Preaching Golgotha: Bishop Mixail's Radical Vision of Christianity in the Context of the Silver Age

William J. Comer, University of Kansas

A milestone in the history of the Russian intelligentsia, the Religious Philosophical Meetings in St. Petersburg in 1901-1903 marked the first attempt for members of the intelligentsia to meet with representatives of the Russian Orthodox Church to discuss religious and social questions that faced Russian society. Many studies have discussed how Merezhkovskij and Gippius started these meetings and how the intelligentsia's viewpoints and behaviors offended the sensibilities of the clerical participants. The problem with this (relatively standard) treatment of the Religious-Philosophical Meetings is that it ignores what the Church and individual clerics brought to these meetings and what they took away from their interactions with the intelligentsia. While most clerics disengaged from interaction with the intelligentsia once the government closed the meetings, I want to focus on the experience of Archimandrite Mixail (born in 1873 as Pavel Vasil'evich Semenov; later Old Believer Bishop of Canada) for whom the Meetings became a starting point in an intellectual journey that lasted until his death in 1916.

Mixail, trained in canon law concerning Church property rights and family issues, was transferred to Petersburg in 1902 with the understanding that he would defend Orthodoxy at the Meetings. His interactions with the intelligentsia in Meetings and the years after led him gradually to reassess all aspects of the Orthodox Church's practice and structure. Ultimately, he came to preach the radical "Christianity of Golgotha" in which the goal of the Christian's life is to join in Christ's sacrifice on Golgotha for the salvation and liberation of all humanity from the spiritual, economic and political enslavement.

While the past 15 years have seen much valuable scholarly work on the diverse religious ideas (occult, theosophy, gnosticism, etc.) that interested the Russian cultural figures in the Silver Age, the diversity of religious thinking within Orthodoxy and among Orthodox clerics in this same time period still needs to be explored. I hope that this examination of the life and religious ideas of Bishop Mixail in the context of his relations with the intelligentsia will illuminate one aspect of this diversity.