In Orthodoxy, it is very rare to call a person a “Theologian”. Outside Orthodoxy, especially in evangelical circles, almost everyone who has an advanced theology degree might consider himself a “theologian”.
To us, Theology is not to be taken lightly. And in the book, Fr Tikhon recounted an incident when a young seminary graduate introduced himself to Fr John the elder, that he was a “Theologian”, Fr John asked, “Really? The fourth one?” The young graduate did not understand.
Fr John then explained that in the Orthodox Church, Apostle John the Beloved, St Gregory Nazianzen, and St Simeon the New, were considered Theologians. The Church does not call a saint, or a contemporary person, a Theologian very readily, even though there are countless holy saints, all with great wisdom, asceticism, and a place in His Kingdom.
Unlike the Western Church and those who sprouted thereof, Theology is not a science or an academic exercise that everyone and anyone can ascend to. Everyone can enroll in a seminary and study about God, from history, to all the writings, and all the books in Scripture, and yet in the eyes of the Church, such a person would still be a student and a pilgrim towards God, nothing more.
We do not define Theology as a mechanistic study that the West identify with, but an experiential one that can only happen with a pure heart honed by humility, repentance, prayer, and intercession for others. To the Theologian and father among the saints St Gregory Nazianzen, Theology is purely and simply an ascent to God. Evagrius the Solitary in the 4th century said something similar, “he who really prays is a theologian, and he who is a theologian really prays.”
Fr Tikhon told us about a highly decorated army general, who would pray the Lord’s Prayer and cross himself with the monks. Some officers asked the general what the meaning of life was. The general answered after pondering a short while, “The main thing in life is to keep your heart pure before God.”
And there, in the manner of what St Gregory and Evagrius described, is a true Theologian – one who keeps his heart pure in prayer before God (St Matthew 5:8).
Let us pray:
Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.