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"Протопр. Николай Афанасьев"
The destiny of the
ideas of Father Nicholas Afanasiev has not been a simple one. On the
one hand, his
name is well known among Orthodox theologians, the importance of his
works is widely
recognized, and several serious studies of his theology have been
term “eucharistic ecclesiology,” coined by
Afanasiev, has entered the vocabulary
of theologians and has become so common that any person familiar with
Orthodox theological thought at least slightly is aware of the
such a trend. On the other hand, one cannot say that
Afanasiev’s ideas have
been enthusiastically welcomed and
accepted by all Orthodox theologians and clergy. Polemics against his
not rare in many Orthodox milieux. Some of his more polemical
perspectives are what I would like to examine in the present article.
The criticism of Afanasiev
can be conventionally divided into two categories. The first one is the
of those who wrote special studies on him. Most of the works of this
been written by Catholics and Protestants trying to assess
achievement and the value of his theology for modern Christian thought.
do not deal with the criticism found in these works. Although it is
often necessary to argue with the occasional polemic of those
against Afanasiev or with their interpretations of his theology, their
understanding and appreciation of his writings cannot be questioned.
Most of the Orthodox
polemic against Afanasiev belongs to the second category: these are
remarks of the authors who touched the topics connected with
and expressed their opinions of it. And it is exactly this criticism
quite curious: it reveals the critics’ lack of familiarity
with the works and
ideas of Afanasiev and further shows the critics’ prejudices
An example of the criticism testifying to an
extremely vague idea of Afanasiev’s theology is found in
Andrew Sopko’s book on
states that Romanides “in his early study of Ignatius of
Antioch, which was
actually done for Afanasiev at St. Sergius Institute in Paris, leaned
toward a eucharistic
ecclesiology, but soon found it unconvincing. According to Romanides,
much unsaid about the Church’s life.”
aside the ecclesiology to which Romanides turned in his early years,
notice that in his eucharistic
ecclesiology Afanasiev does not try to say everything about the life of
Church but concentrates on some important issues.
Making an attempt to evaluate
Afanasiev’s eucharistic ecclesiology from the point of view
Romanides (this is
how the task is formulated), Sopko presents a set of erroneous ideas
work. It appears
from Sopko analysis
that Afanasiev reduces the entire life of the Church to the eucharistic
assembly and, having reduced and fragmented ecclesial life, prefers one
activity to others.
This characterization of Afanasiev’s
ecclesiology is completely inadequate and not based on his writings.
problem seems to be the name “eucharistic
ecclesiology.” Somehow influenced by
the name, Sopko concludes that Afanasiev reduces the variety of
to the Eucharist and liturgy. Contrary to Sopko’s allegation,
writings are devoted not to the Eucharist in itself (although the
an extremely important role in his theology), but to the Church in all
of its life. In Afanasiev’s point of view, the Church with all its manifestations and all its realities
– not only the liturgy
– is the eucharistic assembly. And, vice versa, the
eucharistic assembly is the
Church. For Afanasiev, the Church is fully revealed in any eucharistic
community. The Eucharist is the origin of the Church, determining
ecclesiastical structure and order but not limiting the variety of
ecclesiastical phenomena to the liturgy. That is why it makes no sense
about reducing the Church to the eucharistic assembly: this latter is
then the Church but is the Church itself together with all its
The two are the same. In other words, Afanasiev does not reduce the
the Eucharist but extends the eucharistic assembly to the scale of the
and this assembly includes all the elements of ecclesiastical life that
compatible with the assembly’s basic principles and structure.
An exhaustive answer to
Sopko’s reproach of reducing the Church to something lesser
was given by Alexander
Schmeman forty years ago. Emphasizing the fact that the words
sound misleading for some people, he writes: “This term is
those who were brought up in the concepts of the old scholastic
perceive it as the reduction of the life of the Church to the Eucharist
the narrowing of this life to liturgy alone. In reality it means, of
exactly the opposite. points
gracious source and nature of everything
in the Church, not only of sacraments.”
phenomena other than the Eucharist are not denied or ignored by
they do not contradict the essence of the Church, the theology of Fr
demeans them in no way.
Sopko’s claim that eucharistic ecclesiology “inadvertently underemphasizes the charismatic character of the Church through a form of hyper-sacramentalism” should be rejected too. (It is true Sopko immediately makes qualifications, writing that it happens contrary to the intentions of Afanasiev.) I will not dwell on the issue of what this hyper-sacramentalism might be, how it could be characteristic of Afanasiev and in what way it is accompanied in his works by the underestimation of the charismatic nature of the Church, although all these points are absolutely unclear in Sopko’s account. Sopko’s comment is surprising since there have been very few in modern Orthodox theology who have stressed the charismatic nature of everything in the Church so assertively and consistently as Afanasiev. As is well known, emphasizing that everything in the Church is done by grace, Afanasiev – following Rudolph Sohm – does not hesitate to reject law as a genuine principle of ecclesiastical organization. In particular, he writes: “The Church is the place where the Spirit acts, and the Spirit is the principle of its life and activity. The Church lives and acts by the Spirit through the charismatic gifts which God distributes in the Church as He wills. Grace is ‘the only mover’ of all that happens within the Church. The tradition of the Church has its origin in the Spirit, not in any human actions. […] Consequently, the organizing principle in the Church is the Spirit which excludes any other principle since the latter would be external to the Church.” Similar quotes from the works of Fr Nicholas can be multiplied. How does Sopko manage to interpret such a definite assertion of guiding the Church by the Spirit through the grace as “inadvertent underemphasizing of the charismatic character of the Church”?
Unfortunately, Sopko demonstrates no direct knowledge of the works of Afanasiev. As his references reveal, the only written source of his information is Nichols’ book. Despite this, and with no direct citation of the texts, Sopko nevertheless does not hesitate to criticize Afanasiev. Even from Nichols’ study, however, it is evident that “eucharistic ecclesiology” is not just a teaching on the Eucharist and liturgy but much more. In fact, Sopko neglects or misstates even Nichols’ examination of Afanasiev. As soon as the term “eucharistic ecclesiology” is mentioned stereotypes start working in his mind and he readily follows them. Sopko’s judgment thus is based not on Afanasiev’s actual writing but rather on common myths about eucharistic ecclesiology. Being unfamiliar with the latter, Sopko apparently creates arbitrary constructions of Fr Nicholas’ ideas. I believe one should expect more responsibility from a theologian writing on so crucially important topic.
The author who has made polemical comments on
the eucharistic ecclesiology of Afanasiev more often than others is
Zizioulas, now Metropolitan of Pergamos, the Patriarchate of
would like to trace Zizioulas’ polemic as appears in his two
books, Eucharist, Bishop, Church
In the monograph Eucharist,
Bishop, Church, which was
published in English in 2001 but
whose Greek original appeared in 1965, Zizioulas recognizes
element” of the eucharistic ecclesiology of Afanasiev and
accepts that he is not familiar with the works of Afanasiev and
Russian and draws his conclusions about eucharistic ecclesiology only
basis of their articles in French and English: he gives the list of
including five articles of Afanasiev (of which the most important are The Church Which Presides in Love and Una Sancta) and four of Schmemann.
Precisely in his first critical remark on the eucharistic ecclesiology of Afanasiev and Schmemann, Zizioulas’ claims that this theory arrived at “complete and exclusive identification of the notions of the Church and Eucharist.” Although in both Afanasiev and Schmemann a close relation between the Eucharist and the Church is an extremely important point indeed, one have to ask in which of their works they identify these two notions completely and exclusively. It is hardly surprising that Metropolitan John indicates not one passage of this sort. The correlation between the two concepts in Afanasiev and Schmemann is more complicated and cannot be described in such a simplified manner as Zizioulas does.
Recognizing that the emphasis
of eucharistic ecclesiology on “the ecclesiological character
of the Eucharist
and also of the eucharistic character of the Church is an important
element,” Zizioulas urges us “to beware of the
lurking danger of one-sidedness
which can be damaging to
historical research. […] The notion of the Church and her
unity is not
expressed to the full in a eucharistic unity which
lacks any preconditions. The Church has always felt herself
to be united in faith, love, baptism,
holiness of life, etc.” That is why, according to
Zizioulas, “the Eucharist
cannot be studied as a closed object, apart from the content of Church
a whole.” If for methodological reasons we study the
Eucharist separately, we
should be aware of restricting ourselves only to one part of an
issue. “In this way, we shall avoid the danger of
one-sidedness inherent in the
recognition, correct in principle, of the ecclesiological character of
In the passage which I have tried to sum up the previous paragraph, Zizioulas criticizes eucharistic ecclesiology indirectly. It appears as something that reminds him of the danger of the one-sidedness which he would like to avoid. In this way, he suggests cautiously that eucharistic ecclesiology evokes all the problems he has listed: one-sidedness, the expression of the Church and its unity in the Eucharist without any preconditions, and the study of the Eucharist separately from the life of the Church. However, are any of these problems indeed characteristic of eucharistic ecclesiology? As regards the alleged “one-sidedness” of Afanasiev (the same pertains to Schmemann’s “one-sidedness” too), enough has been said in the previous section of the present article. This allegation is based on mistaking eucharistic ecclesiology for a sort of liturgics. It is the same misunderstanding that underlies Zizioulas’ call not to study the Eucharist separately from the whole of the Church’s life. As I have pointed out above, the final object of Afanasiev’s reflection is not the details of the liturgy and rite but the Church viewed in the light of the Eucharist and determined in its structure by the Eucharist. Neither Afanasiev nor Schemmann intend, for methodological or any other reasons, to study the Eucharist as “a closed object.” For them, the Eucharist and the eucharistic assembly is rather a prism through which everything in the Church should be seen. Finally, if Metropolitan John really attributes to Afanasiev and Schmemann the idea that “the notion of the Church and her unity is expressed to the full in a eucharistic unity which lacks any preconditions,” one should ask again in which of their works such an opinion is formulated or at least implied. Only if this or similar formula really existed in Afanasiev or Schmemann, it would be worth discussing. Thus, upon closer examination Zizioulas’ quite superfluously associates his warnings, most of which are intelligible in themselves, with the eucharistic ecclesiology of Afanasiev.
Another critical comment of Zizioulas deals with the “canonical unity” of the Church. In his words, “emphasized to the extreme […], the axiom ‘where the Eucharist is, there is the Church’ […] destroys in the final analysis any notion of canonical unity in the Church leading in essence to the antithesis introduced by Rudolph Sohm between religion and law. It is perhaps not fortuitous that N. Afanassieff, who was chiefly responsible of introducing the so-called ‘eucharistic ecclesiology’, stresses that only love and not canons of law and rights can have a place in the unity of the Church.” He continues: “Such an absolute view of the eucharistic character of the Church to the exclusion of canonical preconditions leads Fr A. Schmemann, too, to the view that we have ecclesiological fullness even in the parish, inasmuch as the Eucharist is celebrated there, which conflicts with the conclusions of this study in which the eucharistic element is interwoven with the canonical, which is to say, the Eucharist with the Bishop.” Zizioulas emphasizes that “the parish can on no account be regarded as a complete Church even though Eucharist is celebrated in it.”
In these lines,
Zizioulas reveals a very important difference of opinions with
Afanasiev. The formula
“where the Eucharist is, there is the Church” was
coined by Afanasiev in his
article, “Una Sancta,” giving a brief account of
his basic ideas applied to the
issue of the unity of the Church.
to any formula it is schematic.
emphasize this principle to the extreme as Zizioulas claims? I do not
think so. Within the ecclesiology
this formula is appropriate. It is an essential part of
Afanasiev’s vision of
the Church, and there is a solid research into the history of the
The formula “where the Eucharist
is, there is the Church” implies that the main factor of the
unity of the
Church is to be sought for in the Eucharist, not in canon law. The
of canon law in the Church is undermined not only by this formula but
whole of the works which Afanasiev wrote in his mature years. Contrary
majority of modern Orthodox and Catholic theologians, Afanasiev
opinion that the law is alien to the nature of the Church.
supported Sohm’s point of view explicitly and with arguments.
One can best read
it in his hymn of the power of love opposed to the power of law in The Church of the Holy Spirit, chapter 8. Sohm’s thesis,
as Afanasiev’s theology
testifies, is destined to be a recurrent issue in Christian theology
since it is
well rooted in the New Testament and the history of the early Church.
proximity of Afanasiev to Sohm at this particular point does not
The rejection of ecclesiastical law as an indispensable element of the
destroys “the notion of canonical unity” but, which
is most important, does not
destroy the very idea of the unity of the Church. Since a real unity is
– to use
again a formula of Schmemann – that “from
above,” while the legal unity tends
to degenerate into that “from below.”
The polemic of Zizioulas against Schmemann is based on an inexplicable misreading. In the article to which Zizioulas refers, Schmemann states that many features of an ancient eucharistic community with a bishop at its head can be found in a modern parish, while a modern priest has many functions of an ancient bishop. However, he absolutely unequivocally points to the limited nature of catholicity of the parish and insist that it is exactly the bishop’s diocese which allows separate parishes to overcome the limits and that only this diocese is a full catholic church. Thus, in the article Zizioulas refers to, Schmemann writes quite the opposite of what Zizioulas attributes to him! One must note that Schmemann follows the same line of thought in his later major work, his testament, Evkharistiia (“The Eucharist”). By this, Schmemann responds to Afanasiev’s call for a theological discussion of the correlation between the parish and the bishop’s diocese in modern situation and makes his choice in favor of one of the two options outlined by Afanasiev. Later, Zizioulas himself wrote an essay on this topic and developed basically the same idea as Schmemann, namely the idea of the primary nature of the bishop’s diocese over the parish. That is to say, there is no essential disagreement between Zizioulas and Schmemann at this point and criticism addressed by the former to the latter is completely pointless.
Bishop, Church, Zizioulas is still very cautious in
criticizing Afanasiev. He
returns to the
criticism of Afanasiev in
his later theological work, Being as
Communion, and here he takes a more definite tone. Zizioulas
“through the pages of this volume the reader will easily
fundamental presuppositions of ‘eucharistic
ecclesiology’.” However, he points
out immediately that in his book one can also find important
differences from Afanasiev’s
eucharistic ecclesiology and
author of the book “wishes to go further than Afanasiev or to
own opinions from the latter, without underestimating or minimizing the
importance of this Russian theologian and those who have faithfully
Zizioulas states that many
Western Christians as well as the Orthodox believe that Orthodox
is only a projection of the mystery of the Church into sacramental
sacramentalization of theology.” He considers such an
impression to be
“inevitable if we do not go beyond what eucharistic
ecclesiology has said until
now, if we do not try to widen our theological and philosophical
Furthermore, eucharistic ecclesiology such as has been developed by Afanasiev and his followers
problems, and because of this it is in need of fundamental correction.
principle “wherever the Eucharist is, there is the
Church,” on which this
ecclesiology is built, tends to lead towards two basic errors that
did not avoid, any more than those who have faithfully followed him.
of these errors consists in considering even the parish where the
takes place as a complete and “catholic” Church.
Several other Orthodox
theologians, following Afanasiev, have come to this conclusion without
recognizing that they are raising in a very acute manner the entire
the structure of the Church.
Christianity, a local church consisted only of one parish-community,
continues, but a modern parish does not meet all the criteria of
and, consequently, is not a complete and catholic church: it does not
all the faithful of a place and all the presbyterium with the bishop at
head. Zizioulas asks if the principle “wherever the Eucharist
is, there is the
Church” is weakened by this fact. Not necessarily, he
answers, but it has to be
reinterpreted in order to express the correct relation between the
the diocese and the Eucharist and the Church.
Let us examine some of
Zizioulas’ allegations. First of all, who are those Western
Orthodox that, influenced by eucharistic ecclesiology, perceive
ecclesiology as “a sacramentalization of theology?”
Zizioulas indicates no
instances of such a perception, and this leaves some doubt if the
real. Then, is the impression of eucharistic ecclesiology as the
“sacramentalization of theology” so inevitable as
Zizioulas claims it to be? Both
Afanasiev and Schmemann build their ecclesiology not on sacraments in
but on the Eucharist, which they perceive not as just one of many
but as a unique and fundamental phenomenon of the Church’s
life. Upon the
attentive reading of Afanasiev and Schmemann, the perception of
ecclesiology as “a sacramentalization of theology”
cannot even emerge. Such a
misinterpretation testifies to a drastic lack of understanding of what
ecclesiology is. It is not accidental that here Zizioulas limits
himself to general
criticism, not dwelling on details and not analyzing the texts of those
criticizes. Finally, it is more that doubtful whether Afanasiev ever
a modern parish to be a catholic church. Zizioulas, again, fails to
such a place in Afanasiev’s writings. As has been mentioned,
in the Lord’s Supper,
written in 1952, Afanasiev
raises the issue of the correlation between the two ecclesiastical
and bishop’s diocese) as a theological problem and proposes
to discuss it. He
admits that “the modern parish resembles the primitive local
church most” but
does not give preference to any of the two possible solutions he
offers. In his
other work, Vstuplenie v Tzerkov’
(“Entering the Church”), published in the same year
1952, he states explicitly
that neither the modern diocese nor parish express the fullness, that
catholicity, of the
Zizioulas considers the
second great problem of Afanasiev’s eucharistic ecclesiology
to be the
relationship between the local and universal church. According to him,
principle of ‘wherever the Eucharist is, there is the
Church’ risks suggesting
the idea that each Church could, independently of other local Churches,
be the ‘one,
holy, catholic and apostolic Church’.”
“Several Orthodox theologians faithful
to the doctrine of eucharistic ecclesiology – Afanasiev had
already given such
an interpretation – have a […] tendency to give
priority to the local Church.”
Metropolitan John calls for creative theological work and a solution
would justify eucharistic ecclesiology without carrying with it the
localism.” He believes that it is the Eucharist that guides
us in this since by
its nature it transcends both localism and universalism.
In another place in his
book, Zizioulas raises this issue once more. The line which his thought
here is quite contorted. Since Afanasiev, he writes, the idea that
there is no
priority of the universal Church over the local has become current in
theology. However, neither Afanasiev nor many other Orthodox
theologians see a
danger in this idea. “It
is often too
easily assumed that eucharistic ecclesiology leads to the priority of
Church over universal, to a kind of congregationalism. [Here Zizioulas
cross-reference to another place of his book, in this latter place
in turn, to the works of Alivizatos and Florovsky].
as I have tried to argue in another study of mine [at this point
refers to the next chapter of Being as
Communion], Afanasiev was wrong in drawing such conclusions
nature of the Eucharist points not in the direction of the priority of
local Church but in that of the simultaneity of both local and
Zizioulas is quite unclear in both of the places discussed above. In the first one, he claims that eucharistic ecclesiology is fraught with the risk of localism and has the tendency of giving priority to the local Church. But, if it is just the risk and tendency, what does the clause “Afanasiev had already given such an interpretation” mean? What kind of interpretation has Afanasiev given? In the second passage, Zizioulas starts with the allegation that Afanasiev does not recognize the primacy of the universal over the local. Then, he vaguely claims that “it is often too easily assumed” (by whom? by Alivizatos and Florovsky to whom Zizioulas refers indirectly?) that the eucharistic ecclesiology leads to the primacy of the local over the universal. Finally, making a jump in his logic, Zizioulas claims that Afanasiev “was wrong in drawing such conclusions.” Again, what does this “such” mean? What conclusions has Afanasiev drawn? In which of his works does Afanasiev argue for the primacy of the local church over the universal one? It is evident that his rejection of the primacy of the universal over the local does not automatically mean the recognition of the primacy of the local over the universal. What does Afanasiev write on the correlation of the local and universal after all? After careful reading of the two polemical passages of Zizioulas, it is impossible to take away clear answers to all these questions. Instead of intelligible analysis of real ideas taken from Afanasiev’s writings, Zizioulas makes an attempt – confused and unsupported with any references – to credit Afanasiev with conclusions he never made.
Afanasiev’s views cannot
be criticized through the opposition of the local and universal church
way Zizioulas tries to do. According to Afanasiev, “the whole
Zizioulas makes one more critical comment related to the issue of the local and universal. He argues that in his eucharistic ecclesiology Afanasiev has failed to see and appreciate the fundamental fact that the presence of the two or three neighboring bishops during the ordination of a bishop in a local church links this bishop and this local community with the eucharistic communities all over the world. He makes the claim that one may conclude this from the views of Afanasiev as expressed in his Una Sancta “and elsewhere” (I cannot refrain from the question “where exactly?”). Presumably, Zizioulas suggests that Afanasiev considers separate eucharistic assemblies to be segregated or, at least, not bound closely enough. It is true that in Una Sancta Afanasiev does not mention the presence of neighboring bishops in the ordination of a local bishop. However, it is in the same Una Sancta that Afanasiev develops the idea of the unity of local churches through the unity of their inner nature, through their communion in love and through the reception of what have happened in each one by others. Zizioulas ignores this completely. The presence of neighboring bishops in the ordination is one of the elements of Afanasiev’s concept of reception. In The Church of the Holy Spirit, Afanasiev writes about the ordination as follows:
acknowledgement of an ordination happening
in the Church is a catholic act: performed by the local church that
takes place not only in that church alone but in the
In other words, Afanasiev’s
idea of reception involves the presence of neighboring bishops in an
of a local bishop. For Nichols, for example, this is evident: he
specially that for Afanasiev the presence of the presidents of other
churches in an ordination is important.
at this point Nichols interprets Afanasiev in a way opposite to that of
Zizioulas, and – of course – it is Nichols who is
right. Once again, Zizioulas’
criticism falls apart when one goes to Afanasiev’s actual
Zizioulas objects to several more ideas of
First, he disagrees with depicting Cyprian of Carthage as the father of
The opposition between
the origins of the universalist ecclesiology in Cyprian and of the
in Ignatius of Antioch is one of the most often criticized points in
It may be that the opposition is made too sharply by Afanasiev. The
however, requires further detailed research, which is beyond the scope
present article. In addition, even if Afanasiev went too far in
two ecclesiologies, it does not affect the basics of the eucharistic
questions the following vision of apostolic succession, attributing
vision to Afanasiev: “
Finally, discussing the
problems of ministry and arguing that “the very question of
is to be understood in ‘ontological’ or
‘functional’ terms is not only
misleading but absolutely impossible to raise,” Zizioulas
John places Afanasiev
among those who speak of ordination as “functional.”
is correct in the sense that Afanasiev considers the difference between
ecclesiastical ministries as functional.
will not dwell on the problem of whether discourse about
is possible or not, but in Afanasiev these terms are used quite
If in Eucharist,
Bishop, Church (the Greek original of which was published, as
already mentioned, in 1965) Zizioulas’ criticism of Afanasiev
is still moderate,
in Being as Communion (which first
appeared in 1985) it is articulated much more boldly. In both books,
contention is that Zizioulas’ criticism is mostly pointless.
in distorting the ideas of Afanasiev or credits him with the opinions
latter never held. The review of Zizioulas’ criticism,
undertaken in the
present article, reveals his amazingly fragmentary and scarce knowledge
writings of Afanasiev. In Eucharist,
Bishop, Church he mentions, as has been said, five of
Two of these, “Una Sancta” and “The
Church Which Presides in Love,” can be
called programmatic works but none of them gives whatsoever full
exposition of Afanasiev’s
ecclesiology. In addition, Zizioulas’ references to these
articles leave doubts
that he has read them in full and attentively. In Being
as Communion, Zizioulas refers to three articles of
of which one (“Una Sancta”) is the same as in the Eucharist, Bishop, Church. In both of his
books, Zizoulas does not
demonstrate familiarity whatsoever with either of Afanasiev’s
two major works, The Lord’s Supper
and The Church of Saint Spirit. It
that in Being as Communion
refers to page 3 of the Russian text of The
Lord’s Supper, but his acquaintance with this work
does not seem to go
beyond this page.
is important to say it once more and emphatically: Zizioulas is very
about Afanasiev’s eucharistic ecclesiology. His familiarity
with the writings
of Schmemann, whom he often (correctly!) places in company of
Afanasiev, is not
evident either. All these do not prevent him from repeatedly
and his followers.” Alas, the criticism of Zizioulas is based
caricatures and rumors about the eucharistic ecclesiology of Afanasiev
Schmemann, not on their works. Such a lack of satisfactory knowledge of
writings leads Zizioulas to misinterpretations and distortions.
This, however, is not
the most surprising fact in the reception of eucharistic ecclesiology.
It is even
more surprising that in modern Orthodox theology Zizioulas is
considered to be the
one who has made
the most important
correctives to the ideas of Afanasiev. It is exactly as those
correctives that Metropolitan
Kallistos Ware recommends Being as
This point of view is
shared by John Erickson who writes that, “once identified
chiefly with the late
Fr Afanasieff and émigré Russian theologians,
‘eucharistic ecclesiology’ has
been given both balance and scholarly precision quite independently by
Ware and Erickson are
joined by Sopko who repeats that recently the ideas of Afanasiev have
“emended” by Zizioulas.
I would not like to discuss Erickson’s note that Zizioulas
has contributed “balance
and scholarly precision” to the eucharistic ecclesiology of
others although, in my opinion, it is far from being accurate.
have to agree with Erickson that Zizioulas worked “quite
this case, however, it is not a reason for praise. Some reasonable
and recognition of one’s predecessors, at the very least in
the form of better acquaintance
with their writings, is to be expected. The statements that Zizoulas
“balanced” etc. the eucharistic ecclesiology of
are not based on any real comparison of their works. Perhaps the scholars making these statements
give superfluous trust to Zizioulas’ declaration of his wish
to go beyond Afanasiev,
but, as I have tried to demonstrate above, Zizioulas attempted to
his aim without reading Afanasiev properly. Have those who support
similarly neglected careful examination of Afanasiev’s texts?
There is one more
interesting detail of Zizioulas’ attitude towards the ideas
of Afanasiev. As Afanasiev’s
works were written mostly in Russian, up until more recently this
has played some role in Zizioulas’ poor acquaintance with the
The problem, however, is not limited just to a linguistic barrier. Being as Communion, containing most of
the critical comments of Zizioulas, was printed for the first time in
1985. The Church
of the Holy Spirit was published in Russian in 1971, and in
1975 its French
Thus, before the publication of his book Zizioulas had enough time to
familiarize himself – at least in French – with the
most significant work of
the scholar whom he criticizes and whom he would like to surpass.
compared to Eucharist, Bishop, Church written
in the first half of the 1960s, in Being
as Communion one finds no signs at all of
Zizoulas’s greater familiarity
with the ideas of Afanasiev (despite the more extensive criticism of
in the later book). Is it a lack of interest towards the theology of
(and Schmemann, I have to add)? Or is it satisfaction with that
of Afanasiev’s ecclesiology that Zizioulas created for
himself in the 1960s?
In this article, I have not attempted to answer
to all critics of Afanasiev
to draw attention to the fact that the major part of their criticism
imagined, not real Afanasiev. A striking discrepancy between the actual
statements of Afanasiev and allegations of his critics has been already
by Michael Plekon. As he points out, Afanasiev “is sometimes
accused of exaggerations or deficiencies of which he is not
guilty,” and “upon
closer view it becomes clear that Afanasiev does not hold the positions
which he is most often attacked.”
wonders why the attitude towards Afanasiev’s basic vision has
Absolutely in line with
Plekon’s observations, in the criticism which has been
discussed above, one can
discover not the polemic based on the texts of Afanasiev –
such a criticism
should be welcomed – but seemingly causeless resistance
accompanied by the
evident lack of knowledge of his works.
One may guess at the
reasons of this resistance. In the works of Afanasiev, we encounter
realities and problems to which we are not accustomed in our daily
life. Besides, in his works we do not find most of those ready
solutions which “scholastic
theology” offers as indisputable. While we are longing for
Not everybody is ready to
accept the challenge of Afanasiev and
to ascend to the
level of the problems he discusses. As his ideas are in complete
the widespread attempts to build a stylized Church, for some people his
conclusions generate nervousness. His thought deprives some of us of
ecclesiastical comfort and security we have obtained, probably at great
His works powerfully shake views about the structure and daily life of
Church which have been dominant in the Orthodox churches (in fact, not
the Orthodox churches) for centuries. Probably it is this profound
anxiety that can explain why there are Orthodox theologians who so
the scholar of whose ideas they have quite a vague idea, why they so
and “correct” his thinking and so inexplicably
attribute him the opinions he
Afanasiev, however, was
not naïve. He was aware that in the current situation the
involvement of law in
the life of the Church is inevitable, which does not mean that law is
absolutely necessary for the Church. He does not suggest replacing the
Byzantine, Muscovite or Imperial Russian “reductions of the
Church” – to use a
favorite term of Schmemann – with an artificially
from the “early Church.” Similarly, he is far from
nihilism with regard to the
periods of ecclesiastical history following the early Church:
“We cannot return
to the time of early Christianity, not only because of radically
historical conditions but also because the experience of the Holy
guidance of the Church, accumulated through the passage of time, could
Afanasiev never claimed
to have answers to all questions. His works, although always related to
contemporaneous theological agenda, are not ecclesiastical to-do lists
studies inviting further research, reflection and discussion. His major
writings, above all The Lord’s
and The Church of the Holy Spirit,
are creative attempts at responding to the crisis of contemporary
attempts to keep the Church from further erosion.
As time passes, it becomes clear to what a great extent Afanasiev was far ahead of his own period. Alexander Schmemann, a student of Afanasiev and a theologian sharing some of his basic intuitions, was one of the few who were fully aware of Afanasiev’s crucial importance for modern Orthodox theology. He wrote that Afanasiev, “when his message is understood and deciphered, will remain for future generations a genuine renovator of ecclesiology.” “When the time to sum up comes, when history ranks everybody in accordance with their real value, it will turn out that the lines he wrote and the paths he explored will be more important and significant than many of those writings that once struck us and preoccupied our minds. In the final account, his not lengthy, always irreproachably constructed, although seemingly a bit dry essays [Schmemann was writing these lines before the posthumous publication of the book The Church of the Holy Spirit] will have greater weight than multitude of other volumes.” The time to sum up came long ago, and we should further explore the ways Afanasiev and Schmemann discovered and proceeded.
 The two studies in English are representative
of the works of this category: Aidan Nichols, OP, Theology
in the Russian Diaspora: Church, Fathers, Eucharist in Nikolai
Afanas’ev (1893–1966). Cambridge
University Press, 1989; and Joseph
Aryankalayil, Local Church and Church
Universal: Towards a Convergence between East and West: A Study on the
of the Local Church according to N. Afanasiev and J. M. R. Tillard with
Reference to Some of the Contemporary Catholic and Orthodox Theologians.
Dissertation, Fribourg, Université de
Fribourg, Institut d’études
oecuméniques, 2004 (available on the Internet: http://ethesis.unifr.ch/theses/index.php#Theologie;
last visited 10/05/08 ). For
further special literature on Afanasiev, consult the bibliographies of
and Aryankalayil (pp. 284 and 501–502 respectively). Besides,
a useful resource
on Afanasiev is a web site maintained by Deacon Andrei Platonov: http://www.golubinski.ru/academia/afanasieffnew.htm
 Andrew Sopko, Prophet of Roman Orthodoxy: The Theology of John Romanides. Dewdney, B. C.: Synaxis Press, The Canadian Orthodox Publishing House, 1998.
 Sopko, 150.
 Sopko, 151.
 Alexander Schmemann, “Pamiati ottsa
Afanasieva” (In Memoriam Fr Nicholas Afanasiev), Vestnik russkogo khristianskogo dvizhenia 82.4 (1966). Available for
me in the Internet:
 Sopko, 151.
 Nikolai Afanasiev, Tserkov’
Dukha Sviatogo (The Church of the Holy Spirit).
 See note 1 above.
 Nichols, 163–221.
 John Zizioulas, Eucharist,
Bishop, Church: The Unity of the Church in the Divine Eucharist
and the Bishop During the First Three Centuries. Translated
 Zizioulas, Eucharist, Bishop, Church, 17.
 Ibid., 36 (n. 47).
 Ibid., 17.
 Ibid., 17.
 Ibid., 258 and 259. Here Zizioulas refers to Afanasiev’s article “The Church Which Presides in Love,” in the first English edition of The Primacy of Peter. London: The Faith Press, 1963, 57–110.
 Zizioulas, Eucharist, Bishop, Church, 259.
 Nikolai Afanasiev, “Una Sancta,” V, 1, in Tradition Alive, ed. Michael Plekon. Lanham MD: Rowman & Littlefield, 2003, 13-15.
 For example, this view is repeatedly
in Sohm’s work I am familiar with: Tserkovnyi
stroi v pervye veka khristianstva. Trans. A. Petrovskii and
St Petersburg: Izdatel’stvo Olega Abyshko, 2005, 43 and
92–94 (which is a
reprint of an old Russian translation of Rudolph Zohm,
Kirchenrecht, vol. 1, Dei
 Afanasiev, Tserkov’ Dukha Sviatogo, 281–303; The Church of the Holy Spirit, 255-276.
 For more on these concepts, see Alexander Schmeman, Evkharistiia – Tainstvo Tsarstva. Moscow: Palomnik, 1992, 180–191 (chapter 7, sections VI–VIII); The Eucharist: The Sacrament of the Kingdom, trans. Paul Kachur. Crestwood NY: St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 1988, 101-170.
 Alexander Schmemann, “Towards a Theology of Councils,” St Vladimir’s Seminary Quarterly 6.4 (1962), 178 and 182.
 Schmeman, Evkharistiia, 113–117 (chapter 5, section IV).
 Nikolai Afanasiev, Trapeza Gospodnia (The Lord’s Supper), ch. 2, III, 4. http://www.golubinski.ru/ecclesia/trapeza_poln.htm (last visited 10.05.2008).
 I am familiar with the Russian translation of Zizioulas’ essay: Metropolitan John of Pergamos, “Pomestnaia tserkov’ s tochki zreniia evkharistii (pravoslavnyi vzgliad) (The local church from the point of view of the Eucharist: An Orthodox perspective),” Pravoslavnaja obshchina 16–18 (1993). Available for me on the Internet: http://www.sfi.ru/ar.asp?rubr_id=367&art_id=2741 (last visited 10.05.08). The French original is to be found in Vestnik russkogo zapadno-evropeiskogo patriarshiego ekzarkhata 97-100 (1978), 35-48.
 Zizioulas, Being as Communion, 23.
 Ibid., 23–24.
 Nikolai Afanasiev, Vstuplenie v Tserkov’ (Entering the Church). Moscow: Palomnik, 1993, 170 and 171.
 Zizioulas, Being as Communion, 24–25.
 Ibid., 133, n. 21 and 245, n. 111.
 Ibid., 133.
 Afanasiev, Tserkov’ Dukha Sviatogo, 281; Church of the Holy Spirit, 255. Similar formulas occur many times in Afanasiev. For example, cf. Trapeza gospodnia, ch. 1, II, 4 (the last passage of the chapter).
 Zizioulas, Being as Communion, 155 (including n. 57).
 Afanasiev, Una Sancta, V, 4-5.
 Afanasiev, Tserkov’ Dukha Sviatogo, 101–102; The Church of the Holy Spirit, 98-99. For one more exposition of the same idea, see Afanasiev, Vstuplenie v Tserkov’, 120–122.
 Nichols, 179.
 Zizioulas, Eucharist,
Bishop, Church, 126 (including n. 205), and Zizioulas, Being as Communion, 156 (n. 59) and
200–201 (including n. 107). In
all the three places, Zizioulas refers to the following article:
 Zizioulas, Being as Communion, 194, n. 83, with reference to Afanasiev’s essay “Réflexions d’un Orthodoxe sur la collegialité des évêques,” Le Messanger Orthodoxe (1965), 7–15.
 Nikolai Afanasiev, Uchenie o
(so storony pravoslavnogo) (The teaching on collegiality: The view of
Pravoslavnaia obshchina 57 (2000). I used it from the
 Fransis Dvornik, The
Idea of Apostolicity in
 Zizioulas, Being as Communion, 226, n. 46, with reference to Fr. Nicholas’ article “L’Eglise de Dieu dans le Christ,” Pensée Orthodoxe 13 (1968), 19.
 For example, see Afanasiev, Tserkov’ Dukha Sviatogo, 15–17; Church of the Holy Spirit, 13-16.
 Zizioulas, Being as Communion, 196, n. 91.
 Timothy Ware (Bishop Kallistos of Diokleia), The Orthodox Church. Penguin Books, 1997, 338.
 John Erickson, The
Challenge of Our Past: Studies in Orthodox Canon Law and Church
 Sopko, 150.
 Nicolas Afanassieff. L'Église
du Saint-Esprit. Traduit du russe par Marianne Drobot.
Préface de Dom O. Rousseau.
 For some more instances of the criticism of Afanasiev, one can consult Michael Plekon, “Always Everyone and Always Together: The Eucharistic Ecclesiology of Nicholas Afanasiev’s The Lord Supper Revisited,” St Vladimir’s Theological Quarterly 41.2-3 (1997), 141–173.
 Plekon, 144 and 147 respectively.
 Ibid., 145.
 Archimandrite Zinon, Besedy ikonopistsa (The Talks of an Icon-Painter). Nizhnii Novgorod: Russkaia provintziia, 1993, 49.
 Afanasiev, Tserkov’ Dukha Sviatogo, 283; Church of the Holy Spirit, 256-257.
 Alexander Schmemann, “Father Nicholas Afanasiev: In Memoriam,” St Vladimir’s Seminary Quarterly 10. 4 (1966), 209.
 Schmemann, “Pamiati ottsa Nikolaia Afanasieva” (In memoriam Fr Nicholas Afanasiev), Vestnik RKhD 82.4 (1966).