Two trustees from St. Vladimir’s Orthodox Theological Seminary, Board Chair Ann Glynn-Mackoul and the Rev. Dr. Philip LeMasters, recently attended an international conference titled “Christian Presence and Witness in the Middle East Today: Theological and Political Challenges.”
The conference was held June 19–23, 2011 in Volos, Greece at the invitation of the World Council of Churches and the Volos Theological Academy and was hosted by His Eminence, Metropolitan Ignatius of Demetrias. The thirty participants included theological scholars, social scientists, politicians, and church representatives, primarily from Orthodox churches in the Middle East but also including representatives from other Christian bodies in that region.
At the Volos conference, participants first examined the relevance and the different aspects of the “Kairos Document” issued in December 2009 by Palestinian Christians from all church traditions. Second, they analyzed the socio-political challenges facing the Christians in the Middle East against the background of the recent uprisings in the Arab World. And finally, they listened to Christian witnesses from different parts of the region.
During his presentation, Fr. Philip, a priest of the Orthodox Antiochian Archdiocese of North America and dean of Faculty of Social Sciences at McMurry University, spoke on “Orthodox Approaches to Non-violent Resistance.” After first reviewing the roots of the conception in the life and teaching of Jesus Christ, he turned to the martyrs and confessors who, with their non-violent resistance, confronted and refused to obey the secular powers’ demands that they abandon their faith.
“Though I had the honor of presenting a paper on non-violent resistance,” commented Fr. Philip, “my main function at the conference was to learn by hearing firsthand accounts of the struggles and opportunities faced by our brothers and sisters in Christ in the land of our Lord’s birth. I came away from Volos with a heightened interest in the complex political and religious dynamics of the region and a number of new insights to share with my students and parishioners.”
Mrs. Mackoul, who moderated a session at the conference, noted, “It was an interesting and important gathering, with broad significance particularly in its timing, as it took place so immediately following the public remarks of the Archbishop of Canterbury to the BBC about the Christians of the East, which remarks received such strong negative reaction from among Christians living in the area.
“Conference attendees,” she continued, “were reminded that Christians in Egypt, Iraq, Lebanon, Syria, Palestine and Israel—rooted in those areas since the time of Christ—are constantly and forcefully confronted with the importance of defining the relationship between communal loyalty and national identity, not only in the realm of ideas but in their daily lives. It is important to remember that religious identity and communal identity are not one and the same.
Meaningful identities are multiple. “Support in prayer and understanding from the Christians of the West of the actual situations in those communities and the aspirations of the Christians in the East as members of pluralistic societies is critical for maintaining this traditional Christian presence,” she concluded. “Alarmism and resignation about migration of Christians from the area will have the tendency to accelerate the very result that is feared.”
The conference was followed worldwide through an Internet live stream, intv.gr. The meeting comes in advance of a second meeting with religious leaders to take place in the Middle East in November 2012.