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Hieromonk SERAPHIM (Rose)

THEOLOGY IN THE ANCIENT TRADITION

Protopresbyter Michael Pomazansky is unique among contemporary Orthodox theologians. At over 90 years of age, he is surely the oldest of those still writing theological articles; but more important, he received his theological formation not in any of the theological academies of the pre-sent day, all of which reflect to some degree the theological uncertainties and divisions of todayís Orthodoxy, but in the pre-Revolutionary academies of Russia, when Orthodoxy was still one in spirit, was still rooted in the age-old past of theological tradition, and did not suffer from the “identity crisis” that plagues so much of Orthodox theological literature today.

Some Orthodox writers today seem to have so little awareness of the distinctness of Orthodoxy that they lead people into the false opinion that Orthodoxy is scarcely different from Western confessions at all, and if only a few more “joint theological committees” will work out a few more “agreed statements” about the faith, we can all be one again and even share the same Holy Mysteries; this is the aim of the various societies and activities of the “ecumenical movement.”

The reaction to this movement, on the other hand, even when it goes under the name of a “patristic revival,” sometimes produces a de-finition of Orthodoxy so narrow that it proclaims all but a small group of todayís Orthodox to be without grace, or breaks off contact with its own Orthodox roots by declaring that only today are a few Orthodox theolo-gians becoming free of the “Western captivity” (dominance by Roman Catholic or Protestant ideas) in which Orthodoxy has supposedly been held in recent centuries.

Both of these extremes are perilously close to losing their very identity as Orthodox. Perhaps the crucial test for the extremists of either side is that of continuity: Are they teaching the same teaching they re-ceived from their own fathers in the faith, who in turn received it from their Fathers, and so on in an unbroken line with the past? More often than not, the extremists will have to admit that ó no, they themselves are “correcting the mistakes” of their fathers, that 19th-century theology (for example) is too narrow and anti-Western or (in the opposite extreme) too “scholastic” and pro-Western; that some respected Orthodox theolo-gians of earlier centuries are “out of date” and inapplicable to todayís “ecumenical” Christianity, or (in the opposite extreme) are “Western-izers” who “didnít understand the real Orthodox teaching” and should be rejected as Orthodox authorities.

Meanwhile, the genuine Orthodox tradition continues as it has al-ways been, trying to preserve its integrity in the midst of these conflict-ing currents. Fortunately, this tradition has a wayówith the help of God, Who looks after His Churchóof preserving itself from the extremes that often try to deflect it from its course. This self-preservation and self-continuity of the Orthodox tradition is not something that requires the assistance of “brilliant theologians;” it is the result of the uninterrupted “catholic consciousness” of the Church which has guided the Church from the very beginning of its existence. It is this catholic con-sciousness which preserved the wholeness of Russian Orthodoxy in the 1920ís when the extreme reforms of the “Living Church” seemed to have taken possession of the Church and many of its leading hierarchs and theologians; this same catholic consciousness is at work today and will continue to preserve Christís Church through all the trials of the present day, just as it has for nearly 2000 years. Those who speak for it are often not the “brilliant theologians,” who can be led astray as easily as anyone else, but more often humble laborers in Christís vineyard who would be surprised and even offended that anyone should make anything of their labors or even call them “theologians.”

One of such humble laborers in the Russian Church today is Father Michael Pomazansky.

Father Michael was born on November 7/19, 1888, in the town of Koryst in the province of Volhynia in the west of Russia. His fatherís family had been parish priests for generations, and the simple impres-sions from the churchly way of life of his childhood set their seal on Fr. Michaelís whole life, influencing him moreóas he himself has saidóthan all the theological schools he attended.

Fr. Michaelís years of attending the theological preparatory school and seminary (1901-1908) coincided with the Russo-Japanese War and the first Russian Revolution of 1905, which threatened the end of the Or-thodox way of life in Russia, but also made evident the need for faithful-ness to Orthodox tradition in those who, like Fr. Michael, were church or-iented. During these same years a great hierarch of the Russian Church was transferred to the diocese of VolhyniaóBishop (later Metropolitan) Anthony Khrapovitsky, a highly educated churchman, a flaming preacher, a devoted son of the Church and an ardent Russian patriot, but at the same time an enemy of mere routine and “taking for granted” in church life, a man of warm heart who had an especially close contact with and influence on young people, and especially future monks and clergy. Bishop Anthony had a great influence on the soul of the young student Michael.

Fr. Michael entered the Kiev Theological Academy in 1908, gra-duating from it in 1912. The Kiev Academy had long been a center for the defense of Orthodoxy in Western Russia, especially against the Latins, and had produced five Metropolitans who were numbered among the saints. The emphasis in the Academy in Fr. Michaelís time was on solid theological and historical knowledge, and none of the professors was noted for special eloquence or “popularity.” Fr. Michaelís dissertation was on a technical historical subject: “Particularities of the Divine Ser-vices in the Church of Western Russia According to the Printed Service Books of the 17th Century.” Here he was able to study in detail the ques-tion of “Western influences” in the Russian Church.

After graduation, Fr. Michael spent two years in the south of Rus-sia as a missionary among the sects that flourished there; this experi-ence made him for life a zealous student of the New Testament, which the sectarians distorted for their own ends, but which rightly understood contains the profound teaching of the Orthodox Church. In 1914 he was appointed an instructor in the Kaluga seminary not too far from Moscow. Here he remained for three years, until the outbreak of the Revolution. With the closing of the seminary at that time, he returned with his small family to his homeland in the south; he had married the daughter of a priest, Vera Theodorovna Shumskaya, and had several children.

By an agreement between the Polish and Soviet government, Fr. Michaelís native village fell within the boundaries of Poland (only ten miles from the Soviet border). Fr. Michael received a teaching position in a Russian high school in Rovno, where he taught Russian language and literature, philosophy, and Latin. In this position he was able to send his children through high school, and once this responsibility was dis-charged he was able to receive ordination to the priesthood, in 1986.

His first assignment as a priest was to the Warsaw cathedral of St. Mary Magdalene, where he served as a diocesan missionary; and when the main church in this cathedral was given over to Ukrainian services, he went with other clergy to the lower church, where Slavonic services were continued. Near the end of the Second World War (1944), he was also to go with his family to Germany, where he entered the clergy of the Russian Church Outside of Russia under Metropolitan Anastassy.

While in Warsaw, Fr. Michael was the unofficial editor of the church newspaper, The Word, and after its closure he was official editor of the magazine Sunday Reading. In these years (1936-1944) he also pub-lished articles in the Messenger of Orthodox Theologians in Poland.

In Germany he was entrusted with the organization of the official organ of the Russian Church Abroad, Church Life; he was in charge of this from 1947 until his departure for America in August, 1949. Since that time he has lived at Holy Trinity Monastery at Jordanville, New York, teaching in the seminary there for many years, from the very begin-ning of its existence in 1950, and writing numerous articles for the mon-asteryís periodicals (these have now been collected into two volumes in Russian: “Life, Faith, and the Church,” Jordanville, 1976) in addition to his major work, Orthodox Dogmatic Theology, which for long has been the seminaryís textbook for its course in dogmatic theology.

Father Michaelís writings have been on various church subjects: apologetics, defenses of the faith against modern errors (Bulgakovís “Sophiology,” the “ecumenic movement,” “renovationism” in liturgical theology, etc.), on various feast days and church services, on aspects of the teachings of the Holy Fathers (in particular, two enlightening comparisons of ancient Fathers with St. John of Kronstadt: St. Basil on the Six Days of Creation, and St. Symeon the New Theologian on grace), and many other subjects.

Especially helpful to present-day Orthodox Christians who are sur-rounded by the non-Orthodox are his careful distinctions (especially in Orthodox Dogmatic Theology) between Orthodox beliefs and those of Ro-man Catholicism and Protestantism, even on some points which may seem outwardly identical. This he does without any tone of irritation against the non-Orthodox ó something so common in polemic writings today ó but, always after describing their views with fairness, he sets forth the Orthodox teaching in an objective manner that helps Orthodox Christians to understand their own faith much better.

In all his writings, Fr. Michael is not trying to discover anything “new~~ in Orthodox tradition, or to stand out for the sharpness of his cri-ticisms ó common faults in todayís academic theology. Rather, he at-tempts to give only his own humble, serene reflections on the wealth of Orthodox teaching which he accepts as already established and experi-enced by centuries of theologians and simple Christians before him. Even when, for the sake of truth, he does find it necessary to criticize a view, whether inside or outside the Orthodox Church, he does it with such gen-tleness and good intention that it is impossible for anyone to be offended by him.

Most of all, in Fr. Michaelís writings one may see a characteristic of genuine Orthodox theology that is so often lost sight of in our cold, rationalistic age. Theology is not primarily a matter of arguments, criti-cisms, proofs and disproofs; it is first of all menís word about God, in ac-cordance with the Divinely-revealed teaching of Orthodoxy. Therefore, its first purpose and intent is always to inspire, to warm the heart, to lift one above the petty preoccupations of earth in order to glimpse the Divine beginning and end of all things and so to give one the energy and encouragement to struggle towards God and our heavenly homeland. This is certainly the meaning and spirit of the theology of Orthodoxyís three pre-eminent “theologians”: St. John the Evangelist, St. Gregory Nazi-anzen, and St. Symeon the New Theologian; they, one may say, have set the tone for Orthodox theology, and this remains the tone and the task of theology even in our cold-hearted and analytic age.

Father Michaelís theology is in this warm-hearted and inspiring tone. He is not the only one to write Orthodox theology with this intent today, but he is one of the few, in an older generation that is fast vani-shing, who can serve as a link between us and the genuine theology of the Holy Fathers. Fr. Michael himself would be offended to hear such words, or even to discover that we have written this much about him; but that in itself is only another sign that he is someone totally penetrated with the true spirit of Orthodox theology. May the younger generations learn from him!

This article by Hieromonk Seraphim (Rose) was first published as the foreword to the book by Fr. Michael, Orthodox Dogmatic Theology, 1984.

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