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8.20.09 New Reflection

On the “Statement Regarding Placement of Antiochian Seminarians”
by a life-long Member of the Antiochian Archdiocese

Propaganda: “A concerted set of messages aimed at influencing the opinions or behavior of large numbers of people.”

This is the definition of propaganda as found in the on-line Wiktionary. Similar definitions can be found in any English language dictionary. A secondary definition notes the derogatory use of the word, implying using such messages to mislead large numbers of people.

The word should certainly resonate with anyone reading the latest memo that has appeared on the SRAOCA (Self-Ruled Antiochian Orthodox Church in America) web page “Regarding Placement of Antiochian Seminarians” appearing on August 17, 2009.

The Statement notes that “there has been much speculation and incorrect information on the Internet… regarding our recent decision to send our incoming seminarians to Holy Cross Greek Orthodox School of Theology. This decision effected [sic] two students.” Aside from the error in grammar (a common enough one), this is a very misleading opening statement. The fact that this is a “recent decision” makes it clear that the decision was a reversal of the previously made assignments given to the two affected students. One, whose wife is literally in the ninth month of pregnancy, had been told he would be attending St. Vladimir’s, and the other was told to attend St. Tikhon’s. So, far from being a simple decision, this was a change of mind for “the Archdiocese.”

What then was the reason for this change of mind?

According to the Statement, it is “because Holy Cross most closely mirrors the practices and customs” of the Patriarch of Antioch and the SRAOCA, most important “being the common Syro-Byzantine liturgical and musical tradition that we share.” If this is so, one must ask why 19 of our students are attending St. Vladimir’s and St. Tikhon’s and only 6 are attending Holy Cross. Indeed, before the “recent decision” there would have only been 4 students enrolled at Holy Cross.

Perhaps it is because the cost of educating of a future priest at St. Tikhon’s is about one third of what it costs at Holy Cross. Perhaps it is because there are three instructors at St. Vladimir’s who are Arab by birth or heritage, one of them being a full-time tenured professor. This same professor is scheduled to begin teaching the only college-level Arabic language course available at any Orthodox Seminary in North America.

Perhaps it is because St. Vladimir’s is, and has been the most actively pan-Orthodox of all the seminaries. Indeed, Metropolitan Philip is the Vice-President of the St. Vladimir Seminary Board of Trustees.

The Statement tell us that the “majority of our seminarians… are not rooted in this Syro-Byzantine expression for our one Orthodox faith from birth.” Yet, the most beloved and respected Fr Elias Bitar, the Protopsaltis of our Archdiocese is the teacher of Byzantine Music at St. Vladimir’s and the Dean of the Mother Cathedral of St. Nicholas, Fr. Thomas Zain, teaches Antiochian Liturgical practice there as well.

Given all of this, is it so hard to believe that the real reason for this decision is to “punish” the two OCA seminaries because Metropolitan Jonah and/or the Seminaries would not or could not stop Mark Stokoe from publishing articles and comments on the ongoing crisis in the SRAOCA? Seminary assignments are made months in advance. This is one reason why the Archdiocese requires potential students to apply about six months before the start of the school year.

The Statement further says that “It is our hope to have our own seminary in the future… much of the foundational work has been done.” As Yogi Berra once famously said “It’s déjà vu all over again.” Every time Metropolitan Philip has had a disagreement with St. Vladimir’s, or Holy Cross the “dream” of an Antiochian Seminary resurfaces. This has the suggestion of a threat, although perhaps not a real one given the very large expense it would take to found a theological seminary. Aside from the necessary facilities, qualified instructors would have to found and hired and a multitude of other difficult and expensive hurdles overcome.

One would suppose that the “foundational work” consists of the St. Stephen’s Course/Antiochian House of Studies.” Certainly some good instruction may be offered in these programs, but most famous are its instructors who advocate giving Holy Communion to any Arab (Christian or Moslem) who approaches the Chalice. This is not the foundation most of us would want for any Orthodox Seminary.

In the final paragraph we read “[W]e will and have always assessed the common needs and concerns of both the Seminarians and the Archdiocese and therefore leave all doors open for the future with regard to their placement.”

These are, I believe, intended to be comforting words. Upon further reflection, however, they are anything but comforting.


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