Theo-Ontology, Zizioulas & Heidegger

Theo-Ontology: Notes on the Implications of Zizioulas’ Engagement With Heidegger

Marilynn Lawrence, MA (Phil.)


In his essay, “Personhood and Being,” in Being as Communion,[1] John Zizioulas presents an important challenge to the relationship between theology and philosophy, namely, by questioning the use of Heideggerean philosophy for support of patristic theology. His discussion, and tentative conclusion that Heidegger’s philosophy cannot support Trinitarian theology, takes place in a substantial footnote. Certainly, this is not the only, or the most important challenge presented by Zizioulas in this work, but it is in many ways central to his brand of personalism, and deserves further treatment. His comments are particularly worthy of attention in the current climate of post-modern theology, which is largely ‘founded’ on Nietzsche, Heidegger, and their successors such as Jean-Luc Marion.[2] Because he relegates his comments to a footnote, it seems as though Zizioulas is not emphasizing his challenge to the relationship between Heideggerean thought and theology, but is getting it out of the way, so that his readers can dismiss any possible relationship and move on. This note is rather strangely placed given the many parallels throughout his work to Heideggerean concepts, such as the ontological relation/dependency of God and communion and that of Being on Dasein, and the historical analysis of the treatment of person as substance in Western theology.[3]

More recent discussion, such as found in Laurence Paul Hemming’s, Heidegger’s Atheism,[4] argues that certain readings of Heidegger, particularly influenced by Karl Löwith, prematurely closed the door to theological readings and uses of Heidegger’s corpus. For Zizioulas, grounding theology on philosophy is the main problem (*Therapéia Journal editor’s italics). In the climate of contemporary philosophy (largely grounded in issues that have arisen when confronting Heideggerean ideas), a reversal of theo- and onto- prefixes in the uncomfortable discussion between philosophy and theology may not be as far-fetched as previously thought.

Zizioulas’s areas of contention pertain to the concepts of ekstasis, subjectivity, time, and horizon in Heidegger’s Sein und Zeit ontology.* While outlining the series of problems presented by Zizioulas for the use of Heidegger’s program in Being and Time for theology (in Karl Barth and Christos Yannaras, for instance), it is not the scope of this paper to solve these problems or to answer his objections. It is simply my intention to bring Zizioulas’ personalism and his understanding of Trinitarian theology of Orthodoxy to the table of postmodern theo-philosophical discussions that are already largely grounded both on use of, and confrontation with, Heidegger’s philosophy. While Zizioulas’ note on Heidegger seems to take a position that shuts down discussion of the relation of existential-phenomenological ontology and Orthodox theology, it may have the reverse effect of opening up a world of thought.

Taking the position (against earlier interpreters)[5] that Being is not God for Heidegger, and that his criticisms of Christianity as a part of the metaphysical machinery in works such as Introduction to Metaphysics are toward a theology found largely in the Western development of Christian thought (culminating in Scholasticism), I can only wonder what the outcome of Heidegger’s thinking would have been had he been confronted from the outset with a more authentic reading of the Church Fathers, such as that of Zizioulas.

Ecstatic Temporality

Although not posited as central to his own criticism, Zizioulas opens his note[6] with an alignment of the concept of ekstasis in the Church Fathers[7] and in Heidegger:

The concept of ekstasis as an ontological category is found in the mystical Greek Fathers (particularly in the so-called Areopagitical writings and in Maximus the Confessor) and also totally independently in the philosophy of M. Heidegger.[8]

If we are to find any comparison between Heidegger’s Being and Time philosophy and early Christian theology, it will not be in the ekstasis or ecstases of temporality. It is safe to say that Heidegger’s ecstatic temporality is not of the same order as the ekstasis of Maximus. Lack of comparison, however, does not entail incompatibility.

To summarize Heidegger’s position on ekstasis in Division II on “Dasein and Temporality”,[9] our everyday thinking of time as a succession of a series of ‘nows’ as past-present-future, a conception that privileges the Present as a moment on an infinite continuum, is a derived and ‘inauthentic’ (meaning less than what is actually fundamental to our human existence and which makes such concepts possible). We grasp this temporality as an object in which other entities or objects of pastness, presentness, and futureness, appear. This sense of temporality is derived from a more primordial experience of time, with ecstases of temporality that are described as having “the phenomenal characteristic of the ‘coming-towards-oneself, the ‘having-been’ and the ‘letting-oneself-be-encountered-by’.[10] In a lecture series shortly following Being and Time, he refers to these moments of primordial phenomenological time as ‘expectancy’, ‘retention’ and ‘making present’.[11] ‘Expectancy’ is listed first for “[t]he primary meaning of existentiality is the future.”[12] The ekstasis of this temporality is future, since as human beings we can project our wishes, expectations, visions onto a blank screen of possibilities that we recognized as limited by our unknown span of existence in body on earth. Experience of authentic temporality (as a contemplatory vehicle for the authenticity of Dasein) is not attained like a level or step of being, but is a continual effort—choices are made, we create our personal fate in the taut pull between the forgetful automation of inauthentic living and the pull of our mortality and unfulfilled possibility and striving. This being-toward-death need not be morbidity, but can be a gift of positive anxiety and highly personal relating of our potential divine nature and the realization of it through our lives, through our sense of finite worldly time. While I momentarily attribute a value of impoverishment to the inauthentic ‘leveled’ temporality, authentic time in the Heideggerean sense not have an equal and opposite positive value. It is rather an ontological structure that grants free possibility—good or bad. That such a structure is unearthed does not answer why it is, just that the meaning of temporality is care.[13] Zizioulas rather uses theo-ontology to answer the ‘why’ question that the phenomenologist not dare—God as the source of being.

Heidegger contrasts ecstatic temporality in Being and Time with the infinite inauthentic mode of temporality.[14] In Christian theology, the finite and infinite times can be (incorrectly) interpreted as the reverse—infinite as authentic, finite as inauthentic. However, we have two types of ‘infinite’—the ecstatic time-space of the Church Fathers introduces a third temporality—the eternal and divine. Taken by itself, Heidegger’s temporality does not contradict theological temporality because the eternal is not an indifferent flatline extending into the infinite but the Son as the basis of and intrusion into history—a history bursting with kairotic moments of creation, descent, ascent, and salvation.[15] An eternal time beyond our finitude is not impossible in the Heideggerean phenomenology, but inaccessible to the philosopher, insofar as philosophy defines itself by an abysmal gulf between philosophy and faith. However, Dasein’s care as sein-zum-tode may by all rights include, even prioritize, a concern for being-beyond-death. Zizioulas claimed that only theology can treat of the authentic person, for God’s free being as a person gives us our possibility of authentic personhood (freedom).[16] From the access point of Dasein, we move from the infinite, to finite, to eternal. From the top-down theoria of theology, the eternal is ontological starting point. The human person, ontologically granted personhood by God’s being as person, in communion moves from the inauthentic oblivion to authentic participation in the eternal. Faith may emerge as a possibility of Dasein in its authentic finitude. Whether or not faith is to be shunned or set aside by the philosopher depends on her hermeneutic motivation.

While Zizioulas does not elaborate on “ekstasis as an ontological category is found in the mystical Greek Fathers,” we can glean the meaning by looking at God and temporality in the early mystical Maximus. As Hans Urs von Balthasar says of the difficult Centuries on Knowledge:

[T]he Logos appears in the world here only by way of being outside of himself, in a guise that is deceptive, but meant for the world’s instruction; he is ‘Logos in essence, flesh in external appearance.’ (2, 60). The human Christ appears hardly at all.[17]

He also states that for early Maximus:

God is simply above time and the ages, above the movement of the world, above beginning, middle, and end, and therefore God inconceivable, only to be approached through faith (I, 1-10)…[18]

Balthasar is concerned that this ontology presents God as ecstatic to world and time creates a “groundless abyss that separates the absolutely transcendent ‘essence’ of God from the world” and does not account for the Trinitarian entrance of God into time and history. Whether or not he is correct in his interpretation, this example illustrates a perennial problem in Orthodox theology as reflected in the different ontological (and existential) accounts among the church fathers and even within a single thinker such as early and later Maximus. As E. Moore has shown, how the theologian conceives of human freedom, either as “a series of fumbles and false starts” attempting to reach the external God within worldly temporality, or as the “unfolding of an indeterminate history that is the result of free acts of human souls,”[19] is the issue at the heart. The ontological must at some point reach the existential if the questions of Being are to have any meaning for us.

A meeting point may be proposed as such: For Zizioulas’ in his interpretation of the Orthodox faith, God is no Being apart from communion (the ecclesial union of beings-toward-God); for Heidegger in his existential ontology, Being is no Being apart from Dasein, which has the structure of Being-with-others. These statements are not equivalent, but complimentary. Notions that Being is equated with God for Heidegger are convincingly dispelled by Hemming,[20] and we need only quote his 1951 Zurich seminar to ward off any doubt:

Being and God are not identical, and I would never attempt to think the essence of God through being. Some of you perhaps know that I came out of theology, and that I harbor an old love for it and that I have a certain understanding of it. If I were yet to write a theology—to which I sometimes feel inclined—then the word ‘being’ would not be allowed to occur in it.[21]

Unlike the theologian, the philosopher does not have the theoretical commitment to God as the source of Being. However, the philosopher has the advantage of phenomenological access to our relation to and striving toward God through our Being.

We cannot say with any biographical certainty to what extent Heidegger’s phenomenological concepts in Being and Time are derived from his early research in theology (comparisons such as the notion of the Fallenness of Dasein with the primordial Fall of Adam and Eve are made and disputed). We can be sure that the question of God and the divine was in the background of his thought and philosophical career.[22] Regardless of his often silent struggle with theology, Zizioulas’ next statement in his footnote points to a core weakness in Heidegger’s thought in Being and Time for theology. The notion of personhood may have been prematurely shunned due to his (mis)understanding of Person as having the trapping of a static metaphysics and a Cartesian subjectivity. We, however, cannot dismiss the dynamic ontology of Personhood as found in works such as Being as Communion, and are challenged to face the difficulties personalism creates for the philosopher faced with questions about Subject and subjectivity in contemporary Continental philosophy.

Subjectivity, Person, Other

Papanikolaou is correct to identify a conscious influence of Emmanuel Levinas on Zizioulas.[23] He is also correct to point out that Zizioulas’ interpretation of the Cappadocians as developing a “relational ontology of trinitarian personhood” is not far-fetched. If existentialism and personalism for theology happens to be compatible with patristic thinking, then so it is. Therefore, I believe Zizioulas’s next critical statement in the footnote of Heidegger, borrowed directly from Levinas, is motivated by a concern for the preservation of a dynamic and existential ontology, a concern of which Being and Time ontology falls short.  Zizioulas acknowledges that:

Heidegger represents an important stage in the progress of Western thought, especially in the liberation of ontology from an absolute “ontism” and from philosophical rationalism, though not in fact from the concept of consciousness and of the subject. (See the critique of Heidegger by the important contemporary philosopher, E. Levinas, in his brilliant work, Totalité et Infini. Essai sur l’Exteriorité [1971], p. 15: “Sein und Zeit n’a peut-être soutenu qu’une seule thèse: l’être est inséparable de la compréhension de l’être [que se déroule comme temps], l’être est déjà appel à la subjectivité.”)[24]

The first statement about the inability of Being and Time to shake off the ‘subjectivity’ is not only Levinas’ critique from reading Sein und Zeit, but is a self-criticism that Heidegger himself offered; the work was in danger of unwillingly “becoming only a new strengthening of subjectivity.”[25] The goal of liberating ontology from the subjectivity meant, for Heidegger at least, to come to a language in which the mystery of Being is left open for rare glimpses, rather than to attempt to capture it as a subject grasps and dominates an object, as is the case in the calculative thinking and its resulting technologies. As he wrote, “the essential worth of man does not consist in his being the substance of beings, as the ‘Subject’ among them, so that as the tyrant of Being he may deign to release the beingness of beings into an all too loudly bruited ‘objectivity.'”[26] Levinas, Zizioulas, andHeidegger criticize the phenomenological language of ‘horizon’ for the comprehension of beings that appear on horizon appear for the sake of manipulation, consumption, and appropriation, thereby totalizing, and (I would argue in spite of all vehement claims otherwise, that this is true of Heidegger as well) subsuming Otherness. All three thinkers, however, may have different reasons for wishing to not lapse into subjectivity. For Zizioulas, subjects as merely independent individuals are not Persons capable of entering into the liturgical communion with God.[27] For Heidegger, any metaphysical discussion of the ‘essence’ of man (as body, soul, spirit or some composite), and any talk of objectivity, etc, lapses into a broader ‘subjectivism’, although it is questionable whether or not in his later works he really intended to overcome subjectivity rather than uncover its means in an essential way.[28]

Zizioulas makes another statement in his footnote that shows why Levinas’ criticisms of Heidegger’s ontology are of importance to Trinitarian theology:
With our insistence here on the thesis that God is ecstatic, that is, that He exists on account of being the Father, we deny simultaneously not only the ontological priority of the substance over the person, but also a “panoramic” ontology (the term belongs to the critique of Heidegger by E. Levinas, op. cit. p. 270 ff.; cf. p. 16 ff.), which would view the Trinity as a parallel co-existence of the three persons, a kind of multiple manifestation of the being of God.

The type of panoramic ontology that Levinas accuses Heidegger of espousing is further expressed in “Is Ontology Fundamental?,”[29] an essay in which he claims that Heidegger’s contribution of Dasein, the philosophy of existence, is ‘effaced’ by his ontology as comprehension. Levinas strongly differentiated his philosophy from that in Heidegger by placing what he called ‘metaphysics’ as prior to ontology, and by introducing an absolute Other as the source of ethical relations to others. Because Zizioulas deals with the meaning of ecclesiastical communion as a relating based on persons, it is not difficult to see the appeal in Levinasian ideas for him and the rejection of Heidegger based on Levinas’ critique.

It is true, and self-admitted, that Heidegger did not overcome subject and horizon in Being and Time, however, while he does not use the word Other in the same manner as Levinas, his preservation of the mystery of Being has the connotation of Other—never fully within our reach—always more than we can comprehend. I put forth that his struggle with question of Being was in fact a struggle with Otherness—an otherness that continues to reappear at the margin between the languages of philosophy and theology. This notion of grasping Being, subsuming the Other is one that occurs in the fundamental history of metaphysics that Heidegger intended to uncover through his works. Heidegger’s Being is ultimately incomprehensible to thinking, uncontainable by language, but not nothing. All originary concepts of Being, including Moira, Phusis, One, etc, tell a history of an inadequate ontology (the forgetting of the ‘ontological difference’ between beings and Being) that cannot encompass or fully know the mystery of the meaning of Being. Heidegger’s motivation to break free of metaphysical language, to establish a new mood and path for thinking is to break through the nihilism of metaphysics by first bringing it forth and undergoing it. His real incentive to push ontology to the limits may have been based on what he understood to be the result of metaphysical ontology—an increasingly nihilistic and meaningless way of living on earth.

The power of metaphysics that hinders a meaningful existence, for Heidegger and other ‘prophets of technological nihilism’,[30] is the same force that depersonalizes—although it is not expressed in his works in terms of person. Heidegger’s unfortunate failure to link his fundamental ontology to any theological explorations (in spite of his undying interest in theology) may be primarily due to his rejection of explorations of what a person means in Dilthey, Bergson, Husserl and Scheler.[31]He illustrates the problem with a rejection of Scheler’s definition of the person as the performer of intentional acts. He thought of his predecessor’s notions of person as “thoroughly coloured by the anthropology of Christianity and the ancient world, whose inadequate ontological foundations have been overlooked by both philosophy of life and personalism.”[32] His identifies these foundations as 1) man as a rational animal; and 2) man as the image and likeness of God. What he says of the latter is that the “Being of God gets Interpreted ontologically by means of the ancient ontology” [an interpretation as the “Being-present-at-hand of other created thing”], and the Being of the human more so. Heidegger makes a fundamental mistake in assuming that all ancient ontology is alike, betraying an ignorance of Origen, the Cappadocians, Maximus, and all thinkers that comprise the diverse history of Eastern ontology, one that may be conceived of as a tension between the existential and metaphysical. In this light, Levinas’ criticism, while crudely placing Heidegger’s efforts in light of the same comprehensive ontology that he battles, is well-considered by Zizioulas for a theology of Persons. However, it remains to be seen whether Levinasian theology of absolute Other is in fact compatible with Trinitarian theology, or whether it can only be one of God as Father alone who is called out every relation with others.

Heidegger’s major shortcoming, the same that has spawned not only criticisms but rejection of his whole philosophical work, is that ethical relations with others (in philosophy and in life) and the meaning of the person were postponed in his question of Being. The theologically-minded post-Heideggerean need not be restricted by this same deficiency, and would do well to consider the Orthodox notion of theosis,[33]for instance, to open the relating of Being to God, our being to God through Christ and Spirit.


Zizioulas’ note on the use of Heideggerean philosophy for Orthodox theology leaves more questions than answers. While I have argued that Heidegger’s concepts of ecstatic temporality is not discovered ‘totally independently’ of the eternal temporality of the Church Father, the differences between these notions of ekstasis provide an example of a phenomenological approach to our being that is not a supplement to theology, but a path out of inauthentic thinking that can meet in the middle ground of our modern and post-modern experiences and our decisions to hold and practice spiritual faith.

Zizioulas does not claim to have the all answers to the challenging questions he asks, but does appear to take the position that the ‘philosophy’ of Heidegger is incompatible with the Orthodox faith. His mistake, I believe, is in the treatment of the work of a philosopher, any philosopher, as a whole, without loose ends and without unanswered problems. Karl Jaspers had a simple but elegant definition or understanding of philosophy as a continual dynamic of questioning that he called ‘philosophizing’.[34] My reason for drawing attention to this highly-charged footnote is not to argue that Heidegger, as a philosopher, was always (or even sometimes) correct in his thinking or consistently useful for Trinitarian theology, but to 1) destabilize the notion held by some theologians that the term Being in Heidegger can be replaced with God – that the mystery of Being and of God are identical; 2) acknowledge (for the sake of contemporary Orthodox thinking) the debt to this highly influential 20th century thinker, not just for contemporary non-analytical philosophy but in the 21st century turn of philosophy toward theology. For the theologically-minded philosopher, perhaps Orthodox thinking will provide some content to the relation of the divine that emerges in the opening of Being. For both philosophizing theologians and theologizing philosophers who attempt to think upon these difficulties, I leave the following questions by Zizioulas for further thought:
(a) Is it possible to conceive of an ontology outside time in Heidegger, or of an ontology within time predicated of God in the Greek Fathers? (b) Is it possible for death to be an ontological concept in the Fathers, who regard it as the last enemy of being? (c) Is it possible to regard the concept of truth (alêtheia), in the sense of a manifestation of or outgrowth from oblivion (lêthê), as an inevitable attribute of the ontology predicated of God?[35]

[1] Zizioulas, John. Being as Communion: Studies in Personhood and the Church(Crestwood, NY: St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 1985).

[2] See, for instance, Jean-Luc Marion, God Without Being, tr. Thomas A. Carlson (Chicago, IL: Chicago University Press, 1991).

[3] Zizioulas writes, “the truth of creation is a dependent truth, while the truth of God’s being is communion itself” and “God and the world cannot be placed side by side as self-defined entities.” (Being as Communion,p. 94). Both Heidegger and Zizioulas (in Being as Communion, see, for instance, the Western trinity as ousia [substance] rather than hypostasis [person], p. 88-89) marveled at transformations in ontological concepts in Western history, such that occur as transmogrifications of Greek ideas into the Latin language. Such transformations are central to Heidegger’s account of the history of metaphysics throughout his career. See, for instance,Introduction to Metaphysics, tr. Gregory Fried and Richard Polt (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2000), p. 59 ff.

[4] Hemming, Laurence Paul. Heidegger’s Atheism: The Refusal of a Theological Voice(Notre Dame, IN: University of Notre Dame Press, 2002).

[5] See, for instance, John Macquarrie Principles of Christian Theology, Second Edition (Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1977) , p. 115 ff.

[6] Being as Communion, p. 44, n. 40.

[7] A succinct account of ekstasis in the Church Fathers can be found in The Westminster Handbook to Patristic Theology, ed. John Anthony McGluckin (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2004), p. 113-114.

[8] Emphasis mine.

[9] Being and Time, tr. J. Macquarrie and E. Robinson (San Francisco, CA: Harper & Row, 1962), p. 274ff; Sein und Zeit 231.

[10] Ibid., p. 372ff; Sein und Zeit 325 ff.

[11] Metaphysical Foundations of Logic, tr. Michael Heim (Indianapolis: Indian University Press, 1984), p. 203. “To repeat: expectancy, retention and making-present are not merely the way we grasp the then, the formerly, and the now. Expectancy is not a mode of being conscious of time, but in a primordial and genuine sense is time itself.”

[12] Being and Time, p. 376; Sein und Zeit, 327.

[13] Ibid., p. 370; Sein und Zeit 323.

[14] Unlike the ekstasis of Christian thought, the meaning in Heidegger is to stand outside one’s will, projections and interpretations (of time as a thing, for instance). Although not entirely incomparable to Kant’s transcendentals of time and space that make experience possible, Heidegger’s phenomenological time is partly in response to them—the existential perspective of time-space (emerging from lived-experience) the primary one.

[15] This ekstatic (and eschatic) temporality is symbolized and played out in the Divine Liturgy. See more about the ‘atemporal foundation of the liturgy’ in E. Moore, “On Time and the Calendar in Orthodox Liturgical Theology,” Theandros, Vol. 1, num. 2, Winter 2003/2004.

[16] Being as Communion, p. 44.

[17] Balthasar, Hans Urs von. Cosmic Liturgy: The Universe According to Maximus the Confessor, tr. Brian E. Daley, S.J, (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2003), p. 345.

[18] Ibid., p. 346.

[19] Moore, Edward. Origen of Alexandria and Maximus the Confessor: An Analysis and Critical Evaluation of Their Eschatological Doctrines (Boca Raton, FL: Universal Publishers, 2004), p. 153.

[20] Hemming begins the introductory chapter of Heidegger’s Atheism with this claim by Löwith and how it influenced other interpreters of Heidegger.

[21] Heidegger’s answer to a question “May being and God be posited as identical?” is reprinted and translated by L. P. Hemming in Heidegger’s Atheism, p. 291-292.

[22] In addition to Hemming’s Heidegger’s Atheism, also see Otto Pöggeler Martin Heidegger’s Path of Thinking, tr. Daniel Magurshak and Sigmund Barber (New York: Humanity Books, 1991, pp. 211 ff) for the importance of the question of God and faith in Heidegger’s ontology.

[23] Papanikolaou, Aristotle. “Is John Zizioulas and Existentialist in Disguise? Response to Lucian Turcescu,” Modern Theology, Vol. 20, issue 4, p. 601-607.

[24] Being as Communion, p.45, n. 40. The passage Zizioulas quotes in the French is translated in Totality and Infinity, tr. Alphonso Lingis, (Pittsburgh, PA: Duquesne University Press, 1969) as follows: “Being and Time has argued perhaps but one sole thesis: Being is inseparable from the comprehension of Being (which unfolds as time); Being is already an appeal to subjectivity.” Levinas then argues that Heidegger in his approach places existents as subordinate to Being, thereby placing freedom (not as something man possesses but something that is granted in obedience to Being) above ethics. The criticism that ‘Being is an appeal to subjectivity’ is not explained in this passage, but we can guess what Levinas means in light of his preface to Totality and Infinity, in which he says, “This book then does present itself as a defense of subjectivity, but it will apprehend the subjectivity not at the level of its purely egoist protestation against totality, nor in its anguish before death, but as founded in the idea of infinity.” (p. 26). The first definition is criticized because this subjectivity promotes freedom above the guilt in the face of the other. The second clause is a criticism of what he sees as an unaccountable individualism in authentic Dasein as being-toward-death.

[25] Translated from the Nietzsche lecture, Der Wille zur Macht als Erkekenntnis (Neske edition, p. 194ff) by Otto Pöggeler, Martin Heidegger’s Path of Thinking, p. 145.

[26] “Letter on Humanism,” in Martin Heidegger: Basic Writings, Second Edition(San Francisco, CA: Harper & Row, 1993), p. 234.

[27] Being as Communion, p. 105-107.

[28] See, for instance, Heidegger’s discussion of subjectivity in his Nietzsche lecture “The Will to Power as Knowledge,” tr. by David Farrell Krell in Nietzsche Vols. 3 and 4, (HarperSanFrancisco, 1991) (Refer to Vol 4, p. 141ff.)

[29] In Emmanuel Levinas: Basic Philosophical Writings, ed. Adriaan T. Peperzak, Simon Critchley, and Robert Bernasconi (Indianapolis: Indiana University Press, 1996), p. 1-10.

[30] These prophets are identified by Arthur Kroker (in The Will to Technological and the Culture of Nihilism, University of Toronto Press, 2004) as Heidegger, Nietzsche and Marx. I would add Ernst Jünger, Karl Jaspers, and any thinker of the early half of the 20th century that showed an existential concern for the essence and effects of technology.

[31] Being and Time, p. 72-74.

[32] Ibid., p. 74.

[33] See, for instance, Origen’s existential conception of theôsis in E. Moore, “Some Notes on Orthodox Ethics and Existential Theology,” Theandros, Vol. 1, number 3, Spring 2004,

[34] “Philosophizing, as it occurs in each historical age, involves penetration, without limit, into the unity of the revelation of Being,” from “On My Philosophy,” in Existentialism from Dostoyevsky to Sartre, ed. Walter Kaufman (New York: Plume Books, 1988), p. 162; “[P]hilosophizing is an act which works upon the inwardness of man, but whose final meaning he cannot know,” from “Kierkegaard and Nietzsche” in Existentialism, p. 209.

[35] Being as Communion, p. 45, n. 40

Source: this article first appeared in the (now defunct) Theandros Journal of Orthodox Christian Theology & Philosophy (Volume 3, number 2, Winter 2005/2006).

AFR: Oneness in Marriage

Oneness in Marriage Conference

Oneness in Marriage Conference

January 2015

Sponsored by the Center for Family Care of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America, the 2015 Oneness in Marriage Conference, which was hosted by St. Paul’s Greek Orthodox Church in Irvine, California, focused on growing and protecting the blessed communion of marriage. The conference took place January 29 – 31 in Santa Ana, California, and attendees included clergy, seminarians, pastoral care workers, lay assistants, professional counselors, ministry leaders, and lay people.

Listen on Ancient Faith Radio Archives here











BOOKSHELF: Psychology in … the Church

Psychology in Service to the Church

by Rev’d. Dr. Vasileios Thermos
Published by: Sebastian Press

Man, being in the image of God and “an animal in the process of deification” (according to St. Gregory Nazianzen)—whose brain and nervous system are largely shaped by evolution, who is both restricted and boundless through his genes, sealed by his early experiences, moderated by his hormones, and under a great diversity of other influences—can display a wide range of behaviors, some of which are abnormal.

At the beginning of the third millennium, instead of advocating a “soul therapy approach,” Fr. Thermos offers an inter-disciplinary medical-theological study of such a fundamental and fascinating topic. By keeping the focus on modern ways of thinking about these ideas, Professor Thermos facilitates an exchange of views and experiences between the fields of theology, psychology and psychiatry. The ultimate purpose of this exchange is to serve mankind wishing the Church as well as in the context of the medical sciences.

Language: English
ISBN: 978-19367-733-29
Published: 2017
Number of pages: 166
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Purchase print copy from St Sebastian Press  St Sabestian press header_bg

Orthodoxy as Therapy

By Protopresbyter George Metallinos
Dean of the Athens University School of Theology


“the patristic tradition is neither a social philosophy,
nor a system of morals,
or a religious dogmatism; it is a therapeutic method…”


george-metallinosIf we wished to conventionally define Christianity, as Orthodoxy, we would say it is the experiencing of the presence of the Uncreated (=of God) throughout history, and the potential of creation (=mankind) becoming God “by Grace”.

Given the perpetual presence of God in Christ, in historical reality, Christianity offers mankind the possibility of theosis, just as Medical Science offers mankind the possibility of preserving or restoring his health through a specific therapeutic procedure and a specific way of life.

The writer is in a position to appreciate the coincidence between the medical and ecclesiastic poemantic sciences, because, as a diabetic and a Christian, he is aware that in both cases, he has to faithfully abide by the rules that have been set out, in order to attain both these two goals.

The unique and absolute goal of life in Christ is theosis, in other words, our union with God, so that man – through his participation in God’s uncreated energy – may become “by the Grace of God” that which God is by nature (=without beginning and without end). This is what “salvation” means, in Christianity. It is not the moral improvement of man, but a re-creation, a re-construction in Christ, of man and of society, through an existing and an existential relationship with Christ, Who is the incarnate manifestation of God in History. This is what the Apostle Paul’s words imply, in Corinthians II 5:17 : “If someone is in Christ, he is a new creation”. Whoever is united with Christ is a new creation.

That is why – Christianically – the incarnation of God-Logos – this redemptory “intrusion” of the Eternal and the Beyond-time God into Historical time – represents the commencement of a new world, of a (literally) “New Age”, which continues throughout the passing centuries, in the persons of authentic Christians: the Saints. The Church exists in this world, both as the “body of Christ” as well as “in Christ”, in order to offer salvation, through one’s embodiment in this regenerative procedure. This redemptory task of the Church is fulfilled by means of a specific therapeutic method, whereby throughout history, the Church essentially acts as a universal Infirmary. “Spiritual Infirmary” (spiritual hospital) is the characterization given to the Church by the blessed Chrysostom (†407).

Further along, we shall examine the answers given to the following questions:

What is the sickness that Christian Orthodoxy cures?

What is the therapeutic method it implements?

What is the identity of authentic Christianity, which radically separates it from all of its heretic deviations, and from every other form of religion?

1. The sickness of human nature is the fallen state of mankind, along with all of creation, which likewise suffers (“sighs and groans together” – Romans 8:22) together with mankind. This diagnosis applies to every single person (regardless whether they are Christian or not, or whether they believe or not), on account of the overall unity of mankind (ref. Acts 17:26). Christian Orthodoxy does not confine itself within the narrow boundaries of one religion – which cares only for its own followers – but, just like God, “wants all people to be saved and to arrive at the realization of the truth” (Timothy I, 2:4), since God is “the Saviour of all persons” (Timothy I, 4:10). Thus, the sickness that Christianity refers to pertains to all of mankind; Romans 5:12: “death has come upon all people, since all of them have sinned (=they have veered from their path towards theosis). Just as the fall (i.e. sickness) is a panhuman issue, so is salvation-therapy directly dependent on the inner functions of each person.

The natural (authentic) state of a person is (patristically) defined by the functioning inside him of three mnemonic systems; two of which are familiar and monitored by medical science, while the third is something handled by poemantic therapeutics. The first system is cellular memory (DNA), which determines everything inside a human organism. The second is the cerebral cellular memory, brain function, which regulates our association with our self and our environment. Both these systems are familiar to medical science, whose work it is to maintain their harmonious operation.

The experience of the Saints is familiar with one other mnemonic system: that of the heart, or ‘noetic’ memory, which functions inside the heart. In Orthodox tradition, the heart does not only have a natural operation, as a mere pump that circulates the blood. Furthermore, according to patristic teaching, neither the brain nor the central nervous system is the center of our self-awareness; again, it is the heart, because, beyond its natural function, it also has a supernatural function. Under certain circumstances, it becomes the place of our communion with God, or, His uncreated energy. This is of course perceived through the experience of the Saints, and not through any logical function or through an intellectual theologizing.

Saint Nicodemus of the Holy Mountain (†1809), in recapitulating the overall patristic tradition in his work “Hortative Manual”, calls the heart a natural and supernatural center, but also a paranormal center, whenever its supernatural faculty becomes idle on account of the heart being dominated by passions. The heart’s supernatural faculty is the ultimate prerequisite for perfection, for man’s fulfillment, in other words, his theosis, for a complete embodiment in the communion in Christ.

In its supernatural faculty, the heart becomes the space where the mind can be activated. In the Orthodox terminology codex, the mind (ΝΟΥΣ – appearing in the New Testament as ‘the spirit of man’ and ‘the eye of the soul’) is an energy of the soul, by means of which man can know God, and can reach the state of ‘seeing’ God. We must of course clarify that ‘knowledge’ of God does not imply knowledge of His incomprehensible and inapproachable divine essence. This distinction between ‘essence’ and ‘energy’ in God is the crucial difference between Orthodoxy and all other versions of Christianity. The energy of the mind inside the heart is called the ‘noetic faculty’ of the heart. We again stress that according to Orthodoxy, the Mind (ΝΟΥΣ) and Logic (ΛΟΓΙΚΗ) are not the same thing, because logic functions within the brain, whereas the mind functions within the heart.

The noetic faculty is manifested as the “incessant prayer” (ref. Thessalonians I, 5:17) of the Holy Spirit inside the heart (ref. Galatians 4:6, Romans 8:26, Thessalonians I 5:19) and is named by our Holy Fathers as “the memory of God”. When man has in his heart the “memory of God”, in other words, when he hears in his heart “the voice” (Corinthians I 14:2, Galatians 4:6, etc.), he can sense God “dwelling” inside him (Romans 8:11). Saint Basil the Great in his 2nd epistle says that the memory of God remains incessant when it is not interrupted by mundane cares, and the mind “departs” towards God; in other words, when it is in communion with God. But this does not mean that the faithful who has been activated by this divine energy withdraws from the needs of everyday life, by remaining motionless or in some kind of ecstasy; it means that his Mind is liberated from these cares, which are items that preoccupy only his Logic. To use an example that we can relate to: A scientist, who has re-acquired his noetic faculty, will use his logic to tackle his problems, while his mind inside his heart will preserve the memory of God incessantly. The person who preserves all three mnemonic systems is the Saint. To Orthodoxy, he is a healthy (normal) person. This is why Orthodoxy’s therapy is linked to man’s course towards holiness.

The non-function or the below-par function of man’s noetic faculty is the essence of his fall. The much-debated “ancestral sin” was precisely man’s mishandling –from that very early moment of his historical presence- of the preservation of God’s memory (=his communion with God) inside his heart. This is the morbid state that all of the ancestral descendants participate in; because it was no moral or personal sin, but a sickness of man’s nature (“Our nature has become ill, of this sin”, observes Saint Cyril of Alexandria – †444), which is transmitted from person to person, exactly like the sickness that a tree transmits to all the other trees that originate from it.

The inactivating of the noetic faculty or the memory of God, and confusing it with the function of the brain (which happens to all of us), subjugates man to stress and to the environment, and to the quest for bliss through individualism and an anti-social stance. While ill because of his fallen state, man uses God and his fellow man to secure his personal security and happiness. Personal use of God is found in “religion” (=the attempt to elicit strength from the divine), which can degenerate into a self-deification of man (“I became a self-idol” says Saint Andrew of Crete, in his ‘Major Canon’). The use of fellow-man -and subsequently creation in general- is achieved by exploiting them in every possible way. This, therefore, is the sickness that man seeks to cure, by becoming fully incorporated in the “spiritual hospital” of the Church.

2. The purpose of the Church’s presence in the world –as a communion in Christ- is man’s cure; the restoration of his heart-centred communion with God; in other words, of his noetic faculty. According to the professor fr. John Romanides, “the patristic tradition is neither a social philosophy, nor a system of morals, or a religious dogmatism; it is a therapeutic method. In this context, it is very similar to Medicine and especially Psychiatry. The noetic energy of the soul that prays mentally and incessantly inside the heart is a natural ‘instrument’, which everyone possesses and is in need of therapy. Neither philosophy, nor any of the known positive or social sciences can cure this ‘instrument’. This is why the incurable cases are not even aware of this instrument’s existence.”

The need for man to be cured is a panhuman issue, related firstly to the restoration of every person to his natural state of existence, through the reactivation of the third mnemonic faculty. However, it also extends to man’s social presence. In order for man to be in communion with his fellow man as a brother, his self-interest (which in the long run acts as self-love) must be transformed into selflessness (ref. Corinthians I, 13:8) “love….does not ask for reciprocation..”). Selfless love exists: it is the love of the Triadic God (Romans 5:8, John I 4:7), which gives everything without seeking anything in exchange. That is why Christian Orthodoxy’s social ideal is not “common possessions”, but the “lack of possessions”, as a willed resignation from any sort of demand. Only then can justice be possible.

The therapeutic method that is offered by the Church is the spiritual life; the life in the Holy Spirit. Spiritual life is experienced as an exercise (Ascesis) and a participation in the Uncreated Grace, through the Sacraments. Ascesis is the violation of our self-ruled and inanimate through sin nature, which is coursing headlong into a spiritual or eternal death, i.e. the eternal separation from the Grace of God. Ascesis aspires to victory over our passions, with the intention of conquering the inner subservience to those pestiferous focal points of man and participating in Christ’s Cross and His Resurrection.

The Christian, who is practicing such restraint under the guidance of his Therapist-Spiritual Father, becomes receptive to Grace, which he receives through his participation in the sacramental life of the ecclesiastic corpus. There cannot be any un-exercising Christian, just as there cannot be a cured person who does not follow the therapeutic advice that the doctor prescribed for him.

3. The above lead us to certain constants, which verify the identity of Christian Orthodoxy:

(a) The Church –as the body of Christ- functions as a therapy Centre-hospital. Otherwise, it would not be a Church, but a “Religion”. The Clergy are initially selected by the cured, in order to function as therapists. The therapeutic function of the Church is preserved today, mostly in Monasteries which, having survived secularism, continue the Church of the Apostolic times.

(b) The scientists of ecclesiastic therapy are the already cured persons. Those who have not had the experience of therapy cannot be therapists. That is the essential difference between the poemantic therapeutic science and medical science. The scientists of ecclesiastic therapy (Fathers and Mothers) bring forth other Therapists, just as the Professors of Medicine bring forth their successors.

(c) The Church’s confining itself to a simple forgiveness of sins so that a place in paradise may be secured constitutes alienation and is tantamount to medical science forgiving the patient, so that he might be healed after death! The Church cannot send someone to Paradise or to Hell. Besides, Paradise and Hell are not places, they are ways of existence. By healing mankind, the Church prepares the person so that he might eternally look upon Christ in His uncreated light as a view of Paradise, and not as a view of Hell, or as “an all-consuming fire” (Hebrews 12:29). And this of course concerns every single person, because ALL people shall look eternally upon Christ, as “the Judge” of the whole world.

(d) The validity of science is verified by the achievement of its goals (i.e., in Medicine, it is the curing of the patient). It is the way that authentic scientific medicine is distinguished from charlatanry. The criterion of poemantic therapy by the Church is also the achievement of spiritual healing, by opening the way towards theosis. Therapy is not transferred to the afterlife; it takes place during man’s lifetime, here, in this world (hinc et nunc). This can be seen in the undeteriorated relics of the Saints that have overcome biological deterioration, such as the relics of the Eptanisos Saints: Spiridon, Gerasimos, Dionysios and Theodora Augusta. Undeteriorated relics are, in our tradition, the indisputable evidence of theosis, or in other words the fulfilment of the Church’s ascetic therapy.

I would like to ask the Medical scientists of our country to pay special attention to the issue of the non-deterioration of holy relics, given that they haven’t been scientifically interfered with, but, in them is manifest the energy of Divine Grace; because it has been observed that, at the moment when the cellular system should begin to disintegrate, it automatically ceases to, and instead of emanating any malodour of decay, the body emanates a distinctive fragrance. I limit this comment to the medical symptoms, and will not venture into the aspect of miraculous phenomena as evidence of theosis, because that aspect belongs to another sphere of discussion.

(e) Lastly, the divine texts of the Church (Holy Bible, Synodic and Patristic texts) do not constitute coding systems of any Christian ideology; they bear a therapeutic character and function in the same way that university dissertations function in medical science. The same applies to the liturgical texts, as for example the Benedictions. The simple reading of a Benediction (prayer), without the combined effort of the faithful in the therapeutic procedure of the Church, would be no different to the instance where a patient resorts to the doctor for his excruciating pains, and, instead of an immediate intervention by the doctor, he is limited to being placed on an operating table, and being read the chapter that pertains to his specific ailment.

This, in a nutshell, is Orthodoxy. It doesn’t matter whether one accepts it or not. However, with regard to scientists, I have tried -as a colleague in science myself- to scientifically respond to the question: “What is Orthodoxy”.

Any other version of Christianity constitutes a counterfeiting and a perversion of it, even if it aspires to presenting itself as something Orthodox.

Bibliographical Notes

Fr. John S. Romanides, “Romans or neoroman Fathers of the Church”, Thessaloniki 1984.
Fr. John S. Romanides, “Religion is a neurobiological ailment, and Orthodoxy is its cure”, from the volume “Orthodoxy, Hellenism… Holy Monastery of Koutloumousion Publications, Volume B,, 1996, pages 66-67.
Fr. John S. Romanides, “Church Synods and Civilization”, from THEOLOGY, vol.63 (1992) pg.421-450 and in Greek vol.66 (1995) pg.646-680.
Fr. Hierotheos Vlachos (presently Metropolitan of Nafpaktos), “Orthodox Psychotherapy”, Edessa 1986.
Fr. Hierotheos Vlachos (presently Metropolitan of Nafpaktos), “Minor Introduction into Orthodox Spirituality”, Athens.
Fr. Hierotheos Vlachos (presently Metropolitan of Nafpaktos), “Existential Psychology and Orthodox Psychotherapy”, Levadia 1995.
Also by the author, the following studies:

Fr. G. Metallinos, “An Orthodox View of Society”, Athens 1986.
Fr. G. Metallinos, “Theological witness of ecclesiastic worship”, Athens 1996. (N. B.: In these books one can find more bibliography)

Notes – Clarifications

1. The Uncreated = Something that has not been manufactured. This applies only to the Triadic God. The Created = Creation in general, with man at its apex. God is not a “universal” power, as designated by New Age terminology (“everything is one, everyone is God!”), because, as the Creator of all, He transcends the entire universe, given that in essence He is “Something” entirely different (Das ganz Andere). There is no analogous association between the created and the Uncreated. That is why the Uncreated makes Himself know, through His self-revelation.
2. A significant Christian text of the 2nd century, “The Poemen (Shepherd) of Hermas”, says that in order for us to become members of the Body of Christ, we must be “squared” stones (=suitable for building) and not rounded ones!

3. According to fr. John Romanides, to whom we essentially owe the return to the “Philokalian” (=therapeutic-ascetic) view of our Faith, and in fact at an academic level; “Religion” implies every kind of “associating” of the uncreated and the created, as is done in idolatry. The “religious” person projects his “predudices” (=thoughts, meanings) into the divine realm, thus “manufacturing” his own God (this can also occur in the non-Patristic facet of “Orthodoxy”). The aim is “atonement”, “placation” of the “divine” and finally, the “utilizing” of God to one’s own advantage (the magic formula: do ut des). In our tradition however, our God does not need to be “placated”, because “He first loved us” (John I’ 4:19) Our God acts as “Love” (John I, 4:16) and selfless love at that. He gives us everything, and never asks for anything in return from His creations. This is why selflessness is the essence of Christian love, which goes far beyond the notion of a transaction.

4. This is expressed by the familiar and oft-repeated liturgical chant: “Ourselves and each other, and our entire life, let us appose unto Christ our Lord”.

Proper incorporation is normally found in Monasteries, wherever they function in the orthodox tradition of course. That is why Monasteries (for example those of the Holy Mountain) continue to be the model “parishes” of this “world”.

Translation by A. N.

Our Source:



Bookshelf: A Meeting of Minds

Ancient Christian Wisdom and Aaron Beck’s Cognitive Therapy: A Meeting of Minds

by Hieromonk Alexis (Trader) 

BookCover Beck_andTrader [. . .] Father Alexis, holds a doctoral degree in theology from the University of Thessaloniki, brings together in this book the world of psychology and the spiritual teachings of the Church fathers: enriching science, thereby, with a spiritual dimension that it can appreciate without necessarily acknowledging the foundational principles of Christianity; and, at the same time, demonstrating that Orthodox Christians—who after all used, as he notes, the principles of secular architecture and engineering to build what was for centuries the greatest monument of Christendom, the Church of St. Sophia in Constantinople—can enhance the spiritual life with a study and examination of certain psychotherapeutic principles and methods. Between science and spirituality, there can be a fecund meeting of minds.

As the title of the book indicates, Father Alexis draws his comments on spiritual anthropology and psychology from the writings of the Church Fathers (both Greek and Latin). His discussion of the world of psychology he centers on the work of Aaron Beck, popularly known as the “father” of cognitive therapy and widely acclaimed for a number of psychometric instruments for diagnosing anxiety disorders or depression (notably, the BDI, or Beck Depression Inventory). This parallel scheme —juxtaposing the principles and practices of “Patristic psychology” with a secular psychoanalytic school—reminds one of an earlier work of this kind by Metropolitan Hierotheos of Naupaktos, who in his ῾Yπαρξιακὴ Ψυχολογία καὶὈρθόδοξηΨυχοθεραπεία (Existential Psychology and Orthodox Psychotherapy) contrasts and compares Patristic methods for achieving mental wellness with the existential theories and methods of Viktor Frankl’s logotherapy.

Father Alexis’s choice of cognitive therapy as a prism through which to focus his comments on secular psychology was certainly perspicacious. Its focus, not so much on the content and specific nature of stimuli in our sensory and psychic environments as determinants of adaptive and maladaptive behaviors as on the psychic cognitions that we construct and internalize from them, is immediately reminiscent of stoicism and other classical Greek philosophies. As such, since aspects of classical philosophy adumbrated early Christian wisdom, cognitive therapy provides facile access to Patristic teachings on the treatment of psychic valetudinarianism, the cleansing of the mind, and the healing of the νοῦς. The Fathers, too, concentrate on the cognitive world; that is, they seek to control and restrict in πρᾶξις that to which we attend in everyday life, but with the goal of restoring our cognitions about, and view (θεωρία) of, the world around us to a natural state—viz., that of aligning the human will to the Divine Will, a conceptual and ontological counterpart, if you will, of moving from a maladaptive to an adaptive an salutary psychological state.

With regard to the ontological dimension of Patristic therapy, Father Alexis does not touch specifically on the notion of θέωσις and its vision of the total rehabilitation of the human state of being (salvation in union with God through Grace). Admittedly, his book is not concerned with the ontological dimensions of Orthodox psychology, but stresses the existential aspects of the curative regimen of the Fathers. Nonetheless, I would have valued—if simply for the pleasure of seeing him expand his masterful treatment of the Patristic corpus and his skillful scrutiny of cognitive therapy (rare for someone not trained as a psychologist or psychiatrist)—a discussion of Patristic psychology as it reaches beyond existence into being and beyond man into the world of the novus homo, though such an adventure may have perhaps compromised the parallels between the mind of the therapist and the spiritual, noetic sense of the spiritual father which he so beautifully establishes.

I admit that I had to read parts of this book several times, since it covers such a vast amount of material. normally, I would criticize this as a sign of the dispersion that results from an overly ambitious work. In this case, I cannot do so. First, rereading Father Alexis’s excellent prose was a delight in itself. Secondly the book does follow a careful development in four parts, and has a helpful coda that summarizes the text. A splendid, highly recommended book that is not to be missed.

Archbishop +Chrysostomos
Center for Traditionalist Orthodox Studies

OCIC_LogoFrom Orthodox Tradition, Volume XXVIII, Number 2 (June, 2011).

Ancient Christian Wisdom and Aaron Beck’s Cognitive Therapy: A Meeting of Minds is available from

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