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.”
The International Orthodox Theological Association (IOTA) as the largest meeting of Orthodox theologians from all over the world was a remarkable event not only for the Orthodox world but also for a Catholic theologian engaged with Orthodox theology. As my own research focuses on (Russian) Orthodox socio-ethical thinking, and current issues of the good life of the community challenge Orthodox as well as Catholic theology, the program of IOTA was very promising.
IOTA has launched several working groups to structure the organization of the conference and of the future work of IOTA. Several groups are committed to ethical questions, and their order illustrates quite aptly the enigma of Orthodox social ethics. Most prominent, there is a Moral Theology and Theological Anthropology Group. Other sessions on ethical issues were organized by the groups on edcclesiology; Orthodoxy in the Public Square and Media; Political Theology; and Orthodoxy, Politics, and International Relations. Furthermore, the groups on education, science, women, missiology, and ecumenical dialogue tackle some aspects of the question, too.
Surprisingly, the topic of social ethics was not mentioned at any point. Does that mean that there is no systematic, fundamental dealing with the theological vision of the structures of modern human society? There were various approaches on issues like human rights, ecology, economics, international relations, discrimination, violence and so on, yet there is no group and no session on social ethics. Why is that so? Continue reading →
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 →
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.