Program cover 2015-2016

CREATION, HISTORY AND CHURCH
ASPECTS OF ECO-THEOLOGY AND SOCIAL ETHICS

 
In recent years humanity has been experiencing unprecedented situations of political, social and financial instability due to the accumulation of acute problems which influence people’s lives not only on the individual level, but also on the level of interpersonal relations and their reference to the natural environment. Following an extremely rationalist and individualist worldview and being addicted to an unlimited supremacy over nature for centuries, the human being has been trapped in its narcissism and ardent desire for power. Seeking for the constant increase of the economical profit in combination with the irrational and avaricious consumption of natural resourses and sources of energy, the (post) modern human being attempted to give meaning to its existence in terms of immanence, with concerted actions towards a utilitarian model which prioritizes the individual ephemeral enjoyment and wealth accumulation, while neglecting the future of Creation, the equalizing of goods, and social justice. In other words, the modern homo economicus thought that he could ex officio play the role of the King and Lord of the World and of History. This is evidenced by the gloomy global economic situation which is an after-effect of extreme Neo-Liberalism, along with the refugee crisis which afflicts the whole European continent and especially the Mediterranean basin, as a result of the war and religious fundamentalism in Middle East.
 
However, the reality of the past few years, made prominent in the most tragic way the deficiency and the dead ends of the predominant anthropological model, which in the end threatens Creation with annihilation.It is true that religions in general, and Christian Churches in particular, including Orthodoxy, consciously or not, served various expressions of the spirit of this world to such a degree that they were identified with unfree, suppressing and totally destructive structures, attitudes and actions. At the same time, many were the voices of eminent representatives of Churches at an individual and collective level, who made a decisive contribution with their example and work (academic, pastoral and missionary) to the utterance of another alternative morality concerning the composition of the human being and the adjustment of his/her relations with the fellow humans and the natural environment. It is a commonplace that both the continuing environmental destruction, a fact evidenced anew in the recent climate Summit (Paris, December 2015), and the progressive deepening of social and economic inequalities between North and South, which leadsto the impoverishment of great part of the global population, are mere manifestations of the critical question of the identity of the human being. Consequently, as it is noted by many and in particular by His Eminence Metropolitan Kallistos (Ware) of Diokleia, anthropology lies at the core of theological, philosophical and wider concern. It is obvious that the way each tradition defines the human’s identity, leads to an equivalent anthropological model, a fact which highlights directly or indirectly the important responsibilities related to the ecological problem or the domination of extreme capitalistic management models of economical and natural wealth.
 
Although the Orthodox Church has not always risen to the occasion, it has kept alive the fundamental truths of its tradition in many aspects of its life, a fact which is reflected both in the constantly functional experience and life, and in various actions occasionally taken in order to address in the most expedient way the consequences of the environmental, economical and finally anthropological, spiritual and ethical crisis. (e.g. the initiatives of the Ecumenical Patriarchate concerning the environment). Despite however the conscientious efforts made by enlightened hierarchs or prominent theologians, worldwide Orthodoxy shows great difficulty in following the developments either on a local or a worldwide level, unable to offer in a persuasive or realistic way responsive solutions to the urgent problems and challenges . Following the traditional crisis management models, such as its nonetheless valuable and particularly useful charitable and pastoral work, the Orthodox Church is often unable to show the appropriate flexibility, to adopt new methods and means which are available so as to reinforce its word and work. Further, while problems increase daily, many voices surface calling for an almost passive attitude against the challenges or even to an escape from history, for the sake of soul’s salvation or theosis which is considered as a purely individual achievement. In the area of Orthodox theology there have been individual effortsrecently to articulate a “political” word taking into account the contemporaneous context of secularization and globalization and attempting to converse and be related to the surrounding world by virtue of a topical existential re-interpretation of the tradition’s richness. However, these efforts have not been coordinated and Orthodox theology, even though it should be the critical voice of the Church, remains introverted and, restricted to a sterile and unfruitful study of the tradition, neglecting the need that the Word of the Gospel should be incarnated according to the patristic ethos in any context, so as to properly address the questions of the (post)modern human being. To fulfill this need, and taking as a starting point the loving-communal-sacrificial ethos, manifested in the self-revelation of the Triune God in Christ, along with the personal mode of being that summarizes their soteriological proposal for the human being, the Orthodox Church and theology may propose a different model of life and social coexistence where the respect of personal freedom and difference, as well as the respect of the Creation’s integrity, will constitute a fundamental cultural condition. The anthropological ideal of personhood, as it is incarnated in the experience and life of the Church and witnessed throughout the ecclesiastical tradition constitutes a most valuable gift that Orthodoxy can offer to the contemporary human being, without of course this being the only or dominant proposal in the public area, While considering its eschatological identity, the active presence of the Church in the public area away from any favorable or privileged treatment due to its glorious historical role, and respecting the conditions and rules of this area, will offer various guarantees for its seamless process in History, focusing not only on human pain relief, but also the interception of the various problems which threaten the very existence of Creation.
 
In this perspective, a series of critical questions come to surface referring to the position and role of the Orthodox Church and theology in the contemporary world, their potentiality to discuss fruitfully not only with the progressive trends of society, but also with other religious traditions and cultures, in view of dealing with critical issues related to the deeply environmental, economical, moral and spiritual crisis. In the context of the present globalised society crucial questions rise that ask for an urgent response: Is the living ecclesiastical consciousness allowed to keep retreating into its shells, without a reference or at least an honest dialogue towards other Christian traditions, which due to their historical consistency can offer their valuable experience from their encounter with modernity, post-modernity, secularization and postsecularization? Is Orthodoxy able to emphatically utter a speech of love and solidarity towards every human, regardless their religious, social and cultural origin? Is the ethos and the way of life that Orthodoxy proposes compatible with the values and features of our modern world? Which alternative and social solution of management concerning the natural and economical wealth could Orthodoxy propose? To what extent the anthropological model of the human being, as a “priest of creation,” as proposed by prominent theologians, is realistic, and what are its practical consequences on dealing with theecological crisis, social injustice and inequality? Is Orthodox theology able to systematically utter a contemporary “political theology,” which although founded in a hermeneutical revision of its fundamental faith principles, could highlight the ethical parameters of ecclesiastical experience, incarnating the truth of the Gospel in all and aiming at the foretaste of the divine-human communion in History, however away from fallacious expectations of messianic and revealing type? Can Orthodoxy, while respecting its history and tradition, and recognizing its possible historical failures or deficiencies, anatomize its tradition in a creative way in order to meet the exigencies of time? Bearing in mind that the current academic year ends with the historically important event of the convention of the Holy and Great Synod of the Orthodox Church (16-27 June 2016), after centuries of synodical inertia, it is obvious that the continuous discussion of issues related to creation and humansurvival, constitutes not only a duty but a central concern of ecclesiastical experience, which is expressed and culminated in the eschatological transformation of Creation into New Creation in the Kingdom of God.
 
The Volos Academy for Theological Studies will address the above issues and questions in a series of events, lectures, book presentations, conferences and seminars organized in cooperation with other Orthodox or inter-Christian ecumenical organizations, institutes, seminaries and academies, in the academic year 2015- 2016.
 
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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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