August 18, 2011

Praxis and Theoria, or Action and Vision

By Metropolitan Hierotheos of Nafpaktos

A result of the false distinction of neptic and social theology is that we usually make a distinction between praxis (action) and theoria (vision), as well as between practical and theoretical people. This distinction is made because the western distinction of action and contemplation has influenced us.

In the Medieval West, they spoke of theory and practice, the latter meaning mission, action, while the former is intellectual occupation with God and the truths of the Church. In the Orthodox Tradition, however, action is chiefly purification of the heart, and theoria is noetic prayer and the vision of the uncreated Light, the deification of man.

Likewise, in the Orthodox Church we say that praxis and theoria of God are not opposites, but one follows the other. Ilias the Presbyter says that the courageous man is like a woman who keeps two lamps burning, "mastering both praxis and theoria". St. Maximos the Confessor says that there is no safe praxis without theoria, nor true theoria without praxis. "For praxis needs to be learned and theoria put into practice". And he points out that in some the theoria is preceded by praxis and in others praxis is preceded by theoria, but finally both have to end in one thing".