THE BRONX – With pipe organ resounding through University Church, Archbishop Demetrios of America and Fordham university officials in full academic regalia marched to the chancel accompanying the evening’s honoree, Rowan Williams, former Archbishop of Canterbury on the evening of September 30.
The audience that filled the venerable church with architectural touches that echoed the University of Cambridge, where Williams is now Master of Magdalene College, came to hear and honor him as he received an honorary doctorate.
The occasion was the annual Orthodoxy in America Lecture Series of the university’s orthodox Christian Studies Center.
Williams’ ties to the Orthodox Faith are both academic and personal. He is a scholar of the Church Fathers and did his doctoral work on Vladimir Lossky, the renowned Russian Orthodox theologian of the early-mid 20th century.
In his youth, Williams contemplated becoming a monk as well as joining the Orthodox church, and has told The Telegraph that “he draws daily inspiration from the practice, common to both the Greek and Russian orthodox churches, of meditating while repeatedly reciting the “Jesus Prayer”, which says: “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy upon me.”
The topic of William’s lecture was “Liturgical Humanism: Orthodoxy and the Transformation of Culture.”
“Liturgical Humanism: Orthodoxy and the Transformation of Culture.”
Williams began by declaring that revelation comprises an interruption of history by the Word of God and that “to be human is to be summoned to answer, and to communion.
He proceeded to examine a humanism rooted in Liturgy after asking “how does Christian anthropology,” the Church’s vision of man, “become tangible, visible in liturgy?”
He emphasized that Liturgy must not be merely ritual. “The liturgy is essentially responsive” –both in its expression by clergy and laity, and its impact on their lives and societies. “It cannot just talk to itself,” he said.
Williams addressed the many levels of meaning of liturgy. He noted that it effects “a transition from one world to another” and that it is also the experience of the divine reality permeating another realm, our lives and history.
He also expounded about how time passing in the liturgy also signifies a passage from death to life, and that through liturgy – whose climax is the presence of the living Christ in the Eucharist in Christian belief – “fear of death is overcome in the light of the resurrection.”
Liturgy, Williams explained, summons a special form of remembrance that looks forward into the future through the invocation of the second coming of Christ, but “Liturgy is not an escape into a virtual reality. [All its elements] are connected to the world we know,” he said as the lecture drew to a close.
Archbishop Demetrios, who offered the benediction, lauded Williams “for making Orthodox theology known and appreciated in the world today,” and Rev. Joseph M. McShane, the president of Fordham, called Williams “the greatest theologian in the English speaking world.”
The guests who filled university Church were greeted by Stephen Freedman, the provost and Emcee for the evening.
After noting that they were gathered on the feast day of St. Jerome, the great Latin Church Father, McShane placed the evening’s lecture in the context of St. Anselm’s motto: “faith seeking understanding”
According to its website, “The Orthodox Christian Studies Center of Fordham University fosters intellectual inquiry by supporting scholarship and teaching that is critical to the ecclesial community, public discourse, and the promotion of Christian unity. The Center serves as a locus of curricular, research, and outreach activities related to the interdisciplinary study of Orthodox Christian traditions.”
The lecture was made possible by gifts from the Jaharis Family Foundation, Leadership 100, and members of the Orthodox Christian Studies Center.
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