Monday, June 10, 2024

Today, on the Christian History Almanac, we remember Eugenius Bulgaris and his vision for the Greek Orthodox Church.

It is the 10th of June 2024. Welcome to the Christian History Almanac, brought to you by 1517 at; I’m Dan van Voorhis.


Part of the “secret sauce” of Western culture- for good or ill, is the particular cultural combinations of eras and the order in which they came- I don’t want to over simplify, but rather look very generally- from the ashes of the Roman Empire we get the Middle Ages which eventually lead into a Renaissance and Reformation- a cultural and intellectual rebirth and a religious revolution that gives way to the enlightenment- this is the “modern world” of modernity. We are currently living in a culture created by these forces. And the churches of the Reformation and that of the Latin West (now called the Roman Catholic Church) have been the heirs- living in tension with our modern world.

But what is the Greek Orthodox Church? In modern “Western” culture, these cultural forefathers- the heirs of Plato and places like Athens took a different path- from Constantinople, that church looked east- the Russian Orthodox Church inheriting and shaping “Eastern Orthodoxy,” but this wasn’t historical necessity. In fact, there was one man whose emphasis almost changed history- he was the greatest Orthodox scholar of his time- Eugenius Bulgaris, who was born in 1716 and died on the 10th of June in 1806.

He was born “Eleutherios” a Greek on the Island of Corfu- the name “freedom” reflects the elation from the people having turned away muslim raiders in a war in the year of his birth.

He would go to university at Padua, imbibing modern Western thought before going to Greece to teach for the orthodox church. At first, his teaching was all the rage- blending the best of Western thought with the best of Greek Orthodoxy.  He was called to the famed Vatopedion monastery on Mt. Athos, where he introduced the thoughts of thinkers like John Locke and Voltaire. As in the West, he thought that one could pull the wheat from the chaff. For instance, Bulgaris was a great admirer of Voltaire and is said to have once dined with him when the two got into a heated debate over the good of religion.

Despite his care to delineate between philosophy and theology, he was looked upon suspiciously by his own. He was booted from Mt. Athos and went to Germany, where he came to the attention of Frederick II of Prussia, who introduced him to Catherine the Great of Russia, who was impressed with this man who blended two traditions she was keen on modern Western philosophy and Orthodoxy (in her case, Russian).

Bulgaris was made a librarian in St. Petersburg and then a scholar-in-residence to the empress. She then made him the first bishop of the new diocese in Kherson, Ukraine. He took his holy orders in the Russian Orthodox Church and was of the same mind as Catherine in trying to bring that church more into line with the West.

Bulgaris only spent three years in church leadership- by 1779 he had retired to the St. Alexander Nevsky monastery in Novgorod where he could focus on his literary output. His most famous works would be translations of Greek classics into modern greek (although he argued for to transition from modern greek back to classical- a movement that never fully got off the ground.

Bulgris wrote on philosophy and theology. His Dogmatic Theology, published in 1800, is considered “the first Greek compendium on philosophical theology since the 14th century”. While he strove to modernize and support general ideas of tolerance, he was Orthodox through and through, and he himself argued against both Protestants and Catholics. Nonetheless, his influence on the Russian Orthodox Church under Empress Catherine the Great helped that country navigate seismic changes in theology and philosophy- the thing that perhaps the Greeks could have used themselves had they not banished Eugenius Bulgaris to be picked up by the Russians.

He represents a great “what could have been” amongst the Greek Orthodox and played a large role in helping to develop its cousin, the Russian Orthodox until his death on this, the 10th of June in 1806 in St. Petersburg. Eugenius Bulgaris born in 1716 was 90 years old.


 The last word for today is from the daily lectionary and Psalm 108, a Psalm of David- the first 6 verses.

My heart, O God, is steadfast;
    I will sing and make music with all my soul.

Awake, harp and lyre!

    I will awaken the dawn.

I will praise you, Lord, among the nations;
    I will sing of you among the peoples.

For great is your love, higher than the heavens;
    your faithfulness reaches to the skies.

Be exalted, O God, above the heavens;

    let your glory be over all the earth.

Save us and help us with your right hand,
    that those you love may be delivered.


This has been the Christian History Almanac for the 10th of June 2024, brought to you by 1517 at

The show is produced by a man whose favorite secret sauce is hot sauce on pancakes….  He’s not wrong with that… Christopher Gillespie.

The show is written and read by a man who wonders why “Thousand Island” gets called Secret Sauce when we know it’s just “Thousand Island”- where’s the secret? I’m Dan van Voorhis.

You can catch us here every day- and remember that the rumors of grace, forgiveness, and the redemption of all things are true…. Everything is going to be ok.

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