Archbishop Rowan William’s Lecture at St. Vladimir’s
by Lydia Berzonsky
Walking up the steps of the library at Saint Vladimir’s Seminary to the convocation room, one noticed how many people were crowding the lobby, buying books, conversing with one another. Guests quickly filled up any remaining space, as they waited to be let through the main doors, young seminarians in cassocks rushing in and out in preparation for the lecture. It was announced that there would be only a few places to sit for guests without tickets - and standing room only in the back. The rest of the room was roped off for VIPs and Saint Vladimir students. Other rooms in the library were set up for the live telecast of the event for anyone not able to crowd into the main room.
Many familiar faces from the OCA were in attendance, and even more guests from other churches and faiths. Speaking on the indignation of some Orthodox converts to the conferring a degree on the Archbishop, Father Alexis Vinogradov, an Orthodox priest from Wappinger Falls NY, explained: “Episcopal converts to Orthodoxy feel that having the Archbishop speak and giving him a degree brings closer the Church that they had left.” Greg Voiles, an ordained minister in the Church of the Nazarene, doctoral student in theology and guest at the convocation took the alternative view: “I think it’s wonderful that Archbishop Williams is accepting a degree from the Orthodox Church.”
Everyone fell silent and stood as the academic procession wove through the crowd. The first to speak was the Fr. Chad Hatfield, the Chancellor of St. Vlad’s, extolling Archbishop Williams for “his studies in Eastern spirituality … bringing us insight into ‘The Philokalia’ which is so dear to Orthodox Christians.”
Metropolitan Jonah officially opened the convocation, and the Fr. John Behr, the Seminary’s Dean and Professor of Patristics, elaborated on Archbishop Williams’ remarkable achievements. In Father Behr’s words, he is “someone who has written on a phenomenal range of topics; Dostoyevsky…. contemporary and historical theology, and spirituality.”
In response to rousing applause as the degree of Doctor of Divinity was conferred, the Archbishop thanked everyone, in his deep resonant voice, stating that he was “overwhelmed at the warmth and generosity given on this occasion.” In his address on The Philokalia, Archbishop Williams offered profound insights on aspects of the text such as nature, the state of human beings, perception, passion, demons, angels, selfish will, the Holy Spirit, and human intelligence.
For the question and answer session that followed, people were allowed to write questions on cards collected for the Archbishop to answer. He responded in detail to questions pertaining to The Philokalia (See following article). Toward the end of the fifteen-minute session he quickly touched on the controversies within his own church, stating, “I’m going to leave… rather unsettled the questions …. about the Anglican Communion, which … I better just ask your prayers about… and pray for our unity, peace, and truth for the glory of God and his kingdom. Thank you.”
While disappointed that he would not offer comments on controversies within the Anglican Church, it was still an enlightening experience; a coming together and opportunity for people from different backgrounds and faiths to listen to the Archbishop’s words on Eastern spirituality. Despite opportunities for a more hostile reception – at least from some in attendance who might strongly disagree with what the Archbishop represents – the atmosphere before, during and after the presentation of the honoary doctorate and his lecture was filled with respect. The Archbishop contributed to this atmosphere of goodwill by declining to touch on issues of contention.
Lydia E. Berzonsky