The Board of Directors of St. Vladimir’s Seminary and, especially, its President, Father Chad Hatfield, must be commended for their constant labor to make the ends meet and thus to maintain the seminary. We must remember, however, that their seminary belongs at large to the American “eleven jurisdictions” and to the world Orthodox who entrust their students to it, and, last, but not least, to the entire Orthodox Church in America. So, it is perfectly natural to decide the seminary’s future in a conciliar manner. The most natural venue would be the OCA’s forthcoming Twentieth All-American Council this summer. There are reasons to believe that relocating this seminary might be a wrong move. After all, the seminary’s history and geography are tied to its mission.
Since the time of Einstein, physicists have known that time and space are a continuum. The Orthodox have figured this out from another angle, aware that their geography is firmly tangled with their history. Otherwise, how can we explain that the Greek Patriarch has remained in Istanbul as the head of a community consisting now of a few thousand “turkified” Greeks, while maintaining the title of the Patriarch of Constantinople? It is well known that his main flock abides in America. Why not then relocate his see from the environment so unfriendly to the Orthodox Christians to the well-disposed US southern states, let us say to New Orleans, where the first Greek parish, Holy Trinity, had emerged, upon which the Ecumenical Patriarchate claimed its jurisdiction in the US? So far, the Ecumenical Patriarch has not considered this option. The symbolism of locality develops gradually, as a fruit of history, but once it develops, it starts shaping history itself.
Decorum sometimes wrests from friends and family desultory queries about my job. They know I teach at a seminary, so they ask after my courses. “Mostly church history this semester,” I say. “Some modern philosophy, and a course on atheism.” “Atheism?” many balk. Others of more urbane sensibilities nod approvingly. “Well,” they say, “I suppose it is useful to train seminarians to defeat the enemy.”
My course on atheism does nothing of the sort. In fact, my first lecture outlines what our course will not do. It will not teach students to brandish dialectic against internet atheists. It will not dignify the dogmatic scientism of a Richard Dawkins or Neil DeGrasse Tyson, pretenders both to atheism’s tiara. And it will not teach the sort of genealogical legerdemain so common in religious circles that reduces every position with which Christians disagree to atheism in three easy steps. Desirous of apologetics the course will not provide (perhaps), some students invariably and quietly drop it.
There is little doubt that we are living in a “digital age,” an age characterized by a move to the virtual and the electronic. The COVID-19 pandemic simply accelerated this trajectory to the point of no return. From an ecclesial perspective, parishes are equipped to live-stream their liturgies, and the need for a functioning and updated website has never been greater. From an academic perspective, virtual learning has become mainstream, along with conferences and webinars that scholars can participate in from the comfort of their home. Amidst the flurry of these innovations, one shift has remained under the radar: the role of theological education in the Digital Age.
Since its genesis, Christianity has embraced the media necessary for effective communication. This is why, for example, St. Paul wrote letters to various church communities to convey his message as opposed to painting pictures on the walls of a cave. From writing letters to composing dense theological treatises, to radio and television, to our days of the Internet, Christian leaders have found it necessary to utilize the best forms of communication in order to spread the Good News. But the democratization of the Internet—the fact that anyone can publish a blog or upload a video—has had unfortunate consequences for theological education. While there have always been false teachers, never before have such teachers been able to reach millions of souls in seconds.
In a seminal essay in 1990, the eminent scholar of early Christianity, Elizabeth Clark, demonstrated that Christianity grew rapidly, in large part, because women served as the community’s earliest financial benefactors—they were “Patrons not Priests.” According to Clark, female patronage was not only a matter of Christian piety, it was also a consequence of broader social and cultural changes for women in the Greco-Roman world. At precisely the same time that Roman society was restricting women from serving as patrons for civic events, a small but determined group of female aristocrats turned their patronage toward Christianity. And the rest, so to speak, is history.
I would like to suggest that there is a parallel sociological phenomenon in the Orthodox Church in the United States today. While women are still unable to become priests, they are increasingly becoming scholars of Christianity. And this is having a profound, positive impact on the Church. Continue reading →