My Soul Magnifies the Lord

Women of St Vladimir’s Reflect on Life as a Seminarian


St Vladimir’s Orthodox Theological Seminary (SVOTS) has welcomed women students since the early 1960’s, and its female alumni have gone on to be chaplains, professors, teachers, counselors, missionaries, choir directors, writers, scholars, and lay ministers in the Orthodox Church. No student body in the past, however, has been joined by more than a few women at a time - until this year, when eight women enrolled, bringing the total number of women currently attending SVOTS to fourteen.

The fourteen women currently studying at St Vladimir’s Seminary come from a wide range of cultural, professional, and educational backgrounds. All, however, are united by one conviction - living, learning, and praying at St Vladimir’s Seminary will form and strengthen their hearts, minds, and souls to serve the Church to the best of their ability.

This student spotlight series on the women at St Vladimir’s Seminary will be presented in three parts, highlighting their varying paths to seminary, their experiences as students, and their ideas and hopes for future service in the Church.

Read Part One

Part Two: Life as a Seminarian

In this second installment, women studying at St Vladimir’s Seminary speak about daily life, study, and prayer at Seminary, exploring their research interests and the impact of living in a church-centered community on their own spiritual and personal development. The questions discussed here are:

What is your current program of study at St Vladimir's?

Are there any particular classes or professors that have made a particular impact on you? If yes, please elaborate.

What is your daily life like at St Vladimir's Seminary?

Sophia Mitchell Matias


I am currently in my third year in the Master of Divinity degree program.

While at St Vladimir’s Seminary, there have been many encounters that have left an imprint on my life, both inside and outside of the classroom.  One moment stands out and that is when Fr. Bogdan Bucur took the time to ask me about me, my journey, and what led me to the Orthodox Church.  His expressed genuine curiosity and the retelling of my journey, helped me to be reminded of how my arrival at this place and time in my life is providential. It also exemplified the importance of asking people about their story. 

Daily life at St Vladimir’s Seminary is like attending a dance.  The dance is the Church and the services she provides us in a rhythmic pattern.  The Church teaches us to follow her pattern-- she teaches, nourishes, and gives us purpose.  Everything revolves around her rhythm.  We have the honor of being invited to assist in maintaining her rhythm-- we attend, we learn, we work.  Sometimes keeping up with her pace is challenging, but it's the introduction needed to know what it means to serve her.  We pray, we learn, we eat, we work, we feel weak, we feel strong, we feel inadequate, we feel smart, we feel not so smart, we feel overwhelmed and we rest any moment we can.

Naomi DeHaan


I am studying for a Master of Arts in theological scholarship and research.

The class that made the most impact on me was a year ago, during my time in the visiting scholar's program. I was auditing Fr Bogdan's Old Testament class, which came highly recommended from other students. It was life-changing. I learned ways of seeing the Scriptures that I had never imagined. I am very much looking forward to studying under him again next semester, in the patristics class.

Daily life at St Vladimir’s Seminary is intense! It also varies, depending on which day of the week, and which week of a three-week rotation for meal crew. The morning starts with a matins service at 0730. That is followed by breakfast and a few minutes to review class materials. First class starts at 0915. If it is the one morning in the week that I don't have class, then I'm usually in the library, working on research projects, or meeting with professors. If I'm in class, we usually have a break at 1030 for coffee and stretching. Lunch is usually at 1215. If I'm on lunch meal crew, then I have to run to the refectory right after class to get lunch set up. We have a chef who does the cooking for lunch and supper, but some students are assigned "obediences" that include meal set up and cleanup. I'm usually doing dishes right up till the 1300 mid-day-meeting activity, which for me is two different choir rehearsals (in fact, I'm usually late for rehearsal when it's my week for lunch crew). After rehearsal, I go to my afternoon class, which runs until 1645, 15 minutes before Vespers, with a short break usually around 1530. If I'm on the evening meal crew, I have to run to the refectory to get the warmers going before Vespers. If meal crew is on either breakfast or supper that week, I have to leave the service after about 20 minutes in order to set up the meal. Much of my student life is dominated by my "obedience," which requires constant attention and focus. 

There are a few evening activities that I participate in. One of the third year students is offering a course on Byzantine notation which meets once a week. I also participate in a Hebrew reading group. Sometimes we have evening rehearsals for women's ensemble pieces for concerts or upcoming feast days, but that's not a regularly scheduled event. Once every two months or so, I participate in a student-led poetry get-together. Often, I can be found in the library late working on my research projects, as late evenings are often the best time to lay aside the distractions of the day and focus on writing.

Mother Veronica Abaskharoun


I am a first-year Master of Arts (M.A.) student in general theological studies. 

I am especially impressed by the humility of the teaching staff members. All the teachers that I have known here in SVOTS, with no exception, even though they are of high standing and reputation, they are always patient, willing to listen and help.

They always give the impression that whatever you have to offer is a gain for them. Having a previous background of dealing with university teachers, I can now discern the huge difference between working in a secular university and in a place founded on faith like St Vladimir’s Seminary.

The day begins very early in the morning and is divided between personal cell-rule and chapel services, hours spent in classes, working in the library, or my community assignment. Meal times are the best opportunity for fellowship with the other seminarians. The weekends also have a more relaxed schedule, which means I need to know how to manage my time well.

Mother Cassiana Colchester


I am in my second year in the Master of Arts program.

All of the professors have touched me by their humility and willingness to help. Fr Bogdan's class on the Old Testament last year particularly inspired me—he taught Scripture in such a profound and creative way, always offering a unique perspective and opening the eyes to see the deeper meaning of a text.

The day is bookended by prayer and chapel services. I usually begin working after Matins and finish some time after dinner. I try and spend as much time soaking in the silence and stillness of my room, looking out onto the trees as they turn with the seasons...

Sister Anastasia Colchester


I am in the second year of the MA program, with a focus on Research and Scholarship. 

There are many professors and classes that have made an impact on me! In terms of what is happening at the moment, I am currently taking a patristics course with Fr Maximos Constas on the Philokalia which is excellent. I like any class which interweaves the theological/conceptual with the practical/mystical. I am also part of Dr Legaspi’s Hebrew course, which is unfolding in a very exciting and unusual way. Although this is probably not what is meant by the question, I am constantly surprised by the level of support and the amount of love given to the students by the professors, and the faculty as a whole, here. So, this has had a huge impact on me. It is definitely a very unusual institution, in that regard. 

Daily life at St Vladimir’s Seminary is busy! The communal day begins and ends with worship, which is wonderful. This semester I am working in the kitchens, so chapel services are followed by serving my fellow seminarians, and then it’s either classes or studying in the library. Choir practice takes place after lunch two days of the week, and Student Council once a month. The library is really beautiful and has a peaceful atmosphere, especially in the evenings. Some nights I also attend extra classes: Byzantine notation and Hebrew reading. There’s a special atmosphere on campus this year, because lots more people are studying in the library, so there’s always people pottering about, which is nice.

Julia Yingnan Ji


I am enrolled in the Master of Theology (Th.M.) program. 

I had the opportunity and blessing to learn from some professors. Their way of being and relating to us together with their knowledge made a particular impact on me. 

Fr Chad - His knowledge and experience in adult catechesis, adult learning and leadership development in his teaching of Missiology and Chiristian Education; the welcome and hospitality extended by Fr Chad and Mutushka Thekla. Fr Chad's responsiveness, deep care, and encouragement in dealing with us students. All these played a crucial role in my "becoming a human'' and "becoming an Orthodox Christian" experience as I walked my path to return to my spiritual home, and largely encouraged me to apply to study at St Vladimir's Seminary.

Fr Bogdan and his wife Cristina - The conversations I had the opportunities to have with Fr Bogdan and Cristina - spiritually, faith, and intellectually forming, and very helpful to decision making; and their hospitality, being conversation partners speaking to me Orthodox spiritual tradition and Christian love.

Dr Barnet -  his patience in his communication with us, his extensive and rich knowledge of his field, his deep care for students’ learning, and connecting his teaching to Orthodox Tradition. In the role of acting registrar, his extensive knowledge of St Vladimir's curriculum and again his superb patience, superb communication, super/timely and caring responsiveness.

Dr Bouteneff - his careful reading, deep understanding of student’s work - taking it to heart, and very careful, extensive feedback to student's work - I experienced these in the process of his help to develop my research proposal; his sincere attitude in dealing with students, his humbleness in receiving student’s genuine feedback. These are crucial to a student, to me.  

Dr Legaspi - his humbleness, responsiveness, and deep care for students’ learning: he takes trouble to understand a student’s learning style so as to best support a student to make desired progress - models to me how to support my students to learn and grow the best I can as an instructor, and a servant of Christ. In addition, Dr Legaspi’s rich experience and painstaking manner, proactive and patient communication to meet where students are is a lit Orthodox candle to me as a diaspora. It models to me how to serve my students and people in general, both domestic and international, in a sensitive and encouraging manner, to be a constructive force in their becoming and learning. 

All of these witness who they are as professors/instructors and as Orthodox Christians: they are willing to work with the students with the aforementioned virtues to help students to learn and grow. This is most critical to me both as a student and as a person on a pilgrimage of “becoming.”

This is my third month since I joined the St Vladimir's Seminary as a full-time, in-residence seminarian. It has been a significant transition and I'm still trying to fit in. And, daily life in general is captured well by Orthodox expression "how to struggle well."

Andjelka Stankovic

Andjelka Stankovic

Coming to America was a very big step for me and my family. It was the first time in my life to be so far away from home and them, and I have to admit I was worried about that. However, I also have to admit that this place here has calmed all my worries…I am very grateful for the sense of safety and family we have here on campus. 

We have an interesting lifestyle here. To be more precise, we have everything. Church, classes, different extracurricular activities, and of course, free time for just enjoying the beauty of this amazing place with friends. 

I am also very glad that I can find time for my hobbies, which is art first and foremost. That is the reason I have to mention we also have a film section and choir rehearsals, which is great - all that is left is to start a dance section!

In a nutshell, this is a beautiful place to be and it is a great honor to be a part of this institution and community.

Kripaya Varghese


I am currently pursuing a Master of Arts in General Theological Studies.

Liturgical Theology with Fr. Varghese M Daniel is one of the classes that have made an impact on me. Being more than halfway through the semester, I understand why we do certain things in some of our sacraments. Growing up in the church, I have been to many baptisms, weddings, funerals and more, but to understand the theology behind them is an entirely different feeling. The significance of certain aspects of our sacraments is something I never knew before. Seeing that there was a biblical reference and reason for the way we conducted our sacraments has been beneficial for me. Really being able to understand the "why" makes me appreciate the little things so much more.

My daily life at St Vladimir’s Seminary is always exciting. The day begins at 6am and does not end until almost midnight some nights. The first thing every morning for me is prayer at the Malankara chapel with my brothers in Christ. Then there will be breakfast (on non-fasting days) which begins and ends in prayer and then morning classes if I have them. Noon prayer is then done some days. After that there is lunch. Then there are afternoon classes and then Vespers at the chapel. Then we have dinner. It is honestly a great experience to sing and pray with our brothers and sisters on campus before and after every meal. My obedience for this semester is meal crew, so depending on the week, you can find me helping in the refectory during a specific meal time. Normally during days where I do not have morning or afternoon class, I will either study or find time to play ping pong or a good game of chess in the solarium. You would be surprised at how good some of the seminarians here are at ping pong and chess! I enjoy talking with other seminarians and faculty when the chance arises about our faith or about life in general. Since we all have come from different backgrounds and lifestyles, the conversations where we get to know each other are always my favorite. Some nights after everything is done, I like to go to the library and do some late night studying. I will always find time to call my parents at the end of the night to let them know how the day went.

Mother Devorah Salamon


I am pursuing a Masters of Arts in theology with a concentration in research. The MA program here offers three concentrations - sacred arts, general theology, and research. I'm finding that what inspires me is studying biblical female characters. I am doing my thesis on the person who I was named after, Deborah. She is a really fascinating character - she kind of sticks out like a thorn. She's this female who became ruler over Israel, which was unheard of in those times. I’m researching why that came to be, what it means from both the perspective of Eve and her curse, and the Virgin Mary, and her breaking up of that curse.

There is a definite connection between my interests now and my earlier interest in women’s studies during college. I was trying to figure out the distinct beauty of womanhood in creation; I was also interested in all of the problems that surrounded womanhood, whether it be inequality or anything within the female experience. Learning how womanhood is perceived in a secular scholarly context was kind of a foreshadowing of my current interest in the women of God. I am learning much more richly and accurately here than I did in my secular undergrad.

All of the professors have had an impact on me. For instance, in Dr Tudorie’s class (Church History), we discussed the rank of resources - how scholars rank different things in different orders, and how things such as hagiography or the Synaxarion tend to be ranked on a lower scale than more “academic” resources. We talked about how many Church resources are neglected in the academic world, because of this bias against things that may be perceived as “too spiritual,” or something like that.

I remember another instance in Fr Bogdan Bucur’s class (Old Testament), where we talked about the account of the creation of the golden calf while Moses was on Mount Sinai retrieving the law, and how there is one particular line in Exodus about keeping the feast of the Lord (Ex 12.14). The Israelites weren't actually trying to replace God with the golden calf, but rather they replaced the tabernacle or God's instruction of worship with the golden calf - they made their own form of worship without the instruction of God. That was very much a light bulb moment for me; that made a distinction between the idea that perhaps we can regulate how we worship, as compared to what the Orthodox always go back to: trying to determine what was divinely ordained, as it were.

Another professor, Dr. Barnet, at the conclusion of one of his classes, said something that really struck me. He pointed out a dichotomy - not between sin and righteousness, but between sin and faith. That was a very personal forming moment for me, to see things in that light - that we strive for this faith in God that brings about righteousness, rather than striving for righteousness, which is kind of how our intellect is used to doing things.

Finally, for my thesis about Deborah, Dr Legaspi is helping me navigate the Old Testament and the Hebrew, which has been great because of the linguistic insights he has, which shed so much light on the hermeneutics. The more I find out, the more excited I am about delving in deeper and deeper.

In my daily life at St Vladimir’s Seminary, I try to wake up pretty early, as I'm accustomed to doing in the monastery, finish my rule, and have some time for contemplation in the morning before we go to matins. After matins, I like to go and sit in the solarium, enjoy the view a little bit, and maybe also get in my Bible reading during that time, if possible. From nine to five, I'm doing classwork; I'm either in class or working in the library. I like to reserve that midday time for classwork so that after going to Vespers and having dinner, I can turn my brain off for a little while. That isn’t always possible, but ideally, I like to have the last few hours of my day be more relaxed, whether I'm reading, or just sitting with the sisters or the seminarians. Finally, I finish my night rule, go to sleep, and get up and do it again.

Laura Ionescu


I'm in my first year studying sacred arts, which is my concentration for the Masters of Arts program. I share a lot of the same core classes as any M.A. student and the M.Div. students, but I have an additional concentration class on sacred arts. I'm not required to take the language courses, but I chose to take those, as well.

The sacred arts class focuses on church architecture and iconography. We touch a little bit on hymnography and music within the Church, but that's covered in more depth by Dr Russin in his liturgical music class. We focus on the visual aspect of the Church and the symbolism behind icons, how icons talk to each other within the church, how they're connected to each other and to us in how they're oriented. For example, two icons that are opposing each other might introduce a paradox, which encourages contemplation and deepening your theological understanding.

All of my professors have impacted me in some way. For example, my Old Testament professor, Dr. Legaspi - I think that l have a lot to learn from his humble personality and patience, as well as his understanding of the content that we're learning.

In terms of the Sacred Arts concentration, Dr Rossitza Schroeder's class on iconography has blown my mind with her deep analysis of the symbolism within sacred images. Dr Bouteneff visited our Sacred Arts class and gave a talk about Arvo Pärt and his music, and showed us a video of Arvo Pärt’s speech when he visited St Vladimir’s Seminary - his humility also impressed me. I listened to his composition, Adam’s Lamentation, and looked at the translation, and I just cried after class - it's just so beautiful and deep. The fact that his music has Orthodox ideas and influence, and yet everyone listens to it, is huge. People that aren't Orthodox are saying, if I believed in God, I would because of his music. I'm amazed that music can have that much power on people. I’m sure art has that power, too. We learned about Hagia Sophia and how people back then understood art so differently than we do. They might have looked at an image and have been absorbed in that world in a way that we can't really do anymore. I think that through studying the sacred arts, I’ve realized how far we've strayed from appreciating beauty as God intended. It's a humbling thing, but I think regaining that sensibility to beauty is something to strive for.

The routine here at St Vladimir’s Seminary is repetitive but I like it a lot. In the morning, I go to chapel and then afterwards, I may or may not get breakfast, depending on how much homework I have, and then I go to class. Some days I have two classes, with lunch in between, and I often have a night class on Wednesday for Byzantine notation. It can get pretty busy, especially with the obediences; my obedience is cleaning the upper floor of North Dorm. I'm just the one that vacuums, takes out the trash, and makes sure the fridge is clean. I also clean the laundry room. I think what makes the routine doable is the people. People here are just so wonderful! I haven't met a single mean person on this campus or someone that I don't like - everyone is super friendly.

I'm just so grateful to be here, even though it's a lot of work. It's one of those things where I wouldn't be anywhere else if I could choose to, so I’m just very grateful for God's blessing

Nino Tskitishvili


I am in the Master of Arts program in general theology.

The professors here are really good, and are really trying to help, so I will remember all of them. One class I am going to remember is first semester Greek, with Dr. Barnet. He does a great job explaining everything really meticulously, and even gives us extra credit assignments when we still don’t understand. We have to study really hard for this class because it is so difficult – we joke in our student Whatsapp group that we are Greek martyrs.

Otherwise, I'm always going to remember the effort Dr Tudorie made in teaching us canon law. I love church history in general, so his entire class was very interesting. As the dean, he really does everything he can to make us feel comfortable and supported on campus; he has also integrated the community a lot.

Overall, I love all of the professors - they're all trying to help. And if there's going to be some issue, if there's something you don't like, you can always communicate with them further. Basically, there's a lot of support here for students.

Daily life at St Vladimir’s Seminary starts with morning prayers and ends with evening prayers. We have classes, we do our readings, and have lunch together. We have social events with each other, which helps a lot and is very good. When I’m not studying, I enjoy walking, reading prose and poetry, and watching old Russian, French, and Italian movies. 

Amber Prather


I am in my third year of the Master of Divinity (M.Div.) program.

I love a lot of the professors. I've really enjoyed the classes I've taken with Dr Bouteneff, Fr Bogdan, and Dn Vitaly - they’re my favorites. I think they’ve helped me become “older” theologically. To explain what I mean by that, I tend to try not to be too controversial, especially when it comes to theology, but I've learned by being here that some battles are worth fighting. Sometimes rocking the boat a little bit is necessary, despite the fact that it makes me supremely uncomfortable. I've learned by being here that the willingness to push a little bit more for the sake of deeper understanding can really be worth it.

In terms of my daily life here at St Vladimir’s, right now, it's very different from when I started two years ago.

When I got to Seminary in 2020, I said, I'm not dating anybody here. I was healing from damaging past relationships and I wanted to focus on my studies. Then I met Andrew, who was also in his first year at Seminary. We talked a lot. One time, on a Friday, we had lunch out on the porch of the Germack building, and we talked until dinner. At first I thought, oh no, this is not good - what is happening? Then I started to realize that with Andrew, I never felt like things seemed out of control, like I had in past relationships. One of the amazing things about Andrew is that he was very patient during every step in our relationship. He was ready to take each step before I was, but he waited for me to take them first. I was the first person to say I love you, even though he was very ready – he just knew I needed to get there.

We started dating in October, right before the chili cook-off. Before the winter break, I invited him to come out to Washington to spend Christmas with my family, as he hadn't been planning to go home to Iowa because of COVID - the numbers were just too high at that time.

Two nights before Christmas break started, we were hanging out and I said, I've been thinking about if we are going to get married. He said, me too! We started talking about who our sponsors would be, and that’s kind of how we decided we were getting married. We both knew we wanted to get married at the Seminary because we actually met on the chapel steps.

Over Christmas break, Andrew met my family, and when COVID numbers started falling, Andrew and I ended up flying to Iowa to meet his family, as well. We got married in September that fall, in the beginning of our second year at Seminary. On the Saturday after Thanksgiving, we found out that I was pregnant, and Ellie was born in the beginning of August this year.

So this semester, I'm not in classes. I’m not sure what it's going to be like once I'm back in classes with a baby, because we haven't done it before. Andrew and I will both be required to be in chapel for services. The daily schedule will include getting all three of us up and out the door to get to matins at 7:30 AM every day. Then sometimes we'll hang out in the refectory with people having breakfast; both of us started as single students, so we spend a lot more time with the single students than a lot of the other married students do. I might go to the solarium and nurse Ellie, and then, if one of us has class, the other will probably go back home or to the library, depending on what the baby will allow.

We do generally have lunch in the refectory, especially on days when Andrew has two classes in a day, Ellie and I try and go down, because that’s the only time we see him all day. So we'll have lunch in the refectory, and then whoever has class in the afternoon will go to class. Then the three of us will go to Vespers and have dinner together, work on homework, take care of the baby for a couple hours, and spend a little bit of family time in the evening before we go to bed.

Andrew and I both came to Seminary for spiritual formation and study. He started out as an MA student - he didn't plan to be ordained. He switched to the M.Div. later. Neither of us came here thinking that Seminary was going to give us a career or for practical reasons, we both were in it for the formation and the services - to just become better Christians. I think that's been actually really good for us, because it allowed us to be able to roll with the punches. In terms of spiritual formation, I definitely didn't know what I was expecting to get out of seminary other than a more thorough knowledge of the services, but being married and having Ellie are obviously my vocations - they are essential and integral to my formation as a Christian - God willing, my theosis. I think that these vocations coming out of my time at Seminary is exactly what I was supposed to get by coming here.

Read Part Three