From Thursday, September 8, through Saturday, September 10, St. Vladimir’s Orthodox Seminary hosted the North American Conference of the Fellowship of Ss. Alban and Sergius. On the evening of September 8th, Metropolitan Kallistos (Ware)—Co-chair of Orthodox-Anglican Dialogue from 2008 to the present—commenced the proceedings by delivering the keynote. Prior to the keynote, at 7:30 p.m., the seminary bestowed an honorary doctoral degree upon His Eminence.
His Beatitude Metropolitan Jonah (Paffhausen), primate of the Orthodox Church in America, and Fr. Stephen Platt, general-secretary of the Fellowship from the United Kingdom, were also in attendance.
Throughout the conference, members of the Orthodox Church in America (OCA)–Anglican Church of North America (ACNA) Dialogue presented various papers addressing the history of Orthodox–Anglican relations.
In this opening session, Metropolitan Kallistos is first bestowed with an honorary Doctor of Divinity degree from St. Vladimir's Seminary. He then goes on to speak about Orthodox theology—both present and future.
September 8, 2011 Length: 1:28:05
Very Rev. Fr. John Behr: Your Beatitude, Your Eminence, Your Grace, reverend fathers, dear friends and guests, and all who are listening to this event on Ancient Faith Radio, it’s my pleasure to welcome you here this evening to St. Vladimir’s Seminary as we begin this conference of the Fellowship of St. Alban and St Sergius and as we honor, or rather are honored by, one of the most distinguished figures in contemporary Orthodoxy.
But before I introduce our guest speaker for this evening, we would like to make the awards for the St. Basil the Great Award for Academic Achievement during the year 2010-2011. This Award for Academic Achievement was established in 2003 by an anonymous benefactor who wished to recognize and encourage students who’ve excelled in their studies at the seminary, and it’s awarded annually to the senior, the middler, and to the junior in the Master of Divinity program who is ranked highest in academic achievement that year.
The award bears the name of St. Basil the Great, one of the Three Holy Hierarchs for whom the seminary chapel is named. With St. Gregory the Theologian and St. John Chrysostom, St. Basil is lauded as a “harp of the Spirit,” a “trumpet of truth,” a “flowing river of wisdom,” a “teacher of the universe,” a “pillar of the Church.” Like St. Gregory and St. John, to use the words of one of the hymns in honor of the Three Holy Hierarchs, St. Basil “approached the meadow of books like a bee gathering well the flowers of virtue.” He excelled in the study of philosophy and rhetoric, the two most prized areas of intellectual accomplishment in his day. He demonstrated how such intellectual pursuits can help to edify the Church and to enlighten the universe, and in doing so he’s given us a noble example for all those who dedicate themselves to the study of Orthodox theology.
I would point out that this award is only given to students in the Master of Divinity program, rather than the more academic-track programs—our MA and our ThM—in recognition and to emphasize the importance of intellectual pursuit and vigor in the life of a pastor. For the year 2010-2011, the St. Basil the Great Award for Academic Achievement has already been awarded to two students now graduated: to Mr. Andrew Smith and to Monk Killian, Fr. Killian. The recipients from the middler and junior class of 2010-2011—and I would ask you to come up to receive a blessing from His Beatitude, and there will be something in the mailbox for you in a few days’ time [Laughter]—from the middler class of last year is Dn. David Wooten, and from the junior class is Harrison Russin. Would you please come forward to receive? [Applause]
May God grant that Dn. David and Harrison, like St. Basil, would continue to excel, not only in academic achievement but also in wisdom and virtue.
So this evening we honor, or as I said we are honored by, one of the most distinguished figures in contemporary Orthodoxy. His Eminence Metropolitan Kallistos really needs no introduction. He’s known to and loved by everyone in this room and beyond. It’s a great privilege of mine, and several others here, to have been a student of His Eminence at the University of Oxford. St. Gregory the Theologian, in his homily on his friend, St. Basil the Great, recalled their golden days together as students in Athens, and I’m sure I speak for all former students of His Eminence when I say that we, too, look back to our days in Oxford in exactly the same way. However, we have one advantage—we had one advantage—over St. Gregory and St. Basil. St. Gregory recalled that in Athens they knew only two paths: one to the classroom and the other to the church. Well, in Oxford we had two paths, but in each case both paths led to His Eminence, to Metr. Kallistos, or “Super K,” as he was known. [Laughter]
During his 35 years of teaching at Oxford, Metr. Kallistos has taught generations of students, many of whom have gone on to be teachers of others and to hold positions of high office in churches around the world as bishops and metropolitans. And we all recall not only his scholarly attention and instruction for us, but his pastoral care. Every time we met, we always had his undivided attention, and we always left feeling edified and spiritually nurtured.
But the number of students who were privileged to know His Eminence in this way is miniscule compared to the number of lives that he has touched in many, many other ways, known and unknown: in his work as a pastor of the Orthodox parish of the Holy Trinity in Oxford, founded by His Eminence in 1966, and which he led until 2002; by his many translations, especially in hymnography with Mother Mary, translating the Lenten Triodion and the Festal Menaion, giving us words in our own language to praise God; and in the great works of the spiritual tradition, especially the Philokalia that he’s worked on so diligently over many decades with others, Gerald Palmer and Philip Sherrard in particular; and not only translations, but through his own writings, especially his books, The Orthodox Church, written before he was 30, and his book, The Orthodox Way. These really have become the classics of contemporary Orthodoxy. For many, it’s their first introduction to the Orthodox Church, and for many it’s instrumental in converting them to the Orthodox faith. Then, of course, countless—I tried counting, and really it’s countless—scholarly articles elucidating all aspects of the Christian East, especially the spirituality of the Jesus prayer, the ascetic tradition, the hesychast tradition, and the Orthodox vision of the person: divine and human.
Now, these two scholarly endeavors—translation and exposition—both contribute to the same task: that of enabling Orthodoxy to find its own voice at home in the West—clear, articulate, measured, and contemporary. The debt that all Orthodox in the West owe to His Eminence really is great indeed, and I’m sure that, as we come to understand what it means to be Orthodox in the West, we will come to appreciate the contribution of His Eminence ever more.
And then a final dimension of his work must be mentioned, and that is how His Eminence has pursued this work in dialogue with others, serving on the Anglican-Orthodox Joint Doctrinal Discussion, and now as the Orthodox chair of the Anglican-Orthodox Dialogue. But his most long-standing, active, and intense involvement has been with the Fellowship of St. Alban and St. Sergius, from his days as a student as he was describing it to us this afternoon. And now he’s been a frequent contributor, a frequent speakers at the conferences over many, many decades, and he’s served as a long-time editor for the Fellowship’s journal, Sobornost.
The theme that His Eminence will speak on today is the present and future of Orthodox theology, but before we hear from His Eminence Metropolitan Kallistos, recognizing all that he has done in furthering the knowledge of and understanding of Eastern Orthodox theology, promoting dialogue and deepening understanding between Eastern and Western Christianity, we are honored today by being able to award His Eminence with the degree of Doctor of Divinity honoris causa. So now I call upon our Associate Dean for Academic Affairs to read the citation.
Dr. John Barnet: His Eminence, the Right Reverend Kallistos, Metropolitan of the Diokleia, pastor and teacher, interpreter and spokesman, scholar and theologian: you have devoted your life and God-given talents to embodying the Orthodox Christian tradition in the West. Through your translations of the hymnography and the great spiritual texts of the Orthodox Church, you have provided words to sing praise to God in English and nourished the souls of the faithful. Through your writings you have made the Orthodox faith known to many worldwide and brought countless to the Orthodox Church. Through your scholarship you have illuminated many facets and treasures to the Orthodox tradition. Through your decades of devoted teaching at the University of Oxford, you have inspired and formed generations of students, instructing them in high levels of critical scholarship and nurturing their growth in faith. And through your innumerable public lectures throughout the world, you have edified and entertained multitudes with your wisdom and your wit. And in all this you have brought out and exemplified, as befits your name, the best and the most beautiful of the Orthodox faith, not as a relic in a museum but as a vibrant and inspiring tradition, to be incarnate at all times and in all places.
And as such, we, therefore, are pleased to affirm that, by virtue of the power vested in the board of trustees and the faculty of St. Vladimir’s Orthodox Theological Seminary, by the board of regents of the University of the State of New York, the degree of Doctor of Divinity honoris causa is bestowed upon His Eminence, the Right Rev. Kallistos, Metropolitan of Diokleia. [Applause]
His Eminence the Right Reverend Metropolitan Kallistos (Ware) of Diokleia: Your Beatitude, fathers, sisters and brothers, friends, I counted it an honor and a joy to be speaking today at St. Vladimir’s Theological Seminary, an honor and a joy to have been granted a doctorate by this institution. I have long held St. Vladimir’s in high admiration. For the last 70 years, the seminary has served as a remarkable powerhouse of Orthodox thinking and witness, outstanding not only the in West, but throughout the Orthodox world.
Speaking in 1949, Fr. Georges Florovsky, of whom I shall have more to say this evening, affirmed with reference to St. Vladimir’s, “We need a school of prophets!” Such indeed St. Vladimir’s has proved to be, under the inspired leadership of Fr. Alexander Schmemann, Fr. John Meyendorff, Fr. Thomas Hopko, Fr. John Erickson, and such may it continue to be under the present dean, my former pupil, Fr. John Behr, together with his gifted team of colleagues. A veritable school of prophets, possessing, in Fr. Florovsky’s words, “spiritual and intellectual strength.” “Orthodoxy,” to quote Fr. Georges once more, “cannot be maintained simply by inertia.” May St. Vladimir’s remain the very opposite of that. May it always be a center of originality and creative exploration.
You were kind enough, Fr. John, to refer to some of the books that I’ve written, so let me tell a story about a distinguished author who died and woke up, considerably to his surprise, to find himself in a boiling cauldron of water, and all the time demons approached and placed burning logs underneath his cauldron, and it grew increasingly disagreeable. [Laughter] After a time, he looked out, and in the next cauldron, he saw a man reclining at his ease. The water was warm, but no demons came along with burning logs and put them under his cauldron. The author asked the man next door, “Why are you here? What did you do?” And the man said, “I murdered my wife.”
Immediately, the author called over the head demon: “Is there no justice in this place?” he said. “Here am I, a distinguished author, and all the time new burning logs are being placed under my cauldron, and in the next cauldron here is a man who has done the appalling action and you leave him alone.” “Yes,” said the chief demon. “He did kill his wife, but she has forgiven him. They’ve made it up, and all is well. But you—you wrote books, and people keep buying your books.” [Laughter] “And every time someone buys one of your books, we put another burning log under your cauldron.” [Laughter]
“It is time for the Lord to act,” says the deacon to the celebrant, immediately before the beginning of the Divine Liturgy: “Kairos tou poiēsai tō Kyriō.” As eucharistic commentators observe, this phrase indicates that the Liturgy is not merely words but an action. Moreover, ultimately, it is not our action but the action of Christ the Lord. He, the unique High Priest of the new covenant, is the true celebrant; we, whether clergy or people, are no more than concelebrants with him.
Tonight, however, let us reflect on a different aspect of this phrase, on the opening clause, “It is time.” The Greek word used here for time is not the neutral term, chronos, meaning clock-and-calendar time, but the more dynamic term, kairos, signifying time that is personal and purposeful, existential time. The kairos is precisely the decisive moment, the moment of action and fresh beginnings, the moment of opportunity. To liturgize is nothing else than to seize the decisive moment.
What, then, is the kairos for Orthodox theology today? What is our moment of opportunity? Upon what fresh beginnings is the Spirit inviting us to embark? Let us explore three themes. When I was ordained priest, at the end of the service I asked the ordaining bishop for his advice in carrying out my future ministry, and he said, “Always have three points in your sermon, not less and not more!” [Laughter] He was not the first person to say that. Actually, I find it’s usually enough to have one point in my sermon. [Laughter] A lot of sermons we hear have no point at all! [Laughter] When I was consecrated bishop, I asked the chief consecrating hierarch for his advice about my episcopal ministry, and he said, “Always fold up your own vestments at the end of the service. Don’t let the deacons do it.” [Laughter]
So, then, three themes: first, some words about the nature of theology; second, the two major trends that have marked Orthodox theology in the 20th century; third, the master theme of Orthodox theology in the 21st century. How, then, should we be doing theology? What is theology? What are the rules of the game? On my desk in Oxford, beside my elbow as I write, I have the Concise Oxford Dictionary, usually in two editions. What, then, does the COD have to tell us about the nature of theology. The fourth edition defines theology as: “science of religion.” The sixth edition is a little more expansive: “study of or system of religion, rational analysis of religious faith.” The choice of words here—science, system, rational analysis—suggests the style of theology that the Greek philosopher Christos Yannaras has labeled “academic scientism.” Theology, that is to say, as taught in the lecture hall of a university faculty; scholastic theology, in the broad sense of the word “scholastic.”
Notable examples of this theological approach within the Orthodox tradition are the dogmatic theology of the Russian Metropolitan Makarii Bulgakov, published in 1845-53, and those of the Greeks, Christos Androutsos, published in 1907, and Panagiotis Trembelas, published 1959-61. These are scholarly works from which much can be learned, but they leave many contemporary Orthodox profoundly dissatisfied. More specifically, in their scientific approach they leave largely out of account the liturgical and mystical dimensions of theology.
When we turn to the description of theology in the Greek Fathers, the definition of theology provided by the COD seems distinctly meager. In a famous aphorism, the Desert Father Evagrius of Pontus states, “If you are a theologian, you will pray in truth, and if you pray in truth you are a theologian.” St. Gregory Palamas distinguishes three kinds of theologian. First there are the saints, those who possess personal experience and have themselves beheld the divine light, and these are the true theologians. Secondly, there are those who lack such personal experience, but who trust the saints and learn from them, and they, too, may be good theologians, albeit on a lower level. Thirdly, there are those who lack personal experience and who do not trust the saints, and they are bad theologians. [Laughter] I find this three-fold distinction reassuring, for while I make no claim to be in the first category of theology, I hope that by the divine mercy I may find a place in the second category, among those who trust the saints.
There we see a close link established between theology and prayer, theology and experience. What Evagrius and Palamas are telling us is that there can be no genuine theology without a living faith in God and that there is an integral link between theology and prayer. This is a point much emphasized by recent Orthodox theologians. In the words of Yannaras:
Theology is a gift from God, a fruit of the interior purity of the Christian’s spiritual life. Theology is identified with the vision of God, with the immediate vision of the personal God, with the personal experience of the transfiguration of creation by uncreated grace. [...] In this way, (so he continues,) theology is not a theory of the world, a metaphysical system, but an expression and a formulation of the Church’s experience, not an intellectual discipline, but an experiential participation, a communion.
We note here the key terms used by Yannaras: gift, grace, personal experience, participation, communion, interior purity, transfiguration, vision of God. Such are the primary features of theology. Fr. Georges Florovsky used to insist one cannot separate spirituality and theology. “Theology,” he says, “can never be separated from the life of prayer and from the exercise of virtue.” In this connection, he cites St. John Climacus: “The culmination of purity is the beginning of theology.” Vladimir Lossky considers that all theology is essential mystical.
Far from being mutually opposed, (he says,) theology and mysticism support and complete each other. One is impossible without the other. If the mystical experience is a personal working-out of the common faith, theology is the expression for the profit of all of that which can be experienced by everyone.
He goes on to point out that the three writers to whom, par excellence, the Orthodox Church has applied the title Theologian are St. John the Divine, most mystical of the four Evangelists, as he puts it; St. Gregory of Nazianzus, writer of contemplative poetry; and St. Symeon the New Theologian, the singer of union with God.
Along with his first point, concerning the interdependence of theology and prayer, there goes a second, already implied in the words of Lossky quoted above. For the Fathers, theology is a mystery. “Every theological statement,” says St. Basil the Great, “falls short of the understanding of the speaker. Our understanding is weak, and our tongue is even more defective.” Once theology forgets the unavoidable limitations of the human understanding, once it overlooks the apophatic dimension of theology, once it replaces the ineffable word of God with human logic, then, as the Cappadocians assert, it ceases to be theologia and sinks to the level of technologia. This apophatic character of all true theology is certainly a leitmotif in the works of modern Orthodox theologians. To quote just one typical example: “Theology,” says Fr. John Meyendorff, “is simultaneously the contemplation of God and the expression of the inexpressible.”
So such are the chief features in the conception of theology underlined by leading Orthodox thinkers in the mid- and late 20th century. Theology should be linked with prayer. It should be liturgical, mystical, and apophatic. It was specifically these characteristics that Orthodox theologians from the mid-20th century have found to be largely absent from the academic scientism of writers such as Makarii Bulgakov, Androutsos, and Trembelas. At the same time, however, authors such as Lossky and Florovsky do not by any means discount the need for theology to be carefully argued and coherently expressed. They are in no way irrationalists. Clarity is a gift from the Holy Spirit; vagueness and muddle is not a gift of the Spirit.
Lossky strikes a judicious balance between the cataphatic and the apophatic when he maintains, “Theological teaching locates itself with difficulty between gnosis and episteme.” Gnosis means, as he puts it, charisma and silence, contemplative and existential knowledge, while epistēmē signifies science and reasoning. “Theological language,” says Lossky, “uses epistēmē but cannot reduce itself to it. It must set the spirit on the path to contemplation, to pure prayer, where thought stops, to the ineffable.” Theology needs to be organized, even systematic, but there needs also to be a place within it for what St. Maximus the Confessor terms, with startling boldness, “erotic ecstasy”: a going-forth in fervent love from the self to the living God.
Once when I used the phrases “cataphatic” and “apophatic,” one of my audience complained that neither of these words appears in my work of reference, the Concise Oxford Dictionary, so perhaps I should offer a brief description of them both, such as I used with my students. Here I quote from a volume known as The Signs of the Times, and this is the result of a competition run by The Times newspaper of London, including strange and puzzling notices people had sent in, photographs of different notices, which The Times then published. For example, one notice from a parking lot in Wales said, “Parking is limited to 60 minutes in each hour.” [Laughter] Another notice from a market said in large letters, “Cattle, keep straight on; pigs, turn left,” and there’s a large arrow pointing right. As The Times remarked, it was somewhat churlish when pigs have taken the trouble to learn to read, deliberately to confuse their sense of direction. [Laughter]
Anyway, here are two notices that illustrate the cataphatic and the apophatic approaches. The first is a notice at a level crossing over a railway line where there is a pole with a box on top, and inside the box evidently there is a bell. The notice says, “When you approach the railway, stop, look, and listen. If the bell is ringing, do not cross the line. If the bell is not ringing, still, stop, look, and listen, in case the bell is not working.” [Laughter] So that allows for all possibilities—cataphatic. And here is an apophatic notice from Australia: a signpost saying, “This road does not lead to either Cannes or Townsville.” [Laughter] It doesn’t say where the road does lead. [Laughter]
Now I come to my second theme: the two trends. Within Orthodox theology in the last hundred years, it is possible to distinguish two main trends which may be termed, on the one side the Russian school, more specifically the Russian religious renaissance, and on the other the neopatristic school. As regards the first of these, its precursors in the 19th century were the Slavophiles: Aleksey Khomyakov and Ivan Kireyevsky, and then after them Vladimir Solovyov. The Russian religious renaissance emerged as a distinct movement in the opening years of the 20th century, with three leading protagonists—Fr. Pavel Florensky, Fr. Sergei Bulgakov, and Nikolai Berdyaev, although the latter regarded himself not as a theologian but as a religious philosopher. The Russian school, in Paul Valliere’s words, “represents the first attempt on the part of the Christian East to wrestle with the problem of Orthodoxy and modernity.” Its members were consciously indebted to Western philosophy and especially to German idealism. They were deeply concerned with such issues as Church and society, the place of national identity in ecclesial life, the Christian view of economics, and the meaning of sexuality.
The neopatristic school first came to prominence at the First Congress of Orthodox Theology held at Athens in 1936. Fr. Georges Florovsky made a deep impression with two papers that he delivered, On Western Influences in Russian theology and Patristics and Modern Theology. The second leading figure in the neopatristic school, although he does not employ Florovsky’s slogan, “neopatristic synthesis,” was Vladimir Lossky, whose work The Mystical Theology of the Eastern Church first appeared in French in 1944 and was issued in English translation in 1957. This has proved widely influential, especially among many English converts, so much so that in the sardonic words of an unfriendly critic, “They regard it almost as the fifth gospel.” [Laughter] For myself, I can testify without hesitation that while it was the writings of Khomyakov that first drew me to Orthodoxy, along with the experience of Orthodox worship, in later years it has been Florovsky and Lossky who have shaped my understanding of what it is to be a theologian. I have learned more from Florovsky’s 21-page essay, “Sobornost: The Catholicity of the Church,” than from all the books on modern doctrine that I studied at the university.
The neopatristic school of the mid-21st century, while indebted to Western philosophy, like the Russian school—but its members were usually not very ready to admit their debt—gave a larger place than did the spokesman of the Russian religious renaissance to the liturgical, ascetic, and mystical teaching of the Fathers. The neopatristic writers were deeply influenced by the Philokalia and by the spirituality of the Jesus prayer. Compared with the Russian school, they displayed a greater cultural pessimism, and their field of interest is much more restricted.
Where (asks Paul Valliere) are the Orthodox people to look for guidance of the theological kind on issues such as free markets, new republics, constitution making, ethnic relations, religious pluralism, gender roles, poverty, crime, and a host of other contemporary problems? They will not find it in the neopatristic sources for the most part.
In marked contrast, the members of the Russian school of the earlier 20th century and their more recent successors have much to say on such issues. Both Florovsky and Lossky developed their viewpoint in deliberate opposition to the Russian school, and more particularly in opposition to the sophiology of Sergei Bulgakov. There is a polemical edge to the neopatristic school which cannot be overlooked. For an insight into what Florovsky meant by “neopatristic synthesis,” we may turn to an unpublished paper found by Andrew Blaine after Florovsky’s death. Here Florovsky writes:
The neopatristic synthesis should be more than just a collection of patristic sayings or statements. It must be a synthesis, a creative reassessment of those insights which were granted to the holy men of old. It must be patristic, faithful to the spirit and vision of the Fathers and mentem patrum. Yet it must also be neopatristic, since it is to be addressed to a new age with its own problems and queries.
As Florovsky insists elsewhere, “This program of neopatristic synthesis involves far more than an archaeological appeal to antiquity than a theology of repetition.” In this context he appropriately quotes St. Cyprian of Carthage: “Antiquity without truth is simply error grown old.” “In our reliance upon tradition,” he says, “what we are affirming is always living tradition.” And he uses the phrase of St. Irenaeus: “Depositum iuvenescens—a self-rejuvenating deposit.” “A dynamic principle,” he says, “a spring of life.”
We have to kindle again (he writes) the creative fire of the Fathers. We have to adopt a critical attitude towards them, treating them as our contemporaries. There are no ready-made answers. We are not simply to repeat what the Fathers said in the fourth or fifth century, but we are to ask ourselves: What would they have said if they had been alive today?
In this way, for Florovsky, our watchword should not be “back to the Fathers,” but rather, “forward to the Fathers.”
Synthesis signifies an imaginative and innovative reintegration. We have to go beyond the letter of the patristic attitude to the inner spirit. In a key statement, Florovsky explains, “To follow the Fathers does not mean just to quote them. To follow the Fathers means to acquire their mind, their phronema.”
While many, myself included, have been inspired by Florovsky’s vision of neopatristic synthesis, are there not serious weaknesses in his position? He advocates Christian Hellenism, Hellenism under the sign of the cross. Let us be more Greek,” he says, “to be truly catholic, to be truly orthodox.” But is this not too narrow and restrictive? What about the Latin Fathers? Well, Florovsky says they were rarely Greeks. [Laughter] What about the Syriac tradition, the tradition of Coptic and Armenian theology? Surely we shouldn’t limit the catholicity of Christian thought to any single ethnic or cultural tradition, however influential.
More fundamentally, does not Florovsky’s scene suffer from a certain vagueness and imprecision? He emphasizes that the patristic era was a time of acute tension and conflict. In speaking, therefore, of a synthesis and of the patristic mind, does he not merge together the Fathers too closely into a single, unified whole? Are there not many distinctions and contrasts within this one phronema? Were not the Fathers writing in very different contexts? Is not the whole notion of the patristic mind too static? Does it allow sufficiently for the constant process of development in the early Church and during the Byzantine age?
Nor is this all. How is the practice of this common mind to be discovered? As Dr. Brandon Gallaher’s pointed out in a recent article, Florovsky tends to speak here in psychological terms. He talks of the experience of the Church, the vision of the Fathers.
This vision of faith (writes Gallaher) in which truth is received appears to be a sort of indemonstrable intuition, what the Romantics called intellectual intuition or feeling. For we are told that dogma is not a discursive axiom which is accessible to logical development, but an intuitive truth.
He’s quoting Florovsky there, and he suspects that Florovsky here has been influenced by the German idealists of whom he accuses of being Bulgakov of being too much indebted.
In short, Florovsky’s neopatristic synthesis provides us with a possible program for theology, a program that is challenging and rich in its possibilities, but he does not always indicate how this program is to be carried out in practice. The neopatristic trend in Orthodox theology, represented primarily by Lossky and Florovsky, predominated in the West throughout the second half of the 20th century. Let us say roughly from 1944 to 1994. During these 50 years, the Russian school, while not entirely forgotten, was definitely eclipsed. Bulgakov’s work was not continued and extended by others. Paul Evdokimov, it is true, speaks of Bulgakov’s sophiology—he’s writing in 1959—as “the glory of present-day Orthodox theology.” But in practice sophiology’s been largely ignored. Many people find it irrelevant or even something of an embarrassment.
Nicholas Zernov sought to revive Bulgakov’s scheme for partial intercommunion between Orthodox and Anglicans while interpreting this in his own way, but his plea for a less rigid discipline regarding communicatio in sacris was rejected by almost all Orthodox. Within Russia, on the other hand, insofar as theological debate was possible during the Soviet era, there was a continuing interest in the Russian school. In summer 1976, while in Moscow, I visited the well-known dissident, Fr. Vsevolod Shpiller, and I asked him what authors were being studied in the semi-clandestine discussion groups that he organized. Without hesitation, he replied, “Khomyakov, Bulgakov, Florensky, Berdyaev.” The priest-martyr Fr. Alexander Men can be regarded in the broad sense as an adherent of the Russian school.
So far as the intellectual Orthodox climate in the West is concerned, there has been a notable change of emphasis in the last years of the 20th century. The Russian school has enjoyed a revival, great attention now given to the works of Florensky and Bulgakov. The neopatristic trend has not ceased to have strong supporters. For myself, I still consider that Florovsky’s vision of neopatristic synthesis, despite his shortcomings, offers the most hopeful prospect for Orthodox theology in the 21st century—but perhaps not all of you agree with that. It cannot be said, however, that the neopatristicians enjoy any longer the predominance that they possessed in the Orthodox diaspora in the second half of the 20th century.
In any case, it is a mistake to think exclusively in terms of a dichotomy between the neopatristic and Russian trends, and there are many Orthodox thinkers who cannot clearly be assigned to either school. I suppose Fr. John Meyendorff and the Romanian Fr. Dumitru Staniloae belong to the neopatristic tradition. So, too, does the Greek Metropolitan John (Zizioulas) of Pergamum. But should we classify Fr. Nikolai Afanasiev in the Russian or the neopatristic school? He seems to have roots in both. The same is true, also, of Fr. Alexander Schmemann. His devotion to liturgical theology places him in the patristic orientation, but such books as Ultimate Questions indicate his interest in the Russian approach. All of this goes to show that while it may be illuminating to divide theologians into schools, such classifications cannot be applied with any exactness. Each creative thinker possesses an identity that is distinctive if not unique.
So far as the future is concerned, what is asked of us is, I believe, is that first of all we should re-envision Florovsky’s scheme of neopatristic synthesis. We need to make his program more precise, and at the same time more wide-ranging, embracing fully the traditions of the Latin West, of the Syriac, Coptic, and Armenian Fathers. In the second place, we need to transcend the dichotomy between the neopatristic and the Russian schools, considering how the two may be constructively combined and at the same time reaching out beyond both trends to a fresh vision of theology that combines both without being limited to either. We’ve only just started to embark on that task.
Now I come to my third question, which I’ll try to deal with a little more briefly. What is the master theme of Orthodox theology in the 21st century? When I first began to lecture, I was always afraid that I wouldn’t have enough to say, that I would dry up in the middle. [Laughter] Curiously, that’s never happened. [Laughter] However, I remember the experience of a lecturer on the day before I was due to give my first lecture in the university. He had prepared what he thought would last for an hour, and in his earnestness he read it so quickly that he finished in 20 minutes. Now, what he should have done would be to start all over again, because the audience had understood nothing at all. [Laughter] But instead he said, “I’m sorry. That’s all I’ve got to say,” and he rushed out. [Laughter] But in his confusion, instead of taking the exit, he went and shut himself in a broom cupboard and had to be let out ignominiously by his audience. So, in fear of the broom cupboard, I always take a good look to notice what doors there are through which I might quickly disappear. [Laughter]
During the 20th century, the dominant, although by no means exclusive theme, has been ecclesiology. Indeed, well before the dawn of the 20th century, the question of the essential nature of the Church had already been raised in Russian by Aleksey Khomyakov and the Slavophiles, seeking to liberate the understanding of the Church from juridical categories. They insisted that what holds the Church together is not power of jurisdiction but mutual love. Developing this approach in the last century, Nikolai Afanasiev and John Zizioulas argued that this mutual love is expressed specifically and supremely in the celebration of the Eucharist. In slightly differing ways, the two of them made their own maxim of the Roman Catholic Henri de Lubac: “The Church makes the Eucharist, and the Eucharist makes the Church.”
Now, in the past half-century, Afanasiev and Zizioulas have undergone a good deal of criticism. It’s been others among argued by Zizioulas that Afanasiev makes much too sharp a contrast between universal and local forms of ecclesiology. It has been claimed not without reason that Zizioulas concentrates too narrowly on the Eucharist, to the neglect of baptism. More seriously, he places two exclusive an emphasis upon the authority of the bishop within the Church. He presents a kind of mono-episcopism, as if the bishop was the only source of grace within the Church. He even says that, and with due respect to the bishops present here, I venture to dispute that. [Laughter] I think that Zizioulas has too little to say about the correlative authority of the succession of holy men and women in each generation, of the gerontes and staretsi, and he underestimates the importance of the hesychast tradition and the Philokalia. Although we are not to oppose the two, the spiritual father serves as a vital counterbalance to the bishop. Fortunately, as in the case of St. John Maximovitch of Shanghai and San Francisco, the two roles are sometimes combined in one person.
In the 21st century there has begun to emerge, as yet in a somewhat inchoate form, a significant shift in focus, a shift from ecclesiology to anthropology. The key question in the future, I am convinced, will be not only, “What is the Church?” but also and more fundamentally, “What is the human person?” What does it mean, more specifically, to be a person in relation, according to the image of God, the Holy Trinity?
This shift of interest, from ecclesiology to anthropology, has a number of reasons, of which I would just like to mention two. First, in the realm of bioethics, recent developments in genetic engineering are raising problematic issues which less than a generation ago most of us had not even begun to envisage. This has been accompanied by a widespread breakdown of the institution of marriage and a growing rejection of traditional sexual morality. As any priest-confessor will testify, the question of homosexuality looms ever larger. As Orthodox and as Christians, we shall not respond effectively to these challenges without a courageous and imaginative rethinking of our doctrine of human personhood. In the field of bioethics, Fr. John Breck has made a valuable contribution, but on the whole we Orthodox have only just begun to explore this area in a serious way.
Second, there is the disastrous ecological tragedy which, as the British Orthodox writer, Philip Sherrard, has effectively shown, is directly related to our appreciation of what it is to be human. The heart of the problem here lies not in the environment, but rather in the human heart. The crisis is not merely technological or economic, but rather it is personal and spiritual. We have forgotten our true relation to the world of nature, to the cosmic temple in which God has granted us to dwell. This means we have forgotten what it is to be human. Our world image has been distorted because our human self-image has become grievously flawed. Once more: no healing can come without a revitalized theology of personhood. All this has been rightly emphasized by the late Ecumenical Patriarch Demetrios, and by his successor, the present Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I.
We Orthodox have so far produced few studies in depth concerning personhood, although Olivier Clément has provided some perceptive insights in his book, Questions sur l’Homme. In any revitalized theology of personhood, there are at least three points of central importance. First, we humans are a mystery to ourselves. To complement apophatic theology, we need an apophatic anthropology. Second, we humans cannot understand who we are without asking what is meant by being created in the image and likeness of God. Each of us is a created icon of the uncreated God. Yet, if we appeal to the Fathers, we find no single explanation of what is meant by this “image and likeness.” Further exploration is needed. Thirdly, let us never forget that the human person is that in which new beginnings are constantly being made. That cannot be said of a computer, which can do no more than reorganize the material that is fed into it, but we humans are creative in a way that computers are not. Personalness is in this manner a potent sign of hope. It looks towards a future that has not yet become manifest. To be human is to be endlessly varied, innovative, unexpected, self-transcending. No theology of the person will be convincing that leaves out of account the element of surprise.
These three points and many others need to be much more fully developed. What Fr. Georges Florovsky used to say about ecclesiology, that it is still im Werden, in process of formation, is undoubtedly true also of Christian anthropology. We have a long journey ahead of us, but that should be a reason for joy rather than discouragement. Such, then, are some of the salient aspects in our present kairos, and such on my understanding is the chief task that confronts us: a new anthropology. I trust that I have made it clear tonight how sharply I disagree with the Byzantine humanist Theodore Metochites, who remarked in the 14th century that the wise men of old have said everything so perfectly that they have left nothing further for us to say. We should rather keep in mind the affirmation of Fr. Alexander Men, that Christianity is only just beginning. Cannot the same be stated with even greater truth of Orthodox theology?
As we contemplate the trends and tasks in present-day Orthodox thought, as we look from the past to the future, let us take as our inspiration the words of the risen Christ: “Behold, I make all things new.” Thank you. [Applause]
Very Rev. Fr. Chad Hatfield: Please be seated. Your Eminence, you have come to this school of budding prophets as a senior prophet to stand among us and teach all day, and it’s been a very long day. This morning, of course, at the Liturgy of the feast, the first major feast of the new ecclesiastical year, you left us centered with the Mother of God. And this afternoon, in addressing the faculty of the seminary, you left us centered on the needs of humanity and the great complexities and challenges in the 21st century and our need to give a response centered upon the faith which is within us. Tonight, of course, you left us centered once again, this time centered upon God and humanity and our theology.
You’ve challenged us, and I’m sure that there will be some questions that people would like to address to you, so, Your Eminence, we’ll give this about 15 minutes. I’m going to ask that if you have a question—and please do remember this is a question, not a speech on your behalf—that you queue up at the microphone here, so that we can keep things moving. And once you’ve asked your question, if you could return to your seat, that will get as many people through as possible in the 15 minutes that we have.
I would also like to thank Ancient Faith Radio which is here recording this convocation, so it’s very important for the listeners who are not present for you to articulate your question slowly and clearly so that they may understand as well. If you’d like to begin to queue here at the microphone, His Eminence will entertain your questions.
Q1: Fathers, thank you so much. It was wonderful. Thank you. My question is in regards to Christian anthropology, and as we attempt to understand more fully the role of the human being in the light of Christ, what do you think are some avenues that we could take in trying to understand the role of the body, the human body, in our life as Orthodox Christians? Thank you.
His Eminence Kallistos: I am strongly in favor of a unified, holistic view of the human person. Therefore, I feel uneasy when people employ in somewhat Platonist terms a sharp body-soul contrast. I do not have a body; I am my body, and my body is me. I favor the approach of Carl Gustav Jung, who said that the body is the total human person looked at from one point of view, and the soul is the total human person looked at from another point of view, but the two are basically one. So I think we should start from the view that the body is not extrinsic to personhood, that we are to, in St. Paul’s words, glorify God in our body.
Therefore, I am very much anxious to stress, for example, the participation of the body if worship. We should not downgrade the physicality of the eucharistic elements. We use not wafers but leavened bread, the bread that we normally eat to nourish ourselves. We use red wine. In baptism, we baptize by immersion. The element of water is fully emphasized, and the total body is involved in the sacrament of baptism. That would be just one example of where I would plead for an embodied spirituality in our Orthodox thinking.
Now, the Fathers who might help us with the understanding of the body are, I think, the homilies of Macarius and St. Symeon the New Theologian [and] St. Gregory Palamas. If we want a unifying symbol for our embodied anthropology, let us emphasize the concept of the heart, which brings together both the psychic and the physical.
Q2: Thank you, Your Eminence. My question is a little bit related to directions of Orthodox theology. In terms of talking about truth, the last 10 or 20 years in philosophy has left the whole world kind of centering around “Where do we look for truth? How do we even talk about that?” I wanted to ask you what contribution you think the Orthodox can make to the discussion of “What is truth and what is meaning?” How can we come to that from our tradition? Thank you.
His Eminence Kallistos: The point I would start from here is that for us Orthodox, for us Christians, truth is a Person, not a set of veritable propositions, but a living Person. Christ says to us, “I am the truth.” When Pilate says, sardonically, “What is truth?” Christ gives him no answer. Pilate has the living Truth before him, and yet he cannot recognize it. So we would start from the incarnate Christ in trying to understand truth, and we are to see truth as a personal relationship. Without the personal relationship of love, there can be no real truth. We may make statements which verbally are correct, but if those statements are made without any relationship to our fellow humans, without any sense of love, then they are no longer the truth.
So truth lies in the personal relationship with Christ. Truth lies in love: love for other people. But let us remember that love for distant people is not true love. Love means, in the first place, for my neighbor, my immediate neighbor, this or that person whom I am meeting all the time.
Q3: Your Eminence, I’m wondering if you could comment briefly on some of the possibilities and limitations that are present in sort of the therapeutic interpretations of Orthodox theology, such as that of Hierotheos Vlachos.
His Eminence Kallistos: Of whom?
Q3: Hierotheos Vlachos?
His Eminence Kallistos: Oh, yes. Hierotheos Vlachos, Greek metropolitan, has written an extraordinary number of books, so he’s going to have a hard time of it in his cauldron. [Laughter] You needn’t tell him that. [Laughter]
Yes, I consider that in the last 200 years the Christian world has been involved in a dialogue with three main areas. First of all, a dialogue with the historical study of the Bible, with the challenge presented by radical critical study, particularly of the gospels. And that’s occupied the Church for about 200 years now, certainly 150 years. The second dialogue we’ve been involved in is with modern science, particularly with the theory of evolution and how far this can be reconciled with a traditional view of creation and more particularly of the human person. Now in those two dialogues, we Orthodox have not really played [an] impressive part. The dialogues have been carried on by Western thinkers for the most part.
But there is a third dialogue—and here I come to your question—which is the dialogue between Christianity and modern psychology, Freud and Jung, more particularly: a dialogue that has emerged more recently than the other two, in the last hundred years. Now, I believe that we Orthodox can and should be making a very creative contribution to this third dialogue, to try to understand what light modern psychology and psychoanalysis and psychotherapy can shed on our theology, and more particularly on our vision of human personhood.
There are in my belief many insights in the Fathers which could illuminate this question, but there’s a real need for interpretation; a real hermeneutic effort has to be made if the Fathers are to appear relevant. And I would suggest that in assessing the Fathers’ doctrine of the human person, especially in relation to modern psychology, we should look not only at the more philosophical writers among the Fathers who deal with personhood, such as St. Gregory of Nyssa and Nemesius of Emesa, but we should look also at the ascetic tradition, at the Neptic Fathers, at the people like John Climacus and Ss. Barsanuphios and John, at the authors in the Philokalia. There I think we have both a theoretical and a practical view of personhood, and we could certainly use this as a way of entering into dialogue with the psychotherapeutic tradition.
We haven’t so far done a great deal about this. Yes, Hierotheos Vlachos has made a beginning. At an earlier point Paul Evdokimov drew on Jungian psychology, for example, in his book, On Woman and the Salvation of the World. Some work has been done in Greece by Professor Kornarakis, but I think here is a very promising area for fuller exploration.
Q4: Thank you, Your Eminence. A question about ecclesiology, which you also mentioned: I’m a new priest and I drive quite a ways to serve the parish I’m serving at, and many parishioners also drive a long distance, and we both pass many other parishes on the way. Thinking of a local church, it seems we’re very clear about diocesan boundaries and where a certain bishop may be, but on a local parish level, we seem to lack this clarity, and I know many people who will pass several other churches on the way to a church which they prefer either from family ties or ethnic ties or the specific charism of a given preacher. I wonder what your thoughts might be on looking at the Church on this very local level.
His Eminence Kallistos: We do indeed need to ask whether the traditional view of the parish with clear boundaries is fully applicable today. Part of the problem is that we can travel far more easily. In earlier ages, people couldn’t go to a distant parish, because they would have had to walk or ride a horse, and that might have taken them quite a long time. Another factor is that our modern society has become far more mobile. Especially in our large cities, people are constantly moving from one place to another, and therefore it’s much more difficult to build up a rooted, local community when people are highly mobile.
In a country such as Britain, we Orthodox are relatively few in number, and therefore it is not really realistic to speak of parish boundaries, except possibly in London. When I first became priest in Oxford, the bishop wrote to me and said, “Your parish is the counties of Oxfordshire and Berkshire and half of Buckinghamshire.” I didn’t ask him which half. [Laughter] So the idea of the local parish, with firm roots, with people who die in the place where they were born, is becoming much harder to apply as people move about, and perhaps in many places what we have to do is simply to establish eucharistic centers and hope that people will come to them.
And, yes, I’m sorry when I see that people who live close to our church in Oxford choose to go up to London or somewhere else for the Liturgy, but I am fairly resigned about that. I think we can’t apply today exactly the pattern of the parish that existed in the past. Let us create living eucharistic centers, and let us not be too concerned about boundaries. In any case, even if people don’t go to our own parish church, surely we must be pleased that they do go to church somewhere. [Laughter and applause]
Fr. John Behr: Tomorrow morning in this very room, we will host for the second time in four years a North American gathering of the Fellowship of St. Alban and Sergius, of which His Eminence is a patron. We have our bookstore, which has a copy of a book that we now have the American rights to: The Mystery of Faith by Metropolitan Hilarion (Alfeyev). In the back of that book there’s actually a form which you may fill out to join and pay your dues to the Fellowship of St. Alban and St. Sergius. Some of you have been asking. We didn’t plan for that in the book, but it’s very convenient. So those books are available from SVS Press, as well as copies of books written by His Eminence, and a new book which focuses on His Beatitude Metropolitan Jonah. So those are now available to you.
You’re invited to a public reception which will follow, sort of making your way down the steps in this building. So tomorrow morning, nine o’clock, the Fellowship convenes here. I would ask that the faculty and our honored guests stay behind for a photograph. If you’ll stand, we’ll sing “It is Truly Meet” and then His Beatitude will bless us.
Audience: [Sung:] It is truly meet to bless you, O Theotokos.
Ever-blessed and most pure and the Mother of our God.
More honorable than the cherubim, and more glorious beyond compare than the seraphim.
Without defilement you gave birth to God the Word.
True Theotokos, we magnify you.
Eis polla etē, Despota!
His Eminence Kallistos: Glory to thee, O Christ, our God and our hope! Glory to thee! May Christ our true God, at the prayers of his most-pure and holy Mother, by the power of the precious and life-giving Cross, at the intercessions of the honored, glorious, and all-praised Apostles, of the holy and righteous Prince Vladimir, Enlightener of the land of Russia and patron of this school, of the holy and righteous forebearers of God, Joachim and Anna, and of all the saints, have mercy upon us and save us. For he is good and he loves mankind.
Audience: [Sung:] Amen.