The renewed mission of St. Vladimir’s Seminary: An example for the entire Church

The Orthodox Church News Magazine
Editorial of Fall 2007
Volume 43

“The Orthodox Church” News Magazine Editorial of Fall 2007 Volume 43

In a series of festive events September 14-15, 2007, Saint Vladimir’s Orthodox Theological Seminary installed its new leadership and began the next stage of its ecclesial and educational pilgrimage. These events included liturgical services, an academic convocation for the purpose of installing the new leadership, a symposium titled “The Challenges for Orthodox Theology and Theological Education in the 21st Century,” and a celebratory banquet.

The academic year 2007-2008 is characterized by several dimensions of “newness.” Not only has a new academic year been launched, but the approach to the orientation of students at the beginning of the academic year, the character of the curriculum, the seminary’s academic and administrative leadership, the approach to the work of the board of trustees, with Metropolitan Herman continuing as the seminary’s President, Anne Glynn-Mackoul serving as executive chair—all these are new. There is a sense in which these new initiatives are meeting new challenges.

In providing for the succession to the distinguished line of seminary deans, the seminary board of trustees decided to create the office of chancellor and CEO, with responsibility for seminary operations and administration. The office of dean is now responsible for the ecclesiastical and academic dimensions of the seminary. The dean and chancellor are mandated to work to-gether closely, and their common task is to build up the seminary together, in close collaboration with the faculty and trustees.

The curriculum has now been shaped anew to integrate and make coherent the course of studies. There is a focus on the pastoral dimension and the pastoral implications of all teaching. There are new courses, with an emphasis on questions of Orthodox identity in 21st century America, where we are now in the North American and world Church context and in our society. Liturgical instruction will be strengthened, along with chanting and singing, rubrics (order of services), homiletics (preaching), education, and parish ministry. There will be no gap between the “academic” and the “pastoral.”

In his address at the academic convocation, after his installation as dean, Father John Behr spoke of the foundational vision of theological education in America as articulated by Father Leonid Turkevich (later Metropolitan Leonty) in the early 20th century in a report to his bishop. In America, the report insisted, theological scholarship at the highest level is necessary. A priest serving in this country “does not have the right to refuse a decent, basic answer about the significance, aims, and problems of the Church, as well as about the true relationship of Orthodoxy to non-Orthodoxy.” Serious theological education, in the dean’s summary of Father Leonid Turkevich’s vision, has to “transcend the opposition between pastoral and academic, practical and scholarly, uniting both of these necessary activities to provide an ‘apostolic type’ of formation.” The dean called for a recognition of the complexity of the contemporary context and for an awareness of the gap between “the way we speak about the Church, the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic reality which we know and in which we live, and the pitiful way that we all-too-often appear to others.” In the midst of the reality of this context, the address insisted that “there is nothing to fear: fear comes about when we perceive only the crises, confusion, and chaos, not understanding that this is the arena in which God works, strength being made perfect in weakness, light shining in darkness, life coming about through death.”

At the festive banquet on the following night, Father Chad Hatfield, the new seminary chancellor, quoted the words of Archbishop Anastasios of Albania: “The Church is not the Church when it is not actively engaged in missionary work.” The chancellor referred theological education to mission, stating that the missionary component cannot be missing from the life of the seminary. He spoke of the promise and possibilities of the new curriculum in preparing the future leadership of the Church, both ordained and lay, and of the possibilities of the new program for the wives of future priests, helping to prepare them for their vocation. Father Chad outlined a wide spectrum of the possibilities that lie before the mission of the seminary in its service to American Orthodoxy.

Metropolitan Herman, Primate of the Orthodox Church and President of Saint Vladimir’s Seminary; Archbishop Seraphim of Ottawa and Canada [OCA]; Bishop Hilarion of Vienna and Austria [Church of Russia]; Bishop Maxim of the Western American Diocese [Church of Serbia]; and Bishop Savas, chancellor of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America [Patriarchate of Constantinople] through their presence—whether in concelebrated services or in the academic convocation and symposium—offered a vivid image of the communion and sharing among Orthodox Churches.

The symposium on “The Challenges for Orthodox Theology and Theological Education in the 21st Century,” with Bishops Hilarion and Maxim and Fathers Andrew Louth [Durham University] and John McGuckin [Union Theological Seminary and Columbia University] as the distinguished featured speakers, opened windows of insight and understanding and suggested perspectives for continued reflection.

At a time of considerable internal crisis and difficulty, anguish, and even chaos in the Orthodox Church in America, it is a joy to witness to the events and new beginnings at Saint Vladimir’s Seminary. These new beginnings are not only a gift to the Ortho- dox Church in America, they are an offering to American Orthodoxy as a whole. Perhaps they are even a sign of promise and possibility to global Orthodoxy.

While we legitimately grieve over painful difficulties and sins, we must not neglect to thank God for the gifts of promise and possibility, for new beginnings and energy, for renewed mission. And in thanking God, let us offer prayers for bishops and theologians, for priests and lay people—for the whole People of God—that temptations and trials may be overcome so that the witness of the Church may resound with purity and clarity.