Here is a series of questions about the idea of an Orthodox seminary.
Some of these questions you will recognize as rhetorical, if not outright "leading." Others are frankly open.
1. How mature (emotionally and spiritually) should a man be before he entires seminary?
2. How specific should a seminary preparation be for the practices of a particular diocese? Let us look at one particular case (and there are many others): the Carpatho-Russian plainchant is profoundly different from the polyphony practiced in other jurisdictions. There are rubrical differences as well that differentiate diocesan practices from one another -- and these differences cannot be chalked up to "mere" ethnic anachronisms that ought to be erased: they have become, by now, actual and valid American practices. The Carpatho-Russian plainchant, for example, is now part of the contemporary American Orthodox tradition.
3. How much exposure should a seminarian get in terms of community and missional service? Is is important for seminarians to be required to experience a "street ministry" modality, like in a soup kitchen or a rescue mission?
4. How important is it for seminarians to become adept in contemporary communication modalities (like social media, podcasts, web sites)?
5. Should a seminarian be able to graduate if he is academically successful, but has "poor social skills"? How important are qualities like "leadership" (whatever that is) and "gregariousness" or "niceness"?
6. What should be the qualifications of instructors? A Ph.D. degree? D.Min. or Masters? Do degrees matter? (they do, by the way, in accreditation requirements).
7. How important is it for seminarians to be aware of cultural currents? Is prophetic critique a value in Orthodox seminary education?
8. Is it valid for Orthodox seminary education to operate by the ethical categories of Western academics in its teaching of "moral theology" or "applied dognmatics"?
9. How ascetical should an Orthodox seminary be?
10. The Wall Street Journal suggests, in this article, that a seminarian ought to be able to say, from the outset, just how he will fund his seminary education, as opposed to candidates being chosen just because they claim to have a "calling"? Is this, at all, a legitimate criterion for the Orthodox seminary?
These are only ten particular questions. There are many more.
I am not going to ask whether there ought to be Orthodox seminaries at all. There are some who doubt this, or they strongly suggest that seminaries ought to play a far less essential role in the preparation (or formation) of Orthodox clergy.
I disagree. Other less formal and more local structures are attractive in theory, but I doubt whether any of these "non-seminary" strategies is able to maintain a persistent structure of spiritual and academic discipline. An internship with a good priest is necessary, I think -- but it cannot comprise the entire preparation experience. The kenotic community and fellowship with fellow seminarians cannot be missed as a man prepares to minister in and through a parish community.
A bishop-directed program on the campus of a cathedral is a nice idea, but the fact remains that bishops are away more often than not: they can be a Dean or a Rector of a Seminary, but not a Prefect or someone who must manage the day-to-day program. Besides, my little seminary is very much associated with the bishop and his cathedral, but we still call it a "seminary."
And -- without getting mired in a troubling conversation -- the American monastery is usually not sufficiently substantial or stable enough to manage a seminary. Besides -- and I say this as someone who treasures Orthodox monasticism -- I do not think that a monastery is ever appropriate for parish-training.
Someone suggested that "the church does not need the seminary, but the seminary needs the church." No. The church needs the seminary as a separate place where men -- physically present -- are trained for the Orthodox priesthood in piety, theology, liturgy, fellowship, rhetoric and service. The church does not need a seminary that is trying to be something other (or more) than it is -- it is not a university.
Whether the seminary "needs the church" is a question that seems to be referencing an antinomian state of affairs in heterodox communities, where Holy Tradition is looked upon with condescension, if not sheer embarassment.