Heads of Swedish Orthodox Seminary Visit Campus

1 December 2010Campus News

Two affable Orthodox Christian Swedes visited our campus this week, to gain "inspiration" and to glean "knowledge" that will help them develop "Sankt Ignatios teologiska seminarium"—that is, "St. Ignatios Theological Seminary"— a newly formed school in the town of Södertälje, Sweden, which opened its doors September 2010. Olle Westberg, the Chancellor of the newly formed seminary, and Michael Hjälm, its Director of Studies, eagerly and carefully observed the program at St. Vladimir's this week, both the academic curriculum and rhythm of liturgical life, tucking away ideas and making comparisons  and contrasts between the Swedish and U.S. educational systems.

"We're here to get inspiration fromSwedish Visitors Greet Chancellor and Dean(from left) Chancellor Fr. Chad Hatfield, Olle Westberg, Michael Hjälm, and Dean Fr. John BehrSwedish Visitors Greet Chancellor and Dean(from left) Chancellor Fr. Chad Hatfield, Olle Westberg, Michael Hjälm, and Dean Fr. John Behr St. Vladimir's" noted Mr. Westberg, "to see a picture that can become our goal. We're here to learn, to get ideas, but also we're here to find a 'Swedish solution' to Orthodox theological education. We chose St. Vladimir's [as a model] because the cultural similarities between Americans and Swedes are closer than, say, between Swedes and the French."

"Also, we need the experience and knowledge that St. Vladimir's has to offer," chimed in Mr. Hjälm. "St. Vladimir's, to us, is like an older sister, or like a mother taking care of a daughter."

Specifically, Mr. Hjälm said that they chose to observe the theological program at SVOTS for three reasons: its emphasis on pastoral theology, "which is similar to liturgical theology, in that sacramental life is primary"; its administrative structure that is organized with a dean and a chancellor, which is very similar to Swedish educational institutions; and its inclusion of Eastern Orthodox and Oriental Orthodox Christians within its student body, since St. Ignatios is supported by Coptic, Serbian, Romanian, and Syrian church jurisdictions. The school itself is housed in St. Minna Coptic Orthodox Church.

Despite the similarities, Mr. Westberg and Mr. Hjälm noted the distinctions between U.S. and Swedish educational operations. Many schools in Sweden, they said, are related to and opened by trade unions, churches, and so forth; the state provides for their funding but does not control their curricula. "Churches have educational systems parallel to universities," said Mr. Westberg. "These educational institutions must belong to another 'official' state school, but the state cannot interfere in their life or educational aims." St. Ignatios, he noted, is part of Botkyrka folkhögskola (college) in cooperation with the Orthodox Education and Culture Study Association, which remains in close dialogue with the Orthodox churches in Sweden.

St. Ignatios was founded by a board of representatives of Eastern Orthodox and Oriental Orthodox churches, which initially started a school to serve refugees who were believers and who needed to learn to speak English. Now, notes the school's Website, it is prepared to offer "a year of introduction of Orthodox theology and tradition." Among its faculty are Fr. Mikael Liljeström, a St. Vladimir's alumnus.

St. Vladimir's Seminary Dean Archpriest John Behr, after meeting with our Swedish visitors, said, "I am amazed by the work that they are doing in Sweden, involving not only the various Eastern Orthodox jurisdictions, but also the Oriental Orthodox. They have established a very firm foundation, and I am sure that their school will continue to grow, and look forward, with great anticipation, to building up connections and collaboration."