In the fall of 1794, eight Russian monks arrived in Alaska and sowed the seeds of Orthodox Christianity on what would eventually become U.S. soil. Immediately sensing the need for a center of theological and pastoral training, they quickly moved to establish a school on Kodiak Island. A few decades later a seminary was founded in Sitka by the His Grace, Archimandrite Innocent (Veniaminov), then bishop in Alaska, later Metropolitan of Moscow, who in 1978 was officially listed among the saints of the Orthodox Church as the "Apostle to America." These pioneering attempts, however, were short lived.
Throughout the nineteenth century, while the number of Orthodox Christians in America steadily grew, the Orthodox Church remained fundamentally an immigrant community served by bishops and priests sent from abroad, primarily from Russia. It was only in 1905 that Archbishop Tikhon, later Patriarch of Moscow (+1925), recognized the need for American-born-and-raised clergy and decided to establish a permanent seminary. Opened in 1905 in Minneapolis, it was transferred in 1913 to Tenafly, New Jersey and renamed St. Platon’s Orthodox Theological Seminary. During the eighteen years of its existence, it produced two generations of priests who, at a difficult moment in the life of the Church, assured the continuity of Orthodox Christianity in America and its progressive integration into American life.
The Russian Revolution of 1917 inaugurated a deep crisis for Orthodox Christians in America. Deprived of material support from Russia and isolated from the Mother Church, as well as suffering from internal divisions, the Church here could no longer financially support the seminary, and the seminary had to close its doors in 1923. Only fifteen years later, after a long period of recovery and reorganization in the Church, could the question of theological education be raised.
In October 1937, at the “Sixth All-American Church Sobor” of what was then known as the “Russian Metropolia”—the daughter church of the Russian Orthodox Church headed by the Patriarch of Moscow—such an opportunity arose. At that meeting of clergy and laymen in New York, Dr. Basil M. Bensen, one of the first instructors at the Minneapolis school, proposed reopening the seminary. He forcefully insisted that Orthodox priests in this country needed to receive a liberal arts college education—the normal preparation for clergy of other religious groups—as the foundation for their theological training. Dr. Bensen's plan was approved, and the projected seminary was given the name of “St. Vladimir”—after the prince who in AD 988 introduced Orthodox Christianity to the Kievan Rus'. On October 3, 1938, Metropolitan Theophilus (+1950), primate of the Russian Orthodox Greek Catholic Church, conducted the opening service at Holy Trinity Church in Brooklyn, New York, and the next day classes began in the parish house of the Church of Christ the Savior, on East 121st Street in Manhattan.
The first decade of the new seminary's existence, however, proved very difficult for the faculty and administration. With no permanent quarters, no funds, and helped only by a small group of friends, the seminary struggled to keep itself alive and true to its purpose. A working agreement was established with Columbia College, and in 1939 a temporary home for the school was found on the campus of General Theological Seminary.
The aftermath of World War II brought unexpected possibilities for the seminary's further growth and development. The beginning of this new era coincided with the arrival from St. Sergius Institute in Paris of Fr. Georges Florovsky, who soon was to be appointed Dean (1949–1955). Under his leadership the theological curriculum was developed, the faculty grew, and the school was given a definite pan-Orthodox orientation.
The arrival from Europe of several renowned scholars—including George P. Fedotov, formerly a professor at St. Sergius Institute in Paris (+1951); Nicholas S. Arseniev, from the Orthodox Theological Faculty in Warsaw (+1977); Eugene V. Spektorsky, formerly of the University of Kiev (+1950); and Nicholas O. Lossky, formerly of the University of St. Petersburg (+1965)—made possible the further development of St. Vladimir's as a graduate school of theology, or an "academy," to use the old Russian nomenclature. Soon the school moved to new quarters rented from Union Theological Seminary—an unforgettable collection of apartments on West 123rd Street. On June 18, 1948, St. Vladimir's Orthodox Theological Seminary was granted a Provisional Charter by the Board of Regents of the University of the State of New York, thus officially establishing it as "an institution of higher learning."
"A contemporary Orthodox theologian," Fr. Florovsky said at the formal inauguration of the seminary in its new status, "cannot retire into a narrow cell of some local tradition, because Orthodoxy ... is not a local tradition but basically an ecumenical one." The seminary's future development was assured by the arrival of other younger theologians from St. Sergius: Fr. Alexander Schmemann (1951, +1983), Professor Serge S. Verhovskoy (1952, +1986), and later Fr. John Meyendorff (1959, +1992). Acknowledging its progress, the Board of Regents of the University of the State of New York granted St. Vladimir's an Absolute Charter in April 1953.
Dr. Veselin Kesich—New Testament Professor Emeritus at St. Vladimir’s and faculty member from 1953 until his retirement in 1991—gave some lively insight into those early years in New York City:
Student life on Broadway, as now in Crestwood, was very busy and demanding. Most of the students attended classes at Columbia as well as at St. Vladimir’s. Some were completing their undergraduate education, which had been interrupted by the war.
In addition to the normal seminary schedule, we had to prepare our own meals. There was no organized kitchen in the seminary. It was our responsibility to cook for ourselves, as most of us did not have sufficient funds to eat at Union Seminary’s cafeteria or in restaurants. We Serbian students had our tuition in both schools paid and an allowance for food, books, and other needs of fifty dollars a month. During the summer months we found jobs to support ourselves….
The members of the faculty, as far as I remember, were little concerned with canonical and non-canonical groups. Each tried to introduce his students to the treasures and powers of liturgical, dogmatic, and spiritual traditions of the Church.
Fr. Florovsky was in constant touch with theological literature and trends and never missed an opportunity to evaluate or refer to them in class lectures. To speak about the Patristic Age and the Fathers of the Church without referring to theologians and thinkers of our age would be quite impossible. As he explained views of Origen, for example, he would turn to Paul Tillich, or when speaking about Tertullian, to Karl Barth. To some of his students all this was exciting, but to others it was almost like a nightmare. He expected a rich theological background from his students, who had to scamper to keep up. His theological style was rhapsodic rather than systematic; he seldom kept within the bounds of his syllabus. He was a restless, impatient man, quick to respond, correct, and rebuke.
In contrast to our Dean, George Fedotov was a soft-voiced, gentle man who held firm views and expressed them clearly. He was never agitated in class or at any public meeting I attended. He kept his charming smile even when he was under attack. Like Fr. Florovsky, he was well known and appreciated in the Columbia community, but Fedotov was the one who was characterized by some Union teachers as “walking Russian spirituality.” I will never forget him greeting me with the triple kiss on Broadway during Bright Week in 1950.
Professor Arseniev played an important role in our introduction to theology. His favorite subjects were the spirituality of St. Paul’s epistles and Johannine Literature. He would start his lecture as soon as he opened the door of the classroom and would continue if uninterrupted for an hour and a half, without ever taking roll call—that idea never entered his head. He seemed to feel that to come to his New Testament class was to come to a banquet: No one should be forced to participate in it.
— A Legacy of Excellence 1938–1988, St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 1988
Fr. Paul (William S.) Schneirla, for many years a professor of Old Testament at St. Vladimir’s, likewise gave some insight into what he termed the “Florovskian” years at St. Vladimir’s:
Father Georges’s presence as Dean and his ecumenical prestige enhanced the image of St. Vladimir’s over an enormous area. He taught at Union, Columbia, Harvard, and Holy Cross and lectured widely, all without delegating administrative obligations. When in residence he preached every morning at chapel, and there can be no question that the level of his academic ambitions offered the students an inspiring if possibly unattainable ideal.
The student body was a striking ethnic and intellectual mixture. Recently discharged American soldiers on the GI Bill, refugees from all over Orthodox Europe, Japanese, Arabs foreign and domestic, the inevitable converts, and even a few Greeks. I remember a class with one Lebanese, a Russian from Slovakia, two Japanese, and a candidate for the ministry of the Reformed Church in America; all but the latter were at various stages of learning English. The intellectual variety was equally as great. Post-doctoral students, candidates from the several Orthodox ethnic churches in the United States and Canada, recent college graduates, undergraduates still in courses or “special students.” There were representatives of cultures but slightly touched by the Occident, dispossessed aristocrats testing a vocation, and some who still, in my memory, defy classification.
— A Legacy of Excellence 1938–1988, St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 1988
Despite many challenges, the new seminary was gaining academic recognition. The seminary’s theological journal, St. Vladimir’s Theological Quarterly (formerly known as St. Vladimir’s Seminary Quarterly), was first published in 1952, under the direction of the then Dean, Fr. Georges Florovsky. His prophetic words from his very first editorial in the journal resound:
We in America, where the majority of Orthodox Christians are English-speaking, are in an especially difficult situation. There is no Orthodox literature in English. There are occasional books, often of most modest quality, and rarely on the most urgent or basic subjects. The real problem, however, is not that of books, but of study. Each generation, especially in a new country, has to assess the Christian truth afresh, in continuous contact with the past, as well as in close contact with the changing present. It is not enough to learn by rote some ready answers. They may be perfectly right and correct. But we have to solve the questions by thinking through the answers and not by merely reciting formulas, sacred and perfect as they are. Listen to the searching man! He knows the formula, but cannot relate it to his existential questioning. Our Creed is a most perfect formula. How often do we recite it without conviction? Are we able to relate it to our urgent spiritual needs? How many Orthodox dispense with the Creed, because it has ceased to have for them any immediate spiritual appeal? The Creed is charged with an eternal and loving Truth. It is an eternal key to human unrest, but it needs interpretation. Otherwise we would not know how to fit the key in the lock.
What our present generation wants, especially in our country, is a true theological revival—a revival of a living theology, which would unlock for us that Truth which one can find in the Scriptures, in the Tradition, and in the Liturgical life of the Church, but which is sealed away from us by our ignorance and neglect.
— St. Vladimir’s Seminary Quarterly 1.1 (Fall 1952): 5
Although Fr. Georges's oversight of the development of the theological curriculum at St. Vladimir’s had led to academic recognition by the state, because of his own (and possibly overly) rigorous standards, he nevertheless alienated students and faculty, and the seminary’s constituency. One of his biographer’s shares insight into the tension that eventually caused Fr. Georges to depart from St. Vladimir’s.
Even though the fundamentals of the program that he had assiduously espoused remain intact at St. Vladimir’s, in 1955, amid much controversy, Fr. Georges was asked to leave as Dean. By his own reckoning, Fr. George was more a scholar than an administrator, more a theologian than a diplomat….
—Georges Florovsky: Russian Intellectual and Orthodox Churchman, ed. Andrew Blane, [excerpts] St. Vladimir’s Seminar Press, 1993, 110–14.
The Sixties and Seventies
The next decades of the seminary's history were shaped above all by Fr. Alexander Schmemann, Dean from 1962 until his death in December 1983. Hundreds of SVS Alumni were trained under his keen mind, warm humor, and guiding principle: “A seminarian should know only three paths: to the classroom, to the library, and to the chapel”—the liturgical services being the focal point for seminarians’ formation.
David Drillock, Professor of Liturgical Music, Emeritus and an SVS Alumnus, held many different positions at the seminary during Fr. Alexander’s tenure. He remembered his days as a young seminarian fondly:
It was in the summer of 1956, two months before I came to the seminary, that Fr. Georges Florovsky had just left St. Vladimir’s and had begun to teach at Harvard. He was replaced by Fr. Alexander Schmemann, who was appointed as Vice-Dean of the seminary. Fr. Schmemann was truly a remarkable man and an exceptional leader. I can still remember the lectures he gave. Nothing was more exciting than going to one of his church history lectures—it was almost like going to the movies! He made ancient church history come alive. All of our professors, Fathers Schmemann and Meyendorff, and Professors Verhovskoy, Kesich, Arseniev, Bogolepov, and so forth, more importantly, were able to convey to us not only their knowledge but also their deep conviction about Orthodoxy: our faith was not a treasure to be merely preserved, but a power, a force, to be taught and preached to the modern world. Because of their commitment and zeal, one couldn’t help but feel that our teachers were in touch with God, and that they were able to convey the wonder and possibility of that sort of holy relationship to us.
—David Drillock, Professor of Liturgical Music, Emeritus
Fr. Alexander’s vision for Orthodoxy in America and his energetic leadership brought advances in many areas: increase in support for the seminary on the part of church authorities and Orthodox faithful throughout the country; stabilization of administrative structures; development of the faculty, programs of instruction, and the student body; and acquisition of a permanent "home" for the seminary.
In 1962, a five-year search for a suitable campus ended with the acquisition of the beautiful property in Westchester County. St. Vladimir’s sprung up rapidly on the soil that used to belong to “St. Eleanora’s Convalescent Home for Poor Mothers," a private institution run by the Sisters of Charity of New York City. St. Eleanora’s had been built by Adrian Iselin as a memorial to his deceased wife, Eleanora, to provide care for mothers unable to afford post-maternity services. The stately but worn statues of both St. Adrian and St. Eleanora, patrons of Adrian and Eleanora Iselin, still grace the seminary grounds. Within a few years, after a successful financial drive, new buildings were erected on the property, and housing for faculty and staff was acquired.
In June 1966, the seminary was accepted as an Associate Membership in the American Association of Theological Schools (ATS), becoming fully accredited in 1973. Recognition of the seminary's maturity was given in March 1967, when the Board of Regents of the University of the State of New York granted the seminary the power to award the degree of Bachelor of Divinity (later termed “Master of Divinity”), followed in 1970 by the degree of Master of Theology, in 1985 by the degree of Master of Arts, and in 1988 by the degree of Doctor of Ministry.
In May 1977, a new dormitory and staff residence (aka, the “North Dorm”), necessitated by the seminary's continued growth, was dedicated by His Beatitude Elias IV, Patriarch of Antioch; and in 1983, a new chapel, together with a new administrative facility containing the bookstore, classrooms, and office space, was dedicated by His Beatitude Metropolitan Theodosius, then primate of the Orthodox Church in America (OCA).
Dr. Constance Tarasar, retired Lecturer in Religious Education at St. Vladimir’s, noted this period of burgeoning progress:
Since the late ‘fifties, the seminary had sent several petitions to the Board of Regents of the State of New York for degree-granting status. The acquisition of the Crestwood property, which provided the seminary with “tangible assets,” eliminated one major obstacle; others, namely proof of financial stability, an adequate library to support academic research, additional faculty to lighten teaching loads, and curriculum evaluation, became regular items on the agenda of faculty meetings and committees. One by one, the obstacles were overcome.
A significant factor in the financial support of the seminary was the creation in 1968 of St. Vladimir’s Theological Foundation by a group of concerned laypeople who were committed to the development of a sound program of theological education. The Foundation not only sought to provide fiscal stability for the school but also established a program of retreats held regionally, and Orthodox Education Day held annually on the seminary campus.
In less than five years of its move to Crestwood, the student body of the seminary more than doubled. The diversity of programs offered by the school attracted not only candidates for the priesthood, but also young men and women who sought to serve the church in a variety of lay ministries. The growth of the student body also attracted many late vocations and married students, along with abundant numbers of their children.
— A Legacy of Excellence 1938–1988, St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 1988
Professor Drillock also offered several vignettes of this mushrooming growth. From his institutional memory, he plucked the “roots,” the beginnings of events and programs that became classically connected with the seminary: St. Vladimir’s Seminary Octet, The Institute of Liturgical Music and Pastoral Practice (commonly referred to as the “Summer Institute”), St. Vladimir’s Theological Foundation, and Orthodox Education Day. He fondly recalled how each endeavor began “organically,” often starting with an informal conversation or an observation, in which in hindsight could be seen as the hand of God.
The summer of 1962, the year the seminary moved to Crestwood, marks the origin of “St. Vladimir’s Seminary Octet.” It happened rather incidentally.
In January of 1962, we were still at 537 West 121st Street, in a place called “Reed House,” which was a building of apartments owned by Union Theological Seminary. One of Professor Sergius Verhovskoy’s responsibilities as Dean of Students was to make sure that all of us seminarians were in our rooms by 11 p.m. Many times he would come to the apartment around 10 p.m. and spend the next hour, until 11 o’clock, talking to us in a most informal way. He would speak (in his charming Russian accent) mostly about “feology,” but at times he would also talk about his experiences as a student at St. Sergius Institute in Paris, France.
When he would speak with me, he often spoke about music. He once told me of his experiences as a bass singer in the choir and with real delight told of how one vacation period the student choir at St. Sergius went on tour, singing at the services and presenting concerts in Orthodox churches throughout Western Europe.
Professor Verhovskoy’s story about that vacation tour of the St. Sergius choir came back to me in January of 1962 when I got together eight seminarians to give a short program of music at St. Seraphim’s Church in Manhattan. As it was during the winter break, only a few students were at the seminary, mostly those who were simultaneously enrolled in college. After the program, on our way back to the seminary, we remarked upon how well we had sounded, and the idea of a tour throughout America came to my mind. The next day I spoke with Professor Verhovskoy and Fr. Schmemann about this.
The result was the organization of the first summer “Octet,” with Fr. Alexander making calls to priests according to an itinerary that my fellow student Alexander Doumouras and I put together. On our tour, each seminarian had his “job”: Alex Doumouras was the economos, Thomas Hopko the preacher, Oleg Olas the driver, and so forth. The first Octet was comprised of the then-young students: Paul Lazor, Paul Kucynda, Thomas Hopko, Alexander Doumouras, Stephen Kopestonsky, Oleg Olas, Peter Tutko, and me, as director and leader; all were eventually ordained to the holy priesthood, except for myself.)
That summer of 1962 the Octet visited some 80 parishes throughout the United States, beginning in Philadelphia and going as far west as Cedar Rapids, Iowa. The following summer a second Octet traveled to the west coast, and a third Octet went out the next summer as well. From then on, Octets went on tour through the 20th century every two years.
The Octets were instrumental for several reasons: 1) public relations 2) student recruitment 3) fund raising and 4) promotion of liturgical music—in English, and done well, in a style conducive to worship. Each Octet also transported materials—books, records, icons—that were little known to thousands of Orthodox and non-Orthodox who attended the services and concerts given at local churches by the Summer Octet.
The “Summer Institute”
I held several positions at St. Vladimir’s during my tenure there: Administrative Secretary, Bookstore and SVS Press Manager, Provost, Professor and Director of Music, and, finally, CFO. But, the titles were insignificant; everyone did whatever it took to keep the vision and the institution afloat. And that, again, is how what became known as the “Summer Institute” went from a germinating idea to a full-fledged traditional program.
Our seminary alumni used to have a retreat each summer at St. Andrew’s Camp on Lake Oneida, NY. During those retreats, and listening to Fr. Schmemann delivering his awe-inspiring talks, three things kept playing in my mind: 1) How could the seminary help facilitate and actualize the liturgical life on the parish level that Fr. Schmemann taught about in our classrooms? 2) How could a continuing education program be implemented for our clergy and for their choir directors, who needed more training? 3) How could we better use the vacant space on our campus during the summer months?
Thus, it was with the purpose of relating Orthodox liturgical theology with Orthodox practice that the seminary organized the first summer Institute of Liturgical Music and Pastoral Practice in 1978. I remember planning the program together with Fr. Schmemann and our alumnus Fr. Sergei Glagolev, whom we co-opted to organize and direct this first endeavor. A two-track program, one for pastors and one for choir directors and singers, was developed, with a common theme and the same keynote to open each day’s pastoral and music sections.
The Summer Institute was held continuously for 30 years and has brought almost two thousand Orthodox pastors, choir directors, singers, and lay persons interested in theology to the seminary campus for one week of intensive study, prayer, and fellowship. On average, the Institute used to attract approximately 80 students, equally divided between clergy and laity. The year that Bishop Kallistos [Ware, now Metropolitan] was the featured speaker, over 200 people attended. However, as the years went on, we watched the demographics of our “summer students” change, to the point that laity outnumbered clergy by almost 80%, and total numbers decreased to approximately 60 students. Perhaps it was time for the development of a new type of program to reach a new generation.
The “Foundation” and “Ed Day”
I firmly believe that St. Vladimir’s Theological Foundation began by God’s inspiration, mysteriously working in rather ordinary circumstances. It happened in the following way.
Much of the seminary’s printing materials for its annual Christmas and Easter appeals, building campaigns, and bookstore catalogues was done by Office Assistance, a company based in Latham, NY. Michael Behuniak was its principal owner and a very close friend of our school, and he was overly generous and kind with his terms for doing business with us. Michael arranged that I, together with Ann Zinzel, the seminary’s faithful secretary, meet with the Director of Development at RPI, who spoke to us about general principles of fundraising used by institutions of higher learning, like his. He strongly advised that our seminary, if it were to grow and develop, would need “supporters on a substantial level.” At the time, his words and the level of giving he proposed seemed unattainable for our small seminary. Yet, I knew that we did need a firmer base of support.
As a result of that conversation, in 1968, Fr. Schmemann, Professor Verhovskoy, and I gathered together about twelve friends of the seminary, including Zoran Milkovich, a New York banker and alumnus of St. Vladimir’s. We gave a presentation about the seminary’s programs and its annual operating budget and encouraged the formation of an organization that would promote financial support for theological education in the United States.
This organization soon morphed into “St. Vladimir’s Theological Foundation,” with over 1,600 members, giving a minimum of $100 annually; the organization had its own charter, by-laws, and officers, and eventually its own director. Zoran became its first president, and its board met monthly on our campus. We seminary administrators, along with Zoran, would travel the country speaking about the seminary and garnering new members for the Foundation.
Besides giving financial support to St. Vladimir’s, the Foundation organized retreats for its members: an annual retreat held at the seminary during Great Lent, and local retreats held in various parishes throughout the country. It organized educational excursions to Russia and Jerusalem, and it sponsored “Orthodox Education Day,” an annual campus event held on the first Saturday in October. Each “Ed Day,” with its varying annual educational theme, has brought together thousands of Orthodox and non-Orthodox visitors to our campus, for a day of spiritual, educational, and social fellowship. Crucial to the success of the day are, first of all, our seminarians, who continue to expend tremendous energy each year laboring over set up, tear down, and food service on campus. Additionally, local parishes that supply ethnic foods and extra “hands” on that day are of great support.
Foundation members were a tremendous support for decades, presenting large annual grants for the school’s operating budget and providing a base of loyal friends. Still, as the seminary continued to grow—increasing its enrollment, developing its faculty, and expanding its campus—and demographics changed, it became clear that the seminary would need more supporters on a more “substantial level of giving,” as the Director of Development at RPI had once put it.
Once more, by God’s extraordinary way in perfectly ordinary circumstances, the answer was provided. Just at that time, the Lilly Foundation gave a grant to the ATS to educate theological schools about the “development” and “advancement” of their institutions. I attended their second fully funded seminar, and my eyes were opened; the seminary did indeed need a professional “Office of Development.”
The Board of Trustees, in 1986, officially established an Office of Development and eventually Fr. Anthony Scott, a dynamic parish priest in the Antiochian Archdiocese and an alumnus of SVS, was hired as our first full-time Director of Development. Fr. Anthony revolutionized fundraising at the seminary, and subsequently, a $20 million capital campaign was begun, culminating in the construction of the John G. Rangos Family Building, which houses our library, auditorium, and administrative offices.
Clearly, the seminary was on a new path regarding fundraising. Consequently, the Foundation was dissolved, as the way forward seemed to lie in more modern principles of fundraising and financial support. All of this growth involved change and pain, and certainly missteps occurred during our many steps forward. However, now the seminary, like other theological schools, has a professional “Office of Advancement,” utilizing principles inclusive of diverse bases: from loyal friends with less means, to well-off donors and grant-making foundations that can fund major projects for continued growth and development.
In all of these endeavors, which began in ways that seem so incidental, I now see the hand of God. I was so blessed to be able to be present, to participate, and to witness how the Lord has opened and closed doors, and to facilitate His will as a worker in His field.
—David Drillock, Professor of Liturgical Music, Emeritus
SVS Press & Bookstore
The extensive publications program begun under Fr. Alexander’s deanship has contributed greatly to the seminary’s standing among theological schools. St. Vladimir's Seminary Press (SVS Press) today is the largest and most active publisher of Orthodox Christian books in the English language, with more than 400 titles in print, and a reputation for permitting a free expression of ideas within the breadth of the Orthodox faith, tradition, and history, while insisting on works of theological excellence. St. Vladimir’s faculty continue to be major contributors to this enterprise, acting both as authors and series editors for the press.
SVS Press traces its beginnings to the urgent need for English-language books about the Orthodox Christian faith, which arose in the mid-1950s. At that time, the multi-ethnic Orthodox student body heard lectures in English, but textbooks were available only in foreign languages, in particular, Russian and Greek. To address this need, lecture notes of the professors were hand typed or mimeographed for student use. Religious Education lecturer, Sophie Koulomzin, gathered her course material for distribution; as well as Alexander Bogolepov, professor of canon law.
Simultaneously, priests in the field were seeking materials to distribute to their parishioners The first attempt by the seminary to respond to this need resulted in the publication of a series of small pamphlets, including “Clergy and Laity” and “Great Lent,” by Fr. Alexander. The response by the Church was enthusiastic and encouraging. By 1962, the seminary had relocated to Crestwood, NY, and was ready to begin the publication of actual books. Among the first were The Orthodox Pastor by Archbishop John (Shahovskoy) of San Francisco, and Revelation of Life Eternal by Nicholas Arseniev. When Fr. Alexander published the full version of his Great Lent in book form in 1969, it sold out within the season of the Great Fast, demonstrating the hunger by clergy and laity for English-language titles about their faith.
During the twenty-fifth anniversary year of Fr. Alexander’s repose in 2008–2009, St. Vladimir’s honored the his memory. SVS Press highlighted Fr. Alexander’s major titles in its annual catalog, and the seminary faculty hosted an international symposium in his memory, honoring his work in the field of liturgical theology. Renowned liturgist Archimandrite Robert F. Taft delivered the keynote address for the annual Father Alexander Schmemann Memorial Lecture that year: “The Liturgical Enterprise Twenty-five Years after Alexander Schmemann (1921-1983): The Man and His Heritage." St. Vladimir’s Seminary Quarterly Vol 53: 2–3, 2009 also was dedicated to his life and work.
Fr. Alexander’s ever-deepening reflections and writings about the liturgical and sacramental life left an indelible mark not only on the Orthodox Church in America but also on Orthodox churches and believers globally. In his last public sermon, while he battled the cancer that would take his life, he exclaimed: “Everyone capable of thanksgiving is capable of salvation and eternal joy”: a perfect summary of his lifelong work on the centrality of the Eucharist in Orthodox Christian worship.
Upon the death of Fr. Alexander, the then primate of the Orthodox Church in America (OCA), Metropolitan Theodosius, appointed SVS Professor Veselin Kesich as interim Dean until a successor to Fr. Alexander could be chosen. Metropolitan Philip, of the Antiochian Christian Archdiocese of North America (AOCANA) chaired the search committee for a new Dean, which recommended that Fr. John Meyendorff, a long-time faculty member, succeed Fr. Alexander.
Fr. John had been Professor of Church History and Patristics at St Vladimir's Seminary since 1959, holding successive joint appointments as lecturer in Byzantine theology at Harvard University, Dumbarton Oaks (to which he returned for a semester as Acting Director of Studies in 1977), and as Professor of Byzantine History at Fordham University (from 1967). He also was an adjunct professor at Columbia University and Union Theological Seminary and lectured widely on university campuses and at church events.
Fr. John’s broad record of publication included many titles by SVS Press. He also acted as editor for the St. Vladimir’s Seminary Quarterly (subsequently the St. Vladimir’s Theological Quarterly) and The Orthodox Church newspaper, a publication of the OCA, for many years. In the global sphere, he was elected as "Corresponding Fellow of the British Academy," he was the moderator of the World Council of Churches (WCC) Faith and Order Commission, and he participated in and influenced the work of the Orthodox-Catholic Theological Consultation. Most importantly, like Fr. Alexander Schmemann, he had an instrumental involvement in the autocephaly of the OCA.
Specifically while Dean of SVS, he created a professional Advancement Office (headed by Fr. Anthony Scott), which led to the initiation of a capital campaign that allowed the seminary eventually to build the new library and raise its endowment. Under the leadership of Fr. John, the seminary also expanded and strengthened its programs of study. Both Master of Arts and Doctor of Ministry degree programs were established. Additional on-campus apartment space for the growing number of married students was developed, and property was acquired in order to allow for eventual construction of more married student housing. Dramatic changes in Eastern Europe brought increased numbers of international students to the campus. Fr. John held the position of Dean of St Vladimir's Seminary from March 1984 until his retirement in June 1992.
The Nineties to the Present
Fr. Meyendorff's retirement as Dean in June 1992 was followed by his untimely death one month later. Subsequently, Fr. Thomas Hopko was selected as the seminary's first American-born Dean in September 1992, and St. Vladimir's entered into a new chapter in its history.
Programs for institutional advancement and development launched under Fr. Meyendorff were vigorously pursued. New faculty members were recruited. There was increased attention to student recruitment and alumni relations. Financial support was strengthened and broadened. A major building program—including additional married student housing, faculty homes, a new library, and renovation of older structures—was completed. The state-of-the-art John G. Rangos Family Building, which houses the library, the Metropolitan Philip Auditorium, and the seminary's administrative offices, was dedicated in May 2002. The completion of this facility allowed the seminary to hold major symposia, retreats, and public lectures in a stellar space.
Under Fr. Tom (and continuing under his successor), the seminary received several major foundation grants that allowed it to develop in such critical areas, such as information technology (Website, "smart" classrooms, and up-to-date software). After ten years of dedicated service as Dean and professor, Fr. Tom “retired” from his duties at the seminary, but continues to lecture widely throughout the U.S., especially in the areas of spirituality, biblical studies, and dogmatic theology. He was granted the honorific title of “Dean Emeritus” by the seminary Board of Trustees.
In July 2002, John H. Erickson, longtime Associate Dean for Academic Affairs and Professor of Church History and Canon Law, succeeded Fr. Hopko as Dean, becoming the first layman and the first convert to Orthodoxy to serve in that capacity in the seminary's history (note: during his tenure, Fr. John was ordained to the holy priesthood).
Looking towards the future, the seminary launched a new strategic plan, SVS 2010, which aimed at enhancing the formation of seminarians for service to the Church, improving the scope and effectiveness of the seminary's outreach, and developing the human and financial resources needed for sustaining the seminary's work.
A major portion of the strategic plan included an intensive four-year study and development of “the Good Pastor” project, an ongoing effort to best equip seminarians with the knowledge and skills they need to lead and serve the Church. The project was a precursor to the new curriculum, implemented in 2006, and to the formalized Spouses’ Program, implemented in 2007.
Additionally, during Fr. John’s tenure, construction was completed on 18 new units of married student housing in 2005, totally transforming the campus into a more unified community and allowing for more on-campus opportunities for fellowship and fun among the student body. New faculty and staff joined the seminary community, and the seminary embarked upon an expanded program of conferences and other activities, making optimal use of the seminary's new facilities. Further, under Fr. John’s deanship, there was a revitalization of the SVS Alumni Association: off-campus alumni gatherings increased across the U.S. and annual on-campus alumni reunions were initiated.
The retirements of both David Drillock, Professor in Liturgical Music Emeritus, and Fr. Paul Lazor, The John and Paraskeva Skvir Lecturer in Practical Theology, occurred under Fr. John’s deanship, marking the end of long and fruitful terms of service to the seminary and the wider Church. Both of these teachers formed countless seminarians in the areas of pastoral oversight and liturgical music and left their lasting impression on Orthodox parishes throughout North America.
Fr. John retired from St. Vladimir’s in 2006 as The Peter N. Gramowich Professor of History Emeritus, but continues his church service. He is the Chair of the Department of History and Archives for the OCA, and a member on the Canonical, Statute, and Preconciliar Commissions of the OCA. Other memberships related to his expertise in church history and canon law include the Oriental Orthodox Consultation, the Orthodox Theological Society of America, and Gesellschaft für das Recht der Ostkirchen.
In 2006, upon the decision of the Board of Trustees to inaugurate a leadership structure of shared governance, Fr. John Behr was elected as Dean of the seminary, Fr. Chad Hatfield was elected as Chancellor, and Trustee Ann Glynn-Mackoul was elected as the Executive Chair of the Board of Trustees. In July 2007, the three began to lead the seminary using an administrative model of consultative decision-making and shared governance, with oversight of distinct areas: Fr. John presides over ecclesial life and educational programs; Fr. Chad presides over the organizational operation of the school. Mrs. Glynn-Mackoul acted as liaison between the seminary administration and the Board of Trustees for the first five-year term of Frs. John and Chad, and Alex Machaskee, another board member, has been chosen as Executive Chair of the Board for their second five-year term.
St. Vladimir’s continues to adapt its curriculum and programs to the economic, demographic, and spiritual realities of the postmodern world. St. Vladimir’s Seminary’s new curriculum—a revised Master of Divinity, the seminary’s core degree—was developed by the faculty at the turn of the twenty-first century. The new curriculum significantly modifies and enhances aspects of seminary life, such as the daily and yearly schedules. It also redefines the requirements of the M.Div. degree program, in particular the number of courses in the core curricula as well as the content of those courses. Finally, the new curriculum advances the notion that competent performance, rather than minimal accomplishment of course objectives, best determines success in the practical disciplines. While these modifications and new approaches may indeed be significant, the founding principles—the vision of St. Vladimir’s Seminary—have not changed and will continue to guide the training and the formation of seminarians.
Further, the seminary recognized the need for similar education and formation of potential clergy families. In 2007, it began a more formal Wives Program designed to acclimate and encourage wives of seminarians for life in the pastorate.
The seminary administration also has taken initial steps for a “greening” of its campus. To maintain the beauty of the grounds, Christopher Nolan, Central Park Conservancy's Chief Landscape Architect, partners with Theodore Bazil, Associate Chancellor for Advancement at SVS, in the sustainable planting of the campus areas. For publications, St. Vladimir’s partners with “green” printers, which use environmentally friendly inks, solvents, coatings, and paper from well-managed forests; additionally, the seminary has begun paperless email campaigns to advertise events and SVS Press books, to advance the mission of the seminary.
Looking forward, the Board and administration will also implement some recommendations made by the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA), which provided energy audits on nine campus buildings, to help the seminary make informed decisions about energy-efficient strategies. To that end, the seminary in 2010 received a $72,556.50 grant from NYSERDA to place solar panels on a campus building that houses both classrooms and adminstrative and faculty offices. In 2011 a generous bequest of $75,000 from the estate of Nona Bissland completely funded the project.
Our school continues its mission to serve Jesus Christ, his Church, and the world through Orthodox Christian theological education, research, and scholarship, and the promotion of inter-Orthodox cooperation. You can read about our vision, mission, and financial condition in our FY11 Annual Report, The SVS Vine, particularly noting Fr. Chad’s article, “Building on the Cornerstone"; Fr. Behr’s article, “The Program of Studies at St. Vladimir's”; and the article by our CFO, Melanie Ringa, "Where Do We Stand?"
Our current faculty faithfully adhere to a theological program within the Orthodox Church tradition, and share their knowledge at academic symposia, parish retreats, lectures at colleges and universities, in intra- and inter-church dialogue, and in articles and books. We invite you to read their Faculty Footnotes on our Website, and also their enthusiastic descriptions of their courses in our FY11 Annual Report.
Our staff and administration and our Board of Trustees dedicate themselves to the advancement of the seminary in selfless service. And, our seminarians—who are at the heart of our school and the purpose for our existence—continue to enroll, learn, graduate, and serve.
We continue to build on our school’s founding principles: theological inquiry and spiritual depth in the tradition of the Apostles and church fathers. We invite you to pray for our continual service to our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.