The suicide of Russians within the atmosphere of the emigration possesses not only a psychological, but also an historical significance. It signifies a weakening and disintegration of Russian strength, it says that Russians do not hold up under historical tribulation. And to contend against it requires first of all an heightening of spirits and a sense of one’s own worth, one’s calling. The Russian, feeling at present a fatal inclination towards suicide, cannot provoke within himself very strong and tough an attitude. As regards a strong and tough attitude towards himself, he always tends to answer you, that you are situated in more privileged and happy a position and therefore you have to understand the torment and hopelessness of his life. And it is necessary first of all to understand the man sympathetically, for his having put himself in his position. But here is what mustneeds must be understood first of all. It is difficult, very difficult for a man to live isolated, alone, torn off from his nourishing native soil, to sense himself flung off into an immense dark ocean foreign to him and dwelling amidst a strange life. And when the life of a man is not warmed by faith, when he does not sense the closeness and help of God and the dependence of his life on the power of good, then the difficulty becomes unbearable. It is very terrible for a man, when all the surrounding world — is foreign, hostile, cold, indifferent to want and woe. Man cannot survive in the icy cold, he is in need of warmth. The Russian youth, strewn throughout all the world, often senses himself abandoned to the caprice of fate, uncared for, left to his own limited devices. He struggles, he attempts to assert his life, but sometimes is unable, he loses the power to resist, he does not hold up against too grievous the tribulations. In the emigration, the cause of the tendency towards suicide appears to be not only material needs, the uncertain future, sickness, but rather something more intimidating, the fact that down to the end of all our days one has to live in a foreign and cold world and that the life within it appears meaningless and without value. Man can bear up under sufferings, his powers are greater than he himself tends to think, as was sufficiently demonstrated during the war and revolution. But it is difficult for a man to endure the meaninglessness of suffering. Suffering, the meaning and value of which one is conscious, is already altogether a different suffering, than the suffering which is without meaning and value. The heroic living through even the greatest tribulations presupposes an awareness underlying the meaning of the suffering.
The Russian revolution has brought people an incalculable host of sufferings, and it is indeed a great trial of spirit. Yet herewith in order to hold up under this tribulation, to endure these sufferings, it is necessary to realise, that what has transpired has some sort of meaning, that it is not a matter of pure meaninglessness and loss. A faith-lacking attitude towards the revolution, as to something purely meaningless, as a completely external misfortune, smiting people in life, as a chance incident wrought by a swarm of evil-doers, leads to a spiritually destructive mindset in the emigration, to a sense of the complete meaninglessness of life, and it gives the push towards a forceful ending of life. But such a view on the misfortunes from the revolution is something totally external, it is not spiritual, not religious, it is materialistic, something shallow. Revolution in actuality is a very serious and tragic inward moment in the fate of peoples, and in the fate of each of us. The revolution is an historical event, happening in us and with us, how can we not but react to it, how can we not but get all worked up over its evil side; it is not at all something external for us and completely meaningless for our life. The meaningless aspect is this, that it should remain completely external for us, that it should have no sort of inward connection with our life. And indeed towards the misfortunes and tribulations of personal life — the death of people near and dear, sickness, destitution, the disillusionment in people, seeming friends who prove otherwise, in all this there has to be a connection, as towards something having meaning for the personal fate, as inward and not merely external events, i.e. it has to relate spiritually. This also reflects a spiritual attitude towards life. The same too mustneeds be said concerning historical misfortunes also, about wars, revolutions, the loss of one’s fatherland, and social degradation. The revolution is a payback for the sins of the past and also a redemption. No one can consider himself exempt from the common guilt, from the common fate. And only in the experiencing of the guilt is what makes the revolution endurable. A revolution means always, that the powers of good have revealed themselves creatively in life, but also that there has accumulated much evil and poison, making inevitable a renewal through catastrophe and the playing out of evil powers, if the renewal not be made through a good spiritual power. A man can be situated in the emigration, can be an implacable foe of the evil of Bolshevism, but he has to sense and be conscious of the fact, that the revolution is an inward occurrence, transpiring both in him and with him and that its significance can be enormous for the historical fate of the people, though quite inconsistent with what the makers of the revolution themselves see it to be. The emotional suffocation and loss of the meaning of life will be overcome, if it be realised, that we live in an epoch of great crisis and upheaval, that there ensues a new period of history, that the old world has collapsed and a new as yet unseen world is being created. And each man is called to be active in this process. Upon the spiritual power manifest by each depends the future. But such epochs always give birth to a great host of sufferings. These sufferings are however neither without meaning nor without value. What has to be overcome is the dejected and demoralised mindset in the Russian emigration, especially in the youth. These depressed states of mind grow out of a defective view on the tribulations from the revolution, from disillusion in the old methods of struggle against Bolshevism, from mistaken ideas, spiritual hindrances for surviving revolution. The struggle against the depression and inclination towards suicide is first of all a struggle against the psychology of hopelessness and despair, a struggle for the spiritual meaning of life, which cannot be merely dependent upon outward occurrences.
Suicide is a psychological phenomenon, and in order to understand it requires an understanding of the emotional condition of the man, resolved to put an end to himself. Suicide happens at a peculiar and exceptional moment of life, when black waves engulf the soul and all personal hope is lost. The psychology of suicide is first of all the psychology of hopelessness. The hopelessness is a terrible narrowing-down of consciousness, the extinguishing of all the riches of God’s world for him, wherein the sun ceases to shine and the stars be not visible, and life gets locked into an obsession upon one dark point, with no possibility of escape from it, an escape from oneself into God’s world. When there is hope, there is possible an enduring of the most terrible tribulations and torments, whereas the loss of hope results in the inclination to suicide. Hopelessness signifies the impossibility to imagine for oneself a different condition, it always represents a bad infinity of torment and suffering, i.e. a predilection for the eternal hellish torments, of which a man thinks to free himself by taking his own life. The soul becomes completely obsessed with one condition, with one thought, one fear, which overshadows all of life, overshadows all the world. The suicide retreats into his own “I”, into one dark corner of his “I” and amidst all this he works not his own will, he does not comprehend the satanic metaphysics involved in suicide. A man may happen to experience torment over an unhappy love affair. At some point the darkness thickens and it eclipses all the manifold aspects of life. The man sees only the endlessness, an eternity of unhappy love. He is therefore unable to see in it any sort of meaning and he sees nothing to attract him in his life. He ceases to see meaning in the life of all the world, everything becomes tinged for him in the dark light of hopeless meaninglessness, all the perspective has become distorted. The question about suicide is a question about this, that a man falls into dark recesses, from which he cannot break out. The man indeed wants to deprive himself of life, but he wants to deprive himself of life namely because he cannot escape out of himself, because he is immersed and submerged within himself. To escape out of himself is possible for him only through the killing of himself. However, life as bottled up in itself, locked in upon the isolation of the self, is an intolerable torment. The suicide — is always egocentric, for him there is no longer God, nor the world, nor other people, only but himself. For him there are not even those people, on account of whom he resolves to put an end to himself. To overcome the will to suicide means a forgetting about oneself, a surmounting of the egocentrism of being locked up in oneself, to think about others and about the friend, to glance at God’s world, upon the starry heavens, upon both the suffering of other people and upon their joys. To conquer the will to suicide means to cease thinking chiefly about oneself and one’s own concerns. In the life of people there are dangerous dark recesses from out of which condenses the bottomless darkness. If a man succeeds in breaking out of this dark recess, in breaking out of himself, then he is saved and the will to commit suicide cannot proceed. Here is why at certain moments help can be so important for a man, he can be saved by a spoken word or even a glance, that this man is not alone in the bright light, which had become for him black. The psychology of suicide is the psychology of man locked up in the isolation of himself, within his own particular darkness. It is even possible to say, that when a man is situated in an egocentric condition, concentrated exclusively upon himself, upon his own sufferings and torments, when there is lost for him a real relationship to others and to the friend, he is then always in darkness, in a dark pit, which seems bottomless. The full light presupposes for me the existence of the other and of others, and presupposed first of all is the existence of the Sun of the world. Here is why solitude and isolation is so terrible for the man, who neither sees nor senses God. It is then that there gapes open the bottomless black pit. Outward loneliness and a sense of abandonment can be withstood only with God. One of the paths in the struggle against the depressive mindsets, leading to suicide, is a spiritual sense of unity with people, a spiritual sense of co-friendship. A great task of human life consists in this, that a man should make the initiative to emerge beyond himself, from being swallowed up within himself, to emerge beyond himself to other people and to the world, for values possessed of a supernatural significance, and when a man goes deep within himself, he finds there not only himself, but also that which is near closer to him than his very self, he finds God. The psychology of the suicide does not know an emergence from the self to others, for him everything is bereft of value. Within the depths of man, however, he sees not God, but rather a dark emptiness. Herein is why the psychology of the suicide is not a spiritual condition.
But it would be a great oversimplification to view suicide as a phenomenon always one-sided. There exist very varied types of suicide and the suicides evoke varied responses. People kill themselves over an unhappy love, in the heat of some strong passion or from an unhappy familial life, they kill themselves from a loss of the taste for life, from infirmity; they kill themselves out of disgrace and the loss of honour; from the loss of position and destitution; they kill themselves, in order to escape infidelity and betrayal; they kill themselves out of hopeless sickness and the fear of suffering. There was a man that killed himself, whom I very much esteemed and loved and reckoned one of the finest of people. The reason for his suicide was hopeless sickness. It is not for me to judge him. When a man kills himself, because he is facing torture and fears being broken into betrayal, then this essentially is not even suicide. Suicide can be from a total infirmity or from an overexuberance of powers. The psychology of the suicide is so peculiar, that there have been instances, when people have killed themselves out of a fear of becoming infected with cholera. In this instance, they wanted to put an end to an unbearable feeling of fear, which can be more terrible than death itself. Suicide can occur also under aesthetic motifs, out of the desire to die elegantly, to die young, to evoke towards one an especial sympathy. The temptation of the beauty of suicide is powerful in certain epochs and can be contagious. The suicide of Esenin, a quite remarkable Russian poet after Blok, evoked his personality cult. He became a central focus of depressed outlooks, idealising the beauty of suicide. But whatever the varied motives of suicide and their emotional aspects, it always signifies an experiencing of despair and the loss of hope. The exception might be made for the Romans in decadent times, for those like Petronius, who forcefully cut short their life with full self-control, philosophically, in nowise an affective state. But even in this phenomenon there is a subliminal layer of profound hopelessness, yet indeed it is not at all characteristic to our times nor to the average Russian. Strong passions, giving rise to the insurmountable conflicts of life, often lead to suicide — the love for woman, zealotry, gambling, the lust for power, the passion for gain, the feelings of revenge and anger. This type of suicide can be separated off into an unique category and within it the suicide is a social phenomenon. Of greater interest to me at present is that type of suicide, which can be termed a phenomenon of social weakness and decay.
Suicide is by nature a denial of the three utmost Christian virtues — faith, hope and love. The suicide is a man, having lost faith. God for him has ceased to be a real and good power, governing life. He is likewise a man, having lost hope, having fallen into the sin of despondency and despair, and this most of all. Finally, he is likewise a man, not having love, he thinks about himself and he does not think about others, about those near and dear. True, there are instances, when a man resolves to depart life, so as not to be a burden on those near and dear for him. This — is a special instance of suicide, untypical, not grounded upon egoism and a false judgement concerning life, it is summoned forth by an hopeless illness, total incapacity or the loss of ability to work. And certain ones have departed life, in order to give place to others, their rivals even. In any case, faith, hope and love tend to defeat the state of mind, inclined towards suicide. Even one of these Christian virtues can save a man from perishing. The suicide in the prevailing forms of this phenomenon is a man already believing in nothing, hoping on nothing and loving nothing. Even the suicide upon an erotic ground witnesses more to a love of self, than for the fellow man. And the love for fellow man itself in this instance involves the sin of idolatry. A man does not believe, does not hope, does not love at that dark instant of his life, when he resolves to do away with himself. If he succeeds in tearing himself away from the dark corner, to get beyond it, then within him can indeed awaken faith, and hope and love. But he has accepted this dark moment as involving all his life, all his being. In the moment following hope might have awakened, but he will not have survived up to this moment following. In this is a great mystery and paradox of the times. In one instant there can be gulped in the whole of eternity and the one surviving this moment as it were partakes fully of being. Up until this terrible moment the man would have had hope, and it then in turn would become the following moment, but he grabbed hold of this moment in place of eternity, he decided herein to annihilate eternity, and to extinguish being. Man in essence never actually desires to kill himself, and indeed this is an impossibility, since man belongs to eternity, he wants only to annihilate the instant, mistaken by him for eternity, at this one point he wants to annihilate all being and for this infringement upon eternity he answers against eternity. A failed suicide sometimes even leads to a rebirth of life, like the return to health after a grievous illness. Suicide seemingly can call up impressive powers. It is not easy to do away with oneself, it needs a mad resolve. But suicide in actuality is not a manifesting of the powers of the human person, it is done by an unhuman power, which commits this terribly difficult deed for a man. The suicide, all the same, is a man obsessed. He is obsessed with the darkness enveloping him, he has lost freedom. This is the typical phenomenon. Suicide likewise is a manifestation of cowardice, unable to show spiritual strength and to hold up under tribulation, it is a betrayal of life and of its Creator. The psychology of suicide is a psychology of being offended, being offended against life, against other people, against the world, against God. But the psychology of being offended is the psychology of the slave. In contrast and opposite to it is the psychology of admitting guilt, which is the psychology of a free and responsible being. In the consciousness of admitting guilt is discovered a greater strength, than in the consciousness of victimhood.
Does suicide signify a lack of love for life and for its blessings? Superficially considered, suicide can produce the impression of the loss of all taste for earthly life, the utmost renunciation of it. But in actuality this is not so. Suicide in the majority of cases is of a special sort the manifestation of an unillumined love for earthly life and its blessings. The suicide is a man, who has lost all hope, that the blessings of life can come his way. He hates his own unhappy and meaningless life, but not earthly life in general, not the blessings of life in general. He would want to have an happier and more meaningful earthly life, but has despaired of its possibility. The psychology, which leads to suicide, is least of all the psychology of a renunciation of the blessings of earthly life. People of the ascetic type, directed upon spiritual life, are oriented towards the other world, towards eternity, and never do they end their life by suicide. There is needful, on the contrary, a great concern for the temporal and the mundane, with a forgetting about eternity and heaven, in order for the psychology of suicide to take form. For the psychological mindset of the suicide it is namely the temporal that has become eternal, whereas the eternal has vanished, it is the earthly life namely with its blessings that is the solely existing life, and of any other sort of life there is not. The psychology of the suicide nowise signifies a contempt for the world and for a good life in the world. On the contrary, it signifies a slavery to the world. A man, spiritually free from the forces of the world, would never suffer the condition of despair and hopelessness, which leads to suicide. He knows, that genuine happiness is not given by the blessings of the world, but rather by a maturing in spiritual life and by closeness to God, he knows that authentic life is a maturing into eternity. But the man, growing within eternity, never wants to forcibly end his life within time. Freedom from the world provides a maturing within spiritual life. When a man ends his life by suicide, he is then murdered by the world, as having become too bitter for him, at a time when he regarded the sweetness of the world as the solely authentic and genuine life. The poison, which a man in the pit of despair takes within, the bullet, which he shoots into his brow, the river, into which he hurls himself, all this is an annihilating of his “world”, in the grip of which he finds himself. When a man deeply and vitally is pervaded by the awareness, that the life in this world and this time is not the sole and utmost life, that there is another, an higher, an eternal life, he never would take it into his head to have the thought of doing away with himself. There would then instead open up before the man the infinite task of growth within eternity, of spiritual ascent, a liberation from the grip of the ugly, miserable, meaningless life of the world. To conquer the will to suicide means to conquer the grip of the “world” over one’s fate. And herein lies a basic paradox involving the suicide. The suicide is least of all the man, capable for sacrifice with his life, he is too caught up in it and immersed in its gloom. Suicide is a submersion of man within himself and the slavery of man to the world. Suicide is egoistic and it is the opposite to the sacrificing of one’s life in the name of others, in the name of whatever the idea, in the name of one’s faith. If the man, resolved on making an end to himself, had it in him to make the sacrifice, he would then stay alive, he would make the sacrifice of it, accepting the burden of life. If the would-be suicide at the fatal moment were capable of thinking about others and of making for the sake of others this sacrifice, his hand would tremble and his life be saved. The grip of the world over the suicide is expressed not in this, that he is capable of thinking about the world, with self-renunciation, the forgetting about himself, but rather in this, that he is all absorbed by his sufferings, which the world brings him and the despair over this, that the world never brings the desired blessings. This signifies, that in relation to the world he is oriented egocentrically. But the egocentric orientation is always a source of slavery. The loss of taste for the world and for life, when everything has become unbearably wearisome, is a suicidal frame of mind, but it does not mean, that a man is freed from the grip of the world. A man would want, that the world should have some taste for him, should arouse and attract him, and is tormented, that this is gone and impossible for him. Herein is the aspect of being caught up in the world, though in negative form, and it remains fully so. History, true, knows of suicide as the duty of slaves, when their master has died, and of women, when their husband has died. These suicides, certainly, are not egocentric, but then too they are nowise characteristic for the modern, and indeed most typical psychological frame of mind with suicide.
Suicide is not only a transgression against life, but also a transgression against death. In suicide there is not the willful acceptance of death, at the hour, appointed from above. The suicide has reckoned himself the sole master of his own life and his own death, he does not want to know That One, Who created life and from Whom death depends. The voluntary acceptance of death is likewise an acceptance of the cross of life. Death too is the final cross of life. In the majority of instances the suicide tends to think, that his cross is heavier, than the cross of others. But no one indeed can determine, whose cross is the heavier. There is here no sort of objective criteria for comparison. Each man has his own particular cross, different from that of some other man. Suicide is not only a false and sinful attitude towards life, it is likewise a false and sinful attitude towards death. Death is a great mystery, the same sort of profound mystery, as is birth. And suicide herein reflects a lack of respect for the mystery of death, the absence of a religious reverence, which it ought to invoke for one. In essence, a man all his life ought to prepare himself for death and the significance and qualitative attainments of his life are defined by this, whether he is prepared for death. To be prepared for death nowise means to wither away, grow weak and give up living. On the contrary, this means to advance one’s life, to have it rooted in eternity. But people in actuality very little become prepared for death, and frequently they are unworthy of death. The Christian attitude towards death is very complex and, apparently, twofold. Life is the greatest blessing, bestowed by the Creator, whereas death is a greatest and final evil. But death is not only evil. The voluntary acceptance of death, the voluntary sacrifice of life is good and a blessing. Christ by death hath trampled down death. Death has also a redemptive significance. To have oneself face a sinful and limited life endlessly would be a nightmare. Through death we come to resurrection for new life. Suicide is directly the opposite to the Cross of Christ, to Golgotha, it is a refusal of one’s cross, a betrayal of Christ. It is therefore in deep contradiction to Christianity. The image of the suicide is the opposite to the image of the Crucified, crucified for truth. And the psychology of the suicide is not at all the psychology of redemptive sacrifice. Redemptive sacrifice is based upon freedom. The suicide however does not know freedom, he has not vanquished the world, but the rather is vanquished by the world. Christ has vanquished the world and prepared the path to an universal victory over death by resurrection. The voluntary cross of sacrifice is the path to eternal life. Suicide however is a path to eternal death, it is a refusal of resurrection.
A genius-like dialectic concerning suicide was revealed by Dostoevsky in his book, “The Possessed” (“Besy”), in the image of Kirillov. Kirillov is obsessed by the idea of man-godhood. Man has to become God. But in order to become God, man has to conquer the fear of death, he has to consciously and freely kill himself. Kirillov decides to kill himself, not because subjectively he experiences a condition of hopelessness and despair, rather his suicide has to be a metaphysical experiment, in which man becomes assured in his own power, and in this, that he is the sole master of life and death. He knows no other master, God, and therefore he himself would become a god. God has existed for man only because man has been afraid. With Kirillov, the idea of suicide bears an apocalyptic character, through it time is conquered. Time will stop and there will be eternity. Kirillov — is a man with an “idea”, he is not guided by any sort of the baser urges, he does not know fear. And here with the image of Kirillov, in his own way an ascetic, is a man of purity, but in everything the opposite to the image of Christ. The man-god has to be the opposite in everything to the God-man. The final word of the metaphysical suicide of Kirillov is death. The final word of the cross of sacrifice of Christ is life, is resurrection. Kirillov makes an empty metaphysical gesture, he is powerless by his death to trample down death, he is powerless to vanquish time and pass over into eternity. The suicide of Kirillov is something ugly, as is all suicide, in it there is no ray of light. But he — is one quite noble and lofty amongst suicides. The crucifixion of Christ, however, which was a verymost wicked deed of those that crucified Him, shines brightly, it brings the world salvation and resurrection. Dostoevsky discovers through the metaphysical experiment of Kirillov that suicide, by its nature, is atheistic, that it is a denial of God, that it is a setting of oneself in place of God. The majority of people, certainly, that end their life by suicide, do not have the metaphysical thoughts of Kirillov, they are instead in an emotional state and do not reason things out. But even without being conscious of it, they put themselves in the place of God, since they reckon only themselves the sole master of life and death, i.e. in practise they assert atheism. The making a god out of man, man-godism, at the extreme can itself be manifest in a violent death. And herein we approach the question concerning the relationship between this violent death and murder. Does suicide constitute murder?
If death be not only an evil, but also a path to resurrection, then murder is purely evil and a very terrible evil. Suicide is the murder of a living being, God’s creation. Those, who do not see this to be murder, base themselves upon the stand, that murder is the annihilating of a life foreign to and not belonging to me. My life belongs to me and therefore I can annihilate it, not committing murder in doing so. Just the same, I cannot commit theft relative to the things belonging to me. But this is a false and superficial line of reasoning. My life is not mine merely, upon which I possess an absolute right of ownership, but is as it were a life on loan, it is first of all a life, belonging to God, Who alone has in it an absolute right of ownership, and it is likewise a life relating to those near and dear for me, other people, my nation, society, and ultimately, all the world, which has need of me. The principle of an absolute right of private property stands in general upon a false principle. The Roman understanding of the right of ownership is not a Christian understanding. The classical formula of the Roman understanding of the right of private property proclaims: dominium est jus utendi, fruendi, abutenti re sua quatenus juris ratio partitur [ownership is the right of disposition, of using, of abusing a thing itself to the extent permitted by reason of law], i.e. this means, ownership is the right not only to make use of a thing for good, but also to misuse it, to do with it whatever one wishes. But the right of absolute ownership does not exist for the things, for the inanimate objects, belonging to man. From a right to a serf-like slavery ought to be liberated not only people, but also things. Granted that from the perspective of an actual right I have the right to break apart and destroy the things belonging to me and I will not be held responsible in this, I will not wind up in prison. But spiritually, morally, religiously I do not have any right to do whatever I see fit to do with the things belonging to me, to deal with them badly, to annihilate and destroy them. I do not have an absolute right to things, I ought to use them well, not misuse them, I ought to treat them in the proper God-befitting wise. And indeed if in too nasty a manner I begin to destroy the things belonging to me, to smash up my furniture, to break the dishes and windows in my home, to tear to shreds my clothes, then very likely I will wind up under a doctor’s care and be put in hospital. My right of ownership of things is relative and not absolute, the things likewise belong to God and to my neighbour and to all the world, an inseparable portion of which they comprise. And if it is even with my own pencil, or book, or clothing, that I ought not to mistreat, then all the moreso I cannot act thus with my own body, with my own life, which is more precious than mere things. The assertion of an absolute right of private property represents a false and non-Christian individualism.
A man ought to love himself as a creation by God, and too great a lack of love and care for oneself, usually accompanied by fits of selfishness (selfishness is not love for oneself in the proper sense of the word, on the contrary), it is a sinful condition, a denial of God’s creation, a denial of the image and likeness of God, of God’s idea. The saying is: “Love thine neighbour, as thyself”. But this presupposes likewise a love for oneself, which is in no way egoism. Without such a love for self, sacrifice would be impossible, and indeed true love for neighbour would be impossible. But here within suicide there is present both egoism and egocentrism, both self-immersion and self-absorption, and there is absent the normal love for self, as a being belonging to God. When a man renders himself hateful and contrary, when he wants to destroy himself, when he is unforgiving towards someone, then to him are rendered hateful and contrary both other people and all God’s world. The psychological paradox consists in this, that the hatred and loathing for oneself involves together with this an egocentrism, an absorption with oneself, a powerlessness to get beyond oneself, to forget about oneself and think about others. People, who hate themselves and who want to destroy themselves, are essentially people with a thin skin, who take offense against others in that which they dislike about themselves. People often want to do away with themselves in order to spite someone else. When a sickly ugliness in man evokes in him a repugnance towards himself and a sense of his own impotence in life and his own abased condition, a man then often takes offense against others and is malicious in regard to others. Spiritually one ought to relate towards oneself, not only for oneself and what one owns, but also as to a being, belonging to God, to the world and to other people. With this is connected the sense of vocation. There exist obligations not only in regards to God and to other people, but also in regards to oneself. Towards oneself it is needful to relate well and not badly, not to destroy oneself, not to deal badly with one’s own soul and body. Suicide is an utmost expression of dealing badly with oneself, of transgressing the duty in regard to oneself. Suicide is the doubtless killing of a being, belonging to God, to people and to the world. And besides, this is a killing not only of the body, but of also the soul, i.e. in a certain sense it is a killing even moreso, than any other. When a man wrecks his soul with debauchery, drunkenness, over-indulgence, heedlessness, with vulgar passions, malice, spitefulness, etc., he then partially commits suicide and murder, he deals improperly with that, which belongs not only to him and which was foreordained for higher ends. The point of view, which holds that man — is the autocratic and self-ruling master of his soul and body, is an atheistic and godless point of view. A man not only does not have the right to destroy his own soul and body, he has also to answer for heedlessness in regard to himself. In maiming and annihilating oneself, a man mains and annihilates the world, the cosmic whole, other people, since, since all is bound up with and dependent upon everything else. In murdering himself, a man inflicts a wound upon the world as a whole, and it impedes the realisation of the Kingdom of God. Man is a being more lofty in his position and his destiny, than he tends to think about himself within his egoism, his self-absorption and beastliness. The egocentric is doomed always to think about himself lower, than a man ought to think about himself. And the suicide, immersed only in himself, does not know the significance, which he has for mankind and for the world, he does not understand, that he is poisoning not only himself, but also God’s world, that he is impeding the realisation of God’s intent with the world. Man did not create himself, God created him for eternal life and he was created, so that his life should be bound up with the life of all God’s creation. Death however came into the world as a result of original sin. St. Thomas Aquinas says, that suicide is a sin in relation to oneself, in relation to society and in relation to God. The suicide commits a great sin in regard to his own soul, depriving himself of the possibility of repentance, of a spiritually regenerative approach to the terrible mystery of death. The bold bravery, which sometimes the suicide manifests, is a surface and illusory bravery. Beneathe it is hidden cowardice and fear in facing life. Suicide is an absolute isolation of oneself from being, from God’s world, from mankind. But such an isolation is impossible as regards the ordering of being. All and everything is bound up with all and everything. And all mankind and all the world is as it were an organism. Only a Christian consciousness reveals the truth about suicide and posits a proper attitude towards it. The sociological perspective, which being based upon statistics, wants to establish a social principle underlying the inevitability of suicide, is at root false, for it sees merely the external side of the phenomenon, merely the result of unseen inner processes, and it does not penetrate down into the depths of life.1
In the pre-Christian and pagan world there was a different attitude towards suicide. And suicide amongst savage peoples was more widespread, than is generally thought. The Romans were either indifferent towards the question about suicide or else approved of it. For Seneca, a representative of the Stoic philosophy who is regarded as at the summits of the Roman moral consciousness and indeed close to Christianity, for him also suicide was quite the possibility. The Romans idealised suicide and regarded it as noble. In the empire period, suicide assumed the guise of refinement. But this meant, that the positive meaning of life was lost or not even found. Both the Epicureans and the Stoics contended against the sufferings of life and they attempted to work out an inward self-defense, that of passionlessness. But Stoicism, a very lofty as such natural morality, is afraid of sufferings and hides itself off from them. The possibility of suicide is one of the consolations, if all the other consolations have disappeared. Refined souls, suffering from the coarseness of life, having lost faith in the objective meaning of life, sometimes are inclined to idealise suicide as a noble gesture, as a noble exit from the world. But this is not a religious and not a Christian state of soul. Already in the XIX Century the pessimism of Schopenhauer calls for a worldwide suicide, for an extinguishing of the worldwide will to life, in its begetting of torment and suffering. He calls for non-being, for Nirvana. But here the individual question about suicide is dulled and loses its immediacy. Schopenhauer, who came close to Buddhism, likewise is afraid of sufferings and wants to flee them. Only Christianity asserts a fearlessness in the face of sufferings, asserts a meaning to suffering, the significance of the Cross. And therein is Christianity very brave a religion. The ideological mindset of the suicide asserts however, that the suffering is more terrible than the killing. We have said already, that suicide is a form of murder. And with this point of view, however, it might be possible to excuse the killing of a man out of sympathy, in order to deliver him from unbearable sufferings, from hopeless illness, from disgrace etc. But the Christian Church has a firm stand on this, that the killing is always more terrible than the suffering, that it better to suffer, than to kill out of sympathy. They have even tended to assert, that Judas was more blameworthy, in having killed himself, than in having betrayed Christ. The Japanese hara-kiri is a noble and knight-like ritual form of suicide, but it is impossible for the Christian. Christianity is profoundly different whether from Stoicism or from Buddhism and from all the teachings religious or philosophic on the question concerning the meaning of suffering. Only Christianity both teaches, that suffering is bearable and has meaning. Suffering would be unbearable, if it were without significance. But meaning makes suffering bearable. Suicide regards suffering as both unbearable and meaningless. But the significance of suffering is in this, that it is the bearing of a cross, to which the Saviour of the world hath called us. Take up thine cross and come follow Me. It is namely the consciousness of bearing the cross of life that also makes suffering bearable. Revolt against the suffering renders the suffering twofold, and the man suffers not only from the tribulations sent him down from above, but also from his revolt against the suffering. The cross indeed is an unique defense against suicide, an unique power, which can be used to withstand it. Every man, inclined towards suicide, ought to sign himself with the Sign of the Cross, to accept the cross within himself. In the mystery of the cross namely is the sanction against suicide.
Man over the course of his life’s path experiences inward emotional crises of soul, sometimes very incapacitating and tormentive. An inward emotional crisis can represent genuine agony for a man. And the young person tends to know suchlike stormy inward emotional crises. With them, for example, it is accompanied by the sexual maturing of man, a stormy flood of forces, finding no outlet. Youth knows its own melancholy, a melancholy from a surfeit of unspent powers, from the uncertainty of successfully living them out. Youth is more inclined towards melancholy, than is generally thought, but this is not the melancholy of impotence and exhaustion, as is the melancholy of old age. Suicide in youth often happens as the result of stormy inward emotional crises, in which the powers of man find no outlet. An attentive and watchful attitude to inward emotional crises is very necessary. The loss of childhood faith, a crisis of world-outlook can beget very stormy inward emotional processes and evoke this melancholy. Likewise fatal can be the inward emotional crisis, resulting of a failed love. Particularly dangerous likewise in its consequences likewise are the inward crises of emotional natures, wherein passions hold complete sway. Crises come more readily upon natures, in whom the emotional element is at a stronger level than the intellectual and volitional element. The whole question consists in this, the ease by which the entire inward life of man becomes defined by one whatever the passion, the ease by which a man is made obsessed by one whatever the condition, when the waves of darkness engulf all the soul. Suicide is rendered all the easier at the moment of inner emotional crises and the whole task here is in getting beyond the dangerous points of the thickening darkness. There is likewise a small number of instances of suicide, which appear as the result, even if not fully then at least partially, of dementia and insanity. Melancholy is a form of psychological disorder. Modern psychopathology teaches, that the human soul is a tempestuous affair and that in each man there is the potential for madness, but is held within limits. It becomes necessary for man to fight his way through to an emotional health and balance. And it mustneeds be said, that a man at the moment of suicide in a majority of instances is situated in a state of psychological disorder, his psychical state of mind having toppled and destroyed the psychological equilibrium, the function of the discerning of reality goes out of focus, the hierarchy of values becomes distorted and some particular one nowise primary value becomes the sole and absolute one, the consciousness becomes overwrought and the memory freezes up in a paralysis upon some much too grave an aspect wherein holds sway only but the idee fixe of the suicide.
Suicide represents first of all a terrible narrowing down of the consciousness, wherein the subconscious inundates the proper field of the consciousness. Within the subconscious of man lives not only the powerful instinct of life, but also the instinct of death. Freud even creates a whole metaphysics out of this. It would be a mistake to think, that man strives only towards life and self-preservation, he strives likewise towards death and self-destruction. Some inner crisis, in which whatever the passion completely consumes the man, readily betrays the man into the grip of the subconscious instinct of death and self-destruction. Even the ancients were wont to say, that Hades and Dionysos — are one and the same god. The orgyiast and Dionysian element in exuberant life readily passes over into a frenzy of destruction and death. This was expressed with genius by Pushkin in his “Feasting During a Time of Plague”:
Everything, everything, what threatens ruin,
For the heart of the morbid
Lies concealed with ineffable delights.
The force of life and the force of death at some point not only intersect, but also become identical. And therein love and death come to have such a close proximity between them. The love of Tristan and Isolde, of Romeo and Juliet, is inexorably bound up with death. And suchlike in particular is the love of the youth. Man is capable of conceiving of the attraction of death as something most sweet, as the solution to all the tormenting contradictions of life, as a revenge, taken against life, and as retribution for his life. The interrelationship between the consciousness and the subconscious within man is very complex. This has been sufficiently made manifest by modern psychopathology and psychology, by Freud, Adler and Jung. Inner emotional and nervous illnesses are begotten of conflict between the consciousness and the subconscious, they appear as the result of the restraining censorship by the consciousness over whatever spheres of the subconscious. At the moment during a crisis of soul the correlation established between the consciousness and the subconscious breaks down, and the subconscious justifies itself and takes over. The traditional aspects of consciousness for a given man — the social, the moral and even the religious — are rendered powerless under the pressure of the subconscious: the directly immediate instincts of life, the force of passions, of love, of revenge, the will to succeed, the strength of suffering all have their way and obstruct the prohibitions of the consciousness. An inner emotional crisis, arising from the clash of the subconscious with the conscious, in a moment leads to a disorder of psychic functions, it upsets the unstable psychical equilibrium, which obtains by a complete suppression of the subconscious. The instinct for destruction and death, such as derives from the dark subconscious during a moment of turbulent inner crises, cannot be conquered by the set established traditional forms of the consciousness, which tend to prove themselves too weak and powerless a means. It is not the power of the consciousness, which often proves disabling for life, but rather the power of the supra-consciousness, a graced spiritual power, which can save one from the dark instincts of the subconscious. The saving factour in these instances is not the traditional religious consciousness with its laws and shalt-nots, but rather the graced power of God. The subconscious instinct for death, which is one of the manifestations of the orgyiastic instinct for life, remains unconquerable by the too sober, too deliberative and measured a consciousness. It is conquerable only by the graced power of the Cross and Resurrection, to which the Cross leads. The psychological mindset of the suicide can be defined as the extinguishing of the consciousness, begotten of torments, and a return into the loins of the unconscious, as a revolt against being born from the maternal loin of life, whereof is begotten the consciousness. But besides the unconscious or the subconscious there is still also the supra-consciousness. Besides the pull inwards there is also the pull upwards. The instinct for death is an instinct for an unconscious life. Dostoevsky in his “Notes from the Underground” says, that suffering — is the sole unique cause for the arising of consciousness. Hence the liberation from consciousness represents a liberation from suffering. And the unhappy tortured consciousness likewise seeks a liberation in drunkenness and narcotics. But the consciousness is a path to the supra-consciousness, to an higher spiritual life, to life in God through the cross and suffering. The whole question consists in this, whether a man can find in himself the power to bear up under the consciousness with its accompanying suffering. When a man resorts to morphine, to cocaine, opium, he does not bear up under the torment of consciousness and from his consciousness he winds up going downwards rather than upwards. This is a partialised suicide. During inner emotional crises this question becomes particularly acute and the downward abyss of the subconscious exerts a strong pull upon a man. The attracting sweetness of death, like a temptation waiting in ambush for a man at various catastrophic moments, is the sweetness of quenching a tortured consciousness, it is the delight of uniting with the subconscious impersonal. This is a renunciation of person, as being something at too costly a price, and an uniting with the impersonal elements. There is a peculiar temptation to perishing, a rapture with perishing as a matter of tragic beauty. This is a temptation, deeply contrary to the religion of the Cross and the Resurrection, it is a refusal not only of existence as a person, but a refusal also of freedom, a resistance to the will of God, that a man through consciousness should come to an higher and supra-conscious life, through the Cross and the Resurrection. The subconscious instinct for death ought to be transformed into a voluntary acceptance of the Cross of life, and the meaning of suffering, i.e. from an instinct reactive and oriented backwards, it ought to be transformed into an instinct creative and oriented forwards. Man is a turbulent being, in his subconscious there is a terrible darkness. Modern psychology tends to show this. Christianity also teaches this, when it speaks about original sin. The will to suicide, to self-destruction witnesses to the incapacitating conflict of the subconscious and the consciousness. The healing however comes from an higher sphere, standing both over the subconscious and over the everyday consciousness.
Suicide as an individual phenomenon has to be conquered by Christian faith, hope and love. The instinct for death and self-destruction has to be transformed by faith, hope and love, into a bearing of the Cross of life. We are completely convinced, that the person can worthily exist and preserve himself from the thirst for self-destruction, if within the person there is a supra-personal content, if one lives not only for oneself and in the name of oneself. It is impossible to live only for the sustaining of life and for pleasure in life. This is merely zoological, and not truly human an existence. Life brings an incalculable number of sufferings and proves disappointing in the possibility of realising the personal goals in life and of using life for personal satisfaction. The denial of a supra-personal content to life proves to be a denial of person. The person exists only in the instance, if there exists the supra-personal, for otherwise it dissolves down into that which is below it. It is impossible to seek only after oneself and strive only for oneself, it is only possible to seek after that which is higher than I myself, and to strive towards it. Life is rendered completely stale, at the moment when I set myself above everything, at the summit of existence. Then actually it is possible to do away with myself out of anguish and melancholy. It is needful, that there be somewhere whither to proceed, that there be some heights, for then only does life take on meaning. When a man perceives within himself of a supra-personal content to life, he perceives his own belonging to a great whole and that the very least in life is bound up with the great. Howsoever small the life of a man might seem, he can conceive of his belonging to the Church, to Russia, to great supra-personal organisms, and to the great values, realised within history. In eras subject to historical processes and upheavals, when entire social segments find themselves torn off from the historical bodies, in which they were born and lived, suicide can become a social phenomenon. And here then particularly important is the perceiving of the supra-personal content and values in life. This presupposes an awakening of spiritual life and its especial intensification. In calm and tranquil times people live naturally in the lifestyle, connected with the supra-personal organisms, with kindred families, classes, with traditional national cultures. During such times religion often tends to become exclusively a matter of lifestyle, inherited, traditional, and it does not presuppose a blazing up of spirit, of personal spiritual exertions; patriotism likewise becomes a matter of lifestyle, traditional, defined by the outward position of a man. It is not such for the Russians of the epoch, in which we live. All the historical bodies have gone to rot, existence has lost all its tranquility and everything has passed over into a stormy turbulence. Life demands enormous spiritual exertions. It requires a spiritual strength and intensity, in order to believe, that Russia and the Russian people remain alive, and that one belongs still to it, though one be cast off into Africa or Australia. It requires a blazing up of spirit, in order to believe, that the Orthodox Church, persecuted and oppressed, debilitated in its organisation, experiencing troubles and discord, in actuality has become reborn and illumined, standing spiritually higher than the Church, which was triumphant, a part of the state, externally brilliant in its brocade and gold. It requires personal spiritual efforts, to find oneself set within a tempest and not be carried off by the wind. There occur outwardly felicitous epochs, when at times there is stability and everything naturally occupies within it a firm position. But there occur also catastrophic epochs, when at times there is no stable firmness, when there is nothing to rely on, when the very ground shakes beneathe one’s feet. In such epochs, more remarkable than the tranquil epochs, the strength and steadfastness of a man are defined only by the extent that he is rooted in eternity. Man perceives, that he belongs not only to time, but also to eternity, not only to the world, but also to God. During such epochs the finding of a spiritual life within oneself is a life or death question, a question of being saved from perishing. Only those hold fast, who find within them a great spirituality. Faith itself during such periods presupposes great efforts of the person’s spirit and therefore it is qualitatively higher than the faith of an inherited lifestyle. It would be folly in such epochs to think only about oneself and about one’s own personal aims. This is the path of self-destruction. Everyone each bears a terrible responsibility, he either affirms life, renewal and hope, or else death, disintegration, despair. Each Russian at present to an immeasurably greater degree bears within himself Russia, moreso than back then, when he lived peacefully in Russia. Back then Russia was given him gratis, now however it must be had by ardour of spirit. Likewise too each Orthodox person at present to an immeasurably greater degree is responsible for the Church and bears within himself the fate of the Church, than back then when he lived peacefully in the Church, guarded by the state and the traditional lifestyle. And each of us is faced with immeasurably greater demands, than before. It has become impossible any longer still to remain lukewarm, to be still a nominal Christian, half Christian, half pagan, it is necessary to make choices, to show a capacity for sacrifice, to become spiritually intense. There is occurring in the world an enormous struggle of Christian and anti-Christian forces, and no one can evade participating in it. We live in a very difficult, but quite more interesting a time, than in the periods preceeding. Much of the old is gone and has irreversibly passed away, the old life will never return and it is in vain to wish for this. But there has awakened a new interest for world and human life, an interest for the heights and from the depths, from God and through God. From the perspective of eternity, we receive the possibility to look upon time and to assert eternity within time. Now is not the time to lose courage, to fall apart, to give way to despair, now is the time to pull oneself up, to get oneself together, a time to believe and have hope, and a time to remember, that man is a spiritual being, foreordained for eternity.
We ought not harshly and mercilessly to judge the suicide. And indeed the judgement is not ours given us to make. But it is impossible to idealise suicide. It is not the suicide, the one committing suicide, but rather the act of suicide that ought to be condemned, as a sin, as a spiritual failing and weakness. Suicide is a betrayal of the Cross. During that moment, when a man is killing himself, he forgets about Christ, and were he to remember, his hand would tremble and he would not inflict the mortal blow upon himself. He would preserve his life, since therein he has found the resolve to sacrifice it. He wanted to kill himself, since he did not want to sacrifice his life, since he was thinking only about himself and was affirming only himself. Self-denial and self-sacrifice in the name of the supra-personal sacred is a phenomenon directly the opposite of suicide. For the man to live seems more difficult, than to die, and so he chooses the easier. All moments within life are difficult and demand an effort, whereas the choice of suicide presupposes merely one difficult moment. But the illusion and self-deception of the suicide is based upon this, that it presents itself as a final liberation from time, the cessation of suffering and torments. The suicide believes, that suffering will no more be. And this comes at the price, that suicide is a refusal of immortality. But the minute, in which suicide occurs, is a final minute merely of our time, beyond it follows the whole of eternity and judgement. But if a man, in having resolved to kill himself, were to sense himself standing afront eternity, afront the judgement of eternity, his resolve would then be shaken. The suicide hopes to annihilate not only time, but also eternity. Both time and eternity are bound up for him with consciousness, which he wants ultimately to extinguish. But ontologically to annihilate himself is impossible, and possible only is the transfer of himself into another condition. The suicide can no longer endure the torment of living with himself, in his gloomy darkness, in his isolation. He hopes to escape himself through killing himself. But in actuality, he is still deeply caught up in himself, in a bad infinity of torment, which continues after the act of suicide. Man only temporarily is situated within time, he is a being, predestined for eternity, and in him there is an eternal and indestructible principle, which cannot be annihilated by killing and suicide. It is possible to extinguish our consciousness and return into the loin of the subconscious. But this extinguishing of consciousness is not eternal, but rather temporal. The consciousness again will awaken and how grievous can seem this awakening. Freud’s student, Rank, wrote a very interesting book about “the trauma of birth”. He demonstrates, that a man is born in fear and terror; he gasps to take a breath in being separated from the maternal womb, and the consequences of this trauma remain throughout all his life, it manifests itself both as the source of man’s myth-making and of his sicknesses. Rank thinks, that with man remains the desire to return to the maternal womb. Life in the world continues to frighten man, the primal fear of birth does not pass away. I have spoken already about the subconscious instinct of death in man. But the terrible thing is in this, that the return of the suicide into the loin of the subconscious can conceal an even greater fear, than that of being born. The considerations of a deliverance for the suicide are based upon coarse materialistic premises, and we come into conflict here with the basic question concerning the meaning of life.
The suicidal instinct is a regressive instinct, it denies a positive growth of meaning within worldly life. How ought we to relate to consciousness, to the person, to freedom? Are they manifest as values, which nowise are to be possibly refused? The suicide regards with doubt the value of consciousness, of the person, of freedom. A life unconscious, impersonal, of the darkness of the womb, determinate upon the attraction of death and non-being, becomes better than a life that is conscious, of the person, free, since consciousness begets suffering, since the person is something wrought in the forge of suffering, since freedom is spiritually difficult and tragic. Right up to the end the man falters and refuses the great task, to be a person, to be a free being, to grow and mature in his consciousness towards the supra-consciousness. Out of the fear of suffering he is ready to turn back. It mustneeds be remembered, that our consciousness is situated at a certain mid-point of being, and not the summit, it is but a path to the summit, to the supra-consciousness, to God’s deification of human nature. And the subconscious element, which always is more extensive and deeper than consciousness, through the work of consciousness knowing its own limits has to pass over into the sphere of the supra-conscious, of Divine being. This does not mean, certainly, that everything of the subconscious can and should entirely pass over into the conscious. There will remain always the subconscious loins of life. But the great task of movement upwards does not permit of a refusal of being, of the conscious and free person. It is needful right up to the end to withstand tribulation, to remain a conscious and free person, to not permit its annihilation by an element of the pre-conscious, hearkening backwards. In each man there is the archaic man, with inherited aspects from ancient and primieval mankind, in him there is the child and there is madness. The rise of consciousness as a path to the supra-consciousness, to the sense of person as the bearer of supra-personal values, of spiritual freedom, of the high dignity of man and the sign of his God-likeness, involves an incessant struggle against the regressive movement of man’s return to an archaically primieval and infantile condition, it is a struggle against the dissociation of the consciousness into madness, which nowise signifies the arising of the supra-consciousness, as sometimes they tend to think. To be human, to be a person, to be spiritually free, without allowing the dissociation of one’s consciousness out of a fear at the contradictions and sufferings of life, — all this is an heroic task, and it is the realisation within oneself of the image and likeness of God. Suicide however is an apostacy from this task, a refusal of one’s humanity, a return to a pre-human state. Life is an ascent upwards, whereas suicide is a withering and falling down. The great illusion and deception of the suicide is the expectation, that suicide is a liberation, a deliverance from the torments of life, from the absurdity of life. In actuality, the act of suicide is first of all and most of all a loss of freedom, which always calls for an ascent, for a victory over the world. And in the people, inclined towards suicide, there mustneeds first of all be awakened the sense of the dignity of free beings, as children of God, called to an higher life. The suicide not only himself right up to the end refuses his humanity, he also poisons the surrounding atmosphere with the poison of non-being. To be human is a great task, set before us by the Creator. To be human means to be a person, to be spiritually free, to grow in one’s consciousness, and be a creator. And indeed the greatest mystery of life consists in this, that everything within man has to be transcended by an higher condition, and therein presupposes the higher. Man has to become man, by transcending himself, and as a person it presupposes the existence of supra-personal values, of truth, good, beauty and growth towards supra-personal being, the consciousness presupposes the existence of the supra-consciousness, wherein the soul both lives and breaths by spirit and spiritual life. Man exists because that God is, and because he can stir himself to move towards God. But the transcending of every limitation, the limitedness of consciousness, the limitedness of the person, the limitedness of everything human cannot be attained by movement downwards and backwards, it is to be attained only by movement upwards and forwards. The question concerning suicide is the question concerning the religious meaning of life. The act of suicide is a denial of it. Hapless, naive and foolish are those sociologico-positivists, who think, that society and social values can substitute for God and the Divine values of life, and therein provide the human person the meaning of life. The thought about society and social duty per se never and no one ever hindered from suicide. What meaning can an abstract idea have for the man, for whom everything in the world has grown dim? Only the remembering of God as a most sublime reality, nowise whither to be escaped, as both source of life and source of meaning, can halt one from suicide. One can escape society in death, in non-being, and society remains powerless over the eternal fate of man. From God however it is nowise and nowhere possible to escape even through death, it is impossible to flee the judgement of God and God’s determining the eternal fates of man. Even the relationship of the human person to society receives meaning through its relationship to God. Only God provides life its meaning in the struggle against suicide, against suicidal states of mind, and it is a struggle for the religious meaning of life, a struggle for the image and likeness of God within man.
© 2002 by translator Fr. S Janos (In Memory of Beloved Friend Peter)
(1931 – 27 – en)
O SAMOUBIISTVE. Psikhologicheskii etiud. Booklet published in 1931 by YMCA Press, Paris, 46 pages.
1 See for example the book by the head of the French sociological school, Durkheim, “Le suicide”.