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Academic Periodical

The Quarterly Journal of St. Philaret’s Institute

ISSN: 2658-7599 (print)
2713-3141 (online)

European Idea in Russian Culture. Its Past and Present

Olga Sedakova, Doctor of Theology of European Humanitarian University (Minsk), PhD in Philology
pp. 74–90 
The paper introduces a new notion of “the European idea” – the idea of Western civilization and its universal meaning as it is embedded in a long-standing tradition of Russian thought and practical life. The term is coined after a well-known and widely used notion of “the Russian idea” which covers numerous aspects of Russia’s self-identity, its claim to being a separate civilization with a unique value system. That system though, has always been described through a sharp contrast with the Occident. Apparently, as the author undertakes to show, Russia has spent as much energy creating and recreating the positive image of the West, finding a rich source of inspiration in the images of a different and more “humane” life borrowed from abroad. This type of activity though, has never received its proper name. “The European idea” is the name of a phenomenon experienced for at least 300 years in Russian life. Yet, as the author shows, the phenomenon itself is much older, its ‘past’ code-name (i. e. before Peter the Great) would be of course “Byzantium”. For it is after this Byzantine model of Europe’s Christian and antique heritage that pagan Russia was modelling itself. Yet concentrating upon a later (post-schism, post-Byzantium, post-Peter) version of the same phenomenon the author of “the European idea” tries to extract that implicit element which was passed on to the lore of Russian tradition 300 years ago. She calls it an implicit Christian element which was passed not through the formal indoctrination (Catholic or Protestant), but through the works of classic Western lay authors, artists, and thinkers who greatly drew upon the spiritual sources of Western Christianity even if most non-conscientiously. Yet surprisingly the author implies that the motives most constituent of the Russian “European idea” are those that pertain not to Europe, but to Christianity as such. Only in Russia they remained overshadowed by other more treasured aspects of Christianity. Among those new “Western” motives (i. e. aspects more developed in the West) the author enumerates aspiration for freedom, the dignity of Man, the value of artistic and intellectual work (creative spirit). They include a keen sense of the present state of things in its historic perspective, a humanitarian attitude and social solidarity. It was not until recently, the author remarks that Russia’s “European idea” began to also pay tribute to Europe’s civil law and its basic institutional foundations, those “prosaic” traits of Europe’s fabric which used to repel even the most ardent followers in Russia. “The European idea” tends to designate a partial and impassionate Russian thought about Europe, its hopes and its glory. Just as it also speaks of the unyielding tradition of admiration that the West expresses for those aspects of the Orthodox tradition that it finds less expressed in its own Christian heritage and that are popularly known as “the Holy Rus”. 
Keywords: Europe, Russia, cultural implantation, Christian humanism.

Last IssueIssue 46 (spring 2023)

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