The Ways of Orthodox Theology in the West

By Asproulis, Nikolaos | The Ecumenical Review, March 2017 | Go to article overview

The Ways of Orthodox Theology in the West


Asproulis, Nikolaos, The Ecumenical Review


Ivana Noble, Katerina Baureva, Tim Noble, and Parush Parushev. The Ways of Orthodox Theology in the West. With a foreword by John Behr. Yonkers, N.Y.: St Vladimir's Seminary Press, 2014, 384 pp.

An interest in 20th-century Orthodox theology is gradually becoming evident. A considerable number of publications and events have attempted to critically reflect on the achievements and deficiencies of contemporary Orthodox theology, especially in view of the unforeseen challenges recently posed to Christianity by a rapidly changing world (e.g., the refugee crisis, religious extremism, populism). The representatives of the "Russian Diaspora" theology, which chiefly contributed to the revival and renewal of Orthodox theology, have mainly been the focus of a serious re-envisioning on the part of the new generation of theologians from different Christian traditions.

In this vein, the book at hand, authored by a team of Czech scholars and close friends to Orthodoxy, has endeavoured to provide an overview of the "ways" of Orthodox theology in the West. Echoing the title of the famous Russian emigre journal in Paris (Put'), and Georges Florovsky's much celebrated book Ways of Russian Theology, the authors "lead the reader from the legacy of Byzantium through the mission to the Slavs... , the Mongol Khanate and the Ottoman Sultanate, to the present" (9), by deeply diving into the "historical, cultural and social contexts in which Orthodox theology in the twentieth century has brought a movement of renewal to the West" (26).

It is by no means a textbook on dogmatic theology or an introductory, comparative manual to the basic tenets of Orthodox theology in dialogue with the West. Nor is it a full historical account of all its different "ways" (trends, representatives, etc.). The book employs a quite interesting dual methodology, which is balanced between a "macro-narrative and a micro-narrative," closely interlinked in reading the broader socio-political and intellectual context, while providing a close approach "from below" (332), from the very grass-roots level, where the reader is invited to concentrate on the "small histories of the everyday life" (241). It aims, then, at giving a chance for different, often diminished (see the St Denys Institute in Paris) or marginalized (the case of the Russian Sophiologists) voices to speak from their own perspective, without any tendency to compromise the differences, nor does it give priority to only one side (331).

The authors begin their survey by describing the multilateral development of the traditional Orthodox countries after the fall of the Byzantium and the complex history of their divergences and conflicts (chapter 1), while a special focus is given in the second chapter to Russia as a sort of ark of Orthodoxy during the Ottoman occupation, when a renewed spiritual and theological movement gradually came to the fore. The third chapter deals with the consequences of the revival in Russia of the Orthodox mission of the various national Orthodox churches in the West, with particular focus on Alaska. The fourth chapter mainly presents the experience of the Bolshevik revolution, persecution, martyrdom, and exile of the Russian Church, while the fifth chapter examines the emergence of the various local churches in the context of the diaspora, which gave priority to national and political factors at the expense of pan-Orthodox unity. …

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