Orthodoxy and Science in Russia

by Dr Anna Saprykina

The year 2017 in Russia is the century anniversary of Russian revolution. Public, state and scientific events of this year in Russia are dedicated to the centenary of one of the most tragic events in Russian and world history. Results, conclusions that we can make, looking back to the past century - these are the main topics raised today at conferences, round tables, exhibitions. We can say that this is an important epoch in the history of Russian science, including both the science and religion relationship and education issues.

In the early years of the twentieth century, during the reign of the last Russian Tsar Nicholas II, a real breakthrough was made in the fields of science, industry, and education. In many respects, Russian Empire of this period had ranked first in the world: this refers to the situation with women's education, achievements in biology and medical sciences, chemistry, mechanics and mathematics. At this time, Russia was also experiencing a flourishing in religious life. Religion was at the center of attention in public and cultural life, and in many ways proved to be important for the scientific environment. Though in many European countries science was opposed to faith, in Russia at the beginning of the twentieth century a different approach was found. At this period not only in humanities, but in science as well we observe a creative and harmonious integration of faith and science.
The educational policy of the pre-revolutionary period was also largely related to the religious issues. Leading Russian pedagogues stated that Russian national pedagogy is first of all a pedagogy built on the Orthodox principles. And the educational reforms of this period were aimed at a radical revision of the existing educational system in Russia. An attempt was made to create a model of education based on the principles of Orthodox doctrine. As one of the main principles, there was advanced a patristic teaching of parental priority in the child's personality formation. Parents became active participants of the educational process, including school. The family was represented as the most important educational institution. And this movement was initiated in the course of a broad public discussion including participation of the state and church figures, on the one hand, and the large scientists, on the other hand.

In the same period, there was a flourishing of scientific and engineering thought, formation of leading scientific schools in Russia, supported by significant increase of governmental investments, and the creation of a network of new institutions and laboratories. Both of these movements - the educational reform established on the principle of family and school rapprochement, and the support of science and technology - was based on the personal position of the Sovereign, now canonized by the Russian Orthodox Church, Emperor Nicholas II.

The pre-revolutionary flowering of Orthodox thought and the education reform conducted by Nicholas II played a huge positive role in the further history of Russia and Russian science. The revolution, the civil war, the years of terror and severe repressions had dealt a huge blow to Russian education and science. And it is not just the premature death of a large number of scientists and the devastation caused by the revolution and the civil war. Even more important is moral degradation and loss of freedom of thought. The revolution at first was directly aimed at destroying the traditional cultural elite of the country, practically blocking the access to education for the children of "bourgeois" and clergy. However, it was the pre-revolutionary spiritual breakthrough that enabled to overcome this terrible time. 

In particular, the experience of family education, the perception of family as an educational institution, allowed Russian scholars and priests to continue teaching and educating their children in their families, and to give them a comprehensive education. And these children had grown up, being brought up in the spirit of traditional Russian culture - a culture destroyed in mass Soviet education. The children raised in Orthodoxy grew up. And soon these children could compete in their educational level with the graduates of the new Soviet institutions. These children, according to their results, were accepted into the scientific environment - in those cases, of course, when it was "ideologically neutral" areas. And thus, a whole galaxy of outstanding scientists appeared in the Soviet science who, with the help of their basic family education, had united the pre-revolutionary and the Soviet scientific and educational tradition. And at the same time they turned out to be the carriers of the seemed to be destroyed Orthodox Russian culture. Many leading figures of the Soviet science, leaders of the entire scientific trends, leaders of the Soviet institutions, teachers of the Soviet universities maintained the faith they were brought up in, and being the recognized scientists in atheistic state they consciously remained Orthodox people. These are the people who were the proud of the Soviet history; these are the people who raised the Soviet science and industry to a high level; these are the people who worked out space flights. And these scientists educated new generations. All this allowed to keep the connection between science and Orthodoxy through 70 years of militant atheism, and with the fall of the atheistic regime to start the revival of a full-fledged interaction between science and religion in Russia.
Thus, the way of family education, the idea of ​​the family huge role in basic child education, the idea of ​​the family as a keeper of faith and traditions, the experience of building a family as an educational space received on the eve of the revolution, allowed Soviet science to keep in touch with religion, to keep in touch with Orthodoxy. And this is one of the most important lessons that the comprehension of the Russian revolution century anniversary gives to the whole world. This lesson shows that during the period of faith persecution and barbaric destruction of culture and education, family is able to ensure the continuity of culture, to save the light of faith for science losing this light.

Great Soviet scientists were in many cases brought up in the spirit of Russian cultural and family tradition, based on Orthodoxy. Therefore, many of them preserved the Church from persecution during the atheistic years and were the keepers of the being destroyed spirituality (vivid examples - biologists I. Pavlov, A. Ukhtomsky, physicist N.N. Bogolyubov, mathematicians N. Luzin, D. Egorov and I. Shafarevich). But on the other hand, the years of godlessness have not passed without a trace. A new generation of scientists (now predominant) was educated already in the spirit of unconditional opposition between Science and Orthodoxy. And this new generation of scientists, educated in Soviet schools in the spirit of atheistic ideology, today, on the contrary, calls, in fact, to new persecutions for faith.

Therefore, today, during the 100th anniversary of the 1917 Russian Revolution, the question of whether science and faith will be opposed or will find a way to creative co-operation is more urgent than ever. And, in many respects, the fate of not only Russian, but also of the world scientific thought, depends on its solution.

Photo 1 (left): Ivan Pavlov
Photo 2 (right): Memorial plate to mathematician Nikolay Bogolubov
Photo 3 (left): Demonstration of modern Russian atheists (in 2017) against handing over St. Isaac's Cathedral to the Russian Orthodox Church



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