Completion of the International Conference (October 19–22, 2023)
On Sunday, October 22, the international conference “Orthodox Christianity Between Pre-Modern Commitments, Modern Challenges, and Post-Modern Relevance” concluded its work with the morning service at the Church of St Constantine and Helena, and an excursion to Meteora monasteries for the participants. The Conference took place in Volos, Greece, starting on October 19, organised by the Chair of Religious Studies (Orthodox Christianity) of the Faculty of Philosophy of the University of Erfurt (Germany), and the Volos Academy for Theological Studies (Greece). It addressed issues such as the allegedly anti-modern stance and character of Orthodox Christianity, the normative role of the traditions bequeathed from previous centuries, the interaction of the Orthodox Churches with secular actors and institutions of the modern world, the various new developments of the last decades in the post-modern context, and, finally, the productive contributions of contemporary Orthodox thinkers and scholars internationally. It highlighted not only old and new emerging problems and challenges, but also the potential advantages that the post-modern era may offer to Orthodoxy.
The contributions in the first main section of the Conference addressed various important pre-modern commitments and dependences of Orthodoxy as well as their significance nowadays. Dr. Pantelis Kalaitzidis (Director, Volos Academy for Theological Studies, Greece) analysed the relations between church and state across history in the frame of the development of Christian monasticism, focusing on debates about monastic property, worldly power, religious toleration, and the consequences thereof in contemporary Orthodox contexts (Greece, Russia). Prof. Vassa Kontouma(Director of Studies in Orthodox Christianity, 15th–21 st centuries, Dean of the Religious Sciences Section, École Pratique des Hautes Études, PSL, Paris, France) addressed the gradual adoption of the sacramental Septenary in Orthodox doctrine during the post-Byzantine era as well as its consequences and concomitant ambiguities in practical as well as theoretical matters of the church life. Prof. Ekaterini Tsalampouni (Professor of New Testament, Aristotle University of Thessaloniki, Greece) explored the ambivalent place of women in contemporary Orthodoxy, the normative role of the legacy of the past, the contemporary challenges, and the future tasks from an eschatological perspective. Rev. Dr. Gregory Tucker (Postdoctoral Researcher, Faculty of Catholic Theology, University of Regensburg, Germany) presented the liturgical developments historically within Eastern Orthodox Christianity, including ressourcements and reforms, but even critical and revolutionary approaches to the usual rhetoric about the alleged Orthodox ritual continuity in both official and unofficial church discourses. Dr. Lidiya Lozova(Postdoctoral Researcher, University of Exeter, UK & Collaborator of “Spirit and Letter” Association, Kyiv, Ukraine) focused on the ethos of icons in Byzantine and post-Byzantine times and the current creative developments in iconography in Ukraine in the wake of the Russian invasion. Georgios Vlantis, M.Th. (Director of the Council of Christian Churches in Bavaria, Munich, Germany & Research Associate at the Volos Academy for Theological Studies, Greece) discussed critically the normative influence that the Church Fathers still exercise on various levels in Orthodoxy today and the recent attempts to move forward, break new ground, and initiate a productive church renewal. Finally, Prof. Vasilios N. Makrides(Professor of Religious Studies – Orthodox Christianity, Faculty of Philosophy, University of Erfurt, Germany) dealt with the phenomenon of Orthodox anti-Westernism that is still alive in our global age and with the contemporary critical voices trying to reassess this burden of the past and initiate a new and constructive relationship between the Christian East and West.
The papers in the second main section related to the numerous challenges that Orthodox Christianity has faced and still faces in the context of modernity and to their multiform repercussions. Sister Prof. Tereza Obolevich (Professor and Head of the Department of Russian and Byzantine Philosophy, Faculty of Philosophy, Pontifical University of John Paul II, Krakow, Poland) spoke on how the Russian religious thought coped with the challenges of modernity, highlighting particularly the relevant important insights of Vladimir Solovyov and Semyon Frank. Prof. Konstantinos Papastathis (Assistant Professor, Department of Political Science, Aristotle University of Thessaloniki, Greece) investigated modernisation processes in the form of nationalisation within the Greek-controlled Patriarchate of Jerusalem, focusing especially on the nationalisation of the holy and the sacralisation of the nation. Rev. Prof. Ioan Moga (Associate Professor of Orthodox Systematic Theology, Faculty of Catholic Theology, University of Vienna, Austria) spoke on the dialectics of a Christian “kairology” in modernity, taking the case of the Romanian Orthodox theology as an example and describing the various stages of the related reflection as well as the cleavage between traditionalist and progressive actors. Dr. Mihai-D. Grigore(Privatdozent and Research Fellow at the Department of Religious History, Leibniz Institute of European History, Mainz, Germany) analysed the transformation of the Orthodox Church into the world’s “Second Christian Confession” through the confessionalisation process from the early modern period onwards, the emergence of various and competing “National Orthodoxies”, and the contacts of Orthodoxy with the post-modern world. Prof. Dimitrios Moschos (Professor of Church History and Head of the Department of Theology, National and Kapodistrian University of Athens, Greece) addressed specifically the encounter of the Greek-speaking theology with modernity, focusing particularly on the development of critical thinking, the emergence of the individual subject vis-à-vis the community, the organisation of society on the basis of political principles, and the acceptance of diversity and otherness. Dr. Efstathios Kessareas(Postdoctoral Researcher, University of Erfurt, Germany) presented the phenomenon of Orthodox rigorism and fundamentalism, its deep historic roots, and its modern ethno-religious transformations, namely the strong and even aggressive opposition to the liberal values of Western modernity and globalisation and the strong defence of the alleged superior Orthodox nation. Lastly, Dr. Maria Hämmerli (Lecturer in Religious Studies, University of Fribourg,Switzerland) examined the encounter of Orthodox Christianity with the West in the 20 th century in the context of the Orthodox diaspora, the related endogenous and exogenous challenges, and the reconstruction of the Orthodox identity, primarily centred on notions of tradition and continuity.
In the last main section, the contributions dealt from various angles with the multi-faceted relevance of Orthodox Christianity in the post-modern era. Dr. Nikolaos Asproulis (Deputy Director, Volos Academy for Theological Studies, Greece & Lecturer, Hellenic Open University, Patras, Greece) explored various post-modern Orthodox theologies, tracing their common historical background, examining key figures and themes, and sketching a useful typology. Rev. Dr. Timothy Boniface Carroll(Principal Research Fellow, Department of Anthropology, University College London, UK & Director of the Centre for Anthropology and Ethnography of Orthodox Christianity, Institute of Orthodox Christian Studies, Cambridge, UK) spoke on the significance of experience in Orthodox Christianity as a means to certainty, suggesting that it is exactly postmodernity with its relativistic epistemology and rejection of universal certainty that prepares Western audiences to come closer and even endorse the “grand narrative” and the certainty offered by Orthodoxy. Dr. Christopher D. L. Johnson (Senior Instructional Designer, Walker Center for Teaching and Learning, University of Tennessee at Chattanooga, USA) discussed the potential place and role of Orthodox Christianity in a post-modern world increasingly reliant on intelligent machines and particularly the relationship of Orthodoxy to the practically yet unexplored development of Artificial Intelligence (AI). Dr. Spyridoula Athanasopoulou-Kypriou (Religious Education Teacher at the Moraitis School and Psychotherapist, Athens, Greece) evaluated recent gender theories from a constructive Orthodox theological perspective, aimed at an eschato-Christocentric understanding of sexuality and the body in a way that is positive and non-oppositional to the spiritual aspirations of those human beings who are marginalised, oppressed and discriminated against on the basis of their gender identity. Dr. Zdenko Š. Širka(Research Fellow and Lecturer, The Ecumenical Institute, Protestant Theological Faculty, Charles University, Prague, Czech Republic) explored the encounter between post-modern hermeneutics and Orthodoxy, highlighting the touching points between them that may contribute to an overcoming of the centuries-long disparities between Orthodox Christianity and Western thinking. The last speaker, Dr. Sebastian Rimestad (Privatdozent and Research Fellow, Centre for Advanced Studies “Multiple Secularities”, University of Leipzig, Germany) put the question whether contemporary conversions to the Orthodox Church constitute a theological or a political act, showing that becoming Orthodox is not a sudden change of heart but mainly an intellectual realisation of the Orthodox truth, not excluding the cases where such conversions also manifest a protest against the secularised Western society.
The video recordings of the sessions of the working days of the Conference will be soon uploaded in the YouTube channel of the Volos Academy.