Metropolitan John Zizioulas, 1931-2023

Metropolitan John Zizioulas, 1931-2023

By Richard Mamana Jr.

Metropolitan John Zizioulas of Pergamum, one of the most influential orthodox theologians of modern times, died on February 2nd. He was co-chair of the International Commission for Anglican-Orthodox Theological Dialogue from 1989 to 2007.

Zizioulas was born in northern Greece in 1931 and studied at the University of Thessaloniki and the University of Athens before entering the Ecumenical Institute of the World Council of Churches in Bossey in 1955. After working as a professor of church history and patristics in Greece, Zizioulas taught systematic theology and patristics in Edinburgh, Glasgow and London from 1970 to 1987.

Image by James Hyndman/Flickr

He was a frequent contributor to the publications and work of the Oxford-based Fellowship of St Alban and St Sergius, formed in 1928 to promote contact and information between Orthodox Christians and Anglicans. Zizioulas was the main Orthodox interlocutor with Anglicans during the leadership of Robert Runcie, George Carey and Rowan Williams.

Zizioulas was an orthodox observer at the 1988 Lambeth Conference presided by archbishop Robert Runcie, who heard from Rev. Nan Arrington Peete about the impact of inter-Anglican unity. The conference decided that “everyone province respect the decision of other provinces in the ordination or consecration of women to the episcopate,” Zizioulas resisted when he took office as the Orthodox Chair of the Anglican-Orthodox Dialogue the next year.

Zizioulas presents dialogue on issues related to Ecclesiology, the Trinity, the Filioque, and ontology. He was a signer and author of Church of the Triune God: The Cyprus-Agreed Declaration of the International Commission on Anglican-Orthodox Theological Dialogue (2006).

As Metropolitan of Pergamum in the Patriarchate of Constantinople from 1986, Zizioulas urged Anglicans to discuss matters of ordination ecumenically rather than internally. Since 2009, a fourth round of work by the International Commission for Anglican-Orthodox Theological Dialogue has further integrated his insights into the nature of episcopate, the place of the Holy Spirit in Christian prayer, synodality in church governance, and the patristic foundations of modern ecclesiology. In the Image and Likeness of God: A Hopeful Anthropology (2015) is a result of his work on these topics.

The works of the late metropolitan were published in many world languages, but primarily in English, French, German, Greek and Russian. His being as communion (1981) has become a modern classic on personhood in Christian theology.

His work on Eucharist and ecology has a significant impact on the teachings of the Patriarch of Constantinople on care of creation and climate change. Metropolitan Zizioulas was present in Rome “with great joy and satisfaction for the Orthodox” at the presentation of Pope Francis’ Encyclical on Creation, Laudato Si’.

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