"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).

Friday, January 18, 2019

In Praise of Afanasiev

I was in Iasi, Romania last week for the inaugural conference of the International Orthodox Theological Association. I was both an official ecumenical observer and also a panelist giving a paper on papal primacy.

Among many interesting sessions and papers, one impressed me more than the rest: a paper given by a newly minted scholar, Anastacia Wooden, on the legacy of Nicholas Afanasiev.

It was a superlative piece of scholarship, and clearly marks Wooden down now as the Afanasiev expert in the world. What made her paper simultaneously fascinating and depressing was her careful documentation of how shabbily Afanasiev has been treated by Catholic (esp. Aidan Nichols) and Orthodox (esp. John Zizioulas) theologians alike, who, at best, pay him the briefest lip service before going on to criticize him (typically for things he did not say, while ignoring the things he did say) or else ignore him. Apart from such shabby treatment by these two, he is apparently generally ignored. I found this astonishing because, in my naivete, I had assumed that everyone recognized Afanasiev as one of the great men of postwar ecclesiology and therefore blithely imagined he was widely and appreciatively read. Apparently not.

Nonetheless, do not let that stop you, dear discerning reader, from reading Afanasiev. The easiest place to begin is with his Church of the Holy Spirit. I drew on that in several of my writings, including, most recently, this essay.

An introduction to him may be found in the chapter on his life written by Michael Plekon in Living Icons: Persons of Faith in the Eastern Church.

Other works in English include the three essays found in the collection edited again by Plekon, Tradition Alive: On the Church and the Christian Life in Our Time

There is much that remains untranslated and unpublished, and I strongly encouraged Wooden to remedy these lacunae as soon as possible. We have every reason to expect many good things from her, and I shall endeavor to keep you apprised of them.

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