Wednesday, 10 September 2014

Trotsky’s surprising encounter with
a Russian theologian and priest

Joining the queue for meals in the Hall in Sidney Sussex College, Cambridge (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2014)

Patrick Comerford

The final speaker at this year’s summer conference in Cambridge organised by the Institute for Orthodox Christian Studies was Dr Christoph Schneider, Academic Director of IOCS.

Dr Schneider was the principal organiser of this week’s conference in Sidney Sussex College and spoke this afternoon [10 September 2014] on “Pavel A Florensky’s ‘Critique of Impure Reason’ and the debate about fideism and onto-theology.”

For the past week, we have been discussing the “Horizons and Limitations of Russian Religious Philosophy.”

Before Vespers in the college chapel, we had an extensive discussion of Russian theology and religious philosophy and the conference papers and contributions later in the afternoon.

Dr Natalia Vaganova from Saint Tikhon’s Orthodox University stimulated an unexpected discussion on the unusual working relationship between Father Floensky and Leon Trotsky in the early years of Soviet Russia. Trotsky strongly believed in Florensky’s ability in the electrification of rural Russia, and there are contemporary accounts of the remarkable sight of Father Florensky wearing his priest’s cassock and cross as he worked alongside other leaders of a Government department.

Although Trotsky asked him to wear a suit, Florensky insisted that while he had no parish he was still a priest, and insisted on wearing his cassock and cross and keeping his long priest’s beard. He continued to hold teaching and research positions until 1934.

The discussion later turned to the appropriate use of icons by individuals and in the prayer life of the Church.

The speakers and participants have been truly international this year, with people coming to Cambridge for this conference from Britain, Ireland, Iceland, Austria, Russia, Hungary Greece, Switzerland, Spain, the Netherlands, the US and many other countries.

The conference ends tomorrow with the annual pilgrimage to the Monastery of Saint John the Baptist in Tolleshunt Knights, Essex.

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