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Theology and Art in Dialogue

BOSTON – The Maliotis Cultural Center organized an event on December 1 on the topic ‘Theology and Art in Dialogue’ featuring as speaker Dr. Chrysostomos A. Stamoulis, Dean and Professor of the School of Theology of the University of Thessaloniki. Dr. Stamoulis was introduced by George Cantonis, president Hellenic College – Holy Cross Greek Orthodox School of Theology of Brookline, MA.

Professor Stamoulis began his speech with the following paragraph from Dostoyevsky’s novel ‘The Idiot’:

“’Is it true, Prince, that you once said the world will be saved by beauty? Gentlemen,’ he cried loudly to them all, ‘the prince says that the world will be saved by beauty! But I say that he has such whimsical notions merely because he’s presently in love. Gentlemen, the prince is in love; earlier, as soon as he came in, I was convinced of that. Don’t blush, Prince, I shall feel sorry for you. What sort of beauty will save the world? Kolya told me about it… Are you a zealous Christian?’”

Stamoulis said that, “this passage from Dostoyevsky’s ‘The Idiot’ could constitute, however strange it might seem, the heart of Orthodox theology. Prince Myshkin, himself one of the Orthodox East’s ‘fools for Christ’s sake’, seems to reveal in a unique and at the same time absolutely dynamic manner the essence of patristic teaching and self-understanding. Only a saint such as, for example, Dionysius the Areopagite, whose theology was to be the basic guide in this project, could with the same clarity have expressed the experience of the ecclesial body, which recognizes ‘the good which is above all light’ as ‘beauty’ and ‘goodness’, as ‘love’ and ‘beloved,’ and consequently as the unique cause of the beauty, loveliness, harmony, and radiance of all created beings.”

Professor Chrysostomos Stamoulis, Dean of the School of Theology of the University of Thessaloniki, speaks at the Maliotis Cultural Center on “Theology and Art in Dialogue”. (Photo by TNH/Theodore Kalmoukos)

In another instance he said that, “the Orthodox Church, and therefore its theology, are reflections of the ‘all-good’ and the ‘supra-good’, within which they [its communicants] are called to fulfil the mode of their existence. The ecclesial person and ecclesial existence subsist only in relation to the source of life, that is, only through participation in supreme beauty, which is nothing other than the world’s triadic God, the creator of existence. This God is the beginning and also the end of any human attempt whatsoever, to seek out beauty within a world which is torn apart by the machinations of the devil, that is, by the uglinesses which corrode the unity of human existence, the unity of the whole of created reality, and in the end the unity of the human person with God himself.”

Professor Stamoulis emphasized that “the incarnation of the Word, his hypostatic union with human nature, constitutes an act of re-conforming human nature to its ancient beauty. This re-conforming, of course, also contains the marks of its extension. The repristination of the obscured characteristics of human nature is not realized as on the first occasion: the second ‘word of making like’ is not the same as the first. The refashioning of humanity is not a consequence of the creative word of God, ‘And God said, ‘Let us make humankind in our image, according to our likeness,’ but was the result of a kenotic act of union. This time God did not ‘say’ or ‘make’ but ‘became’: ‘And the word became flesh.’ In this manner we would say that the relationship between God and humankind, which moves from energetic to hypostatic, is completed, becomes whole, is brought to its goal, to its perfection. In the hypostasis of Christ the separation of divinity and humanity is abolished, seeing that the person of the Word constitutes the common term of each of the two natures.’”

He also said that “theology in the Orthodox tradition is primarily a creative art, a practical art, an empirical art, an ascetical art, an art revealing beauty, which has its provenance in heaven. This art, this theology, makes the personal communion of humankind with God and with fellow human beings, just as the communion of the persons of the Holy Trinity is lived iconically on a communal level. This is the manifestation and at the same time the experience of the Church, or rather, this is the revelation of a relation which has previously been experienced. In the Church the faithful train themselves to ‘flee from evil arts;, that is to say, from the snares of the ruler of this age, with the aim of avoiding a return to the separation of the fall, which was the result of the assent of humankind to Satan’s evil art, or in other words, to Satanic anti-creativity.”

A reception followed the presentation.

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