It is taking place in Bose on XXVIII International Ecumenical Congress of Orthodox Spirituality dedicated to the figure of Isaac of Nineveh and his spiritual teaching. We publish the opening speech of the works of the prior Sabino Chialà.
Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, metropolitans, bishops, monks and nuns, friends and guests,
It is with great joy that, on behalf of the brothers and sisters of Bose, I welcome you to this twenty-eighth edition of our International Ecumenical Convention on Orthodox Spirituality, dedicated to the theme: «St. Isaac of Nineveh and his spiritual teaching ».
Three years have passed since the previous Congress, the twenty-seventh, held in September 2019. Three difficult years for everyone, which have put a strain on our world, our Churches and also this Community that welcomes you. First the pandemic, then wars and tensions of all kinds that have made us waver, and have made us and make us suffer.
We have measured and still measure all our fragility and helplessness in the face of the enigma of an evil that afflicts us in various ways. We are all hurt… and often disoriented by what we see in the present and also in the future, which seems more uncertain than ever.
The pandemic prevented us from finding each other for three long years. Then, towards the end of last year, some easing of the distancing measures encouraged us to rethink our conferences. Everything was ready when other clouds gathered on the horizon: the war in Ukraine.
We knew that these painful events would have prevented or drastically reduced the participation of many friends from that country, as well as from Russia. Meanwhile, Syria and Lebanon also continued to be plagued by war and instability.
What to do then? Suspend out of respect for so much pain or go ahead, daring a sign of hope? In the end, even listening to some of those present, we opted for the continuation of the project. And here we are … not without carrying everything and everyone in our hearts.
The suspension time has offered us the opportunity to rethink these conferences of ours. Priority remains the meeting between Christians belonging to different Churches and traditions, as in previous years, but we would like this to happen in a simpler and more familiar form.
For this reason we have reduced the number of participants to those that we are able to welcome here in the monastery, without resorting to external structures. It was a difficult choice, but it seemed necessary to us. Also the novelty of the “afternoon of reading” would like to favor fraternal exchange and the deepening of mutual knowledge. We will evaluate the outcome of these choices together.
Isaac of Nineveh
For the theme of the Conference, this year we have entrusted ourselves to one of the great teachers of the spiritual life of all times: Isaac of Nineveh, or Isaac the Syrian. A figure who has nurtured generations of Christians of all times, conditions and latitudes; of every Church and beyond. A father who, despite belonging to one of the oldest and most geographically remote Churches, has conquered everyone, as his translated writings show (unique case!) In all the languages spoken by Christians, even those no longer practiced such as Sogdian ( which was spoken in the region of present-day Uzbekistan).
Why Isaac? The pearls that we see in his writings are many: his teaching on humility, on prayer, on God’s infinite mercy, which we all constantly need. His pages on such topics have been true balm on the wounds of so many men and women of all times.
But Isaac is also the herald of hope… at the heart of fragility. In an era of great political and religious upheavals, following the expansion of Arab domination, which in the Middle East was replacing the Byzantine and Persian ones, he was able to see in the folds of that history so precarious and uncertain (like ours ) the reflection of a certain hope. And right at the heart of that world so threatened, God, the friend of men, announced that he does not abandon his creature, that does not fail in his promise.
How many times, in fact, Isaac invites to hope and warns against despair, which he considers the sin par excellence ?! He repeatedly invites us to have a confident look into the future, not to be ensnared by dangers (cf. First collection VI, 49-54). Of the one whom he considers to be a true believer, he states:
“He will not stop fighting to the death, nor will he give up as long as there is breath in his nostrils. And even if his ship is wrecked every day and the fruit of his trade ends up in the abyss, he will not stop borrowing and loading other boats and sailing with hope. Until the Lord, seeing his commitment, will have mercy on his downfall, will turn his mercy to him and give him powerful motions to support and face the fiery darts of evil (cf. Eph 6:16). This is the wisdom that comes from God, and whoever is sick with it is wise. Despair does not bring any advantage! In fact, it is better for us to be judged for each [colpa commessa]rather than for having completely deserted “(First collection IX, 8).
Don’t despair! Don’t turn your back! Do not be frightened and paralyzed by the misfortunes, by the sin, by the contradictions and by the nonsense that we see spreading in us and among us… Here is one of the teachings that Isaac gives us and that today we want to hear. It is also one of the reasons why we believed that he would be the best guide for this new meeting of ours, and for this new beginning.
Moreover, right here in Bose a little over twenty years ago (from June 30 to July 1, 2001), a small group of scholars and friends of Isaac met for a very first seminar on this father. We were about fifteen participants (some of us here again today): Sebastian Brock, Paolo Bettiolo, Simonetta Salvestroni, a young Fr. Hilarion Alfeev, p. Gabriel Bunge, p. André Louf (whom we want to remember, certain that he looks at us from the sky; it is his icon that is here next to the table, the work of the iconographer Joris Van Ael, also among us), and other friends including Pablo Argárate and Vittorio Berti, also present today.
Also for this Conference we have obtained the support of the greatest Ninivita scholars, including some young scholars who in recent years have dedicated themselves to his work with great profit. We will listen to them with interest and sure profit. But from now on I want to thank them from my heart. And together with them I would like to thank those who will lead the reading groups, helping us to savor the words of Isaac.
We are also particularly grateful to the heads of the Churches who have wished to send us their wishes and to send official representatives. I begin by remembering the Assyrian Church of the East, the Church of Isaac… The Catholicos-Patriarch Mar Awa III sent us his message and entrusted Mar Emmanuel Yosip, Assyrian bishop of Canada to represent him. A reason for particular joy!
For the Orthodox Churches we have with us Metropolitan Athenagoras of Belgium, as representative of His Holiness the Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomeos of Constantinople, who has followed and sponsored our conferences from the beginning. Bishop Amvrosij of Bogorodsk represents the patriarchate of Moscow. Bishop Siluan of the Romanian Orthodox Diocese of Italy is the delegate of Patriarch Daniel of Romania. Archimandrite Amphilochios Miltos is the delegate of the Church of Greece. The Hegumen Panteleimon represents the Orthodox Church of Poland. Bishop Asti of Bylis is the delegate of Archbishop Anastasios and the Orthodox Church of Albania. Bishop Alexander belongs to the Orthodox Church in America (OCA). There are also members of the other Orthodox Churches: the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate of Antioch, the Patriarchate of Serbia and the Patriarchate of Georgia.
We also greet with affection and sentiments of thanks the ancient Eastern Orthodox Churches, who have sent us their messages and sent representatives: the Coptic Pope and Patriarch of Alexandria, Tawadros II, represented by Abuna Markos of San Macario; the supreme catholicos of all Armenians, by Echmiadzin, Karekin II, represented by Fr. Tirayr Hakobyan. He is also with us a representative of the Syrian Orthodox Church of Antioch (the other branch of the Syriac tradition), Fr. Saliba Er, whom we greet with affection.
We then received messages from the interim secretary general of the Ecumenical Council of Churches, Fr. Joan Sauca and the new Secretary General, Pastor Jerry Pillay; by the Secretary of State of SS. Pope Francis, Cardinal Pietro Parolin; by Cardinal Kurt Koch, president of the Dicastery for the Promotion of Christian Unity, represented here by the under-secretary of the same Dicastery, Msgr. Andrea Palmieri; by Cardinal Leonardo Sandri, prefect of the Dicastery for the Oriental Churches. We also have with us the bishop of Pinerolo, Derio Olivero, president of the Commission for ecumenism and interreligious dialogue of the CEI, and Don Giuliano Savina, director of the ecumenism office of the CEI.
We also rejoice for the many monks and nuns, from East and West, who wanted to be with us, testifying to the importance that Isaac’s teaching still holds today, especially in monastic life: from the Greek monastery – from Saydnaya (Syria) the Hegumen Youhanna and the monk Isaak, from San Macario (Egypt), from Buna-vestire (Romania), from Suprasl (Poland). And again from Slovakia, Germany (Skiti S. Spiridon), Belgium (Chevetogne), France (En Calcat and Solesmes), Switzerland (Eremo S. Croce) and Italy (Coptic Monastery of Lachiarella, Benedictine monasteries of Dumenza and S. Giustina in Padua, Orthodox monastery of Pantokrator in Arona, monastery of S. Barbara in Montaner, the Poor Clares of Sant’Agata Feltria, the nuns of Cottolengo di Pralormo and Montezago). We also rejoice for the young people who are among us: promising Syriacists or fans of Isaac’s “sweet teaching”.
Peace to the war-torn lands
Our heartfelt thanks go to everyone, as well as to the various Orthodox academic institutions that have sent us messages or are represented here. I am thinking in particular of the Ecclesiastical Academy of Crete, the Center for Ecumenical Studies “Metropolitan Panteleimon Papagheorghiou” of Thessalonica, the Theological Academy of Volos, the Theological Academy of Moscow, the Aristotle University of Thessalonica and the Theological Faculty of Balamand ( Lebanon).
A necessary clarification before ending: you will have noticed that this year there is no simultaneous translation into Russian. This choice has only one reason: the impossibility that, due to the war, immediately became evident for the many friends of Ukraine and Russia, regular frequenters of our conferences, to be with us.
However, we are grateful to the few who were able to join us, for whom we wanted to provide a reading group in Russian. To all the others go to our fraternal thoughts and our intense prayer, which also extends to Syria, Lebanon and all the other war-torn lands. May the Lord give us peace soon! Peace of him!
Finally, a thought, which is meant to be a thanksgiving to the Lord, goes to dear Metropolitan Kallistos of Diokleia, a very precious guest and presence at many of our conferences. He is a figure loved and appreciated by many Christians of the East and of the West, who only a few days ago preceded us to the Father of mercy. A friend and a father and brother whom we recommend to God.
Thanks to each of you for being here with us and happy meeting everyone.