Moscow Summer Theological Institute during the Pandemic

One of the most successful and important projects of St. Andrew’s Biblical Theological Institute is our annual Summer Theological Institute. We started it in 1999 in Belarus as a project to upgrade level of theological education of priests and future priests. Later we organised it in Kiev, Armenia and St. Petersburg, but the biggest event was always in Moscow (since 2002) and in Moscow the focus has shifted from upgrading clerical education to interdisciplinary and ecumenical education. MSTI is two weeks of very intensive studies with our best professors and students coming from all over Russia, Ukraine, Belarus and other FSU countries including Central Asia. Every year we have two groups – one for those who already have basic theological education and another is more interdisciplinary with a stress on dialogue.

Normally we have 40-50 students and 8 professors. This year due the COVID-19 pandemic we were not sure how to manage it, postponed it several times and then decided to have both groups in the end of August but with reduced number of students – only 20 this year. The enthusiasm of the students was great and it was fit with even greater enthusiasm of the professors – all of them confessed that these were the first real students they saw since March when the pandemic started. The courses included theology of culture, political theology, theology in the postmodern era, Islam in contemporary world, religion and society, Eastern religions in contemporary world and many others. Next year in addition to our two groups in Moscow we hope to organise a summer institute in Grodno, Belarus.

This autumn St. Andrew’s celebrates its 30th anniversary and despite of the pandemic we plan too jubilee conferences – Theology of Openness on 6 November and The Person in a Post-Religious Society on 10-13 December, both in Moscow.

New normal or new fragile?

«For God has not given us the spirit of fear; but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind.» (2 Timothy 1,7)

Dear members of Oikosnet Europe, dear friends!

First of all I look back gratefully on our Study day and Business Meeting. I am grateful that the General Assembly has confirmed me as President of Oikosnet Europe for another three years.

Then I say that we had to have our GA as a virtual meeting. That was a big limitation. I hope that another time we can meet again directly and discuss and meet each other in a lively way. This is indispensable, even though we have discovered new possibilities with zoom meetings to exchange ideas at short notice.

Covid19 triggers a whole range of feelings: sad, insecure, alone, lonely, confident, relieved, busy, sceptical, fatalistic, calm or over-anxious. However we react, there is one thing we have in common: we become aware of how fragile and precious life, living together, our society and the global economic system are.

Deep is the Hunger: Meditations for Apostles of Sensitiveness

In a newsletter from the Retreat and Study Center Kirkridge in Pensylvania, I found a quote from Howard Thurman. Howard Thurman, the Pastor of The Church for the Fellowship of all Peoples, was one of San Francisco’s most sought-after preachers at college chapels. His contribution to the large audiences he addressed each year across the country and to his own inter-racial congregation consisted not only of prophetic quality, but also of an ability to lead a group into an atmosphere of devotion.

«Everybody knows that something has happened. Just when it happened, no one knows. But there is complete agreement that somewhere, something very important has given away and all sorts of things are pulled out of shape, or are sagging or falling apart. The results? Nerves. There is a sense of fear as of some impending doom around the next turning in the road. …. Some say we are caught in the open independence of the sea, far away from any port, and a storm of world revolution is upon us. They point to breaking up of century-old social patterns all over the world …. This meant and continues to mean, that no one may claim detachment. The result is deep strains and stresses in the soul of a people, for which they had no preparation and from which there seems to be no sure basis for recovery.» («Deep is the Hunger: Meditations for Apostles of Sensitiveness», 1950).

Jean Richardson, the head of the Center Kirkridge, quoted this excerpt from Howard Thurman’s book in late June of this year in connection with “Black live matters” and the new sensitivity to the still serious racism. Everybody knows that something has happened. And the sense of fear as of some impending doom around the next turning in the road, the sense of fear also links people to Covid19 and the unknown that has gripped our world with this virus – and remembering our Study Day – also with the seemingly unstoppable climate change.

I guess we should soon talk about a ‘new fragility’ instead of a ‘new normal’ and decide in Oikosnet Europe on concrete action. The next few years will show this. But that also means that we have a lot of work to do. By “us” I mean first of all the Board of Oikosnet Europe. But it will only succeed in taking concrete and further steps if Oikosnet gains a new importance among its members. One depends on the other. But the need to bring our efforts at European level decisively closer together again is obvious.

With best wishes,

Rev. Walter Lüssi, President of Oikosnet Europe

Up-date from the General Assembly 2020

There is a saying, which translated into English sounds something like this: “Extraordinary circumstances require extraordinary measurements and instruments”. In about 65 years of existence this year’s General Assembly was the first one, which took place as a virtual Assembly. For many of us this is the “new normal”, for Oikosnet Europe it was a novum. And it was clear for everyone: a virtual Assembly cannot replace a person to person encounter. It is, therefore, that we are looking forward to the next General Assembly in 2021 as a person to person meeting in Sigtuna or Malta and 2022 in Bad Boll. However, the General Assembly as a virtual Assembly also offered opportunities, for instance, in that more members participated due to the fact that they could save money and time for travelling. The 2020 General Assembly was the most representative since years. The Oikosnet Board will look carefully on which events are in the future useful as virtual and/or as person to person events.

Study Day on the Green Deal

The 2020 General Assembly took place in two parts, a Study Day and a Business Session. The theme of the Study Day was: “Climate Change and the European Green Deal – The role of Oikosnet Europe”. We listened to and exchanged with two impressive presentations from Anja Bakken Riise (Norway) and Sven Giegold (MEP, Germany). Anja Bakken Riise explained the impressive work of her NGO in Norway, which tries to engage grass-roots people and civil society in changing peope’s consciousness and behavior towards the sustainable development goals, Sven Giegold emphasized the common political work in order to reach the targets. The Green Deal is a major political step forward on the European Political level, which needs the involvement of the civil society. Now is the time to develop and review national action plans and the recovery plans for times during and after the Corona crisis. A new agricultural policy and green standards in trade agreements are key at this stage. The discussion centered on the complementary effects of engaging people in sustainable development issues and on setting legally binding frameworks on the European as well on the national level.

The Oikosnet Board is in the process of setting priority issues for its thematic work in a European framework for its future work. Issues which emerged from the Study Day certainly belong to the list of priorities. But also other issues were highlighted, such as: our understanding of education, the future of Europe, migration, racism … Inputs from Oikosnet members to this debate are welcome.


As part of the Business Session, the General Assembly re-elected Walter Lüssi (from Plusbildung Schweiz) as President for the next three years and Katerina Karkalla Zorbas from the Orthodox Academy of Crete as a new member of the Board, equally for three years. Congratulations! The next meeting of the Board is envisaged for 30 November 2020.

Staff Exchange

Several Oikosnet members asked as to how Oikosnet Europe could help facilitating an exchange of staff, may it be for a shorter or a longer period of time. Such an exchange is to be seen as a process of mutual learning and of bringing Academies close to each other. Board member Kristin Gudleiksrud Raaum developed a discussion paper on the issue, which needs to fed with the expectations and needs of potential participants. The paper can be obtained from the Oikosnet Office in Sigtuna or from Kristin herself. Again, contributions are welcome.


The General Assembly also adopted the accounts for 2019 and the Budget for 2021. It is clear, that many members of Oikosnet Europe are also suffering under financial constraints due to the Corona crisis. But is also clear, that the work of Oikosnet Europe at this stage largely, if not exclusively, depends on membership contributions. Extra financial support is only acquired for special projects.


The General Assembly also received reports from projects like the Arab-European Citizens Dialogue, Dialogue for a Peaceful Change and the Civil Society Project for Central Europe. These are summarised in the Annual Report to the Assembly. More extensive reports are available upon request.


Much too little time was left at the end of the General Assembly for listening to the witnesses of our members in Belarus about the situation in their country and their own involvement after the elections. The short reports were impressive. Oikosnet members are involved in supporting victims, in documenting atrocities and in spreading the truth through social media. Oikosnet can be proud of their involvement. As time was too short there will be a special invitation for a longer Zoomconference in October.

Rüdiger Noll, Executive Secretary of Oikosnet Europe