On Friday 13th August, St Andrew’s Theological College held the first of a series of e-lectures that it will be hosting this Semester as part of a series of presentations under the general title “Themes in Contemporary Theology.”
The College expresses its gratitude first and foremost to His Eminence Archbishop Makarios of Australia, Dean of the College, for his far-reaching vision to build bridges, to create connections and contacts with other Orthodox Colleges from all around the world and with internationally acclaimed Orthodox theologians. The initiative to hold such a series of e-lectures this Semester was borne out of His Eminence’s vision for St Andrew’s.
This Semester long series of presentations will host some of the most eminent Orthodox theologians of today, including: Revd Prof. John Chryssavigis, Prof. Peter Bouteneff, Revd Fr Aetios Nikiforos, Revd Dr Perry Hamalis, Revd Dr Chrysostom Nassis, Revd Dr Alexis Torrance, Prof. Paul Gavrilyuk, Revd Prof. Chad Hatfield, Prof. Philip Mamalakis, and Revd Fr Stefanos Alexopoulos.
The ongoing lockdown on account of the pandemic paradoxically presented the opportunity for this series of lectures, which will take place via zoom, thus providing students and faculty to gather “in one e-place” to encounter these foremost scholars.
The series began today with the Revd Prof. John Chryssavgis, the founding Sub-Dean of St Andrew’s Greek Orthodox Theological College as well as Archdeacon of the Ecumenical Throne. The title of his presentation was: “‘Solitude, Silence and Stillness: Subtle Variances of the Soul in the Letters of Barsanuphius and John”
Father Chryssavgis is a clergyman of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America, where he works in the Inter-Orthodox, Ecumenical and Inter-faith Office as its senior advisor and theologian, while assisting the Archbishop in matters related to the Pan-Orthodox Assembly of Bishops. He is Theological Advisor to His All-Holiness Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I, and a prolific author with over 40 books and countless peer reviewed articles.
The lecture was opened with prayer by His Grace Bishop Silouan of Sinope, Lecturer in Patristics at St Andrew’s, while Assoc. Prof. Kariatlis, introduced the speaker and Professor Diane Speed, Dean and CEO of the Sydney College of Divinity (SCD), warmly congratulated Fr John for his new role as Honorary Professor of St Andrew’s and the SCD more broadly.
Father John then expressed his gratitude to His Eminence Archbishop Makarios, His Grace Bishop Silouan, Philip, Diane, the faculty and the students, before taking us on a journey back to sixth century Gaza in Palestine, where Sts Barsanuphius and John laboured in semi-hermetic asceticism in ‘solitude’ and ‘silence’—indeed, they did not see anyone except for their secretaries.
Yet despite their physical isolation, 850 letters, dictated by them and preserved in the Greek language, survive; letters which answer questions to these elders addressed in writing by people from all walks of life. Father John highlighted the paradox of the elders’ ‘invisibility’ as leading to their universal appeal, manifested through both their epistolary correspondence as well as the prevalence of social activities around their nearby monastery: its hospital, facilities for teaching lay visitors, women’s gathering space, etc.
This was possible, Father John attested, because the elders sought ‘self-knowledge’ through silence and solitude which allowed them to become not only alert to others, but accommodate and love them unconditionally, which is especially manifested in their letters.
Father John then gave a wonderful analysis of ‘solitude,’ ‘silence,’ and ‘stillness’ based on examples from the saints’ letters, inviting us to consider the importance of these activities to both counterbalance the hustle-and-bustle of everyday life, but to also better live the Christian life. A robust Q&A, with the forty students and faculty members that attended, followed.