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GEORGES VASILIEVICH FLOROVSKY was an Eastern Orthodox theologian who clung to traditional truths. Believing strongly that all Christians should pull together, he also helped found the World Council of Churches.

The son of a Russian priest, Florovsky mastered several languages as a schoolboy. He taught in Russian high schools and at the University of Odessa before moving to the West in 1920—a move he made to escape his country’s Marxist dictatorship which had no use for his faith or his religious scholarship. Thereafter Florovsky studied, taught, and published in France and the United States. He was noted for clear writing and an insistence on the timeless truths of the Christian faith—restated for our day, to be sure, but never departing from fundamental Scriptural teachings.

Only in the timeless, traditional truths of the church could modern people find renewed life, he believed. Although he called for a return to the thought of the early church fathers, he explained that this did not mean servile imitation and repetition but a development of their teaching: “We have to kindle again the creative fire of the Fathers.”

Mere study of the Bible or the church fathers was not enough, however. Florovsky believed it was useless to study the Bible and creeds without a heart transformed by faith in Christ: “Faith alone makes formulas convincing; faith alone makes formulas live.”

Central to his theology was a belief in the incarnate Christ. For example, in defending the creed of Chalcedon, Florovsky wrote, 

Our Redeemer is not a man, but God himself....Our Redeemer is one who “came down” and who, by “being made man,” identified himself with men in the fellowship of a truly human life and nature. Not only the initiative was divine, but the Captain of Salvation was a divine Person. The fullness of the human nature of Christ means simply the adequacy and truth of this redeeming identification. God enters human history and becomes a historical person.

The Russian expatriate’s last teaching positions were at Harvard Divinity School and at Princeton. Georges Vasilievich Florovsky died on this day, 11 August 1979, in New Jersey.

Dan Graves

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For more on Florovsky, read The “Philosophy Steamer” in Christian History #146, Christ and Culture in Russia

A brief summary of Florovsky's historical approach appeared in Christian History #72 under the title "How Could You Forget . . ."

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