Eminent scholar Olivier Clément died
Olivier Clément, who has died aged 87, was a French-born Russian Orthodox theologian whose stature was recognised not only by members of other Churches but also by Jews and Muslims. Offering personal proof that it was possible to become Orthodox without going East, he foresaw a Christian future which did not require the Western Church to become Eastern, or vice versa. He worked tirelessly for a mutual respect, which would make possible a recovery of the fullness of truth which would make the Churches one.
This made him unpopular with some in his own Church, particularly after he attacked the nationalistic drift of Orthodox clergy following the break-up of the Soviet Empire and Yugoslavia in the 1990s. He insisted that the drive for authentic Christian unity should come from within and not be imposed either by ecclesiastical authority or power politics.
Olivier-Maurice Clément was born on November 17 1921 at Aniane in southern France, where the Cathar sect had been persecuted in the 12th century. His was a non-religious family, which left him to find meaning in life in his own way. He studied the history of the great religions under Alphonse Dupront, a member of the Resistance, at Montpellier University, then taught history at the Lycée Louis-le-Grand in Paris for 40 years.
While his early lack of any formal religious affiliation prompted him to study atheism, it also helped him in a lifelong search for the meaning of being fully human.
He encountered the Christian East among the Russian émigré community in Paris, particularly through the theologian Vladimir Lossky, and later said that he was attracted to the Orthodox union of "a sense of mystery and a sense of liberty".
After being baptised as an Orthodox in 1951, he made his mark at the St Sergius Orthodox Theological Institute in Paris, where he started to lecture in moral theology.
He attracted a wide audience inside and outside the Orthodox community, many people finding a freshness and simplicity in his perception of Christian truth.
Pope John Paul II asked him to compose a Stations of the Cross text for the Good Friday service in Rome, although this is not an Orthodox devotional practice. When the Pope invited the non-Catholic Churches to say how they regarded the Papacy, in his encyclical Ut Unum Sint (That They May Be One), Clément responded with You are Peter (2003). This argued that the Western Church had become centralised and the Pope so authoritarian as not to allow for the autonomy of local churches. Clément recognised, however, that the Papacy had had a positive role during the first millennium, when it was often referred to for decisions on matters of doctrine.
In addition to his best-selling Roots of Christian Mysticism, Clément's 30 books included The Spirit of Solzhenitsyn; Taize: a Meaning of Life; Three Prayers; and two volumes of conversations with the Ecumenical Patriarchs Athenagoras and Bartholomew I.
Olivier Clément, who was greatly supported by his wife, Monique, died on January 15.