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On May, 11-14, 2017, an international conference, organized by the Volos Academy for Theological Studies and generously sponsored by the Evangelical Church of Germany (EKD) was successfully held in Volos on the general theme: “Orthodox Hermeneutics of the New Testament: History, Theory, Prospects.”

After the welcome greeting by Dr. Pantelis Kalaitzidis, Director of the Volos Academy for Theological Studies, in the first session chaired by him, Dr. Miltiadis Konstantinou, Dean and Professor of the Faculty of Theology at the University of Thessaloniki (“The Old Testament in the New Testament: An Orthodox-Hermeneutical Perspective”) attempted to discuss a number of issues, such as the position of the Bible within the Church or the 19 Canon of the Quinisext Council (Trullo 692), which could be considered as prerequisites for an orthodox interpretation of the Bible, and especially the compatibility of these prerequisites with modern hermeneutical methods. Particular emphasis is given to the possibilities of applying today the typological method of interpreting the Old Testament in order to respond to the contemporary social and cultural needs. Dr. Kyriakoula Papadimitriou, Associate Professor of the School of Pastoral and Social Theology at the University of Thessaloniki (“The Potential and Limitations of Intertextuality”), referred to the key elements of intertextuality that is the creative involvement of previous textual data in any way in the texture of a text, carried out consciously or unconsciously, by the author or the reader, and the process of re-interpreting, within the new text, of these data, resulting then in the production of a new meaning, which in its turn is potentially construed to similar use and evolution in texts that will follow. Taking into account the terms of biblical theological science, such as the divine character of the sacred text, the historicity of the biblical writers and their writing conditions, as well as the ecclesiological context in which the ecclesiastical texts are developed, intertextuality can be extremely helpful with the interpretation of the Scriptures.

During the second afternoon session chaired by Dr. Dimitrios Kyrtatas (Professor of the University of Thessaly) John Fotopoulos, Associate Professor of the Saint Mary’s College, at the Notre Dame University, Indiana (USA) spoke about the “Patristic Exegesis of the New Testament and Its Relationship with Contemporary Orthodox Hermeneutics,” where he argued that the fathers’ biblical exegesis is understood to be normative by many Orthodox Christians.  However, simply repeating the exegesis of the fathers is problematic in that their exegetical methods and interpretations are oftentimes diverse. Rather, a serious consideration of history is necessary to establish the literal sense of Scripture while then using the Scriptures to teach, console, challenge, and transform the Church and the world.  Rev. Dr. Cosmin Pricop, Assistant Professor of the School of Theology at the University of Bucharest (Romania) spoke on the topic “History, Theory and Application of New Testament Reception in Orthodox Hermeneutics.” In his view the eastern-orthodox biblical studies on academic level have to deal nowadays with two themes or to deal with two issues: a) the modern exegesis of the Bible, as it was developed in the western biblical studies and known as the historical-critical exegesis and b) the heritage of the patristic exegesis of the Scripture, arguing that We cannot think a modern eastern-orthodox exegesis apart from these two perspectives.

During the first session of the second day, chaired by Dr. Michalis Chatzigiannis, Director of the Greek Biblical Society, Dr. Moschos Goutzioudis, Assistant Professor of the School of Theology of the University of Thessaloniki spoke on the “Orthodox Hermeneutics of the New Testament and the Historic-Critical Method,” where he highlighted both the positive and the negative aspects of the historical-critical method by presenting the results of the particular method in relation to the interpretation of a specific text. This is the narrative of the temptations of Jesus in the Synoptic Gospels. Dr. Charalampos Atmatzidis, Associate Professor of the School of Theology at the University of Thessaloniki presented the topic “Synchronic and Post-Modern Approaches to the New Testament in Orthodox-Hermeneutical Perspective,” seeking to reconstruct the New Testament's interpretation at the era of post-modernity, where the end of the great narratives and of the one truth, as well as the exclusion of one and only reading of each text, through the so-called “Apollonian AND Dionysian interpretation of the New Testament.”

During the fourth session chaired by Dr. John Fotopoulos, Dr. Ioannis Karavidopoulos, Professor Emeritus of the School of Theology of the University of Thessaloniki, presented the topic “Manuscript Tradition and Its Significance for the New Testament Orthodox Hermeneutics,” according to which the Fathers of the Church interpreted the New Testament based not on a critical or a simple version of the New Testament but relying on one or more of the many manuscripts. This reality resulted to the many differences between the various biblical passages used by the Fathers as well as the differences between the manuscript and the printed Patriarchal version of the New Testament in 1904. Dr. Ekaterini Tsalampouni, Assistant Professor of the School of Pastoral and Social Theology of the University of Thessaloniki and Co-Director of the Department for the Study of the Manuscript Tradition of the New Testament of the Volos Academy for Theological Studies, spoke on the topic “Canon and Apocryphal Literature in New Testament Orthodox Hermeneutics,” where the following questions were addressed: Which factors, both internal and external, led to the formation of the Canon? What is the relation between canonicity and the various version of the text in the manuscript tradition? etc.

In turn the first seminar chaired by Dr. Charalampos Atmatzidis took place on the topic “New Testament Orthodox Hermeneutics in Dialogue with Systematic Theology and the Theology of Pastoral Care and Mission: Mt 28:16-20 as a test-case.” Dr. Athanasios Despotis, University of Bonn (Germany) attempted to offer fresh insights on the interpretation of the Great Commission in Mt 28,16–20 from an Eastern-Orthodox perspective. Beginning with a brief research survey he described the tendencies in the current scholarship of Matthew, proceeding then with a commentary on the verses themselves and analysis of their exegetical issues, focusing on what sense mission belongs to the very nature of the church according to a Matthean understanding. Dr. Athanasios Papathanasiou, Lecturer at the Hellenic Open University, Chief in Editor of the Journal Synaxis spoke on the topic “Mt. 28:16-20 and Mission: From Modern Subjugation to Liberation,” where he referred to the recent interpretations of the passage according to which some have indicted this passage as being imperialistic by its very nature, rejecting it altogether. Conversely, others make a distinction between the pericope itself and its imperialistic usage. Thus, interpretations of the passage are being developed that open up liberating perspectives: Its Trinitarian dynamic is highlighted as a model of communion between the missionaries and those who receive them. The pericope should not be read in isolation from the rest of the Gospel, and particularly without reference to the fact that the first missionary commandment of the risen Christ was to women. Others highlight the polysemy of the phrase “all the nations” in order to include every human group, especially the marginalized. Finally, it is noted that Christ’s promise to be with his disciples within history demonstrates that mission par excellence is God’s mission (missio Dei) and that the Church is accountable to its Lord. Dr. Nikolaos Asproulis Deputy Director of the Volos Academy for Theological Studies, presented the topic “Theological Hermeneutics and Systematic Theology from an Orthodox point of view: Mat. 28:16-20 as a case study,” where an attempt was made to briefly explore a. the status questionis of the relationship between hermeneutics and Orthodox theology, b. the role of theological hermeneutics in (Orthodox, if any) systematic theology, and c. to highlight the relevance of the relationship between Christ (foundation) and His Church (founded) as the core hermeneutical key of any Christian theology. Based on this latter axiom a systematic approach of Matt. 28: 16-20, was then provided.

In turn and in the context of the first round table chaired by Christos Karakolis, Associate Professor of the University of Athens, Co-Director of the Department for the Study of the manuscript tradition of the New Testament, the discussion revolved around the topic “New Testament Orthodox Hermeneutics and Hermeneutics of Other Church Traditions.” Dr. John Fotopoulos presented the Orthodox perspective, while Dr. Reimund Bieringer, Professor of the School of Theology and Religious Studies at the Catholic University of Leuven (in absentia) presented the Roman Catholic point of view. Dr. Jeff Baldwin, Director of the Hellenic Biblical College looked more closely at the differences and attempt to offer a clarifying or delineating description of them, while underlining areas of overlap and agreement between the two broad traditions, for the purpose of finding ways in which the two interpretive paths can further converge.

The last day of the conference opened with the second seminar dealing with the topic “New Testament Orthodox Hermeneutics, Gender Studies and Sociological Approaches: 1 Cor 11 as a Test-case.” Dr. Jorunn Økland, Professor at the Oslo University and Director of the Norwegian Institute at Athens (Greece) spoke on “Orthodox and Post-Modern New Testament Hermeneutics: 1 Cor 11 as a Test case,” where she discussed along others: What is orthodox in hermeneutics of 1 Cor 11? In this part I will ask what is ‘orthodox’ in this context. Is it interpretation by scholars who belong to orthodox churches, or is there a particular orthodox- academic way of interpreting 1 Cor 11? She also went through the main divides between post-modern as opposed to modern academic interpretations of 1 Cor 11. From his point of view Dr. Bru Wallace, Professor at the Christian Brothers University, Memphis (USA) presented the topic “Recognizing the Body: Community Ritual, Divine Presence, and Ascetic Performance in 1 Corinthians 11,” where he elucidated how interpreters in the Eastern Orthodox tradition have appropriated 1 Corinthians 11 so as to facilitate believers’ transformative encounter with the divine through embodied practices. Dr. Lauri Thuren, Professor of the University of Eastern Finland, attempted to derhetorize the section’s central persuasive devices and apply Stephen Toulmin’s modern argumentation analysis to it. Thereby he wished to discover the apostle’s original message to the Corinthians.

During the fifth session chaired by Dr. Jorunn Økland, Dr. Predrag Dragutinovic, Lecturer at the School of Theology, of the University of Belgrade (Serbia) spoke on the “New Testament Hermeneutics in Eastern Europe: Background and Future Perspectives.”  In the first part of his presentation, he offered a brief overview of the historical background of the interpretation of Scripture in East Europe, while he then focused on the problem of the reception of the historical criticism in the orthodox biblical scholarship in East Europe, and Orthodoxy generally. Finally he dealt with some future perspectives. In his presentation Dr. Reimund Bieringer (in absentia) spoke on “New Testaments Hermeneutics in the Third World: The Challenge of an Emerging New Paradigm,” where he referred to contributions which have been published in Western publications in Western languages, and particularly to liberation theology. Dissatisfaction with certain aspects of liberation- theological hermeneutics led to the integration of post-colonial studies into biblical studies. Scholarly critique of post-colonial studies led to the introduction of de-colonial studies in biblical studies. He further explored contributions which integrate elements of their own cultures, such as the integration of Hindu thought into biblical hermeneutics, of the adaptation of Lowland Filipino values into biblical studies, etc.

During the sixth session chaired by Dr. Miltiadis Konstantinou, Dean of the School of Theology of the University of Thessaloniki, Dr. Petros Vasileiadis, Professor Emeritus, of the School of Theology at the University of Thessaloniki, spoke on “Worship and the text of the New Testament: The example of Eucharistic Hermeneutics,” where he approached  the subject from the perspective of critical theology. The dialectic of eschatology and history, namely eucharistic ontology and missionary ethics, and of Bible - Eucharist in the place of Bible-Tradition. He then discussed aspects of Eucharistic Hermeneutics with regard to the question whether the Eucharistic hermeneutic approach is an extension or overcoming of the Classic Historical Criticism. Dr. Simon Crisp, Coordinator of scientific publications and qualitative terms of translation, Nida Institute, Philadelphia (USA) spoke on “Text and Translation in Contemporary Orthodox New Testament Hermeneutics,” where he discussed the way in which different hermeneutical presuppositions have influenced the theory and practice of New Testament textual criticism and Bible translation.

During the closing second seminar chaired by, Dr. Ekaterini Tsalampouni, the topic “New Testament Orthodox Hermeneutics: Past, Present and Future” was addressed. Dr. Vasileios Tzerpos, (University of Athens) dealt with the past of (Greek) Orthodox Hermeneutics. By “past” he meant the period from the establishment of the first School of Theology in the context of the newly  then independent Greek state in 1837, until the 60s, when a new impetus is given to the field of the New Testament Studies in Greece. In this light a brief overview was provided of the relative bibliography and of the used by the Orthodox exegetes, hermeneutical methods, as well as of the relation of the Orthodox hermeneutics to similar contemporary movements in the West. Dr. Athanasios Antonopoulos, Lecturer at the School of Theology at the University of Athens, presented the present of the New Testament Orthodox Hermeneutics with special reference to the work of Fr. Georges Florovsky, the Archbishop of America Dimitrios (Trakatellis), and Fr. Theodoros Stylianopoulos, while he also referred to Fr. George Parsenios and John Fotopoulos, as well as to the further development of the New Testament Orthodox Hermeneutics. The final speaker of the conference Dr. Christos Karakolis, traced and displayed the elements of New Testament’s Orthodox hermeneutics which by removing it from its obstacles would allow it to dialogue creatively with our post-modern age on a scientific and inter-faith level, as well as to bring New Testament back to the center of Orthodox theological thought and ecclesiastical life, where traditionally and historically belongs.

The conference was concluded with the Divine Liturgy at the St. Modestos Church at Melissiatika (Volos) and a short tour at the Volos Academy’s offices. After the end of each session enough time was given to discussion and comments on the presentations. The conference was greeted by the Metropolitan Ignatius of Dimitrias and the Pastor of the Evangelical Church of Volos, Meletis Melitiadis, Chairman of the General Conference of the Evangelical Church of Greece, and attended by the Professors of the School of Theology of the University of Athens and Members of the Board of Directors of the Volos Academy for Theological Studies, Rev. Dr. Grigorios Papathomas and Dimitrios Moschos, by students of the Schools of Theology of Athens and Thessaloniki and others.

It is noteworthy that during the last day of the conference and on the occasion of the visit to Greece of Mrs. Christine Chaillot, the editor of the collective volume recently published by the Volos Academy Publications, entitled “The Dialogue between Eastern Orthodox and Oriental Orthodox Churches” (Volos Academy Publications, 2016), a book launch took place with the participation of the editor and Dr. Dimitrios Moschos, Associate Professor of the School of Theology at the University of Athens.

 

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