“Sailing to Byzantium” at Saint Catherine’s, Mascot

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With the blessing of His Grace Bishop Seraphim of Apollonias, Sub-dean of St Andrew’s Greek Orthodox Theological College, St Catherine’s Greek Orthodox Church, Mascot (180 Coward Street), in collaboration with the College, is hosting a series of talks entitled ‘Sailing to Byzantium’ in the month of May; the month in which the capital city of the Byzantine Empire, Constantinople, was founded (11thof May, 330 AD), and in which it fell (29thof May, 1453 AD).

The Byzantine legacy of the Orthodox Church is a contested and fascinating topic. The Church of course flourished within and was supported by the Byzantine Empire, the thousand-year long continuation of the Roman Empire after its gradual conversion to Christianity by St Constantine the Great in the fourth century AD. For the most part, these Byzantine or Roman Emperors supported and promoted Orthodox Christianity throughout the duration of their civilisation. But this was not unilaterally the case. While the Orthodox Church and the Byzantine Empire did work together, the latter – being ‘worldly’ like any other empire – sometimes attempted to impose its will upon the Church. In response to this, our Lord Jesus Christ raised up saints to defend the Church against heretical sovereigns. Indeed, the Orthodox Church, which transcends every culture and civilisation, outlives the fall of Byzantium, thriving in many countries that – while influenced by the Byzantine legacy (e.g. Romania, Russia, and throughout the West) – were not part of Byzantium itself. This points to a major difference between the Church and each state, with the former constituting the mystical body of Christ in the world. Nevertheless, Byzantine culture has left its mark upon Orthodoxy, as manifested – to give just one example – by the double-headed eagle, the emblem of the Palaeologan dynasty, that appears in so many Orthodox churches today, and by the emperors and empresses whom we venerate as saints. Such factors demonstrate the lingering significance of Byzantium for Orthodoxy which – to reiterate – is above culture yet communicates the saving Gospel of Christ within the cultures of this world for their salvation.

There is, in other words, a lot to be gained in the exploration of the Byzantine legacy, both for Orthodox Christians and for non-Orthodox. While we have seen that the Church has a nuanced approach towards its Byzantine inheritance, many people have expressed their interest in Byzantium from purely an academic point of view. To give credit where it is due, the rigours of scholarship have contributed immensely to our academic appreciation of Byzantium, but often in a way that does not take into consideration those aspects of its legacy which are still alive in the Orthodox Church. Naturally, such aspects cannot be explained from a purely secular point of view. This series of talks has therefore been envisaged as a ‘middle ground’ between the academy and the Church, and most of its speakers will engage with scholarship from an ecclesial point of view to explore aspects of the Byzantine legacy that can only truly be appreciated when both the Church and the academy work together, not in opposition, and certainly not from merely the point of view of the latter.

Information regarding the talks and the speakers are as follows. Revd Father Anastasios Bozikis is lecturer in Church history at St Andrew’s Greek Orthodox Theological College and parish priest at St Michael’s Greek Orthodox Church, Crows Nest. His topic is ‘From Nicaea to Florence: An Empire of Synods (23rdof May)’ and will address the seven ecumenical councils that characterised Church and state relations in Byzantium. These councils produced important doctrinal definitions – along with the Symbol of Faith – together with other synods that took place at important junctures in the empire’s history. Dr Meaghan McEvoy, from the Ancient History Department of Macquarie University, will address ‘Early Byzantine Imperial Women and Church Building in Constantinople (16thof May)’ to demonstrate the significant contribution of pious Orthodox women to the built environment of the capital city of Byzantium; a contribution that almost rivalled that of Emperor Justinian himself! Mr Chris Baghos, PhD candidate at the University of Sydney, will talk about ‘The Byzantine Transformation of Classical Culture (19thof May).’ Honing in on figures like St Justin Martyr, St Basil the Great, St John Chrysostom and St Theodore the Studite, Mr Baghos will address how the Byzantines adopted and developed elements of classical Greek culture, specifically philosophy, myth, rhetoric, and poetry (appropriating the good and neglecting the bad). Dr Mario Baghos, Research Fellow at Charles Sturt University and former lecturer in Church history at St Andrew’s Theological College, will open and close the month of talks. He will first speak on the ‘Sacred Space in the Queen of Cities (10thof May),’ addressing the founding of Constantinople along with the art and architecture that conditioned the city-space throughout its 1000 year history. To conclude the series, he will discuss ‘The Last Days of Constantinople (29thof May),’ delineating the circumstances of the city’s fall.

The organising committee of this event, led by Revd Father Athanasios Giatsios (parish priest of St Catherine’s), is grateful to His Grace Bishop Seraphim for his blessing, to St Andrew’s Theological College for its collaboration and support, as well as to Macquarie University’s Centre for Ancient Culture and Heritage (CACHE) and Modern Greek Students’ Association (MUGA) for their sponsorship. We are indeed proud that three of the four contributors are graduates of St Andrew’s. Finally, we express our gratitude to God for allowing us to offer something unprecedented for our faithful parishioners, the Greek and academic communities of Australia, and for all people of good will who might be interested in the Orthodox Church’s Byzantine legacy. For more information on the talks, including times and venue details, please see the flyer included in this month’s edition of KOSMOS. All talks will be in English.

St Catherine’s Planning Committee

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