The Theology of Protopresbyter Thomas Hopko: Orthodox or Opinion?

The Theology of Protopresbyter Thomas Hopko: Orthodox or Opinion? (continuation)–I must apologize for the inconsistent formatting; in transferring this document errors crept in that cannot be corrected on this processing program

Let us now continue to look into this Chapter, “The Purification of Mary”; it is stated:

We learn from the Church’s liturgy that Joseph and Mary were considered to be poor, since they did not offer a lamb, but rather the turtle doves, as is depicted on the icons of the feast. The Gospel of Saint Luke makes no mention of the possibility of offering a lamb. We learn as well that, although the accent of the liturgy is on the meeting, Mary did in fact come for purification as the law required. This means that her womb was opened and that the Christ Child was born from her in the manner in which all children are born. In this sense, although the Church insists that Mary remains forever a virgin, the only miracle in regard to the Lord’s birth is the virginal conception. There is no teaching of any other sort of a miracle in regard to His birth; certainly no idea that He came forth from His mother without opening her womb. (pp. 174-5)

Furthermore, by way of conversation, several students of the author have related how he has expounded the subject at hand. In classroom lectures it has been taught that in order for Christ to be fully human He had to have a normal human birth, which meant birth pangs, the breaking of the seal of the Theotokos’ virginity, and the usual bleeding of a woman. What does the Church say about this? The Theotokos is ever-virgin, she is virgin before, during and after childbirth. She had no birth pangs, there was no spilling of blood in the birth of Christ, the Theotokos was alone in the cave when she gave birth to our Lord, and it was a supernatural birth. The midwife quoted above has testified to this and this has been confirmed by Scriptures, the writings of our Holy Fathers, and the liturgical tradition of the Church.

To begin with we can quote the Prophet Isaiah: “Before she travailed, she brought forth; before her pain came, she was delivered of a man child”. (Isa 66:7) This is a prophecy of the painless birth giving of the Theotokos to our Lord. St. John of Damascus confirms this in writing:

Having completed the nine-month period He was born at the beginning of the tenth, it was in accordance with the law of gestation; while because it was without pain, it surpassed the established order of birth (emphasis mine) — for, where pleasure had not preceded, pain did not follow, as the Prophet said: “Beforeshe was in labor, she brought forth, and again: before her time came to be delivered she brought forth a man child.” (Isaiah66:7) [Exact Exposition of the Orthodox Christian Faith, Book 4, Chapter 14—all excerpts from St. John of Damascus are from, The Fathers of the Church, A New Translation, Vol. 37]

Likewise St. Irenaeus of Lyons in writing of this says: “And concerning His birth, the same prophet says in another place (Is. 66:7), ‘Before she who was in labor gave birth, and before the birth pains came on, she was delivered of a male child;’ thus he indicated His unexpected and extraordinary birth from the Virgin”. [“The Miraculous Virgin Birth of our Lord” See:


In the canons of the Church in reference to Nativity icons we see the miraculous birth of our Lord confirmed:

Just as we confess the conception of the Theotoke to have been seedless and to have resulted from the action of the Holy Spirit, so in like manner we also join in confessing Her childbirth to have been one above every accompaniment of any confinement due to what is commonly called childbed, which consists in giving birth to an infant with the accompanying pangs of childbed and is followed by a flux of blood, according to Zonaras. [He was a 12th century Byzantine canonist and historian] Whoever should do this, if he be a Cleric, let him be deposed from office; but if he be a layman, let him be excommunicated. [From the interpretation of Canon LXXIX of the 102 Canons of the Quinisext or Sixth Ecumenical Council, The Rudder, p.384 ]

The footnote to this carries on as follows:

Hence artists painting pictures ought not to depict the Theotoke on the occasion of the feast of Christmas, at the Nativity of Christ, to be lying on a bed and apparently exhausted by the pain….For certain women, on the other hand, to be depicted as washing Christ in a basin, as is seen in many icons representing the Nativity of Christ, is an absurdity and impropriety of the rankest kind, and is an invention of carnal men; wherefore it ought by all means be discarded. [ibid. pp. 384-5]

Let us now continue and consider the prophecy of Ezekiel: “Then he brought me back the way of the gate of the outward sanctuary which looketh toward the east; and it wasshut. Then said the LORD unto me; this gate shall be shut, it shall not be opened, and no man shall enter in by it; because the LORD, the God of Israel, hath entered in by it, therefore it shall be shut.” (44:1-2) Our Church considers the gate that is shut and shall not be opened to refer to the ever-virginity of the Theotokos, the physical seal (or gate) of her virginity was not violated by the birth of our Lord. Thus Saint Amphilochius of Iconium writes: “In the Virgin Birth, the virginal gates were in no way opened, as He fittingly hath willed, who was conceived there, according to the words that were spoken concerning Him: ‘this gate shall be shut, it shall not be opened, and no man shall pass through it: because the Lord God of Israel hath entered by it, and it shall be shut’”. (Eze. 44:2) [The Sunday Sermons of the Great Fathers, Vol. I, p. 175]

The hymnology of the Church often speaks of this, one of the most beautiful that does so is as follows: “Of old thou wast revealed as the gate of life to the Prophet Ezekiel through whom the Lord incarnate alone has passed. And as He is the Most High He preserved thee sealed, O most pure One”. [Tone 6, Friday Matins, Ode 3, Canon to the Theotokos] Thus our hymnology also speaks of the Theotokos as being the, “Impassible gate mystically sealed”. [Tone 2, Sunday Vespers, Theotokion at the Aposticha]

Let us finally take a look at several excerpts from our holy fathers that speak of the ever virginity of the Theotokos. St. John of Damascus writes of her: “Just as at His conception He had kept her who conceived Him a virgin, so also at His birth did He maintain her virginity intact, because He alone passed through her and kept her shut”. [Exact Exposition of the Orthodox Christian Faith, Book 4, Chapter 14] St. Leo, Pope of Rome, in his Tome written to the Council of Chalcedon says that “Christ was conceived of the Holy Ghost within the womb of a Virgin Mother, who bore Him as she had conceived Him without the loss of virginity” [Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, Vol. 14, p. 254]. Also St. Gregory of Nyssa writes:” The womb of the Holy Virgin, which ministered to an Immaculate Birth, is pronounced blessed in the Gospel; for that birth did not annul the virginity, nor did the virginity impede so great a birth”. [“On Virginity”, Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, Vol. 5, p. 365]

In concluding what can we say as regards those who speak of the Theotokos as having giving birth to our Lord in the normal human manner? We shall let a 5th century bishop, St. Peter Chrysologus, give us a reply:

Where are they who think that the Virgin’s conceiving and the Virgin’s giving birth are like those of other women? Theirs is of the earth, hers is of heaven. Hers is by divine power, theirs by human weakness. Theirs is in the passions of the flesh, hers in the tranquility of the Divine Spirit and in a human body at rest. Blood was quiet, flesh was still, her members slept, and the Virgin’s womb was entirely un­moved in that heavenly visit, while the Author of flesh was clothing himself in a garment of flesh and becoming a Heav­enly Man, who would not only restore the earth to man, but would even give him heaven. A Virgin conceived, a Virgin bore, and a Virgin she remains. [The Fathers of the Church, A New Translation, Vol. 17, Sermon 117 “The First Adam, and the Last Adam, Born of a Virgin” p.199] (It is possible that in his last sentence St. Peter is quoting the midwife at the birth of Christ—see above fourth paragraph.)



The Theology of Protopresbyter Thomas Hopko: Orthodox or opinion?

A Hymn of the Theotokos

O Lord, Thou Who art more than good, through the prayers of Thy Mother and of the Fathers who convened the Seven great Councils, establish and build up the Church and make firm the holy Faith; show us all forth as partakers of the Kingdom of Heaven when to earth Thou returnest to judge the whole of creation. [The Theotokion of the Exapostalaria of the Sunday of the holy Fathers of the Seventh Ecumenical Council, October 11-17 trans.from “The October Menaion”, Holy Transfiguration Monastery, Boston Mass.]


The following article is a critique which will be sectioned into four posts. Although critiques are not my prime desire for this blog site yet in asking advice I was encouraged to do so. I was actually told I should feel obligated to do so. My hope is that in setting forth the Orthodox teaching on certain points of Christology and Mariology the readers will have an increase of gratitude to our Lord for His saving work for us, and love for both Him and His most-pure Mother.

The Theology of Protopresbyter Thomas Hopko: Orthodox or Opinion?

Our Lord questioned the Apostle Peter: “Simon son of Jona lovest thou Me?” And when the apostle replied affirmatively our Lord said, “Feed My sheep.” And so, the motivation of this article is concern for the flock of Christ, the faithful of the Church. This is a critique of certain points expressed by Protopresbyter Thomas Hopko. This will be done in two parts, one being on Christology the other on Mariology, the latter will be dealt with first. Each of these parts will be sectioned off into more than one post.

I have been personally acquainted with Fr. Hopko since the late 1980’s. I have admired his committed sacrifice for his spiritual children. He has a great physical stamina which he used for others in spending long hours counseling those who came to him for help. Some of his spiritual children have also spoke of him as having a photographic memory and likened him to a walking encyclopedia and he put these good qualities to use. However, it is quite sad to see that in some of his instructions he has gone off on tangents from the teachings of our Orthodox Church. Therefore, reminding myself of the responsibility of the priesthood to perpetuate the truth “once for all delivered to the saints” (Jude 1:3), I feel compelled to write this critique. Although I lack qualification for this task yet trusting in the assistance of a number of highly qualified theologically trained acquaintances in the Church I hope to accomplish something useful.

I believe it was a total of four times, once quite recently, and several times in the past, that questionable teachings of Father Thomas were brought to my attention. Twice this concerned Christology and twice the Mariology. Since that time I have had correspondence with Father Thomas on several occasions. Once it concerned a critique I was about to write and he encouraged me to state what I believe and why. Another time I questioned some things he expressed and he replied, “I can only say what I believe to be true”. I was a bit surprised by such answers because in neither of them was the need to stay within the parameters of the Church or to support one’s self with the Holy Fathers mentioned. We need to be obedient to the Church; we need to be in harmony with the Church. We have the responsibility teach nothing new, but to reiterate that which has been handed down to us. So, before going on to a critique, I will repeat the title: The Theology of Protopresbyter Thomas Hopko: Orthodox or Opinion?

So let us now, speak about our holy Lady Theotokos. When, in our Holy Orthodox Church we call the Theotokos Ever-Virgin, what do we indicate? Does this only mean that Mary, the Mother of God, conceived as a virgin by the Holy Spirit, or does it signify something more? It definitely signifies something more, for our Lady Theotokos experienced a supernatural birth, she continued a virgin in giving birth, and remained so afterwards. This was testified to by one of the midwives who entered the cave of the Nativity of our Lord a little after His birth. The Theotokos allowed the midwife to examine her, and this woman declared, “Lord, Lord Almighty have mercy on us! It has never been heard or thought of, that anyone should have her breasts full of milk, and that the birth of a son should show his mother to be a virgin. But there has been no spilling of blood in his birth, no pain in bringing him forth. A virgin has conceived, a virgin has brought forth, and a virgin she remains”. [From the Apocryphal Gospel attributed to St. Matthew, “Ante-Nicene Fathers Vol. 8”, pp. 374-5] Therefore she is the Ever-Virgin Mother of God.

It is unfortunate, quite unfortunate that we have seen the opposite expressed by Protopresbyter Thomas Hopko. This then, leads us to a brief examination of one chapter in his book The Winter Pascha, and a brief survey of what of our holy Orthodox Church says regarding this topic. It is one chapter entitled, “The Purification of Mary”, and primarily one paragraph that we must take into consideration. First of all one must raise the question: How can an Orthodox Christian write of “the purification of Mary”? Here Fr. Thomas is using the terminology of the Western Christians with which—sad to say—he agrees. But did she need purification? Let us consider this question before going on to that which Fr. Thomas expresses.

What does the consciousness of the Church tell us? She was neither unclean nor in need of purification. Just as her Son our Lord Jesus Christ went to baptism with no need for it but rather to “fulfill all righteousness” (Matt. 3:15), so too, His most pure Mother, although she was not in need of purification, submitted to the Law. Perhaps a question could be raised based on the Gospel narrative concerning this event. Did it not say: “when the days of her purification according to the Law of Moses were fulfilled” (Luke 2:22)? Since the Gospel says “her purification”, could not one conclude that this must indicate she needed it? However, the King James Version is being quoted here, and it is this or the New King James Version which are used in most of our parishes. This latter also uses the term, “her purification”. Unfortunately it is a mistranslation, the original Greek is plural; it says, tou katharismou auton, the pronoun is plural (the last “o” is an omega), it would be properly translated as “their purification”, and not “her purifi- cation”. Yet the Law of Moses, which she came to fulfill, does use the singular, and refers specifically to the woman who gave birth, it states: “And when the days of her purifying are fulfilled” (Lev. 12:6). But by changing the pronoun to the plural, St. Luke is referring to the purification of the Jews prescribed by the Law of Moses to which the Mother of God submitted although she had no need—the collections of the lives of saints from the Greek, Romanian, Russian and Serbian all agree with this.

But let us go on to further establish this point by listening to what the traditional collection of the lives of saints of the Church says about this. On the feast of “The Meeting”, we read:

Fulfilling the Law of the Lord, the Mother of God came into the Temple of the Lawgiver. She came to purify herself, although she had no need of purification since she was undefiled, without offense, uncorrupted, most pure. For she who conceived without a man or desire, and gave birth without pain or violation of her virginal purity, was not tainted by the impurity common to women who give birth according to the law of nature. For how could impurity touch her who gave birth to the source of purity? Christ was born of her like fruit from a tree. And as the tree producing its fruit is neither harmed nor defiled, in the same manner at the birth of Christ—the Blessed Fruit—the Virgin remained unharmed and undefiled. Christ proceeded from her as a ray of the sun that passes through glass or a crystal, a sun-ray does not break up or damage it, but illumines it even more. And Christ, the Sun of Righteousness, did not harm the virginity of His Mother. And the door of natural birth was sealed in purity and preserved in virginity not being defiled with a flow of blood as is common to women. But having passed through her supernaturally, He increased her purity, having sanctified and enlightened her with the light of Divine grace by His proceeding from her. Any purification was absolutely unnecessary for her who gave birth without defilement to God the Word. But in order not to break the Law, but to fulfill it, she came to purify herself having all-perfect purity and without any blemish. At the same time, filled with humility, she was not proud of her uncorrupted purity, but she came as if unclean to strand with the unclean women in front of the doors of the Temple of the Lord, and besought purification, not disdaining those who were unclean and sinful. [“Lives of the Saints, In the Russian Language, Book Six”, Moscow, Moscow Synodal Press, pp.23-4]

Thus does our Church honor our All-holy Lady Theotokos.

to be continued…



A hymn to the Theotokos

From thy virgin womb the Light that was before the sun, even God who has shone forth upon us, took flesh ineffably, coming to dwell among us in the body. Thee, then, O Blessed and all-holy Theotokos, do we magnify (The Irmos of the ninth Ode in the Matins Canon for the Synaxis of St. John the Baptist, trans. from “The Festal Menaion”, p. 401)


Since, this month we are celebrating the Baptism of our Lord which we usually call Theophany or revelation of God, it seems to me that speak about the Sacrament of Baptism is quite appropriate. I do not want to say much myself but to turn immediately to a pair of eleventh century saints whose writings are recorded in the Philokalia: Sts. Callistus and Ignatius. What do they teach us about the Sacrament (or Mystery) of Baptism? In the fifth chapter of their writings which is entitled, “The glory of the grace of Holy Baptism, what dims and what restores it”, they tell us:

What this grace is and how we acquire it, what dims and what purifies it, will be explained to you better than all gold by St. John Chrysostom, shining in word and soul who says (All quotes of St. John Chrysostom are as found in the writings of Sts. Callistus and Ignatius): “‘But we all, with open face beholding as in a glass the glory of the Lord, are changed into the same image’ (IICor. 3:18). This was more clear for the believers in the times of the Apostles when miraculous gifts occurred. Still, it is not hard, even now, for a man who has the eyes of faith to understand it. When we are being baptized, our soul, purified by the Spirit, becomes brighter than the sun; not only then are we able to look at the glory of God, but we ourselves take on something of its radiance. As polished silver, illumined by the rays of the sun, so a soul purified by the Divine Spirit, becomes more brighter than silver; it both receives a ray of the Divine glory, and from itself reflects the ray of this same glory. Therefore the Apostle says: ‘But we all, with open face beholding as in a glass the glory of the Lord, are changed into the same image from glory to glory’, that is, from the glory of the Spirit to our own glory, which fills us and which should be ‘even as by the Spirit of the Lord'” (IICor. 3:18).

As examples of such grace manifest in believers Chrysostom tells us:

Think of Paul, whose very garments had a miraculous effect. Remember Peter, whose very shadow manifested miraculous power.

Continuing he says,

Do you wish to see how their inner light penetrates even through their bodies? “And looking steadfastly on Stephen, they saw his face as it had been the face of an angel” (Acts 6:15).

Then, a little later, he mourns the infirm condition of the faithful:

But alas! We ought to groan bitterly; for, though granted such noble rank, we do not even understand what is said about it, because we quickly lose it and incline to the sensory. This ineffable and terrible glory remains in us one or two days, after which we extinguish it, bringing in the storm of worldly affairs and their thick clouds as repulse its rays. [These quotes are from, “Writings from the Philokalia on Prayer of the Heart”, pp. 166-7]

Sts. Callistus and Ignatius go on to comment:

Do you see how much it lies in our power to increase or to diminish this supernatural grace, that is, to show it forth or to obscure it? What obscures it is the storm of worldly cares, and the ensuing darkness of passions which attack us like a whirlwind, or a wild torrent and, flooding our soul, give it neither rest nor possibility to look at the truly good and blessed things for which it was created. Instead it is mauled and tortured by the waves and smoke of sensory lusts, it is plunged into darkness and dissoluteness. Conversely, grace is manifest by that which is reflected from the Divine commandments, in the souls of those who walk not in the flesh, but in the Spirit. [Ibid. p. 167-8]

Continuing on this topic in the next chapter the saints write:

In the Divine womb, that is, in the Holy Font, we freely receive perfect Divine grace. If after this we cover it over with the fog of passions, either through abuse of temporal things, or through excess of cares for worldly activities, it is possible, even after this, to regain possession of it, to restore its supernatural brightness and to see quite vividly its manifestation, by repentance and the fulfillment of commandments whose action is Divine. Grace manifests in proportion to each man’s zeal in remaining faithful to faith, but above all through the help and benevolence of our Lord Jesus Christ. St. Mark [the Ascetic] says: “Christ as perfect God, gave to those baptized the perfect grace of the Holy Spirit, which receives no increase from us, but merely reveals itself and manifests in us in accordance with our keeping the commandments, and gives us increase in faith ’till we all come in the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ’ (Eph. 4:13).” Therefore, whatever we may bring after our regeneration in Him, must previously have been concealed in us by Him and of Him. [Ibid. p. 168]

In order to further illustrate how one rekindles this grace of Baptism I would like to refer to a conversation I had with a highly educated Athonite monk, Fr. Luke of Philotheou. Fr. Luke was a university professor before becoming a monk. This conversation took place in the early 1990’s, at that time many Charismatics claimed to be experiencing what they called a “Baptism in the Holy Spirit.” They would sometimes refer to St. Symeon the New Theologian who wrote of a second Baptism in the life of a Christian. However, they do take St. Symeon out of context, for this saint speaks of a Baptism of repentance or a Baptism of tears which is a long process of purification. Just as Bishop Basil Krivocheine once commented in a talk: “For the charismatics Baptism in the Holy Spirit is in the beginning, but for St. Symeon it is something in the end.” Bishop Basil authored a book on St. Symeon the New Theologian called, In the Light of Christ. So here are the notes of my conversation with Fr. Luke:

We spoke about the grace received in original Baptism and what some of the Fathers say about the grace of a second Baptism of repentance—a Baptism of tears. In summary concerning this he said:

We are like a glass that we must clean once again. We have the grace of Baptism but we are like a dirty vessel which has to be cleansed. When the process of cleansing takes place, then it is as though one has had a second Baptism. So what we call the “second” is greater than the first only in conscious awareness. The second is greater than the first because the second is done through a synergy of God and man. A synergy of God’s grace and man’s repentance, of man’s finally overcoming sin and becoming to a certain degree immune to the sickness of sin and then he receives this second Baptism. The second Baptism is not something different from the first but it is the complete manifestation of the first, that is, in manifestation of the grace itself acting in a person it is greater. It is in essence the same as the first, it is the uncovering of the first, but we say that it is greater because in it the manifestation of the grace in us becomes greater since we have struggled and become even more pure ourselves. We are able to receive the conscious awareness of the grace because of our repentance and struggling against sin and lulling the passions. Whereas in the beginning we were not able to receive the full impact and have this grace fully consciously active within us because of our state of separation from God.

A question to ponder: Can the experience of the Charismatics and Pentecostals or the “born again” Christians be compared to the “Second Baptism” spoken of by Fr. Luke?