The conference "The Forthcoming Council of the Orthodox Church: Understanding the Challenges" (Institut Saint-Serge, Paris, 18-20 October 2012)


colloque prochain concileA major inter-Orthodox and ecumenical conference, “The Forthcoming Council of the Orthodox Church: Understanding the Challenges”, co-organised by the Institut Saint-Serge, Paris, and the Centre for Ecumenical Research, KU Leuven (Belgium), in partnership with the Orthodox journal Contacts and the Collège des Bernardins, Paris, was held on 18 to 20 October 2012 at the Institut Saint-Serge.


More than 140 people attended the conference, including many students, which involved 18 major conference speakers and 8 speakers at briefer sessions held in parallel, from 12 countries (France, Belgium, Greece, USA, Italy, Lebanon, Poland, Romania, Russia, Czech Republic, Switzerland and Ukraine). This conference of rich debate was filmed by French television (France 2) and the Russian press agency Bogoslov, and the Osservatore Romano and La Croix published articles on it.




Thursday 18 October
Colloque prochain ConcileThe opening session of the conference began with a speech of welcome from the Dean of the Institut Saint-Serge, Archpriest Nicolas Ozoline, who underlined the significance of this event and of the opportunity of academic cooperation between the Centre of Ecumenical Research at KU Leuven, the journal Contacts and the Collège des Bernardins. He quoted from the ecclesiological reflections of the late Father Jean Meyendorff concerning the nature of an ecumenical council. A prefatory message from Metropolitan Emmanuel of France, prevented from attending the conference at the last moment, was read in his absence: he wished for the conference “to facilitate understanding of the questions to which the conciliar process gives rise” and announced himself convinced that the global reflections “would participate positively in the conciliar process of the Orthodox Church” which is not just the business of the Orthodox but “involves all Christianity”.

In the opening session, Noël Ruffieux (University of Fribourg / Contacts) spoke in the name of Archbishop Gabriel de Comanes, Rector of the Institut Saint-Serge, who was absent for health reasons. He gave a paper on “The preparation and reception of the Council”, which underlined the necessity of conversion on the part of the People of God in order that a council might be well prepared and that it might bear the fruits that are hoped for. Then Professor Peter De Mey (co-organiser of the conference and Director of the Centre for Ecumenical Studies at KU Leuven) gave a paper on “The role of the observers during the Second Vatican Council”, reminding us of the importance of non-Catholic observers in the process of conciliar reflections.


colloque prochain concileThe afternoon was devoted to the conference’s first thematic session chaired by André Lossky (Institut Saint-Serge) on the theme of “the common liturgical calendar”. Pierre Sollogoub (Orthodox Fraternity in Western Europe) in a scientific paper entitled “Why a reform of the established liturgical calendar and of the Easter date is Necessary?”, underlined that the question of the reform of the liturgical calendar was in itself a technical and not a theological matter, the Julian Calendar having been proved, with the passing of time, inadequate for linking the dates of the annual liturgical festivals to the astronomic calendar. Touching the date of Easter, Sollogoub recalled that the single norm for all Christians was the formula agreed at the Council of Nicaea in 325, to celebrate Easter on the first Sunday following the first full moon after the spring equinox. Unfortunately, by following ancient tables for calculating the date of Easter, the computations of the Orthodox Church had become erroneous and no longer followed the general rules set at Nicaea. Father Vladimir Khoulap (Vice-Rector, St Petersburg Theological Academy) gave the paper “Pastoral problems of a reform of the liturgical calendar in Russia”, underlining the necessity of educating contemporary Russia the better to understand the reasons for a reform of the liturgical calendar – which would be necessary in the future. In his paper “The problem of a common calendar: should we reform the liturgical calendar or our understanding of the time of salvation?”, the observer Father Thomas Pott (Monastère de Chevetogne) widened the question of the calendar to the broader question of a necessary reform in our understanding of the deep meaning of Christian worship. The day concluded with two short parallel sessions given by Myroslava Rap (Ukraine), Stefan Barbu (Romania / KU Leuven), Michel Pliszka (Poland / Paris) and Tim Noble (Prague).


Friday 19 October
colloque prochain concileThe morning opened with the second thematic session on “Autocephaly, Autonomy and Diptychs”, chaired by Goran Sekulovski (Institut Saint-Serge) – without doubt one of the most popular sessions of the conference. Father John Erickson (St Vladimir’s Orthodox Theological Seminary, New York) gave a paper on “Autocephaly and autonomy”. He underlined the links which unite modern national autocephalous Churches with the emergence of nation states, especially in the Balkans, as well as the new challenges represented by globalisation and the breaking-down of state borders, which could bring into question the ecclesiastical structures of autocephaly. He then referred to the preparatory work completed by the Inter-Orthodox Commission from 1990 to 1993 and to the contrasting responses to this from the territorial Orthodox Churches. Father Grigorios Papathomas (Institut Saint-Serge / Faculty of Theology, Athens) gave a detailed paper on “The question of diptychs”. He drew parallels between this scarcely-explored question and the more general question of Orthodox ethnophyletism – the confusion of Church and nation. Insisting on the priority of ecclesial and canonical criteria over national and political interests, he quoted examples drawn from the first and second millennia of the Church’s life. In his paper entitled “Autocephaly: reflections of a Roman Catholic”, the observer Father Joseph Famerée (Catholic University of Louvain) offered a theological reflection on the catholicity of the Church and on the implications of this for autocephaly. He particularly stressed the inappropriateness of the category of “nation” in ecclesiology.


colloque prochain concileThe afternoon saw the third thematic session chaired by Peter de Mey (KU Leuven), on the subject of “The future of the Orthodox ‘diaspora’”. Father Emmanuel Clapsis (Holy Cross Hellenic College, Boston) gave the paper “The American religious landscape and the Orthodox churches”, a primarily sociological analysis of the American Orthodox communities, underlining their fluidity, individualism and their critical distance with respect to “official” Orthodox stances on moral issues. In his paper “The issue of the “Diaspora” at the future Pan-Orthodox Council: pragmatic proposals”, Antoine Arjakovsky (Collège des Bernardins, Paris) underlined the necessity of giving real representation to the so-called “diaspora” communities in the pre-conciliar process. The observer Ivana Noble (Charles University, Prague) gave the paper “The future of the Orthodox “Diaspora”: an observer’s point of view”, a retracing of the principal events of the history of the “Diaspora”. She examined the unfortunate phenomenon of the growth of parallel Orthodox-Catholic jurisdictions. Faced with an ever-present and monolithic neo-patristic consensus, she desired a rediscovery of the diversity of approaches within Orthodox theology. The afternoon ended with two parallel sessions of short papers, given by Christophe d’Aloisio (Brussels), Michael Dymyd (Lviv, Ukraine), Frederick Lauritzen (Bologna) and Victor Yudin (Louvain).

During the evening, a Round Table took place at the Collège des Bernardins, moderated by Antoine Arjakovsky (Co-director of the Society–Freedom–Peace research group at the Collège des Bernardins and co-organiser of this conference). After an introductory speech by Mgr Jérôme Beau, President of the Collège des Bernardins, the following speakers took the microphone: Carol Saba (spokesman for the Conference of Orthodox Bishops in France), Georges Nahas (Vice-President of the University of Balamand, Lebanon) and a speech by Brother Enzo Bianchi was read in his absence. Over and above the exchange of ideas about the issues surrounding the Pan-Orthodox Council and an insistence on the necessity of adjusting the themes officially proposed for this Council, we especially note the concrete ideas proposed by Professor Nahas to re-energise the conciliar process: the creation of a Pan-Orthodox committee of the faithful ready to devote themselves to a determined reflection on the adaptations required for the Council; the creation of social networks centred on specific areas with leaders encouraging uncensored debate; the creation of forums of discussion about the Council involving young people.


Saturday 20 October
colloque prochain concileThe fourth themed session chaired by Father Nicolas Cernokrak (Institut Saint-Serge) discussed the question of the relations between the Orthodox Churches and other Christian Churches and the ecumenical movement in general. This was one of the liveliest sessions during the open debate which followed the formal papers. Tamara Grdzelidze (Georgian Orthodox Church) offered a reflection on “Ecumenical relations of the Orthodox Churches: systematic and contextual reflections”, in which she detailed the commitment of the Orthodox to ecumenical dialogue, at the same time as indicating a certain ambiguity in this commitment, as shown in several official Orthodox pronouncements. The Orthodox exhibit a constant flux between exclusivist and inclusivist ecclesial models. She held that a future Orthodox Council must seriously consider the question of the collective responsibility of the regional Orthodox Churches “in the light of Orthodox eucharistic ecclesiology and its ecumenical implications”. Michel Stavrou (Institut Saint-Serge and co-organiser of this conference) gave a paper entitled “Ecumenical relations and the recognition of the baptism of other Churches”, in which he argued for a unanimous recognition at a future Pan-Orthodox Council of the baptism celebrated in Catholic and Protestant Churches (in conformity to the Byzantine tradition towards Western Catholic Christians), because this would imply recognition of a certain ecclesial reality in the non-Orthodox Churches, an essential point for Orthodox ecumenical witness. The observer Barbara Hallensleben (University of Fribourg) in her paper “Sister churches: a hermeneutical principle in the relations between Christian Churches ad intra and ad extra” invited on the one hand local Roman Catholic Churches and on the other local Orthodox Churches to travel in a genuine way along the path to unity by a mutual recognition of ecclesiality: she said, “Sister Churches carry together the responsibility for the one, unique Church of Jesus Christ.” Achieving this mutual recognition, desirable on the part of a Pan-Orthodox Council, would require effort on the part of Catholics and Orthodox.


colloque prochain concileThe fifth and final thematic session, chaired by Michel Stavrou (Institut Saint-Serge), happened during the afternoon and concerned ethical and social questions. Radu Preda’s (Orthodox Faculty of Theology, Cluj-Napoca, Romania) paper on “Orthodoxy as confronted with ethical questions: a socio-theological perspective” argued that from the point of view of social questions the Pan-Orthodox Council was in a position to offer an ethical message consistent with Orthodoxy across the locally-accumulated experiences of its local Churches. The socio-theological agenda of the Council could be varied: from the European framework for discussion these issues to the slow transition from totalitarianism to democracy and the involvement of the laity in bioethical questions – all these themes were an expression of the search, aided by revelation and tradition, of a credible response to modern human questioning.  Athanase Papathanassiou (Orthodox journal Synaxi, Athens), in his paper “Christian fasting in post-modern society” reminded us of the ecclesial and eucharistic character of Christian fasting, and of its mission of the renewal of the material and cosmic world: fasting had the character of an act of sharing, and had a dimension which challenged a world of ultra-individualism. He distinguished Christian fasting from the legalistic frame of mind which often dominates the debate. The observer Anne Marie Rijnen (Institut Catholique, Paris) in her paper “Fasting: some Protestant remarks” referred to the importance and topicality of Christian fasting as much for our society of hyper-consumption as for a Lutheran and Reformed Protestantism which seems to have forgotten the practice of fasting advocated by Calvin. This fasting could find new forms today, linked to prayer, the liturgical calendar and solidarity with others.

Finally, Pantelis Kalaïzidis (Theological Academy of Volos) brought a close to the conference in his concluding remarks, underlining through a critical analysis of the whole conference the fruitfulness of the various papers and contacts and their possible use for re-energising the preconciliar process in Orthodoxy.


The acta of this very rich conference will be published in 2013 by the Orthodox journal Contacts, the official sponsor of the conference.

To consult the conference agenda in French, click here, and in English, click here.

To see the conference photo-album, click here



International Conference "The Legacy of Fr John Meyendorff, Scholar and Churchman (1926-1992)" (St. Sergius Orthodox Theological Institute, Paris, 9-11 February 2012)


colloque meyendorffFrom 9–11 February, 2012, an international conference was held at St. Sergius Orthodox Theological Institute in Paris, to honor the 20th anniversary of the passing away of the theologian and church historian Protopresbyter John Meyendorff, who was Dean of St. Vladimir’s Seminary from 1983 until 1992. The four sessions, with 24 speakers, devoted to the work of one of the most renowned Orthodox Christian theologians of the last century, attracted the attention of nearly one hundred participants.

The conference, titled “The Legacy of Fr. John Meyendorff, Scholar and Churchman (1926–1992),” began with words of welcome by the Rector of the Institute, His Eminence Archbishop Gabriel, and by the Dean, Archpriest Nicholas Cernokrak. His Eminence Kallistos, metropolitan of Diokleia, transmitted a message from the Ecumenical Patriarch, His Holiness Bartholomew. Then Dr. Joost van Rossum, professor of History and Theology of the Byzantine Church at the Institute (and alumnus of St. Vladimir’s Seminary) delivered the keynote lecture, entitled “Fr. John Meyendorff: A Life Dedicated to Scholarship and to the Church.”

Meyendorff ConferenceFr. Meyendorff was first of all known for his studies on the Byzantine theologian St. Gregory Palamas (14th century), whose theology can be considered as a true patristic synthesis. For this reason, the initial lectures were dedicated to the notion of “neo-patristic synthesis,” which had been introduced for the first time by Fr. Georges Florovsky, and which had been resumed by Fr. John. The initial lectures included: Metropolitan Kallistos Ware,  “Father John Meyendorff and ‘Neo-Patristic Synthesis’ ”; Fr. Nikolaos Loudovikos, “John Meyendorff and the Possibilities of a Modern Patristic Exegesis”; Dr. Ivana Noble,  “Patristic Synthesis or Non-Synthetic Dialectics? A Critical Evaluation of John Meyendorff’s Contribution.’’

The main theme of the scholarly discussions on Gregory Palamas in the last century had been the relationship between the theology of the hesychast theologian and the system of the “hierarchies” of Dionysius the Areopagite (or the “Pseudo-Dionysius”, the anonymous author of some writings which date from the end of the 5th century). In his Doctoral Dissertation, submitted at the University of Paris (Sorbonne), A Study of Gregory Palamas (Introduction à l’étude de Grégoire Palamas), Fr. Meyendorff—therein following the intuition of Fr. Georges Florovsky—had upheld the thesis that Palamas has applied a “Christological corrective” to the writings of Dionysius on the “Celestial Hierarchy” and the “Ecclesiastical Hierarchy,” the language of which is marked by a Neo-platonic flavor.


Some Orthodox theologians have disputed this interpretation by Frs. Meyendorff and Florovsky, in particular Fr. John Romanides. Some of the speakers in the next set of lectures shared the opinion of Romanides: Fr. Andrew Louth,  “Dionysius, Maximus, Palamas—and Meyendorff?”; and Pantelis Kalaitzidis,  “John Meyendorff and John Romanides : Two Different Approaches to Palamite Theology.” However, Mr. Goran Sekulovski, lecturer in Patristics at the Institute, in his talk entitled,  “Fr. John Meyendorff, Reader of Dionysius the Areopagite,” underlined the importance of Fr. Meyendorff’s study, in which the author points out that Palamas had replaced the mysticism of Dionysius within the context of the mystery of the Incarnation of Christ, which underlies all Christian spirituality and mysticism. For this reason, Mr. Sekulovski argued, there is no doubt that this study of Fr. Meyendorff still remains the basic study on this Byzantine theologian.


Two more lectures were dedicated to the theology of St. Gregory Palamas: Dr. Serge Horuzhy treated the relation between Palamite theology and ancient and modern philosophy (“Energy and Personality in the Theology of John Meyendorff and in Contemporary Philosophy”); and Dr. Stoyan Tanev reflected on the notions of “Sophia” and “Energy” in Byzantine and modern theology (“Divine ‘Sophia’ and ‘Energeia’ in 14th and 20th Century Orthodox Theology”).  


Meyendorff ConferenceThe second focus of Fr. Meyendorff’s theological interest was Christology. Mr. Jean-François Colosimo, lecturer in Patrology at the Institute and alumnus of St. Vladimir’s Seminary, presented a paper on ‘‘The Paschal Christology of John Meyendorff,’’ in which he pointed out that Fr. John has corrected a certain tendency in Orthodox theology to ignore the factor ‘‘ time’’ in the economy of salvation.

For Fr. Meyendorff, theology was not merely a speculative matter, but linked to the life of the Church in all its aspects. Other presentations dealt with certain subjects that were not the specialty of Fr. Meyendorff’s scholarly work, but in which he nevertheless had taken interest. Dr. André Lossky, professor of Liturgical Theology at the Institute, presented a paper on ‘‘The Feast of the Transfiguration as Witness to the Light,’’ in which he pointed out the theological meaning of the liturgical texts of that feast and their relationship to the theology of Gregory Palamas. Fr. Nicholas Ozolin, professor of Iconology at St. Sergius, explained the link between the theology of the icon and Christology (“Fr. John Meyendorff, Theologian of the Icon”). Two more lectures concerning the icon, presented by two other alumni of St. Vladimir’s, dealt with the Christian image in its cultural context: Fr. Stephan Bigham showed the link between Romanesque and Byzantine art (“Romanesque Art: the Last Western Art of Iconic Character”); and Dr. Alexander Dvorkin spoke about the influence of Western culture on the political and cultural life in Russia in the 16th Century (“Western Influences on Church Life in Muscovy in the First Half of the 16th Century”).


A special session was dedicated to the History of the Church, since Fr. Meyendorff was a renowned expert on the history of Byzantium and the Slavs. Dr. Pavel Pavlov presented a paper on the relationship between Gregory Palamas and the Islamic world (“Palamas’ View on Islam: Byzantine Insights for Contemporary Society”). Dr. Marie-Hélène Congourdeau presented a paper on ‘‘Nicholas Cabasilas and his defense of Gregory Palamas against the ‘trifles’ of Nicephoros Gregoras.’’ Dr. Marie-Hélène Blanchet presented an analysis of the development of the use of the term ‘‘katholikos’’ in Byzantium (‘‘The Different Meanings of the Term ‘katholikos’ in Byzantium at the End of the Middle Ages: a Confessional Controversy”). Finally, Dr. Constantin Vétochnikov presented a paper on “The Patriarchal Missions in the Russian Lands during the 14th and 15th Century.”


Transitioning to the last section of the rich and diverse program, dedicated to the Church in the contemporary world, a young scholar from Yekaterinburg, Mr. Andrey Levitskiy, talked about the activities and publications of Fr. Meyendorff in Russia (“Fr. John Meyendorff’s Publications in Russia: the Story of a ‘Memorial Festschrift’ ”) and the circumstances around the notorious “autodafé”—burning of books of, among others, Fr. Meyendorff and Fr. Alexander Schmemann, which had been organized in Yekaterinburg by Church authorities  in 1998.


During the last section, the lectures also touched on the role that Fr. Meyendorff had played in the Ecumenical Movement: Fr. Nicolas Lossky (St. Sergius Institute), ‘‘ Fr. John Meyendorff and the Ecumenical Movement”; Dr. Nicholas Kazarian (St. Sergius Institute), “Fr. Jean Meyendorff and the WCC.” Protopresbyter Boris Bobrinskoy, former Dean of St. Sergius, presented a paper on ‘‘Palamite Pneumatology in the Context of My Contacts with Fr. John Meyendorff,’’ in which he showed that Fr. Meyendorff had detected a possible breakthrough in the dead end, ancient controversy on the Filioque.


The last lectures of the final section and of the conference itself were devoted to the jurisdictional situation of the Orthodox Church, in particular in America.  Dr. Michel Stavrou, professor of Dogmatic Theology at the Institute, delivered a presentation on ‘‘The Role of the Ecumenical Patriarchate in the Ecclesiological Vision of Fr, John Meyendorff.’’ The final speaker, Dr. Paul Meyendorff, son of Fr. John Meyendorff, presented a talk on the role of his father in the establishment of the autocephaly of the Orthodox Church in America, which until now has not been officially recognized by the Patriarchate of Constantinople and other autocephalous Churches: ‘‘Fr. John Meyendorff’s Role in the Autocephaly of the Orthodox Church in America.” Discussion on the paper underlined that, for Fr. Meyendorff, the primacy of a Patriarchate or the autocephaly of a Church were not ends in themselves, and that unity of the Church is of prime importance.


Meyendorff ConferenceDuring a Round Table discussion, an interview between Fr. Nicholas Ozolin and Fr. Meyendorff was shown, which had been broadcast on the French television in the eighties. Several participants then shared their memories of Fr. Meyendorff. Dr. Paul Meyendorff remembered the last moments of his father’s life: his last words before dying were ‘‘the Eucharist," and these words revealed that his theology and spiritual life were focused on the Eucharist and on eschatology. “At that moment,’’ Dr. Meyendorff said,  “my father was already there, in the Kingdom of God.”


In his concluding remarks, Dr. van Rossum observed that Fr. Meyendorff shared this common eucharistic and eschatological vision with his friend and colleague Fr. Alexander Schmemann, “The roots of this theological vision were given to them by their alma mater, St. Sergius Institute,” Dr. van Rossum concluded.


To consult the conference program, click here.


View a photo gallery of this important conference, including many renowned Orthodox Christian scholars here.

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