|Ecclesiology and Nationalism in Postmodern Era|
Thursday, May 24, 2012 marked the beginning of the International Conference on “Ecclesiology and Nationalism in the Postmodern Era," which was organized by the Volos Academy for Theological Studies, in cooperation with seven other Orthodox Institutions from different countries (the Chair of Orthodox Theology at the University of Münster – Germany; the Orthodox Christian Studies Program at Fordham University – New York, U.S.; the Romanian Institute for Inter-Orthodox, Inter-Confessional and Inter-Religious Studies, INTER – Romania; the Christian Cultural Center of Belgrade – Serbia; St Andrews Biblical Theological Institute, Moscow – Russia; the Valamo Lay Academy – Finland; and the European Forum of Orthodox Schools of Theology - EFOST, Brussels). The conference was broadcast live on the web TV channel www.intv.gr and on the Radio Station of the Holy Metropolis of Demetrias.
The conference began with the Director of the Volos Academy for Theological Studies, Dr Pantelis Kalaitzidis, reading the greetings of the conference’s organizing committee, which briefly described the importance, the themes, issues, and dialogical nature of the conference. Metropolitan of Pergamon John Zizioulas then read the greetings of Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, which recognized the problems posed by nationalism—as a kind of temptation and deviation for the Church—, when worship of the nation becomes pre-dominant, replacing faith in Christ; he also made reference to the Synod of Constantinople’s condemnation of ethnophyletism in 1872. Archimandrite Epiphanius Economou, a homilist of the Metropolis of Demetrias, next read the message of Archbishop Hieronymus of Athens, which discussed the conference’s relevance to the contemporary multifaceted crisis, which poses the risk of leading to the emergence of various new forms of nationalism. In his brief remarks, Mayor Panos Skotiniotis highlighted the dual understanding of national identity as open and dialogical, but also as introverted and defensive, due to the need to preserve the sense of national uniqueness. The next greeting was by Metropolitan Ignatius of Demetrias, who briefly highlighted the historically dialogical nature of the Orthodox Church, making a brief historical reference to the various forms which were taken in the relationship between the Church and the nation in the East. Finally, Ms Claire Nikolaou, a member of the Volos Academy, read brief greetings from Aristotle Papanikolaou (Fordham University) and Sirpa Koriala (Valamo Lay Academy), who were unable to attend the conference.
In the first (and only) talk of the first session of the conference, Metropolitan of Diokleia Kallistos Ware (Ecumenical Patriarchate), developed the theme "‘Neither Jew nor Greek’: Ethnicity and Catholicity." Referring to the need for a balance between unity and multiplicity, the Metropolitan spoke about the eucharistic identity of the Church, which transcends all kinds of distinctions and divisions. He noted that, historically, the criterion for the organization of the Church was not and indeed can not be ethnicity, but rather only locality, i.e. the geographical factor. He analyzed (etymologically and theologically) the concept of phyletism, referring to the condemnation issued by the Synod of 1872. He particularly emphasized the importance of a synthesis between ethnicity and catholicity, since catholicity, if it is completely disconnected from ethnicity, runs the risk of becoming a purely abstract concept, whereas in the reverse, adherence to the nation becomes the decisive element in the consideration and organization of the local Church, as is often the case in the so-called "Diaspora," thus creating a kind of non-canonical reality or even "heresy." Referring to the way the concept "nation" is used in the Bible, the Metropolitan insisted that ethnicity is indeed the context within which each local church exists, but in no case should it define the identity of the Church, which is "One, Holy, Catholic... and not a National Church." The session ended with a very interesting discussion.
The first morning session of the second day of the conference, chaired by Dr Effie Fokas, Director of the Forum on Religion of the London Schools of Economics, featured Dr Lucian Leustean and Dr Paschalis M. Kitromilides.
Dr Lucian Leustean, Lecturer in Political Science and International Relations at the Aston Centre for Europe, presented a paper entitled "The Byzantine Principle of ‘Symphonia’ and the Nation-Building Process: The Autocephaly of the Church of ‘Moldo-Roumania’," in which he studied the relationship between the Orthodox Churches and nationalism during the 19th century in southeastern Europe. He argued that the principle of Byzantine “symphonia” has defined the relationship between Church and state in the region, with both the religious and political powers equally nostalgic about this model during the process of building their nations.
The second speaker, Dr Paschalis M. Kitromilides, Professor of Political Science at the University of Athens, spoke on “Enlightenment, Nationalism and National State, and Their Impact on the Orthodox World.” Trying to provide a historical snapshot and descriptions of the general form (but also including specific examples) of the relationship between Orthodoxy and the Enlightenment, and Orthodoxy and nationalism, the speaker attempted to show that the current and dominant interpretation of these relationships is, at the least, anachronistic and untenable.
In the second morning session, chaired by Dr Alexei Bodrov, Rector of St Andrews Biblical Theological Institute (Moscow), the speakers were Dr Bošco Bojovic, Dr Daniella Kalkandjieva, and Dr Dimitris Stamatopoulos.
In the first paper, Dr Bošco Bojovic, Professor at the Ecole des Hautes Etudes en Sciences Sociales, Paris, gave a talk entitled "Between the State and the Nation: The Churches in Southeastern Europe Between Nationalism and Confessionalism." With reference to the relationship between the state and the nation, the Orthodox Churches have followed the opposite path compared with the one followed by the Roman Catholic Church. The ethnocentrism of the Orthodox Churches is mainly due to the historical heritage of Eastern Christianity, as opposed to the theocracy of the Church of Rome. After the collapse of the Marxist regimes, the Orthodox Churches found themselves faced with new challenges concerning their relationships with the states in which they resided. This is especially the case in those areas known as the "eastern Balkans," where the evangelization of de-christianized countries was faced with the exploitation of the hierarchy by the post-communist regimes, which yearned for an ideology and legitimacy.
Dr Daniella Kalkandjieva, researcher at the Scientific Department of the Sofia University, Bulgaria, elaborated on the topic "Orthodoxy and Nationalism in Russian Orthodoxy." In her paper, she investigated the relationship between Orthodoxy and nationalism in the Russian Orthodox tradition. This paper presented a critical analysis of a widespread perception that Orthodoxy is inherently connected with nationalism, which, in the case of Russia, supposedly occurred as early as the baptism of the Kievan Russians. The speaker’s aim, then, was to determine the extent of this coupling between nationalism and Orthodoxy in the case of Russian Orthodoxy, and to trace its evolution and its key concepts.
In the last paper of the session, Dr Dimitris Stamatopoulos, Assistant Professor, University of Macedonia, presented the topic "Orthodox Ecumenism: Pre-Modern Survival, Modern Instrumentality, or Postmodern Invention? Some Reflections on the Condemnation of 'Ethnophyletism' in 1872." The obviously ideological use of the Bulgarian Schism of 1872 in recent years, particularly by a segment of the neo-Orthodox intelligentsia, has led some representatives of modern Greek historiography to criticize the sincerity of the intentions of the Local Synod that condemned ethnophyletism as a heresy. In his paper, the speaker attempted to highlight the presuppositions of this post-modern change while at the same time trying to define the historical content of the ecumenical ideology of the Patriarchate of Constantinople at the end of the 19th century.
In the afternoon session, chaired by Nikolaos Asproulis, MTh (Volos Academy), the speakers were Dr Vasilios Makrides and Dr Assaad Kattan (taking the place of Dr Tarek Mitri, who was unable to attend to the conference).
Dr Vasilios Makrides, Professor at the University of Erfurt, Germany, discussed the topic "Why are Orthodox Churches Prone to Nationalization? Examples and Hypotheses from the Greek-speaking World." Here, the speaker attempted to show, using examples primarily from the Greek-speaking Orthodox world, that the intense nationalization of Orthodoxy that occurred over the last two centuries should not actually come as a surprise. He also stressed the need to consider the issue on a more neutral basis—beyond good and evil—, since it involves developments beyond the control of the Orthodox Churches, but rather were dictated by the broader (and inevitable) structural changes that took place within the general development of human societies.
Dr Assaad Kattan, Professor at the University of Münster, Germany, spoke on "Communitarianism and Nationalism: The Case of the Church of Antioch." The way in which the Orthodox of the Patriarchate of Antioch describe themselves as Roman Orthodox (“Rum-Orthodox”) is determined by both Byzantine and Arabic elements. Today, the Rum-Orthodox are divided between the collapse of the Arabic national idea, the dictatorial regime of Syria, and the communitarian system in Lebanon, which recognizes the rights of the individual only insofar as that person is a member of a religious community. In the Diaspora, the situation of the Rum-Orthodox reveals an inconsistency between their integration, on the one hand, with respect to language, and, on the other hand, their emphasis on cultural differences in order to foster a sense of superiority.
The second day of the conference ended with a visit to the archaeological site of Fthiotides Thebes (the early Christian monuments of New Anchialos).
The third day of the conference began with a morning session, chaired by Professor Chrysostomos Stamoulis, President of the Thessaloniki School of Theology, featuring papers by Dr Christos Karakolis, Fr Nikolaos Loudovikos, and Dr Paul Meyendorff.
Dr Christos Karakolis, Assistant Professor of Theology at the University of Athens, spoke on "Church and Nation in the New Testament: the Formation of the Primitive Christian Communities." At the beginning of his presentation, the speaker listed the characteristics of the national Jewish identity within the framework of the ancient Roman world. He then argued that it was precisely this Jewish peculiarity that created problems in the early Christian communities (e.g. participation in common meals). In the next part of his paper, the speaker examined the way in which Paul attempted to address such problems. He also highlighted some key features of the new super-national identity of the Pauline communities, according to the rhetoric of Paul himself. Finally, he attempted to isolate some snapshots of the evolution of Christian identity from the Byzantine Empire to the modern Orthodox Church.
The second speaker was Fr Nikolaos Loudovikos, Professor at the Higher Ecclesiastical Academy of Thessaloniki, and Lecturer at the Orthodox Institute in Cambridge, who explored the topic "Nation and Nationalism in Patristic Theology and in Modern Thought: Is a Discussion Possible?" Starting with a brief description of, and conceptual distinction between, the concepts “nation” and “nationalism,” the speaker sought an answer to the question of whether a political theology was possible within Orthodox theology. Starting with Fr Florovsky’s dialectic between “Desert and Empire,” the speaker presented specific examples from the ecclesiastical tradition (Gregory of Nazianzus, Augustine) in order to demonstrate the existence of an ecclesial conception of “nation”—different from the current one—based on a Christological, eschatological transfiguration of national differences and identities into charismata of the Spirit. The speaker also referred to the various interpretations and understandings of nation in the framework of western philosophical and political thought.
Dr Paul Meyendorff, Professor at St. Vladimir’s Theological Seminary in New York, spoke on "Ethnophyletism, Autocephaly, and National Churches: A Theological Approach and Ecclesiological Implications." Because the Church is “in the world but not of the world,” the identification of the Church with the state, or of the Church with any particular ethnic or national identity, raises serious theological problems. Besides the purely theological issues that this situation creates, it also obstructs—to a great extent—the Church’s missionary efforts. Autocephaly, as it is understood and applied today, has come to mean absolute independence, following the model of the European nation-states of the 19th century, and this has compounded the problem of nationalism.
The second morning session, chaired by Professor Fr Emmanuel Clapsis from Holy Cross Greek Orthodox School of Theology, Boston, included papers by Dragica Tadić-Papanikolaou, MTh, and Fr Cyril Hovorun.
Dragica Tadić-Papanikolaou, MTh, Associate of the Christian Cultural Center of Belgrade, presented the topic "The Construction of the National Idea and Identity through Church Narratives." In her presentation, the speaker referred to some examples relating to the construction of the Balkan nations during the 19th and early 20th century. These examples show that the use of ecclesiastical narratives in a geographic area has not really changed in the last 150 years. At the end, she investigated whether and how much the Church and its models are used for the cultivation of national sentiment.
Fr Cyril Hovorun, Chairman of the Theological Department at the Sts Cyril and Methodius School of Graduate and Doctoral Studies of the Russian Orthodox Church, presented a paper entitled "Church and Nation: Looking through the Glasses of Post-secularism." In recent years, sociologists, political scientists, and philosophers have begun to discuss a phenomenon called "post-secularism." In fact, there are many versions of post-secularism. In this paper, emphasis was given to post-secularism in the context of post-totalitarian societies. This latter version is characterized by dualism and the ideologization of the Church. However, post-secularism also plays some positive roles in societies and the Churches, such as, for example, encouraging Christians to believe in rational way.
Professor Assaad Kattan chaired the first afternoon session with Fr Gregorios Papathomas and Metropolitan of Pergamon John Zizioulas.
Fr Gregorios Papathomas, Professor of Theology at the University of Athens and at the St. Sergius Theological Institute, delivered a paper entitled “Ethnophyletism and the So-called ‘Diaspora’: National or Territorial Principle?” In his presentation, the speaker referred in particular to the concept of ethnophyletism as the power source of the ecclesial "Diaspora," and spoke of the ecclesio-canonical parameters of the concept of autocephaly. He also spoke, in retrospect, about the canonical solution to the issue of the “Diaspora” and the dual relationship between the State-Nation (État-Nation) and Nation-State in respect to the "Diaspora."
Metropolitan of Pergamon John Zizioulas, of the Academy of Athens (Ecumenical Patriarchate), developed the topic of "Primacy and Nationalism." The speaker, trying to answer the question of how primacy should function within the context of nationalism, and how it should be exercised in this perspective, described the basic ecclesiological principles of the concept of primacy (the eucharistic identity of the Church, conciliarity, etc.). Thus, the Metropolitan argued that the role of primacy emerged (historically and theologically) in light of the overcoming of every kind of division within the body of the Church, while, at the same time, he noted the ecclesiological aberrations that have occurred in the Diaspora, because of the use of national and cultural criteria in considering the true constitution of the local churches.
The last session of the day, chaired by Professor Petros Vassiliadis of Thessaloniki University, included presentations by Dr Davor Džalto and Dr Radu Preda.
Dr Davor Džalto, Professor at the University of Niss, explored the issue of "Nationalism and State Orthodoxy." Nationalism, ethnophyletism, and statism are ongoing challenges facing Orthodoxy in countries in which it remains the traditional and dominant faith. There is a general perception that the national principle in relation to the organization of the Church is valid and can be legitimized on the basis of Orthodox theology. Although this principle runs counter to Orthodox ecclesiology, it continues nevertheless to be the dominant expression of Orthodoxy throughout the entire Orthodox world, as well as outside the traditionally Orthodox countries.
Dr Radu Preda, Professor at the University Babes-Bolyai, spoke on "Religious Nationalism, Fundamentalism, and Social Anachronism." The speaker dealt first with religious nationalism which, indeed, represents the most advanced form of religious secularism. He then addressed the emergence of a social anachronism that became more visible because of the spirit of our times, characterized by globalization and communication in global scale, but also by the genuine universality of the message of the Church of Christ. At the end, he spoke of the various efforts at a national "privatization" of the faith, which are nothing more than denials of the faith.
Before the last session on the fourth and final day, participants took part in a Hierarchical Divine Liturgy, presided over by Metropolitan John of Pergamon, which took place on Sunday morning, at the Church of the Ascension of Christ, in the city of Volos.
In the last session of the International Conference, chaired by Dr Aikaterini Tsalampouni, Lecturer at Thessaloniki University, the speakers were Dr Pantelis Kalaitzidis and Alexander Verkhovsky.
Dr Alexander Verkhovsky, (SOVA Center, Moscow), explored the topic “‘Political Orthodoxy’: Religion’s Involvement in the Identity Formation Process.” The main objective of the Russian Orthodox Church is simply to see its influence increase, and this necessitates a gradual de-secularization of society. Although the Church is not involved in politics in the strict sense, it nevertheless has been offering its own political theory to the country, delivered in a series of texts, starting from: “The Foundation of the Social Understanding.” This teaching can be seen as an innovative and relatively well-developed version of Russian nationalism. From the moment this teaching was put into practice under the guidance of Patriarch Kirill of Moscow, when he was still a Metropolitan, it could be described as 'the Kirill doctrine.” The Russian Orthodox Church’s proposals were aimed at the de-modernization and de-secularization of society, even though the degree to which these Church leaders’ ideas can be applied in real life is a matter of debate. Nevertheless, the Russian Church itself began to change as a result of the methods used for the development and promotion of the “Kirill doctrine.” In this paper, the speaker examined two aspects of the phenomenon: the audience targeted by Patriarch Kirill and his supporters, and the language they used to appeal to this audience. As a preliminary conclusion, the speaker observed that the Russian Orthodox Church’s public activity is leading to a gradual change of the image of Russian Orthodoxy in Russian society.
Dr Pantelis Kalaitzidis, Director of the Volos Academy for Theological Studies, spoke on “Ecclesiology and Globalization: In Search of an Ecclesiological Model Relevant to the Time of Globalization (After the Previous Contextual Models: Local, Imperial, National).” The starting point of his presentation was Fr Alexander Schmemann’s distinction between three types of ecclesiological paradigms and relationships between the churches—in other words, three levels of canonical tradition in the history of the Church: the local, the imperial, and the national. Fr. Schmemann correlates these types to specific historical periods with their respective cultural and political forms, as well their models of the relationship between Church and state. Thus, the local ecclesiological paradigm is connected to the pre-Constantinian period, with the early Christian communities scattered throughout the ecumene, the imperial ecclesiological paradigm with the Roman/Byzantine Empire, and the national ecclesiological paradigm with the emergence of nationalism in the Enlightenment era and the creation of nation states. After a brief theological reflection on the relationship between the local Church and the universal Church, and the relationship between the One and the Many, the speaker turned his attention to the question of which ecclesiological paradigm the Orthodox Church will employ in the age of globalization, when national borders are quickly being transcended and geographical boundaries are evaporating.
At the end of the session, as with all the sessions, there was sufficient time for a very interesting and lively discussion among the participants.
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