By Richard Mammana Jr.
Metropolitan John Zizioulas of Pergamon, one of the most influential Orthodox theologians of modern times, died on February 2. He was co-chairman of the International Commission for Anglican–Orthodox Theological Dialogue from 1989 to 2007.
Zizioulas was born in 1931 in northern Greece, and studied at the University of Thessaloniki and the University of Athens before attending the World Council of Churches’ Ecumenical Institute of Bossey in 1955. After work 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.
He was a frequent contributor to the publications and work of the Oxford-based Fellowship of St. Alban and St. Sergius, founded in 1928 to promote mutual contact and information for Orthodox Christians and Anglicans. Zizioulas was the primary 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 over by Archbishop Robert Runcie, which heard from the Rev. Nan Arrington Peete on the implications of inter-Anglican unity. The conference resolved that “each province respect the decision of other provinces in the ordination or consecration of women to the episcopate,” a development Zizioulas opposed as he took office the next year as Orthodox chairman of Anglican-Orthodox dialogue.
Zizioulas presented to the dialogue on topics related to ecclesiology, the Trinity, the Filioque, and ontology. He was a signatory and author of Church of the Triune God: The Cyprus Agreed Statement of the International Commission for Anglican–Orthodox Theological Dialogue (2006).
As Metropolitan of Pergamon in the Patriarchate of Constantinople from 1986, Zizioulas urged Anglicans to discuss questions 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 about the nature of the episcopate, the place of the Holy Spirit in Christian prayer, synodality in church government, and the patristic bases of modern ecclesiology. In the Image and Likeness of God: A Hope-Filled Anthropology (2015) is an outgrowth of his work on these topics.
The late metropolitan’s works have been published in many world languages, but especially 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 the Eucharist and ecology is a primary influence on the Patriarch of Constantinople’s teachings on creation care and climate change. Metropolitan Zizioulas was present in Rome “with great joy and satisfaction for the Orthodox” at the presentation of Pope Francis’s encyclical on creation, Laudato Si’.