There is a story from the life of the much-revered Elder John (Krestiankin) (+ 2006) of how a young student came to see him from the Theological Academy and introduced himself as a ‘theologian’. Elder John replied: ‘So you are the fourth?’ In his immaturity the young student naturally did not understand, so he asked the Elder what he meant. Elder John answered: ‘There are three theologians in the Church: St John, St Gregory and St Simeon the New. Are you claiming to be the fourth?’ The humbled student was shamefaced.
It is a curious fact that ‘Orthodox’ academic theology (we would rather call it academic philosophy) differs enormously from Orthodox theology. Academics like the late Fr Nicholas Afanasyev, Fr Alexander Schmemann or Metr John Zizioulas and their huddle of followers in New York, Istanbul, Paris and Oxford all concentrate on personalism, in other words the strange mixture of unrepentant fallen human nature (humanism) inside an outward shell of Orthodoxy, or, as we might call it, ‘humanism with icons’. With its resurrection of Origen’s heretical ‘salvation for all’ and intellectualistic Gnostic mystification, personalism is an abstraction that has no life of its own outside academia.
However, real Orthodox theologians, like St Justin of Chelije, concentrate not on humanism (or personalism to give it its disguised name), but on Godmanhood. In other words, this is how fallen human nature must be transfigured by repentance before it can obtain dignity, that is, before the human heart can become worthy of any knowledge of God and so revelation, which it can then pass on to the mind. It is strange indeed that ‘Orthodox’ academic ‘theologians’ should have been inspired by Non-Orthodox humanists like the Lutheran Jakob Boehme via the semi-Marxist philosophy of disincarnation of Berdyayev for their ideas about personalism.
Rather than try to speak to post-Christian and indeed atheistic Western academics in the humanistic terms that they might just be able to understand, though would have very little interest in and would regard as irrelevant, would it not be better to speak to the whole Western world about the fullness of Orthodox theology without compromise? Not only would the spiritually living minority of Western people be interested to hear about undiluted Christianity (which is what Orthodoxy simply is), but also we Orthodox ourselves would be interested. Faith is not deepened by intellectualism; Faith is deepened by the revelations of God to the human heart. That is precisely what the Gospels are about.
The fact is that the average devout Orthodox has never heard of, let alone read, the obscure and poorly-selling books of any of the contemporary academic ‘theologians’ like Metr John Zizioulas who claim to be Orthodox; they would appear only to be for Non-Orthodox intellectual consumption, not for the fishermen of Galilee. But the average devout Orthodox has most certainly heard of and reads and knows and venerates the best-selling St Paisius the Athonite, Fr Seraphim (Rose), Fr Arsenie (Boca) and Elder John (Krestyankin), real Orthodox theologians, who feed our hearts, not our brains, in the spirit of the fishermen of Galilee.
Perhaps the academic ‘theologians’ should address themselves to the real, and not unreal or virtual Orthodox world, by speaking to real Orthodox in the parishes and the monasteries. In the real Orthodox context they would forget the philosophical fantasy of ‘personalism’ (the word is unknown to the Fathers and to all Orthodox) and speak about Repentance, Messianism and the Third Rome. We live, after all, in an age of apostasy, in the last times and in a globalized world, when Repentance, Messianism and the Universality of the Third Rome are as relevant as it is possible to be. In other words, eschatology, the theology of the last times, is what they need to speak and write of.
Orthodox Christianity is Alpha and Omega, speaking not only of the beginning of the world, but of the end too. We speak not of some fashionable ecological crisis or of any other ism, however fashionable they may be in incestuous academic circles, but of the mystery of iniquity and how we can counter the appearance of Antichrist, while awaiting the Second Coming. Today, as we speak of the Universal Civilization of Holy Rus as opposed to anti-Christian Western liberal ideology, we need to speak of the ultimate things, of eschatology, not of humanism, with or without icons.
The Russian Orthodox Church is the last barrier to Globalization and Westernization. This is why Zbigniew Brzezinski publicly admits that he wants to destroy her. She is the last bulwark defending her flock from the demonic game of post-modernism, to which virtually the whole Western world is subjugated and with which sickness it decomposes everything it touches. The Russian Church is the last fortress of Faith, which continues to restrain (2 Thess 2, 6), ever since the ‘Council’ of Florence and the internal and external fall of New Rome in the fifteenth century.
Before our very eyes, within the last ten years, Russia has visibly become the Third and Last Rome and the Russian Church has become the Church of the last times. Eschatology, the revelation and knowledge of the last things, is the great contribution of the Russian Church to the contemporary world. This has been arrived at not through the speculations of academics in Non-Orthodox and indeed anti-Orthodox cities, but through the sufferings of millions of New Martyrs and Confessors. This is the ministry and offering of the Russian Church to the contemporary world.
Speaking of Dostoyevsky, the great Serbian theologian and saint, St Justin of Chelije, wrote prophetically: ‘Orthodoxy is the bearer and keeper of the most radiant image of Christ and all Divino-human forces and this is the ‘New Word’ that Russia…must tell the world’. This ‘New Word’ is drawn not from some modernist mishmash of ‘personalism’, but from Eternity and, as such, must be heeded, for ‘when you see all these things, know that it is near, even at the doors’ (Matt 24, 33).