Helping our Seminarians in the US
- Dear all,A few weeks ago, I had posed a proposal - to try and help the Seminarians studying in the US. The responses I got was mixed - some very supporting while others not quite. But mostly it was ignored, or people may have missed it - so I post this again (I am not yet ready to give up on this)Here was the first message I posted:Please consider this - our Seminary in Kottayam has a history of 200 years which is huge. We should encourage every of our Seminarian to spend at least some time in the Seminary there. (But due to various reasons it may not happen or may not happen for the time we hope for.) And the Kottayam Seminary is probably focused most on seminarians within Kerala (correct me please if I am wrong). Our Seminary is Nagpur is doing a wonderful task. But it is more or less positioned at catering to future priests outside Kerala, but within India (or maybe Middle East\far East etc) Whether we like it or not, we do not have a Seminary yet to fully cater to the challenges of the flock for the future generation growing up in North America. Yes there will always be immigrants to this country, but there is a generation growing here that is less and less Malayalee and less and less Indian if you can see what I mean. The priests from the immigrant population will always have a handicap in reaching into this newer generation.So the Seminarians who are from this generation of American Indians is an absolute blessing for us. Consider this - from a time in the not so distant past when the issues in the American diocese had often come to such a head that even the Holy Synod had deliberated on what to do about it, now we have a situation where we have so many dedicated young men who have willingly chosen the path to the ordained ministry. Looking back - we see one little man standing tall to bring about this change - none other than our beloved Father Mar Barnabas who has inspired so many of the new generation here. The seeds sown by Mar Barnabas have begun to grow - we are now asked to water it and prepare for a flourishing harvest. Those friends in the US have to take a lead in this.We need to support these young people. If we want to, we can help support their cause. An initial commitment of $100 by 250 people for helping their own priests is not asking for a lot in my opinion. And if there are obstacles or doubts about this cause - we should discuss. And ICON is an ideal platform for this I feel. This matter is too important to let go without a good discussion I feel. Hoping for more responses this time around.RegardsMathew Samuel.Albany, NY
- Dear Mr Samuel,
Your proposal to generate Fund of $ 25000 for supporting our future priests from US born & brought up members, by contributing an average of $100 each is indeed very good. But the support of a dedicated group like ICON will be needed. Pl don't get discouraged with initial lack of response. Solicit the support of our bishops in the US and senior priests. I hope and pray, it will become a success. Dr K N Thomas, Kottayam.
Sent from my iPad
- Dear all,
My 2 postings so far on this:
Further on this topic, based on the responses I have received - a few common concern\question that stands in the way of us helping our Seminarians in the US seems to be
1) Why don't they go to either of our Seminaries in India?
2) Are they not losing out on the Oriental Orthodox\ Syriac tradition when they are trained in the Seminaries of the Byzantine Orthodox tradition?
I am hoping that these postings will result in some meaningful discussions about this subject, so that there is more awareness about the situation and more support for our young leaders.
Based on my interactions with a few people, here is what I understand:
I will try to provide an initial answer the first question above in this message and will try to address the second question in a future posting:
1) Why don't they go to either of our Seminaries in India? (The cost would have been much lesser that way)
The decision on which Seminary to go to is arrived at by these young people after deep contemplation, prayers and discussion with their spiritual father, family, Metropolitan and also at times the Principals of the Seminaries in India, and other fathers of the Church (sometimes even including the Bava) . It is not a decision taken lightly by these young people. Based on these discussions, and advices, each prospective Seminarian arrives at a decision to choose a Seminary most suitable for him\her. Some thus have also gone to India as a result of this process, for their entire training or for part of their training.
The Seminaries in the US train these young people to pastor to the community in America. Those living here will attest to the fact that pastoring to the community in America is a little bit different than pastoring elsewhere. No offense to any of our dedicated priests but one important question to consider : We are in the US for around 45 years now as a community, so we have been raising the community, pastoring to them since then here - yet we don't find many people around 40 born and raised in the US still in the Church - what went wrong??
Hope this discussion picks up.
Mathew Samuel, Albany, NY
- Dear all,I have been blessed to have worked with many of our American seminary graduates, both from St. Vladimir's OTS and St. Tikhon's OTS. From my perspective, their theological and pastoral training has been excellent and tailored to their field of ministry here in America. That being said, I can't really speak authoritatively on the relative merits of one seminary's training versus another. What I do know is that these students acknowledge that their training has been in Chalcedonian theology and the Byzantine Rite, and in general most have been spending 6-9 months studying in India above and beyond their seminary programs.
I think what we are missing is that this should all be considered a temporary arrangement. We are an anchored community here (roughly 5 decades!), and ultimately, as a Church, we should be working towards establishing a permanent institution for training ministry candidates. In the meantime, we should make good use of well established local Orthodox academic resources to train American-born youth for the American field of ministry. Our sister Armenian Church already has a seminary, St. Nersess', which is able to offer masters degrees in conjunction with the accredited St. Vladimir's (OCA) seminary. That type of arrangement, and eventually our own accredited institution, should be the 30-40 year plan for our Church.
It is wonderful to see that we could use this platform to discuss and am trying level best to shorten my post. In early 2011, there was some similar discussion here and shared some of my thoughts at my personal blog
Before comparing Seminaries in India and North America, I think it is important that all of us including hierarchy should realize and not forget that that in Orthodox Church all over the world had nothing like the seminary training we know of existed prior to 200 years. Then they were trained and selected differently. From early days, the Church knew that the key to the direction in Church lies in in the life of its members in the Parish and its Priest. We see how important it is to hear of someone like St. John Chrysostom writing explicitly ‘On Priest hood’. It is also true that those who aspire to be Priests and those selected to Priesthood are those who have lived in the life of the Church.
In prayer for Church and Priests that we inherited from Syrian Orthodox, we ask God’s blessing of wisdom on the leaders of Church to implement canons and guidelines for its people in accordance to the times. So presently, we are having the Theological seminary in Kottayam and Nagpur in India and faced with an immigrant / second generation Malayalee Orthodox Christian community in North America.
We should keep in mind that the training a priest get in any seminary can only give a foundation and has the potential to mature and improve through a life of struggle and experience within the Orthodox Christian Church and the parish he serve. In fact our late beloved HG Mar Ivanios from Kottayam of Memory Eternal was so keen to point through his life that that this should begin before entering the Seminary and even if one has lived in a parish, the person should spent a time in a monastery to experience the ascetic life and his own dayara was an open inviting door. Some of our younger priests In North America and India who understood this significance have spent their time at Thirumeni’s dayara to experience it before choosing to be priests.
For North America, we are truly blessed, on this most significant difference from India that we should see – THE PROXIMITY TO OTHER ORTHODOX CHRISTIAN COMMUNITIES EACH STRUGGLING TO TRAIN ITS PRIESTS TO LIVE AND GUIDE ITS PEOPLE IN THE ORTHODOX CHRISTIAN FAITH . St. Vladimir / St. Tikhon’s seminary under Eastern Orthodox OCA and St. Nereses Seminary under the Armenian Church with who we are in communion consider themselves as a tool to help the mission of the Church in North America. It is here that some of our youth aspiring to priesthood have received seminary training in North America with the blessing of the Bishops. As Steve has pointed, many have chosen further training in India.
Now the preface is done, these are some questions that I think the hierarchy of Church and each of us owe to those aspiring priests.
1. Do we want the Church in North America to living and serve limiting to Malayalee Immigrants and second generation?
2. Do we not see the need to work with others whom we share the faith ( OO) to have a balance and check to see if we are deviating what has been entrusted to us ( Reference: Last week Scripture reading from Timothy) ?
3. Do we not see the need to work with others like OCA though we are not in full communion have understood not to ignore the teachings of OO and showed the openness to have opportunities in their seminaries to train our priests and dialogue with us?
4. What should the relationship of the Church in North America be with the Catholicate and its status it should evolve to be in say 20 -50 years from now?
5. What ways can we help them financially as well as more importantly to live out and uphold their Orthodox Christian faith?
I am suggesting if it is acceptable to break down the topic of helping Seminarians to a few sub sections like five above instead of trying to tackle it as a whole.
Ultimately it is the hierarch’s and synod of Church that has to provide the leadership and guidance to direct the future of the Church and its priests in North America. Also it will require the faithful members of Church to prayerfully follow and strengthen them through working hand in hand with them.
- Dear FriendsWith reference to my previous message where I tried to address why those brought up in the US may not go to India for Seminary study:
http://groups.yahoo.com/neo/groups/IndianOrthodox/conversations/messages/35391Its been over a month but here are my thoughts on the other related question:
2) Are they not losing out on the Oriental Orthodox\ Syriac tradition when they are trained in the Seminaries of the Byzantine Orthodox tradition?From what I have understood based on personal interactions1) St. Vladimir's though of Byzantine tradition goes out of the way to teach and understand the Oriental Orthodox perspective. Syriac Liturgy is studied as well there since it had a major influence in early Christianity. There are elective classes offered on Oriental Orthodox Liturgy taught by people like Fr. Alexander Rentel who studied at the Oriental Institute in Rome. (some people here may know him). Fr. John Behr, the current dean of the Seminary, offers classes on St. Severios.(I am told he considers St Severus as the most brilliant theological mind of his time and that the questions posed by Severus couldn't be reconciled in the Byzantine tradition until Maximus the Confessor.)
To see how much our Fathers are used and accepted there - I was told that Fr. Behr once allowed his ward to use the book by Paulose Mar Gregorios on St.Gregory of Nyssa for a paper on the Capodocian Father. He quotes Fr. V.C. Samuel in his classes. He makes the students read "The Council of Chalcedon Reexamined" by VC Samuel achen2) For Syriac, the Armenian Seminary close by offers Syriac classes which the Vladmirians can use.3) For Liturgy itself, earlier visiting professors from our Church like Fr. George Koshy were on staff, nowadays a 6 month course is planned in Kottayam\Nagpur.4) Half the students in St. Vladimir's this year is Oriental.5) Nicholovas Thirumeni is part of the Board of Trustees at St. Vladimirs, providing the ability for us to address the the deficiencies and limitations for our Students there.The above is only intended as a starting point to begin a conversation on the Seminaries here in the US and its offerings for our children. While there are limitations, we must appreciate that these Seminaries are going out of the way to accomodate us, and in the face of the reality that we do not have our own Seminary here, and its not always practical for every student to get trained in India, we must see this as a God given opportunity.Hope these series of messages atleast open some minds towards this dire need from our side to support, encourage and stand with our future leaders studying in the Seminaries in the US. One good start might be to atleast begin praying for, and showing some support for these dedicated individuals on Seminary Day, along with our Seminarians studying in Kottayam and Nagpur.One person recently told me, how his entire perspective about the Seminary in the US and the seminarians studying here changed completely when he visited St. Tikhons once. When he saw with his own eyes the life and the ways of the people living there, and got an idea about the work of the Seminary first hand, he came forward to help the Seminarians. So perhaps that could be a good way to begin a change - plan a trip individually or with your parish to one of these Seminaries and see the life there first hand - perhaps it could bring a paradigm shift in our attitude towards our Seminarians in the US.Sincerely