2012 Symposium on the Orthodox Liturgy
On Friday 17th and Saturday 18th February 2012, the newly-founded Sts. Cyril & Athanasius Institute for Orthodox Studies held its first symposium in San Francisco, attracting over 140 participants to the theme “Living Symbol: Exploring the Inner Meaning of the Orthodox Divine Liturgy.”
The conference, which was held in the Russian Orthodox Church’s Old Cathedral of the Holy Virgin, “Joy of All Who Sorrow” on Fulton Street, launched the Institute’s public activities with two days devoted to the life, practice and meaning of the chief Divine Service of Orthodoxy. Lectures were given by Rt. Revd. Dr. Archimandrite Meletios (Webber) [OCA], who spoke on the title “Symbol, Reality and the Experience of Liturgical Movement”; V. Revd. Prof. Archimandrite Irenei (Steenberg) [ROCOR], “Entering Into the Whole of Creation: The Chief Symbolism of the Divine Liturgy”; and V. Revd. Dr. Archpriest Josiah Trenham [Antiochian Archdiocese], “The House of God: A Consecrated People and Consecrated Temple.” Participants from as far afield as Washington, Oregon, Texas and New Jersey not only listened to the speakers’ lectures, but were drawn into discussion and conversation through numerous question-and-answer sessions as well as two panel discussions. Sessions were attended by two hierarchs (His Eminence Archbishop Kyrill of San Francisco and Western America, and His Grace Bishop Theodosy of Seattle) and participants including some 15 clerics and over 115 laity drawn from the Russian Orthodox Church, OCA, Greek Orthodox Archdiocese, Antiochian Archdiocese, Serbian, Romanian and Bulgarian Orthodox communities, as well as many non-Orthodox participants eager to learn about Orthodox liturgical life. Students from various colleges and universities were among the participants, as well as a host of individuals seeking to further their Orthodox education in new ways.
Archimandrite Meletios’s opening lecture focused on the fundamental questions of “symbol” and “reality,” asking participants to consider the nature of Orthodox worship as that which does not seek to make something present or real, but aims to draw humanity into a reality already present. Offering insightful interpretations of the linking of Temple and Synagogue in Orthodox worship, Fr. Meletios opened the symposium with an in-depth exploration of the theological realities that ground a perception of the work of transformation in the Liturgy — and offered his insights with the gentle profundity that the many who have heard him speak have some to expect.
Archimandrite Irenei began Saturday’s proceedings with a talk that explored in detail the specific “living iconography” and symbolism of the Liturgy. Exposing participants to the liturgical vision of Bishop Theophilos of Campania, a writer too little-known in many parts of the Orthodox world today, Fr. Irenei examined the development of the symbolism of the Theotokos and the Nativity of Christ that has come to stand at the heart of the preparatory service of the Liturgy (the proskomedia); and then focused the majority of his talk on the “saga of the lost sheep” which forms the central image and iconography of the hierarchical Divine Liturgy from the opening blessing to the reading of the Holy Gospel. Grounding his remarks in patristic commentary and contemporary experience, Fr. Irenei drew out images to which many participants had never been exposed, articulating in depth the significance of actions in which Orthodox faithful participate at each liturgical celebration.
Archpriest Josiah Trenham, whose new Church temple in Riverside, California, has only recently been completed and consecrated, concluded the three formal talks with an outstanding lecture on the concept of “consecration,” addressing the history of dedicating space to God from the time of the Old Covenant through to modern Orthodox practice. Drawing extensively on the rite of consecration, together with constant calls upon the Fathers of the Church, Fr. Josiah exposed the nature and purpose of consecrated space, tying space to person and speaking about the ultimate aim of liturgical life: the continuing, transformative consecration of the person to God. Mixing personal, pastoral experience with the fruits of long immersion in the Fathers (particularly St. John Chrysostom), Fr. Josiah brought the three lectures full-circle, concluding with a vision of the liturgical life and worship of the Church drawing the person into deeper relation to God — a point to which Fr. Meletios had drawn participants’ attention at the conference’s beginning.
Throughout the multiple question-and-answer sessions and panel discussions over the two days, the core themes of the conference were expanded and addressed topics as diverse as the relationship of symbol and icon; the purpose and place of sacred Scripture; liturgical language; the relationship of different rites and practices; the relationship of corporate and private prayer; and a host of others. As this was the first conference organized by the Institute, a session on its purpose and mission, as well as future activities and programs, was also held. Excellent hospitality was provided throughout by the parish community of the Old Cathedral, tying the experience of Orthodox education and learning to that of parish hospitality and care in a way immediately recognizable to all participants.
Concluding with a celebration of the All-Night Vigil and, the following morning, the Divine Liturgy itself, participants departed with a sense of eagerness for the Institute’s next conference, scheduled for next spring.