Recently there has been a lot of traffic on my blog to the post “The Great Inheritance of Orthodox Theology”. I am re-posting it here for the Truth of Our Faith series because I truly believe that our faith has entrusted us a great inheritance which is an unadulterated theology passed down to us through the sanctified lives and teachings of a great cloud of witnesses – a reality that is unfortunately challenged in contemporary theological circles. If you don’t want to bore yourself with details of the two conferences I speak of in the beginning, you can skip to the sixth paragraph where I simply talk about Orthodox theology.
On February 15, 2012, some 1,500 faithful (including myself) were blessed to attend a conference in Piraeus: “Patristic Theology and Post-Patristic Heresy,” a response to another conference held at the Theological Academy of Volos in June, 2010. A conference my husband and I had the misfortune of also attending. That conference was entitled: “Neo-Patristic Synthesis or Post-Patristic Theology: Can Orthodox Theology Be Contextual?” It was essentially an attempt to paint the teachings of the Holy Fathers as out-dated, insignificant and unrelated to modern man in modern times. (I’m paraphrasing of course.)
This conference in 2010 provoked a strong response from bishops, priests, and laity. Metropolitan Hierotheos of Nafpaktos wrote something challenging this approach to Orthodox theology. Metropolitan Paul of Glyfada wrote a critique of it, requesting the Holy Synod of Greece to address what was being said at the conference. Others also spoke out against the idea of neo-Patristic or post-Patristic theology.
Ultimately the conference in Piraeus was an attempt to demonstrate that many faithful, including many priests, and monastics, do not view Orthodox theology as something corruptible. “Jesus Christ [is] the same yesterday, today, and to the ages” (Heb. 13:8) as is the Holy Spirit who inspires our Orthodox theology.
In my opinion the conference in Piraeus predominately illustrated the following: A.) That post-Patristic theology – or heresy, as it was aptly described in Piraeus – is not a new thing, but an old heresy embodied in Protestantism and in people like Barlaam (the opponent of St. Gregory Palamas), and B.) Orthodox theology is inspired by the Holy Spirit; it is not the result of intelligent people articulating ideologies.
I have strong opinions about this topic. I had strong opinions about the topic when I was sitting through two days of lectures in Volos in 2010. However, I won’t speak about all that, I’ll simply direct you to where you can read/ view well-informed papers on the topic that, God willing, will be translated into English in the near future. (See HERE).
What I will say is this: The reaction of these bishops, priests, monastics and laity demonstrates that Greece is as much opposed to patroclasm (being against fathers) as it was in Ancient times when Plato wrote his dialogue Euthyphro in which Socrates discusses the theme of piety with a young man who sued his father. Ultimately Socrates asks: Is something good and just because the gods will it, or do the gods will it because the thing is good and just? As Orthodox Christians we believe the Holy Fathers teach Orthodox theology because it is right and proper in and of itself. Orthodox theology is not merely correct because the Fathers teach it. And so, it follows that as Orthodox Christians we accept and uphold the theology handed down to us by our Fathers because it is proper piety to do so.
Orthodoxy is philopatristic (father-loving). We have piety toward the Fathers because they acquired the Holy Spirit, and in acquiring Him recorded our faith in treatises, apologies, and confessions. Orthodoxy is not and will not ever be post-Patristic because the Holy Spirit inspires Orthodox theology, and “the wisdom from above indeed is first pure, then peaceable, equitable, easily entreated, full of mercy and of good fruits, impartial and without hypocrisy” (James 3:17).
Orthodox theology is not Palamite, or Hesychastic, or any other term like that, it is simply Orthodox. We do not view “Hesychasm” as something unique to St. Gregory Palamas. Mystical theologians, neptic theologians, social theologians are almost unnecessary labels, for the Fathers may emphasize certain points over others but ultimately they are Fathers, theologians, because the Unified Godhead inspires them, illuminates them, and fills them with grace. Orthodox theology is not confined to “once upon time.” It is full of life, applicable to all people in all times. It is a constant running stream of life-giving water, immeasurable in depth and limitless in width. Even in our times fresh springs arise and add to the stream of Orthodox theology. But it is not a new substance, it is the same water. It merely pours forth from new saints, new theologians, but the same theology – the same source, the Holy Triadic God.
We follow the Fathers because by living in the Light of God, they have received the dogmas, doctrines, and practices we hold dear as Orthodox Christians directly from God. And we will continue to have Holy Fathers unto life everlasting. And so this year when we celebrate the Sunday of Orthodoxy let’s remember just how rich we are, having received a great inheritance from our Holy Fathers and let’s safeguard that inheritance by protecting it from those who would do away with it.