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True Theology by Photius Kontoglou

Translated by Gregory Heers

 

Introduction


Photios (Photius), was born in Kydonies (Aivali) of Asia Minor in 1895. After the death of his father, his guardianship was assumed by his uncle, the Hieromonk Fr. Steven Kontoglou, abbot of the monastery of St. Paraskevi. Photis finished school in Aivali and was member of a group of students that published the magazine “Melissa” (“Bee”), which Kontoglou decorated with drawings. He enrolled himself into the School of Fine Arts in Athens and thereafter went to Paris (1914), where he studied the various schools of painting. After much wandering and many travels, he settled in Athens. In 1923 he journeyed to the Holy Mountain, where he discovered Byzantine iconography; ever since then he strove for the revival of this art.

Photius Kontoglou

The 1950s find him at the peak of his iconographic activity. Besides being an important iconographer, he was also an matchless author. He has written a host of books and articles of a high literary level and great beauty combined with deep meanings. He is, however, less well known for his “third dimension.” Photis Kontoglou stood out for his deep faith and his weighty ecclesiastical and theological knowledge. He was a true confessor of the Orthodox Faith, writing and speaking on behalf of the exactitude and order of the Church. He especially struck against Ecumenism and Papism, and did not hesitate to rebuke directly, by means of epistles, bishops and patriarchs that were straying from the right way.

 

True Theology


We’ve said how, here in Greece, not only do we not read but we don’t even know of the existence of the mystical Fathers who enlightened Orthodoxy. For the theologians, Orthodoxy has become a hollow word, since its mystical essence is unknown to them, as is its tradition. Our theologians receive the light from the West, because their theology has become a science, and their vainglory is flattered by this thing. Faith, for them, has no significance. You’ll tell me, “Theology without faith? Can you do that?” I ask you, too, equally puzzled, “Can you have theology without faith?” Nevertheless, in the Western lands and in America, many people have turned towards Orthodoxy, out of thirst for the truth. In Greece, only a few people and some Old Calendarists read the books of the Fathers, besides Basil and Chrysostom, whom the theologians take for orators and philologists of the Ancient Greek language. The books of the mystical Fathers are no longer reprinted and have become rare. The official Church prints some rough drafts of various modernist theologians, without any essence, which only reveal the incredible nakedness of their authors. Only just recently have the Apostolic Ministry Publications started to print Migne’s Patrology.


Yet even this edition is for theologians, n0t for the faithful, since it’s printed in the ancient language. Besides this, the publication of the Patrology does not have any deeper justification, given the western character of the general education of our theologians, who have no deeper knowledge of the essence of Orthodoxy nor of our tradition. So, this edition, also, becomes an event without deeper significance, since there is no suitable Orthodox earth for it to take root. The turn of the Westerners and the Protestants toward the Fathers of Orthodoxy was to a great degree due to the White Russian theologians, who scattered abroad to various lands and enlightened the souls with their wise sermons, with the virtue of their life, and with their formal piety—whereas the clergymen whom we send out to the various communities are the most ignorant of what Orthodoxy means, and our churches abroad have no spiritual destination but have ended up becoming centers of the social gathering of our fellow-countrymen every Sunday.


Thus, Orthodoxy, that is, the first and undisfigured form of the Church, has once again become the rule of the Christian Faith and the support of all men who seek a harbour of salvation. In Europe and in America they have translated, into various languages, the Philokalia, that great and wondrous book, which in Athens is found only in the collections of bibliophiles, sitting useless on the shelf like some archaeological item; the Evergetinos; the epistles of Saint Basil and some other Fathers; the sermons of Symeon the New Theologian; some of the works of his disciple Nicetas Stethatos, and some other ones. We (alas!) are troubled about how to appear scientific and more European than the Europeans. Only a “church-obsessed” man, retarded, according to these modernist parrots, reads such books.


The sermons of Saint Symeon the New Theologian have been translated into French, German, English, besides Russian, into which they were translated when they were first printed in Greek from the ancient manuscripts. There is a wonderful translation into simple Greek done with piety “by the very reverend Dionysius of Zagora, who lived in ascesis on the desert isle called Piperi, across from the Holy Mountain,” printed in Syros in 1886. How can we stoop so low as to read such things, translated in fact by an illiterate monk who used to sit and write on top of some rock, on the desert isle Piperi, together with the seagulls? We, we read the wise and respectable professors who write seated on armchairs, in the Parises and the Berlins! We do not hear what God says with the mouth of the Prophet: “Upon whom will I look, except upon him that is lowly and of a contrite spirit, and trembleth at my word?” (cf. Is. 66.2, —transl.). How could we suspect the mystic wealth that lies hidden within such holy souls?


Well, since then, this translation has not been reprinted in Greece, where every sort of nonsense gets printed, which shows in what spiritual darkness we are, clergy and laity. Because of the progress that we have, we put “the candle under the bushel” and on the lampstand we put the printed profound nonsense that I mentioned, and we expect that to enlighten us. As for the deeper mystagogues that have appeared in the world, we consider them worthy to be read only by some Old Calendarist. We, smart and up-to-date, have put our smartness even into the mysteries of religion, and we love great words and scientific ones, what this atheist says about Christ, or what some camouflaged blasphemer says, because these things feed our egotism. And we stop our ears so as not to hear Apostle Paul crying, “Hath not God made foolish the wisdom of this world?”


Nevertheless, beside the rotten ones of whom I speak, there is also a multitude of men who deeply feel the essence of our religion, the great importance of worship and of our sacred tradition. For all those who do not have any patristic books, like the ones we mentioned above (and these are almost all the Greeks, because the indifference of those who are placed for this job has deprived the people of such incorruptible and divine food), I shall attempt, with my meagre powers, to give to them whatever I can from these contemned ancestral treasures of ours. Since the theologians have become philosophers and scientists, let us ourselves become theologians, without any other supplies except our faith, according to the profound words of Saint Nilus who says, “If you pray truly, you are a theologian.” [1].


 

Bibliography


[1]. Unshakable Foundation (Ἀσάλευτο Θεμέλιο). Athens: Akritas Publications, 1996.

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Thank you Gregory. Glory be to god ☦️

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I had never heard of Photius Kontoglou before reading this. Thank you for the exposure you are giving us. I very much look forward to reading more translated essays of his. It seems to me he was “a voice in the wilderness” of mid-20th century Greece.

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Profoundly apropos. Thank you for the wonderful translation, Gregory! I’m going to have to remember the turn of phrase, “camouflaged blasphemer” and use it appropriately. I did find one little typo (search for n0t - somehow an o got replaced with a zero). Thank you for posting this - it’s excellent!

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