Early this month (July 2nd through 5th) I had the pleasure of presenting a paper and participating in the 65th annual liturgical studies week at the Saint-Serge Orthodox Theology Institute in Paris.
Founded by the Benedictine Dom Bernard Botte (+1980) and Orthodox Father Cyprien Kern (+1960) and others, the conference has maintained the objective of scholarly research in pursuit of what does and can yet unite Christians in and through the liturgy. This year’s theme was “Le corps humain dans la liturgie” (“The Human Body in the Liturgy”).
Four very full days of multiple morning and afternoon paper sessions that often generated lively discussion spanned a range of historical , geographic, and ecclesial contexts in a genuinely warm and hospitable atmosphere. While largely European, the program also included Middle-Eastern, African, Asian, and North America speakers. Examination of human embodiment in liturgy unfolded over nearly three dozen papers along such multiple lines as:
- sacramental rites: eucharist, matrimony, anointing of the sick, chrismation, ordination, funerals
- ritual symbols and gestures: processing, kneeling, standing, anointing, burying
- ancient sources: Simeon the New Theologian, Gregory of Palamas, Apostolic Constitutions, Canons of Nicaea
- contemporary ecclesial traditions: Orthodox (Russian, Byzantine, and others), Maronite, Coptic, South Indian/St Thomas, Roman Catholic, Protestant.
Those categories are not exhaustive in describing the wealth of material in the papers which, as has been the case from the start in 1953, will reach publication in the coming year (current publisher of the volumes is Aschendorff Verlag, Münster).
A special feature of this year’s conference was relocating the Wednesday sessions to the recently consecrated Russian Orthodox Cathedral of the Holy Trinity, located on the quai Branley, not far from the Eiffel Tower. The day began with a guided tour of the cathedral’s exterior and interior (much of which, including the iconostasis and central chandelier, are temporary), followed by morning and afternoon paper sessions in the cathedral complex’s auditorium.
But, for me, more impressive was the hospitality of the people at Saint-Serge, under the able guidance of veteran Liturgical Studies Week director Deacon André Lossky and his ecumenical steering committee. While the overwhelming majority of the papers and discussion were in French, a few were in English, with simultaneous translation (headphones) available to participants. The midday meals, offered at a mere fraction of typical Parisian cost for a four-course meal with wine, were excellently prepared and presented, allowing for extended times of fellowship at table, framed by prayers in the Orthodox chanting tradition.
Next July’s Liturgical Studies Week will have pilgrimage as its theme.