New Church Worthies
Rev. Dr. Jonathan Bayley
THE NOBLE MOURAVIEFF,
The Chief Promoter of the Freedom of the Serfs, And the New Church in Russia
RUSSIA, including in its dominions one-fifth of the globe, must ever be to the reflecting mind an interesting object of contemplation. The Greek Church has furnished Russia with its religion, and it claims with good reason to be MORE ANCIENT than the Roman Catholic; for it includes in its territory, Antioch, where Christians first got their name; Constantinople, the chief city of the first Christian Emperor; Nice, where the first great Council was held; and Greek was undoubtedly the first language used in the Christian service. Hence the New Testament was written in Greek, hence the Greek Church calls itself CATHOLIC AND APOSTOLIC, and looks down upon the Roman Catholic as a restless daughter, always grasping at something new, from the ATHANASIAN CREED NOT ACKNOWLEDGED BY THE GREEK CHURCH to the two new doctrines adopted in our own times, the Immaculate Conception of the Virgin Mary, and the Infallibility of the Pope. In some respects there are fewer obstacles to the reception of divine truths prudently brought before the people of the Greek Church than elsewhere, and they are less opposed to the reading of the Word by the people; but in other respects they are very dull and dead in spiritual things. They are ritualistic and evil, as a rule, priests and people. The priests marry—must be married, but they are often drunkards, and are little respected. The well-to-do people are loose in their ideas and practices in relation to chastity, and the virtues which sanctify and bless a home, in married life.
Hence their religion has but little relation to life; and is an offset they offer before God, to make up for their sins; rather than a struggle against sin, and the practice of a heavenly life. The upper clergy, bishops and archbishops, are monks, and generally stigmatised by the rest as the BLACK CLERGY: every priest is called a pope.
Their religion is very much of a mechanical observance, from top to bottom. On one occasion I was present at a very grand ceremony at St. Isaac's, St. Petersburgh, where about twenty bishops and archbishops, in gorgeous robes of cloth of gold, were engaged, and part of it consisted in combing the aged patriarch's hair. They give the sacrament of the Holy Supper to babies of a few months old, a few crumbs and wine with a spoon.
The result is, that there is a strange, heavy dullness all over the land, and in all things.
Some movements are however being felt in Russia. There are here and there strange yearnings after better things. One religious awakening has taken place in some parts of the empire, and has led to excellent results. There is a body of people who insist on going to the Word itself for the foundation of their faith and life, and they are spoken of as remarkably good people. They call themselves Molokani, which means, if I recollect rightly, the New Born. They are very studious of the Word, and quite familiar with it. There are said to be about six hundred thousand of them. Mr. Wallace, in his work on Russia, in the chapter AMONG THE HERETICS, says of them: "Three or four of them (in one small company with whom he conversed) seemed to know the whole of the New Testament by heart. We agreed to differ on questions of detail, and parted from each other without a trace of that ill-feeling which religious discussion commonly engenders. Never have I met men more honest and courteous in debate, more earnest in the search after truth, than these simple, uneducated peasants. If at one or two points in the discussion a little undue warmth was displayed, I must do my opponents the justice to say, they were not the offending party."
Again, he remarks: "They hold that Holy Writ is the only rule of faith and conduct; but that it must be taken in the SPIRITUAL SENSE."
If a member of the Molokani has been guilty of drunkenness, or any act unbecoming a Christian, he is first admonished by the presbyter in private, and then before the congregation; and if this does not produce the desired effect, he is excluded for a longer or a shorter period from the meetings, and from all intercourse with the members. In extreme cases expulsion is resorted to. On the other hand, if any one of the members happens to be, from no fault of his own, in pecuniary difficulties, the others will assist him. This system of mutual control, and mutual assistance, has no doubt something to do with the fact that the Molokani are always distinguished from the surrounding population by their sobriety, uprightness, and prosperity.
Among the nobles there are several who received the truth of the New Church direct from the worthy gentleman whose name—General Alexander Mouravieff—is at the head of this sketch and who was the eldest of the noble family of that name.
It is now more than fifty years since we first heard in this country of this distinguished Russian and his earnest love of the great principles of the New Dispensation. A clergyman of the Church of England, the Rev. Elijah Smith, then recently from Archangel, informed us that the governor of the city, General Mouravieff, had made his acquaintance for the purpose of learning Hebrew from him, that he might read the Word in the original, and see more clearly its spiritual sense. This clergyman had been previously a stranger to the doctrines, but while he taught the governor Hebrew, the governor taught him the language of heavenly wisdom; explaining to him the divine truths which had dawned on his own mind, and were to him an unspeakable delight.
He learned from their subsequent intercourse that General Mouravieff had met with the Doctrine of Life in French, in a bookseller's shop in Moscow, had been profoundly interested in its contents, and afterwards read all the works of Swedenborg in French or in Latin, as rapidly as their nature would permit, and felt them an ever increasing blessing.
Not being allowed to print the truths he had found in Russian, and ardently desiring to see them spread, he maintained two amanuenses or secretaries, constantly writing copies of the smaller works; and these he presented, as he saw opportunity, to his friends, and often with the happiest success. A considerable number of the Russian nobility, as well as a large portion of his own family—one of the most distinguished in the empire—came by this means to delight in the truths of the New Jerusalem.
His life was a constant commentary on his doctrines, and led to his being beloved as well as esteemed in all the distinguished posts he occupied as governor, and these were among the most important in the empire. When he entered upon the high function of governor of Nijni-Novgorod, the ancient capital of Russia, the following extract appeared in the journal of the district, from the pen of Dahl, an eminent literary man:—
"I cannot refrain from addressing you (the people) on the happiness vouchsafed to us in the person of our new governor, the General Alexander Mouraviclf. He is a sage such as there are but few. Grant us everywhere such governors, and in ten years we shall have progressed so much that we shall not recognise ourselves. The governor is mild, sensible, independent, experienced: of a HOLY LIFE, accessible at all times, and to everyone; fond of justice and of order, yet merciful. In short, he is native gold and silver; a treasure of goodness and truth without alloy."
Next to his love of the great principles of the New Church, was his love of freedom and right for all men, which is the natural result of those grand teachings which declare "that it is a law of the Divine Providence that man should act from liberty according to reason," and "that a man by these two faculties is reformed and regenerated of the Lord, and that without them he cannot be reformed and regenerated."—D. P. 71. 82.
The serfdom of so many millions of his countrymen—although by many degrees a more tolerable condition than was American slavery—was most repugnant to the noble soul of General Alexander Mouravieff. In his early youth he was banished to Siberia for NINE YEARS, for urging this GREAT REFORM, which later he was enabled to carry out. He laboured constantly to convince the powerful of his land of the sacred claims of man, as man, to entire liberty of person and property, when unstained by crime. He urged the necessity of full freedom to ensure progress and prosperity amongst a people. He held up constantly the divine axiom, "If the truth shall make you free, ye shall be free indeed." He did not hide from himself or from anyone, that the transition from semi-slavery to full social freedom would entail loss upon the landowners, but he felt and he urged upon all the conviction that in due time all would reap a rich reward, in every sense, as the result of doing right.
He was met at first by the contempt and hatred of the powerful classes. They looked upon his innovation as dangerous to their interests. They were not prepared to make such sacrifices as this change for the good of their great country required. Not so Alexander Nicolaievitch; he was ready and willing, if need be, to renounce all he possessed for the cause of humanity and justice. A near relative mourning tenderly his loss writes to me: "The day must and will come when all men shall acknowledge the service which he rendered to the cause of liberty! Even now the Russian peasantry regard him with heartfelt gratitude and affection. Russian mothers will teach their children to bless the name of that worthy man who aided by his indomitable energy their parents to achieve their freedom and their rights." Gradually the cause Mouravieff had so much at heart commended itself to a few more earnest and clear-sighted minds, then to more, and finally to the Emperor himself.
In 1858 a committee was appointed to prepare for emancipation, of which Mouravieff was not only a member, but was chosen president. On the 19th of February the committee was opened at Nijni-Novgorod by the following speech of the noble president, which we translate for the benefit of our readers.
"Gentlemen: Having arranged with the grand marshal, the committee, called through the confidence of our sovereign to discuss the measures necessary for the amelioration of the condition of the peasants on the estates of noble proprietors, proceeds this day, the 19th of February, to the opening of its labours. Our monarch has chosen for this purpose the anniversary of his own accession to the throne, as the aurora of the re-birth and the restoration of our country. Could there have been a day more happily chosen for the opening of these debates in an assembly on which reposes the hopes of our sovereign and of the country, as well as the hopes of 25 millions of individuals whose civil existence we are seeking to restore, as well as their dignity as men, of which they have so long been deprived?
"Gentlemen: Enter fully into the spirit of your exalted mission. Have you not been chosen to be the messengers of Him in whose hands are the hearts of kings, that you may realise those divine words pronounced by Himself: 'Bind up the broken hearted; proclaim deliverance to the captives; and the acceptable year of the Lord.' (Luke iv. 18, 19.)? Since such is your mission, think of the august part you have been called upon to fill among men. Show yourselves not unworthy of it. Do not permit your personal or your material interests to sway you in the work you have to accomplish. Permit not, I say, these interests to weigh with you over the well-being of those who have been confided to your generous cares. Surely material interests ought to yield to moral interests! Ought you not to prove this by your acts? I have said moral interests: yes, gentlemen, the solution of the question which occupies us will raise us assuredly to a higher degree of moral civilization; it will elevate the glory and raise higher the moral dignity of the class called to accomplish this work with self-denial, based upon a consciousness of the rights of man.
"Among the individuals whose material existence we have to secure there are found some who are content with their present condition, and desire no other. Glory and honor to the proprietors of such individuals! But their happiness is merely accidental. You, gentlemen, are called upon to replace hazard by certainty, and remove from the mode of our administration of an entire class of individuals, everything that savours of caprice. But we shall not succeed so long as we regard man as a mere producing animal. We can only succeed by restoring human dignity, so long stifled, and invoking the aid of free labor. It can only be when an intelligent and equitable appeal deprived of all arbitrary command shall call forth the living forces of the nation, and breathe new life into what now appears so dead. Never, then, separate from your calculations, however material, a respect for the rights of man. Render to man what belongs to man, and you will justify the confidence of the sovereign and the hope of the nation. I will say more, you will merit the admiration of the whole world, whose eyes are fixed upon you. Your labours will receive the blessings of the Most High, and those of the entire human race. History will rank you among the promoters of justice, and of the love of the neighbour, while it names you the founders of the prosperity of your country."
This committee happily prepared the way for emancipation, and on the 19th of February, 1861, the most sublime act of modern times—the elevation of 25 millions of serfs to the position of free men—became an accomplished fact.
General Mouravieff and the other branches of his distinguished family, along with the great mass of the Russian nobility, suffered severe losses of fortune by the change, but never lost heart or hope. He was confident that with time all would come right, and he was content to wait. He received from the grateful Emperor when the work was completed, a donation of ten thousand acres of land. How grand is the contrast of Russia freeing her 25 millions of serfs peaceably, bearing the burden and patiently working to make the glorious effort successful, to the frantic efforts of the slave-holders of America, by rebellion, by war, by universal wreck, to hold their infamous human property! See in the gradually returning prosperity of the one, and the awful punishment of the other, how truly nations, like individuals, "eat the fruit of their own doings."
Nothing could surpass the joy of Mouravieff on the glorious morning of the emancipation day, though it took away probably half his property. Many who were in the bloom of youth and vigour regarded the change with fear and dread, he at the close of a glorious life was full of gratitude and hope. He was ready to say with Simeon, "Now, Lord, lettest Thou Thy servant depart in peace, for mine eyes have seen Thy salvation."
When his labors in that great measure were over and his age being nearly 70, he had approaches of weakness and indisposition; but only for two months before his death did he feel seriously and severely unwell. During these two months he was satisfied he would not recover, and to the kind and encouraging remarks of his physicians he would sometimes say—"The physicians do not understand how I am; they say I am better, but I shall not recover." He received the Holy Sacrament three times during his illness. The priest who assisted him found great edification in listening to his pious and enlightened conversation. Some days before his departure he experienced so delightful a state of mind that he said it was just as if he had been conveyed to a brighter region where all within and around him was sweetness and blessedness. It was the foretaste of angelic joy.
He used to hear the Gospel and the Psalms every day, in the translation he himself made years before, and he breathed his last breath as he heard the concluding words of the xiv. chap. of John: "Arise, let us go hence." It was the divine call which gave him strength to draw from those he tenderly loved to the sacred company of the blessed. He departed December 18th, 1863, at two p.m., aged 71.
His loss has been felt to be the loss of his whole nation. His administrative abilities as governor, his fervent and active spirit in every good work, his great share in the emancipation of the serfs, and his counsels as senator, made him one of those noble men whom nations will not forget.
Being strongly urged to visit, and comfort his family after his departure, I arrived at Moscow in July, 1866, and enjoyed the intercourse during my stay with Madame Mouravieff, the Princess Schahoffskoy, the General's sister, and the other ladies of the family, one a maid of honour to the Empress. I learned greatly to esteem the admirable qualities of noble Russian ladies, and their extensive knowledge of languages.
On my leaving Moscow, I was requested to accept, as a memento of my visit, the General's Greek Testament, printed at Mount Athos in Greece, and containing the following words:
To Rev. Dr. Bayley.
"Keep this Holy text, not only for my sake, but for that of the two beloved and enlightened spirits—your friends in the Lord, to whom, both, it successively belonged, the father and son Mouravieff, who from their heavenly home bless you, I am sure, for the consolation you have afforded to their lonely friends remaining yet on earth."
All yours in the Lord,
CLEOPATRA PRINCESS SCHAHOFFSKOY.
Moscow, 20th July, 1866.
The only son of General Alexander, John Mouravieff, was unwell when his father died, but seemed to recover; in twelve months after, however, to a day, at 33 years of age, having been only seven days ill, he rejoined his parent whom he dearly loved, and of whom he was worthy, delighting in the same glorious views, and truly heavenly in his life and temper.