This book was written with much fervour, great determination and, I should like to believe, inspiration. I never write about a topic without having first loved it and assimilated it. The same is true of this book.
Readers will surely have acquired knowledge and information, on which they will comment positively or negatively. They will wrestle with the book’s content, as I did.
In conclusion, I should emphasise the central theological view of Fr John Romanides, that in the Orthodox Church there is unity between the Prophets, Apostles and saints. This fundamental idea can be divided into three points.
1. In the Orthodox Church there is a close link between the lex credendi (law of belief) and the lex orandi (law of prayer). Orthodox teaching, the faith of the Church, as articulated by the great Fathers of the Church and the Ecumenical and Local Councils, is closely connected with the prayer of the Church.
The theology of the Church is linked with prayer, and the dogmas presuppose sacred hesychasm. Dogma is expressed and experienced in prayer, and prayer, particularly prayer of the nous in the heart, leads to experience of dogma.
This combination of theology and prayer was expressed in worship, and in the prayers of the Sacraments. When we wish to learn what the Church’s teaching is on Trinitarian theology or Christology, we find it in the troparia that are sung in Church. And when we wish to find out about the theology of the Sacraments of Baptism, Chrismation and the Divine Eucharist, we discover it in the prayers of these Sacraments.
St John of Damascus is an important Father of the Church and his writings clearly show the unity between the lex credendi and the lex orandi. With the charism that had been given him, he put the entire dogmatic teaching of the Church into the troparia that are sung in the sacred services, so that we extol and glorify God theologically, and we theologise liturgically and poetically.
Also, all the teaching of St Gregory Palamas and the Philokalic, hesychastic Fathers is recorded in the troparia of the Church, which speak extremely clearly about purification, illumination and deification, and about praxis and theoria, which form the basis of Orthodox theology.
Over the centuries, however, a split occurred between the lex credendi and the lex orandi, as the Church’s theoretical teaching was frequently influenced by heretical deviations and the effects of Western theology, although the prayer during worship remained Orthodox. This split is described as secularisation.
2. When one studies the whole course of Christianity through the ages, one sees that two trends of theological thinking and life developed.
The first trend began at Pentecost, when the Prophets were united with the Apostles, and they share the same point of reference and the same experience. The difference lies in the fact that the Prophets shared in the unincarnate Word, and were subject to the power of death, whereas the Apostles shared in the incarnate Word and transcended death. There is the same experience and often the same confession, with some exceptions.
However, from the second until the fourth century the Fathers were under pressure from heretics, and, in order to confront them, they used the terminology of that era, without altering their empirical knowledge. The Fathers had the same experience as the Prophets and Apostles, but they expressed it with a new terminology to meet the needs of their time. This task was upheld by the Ecumenical Councils, which were convened in the eastern part of the Roman Empire, the Ecumenical Patriarchate, and formulated the Orthodox faith authoritatively. This covered all the Orthodox Patriarchates, the so-called Pentarchy – Old Rome, New Rome, Alexandria, Antioch and Jerusalem – and the Orthodox faith was proclaimed, at least until the Eighth Ecumenical Council, by all the Autocephalous Churches. Thus the Fathers of the Ecumenical Councils Christianised Hellenism, whereas the heretics (Arians, Monophysites, Monothelites), who were expelled from the Church, Hellenised Christianity.
The second trend began in the West, mainly in the ninth century, with pre-scholasticism and scholasticism proper. Essentially it developed the tradition of the ancient heretics and used ancient Greek philosophy, particularly Blessed Augustine’s Neoplatonism and speculation, upon which the ancient heretics relied. From scholastic theology the West moved on to the Reformation, the Renaissance, the Enlightenment and the modern philosophical, psychological, existential and social currents that now predominate.
If we focus on the people who represent these two trends, we could say that the first, Orthodox trend began with the Prophets and Apostles, was continued by the Apostolic Fathers, the Fathers of the third and fourth centuries, St Athanasius the Great, St Cyril of Alexandria, the Cappadocian Fathers, the Roman Fathers of the West, St Maximus the Confessor, St John of Damascus, St Photius the Great, St Symeon the New Theologian, St Gregory of Sinai, St Gregory Palamas, St Mark Eugenikos, the Philokalic Fathers, and St Nicodemus of the Holy Mountain until today. The second trend began with Blessed Augustine, and was continued by Anselm of Canterbury, Thomas Aquinas, Scotus, Occam and Barlaam, until it reached contemporary European philosophy.
In a natural way, both these theological and philosophical trends had entered Russia by the eighteenth century. Russia was influenced initially by the Christian Roman Empire (Byzantine), with the Orthodox faith, hesychasm and art, and later it was subject to powerful influences from scholastic theology, Protestant ideas, the Enlightenment and German idealism. Russian theology and its attitudes were transferred to Paris, to the Theological Institute of St Sergius, where they were cultivated further.
Later, Western and Russian theology were brought into Greece after the liberation and the foundation of the neo-Hellenic state. Thus all the developments that had taken place in the West and in Russia eventually reached neo-Hellenic society. In Greece today all these trends are clearly visible: patristic theology in its genuine form, and Western and Russian theology with their various nuances.
The encounter between Western and Russian theology gave rise to what is described as post-patristic theology. The term post-patristic can be understood in two ways, as referring either to time or to manner.
According to the chronological interpretation, patristic theology ended in the eighth century with St John of Damascus, or, as others claim, with St Photius the Great. At that time scholastic theology, which is superior to patristic theology, developed, and later there is Russian theology, which is superior to both patristic and scholastic theology. This view is mistaken, because the patristic tradition never came to an end. There is always unity between the Prophets, Apostles and Fathers, and any other viewpoint favours heretical and nationalistic opinions.
According to the interpretation in terms of manner, post-patristic theology is an attempt to give a new interpretation to patristic texts, which should be detached from the atmosphere and terminology of the era in which they were written, and should be rewritten for our own era.
In accordance with this view, Evagrius, who was influenced by Origen and Neoplatonism, spoke about purification, illumination and deification, and from him this Neoplatonic tradition passed into the writings of St Dionysius the Areopagite, St Maximus the Confessor, St John of Damascus, St Symeon the New Theologian, St Gregory Palamas and the hesychastic Fathers. Thus all hesychastic theology is Neoplatonic, and it altered the primitive theology of the early Church.
Supporters of this view assert that we must return to the eucharistology of the early Church and reject this Neoplatonic terminology, and presumably the practice itself, as in any case it is not valid in our time. This means rewriting theology with new terms and expressions.
This view, too, is mistaken, because it overlooks the teaching of the Cappadocian Fathers, which cannot be described as Neoplatonic, and essentially it ignores the hesychastic tradition, which has been unconditionally confirmed. Basically it wants to attack and do away with this hesychastic tradition, because it disturbs its followers and does not allow them to speculate at will or to achieve ecumenistic aims.
We believe, however, that the experience of the Prophets, Apostles and the Fathers of the Church is identical. The only difference that exists is between patristic theology, which is based on divine charismatic experience, and scholastic and speculative theology, which is based on imagination and speculation, in other words, on philosophy.
3. The foregoing chapters clearly show that theology is closely linked with history. Theology is not fantasy and speculation; it is expressed in history.
Christ was born in the time of Caesar Augustus, and He lived in a particular place. He suffered, was crucified and rose again under Pontius Pilate, and at Pentecost, with the coming of the Holy Spirit, the Church became the Body of Christ. Later, the Ecumenical Councils, which are historical events, recorded God’s revelation in dogmatic definitions and Canons, in order to preserve it.
The Orthodox Church is a historical Church and Orthodox theology is historical theology. The saints constitute sacred history. Our life in the Church is participation in God’s grace in place and time, participation in the Divine Eucharist and all the Sacraments that are celebrated with all the Orthodox presuppositions.
Heresies, scholastic theology and Russian theology always interpret history as a deviation from sacred history. The departure of the West from Orthodox theology can be interpreted through historical events, through the Franks’ specific policy of severing their links with the Orthodox Eastern Roman Empire.
Fr John Romanides fully grasped this view and its three subdivisions (the connection between the law of belief and the law of prayer, the difference between scholastic theology and patristic theology, and the link between theology and history), and he expressed it in his writings. Unfortunately, some of his critics isolate certain aspects of his central idea, and as a result they completely shatter the unity. In the last analysis, Fr John Romanides was a tireless researcher and a charismatic teacher. Everything that is taking place today justifies and explains him.