"Let books be your dining table, / And you shall be full of delights. / Let them be your
And you shall sleep restful nights" (St. Ephraim the Syrian).

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Author Interview: Radu Bordeianu

Last year I wrote a long and very appreciative review of a splendid new book in ecclesiology from the pen of the Orthodox priest and theologian Radu Bordeianu. It is, as I concluded, a book that nobody interested in ecclesiology, ecumenism, or Romanian theology in the person of Dumitru Staniloae can afford to ignore. I have been able to talk to the author about his work, and here are his thoughts:

Please tell us about your background

I was born and raised in Romania, where I went to seminary and undertook Master’s studies. I obtained a second Master’s degree from Duke University, and my Ph.D. from Marquette University. An ordained Orthodox priest since 1998 and father of three children, I am in my sixth year teaching at Duquesne University in Pittsburgh, PA.
My research focuses on ecumenical ecclesiologies—especially the dialogue between the Orthodox and Catholic churches—the relationship between the Trinity and the Church, theology of creation, and environmental issues. I am particularly engaged with the ecclesiology of the Romanian Orthodox theologian Dumitru Staniloae, placing special emphasis on Staniloae’s contribution in ecumenical discussions on the Church.
My Dumitru Staniloae: an Ecumenical Ecclesiology has been published by Continuum. My other works appeared in Pro Ecclesia, Journal of Ecumenical Studies, Downside Review, Journal of Eastern Christian Studies, Theological Studies, and in book chapters, etc. I have presented numerous academic papers and was have lectured nationally and internationally. I have also been interviewed on television, radio, and in newspapers.

I am the director of the annual Holy Spirit Lecture and Colloquium, an ongoing series intended to encourage the exploration of ideas pertaining to the theology of the Holy Spirit within an ecumenical context and in dialogue with contemporary issues. I am also the director of the des Places Libermann Award in Pneumatology, which honors the individual who has made the most significant scholarly contribution to the area of pneumatology in the preceding five-year period.
I especially honored to serve as president of the Orthodox Theological Society in America (OTSA). 

Tell us why you wrote this book:

I wrote this book for two reasons. First, Staniloae is one of the most important Orthodox theologians of the twentieth century, if not the most important. He is certainly the most important Romanian theologian of all times. And yet, his theology is largely unknown in the West because he was isolated by the Communist regime and because of a lack of translations. He provides a significant alternative position to other Orthodox authors such as Lossky, Zizioulas, or Florovsky. 

Second, Staniloae has been highjacked by anti-ecumenical rhetoric that portrays him in a very polemical way. True, his theology is not always consistent and he is not up to date with Western theologies, but it is an unfortunate misunderstanding to consider him anti-ecumenical, based on marginal comments. He wrote explicitly in favor of ecumenical dialogues and he was involved in dialogues--once the Communist regime reluctantly allowed him to have contacts in the West. I mention other reasons in the book, but these are the two most important reasons for writing the book.

For whom was the book written—did you have a particular audience in mind?

The book is intended for an academic audience, for use in graduate classes, as well as for those involved in ecumenical dialogues. I hope to take Staniloae’s conclusions and present them in a book for a larger public later on.

What about your own background led you to the writing of this book?

Since 1999, when I began studying ecumenical ecclesiologies at Duke University, I have been interested in the limits of the Church, and thus in the relationship between Orthodoxy and other churches. At Marquette I added another interest--namely the relationship between clergy and the people (laity). I have also studied before ecological issues and Trinitarian theology. All these come together in my book, but they do not explain why I wrote it on Staniloae. I must admit that, like most Romanians, I saw Staniloae as a myth, even though I was largely unfamiliar with his works. This is a paradox: many Romanians speak about Staniloae, but few read him. When my mentor, Michael Fahey, insisted that I write on Staniloae, I was instantly captivated by his thought and I am still enthusiastic a decade later.

Were there any surprises you discovered in your writing?

I was surprised to see how relevant Staniloae’s theology still is for contemporary problems. Many times I had to show that relevance in a creative way, and yet still true to Staniloae’s spirit. Other times, however (and most surprisingly), I discovered how Staniloae dealt explicitly with issues that are still ecumenically very relevant, at a time when it was pioneering to do so.

Are there similar books out there, and if so, how is yours different?

While there are other studies of various aspects of Staniloae’s theology, none of them deals explicitly and extensively with his ecclesiology and its ecumenical relevance as my book does.

Sum up briefly the main themes/ideas/insights of the book

In answer to your question, here is an excerpt from the conclusion to my book:
Communion ecclesiology has the potential to bridge the divide between the Orthodox and Catholic churches. Staniloae contributed to the discussion of the relationship between the universal and local aspects of the Church, and various local churches among themselves, as an application of his trinitarian approach to ecclesiology. The unity of the trinitarian persons is reflected in, and imprinted upon, the unity of the local churches that make up the Una Sancta. Each of these local eucharistic assemblies possesses the fullness of the Church as long as it remains in communion with the other local churches. They are all united through mutual identity, since the same Christ is present in each one of them, through the Spirit, in a new filial and sacrificial relationship with the Father. This unity presupposes other elements related to, but also distinct from, the Eucharist. Local churches find themselves in relationship with other churches through their bishops, who are in communion of love and teaching with each other, and thus all the members of the local church are in communion with the baptized faithful in other local churches.
Sharing in the same faith and being united by the bond of love, local churches also manifest the communion between the clergy and the people, all sharing in the three offices of Christ: Prophet, Priest, and King. Thus, the bishops gathered in a council do not stand above the Church, but their teaching ministry is complemented by the prophetic office of all baptized Christians: the bishops represent the faith of their communities at the council and their decisions are then subject to reception by the faithful. The communion between the clergy and the people is also manifested as they both exercise their kingly office by having dominion over their passions and by participating in the administration of the Church communally, while maintaining the distinctions between their specific gifts. The same holds true as the entire community celebrates the Eucharist. In the Liturgy, heaven and earth praise God in unison, and the entire Church is gathered in worship: Virgin Mary, the saints, the angels, the living and the dead, clergy and the people— all surround the Lamb of God, all join in his sacrifice to the Father, and all are united in the same Spirit.
The liturgical life of the Church encompasses all creation, which was made to praise God in a cosmic Liturgy. The Church fulfills the natural priesthood of all human beings, who were created to manifest the sacramentality of the world and give voice to the praises of the entire universe.
In a general sense, all human beings are adoptive children of the Father, all share in Christ’s restored humanity, and all are filled with the Spirit. In a special sense, however, the Church is fully united with the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, acting as the sacrament of the Trinity in the world. The baptized are the People of God, manifesting the Kingdom of God as much as possible on this side of the eschaton, while knowing that at the end of time the Kingdom will extend to the rest of the universe. Christians also form the Body of Christ, extension of the incarnation, an organism endowed with various charisms—some ordained and some not. These charisms are empowered by the Holy Spirit for the building up of the Church, for missions ad extra, while simultaneously the Spirit empowers creation to become fully Church. Staniloae’s theology becomes fully ecumenical (understood etymologically as household) to include not only the universe of the Church, but the entire cosmos.
These relationships among the trinitarian persons as they are manifested in the economy of salvation (the world and the Church) are the same as immanent, intratrinitarian relationships. At the basis of the example described above stands the eternal procession of the Holy Spirit from the Father to the Son, resting in the Son as the love of the Father, and also shining forth from the Son back toward the Father as the Son’s response of love. To arrive at the conclusion that the same relationships are manifested both in the Trinity and the Church, I have systematized Staniloae’s trinitarian ecclesiology into four models: the Church is a reflection of the Trinity, establishing an analogical relationship between them; icon of the Trinity, where the Church is a presence of the Trinity by grace, pointing toward the Trinity; the “third sacrament,” as instrument and revelation of the Trinity; and the ecclesiological consequences of Staniloae’s understanding of theosis. As an ecumenical application of these models, I addressed the ecclesiological consequences of the Filioque (or lack thereof), especially concerning the papacy. This is just one among many instances in which I presented Staniloae’s ecumenical relevance.

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