Mihailo Vlajkovic came to St Vladimir’s Seminary from Serbia in August 2022. He is enrolled in the M.A. program, continuing a theological education that began in his home country many years ago. In this student spotlight interview, Mihailo shared his background, his thoughts on life and study at St Vladimir’s Seminary, and ideas and hopes for the future.
Mihailo, can you tell us about your hometown and your family in Serbia?
My hometown is named Pozega. It's a small town, the whole municipality has around 30,000 people. My family lives there now, not really directly in the city, but in a small village. It's located in the Western region of Serbia, in the Diocese of Žiča, which is most famous because of St Sava, or for American Orthodox people, because of St Nikolaj Velimirović. We have many other famous priests and saints, but those are the most well-known. I have two younger brothers and a sister living there, besides my parents, and they're enjoying their life, their school, and other everyday life activities. I moved away from them seven years ago for my studies. Of course, I always try to come back home and visit them as much as I can.
What did you study before coming to St Vladimir’s Seminary?
I did my bachelor studies in Orthodox theological studies at the University of Belgrade in Serbia, but besides Serbia, I had opportunities to complete short academic programs and internships in a few other countries, such as Croatia, Hungary, and Greece. I participated in several other programs connected to theology, philosophy, and religion that were meant to encourage young scholars to think about modern approaches to problems. I would say that it was a very good opportunity to have all that experience, especially related to issues connected with the Balkan region. I also had the opportunity to study the Greek language in Greece for a summer, which I actually continued doing in Belgrade. That helped me a lot to start to understand and feel more familiar with people in other Orthodox churches.
How did you decide to come to St Vladimir's Seminary?
During my bachelor program, I was always listening to Fr Schmemann and Fr Florovsky and other famous theologians who have a very strong tradition in relation to the Serbian Orthodox Church. I was always thinking about how nice it would be to one day at least visit this school; I was dreaming of coming here. I didn't really believe that it would be possible, but after a very long process, here I am.
How did you become interested in theology?
Basically, I’ve spent my whole life in church. My family has a long tradition connected with the Church. Both my grandfather and my grandmother went to a monastery around the time when I was born. My aunt, my father's sister, went to a monastery when she was 17 years old, and has been a nun for more than 30 years now. My uncle is a priest here in the States, at St Sava Orthodox Church in Cambridge, MA, and somehow all my life I was going to different churches and many monasteries to visit, in many different dioceses. I was not really sure during my high school years that I would go into theology, because I was very interested in literature and in theater. I like acting, I was active in theater and acting during my high school and undergraduate programs. But somehow, I figured out that I really like theology. And I wanted to connect all those things, what I'm interested in, with theology.
What class or professor has impacted you so far at St Vladimir’s Seminary?
This is a little bit of a difficult question. One class that has impacted me greatly was the class on the Philokalia with Father Maximos. I remember, when we were picking our classes for the semester, I wasn’t sure if I would choose this class, as I had taken classes on the Philokalia before. But I actually heard from my uncle, who studied at Holy Cross, that Fr Maximos is a very good professor, so I took the class. Now, after four months, I would say it feels like a miracle. I came here expecting to develop myself academically, pursuing my master’s degree and so on. But with that class, although it was at a very high academic level (it was my first time having to write so many pages about Patristics!), it also had this deeper side of spirituality, which I might say I had lost, in a sense, in constantly studying all this theology. I will remember all of the Philokalia classes; I could make half a book from the notes I took, things that hit me so strongly, and that changed my way of looking at my life or future.
I would say that I'm not the same person as I was in August when I came here. No matter how hard it was sometimes over the past few months, I'm very thankful for it all now, and I think I will be even more thankful as time goes on. For example, I'm very thankful that these three months have shown me the differences between the way schools are run here and in Europe, because it's a totally different system. I think I have started to get used to all of these differences, and I think the professors here are so open, which I really find very helpful; they are so open to help and give advice, to see when you have struggles, and to be there for you. I think that's something to be respected.
What is it like for you to live and study here at St Vladimir's Seminary?
I feel like maybe it's too early to say it, but it feels like home, maybe because I'm here every day. When you start the morning with prayer and end the day with prayer, and you talk with and listen to all these people around you, you cannot be unaffected by all this. I'm a very open person, I like to meet people. And then when you connect all of this to theological study, it sometimes can be hard, as we all come here for different reasons, and from different perspectives, but ultimately, for one main reason: to serve God.
So, I really found a life here. People sometimes say to me, theology seems like the hardest thing to study in the world – how is it going for you? I always answer, theology is only hard if you want to live that which you study; if you're just trying to get grades, it shouldn't be that hard. If you want to really change your life, to follow what you are reading, that can be difficult – but that is actually what makes it more interesting, more lovely.
Life here is full of things to do, like classes or church. We have our service to the community, and we try to give our best because all of us are part of one big family. Then we have free time. Of course, we spend this together -- meeting for movies and discussions, poetry nights, and sports are also included. We have a gym here, we often play basketball when the weather is nice.
What do you hope to do, God willing, after seminary?
This is the hardest question. The thing which I have definitely learned since coming here, is that plans are something which are so easy to change, and I changed a lot of them since I came here. So, I would say that my plan is to give my best with school, and to see what the opportunities are like for me, and where the Church needs me.
Also, I want to say, as a part of the Serbian Orthodox Church, I'm very thankful to professors and priests here for the opportunity to go and meet our bishop and visit a few parish churches. That's something which is very important for us, as foreigners in this country, to see the Orthodox world in such a different sense, with so many different conditions. It can be hard sometimes, but in essence, it's something which we all need. If we are always just stuck inside our own walls, in our own rooms, nothing good can happen. So I'm very thankful for these opportunities.
I don't know what God and the Church will give me in the future, with my future serving, but I'll do my best to take all these experiences and the advice of smarter and more spiritual people to make myself better and one day, God willing, to serve where they send me in the best way I can. So that would be my plan.