December 18, 2015

The Theological Crisis and Its Impact on Daily Ecclesiastical Life (1 of 6)

The following lecture titled "The Theological Crisis and Its Impact on Daily Ecclesiastical Life" was delivered before the Hierarchy of the Church of Greece on October 8, 2015.

By Metropolitan Hierotheos of Nafpaktos and Agiou Vlasiou


Your Beatitude the President,
Your Eminences the Hierarchy,

I thank His Beatitude Archbishop Ieronymos of Athens and All Greece and the members of the Standing Holy Synod of the Church of Greece for choosing together this topic for the Meetings of our Hierarchy, and also for allowing me to present it, the least of all.

Admittedly, it is a serious issue that has two sections. The first is the "theological crisis" and the other is "its impact on daily ecclesiastical life". The issue, upon initial examination, is theoretical, but it also has practical consequences, moreover it closely associates theoria with praxis, and they cannot be divided between them.

In recent years, there has been constant talk about an economic crisis, and this has absorbed all our thoughts and activities, ignoring the fact that the crisis is deeper - it is geopolitical, cultural and at its depth theological. Max Weber has shown that the capitalist mentality came from the Protestant ethic, and places where it prevailed there developed factories, banks and the banking system. But this will not be the topic I am presenting, but I will limit it to the crisis in theology in the Church and the consequences created by this crisis.

From the outset I would like to emphasize that I will, as much as I can, make this short and concise, as an introduction before the hierarchy cannot cover the whole issue, but I will say that I have finished a massive 600-page book on this issue, in which I present the related bibliography.

For now I will emphasize three key points. The first is "The Theology of the Orthodox Church", the second "The Alteration of Theology", and the third "The Impact of the Theological Crisis on Daily Ecclesiastical Life". I ask for your indulgence.

1. The Theology of the Orthodox Church

Theology, as everyone knows, is words about God. This means that, because everyone speaks about God, such as philosophers, deists, agnostics, atheists, when they are opposed to God and fight against God, this is why there are various theologies. It is not enough for someone to speak about theology, but the conceptual content should be determined.

Our first-created forefathers before the fall had personal and direct dialogue with God, but after the fall this dialogue was interrupted, and thus the descendants of our first-created forefathers created their own theology, at first deifying their thoughts, concepts and fantasies, then they deified material objects and ideas. This is how paganism and classical metaphysics developed.

With His appearances to the Patriarchs, Righteous and Prophets in the Old Testament, God presented the true knowledge of Himself, showing the difference between what was created and what was uncreated, He gave His Law to help them distinguish between the God of revelation and the god of philosophy, mysticism, magic and superstition. As the Apostle Paul writes in his Epistle to the Hebrews: "In the past God spoke to our ancestors through the prophets at many times and in various ways, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son" (Heb. 1:1-2).

The Incarnation of Christ, His disclosure to His Apostles, the revelation of the Triune God at the Jordan River and Mount Tabor, the Resurrection and Ascension of Christ, the descent of the Holy Spirit to the gathering on Pentecost, are what offer authentic theology. Saint Gregory Palamas wrote that the Son of God, "God before the ages, became for us also a theologian." By extension, theologians are they who have come to know God in His glory, namely the Prophets, Apostles, Fathers and Saints. Saint Gregory the Theologian, in the beginning of his dialogue with the Eunomians, had to determine who are the theologians of the Church. He said that not everyone can theologize about God, because "the subject is not so cheap and low." Rather it is "permitted only to those who have been examined, and are passed masters in theoria, and who have been previously purified in soul and body, or at the very least are being purified."

Thus, the preeminent theologian is Christ and then His friends, those to whom God has manifested Himself, namely the Prophets, Apostles and Fathers, and then those who accept the experiences of the experienced. The preamble to the "Hagioretic Tome", drafted by Saint Gregory Palamas, shows clearly who the charismatic/empirical theologians are and those who are disciples of those empirical theologians.

I don't want to elaborate any further on this issue, just simply remind us who confess the Synodikon of Orthodoxy:

"As the Prophets saw, as the Apostles taught, as the Church has received, as the Teachers express in dogma, as the inhabited world understands together with them, as grace illumines, as the truth makes clear, as error has been banished, as wisdom makes bold to declare, as Christ has assured, so we think, so we speak, so we preach, honoring Christ our true God, and his Saints, in words, in writings, in thoughts, in sacrifices, in churches, in icons, worshiping and revering the One as God and Lord, and honoring them because of their common Lord as those who are close to Him and serve Him, and making to them relative veneration. This is the faith of the Apostles; this is the faith of the Fathers; this is the faith of the Orthodox; this faith is held fast by the inhabited world."

These things are known to all of us, I am just reminding you with reverence and brotherly love that this Orthodox theology was not only recorded in the Proceedings of Ecumenical Synods and the confessional texts of the Fathers, but it is included in the worship of our Church and her iconography. There is a deep relationship between the lex credendi (law of faith) and lex orandi (law of prayer).

For example, Saint John of Damascus wrote in his famous book which he titled Exact Exposition of the Orthodox Faith - and I'm impressed that he used the word "exact", because Orthodox theology has exactness and not just "approximate" words and meanings - in which book he includes the entire theology of the first eight centuries, essentially the theology of the Seven Ecumenical Synods, but he also composed the famous hymns of the Octoechos, especially the Theotokaria of each tone, and the canons for the Despotic and Mother of God feasts, in which he included the entire theology of the Seven Ecumenical Synods. So there is a close relationship between dogma and worship, theology and prayer, history and theology.

This means that when we want to evaluate the theology of an issue, aside from the Proceedings of the Ecumenical Synods, one should also read the hymns, troparia and the prayers of the Mysteries of the Church. The Church, through her Fathers, put its entire theology as to what a Christian is in its Mysteries of Baptism and Chrismation, as to what marriage is in its Mystery of Marriage, as to what is the Divine Eucharist in its Mystery of the Divine Eucharist. So there is a profound relationship between the Proceedings of the Ecumenical Synods with the Euchologion and hymnography.

Certainly, the Fathers of the Church, because they encountered a great movement in their time, Hellenism with its philosophy, and they had to face it creatively, they made use of terms from the philosophy of their time, such as Aristotelian and Neoplatonic philosophy, but this was done only with terminology without blemishing the revealed word. Hence, while the Protestant Adolf von Harnack spoke about an alteration of Christianity by its incorporation of Greek philosophy, the so-called "Hellenization of Christianity", Fr. George Florovsky argues to the contrary, upholding the "Christianization of Hellenism". So there is an identification between experience and theology, between the Prophets, Apostles and Fathers, but the differences are only in phrases and meanings and not experiences. This is a very important point.

This was an introduction that I may proceed further.

Translated by John Sanidopoulos.