I can foresee no way in which the teachings of the Orthodox
Christian tradition could be affected by the discovery of
intelligent beings on another planet. Some of my colleagues
feel that even a discussion of the consequences of such a
possibility is in itself a waste of time for serious
theology and borders on the fringes of foolishness.
I am tempted to agree with them for several reasons.
As I understand the problem, the discovery of intelligent
life on another planet would raise questions concerning
traditional Roman Catholic and Protestant teachings
regarding creation, the fall, man as the image of God,
redemption and Biblical inerrancy.
First one should point out that in contrast to the
traditions deriving from Latin Christianity, Greek
Christianity never had a fundamentalist or literalist
understanding of Biblical inspiration and was never
committed to the inerrancy of scripture in matters
concerning the structure of the universe and life in it. In
this regard some modern attempts at de-mything the Bible are
interesting and at times amusing.
Since the very first centuries of Christianity, theologians
of the Greek tradition did not believe, as did the Latins,
that humanity was created in a state of perfection from
which it fell. Rather the Orthodox always believed that man
[was] created imperfect, or at a low level of perfection,
with the destiny of evolving to higher levels of perfection.
The fall of each man, therefore, entails a failure to reach
perfection, rather than any collective fall from perfection.
Also spiritual ‘evolution’ does not end in a static beatific
vision. It is a never ending process which will go on even
Also Orthodox Christianity, like Judaism, never knew the
Latin and Protestant doctrine of original sin as an
inherited Adamic guilt putting all humanity under a divine
wrath which was supposedly satisfied by the death of Christ.
Thus the solidarity of the human race in Adamic guilt and
the need for satisfaction of divine justice in order to
avoid hell are unknown in the Greek Fathers.
This means that the interdependence and solidarity of
creation and its need for redemption and perfection are seen
in a different light.
The Orthodox believe that all creation is destined to share
in the glory of God. Both damned and glorified will be
saved. In other words both will have vision of God in his
uncreated glory, with the difference that for the unjust
this same uncreated glory of God will be the eternal fires
God is light for those who learn to love Him and a consuming
fire for those who will not. God has no positive intent to
For those not properly prepared, to see God is a cleansing
experience, but one which does not move eternally toward
higher reaches of perfection.
In contrast, hell is a static state of perfection somewhat
similar to Platonic bliss.
In view of this the Orthodox never saw in the Bible any
three storey universe with a hell of created fire underneath
the earth and a heaven beyond the stars.
For the Orthodox discovery of intelligent life on another
planet would raise the question of how far advanced these
beings are in their love and preparation for divine glory.
As on this planet, so on any other, the fact that one may
have not as yet learned about the Lord of Glory of the Old
and New Testament, does not mean that he is automatically
condemned to hell, just as one who believes in Christ is not
automatically destined to be involved in the eternal
movement toward perfection.
It is also important to bear in mind that the Greek Fathers
of the Church maintain that the soul of man is part of
material creation, although a high form of it, and by nature
Only God is purely immaterial.
Life beyond death is not due to the nature of man but to the
will of God. Thus man is not strictly speaking the image of
God. Only the Lord of Glory, or the Angel of the Lord of Old
and New Testament revelation is the image of God.
Man was created according to the image of God, which means
that his destiny is to become like Christ who is the
Incarnate Image of God.
Thus the possibility of intelligent beings on another planet
being images of God as men on earth are supposed to be is
not even a valid question from an Orthodox point of view.
Finally, one could point out that the Orthodox Fathers
rejected the Platonic belief in immutable archetypes of
which this world of change is a poor copy.
This universe and the forms in it are unique and change is
of the very essence of creation and not a product of the
Furthermore the categories of change, motion and history
belong to the eternal dimensions of salvation-history and
are not to be discarded in some kind of eternal bliss.
Thus the existence of intelligent life on another planet
behind or way ahead of us in intellectual and spiritual
attainment will change little in the traditional beliefs of