24 July 2022

IOCS Cambridge conference
to focus on the life and
work of Pavel Florensky

Patrick Comerford

For many years, I enjoyed the annual conference in Cambridge organised by the Institute for Orthodox Christian Studies.

For almost a decade, these conferences usually took place in Sidney Sussex College, Cambridge, and from 2008 the IOCS played an important role in my continuing education and in my spiritual growth. As a student of IOCS, I was interviewed in Cambridge five years ago for a video on the work of the institute.

So, I am disappointed that my health and personal circumstances mean I cannot take part in the international conference being organised by IOCS this year. The IOCS International Conference 2022 – ‘Pavel Florensky for the 21st Century’ – takes place from 14 to 16 September in Cambridge.

The martyred Russian Orthodox theologian and priest Pavel Alexandrovich Florensky (1882-1937) was murdered on the night of 8 December 1937 in a wood near Saint Petersburg, and he is now regarded in Orthodoxy as a New Martyr and Confessor.

At the summer conference in Cambridge in 2014, Dr Christoph Schneider, Academic Director of IOCS, spoke on ‘Pavel A Florensky’s ‘Critique of Impure Reason’ and the debate about fideism and onto-theology,’ while Dr Natalia Vaganova from Saint Tikhon’s Orthodox University stimulated an unexpected discussion on the unusual working relationship between Father Floensky and Leon Trotsky in the early years of Soviet Russia.

Trotsky strongly believed in Florensky’s ability in the electrification of rural Russia, and there are contemporary accounts of the remarkable sight of Father Florensky wearing his priest’s cassock and cross as he worked alongside other leaders of a government department.

Although Trotsky asked him to wear a suit, Florensky insisted that while he had no parish he was still a priest, and insisted on wearing his cassock and cross and keeping his long priest’s beard. He continued to hold teaching and research positions until 1934.

This year’s conference in Cambridge is an on-site event taking place at Wesley House (14 and 16 September) and at Westcott House (15 September). Online participation is also available and the event will be broadcast via Zoom.

The conference, organised by IOCS Cambridge with Professor Bruce Foltz of Eckerd College, Florida, will explore the significance of Florensky’s work for both thought and life in the 21st century.

In 1904, at the age of 22, Florensky wrote that his aim was ‘to establish a synthesis of ecclesiality (tserkovnost) and worldly culture’ and ‘to honestly embrace all the positive teaching of the Church and the scientific-philosophical worldview together with the arts, etc.’

A decade later, in his early magnum opus, he begins by prescribing what he calls ‘living religious experience’— accessible through ascetic practice — as the ‘sole legitimate’ path to retrieve the treasures of Christian knowledge.

These statements by the young Florensky capture the main thrust of his intellectual oeuvre. His thought is characterized by a bold and extraordinary cross-fertilisation among philosophy, mathematics, science, art, and a wide range of other disciplines that is rooted in a theological vision of the world.

Trained in mathematics and physics, Florensky employed the scientific and mathematical paradigm changes that occurred at the beginning of the 20th century to articulate his integral Christian worldview and to set out his understanding of reality, knowledge, cult and human culture.

Human existence, he believed, unfolds at the boundary of immanence and transcendence, and the one-sided, post-Kantian attempt to investigate the world sub specie finite has ran its course with little to show for its efforts.

Florensky, however, was convinced that both these revolutionary scientific discoveries and the direct experience of spiritual realities served to undermine the anti-metaphysical and positivist orientation that dominated the second half of the 19th century, paving the way for what he would later call a ‘concrete metaphysics’.’

Much of his work remains under-researched, especially in the West where his writings are only beginning to be translated. The conference seeks to help overcome this gap.

The main aim of the conference is to investigate the fruitfulness of his ideas for the task of thinking in the 21st century. Speakers are invited to analyse any aspect of Florensky’s work. For instance:

• How far can Florensky’s notion of ‘living religious experience’ be grasped as a reinterpretation or development of the noetic illumination of Byzantine mysticism?

• To what extent does his understanding of ‘experience’ resonate with the phenomenological reduction that originated in Western Europe at the beginning of the 20th century?

• Can Florensky’s ‘concrete metaphysics’ be read as a metacritique of the post-metaphysical orientation that dominates — in the wake of Wittgenstein and Heidegger — contemporary philosophy?

• Are there affinities between Florensky’s ‘concrete metaphysics’ and William Desmond’s metaxaology and his notion of the ‘intimate universal’?

• How valuable are Florensky’s theological reflections on sacrament and liturgy articulated in his lesser-known anthropodicy?

• How are we to (re)interpret Florensky’s work within the horizon of contemporary thought?

• And, not least, to what extent does Florensky’s appeal to ‘immediate experience,’ as purified through asceticism, help to ‘pass a damp sponge over the ancient writings’ that the Church has treasured, unlocking the riches of patristic spirituality for contemporary life?

The confirmed conference speakers, so far, are:

• Dr Clemena Antonova (Institute for Human Sciences, Vienna)
• Dr Ksenia Ermishina (Alexander Solzhenitsyn Centre, Moscow, via Zoom)
• Prof Bruce Foltz (Eckerd College, Florida)
• Prof Paul Gavrilyuk (University of Saint Thomas, St Paul, Minnesota)
• Prof Michael Martin (Center for Sophiological Studies, Grace Lake, Michigan, via Zoom)
• Prof John Milbank (University of Nottingham)
• Dr Alexei Nesteruk (University of Portsmouth)
• Dr Anke Niederbudde (Ludwig Maximilian University of Munich)
• Dr Avril Pyman (Durham University)
• Prof PaweĊ‚ Rojek (Jagiellonian University, Krakow)
• Dr Christoph Schneider (IOCS)

To register or for more information please visit HERE.

Praying with the World Church in
Ordinary Time: Sunday 24 July 2022

‘Padre Nuestro, que estas en el Cielo … Our Father, who art in Heaven’ … the words of the Lord’s Prayer in Spanish in the shape of a Cross (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Patrick Comerford

In the Calendar of the Church, we are in Ordinary Time. Today is the Sixth Sunday after Trinity (24 July 2022). Later this morning, I hope to attend the Parish Eucharist in the Church of Saint Mary and Giles. Before today begins, I am taking some time this morning to continue my reflections in this prayer diary.

My morning reflections since 2 March included short reflections on a psalm or psalms. This series of reflections came to a conclusion yesterday with reflections on Psalm 150.

The annual conference of the Anglican mission agency USPG (United Society Partners in the Gospel) takes place this week in the High Leigh Conference Centre at Hoddesdon in Hertfordshire. The conference, which begins tomorrow afternoon, has the theme ‘Living Stones, Living Hope.’

I am continuing my prayer diary each morning this week in this way:

1,Reading the Gospel reading of the morning;

2,a short reflections on the reading;

3, a prayer from the USPG prayer diary, ‘Pray with the World Church.’

Luke 11: 1-13 (NRSVA):

1 He [Jesus] was praying in a certain place, and after he had finished, one of his disciples said to him, ‘Lord, teach us to pray, as John taught his disciples.’ 2He said to them, ‘When you pray, say:

Father, hallowed be your name.
Your kingdom come.
3 Give us each day our daily bread.
4 And forgive us our sins,
for we ourselves forgive everyone indebted to us.
And do not bring us to the time of trial.’

5 And he said to them, ‘Suppose one of you has a friend, and you go to him at midnight and say to him, “Friend, lend me three loaves of bread; 6 for a friend of mine has arrived, and I have nothing to set before him.” 7 And he answers from within, “Do not bother me; the door has already been locked, and my children are with me in bed; I cannot get up and give you anything.” 8 I tell you, even though he will not get up and give him anything because he is his friend, at least because of his persistence he will get up and give him whatever he needs.

9 ‘So I say to you, Ask, and it will be given to you; search, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened for you. 10 For everyone who asks receives, and everyone who searches finds, and for everyone who knocks, the door will be opened. 11 Is there anyone among you who, if your child asks for a fish, will give a snake instead of a fish? 12 Or if the child asks for an egg, will give a scorpion? 13 If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!’

Today’s reflection:

There are two versions of the Lord’s Prayer in the New Testament: in Matthew 6: 9-13; and in this reading, in Luke 11: 2-4. However, Saint Luke’s version of the Lord’s Prayer is shorter than Saint Matthew’s more familiar version, the one we normally use in our prayer life, in our liturgy and in our Church life.

In Saint Matthew’s Gospel, Christ teaches the Lord’s Prayer within the context of the Sermon on the Mount. But in Saint Luke’s Gospel, immediately after visiting the home of Mary and Martha in Bethany, Christ finds a private place to pray. It is then that the disciples ask him to teach them ‘to pray, as John taught his disciples’ (Luke 11: 1).

The disciples are already familiar not only with the prayers of Saint John the Baptist, but also with traditional Jewish prayers in the home, in the synagogue and in the Temple in Jerusalem.

As a rabbi and a religious leader, Christ is responsible for teaching his followers how to fulfil Jewish religious commandments, including the obligation to pray at certain times and in certain forms.

Then and now, a religious community has a distinctive way of praying; ours is exemplified by the Lord’s Prayer, which is a communal rather than individual prayer, expressed in the plural and not the singular:

Father, hallowed be your name.
Your kingdom come.
Give us each day our daily bread.
And forgive us our sins,
for we ourselves forgive everyone indebted to us.
And do not bring us to the time of trial.

We approach God in a personal way, as Father. We then bring before him five petitions, the first two placing ourselves in God’s presence (‘hallowed be your name’ and ‘your kingdom come’), the next two bring our needs before God, both physical (‘daily bread,’ verse 3) and spiritual (forgiveness, verse 4), and the final petition has an eschatological dimension (‘the time of trial,’ verse 4).

The ‘time of trial’ is the final onslaught of evil forces, before Christ comes again, but also refers to the temptations we experience day-by-day.

So there is a temporal and an eternal dimension to these petitions, even when we pray for ourselves in the here and now.

At the USPG Conference in Swanwick, Derbyshire, some years ago, I was invited to speak about ‘Spirituality and Mission’ and to facilitate two interest groups.

In searching for resources for mission, at one point I pointed to the traditions of prayer within Anglicanism, including the offices of Morning Prayer and Evening Prayer – especially the canticles, the mission-loaded language we find in all the rites of Holy Communion, and in prayer, including public prayer, the intercession, and – of course – the Lord’s Prayer.

Sometimes we miss out on the impact of the Lord’s Prayer because we are so familiar with it. But in the public worship of the Church we often facilitate people missing out on the impact – particularly the mission impact – of the Lord’s Prayer when we privatise it.

How many of us were taught to pray the Lord’s Prayer as a private personal prayer as children, perhaps even saying it kneeling by our bedside, hands joined together, fingers pointing up?

So often, in the Liturgy, we encourage people to kneel for the Lord’s Prayer, as if this was now both the most sacred and the most personal part of the Liturgy, rather than asking them to remain standing and to continue in collective prayer.

Or, at great public events, including mission conferences, I am sorry to say, we invite everyone present to say the Lord’s Prayer in their own first language, so that it becomes a private, personal prayer, detached from and ignoring where everyone else is at each stage in the petitions.

For those of us who have English as our first language, we notice how others finish a lot later than we do – the Finns in particular, but even the Germans too. Each language has its own rhythms and cadences, so it sounds as if we are in Babel rather than praying together, collectively and in the plural.

The privatisation of the Lord’s Prayer, even on Sundays, takes away from its mission impact and from the collective thrust of each of the petitions.

The teaching is delivered not to an individual but to the disciples as the core, formative group of the Church. God is addressed not as my but our Father, and each petition that follows is in the plural: our daily bread, our forgiveness, our sins, our debts, how we forgive, and do not ‘bring us.’

When we say ‘Amen’ at the end, are we really saying ‘Amen’ to the holiness of God’s name, to the coming of Kingdom, to the needs of each being met, on a daily basis, to forgiveness, both given and received, to being put on the path of righteousness and justice, to others falling into no evil or into no harm?

As a prayer, it contains each of the five Anglican points of mission. But if we privatise it, we leave little room for its mission impact to grab hold of those who are praying, and leave little room for our own conversion, which is a continuing and daily need.

And so, let the kingdom, the power and the glory be God’s as we pray together:

Father, hallowed be your name.
Your kingdom come.
Give us each day our daily bread.
And forgive us our sins,
for we ourselves forgive everyone indebted to us.
And do not bring us to the time of trial.

In the public worship of the Church we often facilitate people missing out on the collective impact of the Lord’s Prayer … the choir stalls and chapter stalls in Lichfield Cathedral before Evensong (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2022)

Today’s Prayer:

The theme in the prayer diary of the Anglican mission agency USPG (United Society Partners in the Gospel) this week is ‘The Way Towards Healing,’ looking at the work for peace of the Churches in Korea. This theme is introduced this morning by Shin Seung-min, National Council of Churches in Korea, who writes:

The Korean people’s greatest pain is division. A Korean poet says, in his poem, ‘The Centre of the Body’: ‘The centre of the body is not the thinking brain, nor is it the breathing lungs, nor is it the heart pumping blood. The place in pain, where you cannot help but touch, the wounded place, to that place our whole mind is moving.’

27 July 2023 marks the 70th anniversary of the Korea Armistice. During the last seven decades, Korean people have lived under a state of war, hating and killing each other. 70 years is enough, and now it is time to end the war.

In July 2020, more than 375 religious and civic NGOs launched the ‘Korea Peace Appeal’ campaign to end the Korean War and conclude a Korea peace agreement. This campaign will continue until July 2023, aiming to collect 100 million signatures. The NCCK is responding by urging its partner churches to join in the campaign and gather as many signatures as possible.

Sunday 24 July 2022:

The USPG Prayer Diary invites us to pray today in these words:

‘Blessed are the peacemakers,
For they will be called children of God.’
Peaceful God,
May we seek unity and resolve division.

Yesterday’s reflection

Continued tomorrow

Scripture quotations are from the New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicised Edition copyright © 1989, 1995, National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide. http://nrsvbibles.org