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Professors of St. Sophia Ukrainian Orthodox Theological Seminary Represent UOC of the USA at largest International Gathering of Orthodox Scholars in Modern History!

The International Orthodox Theological Association (IOTA) assembled for its Inaugural Conference in Iaşi, Romania on January 9-12, 2019.  Three members of the St. Sophia Ukrainian Orthodox Seminary faculty participated: Dr. Gayle Woloschak, Dr. Carrie Frederick Frost, and Fr. Anthony Perkins.  Dr. Woloschak and Dr. Frost are both officers of IOTA and played a prominent role in organizing the conference.  Fr. Anthony was there as the official representative of St. Sophia's, a “supporting member organization” of IOTA.  All three participated in both the academic and social parts of the conference.

Dr. Gayle Woloschak, the Vice-President and Treasurer of IOTA, a member of the Metropolitan Council of the UOC-USA, and the director of the UOC-USA Strategic Plan, presented a paper for the Religion and Science Group entitled “Evolution Revisited: Compatibility with Orthodoxy.”  She also chaired the section, “Creation and the Ecological Problem” for the Joint Dogmatic Theology Group & Religion and Science Group and gave talks describing the “Orthodox Christian Mission Center “ and “Orthodox Christian Laity” at the panel, “Showcase of Orthodox Christian Organizations.” She describes the final day of presentations in a video available here (https://iota-web.org/videos-2/).

Dr. Carrie Frederick Frost, the Secretary of IOTA, gave a talk, ‘Without Corruption You Gave Birth to God the Word’: How We Understand Mary’s Virginity during Childbirth” for the “Women in the Orthodox Church Group” panel on “The Female Body in Orthodox Theology and Liturgy.”  She also chaired the panel, “Showcase of Orthodox Christian Organizations.”  She gave a summary of the first day of presentations in a video available here (https://iota-web.org/videos-2/).

Fr. Anthony Perkins, a member of the UOC-USA Metropolitan Council and Consistory, gave a talk entitled “Ritual Actions and the Development of Moral Instinct for the Moral Theology and Theological Anthropology Group's panel on “Emotion, Passion, and Virtues in Orthodox Theology.”  He recorded his talk and will publish it in an upcoming edition of his Ancient Faith Radio podcast “Good Guys Wear Black.”  The paper is available for download at stsuots.academia.edu/DouglasPerkins.  Fr. Anthony also gave a talk on St. Sophia Seminary for the panel, “Showcase of Orthodox Christian Organizations.” 

The participation of St. Sophia Seminary faculty was not the only thing of interest to members of the UOC-USA; much of the conference was devoted to issues involving Ukraine. This began with Mp. Kallistos' opening address to the conference, in which he gave a balanced presentation of the benefits and challenges of Ukrainian autocephaly.  In addition there were several papers devoted to the subject. These included “Rev. Prof. Cyril Hovorun's “Nature and Structures of the Church”, Dr. Tamara Gdzelizde's “National Boundaries of the Orthodox Church”, Dr. Mikhail Suslov's “Framing Autocephaly: What the Russian Officials and Grassroots Think about Granting Independence to the Ukrainian Church”, and Dr. Nicholas Denysenko (USA) "Ukrainian Autocephaly: A Postcolonial View".  It was a special blessing to hear and speak with Dr. Nicholas Denysenko and Fr. Cyril Hovorun on the subject as their's had been active voices of moderation and understanding during the long road to Ukrainian autocephaly. There were also several Ukrainian theologians that gave talks on other topics, these included Dr. Paul Gavrilyuk, the president of IOTA, who gave a talk and chaired a panel on his newest endeavor, “The Spiritual Perception Research Project.”  Two of our brothers from St. Andrew's College in Canada, Dr. Roman Yereniuk and Rt. Rev. Fr. Roman Bozyk, were also in attendance.

There was one exhibition that all the attendees were invited to attend; an exhibition of “Ukrainian Icons on Ammo Boxes” that was held in the Isasi Metropolitan's Museum.  These traditionally-styled icons are painted on the boards of ammo boxes to remind us that God is transforming our world of war into His place of peace.  You can learn more about this traveling exhibition which is used to raise awareness for the war in Ukraine and money for medical services for its casualties at medbat.org.ua.

Of course, there was more to the conference than hundreds of panels, papers, and exhibitions!  In addition to prayers and receptions, we had the opportunity to go on tours of local monasteries. One of those had a very special relevance for Ukrainian Orthodox: Neamts Monastery.  This is the monastery where Fr. Paisius Velychkowski spent his last fifteen years, the most productive of his amazing life.  There we were able to pray where he prayed, tour the museum which included some of his publications and vestments, and even venerate his relics.  This came on the final day of the conference, Sunday, and was surely the highlight of the entire trip.  We all look forward to the second IOTA conference in 2023.

Here is the official Press Release for the IOTA Conference (from iota-web.org/).

The Holy and Great Council of Crete in 2016 demonstrated that pan-Orthodox gatherings are possible in our time. In response to the call of the conciliar spirit, and with the blessing of the Church leadership, the International Orthodox Theological Association (IOTA) assembled for its Inaugural Conference in Iaşi, Romania on January 9-12, 2019. Founded by Dr. Paul Gavrilyuk and a group of leading scholars, IOTA’s mission is to promote the international exchange of knowledge within the context of the Orthodox tradition.

The overarching theme of the conference was Pan-Orthodox Unity and Conciliarity. The Keynote Address was given by His Eminence Metropolitan Kallistos (Ware). As Metropolitan Kallistos noted in his speech: “We have to confess, with humility and realism, that while we affirm synodality in theory, all too often we have neglected it in practice.” IOTA rose to this challenge by providing a vivid experience of “conciliarity from below.” With several hundred scholars from over 40 countries and all six continents, the Inaugural Conference was the largest and the most representative gathering of Orthodox church leaders, scholars, and professionals in modern history.

The list of conference speakers was a “Who’s Who” of global Orthodoxy. Attendees included experts in multiple disciplines, including not only theology but also natural science, history, philosophy, political science, medicine, linguistics, and the arts. A broad variety of topics were discussed in over 70 separate sessions, from fundamental philosophical and theological issues to the urgent questions of our time. Classical issues included such topics as Orthodox approaches to scripture, the doctrine of the trinity, and spirituality of Philokalia. Contemporary issues included the controversial church situation in Ukraine, ecological challenges, and the role of women in church life. A wide range of views was presented in an atmosphere of openness and collegiality.

The event began with a worship service offered by Metropolitan Teofan of Iaşi. It also included opportunities for communal worship, two sacred art exhibits, a pilgrimage to local monasteries, and a book exhibit to benefit emerging Orthodox scholars. The gathering was also enriched by the participation of presenters and observers from a variety of non-Orthodox faith traditions.

Conference participants reported not only appreciation of the quality of the scholarly presentations, but also their delight at interacting with such a diverse gathering and a sense of spiritual renewal. Many also expressed gratitude for the overwhelming hospitality provided by Archdiocese of Iaşi and Doxologia Publishing House, whose staff, clergy, and volunteers made the unprecedented event possible.

IOTA plans to host worldwide conferences every four years in different locations worldwide on the model of the Olympic Games.

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