In our recent move to a biennial model, the 6th Climacus Conference will take place in early 2017. We are excited for what is shaping up to be a fantastic conference. Look for periodic information throughout the year in 2016. Pray. Think. Deny. Ascend!

In memory of Rose Koury, 1949–2014; Kh. Chinnu Geevarghese, 1940–2014; and Vicki Sophia McCall, 1959–2015. Hearts of love for others, for the Orthodox Church, and faithful supporters of the Climacus Conference.

2015 Conference Theme

The Climacus Conference 2015 will seek to def­end bea­uty. Thus, we will first att­empt to def­ine bea­uty, parti­cularly on philo­sophical grounds. After all, we dis­cern bea­uty in phys­ical obj­ects and abstr­act ideas, in nat­ure and art, in ani­mals and things, and in people, quali­ties, and act­ions. What is this prop­erty of bea­uty pres­ent in all of these things? What is the status of bea­uty as an ult­imate value? Next we will con­sider the aesth­etics of some par­ticular beau­tiful things—such as church buil­dings, poems, icons, paint­ings, and music. Thirdly, we will con­sider some of the intel­lectual disci­plines—phi­lo­sophy, theo­logy, litera­ture, et al.—and their inter­action with aesth­etics. Finally, we will con­sider the pra­ctice of aesth­etics—the redem­ptive and salvific role of bea­uty in our lives.

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Past conferences, free audio: 2013, 2012, 2011, 2010.


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Portrait of Edward Farley

Fr. Jonathan Tobias

Hell overcome by Beauty: the implications of the primacy of Divine Beauty over Violence

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Plenary Lecture in memory of Kh. Chinnu Geevarghese

God's glory is expressed primarily in beauty -- much moreso than in sheer force. This truth is the main witness of Creation to human consciousness. This holds true even at the event of the greatest display of God's power in history: which is the harrowing of hell -- the destruction of death's tyranny by the revelation of Christ's full divinity (which was hidden by His humanity). This event is frequently imagined as a display of a violence that overcomes Evil's violence -- i.e., power is overcome by a greater power. However, God's power at this event is articulated only in the Beauty of the Word, which is simply as extension of the primordiality of the Beauty of the Trinity, articulated in Creation, and even before Creation in the Trinity itself. What does it mean, then, that hell was harrowed by beauty, instead of a greater violence?

Theosis as Beautification: the profound human response to the memory and destiny of Divine Beauty

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Memoria Press Plenary Lecture

Human nature responds, in its heart, to Divine Beauty. Even in its post-lapsarian distorted experience, where so much of God's glory is obscured, humanity is drawn to the beauty of the world. Its longings for peace is rooted in the awareness that peace is the primordial condition of existence, as opposed to the common expectation of violence. The memory of this primordial peace produces a desire for its realization in life -- a desire that is experienced as a sense of beauty. Beauty is thus not at all merely subjective or arbitrary: it is really a recognition of the Divine Name. The presence of Christ is the highest beauty, and actually "beautifies" the character and experience of the person who communes in Him. What does it mean that theosis (i.e., the full meaning of salvation) is ultimately understood as "beautification"?

Fr Jonathan Tobias (BA Malone University; MDiv Winebrenner Theological Seminary; MSEd Youngstown State University) is the Pastor of the St John the Baptist Orthodox Church in East Pittsburgh, PA (American Carpatho-Russian Orthodox Diocese), and is a Professor of Pastoral Theology at Christ the Saviour Cathedral in Johnstown, PA. A columnist for the diocesan monthly paper, he also blogs at the ten-year-old Second Terrace, writing most often on social criticism in the light of Orthodox tradition and classical values. He also writes at the Max's Progeny site, which focus moves variably from Staniloae to St Maximus, to Florovsky and David Bentley Hart (or intends to, at least). A convert from one of the oldest American revivalist denominations that grew out of the "second great awakening," Fr Jonathan has worked as an evangelical clergyman, then a psychotherapist on an adolescent psychiatric center, and finally as an Orthodox parish priest (where he hopes to remain for the duration). He and his wife, Marsha, have been married for over 33 years. He is the father of two daughters, and the grandfather of an energetic, inquisitive 2 year old little girl. This chain of events have caused no little wonder about the Trinity, the two natures of Christ and the healing call of beauty in everyday life -- whether in the psych ward, the neighborhood, the parish, or while watching PBS' Daniel Tiger beside a granddaughter who still sees angels.

Portrait of Andrew Gould

Andrew Gould

An Icon of the Kingdom of God, part 1 — The Proper Characteristics of Sacred Architecture

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Vest Advertising Plenary Lecture

In this lecture we will discuss the meaningful characteristics of Orthodox architecture. Upon considering all the diversity of forms, materials, and styles in historic churches from many nations, can we discern certain universal characteristics that make architecture 'Orthodox'? Such characteristics are not mere accidents of history and place, but are the very soul of liturgical art. A church structure forms the framework of the liturgical icon of the Kingdom of God, and the characteristics of Orthodox architecture are themselves iconic and quite specific in their purpose and symbolic meaning. We will also look at some contemporary Orthodox churches and consider how they have successfully, or not successfully, manifest these qualities, and whether the stylistically 'local' or 'modern' elements of their designs support or undermine their iconic expression.

An Icon of the Kingdom of God, part 2 — Liturgical Art

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In this lecture we will discuss the various liturgical arts that collaborate closely with architecture: the iconostasis, murals, lamps, furniture, vestments, etc. Each of these arts makes a specific contribution to the fullness of the liturgical vision of Heaven, and each one has proper characteristics important for its liturgical efficacy. We will consider historical examples and also contemporary works by Andrew Gould and others. In each case, we will discuss how the artist made choices to unite the canonical Tradition of the art with locally relevant materials, techniques, and ornamental styles. As in the first lecture, we will demonstrate that liturgical design is not a matter of taste or personal creativity, but a manifestation of church Tradition through cultural discernment. These lectures will offer the tools to intelligently critique contemporary liturgical art and architecture.

Andrew Gould specializes in the design of Orthodox churches and liturgical art. His firm, New World Byzantine, is known for designs that marry medieval Orthodox architecture with sympathetic influences from American building traditions. He is also the founder of New World Byzantine Studios, an atelier for the production of church furnishings, and of the Orthodox Arts Journal. Andrew holds a B.A. in art history from Tufts University and a M.Arch from University of Pennsylvania. He resides with his family in Charleston, SC.

Portrait of Nicholas Samaras

Nicholas Samaras

Poetry as Spiritual Pilgrimage into Beauty

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How does the act of “naming” one’s walk, one’s journey in life, affect and define the walk? What is the act of language in understanding our motivations for concepts such as “beauty”? Samaras will speak of varying terms of language in poetry that may well help us define and illuminate where we are going in this life, and why. Insights may be gained by including discussions of exploration leading to pilgrimage, including documented discussions with Father Paisios, an Elder of the Holy Mountain.

Poetry Reading

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Nicholas Samaras will enhance his discussion on on the act of pilgrimage into beauty by reading from a manuscript of contemporary poetry that explores the ancient experience of Mount Athos, the life of Father Paisios, and the “walked path” for anyone who wishes to experience the time-travel of Mount Athos and one’s own steps there.

Nicholas Samaras is a poet and essayist, the son of Bishop Kallistos Samaras, a prominent Greek Orthodox Clergyman and theologian. He was born in Foxton, Cambridgeshire, England, living there and on the island of Patmos, Greece (the “Island of the Apocalypse”) and, at the time of the Greek Junta (“Coup of the Generals”) was brought in exile to be raised further in America. He has lived in Greece, England, Wales, Switzerland, Italy, Austria, Germany, Yugoslavia, Jerusalem, thirteen states in America, and he writes from a place of permanent exile. His first book of poetry, Hands of the Saddlemaker received the Yale Series of Younger Poets Award. His new book of poetry, American Psalm, World Psalm, was published in 2014 by Ashland Poetry Press. His individual poems have been featured in The New Yorker, The New York Times, The Paris Review, Poetry, The New Republic, Kenyon Review, and many other publications. Fellowship Awards include the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) and the Lilly Endowment Foundation, etc. He earned his MFA from Columbia University and his doctorate from the University of Denver. Currently, he lives in West Nyack, New York, where he has completed a new manuscript of poetry and has drafted a memoir of a childhood lived underground. He serves as the Poetry Editor for The Adirondack Review, and also serves as a long-distance mentor at The Glen Institute, an online program from Image magazine.

Portrait of Molly Sabourin

Molly Sabourin

The Lost Art of Community: Rediscovering Hope through Living and Loving Local

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As a portrait photographer, Molly Sabourin often finds herself up close and personal with her fellow community members. Being photographed can be a vulnerable experience thus Molly strives to put her clients at ease in order to better capture their character and uniqueness. Keeping her eyes peeled for snippets of light and loveliness in her neighbors has become not only a vocational practice but a spiritual one as well. In her Climacus talk, Molly will share some of the insights she's gained from focusing less on the ugliness of the world at large and more on the beauty of each person and moment right in front of her.

Freelance writer and photographer focusing on issues of family, faith, and community. Molly has a regular podcast on Ancient Faith Radio and is the author of Close to Home: One Orthodox Mother's Quest for Patience, Peace, and Perseverance.

Portrait of Father Alexis Kouri

Fr. Alexis Kouri

Beauty and Being

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A look at beauty through two parables (the Prodigal Son and the Pharisee and Publican) and two recently canonized saints (Saints Porphyrios and Paisios).

B.S. from Boston College in 1984; M.Div from Holy Cross School of Theology in 1990; ThD in Pastoral Counseling from Emory University; Certified Pastoral Counselor through the American Association of Pastoral Counselors (2010).

Portrait of Erick Hedrick-Moser

Erick Hedrick-Moser

On the Fitting and the Beautiful: Retrieving Augustine’s Lost Treatise on Theological Aesthetics

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Among all of his writings, Saint Augustine of Hippo remarked that he was “quite fond” of a short text he composed on beauty. He wrote the now lost On the Beautiful and the Fitting early in his career before he emerged as the brilliant theologian and bishop, and it underlines his lifelong interest in theological aesthetics. This paper first places Augustine’s early views on beauty in the context of neo-platonic ideas, in order to demonstrate the foundations of his theological aesthetics. Secondly, I show how the mature Augustine saw beauty in the created order because its Creator was supremely beautiful. For Augustine, the natural world served as a sacrament of God’s beauty in which humans partake to create their own divinely-illumined beauty. This sacramental understanding of the created order progressed beyond Platonic and neo-platonic theories and impacted the shape of Augustine’s work as theologian, Scriptural interpreter, and pastor.

Erick Hedrick-Moser is a doctoral candidate in historical theology at Saint Louis University. He is a native of Louisville, Kentucky. Before doctoral studies, he graduated with a BA in religion and philosophy from Indiana Wesleyan University and an MA in historical theology from Saint Louis University. He recently spent time in France for dissertation research and a semester as a visiting scholar at Saint Louis University’s campus in Madrid, Spain. He has published in journals such as Ephemerides Theologicae Lovanienses, and is completing his dissertation on the formation of Jean Daniélou’s vision for Catholicism in secular France. More broadly, his interests lie in the intersection between mystical theology and secular society among patristic and modern theologians.

Portrait of Meredith Trexler

Meredith Trexler

Aesthetic Experience and Becoming Good

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Iris Murdoch’s theory of moral progress involves a pilgrimage that one must make from the self-focused fantasy life into which one is born to the apprehension of reality, particularly in its moral dimensions. Her view draws heavily on Plato’s and Kant’s views regarding the connection between aesthetic experience and morality. The Murdochian moral pilgrimage is possible only via the practice of what Murdoch calls ‘unselfing.’ In her view, certain kinds of aesthetic experiences facilitate unselfing; they train us to exercise what Murdoch refers to as ‘loving attention,’ which involves respecting something other than oneself. Aesthetic experiences, through the attitude that they command us to acquire, train us to respond and attend to things in the morally ideal way. The practice of attention, which aesthetic experience trains us to do, leads to the defeat of the ego and a moral transformation. With this in mind, I’ll give an analysis of Plato’s, Kant’s and Murdoch’s views regarding the claim that aesthetic experience cannot and should not be divorced from morality. I suggest that art may help us to see the moral as good by giving us a new kind of perspective – a new point of view from which one understands that there is a higher self.

Meredith Trexler recently received her PhD from the University of Kansas. Her dissertation is titled “Aesthetic Experience and Becoming Good: An Examination of the Connection between Ethics and Aesthetics in Plato, Kant, and Iris Murdoch.” She received her Master’s Degree in 2009, when she defended her Master’s Thesis, “Sacrifice and the Imagination: The Symbolic Relationship between Aesthetic Experience and Morality in Kant’s Third Critique.” Her areas of specialization include aesthetics, ancient philosophy (particularly Plato), and Kant’s Critique of Judgment. Her interest in aesthetics has been ongoing since she was an undergraduate student, and she has been working on an independent project for over 10 years concerning the connection between Beauty and Goodness. Her project is strongly influenced by the philosophy of C.S. Lewis, and her studies at C.S. Lewis’ home, The Kilns, in Oxford England. Meredith has taught philosophy for six years at The University of Kansas, and she has also taught philosophy at Fort Hays State University, and Kansas Wesleyan University.

Portrait of Samuel Granger

Sam Granger

Beauty, Blessed Vision, and Orthodoxy with Thomas Aquinas

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Thomas Aquinas is responsible for one of the most famous definitions of beauty, "that which when seen pleases" (id quod visum placet), which some may have come across this in James Joyce's A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man. This definition comes out of Thomas' treatment of the Persons of the Trinity in the Summa Theologiæ, and beauty naturally has it's own triune structure (integritas/perfectio,proportione/consonantia, claritas). However, the exemplar of beauty and our highest act of vision is not just concerned with pleasure, but with beatitude: this is the vision of God, or what is often called "The Beatific Vision" (visio beatifica). Contrary to popular notions found both in Catholic piety and Orthodox critiques, visio beatifica does not refer to "what we see" (visum) but "how we see" (visio); it does not mean our having a vision of God, but our sharing in God's mode of vision. This proper reading of Thomas' "blessed vision" shows how akin he is to Orthodox mysticism's noetic prayer (which discourages "visions" while correcting our "vision") and theosis (or as Aquinas calls it deiformitas). As time permits, we may also entertain close readers of Aquinas' aesthetics (ex. Joyce, Maritain, Eco) and parallels with the Orthodox tradition (ex. Gregory the Theologian, Gregory of Nyssa, Maximus the Confessor).

Sam Granger is an independent editor, researcher, and classical teacher in Grand Rapids, Michigan. He holds a Masters of Theological Studies from Boston College, and has also studied at Aquinas College, the Universität Tübingen, and Holy Cross Hellenic. Always an artist, poet, and musician, he began his studies in fine art, but transitioned to theology early on. His masters thesis focused on the "paschal nature" of beauty; other research interests include the theology of Thomas Aquinas and Hans Urs von Balthasar, the cognitive theory of Bernard Lonergan, and the aesthetics of Christopher Alexander. Additionally, the weekend of the Climacus Conference is the anniversary of his chrismation into the Orthodox Church, when he also happened to take the name “John Climacus.”

Portrait of Dave Harrity

Dave Harrity

Moving into Mystery: Poetry Workshop

Christ’s life—by his example and his words—emphasizes the importance of peacemaking, reconciliation, and intentional love toward others. How can members of the Church cultivate a contemplative life rich in beauty and imagination? What can daily writing, creative thinking, and poetry teach the Christian about peace and the flourishing of beauty? This workshop, with author and teacher Dave Harrity, examines the imagination as a vehicle of creativity and peace and beauty through poems, exercises, workshop, and discussion. Come prepared to create!

Dave Harrity’s work has appeared in or is forthcoming from issues of Copper-Nickel, Memorious, The L.A. Review, Softblow, Revolver, Ruminate Magazine, Confrontation, The Portland Review, Existere, and The Cresset. His most recent book, “Making Manifest: On Faith, Creativity, and the Kingdom at Hand,” was nominated for The Christianity Today Book of the Year and The Conference of Christianity and Literature’s Book-of-the-Year Citation. As the founder of ANTLER, he travels the country teaching workshops on creative practice and spirituality. He likes craft beer, dogs, home improvement projects, jazz, and sometimes all four at once. He lives in Louisville with his wife and children and teaches at Campbellsville University.



Hospitality — wine and cheese; sandwiches and coffee
Opening Remarks
Fr. Alexis KouriBeauty and Being
Nicholas SamarasPoetry as Spiritual Pilgrimage into Beauty
Q&A/Break; Tour of St. Michael Orthodox Church
Erick Hedrick-MoserOn the Fitting and the Beautiful: Retrieving Augustine’s Lost Treatise on Theological Aesthetics
Nicholas Samaras — Poetry Reading
Dinner (provided)
Andrew Gould, Vest Advertising Plenary LectureAn Icon of the Kingdom of God, part 1 — The Proper Characteristics of Sacred Architecture
Fr. Jonathan Tobias, Plenary Lecture in memory of Kh. Chinnu GeevargheseHell overcome by Beauty: the implications of the primacy of Divine Beauty over Violence
Film ScreeningFor the Life of the World: Beauty & Wonder


Divine Liturgy in St. Michael Orthodox Church
Light breakfast fare: Bagels, donuts, coffee
Molly SabourinThe Lost Art of Community: Rediscovering Hope through Living and Loving Local
Dave HarrityMoving into Mystery: Poetry Workshop
Sam GrangerBeauty, Blessed Vision, and Orthodoxy with Thomas Aquinas
Meredith TrexlerAesthetic Experience and Becoming Good
Lunch (provided)
Andrew GouldAn Icon of the Kingdom of God, part 2 — Liturgical Art
Q&A/Break; Tour of St. Michael Orthodox Church
Fr. Jonathan Tobias, Memoria Press Plenary LectureTheosis as Beautification: the profound human response to the memory and destiny of Divine Beauty
Dinner on your own
Vespers in St. George Chapel
After-conference fellowship with speakers and attendees

There will be snacks & a bookstore

Your registration includes coffee, wine, and snacks all weekend. Plus dinner Friday, breakfast and lunch Saturday.

Elite-level, micro-roasted coffee provided by Brown Coffee Co. of San Antonio, TX. Featuring Brown Coffee’s Climacus Blend Coffee — Perhaps a bit mystical, but not a mystery. Two coffees. One from Guatemala. One from El Salvador. Perfectly blended for an ascent up the ladder of finer taste. Sweet and plush. Well-balanced. Notes of dried dates and plum with a cocoa finish. A coffee to slow down with and enjoy as you contemplate the Divine.

Eighth Day Books is bringing a four-table display of the greatest books on the planet: Classics in Philosophy, Theology, Church History, Literature, and the Great Books.

Complimentary issues of the magazines Salvo, Touchstone, and The Classical Teacher will be available!

Salvo magazine Touchstone magazine The Classical Teacher magazine

Friends and Partners: Touchstone Magazine, Ancient Faith Radio, Eighth Day Books, St Michael Orthodox Church, Jaclyn Journey Design, Brown Coffee Co., Quills Coffee Co., Acton Institute, Memoria Press.

Location, Directions, Lodging

The conference is hosted by Saint Michael the Archangel Antiochian Orthodox Church in Louisville, Kentucky. Our parish has been witnessing to the truth of Orthodox Christianity in Louisville since the early 1930’s, but our Faith has been preached unchanged for 2,000 years.

Here's the address, mapped by Google: 3701 Saint Michael Church Drive, Louisville, KY 40220. Directions: Exit I-264 at Breckenridge South. Go about 1/3 mile to Hikes Lane. Turn right. Go 1/2 mile on Hikes Lane to church on left.

Because of the Farm machinery show in town on the same weekend, the best hotel options can be found on or for hotels in Shepherdsville, KY, or Shelbyville, KY. Both towns are just 15 minutes outside of Louisville with a straight shot in to the church on an Interstate.

Contact Information

Portrait of David Wright

Conference Founder & Director
(502) 296-2095

Portrait of Ricky Irvine

Design & Assistant Director

Portrait of Carrie Sabourin

Marketing & Administration
(773) 678-0721

About Climacus Conference

The Climacus Conference is a clas­sical Chris­tian intel­lectual/spiri­tual event feat­uring scho­lars and voices across the fields of Theo­logy, Philo­sophy, Clas­sical Educa­tion, Litera­ture, and Hist­ory/Poli­tics. It is unique in that it prov­ides an oppor­tunity for atten­dees to be enriched by think­ing well across disci­plines. It seeks to deve­lop the life of the mind through scho­larly enga­gement with the clas­sic liberal arts, but approa­ches such an endea­vor through the nous, the mind of the heart, enab­ling our asce­nsion “of the lad­der” (κλίμακος/climacus), as insp­ired by St. John Clim­acus and his Lad­der of Div­ine Asc­ent. People from all back­grounds, perspec­tives, and tradi­tions are welcome.

Friends & Partners of Climacus

Donations & Sponsorship

Covering conference expenses is a great challenge for us. Help us break even with a tax-deductible gift today!

Or better yet, sponsor a Plenary Lecture for $750: Your-Name-or-Organization Plenary Lecture