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Sunday, March 08, 2009 Panagiotis Theodosiou Academic year 2005-2010 23
CHURCH AND CULTURE From the very beginning, the ecclesial community held the firm con- viction that it lived and moved in the world, but that it was not a product of this world («in the world but not of the world»). The escha- tological and eucharistic being of the Church gives the Church’s identity a paradoxical character: while it relates to each human culture by maintaining an incarnational and «in the world» perspective, it does not con- form itself to the spirit of the world by falling into identification with one particular historical form. Of course, in the two-thousand-year history of the Church and its relationships with each cultural system, there were many cases not only of confusion of criteria but also of complete identi- fication of the Church with specific and even quite elevated cultural ex- pressions of human creativity (cf. the Byzantine Empire). Here, the issue of the relationship between Hellenism (culture) and Christianity (the Gospel) is the best example of the way in which the Church should ap- proach its relationship with the post-modern world today. In this meeting between Church and culture, and Gospel and culture, the key issue on the table is the boundaries of the connection between the Church and the cultural complex. The Church, as a community that lives «in the world», desires to evangelize and transform the world. In this perspective, culture is the «locus» of the manifestation of the truth, a tool for the «timely» expression of the eschatological and theological con- sciousness of the Church. This model of the relationship between Church and culture, which is derived from the Incarnation, seems to correspond to the unbalanced version of Chalcedonian Christology, in which the hy- postasis of the Logos plays the decisive role. It should not be forgotten that the ultimate criterion of the truth of the Church is the theanthropic Christ. Otherwise, the Church thinks of itself as an ark of salvation for national, ethnic, and cultural ideals, or even as an association designed to address the individual psychological needs of man and his culture. Secu- larization (in the theological sense, meaning becoming «of the world») then becomes the Church’s constant temptation, when it ceases to live proleptically the eschatological anticipation of the coming Kingdom, and when it becomes self-satisfied, trapped in the cultural achievements of its glorious past (e.g., the Greek language) and tries to resurrect an outdated worldview (e.g. of the Middle Ages). The Church, however, continually walks a kind of tightrope between the temptation of identifying with a particular culture and the tendency to flee or radically distance itself from the world and culture. The Church is called to incarnate, again and again, the Gospel of Christ in each time, in and from each set of historical, social and cultural circumstances. Thus each incarnation and actualization of the Gospel is the fundamental sphere in which the model for the encounter between Church and culture is tested. It must not be forgotten that the Church’s basic aim is the salva- tion and transformation of the world, the victory and overcoming of death. The goal of inculturation in each instance must be no less than the re- newal of creation. And here theology, as the prophetic consciousness of the Church, must overcome the danger of becoming either a purely meta- physical construct or a kind of sacred archaeology, so that it can play a decisive role in shaping the necessary framework, which will provide the criteria and the presuppositions for a sound meeting between the Gospel and the cultural complex. A host of crucially important questions arises within this theoretical framework. What is the relationship between Gospel and culture, wor- ship and culture, theological language and culture, mission and local tra- ditions and culture? Is it possible, for example, to proclaim the Christian Gospel, independent and irrespective of each historical and cultural en- vironment? On the other hand, how legitimate is it, theologically, to iden- tify the Church with a particular historical culture (e.g. Hellenism), turn- ing theology into a tool and subjugating it to history, nation, and culture? While in other Christian – or, more broadly religious – traditions, there is felt today an urgent need to be grafted into a particular culture (incul- turation), in the case of the Orthodox peoples, with their well-known connections between Church and nation and Church and local traditions (even to the point of complete identification, in certain cases), perhaps what is needed is to disentangle the Church from particular cultures and local traditions (deculturation)? Is a theology of culture necessary today in the Orthodox milieu? Finally, in this perspective, what should the relationship between history and eschatology be, specifically in terms of ec- clesiology? Is a model of theology justified which has as its starting point an archaic formalism of the past, or perhaps is there a need for a theol- ogy which will be continually incarnated to meet the realistic needs of man in a Christologically kenotic way? To address these questions, the Volos Academy for Theological Stud- ies has organized an international conference, to be held May 7-10, 2009 in Volos, Greece, under the title «Church and Culture». In parallel, from February to May 2009, the Volos Academy will also host a series of events, conferences, and seminars on topics such as: «The New Hagiography (‘Synaxarion’) of the Orthodox Church», «The Return of Religion and Its Place in the Public Sphere», «The Theology of Peace in Orthodoxy», «Is- sues of Renewal and Reform», «Biblical Theology of Liberation, Patristic Theology and the Ambivalence of Modernity», et al. Download program here.
Sunday, May 16, 2010 Panagiotis Theodosiou Academic year 2005-2010 218
ORTHODOXY IN THE 21st CENTURY The 20th century was, for Orthodoxy, a period of significant change and up- heaval. With the rise of the ecumenical movement, Orthodox theology, par- ticularly within the framework of Orthodox Diaspora, emerged, for the first time, from its introversion and confessional isolation and entered into dialogue with the other major Christian traditions, as well as the challenges of the modern world. This promising process of Orthodox renewal was closely connected to the so-called “neo-patristic synthesis” and noted theological figures such as Fr. Georges Florovsky, Vladimir Lossky, Paul Evdokimov, Fr. Nicholas Afanasiev, Fr. Dumitru Staniloae, Fr. Justin Popovic, Fr. Alexander Schmemann, Fr. John Meyen- dorff, and Olivier Clément, as well as the lesser-known contributions of theolo- gians and philosophers of the Diaspora, such as Fr. Sergei Bulgakov and Nikolai Berdyaev. In addition to these figures, one would do well to also remember the contributions, in recent years, of Greek theologians such as Nikos Nisiotis, Sav- vas Agouridis, Fr. John Romanidis, His Eminence Metropolitan of Pergamon John Zizioulas, Christos Yannaras, Panayiotis Nellas, Fr. Vasilios Gondikakis, Nikos Matsoukas, and George Mantzaridis, among others. However, in an era of rapid change —i.e. late modernity, globalization, and multi-culturalism—, Orthodoxy is today confronted with radically new challenges that were hitherto unknown and completely different from what it has experi- enced in its past—challenges that require reflection and creative thinking. De- spite the attempt at openness and renewal that began to emerge in the last cen- tury, Orthodox theology continues to be virtually absent from the modern theological arena and the international theological discussion, while the phobic reaction and conservative defensiveness of some distinguished Orthodox the- ologians, which can be observed in response to the challenges of globalization and multi-culturalism, results in an inability or even refusal to engage and enter- tain the questions that are posed by the modern world. With a few notable ex- ceptions, Orthodox theology continues to avoid a critical and creative encounter with the most significant trends in western theological and philosophical thought, such as the historical-critical method in biblical studies, dialectical theology, ex- istential and hermeneutical theology, the “theological turn” of phenomenology, liberation theologies, feminist theologies—in a word, with the theological ex- pressions and ideas of our time. Meanwhile, it is often unable to overcome an outdated ethnocentric way of thinking about its ecclesiology and unity. Orthodox theology has often been described as traditional in referring to its basic source of inspiration and foundation, viz. its rich patristic tradition, which often tends to be absolutized into a kind of unique or even infallible criterion of truth and “orthodoxy.” We thus see Orthodox theology bound to methods and principles that require a completely different worldview (such as, for example, that of the Byzantine era), while its language and way of thinking are connected largely if not exclusively with the categories of thought produced by Greek phi- losophy and ontology. These comments serve as an introduction to the crucially important question of whether and to what extent Orthodoxy can, while remaining faithful to its rich patristic tradition, engage in dialogue with—or, rather, become incarnate in—the post-modern world of the 21st century, following the example of its incarnate Lord, and thus assuming in practice the theological, anthropological, and historical/cultural consequences that result from the Incarnation. In other words, the central question to be posed is whether it is inherently possible for Orthodox theology to function not only as a traditional theology but also as a contextual one. This question, however, cannot be answered easily or unequivocally. It re- quires Orthodox theology to undertake serious and, above all, sincere work, de- void of prejudice, in order to highlight once again those things that contributed to the formulation of the patristic tradition which, in its time, was more con- textual than traditional. Unfortunately, it is not well understood today that the rich patristic tradi- tion—which often is used as an ideological excuse to mask the theological short- comings of our time—was never a monolithic, ahistorical, and unchanging con- struct, but was constantly being renewed by the grace of the Spirit, engaging and sanctifying the cultural, social, and historical context of each time. This dynamic seems today to have abated or even been obscured, with the result that theol- ogy appears usually as a complete and closed system that comes from without, or is even imposed, and that attempts—with a methodology, language, and way of thinking that belong to irrevocably bygone eras— to offer to the world today the “good news” about the salvation of creation and man. Thus, unaware of its crisis of self-consciousness, the Church continues to preach the word of God in terms borrowed from agrarian pre-modern society. Liturgical and theological symbolisms, the rhetorical models of preaching, the structures of church ad- ministration, the Church’s anthropological views and ossified perceptions about the relationship between the sacred and the profane, religion and politics, the Church and society are all connected with this kind of pre-modern society. Or- thodoxy everywhere, Greek-speaking or otherwise, still continues to employ classical Greek philosophical categories in its standard theological expression, which, in the Greek case, frequently assumes a blatantly ideological character, as if classical Greek thought were still the predominant philosophy in the world to- day, or as if there were still room for nostalgia about the glorious “Helleno-Chris- tianity” of the past or ethnocentric fantasies. As a consequence of all this, the Church and theology, remaining often on the fringes of modern developments,demonstrate unease if not outright hostility to any kind of involvement in the public sphere as part of an equal and open society, instead hiding behind specious arguments from bygone eras. Keeping in mind this problematic reality, we ought to reflect on this and ask ourselves: can Orthodox theology, at the beginning of this new millennium, con- tinue to preach Jesus Christ "and him crucified" and resurrected (cf. 1 Cor 1:23; 2:2) to contemporary man, remaining faithful to its sources and to its experience of and orientation toward the Holy Spirit, while also ministering to the existen- tial and spiritual needs of the people of our time and not an idealistic state of af- fairs held over from another time? Will the Church dare to incarnate in our post- modern world the eternal truth of the Gospel, assuming critically and creatively the very flesh of the post-modern world, and not some distant or even illusory "Christian" society? Will it attempt to theologically receive and welcome other- ness or will it persist in a fundamentalistic and polemical understanding of its tra- dition, even to the point of refusing to recognize elements of Christianity and ec- clesiality in the Christian traditions of the West? The Volos Academy for Theological Studies will address these issues and the above questions in a series of events that will culminate in an international con- ference, organized in collaboration with other Institutions, in Volos from 3-6 June on the topic: “Neo-Patristic Synthesis or ‘Post-Patristic’ Theology: Can Ortho- dox Theology be Contextual?” In parallel, the Volos Academy will also organize, from February to July 2010, in Greece and abroad, roundtable discussions, pub- lic events, new book presentations, seminars, and conferences on topics such as “The Place of Religion in the Public Sphere,” “Refugees, Immigrants, and the Church,” “The Shifting Versions of Helleno-Christianity (19th-20th centuries)”, “The Renewal of Contemporary Greek Theology: From the Generation of the ‘60s to the Challenges of Today,” and “Issues of Renewal and Reformation facing the Orthodox Church,” while also continuing training seminars for religious teach- ers concerning the place of classes on religion and its curriculum in the new cul- tural and social environment. PROGRAM ACADEMIC YEAR 2009-2010 . Download here the Registration Form for Contectual Theology Conference 3-6

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