Professor Emeritus of Canon Law, Dr. Lewis J. Patsavos, recently took part in The 21st International Conference of the Society for the Law of the Eastern Churches. The conference deliberated Particular Laws and Current Issues in the Churches. Jointly sponsored by the Faculty of Jurisprudence of the University of Bari and the Ecumenical Institute “San Nicola” of Bari, it was the second time in 22 years that the Society met in this historic city.
The Society for the Law of the Eastern Churches was established in 1969 and is composed of canonists from the Eastern Orthodox, Oriental Orthodox, and Eastern Churches in communion with Rome. In view of the similarities of their canonical traditions, international conferences are usually convened biannually and focus on issues of current interest.
“As one of the signatories of the charter incorporating the Society for the Law of the Eastern Churches 45 years ago in Rome, I have had the privilege of attending many of its conferences since that time. One of these conferences, in fact, was hosted by our Holy Cross School of Theology in 1995,” said Patsavos.
This year’s conference was the twenty-first in succession and dealt with a topic of great importance in the tradition of the Eastern Church. Given the right of the Local Church (understood here as a self governing entity) to retain its particularities with regard to local practices and privileges, the need to be aware of them becomes especially apparent.
According to Patsavos, “Besides the learning experience gained by participating in the conferences, the collegial relationships thereby forged are a contributing factor in realizing the Society’s original aim – fostering understanding and collaboration among canonists who share a common canonical tradition.”
It was the recognition of the substantive role Canon Law is called to play in the quest for reconciliation between the Churches of the East and West that originally led to the establishment of the Society in 1969. Since then, it has grown in numbers including clergy and lay members from many different nations and ecclesial communions.
Among the latter, understandably, the Churches of the East predominate. This year’s conference included speakers from Hungary, Albania, India, Greece, the United States, Syria, Romania, Italy, Ukraine, Finland and Sweden, among others, who addressed issues and concerns related to their particular Churches.
Due to the ecumenical character of the Society, made up almost exclusively of Orthodox and Eastern (Byzantine rite) Catholic canonists, conferences are hosted and organized alternately by each of these groups. In addition, locations chosen reflect the history and tradition of the host group. This year’s site for the conference, Bari, was ideally suited to the purposes of the Society and its biannual conferences.
Situated on the southern coast of the Adriatic Sea in Italy, Bari had close contact with the Byzantine Empire on various levels, political, ecclesiastical and cultural. It is here, in fact, that the relics of one of the most revered saints in both the East and the West, St. Nicholas the Wonderworker, are preserved in the historic basilica bearing his name. Consequently, Bari serves as a bridge between East and West, especially in the sphere of ecclesiastical relations, where a keen awareness of this unique relationship is strongly felt.
Topics on the program included: the dialogue between Churches and religions towards building a democratic society in Albania; the particular law of the Syro-Malabar Church – the Maronite Church – the Melkite Church – the Romanian Church – the Byzantine Ruthenian Church – the Ukrainian Church; fundamental principles of the new charter of the Church of Cyprus; the regulation of the Monastery of St. John in Patmos; the current law of the Russian Orthodox Church; the particular law of the Byzantine ecclesiastical districts in Italy; particular law concerning Eastern Catholics entrusted to the pastoral care of hierarchs of another Local Church; Universal Church and Local Churches: ritual diversion and unity of faith, etc.
The 3 day conference concluded with a reception and dinner hosted by the Dominican Community which operates the Ecumenical Institute “San Nicola” and is caretaker of the Basilica of St. Nicholas. Participants thereby had the opportunity to venerate the tomb of St. Nicholas and experience firsthand the work of the Ecumenical Institute.