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…