Yves Congar regarded John Zizioulas, who died on February 2 at the age of ninety-two, as “one of the most original and profound theologians of our epoch.” Kallistos Ware believed he was “generally recognized as the most brilliant and creative theologian in the Orthodox Church today.” Pope Francis once called him “the greatest Christian theologian of our generation.”
I recall my enthusiasm at first encountering the work of John Zizioulas as a young theology student in Athens. It was an article on the theological foundation of personhood titled “From Mask to Personhood”—originally published in Greek in 1977 and translated as the opening chapter of his first collection of articles in English, Being as Communion (St. Vladimir’s Orthodox Press, 1985). At the time, Zizioulas was teaching systematic theology at the University of Glasgow. He was also a fresh Orthodox voice in the contemporary ecumenical movement, serving on the staff of the World Council of Churches’ Commission on Faith and Order. I first met him exactly thirty-two years ago, when he attended the seventh General Assembly of the WCC in Canberra. After his election and ordination to the episcopate in 1986, when he received the title Metropolitan of Pergamon (one of the seven churches in the Book of Revelation), Zizioulas chaired the International Commission for Orthodox-Anglican Theological Dialogue (1989–2007) and the Joint International Commission for Theological Dialogue between the Orthodox and Roman Catholic Churches (2005–2016).
Before all that, Zizioulas had completed a doctoral dissertation at the University of Athens on The Unity of the Church in the Eucharist and the Bishop During the First Three Centuries (1965, revised in 1990), later published in English as Eucharist, Bishop, Church (Holy Cross Orthodox Press, 2001). He also taught as professor of theology at various schools, including King’s College and the University of Thessaloniki, before retiring from academic teaching in 1998. However, he continued speaking and publishing until his death. There have been several collections of his lectures and articles: Communion and Otherness: Further Studies in Personhood an the Church (ed. Paul McPartland, T&T Clark, 2006); Lectures in Christian Dogmatics (ed. Douglas Knight, T&T Clark, 2009); The One and the Many: Studies on God, Man, the Church, and the World Today (ed. Gregory Edwards, Sebastian Press, 2010); The Eucharistic Communion and the World (ed. Luke Ben Tallon, T&T Clark, 2011); and Priests of Creation: On Discerning an Ecological Ethos (ed. John Chryssavgis and Nikolaos Asproulis, T&T Clark, 2021). Zizioulas’s magnum opus on eschatology, most of which he had completed prior to his death, will be published posthumously.
The core of Zizioulas’s theology is captured in the title of a comparative study by Paul McPartlan, The Eucharist Makes the Church: Henri de Lubac and John Zizioulas in Dialogue (T&T Clark, 1993), which explores the complementary nature of Eastern and Western theology in relation both to the unity in the church and the challenges of the modern world. More recently, Aristotle Papanikolaou (of Fordham University) published a comparative study of Vladimir Lossky and John Zizioulas titled Being with God: Trinity, Apophaticism, and Divine-Human Communion (Notre Dame Press, 2006). Numerous studies and dissertations on the theology of Zizioulas have appeared in the years since.
Please email comments to [email protected] and join the conversation on our Facebook page.