“I belong to a small country,” said the great Greek poet George Seferis in his Nobel Prize winning speech in 1963. “It is small, but its tradition is immense.”
As wrangling over the word “tradition” has become an idle pastime, particularly on that domain of debauchery known as social media, Seferis’s thoughts warrant consideration, despite his unorthodox Orthodoxy. Tradition, for Seferis, has three elements: it is alive; it is universal, but only because it is particular; and it is, above all, liberating.
Introduced to the West in Henry Miller’s 1939 travelogue The Colossus of Maroussi, the poet and diplomat (whose real name was Giorgos Seferiades) was larger than life. Miller described him as “a wild boar which had broken its tusks in furious onslaughts born of love and ecstasy.” When Orthodox lay theologian Philip Sherrard first met Seferis in person, he wrote in his diary that he radiated “profoundly direct and simple human warmth and spontaneity.” The British poet and Jesuit priest Peter Levi wrote that Seferis “was the sun in the sky to all of us who lived in Greece.”
Rowan Williams has often said that many things are said in his name, so I claim full responsibility for what is a personal and subjective interpretation of the keynote address His Grace, the 104th Archbishop of Canterbury, gave this June at The Patterson Triennial Conference. Hosted by the Orthodox Christian Studies Center at Fordham University, the conference topic for 2019 was “Faith, Reason, Theosis.” His Grace’s was one of fourteen papers over the course of three days that explored the complex relationship between these terms.
As a practicing Episcopalian, the idea of hearing His Grace speak in the midst of this academic enclave of Orthodox Christianity that resides in the midst of Latin Catholicism was, for my way of thinking, the equivalent of extreme sport. The rigor of academic inquiry bumping into history, schisms, faith traditions, political assumptions and, in one paper, just who does have the last copy of a missing text in Syriac, led to some pretty intense intellectual explorations. As the keynote speaker, Rev. Williams, a thoughtful scholar, master of languages, a philosopher of history, and perhaps most importantly a poet in the service of God, spoke to the act of seeing. A concept as old as the ancients and as fresh as the morning light. Continue reading →