Posts tagged Georges Florovsky
After having spent the last several months concentrating on some of my own historical theology work, I thought I would take the time to update SOCHA readers not only on that, but on some other publications that might be of interest. Fr. Andrew, Matthew, and Aram continue their good endeavors here, of course, but I hope the reader will pardon my little interruption. What I especially wish to call readers to note is the recent issue of the St. Vladimir’s Orthodox Theological Quarterly (56:3, 2012). This issue contains four articles addressing various aspects of Orthodox Christian history in America as well as a review of Amy Slagle’s book The Eastern Church in the Spiritual Marketplace: American Conversions to Orthodox Christianity (based on ethnographic work at three Orthodox parishes). I highly recommend her book, by the way.
The first article in this issue I would highlight is that by Fr. John Erickson, in which he examines the role of Slavophile thought in the Russian Mission. This is a fascinating article that will hopefully begin some considerations on this topic. Highlighting St. Tikhon and Metropolitan Platon is useful. There are a few footnotes that seemed incomplete, and I think citing Jennifer Hedda’s His Kingdom Come could have augmented the discussion of the liberal wing of Orthodoxy. I found his speculation concerning Bjerring’s apostasy (possibly upset at the change in Russian theological emphases away from liberalism) interesting, but Bjerring himself had little to say on this issue, interestingly, merely noting that he preferred to remain an American citizen. Also, as Erickson noted, the Russian government had pulled funding of Bjerring’s chapel. I think Erickson’s discussion concerning converts such as Irvine is interesting and overall, this is a good article that I would recommend to anyone grappling with the history of the Russian Mission in America. Erickson’s central thesis, that Slavophile conceptions affected the Russian Mission and later died away is spot-on and a reminder of just how transnational of a phenomenon American Orthodoxy has always been.
The second article, by Ivana Noble, concerns Fr. Georges Florovsky and especially the issue of Florovsky’s “Hellenism.” One of the more helpful points I found at the outset, was the balance struck when discussing the relationship between Florovsky and Bulgakov. I think this is sometimes missing at the popular level, so the reader is well served to encounter this. Her main offering to the reader, though, I think, is to note that Florovsky was just as willing to see Latin patristics as fully Patristic, and was even willing, at least at one point, to state as much in a margin note.
That said, I was struck by how far Noble took this. In footnote twenty-two, she sided with Matthew Baker versus Brandon Gallaher regarding the extent to which Florovsky sought to “proselytize” the non-Orthodox rather than see both Latin and Hellenic Christianity as Patristic. Personally, I think Florovsky is clear that a “pseudomorphosis” occurred in Orthodox theology (at least in his read of its history) and in that sense, I wonder if Noble (with Matthew Baker’s article in hand) isn’t “talking past” the likes of Brandon Gallaher and Dn. Paul Gavrilyuk on this one. That is to say, Noble could well be right (in fact, I think she is) that Florovsky was willing to see a return to the Fathers as something allowable to Latin Christianity and yet Gallaher and Gavrilyuk could well be right (and I think they are) in noting that Florovsky was quite critical at times of Western theological developments and their impacts upon Orthodox Christianity (whether real or perceived). Anyhow, I fully expect Florovsky to remain a debated figure amongst contemporary theologians and historians, probably increasingly so.
A third article worth noting is Paul Meyendorff’s article on Fr. John Meyendorff’s historical role in the creation of the OCA’s autocephaly and how Fr. John Meyendorff understood that autocephaly’s importance. This article made good use of the OCA archives and is a useful and important read for anyone interested in the relationship between Moscow and the OCA and/or American Orthodox jurisdictional unity.
Finally, this issue included an article I wrote on Fr. Boris Burden’s role in two failed attempts at Orthodox jurisdictional unity. Both attempts (the first begun with Bishop Aftimios as the Holy Eastern Orthodox Catholic and Apostolic Church of North America in the late 1920s and the second as the Federated Orthodox Greek Catholic Primary Jurisdictions in the first half of the 1940s) failed. One reason they failed (and not the only, but one reason that is common to both failures) was that Orthodox disagreed over how to respond to non-Orthodox. SOCHA has discussed both movements and figures in both, so readers can quickly update their knowledge of all of this.
So, all in all, I’d recommend the recent SVTQ issue. I would also like to mention the new issue of LOGOS: A Journal of Eastern Christian Studies (53:3-4, 2012). I wrote an article entitled, “An Old World Response to a New World Situation: Greek Clergy in the Service of the Russian Mission to America,” which is based on the paper I gave at the Princeton Symposium in October, 2011. The priests mentioned in the article have been covered here on the SOCHA site and I suspect they will receive further treatment in the future, especially as 2016 nears, as that would be the 100th anniversary of the death of one of these Greek priests, Archimandrite Theoklitos Triantafilides.
This is not the only piece I have written in the last few months. I have written a couple of book chapters (though book publishing moves slowly, so it’ll be some time before they’re available). One is a short piece on Meyendorff and Schmemann and the other a survey of Russian Orthodoxy in the Academic disciplines directly related to theology. Shortly before Christmas (on the Revised Julian Calendar) I signed a book contract with Oxford University Press. I hope to offer more on that someday in the future. Perhaps I’ll have more to say to that in the summer or fall this year. In the meantime, may we all keep one another in each other’s prayers and may we all continue to support one another in our work and interest in the ongoing history of American Orthodoxy.
[Addendum: It has come to my attention through private emails that some readers might mistakenly think I intended to conflate Matthew Baker's positions on Florovsky with that of Ivana Noble's. I wish to clarify that such was never the case. I meant only to show the debate into which Noble entered and upon whom she relied when making her point. It should be pointed out that Matthew Baker does not deny Florovsky's claim regarding the Orthodox Church as the "una sancta," nor Florovsky's critique that Eastern Christianity often engaged in a "servile imitation" of Western sources, which Florovsky considered a "pseudomorphosis." Baker's main point would be that Florovsky's critique of pseudomorphosis is part of a larger ecumenical vision expressed by Florovsky, according to which the return of both Orthodox and Western Christians to the sources of patristic tradition, which Orthodoxy especially claims as her own, would enable a free and constructive ecumenical encounter. It is on the basis of this larger point that Noble made use of his work, pressing it (in my read) a bit farther than Baker himself. As I mentioned above, I expect that the discussions surrounding Florovsky have only but begun and if that is the case, then Baker's work (as is also the case with Gallaher's, Gavrilyuk's, and Noble's, among others) will be important as this discussion rolls along.]
Sixty-five years ago today, on Holy Monday, April 7, 1947—the feast of Annunciation (O.S.)—an important event in the history of Orthodoxy in America occurred, with the first visit of Father Georges Florovsky to the United States. As with so many key turns in his ecclesiastical trajectory, Florovsky’s coming to America was occasioned by his intense involvement in the ecumenical movement.
The general plan to establish a World Council of Churches (WCC) had been agreed upon at the meeting of the Faith and Order Movement in Edinburgh, 1937, where Florovsky was present together with Fr. Sergii Bulgakov. While Florovsky himself had at this point yet no official standing as an Orthodox representative within Faith and Order, he was on this occasion elected to the “Committee of Fourteen,” composed of seven representatives of Faith and Order and seven of Life and Work, whose task it was to organize the future World Council of Churches. Given that the Orthodox representative for Life and Work was Metropolitan Germanos (Strinopoulos) of Thyateira and Great Britain, it was felt that the other Orthodox representative should be a non-Greek. The likely candidate was Fr. Sergii Bulgakov, who was both senior to Florovsky and had also been involved in Faith and Order since its inception at the Lausanne Assembly of August 1927.
Bulgakov, however, had recently drawn controversy for his sophiological teaching. And of the two, Florovsky had the greater facility with the English language. In all likelihood for these reasons, both the Orthodox and the Anglicans and American Episcopalians, who were responsible for funding much of the scholarly and ecumenical activity of the Orthodox centered at the Institute St. Serge (Paris), chose Florovsky instead, considering him the more trustworthy representative of Orthodox theology. According to Florovsky’s own unpublished account, it was Metropolitan Antony Bashir, also present at Edinburgh, who informed him of this decision. The reason Antony gave is interesting: it was because the “American Orthodox” wanted him.
The preparation of the World Council of Churches, however, was deferred by the Second World War. Florovsky was in Geneva at the outbreak of the war, unable to return to Paris, and therefore spent the whole of World War II in exile: in Yugoslavia (December 1939 to October 1944), serving as a chaplain and religion teacher at two high schools for Russian boys and girls; and then finally in Prague, teaching English and engaged in extensive pastoral work among the Russian emigres. Only in December 1945 was he able to return to Paris and resume his pre-war scholarly and ecumenical activities, commuting frequently throughout 1946 and 1947 to Geneva for meetings in preparation for the WCC. It was at this point that the stage was set also for his visit to the U.S. A meeting of the provisional committee of the WCC was planned to be held in America, Spring 1947. As a member of the committee, Florovsky was invited.
Other developments were taking place during this same time that would be determinative both for Florovsky’s future and that of Orthodoxy in America. In November 1946, the Seventh All American Church Sobor of the Russian Orthodox Greek Catholic Church of America (the “Metropolia”) was held in Cleveland, Ohio. At the request of Metropolitan Theophilus (Pashkovsky), plans were drawn up for the re-formation of St. Vladimir’s Seminary (founded in 1938) into a real theological academy, on the model of the four pre-revolutionary Russian academies. At the suggestion of the historian George Fedotov, a colleague from St. Serge who had come to teach at St. Vladimir’s in 1945, Florovsky was named as the choice for professor of dogmatics and patrology.
The meeting of the provisional committee was held in Buck Hill Falls, Pennsylvania, on April 22-25, 1947. There it was announced that the first Assembly of the World Council of Churches would be held at Amsterdam from August 22 to September 5, 1948, having as its general theme “Man’s Disorder and God’s Design.” It is perhaps indicative of Florovsky’s influence that, already at this point, the WCC’s general secretary W. A. Visser’t Hooft emphasized to the press that the WCC was not to be understood as a “super-church” which would dictate to its member bodies, but only “an expression of the desire of the Churches to obey the will of their common Lord,” involving “not . . . the denial of the confessional heritage of the churches,” but rather “the attempt to manifest that unity which has actually been given to churches that take their confessions seriously” (“Progress Report for the World Council: Provisional Committee Holds First Meeting in United States,” Federal Church Bulletin, Vol. XXX, No. 5, May 1947, 6-7).
Following the conclusion of the provisional committee meeting, Florovsky traveled to New York in May 1947 to discuss the possibility of his coming to teach at St. Vladimir’s. The seminary was at this time housed in a cottage owned by General Theological Seminary (Episcopal Church USA), and had only a dozen students and limited faculty and resources. Florovsky spent most of his visit with Metropolitan Theophilus. The result of their conversations was that Florovsky agreed to accept appointment to the faculty, with the tacit understanding that he would later take up the deanship. Theophilus and Florovsky saw eye to eye both on the need to develop high-level theological education for clergy and to introduce the English language into teaching and church services. Almost exactly a year after Florovsky’s visit, on April 2, 1948, the Metropolitan Council of the Russian Orthodox Greek Catholic Church of America sent a letter to the American consulate in Paris requesting the entry of Florovsky and his wife into the US under non-quota status. Florovsky would later become a naturalized American citizen in 1954.
After his visit to Pennsylvania and New York in spring 1947, Florovsky returned to Europe. The First Assembly of the World Council of Churches took place in Amsterdam on August 22 to September 4, 1948, with some 14,000 persons present. Here, together with his friend the Anglican priest Michael Ramsey (who would become Archbishop of Canterbury in 1961) and the Swiss Reformed theologian Karl Barth, with whom he shared a common resistance to political pragmatism in ecumenical relations, Florovsky emerged as the leading theological voice. He was at this time elected also to the executive committee of the WCC.
Just ten days after Amsterdam, on September 15, 1948, Florovsky left Europe for good, arriving in New York by boat on September 21 to begin teaching at St. Vladimir’s. A year later, Florovsky took over the acting deanship from Bishop John Shahovskoy, and in 1950, he was officially made dean. He was to remain in that capacity until 1955. During his tenure at St. Vladimir’s, Florovsky raised academic standards and introduced the English language, placing the seminary on the map as an important center of theological education and injecting a crucial missionary dimension to its outlook.
Florovsky’s 1947 visit to America was therefore an event which both foreshadowed and helped to prepare two important developments in Orthodoxy and the Christian world at large: first, the formation of the World Council of Churches, and the presence of a powerful Orthodox theological voice within it; and second, the development of an articulate and missionary-minded Orthodox theology on American soil.
Photographs of Florovsky’s arrival in New York Harbor on April 7, 1947, published in The New York Times and Newsweek have a certain strangeness and wonder about them, marking the distance from his time and situation and our own. That the visit of any theologian—not to mention, Orthodox—would be considered worthy of feature in a major news source bespeaks a bygone age when Christian churches and theology still wielded a certain recognized cultural authority. That epoch gasped its last some time after the media excitement of the Second Vatican Council (1962-65). It is perhaps significant that, with the sole and recent exception of Pope Benedict XVI, no theologian has appeared on the cover of Time magazine since the April 20, 1962, feature of Karl Barth. It is hard to imagine a photograph of any leading Orthodox theologian today being featured within the pages of Time, Newsweek, or The New York Times, as Florovsky himself was in the 1940s and ’50s.
The modern ecumenical movement was itself conceived initially as a missionary response to an era of intense secularization. Doubtless, it was spurred on also by a humanitarian reaction to two massive wars, in which men of different countries equally confessing the name of Christ spilled one another’s blood over nationalist interests. Yet the early ecumenical movement came to birth nevertheless with a hope and confidence among some Christian leaders that a soundly Christocentric theology might matter still, and be heard by more than a few. With all their crucial differences, leading ecumenical figures of this period such as Florovsky and Barth were united at least in their attempt to respond to “man’s disorder,” not with humanitarian bromides regarding “tolerance” and “diversity,” or demi-Marxist clarions to class struggle, identity politics, and statist social planning, but with a word about creation, sin and redemption: the good news of Christ and his Church.
In “The Church and Her Responsibility,” a paper written for the Faith and Order Study Commission “The Universal Church in God’s Design” in March 1947, just a month before his visit to America, Florovsky stressed that the primary work of the Church was the proclamation of the Gospel, aimed precisely towards conversion—a ministry of the Word consummated in the ministry of the sacraments. This mission required that the Church avoid equally two temptations: sectarianism and secularization. The message of the Gospel is a word of judgment upon the world, but a saving judgment. The Church exists in the world as an antinomical and heterogeneous body, in a state of opposition, but also reformation of the world. As Florovsky said in his speech at Amsterdam, August 1948:
…the real strength of the Christian position is precisely in its ‘otherness.’ For indeed, Christianity is ‘not of this world’ and is not merely one of the elements of the worldly fabric. … the strength of Christianity is rooted in its opposition to everything Christless. No secular allies would ever help the Christian cause, whatever name they bear. As Christians we have but one Heavenly Ally, Our Lord Jesus Christ, to whom all power has been given in Heaven and on earth, even in this perplexed and rebellious world of ours. For this very reason, Christians can and should never admit any other authority, even in secular affairs. Christ is the Lord and Master of history, not only of our souls. Again this gives ultimate priority to the theological issue. For our practical disagreements inevitably bring us back to the diversity of our interpretations of the Divine message and the Divine solution of our human tragedy and fall. (Florovsky, “Determinations and Distinctions: Ecumenical Aims and Doubts,” Sobornost, No. 4, Series 3, Winter 1948, 126-132, at 132)
It is dangerous to posit simple causes in the complex chain of historical events. Yet the marked wane in the cultural authority of theology and of churches themselves that became apparent only two decades or so after the Amsterdam Assembly did coincide with a certain “failure of nerve” on the part of theologians and pastors—a hesitance to address the culture at large with such robust evangel. Many preferred instead to adjust the content of their message in the attempt to be “relevant” to ever more radical forces of secularization.
Already at the meeting of the provisional committee of the WCC at Buck Hill Falls, Pennsylvania, in April 1947, Dr. J. Hutchinson Cockburn, former moderator of the Church of Scotland, had noted how “anti-Christian forces” had become so strong that the Christian tradition “no longer dominates the European scene.” “If Christ is to be enthroned over the lives of men in Europe,” he added, “it will only be by the reviving of the Church by the Grace of God and the work of the Holy Spirit. Of this revival the churches are the appointed instruments. It is Christian civilization that is at stake, not merely in Europe but also in Britain and in the United States” (“Progress Report for the World Council: Provisional Committee Holds First Meeting in United States,” Federal Church Bulletin, Vol. XXX, No. 5, May 1947, 6-7). Cockburn’s diagnosis remains even more true today. Yet it is a sad fact how many professed theologians and Christian leaders, even among the Orthodox, respond to it with sophisticated cynicism, chameleon-like compromise and defeat.
Images of Florovsky’s arrival in New York Harbor on April 7, 1947, Holy Monday—a day when many Orthodox in America celebrated the feast of the Annunciation, and all were preparing to follow after Christ to his sacred Passion in the city—show the Russian priest-theologian flanked by Cockburn and Visser’t Hooft aboard the deck of the Queen Elizabeth dressed in his riassa, cigarette visible between his fingertips, his long uncut hair blowing crazily in the wind, the expression on his face so confident as almost to radiate joy. It was precisely his spirit of confidence—confidence in the truth of Christ and his Church, and in the legacy and task of Orthodox theology—combined with magnanimity towards divided brethren, in hope of their eventual recovery, that made Florovsky’s example so singularly important for his time and context. Much depends upon the revival of that same spirit in our own.
(In addition to the articles cited and several unpublished sources, this essay relies upon Andrew Blane, “A Sketch of the Life of Georges Florovsky,” in Georges Florovsky: Russian Intellectual—Orthodox Churchman, St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 1993, pp. 73-91.)
During this Holy Week time, I am going to shift just a bit on my running series regarding Orthodoxy and higher education here in America. Instead of mentioning an historical event, I thought I’d share something from Fr. Georges Florovsky. If you need to know a little something about his life, go here:
The following quote is from “Faith and Culture,” St. Vladimir’s Seminary Quarterly 4:1-2 (1955-56), 44.
“Either Christians ought to go out of the world, in which there is another master besides Christ (whatever name this master may bear: Caesar or Mammon or any other), and start a separate society. Or again they have to transform the outer world and rebuild it according to the law of the Gospel. What is important, however, is that even those who go out cannot dispense with the main problem: they still have to build up a “society” and cannot therefore dispense with this basic element of social culture. “Anarchism” is in any case excluded by the Gospel. Nor does Monasticism mean or imply a denunciation of culture. Monasteries were, for a long time, precisely the most powerful centers of cultural activity, both in the West and in the East. The practical problem is therefore reduced to the question of a sound and faithful orientation in a concrete historical situation.
Christians are not committed to the denial of culture as such. But they are to be critical of any existing cultural situation and measure it by the measure of Christ. For Christians are also the Sons of Eternity, i.e. prospective citizens of the Heavenly Jerusalem. Yet problems and needs of “this age” in no case and in no sense can be dismissed or disregarded, since Christians are called to work and service precisely “in this world” and “in this age.” Only all these needs and problems and aims must be viewed in that new and wider perspective which is disclosed by the Christian Revelation and illumined by its light.”
Definitely wise words to heed as we continue to plan and develop Orthodox engagement with higher education. Definitely fitting words for this time of year.
Dr. Peter Bouteneff, Associate Professor of Systematic Theology at St. Vladimir’s Seminary (SVS), has interviewed Romanian doctoral candidate Fr. Ilie Toader, pursuing his doctorate through the Bucharest Faculty of Theology. This is definitely something to be noted and anticipated. I have not seen the Bucharest institution, though I did briefly visit the seminary in Cluj back in 2000. Please note Fr. Ilie’s comments concerning frequent participation in the Eucharist, the connection between history and doctrine, and the unitive function of chapel at St. Vladimir’s Seminary. Of interest are the names mentioned by him: Fr. Georges Florovsky, Fr. John Meyendorff, and Fr. Alexander Schmemann. Florovsky served as dean from 1949-1955. Schmemann was dean from 1962 until his death in 1983. Meyendorff served as dean from 1984 until he retired in 1992. All three men also taught at SVS and their writings remain influential to this day.
The interview may be found here:
By way of disclosure, perhaps I should add that as a student I took courses from Dr. Bouteneff and he will be speaking at our second annual St. Nicholas Retreat (held the first Saturday of each December).
[This article was written by Fr. Oliver Herbel.]