Thursday, March 9, 2017

Eugenios Voulgaris by Fr. George Metallinos

One of the main purposes of this blog is to highlight theologians and aspects of Orthodox theology that are not normally given enough attention. After talking with a priest-friend of mine about Vikentios Damados and Eugenios Voulgaris, I thought it would be enlightening to translate this brief article about a rather misunderstood figure within the Roman Orthodox tradition, Eugenios Voulgaris. As Fr. George states here, while he critically engaged with the modern thought coming out of the West, he was in no way a slavish follower of its trends. Originally I was going to translate the footenotes, but this delayed me from putting this on here for literally weeks. I hope this short article spurs further research into another great theologian of our church.

The Theology of a Great Teacher of the Roman People: Eugenios Voulgaris

By Fr. George Metallinos

Eugenios Voulgaris, an illumined spirit, of Orthodox conscience, contributed greatly through his diverse works to the awakening of Hellenism. In the current article, we approach this important personality as a theologian, an aspect of his work which has not received sufficient attention in scholarly research where focus is usually restricted to his role in the course of the Greek Enlightenment.

Eugenios Voulgaris [1] was introduced to theology [as an academic discipline] beyond his personal relationship with the Holy Scripture and the patristic tradition by the clergymen Antonios Katiforos and Ieremias Kavvadias [2] who were his first teachers and by the Lixourian, Vikentios Damodos, [3] with whom he a spent one of his most formative years. […]

We know that Eugenios Voulgaris taught theology in Ioannina (1742-49, 1751-52/53) where he began his teaching career. His instructional program does not seem to have been modified during his short break in Kozani (1750-51/52). Regarding the Athoniada [the school on Mount Athos], it is not clear that he taught theology, because it is not clearly documented but can only be concluded indirectly. Granted of course that according to the witness of his student at the school of St. Athanasios Parios (1721-1813), he was no longer using his “theologikon” [textbook of theology] [5] giving some validity to this doubt. Nevertheless in the sigillium of Patriarch Kyrillos V [6] promulgated in May of 1850 [7] which regulated the operation of the School, theology is explicitly included in the program of studies: “a school for Greek language, education, and instruction of every type, in the sciences of logic, philosophy, and theology” is given charter for its foundation. […]

The sources tell us nothing about the independent instruction of theology [as a discipline] and it is curious that we have Voulgaris’ “theologikon” from the first stage of his teaching [career], while we have no such documentation from his time at the Athoniada. It is certain that alongside the positive sciences (arithmetic, geometry, physics, and cosmography) he taught also logic, introduction to philosophy and metaphysics. [8]

Neverthless, it is hard to believe that at the School on Mount Athos theological instruction would have been limited to the study of metaphysics--something which the existence of the “Theologikon” and the “Confesion” does not allow.

Besides, in his Logic, Philosophy is differentiated radically from Theology. On the one hand, Philosophy is “knowledge of things divine and human” which ought to give reason for the existence of God, but never enter into the realm of “mystical theology” which is known only by divine revelation. [9]

This “mystical theology” described in his “Theologikon”[10] must have been taught by Vouglaris at the Athoniada. Moreover, Athanasios Parios in his “Epitome”, explaining that Voulgaris did not use his Theologikon, he does not deny that he was instructed in the rudiments of theology by his great Teacher. [11]

Voulgaris composed many works with theological content. [12] Not a single of work of his can be found, even from among his non-theological works, which does not contain theological interventions, including within his purely “scientific” works. His work as a theologian dominates his entire output as a writer, so that we may be sure that it was not merely “something accidental” [to his identity] that he was a clergyman as some contend. This has been thoroughly documented by Martin Knapp. [14]

His basic theological works are his “Theologikon” [15] and his “Confession” [16], where his theology is represented in its prime form. These works alone were enough to obtain a place for Voulgaris within the still theologically vacillating Greek 18th century. [17] As a theologian, Voulgaris remains, according to Podskalsky, “derivative” and not original, but this judgment, originating as it does from a Jesuit scholar, is based on a western understanding of [what it means to be a] philosophical theologian rather than the patristic one, centered chiefly on the continuation of the tradition and not on impressing by one’s originality. The renewed expression of the tradition for each age is the goal of the Orthodox theologian. […]

Voulgaris’ faithfulness to the tradition
His traditionalism permeates all of his works and particularly in his theology. He writes as a champion of the faith of the Church. Of course we know that traditionalism and patristic character cannot be discerned primarily from texts but by someone’s existential relationship to the living tradition expressed in his ascetic-liturgical life. Serious researchers are able to speak to this aspect of his character as well.

For example, Podskalsky recognizes in Voulgaris “a love for hesychastic monasticism.” [19] Our own [Greek] scholars, Basil Tatakis [20] and Kitromilidis [21] view him as an inheritor of the mystical theology of the Orthodox East. Knapp sees him as “one hundred percent rooted in traditional Orthodoxy, not only as regards dogma, but also with regard to ecclesiastical practice.” [22] Orthodox theologians, B. Makridis and Fr. Eirinaios Delidimos, [likewise agree with this evaluation.]

His famous and often cited expressions, both sincere and enlightening, “I risk becoming also a lover of church-services” and “because I am not… a faster” are but witticisms of one possessing a strong sense of humor, patristic and characteristic of himself. We cannot accept the judgment of Patriarch Dimaras of Constantinople (of blessed memory) who claims that in [Voulgaris’] understanding of Orthodoxy “we think him to be more akin to the liberalizing Catholic abbots of his era than a monk of the Holy Mountain.” [27]

Goudas presents him as a lover of church-services, [28] and Tatakis does not hesitate to write concerning him that, “Vouglaris shows himself to be a prime example of the modern Greek intellectual who goes to the West, receives its philosophy and science, but sacrifices nothing of his Greek Orthodox heritage.” [29]

His Orthodox identity shows, as was said, in his consistent employment of the distinction between the divine essence and the uncreated divine energy, [30] the absence from his work of the analogia entis, [31] his teaching concerning the vision of God (theoptia-theosis) and in other ways. In his short work “Concerning the where of Paradise and the where of Hell and what these are” [32] he defines, in accordance with Orthodox teaching, “the place of the soul after death” as a “condition” in which the soul leaving the present life “in piety and faith, in repentance and confession, justified by the grace of God,” “has the pledge of the perfect rest, enlightened by God, a glorified (glory=theosis)[…] interlocutor with the angels, accompanied by the prophets and Apostles and Martyrs and the whole choir of the just.”

He bases these reflections on his reading of Luke 16:19-31 (the parable of the rich man and the poor man, Lazarus) and culminate with the rejection of the Latin “purgatory” as a “third place of purification” closing with the counsel “believe only that they are (paradise and hell) and do not inquire as to the where!”

Even in his work, “Concerning Music,” [33] he is concerned with strengthening the tradition, differentiating the music of the Church from that of Western Christendom. He fully identifies himself with the hesychastic tradition of theological reflection and practice in his Epistle “To Klairkios” [34] where his account concerning the saints and sanctity, concerning rudimentary miracles, such as holy bread and holy water, the holy relics, and others. After all, Orthodox patristic thought is not the mere fruit of human reflection, but is founded on these realities that testify to the presence of the Uncreated in the created.

His publications evince a similar stance. Not only did he publish complex authors such as Theodoros of Cyrus [35] whose themes include saints’ lives or monastic texts worthy of attention, but he shows particular love for the great hesychast, Joseph Vryennios. [36] Consequently, he cannot be considered “cut off from the lived-out ecclesiastical experience of the people and of his place” [37] as one may think if one only read his epistles.

It is impossible moreover to compare the situation of Vouglaris who was forced by his circumstances to live many years away from Greece itself (did this not also happen to others including Korais?), with the Kollyvades Fathers who were remained at the epicenter of developments inside of Greece.

His clear place within the ecclesiastical tradition

Voulgaris’ references to Papism, Papists and Papolaters [38] are frequent. He considers Papism the greatest undoing of Christianity and an immediate threat to Orthodoxy. [39]

For this reason, he did not limit himself to writing only academic refutations but also popular anti-Latin works in an attempt to inform the Orthodox faithful who found themselves under the immediate influence of papal elements, chief among them, the Unia. Such a work was his “Booklet Against the Latins” which was sent to the Serbian Orthodox of Austro-Hungary [40] where he demonstrates the falseness of Papism calling on the faithful to reject their attempts at proselytizing, not hesitating to prefer martyrdom as a means of safeguarding their Orthodox faith.

His Discourse “On Saint Andrew” [41] has a similar character. His “Confession” and his “Response” [42] also contain anti-Latin elements as well as his translations from Russian. [43] Even in his “Outline Concerning Religious Toleration” he inserts antipapal elements, chiefly in the notes which follow his translation of the relevant work by Voltaire. [44]

This translation essentially serves his antipapal aims and goals. Podskalsky characterizes Voulgaris as “fiercely anti-Latin” and even includes him among the portion of the adherents of re-baptism [45] [for the Latins]. It is certainly a fact that in his anti-Latin stance he is closer to Damodos than Athanasios Parios.

How he was different from the anti-Orthodox tendencies of the Enlightenment

It is a serious error to classify Voulgaris as a ‘philosophe’ of the Enlightenment as so often happens to him and even to St. Kosmas Aitolos in the realm of education. Voulgaris’ openness to European science was a purely patristic stance [46] and does not at all mean that Voulgaris can be confined to the category of the Enlightenment or be identified with the full range of this multifaceted movement.

The Enlightenment was for Voulgaris “a challenging field for knowledge but never an acceptable worldview.” [47]

Even in issues of purely scientific importance he remained critical of the Enlightenment, remaining faithful to the tradition of the Holy Fathers. [48] His attitude toward scientific research is illustrated clearly in his “Against the Latins”: “What does the wisdom of the world have in common with the wisdom of God? The wisdom of the world is delusion, nonsense, it is foolishness according to Paul when it is separated from the wisdom of God, the truth faith. This is truly wisdom, sure wisdom, without error or fault, upright wisdom.” [49]

The judgment of Martin Knapp, an expert in the thought of Voulgaris, inclines the same way. He correctly states that “Voulgaris’ “involvement in the issues surrounding the Natural Sciences is not equivalent to being a part of the Enlightenment.” [50]

Voulgaris’ thought always has its center of gravity in the Theology of the Church. This even shows in his occupation with the works of Voltaire. He translates Voltaire’s works but exclusively those parts most timely and which are identical with the faith of the Church and contribute to his own aims. […] Voulgaris’ stance always remains critical. [53] […]

Openness to society and to modern reality

He accomplished this chiefly in his “Outline Concerning Religious Tolerance.” In this work, he confronts the social phenomenon and abuse of religion in society by political authority. In this way, he is able to connect theology and the problem societal status. [54

Of course, unable to surpass the limitations of his time, Voulgaris does not reach our contemporary notion of religious freedom, [55] but he does manage to distinguish himself from the various western authorities (Lock, Voltaire, etc) and be led to the “sentiment that only tolerance and mutual respect between [different] spiritual understandings can safeguard peace in society.”

In the work of Voulgaris, “the notion of tolerance, as a fundamental ideal of European liberalism” [56] passes into Greek society, [57] filtered however by his Orthodox conscience.

In the same way he distinguishes his position from that of the Deists. He condemns the interlinking of spiritual and worldly authority, he denies the proposals of Petavius (“violence against all false religions”), but also of Bernard of Clairvaux (“arguments instead of weapons”), coming to his own conclusion that when the spiritual means of the Church do not suffice, strict penalties (excepting death) may be imposed by the State therapeutically. [58] Chiefly, he is at variance with Voltaire: the tolerant man of Voulgaris is a zealot of piety, not indifferent. “The indifferent man is not tolerant, but irreligious.” [59]

In the end, he gives his own definition: Religious tolerance is “lenient and meek disposition of the soul of the pious man who with knowledge according to zeal toward those violating the things of faith employs understanding and purposeful means toward their correction. Taking custody for them, he tolerates those who are insubordinate with longsuffering and patience, feeling compassion for their loss, promoting rather than impeding the loosing of their corruption, but never tyrannically and inhumanly becoming angry with them.” [60] He does not reach the idea of religious freedom, but as a trailblazer he opens the way for it.

Biographical Note

Born on the 11th of August in the year 1716 in Kerkyra (Corfu) from parents from Zakynthos. Studies: First in Kerkyra, then in Arta, Ioannina, near the well-known teachers of his era (Antonios Katiforos, Vikentios Damodos, and Ieremias Kavvadias). Higher education in Padua (Italy) and particularly ancient Greek, Latin, and Hebrew philology, theology, positive sciences, foreign languages, and above all modern philosophy (Descartes, Locke, Leibniz, Frederich Wolf). 1737: Ordained to the diaconate. 1742: He returns from his studies in Italy and begins teaching at various education foundations in the Ottoman Empire: Ioannina (1742-46), Kozani (1746-50), Ioannina (1750-52), Mount Athos—Athoniada (1753-59), Constantinople—Great School of the [Roman] Race (1759-61). 1762: He departs disappointed by the persecution he faced for Vlachia and from there to Leipsia. 1772: Upon the invitation of Tsarina Catherine II, he departs from Berlin where he was living for St. Petersburg. 1776: Ordained in Moscow Archbishop of Slavinios and Hersonos. 1787: He resigns as Archbishop offering his position to his compatriot, the wise Nikiphoros Theotokis. He returns to St. Petersburg where becomes a member of the Imperial Academy and dedicates himself entirely to study and writing. 1802: He cloisters himself in the Lavra of St. Alexander (Nevsky) until his death (1806).


Thursday, November 3, 2016

Elder Aimilianos of Simonopetra on the Different Kinds of Temptation

Those who by God’s permission tempt us either inflame the desiring aspect of the soul, or stir up its incensive power, or darken its reasoning faculty, or envelop its body in pain, or deprive us of bodily necessities. [12] (St. Maximus the Confessor, Four Hundred Texts on Love: Second Century)

Here saint Maximus sets side by side for us on the one hand the tripartite division of the soul of man, the mental world of man, and on the other hand that of the body. He is not dealing with man’s personality, but with his passive aspect, with the passions which he may have, bring into activity or suffer.

The phrase by God’s permission means according to the knowledge and permission of God, God allows something to happen to them. Those who by God’s permission tempt us either inflame the desiring aspect of the soul, in other words, they create a burning desire within man, or stir up its incensive power, they contribute to man losing his mental or emotional balance so that he loses his internal peace, creating internal agitation, or darken its reasoning faculty, or they create conflict in the reason [logos], in the reasoning faculty of the soul [logistikon], which ceases to think correctly, so that my reasoning [logismos] is blinded, thrown into a torpor, dulled, distorted; it sees black as white and white as black.

First, we need to interpret at length the phrase either inflame the desiring aspect of the soul. The only thing I am able to desire is God. Is this possible?  Of course it is. Because, in reality, the only thing that I am able to know is God. When my intellect [noesis] is absorbed by God, then my spirit is free to ascend together with my soul which is totally given over to God, in addition to my desiring faculty. Consequently, my desire is sincere before God, it is divine, when my mind cleaves to God; otherwise, my internal world suffers a kind of division which can throw a shadow over me, create composition, division, even further fragmentation in my soul so that I am unable to love God, because I am not simple like God is simple.

How can those tempting inflame the desiring faculty of the soul? For example, while I am in a cenobitic monastery, they give me the longing to go out into the desert. They kindle in me this longing, this desire, which seems as if it were from God, but may actually be a stumbling block for me, my fall for the rest of my life. Or, they place in me the desire to go cultivate the people of God, to speak to the people, to save them. How? My heart is filled with warmth, I love them, I want to help them, and this warming [of the heart] is a temptation permitted by God, because God never tempts, he only allows temptations. This is why we say “by God’s permission.” And so my fervent desire is a clear temptation and as much as it takes the form of a good service, so the more dangerous it is, because it is all the better hidden from our understanding.

Second, or stir up its incensive power. The incensive power of the soul is the feeling part, where I feel intensely, where I live intensely; it is not desire. When I desire something, I don’t have it but I want it. The spirited faculty is something which I have and live, I feel it, I have laid hold of it. Whatever within us absorbs [our attention], whatever constrains us and possesses us—even our own thoughts—even if it is something completely our own, internal, when this is stirred up, harmony is lost. It is as if man starts to vibrate, he lives in internal turmoil. Think for a moment how when you come into conflict with someone else’s opinion or someone comes into conflict with your opinion; immediately you’re burning inside to prove what you believe. Or think of when you feel someone to be very dear to you and then others come to steal him, to take him in, or he dies. You feel the loss, your whole being is disturbed, your inner peace is lost.

Third, or darken its reasoning faculty. In the spiritual man the reasoning faculty [logistikon] is inactive, because his spirit is led upward. Generally, the intellect [noeron] soars high above, but the reason [logos] slows it dow---it wants to paint, it wants to be occupied, it constrains the intellect [nous]. Hence when we speak about the spiritual life, we distinguish the intellect [noeron] from the reason [logistiko]; while when we speak about the life of the passions and the properties of the soul, we don’t distinguish the intellect from the reason, but the incensive power of the soul at work.
When my intellect [nous] ascends toward God, then reasoning mind [logos], thought is pure and has no content, because the intellect [nous] is empty and is absorbed in God alone. Then the reasoning mind [logos] does nothing else but follows God. In other words, the mind [logos], when it is pure, is one with the intellect [nous]. But when it is not pure, then it becomes a counterweight to the intellect, it darkens the atmosphere so to speak, and the intellect is incapable of continuing on its course. Then we have thoughts [logismoi] as we say which in their most crude form result in fantasy. The intellect [noeron], when it mixes with an unclean thought, is essentially nonexistent, it is an eagle which has fallen in the mud and been covered up.  But when the intellect [nous] is an eagle, when the intellect flies, then the Tempter or the people [around us] try to cast a shadow on the reasoning mind [logistiko].

What is the difference between what the demons do on the one hand, and what other people do? They come into conflict with our desires, or they give us desires, and [either method] achieves the same result, warmth; or they help us in our thinking, in what we are living and feeling, or they come into conflict with this, and then cast a shadow on the reasoning faculty, removing its brightness and giving it content like a cloud, something so you can’t see. Any content in the reasoning mind obstructs the vision of God, it isn’t the cloud behind which God [waits], but the cloud above which [waits] the tempter. This is what happens with regard to the soul.

Now, regarding the body, or envelop its body in pain, or deprive us of bodily necessities. If it is the Evil One who is tempting you, he can come and hit you, cover you with bruises, make you sick, or take away all of your possessions. The same things happens if it is the people around you; maybe they fill [your life] with bodily grief, with deprivation, with impotence, hunger, nakedness, with whatever else it may be. In other words, they confine you so that deprived as you are, you can no longer deal with it, you react, and you lose your peace with God.

If you succeed in surpassing the grief, meaning you no longer consider the grief something evil , but only good—if you consider every robbery, loss, and grief as visitations of God—then  you have become incapable of being tempted. But from the moment that you want to conquer the grief, the pain, you want to fight back, or to regain any of your lost bodily goods, then you [become] unable to have a relationship with God, or [at least] your relationship is disturbed. For example, you don’t have anything to eat. “I have learned to be content in whatever circumstances I find myself,” says the Apostle [Philippians 4:11]. Do I have anything to eat? I will eat. And if I don’t have anything to eat? I won’t eat. Do I have my health? I will say, glory to Thee, O God. And if I don’t have my health?  Again, I will say, glory to Thee, O God. From the moment that I want to become well, to get better from my illness, going to one doctor and then another, doing everything [I can], finding new drugs from America, from Russia, I’ve already lost God; I am a top spinning upon the earth.
The same thing also happens when I’m unable to understand that, whatever I don’t have, I don’t need. They took my clothes from me, my possessions, or my money, they stole my wife, my friend, or my father; this means that they weren’t necessary for me. Loss and grief constitute a criterion of our spirituality. A man who reacts to pain, or who is afraid of pain, or struggles because of the lack or absence of [material] things doesn’t have God—for him, God is dead.

In order for someone to not be tempted and to not lose his contact with God, so that God does not cease to exist for him, in everything regarding the body, he must love pain, grief, and want.

Archimandrite Aimilianos of Simonopetra, Concerning Love: Interpreting St. Maximus the Confessor, p. 87-92 [Translation mine]

Friday, September 9, 2016

A Hymn of Love For Jesus By Elder Joseph the Hesychast

A Hymn of Love For Jesus
By Elder Joseph the Hesychast

My most sweet Jesus, balm of my soul,
Love of my heart, air that I breathe,
Noetic light most sweet, eros, my strength,
Love most marvelous, my life’s desire,
My faith and hope, my sweet love,
Savior most desired, sweet consolation!
Come, sweet breath of mine, come, my light divine,
Come, light of my eyes, sweet amusement,
And enlighten my inward parts, my intellect and heart
And grant my body perfect peace (apatheia).
Shine in my intellect your illumination divine,
Most radiant movement of your divine knowledge.
Give me, my sweet love, all that which I ask,
Your feet to embrace and them to sweetly kiss.

Sorry if the translation is a little awkward still, but if I spent hours agonizing over how to make it sound like English poetry (or heaven forbid, attempt to metre it), it would have never gone up. The Fathers of Vatopaidi Monastery on Mt.Athos have set the poem to music and chant it in the video above. It is truly heavenly. 

Sunday, September 4, 2016

What is the Heyschast International?

Describing the spread of hesychastic theology—really nothing more than a renewed and reinvigorated form of traditional byzantine-roman Orthodox theology—the Romanian historian Alexandru Elian coined the term the “internationale hésychaste, This was a movement that could not be confined to Greek speaking lands. The disciples of the two Gregories, Palamas and the Sinaite, went to all Orthodox lands to proclaim the necessity of unceasing prayer for all Christians and the theology which undergirded and was presupposed in this experience. This theology was and remains today the most refined expression of Orthodox theology; it possessesthe power to change the individual persons and even entire nations affected by it.

The Hesychast International represents an alternative vision for the world; an alternative reading of the sources of western civilization. It is what Yiannaras and Romanides dubbed Romanity (Ρωμιοσύνη) or St. Justin Popovich called Theanthropic civilization or even what some have called (perhaps less accurately) Eurasianism. It is a word which denotes a possibility for all Christian culture –a possibility which was more or less consigned to obscurity with the destruction of the byzantine empire by the Turks in 1453. And yet it survived in the folk customs of the Greek people, in the monasteries, in the peasantry of Russia, in traditional ecclesiastical life throughout the Balkans.

Now, with the fall of the Soviet Union, Orthodoxy again breathes freely in many countries where it has traditionally been practiced, and perhaps even more importantly, Orthodox Christianity is spreading throughout the globe in many countries which were traditionally Roman Catholic or Protestant. While our brethren in the Middle East still continue to face the existential threat posed by globalist-funded Wahabi Islam, we are now free to not only cultivate the noetic life which has been preserved uniquely within our tradition throughout every age no matter the external circumstances, but also to bring out those elements which are unique our own intellectual tradition of expression—our distinct way of doing discursive theology and appropriating the Greco-Roman sources of our civilization.

It is this task which the Hesychast International is dedicated—to evoking and explicating what I believe is the existential alternative to the secularism and exhausted Christianities of the “West.” In the 19th and 20th century, Orthodox theology has too often distorted itself either by aligning or opposing an external enemy and this has led to any number of ruinous and exaggerated narrowing of our extremely rich tradition of thought. Here I intend to write from a theological perspective that is both broad but also strictly traditional—there will be no compromise of Orthodox, but neither will there be false opposition or generalizations in order to differentiate ourselves from the Christianities of the West. Where western theologians and philosophers have had valid insights, this will not be denied or considered without value in the course of refining and elaborating our theology. Why? Because our theology ultimately transcends the discursive categories which we are forced to use in articulating it. Theology must reason about realities and not simply concepts or words. This is the authentic meaning of experiential theology. The most genuine meaning of the word, “theology” is the deified man who lives the life of God. For those of us like myself who are only beginning our purification, we must trust the Fathers and draw upon their experience, but at the same time, we must not be afraid to engage the contemporary world and the problems which present themselves in a way that is both fresh and insightful while also being nothing less than patristic and traditional. The economy of God is itself a dialogue between a creation “godlike” in its freedom and a self-emptying but superabundantly loving God. As long as we approach the topics which we discuss with humility and love, we have nothing to fear.

Olivier Clément gives a good idea of the general contours for project I intend to begin here:

"A renewed Palamism taking up and rectifying the intuitions of Russian religious philosophy requires the definitive liberation of Orthodox theology from its long ‘Babylonian Captivity’. It is not a question of escaping from rationalized theologies in order to fall into the meagrely subjective existentialism which comes from Germany today, and has no real faith in the Resurrection and no power of transfiguration. Neither is it a question of neutering the Fathers by being content to repeat them. More than ever theology can only be the intellectual (and poetic) aspect of a total art; the art of dying so as to be reborn according to a liberating spirituality, the art of giving one’s life for one’s friends, the art of sharing in worship with one’s whole body, with one’s whole being, in the eschatological certainty that the world is ‘a game of God’." - Olivier Clément ("The Purification of Atheism")

Saturday, July 9, 2016

How easily do we teach “theology” by Father Varnavas Giagkou

The holy and spiritual is not proven simply through the correct use of words, but words that bear the spirit of God. Many times for the sake of upholding Orthodoxy, we hatefully attack the human person. It is not enough for our words to be theologically correct, but they must also bear the testimony of one with a pure heart, illumined and with good motives. Even the most holy of topics can become the pretense for egotistic domination when there is present a disposition toward antagonistic conflict. In order to render our motives blameless, we sanctify our passions by projecting ourselves as self-called strugglers and protectors of God and [His] truths. Sometimes our spiritual words hide our hatred and this is the worst delusion because we make our fall into a virtue.

“Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.” Only he who has a pure heart receives the illumination of God and speaks to others about God with discernment. When our silence and prayer is not what theologizes, our words, even though they may be Orthodox, do not enter into the hearts of men, they simply pollute the air with their sound and let us vent our own internal difficulty.

How easily we teach “theology” on the internet, where the confirmation of our spirituality is shown by the fifty-something anonymous insulting and provocative comments we receive proving how we are such martyrs. This happens in other questions too, whether they be political, ideological or societal. We are indolent in personally working out our repentance and our good, while we close ourselves into an electronic web where each of us can sell his spirit.

The problem goes very deep; it hides the littleness of our faith. We believe that our own intervention is more important than the providence and grace of God. How many lost hours and sleepless nights on the internet, in order to come out on top in some intellectual debate? Even if the issues at stake are very spiritual, couldn’t that time have become prayer for ourselves and for the whole world? Without believing in the power of prayer, can I do theology? Maybe, in the end I am only using spiritual things to promote myself…

The spirit of God has peace, unity, and reconciliation. And before someone says that there is no love without truth, we answer that the defense of the truth can have disagreement, but there are two kinds of disagreement. There is a disagreement which brings forth respect and peace and disagreement which creates hostility and tension and reveals a heart with dispositions and motives not according to God. One cannot do theology or safeguard the good of society with the ugly manner and vulgar words that are used on the street. Theology ought to be an extension of the Divine Liturgy. Is there anything ugly, hostile, or offensive in the Divine Liturgy?

Before every word or spiritual practice, whether it has to do with ecclesiastical or society themes, we need to enter our “inner room”, learn to be silent, to be still, to pray, to taste the grace of God and only then, if God desires it, with great reserve and fear, do we speak those things with which God enlightens us.

How is it possible for us to speak constantly about every topic? Do we not have a need to “be filled’ before we can give? The man who has the gift of discernment is he who lives the presence and grace of God, who whatever he may say, he gives consolation, he inspires, he shows concern, he guides to repentance. He does not have tension, he does not have contests, he does not wish to prove anything, he does not attack, he does not defend himself, he does not clash with others, he has abandoned himself to the providence and designs of God.  His one and only pain and yearning is that God is visible in his life; that he never lose Christ. He doesn’t see dangers or threats, he doesn’t believe in his own thought, he doesn’t have views, he denies himself, he doesn’t have big ideas about great things, because his life is turned entirely toward Christ who is everything to him.

Our great challenge is not to conquer for the sake of truth, but to die for the sake of truth, to be beaten down for the name of Christ. Then our heart becomes an opening which can receive all men, good and bad, righteous or deluded, and a new kind of freedom can be bestowed upon us.

The clergyman put it well who speaking from the rock of the Acropolis that that the Apostle Paul was apostle of the nations and not apostles of the nationalisms! How wonderfully did he clarify without attacking any person! When you have pain and sensitivity, Christ grants you both discernment and spiritual subtlety.


Thursday, May 12, 2016

Love the Fathers? Thank an academic.

Do you love getting to read the Church Fathers in a language you understand? Then you should thank an academic---or more likely multiple academics. Men (and women) of academia are the reason that almost anyone in America can have patristic theology as a hobby. Yet, it is almost always inevitably these very people who enjoy patristic theology as a kind of hobby who, at the least provocation, will pour contempt and scorn upon "academia", "academic theology", or the "liberal universities" (sometimes without any provocation at all).

Of course, this is not entirely unmerited when we do see some of the horrible things that come out of theology departments at modern universities. But to focus merely on those abuses and not on the immense gift that the modern universities have offered us is a immense sin of ingratitude to the people, the majority of whom are not Orthodox, who have made available to us the sources of our own theology.

We have to face the facts that unless we read patristic Greek (or Latin or Syriac) and have access to the manuscripts, our own ability to interact with the texts of the Fathers comes only by means of the blood, sweat, and toil of "western academia." But even this expression, "western academia" is too impersonal for me though. Our access to patristic theological works isn't the result of an impersonal process or institution called "academia." Access to the Fathers came at a very real cost--a human cost.

Yes, theological research has a human cost. We have access to the Fathers because innumerable young men and women decided they loved theology enough to give the best years of their life to sitting in University libraries, learning how to read upwards of five and six languages, learning the techniques required to produce good critical editions, all because they believed that the Fathers and other theological writers in the Christian tradition had something important to say to the contemporary Church today and to all of humanity. Especially today, when there is plenty of information available about how disastrous it can be to go into graduate studies in a liberal arts field, the fact that there are still a portion of people who would give up the "prime years of their life," almost certainly destroy their lifetime earning potential, sacrifice the time they could be spending on cultivating their relationships with their family and friends, all so they can produce good, printed editions of works that a rapidly secularizing world doesn't care two cents for, is an immense blessing and a testament to the power of the Christian theological tradition to continue to transform lives.

All that being said, this is why I find it nearly unpardonable that those who enjoy the fruits of the academy feel so free to pour scorn upon that same institution. That institution, without which, the possibility of them doing armchair theology would never have existed in the first place. I don't write this because I want to condemn anyone, but simply to remind us all: theological research has a human cost. And the next time you want to go and make carte-blanche condemnations of academic theology and the universities, remember that human cost. Remember that any volume of patristic writings is the product of years of work by philologists and theologians who likely gave up material comfort and much more to give you the privilege to access the texts of the Fathers in a language you understand.

Thursday, May 5, 2016

What is an "energy" of God?

It seems to me that translating the term ενέργεια as "energy" does more to obfuscate the meaning of Palamite distinction between God's essence and His activity than it does to clarify it. Eric Perl makes a similar observation when he writes in his article "Gregory Palamas and Metaphysics of Creation" that:

"If the divine energies are real but are not 'things,' what then are they? As their name suggests, they are the activities of God, God acting in and for creation. (It would indeed be desirable to replace the conventional translation 'energies' with 'activities' which more accurately conveys Palamas' meaning in English and makes the entire doctrine sound rather less exotic. I propose therefore to use the latter term henceforward.) This is why they do not introduce composition into God, for 'nothing is ever said to be compounded with its own activity.' To say that God's essence and activity make up two things would, St. Gregory argues, be like saying that a man has two minds because we speak of 'mind' and 'understanding.' Understanding is not another substance, or a part, but is what the mind does. Activity cannot be co-numerated or added to substance. To say that God 'has activities' is simply to say that he acts: 'As he who calls [God] voluntative makes clear that he has a will, so also he who calls him active (ενεργή) shows that he has activity.'" (p.112-113)(emphasis mine)

I'm not entirely sure what the motivation has been in the Orthodox world for translating this term or even framing the debate in the way it has been. Perhaps I am cynical but I fear that this may stem from a desire on the part of Orthodox scholars to differentiate themselves first of all from the Roman Catholic tradition of Thomism which also utilizes the Aristotelian terminology of activity but instead has come down to the English langauge by means of the Latin-derived terms such as activity, actuality, or even operation. Then we also have Orthodox scholars such as Metropolitan Ierotheos of Nafpaktos who, following Fr. John Romanides, are loath to admit that Orthodoxy has anything to do with the classical tradition of metaphysics at all, a tendency which has crept into the English speaking world. 

Theodor Tollefsen, who has written an excellent volume on this exact subject, seems to have less of a problem with this strange new translation but also points out the dangers inherent in it and chooses generally to  avoid these pitfalls altogether:

" and then one gets the impression that energy is a kind of quasi-material force almost flowing into the human recipient. Of course, the saying that divine power is somehow flowing into the recipient is often a quite adequate description of what is experienced. But one should not conceive of or think about this divine power as if it was some kind of material force or fluidum. This is not to deny that divine energy is manifested in the nature of material being, but one should beware of interpreting the divine power itself as a material force. Against the background of these considerations I choose to translate energeia as 'actuality, activity', or---now and then---'energy', depending on the context, and the trascribe dfrom of the Greek will be used as well." (p. 5 Activity and Participation in Late Antique and Early Christian Thought)

In general, I think this is an intelligent move that helps us to realize that St. Gregory Palamas is working within a long and well-established tradition of metaphysical realist discourse about participation and activity which fundamentally begins with Plato. By translating energeia as energy we obscure this connection unnecessarily and in the hands of many less capable metaphysicians, a rather gross, even materialistic conception of the divinity ends up being put forth.