‘I wanted to thank you for that miraculous opportunity, a life-changing event where the Presence of the Lord was felt enormously among the members of the One Church’. Those are the words of one participant, and they reflect the sense felt by many that the Holy Spirit was at work. It had been a challenging event to organize, right up to the last moment, but the end result exceeded ‘all that we could ask or think’.
Our gathering, at the Logos Centre of the Monastery of St Bishoy (the home monastery of our Orthodox co-chair Archbishop Angaelos), brought together fifty Orthodox and Evangelicals from various countries: church leaders, those serving with para-church ministries, and others. A particular joy was the strong representation from the Coptic Orthodox Church. HH Pope Tawadros II was present to offer a greeting; he also received the LOI board and stayed for the whole of the first afternoon.
We reflected on themes from Philippians, considering how we can shine as lights in a dark world and how Christ offers his light to us. Topics considered ranged from martyrdom to the media, and we had time not only for discussion but also for prayer. Indeed, one session saw us move to the chapel for an unscheduled prayer service: it was the only thing we could do, after hearing about those who seek to share the love of Christ in parts of the region which have suffered so much through conflict and large-scale displacement. A tour of the monastery (parts of which date back to the 4th century) showed us the defensive structure built many centuries ago to protect the community, which included a trapdoor over the entrance – not for the usual substances to be poured over attackers, but for lowering down medical supplies to them – the same love of Christ in action that we seek to manifest today.
Papers and pictures from the conference are coming in, and soon we shall be uploading them. But what happens next? In a region where the Christian population is often declining, how can Orthodox and Evangelicals find practical ways to work together on an ongoing basis? How can LOI facilitate better working relationships within and between our respective traditions? What opportunities can we make for people from both traditions to get to know one another? How do we capitalize on the gifts of young Christians? Such questions gave us much to think about in a plenary discussion; we hope to take things forward as a result, and not remain content with our memories of the time that we spent together.