Andrey Kuraev. What did Bulgakov want to tell in his novel “Master and Margarita”?
The novel “Master and Margarita” by writer M.A. Bulgakov is famous for showing interrelation of human thoughts and doings and circumstances which follow notwithstanding human’s will.
Well, what did the writer, whose 125th anniversary to be celebrated this year, want to tell us? About what or about whom was the novel “Master and Margarita” written?
We are presenting you a work by Andrey Kuraev, protodeacon of the Russian Orthodox Church about understanding of the novel “Master and Margarita” named “Master and Margarita: for the Christ or against him”. The work is presented in separate chapters with our commentaries.
In his research of Bulgakov Andrey Kuraev tried to understand relation of writer to religion and to find this reflection in the novel. One of chapters of the Andrey Kuraev’s research is dedicated to the writer’s belief.
Bulgakov and belief
So was Bulgakov theomachist, atheist-blasphemer?
Bulgakov had churchly childhood. Both his grandfathers were clergymen, and father, Afanasiy Ivanovich Bulgakov (1857-1907) – professor of Kiev Theological Academy who left couple of monographs about comparative theology. Mikhail’s god father – professor of Kiev Theological Academy N.I. Petrov despite of big difference in their ages later became a friend for his god son. Mikhail Afanasievich was married by hole new martyr archpriest Aleksandr Glagolev (by the way he was also a theologian and was an expert in the Beilis case). Famous theologian archpriest Sergiy Bulgakov also was a relative to Mikhail Afanasievich.
But already in three years after father’s death (in 1910) his sister Nadezhda wrote in her diary: “Misha didn’t fast this year. He seems to decide question regarding religion finally – faithlessness”. He didn’t wear next-to-skin cross. There also were drug addictions. His first wife had to have an abortion before marriage. It should be no surprise that he gave bitter enough sketch from the parochial life. I didn’t find any evidences of his participation in the orthodox life of Church.
Anyhow everything that seemed final to 18-yeared teenager in 1910, changed then.
As writer’s biographer writes – “those who thinks of biography and work of Bulgakov must always keep in mind: whatever happened to doctor of theology son during first years after father’s death and during following decades – all this was rised up on the basis established in childhood: it was impossible to take it out”.
One of reasons of divorce with first wife (Tatiana Nikolaevna) was her glowering relation to religion. His third wife – Elena Sergeevna Bulgakova – remembered: “Did he trust? Trusted, but sure not like a churchman but in his own way. Anyway, when he was ill he trusted – I’m bail for it”
Rudimental ecclesiasticism was kept at his house: there was Christmas tree for children (not a new year tree), there was a prayer: “31 of January 1934. The year is coming to the end. And I’m walking through our rooms often catch myself crossing and whispering: God! Let it be the same further!” (E.S. Bulgakova diaries). And Bulgakov has never used blasphemy for God and Church. Some people tried to order antireligious plays – and he refused (and it was in 1937!)
Here is Bulgakov’s diary: “19 October 1922. Well, we will hope on God and live. This is the only and the best way… 26 October 1923. My illness is lingering. It may prevent me working. That is why I’m afraid of it, that is why I hope on God…. 27 October 1923. Help me, God”. “Each morning I pray for this house built over could stay as long as possible – the quality of the building confuses a little”. “I had to experience one more disappointment at the end of my life- in primary care doctors…. And let the God help to all of us who is ill now!”
“Help me, God, to finish the novel”, – it was note to one of Bulgakov’s rough drafts to novel’s chapters in 1931. Also there is Bulgakov’s acknowledgement of life after death. S.Ermolinsky shared words of Bulgakov to tell him in 1940:”Sometimes it seems to me that death is continuation of life. We just can’t imagine how it happens… I’m not talking about beyond the grave, I’m not a churchman and theosophist, God forbid! But I’m asking you: what will happen to you after the death if you had no life? Nietzsche is fool… (He breathed helplessly) No, I seem to be definitely bad if I’m talking about such recondite things. And it’s me?…”.
In poems of his brother Mikhail Bulgakov points lines where orthodox faith in “on-coming angel” – “Angel of death” is impressed:
You’ll enter without any word my chance host.
Like charmed I’ll suck
By eyes in view unseen before
I’ll tell- I’m ready and not afraid.
Comment of Mikhail Afanasievich: “I’ll tell I’m ready and not afraid. It’s correct and it’s great” So Bulgakov maybe was not guilty in the fault to cause such a disgust with Dante: “I confirm that from all types of human’s beastliness the most stupid and harmful is to believe that there will be no other life after this” (Dante, the Banquet 2, 8)
But his books assures more than poor notes in diaries that Bulgakov had experience of fervent prayer.
Result of Mikhail Bulgakov’s religious way we have already seen: three days before his death, “6th March 1940. He was very kind, kissed many times and crossed me and himself – but not correct, couldn’t probably use his hands…”
It was the last offspring of his religiosity. But before it during days of his last and painful illness the spiritual abuse of Mikhail Afanasievich was awful. He asked to give him a revolver several times (he wanted to make “euthanasia” to himself). He tried to burn the novel (and he really burned it in march 1930, and separate pages and chapters – later also). “1 October 1939. He aroused at seven am – insufferable headache. Doesn’t believe in anything. About revolver. Words: I refuse from the novel. I refuse from everything, refuse to see, only for my head not to ache so much” However – he resisted.
And now I offer to look at these two episodes from spiritual (or mystical – this is more clear to soviet reader) point of view: Bulgakov is trying to burn his novel and Bulgakov however sends his novel to the world. Which of these two impulses is from the evil one? In one case Bulgakov is trying to kill himself in other – he crosses himself and his wife. Could the first be from the God and the second from “Woland”? – no. But it goes out that the spirit to move Bulgakov to kill himself also demanded to abolish the manuscripts of the” novel about the devil”. And that Force to give Bulgakov opportunity to make last moves and to tell last words, that means that force to inspire him on sign of the cross, it also gave him opportunity to bless his novel.
I’ll tell: so called “Pilate’s chapters” of “Master and Margarita” are aweless. It is even not interesting for discussion. It’s enough to say that Joshua of Bulgakov’s novel dies with Pontius Pilat name on his lips the same time the Jesus of the New testament with the name of the Father. Any Christian (and a Christian – with maximal quiet and spread meaning of this word – is a person who prays to Christ) of any confession will agree to this estimate.
The question is other: can we move this estimate (“blasphemy”) from “Pilate’s chapters” on the whole novel and on the Bulgakov himself?
To be continued…..