Psalm 133:1 - "Behold, how good and pleasant it is when brothers dwell in unity!"
As Orthodox Christians, we work out our salvation in community, rather than alone. Each interaction provides a moment of truth demonstrating our faith in praxis. It is within community, as our dean The Rev. Dr. John Behr states, that our rough edges are smoothed out and where we learn how to live in His image. St. Vladmir's offers a unique community experience that starts at Crestwood and reaches way beyond.
The community is set in a rather unique place. Even though my wife and I lived relatively close to Crestwood, NY prior to moving on campus, we felt like we lived in a whole new world when we arrived. While we are literally minutes away from New York City, you would never know as you sit in front of the koi pond behind the Rangos building. The journeys that I take by foot, whether by sun or snow, from campus to chapel and then up the hill back to our Lakeside apartment, offer opportunities to reflect and meditate on the various lessons learned throughout the day.
These lessons are not learned merely in the classroom but also with random interactions I have with my classmates, families, faculty and staff. While the majority of individuals at St. Vladimir's are Orthodox, it is safe to say that no two people are the same. Everyone brings their own story, experience and insights to this community. In physics, when two objects collide, energy can be transferred from both objects. My interactions with this community are quite the same. Each of my encounters with people here have had at least a small impact on my formation as a Christian. It is our diversity that offers opportunity to learn and to grow.
Just outside of the boundaries of SVOTS are a plethora of welcoming Orthodox communities as well. Within a 30-minute car ride, one could find a parish from almost any Eastern or Oriental Orthodox jurisdiction. One particular parish, Holy Trinity Orthodox Church in Yonkers (OCA), opens its doors every week to allow seminarians to get together and play basketball in fellowship. The experiences not only allow us to get to know each other but the members of the parish as well. In addition, we also have access to various Orthodox conferences, like the ONE conference, where young Orthodox Christians come together in unity and fellowship. Each one of these experiences offers a unique opportunity to meet other Orthodox Christian and expand my network of believers in Christ.
Coming to SVOTS and being immersed in this new community was indeed a completely new way of life for us. Though I do not have as much time as I would like to engage with my community because of the heavy workload, this community is the place we call home. If home is where the heart is, then I am fortunate that it is this place where my heart is being shaped, as I prepare for the ministry that God has for me.
The Rev. Dn. Shiryl Mathai is currently a first year Master of Divinity candidate at SVOTS from the Malankara Archdiocese of the Syriac Orthodox Church in North America. Deacon Shiryl has over six years of youth ministerial experience at the parish, regional and archdiocesan levels. Prior to coming to seminary, he earned a Master of Public Health from Drexel University and a Master of Business Administration from Rutgers Business School. He has over ten years of experience in health care, both in hospital and pharmaceutical settings.
Deacon Shiryl's current educational interests include pastoral theology and when he is not serving the church, he loves spending his free time singing karaoke, playing basketball, and following all things related to Philadelphia sports teams. His lovely wife Asha is a well-accomplished speaker and leader with Toastmasters International, and a project manager at Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE).