EASTERN & ORIENTAL ORTHODOX CONFERENCE TO BE HELD IN TORONTO by Ramez Rizkalla

St. Mark’s Orthodox Fellowship

St. Mark’s Orthodox Fellowship (SMOF) was founded by a number of Coptic Orthodox laymen in August 1992 in Maryland. Its mission statement reads as follows:

  1. St.mark_coptic_iconPromote teaching, preaching, and study of the Bible and the teachings of the Holy Fathers of the Church.
  2. Promote publication and distribution of articles and books to help understand the faith and dogma of the Orthodox Church.
  3. Arrange and coordinate local and national meetings to study and discuss spiritual and religious issues.

SMOF’s Canadian chapter was founded in Toronto in November 1999.

For the past number of years, SMOF Canada has organized Orthodox Unity Conferences where Eastern and Oriental speakers have been invited to give talks on a wide spectrum of themes. The aim of these conferences has been to create a bond between the two families of Orthodoxy at a grassroots level.

Through the efforts of SMOF Canada’s founder, Dr. Raouf Edward, these gatherings ultimately resulted in the formation of the Annual Synaxis of Oriental and Eastern Orthodox Clergy of the Greater Toronto Area, which is hosted by the Greek Orthodox Metropolis of Toronto.

Orthodox Unity Conference 2017 ~ “St. Athanasius and the Incarnation”

A few years ago, my father picked up one of the books that I had bought the family at the Monastery of St. Macarius the Great in Wadi el-Natrun, Egypt. Entitled M‘a al-Masīḥ (With Christ), it is a collection of four volumes of short articles written by the monastery’s spiritual father, Father Mattá al-Miskīn of Blessed Memory, on life with and in Christ from a scriptural and patristic perspective.

I will never forget the impact that the book had on my father, who was not one to speak openly about his religious convictions. Whenever we prayed together as family, his prayers—as brief as they are—had changed in tone, and seemingly acquired a new depth and intimacy.

Dad also tells one story of a discussion he had had with a co-worker, after reading the book, about what Christianity has to offer that is different from other religions, and how he found himself talking about the God in Christ who became man in order to exalt His creation to the glorious adoption of children, all concepts that are prevalent in Father Mattá’s book. These notions not only took the co-worker by utter surprise, but astonished my father, because he never expected that he would be thinking or speaking in such a manner.

The reason why this book was so transformative for my father, and for others who share similar experiences, is that many of us grew up with a popular teaching about God that is inconsistent with the liturgical and prayer life of the Church. From our adolescence, we were taught about a God who was so utterly offended by the infinite sin of man that He required an infinite sacrifice to appease the Divine Justice. So God sends His Only-Begotten to become man, and to die instead of all, thus becoming the propitiation for our sins.

This depiction of a wrathful God who sends His Son to the world as a reaction to human transgression, in order to shed His blood as reparation, is one of the main reasons cited by many of our young people who have left the Church for why they reject religion.

In opposition to this penal substitutionary atonement theory, which was especially propagated in the West during the Middle Ages, we have St. Athanasius the Great’s masterpiece, On the Incarnation— what C.S. Lewis referred to as “[t]he tract [that] might be called the classical exposition of the doctrine of redemption and [its] patristic counterpart.” Therein, contrary to today’s prevalent teaching, the Alexandrine Father presents the incarnation as the pre-eternal goodwill of the Father for the Logos to empty Himself, deigning to become man in order to participate in the human condition, thus exalting humanity to participate by grace in all that pertains to Him.

As Father Johannes Quasten puts it, “Nothing is so typical of [Athanasius’] theology as sentences like the following: ‘He was made man that we might be made God, and He manifested Himself by a body that we might receive the idea of the unseen Father; and He endured the insolence of men that we might inherit immortality.’” This is precisely the Gospel, the Good News, which has the power to transform the world.

Athanasius Event Poster 2017 - printers marks-1Against this backdrop, SMOF Canada, in conjunction with the Orthodox School of Theology at Trinity College, has organised an all-day conference taking place at the George Ignatieff Theatre on Saturday, December 9, from 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. Three renowned Orthodox theologians will explore different dimensions of what St. Athanasius means by “incarnation” in On the Incarnation.

There will be three lectures, with breaks and lunch in between, followed by a panel discussion on the presentations and the book. Lunch will be provided, as well as coffee for the breaks.

The keynote speaker will be V. Rev. Dr. John Behr, professor of patristics at St. Vladimir’s Orthodox Theological Seminary, editor of SVS Press’ Popular Patristics Series, and translator of On the Incarnation. This will be the translation cited and sold at the conference. Father John will be giving two talks on “What Does Athanasius Mean by ‘Incarnation’?”

The second speaker will be Dr. George Bebawi, Director Emeritus of the Institute for Orthodox Christian Studies at the University of Cambridge, and translator of several patristic texts from Greek into Arabic which have been published by the Orthodox Patristic Center in Cairo. Dr. Bebawi will speak on “What Did St. Athanasius Really Write about the Incarnation, Death, and Resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ?”

The third speaker will be Dr. Richard Schneider, co-director of the Orthodox School of Theology at Trinity College, professor of hermeneutics and liturgical art at St. Vladimir’s Seminary, President Emeritus of the Canadian Council of Churches, and chair of the Council’s Faith and Witness Commission. Dr. Schneider will look at the iconographic relation in On the Incarnation.

Ramez Rizkalla is an MTh student at Euclid University in Washington DC and St. Gregory Nazianzen Institute for Eastern Christian Studies in Trujillo Alto, Puerto Rico. He is also an Executive Board Member of SMOF Canada. 

Contact the author at ramezrizkalla@hotmail.com or (647) 278-7441 for further information on Orthodox Unity Conference 2017 or the work of St. Mark’s Orthodox Fellowship.