Friday, November 28, 2014

Fr John Behr Speaks at the 2014 Constantinople Lecture

The Anglican and Eastern Churches Association in association with The Fellowship of St Alban and St Sergius organised the annual Constantinople Lecture on Thursday 27th November 2014. The lecture was given by Fr John Behr, who is Dean of St Vladimir’s Seminary in New York. The title of the lecture was ‘Take Back Death! Christian Witness in the Twenty-First Century.’ The event took place in St Mellitus College. The evening began with Evening Prayer, led by the Chairman, Revd Dr William Taylor. Following, Fr William introduced Dr Catherine Reid, who had won the AECA Travel Award in commemoration of the 1700th anniversary of the Edict of Milan. She then gave a brief account of her time at St Elisabeth’s Convent in Belarus.

Following is a summary of the lecture given by Fr John Behr, which can be found in the new edition of the AECA’s journal KOINONIA[1]. Also it will be broadcasted on the Voice of the Church, a programme aired on the London Greek Radio (LGR – 103.3 FM).
Modern medicine and health care today is much better than what it was in the past. We now have every expectation that every illness will be cured. Currently the physicians treat not the patient but the illness. We have the depersonalising medicine. The patients are actually not treated. The physician has become the high priest of the modern life. What is, therefore, life? What is human life? Human beings are more than living beings. They are endowed with logos.
Christ has stated ‘I am life.’ He is the very life and light of the world. Life is more or other than what biology explains. Life is something that we should acquire; something that we should live into; something that we should be born into. We live radically different lives than our predecessors; this is evident when understanding death. The manner with which we act after the death of a loved one has changed. The body is now given to the death industry. Our focus is on the body, not death.

The problem has yet to be addressed on a theological level. If we don’t see death, we don’t see the face of God. Life comes through death. If we don’t see death, then we only see this life. Christ has set us free from the fear of death. He turned death inside our; He formed a new life, sacrificial love. This reversal is located in the heart of the Gospel. By His death, Christ beat death. What was the end, is now the beginning. The speaker then explained in great detail the Creation of the world, the Creation of man. God’s Creation is yet not complete. There is no issue of no perfection. Perfection in Christ is his death for love. God is patient; while we learn by experience of our own weakness and death during our own apostasy. We become acquainted with God through death, seeing our dependence on God.
The death of a martyr is their birthday, their entrance into life. The terms life and death are reversed. However, we should not seek the death of Martyrdom. This was explained by many Fathers. Our life takes meaning when we love, when we devote it to a self-sacrificial service. If we don’t recognise that life comes through death, then our horizons will become immanent. We see only ourselves, in this life. We block death from our sight.

One of Christianity’s task today is challenging the presuppositions of modern life. We are in a crisis (a notion with which the speaker began this lecture). The real course of crisis is that we have been put in crisis by Christ. Now is the judgement of the world, meaning that now is the crisis of the world. Our judgement related to how we respond to it.
After the talk, Fr Stephen Platt, Secretary of the Fellowship of St Alban and St Sergius had the opportunity to speak briefly about the speaker and give a Fellowship presence to this event. The evening finished with light refreshments, where everyone had the opportunity to speak to Fr John Behr one to one and ask questions on the lecture. The 2015 Constantinople Lecture will take place on Thursday 19th November 2015 at St Sophia Greek Orthodox Cathedral, Moscow Road. More information will be published and advertised close to the date.

[1] Behr, John, ‘Take Back Death! Christian Witness in the Twenty-First Century’, KOINONIA, (New Series No. 64, Advent 2014), pp. 7-22. 

1 comment:

  1. An important paper by Father John Behr that merits wide circulation and careful study.