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Russian orthodoxy and human motivation: the categories of 'sin', 'humility', and 'obedience' in the context of human agency and autonomy.

Orthodox (1) Christianity embraces approximately 300 million believers all over the world. Orthodoxy is the national religion in Bulgaria, Belarus, Cyprus, Georgia, Greece, Macedonia, Moldova, Montenegro, Romania, Russia, Serbia, and Ukraine. There are hundreds of the Orthodox's diasporas dispersed in the world. The religious and cultural traditions of Orthodoxy have been generated since the 5th century AD after the fall of Rome. This fall was followed by the rise of Constantinople where Orthodoxy was associated with the state's imperial religion. However, as a separate confession with a certain doctrine and canonical rules, Orthodoxy was finally crystallized after the East-West Schism of 1054 AD, when the Roman and Constantinople bishops' cathedras stopped their relations and both began to consider themselves to be the only forms of Christianity that would spread the true word of Jesus Christ and save the word. There are important theological as well as canonical differences between these two branches of Christianity, which we will not discuss here; interested readers should consult the specialized works on the topic.

Christianity came to the East Slavic land more than a thousand years ago. In the 10 century, the Kiev prince Vladimir made the Kievan Rus a Christian state. The Russian Orthodox Church (ROC) is the largest autonomous (since 1589) Eastern Orthodox Church in the world. (2) After the fall of Constantinople in 1453 the ROC began considering itself the main Orthodox Church among other Orthodox Churches, and thus began regarding itself responsible for the whole Orthodox world. This position of a self-acclaimed savior of the Christian world has influenced Russian Orthodoxy (RO) during its history and has generated some specific characteristics of the Russian tradition in Orthodoxy.

If we accept that one of the functions of religion is to provide people with guidance how to live their lives, how to differentiate right from wrong, how to deal with various problems, and how to remain moral human beings through hardships and misfortunes, (3) then it is important to decipher religions' systems of meanings and moral categories and unpack their prescriptions for people's living in order to understand the behavior and experience of believers of a particular faith. Therefore the goal of our article is to address some psychological aspects of the anthropological model of Russian Orthodoxy. Specifically, we will analyze the system of values of this ideology, its understanding of human nature and its prescriptions for moral lives, mostly focusing on the questions of human motivation, psychological autonomy, and self-determination. The psychological consequences of the discovered cultural model of this religion will also be discussed.

Another reason for doing this analysis is the fact that the ROC is experiencing a revival in Russia today, and the authorities of modern Russia search for the values that can unite the nation in the ideology of the ROC. The Orthodox values have been declared the basis of morality, the foundation of stability and the persistence of the state, as well as a factor in restoring the cultural-historical identity of Russians (Mal'tsev, 2012). The modern ROC broadens its social services, theological education, and enters various state institutions including education, army, business, and even politics. Some leaders of the ROC have announced that the Russian society is transforming itself from an atheistic state into a Christian one (Yakovleva, 2012). In the light of these ideological conversions a set of questions may be posted about the future of Russia. If this country fights toward modernization and aspires to build a modern democratic and productive state, does an acceptance of the ROC system of ethic attitudes help these ambitions? Does the Church's moral standards have recipes for improving people's lives and helping them to be happy and successful in the modern world? These are some of the questions that we will try to answer in this article.

From the psychological point of view, we continue traditions of humanistic and existential psychology (Fromm, 1941/1969, 1947/1990, 1950; Maslow, 1968; May, 1953/1973, 1979, 1981) and exercise the principles of humanistic ethics, which, according to Fromm (1947/1990), have "laid the foundations for value systems based on man's autonomy and reason" (p. 6). This means that "the sources of norms for ethical conduct are to be found in man's nature itself; that moral norms are based upon man's inherent qualities, and that their violation results in mental and emotional disintegration" (p. 7). The propositions of this tradition of ethical thoughts about human nature and the ways of achieving people's flourishing are used as the criteria against which we evaluate the codes and prescriptions of RO.

The main document that we build our analysis upon is "The Fundamentals of the ROC teaching about human dignity, freedom, and rights"(Moscow Patriarchate, 2008). (4) We also utilize the commentaries and interpretations of the main propositions of the ROC teaching about human nature by the Church's ideologists and provide description and interpretation of various psychological practices, which are based on the original studies of the second author and the works of other Russian and foreign scholars of this religion

The Russian Orthodoxy Teaching About Human Nature

Russian Orthodoxy, just as other Christian denominations, accepts that human beings were created by God in His image and according to His likeness (Genesis 1:26). This means that every person has the God-like indestructible core that was gifted to human beings forever and is hold by individuals even if they turn away from God. A virtuous life is a life that is focused on acquisition of God's likeness.

An undeniable part of the humans' virtues, according to Christian anthropology in general and RO in particular, is the human ability for free will, which includes people's capability to choose between good and evil and to turn to or away from God for salvation. (5) The RO's interpretation of freedom of will has two aspects. According to Holy Scriptures, people are free, but this full freedom is applied only to the first humans before they committed the original sin and to those faithful righteous who saved their souls and reached the Kingdom of Heaven. The will of earthly human beings is distorted by original sin and is practically incapable of making moral decisions that will lead to virtuous lives. Although these people can still make right decisions, it is impossible for them to do this without turning to God. The ROC also emphasises that together with freedom of choice comes personal responsibility for the lives individuals choose to live. Therefore, the God-given humans' virtues, the freedom to use them, and the responsibility for their use constitute the moral core of any human being. It is important to mention that on the official and publicly declared level the Church announces that it is against restrictions of human freedom:

... The Church is cautious in its attitude toward the psychological world of a person and his freedom of choice. The subordination of human will by manipulation or force by some external authority is considered a violation of God's order of things. (Moscow Patriarchate, 2008, para. 17)

As we will show further, this is one of the most controversial propositions of the ROC's ideology.

These statements about human nature are consistent with the main postulates of humanistic psychology about people's essential predispositions and capabilities. Fromm (1950), for example, stressed that every human being has the "power of reason ... to understand himself, his relationships to his fellow men and his position in the universe" (p. 37). He highlighted the importance for a person to recognize "the truth, both with regard to his limitations and his potentialities" and to "develop his powers of love for others as well as for himself and experience the solidarity of all living beings. [A person] must have principles and norms to guide him in his aim" (p. 37). Thus, people's rationality, the ability to recognize truth, the power of love, the capability toward communion with the rest of the world, and the possession of higher moral principles are the qualities that closely correspond to God's virtues as they are declared by Christianity. It is the destiny of any human being to realize these qualities in his or her life. A fundamental existential problem for people is that they are free to turn toward or away from this realization and thus are free to choose either to live in accord with or against these capabilities. Many existentialist philosophers highlighted that this freedom to choose comes with the responsibility for these choices. Sartre (1985) articulated the idea of responsibility in the following way: "What happens to me happens through me, and I can neither affect myself with it nor revolt against it nor resign myself to it" (p. 53). According to the existentialists, freedom of choice and responsibility for these choices are fundamentally interrelated and constitute the essence of human existence.

Almost all humanists highlight the importance of limiting the political, economic, ideological, and religious constraints on human psychological freedom, which means minimizing the intrusion of the state, authorities, and ideological leaders into the psychological space of individuals' functioning in order to manipulate their thoughts, emotions, and actions (Berlin, 1969/2002). The main idea of humanistic psychology is that psychologically mature and autonomous people develop their own moral and ethical codes that restrain their lives and actions. These codes may correspond to or go against the constraints imposed by the authorities. Autonomous people develop these self-restraints in the privacy of their mindful reflections, and these restraints are based on individuals' self-generated values, life-goals, and moral principles.

The Deformation of Human Nature by Sin

It is possible to identify in Russian Orthodoxy two ethical-behavioral traditions. One suggests that the spiritual life must rely on bogoobchenie--a 'direct communication with God' which is accompanied by "unending and joyful feeling of faith, admiration and a son-like dependence from God" (Mescherinov, 2006, para. 10). This is a humanistic tradition of Russian Orthodoxy. The other tradition, which we call an authoritarian, emphasizes the human sinful 'fallen nature' and people's inability to accept God's grace for the sake of their own salvation. Thus, the spiritual life within this tradition consists of people's constant suffering from and struggling with their deformed nature. This second tendency constitutes today a dominant stream in the contemporary Russian Church culture, and it is the primarily focus on our analysis.

We start this analysis with a universal thesis of Christianity that recognizes that the virtuous nature of human beings was obscured by the sin committed by Adam and Eve who disobeyed the order of God, tasted fruits from the tree of knowledge, and learned the difference between good and evil. This thesis constitutes the cornerstone of the Christian teaching about freedom of will and has been the point of intensive theological arguments, starting with Augustine versus Pelagius debates (Hwang, Matz, & Casiday, 2014). Another example is the discussion between Erasmus and Luther (Erasmus-Luther, 1961). We want to remind readers that Erasmus defended human beings in their ability to reach a virtuous life by the power of their own will, whereas Luther emphasised the fundamental sinfulness of any earthly human being, his or her inherent weakness in front of sin and incapability to avoid a sinful life without the help from God.

RO accepts the proposition of fallen human nature and uses it as the basis of its teaching about the nature of earthly human beings and the ways of their salvation. It states that the will of human beings is distorted by original sin and is practically incapable of making moral decisions that will lead to virtuous lives.

It is reasonable to suggest that RO has followed the conservative line of arguments about free will similar to St Augustine, Luther, Calvin, and their adherents. It accepts that all people are sinful because of the original sin that was transmitted from the first humans to the generations that follow. Deformed by sin, people do not have the power to get to the virtuous life only by their own will since sinful desires and temptations are always stronger than any individual human willpower. "Although, because of the power of sin, which is typical to the sinful nature of human beings, no human effort is capable of achieving authentic virtue and goodness" (Moscow Patriarchate, 2008, para. 17). People's self-reliance is not enough to resist the forces of evil and death, and, if left alone, they will inevitably succumb to the power of sin. A sinful person is not free because he or she is guided not by God's given virtues but by their sinful desires and proclivities. They need to reconnect with God to acquire the strength to overcome sin followed by freedom to live virtuous lives. The ROC nevertheless underscores the importance of people's own efforts to free themselves from vice: "The Scriptures talk about necessity of a person's own efforts to free oneself from sin" (Moscow Patriarchate, 2008, para. 19). Although the ROC accepts and emphasizes freedom and self-determination of people in general, it directly says that these powers are harmful if they are exercised by people alone without turning to God and the Church for help:

Only those who lead virtuous lives and seek connections with God, who is the source of absolute truth, are really free.... Only God can maintain virtue in a human being because He is the source of freedom. (Moscow Patriarchate, 2008, para. 20)

What is the nature of sin? "The Fundamentals ... " provides an important hint about the psychologically important interpretation of sin: "By rejecting God and relying only on themselves, the first human beings feel under the power of destructive forces of evil and death and transmitted this dependence to their descendants" (Moscow Patriarchate, 2008, para. 18). The Orthodox ideologists find a source of sin in people's disobedience to God "meaning discrepancy between human will and will of God, and rebellion of a human being against God" (Davydenkov, 2000, p.138). RO also identifies sin with flesh-based and bodily desires: "Instead of the spirit governing the body, in sin the spirit becomes a slave of flesh." And later, "a life of flesh is against God's commandments and does not correspond to the moral basis that God gave a human being" (Moscow Patriarchate, 2008, para. 11). This interpretation of sin has a fundamental consequence with regard to the RO teaching about the hierarchy of moral values. Farther Vsevolod Chaplin (2011) commented on this issue: "It is important to specifically consider the question of the values hierarchy, where Orthodox Christians, in comparison to secular humanists, do not give priority to the earthly human life and everything related to it" (para. 5). A possible explanation is that the earthly life is naturally the fleshy one and is filled with sinful temptations and desires; that is why this life is inherently corrupt and cannot be of the primary value, and, therefore, the anthropocentric ethics has to be abandoned. (6)

The Orthodox ideologists do not stop at these two interpretations of sin as disobedience to God and as following bodily temptations. According to this teaching, sin becomes an abstraction that includes many human and social weaknesses and maladies, such as egotism, abortion, suicide, debauchery, perversions (homosexuality), degradation of family, the cult of roughness and violence, as well as consumerism and greed (Moscow Patriarchate, 2008, para. 21, 45). Later in "The Fundamentals ... " they expand this list to euthanasia (assisted suicide), the death penalty, and the use of human embryos in medical and biological experiments. Thus, Orthodox interpreters of sin have started with the awakening of human rationality and free will, then identified different bodily temptations as sinful ones and, finally, expanded its interpretation to various social and even scientific phenomena. The Orthodox list of sinful acts is expanding continuously as new human and socio-political phenomena emerge and become a focus of scientific and religious communities.

But regardless of these interpretations, the fundamental thesis of RO remains the same: sinful human nature is susceptible to the power of evil that forces people to commit vices against their rational will and against their inclination toward virtuous lives.

Psychological Consequences of the Human Fallen Nature

The RO ideologists emphasise that sin distorted all aspects of human capabilities: cognitive capacities, emotions, motivation, volition, and morality. A well-known Russian theologian and the author of important books on dogmatic theology in RO Mitropolitan Makariy Bulgakov (1913) argued that "consequences of sin appear in the fact of obscuring all human abilities. The human intellect is darkened in its inability to differentiate good from evil. The cognitive abilities of the human mind become weak. The heart has become filled with earlier unknown feelings: hate, envy, despondency, etc. The will strives for unnatural desires and becomes more prone to evil rather than to good" (p. 487). These distortions led to the inability of people to understand what real freedom means in their everyday sin-obsessed lives, and the inability to differentiate what is good or bad as they strive toward a virtuous existence. Sin, according to RO, is not only the state of the darkened human soul, but an active motivational force that drives people to commit various vices. Davydenkov (2000)--a priest, doctor of theology, and professor in the Orthodox Saint Tikhon Humanitarian University--said that "sinfulness is not a simple weakness of human nature, but an active force, hostile to the human, living in his limbs and attracting him to sin in spite of his own will" (p. 135).

It is true that people's uncontrolled affects and temptations constitute the root of almost all human and societal problems and hardships. As Hadot (1995) reminded us, "in the view of all philosophical schools, mankind's principle cause of suffering, disorder, and unconsciousness were the passion: that is, unregulated desires and exaggerated fears" (p. 83). Humanist thinkers throughout history have been looking for remedies for this human weakness and have found them in people's rationality, their ability to reflect on various desires and then make a volitional choice of how to deal with them. This thesis about the importance of mindful reflections on one's own bodily existence and temptations as a basis of virtuous living was first articulated by the Stoic philosophers (Cooper, 2003; Hadot, 1995) and then elaborated in different forms by humanist scholars and philosophers, where the main figures were Spinoza (2000; Uyl, 2003) and Kant (Guyer, 2000, 2003). According to these scholars, not a denial of various desires and feelings, not a fight against them, but reflections on and a rational analysis of them can free people from their power and, consequently, free them from the sin that may follow these temptations and compulsions. An ability of people to be mindfully aware of their feelings and motivation, to rationally reflect on them, and then decide how to deal with them constitutes the central point of human psychological autonomy (Chirkov, 2010, 2011). Autonomy can free people not only from various unwanted emotions and desires, but also from some pathological states, like obsessive-compulsive disorders (Schwartz & Begley, 2002). Since Ancient Greeks it was highlighted that humans can be psychologically free only if they know the nature of things, including themselves, and act in accordance with it (Cooper, 2003). Therefore, human autonomy requires one to 'follow nature'. If we accept, following the Christian doctrine, that the orderliness of nature is created by God's willful deeds, then human freedom implies consciously and rationally following God's will. Being psychologically autonomous then means to possess deep knowledge and based on it a new perspective on the world, nature, other people, and oneself accompanied by benevolent, tolerant, and appreciative attitudes toward them. Many ancient philosophers and religious leaders considered the development of such perspective to be their main task (Hadot, 1995). Fromm (1950) saw the cultivation of this mindset and training of the skills of attaining it as a main function of any humanistic institution, including religion.

This denial of humans' rational self-determination by the Orthodox doctrine leads to another psychological consequence for the followers of this church. Specifically, the behavior that is based on statements like "I want", "I desire", or "I will" is considered inherently sinful behavior, because sin saturates the nature of human beings and their selves so powerfully that the motivation that comes from these selves (like 'I want ... ") is considered to be sinful and should be avoided. Protopriest Vladislav (Sveshnikov, 2000) notes that this motivation, which he labelled "self-will", "is one of the dominant principles of sinful existence" (p. 253). According to his logic, this sinful existence is based on the human willfulness which, if it is unguided by God's will, leads both to the "deformed and one-sided development of the internal life and to numerous collisions of sinful wills which scatter in different directions" (p. 345).

Here we have an instance of a rejection by the mainstream RO ideology of another natural human inclination, which is known in psychology as intrinsic motivation. The phenomenon of intrinsic motivation is assigned with the power to bring enjoyment, content, and happiness to humans' lives. It is usually expressed not only by the words "I wish", or "I want" but "I want because it is interesting, enjoyable, and satisfying to do". Intrinsic motivation is the form of motivation that is accompanied by a strong emotional attachment to the process of activity based on fascination, emotional involvement, and enthusiasm (Deci & Ryan, 1985). People's creativity, leisure activities, hobbies, and related enjoyable pastimes are usually intrinsically motivated. According to psychological research (Deci & Ryan, 2002; Hennesey & Amabile, 2010) intrinsic motivation lies at the basis of various forms of innovativeness, creativity, psychological well-being and happiness, therefore constituting an important component of fully functioning and happy human beings.

The mistrust of intrinsic motivation can be illustrated by the lives of the 'merciful sisters' from 'The Sisterhood in Honor of Saint Tsarevich Dmitriy'--one of the Orthodox Church's charitable organizations. These sisters quite often have a burn-out syndrome; they lose motivation to do their service and fall into depression. Bishop Panteleimon (Shatov)--one of the leaders of the ROC volunteer-based charitable organizations and the supervisor of the above-mentioned sisterhood--suggested that the sisters who experience burn-out should reconcile with their loss of enthusiasm (Shatov, 2009). He explained that from the Church's point of view, enthusiasm itself is not the feeling that the sisters must rely on their activities. Its abandonment should be considered a stage in the spiritual development of a soul. When the sisters complained about their loss of interest in the mercy service and in their lives in general, Shatov advised them to get rid of their enthusiasm and passionate desire to help others. It is important, according to this Orthodox motivational leader, that the members of the volunteering organizations work not because of their interest or enthusiasm but because of the duty based on the obedience to the Church. It is not difficult to imagine the psychological consequences of such external motivation (Ryan & Deci, 2001) on people's functioning: emptiness, loss of creativity, inability to cope with stresses and challengers, and physical symptoms of exhaustion, and even depression.

Notion of Human Unworthiness and Categories of Repentance, Humility, and Guilt

How can the damaged human nature be cured and how can human souls be redirected toward virtuous lives? RO follows the main Christian prescription for this case--to turn to God and the Church as God's legitimate representation:

The acquisition of freedom from sin is impossible without a mystical union of a person with the transformed nature of Christ, which occurs in the Sacrament of Baptism ... and is strengthened through life in the Church--the Body of Christ.... (Moscow Patriarchate, 2008, para. 18)

This statement is based on the belief that, despite the fact that humans' nature is damaged by sin, the God-like virtues are never destroyed in people. People can discover such virtues within themselves and return back to the virtuous existence with the help of God and the Church.

According to RO doctrine, a critical step on this long path to spiritual revival is repentance.

Repentance plays an important role in recovering in a human being's correspondence to his or her virtues. At its basis lies an awareness of one's sinfulness and the desire to change one's life. By this contrition a person accepts a discordance of his or her thoughts, words, or acts to the God-given virtues and indicates in the face of God and the Church his or her unworthiness. (Moscow Patriarchate, 2008, para. 12)

From the point of view of the ROC, this confession of and acceptance of one's unworthiness is so important for the spiritual growth that most of its teaching is strongly focused not on the acknowledgment and development of human virtues, but on people' imperfections, weaknesses, and faults. It is even possible to talk about the Orthodox "aesthetic of disgust" regarding human nature. This aesthetic is reflected in the words that many church preachers and goers use to describe humans: fallen (sinful), indecent human nature, dirtiness, desecration, sinfulness, loathsome/repulsive/ghoulish smell of sin, rags and tatters, self-delusion, and devil's temptations. The Church explains that focusing on people's imperfections and their sinfulness is more important for their salvation than prizing and cultivating their virtues. "Just because of this patristic and ascetic thinking, the Church liturgical tradition speaks more about the unworthiness of a human being that is conditioned by his or her sin, and less speaks about people's virtues" (Moscow Patriarchate, 2008, para. 13). But without a powerful discourse about human virtues and positive qualities, the self-identification of the Orthodox believers may become obscured and strongly biased toward self-humiliation and self-degradation.

Humility and the feeling of guilt, which according to the Russian Orthodoxy should accompany an individual's way to salvation, play an important role in a person's purification (Knorre, 2011; Sveshnikov, 2000). The basic premise of this prescription is that a person has nothing to be proud of and has many qualities that he or she should be ashamed of. Archpriest Vladislav Sveshnikov (2000) stresses that it is necessary to "recollect more often one's meanness and baseness and the imperfection of the human nature, in general. The more clearly and constantly one sees one's own sinfulness, the more obviously he or she acknowledges its inevitability, the more serious is the work of repentance, the natural and the first fruit of which happens to be humility" (p. 179). Humility is related to a refusal of a person to follow his or her will because of his or her unworthiness, imperfection, and sinfulness. In this understanding, humility corresponds to the notion of 'spiritual poverty'--an acceptance of "insufficiency and impurity of one's sensations, thoughts, and intentions, which motivate 'one's own' will.... In my own will I am needy, says a humble person, but I crave to acquire spiritual treasures in another's will" (Sveshnikov, 2000, p. 252). A feeling of guilt instead of self-esteem, pride, and the feeling of dignity, is considered to be the main purifier of sinful souls and one of the main regulators of the righteous life. Following this doctrine, an acceptance of one's unworthiness, a feeling of guilt for this, followed by humility constitutes the central psychological mindset that should lead to the redemption of the damaged will.

Father Peter (Mescherinov) stated that such interpretation of humility is common in modern Orthodoxy, but he raises his voice against it:

In our everyday use, humility is often understood as degradation, readiness to self-torture, some form of 'masochism', of being a cowed and crushed person, etc. But this is false humility, which is far from the Christian and Evangelical state". He continues: "Humility is knowing the truth about oneself, about one's relations with God, with the world and with other people.... Humility as adequacy turns a person toward God who is near; and where there is God, there is joy, peace, and vigor. (Mescherinov, 2006, para. 5)

Such interpretation of humility perfectly fits the humanistic interpretation of this emotional-motivational state, which, when applied to real lives, supports people's personal growth and self-realization.

Fromm (1947/1990) provided a thorough psychological analysis of the feeling of guilt. He agreed that the feeling of guilt is one of the basic human emotions that constitutes the basis of the ethical regulation of social and personal life. He differentiated the guilt that emerges within authoritarian conscience from the guilt that develops inside humanistic conscience. Guilt within the authoritarian conscience is experienced because of a violation of prescriptions and the expectations of authorities, whereas guilt within the humanistic conscience is based on a person's awareness of violations of his or her own moral norms and standards. The first type of guilt he considered to be enslaving and controlling, because it is based on the acceptance of an external authority--a political leader, a head of a state, a church, or God himself--as the primary moral standard for proper behavior.

The contents of the authoritarian conscience are derived from the commands and tabus of the authority; its strength is rooted in the emotions of fear of, and admiration for, the authority. Good conscience is consciousness of pleasing the (external and internalized) authority; guilty conscience is consciousness of displeasing it. The good (authoritarian) conscience produces a feeling of well-being and security, for it implies approval by, and greater closeness to, the authority; the guilty conscience produces fear and insecurity, because acting against the will of the authority implies the danger to be punished and--what is worse--of being deserted by the authority. (Fromm, 1947/1990, p. 146)

Humanistic guilt, according to Fromm, is experienced when a person violates some authentic standards and scripts that he or she developed for him or herself in a self-determined and autonomous fashion.

Humanistic conscience is not the internalized voice of an authority whom we are eager to please and afraid of displeasing; it is our own voice, present in every human being and independent of external sanctions and rewards.... Humanistic conscience is the reaction of our total personality to its proper functioning or disfunctioning; ... Actions, thoughts, and feelings which are conducive to the proper functioning and unfolding of our total personality produce a feeling of inner approval, of "rightness", characteristic of the humanistic "good conscience". On the other hand, acts, thoughts, and feelings injurious to our total personality produce a feeling of uneasiness and discomfort, characteristic of the "guilty conscience". [Humanistic] Conscience is thus a re-action of ourselves to ourselves. (Fromm, 1947/1990, pp. 158-159)

Fromm considered this humanistic guilt to be healthy for a person's moral development as it provides access to one's authentic self and lies at the basis of one's personal integrity. The authoritarian guilt is considered to be less healthy because it separates people from their authentic selves and redirects their efforts toward pleasing and being obedient to authority. Interpretations of RO mainstream writings indicate that this system of beliefs is mostly based on the cultivation of the authoritarian guilt as a cure for the damaged will, but, as the psychological analysis of this feeling shows, such a cure is not conducive toward humans' growth and personal development.

Obedience and Blessing as the Way of Curing Damaged WIll

As soon as Orthodox adherents accept that their will is damaged, they have to look for its cure. And here comes a tradition of obedience--one of the primary means of RO to cure the damaged souls.

As stated by the Orthodox teaching, the category of obedience constitutes the central ethical-behavioral principle by which the obscured human will can be healed: "The will distorted by sin recovers through obedience best of all. Obedience that is accepted cordially completely eradicates the principle 'I want', which is the main principle of the sinful existence" (Sveshnikov, 2000, p. 253). The practice of obedience emerged within the traditions of an ancient monasticism traced back to the origin of Eastern Christianity in the Byzantium Empire (Zabaev, 2007). It required from the spiritual disciples a complete rejection of their will and submission to the will of a spiritual teacher, usually an elder priest-monk. This act of submission symbolized a complete surrender of one's life and deeds to the benevolence of God. In RO the tradition of obedience follows these ancient monastic ideas and practices of eldership and subordination, but in some modified and romanticized forms. One of the best descriptions of the experience of Orthodox understanding of obedience is provided by Dostoevsky in his novel The Brothers Karamazov.

An elder was one who took your soul, your will, into his soul and in his will. When you choose an elder, you renounce your own will and yield it to him in complete submission, complete self-abnegation. This test, this terrible school of life a doomed person accepts voluntarily in a hope, that after a long test, to conquer his or her self, to master the self before he would be able to reach a perfect freedom through the obedience totally in all the life--that means a freedom from himself, and to avoid the destiny of those who have lived all their life but didn't find themselves in their own. (Dostoyevsky, 2005, pp. 21-22)

The idea and practice of obedience in the Church life works in conjunction with an idea and practice of blessing (Russele, 2011). Blessing is an act of gifting a person by God's approval and also an act of calling God to hand a person some sacred help ('blagodat'). In practice, blessing means an approval by the priest-confessor for some actions which his obedient has or decided to do. "Blessing has a sacramental dimension and because of this it is larger than simple moral advice" (Russele, 2011, p. 303). Obedience presupposes blessings from the elder while efficient blessings assume complete obedience.

In contemporary RO, the institute of obedience constitutes one of the important instruments of religious socialization and virtues lives. "Obedience is more important than fasting and prayer," says a popular religious motto. Despite this well-accepted importance of obedience, there is a struggle in the ROC among different interpretations of the practice of obedience, mostly between an authoritarian one, when obedience is literally interpreted in the abovementioned terms as a complete subordination of one's will to the will of an authority figure, and a more humanistic one. In this latter interpretation of obedience an authority figure is considered to be no more than a wise person with a rich experience of the spiritual life, who is trusted to manage the disciple's spiritual salvation. Thus, the confessor serves as an adviser rather than a manager and he is not expected to totally control an obedient in all his or her actions. As Father Maxim (Kozlov)--a supervisor of The Church of St. Martyr Tatiana and one of the missionary and ideological leaders of the ROC--says, "Obedience is a free ... passing of the disciple's will over to his teacher, a passing over from the one who trust to those whom the disciple trusts" (Kozlov, 2008, p. 67). In today's practice, the extent of rejection of one's will can be determined by the obedient him or herself.

The Psycho-Social Analysis of Obedience

Obedience, as well as disobedience, to authorities in their numerous forms and transformations, constitutes one of the most challenging phenomena for socio-psychological analysis (Fromm, 1981; Kelman, 1989; Milgram, 1974). According to Fromm (1941/1969; 1947/1990) the psychological roots of obedience can be found in the nature of a human existential situation in the world. Because of potential freedom that people acquire due to their consciousness, they face a fundamental existential dilemma: how to live their lives and how to find secure bonds with the world, other people, and themselves. Fromm identified that a person has two ways to deal with this dilemma: either to learn the autonomous way of living by relying on the power of his or her own rationality, morality, and volition, or to escape from this psychological freedom by giving it up to an authority. The first way is challenging and not everyone is ready to deal with such a difficult task: personal and motivational weaknesses, a lack of a supportive environment, the absence of appropriate knowledge, and skills may prevent people from embracing the power of psychological freedom that human rationality and reason provide. The second route constitutes one of the mechanisms of escaping from freedom which, according to Fromm, "is the tendency to give up the independence of one's own individual self and to fuse one's self with somebody or something outside of oneself in order to acquire the strength which the individual self is lacking" (Fromm, 1941/1969, p. 140). Fromm argued that this striving to submit to authority happens when people feel that they are powerless to manage their lives on their own. As he worded this condition, "Life, as a whole, is felt by them as something overwhelmingly powerful, which they cannot master or control". Such people, "often ... are quite incapable of expressing the feeling 'I want' or 'I am'" (p. 141). From the psychological point of view this means that these individuals are not aware of their own needs, goals, and desires; they also have difficulties in articulating their personal identities. As a result of these conditions, such people are inclined not only to submit themselves to the forces of powerful authorities but also to experience "feelings of inferiority, powerlessness, individual insignificance. ... ; these persons show a tendency to belittle themselves, to make themselves weak, and not to master things" (p. 141). Thus, there is an objective psychological condition of human existence when people may strive toward obedience as one of the forms of managing their psychological freedom and their lives.

Human societies have created socio-cultural structures and institutions to propagate and facilitate this mechanism of escape from freedom through obedience because it makes people more submissive and controllable. One of these institutions is authoritarian religions, which declare submission to the power of God and obedience to the Church the main forms of virtuous lives and salvation. In our opinion, this is exactly what is happening with the mainstream ROC. It denies any ability of people to manage their lives in a self-determined and autonomous way. The believers are socialized into this culture of helplessness and accept their own impotence to govern their lives on their own. Following this socialization, the Church offers them a way of saving themselves from this imposed misery by entering the Church and solving their problems of unmanageable freedom through the ideology and practice of obedience and blessing. The believers have to refute their own will, which is sinful and does not worth anything anyway, and must accept the power and will of God in the form of the authority of the Church and its representatives.

Obedience to Authority: Degradation Instead of Spiritual Growth

When describing the psychological consequences of escaping from freedom through submission to authority, Fromm warns about several psychological side effects of such a treatment, mentioning masochistic and sadistic/controlling tendencies that emerge in submissive individuals. The masochistic tendency reveals itself in belittling oneself, degrading one's capabilities and refusing to respect and love oneself for who he or she is. "We find that ... [masochistic persons] indulge in self-accusation and self-criticism which even their worst enemies would scarcely bring against them" (Fromm, 1941/1969, p. 143). Such a tendency leaves a person without any grounds for self-acceptance, self-respect, and self-love that are so important for the healthy development of one's integrity and autonomy. If the masochistic tendency is harmful for a person him or herself, sadistic tendencies are harmful to others and to social relations with others. This tendency drives a person "to make others dependent on oneself and to have absolute and unrestricted power over them, so as to make of them nothing but instruments", or it makes people to exploit others, "to use them, to steal from them", or "to wish to make others suffer or to see them suffer" (p. 143).

These sadistic tendencies work people subconsciously and, because of this, such inclinations need to be rationalized. One of the most frequent rationalizations of such strivings for domination may sound like this: "I rule over you because I know what is best for you, and in your own interest you should follow me without opposition". The controlling individuals may also say: "I have done so much for you, and now I am entitled to take from you what I want" or "I have been hurt by others and my wish to hurt them is nothing but retaliation" (Fromm, 1941/1969, p. 143). Such rationalizations may even be accepted by the authorities of the Church, party, or state and make these institutions even more authoritarian and oppressive.

If Fromm is right in his analysis, then we may search for signs of social and moral deficiencies in some Orthodox believers. And it is not hard to find such examples. One of the significant consequences of faithful obedience and humility when understood in the authoritarian fashion is a loss by an obedient person of his or her ability for self-regulation and self-determination. According to Father Peter (Mescherinov),

The mystified obedience [the complete obedience to authority, VC & BK] ... results in a human being becoming incapable to lead an independent, moral and responsible Christian life, losing his or her physical and very often psychological health.... Moreover--here is the paradox: the victims of the mystified obedience become incapable of "normal" obedience based on the hierarchical discipline. Instead of getting the natural results from ordinary obedience: honesty, respect for elders, responsibility and, as an ultimate consequence a peaceful social arrangement, the [obedient] people in their chase for the illusory "freedom from themselves" become captured by painful temptations and disappointments. (Mescherinov, 2006, para. 36)

We complement these statements with Natalia Kholmogorova's description of her experience as a Church goer:

I have become twitched, hysterical, aggressive; I could break out and make a scene at any minute, because of any trifle or even without any reason. I feel a constant somewhat heavy enmity toward everybody around me. And even more, I have learned to consider other people less worthy than myself more precisely, worse than me in my unworthiness and get pleasure from these considerations. (Knorre, 2011, p. 337)


In this essay we analyze the cultural model of the official RO doctrine regarding human nature, motivation, and autonomy from the standpoint of humanistic psychology and ethics. Our goals are to understand if the existing doctrine is supportive of human flourishing and personal development and if it can be a legitimate worldview and the moral guidance for millions of existing and coming generations of Russians.

If our conclusion is correct and the religion in which modern Russian statesmen look for the moral guidance is the authoritarian one, then, from a psychological perspective it is difficult to expect that people will flourish, that they will find authentic happiness based on psychological freedom, and that will be able to lead satisfying, productive, and successful lives. Such doctrine contradicts many capabilities that the humanistic-oriented psychologists believe make human beings moral, rational, compassionate, tolerant, and free individuals.

It is important to highlight that the analyzed cultural model constitutes only one part of the social regulatory mechanism for human behavior that the ROC provides for people. The other part is the learned and internalized aspects of this model. The believers learn and accept this models as the guidance for their lives to different extent, but it is never represented in people's minds in all its completeness and details. That is why it is dangerous to extrapolate any analytically extracted cultural model as a direct reflection of people's real life, behavior and experience. There is also a third component of any person's social behavior regulation--their agency based on self-determined and autonomous reflections on the world and one's position in it. A religion can easily be part of this agentic autonomy and providing a person with a feeling of psychological freedom and happiness.

As we mentioned at the beginning of our article, the ROC has all chances to be such a humanistic religion. Many modern Orthodox priests reinterpret the Christian and Orthodox dogmas about human nature in much more humanistic terms and emphasise joy, happiness, self-realization, psychological freedom and autonomy as the result of an authentically Christian communication with God (bogoobshenie). This is how Father Peter (Mescherinov) described this mode of human existence:

Bogoobshenie ... is solid, firm as death courage, despite anything, any external circumstances, and internal sadness and despondency, to be a Christian, to be with God and fulfill his will in a lively, unending and joyful feeling of faith, admiration and a son-like dependence from God. This communication with God is the initiation into the Holy Spirit; it is not raptures, no exaltation, nor bloody flushness; the blessing of the Holy Spirit evidences itself by the subtle, peaceful, joyful, humble, quiet, cool and authentically spiritual feeling that gives a person peace, love and freedom, as if 'assembling' a person into an integrated and harmonious being into what he has to be by the God's script. (Mescherinov, 2006, para. 10)

Father Peter encourages believers to live according to their authentic and intimate relationships with God and to acquire integrity, harmony, and happiness through this communication. And Farther Peter is not alone is his sharing of this humanistic and optimistic interpretation of Orthodox Christianity. Many young priests accept this interpretation of Orthodoxy and preach it to their parishioners. The authors of this article consider this topic of the humanistic Orthodox thinking of great importance, a topic that religious scholars should research further.

The fight between these two tendencies in RO--the authoritarian and humanistic ones--and the victory of the second one constitutes, in our opinion, the essence of making this religion the one that can provide Russians with the spiritually deep, optimistic, and life-promoting faith that can give them strength to make their country a modern and efficient state and a very comfortable place for living peaceful and fulfilling lives.


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This study was supported by the National Research University Higher School of Economics' Academic Fund Program 2013-2014, research grant 12-010233, to the second author. Correspondence concerning this article should be addressed to Valery Chirkov, Department of Psychology, University of Saskatchewan, Saskatoon, SK, S7A 5A5 Canada;

Valery Chirkov

University of Saskatchewan

Boris Knorre

National Research University Higher School of Economics, Moscow


(1) The term orthodoxy means "true doctrine," (from Greek orthodoxos, from orthos--straight or right, and doxa--opinion). The term orthodoxy has been widely used in Christianity since the IV century AD to distinguish true beliefs from false (heretical) ones, signed as heterodoxy. Both Eastern and Western branches of Christianity used this label, but historically Catholic (meaning universally accepted or general) became the most common name for the original Church in the West, and Orthodox in the East (The Catholic Encyclopedia:

(2) Together with several autonomous churches under its jurisdiction, the ROC is considered to unite nearly 150 million adherents ( According to different sources, there are about 70-73% of Russians (Russia's population is 145 million people, 2009) who self-identify as of the Orthodox faith; the low margin of Russians of the Orthodox faith in absolute numbers is about 70 million people (Zarutskii, 2008).

(3) Fromm (1950) defines religion along these meaning-creating lines in the following way: "I understand by religion any system of thought and action shared by a group which gives the individual a frame of orientation and an object of devotion" (p. 21). Anthropologist Geertz characterizes religion as: (1) a system of symbols which acts to (2) establish powerful, pervasive, and long-lasting moods and motivations in men by (3) formulating conceptions of a general order of existence and (4) clothing these conceptions with such an aura of factuality that (5) the moods and motivations seem uniquely realistic (p. 90).

(4) Because of the Internet-based format of this and other sources, we provide the paragraph number from which the quotes translated by the authors are taken.

(5) The notion of human will and the corresponding freedom of will is conventionally used in theological literature to denote an ability of individuals to execute voluntary choices driven by their own goals and rational intentions (Augustine, 1968). Erasmus defined it in the following way: 'By freedom of the will we understand in this connection the power of the human will whereby man can apply to or turn away from that which leads unto eternal salvation" (1961, p. 20). Defined in this way these concepts are close to the notion of agency--the ability of a person to make choice and produce actions. We prefer to use a concept psychological autonomy which has a more elaborated psychological content. Psychological autonomy is the ability people have to guide their lives and actions by the moral principles, goals, and reasons they have developed for themselves in a self-determined and rational fashion. Autonomous people reflect on their emotions, desires, wants, and various societal demands and expectations, and freely choose to either accept or reject them. Psychological autonomy is a mental state and a set of skills that has the power and mechanisms to motivate people to actions; it constitutes the core of a fully human and psychologically healthy functioning (Chirkov, 2011, 2014). The notion of self-determination identifies the source of autonomous motivation: it comes from within a person's self, which is interpreted as a phenomenological center of experience and actions. In this article we use the concept of freedom of will as a synonym to psychological autonomy and self-determination.

(6) The separation between the ROC and Western humanism on the issue of the hierarchy of values has become more and more pronounced in the last ten years. ROC ideologists argue that the Western interpretation of human nature justifies not only virtues but also all the weaknesses of the human being, which leads to moral relativism which will finally destroy the society. Thus, according to Mitropolitan Mercury (Ivanov), both the notions of 'humanism' and 'all-human values', although outwardly attractive, are inwardly oriented to justify moral relativism and human weaknesses. (, 2012)


Valery I. Chirkov (Ph.D. in Social and Personality Psychology, University of Rochester, Rochester, NY) is Professor of Psychology at the University of Saskatchewan, Saskatoon, Canada. Dr. Chirkov is interested in issues of human autonomy in various cultural contexts, a role culture plays in regulating people's psychological functioning, and the methodology of social and human sciences.

Boris K. Knorre (Cand. of Sc. [PhD.] in Religious Studies, Philosophical Anthropology and Philosophy of Culture, Moscow State University, Moscow) is Associate Professor of Philosophy at the Higher School of Economics, Moscow, Russia. Dr. Knorre's interests include psychology of religion and social anthropology, issues of cross-cultural processes in the framework of religious institutions, politization of religion, and Church-State cooperation.
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Author:Chirkov, Valery; Knorre, Boris
Publication:Journal of Psychology and Christianity
Article Type:Report
Geographic Code:4EXRU
Date:Mar 22, 2015
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