28 February 2009

Makrakism Returns

When I was a naïve, rosy-cheeked young college Freshman, newly drawn to the Orthodox Church, I went browsing through the library of my alma mater to see what sort of books might be available there on Orthodoxy. Sadly, if predictably, there was very little, a situation which I hope will improve now that they’ve hired a ‘Theology and Information Literacy Librarian’ who happens to be an Orthodox Christian. But at the time, about the only thing I came up with, aside from an old edition of Timothy Ware, was Fr Alexander Schmemann’s Church, World, Mission (Crestwood, NY: St Vladimir’s, 1979), a book which admittedly contains my favourite piece by the famous St Vlad’s dean—‘The “Orthodox World”, Past and Present’ (pp. 25-66).

There was one other thing, however. A series of older books, I want to say five volumes—slim, blue, purporting to give Orthodox views on such things as philosophy and psychology. The author was this Greek guy, Apostolos Makrakis. At the time I thought they seemed a little odd, not to mention ambitious, and I never got around to reading them.

A couple of years later, a friend who is now doing philosophy at Notre Dame showed me a book he’d discovered with something by Makrakis, wherein the author of the ‘Preface’ refers to the man as ‘the greatest philosopher since St Paul’ (sorry, I don’t have the reference—you’ll have to take my word for it).

Then, a couple of years after that, I bought Constantine Cavarnos’s book on Elder Philotheos (Zervakos), Blessed Elder Philotheos Zervakos (1884-1980), Vol. 11 in Modern Orthodox Saints (Belmont, MA: Institute for Byzantine and Modern Greek Studies, 1993). There, I read the following concerning a book by the Elder entitled, The Errors of Makrakis Criticized by the Truth:

Regarding the early Makrakis he [the Elder] characteristically says:

‘The teacher Makrakis was at first a philosopher, a very ardent zealot, a foe and critic of wickedness and the enemies of the Faith and the Church, of freemasons, simoniacs, and so on’ (p. 17). Again he says: ‘. . . At first Makrakis was great, he ascended to heights of wisdom, knowledge, zeal, faith, and virtue’ (p. 29-30).

However, later, says the Elder, Makrakis lapsed into pride, which with the passage of time grew greater and greater. Thus he fell, and his fall was great. Makrakis’ pride resulted in his falling into various theological errors and in making false, unfulfilled prophecies.

. . .

Father Philotheos points out and discusses the ways in which Makrakis went astray. As far as errors in doctrine are concerned, he notes that Makrakis committed the following: He taught (1) that the human soul was created out of dust of the earth, is material, and at death returns to the earth; (2) that human beings, initially dicomposite, are capable of becoming tricomposite, by becoming participants in God’s essence; (3) that Christ was perfected at His baptism; (4) Chiliasm or Millenarianism. The Orthodox Church, remarks the Elder, considers all these doctrines as heresies. (pp. 110-2)

I should add that Cavarnos also speaks of ‘[f]anatical followers of Makrakis, failing to make the distinction between truth and error’ in his teachings (p. 114), thus accounting for the author of the ‘Preface’ I mentioned.

Well, now there is a blog out there called ‘Apostolos Makrakis: An Evaluation of a Century’, which features a bio of Makrakis slanted heavily in his favour. There is one post that attempts to elicit evaluations of Makrakis and which seems to suggest that because Elder Philotheos’s refutation of him has not been translated into English, we can’t really know what the elder said and we have to make up our own minds. The blog has been up since last May, but so far mine is the only comment (although a few others do seem to have availed themselves of the ‘surveys’ on the left side-bar).

Now, for the most part I wish to avoid controversy on this blog. I don’t have the time or spiritual resources for endless back-and-forths in the combox, and I just sort of enjoy getting along with people. But, while I certainly hesitated, in the end I thought perhaps I should call attention to this. My own opinion, which I give briefly in the comment I posted, is that evaluating something like this takes not only great theological learning, but spiritual discernment, humility, and unshakeable faithfulness to the Tradition of the Church. Elder Philotheos had these, I do not. I personally don’t feel I need to spend a bunch of time evaluating Makrakis on my own, because Elder Philotheos has already done this. If other people require access to the full text of the Elder’s critique of Makrakis in order to accept his opinions of the man and were willing to pay something for it, I would be willing to translate that book myself. But I don’t intend to waste my time otherwise.


Kevin P. Edgecomb said...

This is the guy whose notes compromise the integrity of The Rudder. There's no obvious distinction between the notes of St Nikodemos and those of Makrakis, so that the reader is easily led astray. It's better to steer away from such hidden, shipwrecking reefs.

Maximus Daniel said...

totally off subject but pertaining to your blog.

Who is this Orthodox Librarian? I just joined ATLA and am looking to find other Orthodox librarians..

aaronandbrighid said...

Kevin> Thanks for the tip about the Rudder. I haven't had occasion to delve into it very deeply, but it's good to know that there's that danger. I probably would have just accepted anything in the notes as the opinion of St Nicodemus. Do you know if there are Greek editions that don't have Makrakis's contributions in them?

Maximus> I will send you a Facebook friend suggestion for the librarian I referred to. He's a good friend. I used to work with him at a local bookshop before he got his Library Science degree.

Kevin P. Edgecomb said...

Aaron, I hadn't heard that any other than the English editon is affected. It may be the case that some of the later Greek editions are, but I don't know. The "Editor's Notes" in The Rudder (presumably these are David Cummings', the translator's notes) state that he used the fourth edtion published by Mr. Anthony St. Georgiou: "In agreement with thei edtion we too are publishing for the fifth time this sacred handbook, unchanged and faithfully reprinted, and containing the parts omitted by Garpolas [publisher of the second edition, the first printed edition to be approved by the Synod of the Church of Greece], to wit, the last annotation to Canon XX of the First Ecumenical Council, not deleted in the first edition, and the dedicatory letter addresed to the Great Church by the commentators, to their everlasting memory." I was early on warned about this Rudder that notes were interpolated from Makrakis. I trust the source, an archimandrite, who steered me clear of quite a number of oddballs in my early reading frenzy of all things Orthodox.

Maximus Daniel said...

please do..

Esteban Vázquez said...

I've seen a few Greek printed editions, and they're very clearly not interpolated with Makrakis' notes, so that should be safe.

As for the presence of his notes in the English edition, this is due to the "Makrakite" proclivities of its publishers, the "Orthodox Christian Education Society." Back in 2001, Fr John Shaw (now Bishop Jerome of Manhattan) noted that both men responsible for the OCES used to attend the Chicago ROCOR Cathedral when he was a priest there. Here are his comments:

"[W]hile I was in Chicago, the two members of the Orthodox Christian Education Society, which published THE RUDDER and also various English translations of Makrakis' writings, did attend our cathedral. Mr. Costas Andronis, a retired Greek waiter, was the main figure involved in this publication, and of course he was a Makrakis fan. He did become a member of the Church Abroad, and I officiated at his funeral, perhap 15 years ago. His associate, Lawrence Krick, also attended our cathedral, though not every Sunday, but as I recall he never joined, and I do not believe he received Holy Communion in the Church Abroad. The reason for this was a strong attachment to the Greek Church, both old- and new-calendar. He suffered from a kidney ailment, and as I have not heard from him now in over 10 years I am not sure of the situation with him."

aaronandbrighid said...

Are these the men responsible for the other English Makrakis books?

Esteban Vázquez said...

My apologies for the delayed reply. I don't believe they themselves produced the translations, but as far as I now they did publish them.

Anonymous said...


I appreciate your posting this counter to the pseudo-apostolosmakrakis blogsite.

Shortly after I created the site, I was able to gain the information which I was looking for regarding his errors and stopped maintaining it. The wonders of the web!
You did a very good job articulating those errors here.

The biography is favorable only because it was taken from one of his follower's books, entitled: Apostolost Makrakis: An evaluation of a HALF century (emphasis mine). I was only lending voice to another 50 years, hence the name.

Anyway, thank you for your counter. I don't believe we are seeing a remergence of Makrakis' teachings. Allow me to simply state that the the master of that blog, me, is not a makrakisophile, just an honest seeker of Orthodox Theology and someone who believes he has not been treated fairly in the English world. Furthermore, I have the utmost admiration for Elder Philotheos and what he advises regarding Makrakis.

Should you ever wish to translate the Elder's words, I encourage you to do so. Afterall, if the Elder thought it best to write something about him, he must have thought it was worthwhile to do so. I would applaud your efforts in translating his words if for only that reason.

pseudo-apostolos makrakis

aaronandbrighid said...

Pseudo-Apostolos> Thank you for your comment. I was very glad to hear from you and I'm pleased to know you're not one of the 'fanatical followers or Makrakis' that Cavarnos mentions!

If you found some information about Makrakis's errors online, I think you ought to post them on the blog. It would be helpful to everyone.

Regarding Elder Philotheos's book, I didn't mean to imply that there was absolutely no point in translating it. Rather, I was saying that my own time is fairly limited, and there are other things that are more interesting or useful to me personally, and those are the things that I typically prefer to translate (hence the essay by Fr Placide that I've mentioned here before, the brief passage I posted of St Nektarios's Christian Ethics, and some of St Nicodemus's Christian Morality that I've been working on). If I were to translate something that I didn't have some inherent interest in, e.g. the book on Makrakis, it would have to be a paying job, or an obedience from my spiritual father or an elder or something, otherwise it's a bit hard to work up the motivation!