Thursday, May 7, 2009

The XIIIth Western European Orthodox Congress

Given that the great majority of readers of this web log live in North America, where news of the life of the Orthodox Churches in Western Europe almost never reaches, I thought it might be helpful to provide a description (which I've translated from the French-language of a conference that was just held in Amiens, France. I hope this will serve as one step, albeit a very small one, to overcoming a certain provincialism that recognizes that Orthodoxy exists in the "old world" and in my own neighborhood, but nowhere else. The hyperlinks are, once again, my own contribution.
The XIIIth Western European Orthodox Congress, which met in Amiens from the evening of April 30 to May 3, 2009, drew six Orthodox bishops and more than 700 people around the theme "Creation Entrusted Into Our Hands." The theme was the essential question of man's place on Earth and of his responsibility thereto. It invited reflection on the witness the Orthodox Church can make to our society today on this subject. The congress, organized by the Orthodox Fellowship of Western Europe, drew Orthodox from both western countries (France, Germany, Belgium, Holland, Great Britain, Switzerland) and others (Benin, Estonia, Romania, Greece, Russia), offering them an occasion for prayer and common reflection with the blessing of the Council of Orthodox Bishops of France. The Divine Liturgy on Sunday, May 3, was presided over by Metropolitan Emmanuel of France. Also attending the congress were Archbishop Gabriel (Ecumenical Patriarchate), Metropolitan Seraphim of Germany and Metropolitan Joseph (Romanian Patriarchate), and the Bishops Basil and Athenagoras (Ecumenical Patriarchate). The congress was judged a success by the great majority of participants due to the richness of contributions and the ensuing discussions.

The program consisted of four keynote addresses (with simultaneous translation into French, English, and Dutch): "The Mystery of Creation," in which Michel Stavrou, professor of dogmatic theology at the St Serge Institute, demonstrated how, in the light of the Bible and the Fathers, to understand the project of "the God of the earth" (Rev 11:4) on the world. "Ecology and Environment: A Challenge for the Church," in which Elisabeth Theokritoff (Institute for Orthodox Christian Studies, Cambridge) underlined the measures the Orthodox Church could take in raising environmental awareness today. "Adam, Where Art Thou (Gen 3:9)" by Peter Bouteneff (St Vladimir's Seminary, NY), which centered its reflexion on the human condition, marked by death but created in God's image. 'Towards Daily Transfiguration," in which Bertrand Vergely, lecturer in moral theology at the St Serge Institute, invited reflection on the tension between the present and the coming of the Kingdom of God in its newness.

Two additional presentations were also given on the central theme of the congress: "The Ecological Project and the Ecumenical Patriarch" by Bruce Clark (London), and "The Role of Monasticism in the Evolution of Creation" by Igumen Symeon (Monastery of St Silouan, Le Mans).

Participants could also attend one of three simultaneous panel discussions. The first, entitled "Managing our home, planet earth. How do we move from sub-primes to an economy of communion?" was moderated by Michel Sollogoub (Paris). The second, "The City: cradle of Christianity, a sea of faces," moderated by Noël Ruffieux (Fribourg), returned to the central question: how can one make the urban desert a place of solidarity? The third, moderated by Fr Christophe D'Aloisio (Brusells) and Véronique Lossky (Paris), offered a debate on the question: "Orthodoxy in Western Europe: what direction should we take?"

Twenty workshops on themes of Christian life allowed everyone to share experiences, have dialogue, and discover different realities.

An evening of remembrance, on May 1, was also dedicated to the memory of Olivier Clément, the great Orthodox theologian and professor emeritus at the St Serge Institute, who reposed in Christ on January 15, 2009. A pilgrimage was held to the Amiens Cathedral, which houses the relic of the head of St John the Baptist taken by the Latins from Constantinople during the Fourth Crusade (1204), which was made available to participants for a service of veneration by the cathedral's Catholic parish before the closure of the congress on the afternoon of May 3.

At the conclusion of the congress, the participants addressed a message to the Ecumenical Patriarch, Bartholomew:

"We are gathered around our bishops in the joy of the Resurrection in order to pray together and to reflect on a theme of burning contemporary importance: 'Creation Entrusted Into Our Hands.' Together, we have lived in ecclesial unity [...] However, returning tomorrow to our parishes marked by jurisdictional fragmentation and mutual ignorance, we will suffer all the more from the discrepancy between the catholic unity that we have lived and the state of disorganization and passivity of our ecclesial reality, which we denounce and from which we have suffered from the first congress in Annecy in 1971," they declared. "We have been informed that, in several weeks, a preparatory preconciliar meeting will be held in Geneva that will address the difficult question of the organization of the Orthodox presence in the West. We place our hope in our bishops, that they will put this organization into alignment with the ecclesiology of communion that we confess and that we have just lived during these three days," they continued, before adding: "We entreat you to hear the urgency of this message and the distress it expresses, and we beg that our request be taken into direct consideration."

To view a photo album, click here.

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