One night terror I experienced during my childhood included bombers flying over the roof of our fifteenth-floor apartment in Moscow. No wonder, as every evening the news reported heavily on the enemy’s military build-up. At the time I could not quite understand why such a nice girl’s name as Nata (short for Natalia) was used for the organization that was terrorizing our people. All we knew was that we did not want war; we were always for peace; it was always them attacking and threatening, never us.
A patriotic education did not deter some of my generation from taking a radical stance against the violence of war, which extended to all institutions and ideologies that supported it. Perhaps it was a belated wave of the Western youth rebellion of the 1960s that found its footing in the late Soviet counterculture, or some revival of interest in the nonviolent teachings of Tolstoy and Gandhi in the 1990s. Some of my friends burned their military service books, resulting in compulsory months in a mental hospital. In my country, conscientious objection was seen as either mental illness or a criminal act, publicly regarded as a lack of patriotism and masculinity. What I did not know at the time was that the roots of this radical, moral stance toward violence and war could be found in Christianity.
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 →