Athens, October 16, 2023
L to R: Abp. Ieronymos of Athens, Pat. Theodoros of Alexandria, Abp. Georgios of Cyprus. Photo: orthodoxianewsagency.gr
A host of primates and hierarchs from throughout the Orthodox world gathered in Athens last week and over the weekend for the academic conference organized by the Church of Greece in honor of the centenary of its Theologia journal.
In addition to Archbishop Ieronymos of Athens and the attending hierarchs of the Church of Greece, the opening of the conference was also attended by Patriarch Bartholomew of Constantinople, Archbishop Georgios of Cyprus, Archbishop Anastasios of Albania, and hierarchs, clergy, and lay representatives of the Churches of Alexandria, Antioch, Jerusalem, Georgia, Serbia, Romania, Bulgaria, and Poland.
And on Sunday, October 15, several primates and hierarchs gathered for the celebration of the Divine Liturgy in the Metropolitan Church in Athens.
The service was presided over by Patriarch Theodoros of Alexandria, who had arrived after the opening of the conference, with the concelebration of Abp. Georgios of Cyprus, Abp. Ieronymos of Athens, Metropolitan Stephanos of the Constantinople’s Estonian Church, and several Greek hierarchs, reports Romfea.
Following the service, Abp. Ieronymos spoke about the conference (Orthodox Theology on the Way to the “Immaterial Reality” of Late Modernity), which dealt with the Church’s response to rapidly progressing technology:
When we conceived the idea for the theme of the conference, many people were surprised and asked me: “Well, how did it happen that the Church also deals with technology?” And others hastened to prejudge that from the gathering, the Church will demonize modern technology, dogmatizing with wooden language. Both of these reactions start from the fact that many perceive the Church statically. They consider that it is an outdated institution, which has fossilized in the past, which has no connection with modern reality and its reason is regressive.
What I would like to emphasize is that the word of the Church is eternal, because it has to do with the salvation of man. This is something that is not affected by historical conditions. Of course, no one can ignore the reality of his time. This does not mean that we are forced to assimilate the spirit of the times. But because we have to know how each condition—historical, economic, social, scientific, technological—reshapes the old problems or creates new ones. And it is necessary to know this, in order to direct our theological discourse towards the most specific contemporary problems. With this in mind, we organized the conference—to highlight the problems that the rapid development of technology has caused in our world. Not only the problems that are visible to the naked eye, such as for example the destruction of the environment, climate change, the depletion of natural resources, the increase in poverty, but everything else that is hidden, hidden under the surface. These are perhaps the most important. Because, without us realizing it, they affect the way we think and the way we live.
For example, we are surrounded by so-called “smart” machines: mobile phones, air conditioners, televisions. We live in the age of automation. What consequences does this have on our thinking, on our behavior? In the way we treat our fellow human beings, nature, and God? And how does automation, which makes it easier for us, ultimately affect our freedom? From the middle of the 20th century, the fear began to spread that living in a mechanized world, man would completely lose his identity. What can we answer to this? How will modern man deal with the loss of his personality?
We tried to highlight this reality, in its most possible dimensions. Our goal was not to demonize progress. And of course, our proposal is not to return to a society of simple tools—although there have been philosophers who have expressed such views. We are not Luddites. We grew up without a telephone or with an analog one, at best.
But our young people do not have this experience and cannot understand it. Describing it nostalgically has no effect. Criticizing them for being so dependent on technology is out of place.
What we can and must do, however, is to teach them to be critical of all these concepts that have almost been deified: Is it really progress to have the latest smartphone model? Is the possibility of direct communication really beneficial for human relations? In the same way, we must also position ourselves against the spirit of our time. Critically and not critically. The role of theology, moreover, is not to criticize but to distinguish. And to distinguish, based on the truth, which, as St. Maximus the Confessor said, is “the state of the future.” The truth must be sought in the end, in the eschaton.
Throughout history, there will always be a conflict between the spirit of the world and the spirit of the Church.
In this conflict, the Church must take a position. Not to condemn and criticize the spirit of the world. Certainly not to impose anything. Because human freedom is very important. It is a gift from God. Our mission is to tell the truth. Not on a whim. But because this truth is related to our salvation. Both now and in the end…
We cannot, as a Church, be “unworldly,” to cut off all contact and communication with the world and isolate ourselves. However, we must not become secularized either. In other words, we must be “in the world.” We must engage with the world and invite it to foretaste, here and now, the coming Kingdom.
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