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Church

Fr. Theodore Stylianopoulos Speaks to TNH

BOSTON – Protopresbyter Theodore Stylianopoulos, Professor Emeritus of New Testament and Exegesis at Holy Cross Greek Orthodox School of Theology, in a thorough interview with The National Herald he spoke about the immigration of his family to the United States, his father, who was a priest, his mother, the Theological School, Hellenism, the Holy Bible, and much more.

Fr. Theodore received his doctorate from Harvard University and he is considered an authority in his field. He often writes Theological articles for both publications of the National Herald, in Greek and English.

Fr. Theodore began the conversation by saying, “thank you for this interview. I am grateful.”

Protopresbyter Theodore Stylianopoulos, Professor Emeritus of New Testament and Exegesis of Holy Cross Greek Orthodox School of Theology. (Photo provided by Fr. Theodore Stylianopoulos)

He continued: “I was born in a tiny village, Mouzakion, Trifylias, Messinias. We arrived as a family in the United States in 1951 when I was thirteen years old, residing at first with our relatives in San Francisco. Six months later my father was appointed to the Church of Kimisis in Seattle, the area where I grew up as a teenager.”

Regarding his upbringing in a priestly family, he said, “my father was a most faithful and conscientious priest, and my mother a most loving mother. From my father I hope I have learned to be an honest man and from my mother, love and devotion to family. Honesty maintains self-respect. Without it, we are but hollow people. I followed the example of my father to the priesthood. My calling emerged through the struggles of youth, reaching steady clarity half-way through seminary studies.”

As a priest he has served at the Annunciation Cathedral in Boston (1965-1967), at St. Nicholas in Lexington (1971-1977), at St. George in Keene, NH (1978-2012) on weekends, and most recently in Kimisis of Dracut, MA (roughly 2015 to present). At other times he has served as a Sunday substitute priest in churches of the Boston area.

Fr. Theodore Stylianopoulos, Presbytera Photini, and students of Holy Cross School of Theology with Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew at the Phanar. (Photo provided by Fr. Theodore Stylianopoulos)

Speaking about his studies at Holy Cross School of Theology, he said, “during my time as a student (1956-1962) the School was traditional in substance and form, a tightly-knit and closed family, leaving campus only two afternoons a week to go shopping for necessities. The education was that of a decent ecclesiastical school, based on instructor’s notes and strong on worship and discipline. Students could excel through their own desire and efforts.”

Fr. Theodore taught at Hellenic College and the School of Theology for nearly forty years. He said, “I witnessed firsthand the stages of growth, too many times painfully so, as far as frequent changes in administration. As a faculty member, I recall the difficult task of the change-over from Greek into English in classroom lecturing because the students lacked proficiency in Modern Greek. This was already the case in the early 1970’s.”

Fr. Theodore Stylianopoulos with Metropolitan Methodios and the then-Deacon Nathanael Simonides, today’s Metropolitan of Chicago at the Cathedral of the Pines in Keene, NH. (Photo provided by Fr. Theodore Stylianopoulos)

He emphasized that “the institution is absolutely crucial for the mission of the Church, and to a lesser extent, for the perpetuation of the Greek heritage to a. With due respect to all concerned, my humble assessment is that the institution has all along faced three seemingly never-ending issues. First is the difficulty to impress on our students the value of the Greek language in study and practice pertaining to Orthodox hymnology, worship, patristic writings, and pastoral care. The ‘Greek’ in the title Greek Orthodox School of Theology has not flowered to full bloom for various psychological, cultural, and educational reasons.”

He continued: “The second is the repeated attempts over 60 years to establish and expand the College, a worthy and valuable project, but a heavy burden and a controversial task. Again, with due respect, I note that the only fully professional administration, in terms of experience in higher education, was that of the 10-year leadership by Dr. Thomas Lelon. His heroic efforts however, did not actualize the dream. The question of the college, housed together with the School of Theology, remains the most difficult issue, consuming energies and resources.”

He said that the third issue “is that of the administration itself, the standards by which it is selected, the frequent changes, often with controversy and deep personal hurts, and the lack of subsequent institutional accountability. I do not mean blaming individuals but rather ascertaining accountability regarding the working of the various offices and administrative bodies in applying the policies and procedures. We do have policies and procedures, but we still suffer failures because of improper application due to arbitrary actions – or inaction – at various levels. Assessments for new starts have not been decisive because, once again, they have been executed internally rather than by outside agencies. On a positive note, all the administrations deserve praise pertaining to faculty recruitment and enhancement of instruction.”

Fr. Theodore Stylianopoulos at the age of 13 as a cantor helping his father, who was a priest, during services. (Photo provided by Fr. Theodore Stylianopoulos)

Asked what is the contribution of Hellenism for the study and understanding of the Bible, he said, “it is immense because of the translation of the Old Testament into Greek, which is the official text of the Orthodox Church, has influenced all the liturgical texts and the patristic writings. The books of the New Testament are of course composed in Greek from the start and bear definitive aspects of both the Jewish and Hellenic heritage. The major methods of biblical interpretation, until a couple centuries ago, came from the Greek tradition, whereas now the literary and critical historical approaches prevail, not without controversy.”

When we asked whether the Bible is the unique revelation of God to humanity or rather, a word or record about divine revelation, Fr. Theodore replied that, “the Bible is both. In general terms it is surely God’s once-for-all and unique revelation, the foundation and source of Orthodox life and theology. It is so because the primary actor and primary subject of the Bible is the mystery of God which determines the nature and destiny of humanity. The Bible is also the record of revelation, speaking in precise terms. For example, there is the teaching on divine love and events such as the transfiguration of Christ – these are recorded in human words and can be studied as important theological knowledge about God. They become the living word of God in the context of prayerful study and in worship to those who believe, embrace those truths with faith, and are transformed according to the likeness of Christ.”

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