This collection of essays is intended to honor Alexander Golitzin, a scholar known for his original vision of Jewish and Christian mystical texts and traditions.
Alexander Yurievich Golitzin was born in Burbank, California, on May 27, 1948, a son of Yuri Alexandrovich Golitzin and Carol (née Higgins) Golitzin. Through his father, Prince Yuri (George) Golitzin (1916-1963), he is a descendant of the Golitzin princely line. Alexander Golitzin attended the University of California at Berkeley, where he received a B. A. in English in 1970. In 1973, he earned a Master of Divinity degree from St. Vladimir’s Orthodox Theological Seminary. With the help of his mentor at St. Vladimir's Seminary, John Meyendorff, Golitzin spent his next seven years at Oxford in doctoral studies and was granted a D. Phil. degree in 1980. His doctoral work on Pseudo-Dionysius was supervised by Kallistos Ware with Sebastian Brock and Henry Chadwick as his dissertation examiners. During his doctoral studies, Golitzin also spent two years in Greece, including one year at the monastery of Simonos Petras on Mount Athos. His time at Simonos Petras, under the guidance of its archimandrite, Elder Aimilianos (Vafeidis), was decisive in shaping his understanding of mystical experience. In his own words, on Mount Athos he found that "the holy man was not a distant ideal or a literary topos — something out of an eight-century manuscript or a Paleologian icon — but a reality." After receiving his D. Phil. from Oxford, he returned to the USA, where he was ordained to the diaconate on January 23, 1982 and to the priesthood two years later, on February 26, 1984. In 1986, he was tonsured to monastic orders by the Elder Aimilianos at the monastery of Simonos Petras and received the monastic name of Alexander. He served the Orthodox Church by participating in missions in northern California and headed the Diocese of the West’s mission committee. In 1989, Golitzin took up a permanent faculty position in the Theology Department at Marquette University in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, where, over the next two decades, he established himself as a leading expert on Jewish and Christian mysticism. Although widely known for his groundbreaking scholarship, he also became an exceptional teacher who was able to mentor a large cohort of doctoral students during his time at Marquette. He was particularly helpful to those students who came to Marquette University from the Eastern Orthodox tradition by giving them a clearer understanding of their own theological and spiritual legacy. During his tenure at Marquette University he formed with his doctoral students what later came to be known as the "Theophaneia School" — a theological forum on the Jewish roots of Eastern Christian mysticism. In April 2012, Golitzin retired from Marquette University as Professor Emeritus. On Saturday, May 5, 2012, he was consecrated Bishop of Toledo and the Bulgarian Diocese during a Hierarchical Divine Liturgy at Saint George Orthodox Cathedral in Rossford, Ohio. On March 30, 2016, he was elected Bishop of Dallas, the South and the Bulgarian Diocese. During the 2017 Spring Session of the Holy Synod, he was elevated to the rank of Archbishop.
One of the distinctive features of Golitzin’s scholarly approach, manifested already in his earliest writings, was his keen attention to the Jewish matrix of Eastern Orthodox theology and spirituality. Golitzin’s appreciation of early Jewish traditions, represented not only in the Hebrew Bible, but also in the large body of extra-biblical apocalyptic and mystical testimonies, was initially developed under the influence of his spiritual mentor, Elder Aimilianos, and the monks of the monastery of Simonos Petras on Mount Athos. Archimandrite Aimilianos himself was a learned man who had some knowledge of Jewish mystical accounts and did not discourage his monks from reading these texts. Once, during a later visit to Simonos Petras, Golitzin spotted Schäfer's Synopse zur Hekhalot-Literatur in the hands of one of Aimilianos’ monks. This early interest in Jewish apocalyptic and mystical traditions, along with their relevance for understanding Eastern Christian spirituality, was stimulated when Golitzin joined the theological faculty of Marquette University in 1989. There some of his colleagues, including Michel Barnes, introduced him to the scholarship of Alan Segal and other experts in Jewish apocalypticism and mysticism.
By the middle of the 90-s, Golitzin had established himself as one of the most significant voices among Orthodox scholars advocating for the importance of Jewish apocalypticism and mysticism in understanding the conceptual roots of Orthodox theology and liturgy. In one of his writings, he insisted that “the recent developments in the study of apocalyptic literature, of the Qumran Scrolls, of Gnosticism, and of later Jewish mysticism ... throw new and welcome light on the sources and continuities of Orthodox theology, liturgy, and spirituality.” Golitzin firmly upheld the conviction that "Eastern Christian asceticism and monasticism — i.e., Eastern spirituality, in short — arose out of an original matrix in the pre-Christian era of Second Temple Judaism."
Still, Golitzin’s work on the Jewish roots of Eastern Christian spirituality has never been widely accepted, and even today he remains a lonely voice in the larger Orthodox scholarly community. In his books and articles, Golitzin often laments the failure of Orthodox scholarship to attend to "the patrimony of biblical and post-biblical Israel." Moreover, he persistently reminds his Orthodox colleagues that the Church arose out of the great pool of Israel's traditions, and that from this pool she “has continued to draw in order to frame her dogmas, to voice her praises, to understand her vocation, and to describe the Christian calling as embodied in her saints."
Golitzin insists that “no one who has seriously studied patristic exegesis, or ancient theological controversy, or the liturgy, or the writings of the Church Fathers can have missed the overwhelming presence of exactly those images and texts that are present in early Jewish testimonies.” Even so, an appreciation of Christianity’s Jewish roots is strikingly lacking in modern Orthodox theological reflection: "neither in the older school theology that has haunted Orthodox seminaries, nor even (with some exceptions) among the advocates of the neo-patristic synthesis do the great theophanies either of Israel, or of the New Testament (save the Transfiguration), enjoy the prominent, indeed central role that they should have, and that they do have in the Fathers, in the liturgical texts, and in the spiritual writers.” For Golitzin, Jewish apocalypses, preserved and copied by Orthodox monks for centuries, are living proof that their ancient custodians had a great appreciation of their Jewish heritage. He often notes the difference between these monks and those modern Orthodox academics who ignore this rich legacy of pseudepigraphical and apocryphal materials from post-biblical Israel and Christian antiquity. Whereas the monks thought these documents were worthy of the considerable attention necessary just to copy them, one would be hard-pressed to find a single, contemporary Orthodox theologian who devotes any significant amount of time and space even to study them.
One of Golitzin's original contributions to the understanding of the evolution from Jewish to Christian apocalypticism, and then further to apocalyptic traditions preserved by Eastern Orthodox authors, is his concept of the so-called "interiorized apocalypticism." He defined this phenomenon as "the transposition of the cosmic setting of apocalyptic literature and in particular of the 'out of body' experience of heavenly ascent and transformation to the inner theater of the soul." In many of his articles, he traces the development of the interiorization of the ascent to heaven, as well as other apocalyptic motifs from the Second Temple and early Christian apocalypses, to later Orthodox monastic literature.
Theophany and Transformation
In early Jewish biblical and pseudepigraphical accounts, divine theophanies are often portrayed as revelations of the divine Glory, or Kavod. Moreover, these early Jewish testimonies attempt to envision Kavod not simply as an anthropomorphic manifestation of the deity, but rather as a crucial nexus of cultic devotion and worship. Such veneration of the divine Glory takes place not only in heaven, where the divine Kavod is surrounded by angelic worship, but also on earth, where the symbolic presence of the divine Form between the two cherubim of the Holy of Holies becomes the very center of the Jewish sacrificial cult. Early roots of this Kavod symbolism in Jewish lore are traceable to the mythological imagery found in the first chapter of the Book of Ezekiel, which became an enduring inspiration for generations of apocalypticists and mystics, including later Eastern Orthodox authors.
In the manifesto of the “Theophaneia School,” a theological forum, which Golitzin established with his graduate students during his tenure as a professor at Marquette university, he argues that theophany stands "at the heart of the Orthodox tradition." In the “Theophaneia School” theological program, he also reminds us that the Christian East has always understood theophany as the very content of the gospel of Jesus Christ, since this word means, literally, the manifestation or appearance of God. And, indeed, one can agree with Golitzin that "theophany permeates the Orthodox tradition throughout, informing its dogmatic theology and its liturgy."
Yet, at the same time, in this document and in other publications Golitzin identifies how this essential theophanic character of Orthodox theology has become marginalized and forgotten in modern times, especially in academic settings. He reflects on this unfortunate theological forgetfulness in contemporary Orthodoxy by noting that "while the witness continues uninterrupted in the liturgical texts, in hagiography, in the practice of the monasteries and especially of the hermitages, the formal, academic theology taught in Orthodox schools ... has long lost sight of this essential, theophanic thread.”
Jewish Temple and Christian Liturgy
Another distinctive feature of Golitzin’s scholarly approach is his keen attention to Jewish sacerdotal and liturgical traditions which profoundly shaped both early Christian liturgical settings and later Eastern Orthodox mystical testimonies. Golitzin argues that even though "the Gospel of the Risen Jesus compelled a certain parting of the ways with Christianity’s Jewish matrix, it would be wrong to exaggerate the extent of that rupture.” For him, the lines of continuity and discontinuity appear perhaps most clearly in the scriptural idea of the “Temple.” While in biblical Israel the Temple was the locus of the Glory of God, in nascent Christianity these sacerdotal settings became applied to Jesus, who replaced the Temple and the Torah as the primary “place” of the divine presence. In this novel Christian reformulation, Jesus Christ himself was identified as the Glory or Shekinah who “tabernacled among us,” according to John 1:14. Golitzin demonstrated how the idea of the Temple was not completely lost in the Christian tradition, but rather adapted through Christological reformulations. Long before Greek philosophical vocabulary became the standard conceptual vehicle of Christian doctrine, Christians natively and universally drew on the symbolic liturgical language of the Jewish Temple. As in the earliest Jewish traditions about the heavenly Temple, the Church's liturgy was understood to be the mirror of heaven which reveals “the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem” (Heb 12:22). Such sacerdotal imagery was already influential among New Testament authors and remained dominant in the Eastern Orthodox tradition until the advent of modernity. Yet, in contemporary patristic scholarship, all references to early Jewish symbolism found in dogmatic and ascetical works of the Church Fathers, whether the imagery of the Divine Chariot (the Merkavah), the Holy of Holies, the Temple, or the details of the temple worship are usually interpreted as mere rhetorical devices and stylistic embellishments. Golitzin criticizes such a simplified approach, contending that without a proper understanding of Jewish sacerdotal and liturgical traditions, we are unable to fully grasp the dogmatic core of patristic theology.
Golitzin's first effort to apply his new methodology to the study of patristic texts was his doctoral dissertation on Pseudo-Dionysius, defended in Oxford University and later published in Analekta Vlatadon. As Basil Lourié rightly observes, the Corpus Dionysiacum was simultaneously the most convenient and the most inconvenient source for testing Golitzin’s fresh methodology of reading patristic texts. It was most convenient because few other authors drew on liturgical symbolism so saliently in their formulation of Christian dogma. And it was most inconvenient because the cultural heritage of the Corpus Dionysiacum had stronger connections to Platonic rather than to Jewish traditions. Indeed, while the Platonic connections of the Corpus Dionysiacum were evident on the surface, its Jewish core was deeply concealed in such a manner that it required a novel methodology for its full recovery — one, which only Golitzin’s vision of Jewish roots was able to provide. Golitzin’s discernment of the Jewish roots of Pseudo-Dionysius’ liturgical symbolism did shed new light on his unique Christology. This, in turn, led to a reconsideration of the concept of the “Christological corrective,” which, according to Golitzin's teacher, John Meyendorff, was developed by Maximus the Confessor and Gregory Palamas in order to understand Pseudo-Dionysius. Golitzin showed that if one reads Pseudo-Dionysius’ text in the language of the Jewish and Christian liturgical traditions in which it was originally written, the internal Christology of the Corpus Dionysiacum is impossible to miss, and a “Christological corrective” becomes unnecessary.
Golitzin's pioneering study thus placed Pseudo-Dionysius within a tradition which extends to the origins of Christianity and then even further to its Second Temple Jewish roots. The study also exhibited his use of more proximate Christian sources, notably fourth-century Syrian ascetical literature, whose own roots go back to the earliest forms and sites of Christianity: the Jewish-Christian villages and communities of Aramaic speaking Palestine.
The editor wishes to express his appreciation to David Runia and Gerard Rouwhorst for accepting this volume to the Vigiliae Christianae Supplements, and also to Brill’s editorial team for bringing it to completion.
Andrei A. Orlov