Sunday, December 04, 2011

On the Errors of Bishop Photios of Marathon and Fr. Panagiotis Carras

The Divine Name controversy involved deeply complex theological issues that have as of yet not been fully resolved in conciliar manner by the Orthodox Church. It has been the subject of a small but expanding library of books and articles written by theologians, historians, and churchmen in a variety of languages and from a variety of perspectives. It is a topic about which reasonable people can disagree, inasmuch as the Church has not yet definitely resolved the issue.

What is unacceptable, however, is for people with no knowledge of either the theological complexities involved or the language in which the controversy was conducted, and with no familiarity with either the historical context or the primary sources – such as Bishop Photios of Marathon and Fr. Panagiotis Carras in their articles recently published on the offiical website of the Holy Metropolis of the Genuine Orthodox Church of America – unilaterally to declare it a "condemned heresy" and "superstition" (in Bishop Photios’ words) purely for reasons of jurisdictional rivalry (hence Bishop Photios’ reference to "the parasynagogues of the deposed or un-ordained [sic]" and Fr. Panagiotis’ explicit reference to Bishop Gregory of Petrograd and Gdov). This is all the more the case when such people display their ignorance by making a series of egregious factual mistakes.

The following is a list of factual errors made by Bishop Photios of Marathon and Fr. Panagiotis Carras with a brief response to each.

1. The "heresy" of name-glorifying was neither "lit" (Bishop Photios) nor "begun" (Fr. Panagiotis) by Schema-monk Ilarion, author of In the Mountains of the Caucasus. This book was originally blessed for publication in 1907, republished in 1910 with funds provided by the New Martyr Grand Duchess Elizabeth Feodorovna; and printed a third time in an enormous print run by the Kiev-Caves in 1912. All were printed with full ecclesiastical sanction.

2. Fr. Panagiotes writes concerning the name-glorifiers: "Many of them argued that, since according to the ancient Greek philosopher, Plato, the name of an object exists before the object itself does, so the name of God must pre-exist before the world was created, and that it (the Name) cannot be anything but God Himself. Among other things, this was thought to mean that knowledge of the secret name of God alone allows one to perform miracles. A similar concept exists in Jewish Kabbalah and in Buddhism." This is false from beginning to end. Who are the "many" that argued such evident nonsense? Can Fr. Panagiotis name a single name-glorifier who cited Plato? Where is the evidence that the name-glorifiers taught that God had a "secret name"? What is Fr. Panagiotis source for this information? Has he read any of the works of Fr. Anthony (Bulatovich)? In fact, the answer is quite clear: he copied and pasted this nonsense and slander verbatim from Wikipedia, hardly a reliable source for theological discussion.

3. Fr. Panagiotis claims that "the other Athonite monks" opposed Fr. Anthony. In fact, name-glorification was strong enough among Russian Athonites that they canonically elected one of their own as abbot of St. Andrew’s Skete. Moreover, over 800 name-glorifying monks were expelled from Athos in 1913.

4. Both Bishop Photios and Fr. Panagiotis speak as if the issue of name-glorification had been decisively resolved by the ecclesiastical authorities. If that were the case then the Russian Synod would not have issued a statement on May 7, 1914, and confirmed by decree of the Synod – which they were urged to do by personal appeal of the Tsar-Martyr Nicholas II – stating that the name-glorifiers "have no reason, based on the teaching on the names of God, to fall away from the Orthodox Church"; nor would name-glorifiers have served as army chaplains during World War I; nor would the All-Russian Council of 1917-1918 have taken up the issue; nor would Patriarch Tikhon have openly served with Archimandrite David, a leading name-glorifier, in the early 1920s.

5. Fr Panagiotis writes: "In Russia, the most vocal opponent was Archbishop Antony (Khrapovitsky) of Kiev." This is true, but Fr. Panagiotis gives no indication of just how misguided many of his writings against name-glorification really were. Archbishop Anthony in fact explicitly refuses to recognize the energy of God with God Himself, recognizing it – and consequently the name of God – as only an intermediary power:

His [Bulatovich’s] doctrine consists of the following positions. In God not only His Essence is divine, but His energy as well; the energy is every word of God and every action; the name of God is also His energy (energy means will or power); it follows, according to Bulatovich’s words, that the name of God and every word of God is not only Divine, but is God Himself. This is allegedly the teaching of St. Gregory of Thessalonica. In actual fact the teaching of the latter condemns those who speak in this manner of the first position (and the Barlaamites, the opponents of St. Gregory, spoke in this way) and demands that one name the energy of God not at all "God," but rather Divine and to ascribe to it not the name "God" [Bog] but "Divinity" [Bozhestvenii] or "Divineness" [Bozhestvennost’] (theotis, and not theos). ["Pribavleniia k Tserkovnym Vedomostriam," May 18, 1912 (Number 20), 876].

For Archbishop Anthony, only the essence of God was God Himself, claiming that St. Gregory Palamas directed an anathema against those "who recognize the energy of God not as Divine, but as God, that is, who identify it [the energy] with the essence of God." [Ibid, 876].

Moreover, Vladyka Anthony, in his writings critical of name-glorifying, expressed a crude nominalism, making a strict distinction between a name and the thing or person named:

Logic distinguishes the essence of a thing from its phenomenon (although this, too, is rather vague), and a natural scientist would tell you that sounds are something audible, but that their essence is a vibration of the air and its impact on our eardrums; lightening is a visible phenomenon, but its essence is the release of electrical energy or power.

But what is the difference between a name and the idea or essence of a name? Any educated person would offer the response that the idea of a name is its meaning (for instance, the name "Andrew" contains within itself the idea of manliness, and the name "Agapia," the idea of love), and the essence of the name is understood to be that person to whom it is addressed. But Fr. Bulatovich does not wish to hear of such answers: he is indignant with those who "dare to equate the Divinity of the name of God with the simple idea of God and who see in the name of God nothing but sounds." [Ibid, 878]

The point here is no to criticize Vladyka Anthony, but rather to show that Fr. Panagiotis’ appeal to his authority is specious. The theological limitations of Vladyka Anthony’s writings on name-glorifying should be clearly evident from our very brief summary. Granted the general ignorance of the thought of St. Gregory Palamas in theological circles of his time, there should be nothing especially shocking in his misapprehension of the distinction between essence and energy. None of the other official ecclesiastical replies to name-glorifying was itself free from similar misconstructions of hesychast theology. Vladyka Anthony, for all his attempts to break free from the bondage of western scholasticism, was still very much a theologian of his time. Bishop Photios and Fr. Panagiotis, however, cannot be so easily excused, given the revival of interest in Palamas and the growing body of scholarly literature on name-glorifying.

6. Bishop Photios writes: "In other words, it is sufficient for one to call upon the name of God (even without faith, unconscionably [sic]) and God is obliged to be present with this person through His Grace and to fulfill his petition." This slanderous accusation shows Bishop Photios’ utter ignorance of the writings of Fr. Anthony, who repeatedly and systematically denied any such teaching.

7. Fr Panagiotis writes: "The heresy was continued in Paris where the proponents of the heresy of Sophia, Florensky and Bulgakov also supported the Name-Worshipping heresy." Putting aside the fact that Florensky was never in Paris, this is purely a matter of guilt by association. And while it is true that Florensky was supportive of Fr. Anthony (Bulatovich), Bulgakov was more ambivalent, writing only quite fairly that the "practical application of the prayer of Jesus has naturally led to theological discussion of the name of God and its power, on the meaning of the veneration of the name of God and on its active force. These questions have not yet received solutions having the value of dogma for the whole Church" [The Orthodox Church, tr. by Elizabeth S Cram (London: The Centenary Press, 1935), 171-172]. No one at the St. Serge Institute in Paris was an active proponent of name-glorifying.

More could be written in response to the crude caricature of name-glorifying painted by Bishop Photios and Fr. Panagiotis. But the above seven points should demonstrate just how misguided their attempts are to declare as a heresy a teaching that stands well within the mainstream of patristic doctrine.

Nikolai Stromsky
Entrance of the Theotokos into the Temple
November 21 / December 4, 2011

Vertordad # 80, December 4, 2011