A Symposium Unlike Any Other

Feast of St. Trypho the Martyr

THE NINTH annual Eighth Day Symposium was unique to the previous eight years in a number of ways.

First, the event venue changed. The Symposium grew out of a conference organized back in the 1990s and 2000s by Fr. Paul O’Callaghan, my parish priest at St. George Orthodox Christian Cathedral. So naturally, the Symposium has always been at St. George. Due to remodeling of the Fellowship Hall, however, for the first time we had to find a different venue. Thank God for our Orthodox brothers and sisters in Christ at St Mary Orthodox Christian Church! They graciously agreed to host the 2019 Symposium and it worked out wonderfully. They also happen to sponsor EDI, like St. George and Church of the Resurrection CEC.

Second, for the first time in our history, both the Symposium and the Festal Banquet sold out. Praise God from whom all blessings flow!

Third, the demographics shifted in two significant ways:

  • The first six or seven years, attendees were mostly Protestant, typically 70-80%. This year participation by Orthodox and Catholics increased dramatically: 31% Orthodox, 23% Catholic, and 46% Protestant.
  • Additionally, out of town participation has been steadily growing since the third Symposium back in 2003. But this year was remarkable. Exactly half of the United States of America were represented! Yep, that’s right. Attendees traveled into Wichita from as far as Washington, Wisconsin, New York, Maryland, and many other eastern states. We also had a handful of people from Washington D.C. and we even had several folks fly in from Canada. For the first time in the history of the Symposium – nine years and counting – we had more attendees from outside of Wichita than we did local folks: 45% from Wichita and the surrounding area vs. 55% non-Wichitans.

Fourth, we made a slight but significant tweak to the schedule. Two years ago, we added a VIP private conversation with the Symposium’s keynote speaker as a perk for Eighth Day Members. Those past two conversations with Joseph Pearce and Ken Myers have been a highlight for many Eighth Day Members, or so they’ve told me. This year, three of the four plenary speakers joined us and the conversation was rich and stimulating. It helped facilitate new friendships among Orthodox, Catholics, and Protestants, precisely the sort of thing last year’s Symposium advocated (“Cultivating Friendship in a Fractured Age”). These sorts of ecumenical friendships are essential, I believe, to fulfilling our mission to renew culture. It was a marvelous way to kick off the Symposium and we’ll most definitely replicate it next year. If you're not a member and want to be a part of it at Florovsky Week this summer, the Inklings Oktoberfest this fall, or at next year's Symposium, join the community of patrons and pillars today!

Fifth, for the first time in the Symposium’s history, there was a heavy emphasis on the early Church Fathers. We’ve always celebrated a Church Father at the Festal Banquet, and I’ve always intentionally integrated the Fathers into my morning contemplations. But the Symposium’s plenary presentations have rarely focused on the Fathers. This year, however, without asking them to do so, the plenary speakers focused on St. Gregory of Nyssa, St. John Chrysostom, and St. Maximus the Confessor. Fr. Georges Florovsky tirelessly called for a return to the Fathers as a path forward in the twentieth century. I think he’d be proud of this Symposium!

Sixth, I changed up the format of my morning contemplation on Saturday. Instead of offering my own contemplation infused by the Fathers, I read the first homily on the Song of Songs by St Gregory of Nyssa, which is printed in our newest issue of Synaxis: The Symposium Journal. It was sublime. 

Seventh, for the first time we celebrated a female heroine at the Festal Banquet. Previous heroes include St. Anthony the Great, St. Athanasius the Great, St. Cyril of Alexandria, St. Gregory of Nyssa, St. Gregory the Theologian, and St. Basil the Great. This year we celebrated one of Orthodoxy’s favorites: St. Mary of Egypt. In addition to her fixed feast day on April 1, Orthodox Christians commemorate her annually on the fifth Sunday of Great Lent, and on the preceding Thursday each year her life is read during Matins of the Great Canon of St. Andrew of Crete. The story of her conversion from extreme sexual promiscuity, influenced so deeply by an icon of the Theotokos, is quite remarkable. And so this evening she was worthy of our veneration as we toasted her as “The Desert Mother of Repentance.”

Eighth (because all of my lists have to include the number eight!), there was yet another first this year. Unlike all previous themes, we tackled a controversial topic: “Eros & the Mystery of God: On the Body, Sex & Asceticism.” Thanks to our plenary speakers – Hans Boersma on St. Gregory of Nyssa, Adam Cooper on St. Maximus the Confessor, David Ford on St. John Chrysostom, and Ephraim Radner on Scripture (plus a breakout on pornography) – and thanks to the presentations by my priest Fr. Paul O’Callaghan (“Adam, Eve & Eros”) and my friend Joshua Sturgill (“Art & the Incarnation: Poetry as a Chastely Erotic Art”), I believe we tackled it successfully. Mission accomplished...for the most part (see my critique below).

I would be remiss if I did not mention two final highlights and a forthright critique (that's three more points...three is another favorite number for obvious reasons!).

First, my wife Christiane Doom made this year’s Symposium happen. She single-handedly organized the lunches on both Friday and Saturday plus the entire Festal Banquet, including the dessert auction, all while somehow managing to care for our four children. I have no idea how she did (and does) it!

Second, just like each and every other year, Chris Farha and the Cathedral Choir made the Festal Banquet absolutely magnificent. As usual, their singing was glorious. With Chris and her comments as a guide, they led us through an Orthodox wedding service, from beginning to end. And like every other year, I’ve already received a number of comments about how the choir was the highlight of the weekend.

Third, a critique. We launched the inaugural Florovsky Week in the summer of 2018 as our version of an academic conference. The Eighth Day Symposium is NOT an academic conference. It was never intended to be, it never has been and, if I have any say in it, it never will be. The mission of the Eighth Day Symposium is to renew hearts and minds for the renewal of culture. God created us with rational minds and Christ redeemed them when He became man and assumed a human mind, a theological truth the early Church insisted upon against Apollinaris of Laodicea (hence the heresy of Apollinarianism). The Symposium is, therefore, unabashedly a rational and intellectual endeavor. But it is not an "academic conference." The stimulation of the mind each year is intended to renew the heart for the sake of renewing the culture. My hope is that each year you, the attendee, will walk away with something concrete and practical to enhance your own spiritual lives and with concrete tools to enable you to engage our culture more effectively. I think our plenary sessions mostly failed to meet these goals this year. I was unable to attend any of the breakouts but I’ve heard they did a much better job. There are so many huge, pressing issues related to our theme that we face as Christians in our secular age. Apart from pornography, which was discussed in Dr. Ephraim Radner’s breakout session, we failed to address them. Forgive me. Every single year I learn how to more effectively organize events and, in this instance, this year is not unlike any other Symposium. I have been reflecting a great deal on this Symposium and, in conjunction with some feedback at our most recent board meeting, I have some very concrete ways to help better fulfill our mission at future Symposia. Please feel free to send me any feedback, critiques, or suggestions. If you attended, you'll be receiving a survey...please fill it out to help us continue to improve.

Despite this one critique, I’ve once again been overwhelmed by the praise given for this Symposium. So overall, the 9th annual Eighth Day Symposium was a huge success. It was a wonderful weekend that challenged, inspired, presented the Fathers as a way forward, cultivated friendships among Catholics, Orthodox, and Protestants, and enlightened all of us to be better lights in a dark world that is desperate for cultural renewal.

Cheers to another great Symposium!

In Christ,
Erin John

P.S. Plans are in the works for the 10th annual Symposium on January 23-25 in the year of our Lord 2020. Mark your calendars and stay tuned in the coming weeks for a theme and speaker announcement with early registration to secure your seat.

Be the first to comment

Please check your e-mail for a link to activate your account.