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Labzin and the Mysteries in Russia


The Rosicrucian Influence on Eastern Christianity
V. V. Zenkovsky
A 2017 Editorial Note:
The following article is reproduced from
A History of Russian Philosophy”, by V. V.
Zenkovsky, a two-volume edition, Routledge &
Kegan Paul Ltd., London, 1953, vol. I, pp. 109-111.
In the 19th century, theosophist Helena Blavatsky
wrote that Russia was the only country where the
pure ideal of Christ was still preserved. A living,
unbureaucratic view of Christian Mysticism has
been strong and influential from the beginning in the
History of Russia. It is present in the ideas of I.V. Lopukhin
(author of the book “The Inner Church”), and the writings
of Alexei Khomiakov, M.M. Speranski, Fyodor Dostoevsky,
Leo Tolstoy, N. Berdyaev and N.O. Lossky, among others.  
In order to facilitate the reading, we divide some of the
paragraphs in the article by Zenkovsky into smaller ones,
and add two footnotes with extra information on Labzin.
(Carlos Cardoso Aveline)
Aleksander F. Labzin (1766-1825) very early displayed outstanding talent, especially in mathematics (he studied higher mathematics to the end of his life).
At the age of sixteen he came under the influence of Professor Schwarz, the freemason - founder of the Rosicrucian Order in Moscow - under whose guidance he studied philosophy extensively, feeling himself profoundly attracted to it. [1]
There is no definite evidence that Labzin was enthusiastic about Schwarz’s occult ideas, although Pypin, for example, considers Labzin a “continuer of Rosicrucianism in literature”.[2]
Labzin undertook the translation and publication of mystical books, such as Eckartshausen’s Key to the Mysteries of Nature, 1804, Vital Hieroglyphics for the Human Heart, 1803, etc. In 1806, he began to publish the Sionski vestnik [Zion’s Herald], which was an immediate and widespread success.
However, this journal was soon closed and did not resume publication until 1817, when Alexander I turned decisively toward mysticism. [3]
A branch of the British Bible Society was formed in Russia, and a kind of “universal Christianity” was implanted from above. Criticism of Western sects was forbidden. The whole spiritual atmosphere of the time exhibited a triumph of “non-ecclesiastical Christianity”. This was strikingly represented by the Quakers, who had great success both with Alexander I and in the general religious movement of the time. In this atmosphere Labzin resumed publication of his Sionski vestnik, warmly developing the idea of  “inner Christianity”, and calling upon Russians to “awake”. But this “awakening”, according to Labzin, required no “outward acts”; it is necessary, for the “perfection of the soul and of the whole man”, for “union with the heavenly world”, to combat the influence of the material world upon the soul. Magnetism, which frees the soul from the body, is, according to Labzin, the means for doing this.
Labzin was resolutely opposed to creedal divisions; he even asserted that the faith of Christ “does not separate believers from nonbelievers” or “Old-Testament man from New”, that “Christianity existed from the creation of the world”, that “the Church of Christ is boundless, embracing the whole human race”. Labzin spoke of Holy Scripture as a “mute preceptor which points symbolically to the living teacher dwelling within the heart”. “The outer church is a crowd of public, inferior Christians, like Job on the dung-heap”. Labzin, in this preaching of non-ecclesiastical Christianity, which shows clear signs of a secularism verging on conflict with the Church, openly followed the Quakers. In his justificatory letter (when he decided, in view of the obstructions of censorship, to discontinue his journal) he wrote that his “models” were Boehme, Stilling, and Saint-Martin.
It would be erroneous to conclude that Labzin gave no place to reason. His mysticism did not deny the importance of reason in the “lower” stages of spiritual enlightenment. “It is an offence to faith”, he wrote, “to say that faith demands the sacrifice of reason; on the contrary, reason is the ground of faith, … but faith asserts what reason understands confusedly”. “Reason leads man to the doors of the temple, but it cannot bring him within. Faith may be dispensed with; but reason is eternal, for man is a rational being.” [4]
These statements are an interesting revelation of Labzin’s closeness to the rationalistic tendencies of the time [5], as well as to the first germination of the theurgical conceptions, which sought in a knowledge of the “secrets of nature” - for example, magnetism, in which everyone was interested at the time - a key to higher revelations (outside the Church).
Labzin’s life ended unhappily. He was exiled to a remote province - because of a sharp word concerning persons close to the Tsar. However, he found warm admirers there who made his last days easier.
[1] N. O. Lossky writes about this philosopher: “I.G. Schwarz (1751-1784), a German who was professor of philosophy at the Moscow University from 1779-1782 (…) was a believer in the Rosicrucian doctrines, and in the lectures which he delivered at his house he explained obscure passages in the works of St. Martin by references to Jacob Boehme’s Mysterium Magnum (…). He preached the need for man’s moral and spiritual improvement and denounced political and ecclesiastical abuses and defects of the clergy. His early death saved him from government persecution.” (“History of Russian Philosophy”, by N.O. Lossky, George Allen and Unwin Ltd., London, 1952, 409 pp., p. 11.) Regarding Jacob Boehme and his influence on Russian philosophy, one must take into consideration that Helena Blavatsky called him “the nursling of the genii (Nirmanakayas) who watched over and guided him” (The Secret Doctrine, volume I, p.  492). (CCA)
[2] Pypin, Religioznyie dvizheniya pri Aleksandre I [Religious Movements under Alexander I], p. 99. (V. V. Zenkovsky)
[3] One can read in a book published in 2013:“… Labzin was drawn into freemasonry early in his life by the famous German masonic figure in Moscow, I.G. Schwartz, who in the 1780s introduced Rosicrucian masonic lodges into Russia. At the turn of the century, Labzin assumed a position in Petersburg as secretary of the Academy of Arts. From that period and at the reopening of masonic lodges, he became a leader within the Dying Sphinx, an exclusive and separate Rosicrucian lodge. Sionskii vestnik began in 1806 and featured translations of western mystical literature, including the works of Jung-Stilling, Boehme, and Eckartshausen, among others. The journal was suspended shortly after its inauguration because of complaints about the mystical tenor of its publication. The broader interest in mystical literature, however, developed with renewed strength after the Napoleonic invasion, with the result that the popularity of Labzin and his journal expanded greatly in the second half of Alexander I’s reign. Sionskii vestnik gave Labzin a renewed platform for his message of moral awakening and religious conversion.” (See “Russian Bible Wars: Modern Scriptural Translation and Cultural Authority”, by Stephen K. Batalden, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge / New-York, 2013, 395 pp., p. 22.) (CCA)
[4] Quoted by Kolyupanov, Biografiya A. I. Koshelyova [A Biography of A. I. Koshelyov], I, 170-176. (V. V. Zenkovsky)
[5] Labzin’s friend Dmitriyev testifies to this in his memoirs. “His reason”, he wrote of Labzin, “conceived everything clearly and simply, grounded everything on strict necessity and on the law which unites visible and invisible, earthly and heavenly. Such, I thought, is the science of religion….”. (V. V. Zenkovsky)
See in our associated websites the article “Slavophilism and Theosophy”, by Carlos Cardoso Aveline.
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Labzin and the Mysteries in Russia

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