Ecumenical and Interfaith Relations, Theology

Why Do Theological Pluralism and Dialogical Ethos Matter for Orthodoxy? The Volos Academy for Theological Studies Blog “In Many and Various Ways”

Published on: March 26, 2021
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This post was originally published in Greek on the new blog of the Volos Academy for Theological Studies, πολυμερώς και πολυτρόπως (“In Many and Various Ways”). Read the Greek original.

Because, as the Letter to the Hebrews reminds us, in many and various ways God spoke to our ancestors in faith (cf. Heb. 1: 1), just as in these last days, as evidenced by the Pauline and the Catholic letters, the Gospel was preached and embodied in a diverse, pluralistic and ecumenical environment.

Because, today’s orthodoxism seems to have largely lost the wonderful balance of the Council of Chalcedon, a balance that is expressed in the “Chalcedonian adverbs” “unconfusedly, unchangeably, indivisibly, inseparably,” and has slipped more and more into one-sided and gnosiomachical practices, as well as into a theological monophysitism. It suffices to visit an Orthodox religious bookstore in Greece. One will find there that the Bible and the Fathers have been completely sidelined by all sorts of contemporary elders and their followers, who have occupied a privileged position for years!…

Because, modern Orthodoxy often tends to replace theological pluralism with all kinds of monophonic versions, and, moreover, to further the ecclesiastical/ecclesiological, as well as the juridical, fragmentation of the national churches and the Orthodox diaspora. Orthodoxy’s legitimate (and traditional) theological pluralism, its unity in diversity, has thus been replaced in many cases by spiritual uniformity and a theological entrapment in a single trend, in a homogeneous expression.

Because, Orthodoxy is not just the “mystical,” “exotic” or “eastern” version of Christianity, as it is often considered (and this is mainly our responsibility), but the fulfillment of life and grace, the experience of that catholicity that rests in the whole and not in the part, in the “in many and various ways,” in the variety of gifts and charisms that constitute in the Holy Spirit the enrichment of theology (cf. the Doxastikon of Christmas), not in a single-modedness (μονοτροπία) and one-sidedness. Orthodoxy is a catholicity that does not impose a certain model of spiritual life, but embraces the divine and the human, ascesis and Eucharist, monastic spirituality and eucharistic spirituality, doctrine and ethos, theory and practice, silence and word, spirit and matter, the mystery of God and the mystery of one’s neighbor, the vertical axis and the horizontal axis, the Greek Fathers but also the Syrian and the Latin Fathers, who according to the late Fr. Georges Florovsky also belong to “Christian Hellenism,” history and eschatology, the “now” and the “not yet.” And the list goes on…

Because, Christianity emerges and takes roots in a diverse environment, where, thanks to St. Paul, it acquires its multicultural character, which had already been announced by the Gospel of Christ. As Fr. Lambros Kamberidis maintained in an earlier lecture at the Volos Academy for Theological Studies on the unity and multiplicity of the ecclesial body and the Trinitarian hypostasis:

From now on all the differences that tend to cancel […] this unity of the polysemantic body and person of Christ have as their starting point their inability to assume and to understand this multiplicity of dispersion (πολυφωνία τῆς διασπορᾶς) cultivated by Orthodoxy as an exercise in Orthodox faith in order to refer it in the harmonious consent of the Trinitarian unity. The mutual indwelling (perichorisis) of plurality within the unity of Christ determines the spiritual quality of Orthodoxy.

This varied diversity is a necessary condition for the Orthodox vision of the world, because it is born through the relationship of otherness that God initiated with the world, with creatures, with humankind. […] It unites what were previously divided, combining in a single synthesis what until then were considered as opposites, the spirit with the body, the one with the many, the world as an earthly ecclesial body with the Kingdom of heaven. The various heresies will never be able to accept this synthesis of multiplicity and uniqueness, of the future of the eschatological kingdom with the historical present. They will simply insist on the unique reality, on the partial, seeking to impose it as the ultimate whole. Monophysitism, monoenergism, monotheletism express the very incapacity of their one-dimensional followers to search for ways of coexistence with this life of otherness, cultivated by the diversity of Orthodoxy.

On a mosaic floor in Syria, Paul, bishop of Apamea, who struggled to enable this Orthodox belief in the multifaceted principles of salvation to prevail, on a floor that reflected somewhat the diversity of the doctrines narrated in the dome, and presented the variety of the world with representations depicting plants, the sea, waves, deer, snakes, vines – namely, the diverse symbolic representation of salvation – asked the craftsmen to write in the omphalion of the representation: THE VARIED MOSAIC OF THE ABOVE DOCTRINES, INTRODUCED BY PAUL, A MAN WHO THINKS IN A VARIED MANNER.”[1]

Because, if historically the Church and theology (cf. the Roman and Byzantine ecumene, and even the period of Ottoman rule) accepted, albeit with some difficulty, the “in many and various ways,” it is urgent for us to rediscover the value of legitimate theological pluralism, and also of dialogue itself and dialogical theology. Indeed, the challenge of globalization and the reality of multicultural societies, with the osmosis of peoples, cultures and religions, urgently pose to the Church and to theology the timely question of religious diversity, the relationship with the “other,” which reflects the ultimate “Other,” which is God. The emergence and consolidation of various types of otherness (ethnic/national, racial, religious, ideological, social, age) in the lives of people and societies, led to the loss of a homogeneous social and religious space and to the radical transformation of closed traditional societies.

Because, Orthodoxy today is called to elaborate and formulate a theology of otherness and identity. The latter, in a broader and more eschatological perspective, encompasses otherness too, as “the other becomes an ontological part of one’s identity,” and “otherness is not a threat to unity but a sine qua non condition of it” to the extent that “otherness is constitutive of unity, and not consequent upon it,” to recall the words of the now classic work Communion and Otherness by Metropolitan John D. Zizioulas.

Because, based on the above, a fundamentalist retreat and traditionalism, a denial of modernity and the reality of pluralistic societies, a rejection of dialogue and the “other,” a nationalist version of Christian discourse and an understanding of the ecclesial event in terms of identity and ancestral heritage are temptations that genuine Orthodoxy and a vital theological self-consciousness are constantly called to reject and to transcend.

Because, a Church that does not dialogue with the world and its problems, that does not converse with the otherness of the “other” and with what this brings about, essentially ceases to function as ek-klesia, since it denies the most important consequence of the Incarnation: the recapitulation of the whole of creation in Christ (Eph. 1:10; cf. Gal. 3:28, 4:4; Col. 1:16, 3:11), that is, the reception and transformation of the created by the uncreated, the assumption in the person of the Incarnate Son and Word of God of all human nature and History.

Because, the necessity and the imperative of dialogue, in other words, the dialogical ethos of Orthodoxy, derives both from its theological self-consciousness and from the nature of the Triune God, since, as we know, our faith in the Holy Trinity is faith not in a monad closed in upon itself, but in a communion of eternal love, freedom and perichoresis.

Because, as noted by Metropolitan Ignatius of Demetrias during the presentation of the Greek edition (2006) of the collective volume published by Holy Cross Greek Orthodox School of Theology, titled Orthodox Churches in a Pluralistic World (edited by Fr. Emmanuel Clapsis), as well as during a panel discussion in Athens on interreligious and intercultural dialogue (2011): “this intra-Trinitarian dialogue expands with Creation and becomes a dialogue of the Trinity with the created reality, and especially with its crown, the human being itself. Creation is indeed a dialogue initiated by God, the pre-eminent ‘Other,’ with creation, a dialogue that continues until the eschatological fulfillment, the benevolence of the Kingdom of the Trinitarian household of God. In this dialogue of the Divine Economy, the incarnation, the becoming human of the Son and Word of God occupies a central place. That is why the Church, the body of Christ, does not exist for itself, but for the world and for the sake of the world (Jn 6:51). […] The Church must continue in the Holy Spirit the dialogical work of Christ’s salvation within History; that is, it must engage in dialogue with what is not yet Church.”

Because, dialogue is the most characteristic expression of the loving ethos, the very witness of the spirit of Christian love and reconciliation, while its necessary condition is meta-noia/repentance, the feeling of loss and lack of the “other” (that is, the opposite of self-sufficiency), the process of exit from ourselves and from our certainties, a process that leads us to overcome fear and selfishness, or even theological and ecclesiastical provincialism and isolationism. Dialogue helps us to meet the “other,” to overcome ignorance, suspicion and resentment, to remove misunderstandings, and jointly to address new challenges.

Because, finally, the Volos Academy for Theological Studies’ blog “In many and various ways” aspires to serve this dialogical ethos as well as Orthodoxy’s generosity and openness. The blog was designed to serve as a space for dialogue and fruitful exchange of views for those who want to comment on timely issues from a theological perspective or attempt to bring theology into dialogue with the challenges of the modern world, reaching thus a wider, and not exclusively academic audience. Therefore, the blog aspires to include not only academic papers but also essays that seek to promote Orthodox theology, as well as the wider Christian thought, without necessarily being identified with the official views of the Volos Academy or with the official statements of the Church. Adopting as its title the opening verse of the Letter to the Hebrews, far from any claim of authoritative or exclusive interpretation, the intention of this blog is to serve polyphony and theological pluralism, to welcome and to synthesize the existing theological tendencies.

[1] Fr. Lambros Kamberidis, “The Diversity of Orthodoxy in a Unilateral World,” journal Indiktos, issue 21, November 2006, pp. 47-62, here 57-60 [in Greek].

The header image is a detail from the wall painting of the Ascension, by Rallis Kopsidis, in the Church of the Apostle Paul in the Orthodox Center of the Ecumenical Patriarchate, Chambésy, Geneva, Switzerland (1975).

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Public Orthodoxy seeks to promote conversation by providing a forum for diverse perspectives on contemporary issues related to Orthodox Christianity. The positions expressed in this essay are solely the author’s and do not necessarily represent the views of the editors or the Orthodox Christian Studies Center.

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  • Pantelis Kalaitzidis

    Pantelis Kalaitzidis

    Director of the Volos Academy for Theological Studies, in Volos, Greece, and Member of the Executive Committee of the European Academy of Religion, in Bologna, Italy

    Dr. Pantelis Kalaitzidis, is the Director of the Volos Academy for Theological Studies, in Volos, Greece, and a Member of the Executive Committee of the European Academy of Religion, in Bologna, Italy.

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Public Orthodoxy seeks to promote conversation by providing a forum for diverse perspectives on contemporary issues related to Orthodox Christianity. The positions expressed in the articles on this website are solely the author’s and do not necessarily represent the views of the editors or the Orthodox Christian Studies Center.


Public Orthodoxy is a publication of the Orthodox Christian Studies Center of Fordham University