"If you want to witness a welcoming political, cultural, and religious atmosphere for Orthodox Christianity," said Fr. John Behr, "just visit Vienna!
"The vibrant Orthodox community there models evangelical outreach, ecumenical cooperation, serious study, and vital worship, and I was overjoyed and honored to be part of it all during the Bright Season of Pascha," he noted.
Father John, dean of St. Vladimir's Seminary and world-renowned patristics scholar, was the guest of Fr. Ioann Moga, priest at Saint Antonius the Great Romanian Orthodox Church and professor of theology at the University of Vienna, from April 15–17, in Austria's capital city.
During his stay, Fr. John presented two public guest lectures at the university—"Orthodox Spirituality Today" and "The Interpretation of Death in Early Christian Anthropology and Contemporary Theology." He also conducted a research seminar for the doctoral students of Professors Rudolph Prokschi and Thomas Prügl, on the topic, "Irenaeus of Lyon: Identifying Christianity," which included a discussion by St. Irenaeus on bishops, taken from his treatise Against Heresies (III.3).
Besides sharing his scholarly knowledge at the university, Fr. John had the pleasure of meeting with 20–30 Orthodox Christian public school teachers for a discussion about "Religious Education in the United States."
"Austria has an incredible public education system," explained Fr. John, "Within a population of some 8 million, half a million are Orthodox, and they are guaranteed religious instruction in their own tradition in state schools. Hence there are a large number of Orthodox teachers employed."
The discussion, with a question and answer period following, was held at the Orthodox Office of Religious Education, in the presence of His Eminence Arsenios, metropolitan of Austria and exarch of Hungary and Mid-Europe, Ecumenical Patriarchate.
Lastly, Fr. John met with leaders of Pro Oriente, an ecumenical venture established during the Second Vatican Council, with the goal of improving relationships among the Roman Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, and Oriental Orthodox churches. They discussed matters of common witness between the Roman Catholic and Orthodox churches, and possible common projects. As well, Fr. John presented a seminar on matters of contemporary Orthodox theology.
"During this exceptional trip, which offered an extraordinary gaze into Orthodoxy in Austria, I also found the time for a delightful visit with Sister Vassa (Larin), a fellow scholar and host of the sensationally popular 'Coffee with Sister Vassa' YouTube show," said Fr. John.
"Sister Vassa's humorous format—always evident, but especially buoyant during Bright Week—provided me with an out-of-the ordinary venue for theological discussion," he chuckled, "but in the end, I was challenged with some really serious questions, and, I hope, gave equally serious answers!
"All in all, this visit to Vienna, afforded me the honor of—paraphrasing St. Paul's words—'being all things to all men (and women!),' and I thank God for this great blessing," he concluded.