John Meyendorff

John Meyendorff (February 17, 1926 – July 22, 1992) was a leading theologian of the Orthodox Church of America as well as a writer and teacher. He served as the dean of St. Vladimir's Orthodox Theological Seminary in the United States until June 30, 1992.


Early life

Meyendorff was born in Neuilly-sur-Seine, France, into the emigré Russian nobility as Ivan Feofilovich Baron von Meyendorff (Иван Феофилович барон фон Мейендорф).

Meyendorff completed his secondary education in France and his theological education at the St. Sergius Orthodox Theological Institute in Paris in 1949. In 1948, he also received a licentiate at the Sorbonne, and later earned a Diplôme d'études supérieures (1949) and a Diplôme de l'école pratique des Hautes Etudes (1954). He earned the degree of Doctor of Theology in 1958 with a groundbreaking doctoral thesis on the teachings of St. Gregory Palamas.[1]

Theological career

In France, Meyendorff was an Assistant Professor of Church History at the St. Sergius Institute, and a Fellow at the Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique.

After his ordination to the priesthood in the Orthodox Church in 1959, Meyendorff and his family moved to the United States. There he joined the faculty of Saint Vladimir's Seminary, located in Tuckahoe, New York, as a Professor of Church History and Patristics. Additionally, he held successive joint appointments as a lecturer in Byzantine theology at Harvard University, Dumbarton Oaks (to which he returned for a semester as Acting Director of Studies in 1977), and as Professor of Byzantine History at Fordham University (from 1967). He also was Adjunct Professor at Columbia University and Union Theological Seminary, both in New York City, and lectured widely on university campuses and at church events. He held the position of Dean of St. Vladimir's Seminary from March 1984 until June 1992.

Meyendorff was a major voice in the Orthodox community and worked for the reunion of the three splinter groups into which the Russian Orthodox Church broke up after the Russian Revolution.[2] He was instrumental in the establishment of the Orthodox Church in America as an independent entity in 1970, and urged the various Orthodox Churches in the United States, which were ethnically based, to grow closer together in their shared faith. He frequently represented the Orthodox tradition in ecumenical gatherings, such as the Uppsala Assembly held in 1968 by the World Council of Churches, during his tenure as Chairman of its Commission on Faith and Order (1967-1975).[1]

Death and legacy

While on vacation at the family's summer home in Quebec following his resignation, Meyendorff took ill and was taken to St. Mary's Hospital in Montreal. He died there on 22 July as the result of pancreatic cancer.[3]

His son, Paul Meyendorff (born 1950), is currently Professor of Liturgical Theology at St. Vladimir's Seminary.

Publications and courses

Meyendorff's publications include the critical text and translation of Byzantine theologian Gregory Palamas (1959), as well as a number of books in the fields of theology and history, such as 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 A.D. (1989); Rome, Constantinople, Moscow: Historical and Theological Studies (1996). His books have been published in a number of languages, including French, German, Italian, Russian, Greek, English, Finnish, Spanish, Dutch, Japanese, Serbian, Romanian and Polish.

Study of Gregory Palamas

Meyendorff's doctoral dissertation on Palamas is considered to have transformed the opinion of the Western Church regarding Palamism. Before his study of Palamas, Palamite theology was considered to be a "curious and sui generis example of medieval Byzantium's intellectual decline." Meyendorff's landmark study of Palamas however, "set Palamas firmly within the context of Greek patristic thought and spirituality" with the result that Palamism is now generally understood to be "a faithful witness to the long-standing Eastern Christian emphasis on deification (theosis) as the purpose of the divine economy in Christ."[1]


A member of several professional associations, Meyendorff served during different periods as President of the Orthodox Theological Society of America, President of the American Patristic Association, and 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).

During his service at the seminary, he held the positions of librarian, director of studies, and was long-time editor of St Vladimir's Theological Quarterly. His service to the church included positions as chairman of the Department of External Affairs of the Orthodox Church in America, as advisor to the Holy Synod, and as editor of the monthly newspaper The Orthodox Church.

As a representative of the Orthodox Church, he participated in the activities of the World Council of Churches, having been Chairman of the Commission on Faith and Order (1967–75) and a member of the Central Committee. Committed particularly to inter-Orthodox unity and cooperation, he was one of the founders and the first general secretary of Syndesmos (World Fellowship of Orthodox Youth Organizations), and served later as its president.


Meyendorff held honorary doctorates from the University of Notre Dame and General Theological Seminary, and was a Corresponding Fellow of the British Academy.

Meyendorff was 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.

International Conference

From 9–11 February 2012, an International Conference "The Legacy of Fr John Meyendorff, Scholar and Churchman (1926-1992)" was held at the St. Sergius Institute in Paris, to honour the 20th anniversary of the passing away of Protopresbyter John Meyendorff.[lower-alpha 1]

See also




  1. For a complete description of the international conference, including the detailed program and official report, visit the Website of St. Sergius Orthodox Theological Institute and the Conference blog.


  1. 1 2 3 Carey, Patrick W.; Lienhard, Joseph T. (2000). Biographical Dictionary of Christian Theologians. Greenwood Publishing Group. p. 362.
  2. Culpa, Felix (9 April 2008). "Paris School: Myth or Reality?". Blogspot. Retrieved 6 November 2012.
  3. Lambert, Bruce (24 July 1992). "Obituaries: Rev. John Meyendorff Dies at 66; An Eastern Orthodox Theologian". The New York Times. Retrieved 6 November 2012.
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