The unnamed dedicatee and addressee of Father Pavel Florensky’s 1914 The Pillar and Ground of the Truth was his fellow seminarian, roommate, and intended life-companion (спутник жизни, “husband”), the deceased Sergei Troitsky.
Florensky was obliged to delete “Friendship” from his master’s thesis at the Moscow Theological Academy because his academic supervisor deemed it to be too controversial to pass the examining board. His contemporaries understood that this was no theology of friendship in any conventional sense of the word.
When he reinstated the chapter for publication he was a married man, an ordained priest, and the father of his first child, still grieving the loss of his greatest love. He did not replace “Friendship” with a theology of marriage.
Two Worlds — Два Міра
My meek, my radiant friend!
Our vaulted room greeted me with coldness, sadness, and loneliness when I opened its door for the first time after my trip.
But, alas, I entered it alone, without you.
But you are not with me, and the whole world seems deserted. I am alone, absolutely alone in the whole world.
O my distant, my quiet brother! In you is spring, while in me is autumn, perennial autumn.
“I know he will rise on the day of resurrection, the last day.” Nevertheless, with a kind of tranquil grief, I repeat before our cross, which you made from an ordinary stick and which our gentle Elder blessed, I repeat, “Lord! If Thou hadst been here, my Brother would not have died.”
My Brother! You who share my soul. (Братъ, едино-душный мой Братъ!—an apparently deliberate allusion to the Creed’s consubstantial in Russian and Slavonic.) Torn away and lonely, I am nevertheless with you. Rising above time, I see your clear gaze; once again, I speak to you face to face. It is for you that I write down my discontinuous thoughts.
On quiet autumn nights, in holy hours of silence, when a tear of rapture sparkles on my eyelashes, I will secretly begin to write down for you schemata and pitiful fragments of those questions which we so often discussed together.
And I, after all, am nothing more than a pupil who repeats after you the lessons of love.
Friendship — Дружба
Distant Friend and Brother!
I attend to the icon-lamp; the golden bundle of rays becomes brighter. I light a fragrant candle of amber-yellow wax before the Mother of God. We brought this candle from there, that is, from where you and I wandered together.
Again I am with you. Every day I remember something about you, and then I sit down to write. Thus, from day to day, my life slides toward “the other shore,” so that I could look at you at least from there, by love having defeated death and by death having defeated the passions….
Today there is constantly in my memory that frosty and snowy day when you and I were walking to the Paraclete hermitage. […] Do you remember…? […] You and I took Communion together. That was the seed to everything that I now have. For it is not for nothing that our Abba Isidor told us so many times…: “A brother helped by a brother is as strong as a fortress” (Prov. 18:19). That is what I wish to elucidate to some extent in the present letter.
The spiritual activity in which and by which knowledge of the Pillar of the Truth is given is love. This love is full of grace, manifested only in a purified consciousness. It can only be attained by a long (O how long!) ascesis. In order to strain to attain love—unimaginable for creatures—it is necessary to receive an initial impulse and then to be sustained in one’s further motion. Such an impulse is the so common and so rationally incomprehensible revelation of a human person, a revelation that manifests itself as love in the receiver of the revelation: “Love,” Heinrich Heine says, “is a terrifying earthquake of the soul.” […] Love shakes up a person’s whole structure, and after this “earthquake of the soul,” he can seek. Love opens for him the doors of the worlds on high, whence drifts the cool of paradise.
Beyond the moment of eros in the Platonic sense of the word, philia is revealed in the soul—the highest point of earth and the bridge to heaven. Constantly revealing in the person of the loved one the glimmer of primordial beauty, philia erases, if only in a preliminary and conditional way, the bounds of selfhood’s separateness, which is aloneness. In a friend, in this other I of the loving one, one finds the source of hope for victory and the symbol of what is to come. And one is thus given preliminary consubstantiality and therefore preliminary knowledge of the Truth.
…[T]he Greek language distinguishes four categories of love… But in fact, none of these words expresses the love of friendship that we are considering in the present letter, a love that combines the aspects of philia, erōs, and agapē…. In any case, the most suitable word here is philein with its derivatives.
…[A]ncient friendship, the preeminent repository of erōs, [was] painted in Christianity in the hues of spiritualized…philia.
…[T]he philic side [of Christian life] is embodied in relations of friendship. These relations blossom in sacramental adelphopoeisis and the co-partaking of the Holy Eucharist, and are nourished by this partaking for co-ascesis, co-patience, and co-martyrdom.
The mystical unity that is revealed in the consciousness of friends permeates all the aspects of their life, makes even the everyday golden.
Friends are linked in an intimate unity…. Therefore a friendship cannot be destroyed by anything except by a blow directed at the very unity of the friends, by what strikes at the heart of the Friend as a Friend, by betrayal, mockery of the friendship itself, of its holiness.
The limit to fragmentation [in the life of the Church] is not the human atom that from itself relates to the community, but a community molecule, a pair of friends, which is the principle of actions here, just as the family was this kind of molecule for the pagan community.
[The] pairedness of spirit-bearing persons is undeniable. And whatever the initial stimuli to their friendship, one must conclude that the gifts the friends received in their friendship necessarily led to the mysterious pairing of their persons.
The sacrament of love, sacramentum caritatis, is the highest motive for the life two by two; the word caritas is probably put here for want of a more exact Latin term for the true love of friends.
The mystical unity of two is a condition of knowledge and therefore of the appearance of the Spirit of Truth that gives this knowledge.
[One] must be careful in choosing a friend. For one grows intertwined with a friend; one receives a friend, together with his qualities, into oneself. In order that both do not perish, what is needed is careful selection.
The interests of friends merge. The property of one becomes the property of the other, and the good of one becomes the good of the other.
St. Basil the Great sees communion as the profoundest organic need of people: “Who does not know that man is a meek and sociable animal, not a solitary and savage one? Nothing, after all, is so proper to our nature as to have communion with one another, to need one another, and to love those of one’s own kind.”
Between lovers the membrane of selfhood is torn. And, in a friend, one sees oneself, as it were, one’s most intimate essence, one’s other I. But this other I is not different from one’s own I. A friend is received into the I of the lover, is profoundly agreeable, or acceptable, to the lover. A friend is admitted into the organization of the lover, is not alien to him in any way, is not expelled from him. The loved one is received by his friend and nestles, like a mother’s child, beneath his heart.
The soul’s reception of a friend’s I unites two separate streams of life. This living unity is achieved not as the enslavement of one person by the other, and not even as the conscious slavery of one person in relation to the other. Nor can a unity of friends be called a concession. It is precisely a unity. One feels, desires, thinks, and speaks not because the other spoke, felt, desired, or felt in the same way, but because both feel one feeling, desire one will, think one thought, speak with one voice. Each lives by the other, or rather, the life of the one and the other flow from a common centre, one in itself, placed by the friends above themselves by a creative act.
Therefore, friends form a dual-unity, a dyad. They are not they, but something greater: one soul.
This unity is not a dissolution of individuality, not its depreciation, but its raising, consolidating, fortifying, and deepening. […] In friendship, the irreplaceable and incomparable value and originality of each person is revealed in all its beauty. In another I, a person discovers his own actualized potential, made spiritually fruitful by the other I. According to Plato, the loving one gives birth in the loved one. Each of the friends obtains a foundation for his own person, finding his own I in the I of the other.
The power and the difficulty of friendship lie not in the fireworks of the ascesis of the moment but in the constantly burning patience that lasts a lifetime. This is the quiet flame of holy oil….
The love of friends refers not to separate spiritual high points, not to the meetings, impressions, and holidays of life, but to all of life’s reality, even to banal, everyday experience. […] For philia knows a friend…by his smile, by his quiet talk, by his weaknesses, by how he treats people in ordinary human life, by how he eats and sleeps.
But one cannot deceive with everyday life, and the true test of a soul’s authenticity is through life together, in the love of friends. Any person can accomplish one or another act of heroism. Anyone can be interesting. But only my friend can smile, speak, and comfort as he does, no one else. Yes, no one and nothing in the world can compensate me for his loss.
…[T]he “together” of love must not be limited solely to abstract thought but necessarily requires palpable, concrete manifestations, including physical closeness. It is necessary not only to “love” one another but also to be close together, to attempt, as much as possible, to come closer and closer to one another. But when are friends closest to each other, if not when kissing? […] A kiss is the spiritual unification of the persons kissing.
It is necessary to live a common life, it is necessary to illuminate and suffuse everyday life with closeness, even outward, bodily closeness.
Communal life, the life of the parish, requires being-together, co-abiding. But this “co” refers even more to the life of friends, where concrete closeness has a special force; and here this “co” acquires an epistemological significance. This “co,” understood as the “bearing of one another’s burdens,” as mutual obedience, is the vital nerve of friendship and its cross.
And every friendship, like Christian life in general, is in this sense monasticism. Each of the friends uncomplainingly humbles himself before his life-companion (спутник жизни, “husband”), in the same manner as a servant before his master.
Faithfulness to a once-established friendship, the indissolubility of friendship, as strict as the indissolubility of marriage, firmness to the end, unto the “blood of the martyrs”—that is the fundamental commandment of friendship, and the whole force of friendship lies in the observance of this commandment. There are many temptations to turn away from a Friend, to remain alone or to start new relationships. But a person who has broken off one friendship will break off another, and a third, because he has replaced the way of ascesis with the desire for psychic comfort.
Every outsider seeks mine, not me, whereas a friend wants not mine but me. […] Only a friend, wanting you, however you are, receives in you all, fulness, and is enriched by it. […] But give your meagreness, yourself, only to your Friend, secretly, but not before your Friend tells you, “I ask not for yours but for you; I love not yours but you; I cry not about yours but about you.”
…[The] interpenetration of persons is the task, not the given, in friendship. When this interpenetration is achieved, it is in the nature of things that friendship become unbreakable and faithfulness to the person of the Friend stop being an ascesis, because it cannot be violated.
[In this paragraph Florensky quotes from someone else’s diary.] Sexual abstinence, if it is not accompanied by an excited state, is not harmful physiologically or, in any case, not especially harmful. And in the occult and mystical respect, it even serves to develop new capabilities. But abstinence connected with a state of excitedness, i.e., with the imagining that one can transcend oneself through sex, is harmful, and the more vivid is the imagining, the more harmful such abstinence will be. The soul becomes foul and rots, in the same way that the body perishes. Perhaps the chief harm is from the constant lack of satisfaction. […] Solitude, if it does not have as its inseparable companion the constant thought of a friend, is not harmful and is even useful in some respects, e.g., in the ascesis of silence. But the imagining of friendship in solitude has a harmful effect, a particular harm for a person. A particular person is depleted and dies when, desiring and thinking of friendship, he is compelled to spend a lot of time in company, to socialize without real friendship, to imagine that he really is transcending himself when he is not really transcending himself, and to act as if this were a real self-transcending. Not obtaining spiritual satisfaction but eternally running after it and near it, one teases oneself with the dream of one’s imagination, and one’s spiritual powers are spent on this dream.
Traditionally, there have been two…reinforcements of friendship: (1) the “natural sacrament”…of the pledging of brotherhood; and (2) the grace-giving office of adelphopoeisis…which grew out of this “sacrament” as from a fruitful natural soil.
The marriage of a member of the Church is, of course, the business of the whole universal Church—not in the sense that when one of the members marries all of the members marry his wife, but in the sense that, for everyone, this event has a certain spiritual significance and is not something indifferent. For each member, the wife of a brother becomes not just anyone but precisely the wife of the brother. Moreover, for one member she becomes simply a wife, but for the other members she becomes the wife of their brother.
All we have said above [about marriage] holds also for adelphopoeisis.
In the same way, since, for each member of the Church, the friend of a brother must be the friend of a brother, but only the friend of this particular brother, not the friend of everyone, there must necessarily be a force that orders and maintains the individuality of the union of friends. […] This force is jealousy, and its function is to isolate, separate, delimit, differentiate. […] The force of jealousy is alive in both friendship and marriage…. […] Everywhere it is necessary to have definiteness of connections and constancy of unions, be it with a friend, a wife…. In other words, everywhere there must be not only love but also jealousy. There must be jealousy toward friend, wife….
Jealousy — Ревность
Love is free choice. From many persons, I, by an act of inner self-determination, choose one person and to this person, one of many, I establish a unique relationship, become attached in my soul to this person. […] This person stands in a crowd, but I summon him and, from the city square, I lead him into the cozy room of my heart. […] In other words, I make myself in relation to the chosen person such that this person becomes Thou for me. Friendship, I repeat, is exclusive, just as conjugal love is exclusive. “Multiple” is a sign of the imperfection of the object of love as such, a sign of the incompleteness of Thou as Thou. Both multiple marriage and multiple friendship are false in their very idea and must inevitably either pass into something personal (the first into single marrriage, the second into single friendship) or become corrupt and decay utterly…. Aristotle says: “One cannot be a friend to many when one has in view perfect friendship, just as one cannot at a single time be in love with many. This kind of friendship appears to be perfection and, as such, can be directed only at one person.”
Florensky, Father Pavel. The Pillar and Ground of the Truth: An Essay in Orthodox Theodicy in Twelve Letters. Translated by Boris Jakim. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1997.
Florensky, Priest Pavel. Столпъ и Утвержденіе Истины: Опытъ Православной Ѳеодицеи въ Двѣнадцати Письмахъ. Westmead, Farnborough, Hants., England: Gregg International Publishers Limited, 1970. Facsimile of the 1914 original.
Pyman, Avril. Pavel Florensky: A Quiet Genius. The Tragic and Extraordinary Life of Russia’s Unknown da Vinci. New York: The Continuum International Publishing Group Inc, 2010.
(Трубачев), Игумен Андроник. Путь к Богу: Личность, жизнь и творчество священника Павла Флоренского. Книга вторая. Сергиев Посад: Фонд науки и православной культуры священника Павла Флоренского, 2015. (Father Andronik is Florensky’s grandson.)
Father Pavel Florensky was born on January 22, 1882 and executed by the Soviets on December 8, 1937. In order to be eligible for ordination he married Anna Giatsintova, with whom he had five children in thirteen years.
Sergei Troitsky was born on August 8, 1881 and murdered by a Georgian nationalist on November 2, 1910. In the hope of being ordained he married Pavel’s sister, Olga Florenskaia, with whom he apparently had an unconsummated marriage.
Sergei’s impulsive decision to marry shocked Pavel. They had planned to spend the rest of their life together in an izba deep in the forests of Kostroma after Pavel completed his theological studies. Pavel married only after losing Sergei to his sister.