developed. On the contrary, this is just a sign of a higher degree of development.
Yes, Western Europeans were characterized by a contemptuous attitude towards Byzantium. On this occasion, a German professor even came up with a caustic expression: "chronic Antiquity." It means that all normal European cultures went further, through the Middle Ages in the New Times, and the Byzantines remained in Antiquity. Say, this is such a form of conservation and infertility.
However, when culture - and not only culture - reaches an optimum, further movement may turn into loss and degradation. In my opinion, in today's rapidly changing world, it is more than ever clear that the most important task of society is not development in itself, but the preservation of a level that in itself is incredibly difficult. And Byzantium is one of the most vivid examples of the ability to retain its optimum.
In Byzantium, ancient culture was an organic part of everyday life
Now, probably, everyone understands how easy even the most developed civilization can lose its achievements. We in Russia do this with special ecstasy, destroying our culture to the very foundation. And the Byzantines to their civilization treated very carefully, very much appreciated it. They were characterized by a delicate ability to love their own ancient tradition, constantly revitalize it. Moreover, she never died. In Byzantium there were no museums, no ministries of culture and education - ancient culture was an organic part of everyday life. Egyptian obelisks and antique statues stood on busy streets, and the writings written a thousand years ago, every educated person knew. But all this did not mean a stop in development. Let us take the Byzantine church tradition. It was formed by the 10th century and since then, it would seem, has not changed - but this is only at first glance. If we look more closely, we will see a very intensive development. All the time new theological writings are written, worship, church music, architecture, fresco painting, icon painting, etc. are changing. This is called a living tradition.
At the same time, there is no question of any "reforms". For Byzantines, as well as in general for mature cultures, any radical innovation is always bad. "A new business" was called, in particular, a coup d'état. But a natural, smooth renewal and development along the canon, in the style of the established tradition, has always been welcomed and seen as a "revival of the past."
Byzantine intellectual culture is a culture of constant reading of old books and their lively discussion, sometimes even too lively, from the point of view of the same Europeans. "What are they doing there, these Greeks?" They have to fight the Turks, and they are fond of theology. Everything has long been decided by the holy fathers! "Yes, indeed, the holy fathers decided everything. But we must understand them. We can not just take the dogmatic formula and memorize it. It must be understood by us. This is a prerequisite for an ancient intellectual culture that requires a person to understand what he is talking about. Understanding, not blind reproduction of someone once worked out opinions. If Byzantines were simply conservatives, retrogrades, they would inevitably face the inconsistency of old recipes with new tasks, and Byzantium would perish very quickly.
- How can the Byzantine experience be important for us?
- Byzantium, having lost much in military and economic power, nevertheless for a very long time it retained a great authority in the spiritual and intellectual sphere. Was even proposed such a term - "Byzantine World". And this is exactly what the British looked after from the Byzantine heritage after the collapse of the British Empire and the "Commonwealth of Nations" was created in its place. The British tried to find those instruments, which can be maintained influence, losing political power. But the Byzantines masterfully used this opportunity. Take the relationship of Byzantium and Russia. Russia was never part of the Byzantine state, never obeyed the emperors, but for almost 500 years the Russian Church was an organic part of Byzantine Orthodoxy. And the Russian medieval spiritual culture is inseparable from the Greek.
The question arises: why did the Russian hierarchy, the Russian princes, not oppose this, not insist on the creation of a special "national" culture and content themselves with the role of Greek students? Obviously, the point is that the cultural level and authority of the Byzantines was so high that it was not humiliating to rely on their experience and read in the translations of the Greek holy fathers. In Christianity, there are no national boundaries. The idea of dividing the Church on a national basis is in fact an anti-Christian idea, for in Christ there is neither Scythian nor Hellenic. Local Churches are local, not national, although in the worship can use national languages. Thus, the Russian Church initially used the Slavonic liturgical language, but until the 15th century was one of the metropolitanates of the Patriarchate of Constantinople.
The Russian state in many ways repeated the fate of the Byzantine Empire. She also constantly lost the outskirts, including due to national emancipation. The peoples that were part of the huge power developed, perceived everything that the Romans gave them (as the Byzantines themselves called themselves "Romans" in Greek), and fell away from them, because they ceased to need guardianship. This can be treated with regret, trying to suppress "separatism", by force to restore order. But this is fraught with even greater problems, the accumulation of resentment and hatred. Much more effective is another mechanism, which can be called a "general cultural space". We are different peoples and different countries, but one cultural whole: a single family of Orthodox Christians. With the help of conjugal unions and a common ecclesiastical tradition, the Byzantines quite successfully created and maintained this field of their cultural influence, far exceeding the political boundaries of the empire.
- In the concept of "Byzantine world" there are obvious parallels with the "Russian world".
- Today, no one really understands what the Russian world is. If we put in this concept a narrowly national content, it is clear that such a concept is not viable. "The Russian world" as a nostalgic post-imperial concept will also cause rejection. But if we only mean the cultural content, first of all based on Christian principles, going back to a single Byzantine root, to rely on common spiritual values and ideas about good and evil, common saints and heroes, then this concept will come to life and will very effective. The cultural and civilizational potential of Russia is enormous - and this is the greatly enhanced by our experience the development of the potential of the Byzantine world.
"But will this work in conditions of already secularized society?"
Even a secularized society is brought up on the moral standards worked out by Christianity
- It will be, because even a secularized society is brought up on moral norms and ideas developed by Christianity. Now these standards - what is good and what is bad, who is the hero and who is the anti-hero - is powerfully transmitting Anglo-Saxon Protestant culture through his instruments of cultural influence. But under them the inner soil began to disappear. And in the countries of the Eastern Christian world they have nothing to catch at all, we have badly rooted American ideals. Our moral topic is different. We, for example, do not have the idea of the struggle of absolute good with absolute evil by magic inherent in the Germans.
- And the popularity, including ours, of books about Harry Potter?
- Children generally like everything magical. And, of course, with the growth of new information technologies, the influence of Western values will grow exponentially. But so far polls show that in Russia - and in other Orthodox countries too - the traditional value guidelines dominate by a large margin. However, if within the next 50 years these values do not find reinforcements in the form of actual practical and cultural forms, our history will be lost. We will lose the Orthodox civilization.
Beauty is the most convincing proof of the truth
This was the main force of Byzantine civilization. She was able to translate Christian values through cultural forms. Actually, only thanks to this, Russia became a Christian country. After all, if the Greeks simply said "Here is the Gospel, live as it is written there," this would be of little interest to anyone. But Christianity entered the Byzantine culture - music, architecture, literature, poetry. Let us recall the effect that the service of the ambassadors of Prince Vladimir had in the church of St. Sophia. According to the chronicle, they told the prince: "We did not know whether we were on earth or in heaven. Genuine, God dwells here! "Beauty is the most convincing proof of the truth. For a normal person that is beautiful, it is good and attractive, that is ugly - then it is bad and disgusting. Of course, there is beauty external, catchy and temporary, and there is inner beauty, imperishable. But Byzantine Christianity was beautiful in all respects - hence, from the point of view of our ancestors, it was a correct religion. It would seem primitive, but very accurate. And now the beauty of Russian churches, icons and hymns plays a huge role in the spread of Orthodoxy.
- What makes us different from Byzantium?
- Strangely enough, many. For example, in Byzantium there was no idea of the state as a self-sufficient and main value. This was the pagan imperial tradition, but with the advent of Christianity, it was rethought. State power is the gift of God, it should be respected and honored, but only insofar as it serves the will of God: punishes the wicked and helps the good. The Christian emperor was considered the earthly image of Christ and was called a "saint" - but by post, and not personally. But this did not prevent him from criticizing, sometimes very sharply, and the most terrible crime was tyranny - service to himself, and not to the people on whom God had put him. In Russia, very early on, the very personality of the ruler became excessively revered, which stood as if apart from the people, from society. Our whole history is the history of relations between the state and society as isolated subjects, very often tense and distrustful. This is an unhealthy phenomenon, a sign of some internal disease.
In Byzantium, the state was not at all conceived outside society, it was a public institution. The emperors were often overthrown - it was probably one of the most dangerous "professions". The coups were not ideal, but a workable mechanism for the rotation of the elite. After all, stagnation and lack of control of the management system are deadly to society.
- And how did this combine with the idea that the emperor is the anointed of God?
- Perfectly combined. The emperor, of course, came to power according to the will of God - but proclaimed his people, and for this it was not enough to be born in the palace. To power it was necessary to break through by own strength and talents. There was even such a term: the "God-promoted" emperor, that is, the one to whom God helped advance to power. But as soon as he did not cope with his job for some reason, he should be removed.
- Who cleans?
"The people, the army, the milieu are those to whom they must rely." It is important that God can nominate anyone and anywhere from the highest state post, even a peasant from a remote province. So social lifts worked. But if the one who happened to be at the top did not cope, there is an overthrow and a coup. It should be noted that, unlike pagan Rome, unlucky emperors were rarely killed. As a rule, they were blinded or sent to a monastery.
You can not receive or retain power, if there is not the will of Providence
Our Russian idea of God's chosen anointed, who inherits power, inevitably creates a dead end for political development. In the years of the monarchy they loved to recall the words of the apostle Paul: there is no power, if not from God (Rom., 13, 1). But the Byzantines understood these words differently: "There is no power not controlled by God." And consequently, it is impossible to receive or retain power, if there is not a Will of Providence for that. And in regard to this there was a saying: "the voice of the people is the voice of God."
- But then it is already dependence on the people's opinion, from the crowd.
- Strictly speaking, under the people who nominates the emperor, it was not the crowd and not the common people (demos) who understood, but the so-called. "Laos" (ὁλαός). These are those whom we now would call the elite: the supreme military, political and ecclesiastical layer. Those. these are people who know what's what in the government, and are not inclined to harsh, ill-conceived actions, since their own status and even life depends on this. In Byzantium for a long time there was no dynastic principle of succession of power. To borrow and, most importantly, to keep the throne, just born in the king's family, it was difficult. Often, the father crowned his son during his lifetime, but after his death, he had to prove that he was able to manage the state. In the X century. a curious system of co-rule arose: along with Vasilev from the royal family, the governor was a popular military commander who was considered his guardian. Generally, the emperors, as a rule, were a few - two, three, even four. They were depicted on coins. It would seem, where is the monarchy? But the essence of the monarchy is not in one-man management, but in the unity of the authorities. The presence of several emperors guaranteed that there would not be a dangerous break in the power transmission system. Therefore, the Byzantine coups, which were quite frequent, did not have such catastrophic social consequences as dynastic crises in Russian history. There did not happen anything like the Time of Troubles or the "Great Russian Revolution," after which the entire government apparatus was scrapped. Imagine: you ran out of batteries, and you break and throw out the recorder ...