Ecclesiology Group


Michael Hjalm, Sankt Ignatius Theological Academy (Södertälje, Sweden)

Cyril Hovorun, Loyola Marymount University (Los Angeles, California, USA)

Archimandrite Cyril Hovorun is an Associate Professor of Theological Studies at Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles and Acting Director of the Huffington Ecumenical Institute. A graduate of the Theological Academy in Kyiv and National University in Athens, he accomplished his doctoral studies at Durham University under the supervision of Fr. Andrew Louth. Then he was a Chairman of the Department for External Church Relations of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church, First Deputy Chairman of the Educational Committee of the Russian Orthodox Church, and later a Research Fellow at Yale and Columbia Universities, Vice-Dean of Sankt Ignatios Theological Academy in Sweden.

Ecclesiology is his main field of study, where he has published three monographs: Political Orthodoxies (Minneapolis, MN: Fortress, 2018); Scaffolds of the Church (Eugene, OR: Cascade, 2017); Meta-Ecclesiology: Chronicles on Church Awareness (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2015).

Steering Committee:

Tamara Grdzelidze, Ambassador of Georgia to the Holy See (Rome, Italy)

Vaclav Jezek, University of Prešov (Prešov, Slovakia)

Andrey Shishkov, Moscow Academy (Moscow, Russian Federation)

Berge Traboulsi, Haigazian University (Beirut-Lebanon)

Vision Statement

The Ecclesiology Group will engage IOTA’s mission in order:

  1. To increase communication between theologians of different churches. The tensions and problems between different Orthodox churches are not only rational, but also irrational—in the sense that there is not enough communication between local councils and between churches. Theologians can bridge these gaps.
  2. To facilitate meetings between different theological institutions which associate themselves with Eastern Christian traditions. Theological institutions in the twenty-first century should not be biased from the ecclesiastical point of view. They need to be less entangled with church politics. There is therefore a need of a more independent arena for theological institutions to meet.
  3. To continuously evaluate developments in global Christianity and in the family of Orthodox churches. A critical, constructive, academic approach toward hierarchy and authorities is of the utmost necessity for the academic theology, which thus can serve the Church.

The Ecclesiology Group is called to explore the practice and social reality of the Church; to undertake the task of investigating the Church methodically, critically, and constructively; and to reflect on how theory and practice relate to one another. The Ecclesiology Group should also undertake an empirical approach to the study of the Church, with the aim of explaining the spiritual reality of the Church by using social and behavioral theories in connection with the Christian faith and tradition. The group should be less concerned with the origin and original content of the Christian faith and its presumed claim to the truth. It should rather deal with how this content functions in the Church and how it affects social, political, and ecclesial reality. Important issues for the group’s consideration would be: 1) How is power used? 2) How do theories affect the efficiency of the ecclesiastical organization? 3) How do liturgical theologies affect the people of God? 4) In what way can or cannot the ecclesiastical regulations have an impact on the emancipation of people?

The Ecclesiology Group in the framework of IOTA should therefore aim at enhancing the transformative power of the church in post-totalitarian societies. This will be a new step in the development of political theology. The Ecclesiology Group will enhance the social perspective on the engagement of religion with society, by integrating social and political sciences with Christian doctrine. Our group will also explore new ways of addressing the social and political context of the church. We consider these steps constitutive of political ecclesiology. They mark a new area of research, which synthesizes ecclesiology, sociology, and political science. Political ecclesiology is not about constructing new ideologies or renewing the doctrinal content of the church, but about studying how theological ideas are implemented through social practices and communication within and between the church and society. It differs from political theology in focusing on the study of social and communicative practices of churches in the process of social transformation, rather than on ideology and doctrine. At the same time, it reflects on the impact of ideology and doctrine upon the Church and society.

In preparation for the Great and Holy Council, there were not enough studies and reflections on the new circumstances and the changed context after the fall of the Soviet Union. Today we observe the rise of metaphysical speculations regarding the Church. They present the Orthodox Church as a non-empirical and cultic phenomenon, rather than an active agent in the twenty-first century. The idealization of the Church leads to sidelining the problems related to leadership and communication between the church’s strata. Furthermore, without a thorough study of the present-day empirical, social, and political realities of the Church, its history also becomes idealized. Today we need to question the fascination with the Byzantine Empire and the tendency to confine the Orthodox Church within the limits of the Byzantine heritage. We need to move forward beyond the empire. We have to care more about horizontal methods of communication than about following the trodden path of a self-imprisoned church. It is important to remember that the deconstruction of the imperial idea will open a way for unity with the pre-Chalcedonian churches. This unity has not been restored, even though theological dialogue has successfully resolved most Christological issues that have divided Byzantine and Oriental Orthodoxies. The deconstruction of the imperial mentality will enable the Church to communicate more successfully with the surrounding contexts, to find new ways of unity, and to embrace the future instead of the past.

In sum, the approach of the Ecclesiology Group is to apply critical analysis to both theory and practice in the church. The ultimate goal of this approach is to make the self-awareness of the Church sharper, more adequate, and more comprehensive for those who are inside and outside the Church.