Step-by-step, St Vladimir’s Seminary (SVS) and St Herman Seminary (SHS) in Kodiak, AK are restoring historic ties and rekindling relationships in order to develop a joint program in the field of missiology.
Their latest cooperative effort occurred in March 2010, when Archpriest Chad Hatfield, chancellor of St Vladimir’s, and two seminarians—Dn Lucas Rice and Dn Ignatius Warren—traveled up to St Herman to present weeklong, intensive courses in missiology, homiletics, and pastoral counseling.
Both Fr Chad, former dean at St Herman, and Archpriest John Dunlop, its current dean and an SVS alumnus (MDiv ‘94), have been instrumental in nourishing the relationship between the two seminaries, both of which are under the auspices of the Orthodox Church in America (OCA).
Fr John issued the winter invitation to St Vladimir’s, stating, “This visit re-establishes a historical connection and builds bonds of friendship and our commitment to common work in educating pastors.”
Fr Chad concurred, saying, “Our enriching trip was just one more incremental piece in building the connection between St Herman’s and St Vladimir’s, and in developing a program around our common emphasis on missiology. The Faculty Council of St Vladimir’s had given our dean, Fr John Behr, and our academic dean, Dr John Barnet, a mandate to create such a program, and to offer an MA in Missiology. To that end, there will be a course offered on the campus of St Herman Seminary in the near future, which is in my mind, the perfect venue for mission-minded students: the campus provides opportunities for field work, and the site has historic significance as first place on American territory that Orthodox Christian missionaries landed.”
The two student deacons who accompanied Fr Chad to Kodiak this year enthusiastically testified to the significance of the Alaskan venue for missionary endeavors. Additionally, they witnessed both the wonder and the joy of teaching at the northern seminary.
“This was the trip of a lifetime,” said Dn Lucas. “Kodiak was a sensory experience: the mountains, the orcas—the wind. Perhaps even more memorable was the faith of the people of Kodiak and the students at St Herman. It was profound blessing to serve in front of St Herman's relics at Holy Resurrection Cathedral, and rivaled only by the fellowship and hospitality of those who are doing holy work in the birthplace of American Orthodoxy.”
Dn Lucas is a former Baptist pastor and an inaugural member of “The Academy of Preachers,” a program largely underwritten by the Lilly Endowment and designed to identify, network, inspire, and support young people with a call to Christian preaching. In January 2010, Dn Lucas participated in “The Festival of Young Preachers” winter event, and preached a sermon titled “A Beautiful Thing,” which explored and explicated the anointing of Jesus at Bethany by the sinful woman (Matt 26:9–11).
Drawing on his bountiful experience in preaching, at St Herman Dn Lucas outlined a homiletics course that included covering the lectionary text, and developing a sermon around a main point with supporting points, with effective delivery.
Similarly, Dn Ignatius related, "I was really struck by two things: the beauty of the island, and the warmth and friendliness of the people. Everywhere we went, we were welcomed. There is a real sense of love—within the seminary, at Holy Resurrection Cathedral, and in the Kodiak community."
Dn Ignatius, who works as a hospital chaplain intern during his “Middler” year at St Vladimir’s, and who is a former elementary and middle school teacher, taught the pastoral counseling course at St Herman during his visit.
“I especially concentrated on the skill of ‘active listening’ as a way of dealing with loss and pain, and particularly connected that skill with social problems that beset native communities in Alaska: specifically, alcoholism and domestic violence.”
Both deacons are in the Antiochian Orthodox Christian Archdiocese of America; Dn Lucas’s home parish is St Michael the Archangel Church in Louisville, KY, and Dn Ignatius’s home parish is St George Cathedral in Wichita, KS. They regarded their homiletics and pastoral courses as “two sides of the same coin,” springing from the same core and directed toward the same goal: the priest knowing his congregation.
“We listen, and then use our listening skills to communicate and create a dialogue,” said Dn Lucas. “Pastoral counseling and homiletics are not ‘divorced’ skills.”
“In each setting—pastoral and liturgical—we are delivering the gospel of Christ,” added Dn Ignatius.
Fr Chad, a former missionary himself, who at St Herman this year offered the course on missiology, summed up, “The classes we offered addressed subjects that sometimes don't get enough attention, yet are crucial to the life of priests.”
Historic bonds between SVS and SHS
The historic ties between St Vladimir’s and St Herman seminaries are deep and broad.
At the Diocesan Assembly at Kodiak in September 1972, the proposal to found St Herman Pastoral School was unanimously adopted, even though there was no budget, campus, or faculty! In January 1973, Fr Joseph Kreta organized the opening of the school at Wildwood Station, near Kenai, and was appointed its dean. The opening service was celebrated by Metropolitan Vladimir Nagosky, an SVS alumnus, so in this sense, St Vladimir's was represented from the start.
That same spring, as newly consecrated Bishop of Sitka and Alaska, His Grace Gregory (Afonsky), another graduate of St Vladimir's, became a member of the faculty and taught there regularly for the next 18 years. Fr James Michael Oleksa, upon his graduation from St Vladimir’s in 1973, then joined the faculty of St Herman. Mother Victoria (Shnurer), a 1971 alumna of St Vladimir’s, was already an administrator at the Kenai campus. The other faculty at that time, Fr Paul Merculief and Iliodor Philemonof, along with the dean, Fr Joseph, were all alumni of St Tikhon’s Seminary in South Canaan, PA.
A slew of alumni from St Vladimir’s taught at the Kodiak seminary in ensuing years, usually with three-year contracts: Fr James Parsells; Fr Gregory and Alexandra Safchuk; Fr Robert and Susan Arida, Fr Michael and Janet Mihalick, Fr John and Bea Dunlop, Seraphima Carl, Archimandrite Juvenaly (Repass), and Jeffrey MacDonald. Conversely, Fr John Breck began teaching at St Herman Seminary, but later became a faculty member at St Vladimir’s.
Other SVS students spent summers or extended periods in Alaska as well: Fr John Shimchick, Fr Steven Voytovich, Fr John Jillions, Protodeacon Eric Wheeler, Hieromonk Sergios (Gerken), Fr Serge Bouteneff, Fr Vasily Lickwar, Fr John Udics, Jerry Tarris, Gregory Solak, and Diane Scott Farah.
Additionally, SVS alumni Bishop Benjamin (Peterson) and Fr Michael Oleksa served as deans of St Herman Seminary for periods of time. Hieromonk Yakov Nikolai also served at St Herman in various capacities, and Mark Harrison was both the librarian and an instructor at the seminary.
Protopresbyter Alexander Schmemann, who served as dean of St Vladimir’s from 1962–1983, developed an interest and concern for St Herman Seminary beginning in the early 1980s, and it was then that the first formal cooperative arrangement between the schools was devised. Subsequently, Protopresbyter John Meyendorff, dean of St Vladimir’s from 1984–1992, served on the SHS Board and visited Kodiak several times, continuing the supportive relationship between the two sister seminaries. Further nurturing the relationship was Protopresbyter Thomas Hopko, dean emeritus of St Vladimir’s, who visited Alaska and celebrated the 25th anniversary of St Herman Seminary on its campus.
All of these treasured links were fitly summarized by current faculty member at St Herman, Archimandrite Juvenaly, who said of the 2010 exchange, “The visit of the delegation from SVS served to renew and cement fraternal ties of friendship between our two seminaries.”