"Let books be your dining table, / And you shall be full of delights. / Let them be your
And you shall sleep restful nights" (St. Ephraim the Syrian).

Wednesday, February 3, 2021

From Romania to the Kingdom

On Monday I received in the mail a handsome and worthy volume that does honour to the outstanding inaugural conference of the International Orthodox Theological Association (IOTA) that I attended in January 2019 in Isai, Romania. That splendid conference was superbly organized by many people, but above all Paul Gavrilyuk who is also the editor of this volume: Pilgrims Toward the Kingdom: the Beginnings of the International Orthodox Theological Association (St. Paul, MN: IOTA Publications, 2020), ix+245pp+166 illustrations.  

Having contributed to, edited, and overseen the publication of numerous sets of conference proceedings over the years (including one forthcoming late this year from Peeters), I am not used to finding such a superlative example as this. Many times published in very expensive limited print runs by academic presses, and almost never illustrated, this volume, by contrast, is a large hardcover, on high-quality paper, lavishly illustrated all in colour, and with a highly detailed index as well. As a result the entire book, like the conference itself, reflects the hard work and uncompromising approach of the editor and redounds to his credit. That said, this is not in fact a book of proceedings. Many of the papers (as mine was) have already been published elsewhere.

Instead, this book begins by tracing the roots of IOTA to the Council of Crete in 2016, and to subsequent meetings thereafter, especially the Jerusalem gathering. The structure of IOTA, and its various working groups, are then detailed along with the rationale for each of the many diverse groups, from dogmatic theology to canon law to liturgy to Byzantine studies to ecumenical studies to Scripture, missiology, literature, ecology, politics, patristics, media, and on and on. 

For me it was a glorious conference not just because of the quality of papers and people there, but also because of the location. Iasi, Romania was a lovely and charming town and one day I should be glad to go back. Since I began my involvement in the ecumenical movement in Australia in 1991, where I met and for years afterwards remained friends with a young man from Romania who gave me an icon of the Theotokos I have always treasured (it sits beside my computer in my office at the university), I have wanted to get to Romania, and finally did. That we arrived the day after Christmas into a provincial city with freshly fallen snow, and abundantly decorated for the holidays, only added to my delight in the location. 

The other outstanding feature of this conference--at which I both gave a paper and was also an official ecumenical observer--was its unapologetic model of doing theology liturgically and prayerfully. We opened in the cathedral with a moleben that was wonderfully sung, walking home from which afterwards through the snow while seeing the dazzling displays of lights only adding to our liturgy after the liturgy. As I said in an interview I gave during the conference, the fact that we were doing theology liturgically, prayerfully, constitutes both a positive model for, but also a gracious rebuke of the more typical model of academic conferences where the sessions consist of nothing but lectures. 

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