Dr. Tamara Grdzelidze’s career has taken her from the Geneva offices of the World Council of Churches to Rome, where she served as the Georgian ambassador to the Vatican from 2014-2018. Now, her latest travels have brought her to Toronto as the Aileen Driscoll Research Fellow in Ecumenical Theology at the University of St. Michael’s College.
Midway through her year-long appointment, Dr. Grzelidze is delighted to be following in the footsteps of legendary St. Mike’s professors and conducting research at a university known for its work in ecumenism — even though her arrival on campus this past January was something of a shock.
“Certainly I knew cold. I’d been to the Alps, for example, “she laughingly recalls. “But I didn’t know what (a wind chill of) -32 felt like!”
Still, everything from conversations with Dennis Savoie, Canada’s ambassador to the Holy See, to her work at the WCC helped convince her that St. Michael’s was a logical place for her to further her work on ecumenism.
“I was familiar with some of the big names who taught at St. Mike’s – Margaret O’Gara and Étienne Gilson, for example – and I knew U of T is a very good university,” she says. “From my work with the World Council of Churches I knew that, ecumenically, (Canada) is very strong.”
The project she is working on while at St. Mike’s stems from concerns over the fallout for various Orthodox churches in the wake of the 2018 decision by the Russian Orthodox Church to sever ties to the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople, which historically has held a special place in the Eastern Orthodox world. The break came last October after Constantinople granted the Ukrainian Orthodox Church autocephaly, or permission to operate independently from Moscow.
“Having lived various places this is painful for me. Borders are not so precise,” says Dr. Grdzelidze, who is organizing a conference to take place at St. Mike’s in June, 2020, titled Boundaries of the Christian Faith in the 21st Century: Intersecting with Borders of Geography, Cuture and Theology. Earlier this year, for example, she delivered a paper, ‘National Borders of the Orthodox Church,’ at a conference in Romania.
“Ecumenism is not only about knowledge but about experience, just as theology is not just about patristics,” she explains. “It is about seeing how people interact; it serves as a compass to understand others’ beliefs, their passions.”
In the coming Fall semester, Dr. Grdzelidze will teach The Ecumenical Theology: Division, Difference, Dialogue, a course that will examine some of the major themes related to the impact of inter-church dialogue and action on theological reflection.
Educated in Tbilisi State University in Georgia, St. Vladimir’s Orthodox Theological Seminary in New York, and Oxford, Dr. Grdzelidze has taught around the world, including St. John’s Theological College in Auckland, Trinity College Dublin, and the Angelicum in Rome.