Just before nine o’clock on the morning of Friday, January 13, I was kneeling in one of the pews of St. George Orthodox Christian Cathedral, praying Morning Prayer from Magnificat. It was cloudy and dark outside and the Cathedral was still chilly inside, but the lamps were lit in front of the iconostasis and the icon murals on the walls and ceilings glowingly told the story of our Redemption in the Life of Christ. Third Hour Prayer was about to begin.

Around me, Orthodox Christians, other Catholics, and Protestants from various denominations joined in the prayer in different ways, either reciting the prayers along with the priest and reader, or silently joining in the doxologies, the Our Father, the repeated plea “Lord have mercy”—three times, 12 times, 40 times—and hearing the psalms of the day. Each time the doxology invoked the Trinity (Glory to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit, now and until the ages of ages. Amen.) the Orthodox Christians bowed and crossed themselves. This was the first day of the seventh annual Symposium offered by the Eighth Day Institute in Wichita, Kansas.

 

Jesus and the Fathers of the Church

This annual Symposium brings together Catholics, Orthodox Christians, and Protestants to discuss a selected topic, listening to speakers from each Christian tradition, and continuing the discussion during breaks and social events. The theme this year, “Where are the Watchmen? Theology in the Public Square” was about the lack of Christian intellectuals speaking to the secular world—in contrast to the mid-twentieth century when C.S. Lewis, Reinhold Niebuhr and others were even honored with Time Magazine cover stories—based upon an article by Alan Jacobs in the September 2016 issue of Harper’s Magazine.

In past years, we’ve talked about Dostoevsky, Chesterton, the Sacraments, Constantine, Stories and Wonder, and the Benedict Option. Each year, Eighth Day Books offers resources on the topic and books by the speakers, setting up in a corner of the parish’s Fellowship Hall, where the annual Lebanese dinner is served every October. Participants start buying books almost as soon as the symposium begins. It is a bookish group and the leader of the Eighth Day Institute recommends books to read at every opportunity.

We share meals, snacks, adult beverages, tell our life stories, identify our parishes, talk about books we’ve read and books we should read—each year I see some of the same people and we catch up. Catholics, Protestants and Orthodox acknowledge our differences in doctrine and worship but without animosity or rancor. Of course, Jesus is our center, but the works of the Fathers of the Church are our common heritage. Other names are often mentioned: C. S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien, Stanley Hauerwas, Pope Benedict XVI, Dietrich Bonheoffer, Wendell Berry, Charles Taylor, George Florovsky, Dorothy L. Sayers, etc. Two names I seldom hear mentioned are Martin Luther and John Calvin. It isn’t as though the Great Schism or the Protestant Reformation never happened, but the focus on Mere Christianity, the central doctrines of the Christian Faith and the feeling that we must unite on those doctrines and the challenges we face guide the speakers and the audience.

 

Goals and Gatherings

The goal of the Eighth Day Institute is “Renewing culture through faith and learning” and its motto is “Let us seek, let us examine, let us inquire” from St. John of Damascus. Beyond the annual Symposium, the Institute also organizes an annual Inklings Festival. That event, which will be in October this year, is family oriented and festive, while the Symposium is more academic. Members and guests also meet throughout the year.

The Hall of Men celebrates Catholic, Orthodox, and Protestant heroes throughout the ages, while the Sisters of Sophia fetes heroines every month. Other discussion groups read books aloud and explore different themes. Each meeting of the Eighth Day Institute begins and ends with prayer, including the Nicene Creed--according to the Orthodox tradition without the filioque—and the Our Father.

 

“I am a Catholic”

The Symposium usually falls within or near the Octave of Prayer for Christian Unity, January 18 through 25. Coming together and representing our different faith traditions, members of the Eighth Day Institute work through some of the great challenges facing Christians today. If we aren’t united in all our beliefs, we are at least united in seeking solutions to our concerns about religious freedom, our efforts and failures to evangelize our culture and our communities, the integrity of the family, and quality of education.

Every year I’ve attended the Symposium I am even more grateful that I was born into a Catholic family and raised Catholic, receiving the Sacraments from my Baptism to this day. I am happy to tell others at Eighth Day Institute events that I am a Catholic—and I always add the filioque (“I believe in the Holy Spirit . . . who proceeds from the Father and the Son”) when I stand and recite the Nicene Creed.