International Orthodox academic theologians appeal to Holy Synod of the Serbian Orthodox Church to protect academic thought
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Friday, November 1, 2019

Your Holiness, Your Eminences, Your Graces,

We, Orthodox academic theologians, come to express our profound frustration due to a decision of the Residing Synod of the Serbian Orthodox Church (of July 8, 2019), which denied Bishop Maxim (Vasiljević) and Marko Vilotić a synodal blessing to teach as part of the Faculty of Orthodox Theology at the University of Belgrade.

Marko Vilotić, Assistant Professor of History of Religion at the Department of Christian Philosophy and Religious Studies, was expelled after taking a two year unpaid leave of absence. The reasons for the denial of the blessing to Professor Vilotić are based exclusively on the misinterpretation of the legal regulations of the University of Belgrade. Vilotić was, namely, accused of improperly taking a sabbatical leave last year, as well as that he had no right to ask for the extension of his absence in the form of unpaid leave for the subsequent two years, although both of his requests were granted unanimously and their legality was explicitly confirmed by letters of the General Secretary of the University of Belgrade.

The two professors were also signatories of the Statement (2017) in which they stated that the theory of evolution is accepted by the scientific community of biologists and that, as theologians, we respect that fact. The Statement did not claim that the theory of evolution is true, flawless, or irreplaceable. They simply argued that theory of evolution does not necessarily contradict Christian faith and that therefore as theologians we should not give support to pseudo-scientific theories. However, the synodal decision uses this as a device against them, establishing a dangerous precedent in the history of the Orthodox Church by proclaiming a particular scientific theory to be contrary to the Christian belief.

While advocating for Marko Vilotić’s excellence too, we intend to say little more about Bishop Maxim (Vasiljević). We are blessed enough to know His Grace in person as well as through his writings, and we add our testimony to many Orthodox Christians who deeply appreciate him. We fervently share the worldwide ecclesiastical consensus that Bishop Maxim (Vasiljević) is considered to be amongst the most prominent Orthodox theologians of our times, of an international recognition, a figure whom many Theological Schools would wish to have in their staff.

Bishop Maxim Vasiljević provides a Godly answer to the nostalgia of our days: a bishop of deaconship and affection, a theologian who speaks the language of Eucharist and ontology, an intellectual who is engaged in a continuous fruitful dialogue with other disciplines. Therefore, it is more than obvious that we emphatically reject the reported incredible charges on syncretism.

Furthermore, we appreciate his ceaseless industriousness to regularly undergo a long trip in order to assist students in their theological growth, inasmuch as he assiduously pastors a vast Diocese enjoying respect and love by his flock. We cannot fail to mention the retreats and seminars he organizes, as well as his extraordinary publishing activities through Sebastian Press which disseminates Orthodox Theology in America and the World. One should also highlight his labors for the creation of two huge volumes (on Kosovo monasteries and on the history of the Serbian Orthodox Church in America) for which we assume that the Holy Synod of Serbia is indebted with gratitude.

In addition to these, the Synod of the Serbian Orthodox Church escalated the problem on October 22, 2019, by denying its blessing to Bishop Ignatije (Midić) of Braničevo to continue as Dean of the School of Theology at the University of Belgrade, because this prominent theologian declined to terminate the embattled professors Bishop Maxim and Professor Vilotić. The request for termination was discarded due to the Synod improperly interpreting the laws and administrative rules and regulations governing the appointment, employment, and removal of faculty. Consequently, the Synod furthers its misinterpretation of the same in requesting that the academic faculty of the School of Theology dismiss Bishop Ignatije as Dean.

The Synod knowingly refuses to acknowledge that its legal arguments are without merit, but continues to insist upon its recognition, by stating that the decisions of the Synod are final and not open to further discussion.

We cannot conceive that the Orthodox spirit is compatible with authoritarian decisions, issued without any previous hearing of both the two professors and their colleagues, not to mention their students. A removal of academics who have not been negligent in performing their duties, as well as attributing to them false suspicions which undermine the freedom of speech and academic thought, is a denial of the truth of the Church and an undoing of our hopes, to say the least.

With appropriate reverence to the Holy Synod of the Serbian Orthodox Church, we add our voices to an appeal for the revocation of these decisions.

  1. Yannaras, Chrestos. Professor Emeritus, Panteion University of Athens, Greece – Doctor Honoris Causa, Theological Faculty of the University of Belgrade, Serbia
  2. rev. Breck, John. Professor Emeritus, Saint Sergius Orthodox Theological Institute of Paris, France
  3. Dimitrov, Ivan Zhelev. Professor Emeritus, Saint Kliment Ohridski University of Sofia, Bulgaria.
  4. rev. Kalyvas, Alkiviades. Professor Emeritus, Holy Cross Greek Orthodox School of Theology, Brookline MA, USA
  5. rev. Louth, Andrew. Professor Emeritus, Durham University, UK – Honorary Fellow, Vrije University of Amsterdam, Netherlands
  6. Patsavos, Lewis. Professor Emeritus, Holy Cross Greek Orthodox School of Theology, Brookline MA, USA
  7. rev. Plekon, Michael. Professor Emeritus, The City University of New York – Baruch College NY, USA
  8. Stavropoulos, Alexandros. Professor Emeritus, National and Kapodistrian University of Athens, Greece
  9. rev. Stylianopoulos, Theodore. Professor Emeritus, Holy Cross Greek Orthodox School of Theology, Brookline MA, USA
  10. Vasileiadis, Petros. Professor Emeritus, Aristotelian University of Thessaloniki, Greece – President of World Conference of Associations of Theological Institutions
  11. Zaharopoulos, Nikolaos. Professor Emeritus, Aristotelian University of Thessaloniki, Greece – former vice dean, Neapolis University of Pafos, Cyprus
  12. rev. Andreopoulos, Andreas. University of Winchester, UK
  13. Asproulis, Nikolaos. Volos Academy for Theological Studies, Greece – Hellenic Open University, Greece
  14. Athanasopoulou-Kypriou, Spyridoula. Hellenic Open University, Greece
  15. rev. Bakker, Michael. Vrije University of Amsterdam, Netherlands
  16. Barnet, John. Saint Vladimir’s Theological Seminary NY, USA
  17. rev. Bathrellos, Demetrios. Hellenic Open University, Greece – The Institute for Orthodox Christian Studies, Cambridge, UK – Emory University, Atlanta GA, USA
  18. rev. Behr, John. Saint Vladimir’s Theological Seminary NY, USA – Vrije University of Amsterdam, Netherlands
  19. Bouteneff, Peter. Saint Vladimir’s Theological Seminary NY, USA
  20. rev. Bucur, Bogdan. Duquesne University, Pittsburgh PA, USA
  21. Chapnin, Sergei. Former Professor of Saint Tikhon’s University, Moscow, Russia
  22. rev. Chryssavgis, John. Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America
  23. Cohen, Will. University of Scranton PA, USA – President of the Orthodox Theological Society in America
  24. Croitoru, Ion. University of Valahia, Târgoviște, România
  25. Demacopoulos, George. Fordham University NY, USA
  26. Despotis, Sotirios. National and Kapodistrian University of Athens, Greece – Hellenic Open University, Greece
  27. Fanaras, Vasileios. National and Kapodistrian University of Athens, Greece – Ethics Expert of European Commission
  28. rev. Filiotis, Chrestos. Aristotelian University of Thessaloniki, Greece
  29. rev. Gallaher, Anastasios Brandon. University of Exeter, UK
  30. Gavrilyuk, Paul. Founding President of International Orthodox Theological Association – University of St. Thomas, Saint Paul MN, USA
  31. rev. Gkikas, Athanasios. Aristotelian University of Thessaloniki, Greece
  32. rev. Hovorun, Cyril. Loyola Marymount University, Los Angeles CA, USA – Acting Director of the Huffington Ecumenical Institute
  33. rev. Jillions, John. Saint Vladimir’s Theological Seminary NY, USA
  34. rev. Joanides, Charles. Nyack College, Alliance Graduate School of Counseling, NY, USA
  35. Kalaitzidis, Pantelis. Volos Academy for Theological Studies, Greece – University of Thessaly – Hellenic Open University – Research Fellow, KU Leuven, Belgium – Member of the Executive Committee of the European Academy of Religion 
  36. Kapriev, Georgi. St. Climent Ochridski University, Sofia, Bulgaria.
  37. Karakolis, Chrestos. National and Kapodistrian University of Athens, Greece
  38. Kasselouri, Eleni. Hellenic Open University, Greece
  39. Kattan, Assaad Elias. University of Muenster, Germany
  40. Keramidas, Dimitrios. Hellenic Open University, Greece
  41. Kizenko, Nadieszda. State University of New York at Albany NY, USA
  42. Kornarakis, Konstantinos. National and Kapodistrian University of Athens, Greece
  43. rev. Kostache, Doru. Sydney College of Divinity, Australia
  44. Koufogianni, Panoraia. National and Kapodistrian University of Athens, Greece
  45. Ladouceur, Paul. Trinity College, University of Toronto, Ontario – University of Laval, Quebec, Canada
  46. rev. Lena, Joan. Vrije University of Amsterdam, Netherlands
  47. rev. Macaila, Dumitru. Ovidius University of Constanța, Romania
  48. Makarov, Dmitry. The Urals State Conservatoire, Ekaterinburg, Russia
  49. Makrides, Vasileios. University of Erfurt, Germany
  50. Mamalakis, Philip. Holy Cross Greek Orthodox School of Theology, Brookline MA, USA
  51. Maras, Anastasios. Hellenic Open University, Greece
  52. Meyendorff, Paul. Saint Vladimir’s Theological Seminary NY, USA
  53. Mitralexis, Sotirios. National and Kapodistrian University of Athens, Greece – University of Winchester, UK
  54. rev. Morelli, George. Chairman of the Department of Chaplain and Pastoral Counseling, Antiochian Orthodox Christian Archdiocese of North America, La Costa CA, USA
  55. Moschos, Demetrios. National and Kapodistrian University of Athens, Greece
  56. Naydenov, Ivaylo. Saint Kliment Ohridski University of Sofia, Bulgaria
  57. Nikolakopoulos, Konstantinos. Ludwig-Maximilians-University of Munich, Germany
  58. Paert, Irina. University of Tartu, Estonia
  59. Panagiotopoulos, Petros. Aristotelian University of Thessaloniki, Greece
  60. Papanikolaou, Aristotle. Fordham University NY, USA
  61. Papathanasiou, Athanasios. University Ecclesiastical Academy of Athens, Greece – Hellenic Open University, Greece
  62. rev. Pappas, Harry. Saint Vladimir’s Theological Seminary NY, USA
  63. Passakos, Demetrios. University Ecclesiastical Academy of Athens, Greece
  64. Pavlov, Pavel. Vice-Dean of Faculty of Theology, University “St. Kliment Ohridski”, Sofia, Bulgaria
  65. rev. Rochelle, Gabriel. Saint Sophia Ukrainian Orthodox Theological Seminary, New Jersey – Honors College, New Mexico State University, Las Cruces NM, USA
  66. rev. Roeber, Anthony. Saint Vladimir’s Theological Seminary NY, USA
  67. Roddy, Nicolae. Creighton University of Omaha NE, USA
  68. San Chirico, Kerry Patrick Clark. Villanova University, Philadelphia PA, USA
  69. Saroglou, Vassilis. University of Louvain, Belgium – President of the International Association for the Psychology of Religion
  70. Sharp, Andrew. South University, Richmond VA, USA
  71. Shoemaker, Stephen. University of Oregon at Eugene, USA
  72. Skedros, James. Holy Cross Greek Orthodox School of Theology, Brookline MA, USA
  73. Skliris, Dionysios. National and Kapodistrian University of Athens, Greece
  74. Schneider, Richard. St. Vladimir’s Theological Seminary – Trinity College, University of Toronto – Professor Emeritus, York University, Toronto – Emeritus President Canadian Council of Churches
  75. Stamoulis, Chrysostomos. Aristotelian University of Thessaloniki, Greece
  76. Stavros, George. Boston University MA, USA
  77. Stavrou, Michel. Saint Sergius Orthodox Theological Institute of Paris, France
  78. Struve, Daniel. University of Paris Diderot, France
  79. rev. Thermos, Vasileios. University Ecclesiastical Academy of Athens, Greece
  80. Tollefsen, Torstein Theodor. University of Oslo, Norway
  81. Tsalampouni, Ekaterini. Aristotelian University of Thessaloniki, Greece
  82. Tsironis, Chrestos. Aristotelian University of Thessaloniki, Greece
  83. Tsompanidis, Stylianos. Aristotelian University of Thessaloniki, Greece
  84. Turcescu, Lucian. Concordia University of Montreal, Quebec, Canada
  85. Woloschak, Gayle. Northwestern University, Chicago IL, USA
  86. Ventis, Haralambos. National and Kapodistrian University of Athens, Greece
  87. Vlantis, Georgios. Volos Academy for Theological Studies, Greece
  88. Vletsis, Athanasios. Ludwig-Maximilians-University of Munich, Germany
  89. Voulgaraki, Evangelia. National and Kapodistrian University of Athens, Greece
  90. rev. Vrame, Anton. Holy Cross Greek Orthodox School of Theology, Brookline MA, USA
  91. Yangazoglou, Stavros. National and Kapodistrian University of Athens, Greece – Hellenic Open University, Greece

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About the Author

Jivko Panev

Jivko Panev

Jivko Panev, maître de conférence en Droit canon et Histoire des Églises locales à l’Institut de théologie orthodoxe Saint Serge à Paris, recteur de la paroisse Notre Dame Souveraine, à Chaville en banlieue parisienne.

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