Historic IOTA Conference Concludes in Volos, Greece

Conference participants after the Divine Liturgy at the Church of the Ascension

With over 400 participants, representing 45 countries, the second mega-conference of the International Orthodox Theological Association (IOTA) was the largest gathering of Orthodox scholars in modern times, surpassing the first mega-conference held in 2019 in Iaşi, Romania. The conference concluded on Sunday, January 15, 2023, in Volos, Greece with a hierarchical liturgy and a pilgrimage to the monasteries of Meteora. The conference was co-hosted by the Metropolis of Demetrias and the Volos Academy for Theological Studies.

Over three days, January 12-14, 350 academic presentations were delivered, dealing with many contemporary and contentious issues facing the world, the Orthodox Church, and Christianity in general. The overall theme of the conference, Mission and the Orthodox Church, was addressed in many sessions, reflecting the broad range of academic disciplines present at the conference. 

Special plenary sessions were devoted to the ongoing war in Ukraine, the effects of the pandemic, and a significant document on the social ethos of the Orthodox Church, For the Life of the World. These interdisciplinary discussions were a space for dialogue and encounter in a war-torn world, highlighting the need to deepen Orthodox Christian research and thought on these issues. As one speaker noted, “The Orthodox Church would benefit from the development of a public theology that discusses peace and war within the framework of international law and human rights taking into consideration current challenges to peace.”

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International Orthodox Theological Association Conference Opens in Volos, Greece

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Conference participants at Saints Constantine and Helena Church

On January 11, 2023, the second Mega-Conference of the International Orthodox Theological Association (IOTA) held its formal opening at the Volos Academy for Theological Studies.

His Eminence Metropolitan Ignatius (Georgakopoulos) of Demetrias presided over Vespers at the Saints Constantine and Helen Church. In his welcome to the conference participants he said he was grateful that each day would begin with prayer, a sign of the ecclesial significance of the conference. Following Vespers the approximately 400 participants traveled to the Academy and filled its Great Hall for the opening ceremony.

There, the audience received a welcome from host Dr. Pantelis Kalaitzidis, Director of the Academy. Dr. Kalaitzidis noted that holding the conference in Volos is a testament to the Academy and the Holy Metropolis of Demetrias’s vision of being an internationally recognized place for encounter and dialogue, and open to scholarly thought. He focused on the incarnational reality of the Gospel and the conference’s theme, “Mission and the Orthodox Church.” He stated that mission cannot be only a theoretical or historical concern, but must be a contemporary one, since “God’s revelation takes place in history.” Kalaitzidis said: “A fleshless mission theology which refuses to converse with the wider social and cultural realities of its time is inconceivable. A mission theology that does not assume the flesh of its time is equally as inconceivable, just as it is inconceivable for the church to be insular, refusing to be drawn out of itself to meet the world and history, to evangelize and transform.” 

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Kremlin Notes in the Patriarch’s Christmas Appeal

by Sergei Chapnin

This essay was first published in Russian at the Moscow Times

Image Credit: iStock.com/ErmakovaElena

This year, on Christmas Eve, Patriarch Kirill wrote the shortest text in the fourteen years of his patriarchate: the appeal for a Christmas truce. This document might well have become a masterpiece of the anti-war, peacemaking stance of the Russian Orthodox Church.

However, it turned out quite differently. The appeal for a ceasefire is yet another manifestation of the close alliance between the ROC and the Kremlin and evidence of the patriarch’s complete misunderstanding of his place in the modern world.

The text of the appeal is worth quoting in full. It is simple and laconic: “I, Kirill, Patriarch of Moscow and All Russia, appeal to all parties involved in the internecine conflict to cease fire and establish a Christmas truce from noon on January 6 until 12 pm on January 7 so that Orthodox people can attend services on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day.”

The call for a truce is a good thing, especially if it becomes a prologue to peace, and is based on a Christian understanding of peacemaking. However, the call for a truce can also be part of a political gamble, and church feasts can also be part of the instrumentalization of religion, a form of manipulation of religious feelings.

Which option is true in this case?

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The Christmas Glow of “God with Us”

by V.K. McCarty

Nativity icon

All this took place to fulfill what had been said by the Lord through the prophet: “Look, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall name him “Emmanuel,” which means, “God is with us.”—Matt. 1:22-23

May the Lord bless you with peace, and good will, and joy. From Matthew’s Gospel: “Now, the birth of Jesus took place in this way” (1:18). Sometimes I wonder if Christmas doesn’t actually start—and Advent end—the moment we hear those words in Scripture, they are so delightfully familiar. And the Nativity music and the beautiful troparions and the perfume of Frankincense are filling our days, and the sidewalks smell like Christmas trees for sale, and traditional holiday treats are baking, and colored lights bless us from everywhere—here we are at the threshold of God’s unsearchable gift to us of the Incarnation in the birth of the little Christ Child. For soon, so soon we will celebrate the glorification of the Nativity in the flesh by the Most Holy Virgin Mary of our Lord Jesus Christ. And: “the Virgin bears Him who is transcendent, and the earth contains him in a cave, Him who is utterly uncontainable” (Kontakion of Holy Nativity, Third Tone).

And yet, we do hear a lot of fretting from Joseph in the story as it is told in the Gospel of Matthew. Another of the traditional kontakions explains it for us: “The chaste-minded Joseph, who before had within him a storm of doubting thoughts, now beholds all-glorious things within the divine cave (Kontakion IV, Akathist Hymn to the Nativity of Christ). Another way to reflect on his concern is to see in it Joseph working out his honorable respect of Mary as sacred to God; perhaps that his very young fiancé is already dedicated to God at this point.

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