In celebration of his landmark, multi-volume Jesus Christ: His Life and Teaching (SVS Press), Saint Vladimir’s Orthodox Theological Seminary hosted the author, His Eminence Metropolitan Hilarion (Alfeyev), and several noted biblical scholars at the two-day event, Searching the Scriptures. The event was held on campus Thursday and Friday, November 11 and 12, 2021, and drew nearly 600 people from twenty-four countries around the world who either attended in person or signed up to watch online.
Searching the Scriptures’ lectures and discussions surrounding Metropolitan Hilarion’s six-volume work and New Testament scholarship more broadly led to fascinating exchanges between guest scholars—some of whom are Protestant Christians—and the author. The lively sessions invited the promise of further discussions to be hosted by the Seminary in the future, particularly surrounding attempts to find the “historical Jesus” and other aspects of New Testament scholarship in dialogue with the Orthodox tradition. The Seminary also plans to publish the papers presented at the academic conference in a forthcoming volume from Saint Vladimir’s Seminary (SVS) Press.
A recording of Metropolitan Hilarion’s keynote and all lectures and discussions from the event will be available soon on the Seminary’s YouTube page.
Keynote and Academic Conference
Searching the Scriptures began Thursday with Vespers at Three Hierarchs Chapel, immediately followed by a panikhida, presided over by Metropolitan Hilarion, on the occasion of the two hundredth birth anniversary of famous Russian writer and devout Orthodox Christian Fyodor Dostoevsky (Nov. 11, 1821–Feb. 9, 1881).
His Eminence then delivered his keynote lecture at the Seminary’s Metropolitan Philip Auditorium. His Beatitude, Metropolitan Tikhon, who formally invited to Metropolitan Hilarion to take part in the Seminary event and offered the opening and concluding prayer Thursday, was in attendance along with fellow members of the Holy Synod, His Eminence, Archbishop Melchisedek and His Eminence, Archbishop Michael; His Grace, Bishop Nicholas of Manhattan, Vicar Bishop of the Diocese of Eastern America and New York of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia; His Eminence, Archbishop Mor Dionysius John Kawak of the Syriac Orthodox Archdiocese of the Eastern United States; His Grace, Metropolitan Zachariah Mar Nicholovos of the Northeast Diocese of the Malankara Orthodox Syrian Church; and His Grace, Bishop James Massa of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Brooklyn and Rector of Saint Joseph Seminary, Dunwoodie, among other distinguished clergy, alumni, and guests.
Metropolitan Hilarion discussed his monumental work, Jesus Christ: His Life and Teaching, and his desire to see a stronger Orthodox voice in modern biblical scholarship. In writing Jesus Christ, His Eminence explained he hoped to enrich his own understanding of the discipline in the process.
“I realized that I wanted to write a biographical study …. I wanted to approach Jesus precisely from the historical perspective, to show what kind of man he was, what his character was, how he reacted to other people, what his background was,” His Eminence explained. “The task that I set myself was not to expound Orthodox Christology, but rather to reproduce the living image of Jesus on the basis of the sources available and to present his teaching as it is reflected in the Gospels.”
His Eminence relied on patristic as well as modern New Testament scholarship in writing his volumes on Jesus. At the conclusion of his keynote, Metropolitan Hilarion offered an insight from Jesus Christ’s first volume:
The gospel story of Jesus Christ…may be compared, I argue, to a collection of treasures amassed over two thousand years in a safe with two locks…two keys are required. One key is the belief that Jesus was fully human, with all the aspects of a real, flesh-and-blood person. However, we need a second key also: belief that Jesus was God incarnate. Without this key, the safe will not open, and the treasures will not radiate with their original brilliance. The gospel image of Christ will not come to the reader in all its resplendent beauty. In modern New Testament scholarship, the [second] key is very often simply not used at all. In the Orthodox tradition, sometimes the [first] key is put aside, and we tend to concentrate more on the divine dimension of Jesus’ life and teaching than on the human side of his story. This is one of the reasons why a dialogue between the Orthodox tradition and the rich and multi-layered tradition of modern New Testament scholarship can be mutually enriching for both sides.
Friday’s lectures and discussions offered an enticing glimpse into the possibilities of such dialogue, as some guest scholars offered both praise and thoughtful critique of the Jesus Christ volumes. His Eminence took time to express his appreciation of the scholars’ points and directly addressed some of the points raised, among them his criticism of the Q-Source Hypothesis proposed by many biblical scholars to explain similarities in the so-called “synoptic Gospels” of Matthew, Mark, and Luke.
Members of the audience watching online and in person were delighted by that and other discussions offered throughout the day by His Eminence and the other lecturers, of Orthodox and non-Orthodox faiths, who were invited to speak at Searching the Scriptures: Garwood P. Anderson, Ph.D., dean and professor of New Testament at Nashotah House Theological Seminary in Nashotah, WI; John Barnet, Ph.D., associate professor of New Testament at Saint Vladimir’s Seminary; Bruce Beck, Th.D., assistant professor of New Testament at Holy Cross Greek Orthodox School of Theology in Brookline, MA and director of the Religious Studies program at Hellenic College; Carl R. Holladay, Ph.D., professor emeritus of New Testament at Candler School of Theology (Emory University) in Atlanta, GA; Edith Mary Humphrey, Ph.D., William F. Orr Professor Emerita of New Testament at Pittsburgh Theological Seminary; Craig S. Keener, Ph.D., the F.M. and Ada Thompson Professor of Biblical Studies at Asbury Theological Seminary in Wilmore, KY; Gregory E. Sterling, Ph.D., the Rev. Henry L. Slack Dean of Yale Divinity School and its Lillian Claus Professor of New Testament; and James Buchanan Wallace, Ph.D., chair and professor of the Department of Religion and Philosophy at Christian Brothers University in Memphis, TN. One of the scheduled speakers, The Rev. George Parsenios, Ph.D., dean and professor of New Testament at Holy Cross Greek Orthodox School of Theology, was unfortunately unable to attend the conference due to illness.
Patriarch Kirill Endowment
During Searching the Scriptures, Saint Vladimir’s Seminary President The Very Rev. Dr Chad Hatfield announced the launch of The Patriarch Kirill of Moscow and all Rus’ Endowment for Biblical Studies at the Seminary. The endowment was made possible by an anonymous donor who generously donated $250,000 in recognition of Patriarch Kirill for his role in the remarkable revival of the Orthodox Church in Russia, universal church leadership, profound biblically oriented pastoral guidance, and support for the vision of the autocephalous Orthodox Church in America.
The endowment will be used to fund faculty, support efforts to promote scholarship in the field through student exchanges with Russia, and make possible more conferences and seminars that promote the Orthodox approach to the study of Holy Scripture. The investment of $250,000 by the donors will be the first installment in building the endowment to the level that will fund a chair in biblical studies.
“Biblical studies occupies a pivotal position in the Seminary’s curriculum with core and elective courses on the Scripture and New Testament, Greek and Hebrew languages,” said Fr. Chad. “This immensely generous donation to establish the Patriarch Kirill of Moscow and all Rus’ Endowment will go a long way as Saint Vladimir’s looks to attract more world-class Orthodox scholars and make important contributions to the Church in the field of Orthodox biblical scholarship.”
Although the academic conference of Searching the Scriptures came to an end Friday evening with final remarks from Metropolitan Hilarion, the celebration of Divine Liturgy the following morning brought the previous days of prayer, fellowship, and discussion to its perfect and fitting culmination. On Saturday, November 13, His Eminence presided over the Liturgy at Three Hierarchs Chapel on the Feast of Saint John Chrysostom, one of the Three Ecumenical Teachers along with Ss. Basil and Gregory who are the Chapel’s patrons.
The Seminary community gives thanks to God for these edifying days. Beautiful concluding remarks offered by His Eminence, Metropolitan Hilarion point to the inspiration behind this and all the efforts of Saint Vladimir’s—of her seminarians, faculty, staff:
“Jesus belongs to the entire world and to every person. He has something to say to every human being, both to those who are already in the Church and to those who are on the path to it—and even to those who are far from it and from any religious affiliation at all.”