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MESSAGE OF THE MONTH
In Memory of Fr. John Romanides (+11/1/2001)
By Protopresbyter George Metallinos, Dean of the Athens University School of Theology.
One of the most significant Orthodox theologians of the 20th century and a revivalist of our theology who strived to restore it to the genuineness of Patristic tradition, the Protopresbyter Father John Romanides was escorted by all of us—his friends, his colleagues and his students—to our eternal and true Homeland.
On behalf of the Department of Theology of the Athens University School of Theology and its President Mr. Demetrios Gonis, I was given the honor of offering a few words of love, respect and honor to the Great Colleague, who was en route to the "higher realms."
The deceased himself had revealed in one of his rare self-introductions the following:
"My parents came from the Roman city of Kastropolis of Arabessus of Cappadocia, birthplace of the Roman Emperor Mauritios (582-602), who had appointed Saint Gregory the Great (590-604) as Pope of Rome, who in turn appointed Augustine as the first Archbishop of Canterbury (597-604).
I was born in Piraeus on 02/03/1927. I left Greece and migrated to America on the 15th of May 1927 (just 72 days old) with my parents and was raised in the city of New York, in Manhattan, on 46th Street, between Second and Third Avenue.
I am a graduate of the Hellenic College of Brookline, Massachusetts, the School of Theology of Yale University, a Doctor of the School of Theology of the National Capodistrian University of Athens, the School of Philosophy of Harvard University (School of Arts and Sciences); Professor Emeritus of the School of Theology of the Aristotelian University of Thessaloniki and Visiting Professor of the Theological School of Saint John the Damascene of the Balamand University of Lebanon since 1970."
To these we will add that he also studied at the Russian Seminary of Saint Vladimir in New York; the Russian Institute of Saint Sergius in Paris and Munich, Germany. He was ordained a presbyter in 1951 and from then on, was ministering in various dioceses of the United States of America. Between the years 1958 and 1965 he served as a professor in the Theological School of the Holy Cross, but resigned in 1965, protesting against the removal of Father George Florovsky from the School.
His appointment to the Seat of Dogmatics in the Theological School of the University of Thessaloniki took place on June 12th 1968, but he was not finally assigned there, because he was accused of being a "communist"!... His assignment finally took place in 1970. In 1984 he resigned for personal reasons, was given full pension, but it was not deemed appropriate to award him the title of Professor Emeritus—something that comes to reveal the dysfunctions of our theological comrades.
He had written a plethora of studies, many of which are still unpublished and should be published altogether, in a series of volumes. These relics must be safeguarded, because they have much to offer and reveal.
His doctorate dissertation on the "Ancestral Sin" which was a literary revolutionary treatise, opened new paths in our theology, followed by his equally significant books on Romanity in the area of History. Father John revived both these areas—of research and of understanding.
His work and his contribution to science have been systematically scrutinized in the doctorate dissertation of Andrew Sopko, "Prophet of Roman Orthodoxy—The Theology of John Romanides," Canada, 1998.
Equally important was his participation and contribution in our Church, with his participation in the Theological Dialogues with heterodox participants, especially Anglicans, but with other religious representatives also (Judaism, Islam). The fact that his native tongue was American (English) provided him the ease that he needed to expound with precision the positions of our Church. In the Dialogue with the Worldwide Lutheran Federation (1978), I had the opportunity to become better acquainted with him, and become close friends with him, and, more importantly for me, to truly become his student, beyond the extensive and continuous study of his works. In those Dialogues, his broad knowledge of the Patristic tradition became very apparent—along with the forgeries it had suffered both in the East and the West—and especially his knowledge of the theology of Saint Gregory Palamas, the cornerstone of Orthodox tradition.
Father John was a supporter of the association between theology and experience in the Holy Spirit, and the stages of the Saints’ spiritual course of purification, illumination and theosis as prerequisites of the Ecumenical Synods and the wholehearted acceptance of them—something that has been discarded in the West—but also in our own, westernizing theological thought. This turn toward patristic mentality as a form of ecclesiastical genuineness was the continuation and the supplementing of the respective movement by Father George Florovsky, whose course he pursued in ecumenical dialogue, himself likewise becoming an annoyance and not easy to converse with. Some day, all of this will be put in writing, so that the outstanding character of the deceased will become apparent, along with his true contribution towards the international and ecumenical presence of Orthodoxy, even though he often kept to himself.
The Period Before and After Romanides
When reviewing his theological opus—educative, literary and militant—we are naturally compelled to refer to a pre-Romanides and post-Romanides era, because he introduced a real section and a rift in our scholastic past, which resembled a Babylonian captivity for our theology. His dissertation decisively sealed this revivalist course, to the degree that even those who for various reasons criticized or ideologically opposed him, betrayed in their writings the influence of Father John in their theological thought. Specifically, Father John:
(a) Reinstated the priority of patristic empirical theologizing in the academic theological arena, pushing aside the intellectual-meditative-metaphysical way of theologizing.
(b) He linked academic theology to worship and the patristic tradition of the Philokalia, proving the inter-embracing of theology and spiritual living, and the poemantic (shepherd-like,Ed.)-therapeutic character of dogmatic theology.
(c) He discerned and adopted in his theological method the close link between dogma and history, thanks to which, he was able to comprehend—as few could—the estrangement and the demise of theology in Western Europe, which came about with the Frankish occupation and imposition. Besides, his capable knowledge of history, Frankish and Roman (he was destined to be a History professor at Yale), helped him determine and analyze the diametric difference between the Frankish and the Roman civilizations with the introduction of Roman criteria for examining our history and civilization.
(d) He thus assisted in the comprehensive research of Hellenism as well, beyond the manufactured western scenarios, with his upright-to-absolutely-justified use of our historical names, their significance and their potential in the course of our history.
It is a fact, that the heterodox acknowledged—more than we did—the personality of Father John and his significance to Orthodoxy. He was considered Augustine’s finest Orthodox researcher, who even assisted western theology in comprehending him, and was characterized as "most assuredly the greatest of the living Orthodox theologians, whose works comprise a critical study of Augustine’s work in the light of Patristic Theology." And it must be said, that we are indebted to Father John for his weighty assertion that the teachings of Barlaam of Calabria on the prophets’ god-perceiving experiences being "natural phenomena, that can be done and undone" are derived from Augustine’s treatise "On the Trinity."
Respected and beloved Father John, your friends, your colleagues and co-spokesmen all express our gratitude, for everything that by the grace of God you gave us, as do the thousands of direct or indirect students also. We hold on to the theological trust that you left us, to be our rod in the darkness that calculation, ignorance, indifference and profit have spawned. You have united us with the patristic element within the realm of academic theology, by constantly urging us towards worship and ascetic exercise, where true theology is cultivated. We thank you!
May your remembrance be everlasting, until we meet again at the celestial altar, my beloved Colleague and Co-Minister.