Protopresbyter John Meyendorff

Protopresbyter John Meyendorff

Dean [1984–1992], Professor of Church History [1959–1992]

Protopresbyter John Meyendorff (February 17, 1926–July 22, 1992) was born in Neuilly-sur-Seine, France into the émigré Russian nobility as Ivan Feofilovich Baron von Meyendorff. He became an internationally known Orthodox Christian theologian and an American leader in the ecumenical movement.

In 1948 he received a Licentiate at the Sorbonne, then earned a Diplôme d'études supérieures (1949), and a Diplôme de l'école pratique des Hautes Etudes (1954). In 1958, he was awarded a Doctorate of Letters in Theology from the Sorbonne with his groundbreaking thesis on the teachings of St. Gregory Palamas. He also pursued theological education at St. Sergius Orthodox Theological Institute in Paris and later served as Assistant Professor of Church History at the Institute and as a Fellow at the Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique.

After being ordained an Orthodox Christian priest, Fr. John moved with his family to the U.S. in 1959 to become Professor of Church History and Patristics at St. Vladimir's Seminary. He held other appointments as well: lecturer in Byzantine Theology at Harvard University, Dumbarton Oaks (serving as Acting Director of Studies in 1977); professor of Byzantine History at Fordham University; and adjunct professor at Columbia University and Union Theological Seminary. Often and broadly he lectured on university campuses and at church events.

During his many years at the seminary, Fr. John acted as librarian, Director of Studies, and Editor of St. Vladimir's Theological Quarterly. He was elected Dean in March 1984 and held that position until June 1992.

Some of Fr. John’s well known publications include: A Study of Gregory Palamas (French ed., 1959; Engl. 1964); The Orthodox Church (1963); Orthodoxy and Catholicity (1966); Christ in Eastern Christian Thought (1969); Byzantine Theology (1973); Marriage, an Orthodox Perspective (1975); Living Tradition (1978); Byzantium and the Rise of Russia (1980); The Byzantine Legacy in the Orthodox Church (1981); Catholicity and the Church (1983); and Imperial Unity and Christian Divisions: The Church 450–680 AD (1989). His books have been published in a number of languages, including French, German, Italian, Russian, Greek, Finnish, Spanish, Dutch, Japanese, Serbian, and Polish.

A major voice in the Orthodox Christian community worldwide, Fr. John worked for the reunion of the three splinter groups resulting from the Russian Revolution. He was instrumental in the establishment of the Orthodox Church in America (OCA) in 1970, and subsequently chaired of the OCA’s Department of External Affairs, advising the Holy Synod and editing the monthly newspaper The Orthodox Church. Urging the various Orthodox Churches in the United States to grow closer together in their shared faith; he helped found Syndesmos (World Fellowship of Orthodox Youth Organizations) and served as its first general secretary and then later, as president.

Father John also frequently represented the Orthodox tradition in ecumenical gatherings such as the 1968 Uppsala Assembly of the World Council of Churches (WCC), held during his tenure as Chairman of its Commission on Faith and Order (1967–1975).  He was also a member of the WCC Central Committee.

Professionally, Fr. John served as President of the Orthodox Theological Society of America, President of the American Patristic Association, and as a member of the Executive Committee, U.S. Committee for Byzantine Studies. He was a Fellow of the National Endowment for the Humanities (1976–77), and a Guggenheim Fellow (1981). He was awarded honorary doctorates from the University of Notre Dame and General Theological Seminary, and was a Corresponding Fellow of the British Academy. He was also a Senior Fellow at Dumbarton Oaks. The Diploma of Honorary Member of the Leningrad Theological Academy was bestowed upon Fr. John in May 1990. In June 1991 Fr. John was awarded the Order of St Vladimir, 2nd Class, by His Holiness Aleksy II, Patriarch of Moscow and All Russia.

Father John retired as Dean of St. Vladimir's Seminary on June 30, 1992, just a few months before he reposed due to pancreatic cancer.

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