The Ecumenical Tasks of N.Berdjajew and his Contacts in Paris

by Klaus Bambauer


After his re-settlement to Paris, N.Berdjajew transferred the institution of the Religious-philosophical Academy to France and here he begun his expanded work as the chief editor of the journal "Put'". Besides this, he was especially interested in the Ecumenical movement.

The Ecumenical movement had been prepared for by a number of different conferences. L.Zander wrote on this theme in his article: Oekumenische Betrachtungen eines russischen Orthodoxen (in his book: Unity without unification, Stuttgart 1959). There took place many conferences:  in Kopenhagen (1922), Stockholm (1925), Prague (1928), Muerren/Switzerland (1930), Cambridge (1931), Geneva (1932) and in other towns of Europe. Besides this, there also took place meetings of Orthodox Churches: in Novi Sad (1923), in Sinai (Roumania, 1924), Athens (1926) and Sofia (1927). These meetings brought with them a successful cooperation and exchange of ideas between the Orthodox and Protestantism. And already as P.Florenskij clearly pointed out in his article "Christianity and culture" (1924) [published in German in: Voice of Orthodoxy 1/1990, 11pp, which here is not translated]: "Lehrunterschiede sollten nicht um der Einheit willen verschleiert werden, im Gegenteil, es ist extrem wichtig, sie klar darzustellen. Aber wenn wir im Prozess ernsten Glauben und Liebe haben – nicht jeder fuer sich, denn wir alle machen Fehler – sondern fuer den Einen, Der in der universalen Kirche lebt und durch Den sie erhalten wird, dann werden fuer uns diese Unterschiede nicht Grund zur Feindschaft werden, sondern vielmehr fuer das Gefuehl von Solidaritaet des Christentums und der Ehrfurcht gegenueber den Wegen der Vorsehung".

Different authors declared in their articles concerning the Ecumenical movement, that an important impulse was the religious-philosophical Academy, started up in Berlin by Berdjajew in 1922. In this connection also are mentioned the foundation of St. Serge/Paris, and the Benedictine monk Lev Gillet (in 1927), who converted to the Orthodox Church and for about 12 years was the head of the French Orthodox parish at Montparnasse. Then he went off to England to there participate in the spiritual leading of the St.-Alban and St. Sergius-brotherhood.

As the letter to Prof Fritz Lieb shows (8th of January 1930, library of the University of Basel, Switzerland), Berdjajew maintained contacts with L.Gillet. Already in 1909 Dr. John Mott, one of the great pioneers of the Ecumenical movement, had invited the youth (students) of St. Petersburg and Moscow to the search for the interconfessional unity in Christ.  Soon there were established these interconfessional meetings in these towns. And in the years 1920-1930 these student-communities in Russia made contact to the other groups abroad. There thus took place the important meeting of 21-28 July 1925 in Archeron/France. The participants were: N.Berdjajew, S.Besobrasow, B.Wyscheslawzew, A.Kartaschew, G.Kullmann, L.Zander and many other people. (Cf. "Put'" 2/1926, p. 84-89).

The next conference took place in January 1926 in Paris as a meeting of Orthodox, French Catholics and Protestant people. This conference was in the rooms of the religious-philosophical Academie (Paris). The impulse came from the Russian side. From the Orthodox there took part: N.Berdjajew, B.Wyscheslawzew, A.Kartaschew and Prince Trubetzkoj and so on. S.Bulgakow was prevented by illness. From the Catholics took part: J.Maritain (*1882 in Paris), L.Gillet, Father Laberthonnière, Father A.Jakoubisiak, Stanislas Fumet and others. The Protestants were represented by Rev. M.Boegner, Rev. Lecerf and Prof. Jundt. Some Christian students also took part.

On the first day N.Berdjajew gave the introduction by speech: "Sur la nature de la fois" ["On the nature of faith"]. Some other participants like Gillet and Lecerf gave lectures, too. As mentioned in the remarks to the letter of the 8th of January 1930 to F.Lieb, still further interconfessional meetings took place in Paris in a Russian house at Montparnasse. It was mostly N.Berdjajew who was the organizer of these meetings. Here he came to know J.Maritain (since 1925), who lived in Meudon nearby to Clamart, providing them ability to meet often. Some other participants were the widow of Leon Bloys, Rev. Boegner, Prof. Lesserer (orthodox Calvinist), later on Charles du Bos (1882-1939), Gabriel Marcel (1889-1973), Louis Massignon, precessor of Henry Corbin, the famous orientalist and later president of the international Berdjajew-Society in Paris and Etienne Gilson. Other friends of Berdjajew at that time had been: Jules Cain, Jacques Madole, André Philippe, Madame Romain-Rolland (she was a Russian) and then the later vice-president of the Berdjajew-Society, and Elaine Iswolskij, who wrote down a manuscript "Berdjajew as we knew him". To this circle also belonged Count Jean de Pange (*1881 Paris, +1957), he corresponded with the famous German philosopher Peter Wust, who met Berdjajew the first time in May 1928 by an invitation of J.Maritain and de Pange.