by Fr. Marc Dunaway and Benjamin Dunaway
This post is a two-part reflection by a father and son who traveled from Alaska to attend the inaugural conference of the International Orthodox Theological Association (IOTA) in Iasi, Romania.
Fr. Marc Dunaway
Many Christians are suspicious of “academic theologians,” and this is understandable. I remember as a young man eagerly tuning into TV documentaries about how the early Church grew or what the world Jesus lived in was like, only to realize in a few minutes that many of these supposedly “Christian” scholars didn’t actually believe in Jesus, or even in God for that matter. I was horrified.
Last month, over 250 Orthodox Christian scholars gathered in Iasi, Romania for the inaugural conference of the International Orthodox Theological Association, and things couldn’t have been more different. After an opening prayer service led by Archbishop Teofan of Iasi, Dr. Paul Gavrilyuk, founding president of IOTA, welcomed the participants with these words: “As scholars and professionals, we wish to contribute our ‘iota’ to the life of the Church and to do so with due humility….IOTA will succeed as long as Jesus Christ remains the foundation of our work, Jesus Christ as He is proclaimed in the Scriptures and confessed in the Creeds, Jesus Christ Whom we have put on in baptism and Whose Body and Blood we receive in the Eucharist, Jesus Christ Who as the eternal Logos is the beginning and the end of all things.” I cannot imagine wanting a scholar to say any more than this. Continue reading
by Robert Saler
Metropolitan Cathedral in Iasi, Romania
There are two dangers that Western theologians such as myself face when engaging Eastern orthodox theology: exoticism and over-familiarity. My ongoing work as a Lutheran ecumenical observer at the International Orthodox Theological Association (first at its initial planning meeting in Jerusalem, and then recently at the full conference in Iasi, Romania) has given me occasion to ponder both extremes.
Exoticism in general can take on flattering aspects—“Easterners can solve Western theological problems if we just import their way of thinking”—or unflattering ones (“the Orthodox don’t do systematic theology; they are focused instead solely on mysticism”). The Western theological imagination has a tendency to freeze Orthodox theology in stasis for a host of reasons. Western theological conservatives may look to Orthodoxy as a bulwark against perceived creeping liberalism (particularly on culture war issues) in their own traditions. Western progressives, meanwhile, may celebrate Orthodoxy’s historic lack of biblical literalism (in the modern sense) or what they take to be its emphasis upon individual spiritual struggle over against centralized magisterial authority. The list of oversimplifications (all of which depend upon treating “Orthodoxy” as a static monolith) goes on, and a useful tonic for all of them is to witness contemporary Orthodox theology in all of its dynamicity.
This was certainly my experience at IOTA. Continue reading
by Carrie Frederick Frost
Metropolitan Kallistos Ware delivers the opening address at IOTA’s inaugural conference in Iasi, Romania
When I introduced Metropolitan Kallistos Ware at the International Orthodox Theological Association’s (IOTA) inaugural conference Opening Ceremony in Iaşi, Romania earlier this month, I told a story about my father—the son of Russian immigrants to West Virginia in the early twentieth century—and how his perception of Orthodoxy was expanded by His Eminence when they met in the early 1990s on a trip my father took to the British Isles. Metropolitan Kallistos’s explanation of the history and the present circumstances of Christianity there gave my father his first sense of a global Orthodox Church, which broadened his own Orthodox identity to include ties to many people and circumstances, past and present.
I told this story as a way of suggesting that Metropolitan Kallistos has done the same for so many people; he has opened up our Orthodox realities and given us a vision of a global Church, of a shared experience of Orthodox history and of the Orthodox Church today—through his writings, through his teachings, through his guidance as a hierarch; and thus he was a perfect keynote speaker to begin IOTA’s first conference. My introductory remarks were more apt than I could have realized, because not only was this true of Metropolitan Kallistos, his legacy, and his keynote remarks, but this expansive and gratifying experience of a shared Orthodoxy was the heartbeat of the next three days of the conference. Continue reading
by Irina Paert
Opening ceremony of IOTA’s inaugural conference, National Theatre of Iasi, Romania
Just when we all thought that global Orthodoxy was in a state of deep crisis, God had a surprise for us.
Indeed, when four member churches of the Orthodox global family rejected the invitation of Patriarch Bartholomew to attend the Holy and Great Council of Crete, which had been in preparation for several decades, and when the saga of Ukrainian autocephaly unfolded before our eyes during the last few months, many felt that the worst stereotypes about Orthodoxy were coming true. And yet, in January 2019 in the Romanian city of Iasi, an impressive gathering of people took place. A mixed crowd of people who gathered for a four-day conference were people who had just the same right to represent the Orthodox Church as those whose names are usually preceded by numerous medieval titles but who need much less maintenance than the former. To be sure, there were all ranks of the Orthodox cosmos, those whose heads were decorated with miters and those whose were not. Yet, here was a gathering of intelligent, interesting, socially and ecclesiastically engaged, passionate, humorous people, some of whom happen to be bishops and priests. Here was IOTA.
When a little over a year ago I was asked to become a co-chair of a IOTA’s Asceticism and Spirituality section, I said yes and then asked, ‘And what is IOTA?’ I was not the only one who asked this question. Continue reading