Pastor Dima (Dimitru Sevastian) is the Dean of Theology at the Theological College of Moldova (TCM), and also a Pastor at Bethany Evangelical Baptist in Chisinau, Moldova. He has his MDiv from TCM, and is currently pursuing his doctorate of divinity. This paper is one he delivered recently at a bible conference in Prague. It is part and parcel of his extensive research and work toward his doctorate.
Dostoevsky’s implicit mission to Russian society as a lived out Russian Orthodox Convictional Theology
The purpose of this research is to point out some common practical elements in the mission of Baptist and Orthodox Christians in an Orthodox context. My intention is to explore Dostoevsky’s implicit mission in order to suggest some ways in which Baptist and Orthodox Christian can work together in responding to the Missio Dei. The focus is being the theology in terms of lived out convictions.
To understand Dostoevsky’s mission, one must ‘hear’ his story, which is linked with the story of the people and with the greater story of God.
Dostoevsky was a journalist as well as a novelist. That’s why in the first section of this paper I am going to examine his perception of the situation of his time as a form of ‘mission as witness.’ In the following three sections I intend to explore three elements in Orthodox Church mission: love, life and unity as they are evident in the life of Dostoevsky.
1. Perception of his time situation as ‘mission as witness’
‘The perception of the situation often begins by defining the threat’ and by ‘the questions of the desirability and speed of the presumably needed social change in the community’.
The situation itself
The 19 century finds Russia in a rather complicated condition. The emperor is reigning autocratically, answerable only to the Lord God. Not being a man of outstanding morals, Nikolai I abuses his given power, going into violence and immorality.
Just like a squire managed lives and desires of peasants, so was tsar with his servants. He would pay attention… not only to young beauties at his palace – ladies and maids, but to girls he accidentally met while walking. If he liked someone during his walks or in theatre, he would tell it to an adjutant on duty. And, this girl would be under his control. If she hasn’t been involved in any improper activities, then her husband (if she was married) or parents (if she wasn’t married) would be told about enormous honor, which they received… No one ever resisted Tsar’s desires … In this strange country, to sleep with an emperor was considered as a great honor…for parents and even for husbands…
The social situation was very complicated as well. Serfdom-based forms of exploitation were pushed to an extreme, turning a serf into a slave. The Rule of landlords always meant excessive abuse of serfs, endless outrages upon the personhood of serfs, and implied the most impudent, shameless, unprecedented exploitation of serf labor. The gap between the landlord and the slave was so great that the landlord seemed to consider himself made from another material than common folk.
A secret police force was formed to keep everything under tight control. Police controlled all the literature, which made the existence and development of publishing in Russia practically impossible. The Tsar and the head of the secret police became the ultimate censors.
French author Marquis Astolf de Custin compared the vast Russian Empire with a prison where the emperor has the key.
Violence in the name of love - a proposed solution to change the society
As a reaction to this existing police-feudal régime we see the appearance of the first secret society starting as early as the first quarter of the 19th century. The members of this society wanted to overthrow the absolute power of the emperor and destroy the existing feudal customs. On the verge of the years 1830-1840 we see the appearance of such ideological currents as “Slavophile” and “Westernism”. Whereas the slavophiles wanted to transform the country by implementing reforms, the westernizers dreamed of a revolution similar to the one in France. The mid 1840's see the appearance of other, more radical socialist circles, members of which were convinced that autocracy and social injustice are the main obstacles in the way of the people’s wellbeing. Thus their main purpose became getting rid of these obstacles, even resorting to violence.
Literary critic V. Belinsky was one of the leaders of the westernist movement. He was a convinced atheist. In his understanding, Russia's transformation would be impossible without eliminating Christianity.
In that time Dostoevsky, also deeply concerned for the lives of his countrymen, became close to Belinsky and often visited some of the illegal, antigovernment meetings. Belinsky preached his socialist-atheist way with such passion that Dostoevsky couldn’t resist. Accepting the socialist teachings of Belinsky, Dostoevsky saw his Christian convictions being shattered. He describes this time as the time of “losing Christ”. “We were infected with the ideas of theoretical socialism of those days!” – Dostoevsky would recall. For his involvement in the antigovernment movement, Dostoevsky was sentenced to capital punishment, which was later replaced with 4 years of penal labor (katorga).
Returning to faith in God as the only way to transform society
In penal servitude, Dostoevsky went through something that he calls “the regeneration of his convictions”. What could have taken place to change his convictions so completely? Dostoevsky himself answers this question by saying, “I accepted Christ in my life, whom I got to know as a child in my parent’s house and whom I have almost lost, when I in turn became a European liberal.”
Dostoevsky began to understand clearly that Russian society's greatest problem was its departure from God. Thus the problem lay not in the social but in the spiritual realm. The social realm is a result of the people's spiritual condition.
Another problem, which could make matters worse, was the intrusion of the socialist atheist teaching mentioned above. From his own experience, Dostoevsky knew the danger and destructiveness of this socialist way, offered by many as the way to reform society. In his letter to M. Pogodin, Dostoevsky writes that ‘socialism and Christianity are antonyms’. The danger of this way, in Dostoevsky’s opinion, was its negation of God and establishment of a new atheistic society.
By means of his novels, articles, and personal correspondence, Dostoevsky warned about the consequences of entering this dangerous path. The tragedy of Rasskolnikov, the main character of the novel Crime and Punishment, shows how easily one can be infatuated with this teaching of “violence for the sake of love”.
Dostoevsky not only warned about the dangers, but also proposed a way to transform society, and openly called the people to come back to God. At the same time he realized how hard it is for a person to pass through this process of doubt and disbelief. In his works Dostoevsky shows this inner struggle which takes place in a person who is on the path of returning to God.
The Diary of a Writer contains an interesting article describing this path. Dostoevsky answers a certain Gradovsky, who is considered by others to be a Christian, on Gradovsky's statement that faith is not related to social ideals and that faith in God cannot transform society. Dostoevsky's first utterance: “It is funny how you understand Christianity!” He goes on to explain that growth in Christian faith changes Christians themselves and these changes have an effect upon people in society. He was convinced that even without the abolition of serfdom, slavery would disappear because the landlord and the serf would become brothers. (Rasskolnikov's sufferings would awaken a new life in him.)
Thus the call of Dostoevsky is towards return of people to faith in God.
2. Love of God as the foundation of missions
According to David Bosch, God’s love expressed in the sacrifice of Christ is the foundation for mission, in an orthodox understanding. The followers of Christ are to display this same love beyond the limits of the flock.
Dostoevsky doesn’t simply call others to the imitation of Christ, but he himself lives as a compassionate person who loves the people. He learned to be compassionate to the poor and needy from his childhood, when he lived in the house of his father in Moscow, in the hospital for the poor.
Being near helpless people, he would go out of his way to help. When still in his teens he once gladly brought water to a peasant lady who accidentally spilled it and had no one to carry it to her child in their village 15 kilometers away.
A. Saveliev, who served as an officer in the engineering school when Dostoevsky was a student, expressed his observations of Dostoevsky’s compassion to the poor:
The feelings of compassion remained in Fyodor Michailovich during his times of studies. They witnessed life of poor peasants in a Staraya Kikenka village. The picture of terrifying poverty, absence of providence, poor clay ground and unemployment was unveiled. The main reason for this situation was a neighboring wealthy property of earl Orlov. Striking poverty, pitiful houses and masses of kids without good nutrition used to increase the level of compassion in young people’s hearts towards peasants of Staraya Kikenka. Dostoevsky and Berezhesky along with their friends used to make fund raising for needs of poorest peasants.
Later Doctor Rizenkampf, who lived in the same apartment with Dostoevsky, spoke on the writer's sacrificial spirit:
Fyodor Michailovich had such type of personality that everyone enjoyed, yet these kinds of personalities were in need themselves. He had been robbed unmercifully, though due to his kindness and trust, he wouldn’t want to get into details or rebuke servants that used his carelessness.
O. Miller states that when in Dostoevsky and Rizenkampf rented an apartment together, ‘this co-habitation with the doctor practically turned out to be a new source of constant expenses. Each poor person coming to doctor for advice he was ready to accept as a dear guest. Often he would come to a point of extreme need of money.’ “The new day with the lack of money, new loans, often times with exorbitant interest rates, just to borrow enough money to be able to buy sugar, tea, etc.”
Doctor S. Yanovski knew that Dostoevsky was well paid, but also knew that he was constantly in need of money. Yanovski posed the question, “Where did his money go?” And supplied the answer himself:
I can answer this question correctly, since Fyodor Michailovich was open to me more than to others when it used to come to finances: he distributed almost all of his funds to those who were any poorer than him; sometimes distributed funds to those, who were not poorer than him, but they would receive his money due to his endless kindness. He never gambled, did not have a clue about the rules and even hated card game. He was a decisive enemy of wine and carouse.
The testimony of Dostoevsky's brother Andrei serves as a good illustration for Yanovski’s words. “When there was the first case of cholera and a patient had an attack on the street, brother Fyodor immediately” ran to the patient to give him medication and after that was massaging him when he had convulsions.
Another story came from A. Dostoevskaya, wife of the writer. She tells about Fyodor Michailovich's compassion to poor and sick people:
Having heard about poverty of one widow, who remained with three children of 11, 7 and 5 years after husband’s death, Dostoevsky out of pity has hired her as a servant with all of her children … Fedosya with tears in her eyes shared with me, while I was still a bride, about Fyodor Michailovich’ kindness. According to her, at nights whenever hearing a child coughing or crying, he would come to him/her cover with a blanket, calm him/her down, or at least wake mother up.
Dostoevsky would never turn away those asking for alms. “There were cases” – his wife would say – “when my husband would not have petit cash and he was asked for alms close to our stairs, then he would bring the beggars in and in our apartment they would be given the money.”
He would not pay back evil for evil, but would forgive his offenders. In 1879 some drunk peasant on the street had hit Dostoevsky over the back of his head with such power that he fell on the pavement, resulting in a bloody gash. In the police station Fyodor Michailovich asked the officer to release the offender, as he had forgiven him. However the protocol was already completed and the process could not be reversed. Dostoevsky said to the judge that he forgave the offender and asked for his release. The judge acceded to Dostoevsky’s request, however still fining the peasant 16 rubles for “creating noise and disorder on the street.” Dostoevsky waited for his offender at the exit and gave him 16 rubles to pay the fine.
According to A. Dostoevskaya, Fyodor Michailovich was a man of limitless kindness. He would display it not only to those close to him, but to anyone whose misfortune or crisis he would hear came to his notice. He would not have to be asked, he would offer his help himself.
Having influential friends, my husband used their influence in order to help others. He placed many old people in elderly homes, children to orphanages and helped losers to find their place in society. He had to read and correct many other writings, listen to honest confessions and offer advices on very personal issues. He did not feel sorry about his time or his strength, trying to help to his neighbor. He has helped financially, in case he lacked funds, he would sign bills and had to later pay them off. Sometimes, Fyodor Mikhailovich’ kindness contradicted family interests, and often I would get upset about his unlimited kindness, yet I could not help but delight seeing him rejoice whenever having opportunity to help others.
Dostoevsky was especially concerned for children and paid attention to cases of child abuse that he heard about. He followed closely the trials of parents accused of child abuse.
Towards the end of his life Dostoevsky became a spiritual leader for a great many people. Every day he would receive letters from all across Russia and would agree to see visitors asking for spiritual advice, seeking mentoring, or looking for direction for their lives. This activity of Dostoevsky was similar to the social ministries of staretzes in the monastery, similar to the elder Ambrosi whom he saw in the Optina monastery, or staretz Zosima in The Brothers Karamazov.
Dostoevsky lived so sacrificially because his convictions were deeply founded in Christ's suffering and resurrection. In addition, he was convinced that this was the only way for the Russian society he loved so much to be transformed. Staretz Zosima in the novel The Brothers Karamazov admonishes Aliosha Karamazov to go into the world and to love the people even in their sins. The sacrificial love of Dostoevsky comes from the conviction that “there is nothing more beautiful, deeper, attractive, wiser, more courageous, and more perfect than Christ, and not only nothing, but I say with a jealous love, that there can never be”.
3. Life as the goal for mission
According to Bosch, “For the Orthodox Church - love is the foundation of mission and life is the goal of it. Christ came not first of all to free the man from their sins, but to restore them in their godly image and to give them life”. People are called not to simply get to know Christ; they are called to “share the glory of Christ”. “It is a continuing state of worship, prayer, thanksgiving, adoration, intercession as well as meditation and consideration of the triune God and God’s infinite love.”
We have now many examples of the prayer life of Dostoevsky, of his meditations and ponderings about God and biblical characters.
One of Dostoevsky's early memories is a daily prayer with his nanny before going to bed, when he was 3 years of age. “I put all my hopes in Thee, Mother of God, keep me in Thy care”. This prayer Dostoevsky loved so much that it became part of the prayers which he read to his children at bed time. Also from his early years Dostoevsky listened to bible stories. Remembering those years, Fyodor Michailovich wrote in 1873, “in our family we knew the Gospel almost from earliest childhood.”
In his student years, Dostoevsky displayed a conscious eagerness to talk about God, despite the laughter of his comrades. Soloviov testifies,
Fyodor Michailovich behaved modestly; executive responsibilities and tasks performed meticulously, but were very religious, diligently performing the duties of an orthodox Christian. In his possession you could see both the Gospels and “Die Stunden der Andacht” (Hour of prayer). After lectures of Scriptures by Poluektov Fyodor Michailovich would talk at length to his Scriptures teacher. This was so sharply contrasting with everyone else’s way of life that his friends called him Fotius Monk.
This is an important testimony that from his earliest childhood Gospel reading was not just a form. It made its way deep into his heart, and he loved it. In Dostoevsky’s letters to his brother Mikhail he said “To learn nature, soul, God, love… this is learned with the heart and not with the mind.”
From the time of Dostoevsky’s marriage with Anna Grigorievna we have a number of references to his prayers. We have a letter in which Dostoevsky writes to his wife, “I prayed with tears about you this night”. When the firstborn was due Dostoevsky prayed all night. As the birth of another son, Fyodor, approached, he prayed all day and all night. When his two-year-old daughter Liubovi broke her hand and the bones did not knit well, she had to undergo surgery. “Anya, we shall pray and ask for the help of God, the Lord will help us!” remembers A. Dostoevsky – “we got on our knees and probably never have we prayed with such zeal as in those moments.
Meditating about Christ and desiring to imitate Him in His self-sacrificial spirit, Dostoevsky said to writer D.V. Averkiev, “To understand your existence, to be able to say, I am! – that’s a great gift, but to say I am not, to humble yourself for the sake of others, to have this power is probably much greater”. To which Averkiev objected, “this certainly is a great gift, but no one has it or had ever had except for one, who was God”. To which Dostoevsky answered, “Yes, but also man.” For Dostoevsky Christ was not only God but also man, open to pain and called to go through it.
The book of Job made an especially strong impression on Dostoevsky, with its story of an innocent sufferer, uncomplainingly enduring the difficult tests God sent to him: the death of his close ones, bankruptcy, leprosy, poverty. For that he was healed, restored to his wealth, became again the father of a large family and “died in late years filled with days”. Later he will say to his wife in 1875, “I am reading the book of Job and it creates in me a morbid excitement, I stop reading and walk about the room for about an hour, on the verge of crying…this book, Anya, is strangely one of the first that made a deep impression on me, and I was almost a baby back then!”
The image of Christ who suffered and was resurrected and the image of Job suffering and his ‘resurrection’ to new life served as a model and inspiration for Dostoevsky's walk by faith.
4. Unity and mission
Dostoevsky was part of Russian Orthodox society. A constant love towards Russia and the Russian people, and steadfast Christian ideals, were among Dostoevsky's chief characteristics. Together they gave him a dream of the ‘reconciliation of nations’ in Christ with the help of Orthodox Russia. Dostoevsky's thoughts and dreams on universal reconciliation, fascinating him throughout his life, came to their fullest expression six months prior to his death in his speech in honor of Pushkin, delivered on 8 June 1880. In the end he says with assurance,
Future Russian people will understand all and every single person that this is what it means to be a true Russian: to try to finally reconcile European disagreements once and for all, to show the way out for European boredom in our Russian soul, universal and all unifying, to encompass in it with brotherly love all of our brothers, and finally may be to reach a concluding agreement of all the nations on Christ’s gospel law.
According to Dostoevsky, a divine harmony that would resolve all contradictions would be possible if people would live the life of Christ. He himself understood that this dream bordered on fantasy, yet nonetheless he strived to fulfill it, providing an example for others.
In the center of Dostoevsky’s mission is the image of Christ suffering and resurrected. He warned people of the danger of turning away from Christ, and called upon them to follow Him through the difficulties and hardships to “resurrection for new life”. With all that he would display a personal example of life in Christ in his relationships with Him and the people around.
I am aware that this study does not cover all the elements of Dostoevsky’s implicit mission. I hope that this research of Dostoevsky’s implicit mission to Russian society as a lived-out Russian Orthodox Convictional Theology will help us, as Baptist believers, in our mission to secularized people in European contexts where an Orthodox religious presence predominates.
However what was most evident in Dostoevsky’s life, day by day, was the love of God evident in him and through him because his convictions were grounded in Jesus.
 According to James Wm. McClendon’s definition, the theology is “discovery, understanding, and transformation of the convictions of a convictional community, including the discovery and critical revision of their relation to one another and to whatever else there is”. McClendon, James Wm. Jr. Ethics. Systematic TheologyVolume1 (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1986), p. 23.
 Convictions are firm beliefs that guide the person. They don’t change so easily, but if we change them, then the person changes as well. (See McClendon, James Wm. Jr. & James M. Smith, Understanding Convictions: Defusing Religious. Revised edition. (Valley Forge, PA: Trinity Press International, 1994), p. 5).
 McClendon, James Wm. Jr. Ethics. Systematic TheologyVolume1 (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1986), p. 356.
 Parush R. Parushev and Rolling Grams, Academic Reasoning, Research and Writing in Religious Studies. A Concise Handbook (Librix.eu Tribun EU, 2008), p.19.
 David J Bosch, Transforming Mission. Paradigms Shifts in Theology of Mission (Orbis Books, Maryknoll, New York, 1991), pp. 207-209.
 Lina Andronovienė and Parush R. Parushev, ‘Church, State, and Culture: On the Complexities of Post-soviet Evangelical Social Involvement’, Theological Reflections, EAAA Journal of Theology 3 (2004), pp. 194-21.
 A. Radzinskij, Alexandr II Zhizn’ I Smert’ [Akexander II Life and Death] (М., Izdatel’stvo АСТ, 2006), p. 81.
 Ibid, 75.
 A. F. Vvoznyi, Policejskij sjsk I kruzhok Petrashevcev [Criminal investigation and the Petroshavski’s group] (Kiev, KVSH MVD SSSR, 1976), p. 25.
 Marquis Astolf de Custin, Nikolaevskaya Rossiya [Nikolai’s Russia] (М., Izdatel’stvo politiceskoj literatury, 1990), p. 301.
 Kniga dlya chteniya po istorii novogo vremeni Т. IV [New Time History Handbook. Vol. IV] (М., Tipogragiya t-va I. D. Sytkina, 1914), p. 100.
 Radzinskij, Alexandr II Zhizn’ I Smert’, p. 59.
 Custin, Nikolaevskaya Rossiya, p. 157.
 Istoriya Rossii v XIX veke [History of Russia in XIX century] (SPb., Pusskaya Skoropechatnya, V. 1-2, no year.), p. 69.
 A. V. Semionova, Velikaya Francuzskaya revolyuciya I Rossiya [Russia and the Great French Revolution] (М., «Znanie», 1991), p. 8.
 Rossiya. Ehnciklopedicheskij spravochnik [Russia. Encyclopedia] (М., Izdatel’skij dom “Drofa”, 1998), p. 132.
 Russkoe obshhestvo 40-50 godov XIX veka [Russian society of years 40-50 of XIX century] (М., Izdatel’stvo Moskovskogo universiteta, 1989), p. 10.
 Ibid, 13.
 F. M. Dostoevsky, Polnoe Sobranie Sochinenij v 30 tomakh, tom 21, Dnevnik pisatelya za 1873 god., [The Complete Works in 30 volumes, V. 21, The Diary of a Writer for 1873.,] (L., Nauka, 1980), p. 8.
 Ibid, 9.
 Ibid, 130.
 Ibid, 134.
 Dostoevsky, Polnoe Sobranie Sochinenij v 30 tomakh, tom 26, Dnevnik pisatelya za 1880 god., [The Complete Works in 30 volumes, V. 26, The Diary of a Writer for 1880.,] (L., Nauka, 1980), p. 152.
 Dostoevsky, Polnoe Sobranie Sochinenij v 30 tomakh, tom 28, Pis’ma 1873 god.,M. P. Pogodinu 26 fevralya [The Complete Works in 30 volumes, V. 28, Letters of 1873.,to M. Pogodin from 26 February] (L. Nauka, 1985), p. 471.
 Dostoevsky, Polnoe Sobranie Sochinenij v 30 tomakh, tom 21, Dnevnik pisatelya za 1873 god., [The Complete Works in 30 volumes, V. 21, The Diary of a Writer for 1873.,] (L., Nauka, 1980), chapter 3.
 Bosch, Transforming Mission. Paradigms Shifts in Theology of Mission, pp. 208-209.
 A. М. Rumyanczeva, Fiodor Michailovich Dostoevsky (L., Prosveshhenie, 1971), p. 14.
 F. M. Dostoevsky v vospominaniyah sovremennikov v dvuh tomah [F.M. Dostoevsky in reminiscence of his contemporaries in two volumes] (М., Hudozhestvennaya Literatura, 1990), pp. 166-167.
 Ibid, 189.
 Ibid, 189-190.
 Ibid, 191.
 Ibid, 235-236.
 Ibid, 141.
 A. G. Dostoevskaya, Vospominaniya [Memoirs] (М., Pravda, 1987), p. 78.
 Ibid, 220.
 Ibid, 354.
 Ibid, 421.
 Dostoevsky, Polnoe Sobranie Sochinenij v 30 tomakh, tom 25, Dnevnik pisatelya za 1877 god., [The Complete Works in 30 volumes, V. 25, The Diary of a Writer for 1877.,] (L., Nauka, 1983), pp. 182-187.
 N. О Lossky, Bog I mirovoe zlo [God and world evil] (М., Respublika, 1994), p. 19.
 Dostoevsky, Polnoe Sobranie Sochinenij v 30 tomakh, tom 28, Pis’ma 1854 god., N. D. Fonvizina 20 fevralya [The Complete Works in 30 volumes, V. 28, Letters of 1854.,to N. D. Fonvizina from 20 February] (L. Nauka, 1985), p. 175.
 Bosch, Transforming Mission. Paradigms Shifts in Theology of Mission, pp. 208-209.
 Lossky, Bog i mirovoe zlo, p. 36.
 Dostoevsky, Polnoe Sobranie Sochinenij v 30 tomakh, tom 21, Dnevnik pisatelya za 1873 god., [The Complete Works in 30 volumes, V. 21, The Diary of a Writer for 1873.,] (L., Nauka, 1973), p. 134.
 F. M. Dostoevsky v vospominaniyah sovremennikov v dvuh tomah, p. 163.
 Dostoevsky, Polnoe Sobranie Sochinenij v 30 tomakh, tom 28, Pis’ma 1838 god., M. M. Dostoevsky 31oktobrya [The Complete Works in 30 volumes, V. 28, Letters of 1854.,to M. M. Dostoevsky from 31 October] (L. Nauka, 1985), p. 53.
 Dostoevsky, Polnoe Sobranie Sochinenij v 30 tomakh, tom 28, Pis’ma 1867 god., A. G. Dostoevskaya 8 maya [The Complete Works in 30 volumes, V. 28, Letters of 1867., to A. G. Dostoevskaya from 8 May] (L. Nauka, 1985), p. 188.
 Dostoevskaya, Vospominaniya, p.78.
 Ibid, 144.
 F. M. Dostoevsky v vospominaniyah sovremennikov v dvuh tomah, p. 20.
 L.Grossman, Dostoevsky (М., Molodaya Gvardiya, 1962), p. 15.
 Lossky, Bog i mirovoe zlo, p. 19.
 Dostoevsky, Polnoe Sobranie Sochinenij v 30 tomakh, tom 26, Dnevnik pisatelya za 1880 god., [The Complete Works in 30 volumes, V. 26, The Diary of a Writer for 1880.,] (L., Nauka, 1984), p. 148.