02/03/2023, 16.39
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Zizioulas, prophet of a theology free from the shackles of history, has died

by Nikos Tzoitis

The Metropolitan of Pergamum, a great voice of the East, died at 92 while in Athens. He said, "There is no freedom without charity." And he called for a united Church to oppose the arrogance of geopolitical interests and nationalist drifts.

Athens (AsiaNews) - Bishop Ioannis Zizioulas, Metropolitan of Pergamum -- a theologian and leading figure in the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople -- has been called to return to the house of the Lord. He passed away yesterday at the age of 92 in an Athens hospital, where he had been hospitalized for several days. The funeral will be held tomorrow.

"My mind feels young, but my body no longer follows me," he had confided recently. On the occasion of the feast of the great fathers of the universal Church - John Chrysostom, Gregory the theologian and Basil of Caesarea, which falls on Jan. 30 - he had been invited by Peristeri Metropolitan Grigorios Papathomas to participate in a debate with professor and prominent Greek politician Evangelos Venizelos on the topic "Theology and Society." It was an invitation he had accepted with youthful enthusiasm; but his worsening healthmade his attendance impossible.

In our recent discussions Metropolitan Zizioulas had stressed that theology should not be a prisoner of its own history, because history is death, identifying with time. And time means attrition leading to death. "Our thinking," he was fond of repeating, "must be apophatic, contemplative. It must have an eschatological vision of one's existence.

The very concept of our Church, which is a gathering of people with Christ as a point of reference, must be expressed through synodality, which flows from Christ's phrase: the Father and I are one."

He emphasized the problem of not understanding the true meaning of freedom, which is God's gift and expresses divine love for his creation.

"There is no freedom without charity," he insisted. He added that "the only concept that the Lord of everything does not understand is that of race and nation." And as long as the Church remains "trapped in a secularized view of human progress, it cannot have a future."

Metropolitan Zizioulas believed that only a united Church could stand against the arrogance of geopolitical interests and spare humankind from constant disasters on its way to the kingdom of God.

"This is the greatness of our Church," Ioannis Zizioulas continued, "which wants to convey with faith and certainty the message of the Resurrection, that is, the victory of life over death, because death does not constitute the last word on our life. Just as hatred, violence and evil are not the last word on our lives, because they have been defeated by Our Lord."

The Orthodox Church, he added, interprets and conveys this message in various ways, but especially with the Divine Liturgy, which represents the union of the living with the dead in one body, that of Our Lord Jesus Christ.

"And we all here united in the liturgy, may we exclaim that time cannot dominate us and the past cannot bind us to all its evils, perpetuating its hatred, fears and mischief. We must free our souls from those bonds that keep us fruitlessly nailed to the past and we must look to the future."

From these lands of the East, said the Metropolitan of Pergamum, came the greatest wisdom in the history of all mankind, contained in a single word: love.

"A wisdom that the ancient world, despite having touched the highest heights of human knowledge, could never conceive." When Turkish authorities granted permits to return to celebrate in the places in Asia Minor where Christian theological thought flourished, he said, "We came here to remind them that we are alive and have never forgotten them."

Faced with repeated statements from Moscow advising against the participation of Orthodox faithful in prayer with other Christian denominations, Metropolitan Ioannis Zizioulas recalled, "In the Church of the East, and especially in the Russian Church, there is an introversion that leads to a certain conservatism."

"One is incapable of facing the challenges of the contemporary world and invokes tradition as an excuse. True appreciation of tradition," Zizioulas continued, "occurs only when we can recreate our tradition. Its message does not mean static, but has in it the dynamics of truth and is not afraid of the challenge of the contemporary world."

He recalled that theological thought cannot ignore the achievements of the sciences, but he equally had an apophatic, contemplative approach. He added that the great Church fathers of Christ with their thinking were able to overcome the fences of their own era and looked to the future. For the future of humankind is the eschaton, the kingdom of God.

That is why he often blamed those who, participating in ecumenical dialogue, thought only of defending their historical positions , forgetting that our goal is the kingdom of the common Lord. And precisely "Remembering Our Future" is the title he had chosen for his testament, expressed in a new book that he unfortunately left unfinished.

Pictured: Metropolitan Zizioulas in St. Peter's Basilica in 2018 during his last participation in the liturgy on the Solemnity of Saints Peter and Paul with the delegation of the Patriarchate of Constantinople

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