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Dear Fr. Jonathan:

My humble thoughts as an outsider to such things (although I've known many seminarians over the years whilst growing up in the Stone/Campbell movement CoC/Chr. Churches [instrumental!], and in fact my mother is on an advisory board to one such seminary):

1. Distance learning - Economic benefits and convenience - sure. If you are training to be an academic/book writer/teacher of religion classes at a secular university, sure. But my sense of Orthodox seminaries is that, unlike in other denominations, they are devoted almost solely to the preparation of priests who will serve in a pastoral role. As such, face-to-face evaluation of the student by thoughtful faculty and other clergy as to the student's preparation and maturity necessary for the rigors of such a ministry is paramount. Further, it seems the nature of an Orthodox seminary is (or should be IMO) much like a sort of initial apprenticeship and like all such work should be done face-to-face. If we liken a priest to a sort of physician, well - would we want our medical and mental health professionals all to be trained through distance learning? I balk at that idea.

2. I would want my priest to know his scriptures [not just parrot them, but 'know' them], his ancient languages (Greek and Hebrew, minimally), his Patristics, to be able to sing and chant reasonably well and to know the services of the Church in such a way as to know them in practice and to know the why of them - to understand his art if you will, and to have a soft heart that will be able to visit the sick, the infirm of heart, soul, body, and mind and be a mindful humble man of prayer for his flock and the world, given more to mercy than money or meting out punishments and stern looks. That's a lot to ask of a man and perhaps enough. But that would be what I'd hope our seminaries produce, along with a certain armoring of the man to weather the withering assaults over the years of our common enemy who will no doubt come in the guise of fellow parishioners, superior clergymen, outside detractors, and perhaps even his own family.

3. In my prior CoC experience, many students were well prepared in Greek and Hebrew and bible while attending Bible College as an undergraduate, leaving Seminary for a deepening of knowledge. Moreover, many of these were even more well versed in bible study simply by receiving at the knee of parents, grandparents, other relatives and Sunday School teachers. I no longer know if this is the case in such places. But perhaps we would do well to expect some sort of pre-seminary preparation along such lines, and perhaps we do - though one poster above makes a good point about the wide variety of students' preparation in this area.

Just my little thoughts.


I could envision a complete restructuring of the system of priestly formation in America somewhere along these lines.


▪ The Orthodox Church in the United States should accredit its own institutions.

▪ Rather than having fewer seminaries in the US, we need more. Regional seminaries should be established particularly in areas of the country with a concentration of Orthodox Christians. Geographic factors should also play a part; a West Coast resident should not have to relocate to PA, NY or MA in order to become a priest.

▪ These new campuses should be functional, yet modest. Some good classrooms, a good chapel and a good library are about all you need. (Perhaps we should just plant these new seminaries near good university libraries?) I appreciate beautiful buildings with a degree of permanence, but the thriving town of today may be tomorrow's ghost town. I don't like that fact, but it is our present reality.

▪ Each school will need qualified faculty. The sharing of teachers through a "virtual classroom" environment is one idea. Or, since there would now be more schools across the country, there would be more opportunities for new teachers and theologians to rise to the occasion. If all these new professors cannot relocate, they could teach virtually. (I would hesitate to have a single professor broadcasting his or her classes to all Orthodox institutions in the US--too 1984 for my taste.)

▪ More schools and more professors would mean that we would have a more stimulating academic environment for Orthodoxy in America.


▪ Residency is the norm. Having additional campuses around the nation would make relocation more manageable for many seminarians.

▪ In situations where a man cannot relocate himself (and his family), a partial residency could be worked out. In this case, three things are needed. 1) The man would be virtually linked into classes for his academic work. 2) He would spend regular intervals at a seminary. 3) He would be assigned to a priest-mentor (of the *school's* choosing) to oversee his progress and work on practical matters. In many ways, this type of formation is actually more difficult than actual residency.

▪ There are no cookie-cutter priests, and each student should be accepted and routinely evaluated on an individual basis. However, some benchmarks are universal: competency in liturgizing, in having theological discourse, in preaching, in interpersonal interactions, etc.

▪ Those who do not reach certain benchmarks (maybe within their first year?) should be cut loose. Recognizing individual strengths and working on weaker areas is one thing; ignoring the weaknesses and letting people slide by without the necessary skills for their vocation is another. I am amazed at how some can leave seminary with a degree (or ordination!) and yet have no idea how to put on vestments, or how to do proskomedia, or how to chant something in the requisite tone, or how to make entries into metrical books. If a seminarian thinks he may not make the final cut, he may work harder to make sure that he does.

Your comment about the smaller, non-accredited seminaries playing much the role I am speaking about may, in fact, point in the right direction. If by seminary we mean an accredited Graduate School of Higher Learning, then I think that's the wrong general direction for us to go in, long-term. Some of that goes a long way, and there should be some since the Church needs more than just priestly formation, as Macrina pointed out. But seminary as 'priestly training' and practicum can easily be replicated throughout the US and tailored to meet specific needs, whether linguistic, cultural, geographical, etc. All one needs are the kinds of houses that were not too large that most established seminaries today all seem to have started as back in teh 1800s. I was always surprised at how little space they actually had. I would propose SVOTS and HC as 'theoligical academies' representing broadly the Greek and Slavic worlds offering MDivs, with other priestly formation centers ('seminaries') spread throughout the country - and possibly even affiliated with another larger institution here (SVOTS, HC) or abroad - offering degrees if they can or certificates meeting requirements for ordination or service in the church.

Language study at the little Lutheran denomination I grew up in was extensive: lots of NT Greek and OT Hebrew with either Latin or German, as well, to the student's preference. But, that was because exegesis of the Bible was the bread and butter of what it meant to be Lutheran pastor. Latin and German simply helped with reading the Confessional texts that were believed to do little more than retell the teaching of the Bible. Orthodox clergy come from a different angle. Liturgical languages are important for serving, the modern languages are important for communicating with living Orthodox communities abroad, immigrant parishioners, and gives access to a greater wealth of theological texts than is availabel in English. Patristic languages, and NT and LXX Greek are obviously helpful, too, but not in as practical a sense for the vast majority of American Orthodox clergy. The highest level of clergy should likely have proficiency in at least one liturgical language and one modern Orthodox language as this will tend to mitigate American Orthodoxy's separation from the mainstream of Orthodox thought and practice, i.e., sobornost, anti-ghettoization of the American variety.

I am not so negative, however, about parochial and/or ethnic preservation.

To be clear, I don't think parochial and/or ethnic preservation is a bad thing, it simply must not be the primary thing. It must not get in the way of salvation, for thos in or outside of the Church. Grandparents' desire to feel at home in something like the cultures they left in the Old World and passing on that culture to their descendants must meet the reality that of their grandchildren's obvious, natural and almost unstoppable disconnect with most of that cultural context (for better or worse); since we are pushed to force rank, we must committ ourselves to placing salvation and faith as ultimate, with other important things less so (without making them wholly unimportant). And let's not forget all the people who are not Orthodox or "Orthodox ethnic" at all and who need to be met in different ways, too. Those not in the Church are too often ignored in conversations about what the Church should be doing and for whom, and I think this is as much a legacy of the 'nonprofit religious corporation' as it is of 'Orthodox nationalism'. The Church is not here simply to serve its dues paying members.

That's a sidelight to the main point about the role of seminaries in "parochial and/or ethnic preservation". I would submit that other institutions should be primarily responsible for this, and those institutions might have some connection to the Church, e.g., Greek Dance clubs that are allowed to practice at the church, perform at the church, but are run separately from the church as it is not really Church. Monasteries, camps, chanceries, etc. could also fulfill this task, again, off to the side. Not sure an academic seminary is the most appropriate place for it, or enough of a rationale to keep funding an institution that is in most ways redundent in American Orthodoxy.

My two cents as an observer:

One of my teachers in the Christian life was a priest trained at the Dominican House of Studies here in DC (CUA) after a career disassembling bombs for the military. Talk about constant remembrance of death... this fellow had strong views that a residency program was essential to the formation of priests, to their prayer life, to their worship, to their sense and understanding of worship, and to their seeing the light of Christ in each of us. I would think it a good place to vet folks as well in ways that cannot be done otherwise. Not saying we have done this... but it is an opportunity to discern motivations. I have always been impressed with the traditional Catholic church's requirement for more than three years as done right - though clearly it can have less impact if allowed. Nevertheless, I think time and its content is a measured barrier of some value.

From the outside (and yes, I know this is of minimal utility - sorry) Academics... for a faith based on discovery of the deep heart... well, I guess so. I think to lead those of us stiffnecked folks who think we know so much "stuff", I suppose this is helpful in not seeming to be the village idiot who also happens to be a priest. But it may be a different kind of priest. The essence of it may be no more than instilling a defensive protection against those who would use their learning to divert the faith into philosophy from within the church... and I'm far less certain that it helps without a good sense for righteousness. I suspect that someone with a good ear for music can work through the right repertory, a person of good character can equally be led... but the leading is good, and i think interactive with live people to address the particular need. One of the critical aspects of learning in general that I imagine is lost online is the Homeric notion of shame (in not knowing) and its stimulus for corrective action. Can this be done online? I have my doubts. I wonder as well whether
there isn't something lost by dropping languages, but also by dropping requirements for memorization of psalms, scripture, etc. In a general sense, one wonders are seminaries coincident with the broad decline in faith? Have they aided or resisted this process? So on and so forth.

The old "sola seminary" notion may just not work. So I am very intrigued reading about the Lived Theology School of St. Maria of Paris... as a type of residency program and would ponder beefing it up into a complimentary academic program ... or as a pre-req/post-grad requirement... like time in OCMC or IOCC... working in the vineyards kind of thing... might be an engaging prospect.

I'd second the suggesting that seminary recognize the influx of mid-life changers that seem to comprise a good degree of our candidates, and focus on work-study options need to increase, and may concentrate locations where these options are available. I would think that if this required losing the residency aspect, we would lose something as well. On-line without some exposure to daily services... ugh.

Bottom line: Do I want my priest to lead me in reading literature, understanding science, biz management... or do I want him to teach me to pray? Yes, he needs to be able to teach me to pray in the midst of a world of this kind, but how? Not sure there, but the premise that an incarnate faith can be lived and learned through the aether of online "community"....??? Er... um.... cricket chirp.

For some reason the link to the discussion I referred to didn't go through. It is here:

I realise that I come from another context, but I am rather surprised at the apparently unquestioned assumption that the role of a seminary is simply to train priests. While I wouldn't want to deny the importance of training priests, I would rather hope that the seminaries' role was rather broader than that. But that presupposes an appreciation for different ministries within the Church. Ordained ministry obviously has a vital role to play, but how one trains people for it will also depend on the sort of Church that one envisages. There is a good discussion that touches on this here.

For myself, the priority should be the spiritual and theological formation of a range of people within the Church - and there is obviously a lot that one can discuss on the best methods for that - some of whom the bishop could eventually choose for ordination. (As I understand it, this is how Metropolitan Anthony of Sourozh worked, and something similar seems to happen in some of the Churches of the Russian tradition in western Europe although I don't know details).

My dad and I talk about this subject quite a bit – not Orthodox seminaries, mind you, but seminaries in general and their changing curriculums.

My dad went to a mid tier (in terms of prestige) Prot seminary in the early 80s. He was required to do 2 semesters of Hebrew. This was more than a lexicon class. He had to translate texts from the OT. He was given English passages and required to translate them into Biblical Hebrew, etc. But, of course, in 2 semesters he didn’t come out with a mastery of Hebrew. Still, it was very demanding.
With Biblical Greek though, mastery was expected. He did his prelimary 2 semesters of NT Greek his first year, with a summer tutorial before his second year, and henceforth in all of the NT classes in the second and third years the NT Greek text was what was used to teach the courses – students were expected to have mastered NT Greek to the point that they didn’t need to be grabbing a lexicon all the time – they could pick any passage in the NT, read it in Greek, and translate it into English, with at least a modicum of competence. To this day my dad (now nearing 70) can pick up his Greek NT and read it. That is what he uses for bible study and when writing a sermon or anything which requires the NT.

Dad’s seminary was fairly typical for Prot seminaries in the 60s-80s.
My friends from Bible college and from the American Baptist Churches (I grew up ABC) who went on to seminary in the mid to late 90s or in the 00s faced an entirely different situation with languages. Unless they were doing a specialty MDiv with a specialization in NT or a BTh/MTh, all they really had were lexicon classes in NT Greek. In some seminaries it was just the one semester. In some it was a two semester requirement which went through a standard Greek grammar, but the tests were relatively easy (often lexicons were allowed to be used in tests) and once done with those 2 courses the MDiv student didn’t need a working knowledge of Greek so it effectively was no more than a trumped up lexicon Greek curriculum. The real danger that my father and I have seen with this version of Greek education is that these students tend to think that their ability to deal with the Greek text is on par with seminary educations over time. Of course that is not true. There is a world of difference with regard to having a relative mastery of the NT Greek and the condition of just being able to use tools to muddle through it.

In an Orthodox context, the situation here becomes more complicated. For Prots, the only Greek that might really matter for MDiv students in NT Greek. But for Orthodox students, patristic Greek could easily be argued to be as important or more. Patristic Greek is more difficult to master than NT Greek, and will require even more effort from the average student.

In talking with various students of STS and SVS over the years, it seems to me the language study done at those institutions is spotty. One can hardly blame the institutions considering the radically varied backgrounds of the students. A lot of seminarians, being converts, have done NT Greek study prior to going to Orthodox seminary. Most of that is going to be of the sort my friends had (though there are still a few Prot institutions who teach the old model, and as well a number of converts seem to come from ancient language backgrounds academically). I’m inclined to think that requirement of mastery of patristic Greek would greatly limit the type of people who can become priests – who wants a priesthood made up of ancient language nerds? On the other hand, language study and the use of ancient language mastery in later classes used to be the most rigorous part of seminary education. If you take that out, what do you replace it with that merits the granting of a professional degree? Business/management style classes, which have effectively made most MDivs correspond to low tier MBAs in terms of academic rigor and seriousness? Also, when it comes to preaching/teaching coursework, if preaching and teaching aren’t correspondent (in the curriculum) to a mastery of languages and texts, then in the current seminary milieu (here I speak of seminaries across ecclesial boundaries) what you have left is preaching classes being taught using contemporary communications theories (essentially marketing theories), which is not only banal, but also very easy.

Pastors need, more often than not, to be generalists in their intellectual lives. They should have some knowledge of modern science. They should be able to think logically. They should have some knowledge of contemporary literature, and man oh man does there need to be a requirement that priests should have reading interests outside of theology, lives of the elders, histories of Orthodox countries and the like – they should be required to have some literary interest outside of the usual Orthodox intellectual terrain. They should have some knowledge of contemporary political thought. They should have some knowledge of contemporary ethics/moral/social thought. I wonder, since much beyond lexical language courses seems too much for the average MDiv today, if there should not be a year in seminary in which the student goes through a series of 3-4 week seminars in various strata of intellectual arenas pertinent to Christian life in the late modern world. You could have a seminar that gives a quickie course in logic (then again, maybe seminary should start with that). A seminar in bioethics. A seminar in modernist poetry (Eliot, Pound, Jones, etc.). A seminar on contemporary economic theories and Christian responses to dominant economic theories. A seminar on contemporary physics and those Christian theologians who have interacted with contemporary Physics. A seminar on classical music of the 20th century, from Mahler to Pärt. A seminar in contemporary political theologies (seminarians might do well to know who Rushdoony is and how he has effected American political and religious life) and its correspondence to Orthodox thought. A seminar on contemporary counseling theories and their interpretation in light of patristic thought. A seminar on Latino immigrant cultures in the U.S. And so on and so forth. This could be in the last year. The seminars need not be the same from year to year – you could design them around the talents of the people you have available to teach them. You could have a seminar coordinator, but bring in folks who are qualified to teach in a given area for 3-4 weeks to teach the needed short stints. The idea would be that the students would apply their knowledge (gained in the first two years) in biblical and patristic texts and traditions to whatever material is being gone over in this consortium of classes on contemporary thought and life which they get in year 3.

It may be that this is not really feasible in most seminary settings. But it seems to me something like this might foster students becoming thinkers worthy of a professional degree – at least moreso than what we see now where the reduction of rigor on the language/text front is being replaced with business/marketing/admin type classes, or in the case of at least one Orthodox seminary with a lot of rote liturgy stuff, which may make a functional liturgy administrator but doesn’t always result in a priest who can maneuver in today’s world.

As someone preparing to do a PhD dissertation on just such a topic, I find this thread to be very helpful. I will monitor it closely.

I was one of those seminarians who had to make a hard choice to not attend seminary full-time because I simply could not afford to do so. However, I also agree that seminarians should spend (at least) some of their time in the seminary community full time. Perhaps there's a middle ground? Part-time or distance programs for much of the year with a mandatory month or something every summer for working men? Of course, I also agree with the previous posters who suggested that seminarians be funded by the diocese, that the model still thinks seminarians are single 19-year-olds whose parents are shouldering the (theoretically cheap) bill, and that perhaps nine US Orthodox seminaries are too many -- here's where that pesky "administrative unity" would be helpful -- or perhaps where it could be tried out.

123: I agree, too, with your point about centering the more advanced Orthodox academics at certain universities.

I've been thinking more about that "tier" approach. It is very difficult for me to envision a priesthood that does not preach. As time goes on, especially if there is a continued increase of cultural antipathy toward the church, I think that the local parish is going to require better theological and homiletical training. Perhaps not academic so much -- and maybe the MDiv degree will turn out to be an anachronism, and will have to be divorced from most Orthodox seminaries eventually. I'm starting to wonder whether the "masters" part of the Mdiv is all that critical for the real Orthodox pastorate.

The Orthodox pastorate in the West, especially in America, is hardly homogenous. On one hand there are priests who serve 10 parishes, each of which is less than 20 parishioners. On the other hand, there are priests whose annual parish budget is higher than that of some dioceses.

But I wonder whether it is true that such a rich and well-appointed parish requires a better theological education. Perhaps they require an MBA. Many smaller, "ethnic conclave" and less academic but more spiritually mature could end up requiring the training of a real Mdiv more than a sophisticated urban parish.

Byzantine: "plowshares into keyboards" heh. I'll respond more later on.

"What do you see as the value and goals of an Orthodox Seminary today?"

Prepare men to answer the pastoral questions both specific to this modern world and to those which are timeless. Provide a place for faith-filled formation of the complete person - not just academic knowledge, but the impartation of wisdom (or the road thereto), teach the centrality of prayer, and explain the mechanics and proper reverence for the services of the Church. Teach men how to stand for principles and ideas the world rails against with truth in love.

"How do you think such a Seminary needs to change in order to accommodate cultural changes -- which, as you may have noticed, are going on at light speed?"

Start from the "beginning" and then walk seminarians to the moral and immoral issues facing the Church today. If you can place yourself in history, you can plot the arc of where all these cultural trends are going to end up. Very little is new under the sun.

"Do we settle for "distance-learning" and/or internet-enabled "virtual academic communities"?"

It has its place. Right now many seminaries have an expectation of complete immersion in the seminary experience. At the same time more and more seminarians are peopled by married men with families. We ask men with jobs to jump into poverty and then come out the other end to a job that pays very little. In the intervening years of seminary many of our seminarians use (abuse?) govt. handouts meant for the unemployed. How can we decry many of the activities of our govt. and at the same time ask it to feed, clothe, and heat our seminary families?

Distance education can make for a less heavy school load if you allow men to take classes before they attend traditional classes.

Switching gears, distance education is also a good response to a limited pool of pedagogues. Sometimes the "right" or "qualified" person is not within driving distance. We do a disservice to our seminarians by overburdening professors by asking them to pick up those classes that should be taught by others and we provide an inferior product when we do so.

"Time was when we required the learning of "old country" languages, like Church Slavonic, Byzantine Greek, or even Latin, and some facility in philosophical discourse. Nowadays, I wonder whether a seminarian wouldn't be better off learning conversational Mandarin AND Spanish, and learning how to code (i.e., web apps, etc.)."

Having taken many of those languages (all save Slavonic) it could be said that these are not mutually exclusive as they serve different purposes. A more solid understanding of the translated texts is a very different skill than being able to better evangelize our Chinese and Latin brothers. I both want a priest that can exegete and speak to the greatest number of people, but I would find a priest who couldn't read the icons on his walls a tad suspect.

"Is this just me, a romantic agrarian luddite wannabe?"

Beat your plowshares into keyboards. There is no replacement for the community and fellowship of a seminary. This is true if only because it forces men to escape the cyber-chrysalis of their own beliefs and interpretations. They have to face the often conflicting views of their fellow seminarians. They have to know what they believe and be able to defend those beliefs. No online forum or mailing list is going to foster this ability.

I have never been comfortable with such a "tiering" system, of paring down the presbyterate into non-confessing, non-preaching, non-teaching functions. I know this is more than just precedented in the past. I know, too, that it is a reality -- but I consider its reality something to be tolerated rather than embraced.

But that may be just me, and I might be too biased from my pietistic free church background.

I think, practically speaking, that the more localized theological training you outline in the same paragraph already exists, to a degree, in the smaller diocesan seminaries (and their extension training programs) -- the very ones that probably do not (and perhaps can not) attain ATS accreditation.

I agree with your first statement. The western definition of professional clergy is an incorrect -- and probably toxic -- goal for Orthodox theological education.

I am not so negative, however, about parochial and/or ethnic preservation. You probably knew that.

Additionally, the seminary structure as inherited seems to assume most students to be young and single. This is not the case in Orthodoxy today, it seems. Given the ages at which we are supposed to be ordaining at, it seems preferable to assume seminary will and must happen later in a man's life when he is more likely to have wife, children, and debt. On the upside, it will also follow his and his family's proving by life: they will have shown themselves to be stable, pious, and spiritual survivors in the fires of everyday secular life.

I'm not sure why the three-yaer sojourn of the Apostles paradigm cannot be just as readily realized within the life of a diocese or in a parish - especially if my Greek suggestion for different 'tiers' of priest is accepted thus swelling the ranks of clergy. This brotherhood can assist in developing itself, together with the Dean and the Bishop, with distance learning, with on the job training in parishes, and then perhaps one full year at seminary as preparation for 'leaving the world' to join the ranks of full-time clergy. This would be for a middle ranking of clergy, of course. The more well-known academic track into seminary or theological academy would be maintained on a smaller scale for a certain number of clergy, whether in preparation for or well after their ordination.

I can tell you what the wrong reason is for a seminary: proving oneself as modern or important or professional as Protestants and Catholics. Same with independence for the sake of rather parochial ethnic, regional, or preferential matters.

(Translation: given the number of Orthodox in the US, we do not need all the seminaries we have, i.e., Holy Cross, SVOTS, STOTS, Johnstown, Jordanville, St. Sophia, St. Herman's, etc.) Or, if separate focii are needed, they don't all need separate administrations, accreditation, etc. and should merge as many functions as possible to save money and to standardize and cooperate in whatever can be standardized and cooperated in as common between all the schools.)

Seminaries must also not be funded on the backs of seminarians. If a church thinks seminary is important, it should pay for most of it itself, and the rest of it should be forgiven with service to the church. Seminarians should be required to put something in as they will get something out of it (a Masters) even if they forsake the church the day after graduation, but they are preparing for a life of service with little pay and should therefore not be burdened with large debt. This will also keep church administrations and others from constantly increasing demands on its seminaries and seminarians without consideration of the cost associated with those demands - it's always easier to spend someone else's money.

I think a reality check is also required. Not all parishes need the most highly trained priests. That is, an MDiv is not required for most of what a parish needs from its priest. A tiering system such as is found amoung the Greeks may be useful. Pious, knowledgeable, stable men may be chosen as priests to help liturgize and to provide the sacraments, but without seminary or some formal training, they may be refused permission to preach, teach, or hear confessions. Perhaps distance learning or a certificate program would allow them to preach and teach accoring to a set curriculum. Confessors, Deans of Cathedrals and larger parishes, senior priests in a parish with many clergy, bishops, etc. could then be required to have MDivs or more. Put the money spent on seminaries into the development of standardized texts, apologetical books, curriculum, etc. that can easily be followed by intelligent parishiones become presbyters, deacons, catechists, etc. Similar tools can be provided for choir directors and choirs.

The more 'academic' things one gets from a seminary and its faculty could be better funneled into endowing chairs or institutes of Orthodox this-or-that at friendly colleges or universities near important Orthodox centers, e.g., Fordham near to SVOTS and most Orthodox jurisdictions HQs in America, Boston College near Holy Cross.

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