Posts Tagged person

Father Seraphim (Aldea): Elder Sophrony on hypostasis, or person.

Fr. Seraphim (Aldea) –  was tonsured as an Orthodox monk in 2005 at Rasca monastery in Bucovine, North Moldavia.  He has a PhD in Modern Theology from the University of Durham (UK) for a thesis on Archimandrite Sophrony (Sakharov)’s Ecclesiology. He is currently obeying God’s calling to found the Monastery of all Celtic Saints on the Scottish Isle of Mull.  This will be the first Orthodox monastery in Celtic Britain in over a millennium (See


seraphim-aldea“In general terms, Fr. Sophrony used ‘hypostasis’ to refer to the ontological state of a being that has fully actualized its nature.  And very frequently this is opposed with the idea or state of an ‘individual’.

Although they appear to be synonymous, the two concepts [‘hypostasis’ and ‘person’] carry different meanings for Father Sophrony.  While ‘hypostasis’ denotes an ontological state  of existence, the ‘personal’ principle, or ‘personhood’, refers to a process.  It’s almost as if ‘hypostasis’ is the destination of a process [‘personhood’].”

~ Fr. Seraphim (Aldea) from a lecture on the theology of Fr. Sophrony (Sakharov) delivered in 2016.

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Clément: “The Trinity as Taught by the Church Fathers”

Olivier-Maurice Clément (1921 – 2009) – was an Orthodox Christian theologian, who taught at St. Sergius Orthodox Theological Institute in Paris, France.  There he became one of the most highly regarded witnesses to early Christianity, as well as one of the most prolific.



“We are made in the image of God.  From all eternity there is present in God a unique mode of existence, which is at the same time Unity and the Person in communion; and we are all called to realize this unity in Christ, when we meet him, under the divided flames of the Spirit.  Therefore we express the metaphysics of the person in the language of Trinitarian theology.  What could be called the ‘Trinitarian person’ is not the isolated individual of Western society (whose implicit philosophy regards human beings as ‘similar’ but not ‘consubstantial’).  Nor is it the absorbed and amalgamated human being of totalitarian society,  or the systematized oriental mysticism, or of the sects. It is, and must be, a person in a relationship, in communion.  The transition from divine communion to human communion is accomplished in Christ who is consubstantial with the Father and the Spirit in his divinity and consubstantial with us in his humanity.  […]

In their expositions of the Trinity, St. Basil and St. Maximus the Confessor emphasize that the Three is not a number (St. Basil spoke in this respect of ‘meta-mathematics’).  The divine Persons are not added to one another, they exist in one another: the Father is in the Son and the Son is in the Father, the Spirit is united to the Father together with the Son and ‘completes the blessed Trinity’ as if he were ensuring the circulation of love within it.  This circulation of love was called by the Fathers perichoresis, another key word of their spirituality, along with the word we have already met, kenosisPerichoresis, the exchange of being by which each Person exists only in virtue of his relationship with the others, might be defined as a ‘joyful kenosis‘.  The kenosis of the Son in history is the extension of the kenosis of the Trinity and allows us to share in it.”   From: The Roots of Christian Mysticism, Texts from the Patristic Era with Commentary, pp. 65-67.



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Met. Hierotheos (Vlachos): “Man has two cognitive centers.”

Metropolitan Hierotheos (Vlachos) – (1945-    ) is a Greek Orthodox metropolitan and theologian. He graduated from the Theological School of the University of Thessaloniki and is one of the finest Patristic scholars living.

hierotheos vlachos“Man has two cognitive centers.  One is the nous, the organ suited for receiving God’s revelation which is then formulated by our reason, while the other is reason, which knows the tangible world around us.  With our nous we acquire knowledge of God, while with our reason we acquire knowledge of the world and the learning offered by the science of sensory things.”  From The Person in the Orthodox Tradition, trans by Esther Williams, Birth of the Theotokos Monastery, 1998.  p. 28

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Met. Hierotheos (Vlachos): The distinction between the “Person” and the “Individual”

Metropolitan Hierotheos (Vlachos) – (1945-    ) is a Greek Orthodox metropolitan and theologian. He graduated from the Theological School of the University of Thessaloniki and is one of the finest Patristic scholars living.

hierotheos vlachos


“…today a distinction is made between the person and the individual.  The term ‘person’ is used to mean the man who has freedom and love and is clearly distinguished from the mass, and the term ‘individual’ characterizes the man who remains a biological being and spends his whole life and activities on his material and biological needs, without having any other pursuit in his life.” ~ from “The person in the Orthodox Tradition”, p. 79

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“There is an end to the deadly tedium of the impersonal”

Eclectic Orthodoxy

I AM THAT I AM.  Yes, indeed, it is He Who is Being. He alone truly lives. Everything summoned from the abyss of non-being exists solely by His will.  My individual life, down to the smallest detail, comes uniquely from Him. He fills the soul, binding her ever more intimately to Himself. Conscious contact with Him stamps a man for ever. Such a man will not now depart from the God of love Whom he has come to know. His mind is reborn. Hitherto he was inclined to see everywhere determined natural processes; now he begins to apprehend all things in the light of Person. Knowledge of the Personal God bears an intrinsically personal character. Like recognizes like. There is an end to the deadly tedium of the impersonal. The earth, the whole universe, proclaims Him: “heaven and earth praise him, the sea, and everything that moveth therein” (Ps. 69.34)…

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The Concept of “Person” 1

“… “individual” and “person” do not mean the same thing…” 

Contemporary Western culture, especially American culture, idolizes and idealizes the “individual”.  In my generation, we admired the “rugged individual”; the “John Wayne” or “Clint Eastwood” image of toughness, self-sufficiency, and self-reliance.   Unfortunate side-effects of our society’s fixation with “individualism” have also led us to become alarmingly self-centered, self-indulgent and narcissistic, with a growing sense of entitlement.  It is the ethic of the “me” generation; it’s all about “me”, self-fulfillment, “do your own thing”, you can have it all, you deserve it all.  Secular science, the economy, and politics all support and pander to the “cult of the individual” because they have no inherent moral compass of their own and, in order to survive themselves, they can only focus on what “pop culture” will support and pay for.

In contemporary Western society, “individual” and “person” are used as synonyms; to most people they mean the same thing.  But, “individual” and “person” do not mean the same thing and the difference between them is crucial to a fundamental understanding of Christian theology and the work of salvation.

There are pockets within Western Latin Christianity which have recently “re-discovered” their long-lost contemplative Christian tradition.  Whether it’s called the “perennial tradition”, centering prayer, or Christian mysticism, all of them recognize, to a lesser or greater extent, the distinction between the “individual” and the “person”, referring it them as the “False Self” and “True Self” or by some other descriptive labels.

Although I think these movements to re-capture our contemplative Christian prayer tradition are good and positive, I do not believe that we need to re-invent the wheel.  The answer is staring us right in the face in our ancient Christian theology and tradition itself.  It didn’t go anywhere, it just has been ignored by Western Latin (Roman Catholic/Protestant) Christianity over the past five centuries, give or take.  This series is designed to re-acquaint Western Christians with the ancient Christian concept of the “person”.

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The Concept of “Person” 2

“… this idea of person comes to us from Christian theology.”

In discussing the concept of “person”, I will refer to the work of the church Fathers, especially the Cappadocian Fathers of the 4th century, through the collective wisdom and insights of four prominent contemporary theologians and mystics:  Vladimir Lossky, Christos Yannaras, John Zizioulas, and Hierotheos Vlachos.

The great twentieth-century Orthodox theologian Vladimir Lossky (1903-1958), in his seminal work, The Mystical Theology of the Eastern Church, tells us that, “We commonly use the words ‘persons’ or ‘personal’ to mean individuals, or individual.  We are in the habit of thinking of these two terms, person and individual, almost as though they were synonyms.  We employ them indifferently to express the same thing.  But, in a certain sense, individual and person mean opposite things, the word individual expressing a certain mixture of the person with elements which belong to the common nature, while person, on the other hand, means that which distinguishes it from nature”.

Lossky goes on to explain this distinction between “individual” and “person” in more detail:  “The man who is governed by his nature and acts in the strength of his natural qualities, of his ‘character’, is the least personal.  He sets himself up as an individual, proprietor of his own nature, which he pits against the natures of others and regards as his ‘me’, thereby confusing person and nature.”  This is the condition of fallen man, best described in English as ‘egoism’.

Lossky continues to further contrast “individual” and “person”:  “However, the idea of the person implies freedom vis-à-vis the nature.  The person is free from nature, is not determined by it.  The human hypostasis [person] can only realize itself by renunciation of its own will, of all that governs us, and makes us subject to natural necessity.”

Lossky goes on to tell us that the original idea of the “person” was conceived by, and can only be explained in terms of proper Christian theology:  “…the theological notion of hypostasis in the thought of the eastern Fathers means not so much individual as person, in the modern sense of the word.  Indeed, our ideas of human personality, of that personal quality which makes every human being unique, to be expressed only in terms of itself: this idea of person comes to us from Christian theology.”

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Concept of “Person” 3

“To help explain the difference between “individual” and “person”, the model of the Holy Trinity is useful…”

To help explain the difference between “individual” and “person”, the model of the Holy Trinity is useful because it establishes a truth beyond the regular meaning of secular philosophical concepts. Two of the key terms in trinitarian theology are ousia and hypostasis; essence (nature) and subsistence (person).  Just to confuse things, even in Greek, these two terms can be used as synonyms.

In terms of trinitarian doctrine, Vladimir Lossky explains to us in his book, In the Image and Likeness of God, that “… according to the doctrine of the Fathers, there is between ousia and hypostasis the same difference as between the common and the particular…”.  Lossky continues his line of thinking with a complex thought, “The hypostasis is the same as ousia; it receives all the same attributes – or all the negations – which can be formulated on the subject of “superessence”; but it nonetheless remains irreducible to the ousia.”

Lossky tells us that the church Fathers of the fourth century worked diligently to develop and articulate a complete theology of the Holy Trinity.  This was especially true of three men who became known as the Cappadocian Fathers (St. Basil the Great, St. Gregory of Nazianzus, and St. Gregory of Nyssa).  They struggled mightily to articulate and differentiate between theological terms like hypostasis and ousia: “It was a great terminological discovery to introduce a distinction between the two synonyms, in order to express the irreducibility of the hypostasis to the ousia and of the person to the essence, without, however, opposing them as two different realities.  This will enable St. Gregory of Nazianzus to say, ‘The Son is not the Father, because there is only one Father, but He is what the Father is; the Holy Spirit, although He proceeds from God, is not the Son, because there is only one Only Begotten Son, but He is what the Son is’ (Or. 31, 9)”

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Concept of “Person” 5

“The demand of the person for “absolute freedom” involves a ‘new birth’, a birth ‘from on high’, a baptism.”

So, Yannaras adds to our concept of “person” the necessity of “personal immediacy” and “direct personal relationship”.  At the zenith of this immediacy and relationship, of course, is love.

In his book, “Being as Communion”, Studies in Personhood and the Church”, Orthodox theologian Metropolitan John ( Zizioulas) of Pergamon (1931-    ), maintains that the theology of the person would not have been possible without the mystery of the Church.  Zizioulas maintains that humanity, being made in the image of God, has an inherent God-given drive for “absolute freedom”.  However, existing as an “absolute freedom”, completely free and independent of its nature, is humanly impossible.  He tells us that, “the being of each human person is given to him; consequently, the human person is not able to free himself absolutely from his “nature” or from his “substance”, from what biological laws dictate to him, without bringing about his annihilation.”   To Zizioulas, deification and union with God involves escaping this “given” and sharing in the “absolute freedom” of divine existence; not after death, but beginning in this life.

Zizioulas tells us that escaping our “given” being, or nature, can only be accomplished through a “new birth”:  “The demand of the person for “absolute freedom” involves a ‘new birth’, a birth ‘from on high’, a baptism.  And it is precisely the ecclesial being which ‘hypostasizes’ the person according to God’s way of being.  That is what makes the Church an image of the Triune God.”  God’s way of being, Zizioulas notes, includes that “absolute freedom” which humans seek, and the Christian shares in this way of being even during his/her earthly pilgrimage.

This is the way in which a concrete, free “person” can emerge. Our “person” can emerge due to the fact that Christ deified our human nature through his incarnation.  His perfect human nature deified humankind’s fallen nature.

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Zizioulas: “a person cannot be imagined in himself but only within his relationships.”

Metropolitan John (Zizioulas) of Pergamon (1931-    ).  He is the Chairman of the Academy of Athens.  He has degrees from the University of Thessaloniki, studied at Harvard Divinity School, and received his PhD from the University of Athens.  He has taught at the Universities of Athens, Edinburgh, Glasgow, and King’s College in London.



Met. John (Zizioulas)


“The significance of the person rests in the fact that he represents two things simultaneously which are at first sight in contradiction: particularity and communion.  Being a person is fundamentally different from being an individual or a “personality,” for a person cannot be imagined in himself but only within his relationships.” ~ Being as Communion

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