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Chinese Explorations of Orthodox Theology:A Critical Review
(Department of Cultural & Religious Studies, The Chinese University of Hong Kong)
Abstract: In spite of the small number of Orthodox Christians in China, Chinese publications related to Orthodox Christianity have mushroomed in recent years. Many Chinese theologians from other denominations of Christianity or scholars without formal religious affiliation are involved in the explorations of Orthodox theology. This essay analyzes and evaluates critically the existing Chinese explorations of Orthodox theology.
Through making references to the contemporary development of Orthodox theology, especially the revival of the doctrine of deification, this essay will show that the Chinese explorations of Orthodox theology were shaped not only by the renaissance of Orthodox theology in the twentieth century, but also by the contemporary Chinese context. The involvement of the Chinese context affects the Chinese explorations of Orthodox theology in both positive and negative ways. On the one hand the scope of exploration as a whole is largely focused on the areas or issues particularly relevant to the Chinese context, especially the relationship between Christianity and Chinese culture. Furthermore, in terms of depth, due to the religious backgrounds of the researchers, some of the Chinese studies of Orthodox theology fails to take seriously the connection between the theological, liturgical and spiritual dimensions of the Orthodox tradition, and exhibit difficulties in interpreting, for instance, the mystical theology in Orthodox Christianity.
It is expected that these limitations can be overcome, at least partially, through dialogue with contemporary Orthodox theologians. The dialogue may also help the Orthodox theologians to understand the possibly distinctive positive contributions to be made by Chinese theologians and scholars towards the contemporary articulation of Orthodox theology.
Keywords: Chinese Culture, Confucianism, Deification, Mystical Theology, Orthodox Theology
Orthodox Christianity in China has a history dating back several centuries and there are Orthodox churches in Hong Kong and Taiwan, but the number of Orthodox Christians in the Chinese speaking world remains very small in comparison to the number of Catholics or Protestants in China. In fact, unlike Protestantism and Catholicism, which are among the five officially recognized religions in China, Orthodox Christianity has not yet attained legal status in the People’s Republic of China. However, it is interesting to [以下为原刊第28页]note that the Chinese publications related to Orthodox Christianity mushroomed in recent years. Among these publications, only a few are published by the Orthodox churches, while the majority are published by either Christian academic institutions, or secular publishers without any religious background. In fact, some of these publications are authored by Chinese intellectuals without any formal religious affiliation. This might reflect the influences of the cultural qua theological movement known as Sino-Christian theology, which involves many Chinese intellectuals who studied Christianity without formally becoming member of any Christian church. In addition to the relevant publications in Chinese, there are also publications concerning Orthodox Christianity written by Chinese theologians but in English. These Chinese and English publications authored by Chinese theologians or scholars might exhibit some degree of appreciation of Orthodox Christianity and/or attempts to explore the significance of the Orthodox theology for the future development of Chinese Christian theology.
Different from the previous exploratory studies concerning the significance of Orthodox theology for Chinese Christian theology, this essay tends to adopt a more critical approach, aimed at evaluating the existing Chinese interpretations of Orthodox theology. It will show that the Chinese explorations of Orthodox theology were shaped mainly by two factors. One is the renaissance of Orthodox theology in the twentieth century, and the other is the contemporary Chinese context, including the Chinese Christians’ understanding of their context as well as theological tasks. Based on a survey of the contemporary Chinese reception of Orthodox theology, the essay will offer an evaluation of the achievements as well as limitations of the Chinese explorations of Orthodox theology so far. It will further suggest how the Chinese explorations of Orthodox theology for the future development of Chinese theology can be further improved.
Renaissance of Orthodox Theology
It is rather well known that the Orthodox churches in Russia and some other countries in Eastern Europe underwent some sort of revival in the last few decades after experiencing certain suppression under different Communist regimes. In fact, more than mere survival, the Orthodox churches became very powerful in the cultural, political and social spheres in Eastern Europe. However, after the collapse of the Communist regimes in Eastern Europe, with new laws related to religion established under the new political systems, a higher degree of religious freedom was granted. In this new situation, in addition to the internal difficulties, the Orthodox churches in these countries have to face not only the external challenges from secular ideologies of secularism and individualism, but also the competition from other Christian denominations and even other religions. It is thus quite right to describe it as “A Troubled Renaissance”. However, it is also important to note that there had been signs of theological renaissance even before the Communist domination in Russia and Eastern Europe.
Soon after the Russian revolution, many of the Russian intellectuals, including a significant number of theologians, migrated to the western world. Since then, some Orthodox theological seminaries were established, including the St. Sergius Theological Institute in Paris and the St. Vladimir’s Theological Seminary in New York. Some of the influential Orthodox theologians in diaspora, including Vladimir Lossky (1903-1958) and John Meyendorff (1926-1992), were affiliated to these seminaries. Besides these, equally important is the Greek Orthodox church flourishing in Greece and related areas. This is because some influential Orthodox theologians, e.g. John Zizioulas, come from the Greek Orthodox church. The influence of his theology, including particularly his Trinitarian theology and ecclesiology, are far beyond the boundary of the Orthodox churches.
As Timothy Ware points out, “Orthodox theologians are few in number, but some of them, often under the stimulus of western contacts, are rediscovering forgotten yet vital elements in their theological inheritance.” In other words, the contemporary revival of Orthodox theology is not only inspired by the inherited Orthodox theological tradition, but also stimulated by its dialogue with Catholic as well as Protestant theologies, and driven by its attempt to address some issues of the contemporary world. These factors make Orthodox theologians become more open to the theological or spiritual traditions of other Christian denominations as well as other intellectual traditions. In reverse, there are also some Catholic and Protestant theologians becoming interested in Orthodox theology. As a result, there are many recent studies comparing [以下为原刊第30页]the position of an Orthodox theologian with that of either a Protestant or Catholic theologian.
Orthodox Theology and Ecumenical Movement
In the last few decades the Orthodox churches have been engaged in various kinds of ecumenical dialogue - not only among the Orthodox churches, but also between the Orthodox and many other denominations, including the Catholic, Anglican, Lutheran, and Reformed traditions. Particularly relevant to the Chinese Christian churches is perhaps the dialogue with the Evangelicals, because the theological tradition of Evangelical Christianity remains very influential among the Chinese Protestant churches.
Due to the active participation of Orthodox churches in the ecumenical movement, there are recognizable results both in church unity and in theological developments in both Orthodox and Western theologies. Apart from the influences of Orthodox theology on individual western theologians,the Orthodox involvement in ecumenical theological dialogue with other denominations also contributed enormously to the revival of some doctrines, including particularly the doctrines of the Trinity and deification (theosis). It is widely agreed that Orthodox theologians, especially Valdimir Lossky and John Zizioulas, played important roles alongside Karl Rahner (1904-1984) from the Catholic tradition, and Karl Barth (1886-1968) from the Protestant side, in the renaissance of Trinitarian theology in the twentieth century. Since there are many studies on the contemporary revival of Trinitarian theology, the following survey will focus on the doctrine of deification, which received more attention than that of the doctrine of the Trinity in the Chinese speaking world.
Historically, the doctrine of deification was developed mainly by the Greek fathers, as the book The Doctrine of Deification in the Greek Patristic Tradition, which was translated and published in Chinese in 2014, sketches. In fact, there are many studies of the doctrine of deification within the Orthodox theological circle. However, in recent years, there are many contemporary Protestant and/or Catholic studies of the doctrine, and it becomes a focus of ecumenical dialogue. In Partakers of the Divine Nature: The History and Development of Deification in the Christian Traditions, which was translated and published in [以下为原刊第31页]Chinese in 2016, the plural form “traditions” is employed in the sub-title in order to indicate that this doctrine, instead of belonging exclusively to the Orthodox theological tradition, can be found in the theological traditions of other denominations, including Catholic and Protestant. The book covers not only the theologians acclaimed by the orthodox churches, e.g. the Cappadocian Fathers and Maximus the Confessor (d. 662), but also St. Anselm (1033-1109), Martin Luther (1483-1546), John Calvin (1509-1564), John Wesley (1703-1791), Karl Rahner (1904-1984), and even the theologies of the Copto-Arabic tradition. This book illustrates not only the orthodoxy of the doctrine of deification, but also its plurality or richness in the Christian tradition.
These publications indicate that the doctrine of deification is no longer considered a doctrine exclusive to the Orthodox churches. Instead, it is recognized as part of the common theological heritage shared by Catholics and Protestants. It is quite fair to say that the contemporary development or renaissance of this doctrine is largely due to the Orthodox involvement in the ecumenical dialogue.
Orthodox Theology and Contemporary Issues
In addition to their involvements in ecumenical dialogue, Orthodox theologians are also involved in the Christian responses to the contemporary issues. It is well known that Orthodox theology emphasizes the transmission of tradition. This might give the impression that Orthodox theology is very conservative and thus obsolete if not outdated. However, there are also a significant number of Orthodox theologians engaging in the discussion on various contemporary issues, including environmental protection, religion-science dialogue, postmodernism, and religious pluralism.
Among the contemporary issues, environmental protection is probably the favorite topic for Orthodox theology. The previous Ecumenical Patriarch Dimitrios (1914-1991) had already indicated his concern for ecological issues. The current Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I, due to his involvement in and contribution to the environmental movement, is acclaimed as “Green Patriarch.” The insights of the Orthodox theology on the environmental issues is recognized not only within the circle of ecumenical movement, but also by individual western theologians specializing in ecological theology.
In relation to the ecological issues, Orthodox theologians are also involved in the discussion concerning religion and natural science. Apart from the general discussion concerning theology and science, there are also specific studies of bio-ethics from an Orthodox theological perspective. Orthodox theologians are also [以下为原刊第32页]engaged in dialogue with Western theologians on the relationship between theology and science. The relevance or contribution of Orthodox theology is well recognized by some Western theologians. For example, references to the Orthodox interpretations of wisdom (Sophia) are made when addressing the theological issues derived from the recent developments in biology.
The references to Orthodox theology made by western theologians often assume that Orthodox theology can offer an alternative radically different from western theology which was largely dominated by the mentality of the Enlightenment. In fact, some Orthodox theologians are very critical towards the modern western culture influenced by the Enlightenment, and are interested in the discussion concerning postmodernity. For example, Christos Yannaras attempts to criticize modern western culture from the standpoint of orthodox theology, to conduct comparative and/or dialogical studies between the Orthodox theological tradition and representatives of post-modern thought, and even to make use of the Orthodox theological resources to develop a postmodern metaphysics.
The openness of Orthodox theology is shown in its response not only to postmodern thought, but also to religious pluralism. In the discussion concerning theology of religions, Orthodox theologian Georges Khodr’s brief exploration of the significance of pneumatology for theology of religions inspired some western theologians in their attempts to address the issues of religious pluralism from a Trinitarian theological framework, which highlights the role of the Holy Spirit in revelation and/or salvation. The significance of the Orthodox rejection of filioque for a Trinitarian theology of religions has also been explored. Furthermore, some Orthodox theologians actively participate in the discussion concerning theology of religions, and contribute to the explorations concerning comparative theology and Buddhist-Christian dialogue. [以上为原刊第32页]
[以下为原刊第28页] For a brief survey of the Chinese publications on Orthodox Christianity, see: Sha Mei沙湄 and Lai Pinchao赖品超, “Hàn yǔ xué jiè dí jī dū zhèng jiào yán jiū” 汉语学界的基督正教研究 [Chinese Studies of Orthodox Christianity], in: É luó sī zhé xué píng lùn, dì yī jí 俄罗斯哲学评论·第一辑 [Reviaew of Russian Philosophy, vol. 1], edited by Chen Shulin陈树林 (Harbin: Heilongjiang university Press, 2012.10), pp. 209-226.
 For instances, Qiǎ lā kè · qiǎ ěr dùn 卡拉克·卡尔顿 [Clark Carlton], Zhèng dào: xīn jiào xìn tú duì zhèng jiào xū zhī 正道: 新教信徒对正教须知 [The Way: What Every Protestant Should Know About the Orthodox Church], translated by Li Lishi 李丽诗 (Hong Kong: Orthodox brotherhood of Apostles Saint Peter and Paul, 2013), and, Dū zhǔ jiào yī lā lǐ yōng (ā ěr fēi yé fū) 都主教伊拉里雍 (阿尔菲耶夫) [HE Metropolitan Dr. Hilarion (Alfeev)], Zhèng xìn ào yì: dōng zhèng jiào shén xué dǎo lùn 正信奥义: 东正教神学导论 [The Mystery of Faith: Introduction to Orthodox Theology], translated by Lín Sen 林森 (Hong Kong: Orthodox Brotherhood of Apostles Saint Peter and Paul, 2015).
 The most representative and influential is probably the Institute of Sino-Christian Studies, a Christian organization based in Hong Kong, which published many books about Orthodox Christianity, including: Pà lì kǎn 帕利坎 (Jaroslav Pelikan), Jī dū jiào chuán tǒng. dì èr juàn: dōng fāng jī dū jiào shì jiè dí jīng shén 基督教传统．第二卷：东方基督教世界的精神 [The Christian Tradition: Vol.2: The Spirit of Eastern Christendom], translated by Sha Mei 沙湄 (Hong Kong: Logos & Pneuma Press, 2009).
 For example, Zhang Baichun 张百春, Dāng dài dōng zhèng jiào shén xué sī xiǎng 当代东正教神学思想 [Contemporary Eastern Orthodox Theology] (Shanghai: Shanghai: Shanghai Joint Publishing, Co., 2000).
 See further: Pan-chiu Lai & Jason Lam (eds.), Sino-Christian Theology: A Theological Qua Cultural Movement in Contemporary China (Frankfurt-am-Main: Peter Lang, 2010).
 For instance, Ambrose Mong, Purification of Memory: A Study of Modern Orthodox Theologians from a Catholic Perspective (Cambridge: James Clarke & Co., 2015).
 A recent attempt can be found in: Lai Pinchao 赖品超 [Pan-chiu Lai], “Jī dū zhèng jiào zhī shén xué fù xīng jí qí duì hàn yǔ shén xué dí yì yì” 基督正教之神学复兴及其对汉语神学的意义 [Renaissance of Orthodox Theology and its Significance for Sino-Christian Theology], Dao Feng 道风 [Logos & Pneuma] 32 (Spring 2010), pp.247-272 (in Chinese with abstract in English). It is reprinted in: Lai Pinchao 赖品超, Guang chang shang de Han yu shen xue 广场上的汉语神学 [Sino-Christian Theology in the Public Square] (Hong Kong: Logos & Pneuma Press [Dao Feng Shu She], 2014), chapter 7, pp.169-191. Some of the data presented in the present essay are adopted from this book, especially chapters 5-8, pp.117-216.
[以下为原刊第29页] See: Niels C. Nielsen, Jr. (ed.), Christianity after Communism: Social, Political, and Cultural Struggle in Russia (Boulder: Westview Press, 1994).
 See: Silvio Ferrari and W. Cole Durham, Jr. (eds.), Law and Religion in Post-Communist Europe (Leuven: Peeters, 2003); also, W. Cole Durham, Jr. and Silvio Ferrari (eds.), Laws on Religion and the State in Post-Communist Europe (Leuven: Peeters, 2004).
 Timothy Ware, The Orthodox Church (Harmondsworth: Penguin Books, New Edition 1997), pp.160-166. [Chinese translation published in 2013.]
 For the modern revival of Orthodox theology, see: John Binns, An Introduction to the Christian Orthodox Churches (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2002, third printing with corrections in 2006), pp.86-96.
 Concerning the Orthodox churches in diaspora, see: Timothy Ware, The Orthodox Church, pp.172-187.
 Concerning the studies of Zizioulas, see: Liviu Barbu (compile), “Secondary Works on John Zizioulas,” in: The Theology of John Zizioulas: Personhood and the Church, edited by Douglas H. Knight (Aldershot, Hampshire: Ashgate, 2007), pp.197-201.
 Timothy Ware, The Orthodox Church, p.191.
[以下为原刊第30页] Notable studies authored by Chinese theologians include: Man-yiu Lee, The Church as Person in the Theologies of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, John Zizioulas and Jürgen Moltmann (Hong Kong: Nation-Blessings Consultancy Company, 2013); and, Yik-pui Au, The Eucharist as a Countercultural Liturgy: An Examination of the Theologies of Henri de Lubac, John Zizioulas, and Miroslav Volf (Eugene, Oregon: Pickwick Publications, 2017).
 See: Daniel B. Clendenin, “Orthodox-Evangelical Dialogue: Past, Present, and Future,” in: Eastern Orthodox Christianity: A Western Perspective (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Academic, Second Edition 2003), pp.161-177.
 In addition to the Western theologians being converted or “homecoming” to Orthodox churches, e.g. Jaroslav Pelikan (1923-2006) from Lutheran and Richard Swinburne from Anglican backgrounds respectively, there are also Western theologians, e.g. Amos Yong from Pentecostal background, who openly admit their indebtedness to the Orthodox theological approach. See: Amos Yong, Spirit-Word-Community: Theological Hermeneutics in Trinitarian Perspective (Eugene, Oregon: Wipf & Stock Publishers, 2002), p.ix.
 See: Christoph Schwöbel, “Introduction - The Renaissance of Trinitarian Theology: Reasons, Problems and Tasks,” in: Trinitarian Theology Today, edited by Christoph Schwöbel (Edinburgh: T & T Clark, 1995), pp.1-30, especially 3-7, 15-19.
 See: Normal Russell, The Doctrine of Deification in the Greek Patristic Tradition (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004). [Chinese translation published in 2014.]
 For instances: Gregorios I. Mantzaridis, The Deification of Man: St. Gregory Palamas and the Orthodox Tradition, translated from the Greek by Liadain Sherrard (Crestwood, New York: St Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 1984); and, Panayiotis Nellas, Deification in Christ: Orthodox Perspective on the Nature of the Human Person, translated from the Greek by Normal Russell (Crestwood, New York: St Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 1987).
 Michael J. Christensen and Jeffrey A. Wittung (eds.), Partakers of the Divine Nature: The History and Development of Deification in the Christian Traditions (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2007). [Chinese translation published in 2016.]
[以下为原刊第31页] Timothy Ware, The Orthodox Church, pp.195-207.
 Timothy Ware, The Orthodox Church, pp.235.
 See: His All Holiness Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, Encountering Mystery: Understanding Orthodox Christianity Today (New York: Doubleday, 2008).
 See: Gennadios Limouris (ed.), Justice, Peace and the Integrity of Creation: Insights from Orthodoxy (Geneva: WCC Publications, 1990).
 For example, Willis Jenkins, Ecologies of Grace: Environmental Ethics and Christian Theology (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2008), includes two chapters related to Orthodox theology, especially the relevance of the Orthodox doctrine of deification to the development of ecological spirituality: “After Maximus: Ecological Spirituality and Cosmic Deification’, pp.189-205; and, “Thinking Like a Transfigured Mountain: Sergei Bulgakov’s Wisdom Ecology”, pp.207-225.
 Alexei V. Nesteruk, Light from the East: Theology, Science, and the Eastern Orthodox Tradition (Minneapolis: Fortress, 2003).
 See: Jon and Lyn Breck, Stages on Life’s Way: Orthodox Thinking on Bioethics (Crestwood, New York: St Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 2005).
[以下为原刊第32页] See: Michael Welker (ed.), The Spirit in Creation and New Creation: Science and theology in Western and Orthodox Realms (Grand Rapids, Michigan: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2012); also, Philip Clayton and Arthur Peacocke (eds.), In Whom We Live and Move and Have Our Being: Panentheistic Reflections on God’s Presence in a Scientific World (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2004), which includes and groups three chapters authored by Orthodox theologians, including Kallistos Ware, Alexei V. Nesteruk and Andrew Louth, to represent the “Eastern Orthodox” perspective.
 See: Celia E. Deane-Drummond, Creation Through Wisdom: Theology and the New Biology (Edinburgh: T & T Clark, 2000), pp.73-111.
 Recent studies include: Aristotle Papanikolaou, “Orthodoxy, Postmodernity, and Ecumenism: The Difference that Divine-Human Communion Makes,” Journal of Ecumenical Studies 42.4 (Fall 2007), pp.527-544; Gabriel C. Rochelle, “Apophatic Preaching and the Postmodern Mind,” St. Vladimir’s Theological Quarterly 50.4 (2006), pp.397-419.
 Christos Yannaras, Orthodoxy and the West: Hellenic Self-Identity in the Modern Age, translated by Peter Chamberas and Normal Russell (Brookline, MA: Holy Cross Orthodox Press, 2006).
 Christos Yannaras, On the Absence and Unknowability of God: Heidegger and the Areopagite, edited with an introduction by Andrew Louth, translated by Haralambos Ventis (London: T & T Clark International, 2005).
 Christos Yannaras, Postmodern Metaphysics, translated by Normal Russell (Brookline, MA: Holy Cross Orthodox Press, 2004).
 See: Georges Khodr, “The Economy of the Holy Spirit,” in: Mission Trends, No. 5: Faith Meets Faith, edited by Gerald H. Anderson and Thomas F. Stransky (New York: Paulist, 1981), pp.36-49. Khodr’s view is referred to, for examples, in: Amos Yong, Discerning the Spirit(s): A Pentecostal-Charismatic Contribution to Christian Theology of Religions (Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press, 2000); and, Gerald R. McDermott and Harold A. Netland, A Trinitarian Theology of Religions: An Evangelical Proposal (Oxford: Oxford university Press, 2014).
 Pan-chiu Lai, Towards a Trinitarian Theology of Religions: A Study of Paul Tillich's Thought (Kampen, the Netherlands: Kok Pharos Publishing House, 1994), pp.37-42.
 Michael Oleksa, “All Things New: An Orthodox Theological Reflection on Interfaith Dialogue,” in: Grounds for Understanding: Ecumenical Resources for Responses to Religious Pluralism, edited by S. Mark Heim (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1998), pp.122-136.
 See for details: Ernest M. Valea, Buddhist-Christian Dialogue as Theological Exchange: An Orthodox Contribution to Comparative Theology (Eugene, Oregon: Pickwick Publications, 2015).
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