On May 9-11, 2019, a conference, organized by the Volos Academy for Theological Studies, was successfully held in Volos (Thessalia Conference Center) on the general theme: “Figures of Christian Narrative Texts: Theological and Secular Approaches.”
The purpose of the conference was to examine from a variety of perspectives the importance and role of narrative criticism and method especially in the field of theology.
The conference opened with the Message of His-All Holiness, the Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew and the welcome greetings by the Metropolitan of Demetrias Ignatius and Dr. Pantelis Kalaitzidis, the Director of the Volos Academy.
In the first session chaired by Dr. Pantelis Kalaitzidis, Dr. Christos Karakolis, (Professor, Faculty of Theology, University of Athens; Member of the Board of Directors of the Volos Academy for Theological Studies) spoke on “The “open” history of Nicodemus in the Gospel of John”. The purpose of this paper was to reinterpret the story of Nicodemus as narrated in the Gospel of John through the light of a specific category of implied readers related to the Pharisees. This reinterpretation aims at highlighting implicit aspects of the narrative character of Nicodemus. Dr. Symeon Paschalidis, (President and Professor of the Department of Pastoral and Social Theology of the Theological School of the Aristotle University of Thessaloniki; Director of the Patriarchal Institute of Patristic Studies) presented a paper on the topic “Christian faith as dialogue: Models - Functions- Transformations of the dialogical patristic and hagiological texts,” where he examined the secular standards, usages and transformations of this large set of Christian texts, morphologically characterized by their dialogical nature, and usually delivered as Dialogues or Lectures, Moreover, representative narrative elements of these texts were examined in the context of the narratology, namely the examination of the narrative techniques that answer the following questions: who is the narrator, what is the content and the mode of the narration.
In the first morning session of the second day chaired by Rev. Meletis Meletiadis, (Pastor of the Evangelical Church of Volos, Director of the Board of the Greek Biblical Society), Dr. Myrto Theocharous, (Professor of the Greek Biblical College) spoke on “Biblical Laws as Concentrated Narratives: A Narrative Analysis in the Laws of Deuteronomy”. Biblical law, and especially the so-called casuistic law, acts as a condensed narrative where the author imagines an exemplary micro-story of a court case. In the casuistic law of the Bible, several scholars have pointed out a narrative character. The present paper attempted a detailed analysis of the rape law found in the 22nd chapter of the Deuteronomy book. Dr. John Fotopoulos, (Associate Professor, St. Mary’s College, Notre Dame, Indiana, U.S.A.) spoke on “On the Betrayal of Judas: John Chrysostom and Narrative Analysis” where he argued that Chrysostom gives special attention to the rhetoric, the plot, and the characters, showing that he is aware of matters which modern scholars have discovered only in the last fifty years. For Chrysostom, however, Judas is not just a character that we should understand from a narrative. At the same time, every Christian should also avoid becoming a Judas in his everyday life. Dr. Ekaterini Tsalampouni, (Associate Professor, Faculty of Theology, University of Thessaloniki; Member of the Board of Directors of the Volos Academy for Theological Studies) presented a paper on “Judas, the slave and deceit: Narrative function, collective memory and the intake of his death,” where she focused on one aspect of Judah’s history, that of his death, by using the methodological tools of narrative and the theory of collective memory. In the first part of the paper she proposed a methodological framework for reading the history of Judas, which is based on the narrative theory of characters and collective memory theories. In the second part, Judah’s death was used as a case study of the proposed methodology to investigate the literary means by which the memory of the student who betrayed Jesus has been formed and the role that this memory plays in the self-consciousness of the community that preserves and records it.
In the second morning session chaired by Dr. Gregory Stournaras, (Archeologist), Dr. Dimitrios Moschos, (Associate Professor, Faculty of Theology, University of Athens; Member of the Board of Directors of the Volos Academy for Theological Studies) spoke on the topic “Contesting teachings on anthropology and history in narratives of the ascetic literature.” According to the speaker, within this set of functions and in seemingly simple, “popular” narratives, there are different and to varying degrees competing perceptions about the nature of man, the meaning of ascesis, or the history and the eschatological end of it, which affect differently the various audiences and reflect different quests per age. Dr. Fotis Vassiliou, (Assistant Professor of the Department of History, Ionian University) reflected on the topic “Women's heroism and holiness in the Byzantine popular stories” where he focused on a story beneficial for the soul from the Greek dossier of Daniel of Scetes, referring to an incident of extreme domestic violence and on an attempt to create a new model of female sanctity incorporating in his portrait certain “secular” virtues.
In the afternoon session chaired by Dr. Nikolaos Asproulis, (Deputy Director of the Volos Academy for Theological Studies, Lecturer at the Hellenic Open University), Dr. Nikos Kouremenos, (Research Fellow at the Foundation for Religious Studies (Fscire, Bologna), Academic Associate, Volos Academy for Theological Studies) spoke on the topic “The conversio regis as a narrative motive for the spread of Christianity during the Late Antiquity.” Through the study of specific examples, the present paper studied the narratives related to the conversion of rulers to Christianity, in order to show how much they can be considered as reliable testimony of a top-down Christian missionary pattern, or if they are attempts at imperial or royal propaganda in the context of the instrumentalization of religion for political or diplomatic purposes. Dr. Stavroula Konstantinou, (Associate Professor of the Department of History, University of Cyprus) presented a paper on the “Characters and Narration in the Life of Saint Alexios, the Man of God” arguing that family is not only a central issue, but also the core around which the plot unfolds through the action of the characters. In the context of this paper, the family was analyzed as a means of determining the narrative's character, the character of the heroes (the members of the family of Alexius and the saint himself), as well as the theology of the text. The second day of the conference ended with an excursion to Makrynitsa, where a tour guided by Dr. Konstantinos Palaiologos (Byzantine Paleography, Post-Doctoral Fellow) took place at the Makrynitsa Byzantine Museum “Oxia Episkepsis,” which was inaugurated last September.
In the first session of the last day of the conference chaired by Dr. Ekaterini Tsalampouni, Dionysios Skliris, (PhD Sorbonne University) presented a paper on “Theology as performance: Making room for ambiguity in our theological narrative.” In his paper the speaker tried to show the relation between contemporary Performance Studies and Narrative Theology and the importance of both for a fertile theological reflection, referring to two concrete examples concerning on the one hand the narrative performance of identities, such as the one of gender, and, on the other, the ambivalent relation between justice and love. Marios-Kyparissis Moros, (PhD candidate, Faculty of Letters, Aristotle University of Thessaloniki) spoke on “Cain’s sign: a poetic conversation of Zoe Karelli and Melissanthi on Genesis,” where he focused on Greek literature and more specifically on poetry, seeking for Cain as a trans-text in the poetry of Zoe Karellis and Melissanthi, where the religious element strongly informs their poetry. Some of the questions that he tried to answer, were the following: How does the biblical narrative function as a subtext? Is Cain released from the biblical verses or not? Etc.
In the second morning session, chaired by Fr. Nehme Saliba, (MA in Law, PhD Candidate on Islamic-Christian relations, Head member of the Committee for Ecumenical relations of the Movement of the Orthodox Youth, (MJO) of the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate of Antioch), Rev. Evangelos Ganas, (Electrical and Mechanical Engineer, Parish Priest St. Meletios, Athens) reflected on the topic “Gospel and Novel: The Limits of Narrative Theology” where he tried to a) recall developments in the field of philosophy, historiography, ethics and literary criticism that brought the narrative into the forefront and have made it a central concept for theology, b) support the thesis that the novel, as a literary genre of New Years par excellence, not only does not inherently contradict the spirit of the Gospel, but on the contrary the Gospel can be read as a quasi-novel narrative and c) point out some objections to the use or perhaps abuse of the narrative in modern theology, objections that have been made largely by protagonists of so-called narrative theology. Dr. Pantelis Kalaitzidis, (Director, Volos Academy for Theological Studies; Visiting Fellow, KU Leuven; Member of the Executive Committee of the European Academy of Religion) presented a paper on “Narrative theology and the quest for dialogue between theology and literature.” According to the speaker, nowadays, the role of life’s and world’s representation seems to have been taken over by literature. Therefore, there can be no serious dialogue between the Church and the world or theology and the academia, without the acquaintance, the dialogue and the critical reception of elements of modern literature. The above observations are of particular importance, given the fixation of Orthodox theology on past schemes and the almost exclusive usage of the ontological philosophical language. The challenge of a narrative theology and a theology of “events,” as well as the shift from a theology of God’s “being” to a theology of God’s “acts,” are of great importance for both the dialogue between the Church and the world, and between theology and literature.
In the first afternoon session chaired by Ioanna Georgiadou, (Social Clinic Psychologist MSc, Systemic Psychotherapist, PhD Candidate of the University of Thessaly), Dr. Konstantinos Kornarakis, (Associate Professor of the Faculty of Theology, University of Athens) spoke on “Psychodynamic aspects of forgiveness in ascetic narratives,” where he tried a deepening in forgiveness as a process that involves varied psychodynamic functions. It is mainly pointed out that in the ascetic literature the possibility of forgiveness is linked to the quality and the degree of self-knowledge that one achieves in relation to one’s self. In this sense, the problem of relationship with the other has a two-way dynamics and is translated as a problem of dealing with one’s own self by focusing on the management of the problem of guilt. Eleni Karagianni, (M.D., C.G.P., E.C.P., Psychiatrist) presented a paper on “Face to face: genuine encounters between human and divine,” according to whom we live in a narcissistic era which is characterized by the dominant role of the image and an enormous emphasis on the individual's autonomy. It is a bet for every human being, to move from the entrapment to himself, to the true encounter with the other, that is, from narcissism to love. We seek the pattern of relationship in the authentic encounters between human beings and God. Dr. Dimitris Karagiannis, (Child Psychiatrist-Psychotherapist, Director of the Child Psychopathic Health Center) presented a paper on “The interaction - the therapeutic touch, the miracle,” where he highlighted that the appeal to the miracle often corresponds to the waiving of personal responsibility for the course of things. The miracle for many people corresponds to a magical act. People are freed from their problems not when they complain and blame their fate but when they manage to change the way they see them. This becomes feasible when they receive a genuine interest that is both inspiring and respectful. Then, overcoming the problem is both the method and the completion of the treatment.
In the last session chaired by Dr. Christos Karakolis, (Professor of Theological School of Athens, Member of the Board of the Volos Academy for Theological Studies, President of ‘Kairos’, the Greek Theological Association for the Improvement of the Religious Education), Dr. Marios Koukounaras-Liagkis, (Assistant Professor of the Faculty of Theology, University of Athens) reflected on the “Narrative and storytelling in classroom: The role of Personhood and community.” According to the speaker experiential learning offers the framework to develop cognitive processes and learn through narrative. In the constructivist approach of knowledge and learning storytelling, children’s voice in the classroom telling a story or their own personal narrative, acquire invaluable educational value because children learn from narratives while sharing with other personal experience and integrate their ideas into the collective knowledge of a community. At the same time, the narratives ensure the creation of a community in which each voice values. The last speaker Apostolos Barlos, (MTh, Adult Trainer, Member of the Training Team for Teachers of Religious Education of the Volos Academy for Theological Studies) spoke on “The Narrative Biblical Texts and Their Teaching at School. An example of a teaching approach to a narrative text based on the Educational Drama technique,” where he presented a teaching proposal that relates to the narrative text of the New Testament based on the Educational Drama (ED). ED is a pedagogical method based on experiential learning and utilizes various theatrical forms for knowledge. In essence, it seeks to combine emotional engagement with cognitive processing.
The conference ended on Sunday morning with the Divine Liturgy at the Church of St. Constantine and Helen (Volos).