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October 25, 2016

Contemporary Theological Movements in Orthodoxy (Metr. Hierotheos of Nafpaktos)

By Metropolitan Hierotheos of Nafpaktos and Agiou Vlasiou

One of the greatest gifts of Christians (clergy, monastics, laity) who are members of the Church is that they consist of an alert conscience, and the greatest offering of the Shepherds of the Church, as the late Abbot of the Holy Monastery of Gregoriou of Mount Athos Archimandrite George (Kapsanis) writes, is the activation of this alertness of the conscience of the fullness of the Church. This is very important, especially when the people of God today largely leave "dormant and unactivated this gift." Alertness of the Orthodox consciousness is the greatest proof that the members of the Church are alive.

We clergy, of all degrees, as well as lay theologians, have a great responsibility when we do not cultivate in our flocks an "alertness of conscience", but are content with a social ministry and in a cultural offering, not offering the Orthodox word, which is the precondition of salvation. Theology, as expressed by living beings, namely the Prophets, the Apostles and the Fathers, is a great gift, and the grace of theology saves the human being....

Unfortunately, apart from the Orthodox theological movement of the God-seeing saints, which they continued after Pentecost, through the centuries there appeared other theological movements. In my proposal to the Hierarchy of the Church of Greece with the title "The Theological Crisis and Its Impact on Daily Ecclesiastical Life," after explaining what the theology of the Orthodox Church in her authentic expression is, I then presented how this theology became distorted, with scholastic theology, the theology of biblical criticism, and old Russian theology, and I gave specific examples of theological aberrations.

Also, in a Conference which took place in the Holy Metropolis of Piraeus in 2012, I introduced a topic titled "Post-Patristic Theology from an Ecclesiastical Perspective," and I presented the core of post-patristic theology and how it is applied in contemporary ecclesiastical thought.

I do not want to repeat the same issues, but will refer to those interested to those presentations. Here I want to point out that the stochastic theology of the ancient heretics of the third and fourth centuries crossed into the western world of the Roman Empire and over time formed a particular theology, which has been called Franco-Latin or scholastic theology. This theology was based mainly on the views of Plato and Aristotle, as we can see in the Summa Theologica of Thomas Aquinas. Later, the Reformers eliminated scholastic theology and interpreted and continue to interpret the biblical texts with a particular method, essentially rejecting the God-seeing interpretive method of the Church Fathers and applied methods used in the field of history, of comparative religious studies and philosophy. Basically they examine the environment in which every prophet lived, without distinguishing between uncreated terms and created terms, meanings and images. These movements, along with German idealism, entered Russia and in the nineteenth century turned into a particular theology known as Russian theology, which borrowed much from existential elements, and today is centered at the Russian Institute of Saint Sergius in Paris.

Observing the theological movements and thought prevailing today in the theological world, we conclude that it is influenced by neo-scholasticism, Protestant biblical criticism, German idealism, the Slavophiles and existentialism, which are much distinguished from the Orthodox biblical and patristic tradition.

It is important to stress that Fr. George Florovsky fought against this counterfeit patristic tradition. Fr. George Dragas, his student, has pointed out that this great theologian stressed two points in all his lectures: first, that the empirical patristic theology of the Orthodox differs from the scholastic rationalistic theology of the West, and second, that the opposition between biblical theology with dogmatic or patristic theology is wrong, and that unfortunately this opposition was established in the West. This theology with these two points that altered academic circles he described as a "pseudomorphosis," while insisting that in the Orthodox Church there is a seamless continuation from the Prophets to the Apostles to the Fathers of the fourth century, as well as the Fathers of subsequent centuries until Saint Gregory Palamas and the Philokalic Fathers. Throughout this Orthodox period there exists an identity between theology and methodology.

This theological line continued with the best student of Fr. George Florovsky, namely Fr. John Romanides, who emphasized the experience of the vision of God which is the basis of Orthodox theology, and when academic theology cuts itself off from purification, illumination and theosis it is both anti-ecclesiastical and heretical. Also, on the issue of falsely distinguishing biblical interpretation from patristic experience and dogmatics, he stressed the unity and agreement between the Prophets, the Apostles and the Fathers.

The case of Fr. John Romanides is characteristic, so I will refer a bit to him. He grew up and studied at large centers of knowledge in the West. From the time he was a student in high school he studied the scholastic theology of Thomas Aquinas. Then he studied the great biblical theologians who used critical methods of research of the biblical texts. Also, he came to closely know Russian theology at the Russian Institute of Saint Sergius. But when he undertook the study and knowledge of the teachings of the Fathers of the Church and was acquainted with the teachings of Saint Gregory Palamas, especially the Philokalic Fathers and the neptic tradition of Mount Athos, then he brought a most profound critique against western theology. He knew better than anyone else western theological thought, as well as the essence of Orthodox hesychasm, which is why he understood very well the influences received by Orthodox theology from western theological movements.

He himself was not locked up in an office or in a room, but was involved in almost all contemporary theological dialogues as a representative of the Church, offering apt theological discourses, as we see in his reports and writings, and he was also a member of the delegation of observers sent by the Ecumenical Patriarchate to the Second Vatican Council. He therefore knew, comprehensively, the thought of western theologians and the influence of this theology, especially in the Russian theology of contemporary Orthodox academic theologians. This is why he was a keen critic of all these theological movements. I have in my possession many such anecdotes and critical texts by him, which I will publish later and they will cause a great impression.

This is why those who distinguish themselves with foreign theological traditions mock him, undermine him and fight against him, just as they do with anyone that follows the patristic tradition. But whatever they do, the theology of Fr. John Romanides, which is the theology of the Church, namely of the Prophets, the Apostles and the Fathers, will remain in the Church, because it expresses her life.

Fr. John Romanides had the opportunity to study in the greatest theological centers of his time and had the opportunity to become great according to worldly standards, but like another Moses "when he had grown up, he refused to be known as the son of Pharaoh’s daughter. He chose to be mistreated along with the people of God rather than to enjoy the fleeting pleasures of sin. He regarded disgrace for the sake of Christ as of greater value than the treasures of Egypt, because he was looking ahead to his reward" (Heb. 11:24-26). He also refused the mighty according to worldly power and supported the humble hesychast monks and their theology.

As a Cappadocian he was spiritually related to the Cappadocian Basil the Great who, by his own admission, spent much time in futility, which he turned away from in his youth as vain, and when he arose "as if from a deep sleep," he looked towards "the wonderful light of the truth of the gospel." And after seeing the wisdom of the rulers of his age as that which will pass away, he prayed to be given manuscripts that he may gain access to the dogmas of piety. Thus, he journeyed to the monks of Alexandria, Egypt, Palestine, Syria and Mesopotamia, in order to learn the ascetic hesychastic tradition.

Why did I make this reference to Basil the Great and Fr. John Romanides? Because many important and famous contemporary theologians and clergy enjoy studying the works of the great theologians according to worldly standards, and even praise western theologians and present them as great theologians of the Church, whilst simultaneously undermining the unerring method of Orthodox theology, which is the hesychastic tradition, and they therefore despise contemporary empirical theologians who are followers of the Prophets, the Apostles and the Fathers.

Source: Excerpt from Ekklesiastiki Paremvasi, "Θεολογία καί πολιτική. Εἰσήγηση στὴν Ἠμερίδα γιὰ τὴν Ἁγία καὶ Μεγάλη Σύνοδο". March 2016. Translated by John Sanidopoulos.