The First Russian National Forum of Young Theologians took place on November 25, 2021. It was organized by the Academic Educational Theological Association (AETA) with the support of the Commission for Developing Theological, Religious and Ethical Education under the Presidential Council for Cooperation with Religious Associations and the Education Committee of the Russian Orthodox Church, as part of the Fifth Russian National Academic Conference on Theology in Academic-Educational Space held with international participation.
The forum was opened by Metropolitan Hilarion of Volokolamsk, Chairman of the Department for External Church Relations of the Moscow Patriarchate, rector of the Ss Cyril and Methodius Institute of Post-Graduate and Doctoral Studies and president of the Academic-Educational Theological Association. He noted in particular that in the Russian education space, theology exists in two forms: as a system of disciplines taught in theological confessional schools and in the form of a humanity taught in secular universities.
“Theology is one of the humanities related to a wide range of people, to many of those who study at higher educational institutes,” Metropolitan Hilarion said, “In this sense, theology is demanded and justified in the secular educational space. Theology serves to broaden the horizon of those who master this field of human knowledge.
The last years have seen a rapprochement of the two spheres: the theology in theological schools and the theology present in the secular educational space. Firstly, there is an already formed and functioning common federal educational standard on Theology; at present, there are three learning passports: Theology – Orthodox, Islamic and Judaic. Secondly, theology cannot be torn from specific religious traditions, and this is the difference between a theologian and a scholar of religion. Secondly, the rapprochement is taking place through the gradual introduction in usage of the same textbooks and educational aids. Today’s educational aids take into account the whole experience accumulated by our Church and have to meet the present-day educational standards of education. About 30 textbooks have already come out and as many of them are to be delivered. Prepared for publication are three volumes of “The History of the Russian Orthodox Church”, with one of them to be reviewed before long. In the nearest future, we will try to complete the work to create a full code of new present-day educational aids for the bachelor degree to be used in both theological and secular schools.
To coordinate our joint efforts we have established an Academic Educational Theological Association (AETA), which now unites 70 higher education institutes, and at the next meeting planned to take place in early December, we will consider the applications from seven more universities.
At present, the AETA includes the founders – the Ss Cyril and Methodius Institute of Post-Graduate and Doctoral Studies, St. Tikhon’s University of the Humanities, the Moscow and St. Petersburg State Universities, the Russian Presidential Academy of National Economy and Public Administration, the National Research University Higher School of Economics, The National Research Nuclear University MIPhi. The AETA includes leading higher education schools, both federal and major regional universities, as well as theological academies and seminaries and higher education schools belonging to other religious traditions, in particular, Islamic and Judaic. Thus, we are developing theology as an interreligious project in theological schools and in secular educational space. Our Motherland is a multi-confessional country and for each tradition a space is or will be created so that representatives of this tradition cold study theology in corpore. I very much hope that theologians will have an opportunity for receiving education on an appropriate high academic level. We, on our part, will do everything possible for it.
I wish to those who have gathered for the forum that the study of theology could make your life interesting, intensive and full, because the study of theology is not just a study of some abstract academic discipline, but something that can influence all the spheres of your life, and in this respect, theology stands apart from other sciences because it is specially linked with one’s outlook and one’s way of life”.
The forum was addressed by A. Tretyakov, an adviser of the Presidential Directorate for Domestic Policy and executive secretary of the Presidential Council for Cooperation with Religious Associations, who spoke about the work of the Council’s commission for religious education and assured the forum that the Russian State would support the development of theology.
The next speaker, Metropolitan Zinovy of Saransk and Mordovia, a member of the commission for religious and ethical education in the general education school under the Synodal Department for Religious Education and Catechism, greeted the forum and said in particular, “The theological platform of the Academic Educational Theological Association (AETA) is called to rectify distortions, to use the positive experience of the understanding of human life, to give the common human development an impetus that will bring forth many good fruits of God’s help to our good initiatives”.
Bishop Seraphim of Istra, chairman of the Synodal Department for the Youth, in his address to the forum noted, “The Forum of Young Theologians confirms how important also for young people the role of theology is in today’s world. An important aspect of the practical side of theology is its theological answers to the questions and challenges of society. The attitude of theology should be heard by as wide as possible audience including young people, since theology deals with deep interactions of human beings with God and human beings among themselves, describing the spiritual aspects of the life of society”.
Among those who brought greetings to the participants were also Archpriest Valentin Vasechko, vice-chairman of the ROC Education Committee, and R. Korchagin, acting director of the Institute of Public Administration and Civil Service.
The plenary session was concluded with a lecture of Prof D. Shmonin, PhD, chairman of the Higher Attestation Commission’s experts’ council on theology, chairman of the AETA academic council, pro-rector for academic work of the Ss Cyril and Methodius Institute. He spoke on the theme, “Theology in the system of the present-day education and the students’ scholarship: from a term paper to a dissertation”.
The event united ten major platforms – higher education institutes and theological schools in Russia, among then, the Ss Cyril and Methodius Institute of Post-Graduate and Doctoral Studies, Chernyshevsky Saratov National Research University, Kursk State University, Dostoyevsky Omsk State University, Saratov Orthodox Seminary, Ekaterinodar Orthodox Theological Seminary and others.
The forum was attended by over 300 young theologians from seventeen regions in Russia, as well as participants from Syria and the USA, including 240 theology students of educational programs (bachelors, masters and post-graduates). In addition, there were over 60 representatives of the leading clergy, state bodies, as well as pro-rectors, deans, heads of the chairs of theology and academic-pedagogical workers.
The forum united 25 educational organizations of higher education schools; the forum heard 120 reports in seven academic sections.
Discussions were held in academic sections on the following topics: “Dogmatic theology and patristics”, “Philosophical theology”, “The history of the Church”, “Bible studies”, “Pastoral theology, missiology, legal state-church relations”, “Liturgics and church art”, Theology and education”.
In the outcome of the forum, nine persons were awarded the diploma of winners; ten of them are students of the Chernyshevsky Saratov State Research University and the Ss Cyril and Methodius Institute. Other winners represented the Kuban State University, Kursk State University, Dostoyevsky Omsk State University, Ekaterinodar Orthodox Seminary, Tver State University, Tyrgenev Orel State University.
The forum’s diploma holders will become on December 2, 2021, participants in the youth sections of the Fifth Russian National Academic Conference with international participation on “Theology in the academic-educational space: theory, history, practice of interreligious and inter-cultural dialogue in the situation of global challenges”.
It is planned to sum up the First Russian National Forum of Young Theologians in a published collection of academic papers.