INDIVIDUAL AND COMMUNITY
IN THE WAKE OF THE PUBLIC DISCOURSE
OF THE ORTHODOX CHURCH
concluded on Sunday, May 14, with the morning Divine Service in the church of Sts. Constantine and Helena in Volos, Greece.
The Conference was organized by the Protestant Faculty of Theology, Münster University, in cooperation with the Cluster of Excellence “Politics and Religion” of the same University and Volos Academy for Theological Studies.
The opening of the Conference took place on Thursday, May 11th. The topic of the Conference was briefly presented by the Director of Volos Academy, Dr. Pantelis Kalaitzidis. In his greeting message he connected the current event with the earlier one organized by the same institutions on similar topics in 2020 and presented the published volume of the proceedings of that previous conference. In his greeting, His Eminence Metropolitan Ignatius reminded that in a more and more pluralistic environment the Orthodox Church and theology are called to reflect on the pillars of faith, undertaking a honest, fruitful and without constrains dialogue with the modern world, rejecting the theory of incompatibility of Orthodoxy with modernity. On behalf of the University of Münster, Prof. Hans-Peter Grosshans stressed the importance of the study of the interaction of the Orthodox Church with the modern world and its significance in the Ecumenical dialogue among the various Christian denominations, focusing to the relationship of the individual and the ecclesial community.
In the keynote lecture that followed, José Casanova (Professor Emeritus, Georgetown University, USA) spoke about the close ties between individuality and community and the ways each of these notions shapes the other in various settings, as for example in the Christian traditions, in the European Renaissance or in the secular society of the USA. He pointed out that the individual always completes himself inside a web of relationships in the community and he ended his speech presenting the situation in post-Soviet Ukraine, where the various churches have found ways of co-existing in the secular society in a kind of self-organized approach of mutual respect, reflecting, in this way, the process of accepting democratic values as the individual’s right to choose his own beliefs, in total opposition to the model of the state-imposed religious structures of the nearby Russia.
On the second day, the first session of the day, moderated by Dr. Vassiliki Yiakoumaki (University of Thessaly) was devoted to the notions of individuality and community in the Biblical texts. Prof. Christos Karakolis (University of Athens) concentrated on the parable of the Good Shepherd, according to the Gospel of John. He referred to both the horizontal (relationship between members) and vertical (relationship with the leader) aspects of the community, showing both unity and individuality, pointing out that the relationship between individuality and collectivity in contemporary Orthodox is obscured by the assumption that such issues were resolved in some golden era of the past. Prof. Ekaterini Tsalampouni (University of Thessaloniki), in her turn, while explaining how Orthodox theology gradually departed from biblical studies in previous times, in the last decades biblical scholarship has made great progress and has managed to move beyond the dichotomy between individualism and communality in early Christianity; new approaches are definitely more nuanced and take into consideration the insights of other disciplines.
Session III of the conference focused on the common grounds between Orthodox and Protestant thought. Prof. Hans-Peter Grosshans (University of Münster) spoke extensively on the position of the individual in the official document of the Ecumenical Patriarchate “For the life of the world”, discussing the image of the church the body of Christ, but also the image of Church as the “mother” of all believers, as proposed by the reformers Martin Luther and John Calvin, with all the different nuances these images can contain. “Secularisation” concluded Prof. Grosshans, “does not necessarily mean that faith and religion disappear, but rather that they change”. Georgios Vlantis, MTh (Council of Christian Churches in Bavaria, and Volos Academy), presented the gap that is frequently observed between the Synod of bishops and the ecclesial body of the priests and the laity, highlighting the various problems that originate in this gap in the actual life of the Church, and which are most frequently overlooked or totally neglected.
Session IV started with the presentation of Dr. Ionut Biliuta (“Gh. Sincai Institute”, Romanian Academy of Sciences) on the reception of Ukrainian refugees of the ongoing war in Romania, and the reactions towards the war and the humanitarian catastrophe in levels of both the supreme hierarchy and the simple priests and laity, highlighting both the solidarity reactions of the lower level and the “game of balances” of the higher part, reminding also the close ties of the higher clergy with the secret police in the communist times in both Romania and Russia. Prof. Dimitrios Moschos (University of Athens) spoke about zealotism in Byzantine times and its contemporary “revival”, pointing out that the contemporary approach has little to do with its ancient counterpart, and on the contrary it simply uses the loyalty to the faith as a pretext for eliminating all kinds of religious “others”, being them of different denomination, different religion or simply secular people. In the last presentation of the day, Dr. Theofilos Abatzidis (Volos Academy) spoke on the notions of the person and the “hypostasis”, their development in time and their differences in terms of theology and anthropology and the development of the “theology of the personhood” in the last decades, affirming that the condition of the individual is a prerequisite for the person’s development.
On Saturday, in Session V, moderated by Prof. Frank Lütze (University of Leipzig), Dr. Nikolaos Asproulis (Deputy Director, Volos Academy) spoke on the meeting points and differences between the Self and the Personhood, emphasizing the differences in the ontology of the person and the individual and presenting the patterns developed in East and West, exploring the possibility of transgressing sterile dichotomies to a new understanding of the human being. Rev. Prof. Vassileios Thermos (Psychiatrist, and Professor at the Supreme Ecclesiastical Academy of Athens,) pointed out the similarities between the times of Christ and the contemporary secular world, but also the problematic relationship of the Church (especially in the Greek context) with modernity and the civil society, as well as the gap that appears to be between discourse and action in the ecclesiastical world, where synodality is frequently refereed upon but actually is but an empty word.
Session VI, moderated by Dr. Nikolaos Asproulis (Volos Academy) featured Prof. Regina Elsner (University of Münster) who spoke on the notions of community and individual in Russian Orthodoxy, highlighting the different phases that have occurred in the last two centuries, where the flourishing of the Russian religious renaissance ended up as a sterile nationalism abolishing even many of its own achievements as contaminated by the Western thought. Speaking on a relative topic, Prof. Marko Vekovic (University of Belgrade) spoke as a political scientist on the influence of the Church in the democratization process in three countries (Greece, Serbia and Russia), either in a positive or in a negative way, stressing the fact that many things change with the passing of time, the external circumstances and the point of the observing. In the end of the session, Prof. Hans-Peter Grosshans and Dr. Nikolaos Asproulis presented the ongoing Resilience Infrastructure project and it subordinate Trans-National Access program for the facilitation of research between different countries.
Session VII, moderated by Rev. Dr. Dietmar Schon (Institute for Eastern Churches, Regensburg, Germany) started with Dr. Lydia Lozova (University of Exeter, UK) who spoke on the impact of the Document of the Ecumenical Patriarchate “For the Life of the World” in the democratization process of Ukraine, highlighting the similarities of this document with the Euro-Maidan demonstrations and their common reference to the concept of human dignity, and presenting the ways the Document was accepted by the autocephalous Orthodox Church of Ukraine and the Ukrainian Orthodox Church (Moscow Patriarchate) and the complications the Russian invasion has accumulated upon this reception. Prof. Assaad Elias Kattan (University of Münster) presented the situation of the Christian communities in the Middle East, focusing on the processes of essentializing or exoticing the Christians, discussing the concepts and narratives that have developed by these very communities that still hoover between been a subject of protection under the Muslim law and becoming fully fledged members of now developing civil societies.
Session VIII, moderated by Prof. Hans-Peter Grosshans (University of Münster) started with the presentation of Prof. Elisabeth Gräb-Schmidt (University of Tübingen) who approached the Right of religious freedom in a secular society from a theological point of view, discussing the differences between tolerance and freedom, the interrelation between the individual freedom of conscience the adherence to convictions of truth as part of religious freedom and the difference between separation and independence in politics and ethics but also in power and religion. Prof. Katharina Kunter (University of Helsinki) spoke on the reluctant acceptance of the concepts of the human rights by the Protestant churches, and the way this acceptance was shaped by the major events of the 20 th century, like the two world wars and their multiple traumas, and later the gradual unification of Europe, highlighting these changes by example of the fine arts in the Protestant territories. Speaking last, Dr. Pantelis Kalaitzidis (Director of Volos Academy) pointed out the fact that despite the usual rhetoric, the Orthodox world is rich in cases where individual action is accepted even contrary to the community standards, and referred in cases as the call of Jesus Christ to his own disciples or Paul’s conversion on the road to Damascus, the case of the “fools in Christ” and particularly the recently canonized Saint Maria Skobtsova of Paris and finally the support of the Archbishop Iakovos of America to Martin Luther King, in spite of the general disapproval of his own community.
The entire video-recording of the Conference is available at the following links:
Thursday, May 11: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_1juFEXNx94
Friday, May 12: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-Uihk1QA7HA
Saturday, May 13: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_owwo-NRlTk (morning session) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DRfAQl6WHZI (afternoon session)
The proceedings of the Conference are planned to be published as a book.