A ‘citizen’ is always unfree, always feels the whole weight of oppressive power upon him, of public opinion, tradition, everyday life, the history of his country. We all know this, because it all took place in our own lives. We know that in the time of the Russian civil war, choice implied death, imprisonment, exile, the total crippling of one’s life. We remember what it meant to bear the responsibility for one’s views; we remember the absence of freedom in confessing them. And still more we know what it means to confess one’s faith where it is persecuted, where the whole force of the state is raised against it. We know how people would be deprived of their crust of bread for the baptismal cross on their neck, how they would be sent to the camps for a book of religious content, and so on.
Now we’ve become émigrés. What does that mean? First of all it means freedom. It means a sort of absolute falling out of the rule of law, a sort of ultimate deliverance from all external responsibility, an extremely painful and at the same time blissful sense of being beyond the influence of power, public opinion, tradition, everyday life, and the history of our country. It is as though we have lost our weightiness, lost our corporeality, acquired an enormous mobility and lightness, become unbound. And we are not answerable to anyone for anything. If we have faith, nobody cares about it. If we hold certain extreme opinions in the political sphere, they have no effect: we cannot, even by participating passively in elections, give an extra vote to the man we sympathize with. We are almost like shadows. Our own public opinion has no force. Perhaps no one is ever so much outside the whole process of life as the person who has lost all his civil rights and responsibilities, as the person who has become so fully irresponsible, as the émigré. The “citizen” has the opportunity of realizing himself, bearing the incredible overhead expenses of this realization; he must constantly overcome the friction of his milieu, of public opinion, of tradition. We do not have to overcome any friction, we do not have any overhead expenses, but we are almost deprived of corporeality, we have no point on which to apply our forces.
Such is the objective character of our condition. But apart from the necessity of characterizing it, we have the need to comprehend it religiously. At the beginning of the nineteenth century there existed a whole pleiad of social utopians who dreamed of creating a new life on uninhabited islands, built on new and just laws coming in from outside the old and unjust tradition. They did not succeed in finding any uninhabited islands. These uninhabited islands have been given to us without our will in the very centers of world history. We have to set up our monarchies or republics, or communities, our hermitages, in Paris or New York.
Mother Maria Skobtsova, “Under the Sign of Our Time” (x)