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April 24, 2013

Fundamentalism and Tradition

By Metropolitan Hierotheos of Nafpaktos

The term "fundamentalism", which in the Greek language is rendered θεμελιοκρατία, and is more known as conservatism or zealotism, was created in the West and is primarily attributed to Islamic movements that try to read the Koran in the context it was written, while rejecting all hermeneutic traditions that have overloaded and distorted it. Protestant fundamentalism was created with the same perspective, seeking to read Holy Scripture outside the hermeneutic tradition of the Church.

Understanding these conditions for so-called fundamentalism, I was puzzled when I read the text of a Professor of Theology who, among others, characterizes as a fundamentalist movement those who undertake the publication and study of the works of St. Gregory Palamas. I was puzzled, because after so many studies, both doctoral and non, I was hoping for a better reception of this hesychastic tradition, which is the essence of Orthodox teaching and life. But I would like to emphasize three points, that I would expect this retired Professor of Theology to know.

First, that St. Gregory Palamas, according to the conscience of the Church, synodal documents, the worship of the Church, and the Synodikon of Orthodoxy, is a saint and teacher who is regarded as the quintessence of Orthodox Tradition. At the same time, it is written in the Synodal Tome of 1347 that if there emerges someone who thinks, speaks or writes against St. Gregory Palamas "and the monks with him, or rather against the holy theologians and this Church, we vote also against him and put him under the same condemnation [excommunication or expulsion], whether he be a member of the clergy or a layman." Of course, such a renunciation is not fundamentalist, but a formalization to effect a measure.

Second, the clear distinction and differentiation between East and West was emphasized primarily by the slavophile theologians after the reforms of Peter the Great and cultivated mainly by the Russian emigre. In Greece the first time this was ever discussed was in 1936 in the first meeting of Orthodox Theological Schools in Athens with the presence of the great Russian theologian Fr. George Florovsky. I expected this fact to be emphasized by the retired Professor of Theology.

Third, fundamentalism was expressed in the Protestant world with the view that the Bible must be interpreted independently of patristic literature, and some "Orthodox theologians" maintain that this Protestant hermeneutical biblical tradition transferred to the Orthodox East. This being the case, it is advisable to not see the fundamentalist consciousness in the Orthodox Tradition as expressed by St. Gregory Palamas and his interpreters, but rather in the transfer of the Protestant hermeneutical view which alters not only the Bible but also patristic literature, the worship of the Church, and the decisions of the Ecumenical Synods.

We must come to understand that the criterion of Orthodox theology and the ecclesiastical mindset are the saints, who preserved the Orthodox teaching and the true way of life that leads man to the original purpose of his creation. Outside of this, all the isms - moralism, academicism, and rationalism - miss their target.

Source: Translated by John Sanidopoulos