December 3, 2010

Fr. John Romanides' Encounter With the Zoe Brotherhood

Yesterday I made a post "The Prophetic Letter of Fr. John Romanides To Fr. Theoklitos Dionysiatis". This was a private letter sent by Fr. John to Fr. Theoklitos on Mount Athos just a few months after the publication of his ground-breaking thesis titled The Ancestral Sin, and it was received with enthusiasm. However, the contents of the letter were leaked to Archbishop Michael of North and South America, a strong supporter of the Zoe Brotherhood, and for this Fr. John faced consequences, marking true the saying of the Lord: "A prophet is not without honor, but in his own country, and among his own kin, and in his own house" (Mark 6:4).

Below I will offer three excerpts from the private correspondence between Fr. John Romanides and his professor and close friend Fr. George Florovsky to shed more light on the urgency of Fr. John's letter to Fr. Theoklitos, in which also Fr. John explains to Fr. George what happened following the leak of its contents to Archbishop Michael. Both Fr. Romanides and Fr. Florovsky were highly critical of the Zoe Brotherhood and the scholastic form of theology taught in the Greek theological schools at the time, which was the basis of his doctoral thesis The Ancestral Sin, a study often misunderstood as a critique of Western Theology.

Excerpt From the Letter Dated March 25, 1958:

The theological situation in Greece is a major catastrophe. The only sound Orthodox I met were a few monks on Mt. Athos who hate Androutsos and Trembelas and the Universities in general and actually think in patristic terms. This even the more ignorant monks do. Their only set-back is that they are completely out of touch with the modern forms of Western theology. If there is to be any theological revival in Greece it will be from the monastic communities. People like Karmiris are more interested in Karmiris than theology. If the Greek theologians could theologize with the cleverness with which they play politics and advance their personal interests they would be giants.

Excerpt From the Letter Dated May 11, 1958:

Upon returning to New York I found waiting for me a letter from the Archbishop informing me that I am temporarily fired from all possible positions related to the Archdiocese until such time that I show humility and repentance in my attitude to the brotherhood of Ζωή [Zoe]. I had written a letter to Θεόκλητος Διονυσιάτης [Theoklitos Dionysiatis] of Mt. Athos in which I discussed very briefly the relationship of Orthodox dogma and monasticism and how a false theology inevitably brings on an activistic form of piety as is peculiar to Western Christians and to Ζωή in Greece, and I also discussed how this activism is the only type of Christianity known and respected by the Greeks in America. I mentioned that the Greeks in America are rife for a Ζωή type of pious movement since we have no monks, ascetics or monastery to set an example of the highest form of Orthodox spiritual life. It is quite natural for Orthodox influenced by Western theological categories and ignorant of the ascetic presuppositions of Orthodox dogma to express their misunderstandings of Orthodoxy in patterns of Church life familiar to the non-Orthodox religious groups in this country. I asked concerning the possibility of transplanting a monastic community of 5-10 monks from Mt. Athos to serve as a core for the development of a spiritual life among our people in the traditional patterns. In enthusiasm over my note Θεόκλητος, who is editor of the periodical "Αγιορείτικη Βιβλιοθήκη" [Athonite Library] and has been writing the same for years and who has been waging a war against Ζωή, proceeded to publish everything I wrote him and a commentary on all the points I touched upon and whole heartedly agreed with me etc. The Archbishop was shown this article by the Άγιος Πρωτοσύγγελος Νεόφυτος (Holy Chancellor Neophytos] who also interpreted everything according to his own desires and misconceptions. Thereupon the Archbishop wrote me an extremely nasty letter accusing me of having εωσφορικήν αλαγονείαν, εγωίσμον and προβολήν του εαυτου μου [demonic pride, egoism and self-promotion] and claiming that I am ανατροπεύς [subversive] and not αφοσιωμένος είς τήν Ορθόδοξον πίστιν καί παράδοσιν [dedicated to the Orthodox faith and tradition]. Monday morning (May 4) I went to see him and after a ten minute interview he threw me out of his office in a very rehearsed manner. That was the first time I saw him since my trouble with Trembelas and he didn't even want to hear my version of the story, nor did he want to hear my reasons for being critical of Ζωή. I reminded him that I am not alone in my criticism of Ζωή and that many serious Orthodox theologians etc. are of the same opinion. But he was not in a state of mind to hear anything, and while I was leaving he demanded that I humiliate myself (να ταπεινωθης), whereupon I suggested that perhaps what he wanted of me is not humility, but servility (δουλοπρέπεια). Unfortunately he is such a complete δουλος [servant] to the image he has of Trembelas that he will not hear anything from anyone else. Unfortunately we modern Orthodox have completely lost the meaning of the distinction between heresy and Orthodoxy exactly because we have divorced theology from piety and try to become pious without the guide of Orthodox dogma, and therefore it has become possible for people with unconscious heretical presuppositions to set the pattern of our modern Church life, especially in this country. In this situation one is faced with so many problems. Is one just to sit back and allow the forgers of the Orthodox spirit to continue their work of corrupting our traditions, or must one wage a struggle to the end? Of course one must wage the struggle, but how and with whose help beside that of the Lord? The Orthodox today are not satisfied with the means of salvation given by God Himself and they try to invent new and more comfortable ways. Instead of accepting what God has done for them, they are telling God what He should have done, and are actually trying to do the work of God in a much better way, so they think, than God can do.

Excerpt From the Letter Dated May 28, 1958:

The Archbishop's attitude toward me is perhaps much different than you think. One of the many points I criticized Ζωή and Kotsonis for is their fervor in translating sentimental Protestant and Catholic religious novels and books on piety, which have no business being circulated among the Greeks in Greece. We have so many patristic works on piety to be translated and distributed, e.g. Φιλοκαλία [Philokalia], yet there is no interest whatsoever among Ζωή for such undertakings. Not only this but they actually sabotage any attempt in this direction because they are strongly anti-monastic and anti-ascetic. The Archbishop is also guilty of translating Western methods of piety. He recently finished publishing a book on prayer by a BOUNDS. [1] So you see his defense of Ζωή and Kotsonis is also perhaps primarily a defense of himself. There are other subjects also, such as kneeling on Sundays. The Archbishop tries to force me to kneel, but for me this is a matter of faithfulness to the patristic spirit. If we are to rule over many things we must be faithful over the few things (Matt. 25:23). Then the Archbishop is also deeply indebted to Trembelas who was the main instrument in his becoming bishop of Corinth during the Archbishopric of Chrysanthou of Athens. The ties are very deep between them and Trembelas can always count on cooperation. Then there is the question of things under the carpet and skeletons in the closet. Ζωή gets special cooperation from the bishops about whom they know special things from under the carpet and in the closet. The staunchest supporter of Ζωή is a bishop who when ordained many years ago had the Church packed with friends bearing arms in case anyone was tempted to say ανάξιος [unworthy]. This is why about seven Greek bishops would do anything for Trembelas, even when what is asked is unjust and beyond the dictates of reason. Karmiris once pointed out to me how Ζωή even uses the Sacrament of Confession to further its ends. You see, I am up against something much more serious than the momentary whims of an Archbishop.

At present in Greece I am the object of a strong whispering campaign being conducted by Ζωή. They are whispering that I am actually the heretic that Trembelas claims. A friend wrote me that ever since he quoted from my book his periodical has been banned for members of Ζωή. Yet they do not attack me in writing. They are content with the war of rumors and getting at me through the Archbishop....

In the whole controversy the traditionalists are tending to look for support to Mt. Athos and the Old Calendarists. My friend writes me of a possible alliance. There are more than a million Old Calendarists in Greece who are shamefully persecuted. Actually they are the true pious Orthodox in the traditional sense; they keep all the fasts and liturgical customs very faithfully. It is in their homes that one finds Φιλοκαλία and all the wonderful translations of the Fathers made in the last century. In most homes of pious of the official Church one finds Guardini, Oubaler, Holgner, Pascal, etc., but not one Father of the Church. Recently they are highly recommending Greek translations of Billy Graham's sermons. [2]


1. E. M. Bounds, Power Through Prayer

2. This last paragraph explains the reasons why traditional Greek Orthodox have looked to schismatic groups such as the Old Calendarists for Orthodox literature dealing with traditional Orthodox life and thought. The negative influences of Zoe are the seed through which an extremist ecclesiology and paranoia entered the Church in the latter half of the twentieth century.