What is the Human Nous?


by Fr, John Romanides

The chief concern of the Orthodox Church is the healing of the human soul. The Church has always considered the soul as the part of the human being that needs healing because She has seen from Hebrew tradition, from Christ Himself, and from the Apostles that in the region of the physical heart there functions something that the Fathers called the nous. In other words, the Fathers took the traditional term nous, which means both intellect (dianoia) and speech or reason (logos), and gave it a different meaning.

They used nous to refer to this noetic energy that functions in the heart of every spiritually healthy person. We do not know when this change in meaning took place, because we know that some Fathers used the same word nous to refer to reason as well as to this noetic energy that descends and functions in the region of the heart.

So from this perspective, noetic activity is an activity essential to the soul. It functions in the brain as the reason; it simultaneously functions in the heart as the nous. In other words, the same organ, the nous, prays ceaselessly in the heart and simultaneously thinks about mathematical problems, for example, or anything else in the brain.

We should point out that there is a difference in terminology between St. Paul and the Fathers. What St. Paul calls the nous is the same as what the Fathers call dianoia. When the Apostle Paul says,

“I will pray with the spirit,”[1]

he means what the Fathers mean when they say,

“I will pray with the nous.”

And when he says,

“I will pray with the nous,”

he means

“I will pray with the intellect (dianoia).”

When the Fathers use the word nous, the Apostle Paul uses the word “spirit.” When he says

“I will pray with the nous, I will pray with the spirit”

or when he says

“I will chant with the nous, I will chant with the spirit,”

and when he says

“the Spirit of God bears witness to our spirit,”[2]

he uses the word “spirit” to mean what the Fathers refer to as the nous. And by the word nous, he means the intellect or reason.

In his phrase,

“the Spirit of God bears witness to our spirit,”

St. Paul speaks about two spirits: the Spirit of God and the human spirit. By some strange turn of events, what St. Paul meant by the human spirit later reappeared during the time of St. Makarios the Egyptian with the name nous, and only the words logos and dianoia continued to refer to man”s rational ability. This is how the nous came to be identified with spirit, that is, with the heart, since according to St. Paul, the heart is the place of man”s spirit.[3]

Thus, for the Apostle Paul reasonable or logical worship takes place by means of the nous (i.e., the reason or the intellect) while noetic prayer occurs through the spirit and is spiritual prayer or prayer of the heart.[4] So when the Apostle Paul says,

“I prefer to say five words with my nous in order to instruct others rather than a thousand with my tongue,”[5]

he means that he prefers to say five words, in other words to speak a bit, for the instruction of others rather than pray noetically. Some monks interpret what St. Paul says here as a reference to the Prayer of Jesus, which consists of five words,[6] but at this point the Apostle is speaking here about the words he used in instructing others.[7] For how can catechism take place with noetic prayer, since noetic prayer is a person”s inward prayer, and others around him do not hear anything? Catechism, however, takes place with teaching and worship that are cogent and reasonable. We teach and speak by using the reason, which is the usual way that people communicate with each other.[8]

Those who have noetic prayer in their hearts do, however, communicate with one another. In other words, they have the ability to sit together, and communicate with each other noetically, without speaking. That is, they are able to communicate spiritually. Of course, this also occurs even when such people are far apart. They also have the gifts of clairvoyance and foreknowledge. Through clairvoyance, they can sense both other people”s sins and thoughts (logismoi), while foreknowledge enables them to see and talk about subjects, deeds, and events in the future. Such charismatic people really do exist. If you go to them for confession, they know everything that you have done in your life before you open your mouth to tell them.


  1. 1 Corinthians 14:5.
  2. Romans 8:16.
  3. This means that the Spirit of God speaks to our spirit. In other words, God speaks within our heart by the grace of the Holy Spirit. St. Gregory Palamas in his second discourse from “In Behalf of the Sacred Hesychasts” notes that “the heart rules over the whole human organism”. For the nous and all the thoughts (logismoi) of the soul are located there.” From the context of grace-filled prayer, it is clear that the term “heart” does not refer to the physical heart, but to the deep heart, while the term nous does not refer to the intellect (dianoia), but to the energy/activity of the heart, the noetic activity which wells forth from the essence of the nous (i.e., the heart). For this reason, St. Gregory adds that it is necessary for the hesychasts “to bring their nous back and enclose it within their body and particularly within that innermost body, within the body that we call the heart.” The term “spirit” is also identical with the terms nous and “heart.” Philokalia, vol. IV (London: Faber and Faber, 1995), p, 334.
  4. Cf. Metropolitan Hierotheos Vlachos, who notes: “Man has two centers of knowing: the nous which is the appropriate organ for receiving the revelation of God that is later put into words through the reason and the reason which knows the sensible world around us.” The Person in Orthodox Tradition, trans. Effie Mavromichali (Levadia: Monastery of the Birth of the Theotokos, 1994), p. 24.
  5. 1 Corinthians 14:19.
  6. In Greek, the Prayer of Jesus consists of exactly five words in its simplest form, which in English is translated as “Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me” “TRANS.
  7. “Thus as Saint John of Damascus puts it, we are led as though up a ladder to the thinking of good thoughts”. Saint Paul also indicates this when he says: “I had rather speak five words with my nous“.” St. Peter of Damascus, “The Third Stage of Contemplation,” in Philokalia, 3, page 42 [my translation: cf. also English Philokalia, vol. XXX, p. 120] and St. Nikitas Stithatos, as cited below.
  8. With respect to this, Venerable Nikitas Stithatos writes, “If when you pray and psalmodize you speak in a tongue to God in private you edify yourself, as Saint Paul says. ” If it is not in order to edify his flock that the shepherd seeks to be richly endowed with the grace of teaching and the knowledge of the Spirit, he lacks fervor in his quest for God”s gifts. By merely praying and psalmodizing inwardly with your tongue, that is, by praying in the soul ” you edify yourself, but your nous is unproductive [cf. I Corinthians 14:14], for you do not prophesy with the language of sacred teaching or edify God”s Church. If Paul, who of all men was the most closely united with God through prayer, would have rather spoken from his fertile nous five words in the church for the instruction of others than ten thousand words of psalmody in private with a tongue [cf., I Corinthians 14:19], surely those who have responsibility for others have strayed from the path of love if they limit the shepherd”s ministry solely to psalmody and reading.” St. Nikitas Stithatos, “On Spiritual Knowledge,” in The Philokalia, vol. 4, pp. 169-170.






Christians Without Noetic Prayer

by Fr. John Romanides

a woman at prayerChristians who do not have noetic prayer are not intrinsically different from believers in other religions. The only factor that makes such Christians different from believers of other religions is that these Christians intellectually believe in Christ and merely accept Christian doctrine, while the believers in other religions do not accept Christian doctrine. But such Christians do not gain anything from this kind of intellectual faith, because it does not heal them or purify their hearts from the passions.

In terms of healing the human personality, they remain without benefit and with behavior that does not differ from that of non-Christians. This can be seen in their way of life.

Consider an Orthodox Christian whose soul is sick, but who not only fails to struggle to be healed, but does not even imagine that the Church has an effective therapeutic strategy for curing his sickness. What is the difference between such a nominal Orthodox Christian and a Muslim, for example? Does doctrine make him different? But what good is doctrine when it is not used as a pathway towards healing? What good is doctrine when it is merely kept hung up in the closet so that it can be worshipped? In other words, what is the point of worshipping the letter of the dogma and ignoring its spirit, hidden within the letter?”

‘Patristic Theology’




Orthodox Christianity and Superstition

by Fr. John Romanides 

hatsIn the early Church, there was no special or official healer, because every Christian was a healer. Healing was the mission of the early Church. The missionary effort of the early Church was not like that of today’s Orthodox Church, which sometimes consists of advertising our beautiful beliefs and traditional form of worship as though they were nothing but products for sale. For example, we talk like this:

“Take a look, folks! We have the most beautiful doctrines, the most beautiful worship, the most beautiful chanting, and the most beautiful vestments. See what a beautiful robe the bishop is wearing today!”

And that sort of thing. We try to dazzle with our staffs, our robes, and our head coverings so that we can carry out our missionary work. Of course, there is some sense and some success in doing missionary work this way, but it is not genuine missionary work like that of the early Church.

Today’s missionary work consists mainly of this: we enlighten superstitious people and make them Orthodox Christians, without trying to heal them. By doing this, however, we are just replacing one superstition with another. And I say this because when Orthodoxy is presented in this way and is offered in this way, how is it different from superstition? After all, when Orthodoxy is presented and offered as a Christianity that does not heal – despite the fact that healing is its primary task – how is it different than superstition?

Patristic Theology (pp. 34-35)


What is the Difference Between Orthodox Christians and Heretics?

By Fr. John Romanides

tragedyNow from the standpoint of tradition, modern Orthodoxy and traditional Orthodoxy are not the same. Of course, they share something in common – the Bible – but that is only part of tradition. The question remains: what is the essence of tradition? What is the core of tradition? You will find the answer to this question if you approach it as you would approach any problem in an exact science.

In Orthodox tradition, there are written texts in addition to the oral tradition. We Orthodox Christians have the Old Testament, we have the New Testament, we have the decisions and proceedings from the Ecumenical and Local Councils, we have the writings of the Church Fathers, and so forth. But even Roman Catholics and Protestants have quite a few of these written texts. So the question is raised: what is the fundamental difference between Orthodox Christians and members of other Christian confessions? What makes some people Orthodox and others heretics? What is the crucial difference between Orthodox Christians and heretics?

I think that we will be able to understand the fundamental difference if we look to medical science as a model. In the field of medicine, doctors belong to a medical association. If a doctor is not a member of the medical association, he cannot practice medicine or work in the medical profession. In order to legally become a doctor, you not only have to graduate from a recognized medical school, but you also have to be a member of a medical association. The same kind of standards applies to lawyers as well. In these professions, constant review and re-evaluation are the norm. So if someone is guilty of misconduct and does not properly practice his profession, he is tried by the appropriate board in the professional association that he belongs to and is removed from the body of the profession.

But the same proceedings also take place in the Church when a member of the Church is expelled or cut off from the Church Body. If that person is a layman, the corresponding process is called “excommunication”. If he is in holy orders, it is called “removal from the ranks of the clergy” [kathairesis].

In this way, heretics are excommunicated from the Body of the Church. It is impossible for the medical establishment to give a quack permission to treat patients, and in like manner it is impossible for the Church to give a heretic permission to treat the spiritually sick. After all, since he is a heretic, he does not know how to treat others and is not able to heal others. Heretics are not able to cure the spiritually sick.

Just as there can never be a union between the medical association and an association of quack doctors under any condition, so there can never be a union between Orthodox Christians and heretics at any time. Reading a lot of medical books does not make you a genuine doctor. Being a bona fide doctor means that you have not only graduated from a university medical school, but that you have also been an intern for a considerable period of time near an experienced medical school professor who has demonstrated his competence by curing the sick.

From Patristic Theology, pp. 199-200.

All Planets the Same

satuBy Fr. John Romanides

This first appeared in the Boston Globe  on April 8, 1965.

I can foresee no way in which the teachings of the Orthodox Christian tradition could be affected by the discovery of intelligent beings on another planet. Some of my colleagues feel that even a discussion of the consequences of such a possibility is in itself a waste of time for serious theology and borders on the fringes of foolishness.

I am tempted to agree with them for several reasons.

As I understand the problem, the discovery of intelligent life on another planet would raise questions concerning traditional Roman Catholic and Protestant teachings regarding creation, the fall, man as the image of God, redemption and Biblical inerrancy.

First one should point out that in contrast to the traditions deriving from Latin Christianity, Greek Christianity never had a fundamentalist or literalist understanding of Biblical inspiration and was never committed to the inerrancy of scripture in matters concerning the structure of the universe and life in it. In this regard some modern attempts at de-mything the Bible are interesting and at times amusing.

Since the very first centuries of Christianity, theologians of the Greek tradition did not believe, as did the Latins, that humanity was created in a state of perfection from which it fell. Rather the Orthodox always believed that man [was] created imperfect, or at a low level of perfection, with the destiny of evolving to higher levels of perfection.

The fall of each man, therefore, entails a failure to reach perfection, rather than any collective fall from perfection.

Also spiritual evolution does not end in a static beatific vision. It is a never ending process which will go on even into eternity.

Also Orthodox Christianity, like Judaism, never knew the Latin and Protestant doctrine of original sin as an inherited Adamic guilt putting all humanity under a divine wrath which was supposedly satisfied by the death of Christ.

Thus the solidarity of the human race in Adamic guilt and the need for satisfaction of divine justice in order to avoid hell are unknown in the Greek Fathers.

This means that the interdependence and solidarity of creation and its need for redemption and perfection are seen in a different light.

The Orthodox believe that all creation is destined to share in the glory of God. Both damned and glorified will be saved. In other words both will have vision of God in his uncreated glory, with the difference that for the unjust this same uncreated glory of God will be the eternal fires of hell.

God is light for those who learn to love Him and a consuming fire for those who will not. God has no positive intent to punish.

For those not properly prepared, to see God is a cleansing experience, but one which does not move eternally toward higher reaches of perfection.

In contrast, hell is a static state of perfection somewhat similar to Platonic bliss.

In view of this the Orthodox never saw in the Bible any three story universe with a hell of created fire underneath the earth and a heaven beyond the stars.

For the Orthodox discovery of intelligent life on another planet would raise the question of how far advanced these beings are in their love and preparation for divine glory.

As on this planet, so on any other, the fact that one may have not as yet learned about the Lord of Glory of the Old and New Testament, does not mean that he is automatically condemned to hell, just as one who believes in Christ is not automatically destined to be involved in the eternal movement toward perfection.

It is also important to bear in mind that the Greek Fathers of the Church maintain that the soul of man is part of material creation, although a high form of it, and by nature mortal.

Only God is purely immaterial.

Life beyond death is not due to the nature of man but to the will of God. Thus man is not strictly speaking the image of God. Only the Lord of Glory, or the Angel of the Lord of Old and New Testament revelation is the image of God.

Man was created according to the image of God, which means that his destiny is to become like Christ who is the Incarnate Image of God.

Thus the possibility of intelligent beings on another planet being images of God as men on earth are supposed to be is not even a valid question from an Orthodox point of view.

Finally one could point out that the Orthodox Fathers rejected the Platonic belief in immutable archetypes of which this world of change is a poor copy.

This universe and the forms in it are unique and change is of the very essence of creation and not a product of the fall.

Furthermore the categories of change, motion and history belong to the eternal dimensions of salvation-history and are not to be discarded in some kind of eternal bliss

Thus the existence of intelligent life on another planet behind or way ahead of us in intellectual and spiritual attainment will change little in the traditional beliefs of Orthodox Christianity.



Not A Licensed Theologian

The following story is recalled by a former student of Fr. John Romanides:

Some fifty years ago, when I was a student at the theological academy, our professor of Dogmatics, Father John Romanides, told us a story about his student days at the Theological School of the University of Athens. In order to obtain his doctorate from the University, Father John, a newly ordained priest at that time [the 1950’s], had to defend his dissertation before a panel of theological professors. The subject of his dissertation was The Ancestral Sin [meaning the sin of our ancestors, Adam and Eve; this is sometimes mistranslated into English as “the Original Sin”]. As various questions about his dissertation were being fired at him from the professors [all of whom had received their credentials at Roman Catholic or Protestant universities in Europe], Father John answered to the best of his considerable ability. Finally, the head of the theological department, the big gun himself, Dr. Panagiotes Trembelas, took aim at Father John, who, as is customary in these interrogations, was standing before the panel of seated professors.

“You have many citations in your dissertation from the writings of Symeon the New Theologian,” said Dr. Trembelas.

“That is correct, Sir Professor,” answered Father John, with the proper deference.

“You must delete them,” continued Dr. Trembelas. “Symeon cannot be cited as a source in your work, because he never received a theological degree.”

[Yes, you just read the foregoing sentence correctly.]

Without batting an eyelash at Trembelas’ unbelievable remark, Father John answered calmly,

“Very well, as you say, Sir Professor. Would you want me to delete also all my references to Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John the Evangelists, since they, too, never received a theological degree? They, too, were not licensed theologians.”

Stifled laughter could be heard coming from the panel of distinguished professors.


The Term “Kingdom of God” is Not in the New Testament

by Fr. John Romanides

Both fundamentalist and non-fundamentalist biblical scholars, who have been victims of Augustinian and Carolingian presuppositions, become prone to misunderstandings of what they read in the Bible, especially when terms and symbols denoting glorifications which produce prophets are alluded to.

A classical example is 1 Cor. 12:26. Here St. Paul does not write, “If one is honored,” but “If one is glorified,” i.e. has become a prophet. To be glorified means that one has seen the Lord of Glory either before His incarnation or after, like Paul did on his way to Damascus to persecute the Incarnate Lord of Glory’s followers.

Another example is the phrase “kingdom of God” which makes it a creation of God instead of the uncreated ruling power of God. What is amazing is that the term “kingdom of God” appears not once in the original Greek of the New Testament. Not knowing that the “rule” or “reign of God” is the correct translation of the Greek “Basileia tou Theou,” Vaticanians, Protestants and even many Orthodox today, do not see that the promise of Christ to his apostles in Mt.16:28, Lk. 9:27 and Mk. 9:1, i.e. that they will see God’s ruling power, was fulfilled during the Transfiguration which immediately follows in the above three gospels.

Here Peter, James and John see Christ as the Lord of Glory i.e. as the source of God’s uncreated “glory” and “basileia” i.e. uncreated ruling power, denoted by the uncreated cloud or glory which appeared and covered the three of them during the Lord of Glory’s Transfiguration. It was by means of His power of Glory that Christ, as the pre-incarnate Lord (Yahweh) of Glory, had delivered Israel from its Egyptian slavery and lead it to freedom and the land of promise.

The Greek text does not speak about the “Basileion (kingdom) of God,” but about the “Basileia (rule or reign) of God,” by means of His uncreated glory and power.*

At His Transfiguration Christ clearly revealed Himself to be the source of the uncreated Glory seen by Moses and Elijah during Old Testament times and who both are now present at the Transfiguration in order to testify to the three apostles that Christ is indeed the same Yahweh of Glory, now incarnate, Whom the two had seen in the historical past and had acted on behalf of Him.

* For a typical Augustinian misunderstanding of Mk 9:1ff see “Promise and Fulfillment, The Eschatological Message of Jesus,” by W. G. Kummel, p 25-28, 44, 60 f., 66f., 88, 133, 142, 149. This so-called kingdom promised by Christ does not yet exist when He pronounces this promise, but will come into existence sometime in the future.


The Works of Fr. John Romanides

By Metropolitan Hierotheos Vlachos

Occasionally, some people critically assess the theological works of the blessed professor Fr. John Romanides, and they express some views, especially recently, over his perception of theological and spiritual issues. It is weird that such assessments are being made after his repose, when he himself is no longer able to reply to the assumptions made on his theological works.
In addition, he is being judged by people who either did not know him personally or have only partly studied his work, without examining it in its entirety. It is obvious that all those people interpret some of his theological views from their own point of view and they misapprehend them. They may possibly think that if they interpret the works of a great theologian they may become ‘great’ themselves.

I have had the extraordinary honor to get to know him after he received his pension from the university, and especially during his stay in Athens. We had been talking almost daily on various matters involving the Church and Theology. He also used to send me some of his work and would explain over the phone his views. He would do the same thing with professor Fr. George Metallinos and the theologian Athanasios Sakarellos. He had also asked me to register him in the hieratical lists of my Diocese, without of course receiving any remuneration, because he had only wanted to belong to an ecclesiastical body. This eventually took place after he supplied to me his certificate of leave from the Holy Archdiocese of America, as I had asked him to. Therefore, I am his last Bishop.

I did get acquainted with his personality and his theological views. I was once very impressed when I had visited him at the intensive care unit in the hospital. He had been connected to various tubes and I had asked him how he was. He paid no attention to my question but started referring to various issues about the Church and Theology. This shows how important ecclesiastical theology was to him so that he had been ignoring his ill health, even the possibility of his death. Theology was his entire life, even to his last breath.

From all that which I have ever written about Fr. Romanides and what will later be published, I would like to mention two ‘phases’ of his theological thought process, if one may speak about the existence of such phases.

It refers to the first phase of his theological creation, which centers on his treatise on “The Ancestral Sin”. The second phase refers to the neptic-hesychastic teachings of the Apostles, especially that of Saint Paul. Naturally, as one may suspect, I will not deal with history here, but mainly with theology, even though he regarded these two faculties as interchangeable.

“The Ancestral Sin”

He dealt with this issue because of the surrounding environment in the States and his quest for an ecclesiastical theology on the creation of the world and the fall of man. It is well known that Fr. John grew up in the States and studied in Catholic and Protestant schools. He was very versatile with their theology, like that of Thomas Aquinas and of other crucial Protestant theologians. The Protestants were denying the patristic tradition and were only studying the Scriptures, while the Catholic theologians were relying on Thomas Aquinas – who had been interpreting Augustine – and other scholastic theologians. This contradiction between the two Christian traditions intrigued Fr. John to look into the so-called Apostolic Fathers – those who succeeded the Apostles but preceded the great Fathers of the fourth century.

This was a most clever move, since he had recognized that the Apostolic Fathers were the connecting link between the Apostles and the great Fathers of the Church. This link was unbreakable. It is through the Apostolic Fathers that the teachings of the Apostles have been conveyed to future generations.

When we are talking about the Apostolic Fathers we refer to Saint Clement of Rome, the authors of the works “The Shepherd of Hermas” and the “Epistle of Barnabas”, Saint Ignatius the God-Bearer, Saint Polycarp of Smyrna and Papias of Hieropolis. Saint Irenaeus of Lyon and Hyppolytos of Rome are connected with the above mentioned Fathers.

Therefore, he had studied extensively the Apostolic Fathers in the ‘spirit’ of the teaching of the Apostles, and compared them on the one hand with the Orthodox Fathers and on the other with the Western Scholastic and Reformation theologians. The whole progress of his theological thought is revealed in the subtitle of his thesis which had the theme of “The Ancestral Sin”.

In a handwritten notebook, which I possess and in which he was making notes while he was studying for the issue before formally expressing his views in his well-known thesis, there is the following title and subtitle: “The Ancestral Sin: The Cosmological and Anthropological Preconditions of the Fall in the Early Church, Compared with the Preconditions Set By Later Greek Patristic Theology and Western Scholastic Theology, Especially That of Augustine, Anselm and Aquinas”.

This is the first draft of this work. In this notebook he cited paragraphs from the New Testament, which he had distinguished by theme, showing that he had obviously read the entire New Testament as part of this study as well as the patristic works of the Apostolic Fathers and the Fathers of the fourth century: namely Saint Athanasios, Saint Basil, Saint Gregory of Nyssa, Saint John Chrysostom and others, as well as Saint Dionysius the Aeropagite, Saint Maximus the Confessor, etc.

In his typed thesis, which again came into my possession, there are also handwritten corrections and interventions with several additions to the first draft, as well as notes in the margins, etc. Obviously this constitutes the first draft; he has given the title and the subtitle to this one as: “The Ancestral Sin: The Cosmological and Anthropological Preconditions of the Fall From the Time of the New Testament Up To the Period of Saint Irenaeus”. In a handwritten note however, he altered the title to: “Contributions to the Teachings on the Ancestral Sin: The Preconditions for the Teachings of the Early Church Up To the Time of Saint Irenaeus in Comparison with the Orthodox and Western Teachings Up To That of Thomas Aquinas”.

In the final version which was published by Pournaras Publications, the title and the subtitle of his thesis have been designated as: “The Ancestral Sin: Contributions to the Research on the Preconditions of the Teachings on the Ancestral Sin in the Early Church Up To Saint Irenaeus in Comparison With the Comprehensive Direction of Orthodox and Western Theology Up To That of Thomas Aquinas”.

It is clearly obvious from the changes which the author had made to the subtitle that he was trying to express in the best possible way the difference between the teachings of the Fathers of the Church and the views of Scholastic theologians on the issue of the ancestral sin. He was always relying on the New Testament and the Apostolic Fathers up to Saint Irenaeus as the basis for his theological thinking.

Therefore, this first phase of the research by Fr. John Romanides relies on the Scriptures and the teachings of the Fathers of the Church in contrast with the works by Augustine and Scholastic theologians. This attempt shows a serious researcher and a scholar who is interested at this stage to perceive the ‘spirit’ of the views of the Church Fathers and, in my opinion, to prove that the Orthodox Church is the “Historic Church” which has preserved Apostolic tradition as it passed with authenticity from the Apostles to the Apostolic Fathers and from them onto the later Fathers. The Catholics and Protestants not only have misinterpreted these teachings, but they have also significantly changed them.

His Neptic-Hesychastic Teaching

After this basic research, Fr. Romanides proceeded deeper into the issue which relates to the cosmological and anthropological preconditions of the ancestral sin, in order to examine the consequences of man’s fall, which are the darkening of his nous and his withdrawal from God’s Light. He also went on to examine the way in which man returns to God, resumes communion with Him and participates in Him. That is, how man is able to reach illumination and deification through purification. He was immensely supported in this second phase of his creative work by certain interpretations of some parts of the New Testament, especially by the interpretations of Saint Paul’s teachings.

As one may determine from his studies into “The Ancestral Sin”, as found in his notebook, he had assembled all the passages of the New Testament which refer to the Devil, to the creating energy of God, to man’s sin, to spiritual death, to the meaning of the heart as ‘nous’, to divine justice, to the “freedom from death and corruption”, to the “self-preservation instinct”, and to Christ’s crucifixion, etc.

One may discern by studying these pericopes, especially those of Saint Paul’s, that Fr. John had been collecting all the passages of the New Testament which refer to the neptic-hesychastic life of man as a precondition for his salvation. This work is the groundwork of his intention to support the view that the neptic-hesychastic tradition was indeed the way the Prophets, the Apostles and the Fathers lived. This study of the New Testament helped him later on to support his views against the Protestants when he had been appointed as Greece’s representative at their joint discussions.

Several times he told me that the Protestants are denying the teachings of the Fathers, cannot comprehend the conceptions of personhood, hypostasis, the essence or the energy of God. They regard these as examples of the influence of Greek philosophy which has corrupted apostolic tradition. He also mentioned to me that the prominent Protestant theologian Harnack was convinced that Orthodoxy is an idolatrous form of Christianity. Thus, when the Protestants were listening to Orthodox theologians using terms familiar within Greek philosophy, they would become upset, would not understand anything, and they would reject the entire teaching. Therefore, it was not easy for an Orthodox theologian to use terms used in patristic theology, because the Protestants could not understand such terminology.

This would make Fr. John to constantly use passages from the New Testament in his dialogues with the Protestants, especially passages from Saint Paul, in order to put them on the spot.

In his discussions with the Jews he would also expand on passages from the Old Testament regarding the revelation of the bodiless Word, of the Great Angel of Yahweh, in relation to patristic tradition, and this would amaze them. Fr. John would of course never give arbitrary interpretations to Saint Paul’s passages, but had always in mind the teachings of the Apostolic Fathers and of the great Fathers of the Church. Usually he would not refer to any specific passages. This means that he comprehended the ‘spirit’ of the Fathers, but he would more often use passages from the Apostles. Thus, he used Apostolic terminology on matters of spiritual life, as for example on issues regarding the heart, the nous, glorification, perfection, etc.

Because I knew him personally and I studied his works diligently and got acquainted with his verbal prose, I believe that he was not arbitrarily interpreting passages from the New Testament and especially of Saint Paul’s, but was relying on two important exegetical keys, two basic traditions.

One such tradition was the teachings of Saint Symeon the New Theologian, on whom he was very versatile, had studied his teachings from the original, and was linking them to those of Saint Paul’s.

I have also studied diligently and have deciphered all the works by Saint Symeon. I have come to accept this connection in the works of Fr. John.

He would several times admit this openly. At other times this connection was evident. In the future, I will try to do this myself. To try, that is, to link Fr. John’s interpretation of Apostolic passages with the teachings of Saint Symeon the New Theologian.

The second tradition with which he used to interpret Saint Paul’s epistles was the living testimony of the hesychasts of Holy Mount Athos, with whom he had been discussing issues pertaining to the purification of the heart, to the illumination of the nous, to the Lord’s Prayer [the so-called ‘Jesus Prayer’] and to contemplation, that is, the vision of the Uncreated Light.

He had also been impressed by the book “The Way Of A Pilgrim”, by the writings of Saint Silouan the Athonite and of course by the works of the Fathers in the “Philokalia”. Thus, Fr. John’s neptic-hesychastic teachings are inexorably connected to those of Saint Paul, Saint Symeon the New Theologian and the modern hesychasts whom he had directly or indirectly met. In my opinion, he also relied on his own personal experience, but I am not certain what level did he reach. The truth is that one cannot insist on certain issues unless he has personal experience.

One blessed experienced Spiritual Father told me that he was impressed by Fr John’s insistence on certain issues and that this prompted him to pay special attention to them as well.

We must add to this the teachings of Saint Dionysius the Areopagite, which he had distinguished from the Neoplatonic tradition with strong arguments; the teachings of Saint Gregory Palamas whom he had meticulously studied and whose teachings he was regarding as the essence of the hesychastic tradition of the Church; and the teachings of the Cappadocian Fathers. He boasted about the latter since they had the same origins [in Cappadocia].

His insistence on the neptic-hesychastic tradition was based on the fact that this way of life was the one espoused by the Prophets, the Apostles and the Saints as it is demonstrated in the Scriptures and in the whole tradition of the Church: the Holy Canons, the Hymns, the patristic works. He believed that this was particularly demonstrated in the discussion between Saint Gregory Palamas and Barlaam and later on in the discussion between Saint Gregory, Akindinos and Gregoras.

Fr. John attached a great significance and importance to the neptic tradition because this is the place where one may find not just the dogmas of the Church but also the differences between Orthodox Tradition and that of the Catholics and Protestants. He pin-pointed this difference in the terms “the analogy of being” (analogia entis) and “the analogy of faith” (analogia fidei) which has to do with the different ways one comprehends God’s revelation. The analogy of being refers to the fact that there is a relation between the created and the uncreated being; that God created the world from archetypes and that man’s salvation rests on the return of his soul to the uncreated world of ideas. This is the area of classical metaphysics which Franco-Latin theology was influenced from. According to this theory one can perceive the essence of God if he perceives the essence of created beings, using human rationality. This was the view expressed by Barlaam and that’s why Saint Gregory Palamas objected to this, the so-called “scholastic analogy”.

The analogy of faith refers to the relationship between man and God through faith, as it is revealed in the Holy Scriptures. This tradition says that God is not revealed by philosophical concepts but through the Holy Scriptures, which is the word of God. Thus, when one studies the Scriptures one comes to the knowledge of God and into communion with Him, since God’s revelation has been given in the Holy Scriptures.

Fr. John was insisting that these two traditions (analogia entisanalogia fidei) describe western Christianity and are foreign to the teachings of the Fathers of the Church.

The Orthodox Church says that if one is to meet God he has to rely on his personal participation with the uncreated purifying, illuminating and deifying energy of God, which is experienced in the Church, by the Holy Mysteries and through personal struggle (asceticism). Personal struggle is the neptic-hesychastic tradition, which is the pre-condition for the comprehension of dogmas and the path in which man meets with God.

Thus, knowledge of God is not related to philosophy, nor to just reading the Holy Scriptures, which is nevertheless important because it gives an account of the experience of deification, but it is connected with the experienced neptic-hesychastic tradition and by living a full life in the Church.

Fr. John was describing this neptic tradition as ‘therapeutic’. We come to meet this term in all the writings of the Fathers. It is only through purification and illumination that man can reach deification and communion with God and regain his health.

It is important to note that Saint Gregory Palamas used the Virgin Mary as the prototype of a hesychast, since she lived in the Holy of Holies by using the method of quietude. Therefore, he says, that once man reaches the stage where he has a vision of God, then
“she is the only example of a truly healthy soul”.
This ecclesiastical tradition was the foundation of Fr. John’s theology and it was the practical consequence of his theological research into the ancestral sin. That’s why he believed that if one does not comprehend the divergence of analogia entis and analogia fidei from the theology of the Prophets, the Apostles and the Fathers, one cannot understand the western heresies or the value of the neptic-hesychastic tradition of the Orthodox Church.
Fr. John’s Contribution

The two phases of his theological beliefs (the ancestral sin and the neptic tradition of the Church) are not independent from each other, but they are closely connected: the latter phase is a continuation of the former.

Some people believe that Fr. John began as an excellent hopeful theologian, with an important contribution to theology, but he lost his bearings on the way and did not facilitate the theological renaissance of the country. I think that those who interpret Fr. John’s work in this way do him injustice. The same injustice is done by those who believe that he was influenced by either the Protestants or the Origenists.

Fr. John was an intelligent man with an inquisitive mind. He remained steadfast to Orthodox Tradition and was expressing the authentic experience of the Church.

Of course he was versatile with the theological views of his time and was expressing the authentic view. Some of his linguistic expressions cannot by themselves attribute to him an influence from other beliefs. Besides, Saint Basil and Saint Gregory the Theologian studied Origen, they accumulated some of his ideas and created the so-called “Philokalia”, but are not regarded as Origenists. (Here we are not talking about the much later “Philokalia” compiled by the Saints Makarios Notaras and Nikodemos the Hagiorite.)

As a human Fr. John may have made some mistakes in his life, for example in his expressions and the explanations he gave to his theology, but he was a great theologian and a teacher who helped to rejuvenate the hesychastic tradition of recent years. It is not right for him to be dismissed or misinterpreted by people who select some of his wording, without comprehending it and without understanding the whole ‘spirit’ of his teaching.

A great teacher is only interpreted by a great disciple or reader and not by people who inadvertently express their critical mindset.

I consider very important the testimony and confession offered by Fr. George Metallinos, the renowned theologian of our times; the intelligent and charismatic and tireless researcher. According to him, when as a postgraduate student in Cologne in Germany in 1973, he came across a typed manuscript of Fr. John’s “Dogmatics”, he regarded it as a “gift of God’s grace”. He writes:

“I threw aside all the German-Catholic and Protestant manuals and systematic theological works (I have had enough of those!), and I began hungrily to study the true patristic dogmatics of the Greco-American priest and professor, whom I had not yet had the blessing to meet”.

Later on he writes that after studying this work he “recognized that this unknown to me Fr. Romanides had become my most important teacher in dogmatic theology, but also in ecclesiastical history… so that I could be described as and feel like being his disciple. I am especially happy when I am being ‘accused’ of clearly exhibiting his influence on me”.

In his speech at Fr. Romanides’ funeral he stresses:

“We must designate the period ‘before’ Romanides and ‘after’ Romanides. His work is regarded as instructive and as the task of a writer with a fighting spirit. He has really severed our theology from our Scholastic past, which has so far been acting as the Babylonian captivity of our theology”.

As I have already mentioned, Fr. George Metallinos is a leading teacher of theology, a highly valued researcher and a scholar; a cleric with Orthodox views, but mostly he is an authentic and untainted man without inner complexes. That is the reason why he does not detest anyone, but recognizes the work of the pioneers in theology, like Fr. John.

For this reason, in my opinion, his confession/testimony is vital and substantial, and therefore it cannot be dismissed.

Finally, whoever wants to get acquainted with Fr. John’s teachings must distinguish the two phases in his teachings. Namely, his book on the ancestral sin, which was based on the Apostles and the Apostolic Fathers, as well as what he had written and verbally supported regarding the neptic-hesychastic tradition, which he was examining through Saint Paul’s epistles in relation with the teachings of Saint Symeon the New Theologian, Saint Gregory Palamas, the Cappadocian Fathers, and the hesychasts whom he had personally met.

The Church is the Body of Christ. Just as each material body keeps the nutrient it needs to feed its parts and discards the rest, the same way the Church safeguards authentic teachings and discards all the poisonous and indigestible concepts which rely on philosophical thinking and ‘theological’ fantasies.

I believe that the Church will safeguard the ‘spirit’ of Fr. John’s teachings just because it is in harmony with the Apostolic and Patristic tradition, which constitutes the deeper ‘spirit’ of Orthodox teaching. This teaching leads man to theosis and salvation.

Fr. John Romanides’ teaching is not “a sophisticated myth” (2 Peter 1:16). But it is the path which leads to Mount Tabor and the experience of Christ. That is the reason why it is authentic and comforting to the soul.

HT: John Sanidopoulos’ blog Mystagogy

Source: Translated by Olga Konnaris-Kokkinos and Edited by John Sanidopoulos