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From Kyiv to Yonkers: Adjusting to Life at St Vladimir’s Seminary

 Pavlo-with-brothers

Pavlo Kurganov just completed his first semester in the Master of Arts program at St Vladimir's Seminary. Hailing from Kyiv, Ukraine, where he studied at the Kyiv Theological Academy, Pavlo has many observations to share about adapting to life at an American theological institution, his experiences at St Vladimir’s Seminary, and his impressions of the great benefits to be gleaned from theological education. This is Part 1 of a two-part interview Pavlo gave in November 2022.

Please share a little bit about your backgroundyour home country, education, and family.

Originally, I'm from Kyiv, the capital of Ukraine. Kyiv is a very beautiful city, with a lot of monasteries, churches, and parks. I really love this city. I was born there, I lived there, and I graduated there from the Kyiv Theological Academy and Seminary with a degree in theology, with an additional concentration in history and archaeology from Taras Shevchenko National University of Kyiv. I'm very grateful to God to have had this great opportunity.

I was born in a very big and beautiful family, four brothers and one sister. I'm the oldest brother and son in the family. I saw a lot of examples of kindness and happiness in my family, and I try to represent these examples in my own life.

My family is a very big support for me. Every time I have problems, for instance, I call my family to talk with them and hear their advice. I also call them often just to talk with them, also to congratulate them when there is a birthday party or something else like that. When I am at home, we always try to help each other, with chores, homework, and so on.

 Pavlo-with-family

What is your motivation in pursuing theological studies?

I really want to become a priest. At the end of 9th or 10th grade, I started to discover for myself whom I really wanted to be; at the same time, I was discovering my own faith. I had thoughts and questionswhat is our faith really, and what does God really want from us, or maybe, he doesn't really want anything from us. I tried to read different books about the Orthodox faith, about priests, their lives, about saints. I discovered that this was not only very interesting, but that the Orthodox faith and the saints showed me the way that could help me a lot. So, I started learning about this more and more, and I decided to go to the theological seminary.

Why did you choose to come to St Vladimir's Seminary, and what are your impressions now that you have been here for a few months?

 Because it’s one of the leading Orthodox theological seminaries, it has a commitment to the educational process and uses a different approach to theological education compared to what I experienced in Ukraine. At home, I was able to receive a lot of information. Professors, teachers, scientists would give lectures, share their own results of research, and present discussions, data, scientific terms, and so on. It was some kind of filtered information. The only thing we needed to do was memorize those blocks of information. It was very helpful, especially when you study in seminary right after high school, but in my case, when I already have this seminary education, I want something more. The master’s program should teach me to think, to analyze, and to maybe research my faith and the Orthodox perspective on the things that surround me more closely.

At St Vladimir’s Seminary, our faith as students grows and is cultivated under the supervision of teachers and priests. As a student, you have a lot of questions. You have a lot of information, books, and so on. And you need to resolve these questions on your own, to try to think. This is maybe one of my biggest reasons for coming to St Vladimir’s Seminary. Here, I'm learning to think, to analyze, and to make my own decisions and to make my own synthesis of the information that I get. And I hope that through this process, maybe in time (I think I will need a lot of time), I will be trained to have some kind of theological intuition, so that I will have a better understanding when I need to deal with different texts, for example, in the Old Testament, or related to church history. We are being given a foundation to understand what's going on in those particular situations, those particular times, through the perspective of the Church, and why it's important.

 Pavlo-in-Class

In our church history class, our professor told us that we need to understand different approaches to the studies of the church, as compared to those used in the secular worldthey are very different. We need to understand these different approaches as we study, so as to grab the most important, and to present the truest, most beautiful analyses that we can. And the results will be fascinating, even for people who are outside the Church.

We are encouraged to really, deeply investigate our own faith and share this perspective with others, taking part in the life of the Church. We are trying to get the Gospel in our hearts, so that the Gospel will really live in usnot simply the words, the history, or some kind of moral that was taught 1000 years ago, not as the rules and laws that are very strict, but as something that is alive and gives real life to me. This life from the Gospel enables me to become more joyful, have more kindness, and from the perspective of becoming a priest, to share the Gospel with others.

The dedication to missionary work is very good here. We learn about how to share this life, how not to harm another person with whom I speak, how to deal with my own problems, how to examine my own faith, and how to be a real Christian.  I have experiences in the Orthodox Church of participating in missionary projects, such as sharing supplies with people who have nothing to eat, or don’t have enough clothes, and so on. But we have a lack of explanation for priests, for seminarians, even for people who are in the Church, about why we really need this, why this missionary work really enriches us. Not only in the spiritual sense, but also why it helps your parish to grow. There are a lot of good examples of missionary work here, and I really want to participate in them and try to initiate more efforts.

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