A newspaper column he wrote 40 years ago on the unlikely topic of life in outer space provides a remarkable precis of his life’s work.

“All Planets the Same:
Religion’s Response to Space Life V,”
Rev. John S. Romanides, PhD., The Boston Globe, April 8, 1965, page 18.

I can foresee no way in which the teachings of the Orthodox Christian tradition could be affected by the discovery of intelligent beings on another planet. Some of my colleagues feel that even a discussion of the consequences of such a possibility is in itself a waste of time for serious theology and borders on the fringes of foolishness.

I am tempted to agree with them for several reasons.

As I understand the problem, the discovery of intelligent life on another planet would raise questions concerning traditional Roman Catholic and Protestant teachings regarding creation, the fall, man as the image of God, redemption and Biblical inerrancy.

First one should point out that in contrast to the traditions deriving from Latin Christianity, Greek Christianity never had a fundamentalist or literalist understanding of Biblical inspiration and was never committed to the inerrancy of scripture in matters concerning the structure of the universe and life in it. In this regard some modern attempts at de-mything the Bible are interesting and at times amuzing [sic].

Since the very first centuries of Christianity, theologians of the Greek tradition did not believe, as did the Latins, that humanity was created in a state of perfection from which it fell. Rather the Orthodox always believed that man [was] created imperfect, or at a low level of perfection, with the destiny of evolving to higher levels of perfection.

The fall of each man, therefore, entails a failure to reach perfection, rather than any collective fall from perfection.

Also spiritual evolution does not end in a static beatific vision. It is a never ending process which will go on even into eternity.

Also Orthodox Christianity, like Judaism, never knew the Latin and Protestant doctrine of original sin as an inherited Adamic guilt putting all humanity under a divine wrath which was supposedly satisfied by the death of Christ.

Thus the solidarity of the human race in Adamic guilt and the need for satisfaction of divine justice in order to avoid hell are unknown in the Greek Fathers.

This means that the interdependance [sic] and solidarity of creation and its need for redemption and perfection are seen in a different light.

The Orthodox believe that all creation is destined to share in the glory of God. Both damned and glorified will be saved. In other words both will have vision of God in his uncreated glory, with the difference that for the unjust this same uncreated glory of God will be the eternal fires of hell.

God is light for those who learn to love Him and a consuming fire for those who will not. God has no positive intent to punish.

For those not properly prepared, to see God is a cleansing experience, but one which does not move eternally toward higher reaches of perfection.

In contrast, hell is a static state of perfection somewhat similar to Platonic bliss.

In view of this the Orthodox never saw in the Bible any three story universe with a hell of created fire underneath the earth and a heaven beyond the stars.

For the Orthodox discovery of intelligent life on another planet would raise the question of how far advanced these beings are in their love and preparation for divine glory.

As on this planet, so on any other, the fact that one may have not as yet learned about the Lord of Glory of the Old and New Testament, does not mean that he is automatically condemned to hell, just as one who believes in Christ is not automatically destined to be involved in the eternal movement toward perfection.

It is also important to bear in mind that the Greek Fathers of the Church maintain that the soul of man is part of material creation, although a high form of it, and by nature mortal [sic].*

{*-By this ‘sic’ I don’t mean Fr. John misspoke. He actually meant it. I only highlight it because it’s so unexpected, because we’re so under Western influence.  -LPO’F}

Only God is purely immaterial.

Life beyond death is not due to the nature of man but to the will of God. Thus man is not strictly speaking the image of God. Only the Lord of Glory, or the Angel of the Lord of Old and New Testament revelation is the image of God.

Man was created according to the image of God, which means that his destiny is to become like Christ who is the Incarnate Image of God.

Thus the possibility of intelligent beings on another planet being images of God as men on earth are supposed to be is not even a valid question from an Orthodox point of view.

Finally one could point out that the Orthodox Fathers rejected the Platonic belief in immutable archetypes of which this world of change is a poor copy.

This universe and the forms in it are unique and change is of the very essence of creation and not a product of the fall.

Furthermore the categories of change, motion and history belong to the eternal dimensions of salvation-history and are not to be discard[ed] in some kind of eternal bliss.

Thus the existence of intelligent life on another planet behind or way ahead of us in intellectual and spiritual attainment will change little in the traditional beliefs of Orthodox Christianity.

Photo caption: Rev. John S. Romanides, professor of dogmatics and history of theology, Holy Cross Greek Orthodox Seminary, Brookline.

NEXT — Rev. Charles K. Von Euw, professor of oriental theology and patrology at St. John’s Seminary, Brighton.


  1. Yahoo Buckaroo

    Interesting Leo. So the Greek Orthodox Church has no belief in biblical inerrancy/infallability/inspiration? I never heard that before. I’m a non-fundamentalist kind of guy myself and have somewhat aligned myself with the Episcopal Church because they were the only ones I could find who had similar beliefs. On the other hand, when they started ordaining homosexual priests and bishops, I began to get a little dismayed with them.

    Anyhow, I don’t know much about your church/religion. I liked what I read here.


  2. Leo Peter O'Filon

    Greetings and Welcome! Sorry to take so long to reply to you. Elsewhere in his writings Fr. Romanides describes the Old and New Testaments as accounts given us by people who have seen God in His Uncreated Light or Glory, such as Moses, the OT Prophets, and Christ’s Apostles, to help us struggle for that same Vision, which is Salvation. The authors aren’t immune from error or temptation because nobody Created is infallible. But Romanides believed that it’s extremely easy for human beings to read Scripture incorrectly and under self-delusion, even to be led astray thereby. This isn’t because Scripture is highly difficult so only the highly-educated “get it” but exactly the opposite: because we need God’s Holy Spirit to preserve us from error when we read it. And God tends to give His Spirit — which He does freely and not out of owing us anything or our “earning” Him — to those who struggle spiritually for purification from their sinfulness, if He knows they will receive Him profitably and not ‘get a big head’ over it. This Struggle is what Eastern Orthodox Christianity is ultimately all about, and includes the helps God has established for us, such as the guidance of other people in the Orthodox Church who have received these free gifts of God, Orthodoxy’s church services and sacraments and prayer aids and moral guidance concerning the things these guides have learned are spiritually risky, aka “sin.” Also Orthodox Christian life in one’s callings such as work, marriage, sickness, widowhood, monasticism, clergy, retirement, parish involvement and/or fellowship, study, etc. As you can see, this is very different from the Biblical Inerrancy doctrine it sounds like you’re familiar with from Protestantism … but not in a “liberal vs. conservative” sort of way, because Orthodoxy’s not on that scale in this regard, which is an outgrowth of the Reformation, which only took place in NW and Central Europe and other lands influenced by them, and not in the Orthodox Church.

    Long story short, Orthodoxy has as part of its mainstream, elements that we Westerners might identify as moral, historical/traditional, Biblical, mystical, liturgical, ecclesiastical, theological, sacramental, deep, and ascetic … but how these “come across” and “feel,” as well as what they mean, are totally similar to no one existing Western Christian tradition, although Orthodoxy believes Western Christianity is rooted in this.

    One other thing I’ll volunteer just now is that one of our chief bishops in North America converted from the Episcopal Church after it started ordaining women to the priesthood in the ’70s, Metropolitan JONAH (Paffhausen), who was elected Primate of the body known simply as “The Orthodox Church in America” or the OCA just over a year ago. I don’t know what kind of churchmanship he followed while Episcopalian, but he seems to have gravitated fairly quickly to Orthodox monasticism … though I thought I read he was engaged to be married first! (Here’s his official biography.) The OCA is rooted in Russian Orthodoxy but increasingly diverse in terms of forms of Orthodoxy to be found there, and is one of the “Big Three” Orthodox groups on this continent … the others being the Greek and Antiochian Orthodox Archdioceses.

    I hope this is helpful! Take care,
    Leo Peter

  3. Yahoo Buckaroo

    Thanks Leo; that was very informative!


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