Afanasiev was born in Odessa on September 4, 1893, the son of Nikolay Grigoryevich Afanasiev, a lawyer, and Proskovya Yakovlevna. After studying mathematics at university, he served in the White Army artillery during the civil war following the Russian Revolution. He married his wife, Marianne, in Prague in 1925.
Afanasiev pursued graduate studies at the University of Belgrade, studying under Alexander Dobroklonsky, the noted historian of the Russian Church. He received his doctorate in 1927 after defending his dissertation, Authority of the State and Oecumenical Cathedrals. He taught at the Orthodox seminary in Skopije from 1925-1930, and then began teaching church history and canon law at the St Sergius Institute in 1930.
Afanasiev was ordained a priest on January 6, 1940 by Metropolitan Eulogius; he was accompanied around the altar by Sergius Bulgakov and Cyprian Kern. He took up pastoral work in Tunisia from 1941-1947, then returning to St Sergius in 1947. He died December 4, 1966.
Theology and Significance
Afanasiev is best remembered for his recovery of eucharistic theology, which influenced Orthodox and non-Orthodox theologians alike ever since.
Active in ecumenical discussions, Afanasiev was an official ecumenical observer at Vatican II. His best-known work is his essay on the primacy of Rome in the ancient Church, entitled “The Church Which Presides in Love.”
- Trapeza Gospodnia (Lord’s Supper). Paris: YMCA Press, 1952.
- The Church of the Holy Spirit. Notre Dame, IN: University of Notre Dame Press, 2007. (ISBN 978-0268020309)
- ”The Church Which Presides in Love” in John Meyendorff, ed., The Primacy of Peter: Essays in Ecclesiology and the Early Church, new ed. Crestwood, NY: St Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 1992. (ISBN 978-0881411256)
- Aidan Nichols, Theology in the Russian Diaspora: Church, Fathers, Eucharist in Nikolai Afanas’ev (1893-1966). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1989. (ISBN 978-0521365437)