31 August 2015

Finding common ground in dialogue
as we step across the water on stones

The afternoon rain leaves little opportunity to enjoy the gardens between Mong Hall and South Court in Sidney Sussex College, Cambridge (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2015)

Patrick Comerford

The IOCS summer conference in Sidney Sussex College, Cambridge, is looking at ecumenical and interfaith dialogue this week, and in the third session this afternoon [31 August 2015], the Greek theologian the Revd Professor Nikolaos Loudovikos of the University Ecclesiastical Academy of Thessaloniki, shared his personal experience in ecumenical dialogue between the Greek Orthodox and Roman Catholic traditions.

For 10 years, Father Nikolaos has been the Orthodox co-secretary of the Saint Irenaeus Joint Orthodox-Catholic Working Group. He is Professor of Dogmatics and Philosophy at the University Ecclesiastical Academy of Thessaloniki, a Visiting Professor at the Institute for Orthodox Christian Studies in Cambridge, and an Honorary Research Fellow at the University of Winchester.

This afternoon he spoke at the conference in Cambridge on “The International Catholic / Orthodox academic dialogue in the Saint Irenaeus Group: Adventures of an Orthodox Secretary.”

Father Nikolaos Loudovikos (π. Νικόλαος Λουδοβίκος) was born in Volos in 1959. He studied psychology, education, theology and philosophy in Athens, Thessaloniki, Paris and Cambridge. His PhD dissertation in Thessaloniki in 1989 was The Eucharistic Ontology in the Theological Thought of Saint Maximus the Confessor.

It was a discussion that brought us through the thinking of Saint Augustine of Hippo, Saint Maximus the Confessor, Saint Thomas Aquinas, through debates and discussions about the filioque, consubstantiality, perichoresis (περιχώρησις) and primacy.

He suggested that many disagreements arise when theologians from the past are pitted against each other when in fact they were talking about very different things.

He spoke with humour about the differences that can be expressed in formal dialogue and the common ground that can be shared in the informal discussions on the margins of talks.

He drew an analogy with the neurotic patient who either talks to the psychiatrist without talking about his neurosis, or who talks about his neurosis without talking to the psychiatrist.

Two priests are fishing in a lake in Switzerland one day, but fail to catch anything.
The Orthodox priest throws down his rod, throws up his arms and calls out: “Saint Gregory of Palamas, help me.” He gets out of the boat, walks on the water, goes across the lake to an island and starts catching fish.

The Catholic priest sees what is happening, throws down his rod, throws up his arms and cries out: “Saint Thomas Aquinas, help me.” He steps onto the water, and immediately steps out of the boat, tries to start walking on the water, and immediately begins drowning in the lake.

His Orthodox friend shouts out: “Step on the stones!”

Father Nikolaos has said: “Fortunately, Christianity is neither Platonism nor Stoicism. Everything in our body and soul is created by God, and as such absolutely sacred. It is up to my own freedom to get angry, fall in love, play, create, eat, rejoice, be sorrowful, in such a manner that will bring me continuously closer to the Divine Source of my being: this is what Incarnation means. God does not call me to escape from this world, but to transform it into a place of His manifestation.”

And he has told a Greek interviewer some years ago: “Anselm says: why did the Incarnation happen? So that the Son of God could be punished in the place of man. Gregory the Theologian says the Incarnation happened ‘because humanity must be sanctified by the Humanity of God’. Quite the opposite, in other words … Now try and build legalism on a position such as that of the Greek Fathers! It is impossible. That’s why many of my fellow students in France marvelled at us Greeks, saying: ‘vous êtes anarchistes’ (you are anarchists)!”

Our day concludes with Vespers in the Chapel of Sidney Sussex College at 5.30 p.m. and dinner at 6.30 p.m.

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