Presidential Address by Dr. Paul L. Gavrilyuk, Founding President
Given at the Inaugural Conference of the International Orthodox Theological Association
National Theatre, Iaşi, Romania, January 9, 2019
Reverend Fathers, Colleagues, and Friends,
Welcome to the Inaugural Conference of the International Orthodox Theological Association! We are grateful to our generous hosts, His Eminence Archbishop Teofan and our site chair Catalin Jeckel, for their wonderful hospitality. We are also grateful to all the organizations who have made the launching of the International Orthodox Theological Association possible.
We chose the acronym “IOTA” for our association for two main reasons. First, because iota is the smallest letter of the Greek alphabet. As scholars and professionals, we wish to contribute our iota to the life of the Church and to do so with due humility.
Our second reason for choosing our acronym is because iota is the first letter of the word “Jesus” in Greek. When we think about leadership, we turn to the One who “came not to be served but to serve” (Mk 10:45). I want to take this opportunity to thank the Board, the Advisory Council members, the Group Chairs, and the steering committee members for generously offering their time and expertise. IOTA will flourish as long as we have your unfailing support and your servant leadership.
IOTA will succeed as long as Jesus Christ remains the foundation of our work. Jesus Christ as he is proclaimed in the scriptures and confessed in the creeds, Jesus Christ whom we have put on in baptism and whose Body and Blood we receive in the Eucharist, Jesus Christ who as the eternal Logos is the beginning and the end of all things. According to the teaching of St. Maximus the Confessor, “from all eternity, He [the Logos] contained within Himself the preexisting logoi of created beings. When, in His goodwill, He formed out of nothing the substance of the visible and invisible worlds, He did so on the basis of these logoi.” Since IOTA’s foundation is Christ, the twenty-five groups that represent different knowledge domains within IOTA have to be rooted in the logoi that derive from the Logos. The unity that obtains between the Logos and the logoi has to be reflected in IOTA’s focus on the exchange and integration of knowledge.
In the name of our association, the adjective “theological” indicates that the knowledge of God grounds, unifies, and completes all forms of knowledge. We see theology as unifying other knowledge domains rather than excluding them. This is why IOTA is not a society exclusively or even primarily for theologians. Rather, we are open to experts from all disciplines and to professionals from all walks of life, who are interested in an international exchange of knowledge within the context of the Orthodox Christian tradition. At this gathering and at future conferences, we welcome natural scientists, political scientists, historians, philosophers, artists, lawyers, medical doctors, and other professionals in our midst. Your joint expertise will enable IOTA to tackle the most difficult problems of our time.
Because of its international scope, I prefer to think of IOTA as the Orthodox Republic of Letters. Our Republic is unusual. It needs no army to defend itself. Rather, our main weapons are competence and persuasion. Our treasury reserve is not money, but the deposit of faith. Unlike the empires of this world, we are not interested in territorial expansion. Rather, our goal is to expand our knowledge base in order to contribute to the Church’s mission of spreading the faith. Unlike the nation-states, we have no national interests to protect. We are an international society that seeks to build up the Church with no particular expression of Orthodoxy dominating another. May IOTA become a place in the Church where, according to the apostolic word, “there is no longer Greek and Scythian,” but “Christ is all and in all” (Col. 3:10, 11).
However, in our Church and in the world we often find tensions and divisions. It is no secret that the tensions between various local Orthodox Churches often overshadow pan-Orthodox gatherings. Our jurisdictional quarrels have turned us inward; they have drained our financial resources; they have distorted our spiritual compass and have diminished the potential of the Church’s salvific mission. At times, these disputes have tragically escalated to the point of breaking the communion between the local Churches.
Could IOTA provide a new environment unencumbered by geopolitics? Is such an environment possible at all in this fallen world? Would IOTA prove resilient to the temptations of factionalism? Or would IOTA simply end up mirroring our ecclesial dysfunctions?
Dear friends, we have been scattered and isolated for too long. This scattering and isolation has much to do with our colonial and totalitarian past. As we continue to recover from this past, we need to make an ascetic and spiritual effort to gather our intellectual resources in order to respond to the challenges of our time.
Your response to our Call for Papers has been most inspiring. As a result, nearly three hundred papers will be presented at this conference. This is an unprecedented scholarly achievement in the history of modern Orthodoxy.
Your participation is a sign that the conciliar spirit is afoot.
Your robust intellectual output is an indication of Orthodoxy’s coming of age.
Your presence is an expression of our common desire for pan-Orthodox unity.
As a pan-Orthodox network, IOTA wishes to work constructively with the leadership of all local Churches. Indeed, our cooperation with the archdiocese and the city authorities of Iasi has been immensely productive. We are also blessed by the presence of several bishops, including today’s keynote speaker, metropolitan Kallistos (Ware).
Our gathering is a microcosm of world Orthodoxy. The members of most local Orthodox Churches are present here, in Iasi. The conference participants hail from around 40 countries. You have traveled from places as distant as Albania, Brazil, Kenya, and New Zealand. A student from New Zealand, Marina Pasichnik, wrote to me in her email: “I am grateful for the opportunity to join IOTA, especially because most of the authors on my reading list will be at your conference!” Well, we hope that Marina and other emergent scholars like her come away inspired and nourished. With the strong support of well-established academics, IOTA is poised to become the gold standard of Orthodox scholarship worldwide. Part of any gold standard is welcoming all participants with open arms and especially those whose voices have not always been able to reach an international audience. This includes particularly our colleagues from Africa, Asia, and the Middle East.
IOTA is also committed to encouraging the participation of female scholars and professionals. Women are called to participate in the life of the Church. Authentic conciliarity requires their input. IOTA will always be a place where their gifts are acknowledged and their leadership is valued.
We also welcome, as affiliate members, our Oriental Orthodox and other Christian friends. Whether you are giving papers, serving as Ecumenical Observers, or simply attending the conference, your presence and input are deeply appreciated. We, Orthodox, tend to spend too much time in splendid isolation from other Christians. It is important that we follow the call of the Holy and Great Council of Crete to engage and learn from other Christians. May IOTA’s conferences offer many opportunities for our mutual enrichment.
The Council of Crete has demonstrated that pan-Orthodox gatherings are possible in our time. The Council has also opened up some old wounds that continue to require healing. As a broad-based organization, IOTA seeks to give a concrete experience of “conciliarity from below.” At the Council of Crete, His Holiness Patriarch Daniel of the Romanian Orthodox Church expressed a hope that pan-Orthodox councils would be convened more regularly in the future. For example, IOTA could channel the input of the seminaries and other Orthodox institutions into the pre-conciliar deliberations. In addition, IOTA could prove vital for assuring lay participation in a future council. Along these lines, IOTA welcomes cooperation with the pre-conciliar commissions and with the Orthodox episcopate. To be clear, IOTA does not privilege the leadership of any one particular local Church and seeks to work constructively with all.
Friends, we are only at the beginning of our journey. Our working plan is to organize the mega-conferences every four years, a bit like the Olympic Games. Because we value cooperation over competition, you might call it an Olympics at which everybody has a chance to win. We hope that IOTA becomes a winning proposition for all of you. IOTA stands for the scholarship of the highest caliber for the good of the Church and the life of the world.
May our joint efforts bring us closer together. May our work in these upcoming days be pleasing in God’s sight. May we all acquire the mind of Christ, to whom be glory forever.
Thank you for your attention and God bless you.