Over the weekend of 23rd – 24th February 2013, the Sts. Cyril & Athanasius Institute for Orthodox Studies launched its activities in Southern California with a two-day symposium held at the beautiful St. Andrew Orthodox Church in Riverside (an hour outside of Los Angeles) on Prayer in the Church Fathers. The featured speaker was His Eminence Metropolitan Kallistos (Ware) of Diokleia, who was joined by Archimandrite Irenei (Steenberg), Archpriest Chad Hatfield and Priest Daniel Meyer, together with over 200 participants.
Following a pattern established by the Institute’s two previous symposia in San Francisco (in 2012 on the Liturgy, and earlier this month in 2013 on prayer), our first event in Southern California brought together speakers from a wide geography and set of backgrounds (the speakers represented a hierarch of the Ecumenical Patriarchate, an archimandrite of the Russian Orthodox Church, an archpriest of the OCA and Chancellor of St. Vladimir’s Orthodox Seminary, and a priest of the Antiochian Archdiocese of North America), all of whom addressed the common focal point of prayer in its relation to the life of Orthodox Christians.
The themes of the talks were diverse yet interconnected (see the full program here). Beginning with an address by Metropolitan Kallistos on ‘Prayer, Creation and the Human Person,’ Archimandrite Irenei followed on the morning of the first day with a talk on ‘The Beginnings of Prayer’ as drawn from the practical counsel of the Fathers. The afternoon began with a panel discussion and proceeded to a second talk by Metropolitan Kallistos, on ‘The Jesus Prayer in Daily Life,’ which was followed in turn by a shorter paper by Father Daniel Meyer, speaking on the remembrance of God in the human person according the teachings of St Diadochus of Photiki – one of the great Desert Fathers and the first saint to speak explicitly of the Jesus Prayer. The second day’s lectures opened with a wonderful and practical address by Archpriest Chad on ‘Prayer with the Psalms,’ drawing together guidance from modern writers as well as the Church’s tradition on using the Psalter to produce interior stillness and prayer; and the talks concluded with a final address by the Metropolitan on ‘Prayer in the Liturgy and with the Holy Icons.’ Through each of these addresses, participants were able to hear reflections on the life of prayer in Orthodoxy that aimed not only to expand their understanding of history and theology, but ultimately (and above all) to increase their love for prayer and preparation for growth in its practice.
Throughout, question-and-answer sessions together with panel discussions provided extended opportunities for participants to ask questions of the speakers, as well as to interact with them more informally.
At the heart of this symposium on prayer was the great act of corporate prayer in Orthodox life: the celebration of the Divine Liturgy. Beginning with Vespers on Saturday evening, Orthros and the Liturgy were celebrated on Sunday morning, with Metropolitan Kallistos presiding in concelebration with His Eminence Archbishop Joseph of the Antiochian Archdiocese of Los Angeles and the West – the gracious host of the symposium who was able to be with the participants for the whole of the weekend. A great spirit of fraternity and mutual love marked out the service, which was concelebrated by symposium clergy from various churches and sung by the remarkable choir of St. Andrew’s Church.
An additional highlight of the symposium weekend was the special fundraising dinner hosted by the sisters of the parish, at which Metropolitan Kallistos gave a more lighthearted – yet deeply meaningful – after-dinner talk on ‘The Place of Humour in Orthodoxy. The meal provided by the parish, catered by parishioner Lucy Hanna and a large troupe of enthusiastic helpers, was truly wonderful and provided a thoroughly pleasant opportunity for fellowship and celebration.
True to the mission of the Institute, the symposium in Riverside drew an authentically pan-Orthodox audience, with participants representing every Orthodox jurisdiction present in North America, together with several non-Orthodox participants (just as had been the case a week earlier at our symposium in San Francisco). The combination of so many Orthodox cultures allowed for fruitful opportunities to explore differing traditions, discuss differences in practice and approach, etc. — all within the deeply unifying experience of a common drive towards growth in the Orthodox life of prayer.
The Sts. Cyril & Athanasius Institute aims to provide high-level Orthodox scholarship within the context of Orthodox practice: fostering Church life and a deepening cultivation of faith and prayer in its participants — and our hope is that these two days provided much fruit for all its participants, by which not only knowledge, but paramountly the love of prayer have been in some sense kindled and encouraged.
We are profoundly grateful to Archpriest Josiah Trenham, the priest and pastor of St. Andrew Orthodox Church for hosting the symposium in his parish, and to all the faithful of St. Andrew’s who supported, participated in and cared for the flourishing of this symposium with such evident warmth and love.