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August 22, 2016

Prophetic Themes in the Orthodox Ecclesiology of Fr John Romanides

Prophetic Themes in the Orthodox Ecclesiology of Fr John Romanides

By Deacon Geoffrey Ready


(1) Church and Salvation
(2) Membership in the Church
(3) Apostolic Succession
(4) Empirical Truth, Synods, and Ecumenical Dialogue
(5) Church and World


Orthodox Christians have forgotten the true nature of the Church. Throughout the Orthodox world today, the Church is variously confused with worldly institutions and political structures. She has come to be seen as simply another one of the world's religious societies, her message of healing and salvation for all reduced to the sphere of private belief and cultural affiliation. Even Orthodox theologians who have attempted to correct people's misconceptions of the Church have often followed Western Christianity's "worldly considerations," making "the dogmas of the Church... the object of logical gymnastics in the classrooms of philosophy."[1] While attempting to show something of the uniqueness of the Orthodox Church, in responding to the demands of ecumenical contact with the Western confessions, these theologians have tended to present the Church in the institutional and structural terms the West understands, and have thus lost sight of her true and organic life in Christ.

Amidst this confusion Fr John Romanides has stood for nearly half a century, a prophetic voice crying out in an ecclesiological wilderness. Although he is not usually considered an ecclesiologist, as a dogmatic theologian and active participant in ecumenical dialogue, Fr John has had much to say about the Church and her mission in the world. Throughout his writings, his message, always insistent and never varying, has been a prophetic call for Orthodox Christians to come back to first principles, to the central themes of our Faith in its most pure and authentic form. He does not write his ecclesiology in response to theological problems and questions imported from the Latin West, but presents an integrated theology of the Church from the heart of Orthodox Tradition.[2] For Fr John, it is the Church of the Holy Scriptures and the Patristic-Hesychastic Tradition that is normative at all times and in all places, and he holds the Church accountable to this standard of truth, in light of which he does not hesitate to criticise later ecclesiastical and theological developments.

Given that he opens up so much of the heart of Orthodox Christianity, an exhaustive study of the ecclesiology of Fr John Romanides would be a monumental undertaking. For this reason, in this paper we shall limit ourselves to the examination of five "prophetic themes" in his works — themes which, though long neglected and thus often disturbing for us to hear, must nevertheless be integrated into our theology of the Church if it is to be fully Orthodox. In the first section, we begin with the true nature of the Church's mission in the world. The implications of this mission are developed in the sections that follow, in which we shall discuss Fr John's treatment of such thorny issues as membership in the Church, Apostolic succession, truth and ecumenical dialogue, and the Church's relations to the world.

(1) Church and Salvation

Commenting on the ecclesiology of St Ignatios of Antioch, Fr John Romanides insists at the outset that the Church exists "for the sole purpose of salvation in Christ."[3] Of course, many other Orthodox theologians have emphasised this connection between the Church and salvation. Some focus on the Church as the "Ark of Salvation" — the ship travelling the rough waters of this world, carrying her passengers to the harbour of the Kingdom of God. Others concentrate on the Church as the "Realm of Salvation," that is, as salvation itself — the very communion of God with men. Yet, whatever the emphasis given to this theme, the presupposition more often than not seems to be that it is an institutional connection with the Church and her Divine Mysteria that effects salvation. It is against this that Fr John Romanides calls us back to the true meaning of the Church and salvation.

For Fr John, the false idea that an institutional membership in the Church leads to salvation is based on the Neo-Platonic Christian theology which the West inherited from Augustine. According to this view, "the reward of the just will be or is the vision of God, and the punishment of the unjust will be the privation of this vision."[4] In other words, there is a real difference between places called heaven (where one has the vision of God) and hell (where one experiences punishment and is deprived of the vision of God), and man's destiny is determined by his membership among either the elect or the damned. The various western confessions differ widely in their interpretations of this teaching — ranging from upholding a rigid double predestination to allowing for man's free response to divine election — but they share the common understanding that salvation consists in belonging to a separate, élite group among men, which is identified with the Church.

Orthodox Christianity not only rejects this understanding of salvation, but, according to Fr John Romanides, teaches the absolute opposite. He writes that "God loves all and God saves all":[5] salvation belongs to all men in that, after death, all will come to the same experience of seeing the God-man Christ in His uncreated glory. For those who have not opened themselves to God's grace and transformed their hearts from selfish, utilitarian concerns to selfless love, that love which "does not seek its own" (I Cor. 13:5), the uncreated glory and ruling power[6] (basileia) of Christ will be experienced as the outer darkness and eternal fires of hell. Yet for those whose hearts have been purified and illumined, the same reality will be experienced as heaven, as never-ending growth from "glory to glory" (II Cor. 3:18). "God is light for those who learn to love Him and a consuming fire for those who will not."[7] In other words, God does not just save an elect few, but everyone; yet this salvation will be experienced differently according to each man's preparation for it. "From this viewpoint," Fr John writes, "hell is indeed salvation, but the lowest form of it."[8]

This Biblical and Patristic teaching of salvation has profound ecclesiological implications. Since all men have been created to see God unceasingly in Christ's glory, "no religion or church can claim for itself the power of deciding who goes to heaven and who goes to hell."[9] Nor does anyone have "a special claim on the love of God because of any special church affiliation or predestination."[10] Moreover, the Church must not be confused with religions "which by various magical practices and beliefs promise escape from an alleged world of evil or of false appearances to an alleged world of security and happiness."[11]

Rather, the visible, earthly Church is a spiritual hospital[12] in which the true Apostolic cure of man is practised, preparing men for the experience of the uncreated rule and glory of God. Fr John writes that the Church "does not send anyone to heaven or hell, but prepares the faithful for the vision of Christ in glory which everyone will have."[13] Since the Father, Son and Holy Spirit share a communion of selfless love, man's participation in the uncreated life of the Holy Trinity "unto blessedness and not unto spiritual stultification" depends on whether or not he has received the Church's Apostolic cure and begun "the transformation of self-centred happiness and security-seeking love... into a love which does not seek its own."[14]

Following the Fathers, Fr John Romanides identifies three stages[15] of the spiritual cure which the Church has received from the Apostles: (1) purification of the heart, the centre of the human personality, from sinful passions, thoughts, and images; (2) illumination of the noetic faculty (nous) in heart with unceasing prayer or memory of God; and (3) glorification (theosis), "the perfection of personhood in the vision of the uncreated glory and rule (basileia) of Christ in and among His saints, the members of His Body, the Church."[16] This spiritual cure, involving both participation in the Church's Divine Mysteria and "therapeutic asceticism," is effected by man's co-operation with the work of Christ Himself:

One co-operates with Christ in the purification of one's heart and in acquiring the illumination of the unceasing prayer in the heart. This allows love to do away with self-centredness and selfishness... When God sees that one is ready to follow the cure which will make him selfless He guides him into the courtyard of glorification and takes him from being a child to manhood, i.e. prophethood (I Cor. 13:11). One begins with sick love concerned with one's own salvation and graduates into selfless Love which, like Saint Paul, would forego one's own salvation for that of others.[17]

Furthermore, through the Church, this cure is offered to all human beings without exception. There is no difference among men according to God's love, only according to the degree to which they will accept it: "In other words one either chooses cure or refuses cure. Christ is the Doctor who cures all His patients to that degree of cure they accept, even that of hell."[18]

The reality of this cure, manifested fully even in this life in the selfless love of the glorified members of the Church, means that the Church could never be reduced to being a religion which simply promises an afterlife of happiness as an escape from the troubles of this world. In fact, Fr John Romanides often gives his expression, "the Church is a spiritual hospital," a profoundly realistic significance. He argues that

had prophetic Judaism and its successor Christianity made their appearance in the twentieth century, they would perhaps have been classified not as religions but as medical sciences akin to psychiatry with a wider impact on society due to its success in curing in varying degrees the malady of partially functioning human personalities.[19]

In this light, Fr John goes so far as to propose that representatives from the Orthodox Christian Tradition enter into dialogue as a "positive science" with other medical professions, and he says that the reunion of Christendom might ultimately "be served by getting scientists involved" in the study of the Church's cure of man.[20]

(2) Membership in the Church

The Patristic-Hesychastic understanding of Church and salvation described above makes it impossible to conceive of membership in Church as simply an institutional affiliation, even one manifested by outward participation in the Church's Divine Mysteria. Rather, the reality of the Church as a spiritual hospital with different stages of cure clearly implies different levels of membership in the Church.

At one level, all human beings are related to the Church insofar as all are co-strugglers in this life and all will come to the same experience of the glory of God after death.[21] Yet Fr John Romanides clearly states that "the world outside of the corporate life of love, in the sacraments, is still under the power of the consequences of death and therefore a slave to the devil."[22] Moreover, he writes that the "dominion" of the Church is limited to the "local community living in full the sacramental life. Outside this life Satan and his powers are still ruling humanity."[23] Thus we cannot conclude that all men belong to the Church. In this world "outside" the sacramental boundaries of the Church, we find those whom the Apostle Paul calls the apistoi ("those lacking in faith" — I Cor. 14).[24] In this category, Fr John includes not only the catechumens and other unbaptised, but also the "penitents" — those who have been baptised and yet have "failed to remain steadfast and allowed the power of death and corruption to regain its dominance over the 'spirit of life'."[25]

Within the sacramental boundaries of the Church, Fr John Romanides, following the Apostle Paul, identifies three levels of "membership," although the first level is not truly membership in the Church as the Body of Christ. These three levels correspond to the three stages of the spiritual life, as Fr John explains: "Purification and illumination of the heart and glorification involve all believers since apart from this context there is no membership in the Church."[26]

The first level includes those who have been baptised by water, but have not yet received the baptism of the Spirit,[27] which is the illumination of the noetic faculty of the heart with unceasing prayer and memory of God. Fr John Romanides connects St Paul's gift of "tongues" (I Cor. 14), the utterance of "mysteries in the Spirit," with the intercession of the Holy Spirit in the heart, that is, with unceasing prayer of the heart. He writes that "for St Paul the gift of tongues seems to be the minimal requirement for membership in the Body of Christ."[28] Using the terminology of the Apostle, Fr John calls those who do not yet speak in tongues the "private individuals" (idiotai), and says that they are "neither members of the Body of Christ, nor charismatics" — that is, they have not yet received the gifts of the Spirit.[29] Commenting on St Paul's description, he writes that, because these idiotai "have a special place in the assembly and say amen at the proper times during prayers (I Cor. 14:16)," we know that they were baptised and, though still "awaiting the coming of the Holy Spirit in their heart," they "may have participated in eucharistic communion as the apostles had also done before Pentecost." Fr John concludes that the idiotai are "the baptised laymen of the apostolic community."[30]

Although on the one hand, there is no greater standard than participation in the Eucharist for membership in the Body of Christ,[31] the private individual believers are "not yet temples of the Holy Spirit and members of the Body of Christ."[32] The principal reason is that, not having been illumined, they are still self-centred (hence the term idiotai) and do not yet possess the Holy Spirit's gift of selfless love.[33] Thus, while they participate outwardly in Divine Communion, they cannot share fully in the Eucharistic life of selfless love which constitutes the Body of Christ. At this stage, they are engaged in the purification of their hearts "under the direction of those who are already temples of the Holy Spirit and members of the Body of Christ."[34] They must submit to their "spiritual fathers' therapy" in order to be brought to "their adoption in the Spirit and union with the Body of Christ, i.e. the reception of the gift of tongues."[35] This ongoing spiritual growth is essential, for they cannot rely solely on their baptism in water as a spiritual cure. Fr John insists that "faith in Christ without undergoing cure in Christ is not faith at all"[36] and that "the forgiveness of sins is not enough preparation for seeing Christ in glory."[37]

It is at the second stage of the spiritual life, illumination by the baptism of the Holy Spirit, that private believers receive "the gift of the Holy Spirit praying in their heart which makes them members of the Body of Christ."[38] This experience is described in various ways: "justification by faith, the gift of tongues, baptism into Christ, reconciliation, and adoption"; but they are all "one identical reality,"[39] as Fr John Romanides explains:

These unceasing prayers and psalms in the heart (Eph. 5:18-20), otherwise called "kinds of tongues" (I Cor. 12:28), transform the private individual into a temple of the Holy Spirit and member of the Body of Christ. They are the beginning of one's liberation from bondage to the environment, not by retreat from it, but by controlling it, not exploitatively, but by selfless love.[40]

In other words, it is by illumination that "selfish love is transformed into selfless love" so that one may be prepared "to see in Christ the divinity of the Holy Trinity as glory and not as consuming fire."[41] The very reason that "only the illumined and glorified are members of the Body of Christ and temples of the Holy Spirit"[42] is that before illumination, selfless love is impossible. Once they are members of Christ, however, their primary responsibility "is to illuminate others so that by selfless and non-utilitarian love they may live and work together in society and at the same time prepare themselves and others for an experience which everyone will have."[43]

Fr John Romanides writes that "membership in the Church has its degrees of cure and perfection within two groupings, the illumined and the glorified."[44] Therefore, the glorified, those who have advanced to the third stage of the spiritual life, and have experienced the direct vision (theoria) of the uncreated glory of Christ, are at the highest level of membership in the Church. That does not mean, however, that the glorified are to form a special élite within the Church. Fr John notes that, by calling "on lower degrees of membership in the Body of Christ" (those who are illumined) "to seek advancement to higher spiritual stages," the Apostle Paul clearly means "that all are supposed to become prophets, i.e. to reach glorification (I Cor. 14:5)."[45]

By following Paul's usage of the term prophet to designate the glorified saint, Fr John Romanides links together the Old Testament Prophets, the New Testament Apostles and the glorified Saints and Fathers of every age of the Church.[46] He explains that these "prophets throughout history are the only foundation of the Church, just as we may say that doctors are the 'foundation' of hospitals."[47] In fact, without the glorified, there would be no Church and no Divine Mysteria:

Those with unceasing prayer who reach glorification are the central core of Holy Tradition since without them there is no Body of Christ. Whether one has such fathers in concrete local congregations, or in monasteries, does not change the fact they are the specialists for producing members of the Body of Christ. Without them the mysteries (sacraments) of the Church become a system of hocus pocus. St Paul does not say that the Body of Christ is being built up by baptism, chrismation, eucharist, etc., but by apostles and prophets, meaning apostles and fathers who give birth to others in Christ by preparing them for the reception of the Holy Spirit's prayer in their hearts. It is only within such a context that the sacraments of baptism, chrismation, eucharist, ordination, confession, penance, etc., are not hocus pocus.[48]

In light of this, those theologians who would (quite rightly) make "Eucharistic ecclesiology" the foundation of the Orthodox Church's self-understanding would do well to remember that Divine Communion and the other Mysteria are inseparable from the Apostolic Tradition of the cure and glorification of man, manifested in the glorified Prophets, Apostles and Fathers.[49] An institutionalised Eucharistic ecclesiology is, as Fr John Romanides suggests, simply "hocus pocus."[50]

The Church is also founded on the glorified saints, the "friends of God," because it is through them that the Church becomes the Body of Christ, through the mystery of Christ's presence among them by "multiplying Himself indivisibly" in His glorified human nature:

The place of common dwelling of him who loves the Father in Christ is the human nature of Christ, the Temple of the Logos by nature, and its natural glory that Christ as Logos received from the Father and by nature shares with the Holy Spirit. By becoming a member of the Body of Christ one becomes the temple of God and at the same time dwells in God as His temple.[51] Thus each friend of God becomes the bearer of the whole Body of Christ and at the same time all the friends of God are one Body of Christ gathered in the same place (epi to auto) sharing in one bread and one cup.[52]

Moreover, this is "the Mystery of the Church established in Pentecost and all the truth that Christ promised that the Paraclete will lead His friends to"; so it is in this way that Pentecost is understood as the birth of the Church:

Thus since Pentecost the human nature of Christ is also multiplied indivisibly so that it is in toto present in each of the reconciled friends of God.[53] Pentecost is the birth of the Church because the human nature of Christ is present and by grace is united to each member of His Body, not as part of Christ in each, but by grace the whole Christ in each member. Christ departed so that He might return in the Holy Spirit by a new presence of His human nature which, like God's uncreated glory, is divided indivisibly among many faithful so that Christ is present within and united by grace to each of the members of His Body. At the same time the Body of Christ remains one so that its members are one with each other in the glory and rule (basileia) of the Holy Trinity.[54]

Indeed, since Pentecost, each incident of the glorification of a saint becomes "an extension of Pentecost at various levels of intensity,"[55] and "the Body of Christ is being built up by the addition of the illumined and glorified of each generation until the consummation."[56]

The fullest expression of the Church and her unity is in the Holy Eucharist, which manifests the local community as the Body of Christ formed by illumination and glorification. Sharing in Holy Communion is "the highest and only possible centre and consummation of the life of unity and love."[57] It presupposes illumination, and is "not a substitute for the cure of the inner person in Christ."[58] Fr John Romanides writes that the Apostle Paul's desire for all to prophesy (I Cor. 14:1-5) shows that "he wants all to reach theosis in this life so that their love may be cured by transformation into the selfless and sacrificial love of the mystery of the cross which is celebrated in the Holy Eucharist."[59] The Eucharist is central because it is a visible expression of this communion of selfless love between God and man. Fr John condemns those who would propose a "disincarnated" or "spiritualistic" form of membership in the Church,[60] and highlights the "incessant necessity of local participation in the life of God through the Body of Christ, composed of real people."[61] For there is no "membership in the Body of Christ higher and more profound than the corporate life of local love for real people. An individual becomes a member of the Body of Christ locally. Those who share in the one bread are one body (I Cor. 10:17). This sharing in one bread can happen only locally."[62] Fr John thus fully endorses St Ignatios's understanding of the Catholic Church being manifested in the local Church, with each local community having the fullness of the Eucharistic life of selfless love being "related to the other such communities not by a common participation in something greater than the local life in the Eucharist, but by an identity of existence in Christ."[63]

It will no doubt be argued that Fr John Romanides's prophetic "maximalism" in his discussion of membership in the Church is excessively idealistic. It certainly presents a challenge to most of us, who, according to this view, remain as "private individual believers" outside of the true Body of Christ. Yet we must remember that Fr John is not presenting his own views, but simply reflecting those of the Apostles and their successors, the hesychastic Fathers of the Church.

A more serious criticism is that this view destroys sacramental realism, the ex opere operato function of the Divine Mysteria.[64] One might well ask, examining the service-books of the Orthodox Church, why we say to the newly baptised and chrismated, "You are justified. You are illumined. You are sanctified...", if water baptism and anointing with chrism do not automatically lead to illumination of the heart and unceasing prayer. Yet in actual fact, according to Fr John, the services of the Mysteria of baptism and chrismation were developed in the early Church when they most often did correspond to the stage of illumination, of becoming a member of the Body of Christ and a Temple of the Holy Spirit. He explains that catechumens waited for baptism until they had advanced through the stage of purification: "Before baptism there must take place a spiritual progress which in degrees prepares one for the death of baptism and acceptance of the seal of the spirit."[65] In addition, he writes that "baptism in the Spirit which results in the gift of tongues... is evidently the origin of chrismation, the mystery by which one becomes a member of the Body of Christ and a temple of God."[66] Moreover, in its original form, chrismation, "the seal of the Holy Spirit," was only "applied upon confirmation of the receipt of the baptism of the Spirit."[67]

Fr John laments that today the reality of these Mysteria is perceived almost completely in a kind of eschatological vision, to be fulfilled somehow in the future. It is true that the Church is "in a continuous process of becoming,"[68] and awaiting the final consummation; but the problem with this approach to the Holy Mysteria is that "Biblical/Patristic realised eschatology becomes purely futuristic."[69] For instance, Fr John remarks that, for many Orthodox Christians, the gift of the Holy Spirit praying in the heart has essentially been replaced with the Mysterion of Confession. The real danger in this is that "forgiveness sustains the hope that God will see fit to allow the believer to plunge into glorification after death without the cure of illumination, which could mean to see the glory of Christ as eternal fire and outer darkness."[70] In light of this, therefore, we should receive Fr John's teaching as a prophetic challenge to restore the true spiritual content of the Divine Mysteria, rather than accusing him of undermining their real power.

(3) Apostolic Succession

In response to the western scholastic focus on a merely tactile Apostolic succession, Orthodox theologians have been fond of saying that Apostolic succession consists also in fidelity to Apostolic teaching. Fr John Romanides, however, building on his theme of the Church as hospital of salvation, presents an even deeper view: for him, Apostolic succession is the real experience of the Apostolic cure and glorification of man, passed down from generation to generation in the Church:

In other words the Pentecostal experience of the Apostles is handed down by Christ as the central core of tradition from one age to another in such wise that the Orthodox Church does have in her midst living witnesses to and of glorification in Christ.[71]

Thus the principle of Apostolic succession is not the laying on of hands per se, but the healing tradition of purification, illumination and glorification which is passed on with it.

Fr John Romanides contends that the very structure of the Church and her hierarchy was established to protect this Apostolic healing tradition. First, "it was from among the prophets (i.e. the glorified) that the bishop and presbyters originated within the congregations."[72] It was not thought that ordination magically conferred special spiritual gifts on the candidate; rather, election "was a recognition of the mastership of spirituality to which one had attained."[73] By choosing the bishop and his council of presbyters from among those who have reached glorification, or at least illumination, the Church ensured that authentic spiritual guides were in the position of leading the faithful through the true spiritual therapy into the life of corporate love. It was their responsibility to guard Apostolic tradition by continuously defining "the limits of the local Body of Christ" through the Mysteria of initiation and by excommunicating those who violated the Church's inner Eucharistic life of selfless love through the devil's "evil spirit of division and sin."[74] This centrality of the Eucharist is present also in the act of ordination itself: the Holy Spirit does not act "through the magical power of the bishop, but through the unity in love of the Body of Christ gathered and being formed at the Eucharist."[75] In addition to this parish synod, Fr John says that the provincial synod was also organised "to unite the true therapists, to exclude from the clergy the false prophets who pretended to have charismatic gifts, and to protect the flock from the heretics."[76]

Over time, this early Christian understanding of the passing down from generation to generation of the genuine experience of Pentecost, glorification in Christ, as "the foundation and pivotal point of apostolic tradition and succession,"[77] was eroded and partially lost. Fr John Romanides notes that it was not always possible to find candidates who were glorified or even illumined; and even when they were found, sometimes the people rejected them. Thus it began that men who "were simply moral and good but without having the traditional therapeutic education of illumination and glorification" were chosen as bishops and presbyters, even though they would formerly "have been simply laymen, since they do not have the Holy Spirit praying unceasingly in their hearts."[78] Fr John writes that, according to the Fathers, this appearance of clergy without illumination or glorification is "the origin of heresies within the Church."[79]

In order to safeguard the true therapeutic Apostolic succession of the Church, the consequence of this "spiritual collapse among the clergy" was the rise of monasticism as "an ascetical movement parallel to the episcopal communities."[80] Monasticism was not an innovation, therefore, but the continuation of the spiritual life of the "apostolic congregations,"[81] in which "the Holy Spirit's prayer in the heart became its heart and soul."[82] As bishops began to be selected from among monks, the role of monasticism was like a medical school which provided the illumined and glorified therapists for the healing mission of the Church.[83] Eventually, through the influence of St Dionysios the Araeopagite, St Symeon the New Theologian and, finally, St Gregory Palamas, the hesychastic tradition of the Fathers took over the episcopal hierarchy again. In fact, Fr John Romanides remarks, "at the time of the fall of New Rome this tradition was very strong among the Romans of the Patriarchates of New Rome, Alexandria, Antioch and Jerusalem."[84]

Over the intervening centuries, however, this true Apostolic succession has once again been under attack in the Orthodox Church. The persecution of traditional Orthodox monasticism, first under Peter the Great in Russia, then in the neo-Hellenic kingdom of Greece, amounted to "a declaration of war against the purification and illumination of the heart and glorification."[85] Fr John Romanides uses strong words to describe the consequences of these historical events. In fact, he writes that, whenever "traditional or patristic monasticism has or had for a time been suppressed or shunted off to a siding" for extended periods of time, "faith, prayer, theology and dogma on the one hand, and sacraments and liturgy on the other, have been separated from the diagnosis and therapy of the maladies of the noetic faculty."[86] In this way, large segments of the Church have been transformed "from being centres of the cure of the sickness of religion into missions for the spread of the sickness of religion."[87]

The portrait of Apostolic succession in the Orthodox Church today painted by Fr John Romanides is not altogether hopeful. Theoretically, the clergy is still "supposed to be elected from among the faithful who have reached illumination or glorification."[88] But after this "catastrophic propaganda" campaign against hesychasm, clergy who carry on the Apostolic therapeutic tradition are rare, there are "few hesychast monks," and thus "the priesthood as described by Dionysios the Araeopagite has almost disappeared."[89] Nevertheless, as long as there are some who continue in the "unceasing tradition of theoria... the central core of Orthodox tradition continues."[90] This points to the ongoing critical role of monastic parishes in the life of the Church: Fr John says that it is "the task of every secular parish to imitate the monastic parish as best" it can, "because illumination and deification are indispensable for the healing of all people."[91]

(4) Empirical Truth, Synods and Ecumenical Dialogue

As we have seen, Apostolic tradition and succession are founded in the experience of glorification of Pentecost. Fr John Romanides explains that, according to the Fathers, this experience is the fulfilment of "the discourse and prayer of Christ recorded in John 13:31-17:26, including the promise that when the Spirit of Truth comes, 'He... will guide you to all the Truth' (John 16:13)."[92] In other words, the Spirit leading into all truth is synonymous with the "vision of the glory of God in Christ."[93] True knowledge of God, therefore, is the immediate spiritual experience of God, and can only be attained through the purification and illumination of the heart and "the acquisition of the gift of selfless love."[94] Moreover, this experience of Pentecost is "not only a past experience, but rather a continuing experience within the Church which includes words and images and at the same time transcends words and images."[95]

Fr John Romanides also emphasises that this Pentecostal experience of truth in glorification is empirically verifiable. As is the case with scientific societies, in the Church "hypotheses and theories cannot be separated from the tradition of empirical verification."[96] Thus, just as scientists record successful experiments so that others may replicate and verify them, so also the true experience of God of the glorified saints is recorded so that all Christians may travel the same path of purification, illumination and glorification.[97] In science, no one would confuse the description of a scientific experiment with the experiment itself; the actual experience clearly takes precedence over any laboratory reports or textbook definitions. Similarly, the Patristic method of "empirical theology" stresses that "faith, prayer, theology, and dogma are the therapeutical methods and signposts on the road of illumination to perfection"; they are the guidebooks and maps to the experience of glorification, which, when reached, actually "abolishes faith, prayer, theology, and dogma, since the final goal of these is their abolishment in glorification and selfless love (I Cor. 13:8,10)."[98] Thus, while "doctrine and spirituality are inseparably united" at the stages of purification and illumination, at the stage of glorification, "doctrine or knowledge about God is replaced by the uncreated reality it serves to point to but cannot express."[99]

The goal of the Christian life, therefore, is to attain the same immediate experience of God through glorification as the Prophets, Apostles, and Fathers. This is the only true source of revelation; the writings of the Fathers, the decisions of the Oecumenical Synods, and even the Bible itself are not "revelation or the Word of God, but about these."[100] Nevertheless, while "revelation itself transcends words and concepts," "it inspires those participating in divine glory to express accurately and unerringly what is inexpressible in words and concepts."[101] This is especially the key to understanding the doctrines of the Oecumenical Synods. When Fr John Romanides writes that the Synodal dogmas "have nothing to do with philosophy and metaphysics and are much more akin to modern psychiatry,"[102] he means that they are not truths in themselves, but rather the written guidelines of the authentic spiritual therapy which leads to truth. In summarising this empirical method, Fr John builds on this analogy with psychiatric knowledge and practice:

As one cannot separate psychiatric knowledge from practice, similarly faith, prayer, theology, and dogma cannot be separated from their therapeutical application. As one cannot transform psychiatric knowledge into an abstract or metaphysical system, in the same way one cannot do this with the Orthodox tradition either. The relationship between knowledge and therapy is about the same for patristic theology as it is for medical science. Truth is measured by the success of the therapy, and successful therapy establishes the descriptive analysis of the ways and means it was and is accomplished.[103]

It was precisely when heresies arose which attempted "to transform the medical practice of the Church into systems of philosophical and mystical speculations and practices" that each of the Nine Oecumenical Synods was convoked.[104] In these Synods, the Fathers defended Orthodoxy by creating just such a "descriptive analysis" of the successful therapy of glorification in Christ; our responsibility is not simply to preserve this recorded analysis, but to follow it to the same experience of glorification.[105]

Another important aspect of this empirical theology is that there is no change in truth over time, since the fullness of revelation of Christ is in the Pentecostal experience of glorification.[106] Fr John Romanides notes that it was only Augustine who transformed Christ's promise that the Holy Spirit would guide the Apostles themselves into "all the truth" into "a promise that the Holy Spirit will lead not only the faithful in general into all the truth, but also the Church Herself into all the truth."[107] The Fathers never entertained this "Augustinian notion that the Church understands the faith better with the passage of time" since "every glorification is a participation in all the Truth of Pentecost which can neither be added to nor better understood."[108] This is the basis of the unchanging essence of Orthodox Christianity, in contrast with the continuing development of theology and practice in the Christian West after Augustine.[109] Although the Fathers and Synods sometimes added new terms "to the Biblical language in use concerning God and His relation to the world," this was not an attempt to speculate philosophically about God or to improve on what had already been revealed: all they were doing was "defending the living tradition of Pentecostal experience which transcends words in the language of their time" against heresies which were leading the faithful away from this experience towards spiritual death.[110]

This absolute priority of the experience of truth over dogmatic formulations has some interesting implications for so-called "ecumenical" dialogue.[111] Fr John Romanides explains that "much latitude exists for the development of the conceptual and linguistic means used to assist in preparing one to receive the gift of unceasing prayer and inner faith in order to become a temple of the Holy Spirit and a member of the Body of Christ."[112] In other words, since the experience of truth can never be "institutionalised," the identical experience of glorification in Christ shared by all the saints "does not necessarily entail identity of doctrinal expression, especially when those gifted are geographically separated for extended periods of time."[113] What is important is that when they come together, they recognise the truth of the others' experience, even if the words used to express the same experience are different.[114] In fact, this is exactly what took place at the Oecumenical Synods, at which the glorified Fathers ultimately agreed on uniform doctrinal expression because of the Roman government's "need to distinguish genuine therapists from quack therapists."[115]

In ecumenical dialogue, therefore, the responsibility of the Orthodox theologian is not to debate doctrinal expressions first of all, but to identify and verify the spiritual experience of the other to see if it agrees with the experience of the glorified saints. An excellent example of this approach was used by Fr John Romanides in his participation in the encounter between Orthodox Christians and Jews in Bucharest, Romania, in 1979. Rather than tackling the enormous number of doctrinal obstacles between Christianity and Judaism, Fr John proposed that the discussion focus on the experience of prayer. The result was startling, as he records: "the Jewish scholars revealed the fact that the purification and illumination of the heart and glorification is still the practice of the Hasidim Jews."[116] This "pleasant theological surprise," as he calls it, led him to make the claim that "except for the well-known differences between Judaism and Christianity, there is a closer similarity between Orthodoxy and Judaism than between Orthodoxy and those churches stemming from mediaeval Frankish, Visigoth (Spanish), Lombard, and Norman Europe."[117] Fr John suggests that the key for dialogue with Judaism in the future is Orthodox Christianity's insistence on the "identity of the Old and New Testaments in both their therapeutical asceticism and Christo-centrism."[118]

The Patristic understanding of empirical truth has also proved most helpful in the ecumenical dialogue with non-Chalcedonian churches. By looking at the underlying faith, rather than focusing exclusively on its outward doctrinal expressions (an approach which previously led to the use of epithets like "Monophysite"), Fr John Romanides shows that the non-Chalcedonians always maintained "essentially the same Orthodox faith."[119] Because of the Patristic teaching that "it is impossible to express God and even more impossible to conceive Him," the common experience of the saints should have made it impossible "for the glorified to become split over the use of differing terms so long as they led to illumination and glorification."[120] The problem was that, while one side, the Chalcedonians, allowed "for variations in terms which express the same faith,"[121] the other side accepted only one way of speaking of it.[122] Thus, the solution to the division, according to Fr John, is for both sides to learn to be "as pliable" on terms as St Cyril himself,[123] and, by recognising their shared experience of truth, to allow reunion between the Churches to arise as the "fruit of communion with the source of truth."[124]

In dialogue with Roman Catholics and other confessions arising in the Franco-Latin West which have completely lost the Apostolic tradition of glorification, however, Fr John Romanides has simply taken the approach of presenting the truth of Orthodox Christianity. He notes that in John 17, Christ prays for the unity of His disciples and their disciples in the cure of glorification, not for the unity of "divided churches," and certainly not for unity among "traditions which have not the slightest idea what the cure of glorification is."[125] Continuing the analogy with scientific truth that we discussed earlier, Fr John writes:

The criteria for the reunion of divided Christendom cannot be different from those for the union of associations of scientists. Astronomers would be shocked at the idea that they should unite with astrologers. The latter would have to become astronomers in order to be accepted. Members of a modern medical association would be equally shocked at the suggestion that they should become one with quack doctors and tribal medicine men. In the same way the Fathers would be shocked at the idea of a union between their tradition and churches which have little or no understanding about the therapy of purification, illumination, and glorification, and have placed institutional authority in the hands of quack therapists. The question of reunion resolves itself into the success of churches in producing the results for which they are supposed to exist. 'Blessed are the pure in heart for they shall see God'.[126]

Therefore, although the Orthodox theologian should be "open and sympathetic" to other Christians' "views and needs,"[127] there can be no question of unity in Christ "other than that which is effected by purification, illumination, and glorification," the therapy guaranteed by Christ in His saints.[128]

(5) Church and World

The final prophetic theme we will consider in the works of Fr John Romanides is his discussion of the relationship between the Church and the world. Rejecting the Augustinian conception of the Church and world as two conflicting cities,[129] Fr John emphasises again and again the universal mission of the Church: the Church is a "single universal nation created by God with the mission of uniting humanity in the true worship and service of Himself;"[130] and, as the Body of Christ, the Church "is a universal nation which exists within many nations without being identified with any one or group of them."[131] Orthodox tradition has always insisted that believers must "extend their concern to society at large" and penetrate "every aspect of society, especially by means of therapeutical asceticism."[132] There is nothing sectarian or esoteric about the Church; rather, she mirrors God's equal love and concern for the world, and continually seeks its transformation and perfection in Christ, that is, in herself as the Body of Christ.

This universal mission of the Church is founded upon what we have said earlier about the equality of all men:

The concern of the Orthodox tradition for all aspects of society, civilisation, and culture also stems from the realisation that all human beings not only have noetic faculties, but also the uncreated glory or grace or rule of God within them, although in a low operational or an almost inoperational form because of its maladies and its enslavement to the intellect, the passions, and the environment with its reluctant dominance by fear, anxiety, and beliefs cut off from reality. The Orthodox also act under the assumption that (1) God Himself operates directly in every human being regardless of his mistaken beliefs and therapeutic status, (2) loves all creatures with the same love, and (3) all will see the uncreated glory of Christ, some as light, others as fire and outer darkness, depending on whether their hearts are illumined or hardened.[133]

From the perspective of the hesychastic tradition of the Church, therefore, there can be no difference among human beings based on inequality of race or social class; it only matters "whether one is being cured or not."[134] Furthermore, the gifts of purification, illumination and glorification are "available to every human being regardless of race or colour and have nothing whatsoever to do with any one race or group of races."[135]

It is in light of this universalism that Fr John Romanides appeals to the close connection that existed between the Church and the Roman Oecumene. He writes that "Orthodox history has been greatly determined by the union of Christian sacramental universalism with the universalism of the Roman Empire."[136] Like the Jewish State in the Old Testament, which officially accepted the prophets and the cure of the heart,[137] the Roman Empire[138] adopted Orthodox Christianity as "the official cure of the sickness of religion, and not just as one more form of religion," so that justice and peace could be established through the healing of every inner person.[139] Although this Christian Roman society was far from perfect, Fr John writes that "there were many in the Roman Empire who did believe this possible, including emperors, many civil servants and not a few military."[140] One of the principal effects of the adoption of Christianity by the Romans was the "complete reversal" of the pagan aristocratic foundation of the Empire, and its replacement with an unprecedented equality among men: the cure of glorification "was open to all Romans, both gentis and non-gentis, and to all non-Romans. The aristocracy of glorification is no respecter of the aristocracy of birth."[141]

Fr John Romanides contrasts this Roman universalism and equality with the feudalistic hierarchy of the Frankish West, founded upon the inequality of privilege[142] and the Augustinian quest for happiness.[143] He argues that this inequality and utilitarianism is the very sickness at the heart of all personal and societal problems today: "When left unchecked it cannot but lead to conflicts of interest at all levels of society and to the selfish exploitation of humans and the environment by humans."[144] The only solution to this happiness-seeking sickness (which is the sickness of humanity) is the cure of purification, illumination and glorification.[145]

Fr John also contrasts Roman universalism with the tides of nationalism which have swept into the Orthodox Church, especially among the Slavs.[146] Rather than following the universal approach of Patristic ecclesiology,[147] the Slavophil movement in Russia adapted itself "to a contemporary German philosophy of social life as organism," creating the idea that "the Russian peasants were the Orthodox par excellence because of something inherent in their national character."[148] As the result of this and other foreign influences in Orthodox ecclesiology, "many modern Orthodox think of the Church as something peculiar to their national character and identify her boundaries with those of the nation." The result is that "the Church is reduced to some sort of national institution."[149] Ironically, the tragedies of Islamic conquest and Communist revolutions helped to do away somewhat with this "culture religion."[150]

Even if the universalism of the Roman Empire manifested (to a certain degree) an ecclesiological ideal, it would not be correct to infer that the Church has a preference for imperial government over other forms. Fr John Romanides explains that the

Orthodox Church is theologically not committed to any special form of political institution, culture, or society. Actually she is more oriented toward the desert (Abraham, Moses, Elijah, St John the Baptist, Christ, St Paul [Gal. 1:17-24; 2:1], the desert Fathers), but at the same time committed to do everything possible to sanctify, as much as possible, society, culture, political institutions, and nature.[151]

The Church accepts the state's rule of law, not as "a necessary evil but a positive pedagogical means of fulfilling the will of God for society and the Church at certain spiritual levels,"[152] always keeping in mind her goal of selfless love among all human beings. This does not mean that she "must passively condone an unjust state and simply tell its people to grin and bear it," for she remains "committed to order, justice, and the general welfare of society."[153] From the perspective of the Fathers, however, one can only ultimately "establish justice and peace in the world by curing the inner person of all humans."[154]

Fr John Romanides also does not consider the State-Church relationship of the Roman Empire to be normative for the Orthodox Church. Writing in the early 1960s, when the majority of Orthodox Christians were behind the Iron Curtain, he noted that "a radical separation of church and state has become the rule for almost all Orthodox churches, and indications are that these churches have benefited in the process."[155] Moreover, he insists that the Church's identification of herself in the gathering of the local Eucharistic community, and with no other institution, theologically guarantees "Church-state separation from an Orthodox viewpoint."[156] The Church does not need an "official status" in society to do its work. Given all that we have seen, therefore, the only kind of offical Church-State relationship that Fr John would allow would not be the State giving institutional status to the Church, but rather the State recognising the societal benefits of the cure of purification, illumination and glorification, in much the same way that it recognises medical care today.[157]

Finally, Fr John Romanides contends that the Church's insistence on equality should translate into an unswerving defence of religious liberty in society:[158]

The Orthodox understanding of divine love means that one cannot believe that he has a special claim on God's love because of membership in any special church or society. There is a real equality between God's love for the saved and the damned, for the rich and the poor, for the healthy and the sick, and for the powerful nation and the weak nation. This means that one cannot pride himself over others because he is a member of any special church, class, society, race, or nation. One must, therefore, treat those outside his own group in realisation of this.[159]

Given this universal love of God, together with the Patristic emphasis that "true Christian faith is a free response to God's grace," Fr John says that it is "imperative that Orthodox Christians not only tolerate other religious groups, but also recognise and guarantee their human rights to religious and civil liberties."[160] Although he admits that the "Orthodox churches have not always been careful to live up to their theological insights,"[161] he points out that one manifestation of this support for religious liberty is the fact that, unlike the Franco-Latin West, the Orthodox Church has never proposed the dealth penalty for heretics.[162]


In conclusion, we should note that the conflict Fr John Romanides describes between the true Apostolic Tradition of cure and glorification and those who would reduce Christianity to dogmatic faith, morality and sacramental "magic" is hardly new; it has gripped the Church from her earliest centuries. And every generation has needed prophets to call the Church back to its authentic nature as the hospital of salvation, to call Christians back to the path of purification, illumination and glorification, to call the Church hierarchy back to its proper role of guiding people towards the experience of God in the uncreated glory of Christ. No matter how challenging we find the maximalistic words of a prophet like Fr John Romanides, therefore, we must not make the mistake of conveniently reducing them to an idealistic portrait of the Church. For those who will hear them, the prophetic themes in the Orthodox ecclesiology of Fr John Romanides are not merely interesting points of theology, but the most realistic presentation of the path to the Church's true life in Christ.


[1] "Original Sin According to St Paul," St Vladimir's Seminary Quarterly orig. IV:1-2 (1955), 25.

[2] Cf. Fr John's commendation of A. Khomiakov's ecclesiology: "Khomiakov served as an important stepping stone for the liberation of modern Russian theology from the usual Western method of posing theological problems, making it possible to present Orthodox theology in the West in a more integrated manner."

[3] "The Ecclesiology of St Ignatios of Antioch," GOTR VII:1-2 (1961), 53.

[4] "Remarks of an Orthodox Christian on Religious Freedom," GOTR VIII:1-2 (1962-1963), 130.

[5] "The Cure of the Neurobiological Sickness of Religion," Unpublished (1997), 12.

[6] The fact that "kingdom" is a misleading translation of basileia is a favourite theme of Fr John Romanides. He explains that basileia refers not to a place, but to the uncreated energies of God Himself: "for Palamas and the whole Greek Patristic tradition the kingdom of God, or the basileia tou Theou, which has caused an endless and conflicting debate in the West, is the uncreated glory and unapproachable light and darkness in which God dwells, as well as the divinising or glorifying grace which makes the elect one in glory as the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are one in this same glory, which is man's by grace and God's by nature. This kingdom or ruling power of God is not only immaterial, but also beyond all creaturely existence and beyond all sensible and intelligible categories. It is in the future only in the sense that participation in it is consummated in the future... This uncreated glory or kingdom of God (rule of God would be the correct translation of basileia tou Theou) is present in a very special way in the sacraments of the Church through the human nature of Christ for our participation in the first resurrection. This kingdom or rule or glory of God is the justifying, life-giving, glorifying (or divinising) uncreated grace of God, the temple in which both God and now humanity in Christ dwell, and the same which was seen by the patriarchs and prophets of the Old Testament, and which had by nature before the world came into existence." "Notes on the Palamite Controversy and Related Topics (Part II)," GOTR IX:2 (1963-1964), 263. He goes on to say that "for the Orthodox, the kingdom of God is not the Church, but the uncreated glory and divinising grace of God in which the Church participates, and this uncreated glory or grace or kingdom (rule) is not the divine essence." Ibid., 264.

[7] "On Religious Freedom," 130.

[8] "Cure of the Neurobiological Sickness," 12. On this view of salvation, heaven and hell, Fr John Romanides also writes: "Not only are the Bible and the Fathers clear on this, but so are the Orthodox ikons of the Last Judgement. The same golden light of glory within which Christ and His friends are enveloped becomes red as it flows down to envelop the damned." Ibid., 57. For a longer treatment of this subject, q.v. Alexandre Kalomiros, The River of Fire (St Nectarios Press: Seattle, 1993).

[9] "Jesus Christ — the Life of the World," Xenia Oecumenica 39 (1983), 251.

[10] "On Religious Freedom," 131.

[11] "Jesus Christ — the Life of the World," 251.

[12] Since the expression "the Church is a spiritual hospital" has gained currency in recent years — in no small measure due to Fr John's work and that of his spiritual son, Metropolitan Hierotheos Vlachos —, and is dangerously close to becoming an easily-ignored cliché, Fr John, in the characteristic manner of the prophets, has changed his terminology to continue challenging his readers: he now writes that the Church is a "neurobiological clinic" — q.v. "Cure of the Neurobiological Sickness," 59.

[13] "Cure of the Neurobiological Sickness," 58.

[14] "On Religious Freedom," 130. Note how this is the opposite of the Western Augustinian Neo-Platonic theology of salvation, which is ultimately based on "eudaimonistic and hedonistic presuppositions," namely, the quest for happiness — q.v. "Orthodox Ecclesiology According to A. Khomiakov," 69.

[15] Although they sometimes use different terminology, all of the Fathers speak of these three stages of the spiritual life.

[16] "Jesus Christ — the Life of the World," 232. Elsewhere Fr John writes that "one can summarise these three stages of perfection as (a) that of the slave who performs the commandments because of fear of seeing God as a consuming fire; (b) that of the hireling whose motive is the reward of seeing God as glory, and (c) that of the friends of God whose noetic faculty is completely free, whose love has become selfless and, because of this, are willing to be damned for the salvation of their fellow man, as in the cases of Moses and Paul." Franks, Romans, Feudalism and Doctrine (Brookline: Holy Cross, 1981), 50.

[17] "Cure of the Neurobiological Sickness," 12.

[18] Ibid.

[19] "Jesus Christ — the Life of the World," 251.

[20] Ibid.

[21] We will have more to say on this point in sections 4 and 5 below.

[22] "Original Sin," 24.

[23] "Man and His True Life According to the Greek Orthodox Service Book," GOTR I:1 (1954), 75.

[24] "Jesus Christ — the Life of the World," 255.

[25] "Original Sin," 19.

[26] "Justice and Peace in Ecclesiological Context," Come, Holy Spirit (Brookline: Holy Cross, 1980), 245.

[27] In distinguishing baptism in water from the baptism of the Spirit, Fr John Romanides follows a long tradition in the Scriptures and many Fathers.

[28] "Jesus Christ — the Life of the World," 255. A couple of pages later, Fr John writes that, since the idiotai "do not yet have the gift of the Holy Spirit praying unceasingly in them," they "have not been placed by God in the Body of Christ." Ibid., 257.

[29] Ibid., 255.

[30] Ibid., 255-256.

[31] Cf. "Ecclesiology of St Ignatios," 65.

[32] "Justice and Peace," 239.

[33] Ibid., 242.

[34] "Cure of the Neurobiological Sickness," 58.

[35] "Jesus Christ — the Life of the World," 259.

[36] Ibid., 251.

[37] "Cure of the Neurobiological Sickness," 58.

[38] "Justice and Peace," 235.

[39] "Jesus Christ — the Life of the World," 262.

[40] "Cure of the Neurobiological Sickness," 61.

[41] "Jesus Christ — the Life of the World," 241.

[42] Ibid., 232.

[43] Ibid., 251.

[44] "Cure of the Neurobiological Sickness," 58.

[45] Ibid., 59.

[46] "The very name prophet in Pauline usage means he who saw the same Lord of Glory as the Old Testament prophets did." "Jesus Christ — the Life of the World," 267. Fr John frequently emphasises that the Old Testament saints were glorified in the same way as the saints after Pentecost: "From the viewpoint of the concept-transcending uncreated reality of God the Prophets and Apostles experienced the same glorification in the Logos/Christ." "Critical Examinations of the Applications of Theology," Procès-Verbaux du Deuxième Congrès de Théologie Orthodoxe (Athens, 1978), 431. Nevertheless, the Incarnation, Death, and Resurrection of Christ have made it possible for this glorification to continue in a permanent way after death: "Glorification before Pentecost was of a temporary nature which did not continue after death. Now in the Body of Christ theosis is again a temporary experience this side of death, but a permanent experience of the saints in Christ after the death of their bodies. Now in the Body of Christ glorification is not limited to the heart and manifested only in the face as with the prophets whose glory had been abolished (II Cor. 3:7ff), but is now extended to the whole body of those glorified. Thus even the bodies of the saints manifest their owners' permanent glorification by being inalienably inspired by their own permanent glorification (theosis), having become holy relics." "Jesus Christ — the Life of the World," 249-250.

[47] "Review of For the Sake of the World," Ecumenical Review 44 (April 1992), 266.

[48] "Jesus Christ — the Life of the World," 270.

[49] "What has become known as eucharistic ecclesiology is a structural phenomenon whose original context was the Pauline reality of the Body of Christ. At the heart of this structure was the diagnosis of the malady of the heart and its therapy by means of the charismata of which the Holy Spirit's prayer in the heart was the sine qua non and glorification the foundation." Ibid., 263.

[50] One expression of "hocus pocus" theology in the Orthodox Church is the identification of theosis with participation in the Holy Eucharist. Ibid., 244. [Return]

[51] "Jesus Christ — the Life of the World," 253.

[52] Ibid., 242-243.

[53] Ibid., 242.

[54] Ibid., 253-254.

[55] "Applications of Theology," 431.

[56] "Jesus Christ — the Life of the World," 242-243.

[57] "Man and His True Life," 79.

[58] "Justice and Peace," 248.

[59] Ibid.

[60] Khomiakov, for instance — q.v. "Orthodox Ecclesiology According to A. Khomiakov," 70.

[61] "Man and His True Life," 77.

[62] Ibid., 79.

[63] "Ecclesiology of St Ignatios," 66.

[64] Of course, Orthodoxy does not teach the sacramental realism of the scholastic West: "In the Constantinopolitan Synods of 1341 and 1351, the Orthodox Church vigorously condemned all magical understandings of salvation (which might conceive of the saving grace or energy of God as something created, stored quantitatively within a so-called bank of grace, and distributed quantitatively through sacramental acts and indulgences) by proclaiming the Biblical and Patristic teaching that God Himself saves men directly through His own uncreated energy. The very basis of all Orthodox doctrine concerning Trinity, Christology, Ecclesiology, and Soteriology is the fact that God creates, sustains, and saves creation not by created means, but by His Own life-giving energy or grace." "Ecclesiology of St Ignatios," 74.

[65] "Man and His True Life," 73.

[66] "Jesus Christ — the Life of the World," 255.

[67] "Justice and Peace," 246. Though he notes that at times, illumination (and even glorification) may precede baptism by water as in the cases of Paul and Cornelius.

[68] "Man and His True Life," 76.

[69] "Justice and Peace," 246.

[70] Ibid.

[71] "Applications of Theology," 421. Fr John also writes: "This vision of the glory of God in Christ... whereby one is led into all the truth by the Holy Spirit, is the central core of the apostolic tradition and succession, being the very mysteries of the rule of God." "Justice and Peace," 235.

[72] "Cure of the Neurobiological Sickness," 69.

[73] "Jesus Christ — the Life of the World," 264.

[74] "Man and His True Life," 80. Furthermore, "there can be no higher authority than the bishop for Christians locally united to each other in Christ because the Eucharistic life for which he is responsible is an end in itself." Ibid.

[75] Ibid., 83. Note that to this day all ordinations of bishops, presbyters and deacons take place within the celebration of the Divine Liturgy.

[76] Romaioi i Romioi Pateres tis Ekklisias, Vol. I (in Greek), 28, as cited by Archimandrite (now Metropolitan) Hierotheos Vlachos, Orthodox Psychotherapy: The Science of the Fathers (Birth of the Theotokos Monastery: Levadia, Greece, 1994), 77.

[77] "Jesus Christ — the Life of the World," 242.

[78] Romaioi i Romioi Pateres tis Ekklisias, Vol. I (in Greek), 29, as cited by Vlachos, 79. Fr John, noting St Symeon the New Theologian's description of this transformation, writes: "When parishes began to multiply and no prophet or prophets in the apostle Paul's sense were to be found, the Church had to resolve the problem of whether it was right to ordain as bishops men who were undeified but were illuminated. In the face of this dilemma the Church chose to ordain priests to preside at the parochial meetings. Thus the bishops gradually acquired supervisory responsibility over the presiding parish priests, like doctors at medical centres with attendants at the head. Because the Synod did not find enough doctors to supervise all the hospital centres, it appointed attendants as priests. To call the attendant a doctor, that is to call a person who is not deified a bishop, is unrealistic and leads to the dissolution of the therapeutic work of the Church." Ibid., 29; as cited by Vlachos, 79-80.

[79] "Justice and Peace," 246.

[80] Franks, Romans, Feudalism, and Doctrine, 51.

[81] "Review of For the Sake of the World," 265-266.

[82] "Jesus Christ — the Life of the World," 264.

[83] Fr John Romanides writes: "Apostolic therapeutic treatment was preserved in the post-apostolic period up to the appearance of Frankish and imperial and Neo-Hellenic Orthodoxy, by the concentration of this apostolic tradition in monasticism. That is, therapeutic training for illumination and deification was transferred from the secular parish, which had become weak, to the monastic parish. At the same time the metropolitan sees and the bishoprics became monasteries. That is why St Sophia was called the Great Monastery even in the lay tradition. Monasticism became a kind of medical school where the candidates for bishop studied apostolic therapeutics." Romaioi i Romioi Pateres tis Ekklisias, Vol. I (in Greek), 30-31; as cited by Vlachos, 80.

[84] "Applications of Theology," 439.

[85] "Justice and Peace," 247. In various works, Fr John Romanides makes a special study of the Church's partial loss of this Apostolic and Patristic tradition. As noted above, the tradition was "dominant in Orthodoxy at the time New Rome was captured by the Latins in 1204 and again by the Turks in 1453, remaining thereafter within the Ottoman Empire." Ibid. "Soon after the foundation of the Patriarchate of Moscow the Church of Moskovy officially condemned hesychasm, to wit the Trans-Volga Elders, known as Non-Possessors, and supported a type of monasticism which is foreign to the tradition of theoria and more like the feudal monastic establishments of feudal Europe." Fr John thus notes the sad irony that "there is a tendency to picture the Roman Orthodox under Arabic and Turkish occupation as second-rate Orthodox Christians, and Russian Orthodoxy as the best example of everything Orthodox." "Applications of Theology," 439. It is this Russian tradition which was taken to the new kingdom of Greece: "Then France, Russia and England transformed the Roman revolution in 1821 into a Hellenic one and instructed the neo-Hellenes to copy the westernised Orthodoxy of Peter the Great which they obediently legalised at their National Assembly of 1827." "Justice and Peace," 247. "In other words, without realising it, these three Empires concentrated their attack on the cure of the sickness of religion, whose centre had for centuries been Orthodox monasticism. This was replaced by a so-called Westernisation, which had been accomplished in Russia, which simply meant that Orthodoxy was condemned to becoming a religion like Vaticanism and Protestantism." "Cure of the Neurobiological Sickness," 13. "One of the amazing quirks in history is that while the Greek state was getting rid of theology and spirituality based on noetic prayer, this same tradition was being introduced into Russia by means of the spiritual children of Paisios Velichkovsky of Moldavia who passed away in 1817." Franks, Romans, Feudalism, and Doctrine, 52.

[86] "Jesus Christ — the Life of the World," 272.

[87] "Cure of the Neurobiological Sickness," 3.

[88] Franks, Romans, Feudalism, and Doctrine, 51.

[89] Romaioi i Romioi Pateres tis Ekklisias, Vol. I (in Greek), 17; as cited by Vlachos, 46.

[90] "Applications of Theology," 439.

[91] Romaioi i Romioi Pateres tis Ekklisias, Vol. I (in Greek), 31; as cited by Vlachos, 80. "From the doctrinal point of view there is no difference between secular and monastic parishes with regard to the sacraments offered and the need for healing. The difference lies in the quantity and quality of successes in healing." Ibid.; as cited by Vlachos, 80-81.

[92] "Jesus Christ — the Life of the World," 240.

[93] "Justice and Peace," 235.

[94] "Jesus Christ — the Life of the World," 272.

[95] "Applications of Theology," 421.

[96] "Jesus Christ — the Life of the World," 272.

[97] Franks, Romans, Feudalism, and Doctrine, 39.

[98] "Jesus Christ — the Life of the World," 232.

[99] Ibid., 241.

[100] Ibid., 242.

[101] "Applications of Theology," 427.

[102] "Jesus Christ — the Life of the World," 247-248. Fr John also writes: "The patristic tradition was obliged to use the philosophical language of its times in order to make itself understood and in order to combat heretical distortions of the Church's tradition. This does not, however, mean that philosophy was used in order to understand the teachings of Christ. In any case, the Fathers rejected abstract speculations about God and His relation to creation and insisted on the empirical approach to union with God by means of the cleansing and illumination of the heart." Ibid., 244.

[103] Ibid., 232-233.

[104] "Cure of the Neurobiological Sickness," 54.

[105] This understanding of the Oecumenical Synods means that they cannot be infallible in the way many Orthodox teach. The infallibility of the Synodal decrees is founded on the empirically verifiable experience by the glorified saints of God who is Himself infallible Truth. The decrees are "infallible" only insofar as they indicate and preserve this experience. One of the deviations in Russian Orthodoxy since Peter the Great which Fr John Romanides criticises is that "the Oecumenical Council was set up as the final and highest authority of Biblical, dogmatic, and moral teaching. Although the shape of such an approach is to be found in tradition, its Russian form is more similar to the fundamentalist Western Conciliar theories of the 14th-16th centuries." "Applications of Theology," 419-420. Indeed, while he does not condemn any of their dogmatic decisions, Fr John does not hesitate to criticise certain aspects of Oecumenical Synods; e.g. he writes that there "are solid enough reasons for believing that the Fifth Oecumenical Council had no business condemning Theodore who had died in communion with the Church." "Highlights in the Debate over Theodore of Mopsuestia's Christology," GOTR V:2 (1959-1960), 185.

[106] "Applications of Theology," 421.

[107] Ibid., 417.

[108] "Cure of the Neurobiological Sickness," 64.

[109] Fr John Romanides writes: "The many autocephalous and autonomous apostolic Churches of the East Roman Empire, Central and North Eastern Europe, Asia and Africa remained in doctrine and the practice of piety identical with each other and with the ancient Church. In contrast, Latin theology and practice experienced a special development. Both Roman Catholics and many Protestant historians of dogma claim that this represented vitality and, the Roman theologians would add, a deeper understanding of the truths of Christianity. The Orthodox saw in the whole Latin development not vitality but deviation and rejected the very idea that the saints in one age could have a deeper understanding of the faith than saints in another. The Greek Fathers would insist on the duty of Christians to use the language of each age to express the teachings of the Church, but this could not be considered a doctrinal development or deeper understanding." "An Orthodox Look at the Ecumenical Movement," GOTR X:1 (1964), 8.

[110] "Applications of Theology," 432.

[111] These implications of the thought of Fr John Romanides might well explain why he has been such an active participant in ecumenical dialogues despite his conviction that the theological divisions between Christians run very deep.

[112] "Jesus Christ — the Life of the World," 272.

[113] Ibid., 273.

[114] Fr John also refers to this kind of variance in terminology in discussing the Trinitarian theology of the New Testament and the early Church. Against Prof. Wolfson, he argues that "variance in terminology is not crucial so long as terms are used as indications and not explanations of the uncreated energies and relations of the superessential Trinity and at the same time as pointers to and not away from union with and division of the glory of the Father through the Son and in the Holy Spirit." "H.A. Wolfson's Philosophy of the Church Fathers," GOTR V:1 (Summer 1959), 74.

[115] "Jesus Christ — the Life of the World," 273.

[116] "Cure of the Neurobiological Sickness," 7, note 9.

[117] "The Theologian in the Service of the Church in Ecumenical Dialogue," GOTR XXV:2 (1980), 132.

[118] "Jesus Christ — the Life of the World," 274.

[119] Discussion arising from his paper, "St Cyril's 'One Physis or Hypostasis of God the Logos Incarnate' and Chalcedon," GOTR X:2 (1964-1965), 107.

[120] "Cure of the Neurobiological Sickness," 69.

[121] "St Cyril's 'One Physis or Hypostasis of God the Logos Incarnate'," 83. This flexibility is evidenced by comparing the Synod of Chalcedon and the Second Synod of Constantinople.

[122] "Cure of the Neurobiological Sickness," 69.

[123] "St Cyril's 'One Physis or Hypostasis of God the Logos Incarnate'," 102.

[124] Discussion arising from "St Cyril's 'One Physis or Hypostasis of God the Logos Incarnate'," 107.

[125] "Cure of the Neurobiological Sickness," 9.

[126] "Jesus Christ — the Life of the World," 274-275.

[127] "The Theologian in the Service of the Church in Ecumenical Dialogue," 132. We could well add "humble," especially in light of what has already been said about how far the Orthodox Church falls short of her own theological principles.

[128] "Jesus Christ — the Life of the World," 274.

[129] "The Augustinian way of thinking in terms of the world and the Church as two conflicting cities is an impossibility in Orthodox theology. An Orthodox Christian could go along to some degree in agreeing about the work of the devil in and out of the Church, but to transport this into the realm of God's love for one and hatred for the other... and to allow this to influence the Church's attitude toward the secular state, is out of the question. Even the worst barbarian state is loved no less than the Church by God." "Orthodox Churches on Church-State Relations and Religious Liberty," Journal of Church and State 6 (Spring 1964), 187.

[130] "Orthodox Look at the Ecumenical Movement," 7.

[131] "Orthodox Churches on Church-State Relations," 185.

[132] "Jesus Christ — the Life of the World," 274.

[133] Ibid.

[134] "Cure of the Neurobiological Sickness," 59.

[135] "Justice and Peace," 247.

[136] "Orthodox Churches on Church-State Relations," 187. He goes on to write: "The Church as the new Israelitic nation of God became identical with the citizens of Rome... However, the Greek Churches of the Roman Empire never confused Imperial universalism with Church universalism. The elements of Roman administration were built into canon law, but never elevated to the status of dogma." Ibid., 187-188.

[137] "Cure of the Neurobiological Sickness," 15.

[138] From Emperor Constantine the Great (306-337) to the last Roman Emperor Constantine XII (1449-1453).

[139] "Cure of the Neurobiological Sickness," 24. Fr John explains: "We must have a clear vision of the context within which both Church and State saw the contribution of the prophets to the cure of the sickness of the human personality and its perfection in order to understand both the mission of the Synods and the reason why the Roman Empire incorporated them into its code of law. Neither Church nor State reduced the mission of the Church to salvation by forgiveness of sins for entrance into heaven after death... Both Church and State knew very well that forgiveness of sins was only the beginning of the cure of the happiness-seeking sickness of humanity. This cure passed through the purification and illumination of the heart and culminated in the perfection of glorification. This resulted not only in proper preparation for life after death but also in the transformation of society here and now from that of selfish and self-centred individuals to that of individuals with selfless love which does not seek its own." Ibid., 57. In other words: "The criterion by which the Roman Empire made the Orthodox faith and practice part of Roman law and its Synodical system part of the imperial administration was not much different from today's legal support for genuine medicine and for the protection of citizens from unlicensed quack doctors. Religions and dogmas which led away from illumination and glorification were not only considered dangerous for salvation, but also not conducive to producing the kind of citizens who could help transform society." Ibid., 69-70.

[140] "Justice and Peace," 246.

[141] "Cure of the Neurobiological Sickness," 29-30.

[142] The social privilege of feudal aristocrats being perfectly mirrored in the Church by the "chosen ones": "a certain number of those who have inherited the guilt of Adam and Eve are, like themselves, among the ones chosen by God for salvation without any merit of their own. God chooses them, in spite of their inherited guilt, to replace that number of angels which had fallen. Because of this paganism, Franco-Latin Christianity was destined to lose ground before the onslaught of modern science and democracy. Chosen ones can never be part of a democracy." Ibid., 11-12.

[143]This contrast is the main theme of Franks, Romans, Feudalism, and Doctrine.

[144] "Cure of the Neurobiological Sickness," 71.

[145] Ibid.

[146] Fr John explains: "Unlike the Slavic Churches the Greek Churches are not grouped according to national boundaries. Greek-speaking Christians, for example, predominantly comprise such autocephalous groups as the Churches of Constantinople, the Churches of Alexandria, the Churches of Greece, the Churches of Cyprus, the Church of Sinai, and (together with numerically more Arab Christians) the Churches of Palestine. The Churches of Crete and of some other Greek islands, and the Churches of Thrace, although nationally part of the Kingdom of Greece, belong to the Autocephalous groupings of Constantinople. Such groupings of Greek and Arabic-speaking Orthodox are a remnant of the Byzantine mentality and are a living refutation of the contention that the Byzantine Churches are the source of Orthodox nationalism. The winds of ecclesiastical nationalism blew into the Eastern Church from the North and not from the South." "Ecclesiology of St Ignatios," 75, note 23.

[147] As we have seen, "the varying levels of theoria are the highest experience of Orthodox spiritual life and theology. Such a spiritual life and theology is neither Greek, nor Russian, nor Bulgarian, nor Serbian, etc., but rather prophetic, apostolic, or simply Christian." Fr John goes on to ask: "In the light of this one may put the question, what is 'Russian spirituality', and why is it presented as something higher than or simply different from other Orthodox spiritualities?" "Applications of Theology," 438.

[148] "Orthodox Ecclesiology According to A. Khomiakov," 73.

[149] "Ecclesiology of St Ignatios," 75.

[150] "On Religious Freedom," 132.

[151] "Orthodox Churches on Church-State Relations," 185.

[152] Ibid., 186.

[153] Ibid., 187. Realistically, Fr John notes, in most cases "the Church can be expected to do no more than accept society as it is and to do everything possible to influence it for the better. The characteristic attitude of the Orthodox toward the state is willingness to co-operate without compromising dogma and inner spiritual freedom for the general good of society." Ibid.

[154] "Peace and Justice," 426. Fr John explains: "This transformation of the inner person from darkness into the light of justification and reconciliation with God in Christ is the beginning of the cure of the blameful passions by their transformation into blameless ones. On thus becoming a temple of the Holy Spirit and a member of the Body of Christ one's selfish love begins its transformation into selfless love. Thus one moves from injustice to justice and from internal turbulence to peace with oneself and others." Ibid., 235.

[155] "On Religious Freedom," 128.

[156] "Orthodox Churches on Church-State Relations," 187.

[157] Cf."Cure of the Neurobiological Sickness," 57.

[158] While the Church supports religious liberty for others, she never demands it for herself. Fr John explains: "The idea that religious liberty is necessary for the expression of the inner Christian freedom of faith is from an Orthodox point of view absolutely wrong. Religious liberty is no doubt a human right and wonderful thing to have, if this be the will of God in any given situation, but martyrdom is after all one of the best and in many cases the highest expression of one's inner Christian freedom. To remain faithful in one's love of God in the face of persecution or any kind of suffering and to be willing to forego one's own salvation and well-being for that of others is an expression of non-utilitarian love or inner Christian freedom." "Orthodox Churches on Church-State Relations," 183.

[159] "Orthodox Churches on Church-State Relations," 186.

[160] Ibid., 183.

[161] "On Religious Freedom," 132.

[162] "Orthodox Churches on Church-State Relations," 183. Note that Fr John distinguishes real religious persecution from the certain kinds of "social and political disabilities" which "have been applied at various times in history by Orthodox governments against religious groups considered politically or socially dangerous." Ibid.


Works of Fr John Romanides (in chronological order)

"Man and His True Life According to the Greek Orthodox Service Book," The Greek Orthodox Theological Review I:1 (1954), 63-83.

"Original Sin According to St Paul," Saint Vladimir's Seminary Quarterly (in the original Fr Georges Florovsky numbering discontinued by new editors) IV:1-2 (1955), 5-28.

"Orthodox Ecclesiology According to Alexis Khomiakov (1804-1860)," The Greek Orthodox Theological Review II:1 (1956), 57-73.

"Justin Martyr and the Fourth Gospel," The Greek Orthodox Theological Review IV:2 (1958-1959), 115-134.

"H.A. Wolfson's Philosophy of the Church Fathers," The Greek Orthodox Theological Review V:1 (Summer 1959), 55-82.

"Highlights in the Debate over Theodore of Mopsuestia's Christology and Some Suggestions for a Fresh Approach," The Greek Orthodox Theological Review V:2 (1959-1960), 140-185.

"Notes on the Palamite Controversy and Related Topics (Part I)," The Greek Orthodox Theological Review VI:2 (1960-1961), 186-205.

"The Ecclesiology of St Ignatios of Antioch," The Greek Orthodox Theological Review VII:1-2 (1961), 53-77.

"Remarks of an Orthodox Christian on Religious Freedom," The Greek Orthodox Theological Review VIII:1-2 (1962-1963), 127-132.

"Notes on the Palamite Controversy and Related Topics (Part II)," The Greek Orthodox Theological Review IX:2 (1963-1964), 225-270.

"Orthodox Churches on Church-State Relations and Religious Liberty," Journal of Church and State 6 (Spring 1964), 178-189.

"An Orthodox Look at the Ecumenical Movement," The Greek Orthodox Theological Review X:1 (1964), 7-14.

"Preface to the Orthodox-Oriental Theological Consultation," The Greek Orthodox Theological Review X:2 (1964-1965), 7-8.

"St Cyril's 'One Physis or Hypostasis of God the Logos Incarnate' and Chalcedon," The Greek Orthodox Theological Review X:2 (1964-1965), 82-102. [Reprinted in Christ in East and West, Ed. P. Fries and T. Nersoyan, and in Does Chalcedon Divide or Unite?, Ed. P. Gregorios.]

"Orthodoxy in America," Theologikon Symposion. Ed. Panagioten K. Chrestou. Thessaloniki: 1967.

"Critical Examination of the Applications of Theology," in Procès-Verbaux du Deuxième Congrès de Théologie Orthodoxe Tenu à Athènes, 1976. Ed. S. Agourides. Athens: 1978

"The Theologian in the Service of the Church in Ecumenical Dialogue," The Greek Orthodox Theological Review XXV:2 (1980), 131-151.

"Justice and Peace in Ecclesiological Context," in Come, Holy Spirit, Renew the Whole Creation. Ed. Gennadios Limouris. Brookline: Holy Cross Orthodox Press, 1980.

Franks, Romans, Feudalism and Doctrine: An Interplay Between Theology and Society. Brookline: Holy Cross Orthodox Press, 1981.

"A Therapeutic Theme," in Jesus Christ — the Life of the World: An Orthodox Contribution to the Vancouver Theme. Ed. Ion Bria. Geneva: World Council of Churches, 1982. [This article consists simply of the introductory and concluding sections of the following article, "Jesus Christ — The Life of the World."]

"Jesus Christ — The Life of the World," in Xenia Oecumenica in Honorem Ioannis Metropolitae Helsingiensis Sexagenraii, 39. Ed. Harau T. Kamppuri. Vammala: 1983.

"Review of For the Sake of the World: The Spirit of Buddhist and Christian Monasticism," Ecumenical Review 44 (April 1992), 265-266.

"Church Synods and Civilisation," Theologia 43:3 (July-September 1992), 423-450. [This article has been completely subsumed under the later work, "The Cure of the Neurobiological Sickness of Religion" — q.v. below.]

"Orthodox and Vatican Agreement [A Critique of the Balamand Agreement]," Theologia (1993), 570-580.

"The Cure of the Neurobiological Sickness of Religion, the Hellenic Civilisation of the Roman Empire, Charlemagne's Lie of 794, and His Lie Today."