A friend of mine, a cinephile, a lover of the cinema in the very best sense of that phrase, commented to me once about what he saw as a difference between the films of the 40s and the 50s and those made ‘Oh, after about 1978′. The characters in the earlier films had neuroses, whereas the characters in the later films had ‘lifestyles’. I believe the catalyst for this conversation was the broadcast of a TV movie that caused a minor stir during the early 1980s called The Day After. It was a dramatization about a surprise nuclear attack on the United States by the Soviet Union, and the aftermath of that attack. About one third of the first episode was dedicated to the pre-apocalyptic lives of some ordinary Americans in order to build audience empathy for them in preparation for the horror that was to follow. What this meant was that we, the audience, had to suffer through about twenty minutes of watching self-absorbed people shopping, having sex, and quarreling about what they should buy or who they should have sex with. My friend commented that it was no wonder the Russians nuked us. They probably thought it was a mercy killing. ‘They didn’t kill a single person,’ he said. ‘Just a lot of individuals.’
That off-hand remark has stuck with me all these years. Most of the criticisms I have heard of American society and even of American church life congregate around two foci; first, that it is too individualistic, and second, that it is too impersonal. At first glance, these two remarks appear to be contradictory, somewhat like the great Chalcedonian adverbs, until you meditate on the difference between an individual and a person. We are all of us born into this world as individuals, but it is a struggle to become a person in the image of the Persons of the Most Holy Trinity. There is a lot of deep anthropology here, and some of the most interesting recent Orthodox theology deals with the concept of the human Person, what does it mean to have a hypostasis, and to participate in communion with other hypostases? Now, I know know know know know that IM is to some degree an Asperger sufferer’s theology board and any theological statement an amateur like me will make is subject to endless qualification and amendment, but here goes. The names of Met. John Zizoulas and Fr. John S. Romanides are the two names most often associated with this current of theology, which goes by the name of Neo-Chalcedonian both among the Orthodox and those outside of Orthodoxy who are aware of it, even though Neo-Chalcedonian is properly a label of a pair of sixth century Fathers who defended the council of Chalcedon against the Justinian Monothelite compromise.
Only in Orthodoxy could someone from the sixth century be considered Neo-anything.