Review #56: Being As Communion

Being as Communion:

Studies in Personhood and the Church



260 pages

Publication: 1985/1997 – St Vladimir’s Seminary Press

This book counts for

My Dewey Decimal Challenge

and for

The 2011 Non-Fiction Challenge


I read this book many years ago in French, when I was Orthodox in heart. Now a few years after my conversion to Orthodoxy, it’s good to read this again, in its English updated version – I believe some passages were not in the French version I read.

This is not an easy read, and it would be helpful for you to know a few Greek words, but the effort is worth it. It is a very refreshing book, still so valid today, though it was written about 30 years. This is the type of book I wish every bishop, priest, and lay Christian would read and ponder on, and then get together to see how they could implement some of it.

What struck me this time is how united his theological vision is. Of course, this should go without saying for an Orthodox theologian, but it is not always that obvious. What I mean by his united vision, is that all is one, and works only as one: theology, Pneumatology, Christology, ecclesiology, patristics,  and sacramental life, among I am sure other things I should mention here.

He is very clear at showing that if current Christian theology based itself on serious Pneumatology and Christology, we would not be in the insane and unchristian situations we find in the Church today.

This communion is necessary not only between “topics”, if I may say, but of course between all persons making up the Body of Christ. And this is where I found Zizioulas’s vision extremely important. If in an ideal world, all Christians had been made aware of the realities he underlines here, would there still be so many pulls at power and competition, at wanting to be what the other is or has, whether it be at the level of ministries, parishes, dioceses?

I am inserting here an excerpt, found on pp.215-216:

Baptism/confirmation considered as an ordination, assigning you your place in the Church, a place indispensable without which the Church would not be complete? Wow, how many feminist theologians have ever thought of this? Probably not that many. It is a shame that such a profound fact would not be widely known.

If you push the idea of communion to its end, you cannot avoid the issue of ecumenism. I’m sad to say that here I may lose lots of my Orthodox readers, as if ecumenism were a heretical view stranger to the Gospel. Suffice here to present another excerpt by Zizioulas, this is actually the very end of his book:

Is a divided Church still a Church? And if the question is relevant inside so many Christian denominations today, isn’t it all the more relevant at the level of the whole Body of Christ?

To end on another note, I realize I had posted an excerpt on Facebook some time ago. So here it is inserted here, a powerful passage on divinization:

“The eternal survival of the person as a unique, unrepeatable and free “hypostasis”, as loving and being loved, constitutes the quintessence of salvation, the bringing of the Gospel to man. In the language of the Fathers this is called “divinization” (theosis), which means participation not in the nature or substance of God, but in His personal existence.” pp.49-50


 The voice of John Zizioulas may turn out to be the fresh voice for which theology and especially ecclesiology have long been waiting. In the context of a complete theology, which includes extended consideration of the major theological topics the Trinity, Christology, eschatology, ministry, and sacrament, but above all, the Eucharist the author propounds a fresh understanding, based on the early Fathers and the Orthodox tradition, of the concept of person, and so of the Church itself. His consideration of the local church as ‘catholic’ in the literal sense, and the need to understand the universal Church not as a superstructure but as the communion of all Churches, provides the program for the ecclesiology of the future. Yves Congar has written that he considers the author to be ‘one of the most original and profound theologians of our epoch’ and that he ‘presents a penetrating and coherent reading of the tradition of the Greek ‘ [Goodreads]


John Zizioulas (Greek: Ιωάννης Ζηζιούλας; born 10 January 1931) is the Eastern Orthodox metropolitan of Pergamon. He is the Chairman of the Academy of Athens and a noted theologian. Metropolitan John’s education began with study at the Universities of Thessalonika and Athens in 1950, and then a year at the ecumenical Institute of Bossey in 1955. Between 1960 and 1964 Zizioulas did doctoral research under the Eastern Orthodox theologian Georges Florovsky (Chair of Eastern Church History at Harvard and a member of the Russian Orthodox Church) and was a Fellow at Dumbarton Oaks Center for Byzantine Studies[3]. He received his doctorate in 1965 from the University of Athens. Zizioulas took up a post at the University of Athens in 1964 as Assistant Professor of Church History, and then six years later, worked as Professor of Patristics at the University of Edinburgh from 1970 until 1973. He moved to the University of Glasgow where he held a personal chair in systematic theology for some fourteen years. In addition, Zizioulas has been a Visiting Professor at the Research Institute in Systematic Theology of King’s College London. In 1986, he was elected titular metropolitan of Pergamon. In the same year, he assumed a full time academic post at Thessaloniki School of Theology as Professor of Dogmatics. To read more about him, click here.[wikipedia]



6 thoughts on “Review #56: Being As Communion

  1. You weren’t kidding about this being a tough read. You got my respect! When I was reading the first quote I had to remember that he is not talking about baptism, communion, and confirmation in the Western Catholic sense because the Western Catholics break baptism (washing away of original sin) as an infant, communion (receiving the eucharist for the first time) when you are eight or nine (can’t remember), and confirmation (becoming an adult member of the congregation) when you are sixteen as separate entities at different ages and stages of life. This is actually unbiblical. If you remember that in the Bible only adults were baptized and therefore welcomed into the congregation as believers at that time, the quote makes sense. And biblically, once you were baptized you were an essential part of spreading the Word. It wasn’t until later that they gave labels to roles such as bishop and elder, thus dividing laity from leadership. If you think about how you interact with people, I would assume that women talked to other women during their daily preparations and duties and thus spread the Word that way. There was no “feminism”. Women always had a role in the Church. They are able to reach an audience and fill a supportive role that men cannot.


    • Thanks for your comment, it’s really neat to have theological dialogues through a blog.
      I totally agree with you as for the sacraments, and also as for the place of women.
      Yes they have always had a specific role – the problem started when in the West their role was not recognized as such, and then of course they started wanting some “power”, not recognizing that they had authority, and confusing power with authority.
      Interestingly, there’s no feminism issue in the Eastern Christians, as they still acknowledge the specific role of women.
      by the way, I was Roman Catholic; after being Orthodox in my heart for about 20 years, I finally converted to Orthodoxy a few years ago. thanks again


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  4. Thanks for your post…I found it encouraging as I have been struggling to read through this fascinating book! I have read chapters one and two twice and have found commentaries online that have helped simplifiy the genius of John ZIZIOULAS. I am slowly, but surely grasping the fullness, beauty, love and gift of the Eucharist, the profound meaning, necessity and dependence we have on the Holy Trinity. I have a feeling I will be reading this book for many, many days ahead but i would highly recommend it to everyone looking to deepen their understanding of the depth and riches we have because of Being as Communion! I will also note that I was recommended this book by another great author who converted to Orthodoxy as a result of reading Being As Communion. His name is Clark Carlton who wrote a book directed toward Evangelicals interested in understanding Eastern Orthodoxy. The book is called “The Way” and I highly recommend it to anyone interested in learning more about the ancient church and its relevancy to today.


    • Thanks Ray for sharing. I have run into Carlton’s book, but personally I am more interested in reading spirituality/theology. Renjoyig right now Hymns of Divine Love by St Symeon The Ne Theologian. Read in French decades ago or in English now, I’m amazed at the modernity of his personal style as he write this in the 11th century


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