The first gathering of the St. Athanasius Lutheran-Orthodox Theological Fellowship took place at the Centre St. Thomas in Strasbourg, France, from March 25 to 29, 2015. The Fellowship is a new initiative of the Volos Academy for Theological Studies in Volos, Greece, and the Institute for Ecumenical Research in Strasbourg.
The Fellowship was founded in order to foster friendship and intellectual exchange between Lutheran and Orthodox theologians. Building on the great advances made by the regional and international dialogues between the two church communities, the Fellowship aims to combine the two traditions’ respective resources for a symbiotic effect in addressing the urgent questions facing both church and society in the twenty-first century.
Participants in the Fellowship traveled from all over Europe and North America for the several days of mutual conversation and reflection. The Orthodox team included Dr. Pantelis Kalaitzidis (Greece), Director of the Volos Academy for Theological Studies and Orthodox chair of the Fellowship; Rev. Dr. Radu Bordeanu (USA), Associate Professor at Duquesne University in Pittsburgh; Dr. Anna Briskina-Müller (Germany), Martin-Luther-Universität of Halle-Wittenberg; Dr. Konstantinos Delikonstantis (Greece/Switzerland), Professor at Athens University and Institute of Postgraduate Studies in Orthodox Theology in Chambésy; Rev. Heikki Huttunen (Finland), General Secretary of the Finnish Ecumenical Council; Dr. Assaad Elias Kattan (Germany), Professor and Chair of Orthodox Theology at the University of Münster and Mr. Georgios Vlantis, M.Th., (Greece/Germany) Scientific staff member of the Volos Academy and the Department of Orthodox Theology at the University of Munich and Orthodox secretary of the Fellowship.
The Lutheran team included Rev. Dr. Sarah Hinlicky Wilson (France/USA), Assistant Research Professor at the Institute in Strasbourg and Lutheran chair of the Fellowship; Mgr. Anna-Mária Benková (Serbia/Slovakia), Lutheran Theological Faculty of Comenius University in Bratislava; Rev. Mgr. Anne Burghardt (Estonia/Switzerland), Secretary for Ecumenical Relations at the Department for Theology and Public Witness of the Lutheran World Federation; Rev. Prof. Dr. Reinhard Thöle (Germany), Professor at the Theological Faculty and Seminar for Eastern Church Studies at the Martin-Luther-Universität of Halle-Wittenberg; Rev. Dr. Olli-Pekka Vainio (Finland), Senior Lecturer in Systematic Theology at the University of Helsinki; and Mr. Martin Kopp (France) at the Protestant Theological Faculty of the University of Strasbourg and Climate Justice Advocacy Officer for the Lutheran World Federation as well as Lutheran secretary of the Fellowship.
To set a firm foundation for future work, this initial meeting of the Fellowship sought to map out the themes, new directions, and areas for development in the theology of the two churches. The topics of the papers were: “Classic Themes in Lutheran Theology” (Sarah Hinlicky Wilson), “Church and World in Orthodoxy: Theory vs. Reality” (Anna Briskina-Müller), “History and Current Trends in Luther Research” (Anna-Mária Benková), “Orthodox Theology and Hermeneutics: A Critical Overview” (Assaad Elias Kattan), “Lutheran Theology and Postmodern Philosophy” (Olli-Pekka Vainio) and “New Developments and Current Trends in Orthodox Theology” (Pantelis Kalaitzidis).
After lively and intensive discussion, the Fellowship resolved to meet again in 2017 to take up the topic of “Historical Hermeneutics,” with particular attention to the various roles that the past can and does play in shaping our churches and theology in the present and future. The topic is particularly appropriate, as the 2017 meeting will follow directly upon the Pan-Orthodox Council planned for 2016 and will take place during the 500th jubilee year of the beginning of the Lutheran Reformation. Sessions were tentatively planned for 2019 and 2021 on the themes of “Theological Anthropology” and “Political Theology.” Publication is anticipated of the Fellowship’s papers in due course.
The Fellowship selected the patronal name of St. Athanasius in recognition of this church father’s importance to both of our communities, especially for his strong christological teaching.
The Volos Academy for Theological Studies functions as an open forum of thought and dialogue between the Orthodox Church and the broader scholarly community of intellectuals worldwide.