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A NEVER-ENDING STORY?

The Age of the Fathers, St Symeon the New Theologians Notion of Patristic
Authority, and the Church Fathers of Modern Times

Sydney College of Divinity


St Andrews Greek Orthodox
Theological College

STEFAN MASTILOVI
IN PARTIAL FULFILMENT OF BACHELOR OF THEOLOGY (HONOURS)
Date of Submission: 5/12/2014
Declaration of Originality

This thesis is based upon original work by the author and a


study of the relevant published works as indicated and
acknowledged in the text.

Signed:.............................................
(Authors signature)

Date:.......................................................

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Acknowledgements

I am deeply indebted to my supervisor Very Rev. Dr Doru Costache whose stimulating


conversations, valuable ideas and adjustments have helped me complete this work. In
addition, I would like to thank him for all the support he has given me for the last four years.
I would also like to thank St Andrews Greek Orthodox College for its continuous support
over the course of my degree and also His Eminence Archbishop Stylianos for his personal
contribution and support.
I would like to thank the Serbian Orthodox Church for their contribution while I have studied
here in Sydney and His Grace Bishop Irinej for his much love and support.
Special thanks goes to my family who have constantly supported me from the beginning,
both monetarily and also by their continuous love, support and advice which have carried
me through and kept me going.
Lastly, I would like to acknowledge the college students, staff and lecturers at St Andrews
that have greatly shaped me over the years and have given me a truly memorable
experience.

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Table of Contents
Declaration of Originality ........................................................................................................................ i
Acknowledgements ................................................................................................................................ ii
Abstract .................................................................................................................................................. v
1. Introduction .................................................................................................................................... 1
2. The Patristic Age Three Perspectives ........................................................................................ 3
2.1. Fifth Century restriction .......................................................................................................... 3
2.2. Eighth Century restriction ....................................................................................................... 4
2.3. A Never-ending age of the Fathers and Mothers ................................................................... 6
2.4. Back to the Concerns of Campenhausen ................................................................................ 7
2.5. Conclusion ............................................................................................................................. 10
3. The Post-Patristic Trend within Modern Orthodox Theology .................................................. 11
3.1. Critique of the post-patristic trend ....................................................................................... 13
3.2. Conclusion ............................................................................................................................. 15
4. St Symeon the New Theologian and Patristic Authority ............................................................ 17
4.1. The life and historical setting of St Symeon .......................................................................... 17
4.2. Patristic Authority in the Epistles .......................................................................................... 21
4.2.1. Seeking a spiritual father .............................................................................................. 23
4.2.2. Authentic spiritual authority ......................................................................................... 25
4.2.3. Concluding remarks ...................................................................................................... 26
4.3. Patristic Authority in Catechetical Discourses ...................................................................... 26
4.3.1. St Symeon the Pious: A real father of the Church ........................................................ 27
4.3.2. A Spiritual Father .......................................................................................................... 28
4.3.3. The Portrait of a Father ................................................................................................. 29
4.3.4. Faith: Believe it is Possible ............................................................................................ 29
4.3.4.1. A sense of orthodoxy ................................................................................................ 30
4.3.4.2. Emulating the virtues of the Fathers ........................................................................ 31
4.3.4.3. Holiness: Grace upon Grace ...................................................................................... 32
4.3.4.4. Spirit-bearer: Returning to the Image and Likeness of God ..................................... 33
4.3.5. Concluding Remarks ...................................................................................................... 34
4.4. Conclusion ............................................................................................................................. 34
5. Modern Fathers of the Church ..................................................................................................... 36
5.1. St Seraphim of Sarov: Life, works and teaching .................................................................... 36
5.1.1. The light of Christ .......................................................................................................... 38
5.1.2. Conversation with Nicholas Motovilov ......................................................................... 39
5.1.3. Concluding Remarks ...................................................................................................... 42

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5.2. St Silouan the Athonite: Life, Works and Teaching ............................................................... 42
5.2.1. Eschatological Underpinning ........................................................................................ 43
5.2.2. Uncreated Light ............................................................................................................. 45
5.3. Conclusion ............................................................................................................................. 47
6. General Conclusion ...................................................................................................................... 48
7. Bibliography.................................................................................................................................. 51
7.1. Chapter 2: The Patristic Era Various Perspectives: .......................................................... 51
7.2. Chapter 3: Post-Patristic Trend within the Orthodox Church ............................................. 52
7.3. Chapter 4: St Symeon the New Theologian and Patristic Authority ..................................... 52
Primary Sources ............................................................................................................................ 52
Secondary Sources ........................................................................................................................ 53
7.4. Chapter 5: Modern Fathers of the Church ............................................................................ 55
Primary Sources: ........................................................................................................................... 55
Secondary Sources: ....................................................................................................................... 55

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Abstract
This thesis undertakes an exploration of the ways in which the topic of the Patristic
Age came to be articulated in modern and contemporary scholarship, with the goal
of determining the accuracy of the Orthodox claim that the Age of the Fathers is
open and still unfolds within the Church.

This exploration is of great interest for patristic studies, aiming to bring clarity to a
theme that is more or less consistently discussed in contemporary scholarship. This
study is all the more important in the wake of recently emerging voices in the
Orthodox camp that call for the development of a post-patristic theology. This later
current of opinion, therefore, returns to the old school idea of a patristic
phenomenon that is historically circumscribed to the early Christian centuries.

The thesis begins by reviewing three relevant trends in scholarship. The first closes
the patristic age around the fifth century with St Cyril because his theology, and
those afterwards, had become repetitive and lacked creativity. Another trend
extended the patristic age more generously to the eighth century but applied the
antiquity criterion which meant that any fathers after antiquity could not be part of
the patristic age. Herein I show that both trends are incompatible with the self-
understanding of the fathers and their perception of tradition, for which true
patristic authority comes from an experience with the indwelling Holy Spirit who
works throughout the historical continuum in all periods. My aim is to prove that for
the fathers themselves patristic tradition is an open space, coextensive with the very
existence of the Church.

To this end, after reviewing the relevant scholarly sources, the thesis will consider
the thinking of St Symeon the New Theologian, whose works illustrate the views of
the Byzantine tradition at the threshold of the second millennium. St Symeon
confronted the intellectualism and formalism of his day precisely because their
promoters had lost the genuinely apostolic and patristic understanding of authority
as being charismatic and prophetic, and inherently connected with the experience of
holiness and deification. It is the contention of this thesis that St Symeon advocated
a concept of patristic authority that was not historically circumscribed, a principle in
light of which the modern approaches of Florovsky, and others, seem to be
vindicated.

To test this understanding, the thesis will further analyse the writings of St Seraphim
of Sarov and St Silouan the Athonite, two modern holy fathers, recognised as such
by the Orthodox Church. It will become apparent that both St Seraphim and St
Silouan had an experience of the Divine in similar fashion to St Symeon himself;
strongly suggesting that the embodiment of the patristic profile and authority is not
limited by of any time constraints. This ultimately entails that any self-imposed
boundaries on the work of the Holy Spirit to certain period is unjustified.

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1. Introduction
Within modern scholarship there have been prevalent two distinct interpretations of the
patristic age. The first perspective sees the patristic age as a closed period; usually
reaching up to the fifth or eighth century. Advocators of this trend suggest that after
this period the Church entered a supposed dark age where theology had become
repetitive and lacked creativity. It was also too far removed from the time of Christ that
it could no longer be trusted to carry an equal authoritative voice as that of the fathers
of antiquity. The second perspective, which I will argue in favour of, perceives the
patristic age as being open and directly linked to the work of the Holy Spirit and thus
cannot be circumscribed to any particular period. This exploration is of great interest
for patristic studies, aiming to bring clarity to a theme that is more or less consistently
discussed in contemporary scholarship, although not directly.

First of all, I will engage with the relevant scholarship to outline the various trends that
have appeared in the last two centuries; then I shall address a more recent trend in
Orthodox theology which introduces a new paradigm which basically leaves tradition
behind in an attempt to engage modernity and post-modernity without any traditional
restrictions. I will then analyse St Symeon the New Theologians writings in order to
show that patristic authority, and thus the emergence of a genuine father of the Church,
cannot be restricted to a certain period, instead being possible in every age and in every
person who strives towards union with God. I will then complete this analysis by
examining two contemporary fathers and saints of the Church, St Seraphim of Sarov
and St Silouan the Athonite, who have displayed patristic qualities and had experienced
the same Spirit that was working in St Symeon the Pious and St Symeon the New
Theologian.

The methodology for this research will include a survey of the relevant scholarly sources
that deal with the topic of patristic age and will avoid any biased denominational
classifications of the authors, instead, choosing to address these sources by the various
trends they represent. The claims expressed in contemporary Orthodoxy, namely, that it
is time for a departure from the patristic patterns in the theology and practice of the
Church (a trend illustrated by Pantelis Kalaitzidis, Pavel Gavrilyuk, and Alexei
Nesteruk), will be critically considered both with reference to the forum where they
recently coalesced, i.e. the conference held in Volos (2010), and the relevant works of

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their promoters. The works of St Symeon the New Theologian (9491022) will be
explored both within their immediate historical context and the broader tradition, and
from the viewpoint of their teaching on patristic authority. A critical survey of
contemporary Symeonian scholarship will accompany the exploration of the primary
texts. The writings of the two modern saints, St Seraphim of Sarov (1754-1833) and St
Silouan the Athonite (18661938), will be analysed in English translations and in
tandem with the relevant, although scarce, scholarship. The emphasis will be on the
various ways in which they embodied the patristic profile as canonised by tradition and
acknowledged in modern scholarship.

While on the surface, the issue of the correct understanding of the patristic age may
appear to be insignificant and for this reason a theme to be relegated for the back of
scholarly books, herein I hope to show that this is not the case. The understanding of
this matter has far reaching consequences for it affects not only the ability for a person
to have a similar experience of God as the Fathers of the Church, but also, the way we
engage with the contemporary world and the very foundations of the Church as we
understand it today. I now turn to the literature review on the patristic age.

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2. The Patristic Age Three Perspectives
Throughout the twentieth and early twenty-first century a range of approaches to the
theme of the Patristic Era have become apparent. Below I address the three main
theories.

2.1. Fifth Century restriction

Some writers such as Hans von Campenhausen, and scholars including Hans
Lietzmann, 1 Boniface Ramsey 2 and James L. Papandrea, 3 have limited the Age of the
Fathers to the early centuries, concluding with the Council of Chalcedon (451) or St
Cyril of Alexandria in the fifth century. For example, Ramsey, in his book Beginning to
Read the Fathers, focuses on pre-Chalcedon literature because it was the period in which
the Fathers were most characteristically themselves and that nearly all of the greatest of
them lived. 4 I now turn to Campenhausens argument as it is the most developed of all
the aforementioned scholars.

Campenhausen in his introduction to his book, The Fathers of the Church, interprets the
Fathers as those orthodox writers of the early Church. 5 Although he accepts the
difficulty of determining the end of the patristic age, he nonetheless closes it around the
fifth century. 6 He believes that all those who wrote after that period had become
scholastic in the sense that the authority of the old Church Fathers overshadowed
more and more the influence and responsibility of the contemporary teacher. 7
Therefore, after the fourth century, theology had failed to address the pressing concerns
of its day in an innovative and refreshing manner.

According to Campenhausen, it all began to change with St Cyril because his theology,
and subsequently those afterwards, had become largely based on quotations and
excerpts from previous Fathers. 8 This had formed a new way of theologizing; a royal
way of theology which was greatly reduced to the theology of repetition deprived of

1 Hans Lietzmann, The Era of the Church Fathers: A History of the early Church, trans. by Bertram L. Woolf
(London: Lutterworth Press, 1951), 2: 170-171.
2
Boniface Ramsey, Beginning to Read the Fathers (London: SCM Press, 1993), 1.
3 James Leonard Papandrea, Reading the Early Church Fathers: From the Didache to Nicaea (New York: Paulist

Press, 2012), 1.
4 Ramsey, Beginning to Read the Fathers, 1.
5 Hans von Campenhausen, The Fathers of the Church (Peabody, Mass: Hendrickson Publishers, 1998), 1.
6 Ibid., 4.
7 Ibid.
8 Campenhausen, Fathers, 170.

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any inspiring creativity. 9 For him, theology in the East had become suffocated by its
own traditionalism. 10 This lack of inspiration was due to the lack of the Holy Spirit in
the Church; as the fathers no longer had any desire to be holy and thus the golden
chain of the Holy Spirit could no longer beget any sons who were their equals in
vitality. 11 Thus, theology had become a constant reference to the past and lost all
direct contact with the Bible and with life outside or different from itself and in which
Byzantium preserved their intellectual inheritance without doing anything to renew
it. 12 Before addressing the matters raised by Campenhausen, I must turn to a related
scholarly trend, for which the patristic era continued for several more centuries after the
fifth century.

2.2. Eighth Century restriction

Other scholars, such as Mike Aquilina, 13 Johannes Quasten, 14 Adalbert Hamman, 15 and
Joseph F. Mitros, 16 extended the Patristic Era more generously to the eighth century.
For them, the great age of the Fathers reaches up to St Gregory the Great (d. 604) or
Isidore of Seville (d. 636) in the West and usually up to John Damascene (d. 749) in the
East. 17 According to Aquilina, the patristic age was seen as a special period within the
Church in which it was a time of extraordinary graces for the expression and
development of Christian doctrine. 18 This was based on the assumption that since the
Apostolic Fathers received special veneration within the early Church due to their
proximity to Christ, therefore, all those Fathers who had come immediately after them
were automatically more extraordinary and special than those temporarily distant to
the first centuries. 19 More relevant here, it seems that the only difference between

9 Campenhausen, Fathers, 170.


10 Ibid., 175.
11 Campenhausen, Fathers, 175.
12 Ibid., 176.
13 Mike Aquilina writes The age of the Fathers, sometimes called the Patristic Era, stretched from the middle

of the first century to the middle of the eighth, at the death of St John of Damascus. In Mike Aquilina, The
Fathers of the Church: An Introduction to the First Christian Teachers, exp. ed. (Huntington, Indiana: Our
Sunday Visitor, 2006), 16.
14
Johannes Quasten, Patrology (Allen, Texas: Christian Classics, 1986), 1:1.
15 Adalbert Hamman states that St John of Damascene deemed to bring the patristic era to an end. In

Adalbert Hamman, How to Read the Church Fathers, trans. John Bowden and Margaret Lydamore (London: SCM
Press, 1993), 121.
16 Joseph F. Mitros interpreted the patristic era as being from the end of apostolic times to the end of its

golden age. In Joseph F. Mitros, Norm of faith in the patristic age, Theological Studies 29:3 (1968): 448.
17 See Quasten, Patrology, 1:1.
18 Aquilina, Fathers of the Church, 16.
19 See Ibid.

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Aquilinas understanding and that of the previous group refers to the fact that he agreed
on the patristic era as continuing till roughly the eighth century.

It is precisely in this point that his opinions intersect with those of the probably the
most eminent proposer of the extended span of the patristic age, Johannes Quasten.
Quasten follows the traditional schema put forth by St Jerome in the fourth century
which provides four necessary qualifications for which one may be regarded as an
authentic Father of the Church. They include orthodoxy of doctrine, holiness of life,
ecclesiastical approval, and most importantly, antiquity. 20 The criterion of antiquity
suggests that a Church father cannot exist outside of the self-restricted boundary of the
early Church. However, Georges Florovsky suggested that St Jerome might have
opposed this type of interpretation of the criterion of antiquity; 21 an idea more recently
rehearsed by John Chryssavgis who states that St Jerome advocated the Holy Spirit who
breathes in all ages; there is neither decrease in the authority nor in the immediacy and
authenticity of spiritual knowledge throughout the centuries. 22

This idea is also supported by Archbishop Stylianos (Harkianakis) who points out that
faith and Tradition are not static, but on the contrary, they are always in an organic
development among the faithful for who would deny that Christians of the fourth
century had a clearer image of the mystery of the Holy Trinity than Christians of the
second century? 23 This rhetorical question suggests that the antiquity criterion is a
flawed presupposition on the grounds of a development of theology in time; thereby
showing the ability of a synergetic relationship between God and the saints continues to
exist regardless of their proximity to Christs Incarnation.

Back to Quasten, and as pointed out by Mitros, 24 the antiquity criterion does not explain
how there could be developments or gradual revealing of dogmas of the Church from
the 8th century onwards as recorded in medieval scholasticism; considering there could
be no more enlightened fathers. We now move onto the third perspective which sees
the patristic age as a never-ending story of humankinds relationship with God and in

20 Quasten, Patrology, 1:10.


21 Florovsky writes that St Jerome had to contest this idea of antiquity which restricts the fathers only to the
early Church. In Florovsky, Saint Gregory Palamas, 123.
22 John Chryssavgis, The Way of the Fathers: Exploring the Patristic Mind, 2nd ed. (Minneapolis, Minnesota: Light

and Life Publishing Company, 1998), 26.


23 Stylianos Harkianakis, Dangers of idealism in theology and spirituality, Phronema 3 (1988): 8.
24 Cf. Mitros, Norm of faith, 468-471.

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which the Fathers of the Church can be found in any point of the historical existence of
Gods people.

2.3. A Never-ending age of the Fathers and Mothers

The third perspective holds to a radically different understanding of the Patristic Age
as correspondent to the very historical existence of the Church in an ongoing
phenomenon of the Holy Spirits manifestation. This perspective is held by various
Orthodox scholars such as Georges Florovsky, John Chryssavgis, George S. Bebis, and
Panagiotes K. Chrestou 25.

For instance, in reference to the appeal to antiquity, Florovsky states that although the
Church holds fast to its traditions which have been passed down, nonetheless,
antiquity does not constitute adequate proof of the true faith. 26 For many heresies
have sprung out from tradition and which linger today but are nonetheless rejected. 27
Furthermore, true reference for Theology cannot stem from intellectual arguments 28 or
a certain age, but rather, from the spiritual knowledge and experience which is at the
centre of Christian theology; 29 a life of prayer and the virtues. 30 This knowledge and
experience was tied directly to the Holy Spirit who was guarantor of true faith and
authentic authority within the Church.

Similarly, Chryssavgis points out that the living Tradition within the Church was seen as
the abiding presence of the Holy Spirit which is still continuously guiding the Church
into the fuller comprehension and understanding of the Divine truth, from glory to
glory. 31 In contrast to Aquilinas point that grace slowly dwindles down the centuries,
he points out that while there was indeed a remarkable working of the Holy Spirit in
the early years of Christianity this immanence should be regarded as the beginning of a
Tradition, not the end. 32 This is also the overarching point behind Florovskys

25Panagiotes K. Chrestou, Greek Orthodox Patrology: An Introduction to the Study of the Church Fathers, trans.

and ed. George Dion Dragas (Rollinsford, N.H.: Orthodox Research Institute, 2005), 15-16.
26 Florovsky, Saint Gregory Palamas and the tradition, 119.
27 Ibid.
28 Cf. John Meyendorff, Theological education in the patristic and Byzantine eras and its lessons for today, St

Vladimir's Theological Quarterly 31:3 (1987): 219.


29 Florovsky, Saint Gregory Palamas and the tradition, 121-122.
30 It is important to keep in mind that what I am referring to here is no way comparable to the so-called

Charismatic Movement. As Timiadis states, Genuine manifestations ought to be attested by the whole Church
and confirmed and approved. Cf. Emilianos Timiadis, The Relevance of the Church Fathers for Today: An
Eastern Orthodox Perspective (Brookline, Mass: Holy Cross Orthodox Press, 1994), 4.
31 Chryssavgis, The Way of the Fathers, 167.
32 Ibid., 24.

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argument; since the Spirit of Truth quickens her now no less effectively as in the
ancient times and in which the Patristic Age still continues in the Worshipping
Church. 33 St Silouan the Athonite, who will be discussed in chapter five, explains that
the Holy Spirit instructed the prophets, then the Apostles, followed by the holy Fathers
and Bishops, and then finally, us today. 34 For as Chrestou points out, although the early
Church fathers are seen as occupying a privileged position, the Church has never
restricted or excluded the appearance of renowned teachers in her bosom, who are
outstanding bearers of the divine grace of the divine spirit to any particular period of
her history. 35 Thus, from this perspective, there cannot be an end to the patristic age
because the Holy Spirit still continues to work within the Church. 36

2.4. Back to the Concerns of Campenhausen

We have seen above that Campenhausen reached the conclusion that the patristic era
ended in the fifth century because of the repetitive and non-creative aspect of theology
after that time. In what follows I shall address his two concerns in light of the
Orthodox school which advocates an open age of the Fathers and the arguments put
forward by the representatives of this trend.

Regarding the lack of innovation in the Church it will be demonstrated that there is a
fine line between what can and what cannot be changed. Although the Church is and
must be engaged with the contemporary world, it has to be done within a prayerful and
faithful manner rather than based on purely intellectual endeavours or fading emotions.
This is because the Church is in a constant relationship with God and therefore must
work with Him in an organic and delicate manner lest she go off-course.

As John Meyendorff explains, in similar fashion to Florovsky, that the unchangeable


faith cannot be maintained through blind and frozen conservatism in expressions and
in attitudes which leads to the Church becoming a museum, 37 nor in the temptation
of modernism which is dominated by those immediate and passing fads which

33 Florovsky, Saint Gregory Palamas and the tradition, 124-125.


34 Cf. St Silouan the Athonite, Writings 8: On the Knowledge of God in Sophrony Sakharov, Saint Silouan the
Athonite, trans. Rosemary Edmonds (Crestwood, NY: St Vladimirs Seminary Press, 1991), 358.
35
Chrestou, Greek Orthodox Patrology, 15-16.
36 Cf. Georges Florovsky, Eschatology in the Patristic Age: An Introduction, Greek Orthodox Theological

Review 2:1 (1956): 27-28.


37 Meyendorff, Theological education, 204-205.

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usually undermine the Orthodox Tradition and its continuity. 38 In the same vein,
Florovsky argued that while the seed was planted by the apostles, only later it was
properly and fully articulated. 39 It results that tradition does not entail conservatism.
In fact, and to borrow from John Behr, 40 tradition means both faithfulness to the gospel
and creativity in terms of the ways in which this is transmitted.

Thus, in stark contrast to Campenhausens theory of innovation as being the lifeline of


the Church, it becomes apparent that genuine theology is not as it is understood today:
a systematic exposition of doctrines and theoretical knowledge about God, but rather,
the gift of the Holy Spirit, the gift of speaking about God with deep insight, with
powerful words and which is granted only to those who have reached a certain stage of
hesychia (contemplative peace); 41 those who are Gods heralds and instruments. 42 From
this, one can infer that innovation within the Church needs to be approached with
spiritual discernment and not cultivated for its own sake.

Furthermore, Andrew Lough adds that the formation of Christian theology is not built
on the development of Christian doctrine, for we can never pass beyond the apostolic
confession, but rather, it is the result of sustained, and prayerful, thinking and
meditation by those who sought to grasp what is entailed by the Paschal mystery. 43 Of
course, this does not mean that no change can ever occur; for the Church must adapt
and engage with the contemporary world, but rather, the change can never occur at the
expense of truth or her dogmas, or be engaged without proper and thorough spiritual
preparation. As Florovsky further adds, doctrines are only meaningful to those who
have encountered the Living Christ, and have received and acknowledged Him as God
and Saviour for theology is never a self-explanatory discipline. 44 Indeed, revelation is
based on God and not on humanity, therefore, growth occurs within the church, not
with pen and paper, but from the synergy between the holy ones and God. 45

38 Meyendorff, Theological education, 204-205.


39 Florovsky, Saint Gregory Palamas and the tradition, 120-121.
40 Cf. John Behr, Faithfulness and Creativity, in Abba: The Tradition of Orthodoxy in the West: Festschrift for

Bishop Kallistos (Ware) of Diokleia, ed. John Behr, Andrew Louth, and Dimitri Conomos (Crestwood, N.Y.: St
Vladimir's Seminary Press, 2003), 159-161.
41 Timiadis, The Relevance of the Church Fathers for Today, 7.
42 Ibid., 8.
43 Andrew Louth, Foreword to The Way to Nicaea, by John Behr (Crestwood, NY: St Vladimir's Seminary Press,

2001), XI-XII.
44 Georges Florovsky, Saint Gregory Palamas and the tradition of the fathers, Greek Orthodox Theological

Review 5: 2 (1960): 122.


45 Cf. John Chryssavgis, Sources of Patristic Theology, Phronema 3 (1988): 25.

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In relation to the idea of a theology of repetition, this is not a fair assessment because
what the open patristic age is advocating is not simply a repetition of their words for
they lived within a specific context which we are not part of anymore. But rather, it is
the need to go back to their mindset or Spirit which guided them to make the correct
decisions with the pressing issues of their day. For example, Florovsky dismantles
Campenhausens theory when stating:

It is a dangerous habit "to quote" the Fathers, that is, their isolated
sayings and phrases, outside of that concrete setting in which only they
have their full and proper meaning and are truly alive. "To follow" the
Fathers does not mean just "to quote" them. "To follow" the Fathers
means to acquire their "mind," their phronema. 46

Therefore, what Florovsky was advocating by his return to the fathers, was not a mere
repetition of their writings, but rather, a return to their genuine experience of the Holy
Spirit; a return to the patristic style. This approach, which will be shown to be life in
Christ leading to the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, is in direct opposition to mere
quotation and the treatment of the Fathers as infallible authorities. The need to
thoroughly understand their context becomes increasingly more important as the world
they lived in and modernity separate further apart. More recently, Hilarion Alfeyev
spoke about the need for contextual theology which sees the patristic tradition which
fathers worked on, not as a single patch, but rather comprising of many extremes and
exhibiting various historical, linguistic and cultural layers. 47

Florovsky, writing further in relation to a theology of repetition states:

There is no room for any "theology of repetition." The Church is still


fully authoritative as she has been in the ages past, since the Spirit of
Truth quickens her now no less effectively as in the ancient times. 48

This is a direct contrast to Campenhausens theory that the Holy Spirit had left the
Church in the fifth century. As Florovsky points out directly; tradition is a continuity
of the abiding presence of the Holy Spirit in the Church, a continuity of Divine
guidance and illumination. 49 Indeed, Florovsky provides examples of this same Spirit
working in St Maximus the Confessor in the 6th century, St Symeon the New
Theologian in the 11th century, and St Gregory Palamas in the 14th century; all who carry

46 Florovsky, Saint Gregory Palamas and the tradition, 122-123.


47 Hilarion Alfeyev, The Patristic Heritage and Modernity, trans. Hildo Bos, Ecumenical Review 54:1 (2002): 97.
48 Florovsky, Saint Gregory Palamas and the tradition, 124.
49 Ibid., 120.

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an authoritative position within the Orthodox Church. 50 This has also been argued by
Timiadis who states that the Fathers are much more than simply eminent theologians or
great intellectuals, they are esteemed due to their spirituality, prayer and holiness of life
coupled with the guidance and inspiration of the Holy Spirit. 51 A fundamental point
which I will undertake to elucidate in the following chapters. Thus, if there was ever a
time, in the entire tradition of the Church, in which creativity vaned or tradition became
sterile, it was not the result of some patristic age restriction; but rather, a failure of the
Christian people to live up to the tremendous vocation to which they are called.

2.5. Conclusion

As shown above, modern scholars restrict the patristic age to a time that was historically
close to the first witnesses of Christ. The supporters of this historicist appraisal evoke
either the failure of the Church to keep up with a fresh and creative theology from the
fifth century onwards, due to the supposed absence of the Holy Spirit or receptive
people, or that grace diminished after the eighth century due to expiration of the
antiquity criterion. Both of which were shown to be inconsistent with tradition itself as
the Holy Spirit never ceased to work within the Church and still continues to invigorate
and inspire her in every period. Precisely this last point, which is illustrated by the three
fathers of interest herein, namely, Saints Symeon the New Theologian, Seraphim of
Sarov and Silouan the Athonite, is reiterated by a range of Orthodox scholars of the last
century and our own.

I must now turn to an emergent understanding, or rather misunderstanding, within the


Orthodox camp, a trend labelled as the Post-Patristic age of theology that has cropped
up in the recent years. In what follows, we shall see how the promoters of this new
trend rehearse an understanding that we have already encountered above, that the age
of the fathers is closed and that theology should reimagine itself free from the patristic
paradigm.

50 Cf. Florovsky, Saint Gregory Palamas and the tradition, 120.


51 Timiadis, The Relevance of the Church Fathers for Today, 4.

10 | P a g e
3. The Post-Patristic Trend within Modern Orthodox Theology
One of the most interesting phenomena recorded in recent times in relation to the self-
understanding of Orthodox theology is the so-called post-patristic trend. According to
its promoters, it is time to leave behind the patristic tradition, more precisely the
methodology of the Church fathers, and attempt a different contextualisation of the
theological discourse. Robert F. Taft, a scholar who promotes this new trend, believes
that Orthodoxy had failed to move forward with the world because it was stuck in the
past. He praises the new generation of Orthodox theologians who are beginning to
perceive the sterility of the neo-patristic current in Greek theology and are moving
towards a broader post-patristic theology. 52 He states the ideals of this new theology
were best expressed by Professor Pantelis Kalaitzidis who is one of the most
important voices in Greek Orthodoxy today. 53

This view comes from the conference which Kalaitzidis was the convener of and which
was hosted by the Academy for Theological Studies of the Holy Metropolis of
Demetrias in Volos, Greece on 3-6th June 2010. The theme of the conference was
Neo-Patristic Synthesis or Post-Patristic Theology: Can Orthodox Theology be
Contextual? This conference became the platform for the expression of this new trend,
which included, among others, the voices of Pavel (Paul) Gavrilyuk and Alexei V.
Nesteruk. 54

Kalaitzidis frames his argument around the most pressing issue that he believes is facing
the Orthodox Church today; its failure to engage with modernity and postmodernity. 55
To ignore this issue would be to deny the very essence of incarnation Theology; for
which the church is called to fulfil its ministry within the historical, social, and cultural
context of modernity and postmodernity. 56 Some of the failures of this engagement, so
far, include:

fundamentalist self-absorption, traditionalism, a refusal to accept


modernity and the existence of multicultural societies, the rejection of

52 Robert F. Taft, Between Progress and Nostalgia, in A Living Tradition: On the Intersection of Liturgical History
and Pastoral Practice, ed. Maxwell E. Johnson, et al. (Collegeville, Minn: Liturgical Press, 2012), 28-29.
53 Ibid.
54 Cf. Pantels Kalaitzids, Challenges of renewal and reformation facing the Orthodox Church, Ecumenical

Review 61:2 (2009): 160.


55 Cf. Ibid.
56 Ibid.

11 | P a g e
dialogue and of the other, religious nationalism and a nationalistic or
even tribal understanding of the gospel message. 57

In addition, in another article, he adds its: neglect and devaluation of biblical studies,
ahistorical approach to tradition, polarisation between East and West and failure to
satisfactory engage with contemporary issues and modernity. 58 Although Kalaitzidis
proposes a solid case, it is his solution to the problem, namely, the need to abandon the
patristic or traditional roots of the Orthodox mindset, which has caused much heated
debates in Greece. 59

In the same vein, Pavel (Paul) Gavrilyuk states that there has been a shift from
denominational allegiance, in which dividing lines no longer coincide neatly with the
ecclesiastical boundaries but with positions on controversial issues of human sexuality,
the ministry of women, and other social issues. 60 It is from this perspective that he
suggests that we move away from the security and certainty provided by the
framework of the so-called tradition, 61 and move towards a new paradigm which
answers contemporary issues, for example, not on the history of patristic ideas but on
philosophical grounds. 62 His contention lies with the dissatisfaction with the hegemony
of the neopatristic paradigm 63 for which he believes that the universal Orthodox
tradition is wider than Byzantinism, that not all that lies outside is either heresy or
spiritual delusion. 64 And although neo-patristics will remain a valid paradigm; the time
is ripe to explore the paradigms that engage modernity and post-modernity in a more
robust and direct manner. 65

Back to Kalaitzidis, it is noteworthy that he believes that a new paradigm is required,


able to not only overcome the deficiencies of Orthodox Theology but to also
constructively engage with modernity and postmodernity. He begins by reinterpreting
Florovskys famous expression, return to the fathers, in which rather than looking to

57 Pantels Kalaitzids, Challenges of renewal and reformation, 164.


58 Pantels Kalaitzids, New trends in Greek Orthodox theology: challenges in the movement towards a
genuine renewal and Christian unity, Scottish Journal Of Theology 67:2 (2014): 151.
59 Cyril Hovorun, Patristics after Neo-Patristics, In A Celebration of Living Theology, eds. Justin Mihoch and

Leonard Aldea (London: Bloomsbury Academic, 2014), 205.


60 Paul L. Gavrilyuk, The Orthodox Renaissance: a new generation of theologians give Paul L. Gavrilyuk hope for

the future of Orthodoxy in the West. First Things 228 (2012): 35-36.
61 Kalaitzids, New trends in Greek Orthodox theology, 164.
62 Gavrilyuk, The Orthodox Renaissance, 37.
63 Ibid.
64 Hilarion Alfeyev, The Patristic Heritage and Modernity, trans. Hildo Bos. Ecumenical Review 54:1 (2002): 105.
65 Gavrilyuk, The Orthodox Renaissance, 37.

12 | P a g e
the past we need to look with them towards the future. 66 This entails that we need to
begin by asking what is essential to the faith and what is simply outdated thinking that
has lost its relevance. He explains:

So, aside from the doctrines of Christ and the Trinity, which form the
very core of the faith of the church and can never be reformed, we
believe that everything else may indeed, sometimes must come up
for discussion 67 because these other things (non-doctrinal) have to do
with this world rather than the heart of the faith. 68
This new perspective which has not been demonstrated in Orthodox Theology nor
shown by Kalaitzidis as having any patristic or theological precedence, attempts to
deconstruct the entire tradition of the Church through these two core dogmas. From
this he argues that the Church should accept political liberalism with no more
equivocation 69 and to unequivocally accept pluralism and the liberation of modem
societies from religious authority. 70 He seems to even go as far as to support woman
ordination not only to the diaconate, which was practiced in the early church, but also
to the priesthood. 71 Lastly, he calls for a reworking of the concept of sexuality which is
to be interpreted spiritually rather than purely in a biological manner. 72 One can only
guess from these words what he is ultimately entailing. This seems to be a radical
reformation in which the end product would most likely be a Protestant-like Orthodox
Church. The solution, no doubt, would increase the relevance of the Church to todays
ever changing trends, feelings and ideas but at what cost is left unsaid. I now turn to the
critical and often negative reception of this new post-patristic trend by others.

3.1. Critique of the post-patristic trend

Cyril Hovorun in his chapter Patristics after Neo-Patristics argues that it was mostly the
Orthodox who were concerned with this issue because Patristics is "part of the
confessional identity. 73 He explains that discussions often got heated in Greece as
Metropolitans to lay bloggers decided to share their opinions on the meaning and

66 Kalaitzids, Challenges of renewal and reformation, 154.


67 Ibid., 138.
68 Ibid., 138-139.
69 Ibid., 159.
70 Ibid., 164.
71 Kalaitzids states admission to holy orders and the diaconate, which are currently reserved for men alone,

and so on. In Kalaitzids, Challenges of renewal and reformation, 164. And see also Kalaitzids, New trends in
Greek Orthodox theology, 153-154.
72 Kalaitzids, Challenges of renewal and reformation, 159.
73 Hovorun, Patristics after Neo-Patristics, 206.

13 | P a g e
purpose of the Fathers for the contemporary world and the Church. 74 A letter written
by Metropolitan Pavlos of Glyfada was sent to the Synod of Greece on September 28th
2010 outlining the issues with the conference organised and hosted by Pantelis
Kalaitzidis. Metropolitan Pavlos states that the conference was a radical theological
surprise in the negative sense and a theological shipwreck for all the English and
Greek listeners who heard it broadcast over the internet. 75 Metropolitan Pavlos main
contention with the conference lay in the use of two specific terms, synafeiaki
[contextual] Theology and post patristic Theology, 76 which he interpreted as positing
a highly distorted neo-theological language. 77

His argument against contextual theology was argumentatively unsound as it was a


straw-man attack against a definition of contextual theology which was not represented
at the Volos conference. Therefore, I will focus on the second term as it is more
substantiated. Metropolitan Pavlos saw the real agenda behind the post-patristic trend
which is ultimately to do away with the Church Fathers leading us, according to him,
straight to Protestantism. 78 He points out that

It is impossible to have a period after the Fathers, since the Church will
always grow theologically with the Grace of the Holy Spirit through the
God-bearing Fathers. We do not deny the term "neo-patristic theology"
because new Fathers will always emerge over time. 79

However, there are some who have reservations even about the neo-Patristic paradigm
when it is misinterpreted and abused. On 15 February 2012, a conference was organised
by Metropolitan Seraphim of Piraeus of the Orthodox Church of Greece on the
Patristic theology and Post-patristic heresy with a popular paper delivered by Ierotheos
(Vlakhos), 80 a Metropolitan of Naupaktos. His paper was circulated across the internet,
explaining the dangers of Neo-Patristic and Post-Patristic theology; the former
undermining the entire Patristic theology and the latter, a mine at the root of
Orthodox theology. 81

74 Hovorun, Patristics after Neo-Patristics, 205.


75 Metropolitan Pavlos, Contextual, Postpatristic, and other "Theologikal Quests at the Conference of the
Theological Academy of Volos, Retrievable from
http://www.saintnicodemos.org/articles/PostPatristicTheology.pdf. Accessed November 26, 2014. Page 2
76 Pavlos, Contextual, Postpatristic, and other "Theologikal Quests, Page 4.
77 Ibid., 2.
78 Ibid., 5.
79 Ibid.
80 His paper in Modern Greek - http://paterikakeimena.blogspot.com.au/2011/01/blog-post_5419.html
81 Cited in Hovorun, Patristics after Neo-Patristics, 205.

14 | P a g e
From the excerpt provided by Hovorun, Metropolitan Ierotheos seemed to be getting
at the underlying issue of both paradigms. The problem with neo-patristic theology as
understood by many Orthodox today, is the flawed assumption that we can simply
reinterpret or reuse the writings of the Fathers to answer contemporary problems
without acquiring their phronema or Spirit. This is why contextual theology was
introduced by Alfeyev as an attempt to bridge the gap between the Fathers and
Christians today. 82 However, although a noble task, it still appears to Metropolitan
Ierotheos as a dangerous proposition because it entails looking to the past to get
answers for the future.

As for the post-patristic theology, Hovorun interprets this paradigm along the same
lines as Metropolitan Pavlos, as endorsing the irrelevance of the Fathers because they
were of a different epoch, dealt with different problems and issues, and had a
completely different perception of the world. 83 Although not expressly stated, for
Pavlos and Hovorun, the Fathers were not only people who engaged with the world but
were also guided by the Holy Spirit and possessed spiritual authority; I will return to this
matter in the following chapters. However, answering to these criticisms, Kalaitzidis,
along with his supporters, argued that their proposal does not amount to a rejection of
the spirit of the Fathers, 84 rather representing a call for reform and renewal of the
Church which comes directly from the Spirit who is continually working within the
Church. 85 Furthermore, he argued that this new paradigm does not lead to
Protestantism because the church is not purely a human institution but rather both
divine and human. 86 That being said, Kalaitzidis does nothing to convince that the Spirit
is actually behind his proposition.

3.2. Conclusion

It is difficult to pin-point to what extent Kalaitzidis is advocating a closed patristic age


or an open one as he does not dismiss the working of the Holy Spirit, in fact, he
endorses the power of the Spirit to work in a radical manner. However, his call to
theology to reject the Fathers and thereby free itself from the supposed constraints of
the consensus of the early Church seems to draw a blurred line as to what extent the

82 See Hilarion Alfeyev, The Patristic Heritage and Modernity, trans. Hildo Bos, Ecumenical Review 54:1 (2002).
83 Hovorun, Patristics after Neo-Patristics, 205.
84 Kalaitzids, New trends in Greek Orthodox theology, 163.
85 Cf. Kalaitzids, Challenges of renewal and reformation, 137-138.
86 Ibid. 139.

15 | P a g e
Holy Spirit actually guided or inspired the Fathers. Indeed, Kalaitzidis would have us
believe that the Holy Spirit guided in the past only in relation to the formulation of the
two core dogmas, Trinitarian and Christological, which are unchangeable, with
everything else open to change depending on our feelings and passing fads. I am not
convinced that his argument stands when we take Tradition in its entirety and see its
development over the centuries.

Thus, as I will show, looking at the theological framework of St Symeon, St Seraphim


and St Silouan, the three chosen patristic witnesses, I believe that what is missing in
these new trends or paradigms is the traditional process of purification, illumination and
deification which should be the primary rule for assessing our engagement with the
contemporary world, rather than what feels right. In contract, these new trends assume
that anyone can take the Fathers place without the arduous journey towards deification.
I propose that ecclesial or patristic authority can only come from and be endorsed by
God, and certified within tradition as an authenticated framework. Patristic authority
cannot be circumvented by a new Theology which attempts to replace the Fathers of
old and their spiritual discernment with modern paradigms which are based more on
the flimsy criteria of contemporary culture than adhering to the faith that was delivered
once and for all, that is, the Holy Spirit. What is required is a genuine return to the
fathers, as envisioned originally by Florovsky, 87 where we become grace-filled or
indwelled by the Holy Spirit. For it is only God who can correctly steer this ship, which
we call the Church, in these turbulent and pressing times in which the Church finds
herself today. It is quite fitting that I should begin my analysis of tradition with St
Symeon the New Theologian, who was a genuine father of the Church in the 11th
century. Thereby demonstrating that the patristic age is still open in the Worshipping
Church. For the true test of fatherhood, or motherhood, lies not in a certain epoch or
in a new theology or paradigm, but rather, in certain persons, who following the well-
trodden path of the holy fathers and mothers before them, become Spirit-filled and
deified. I must now turn to St Symeons life, context and teachings to see what defines a
genuine father or mother and where patristic authority ultimately comes from.

87Cf. Paul L. Gavrilyuk, Florovskys Neopatristic Synthesis and the Future Ways of Orthodox Theology, in
Orthodox Constructions of the West, eds. George E. Demacopoulos, and Aristotle Papanikolaou (New York:
Fordham University Press, 2013), 102.

16 | P a g e
4. St Symeon the New Theologian and Patristic Authority

This study will begin by firstly analysing St Symeons four Epistles which deal with
personal situations stemming from questions dealing with spiritual fatherhood. St
Symeon put great importance on the need for a spiritual father towards guiding to and
reconciling one with God. For authentic spiritual authority is usually bestowed by God
through a golden chain, from an elder to his disciples, through the generations. I will
then examine his thirty-four Catechetical Discourses, which were delivered to his monks
during his twenty years at St Mammas monastery, 88 in order to show how his own
spiritual father was seen as a saint and what specific characteristics he possessed as
hallmarks of patristic authority. St Symeon also has four other works which will not be
covered in-depth as they generally repeat what has already been discovered in this study;
His twelve Ethical Discourses which were written for a wider-community and most likely
in relation to his dispute with Stephen of Nicomedia, his fifty-eight Hymns of Divine Eros
which were most likely written throughout his life, but more predominantly during his
exile, and lastly, his two lesser known works; Dialogue with the Scholastic and Orations.

4.1. The life and historical setting of St Symeon

Our knowledge of St Symeon the New Theologian (c. 949 1022) comes
predominantly from his own writings and from the Life of St Symeon the New Theologian by
St Nicetas Stethatos, his disciple. However, the latter work has been criticised by
George Maloney S.J, who argues that one should be cautious reading it and should use
St Symeons own writings to bring a corrective to it as Stethatos places his hero in a
conventional pattern of approved sanctity and renders him a bit artificial and
unreal. 89 Nevertheless, St Symeon lived at the turn of the 11th century and is recognised
as a great mystical father of the Eastern Orthodox Church who emphasised the divine
light and the direct experience of the Holy Spirit. As for St Symeons theology, he
belongs especially to the tradition of St Macarius, 90 while also being influenced by
Origen, Clement of Alexandria, St Mark the Ascetic, St Maximus the Confessor, St John

88 Cf. Gavrilyuk, Florovskys Neopatristic Synthesis, 14-15.


89 Maloney, Introduction to St Symeon the New Theologian, 5.
90 Cf. Collins writes that He had refined spiritual sensibility, which favoured affective and imaginative language,

the language of the heart rather than the intellect. In Collins, Simeon the New Theologian, 346. And also,
Tsirpanlis who states that St Symeon the New Theologian belongs especially to the tradition of St Macarius. In
Constantine N. Tsirpanlis, The Trinitarian and Mystical Theology of St Symeon the New Theologian, Church and
Theology (1981): 539.

17 | P a g e
of the Ladder, and Pseudo Dionysius the Areopagite. 91 He is also regarded as a
forerunner of the Byzantine Hesychasm and continues to inspire readers almost a
millennium after his death. 92 The life and context of St Symeon the New Theologian
has been greatly elucidated by scholars such as Alexander Golitzin 93 and Hilarion
Alfeyev 94 who have both produced remarkable studies on his life and teaching.
Therefore, the following contextual analysis will focus solely on the historical situation
which sparked and surrounded St Symeons view of authority and the need for personal
experience of God in ones spiritual journey.

His personal life was mired with difficulties as he had originally received the name, the
New Theologian, due to his teachings being seen as non-traditional and radical by the
Constantinopolitan hierarchy, although, in return, they themselves were rigid with rules
and regulations at the expense of the Spirit. 95 Kallistos Ware mentions that Byzantium
had become subservient to the past with its formalism and was in danger of atrophy
and stagnation in which St Symeon insisted with utmost vehemence upon the
essential need for personal experience in order to combat this decay. 96 This might be
related to the fact that during this time, the Byzantine church was relatively free from
dogmatic disputes and doctrinal conflicts 97 and in which, according to Golitzin, the
empire adopted a fortress mentality which encouraged conservatism and looked with
instant distrust on anything that smacked of the novel. 98 From this perspective, St
.Symeons teaching on the need for personal experience in a city that was beginning to
stagnate was seen as radical and in need of being stamped out rather than encouraged.

St Symeons insistence on spiritual struggle and asceticism coupled with the need to
experience the Holy Spirit in a very real manner was indeed too much for some. For

91 Cf. Mark E. Ginter, Conscience and the Holy Spirit: Moral Foundations in the Writings of St Symeon the New
Theologian, Logos 36:1-4 (1995): 16-18. And Tsirpanlis, The Trinitarian and Mystical Theology, 539.
92 Hilarion Alfeyev, St Symeon, the New Theologian, and Orthodox Tradition (Oxford, England: Oxford University

Press, 2000), 1-3.


93 See Alexander Golitzin, St Symeon the New Theologian - On the Mystical Life: Life, times and theology

(Crestwood, NY: St Vladimir's Seminary Press, 1995), 3: 7-54.


94 See Alfeyev, St Symeon, 1-42.
95 Symeons personal life and his writings reflect a good deal of the polemical, because he considered himself a

zealot battling the fossilized segments of the institutional church for a return to radical gospel Christianity. See
Symeon the New Theologian in Lindsay Jones, Encyclopaedia of Religion, Vol. 13 (New York: Macmillan, 2005),
8919.
96 Kallistos T. Ware, The Mystery of God and Man in St Symeon the New Theologian, Sobornost (The Journal of

the Fellowship of St Alban and St Sergius) 6:4 (1972): 230.


97 Gregory Collins, Simeon the New Theologian: An Ascetical Theology for Middle-Byzantine Monks, Asceticism

(1995): 343.
98
Golitzin, St Symeon the New Theologian - On the Mystical Life, 3:16.

18 | P a g e
this reason, St Symeon had gotten into conflict with church authorities for many years
and had even been expelled and exiled in his old age from the great city; not to mention
his own personal conflicts with his monks. 99 The Studite monks at this time were far
less exceptional people than they are in most places to-day 100 and anyone could have
joined the monastery. 101 For them, only abstinence from sexual immortality and
drunkenness was seen as a requirement for a monk while the rest of the passions were
ignored. 102 This was in sharp contrast for St Symeons call for dispassion or deification
which required an inward repentance () rather than a purely outwards one. I
now move onto the dispute between St Symeon and the Constantinopolitan hierarchy.

One of the many traits of St Symeon was his boldness before men for he did not shy
away from expressing his beliefs. This boldness had also caused him much strife during
his lifetime. When the previous metropolitan of Nicomedia, Stephen, who had resigned
his episcopacy in order to serve the Patriarchate as a synkellos (chancellor) 103, had a
disagreement over a question of Trinitarian theology, St Symeon interpreted this as a
lack of experience in the spiritual life and a distance from God. 104 The smaller issue
began with Stephen challenging St Symeon on his distinction between the Father and
the Son in the Trinity, but after St Symeons non-diplomatic reply, 105 which we have
today as Hymn twenty-one, Stephens bitterness strengthened. 106

The deeper issue now lay in what Stephen saw as the denying of authority and
jurisdiction of the official hierarchy, 107 something which could not be overlooked or
ignored. 108 From St Symeons point of view however, Stephens approach seemed

99 Alfeyev, St Symeon, 1-3.


100 H. J. M. Turner, A Care-Free and Painless Existence? Observations of St Symeon the New Theologian on the
Monastic Life, Sobornost (Incorporating Eastern Churches Review) 9:1 (1987): 44.
101 Anthony E. Gilles, Byzantine spirituality during the age of St Simeon, Epiphany 7:2 (1987): 71.
102 Turner, A Care-Free and Painless Existence, 44.
103 Golitzin, St Symeon the New Theologian, 32.
104 Cf. Hannah Hunt, Uses and Abuses of Spiritual Authority in the Writings of St Symeon the New Theologian,

in The Philokalia: A Classic Text of Orthodox Spirituality, eds. Bingaman, Brock, and Bradley Nassif (New York:
Oxford University Press, 2012), 205. As Hannah Hunt points out, Ecclesial authority is the experience of the
mystery of God in Christ through the Spirit who guides the Church.
105 H. J. M. Turner, St Symeon the New Theologian and Spiritual Fatherhood, (Leiden: E.J. Brill, 1990), 33.
106 George S.J. Maloney, Introduction to St Symeon the New Theologian: The Discourses, trans. C.J. deCantazaro

(London: SPCK, 1980), 10.


107 Cf. Pachomios Penkett, Symeon the New Theologian's visions of the Godhead, Phronema 15 (2000): 109.
108 Maloney, Introduction to St Symeon the New Theologian, 10. And also, Archbishop Basile Krivocheine writes

that his challenge to religious conventionality and formalism raised a storm of controversy. In Basile
Krivocheine, Preface to St Symeon the New Theologian: The Discourses, by C.J. deCantazaro (London: SPCK,
1980), XVII.

19 | P a g e
senseless for truth could not be tied to a position or role but rather had to be supported
by actual experience. 109 Paul McGuckin, in reference to the hierarchal rational and
authoritative analysis, states for St Symeon, unless one possessed the Holy Spirit, the
person can only repeat meaningless formulas that they will never understand. 110 Thus,
they had lost the ability to speak from the Spirit, and instead simply fell back to
regurgitating previous knowledge or trying to approach it from a purely rationalistic or
intellectualist perspective which was not based on the true spirit of orthodoxy
supported by praxis. Indeed, looking at the patristic trends, the need for spiritual
experience and support is something that must always be present when attempting to
restructure the Church.

Thus, the two opposing approaches of St Symeon and Stephen could be interpreted as
the charismatic versus the institutional aspects of the Church. 111 Paul McGuckin points
out that the underlying issue was an episode in the longstanding conflict between
pneumatic monachism and hierarchical authority, 112 and which Golitzin believes still
continues today. 113 This was intensified by the fact that most people in Byzantium saw
two sources of authority; the monastic milieu 114 and the Patriarchate. 115 The issue lay
with who had the authority to perform sacramental duties within the church such as the
binding and loosing of sins. According to Ware, in reference to unordained monks,
there is much evidence in the history of saints, including St Symeon himself, who
offered spiritual advice and heard confessions, and gave absolution of sins even
though this was reserved for priests. 116 Of course, one must be careful not to read back
anachronistically, for at that time there was no official separation between spiritual
guidance and confession, on the one hand, and the absolution of sins as a separate

109 Cf. Hunt, Uses and Abuses, 204.


110 Paul McGuckin, Introduction to St Symeon the New Theologian: The Practical and Theological Chapters; and
Three Theological Discourses (Kalamazoo, Mich: Cistercian Publications, 1982), 22. Theodore Stylianopoulos,
also speaking of Stephens formalism, writes that the truth of the apostolic gospel was swallowed up in an
ocean of religious formalism unable to bear the words of a prophetic and evangelical voice. In Theodore G.
Stylianopoulos, Holy Scripture, interpretation and spiritual cognition in St Symeon the New Theologian, Greek
Orthodox Theological Review 46:1-2 (2001): 5.
111 Cf. Golitzin, St Symeon the New Theologian, 38.
112 McGuckin, Introduction to St Symeon the New Theologian, 18.
113 Golitzin, St Symeon the New Theologian, 38-39.
114 Cf. Penkett, Symeon the New Theologian's visions, 110.
115 Hunt, Uses and Abuses, 205.
116 Kallistos T. Ware, The Spiritual Father in St John Climacus and Symeon the New Theologian, Studia

Patristica 18:2 (1989): 308.

20 | P a g e
sacrament, on the other hand. 117 Thus, it would be unfair to call St Symeon a Donatist,
or a Messalian. 118

As for the accusation that St Symeon had an anti-hierarchical character, this was
peremptorily proven to be incorrect by Golitzin, who writes that although St Symeon
often took a hard stance with certain hierarchical denunciations, he never doubts that
the hierarchical and sacramental structures of the Church are true and established by
God. 119 Furthermore, in his article Hierarchy versus Anarchy?, Golitzin expands this idea
by showing that for St Symeon, and also for St Dionysius the Areopagite, the two
approaches of charismatic versus the institutional aspects of the Church should not be
pushed to their limits but rather be left in ambiguity, as there does not appear to be a
resolution on this side of the eschaton. 120 Like Golitzin, I believe this to be a wise
and correct approach to this delicate and complicated situation that we see within the
Church.

Following from this brief analysis it would be fair to say that both aspects of the
Church, charismatic and institutional, are required for they represent different and
complementary aspects of the ecclesial experience. Rather than being an either-or, the
issue lay more on the over-emphasis of one over the other. They both have their roles
to play and are supposed to work together for the benefit of the whole Church. The
above overview makes already obvious that beyond the ecclesiological implications of
the discussion, St Symeon was interested in a more complex and inclusivist
understanding of authority than its unilateral identifications either with the charismatic
or the institutional aspects. I now turn to his Epistles which describe the need for a
spiritual father and the authority that can only come from holiness.

4.2. Patristic Authority in the Epistles

The Epistles of St Symeon the New Theologian are edited with an introduction, translation
and notes by H. J. M. Turner and provide the English-speaking world with a remarkable
treasure. The translation is of a Greek text established by Fr. J. Paramelle. The volume
contains four personal letters which address certain spiritual concerns; however, letters

117 Cf. Golitzin, St Symeon the New Theologian, 40.


118 Golitzin points out that there was never an accusation against St Symeon of this, although it did happen
posthumously and only by proxy. Cf. Golitzin, St Symeon the New Theologian, 40.
119 Ibid.
120 See Alexander Golitzin, Hierarchy Versus Anarchy: Dionysius Areopagita, Symeon the New Theologian, and

Nicetas Stethatos, New Perspectives on Historical Theology (1996): 250-276.

21 | P a g e
one, three and four are generally seen as treatises due to their length and content. 121 The
dominant theme throughout the letters is spiritual fatherhood and direction. 122 It is
precisely for this reason that the four letters have most likely been grouped together. It
cannot be established with any certainty to what extant the letters had been edited by St
Symeons disciple, St Nicetas Stethatos, who had preserved and circulated them. Whilst
they do not provide further light on the life and thought of St Symeon, they still provide
a fresh approach to the understanding of spiritual fatherhood and also confirm his
teaching as espoused in his other writings.

In what follows, after a brief overview of each letter, we will examine two topics in
particular that St Symeon emphasised therein; the need for a spiritual father, and the
authority that comes from holiness and not personal endeavours or humanistic ploys.
The first epistle is a response to a brother who was wondering if it was proper to
confess ones sins to a monk who was not ordained to the priesthood. To this, St
Symeon explains that absolution of sins has been passed down from bishops to priests
and then finally to monks based purely on the individual persons holiness. The second
epistle is addressed to a repentant Christian who had become grieved by his sins and
wanted to begin the process of purification by reorienting his life towards God. 123 The
letter has three parts: how Christians are to gain forgiveness of sins, how are they to
remain pure, and the practice of the Christian life.

The third epistle, according to its title, seems to have been written to one of St
Symeons disciples concerning holiness in others; specifically, their spiritual father. The
themes of recognising holiness, finding a person who encapsulates it, and what attitude
one should have towards them are iterated. The last epistle is a complaint by St Symeon,
possibly to self-appointed teachers, who suppose themselves to be holy while never
having been initiated by a genuine spiritual father in the same way that St Symeon had
been by St Symeon the Pious. 124 Nonetheless, it is precisely because of the need for
such a holy father that St Symeon devoted time to this theme. In what follows I will

121 H.M.J. Turner, Introduction to The Epistles of St Symeon the New Theologian (Oxford: Oxford University
Press, 2009), 12-13.
122 Ibid. 10.
123 St Symeon the New Theologian, The Epistles 1: A Treatise Written to a Spiritual Child of his about

Confession, in H.J.M. Turner, The Epistles of St Symeon the New Theologian, ed., intro. and trans. H.J.M Turner
(Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2009), 81. All references to the epistles of St Silouan are to this edition.
124 The Letters 1: 21.

22 | P a g e
address aspects pertaining to spiritual fatherhood, such as the quest for a spiritual father
and the divine source of the latters authority.

4.2.1. Seeking a spiritual father

The Letters of St Symeon stress the need for a spiritual father in ones quest for
salvation and perfection. For St Symeon, once someone has sinned and distanced
themselves from God, they cannot be reconciled with [Him] otherwise than by a
mediator, a holy man and a friend of Christ, and by his own flight from evil. 125 Turner
builds on this point by emphasising that not only was a genuine father required to
ensure the disciples salvation, but he had to also have experienced the Holy Spirit
himself in order to achieve the same for his disciple. 126

For this reason confession was greatly valued in the purification process as the disciple
not only gained forgiveness of sins but also much needed guidance in the spiritual
warfare. As St Symeon explains, the longer we ignore our sins, the worse the poison
of sin affects us; 127 St Symeon writes, let us run immediately to our spiritual physician
and vomit out the poison of sin by means of confession. 128 Of course, confession is
but a first step towards one's restoration to full spiritual health. Furthermore, St Symeon
adds that

without a spiritual father and teacher it is impossible for a man to


keep Gods commandments, and live rightly and irreproachably, and rise
superior to the snares of the Devil. 129
This is more so valid when the spiritual father is a genuine saint. Only in the light of the
above one can make sense of the importance ascribed by St Symeon to his own spiritual
father. Indeed, unless the spiritual father is born from above, that is, a holy man, it is by
no means possible for the disciple to reach holiness or to teach others. 130

125 The Letters 1: 37-39.


126 H. J. M. Turner, St Symeon the New Theologian: His Place in the History of Spiritual Fatherhood, Studia
Patristica 23 (1987): 91.
127 The Letters 1: 39.
128 The Letters 1: 39.
129 The Letters 3: From the same to one of his Disciples; Concerning the Way in which one can Recognize a Holy

Man, 113-115.
130 Cf. Ware writes: Direct experience of the Spirit is the one indispensable qualification for the spiritual

fathers ministry Ware, The Spiritual Father, 307.

23 | P a g e
This also supports the concept of a golden chain linking saintly people from one
generation to the next, to which St Maximus referred to (Difficulty 41) 131 long before the
New Theologian, and which St Symeon staunchly defended in pointing out that spiritual
authority was passed down through an elder-disciple relationship. Ware states that this
is a classic and recurrent feature of Eastern monasticism: the special link joining the
spiritual father and his child in which the grace freely flows from one to the other. 132
Furthermore, Hannah Hunt suggests that this golden chain not only perpetuates
holiness but also demonstrates its genuineness by the specific authority that it
provides; such as giving spiritual advice and even absolution of sins. 133 This model of
receiving guidance is far superior according to St Symeon because it ensures that what
the spiritual father has to say is sure and certain; for it was not passed down from
angels nor was it learned from men. 134 In his letter on Confession, he bluntly states
that he is taught directly by God through the grace that is given to him:

We have been mystically taught by the Wisdom from on high, indeed by


the grace which comes through the Spirit. So do we always and at every
hour continue to be taught. 135

So far we have seen how holiness and grace is passed on from an elder to his disciple
and how wisdom and teaching is not only taught by the elder but by the Holy Spirit
who dwells in him. At first, it is the elder who teaches, until such a time where the
disciple reaches a certain level of proficiency in the spiritual life, in which he or she is
taught by the Holy Spirit directly as pointed out in the passage quoted above. 136

Ware speaks about this in his article on The Mystery of God and Man in St Symeon the New
Theologian when he envisions the spiritual Father as a mediator between the disciple and
God, as did St Symeon, and thus, if he was not at an advanced level, he could do
nothing for his disciple. 137 For the elder does not simply pray for his disciple but also
reconciles them to God. 138 If one is blessed to acquire such a holy father as a guide,
he or she should cleave to him as to Christ himself with love and faith 139 so that they

131 Cf. Andrew Louth, Maximus the Confessor (London and New York: Routledge, 1996), 154.
132 Ware, The Mystery of God and Man in St Symeon, 229.
133 Hunt, Penthos and Repentance, 115.
134 St Symeon the New Theologian, Letter on Confession, in Alexander Golitzin, On the Mystical Life: The Ethical

Discourses (Crestwood, N.Y.: SVS Press, 1995-1997), 3:187.


135 Ibid.
136 Cf. Hunt, Penthos and Repentance, 116.
137 Cf. Ware, The Mystery of God and Man in St Symeon, 231.
138 Ware, The Spiritual Father, 304.
139 The Letters 3: 137.

24 | P a g e
too may be become joint-partaker and joint-heir 140
of Christs eternal glory and
kingdom. 141 Evidently, authority cannot be acquired by ones own will, but only by grace
and guidance provided by God working within a synergetic relationship between the
elder and disciple. 142 So far we have seen that for the New Theologian spiritual healing,
salvation and perfection are impossible without the guidance of a genuine father in
Christ. I must now turn to the Symeonian notion of spiritual authority.

4.2.2. Authentic spiritual authority

According to St Symeon, true authority can only come from God and only to His holy
servants who have been adopted as sons and daughters. 143 For instance, he maintained
that the Apostles were sent by God with authority to transform the faithful into
children of God and inheritors of eternal life by the Gospel message and the grace of
the holy baptism. 144 Had the apostles not received this authority, they would not have
been able to impart anything spiritual to us and would have been like the rest of
mankind. 145 To highlight this conviction, St Symeon compares Christs talk about the
second birth from above as a direct reference to the Holy Spirit which is granted freely
upon baptism. 146 It is the Holy Spirit Who enlightens the soul and bestows upon those
that are baptized with a variety of spiritual gifts. This light of the Spirit is crucial for a
spiritual person for it enables one to correctly live a Christian life and guide others;

He who has not become a son of light by means of understanding,


knowledge, experience, and spiritual contemplation, how will he ever be
able to see or recognize the Father of lights? being blind, how will he
show others the way? 147

From a Symeonian theological framework, it is apparent that holiness is not an


intellectual enterprise, even though all the natural faculties of the person should be put
to a virtuous use, but rather, the accumulation of grace over time, leading to the
indwelling of Holy Spirit. 148

140 The Letters 3: 137.


141 Cf. Ware, The Spiritual Father, 306.
142 Cf. Collins, Simeon the New Theologian, 347.
143 The Letters 1: 63.
144 The Letters 3: 95.
145 Ibid.
146 The Letters 4: 149.
147 The Letters 4: 151.
148 See The Letters 4: 153.

25 | P a g e
This is because the grace of the Holy Spirit is the cause of our union
with Christ, and it is not possible for anyone not conscious of having
the Holy Spirit dwelling within him to have fellowship with Christ, or
consciously to see his glory, nor is he even able mentally to see the
divine mysteries as the true Christ, who is God, but he sees only what is
observed by the senses and set forth on the altar. 149

There is a layered perception of reality in which the spiritual person sees it quite
differently from the one who is uninitiated. The higher layer demands a conscious
experience of the Spirit. This experience leads to a perception of the world which is
observed spiritually rather than simply through the senses. Tsirpanlis describes this
perception as being not of this world; it is eternal, it involves going out of our
historical existence; it is the mystery of the eighth day. 150 For this reason, it is easy for
those who have not reached this stage to ridicule or disbelieve those who have. Indeed,
this was a difficult teaching to digest and the primary reason why St Symeon was
persecuted by his monks in the first place; for emphasizing the need for a spiritual
experience which seemed not only impossible to achieve, but also difficult to
comprehend. Backlash ensued quickly; they calumniate me all the more, hate me, and
turn away from me. 151 This was a direct result of their ignorance and blindness because
they did not have this authority from above, nor had some even begun the journey of
purification, and thus, they could only observe with their physical senses and not
spirituality that which was hidden within. 152

4.2.3. Concluding remarks

The Letters provide a fresh approach to St Symeons understanding of spiritual


fatherhood. It was clear to his readers that a genuine father was a necessity for all and
that they should treat him as Christ Himself. Precisely because he is a mediator before
God, possesses the ability to forgive sins and offer guidance, and has a unique
relationship with God that allows him to channel grace and wisdom to his disciple. I
now turn to the patristic authority in his Catechetical Discourses.

4.3. Patristic Authority in Catechetical Discourses

St Symeon the New Theologians work, the Catechetical Discourses, has been translated by
C.J. deCatanzaro and introduced by George Maloney S.J. and forms a part of the

149 The Letters 4: 173-175.


150 Tsirpanlis, The Trinitarian and Mystical Theology, 536.
151 The Letters 4: 181.
152 The Letters 4: 173-175.

26 | P a g e
Classics of Western Spirituality published by Paulist Press. These discourses offered in
the abbatial tradition of Stoudion monastery at the second dwelling place of our saint,
the monastery of St Mamas, addressed among other themes, the topic of patristic
authority. Confronted both by the intellectualism of those days Byzantine scholars and
the superficial understanding of authority in the monastic milieus, St Symeon openly
debated the nature of patristic authority. Basically, what he advocated was the need to
recover a genuinely apostolic and patristic understanding of authority as charismatic and
prophetic, and as being inherently connected with the experience of holiness and
deification. Moreover, St Symeon pointed out that the association of faith, orthodoxy,
assimilation of virtues, holiness, and the indwelling of God, all pertaining to the profile
of patristic authority, is a combination that cannot be historically restricted. In fact, he
maintained that his own spiritual father abundantly illustrated those qualities and that
therefore the latter was not only a real father of the Church, but also a saint.

4.3.1. St Symeon the Pious: A real father of the Church

St Symeon the New Theologian was heavily influenced by his spiritual father, who is
known in tradition as St Symeon the Pious, the Studite or Eulabes. 153 The first vision
that St Symeon had of his elder was of an old man equal to the angels 154 standing next
to God 155 in heaven. 156 This vision was made possible only by the very prayers of this
elder. 157 This was a holy man who was well respected and revered both by laity and
clergy. 158 Some scholars, such as Hilarion Alfeyev, have suggested that he might have
been a holy fool, if not, he most likely imitated them, 159 even to the point of acting
passionate in order to conceal his dispassion. 160 Such was the stature of a man who
conversed with God daily.

St Symeons love for his elder cannot be denied and throughout his Discourses we see
glimpses of this love, respect and reverence for a man who had given him everything.

153 Hunt, Uses and Abuses, 204.


154 St Symeon the New Theologian, The Discourses 22.4: On Faith in C.J. deCantazaro, The Discourses, The
Classics of Western Spirituality Series, trans. C.J. deCantazaro, Intro. G. Maloney S.J., and Pref. B. Krivocheine
(London: SPCK, 1980), 246.
155 The actual word used is light, but according to Stathopoulos, the Divine Light is the expression of the face of

God. In Demetri Stathopoulos, Divine light in the poetry of St Symeon the new theologian (949-1025), Greek
Orthodox Theological Review 19:2 (1974): 95-96.
156 Cf. Penkett, Symeon the New Theologian's visions of the Godhead, 110.
157 Hilarion Alfeyev, St Symeon the New Theologian, 20.
158 Ibid.
159 Ibid, 27.
160 Ibid.

27 | P a g e
Unlike the false teachers of Egypt who remained in the darkness of their passions and
pleasures, St Symeon was brought up by a holy man who taught him the way of the
wilderness and led him to the land of milk and honey. 161 St Symeon emphasized the
possibility of sainthood even in his own generation as he remarks that the most blessed
saint, St Symeon the Pious, shone like the sun, in the very midst of his monastery. 162

[He] lived such a life of asceticism and exhibited such conduct in the
midst of the city and in the very midst of a most illustrious monastery
that he surpassed not only those who are in his own generation, but
even many fathers of old, in the sublimity of his virtues and by
achievements beyond [human] power. 163

The New Theologian treated him as a saint who had already been canonized by the
Church; the very thing that would later become the cause of St Symeons exile at the
turn of the millennium.

4.3.2. A Spiritual Father

The greatest contribution by St Symeon the Studite was his spiritual fatherhood to his
disciples. John Chryssavgis states that the genuine spiritual father is a father because he
assists in the rebirth and regeneration of the Christian into the life of the Spirit. 164
Through his analysis of the various aspects of the spiritual fatherhood, Chryssavgis
came up with the following roles; guide, physician 165, teacher, sponsor, judge,
intercessor and a representative of God. 166 These roles of a spiritual father are one of
the highest privileges that one can acquire before God due to the tremendous
responsibilities they entail. 167 However, those who have the correct skill to direct and
heal rational souls are rare, for there are many who learn by heart and teach through

161 Cf. The Discourses 6.4: The Example and Spirit of Symeon the Pious, 122-123.
162 Ibid., 123.
163 The Discourses 6.4: The Example and Spirit of Symeon the Pious, 123.
164 John Chryssavgis, The spiritual father as embodiment of tradition, Phronema 1 (1986): 21.
165 According to Maslov, this role was seen as having greater importance due to the non-juridical nature of

Byzantine penance. In Boris Maslov, Oikeisis pros theon: Gregory of Nazianzus and the heteronomous
subject of Eastern Christian penance, Zeitschrift Fr Antikes Christentum 16:2 (2012): 339.
166 Chryssavgis, The spiritual father as embodiment of tradition, 22-39.
167 To the one who takes the responsibility without Gods blessing, Symeon writes; He is unable to either to

lead others or to teach them the will of God, nor is he fit to hear [in confession] the thoughts of others, even
were he to become patriarch by mans appointment, until he has the light shining in him. In The Discourses
33.2: On Partaking of the Holy Spirit, 340.

28 | P a g e
words, 168 but those who have not only eliminated the passions and acquired the virtues,
but also possess the ability to do the same for others, are few and far between. 169

It is also clear that St Symeon the New Theologian did not become a saint on his own,
but through much guidance and toil under the guidance of the Studite elder, for he
writes, we who are unworthy have been more than abundantly refreshed by the water
we received from God through our father. 170 The spiritual father becomes like a
fountain from which the heavenly water, the grace of God, wells forth. 171 St Symeon
also encouraged his monks to look upon their spiritual father, like he did himself, as an
image of God; You should look on him and speak to him as to Christ Himself, and so
revere him and be taught by Him what is profitable. 172 According to Golitzin, the imago
Christi, is at the heart of the notion of the sanctified elder, as a kind of theophany for his
disciples, precisely in light of the formers function as a mediator of the divine
presence. 173 The very real presence of God manifested through the elder is precisely
what St Symeon was praising and extolling both to Stephen the Chancellor and to his
monks. It is through this lens that true patristic authority, or the profile of a holy father,
is discerned.

4.3.3. The Portrait of a Father

In what follows I explore the various facets that make up the patristic profile; such as
faith, orthodoxy, emulating the virtues of the fathers, and holiness. This leads to the
attainment of divine grace which makes possible the indwelling of the Holy Spirit who
is the bearer of all gifts, and as we shall see, the giver of genuine patristic authority.

4.3.4. Faith: Believe it is Possible

For St Symeon, faith was not only the realisation and acceptance of Gods existence,
but also the unwavering trust that the spiritual life leading to sainthood or deification

168 Cf. St Symeon writes: Nor are their pupils able to learn by mere words the meaning of that about which
they speak. It is by practice and effort and labours that we must be anxious to grasp these things and attain to
contemplation of them. The Discourses 14.5: On Penitence, 191-192.
169 St Maximus says the same; I say this because we who plague people with words are many nowadays, while

those who teach or are taught by actions are very few. In St Maximus the Confessor, 400 Chapters on Love,
Philokalia 2:52. See also The Discourses 20.7: The Ideal Spiritual Guide, 237.
170 The Discourses 6.6: The Example and Spirit of Symeon the Pious, 124.
171 The Discourses 36.4: In the Form of a Thanksgiving, 370-371.
172 The Discourses 36.4: In the Form of a Thanksgiving, 370-371.
173 Alexander Golitzin, Earthly Angels and Heavenly Men: The Old Testament Pseudepigrapha, Niketas

Stethatos, and the Tradition of Interiorized Apocalyptic in Eastern Christian Ascetical and Mystical Literature,
Dumbarton Oaks Papers 55 (2001): 138.

29 | P a g e
was possible for all people at all times, regardless of status or life situation. 174 Maria
Jaoudi argues that God-consciousness was a central aspect of St Symeons theology;
that is, the conscious realisation that every person is truly created in the image and
likeness of God and actualising the implications of such an identification. 175 St Symeon
gives a warning to those who disagree and perpetuate a new heresy which believes
one to be incapable of following the Gospel like the saints before us. 176

There are many who harm those who hear them by saying that nobody
can be like that now, or in his deeds attain to what our great Fathers
achieved, or be found worthy of the spiritual gifts that were granted to
them. 177

St Symeon is expressing that the quality or intensity of the Christian life cannot be
measured by the historical proximity to the writings of the Gospels but by the measure
of their willingness to take the spirit of the Gospels literally. St Symeon later cites his
own spiritual father as having not only managed to reach such a stage but to have
surpassed many of the Holy fathers of old. 178 I now move onto the next aspect which
is the correct belief and faith as taught by tradition.

4.3.4.1. A sense of orthodoxy

St Symeons entire theological paradigm is built upon the patristic tradition which
guided and nurtured him. He advises that one needs a theological framework within
which the personal experience can be ecclesially authenticated. This tradition and its
correct understanding, which is interpreted as orthodox faith and praiseworthy life, is
one of two main elements that encompass the whole praise and blessedness of the
saints. 179 When speaking about discerning thoughts, and tradition in general, he states
that we must carefully analyse

174 Rossum writes: The idea that such a personal and conscious experience of God is "impossible" and that it
was only a privilege of the "holy fathers" was considered by St Symeon as a dangerous "heresy." In Joost van
Rossum, Priesthood and confession in St Symeon: the new theologian, St Vladimir's Theological Quarterly 20:4
(1976): 222.
175 Maria M. Jaoudi, God-consciousness in Simeon the New Theologian, Journal Of Theta Alpha Kappa 12:2

(1988): 12.
176 The Discourses 29.4: The Heresy of Pusillanimity, 312.
177 The Discourses 6.6: The Example and Spirit of Symeon the Pious, 126.
178 St Symeon writes: He surpassed not only those who are in his own generation, but even many fathers of

old, in the sublimity of his virtues and by achievements beyond [human] power. In The Discourses 6.7, 10: 126,
162-163.
179 The Discourses 10.1: Perfect Holiness, 163.

30 | P a g e
the testimonies from the divinely inspired scriptures and from the
teaching of the spiritual [teachers], the Holy Fathers, so that if we find
them to agree with these witnesses and correspond to them we may with
all our might hold fast to these thoughts and boldly act on them. 180

This provides a complex understanding of tradition which incorporates three major


sources of spiritual nourishment and authority: the scriptures, spiritual teachers and the
holy fathers. Chryssavgis mentions that part of the legitimate authority of a spiritual
father is the fact that he in turn subjects himself to and embodies the tradition of the
Church in its entirety. 181 However, to simply know the tradition in forms of quotations
or knowledge is not enough, it must be understood and experienced. This is why the
fathers sought very hard not only to learn the tradition but also to imitate the virtues of
the saints. Which leads us to the next aspect.

4.3.4.2. Emulating the virtues of the Fathers

The imitation of God and the saints, especially their virtues, was an important aspect of
patristic authority. Alfeyev points out that it was St Theodore the Studite who
emphasised the importance of reading the lives of the saints and ascetics and
attempting to imitate them. 182 In fact, the Byzantines had developed great devotion to
hagiographical literature and saw it as an important means to salvation. 183 In addition,
Boris Maslov had demonstrated that for the Byzantines, and by all accounts St
Symeons teaching confirms this assessment, that the concept of godlikeness was seen
as the assimilation to God through imitation of divine virtues. 184 From his
perspective, patristic authority was seen as a living paragon of virtue. 185 These divine
virtues are precisely what the saints possessed. St Symeon assured his listeners that
whoever imitates their lifestyle and deeds will surely find the same grace that they had
achieved. 186 However, to attain them a genuine father needs to live a life of asceticism
and prayer.

180 The Discourses 3.8: Faithfulness to Monastic Vows, 67.


181 Chryssavgis writes: The fathers are precisely those who maintain the integrity of the apostolic faith, handing
it down through the generations of still other fathers to the present day. See John Chryssavgis, The Church
Fathers: yesterday and today, Greek Orthodox Theological Review 33:3 (1988): 277.
182 Alfeyev, St Symeon the New Theologian, 132-133.
183 Ibid., 133.
184 Boris Maslov, Oikeisis pros theon: Gregory of Nazianzus and the heteronomous subject of Eastern Christian

penance, Zeitschrift Fr Antikes Christentum 16:2 (2012): 342.


185 Ibid, 325.
186 The Discourses 6.4: 122.

31 | P a g e
The sixth discourse explains how those living in the Holy Spirit continually commit
violence against themselves in order to always have God before them and not succumb
to temptation. He writes,

They completely abstain from all bodily pleasures, honours, and


comforts of every kind They live in sadness and sorrow as those who
have become Gods enemies and transgressors of His
commandments. 187

Their physical deprivation joined with their inward grief and brokenness formed a
twofold dimension of carrying ones cross. Nonetheless, this is of little benefit if it is
not achieved through humility. St Symeon points out that if a person refuses to be
submissive, despised, and reproached; that person cannot be called humble. 188 For it is
not fasting, vigils or bodily effort that please God but rather our inner disposition 189, for
God appears to a soul and heart that is humble, simple and good. 190 For him,
humility, or spiritual poverty as he liked to call it, was the starting point for any
spiritual progress. It was also accompanied by a great sense of sorrow and fear which
eventually brought one to purification through the fountain of tears. 191 Having lived a
life of asceticism, worship and holding tightly to the correct beliefs and faith; a spiritual
father gradually acquires grace upon grace leading to a state of holiness.

4.3.4.3. Holiness: Grace upon Grace

The criterion of holiness, according to St Symeon, is based on two elements; ones


orthodox faith and the praiseworthiness of ones life, coupled with the gift of the Holy
Spirit and His Spiritual Gifts. 192 The second element, namely the gift of the Holy Spirit,
is the nucleus of holiness for it is really the grace of God and the spiritual fathers
participation in Him that sanctifies him; for only God is holy. Holiness is a real and
perceivable energy of God that is conferred onto a person. 193 The idea of holiness and
sanctification as being an aspect of separation from the world, is also emphasised

187 The Discourses 6.4: 123.


188 Ibid., 127.
189 Cf. H J M Turner, St Symeon the New Theologian and dualist heresies - comparisons and contrasts, St

Vladimir's Theological Quarterly 32:4 (1988): 360.


190 The Discourses 16.2: Ecstasy in the Light, 199-200.
191 Sylvia Mary states: Without it no soul will be purified. Nor is it possible for the soul to be purified from its

stains without tears, any more than it is possible to wash a garment without water. In Sylvia Mary, St Symeon
the New Theologian and the Way of Tears, Studia Patristica 10 (1970): 433.
192 The Discourses 10.2: 163.
193 Cf. The Discourses 32.4: Blasphemy against the Holy Ghost, 337.

32 | P a g e
when he writes that a father is not of this world but is chosen out of it by God. 194 This
separation or detachment from worldly things is part and parcel of the holy life. Once a
person reaches a certain stage of holiness, in their spiritual journey, through the
accumulation of grace, the final step is the indwelling of the Holy Spirit in their hearts
which is the par excellence criterion for a spiritual father who possesses patristic authority.

4.3.4.4. Spirit-bearer: Returning to the Image and Likeness of God

It will soon become apparent that the essence of patristic authority is centred on the
embodiment of the Holy Spirit or deification. It was St Ignatius who first called
Christians (those who bear God); this is a direct reference to those who are
deified. 195 In reference to St Athanasius statement that God became human so that
humankind can become God, St Symeon repeats it almost word for word; For this
reason He became man which before He was not, in order to make him a god which he
had never been before. 196 Alfeyev states that one can say that the doctrine of
deification is the nucleus of the whole of Symeons theological thought, shaping
different elements of it into a coherent system. 197 Through constant struggle,
asceticism, and climbing the ladder of virtue, one comes to dispassion and divine love.
St Symeon states that at this stage they receive the supreme gift which is the Holy Spirit.
They become partakers and sharers of His Divinity and His Glory. 198

At this stage, the actions of a holy father are not entirely their own, but rather, being
moved by the Spirit, they may compose works for the benefit of the many, 199 give
instruction to a particular person, 200 and possess all the virtues and various spiritual gifts
such as discernment, prophecy and divine love. 201 As Norman Russel points out,
Deification is the state of the total transformation of both men and women in every
detail of their persons. 202 St Symeon argued that a monk should not be a mediator for

194 The Discourses 28.1: Discernment, Light, and Priesthood, 295-296.


195 Hilarion Alfeyev, The deification of man in eastern patristic tradition (with special reference to Gregory
Nazianzen, Symeon the New Theologian and Gregory Palamas), Colloquium 36:2 (2004): 110.
196 St Symeon the New Theologian, On the Mystical Life: The Ethical Discourses, trans. A. Golitzin (Crestwood,

N.Y.: SVS Press, 1995-1997) 2: 45-46.


197 Alfeyev, The deification of man, 116.
198 The Discourses 10.1: 162.
199 The Discourses 4.1: On Tears of Penitence, 70.
200 The Discourses 11.6: On Fasting, 171.
201 The Discourses 1.5: Of Charity, 44-45.
202 Norman Russell, The Doctrine of Deification in the Greek Patristic Tradition (Oxford: Oxford University Press,

2004), 303.

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others until they were filled with the Holy Spirit and had become friends of God. 203
This point is so strongly emphasised, that unless the Holy Spirit dwells within the
person, it would be in every way incongruous to call him spiritual. 204 Such an elder
was given the title Spirit-bearer because he sought to live his life according to the
guidance of the Holy Spirit at all costs even at the expense of his own individual
powers. 205 Chryssavgis states that the saints give nothing of themselves, but only what
Christ, who lives in them, wills to give. 206 This is the great calling and sacrifice that is
expected from all who seek union with God.

4.3.5. Concluding Remarks

The Catechisms provided a framework for understanding St Symeons spiritual


fatherhood and patristic authority. Basically, what he advocated was the need to recover
a genuinely apostolic and patristic understanding of authority as charismatic and
prophetic, and as being inherently connected with the experience of holiness and
deification. As abbot of St Mammas, St Symeon had personally canonised St Symeon
the Pious, even against the wishes of the Synod, because he was entirely convinced that
his spiritual father was a saint. Having lived with him, and taught by him, he had a
firsthand glimpse of what was not only attainable in the here and now, but also what
was to come. Moreover, St Symeon pointed out that the association of the virtues, such
as faith and holiness, all pertaining to the profile of patristic authority, is a combination
that cannot be historically restricted and is precisely what St Symeon the Pious had
embodied, and in turn, St Symeon himself. It is only by circumscribing these attributes
or virtues God, to a specific person in a particular time and place, do we reach a
misconception of a restricted age of the fathers. This is because we interpret sanctity,
through the lens of proximity to Christs incarnation, within a historical dimension,
rather than by the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, who is ever-present and ever-working
within His creation and His Church.

4.4. Conclusion

St Symeon confronted the intellectualism and formalism of his day precisely because
their promoters had lost the genuinely apostolic and patristic understanding of authority

203 Maslov, Oikeisis pros theon, 336.


204 The Discourses 10.2: 163.
205 Chryssavgis, The spiritual father, 21.
206 Ibid., 19.

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as being charismatic and prophetic, and inherently connected with the experience of
holiness and deification. Without this aspect, theology had turned into a purely rational
and intellectual endeavour. We have so far analysed two major works by St Symeon
which explore the topic of patristic authority and spiritual fatherhood. The Epistles
demonstrated the utmost importance of a spiritual father in the upbringing of a
Christian and that it was precisely the spiritual father who guided and led the disciple to
God through guidance and forgiveness of sins. The necessity of holiness and Gods
grace in the elder was a prerequisite for this tremendous responsibility.

In addition, the Catechisms provided another dimension in which a portrait of a genuine


spiritual father was illustrated. The association of faith, orthodoxy, assimilation of
virtues, humility, holiness, and the indwelling of God, all pertaining to the profile of a
father with patristic authority, is a combination that cannot be historically restricted. St
Symeons spiritual father plentifully illustrated those qualities and was seen as a true
father in whom God dwelt. This indwelling of God was ultimately what gave the
authority to the saints to speak with boldness and power and something which could
not be historically circumscribed to one period.

I now move onto chapter five which will examine the life and work of two modern
Orthodox saints: St Seraphim of Sarov and St Silouan the Athonite. It will be the goal
of this analysis to show that these saints experienced and exhibited the very same
features which St Symeon had discussed, in order to show that the Holy Spirit
continues to work in each generation just as much as He did in the previous ones; thus
strongly suggesting that an open-ended patristic age is the most likely explanation for
this spiritual phenomenon.

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5. Modern Fathers of the Church
This chapter will focus on two great spiritual fathers and saints of the 18th and 20th
century, St Seraphim of Sarov and St Silouan the Athonite, who both had a profound
impact on the Orthodox Church in modern times. I will attempt to show how the two
saints not only believed in the real presence and power of the Holy Spirit as the true aim
of the Christian life but also saw the indwelling of God as the only genuine and real
provider of authentic patristic authority. St Seraphim of Sarov was a Russian ascetic
who lived at the Sarov Monastery in the 18th century, and is considered a wonder-
worker by the Orthodox Church. He is commemorated both on January 2nd, and
January 19th with the opening of his relics. St Silouan was also a Russian ascetic but
who lived at the Monastery of St Panteleimon on Mount Athos in late 19th century and
was officially canonised in 1987. He is commemorated on September 24th. St Silouan
possessed the charisms of healing and prophecy. 207 I will now turn to St Seraphim and
his teachings.

5.1. St Seraphim of Sarov: Life, works and teaching


St Seraphim was born in 1759 in the city of Kursk and was brought up predominantly
by his mother, Agaphia, due to his father passing away when he was only three years
old. Agaphia was a pious women who attended Church regularly and had dedicated
herself to charitable work and looking after the helpless and the poor. 208 St Seraphim
inherited many of his mothers attributes and from a young age focused on the liturgical
life and avoided the games of his contemporaries. 209 At the age of seven he had his first
vision of the Holy Mother of God who healed him from his injuries which he had
sustained after falling down fifteen metres from the top of the belltower. 210 He was to
have eleven more such visitations by the Holy Theotokos, and not only her, but also
angels, Apostles and even the Lord Himself. 211

207 Cf. Sister Magdalen, Saint Silouan: a modern Athonite saint, Sourozh 106 (2010): 76-87.
208 N Puretzki, The Life and Teaching of Saint Seraphim of Sarov, trans. G. Kochibrolashvili and M. Tooneman
(The Hague: Gozalov Books, 2008), 2.
209 Ibid.
210 Ibid.
211 Cf. Metropolitan Veniamin, Notes on St Serafim and the Diveyevo Convent, Journal Of The Moscow

Patriarchate (1990): 62.

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At the age of twenty-five he became a monk at the monastery of Sarov and at thirty he
was ordained to the priesthood. 212 Near the age of forty he became a hermit and only
visited the monastery to commune on Sunday and on feast days. 213 A few extraordinary
stories surrounding St Seraphim during this period include feeding a bear by hand,
multiplying loaves to feed the animals, and praying on a granite rock for one-thousand
days and nights in order to overcome the devil. 214 And although he had visitors during
this period of solitude, he tried his best to keep separate from them, especially women,
as he was not yet ready for the next stage of his spiritual journey; being a genuine
spiritual father to all who would seek his help. 215

St Seraphim of Sarov did not write much but rather lived his life through example and
personal experience. 216 A disciple of St Seraphim, Hieromonk Gury, managed to write
down a few things that the holy Staretz said; now known as the Instructions. 217 These
thirty-one so-called instructions touch upon the major themes of the Orthodox
spiritual life; beginning with God is a fire and culminating with the active and
contemplative life. Throughout his instructions you can feel the heart of the Philokalia
which pervades it and also the whole Hesychast tradition which is none other than life
in the Holy Spirit. 218 John Anthony McGuckin explains that St Seraphim was one of the
many fathers who assumed the vision and mission of St Paisy who collated the
Slavonic Philokalia. 219 St Seraphim was also part of the Optina fathers who distributed
the philokalic tradition which shows that saints are usually not born in a vacuum but
with guidance and support of those who have already traversed much on the spiritual
journey.

St Seraphim was greatly revered when he passed away and the love of the people
continues for him today. According to Archimandrite Evdokim, later Bishop of
Volokolam, the canonisation of St Seraphim was seen for the Russian people, and many

212 Valentine Zander, St Seraphim of Sarov, trans. Sister Gabriel Anne (Crestwood, N.Y.: St Vladimir's Seminary
Press, 1975), 6, 9, 11.
213 Ibid., 17.
214 Zander, St Seraphim of Sarov, 16-19.
215 Cf. Ibid., 18.
216 Ibid., 100.
217 Ibid.
218 Cf. John Anthony McGuckin, The Making of the Philokalia: A Tale of Monks and Manuscripts, in The

Philokalia: A Classic Text of Orthodox Spirituality, eds. Brock Bingaman and Bradley Nassif (Oxford: Oxford
University Press, 2012), 44. And Cf. Zander, St Seraphim, 100.
219 Cf. McGuckin, The Making of the Philokalia, 42-43.

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others, as undoubtedly one of the greatest events of the time. 220 As Helen
Kontzevitch wrote in her biography of the Saint:

St Seraphim appeared as the greatest and brightest example of this


epoch of rebirth. In his holiness he was not only one of the saints of the
Russian nation, but he holds a place among the greatest lights of the
Christian world as one of the ancients. He is a great gift of
Orthodox Russia to Universal Orthodoxy. 221

Ivan Kontzevitch describes St Seraphim as rising to the eminence of the greatest


zealots of ancient times. 222 Thus showing that the Spirit of God still continues to work
within each generation that struggles to attain His Holy Presence. I now move onto St
Seraphims teaching on the light of Christ which is also the grace of God and the
presence of the Holy Spirit.

5.1.1. The light of Christ


The image of light and fire plays a large role within St Seraphims Instructions. According
to his first instruction; God is a fire which warms and makes glowing the hearts and
the inner parts of man. 223 This warmth is the presence of God who comes and dwells
within the person thereby giving them perfect love not only for Him but for our
neighbours also. 224 St Seraphim often saw the human person as a sort of candle 225 in
which Christ is the light which drives out the darkness. 226 In his Instruction 14, On the
Light of Christ, he provides a short description of how a person may acquire this light.
He begins by emphasising that they must separate their attention from all visible
objects, thus signifying detachment, through the process of repentance and good
deeds, accompanied by faith and constant invocation of the Lords name through the
Jesus Prayer. 227 This gradually leads to the attainment of the light of Christ.

220 Cited in Lazarus Moore, An Extraordinary Peace: St Seraphim, Flame of Sarov (Port Townsend, WA: Anaphora
Press, 2009), 315.
221 Helen Kontzevitch, St Seraphim, Wonderworker of Sarov and His Spiritual Inheritance, trans. St Xenia Skete

(Wildwood, Calif: St Xenia Skete, 2004), 16.


222 Ivan Kontzevitch, St Serafim of Sarov, Journal of the Moscow Patriarchate (1991): 52.
223 St Seraphim of Sarov, Instructions 1: On God in N Puretzki, The Life and Teaching of Saint Seraphim of Sarov,

trans. G. Kochibrolashvili and M. Tooneman (The Hague: Gozalov Books, 2008), 25. All references to the
instructions of St Seraphim are to this edition.
224 Instructions 1: On God, 25.
225 Instructions 9: On the Care for the Soul, 33.
226 Instructions 10: With what should one Nourish ones Soul, 34.
227 Instructions 14: On the Light of Christ, 41.

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However, one must begin with the basics: the knowledge of God, faith, fear of God,
and solitude. 228 During this stage it is also important to maintain a clean conscience as it
is required for inner peace to be effectively established. 229 Indeed, the most peaceful
state comes when man contemplates with his mind the grace of the Holy Spirit inside
himself, according to Gods word: His place is in peace. (Ps. 75:3) 230 This is similar to
St Symeons point that we need to be obedient to a clean and active conscience not only
because it teaches us the will of God but also because it is a prerequisite for the
outpouring of the Holy Spirit. Having acquired this state, the person can pour out
from himself the light of the illuminated mind also onto others thereby showing the
role of the spiritual father to his disciples 231 as demonstrated earlier by both St Symeon
the Pious and St Symeon the New Theologian. 232 He guards this thought by reminding
his listeners that they must remain humble at all times by contemplating on Hannah the
prophetess words: let not arrogance come from your mouth (1 Samuel 2:3). 233 The
need to be humble was also greatly elucidated by St Silouan who put considerable
emphasis on this virtue. 234

From this short examination of St Seraphims Instructions we can see how similar it is to
St Symeons own Discourses in that they both incorporate the purification process,
followed by the illumination or grace attainment and eventually Deification or union
with God. The main idea is that one should gradually increase in the grace of God
which leads to the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. We now turn to his other very
important text, On Acquisition of the Holy Spirit, which shows the experiential aspect of his
theology.

5.1.2. Conversation with Nicholas Motovilov


In November 1831, two years before St Seraphim passed away, he had a conversation
with Nicholas Motovilov on the purpose of the Christian life. The theme was chosen
due to Nicholas lifelong quest to find out what the goal of the Christian life consisted

228 See Instructions 1-8, 25-32.


229 Cf. Instructions 11: On Peace of Soul, 37.
230 Ibid.
231 Andreyev adds that St Seraphim tireless pointed out the tremendously practical results of this acquisition

[of the Holy Spirit], not only for the individual, but for those around him as well. Acquire the spirit of peace,
and thousands around you will be saved, the saint asserted. Cf. Andreyev, St Seraphim of Sarov, 15.
232 Instructions 11: On Peace of Soul, 37.
233 Cf. Instructions 11: On Peace of Soul, 37.
234 St Silouan states that he states that the whole spiritual warfare wages around humility in Writings 19:

Reminiscences and Conversations, 481.

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of, and having conversed with many spiritual and religious persons, he was not entirely
satisfied with their answers. 235 St Seraphim explains that:

Prayer, fasting, vigils, and all other Christian practices, however good
they are in themselves, do not constitute the goal of our Christian life,
although they serve as a necessary means to its attainment. The true goal of
our Christian life consists in the acquisition of the Holy Spirit of God. 236

This is a correction to the usually misunderstood purpose of the spiritual life which,
often than not, becomes a stagnant spiritual existence focused on the acquisition of the
virtues and burdened by pharisaic undertones which reduces the spiritual experience to
a set of rules followed for the sake of achieving a good standing with God. This
understanding corresponds to the teaching of St Symeon and, as shown by Doru
Costache, other hesychasts like St Gregory Palamas, who believed that the centre of
Christian experience the experience of holiness is not the accomplishment of moral
perfection, but rather, the acquisition of divine energy, or more specifically, the Holy
Spirit Himself. 237

St Seraphim provides an analogy of this acquisition by comparing it to acquiring money


in the world or trading at the markets; since it [Grace] is very like monetary, social and
temporal capital, it is obtained in similar ways. 238 This shows that the first aspect, the
purification process itself, is not the end goal but rather, a stepping stone for something
much greater; the gift of the Holy Spirit. However, purification must be undertaken for
Christs sake otherwise it is of no value. 239 Of the various means of attaining grace, St
Seraphim honours prayer as the highest because it is always available to us while vigils
and almsgiving is dependent on the situation and people around us. 240

Having established St Seraphims simple 241 spiritual paradigm, Nicholas then asks: Good
deeds are visible, but can the Holy Spirit be seen? How shall I know whether He is with

235 Nicholas A. Motovilov, A Conversation with the Saint by Nicholas A. Motovilov, translated by Mary-Barbara
Zeldin, in Constantine Cavarnos, and Mary-Barbara Zeldin. St Seraphim of Sarov (Belmont, Mass: Institute for
Byzantine and Modern Greek Studies, 1993), 93. All references to the conversation between Molotov and St
Seraphim are to this edition.
236 Conversation, 94.

237 Doru Costache, Experiencing the Divine Life: Levels of Participation in St Gregory Palamas' On the Divine and

Deifying Participation, Phronema 26: 1 (2011): 16-18, specifically 18.


238 Conversation, 96.
239 Conversation, 94-95.
240 Conversation, 101.
241 Andreyev states that No one has spoken so simply, so clearly, and so convincingly of the true goal of mans

life. Cf. Andreyev, St Seraphim of Sarov, 15.

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me or not? 242 St Seraphim replied that our lack of reception and feeling of grace is due
to the darkness of ignorance in which we do not understand the Scriptures as we
should; reminiscent of St Symeons teaching on blindness in his fifteenth Catechism. St
Seraphim provides various examples of this direct experience from both the Old and
New Testaments such as Adam conversing with God in Paradise, Job feeling the breath
of the Holy Spirit in his nostrils, Jacob wrestling with God, and the Holy Apostles who
said that it has seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us. 243 However, Nicholas still
failed to comprehend what St Seraphim was saying because this information had no
correspondent in his own personal experience. Seeing the issue at hand, St Seraphim
prayed that God might show him what it means to be in the presence of the Holy Spirit
in order that he may finally understand. St Seraphims prayer was answered and
Nicholas then writes:

At these words, I looked at his face and was seized with an even greater
sense of trembling awe. Imagine in the center of the sun, in the most
dazzling brilliance of its noontime rays, the face of a man talking to you.
You see the movement of his lips, the changing expression of his eyes,
you hear his voice, you feel that someone is holding his hands on your
shoulders. Yet you do not see his hands or his body, but only a blinding
light spreading around for several yards 244

This experience was also accompanied by an extraordinary sweetness, joy and


warmth. 245 The blinding light is very similar to both St Symeons own experience of the
divine Light and St Symeon the Pious whose face shone like the sun in the midst of the
monastery. For St Seraphim, this was not some mysterious and unknowable experience
for the chosen ones, but rather, something that we could all possess; the indwelling of
God within our hearts as St Seraphim said to Nicholas; my experience is just like
yours. 246 This event was not only for him to understand, but rather, for the whole
world. 247 Again, showing the similarity of St Symeons writings which were written not
only for his monks but for all those who would later read them long after his death.

242 Conversation, 102.


243 Conversation, 102-108, 111. Some scholars have shown how in various ways this direct experience of God
was achieved and manifested in the Old Testament. See Doru Costache, Adams Holiness: Athonite and
Alexandrine Perceptions, Phronema 29:2 (2014), 215; Bogdan Bucur,
Clement of Alexandria's Exegesis of Old Testament Theophanies, Phronema 29 (2014): 6381; and Alexander
Golitzin, The Place of the Presence of God: Aphrahat of Persia's Portrait of the Christian Holy Man,
Interdisciplinary Seminar on the Jewish Roots of eastern Christian Mysticism (2003).
244 Conversation, 113-114.
245 Conversation, 114.
246 Conversation, 117.
247 Conversation, 119.

41 | P a g e
5.1.3. Concluding Remarks
St Seraphim of Sarov was a silent voice in the wilderness until he began his pastoral
ministry which brought thousands of pilgrims from all over the world to his monastery
and in which his canonisation brought hundreds of thousands more. 248 St Seraphim is
an example of what can be achieved by the grace of God by all who strive to follow
Gods will against all odds and temptations irrespective of the period they were born in.
St Seraphim has proved that the same experience, which is foundational for the patristic
profile, namely that of the Holy Spirit, whilst remaining crucial for the authentic Father,
is achievable in every epoch. Thus, breaking down any restrictive boundaries for
patristic authority. I now move onto the life and teachings of St Silouan the Athonite
who was also a great luminary for both his disciples and all the people that would later
read his teachings.

5.2. St Silouan the Athonite: Life, Works and Teaching


St Silouans worldly name was Simeon Ivanovich Antonov, he was born in 1866 in the
village of Tambov, Russia. St Silouan was part of a large family of five boys and two
girls. 249 At four years of age his faith was shaken by a man who said that there was no
God. Only years later, after hearing of a pilgrimage to the tomb of a holy hermit, John
Sezenov, was his faith restored when he realised that if he was a holy man, it means
that God is here with us, so there is no point in me going off to search for him. 250
Elder Sophrony, St Silouans disciple and biographer, writes that after this experience
his faith strengthened and he began to pray with tears and was drawn to the monastic
life. 251

Desiring to leave the world and become a monk, St Silouan was held back by his father,
who asked him to complete the military service first. However, his enthusiasm slowly
vaned, and after three months, he reverted back to his old ways of friendships, vodka,
girls and entertainment. 252 He later recalled how he fell into sin with a village girl and
how he had almost killed a man in a brawl. 253 Nonetheless, it was his father who would
have a lasting impact on him and in which St Silouan would later say that he had not yet

248 Catherine Lucinda Penn, Introduction to An Extraordinary Peace: St Seraphim, Flame of Sarov, by Lazarus
Moore (Port Townsend, WA: Anaphora Press, 2009), 8-9.
249 Saint Silouan of Mount Athos (1866-1938): A Short Life History, Sourozh 47 (1992): 19.
250 Sophrony Sakharov, Saint Silouan the Athonite, trans. Rosemary Edmonds (Crestwood, NY: St Vladimirs

Seminary Press, 1991), 11.


251 Sakharov, Saint Silouan the Athonite, 11.
252 Ibid., 12.
253 Cf. Saint Silouan of Mount Athos (1866-1938): A Short Life History, Sourozh 19.

42 | P a g e
reached his fathers stature. 254 Eventually, he went to the monastery in 1892, was
tonsured in 1896, and earned the great schema rank in 1911. 255 He was to stay there for
forty-six years.

In terms of written works, like St Seraphim, St Silouan did not write much either. He
left but a few scraps of paper with various topics which were later transcribed into
chapters by his disciple Archimandrite Sophrony (also an Athonite monk and founder
of the monastery of St John the Baptist in Essex, England). Sophrony, in writing his
spiritual fathers biography, got the feeling that St Silouans words were inspired by the
breath of the Holy Spirit. 256 This feeling is supported by St Silouan himself who
alluded to this on several occasions in which the task of writing spiritual material was
done with ease because it was the Holy Spirit who both inspired and instructed him to
do so. 257 This is reminiscent of St Symeon who said the same about his own writings.
Thus, as discussed by both St Symeon and St Seraphim, the guidance of the Holy Spirit
is central to the portrait of a holy father because genuine authority can only come from
God.

In Sophronys biography, St Silouan the Athonite, there are twenty chapters accredited to
St Silouan which touch upon many spiritual themes such as: Prayer, Humility, Peace,
Grace, Obedience, Thoughts and others. I now move onto briefly looking at St
Silouans eschatological presupposition which is the one the foundational factors in the
attainment of the Holy Spirit who is seen as the central aspect of the Christian journey.
Indeed, it is only through the Holy Spirit that one acquires patristic authority, but first,
there must be a possibility for deification; for without it, a person will remain ignorant
and blind.

5.2.1. Eschatological Underpinning


St Silouan explains that the direct experience of God begins in the here and now
regardless of time and place. 258 Thus, he writes that eternal life has its beginnings here

254 Cf. St Silouan the Athonite, Writings 7: On Repentance in Sophrony Sakharov, Saint Silouan the Athonite,
trans. Rosemary Edmonds (Crestwood, NY: St Vladimirs Seminary Press, 1991), 349-350. All references to the
writings of St Silouan are to this edition.
255 Cf. Saint Silouan of Mount Athos (1866-1938): A Short Life History, Sourozh 20.
256 Sakharov, Saint Silouan the Athonite, 263.
257 Cf. Writings 6, 8, 9, 14, 18: 342, 355, 383, 404, 451
258 This teaching is also evident in St Symeons writings and other Fathers of the Church. See St Symeons Third

Ethical Discourse in On the Mystical Life: The Ethical Discourses (Crestwood, N.Y.: SVS Press, 1995-1997), Vol. 1,
3: Third Ethical Discourse, 135, 139. And also Tsirpanlis who states that this was not only taught by St Symeon
but also by many Eastern Fathers who saw the possibility of every human person enjoying the eternal

43 | P a g e
in this life; and here it is that we sow the seeds of eternal torment. He is referring to
the realities of heaven and hell as being already manifested in the present moment
depending on whether we are with God or without Him. 259 He supports this
understanding by referring to the first epistle of St John the Evangelist where he states
that when Christ appears, we shall be like him, 260 not only then but even now. 261 He
further adds:

The merciful Lord has given the Holy Spirit on earth, and the Holy
Spirit lives in our Church, lives in all virtuous pastors; lives in the hearts
of the faithful and has so adorned man that he has become like unto
the Lord. 262

This passage explains St Silouans eschatological hope in that we can become gods by
grace precisely because the Holy Spirit continues to work fully in this world at this very
present moment just as he has always done. As the letter to the Hebrews states: Jesus
Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever (Heb. 3:18). Thus, genuine patristic
authority rests solely on the ability for us to participate in the uncreated Light of God
which is the Holy Spirit. 263 St Silouan provides examples of this when he personally
experienced the divine fire of the Holy Spirit like the early Christians during a vespers
service where he saw the living Lord standing before him. 264 This happened on multiple
occasions, and not only with him but others also; such as an unknown priest and St
John of Kronstadt whose faces were transfigured to look young and beautiful, like that
of a child, and were inexpressibly radiant in the likeness of Christ. 265 We now move to
examine more deeply St Silouans teaching on the uncreated light or the divine grace of
God.

happiness and divine glory of Jesus Christ even in the present life. In Tsirpanlis, The Trinitarian and Mystical
Theology, 539.
259 Cf. Writings 9: On Love, 378.
260 Cf. 1 John 3:2 Beloved, now are we the sons of God, and it doth not yet appear what we shall be: but we

know that, when he shall appear, we shall be like him; for we shall see him as he is. (KJV).
261 Cf. Writings 13: Concerning Shepherds of Souls, 404.
262 Writings 13: Concerning Shepherds of Souls, 404.
263 He who bears within him the Holy Spirit can realise it in part, since paradise is the Kingdom of the Holy

Spirit, and the Holy Spirit in heaven and on earth is one and the same. Cf. Writings 16: Concerning Spiritual
Warfare, 435.
264 Writings 19: Reminiscences and Conversations, 458.
265 Writings 10, 13: 387, 403. More examples of this experience in the Sayings of the Desert Fathers: Apoph.

Pambo 12 (PG 65, 372A). Cf. Pambo 1 (PG 65, 368BC); Sisoes 14 (PG 65, 396BC) and Silvanus 12 (PG 65, 412C);
and lastly Joseph of Panephysis 6 and 7 (PG 65, 229CD). References and further discussion on this theme can be
found in Doru Costache, Adams Holiness: Athonite and Alexandrine Perceptions, Phronema 29:2 (2014), 215.

44 | P a g e
5.2.2. Uncreated Light
St Silouan believed that the ultimate purpose of all Christian asceticism was the
attainment of the uncreated Light of God which was none other than the sharing in
the passionlessness of God. 266 He explains:

The passionless man is full of love, pity, concern; but all these proceed
from God acting in him. Passionlessness may be defined as the acquiring of
the Holy Spirit; as Christ living in us. Passionlessness is the light of new
life inspiring in man new feelings and thoughts, a new light of eternal
understanding. The holy Fathers of the Church define passionlessness as
the resurrection of the soul before the general resurrection of the
dead. 267 [Emphasis is mine]

This is a reinterpretation of the traditional theme of dispassion or the transfiguration of


the human person who puts on Christ and becomes godlike through grace. The saints
begin to feel emotions that come from God who inspires new feelings and thoughts
such as love, pity and concern. These could be seen as a reiteration of the Golden Rule:
to love God with all your heart, mind and soul; and to love your neighbour as yourself.
Something which is only truly attainable when God dwells within the human heart.
Harry Boosalis, who wrote on St Silouans spiritual teachings, writes that the acquisition
of the grace of the Holy Spirit is one of the fundamental themes in the saints
writings. 268 This seems to directly follow St Seraphims own theological framework in
which the goal of the spiritual life is the attainment of the Holy Spirit through grace.
This should not be surprising though, as St Silouan was well acquainted with St
Seraphims writings and quoted him sparingly in his scraps of paper. 269

St Silouan believed that the knowledge of God and His love can only be attained
through the Holy Spirit. St Silouan expresses this belief in each of his twenty chapters. 270
The person who has not experienced the Holy Spirit, and thus not being sensible of His
presence, 271 will not know the sweetness of the Holy Spirit and will instead rejoice in
worldly vanity and praise, or in riches and power. 272 In addition, St Silouan does not
hold the human being very highly when it is divorced from the grace of God. He refers
to man as sinful clay, sinful dust and cattle, while on the other hand, an angel of
266 Sourozh, Saint Silouan of Mount Athos, 175.
267 Ibid., 177.
268 Harry M. Boosalis, Orthodox Spiritual Life According to Saint Silouan the Athonite (South Canaan, Pa: St

Tikhon's Seminary Press, 2000), 27.


269 Cf. Writings 1, 4, 5, 14: 282, 313, 321, 408.
270 Cf. Writings 1, 9, 11, 12, 15-20: 280-281, 371, 391, 394, 420, 423, 431, 445, 448, 451, 458, 491.
271 Cf. Writings 1: Yearning for God, 288.
272 Writings 3: On Humility, 301.

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the Lord when grace-filled. 273 The use of dust and cattle seems to signify the earthiness
and animal like features which result from the lack of knowledge of God in an intimate
way which the human person was created to enjoy.

St Silouan states that in order to acquire this knowledge and also love through grace one
must be temperate in all things; in his gestures, in speech, in what he lets his eyes look
upon, in his thoughts, in the food he eats and must regularly meditate on Scripture 274
coupled with ardent prayer. 275 This all-encompassing view of human relations with the
world and those in it resembles St Symeons own suggestion that we must give
everything to God in order to reach deification. 276 This is very similar, likewise, to St
Seraphims exhortation that we must detach ourselves from all visible objects and focus
solely on God through the Jesus Prayer. In return, the grace of God that we receive
affects not only the soul but also the body which feels its presence; as Boosalis writes:
the bodily experience of grace reflects the dynamic dimension of mans deification in
Christ. 277 This process takes time and cannot be learnt through books but must be
experienced and lived through as attested by the Holy Scripture and the holy Fathers. 278
St Silouan describes the feeling of grace as being similar to the feeling of being hot or
cold; something unmistakable once experienced, 279 following St Symeons own
teaching. 280 His statements echo the experience of Motovilov who was unable to
understand what St Seraphim was saying until the grace of God surrounded him as well.

St Silouan assures his readers that if they make room for Him and persevere in His
grace, they will be free from all darkness and will inherit eternal life. 281 He presents the
Apostles themselves as examples for they were neither strong nor wise nor did they
possess the ability to forgive sins until the coming of the Holy Spirit. 282 From this
perspective, he interprets the ability of bishops to forgive sins, only to the extent that
273 Writings 1, 5: 281, 328, 331.
274 St Silouan writes: You must read the Holy Scriptures grace lives in them and this grace will delight you,
and you will come to know the Lord in Writings 5: On Humility, 331.
275 Writings 19: Reminiscences and Conversations, 480.
276 St Silouan, when speaking about the attainment of virtues, follows St Symeons point that we must acquire

every single virtue in order to become worthy of receiving God within the temple of our souls. Cf. Writings 14:
Concerning Monks, 414.
277 Boosalis, Orthodox Spiritual Life, 42.
278 Cf. Writings 19: Reminiscences and Conversations, 480.
279 Cf. Writings 17: Concerning Intrusive Thoughts and Delusions, 442.
280 Cf. Daniel K. Grigs states: The importance of personal experience in authentic theology is well attested

among the Fathers, but none stress contemplation and conscious possession of the Holy Spirit so strongly as
Symeon. In Daniel K. Griggs, Introduction to Divine Eros: Hymns of St Symeon, the New Theologian (Crestwood,
N.Y.: St Vladimir's Seminary Press, 2010), 15.
281 Writings 7: On Repentance, 347-8.
282 Writings 13: Concerning Shepherds of Souls, 403.

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they possess the Holy Spirit who works through them. That is also assuming they
continue in great toil and struggle to keep this grace. 283 This strongly resembles St
Symeons own view that holiness is required before one can presume to take on the
priestly role as discussed in chapter four. Thus, the priest was held in a higher regard for
he was to be the shepherd guiding others towards God. St Silouan did not believe that
the Holy Spirit stopped working within a certain period, nor that patristic authority
ceased to exist. He knew through direct experience that every Christian was capable of
reaching the stature of a saint for it was not the person that was intrinsically holy but
rather the Holy Spirit who is within them.

5.3. Conclusion
It is clear from the teachings of both these great saints that the experience of the Holy
Spirit was fundamental and central to the patristic understanding of a genuine father of
the Church. They followed the same process that St Symeon explained almost a
millennium ago. As the Proverbs teach; Do not turn to the right nor to the left but
follow the middle way that leads to God (cf. Prov. 4:27). No one comes to God except
through asceticism leading to humility and purification, attainment of the grace of God
and finally the indwelling of God which is deification. It is for no other reason than this
that they are glorified as saints in the Orthodox Church as examples for the rest of us;
in order to show that it is possible for all.

Indeed, the four saints or fathers of the Church that I have covered so far: St Symeon
the New Theologian, St Symeon the Pious, St Silouan and St Seraphim, all illustrated
the possibility and the direct experience of God. They also all lived long after the
scholarly representations of a restricted patristic age. It could be argued that it is
precisely those who have acquired the Holy Spirit, who are transfigured and
transformed by the grace of God, who are fit to renew the Church and to engage
modernity and post-modernity in a manner that does justice to the patristic heritage and
to the work of the Holy Spirit within the Church from the beginning to now.

283 Cf. Writings 13: Concerning Shepherds of Souls, 400.

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6. General Conclusion
I have tried to point out that the question of the patristic age as being open or closed is
not a trivial matter. This theme is intrinsically connected with both the understanding of
divine union with God in every epoch, and the very structure of the Church. It was my
contention that the only possible answer is that of an open patristic age because the
Holy Spirit continues to work within the Church in the same capacity as He has always
done in the previous periods. I had begun with the fifth century restriction which saw
the patristic phenomenon end at the time of St Cyril of Alexandria because his theology,
and those afterwards, had supposedly become repetitive and lacked creativity. I also
pointed out that revelation is not based on human endeavour alone, but on the synergy
between God and the holy ones.

Therefore, it was not a mere repetition of patristic text, but rather, a return to the very
phronema or Spirit of the Fathers which guided them in the formation of these texts in
the first place. As for innovation, I had demonstrated that there is a fine line between
sterile faith which feels more like a museum, and that of modernism which adapts to
ever-changing fads of popular culture. The Orthodox approach was shown to follow
the middle path which engages the contemporary world but on its own terms, and never
at the expense of truth or its dogmas. I then continued with the presentation of a more
generous understanding of the patristic age which continued until the eighth century. I
have pointed out how this perception, related to the criterion of antiquity, had indirectly
attempted to circumscribe the Spirit to a certain period. I had provided examples of
fathers of the Church who were outside either the first or second perspective: St
Maximus the Confessor, St Symeon the New Theologian, St Gregory Palamas, and also
the two modern saints; St Seraphim of Sarov and St Silouan the Athonite.

I then examined how the very foundation which gave birth to these saints was to be lost
by the post-patristic movement which sought to bypass tradition and introduce various
innovations which have not been part of tradition for the last two millenniums. While it
was an honourable attempt to make the Church more relevant and engaged in todays
increasingly secular society, the underlying cost of its approach could not be justified.
Although Kalaitzidis did provide some good points as to the difficulties and failures of
the neo-patristic synthesis, nonetheless, looking at the tradition through the
reductionist view of only two dogmas; Trinitarian and Christological, was not only to

48 | P a g e
undermine the Churchs own understanding and stability but was totally unprecedented.
This brought us to a peculiar position. How then was the Church to proceed in a
multicultural, diverse and ever changing world? The answer lay in what exactly patristic
authority meant, what its source was, and how it was manifested within the world.

The analysis of St Symeons texts provided a possible answer. It is only by going back to
tradition, and thereby incorporating its Spirit, in word and deed, rather than merely
memorising its writings, could lead one through the process of asceticism to deification.
Also, the father-disciple relationship exemplified by St Symeon the Pious and the New
Theologian was shown to be an indispensable aid in this process. Finally the association
of faith, assimilation of virtues, holiness, and ultimately the indwelling of the Holy
Spirit, all pertaining to the profile of a father with patristic authority, was a combination
that could not be historically restricted. Indeed, it is precisely this Spirit that spoke
through the Fathers and engaged with their respective culture and issues. Thus it was
not humankinds individual and one-sided attempt to mould Gods word to the culture
at hand, but rather, God working through humankind to transfigure the culture
according to His good purpose and pleasure.

Lastly, I demonstrated this very principle by discussing two modern saints, St Seraphim
of Sarov and St Silouan the Athonite who not only transformed themselves according
to Gods image and likeness, but also those around them. Various similarities were
shown between them and St Symeon the Pious and the New Theologian, which
strengthened my point that there is a common Spirit that is working through these
fathers that goes right back to Pentecost and Who continues to work within the Church
today. For this reason, a closed patristic age not only fails to describe the various
occurrences of grace working in each period of the Churchs historical existence, but
also attempts to commit the only new heresy according to St Symeon; that there can
be no more saints like those in the early Church.

Nevertheless, some possible objections to this thesis include the point raised by
Kalaitzidis that his new paradigm was the work of the Spirit and therefore should be
trusted, or from a non-Orthodox perspective, which may put less emphasis on the
authority of the fathers, or possibly even see their experience as being simply one of
many, but equal, ways of approaching God. Regardless of the objections, I endeavoured
to add further clarity to the understanding of the patristic age, and to show that the

49 | P a g e
same experience that the fathers and saints of the Church had, was something that was
possible for every Christian who was willing to follow in their footsteps.

In light of the above, in order to fully understand what the patristic age entailed, a firm
grasp of the notion of patristic authority and its source was needed. I believe that
Florovskys message in relation to the Fathers is as important today as it could ever be,
since on this return depends not only the relevance of the Church but the very
achievement of the spiritual experience. It is my conviction that only through a return
to the phronema or Spirit of the fathers that the Church will again be able to
confidently engage with popular culture and the pressing issues of today in an
authoritative manner faithful both to the tradition passed down, once and for all, and
the one Spirit Who continues to inspire and invigorate the Church throughout the ages.

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7. Bibliography
7.1. Chapter 2: The Patristic Era Various Perspectives:

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Sakharov, Sophrony. Saint Silouan the Athonite. Translated by Rosemary Edmonds.
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7.2. Chapter 3: Post-Patristic Trend within the Orthodox Church

Alfeyev, Hilarion. The Patristic Heritage and Modernity, Translated by Hildo Bos.
Ecumenical Review 54:1 (2002): 91-111.

Gavrilyuk, Paul L. Florovskys Neopatristic Synthesis and the Future Ways of Orthodox
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7.3. Chapter 4: St Symeon the New Theologian and Patristic Authority


Primary Sources
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St Symeon the New Theologian. The Epistles of St Symeon the New Theologian. Edited,
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7.4. Chapter 5: Modern Fathers of the Church


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