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Inaugural Conference of the International Orthodox Theological Association

Inaugural Conference of the International Orthodox Theological Association

The Inaugural Conference of the  International Orthodox Theological Association (IOTA) was held in Iasi, Romania on 9-12 January, 2019. The broad aims of IOTA include the promotion of international exchange of knowledge about the Orthodox faith and of pan-Orthodox unity.

The Conference brought together scholars, both men and women from different teaching institutions around the world, including Europe and the United States of America, as well as Asia and Australia—indeed, there were over 300 participants representing more than 30 different countries. More specifically, participants included amongst others: heads and faculty of Orthodox seminaries and institutes, professors of non-Orthodox universities, theologians serving in mission, religious education and publishing, together with scholars from other disciplines interested in the dialogue between their respective fields of expertise (including the social sciences, human rights and social justice) and theology.

Whilst the overarching theme of the Conference was “Pan-Orthodox unity and conciliarity”, the range of papers presented was quite broad, from theological topics surrounding a range of disciplines, and modern challenges facing the Church. Keynote speaker of the Conference was His Eminence Metropolitan Kallistos (Ware) of Diokleia; his paper was delivered at the Iasi National Theatre and the 750 seat hall was filled to capacity. Metropolitan Kallistos reflected on some of the challenges that the Orthodox autocephalous Churches are facing with respect to conciliarity and the exercise of primacy as an expression of unity with the Churches. With regards to the current crisis surrounding the Ukrainian autocephaly, His Eminence was very clear in pointing out that Eucharistic communion should not have been broken.

Before that, there was a Doxology Service at the Metropolitan Cathedral dedicated to St Parascheva, the Presentation of our Lord and St George, presided over by the Metropolitan of Iasi, His Eminence Teofan, Archbishop of Iasi and Metropolitan of Moldavia and Bukovian (the largest historic Orthodox Church in Romania) at which a greeting was also conveyed by the Patriarch of Romania, His Beatitude Patriarch Daniel. On two occasions, Conference participants were invited to the Metropolitan’s Residence for lunch and at the Chancellery for dinner.

In his address the Metropolitan Teofan noted: “By opening the meeting with prayer in the Cathedral, we confess that all theological acts are grounded and perfected in prayer. What is more, during the entire week, the theological debate will be joined by the Divine Liturgy and the morning prayers, so that it may be nurtured by “the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, by the love of God the Father and the communion of the Holy Spirit…. True theology is that coming from on High, which theologians receive, live and confess in a language specific to, and in answer to the particular needs of their time… May God give you strength to help the life of the Churches you belong to, by means of your theological experience, by working in various institutions and especially, by living your life in Christ under the protection of the Holy Spirit and for the glory of God the Father. ”  

The Conference was nothing short of a scholarly and spiritual feast with topics covering many facets of the Orthodox Church. Some of the sessions that I was able to attend were the following: the Vocation of the Liturgist in the Twenty-First Century; the Theology of Personhood and Orthodox Political Theology; Marriage and Family; the Philokalia: Authors, Translators, Readers and Interpretations; Canon Law and Pastoral Practice; Living Tradition in Local Contexts; Orthodox Education; in Search of a New Paradigm in Orthodox Theology; Orthodoxy and the Challenge of Islam; the Role of Ethics in Orthodox Theology; Religion and Science Interface; the Crusades and Byzantium; Orthodox Ecumenism after Crete; Critical Ecclesiology; Topics in Patristics; Issues in Dogmatic Theology; Primacy; Orthodoxy and Ecumenism; Byzantine Orthodoxy. Lively discussions followed, together with exchange of opinions; yet beyond the different viewpoints expressed, the was an underlying positivity and enrichment felt.

St Andrew’s Greek Orthodox Theological College was represented by Dr Philip Kariatlis, who participated in the panel discussion under the topic: “Topics in Contemporary Philosophy of Religion”. His paper, titled “Twentieth Century Orthodox Studies on the Holy Trinity: Conflicting or Complementary” was well received with over 50 delegates, including Metropolitan Kallistos, attending the session. Dr Kariatlis also chaired the session titled: “Panel Discussion: Contemporary Challenges in Seminary Education”. Speakers at that session were, amongst others, the Deans from St Vladimir’s Theological Seminary and the St John of Damascus Institute of Theology in Balamand, Professors Revd. Chad Hatfield and Revd Porphyrios Georgi. Their papers centred on the current context and future opportunities facing Orthodox theological institutions in their service both to the Church and to the academy within their diverse institutional contexts.

Beyond the papers presented, the Officers of the Conference (Professors Paul Gavrilyuk, Gayle Woloschak and Carrie Frost) had organised two sacred arts exhibits, a pilgrimage to a number of local monasteries situated in Iasi (Three Hierarchs Monastery, Neamt Monastery, Noronet Monastery and Humor Monastery), several book exhibitions and a visit to several museums at the Palace of Culture.

Overall, the scholars’ meeting was a success: not only in that it brought together such a large number of Orthodox church leaders, scholars and professional – indeed, an unprecedented number in the history of modern Orthodoxy – but also in the contribution that the papers will make as they become available in different publications in the year ahead.

All present expressed their hope that future such gatherings will continue. It was suggested that such conferences in the future be held every four years in different locations worldwide. If the church is defined by ‘communion’ [κοινωνία], then this was precisely what was experienced at this meeting of scholars. I will have especially valued the forging of new friendships.