Orthodoxy has neither a textual nor a doctrinal basis to reject evolutionism. Neither does it make sense for Orthodox Christians to indulge the current fashion of irrationality (since any irrationality, in the end, will favor occultism and will work against the Church). Before beginning, it should be said that it is more a novelty than a tradition among the Orthodox to disclaim evolution.
First of all, according to the views of the theologians of the very traditionalist Russian Church Abroad, “the Days of creation should be understood not literally (“For a thousand years in Thine eyes, O Lord, are but as yesterday that is past, and as a watch in the night.”) but as periods!”
Secondly, the idea of evolution, given its separation from its atheist interpretation, is discussed quite positively in works by Orthodox authors. Prof. Ivan M. Andreev, says: “In everything else, Darwinism does not contradict the biblical teaching on the creation of living things because evolution does not address the question of who created the first animals.”
Archbishop Michael (Mudyugin), professor of the St. Petersburg Theological Academy, writes: “The process of evolution of the organic world belongs to the category of phenomena in whose description in the Bible and in the pages of any biology textbook it is easy to see an amazing degree of similarity. The biblical terminology itself fits into the same surprising coincidence — it is said: ‘Let the water bring forth abundantly the moving creature that hath life.’ ‘Let the earth bring forth the living creature after his kind, cattle and creeping things, and beast of the earth after his kind.’ Here the verb ‘bring forth’ points to the link between distinct phases in formation of the animal world, moreover, to the connection between nonliving and living matter.”
Professor Alexey I. Osipov, of the Moscow Theological Academy, supposes: “For theology, both the creationist and evolutionary hypotheses are permissible, in principle. That is with the condition that in both cases the Lawgiver and the Creator of the world is God. All existing species He could create either by ‘days,’ at once and in final form, or gradually, in the course of ‘days’ to ‘bring them forth’ from water and earth, from lower forms to the highest by way of laws that He built into nature.”
Professor of St. Vladimir’s Theological Seminary in New York, Fr. Vasili Zenkovsky also emphasized the biblical “creative potential” of the earth: “It is clearly stated in the text of the Bible that the Lord gives an order to the earth to act with its own strength . . . This inherent creative activity of nature, ‘elan vital’ (in the expression of Bergson) — the aspiration to life, helps to understand an indisputable fact of evolution of life on earth.”
One of the leading authors of the Journal of the Moscow Patriarchate in the 1960's and 70's, Archpriest Nicholas Ivanov was in agreement with the idea of evolutionary development: “The act of the creation of the world and its shaping are manifestations of God’s omnipotence, His will; yet, for Nature, the realization of His will is a long and gradual process, an act of maturation that takes place in time. Numerous transient forms can appear during the process of development, sometimes merely serving as steps in emergence of the more advanced forms, that are linked to eternity.”
Professor N. N. Fioletov, who took part in the Local Council of 1917-1918, thought that “in itself the idea of evolution appears not to be alien to the Christian conscience, or in contradiction with it.”
In 1917, hieromartyr archpriest Michael Cheltsov, touching on the question of the relationship between Christianity and science, wrote: “Deeper and more thoughtful and spiritual explanation and understanding of many places of the Bible have contributed not a little towards the overcoming of animosity between science and religion. It sufficed to read the biblical account of the creation of the world to realize that the Bible gives no support to understanding of the days of creation as 24-hour intervals, and the wall between biblical accounts and scientific data on the indefinitely long period of Earth’s existence prior to the appearance of mankind collapsed.”
Before that, it was V. S. Solovyev who showed the way of direct Christian interpretation of the idea of evolution: “If I were facing the task of pointing out parallelisms between modern science and the Mosaic world view, I’d say that his [Moses’] vision of the origins of life is similar to the theory of directed evolution.”
Vladimir Solovyev clearly expressed the philosophical basis of this theory, developed in biology by L. Berg and Teilhard de Chardin: “The fact that the highest forms and types of creation appear or are revealed after the lowest does not mean that they are the product or creation of the simplest forms. The level of being is not the same as the order of appearance. Higher, more positive, and complete images of being metaphysically existed prior to the lower ones, even when they appear or are revealed after these. This does not deny evolution: evolution can not be denied; it is a fact. But to claim that evolution is able to fully create higher forms from lower, and, in the end, from nothing — means putting logical nonsense under the cover of this fact. Evolution of the lower levels of being can not, by itself, produce the higher ones, yet it produces the material conditions or provides the proper environment for the coming or the revelation of the higher type. Thus, each appearance of the higher level of being is, in a way, a new creation: the type of creation, of which the least of all can be called “creation from nothing.” First of all, the old type is forming as the material basis for the new one, and, second, the proper positive content of the new type does not appear fresh from non-being but merely steps into the new sphere of existence, (in due time) into the world of things. Conditions are the result of the evolution of nature, while that which is revealed comes from God.”
Later on, evolutionary theory was not considered “anti-biblical” or “atheistic” by the philosopher I. N. Ilyin, (The Six Days of Creation, Paris), by the Serb theologians Fr. Stephan Lyashevsky and Prof. Lazar Milin, by the famous Romanian priest and theologian Dumitru Staniloae, and by Bishop Vasily (Rodzianko).