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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