This is a new and improved audio recording of the interview, with a corrected and completed transcript by Dr. Larchet.
The Transcript has been corrected and completed by Dr. Larchet for this publication, in April of 2017.
PH: Dr. Larchet thank you very much for taking the time to speak with us. It is a joy and honor. For many years I've followed your writings and many of our contemporaries in America, I'm sure, are very familiar with your excellent patristic texts and writings. Can you tell us a few words about your elder, who was he, and what he meant for you?
JL: Yes, I must say that he is very important because he received me into the Orthodox Church, and when I met him the first time, I had the immediate impression that he was a saintly man. He had a great reputation, not because he was a great theologian and famous writer. He was a very simple monk, educated, yes - he had studied some years in Oxford -, but he had put off this university education and wanted to become very simple. He was famous because he had a special charisma, the capacity to read the heart, the spiritual gifts of discernment (diacrisis) and clairvoyance (diorasis).
PH: You've written a book about him, that we have in English, tell us the title in English?
JL: ‘Elder Sergei of Vanves. Life and Teachings’, published by Divine Ascent Press.
PH: ‘Elder Sergei’ is also in Greek, French, Romanian, Russian, Serbian, and in many other languages… So the beginning of your spiritual life was under his direction.
JL: Yes, I was under his direction because I became Orthodox through the reading of the Church Fathers. And in the beginning I was alone… I discovered Orthodoxy because I had, during my studies of philosophy for a master, to study the works of Saint Dionysius the Areopagite. Through it I met other Fathers and I read also commentaries of Orthodox Theologians, especially Vladimir Lossky, and I understood that the Orthodox Theologians were very close to the Church Fathers, and the Roman Catholic church in which I was at this time was very far from these teachings of the Church Fathers and from also the teaching of the Apostles in the first century of Christianity.
I was a very strong believer in Catholicism and practicing, but I saw that there were many deviations - more and more from the 10th century - and Orthodoxy has kept the true line of the first Christianity, the teaching of Christ and the Apostles.
PH: This was before or after the Second Vatican Council? I don't want to date you, but it's important...
JL: The 1970's.
PH: So it's post Vatican II. Do you think that had an effect on you, that it was after Vatican II? Or you think that you would have found the same answer even before the Council?
JL: The Second Council of the Vatican introduced - during the following years - many disorders into the Roman Catholic church. Catholic priests celebrated the liturgy in many different ways, some of them invented new prayers, new rites, and so on; it was crazy. But it did not play a great role in my life because I was in a relatively traditional church, and it didn't play any role in my conversion. As I said, the discovery of the Church Fathers was the main element for it.
But my way was - during one year completely alone (there was no orthodox church in the area I was living, and I did’nt know any orthodox priest or faithful) - and I discovered, on the one hand, the works of the Church Fathers, and, on the other, the works of Orthodox spirituality, especially ‘The Way of a Pilgrim’ and the ‘Philokalia’, the Jesus prayer and the hesychast spirituality. Both sides went together and I felt at this moment that it was impossible for me to remain a Roman Catholic, because this Orthodox spirituality and this right teaching of the Church Fathers, was not in agreement with Roman Catholic faith and practice.
PH:Was there any particular teaching that stood out, any particular teaching in Catholicism that you said this was clearly not consistent or was it the whole package of Catholicism that you felt was not consistent with Patristic teaching?
JL: It was not only a question of dogma in the beginning, but I thought that the spirit was very different, and it is also important to tell that now because, as says one famous monk in France (very well known in Greece too), Fr. Placide Deseille (he has a very large experience in Roman Catholicism because he converted when he was already an abbot): in Catholicism and in Orthodoxy almost everything is near, close, but what is the same (there are also things which are the same), when it is the same, is quite different according to the spirit. So when we have agreement on something, we don't understand these things in the same way and we don't live these things in the same way. And so the difference of Catholicism and Orthodoxy is not only a pure dogmatic or ecclesiolgical question (where there are actually big differences). I think even if we could find an agreement on the questions on which we are now in disagreement related to dogma and ecclesiology, it would be only a step. There would remain a great area of difference, concerning the spirit in which we understand the Christian life and we live the Christian life.
PH: The ‘ethos,” maybe that is the word…
JL: Exactly… what the Greek names ethos, it is ‘the way of life’.
PH: Yes, yes! I think this is my experience as well, and this is absolutely true. One of the hardest parts of becoming Orthodox for the western man is to acquire that ethos, because he's been immersed in a foreign ethos, which was rationalistic and it centers his whole being in his mind...
PH: Yes, humanistic. And even if he's called Christian it doesn't matter, he has this ethos that he is carrying, which he has to throw off. But, how does one acquire that ethos when there are not many examples in the western world, in France, in America? This is very difficult.
JL: Yes, that is the reason why to learn what is Orthodoxy, not only in books but with real, true Orthodox persons, is very important, and that's the reason why the meeting with my spiritual father was very important, because when I was sure that according to a dogmatic point of view Orthodoxy was the True faith, and according to the ethos, Orthodoxy was the true way of life, it was [still] not sufficient. I needed to be really in the Church, to live in the Church and to learn what is the ethos, the way of life of the Church, through a reliable representative of Orthodoxy who practiced it in the best way. And I had this very great opportunity, to have this very close relationship with this great spiritual father, and to be with him many times. For example during my holidays, when I was a student and after when I was a teacher, I frequently went to him.
PH: He was a Hieromonk?
JL: Yes, he was a Russian Hieromonk of the older generation, who was in epistolary relation with Saint Silouan the Athonite and the famous Abbot of Valaam, Chariton. And he was in a special situation because he was a priest of a Parish in a city (in the suburbs of Paris), but at the same time the Hegumen of a Skete 30 kilometers from Paris, and one day in the week he went to celebrate Liturgy in the Skete, and was the other days in this parish. So we had the opportunity to be in a Parish, with a monk with a monastic mentality…
PH: Fantastic… married the two.
JL: Yes, married both. And it was a good way to learn what is exactly Orthodox Liturgy (he celebrated litugical services with precision and deepness) and Orthodox spirituality (he was a true ascetic, strictly in the line of the Church Fathers. St. John Climacus was his favorite)…
PH: So you didn't suffer from what many people suffer from: this idea that… it is very different - the parish life from the monastic life. They separate the two in their minds. And many people are afraid to even go to the monasteries, sometimes, in America anyway, because it's something almost foreign to their parish life. You didn't have that problem.
JL: Not at all. For my spiritual father this situation to be a monk in the city was certainly difficult to assume. But I think for the monks it's a question of what they have in [their] mind and in [their] heart. Many Fathers said that you can be alone in a desert and have the world inside you; and to be in a city among a thousand peoples and be alone with God in your mind and in your heart. Through the experience of Father Sergei, we learned to be with God in every circumstance.
I consider my spiritual father as a saint, and I hope the Church will recognize him as a saint. I've already wrote a Troparion for him, and you know the beginning of the Troparion for Saint Macarius or other ascetics is: ‘the desert was your city’. But I wrote for Father Sergei: ‘the city was your desert,’ because he was able to have a very tight monastic life, even while living in a city. He was very poor; he was living only in a room with nothing inside and when he received money from people he gave it to poor people who came to him. He had a true monastic way of life. In fact, he prayed hours day and night, he celebrated all the Church services at every time; he went, when he had free time, to the hospitals to speak with people, to confess, to give communion. It was a good situation in Paris to make this great apostolate... the work of a true pastor. He was a light filled man, full of humility, love, sweetness and joy, and gave a true witness as to what is the grace coming from the Holy Spirit.
He was for me a very great example. He was very famous by other Elders of this time too. For example Father (now Saint) Paisios the Athonite had very great respect for him, Saint Justin Popovich too. And other great Elders, for example Fr. Aimilianos (Vafeidis) of Simonopetra visited him in Paris, and other Gerontas from Athos too...
PH: When did he repose?
JL: In 1987.
PH: '87 ok. So you had a good fifteen years with him, at least?
JL: I was with him about seventeen years.
PH: Seventeen years, and you would say that he was the defining person in your life, in order to understand the Fathers spiritually and experientially.
JL: Yes, because I discovered Orthodoxy through the Fathers, but after, he taught me how to read the Fathers. For example, he taught me not to read the Fathers with an intellectual approach with an abstract mind, but in a spiritual way, with prayer, to read the Fathers spiritually. And also I learned to ‘make’ Theology, to write theological writings in the same way, with prayer, in a spiritual way, not in an abstract and intellectual...
PH: Abstractly, yes; rationalistic, in a rationalistic way…
PH: This is essential, really essential, this ‘way,’ that Christ is not simply the Truth that we proclaim, but He is ‘the way’ we obtain to understanding the Truth. This process…
JL: Exactly. If we want to be a theologian, to think something by ourselves, we are in pride, and we cannot produce something which is able to convince other people of the truth of Christians; but if we have humility, if we understand that by ourselves we cannot understand anything, nor write anything, nor say anything good, then we receive through this humility the grace of God, and we become able then to have in our words, in our writings, the truth and the strength of the Holy Spirit.
PH: So this brings me to something I really want to ask you… you just talked about the presuppositions of true Orthodox Theology, there are presuppositions, you cannot just take a pen, read a book and become a theologian, the presuppositions are spiritual. Humility, repentance…
JL: Yes, I think theology is closely connected with spiritual life. In the ancient times, Evagrius (of Pontus) wrote: ‘If you are a theologian, you will pray truly. And if you pray truly, you are a theologian.’ And yet, theology is also a gift of God, it's a special charisma. For example there are many great spiritual monks who pray very much but are not theologians in writing or in speaking. Some saints didn't speak at all or didn't write at all…
JL: Most, yes. And it's a charisma like prophecy, like the charisma to heal people and so on… that's a gift. And for me, it was a gift of God. Because, for example, until my 40th year I was unable to write even one word, absolutely unable, and then it came suddenly, and afterwards I wrote twenty-six books. Some are very big (more than 800 pages) and some people in France say that I didn't write this by myself but that I have a lot of secretaries to write my books! But it's absolutely false, because at the time God gave me inspiration, God gave me also the possibility to be in a very quiet place, not to be disturbed, to live like a hermit, with the assistance of my wife, who is an iconographer and works also in silence and prayer. And I have no pretension in saying that this is a gift of God, because I am absolutely aware that it can disappear in a second, and perhaps tomorrow morning I will be unable to write something. Indeed, this happened in many other cases. For example, in the Monastery of Simonopetra on Mount Athos, Fr. Grigorios was chosen by the higoumen to make music for the monastery and he was very creative at the time and he composed many Byzantine melodies, which are very known around the world now, but suddenly after some years when he had achieved this work, he was unable even to chant - he was the chief of the choir -, and he was also unable to compose because he had completed the job wanted by God for a time; that is the word of Christ, we are ‘worthless servants’…
PH: Yes, worthless servants. It s not an accident that we say an icon is by the hand of so and so. And the idea is, that God is inspiring man in order to write, God inspiring to write an icon or to write a book; it has to be the inspiration of God otherwise it's just a human output. And it's not going to, like you said, it's not going to bring others to Christ.
JL: Yes, but it's very important. What I always made... it was to be like a sponge, to receive the teaching of the spiritual Father without wanting to think something by my own, you know, I didn't want to think something by my own, no creation, no invention, no new teaching, I didn't want to be known by other people... And that was the conception of St. Maximus, too - he says his Letter 15: ‘I will not say anything about myself, but I only hear what the Fathers teach, without changing anything’ - and also of St. John Damascus writing in the Preface of ‘Fountain of Wisdom’: ‘I shall add nothing of my own, but shall gather together into one those things which have been worked out by the most eminent of teachers.’
The problem in the Orthodox Church is there are so many conflicts between theologians because many want to be famous, to be known, to bring something new, to bring change in the practice of the thinking of the Church. And it is the beginning of conflicts…
PH: Perhaps very serious conflicts even…
JL: Yes, serious conflicts. And we have now - I don't want to speak much about this subject - this problem with Father Alexander Schmemann, for example; he invented a lot of new conceptions of Liturgy, of Sacraments, and reconstructed, invented, imagined (influenced by his mentor Father Nicholas Afanasiev, this one following the protestant Rudoph Sohm) the practice of the first centuries of Christianity. And there are many conflicts now, or problems in the Church, because many priests want to change the way in which the Holy Liturgy or the Holy Mysteries are celebrated…
PH: What they've received…
JL: During Liturgy one wants to change one thing, the other one some other thing, asserting that everything is relative because in the first century or in the eighth century, or in the fourth century or in the twelfth century, this practice didn't exist. And it's terrible because Orthodoxy becomes like Protestantism, in which each one is able to bring what he wants in the practice of spirituality, of liturgy, of theology and so on...
We must at first have humility in front of the Church; we must accept what the Church has elaborated during the centuries. Perhaps some practice in Liturgy is discussible, but the Church has decided that that is good for the people, and we have to keep that [precisely, trying at first to understand the spiritual meaning of what is done...]
PH: This is the word in Greek, ‘Parádosis’. Parádosis is, receive what was given to you, if we begin to say that those who gave it to us, or those before those who gave it to us were at fault, and we need to go back, then we are breaking the continuation, right? So we cannot doubt those who gave us what was given, we must accept it simply, otherwise, we are doubting the presence of the Holy Spirit.
JL: Many people say that there is now a problem with zealots in the different parts of the Orthodox countries, in Greece, Romania, Serbia and so on, but there would be no zealots if there had not been modernists, because zealots are a product of modernism.
PH: Yes, yes. They are reacting… they are reacting.
JL: Yes! And it is because the balance in the Church was not preserved, that such conflicts happen. And we have to be in each case very balanced.
PH: Humble, humble…
JL: To preserve the Tradition of the Church.
PH: Where do you think it's being preserved the best today, where is it being preserved, the balance, the best today?
JL: Difficult to say. Certainly on Mount Athos and also in the Russian Church (which has the same typikon as monasteries of Mont Athos), because in the Greek Church there were many changes in 19th Century in Liturgy, and very disputable changes. I think modernity was introduced in the Greek Church more than in other, perhaps.
PH: Also the scholastic spirit, the scholastic spirit from the west.
JL: There is a problem in the Greek Theology, according to me, the same problems that existed in the Russian Church in the 19th century. There is often a mixture between theology and philosophy and many professors of the Faculties of Theology in Thessaloniki or in Athens, in the last decades, were theologian-philosophers, a mixture of philosopher and theologian.
Zizioulas is a good example of that mixture, because he has a theology and an ecclesiology which are not grounded in the Orthodox Tradition, Orthodox Patristic Tradition, but in the modern philosophy of existentialism and personalism, with a [superficial] cover of (misinterpreted) Patristic Teaching, and there are many other examples.
PH: And yet, the writings of Metropolitan John Zizioulas are in many languages and many Orthodox have adopted his views...
JL: I think the situation is changing now because many theologians, many educated people, see that there is a problem. It became a closed system and a kind of ideology who wants to explain everything in ecclesiastical and Church [theology], through very simple ideas taken from non-Christian existentialism [especially this idea: ‘existence precedes essence”].
And, it's always very dangerous when you want to create some new interpretation of Christianity. It is so balanced the Orthodox Theology, that - as said many Fathers - a very little change may introduce many heresies after that; we can see that, in the whole history of the Christian Church.
In fact, all the great heretics in the first centuries were people who were not able to keep the balance between, for example, nature and person in the Holy Trinity, or between the three persons in the Holy Trinity, or between the person and natures of Christ, or between the two natures of Christ and so on.
It is a very fragile, very delicate balance, Orthodox Theology. And when you begin to introduce a new element you risk to make a complete disorder by...
PH: The consequences are immense! And that's exactly why the Fathers were so strict in combating heresy, because they saw the implications. The implications were immense!
JL: Saint Gregory the Theologian said that orthodoxy is the Royal Way. The Royal Way is very, very, narrow, very difficult to follow. And I think the main virtue for the theologian related to that, is humility! If you begin to think by yourself, and to want to propose a new interpretation of a dogmatic question also, you are risking destroying this very delicate balance in Christian dogma. One could object that htere were developments during the history of orthodox theology, but these developments were not innovations, but explanations and precisions, usually to face misinterpretations or heresies…
PH: Well let me ask you this then, there are some new theologians in Greece who are coming out and saying that we should posit the question of primacy, proteío, in the Theology of the Holy Trinity? And this is something that they are basing in the theology of John of Pergamon [John Zizioulas] and as far as I understand this was also discussed in the last meeting in Jordan, in the Committee between the Orthodox and the Roman Catholics, this was proposed by some Orthodox that we should consider primacy, and the function of primacy, on the basis of the Holy Trinity, which of course is a mistake.
JL: It is a complete mistake! Because there are many errors in the theology of the Metropolitan of Pergamon [John Zizioulas] concerning the Holy Trinity, for example, he has not a right conception of the relationship between the Father and the two other persons [he is in a way a subordinationist], and the Father and Essence, and so on. I have demonstrated this.
PH: You have a new book coming out on this, in Greek?
JL: This book [‘Person and Nature’] was written in French some years ago, it's been translated in Serbian, and will come soon in Russian and in Greek, and I give very precise arguments to refute this conception of God, and also of the possibility of understanding human life from Divine life and contrary to - because one the mistakes of Catholicism was to try to understand the life of God from human life…
PH: Analogia Entis…
JL: Yes, exactly! From the human life, for example, St. Augustine drew psychological comparisons to explain Divine life. And conversely the error of some Orthodox Theologians is to try to understand human life through the Divine life, because we know very little about the relationship between Father, Son and the Holy Spirit in the Trinity. We know the relationship through the economy. But this is the best principle of the Orthodox theology is that there is a great distinction between theology, what is God in Himself, how is His life in Himself; and the manifestation of God to the world, that is the economy...
PH: And this is what we say in terms of the filioque, our criticism of the filioque is that they have confused economy and theology; and now we are doing the same thing in terms of Ecclesiology…
JL: Yes exactly, in the other sense… yes.
PH: It's a bit mystifying how we can make these mistakes.
JL: The life of God is a great mystery. We always say that the essence of God is not understandable for us, we cannot know the essence of God, only His energies. But what is not understandable and not knowable for us is also the relationship 'in divinis', between the three Persons. It's a great mystery! And we cannot build theories to explain our human life from the life of God. For example, to say that - it is an assertion you find in modern theology derived from ‘Personalism’ - that man was created to the image of the Holy Trinity, to the three persons; it is not correct… When we say that man was created to the image of God, it's to the image of what is common to the three persons, to the nature of them, as far as we are ever to know it, and as far as it communicates to the world and to man through an image… That is the teaching of the Church Fathers.
We cannot be according to the image of three different hypostasis, what does it mean? It's an absurdity.
PH: That's very important and I appreciate that extremely, it's a very important point and contribution to the discussion. I'm not sure in the West, in the English language, this discussion is happening? Is...this discussion happening, to your knowledge? Is there a good vibrant discussion going on within Orthodox Theology about what we are talking about? I don't know if there is?
JL: Because you, in America, were always very advanced in false conceptions. [laughter] Excuse me but, I think there is now a great problem in the United States because many Orthodox Theologians are working in Catholic Faculties of Theology. For example, in the Department of Theology of Fordham University, there is an ‘Orthodox Christian Studies Center’, but the two representatives of ‘Orthodoxy’ [George Demacopoulos and Aristotle Papanikolaou] have a complete Catholic mind and their main activity is to deconstruct the Orthodox Tradition. This is the same for example with Marcus Plested, in Marquette University who wrote a book to promote Thomas of Aquinas and to introduct his thought in Orthodox Theology. Recently there was a terrible book of Fr. John Panteleimon Manoussakis, which is completely Roman Catholic, with a preface of his mentor, metropolitan John Zizioulas [who is in the patriarchate of Constantinople, the promoter of the Roman Catholic ecclesiology and works for some years to make the patriarch of Constantinople the Pope of the Orthodox Church].
PH: Yes, yes. Which one are you referring to? Is it about marriage?
JL: His recent book, ‘For the Unity of all’ where he speaks about the filioque, about the different points on which we are in deep disagreement with the heterodox theology. He said that there is no problem, we are very close from one another, etc. (the classical superficial ecumenism), but I think he doesn't know exactly the position of Orthodoxy, on the one hand, and of Catholicism, on the other... [There is also - you mention it - a terrible article of him against marriage and justifiying homosexuality, taking arguments from Zizioulas’ personalism…]
I am very sad about this development within Orthodoxy in America.
PH: I appreciate that, it is very necessary to hear a critique, and coming from you, who have so many years studied the Fathers, it is even more important.
Allow me to ask you something that is of personal interest, and I think that it's something that I'd love to hear what you have to say, because it's something that's really been at the center of my research. And that is, in my studies, my research of the Second Vatican Council's Ecclesiology, I came across the historical reality of the West which was that they had in practice separated the Holy Mysteries. In other words, the μύηση, the initiation of the Christian, happened over time. Chronologically and theologically they had a disintegration of the mysteries, so one was baptized, later was confessed, later was communed, later was Chrismated...
Now that, from my studies, led me also to understand why their theology in terms of baptism and the other mysteries is so different from the Orthodox. And I think it comes back to the question of, and which also is very important in the Church today, and that is, the question of what are the presuppositions for participation in the Holy Mysteries? The presuppositions. So someone comes to be baptized, someone comes to be married, someone comes to commune, what are the presuppositions for that person to partake of the mysteries, and to receive the grace of God in the mysteries?
Because what I am seeing on a pastoral level in contemporary Orthodoxy, but was very present and the problem in the Reformation, one of the reasons why there was the anabaptist development in the West, was because...they had lost the sense of the presuppositions for baptism. In other words, one has to believe, one has to repent and one has to accept the church to participate in the mysteries.
If the Mysteries are given out without these presuppositions being met, then we have a disintegration, we have a serious spiritual problem, so my question is: in the Fathers, from your experience, do they speak of what are the presuppositions of participation in the Mysteries?
In the Gospels we see people who come and Christ says: “according to your faith the miracle happened…” Or, [on the basis of] repentance: before the prodigal son can return to the house of the Father, he has to repent, he has to come to himself, [acquire] αυτογνωσία, he has to come and have understanding of where he was, he was far from the Father's house.
So...behind all this ecclesiology, behind the disintegration of the mysteries in the West, was this question of what are the presuppositions for participation in the Mysteries?
In contemporary Greece we have a huge problem, that people are all baptized, but none of them are catechized or very few of them are catechized, they are not initiated into the meaning and the life of the Church, so they participate in the mysteries but you don’t feel that they are having fruit from the participation in the mysteries.
JL: I think it is important to keep in mind that for the Orthodox Church the Mysteries are necessary but not sufficient. To be fruitful they must be put in collaboration with an ascetic way of life in the large meaning, it is a Christian ethos, and this is the way in which the grace is assimilated by the person.
All Fathers agree on this point: we receive in the Mysteries the whole grace, in baptism, and especially in Holy Communion in which Christ Himself is in us. However, the problem is that our receptivity is very small, God gives Himself in totality (as far as a man can receive Him), but we have to assimilate the gift, and this assimilation is only possible through a personal effort, and over a long time with inner purification from passions and with the practice of virtues. This is the way of assimilation of grace according to our Tradition.
So it means a strong fighting against the passions during many years, and the acquisition in correlation of Divine virtues. However, now in Catholicism and moreover in Protestantism this concept doesn’t exist, they have no idea of what is concretely a Christian way of life. They have no notion of passions, no notion of spiritual fight and think only that it’s through good feelings and sentiments, psychic love or so [on], that it’s possible to have a Christian way of life. And they have no formation and no notion of what is necessary to receive truly the grace of God. But the first problem is for them to have at the beginning this grace and, in fact, we believe that it’s not possible to receive the grace of God outside the Church (that is to say the Orthodox Church, which is actually the only one Church).
PH: This is another point that we can talk about briefly, a very important point. Outside the Church when we say the grace of God is not possible to receive, can we make a distinction here, it is a very important distinction for people, because many people have a difficulty understanding what you mean and what the Fathers mean by that, because it’s very clear in the Fathers that the grace of God is not possible outside the Church, but what do they mean by that?
And I think the distinction that I found helpful for people and for myself is that the energies of the Holy Spirit which purify, illumine, and deify are only in the Church, but the Holy Spirit and the energies of God, are in all of Creation… but that’s very different, that’s not the life of Christ. So a Protestant and a Roman Catholic or a non-believer has the grace of God "externally."
JL: Yes, exactly. Because you have at first to be implanted in the body of Christ in the Church, because Church is not an administration or a society, but the body of Christ Himself. And by baptism we become a member of the body of Christ. And it is only as a member of the body of Christ we can receive the grace of the Holy Spirit.
But in fact God is acting everywhere in the world. Because He is the Creator of the world, the world is living, moving, through the power of God. The power of God is the grace of God also, but, as you say, it’s something quite different to receive the fullness of grace of the Holy Spirit as a member of the body of Christ and to receive something of God outside.
PH: He is leading them…
JL: We cannot think that all what is outside the Church is outside of God, because in a way God contains in Himself everything good that exists (through what St. Maximus the Confessor calls the logoi of things), but we have not a personal relationship with God and we are not actually connected with Him if we are not inside the Church. And one has to question the value of what we get (or make) ouside the Christ; Christ precises: ‘Whoever is not with me is against me, and whoever does not gather with me scatters’ (Mt 12, 30), and He calls to do everything good ‘in His Name’, or ‘because of Him’.
PH: It’s these presuppositions we talked about earlier, that they have to be able to assimilate that grace.
PH: How can they assimilate it outside the Church, they’ve not been initiated, they have not been prepared…
JL: I must repeat that without the orthodox baptism one can get some sparking of grace but not the grace in its fullness…
PH: Which purifies, illumines and deifies… but there are some Orthodox who maintain, that baptism exists outside the Church.
JL: No, it doesn’t exist: all the Chrurch Fathers agree on this point. And when we receive some Christian without baptism - for example in the past, some heretics were officially received in the Church without baptism but through chrismation and even through confession -, it doesn’t mean that baptism is not necessary, and it doesn’t mean also that the Church recognizes the baptism of heretics, never! But it means that the Church when she decides to receive someone outside the Church, to receive him, she gave him by this act of including him, the fullness of grace, including the grace of baptism.
PH: Yes, the initiation happens in that way.
JL: Yes, this is the reason why it is a mistake to think that the Church recognizes the baptism of other christian denominations…
PH: Per se, in and of itself, outside the Church…
JL: The Church didn’t recognize, even Catholic or Protestant baptism - never - but she decided in some special circumstances to give by economy the grace of Baptism through these means (chrismation and sometimes confession), for the entry of a person into the Church (I have extensively explained these points in my book “The Church - body of Christ’, volume 2).
PH: And if we were to say that they were Mysteries outside the Church, it would destroy our whole Ecclesiology. Our Ecclesiology would not be able to stand, it would be inconsistent with our understanding.
JL: Yes because, the Church is one, the body of Christ is one, and if you consider that baptism is possible outside the Church, you have a false conception of the Church; you would consider that Christ is divided, or there are several Christs.
PH: Thank you very much for your time, Dr. Larchet. Thank you very much.
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This interview was conducted on May 8th, 2015 in Athens. This transcription has been corrected and completed by Dr. Larchet for this publication in April of 2017.
This interview was conducted on May 8th, 2015 in Athens.
Jean-Claude Larchet is one of the most important and interesting Orthodox scholars writing today. Born in 1949, Dr Larchet holds doctorates in philosophy (1987) and theology (1994). The author of twenty-seven books, his three volumes on St Maximos the Confessor – La Divinisation de l'homme selon saint Maxime le Confesseur(1996), Maxime le Confesseur, médiateur entre l'Orient et l'Occident (1998), and Saint Maxime le Confesseur (2003) – are widely acknowledged as among the best studies of this great saint and theologian published in any lanaguage. Equally remarkable is his three-part series on illness and healing in the Patristic tradition: Théologie de la maladie (1991), Thérapeutique des maladies mentales (1992), and Thérapeutique des maladies spirituelles (1997), which has now appeared in English translation (see below). Dr Larchet is one of the very few contemporary authors who is able seamlessly to combine rigorous scholarship with a vibrant sense of the inner life of the Church
Books by Dr. Larchet:
Series on St Maximus the Confessor
His three volumes on St Maximos the Confessor are widely acknowledged as among the best studies of this great saint and theologian published in any language:
• (French) La Divinisation de l'homme selon saint Maxime le Confesseur (1996)
• (French) Maxime le Confesseur, médiateur entre l'Orient et l'Occident (1998)
• (French) Saint Maxime le Confesseur (2003)
Series on Illness and Healing
Equally remarkable is his three-part series on illness and healing in the patristic tradition, translated into English:
• The Theology of Illness (2002)
• Mental Disorders and Spiritual Healing (2005).
• Therapy of Spiritual Illnesses (2012)
Other books in English
* Theology of the Body (2017)
Books in French
• Thérapeutique des maladies spirituelles (1991, 5th edition 2007) ISBN 2204055301
• Théologie de la maladie (1991, 3rd edition 2001) ISBN 2204042900
• Thérapeutique des maladies mentales. L’expérience de l’Orient chrétien des premiers siècles (1992, 3rd edition 2008) ISBN 2204045187
• Dieu ne veut pas la souffrance des hommes (1999, 2nd edition 2008) ISBN 2204086029
• La Vie après la mort selon la Tradition orthodoxe (2001, 2nd edition 2008) ISBN 220406713X
• Le Chrétien devant la maladie, la souffrance et la mort (2002) ISBN 2204070947
• L’Inconscient spirituel (2005) ISBN 2204077879
• Théologie du corps (2009) ISBN 2204090026
• Malades des nouveaux médias (2016) ISBN 2204114863
• Pour une éthique de la procréation. Éléments d’anthropologie patristique (1998) ISBN 2204058580
• Une fin paisible, sans douleur, sans honte... (2010) ISBN 2204091278
• Variations sur la charité (2007) ISBN 2204084751
• Théologie des énergies divines (2010) ISBN 2204090085
• Personne et nature (2011) ISBN 2204096237
• L’Iconographe et l’artiste (2008) ISBN 220408476X
• La Divinisation de l’homme selon saint Maxime le Confesseur (1996) ISBN 2204052493
• Maxime le Confesseur, médiateur entre l’Orient et l’Occident (1998) ISBN 2204059498
• Saint Maxime le Confesseur (580-662) (2003)ISBN 2204071560
• La Vie et l’œuvre théologique de Grégoire II de Chypre (1241-1290), patriarche de Constantinople (2012) ISBN 2204097152
Modern Saints and Elders
• Saint Silouane de l’Athos (2001, 2nd edition 2004) ISBN 2204065439
• Le Starets Serge (2004) ISBN 2204076244
• Le Patriarche Paul de Serbie. Un saint de notre temps (2014) ISBN 282514423X
• Saint Gabriel, fol-en-Christ de Géorgie (2015) ISBN 2825145505
• L’Église, corps du Christ, I, Nature et structure (2012)ISBN 2204096245
• L’Église, corps du Christ, II, Les relations entre les Églises (2012) ISBN 2204097721
• La Vie sacramentelle (2014) ISBN 2204102822
• La Vie liturgique (2016) ISBN 2204106208
• On the Love of Enemies: The Teaching of St. Silouan. In Communion. (Posted Sunday, October 24th, 2004)
• The Question of the Roman Primacy in the Thought of Saint Maximus the Confessor. In: Cardinal Walter Kasper. The Petrine Ministry: Catholics and Orthodox in Dialogue: Academic Symposium Held at the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity. The Newman Press, 2006. pp.188-209.