From the 9th until the 11th of February, 2012, the St Sergius Orthodox Theological Institute will hold an International Conference to commemorate the twentieth anniversary of the falling asleep in the Lord of Protopresbyter John Meyendorff, one of the most renowned Orthodox theologians of the twentieth century.
Born on February 17, 1926, in Neuilly-sur-Seine, near Paris, in a family of the Baltic aristocracy, "Baron Ioan Theophilevich Meyendorff" grew up in the Parisian milieu of Russian emigrants. Having finished his secondary education, the young Meyendorff enrolled at St. Sergius in 1944. At that time the Institute was the center of theological renewal in the Orthodox world, counting among its professors major representatives of the Russian intelligentsia, such as Frs. Sergius Bulgakov, Georges Florovsky, Cyprian Kern, Nicholas Afanasiev, and Professor Anthony Kartachov. Among his fellow students at St. Sergius was his friend from early childhood, Alexander Schmemann. During his years of study at the Institute, John (Jean) Meyendorff began to take courses at the University of Paris (the Sorbonne). Once he completed his coursework at St. Sergius, the Institute engaged him to teach Church History and Ancient Greek. His studies were crowned in 1958 with a doctoral dissertation at the Sorbonne on the Byzantine theologian St. Gregory Palamas. The next year, he was ordained to the priesthood. He then left with his family for the United States at the invitation of Fr. Alexander Schmemann, who had been teaching at St. Vladimir's Orthodox Theological Seminary since 1951. Fr. John taught Patristics and Church History at St. Vladimir’s, and Byzantine History at nearby Fordham University.
Fr. John's thesis on Palamas—the original French version of which was soon out of print and has never been re-edited—acquired for him a notable reputation in both ecclesiastical and academic circles. This book, which in French bears the modest title Introduction à l’étude de Grégoire Palamas (translated into English under the title A Study of Gregory Palamas [SVS Press, ), remains a classic which cannot be ignored by any student of Byzantine theology. Fr. John provided an important contribution to the rediscovery of this great and important Byzantine theologian of the 14th century, a rediscovery which had already begun with the works of Fr. Dumitru Staniloae, Fr. (later Archbishop) Basil (Krivocheïn), Fr. Cyprian Kern and Vladimir Lossky. Father John further is widely considered to be one of the most important representatives of the direction in Orthodox theology known as the “Neo-patristic Synthesis” (the term is from Fr. Georges Florovsky); the word “neo” indicating that it is not simply a return to the study of the church fathers or a “theology of repetition,” but rather is representative of a creative rediscovery of the living tradition of the Church. The theological works of Fr. John are essentially shaped by an historical approach that left its profound mark on Orthodox theology in the twentieth century. In this regard, he turned out to be a student par excellence of Fr. Georges Florovsky, whom he had known both in person and through his works, though not having been formally his student at St. Sergius (at that time, Patristics was taught by Fr. Cyprian Kern).
Fr. John’s activities were not limited to the academic world and to theological and historical studies. He was always actively engaged in church life. This is why he gained such great respect in the ecclesial world, both within and beyond the Orthodox Church. He was a co-founder and president of “Syndesmos,” the World Federation of Orthodox Youth Movements; and he was a member of “Faith and Order” of the World Council of Churches, a department over which he presided for almost ten years, from 1967 until 1976. It is due to his efforts, and to those of his friend and colleague Fr. Alexander Schmemann, that the Russian Orthodox Church in America, known then as “the Metropolia,” obtained autocephaly from its Mother Church in 1970, under the name of “The Orthodox Church in America” (OCA).
At the Conference in February 2012, the St Sergius Orthodox Theological Institute will honor its former student and teacher with lectures and a Round Table on the various domains in which he worked: theology (in all its aspects), Church History (Byzantium and the Slavic world), and the Orthodox Church today.
Among Father Meyendorff’s most important works the following stand out: Christ in Eastern Christian Thought (St Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 1975), Byzantine Theology (Fordham University Press, 1974), Imperial Unity and Christian Divisions (SVS Press, 1989), and Byzantium and the Rise of Russia (Cambridge University Press, 1981).
The detailed program is available here and for a complete description of the international conference visit the website of St Sergius Orthodox Theological Institute, here.