August 11, 2009

30th Anniversary of the Falling Asleep of Fr. George Florovsky (+ August 11, 1979)

Protopresbyter Georges Vasilievich Florovsky (August 23, 1893 – August 11, 1979) was born in Odessa as the fourth child of a priest. Inspired by the erudite environment in which he grew up, he learned English, German, French, Latin, Greek, and Hebrew while still a schoolboy. At eighteen, he started to study philosophy and history. After his first graduation, he taught for three years at high schools in Odessa and then made his full graduation including the licensia docendi at all universities in the Russian empire. In 1919, he began to teach at the University of Odessa, but his family was forced to leave Russia in 1920. The young Florovsky realized at that time that there would be no return for him, because Marxism did not accept the history and philosophy he taught. Florovsky thus became part of the great emigration of the Russian intelligentsia, which also included Nikolai Berdyaev, Sergei Bulgakov, Nicholas Lossky, Alexander Schmemann, and John Meyendorff, the latter two of whom later followed Florovsky as Dean of Saint Vladimir's Orthodox Theological Seminary.

In the 1920s, he had a close personal and vocational friendship with Berdyaev. The two became somewhat more distanced in later years, largely through Berdyaev not understanding Florovsky's entering Holy Orders, and also through Florovsky's critical attitude towards Berdyaev's philosophy of religion in Ways of Russian Theology.

In 1925, Florovsky was appointed professor for patristics at the St. Sergius Orthodox Theological Institute in Paris. In this subject, he found his real vocation. Patristics became for him the benchmark for Orthodox theology and exegesis, as well as a source for many of his contributions and critiques of the ecumenical movement. Despite not having earned an academic degree in theology (apart from several honorary degrees he was awarded later), Florovsky would spend the rest of his life teaching at theological institutions.

In 1932, Florovsky was ordained to the priesthood. During the 1930s, he undertook extensive researches in European libraries and wrote his most important works in the area of patristics as well as his magnum opus, Ways of Russian Theology. In this massive work, he questioned the Western influences of scholasticism, pietism, and idealism on Russian theology and called for a re-evaluation of Russian theology in the light of patristic writings. The work was received with either enthusiam or condemnation—there was no neutral attitude to it among Russian emigrĂ©s. Among the critics were Bulgakov, the head of the St. Sergius Institute and prominent exponent of the Russian theological tradition of the 19th century, as well as Berdyaev, exponent of the religious renaissance of the 20th century.

In 1949, Florovsky moved to New York City to take a position as Dean of St. Vladimir's Seminary. Florovsky's oversight of the development of the theological curriculum led to the Board of Regents of the University of the State of New York granting the Seminary an Absolute Charter in 1953. He was fired as Dean in 1955 1 and thereafter taught at Harvard Divinity School (1956-1964), teaching patristics and Russian religious thought, and later at Princeton (1964-1972), teaching Slavic languages and literatures. He died on August 11, 1979.

Online info about Fr. George Florovsky:

Fr. Florovsky at a Faith and Order meeting in 1937

March, 1946: Attending the Geneva Conferece (Photo: LIFE Magazine)

August, 1948: Amsterdam, Netherlands (Photo: LIFE Magazine)

August, 1948: Academy of Orthodox Theology in Prague (Photo: LIFE Magazine)

December, 1950: With Dr. Samuel Cavert (Photo: LIFE Magazine)

August, 1954: World Council of Churches in Evanston, Illinoise (Photo: LIFE Magazine)

November, 1957: In one of the Harvard libraries in Cambridge, Massachusetts (Photo: LIFE Magazine)