St. Vladimir’s Seminary Prepares Priests to Shine in a Dark World


Fr Michael Ellias, an of St. Vladimir’s Seminary (class of 1985) is rector of St Mary’s Antiochian Orthodox Church in New York City. Under his leadership, Fr Michael, has seen an abundance of baptisms and chrismations. By encouraging his lay people, he has revitalized many of the parish's programs.

St. Vladimir’s Seminary Prepares Priests to Shine in a Dark World

After so much uncertainty surrounding the pandemic, the heavy burden of loss, and now global conflicts between beloved nations, many of the faithful are questioning God’s divine purpose, asking, “Where is God?”, “Where do I fit?”, “What is right?”, “What are we to do?”

Struggle heightens our awareness of our need for God and God’s desire to use each of us to proclaim the hope that is in Christ alone.

Comfortable Christianity is over.

We are not living in a non-Christian culture—we are living an anti-Christian culture. The demands of leading in such a hostile environment are great.

Extraordinary courage, wisdom, and vision will be necessary to bear fruit for generations to come. That means the world needs priests who are equipped, prepared, and ready to serve, lead, and love people, families, communities, and the world into spiritual health and vitality.

One Man’s Path to Priesthood

Such fruit is found amid the ebb and flow of busy New York City: St Vladimir’s alumnus Fr Michael Ellias (class of 1985), rector of St Mary’s Antiochian Orthodox Church. St Mary’s has served Brooklyn since 1917—over a century!—and has remained a beacon of hope for seekers and converts, discerning their place in the kingdom of God.

“God has all manner of ways to get people to be where he wants them to be,” said Fr Michael, reflecting on his own path to priesthood.”

“My path to priesthood was somewhat accidental. My plan was to study law in Pittsburgh. But, through the guidance of various faculty members at the Catholic University of America, I discovered a love and thirst for Patristics, which ultimately led me to St Vladimir’s Seminary to study under Fr John Meyendorff, Fr John Erickson, and of course Fr Alexander Schmemann.”

Like all seminarians at St Vladimir’s, Fr Michael was assigned to a parish to be mentored by and serve under the guidance of an active, mature priest—St Mary’s in Bay Ridge, the future flock that he would serve to this day. It was through his weekly service at St Mary’s that Fr Michael met Laila and discovered his vocation of the priesthood.

During his tenure at St Mary’s, Fr Michael has fortified the long-standing ministries of the parish by encouraging lay leadership and revitalizing their church school programs. The switch to online teaching was needed during the pandemic, but not effective post-pandemic, so St Mary’s has begun to build the program back up through the leadership of lay people.

“St Vladimir’s taught me how to lay a foundation of what Christian education should look like in a parish. This is one of the critical tasks of the Church. It’s so important that you have effective and relevant church school programs. You are living in a world that is largely secularized. It is of the utmost importance that St Vladimir’s continues to prepare seminarians how to encounter the world that is waiting for them, through world-class theological education and spiritual formation.”

Fr Michael’s objective as priest has been to empower his parishioners to do the work of the Church. “That’s where the action really happens,” he said. “The priest can’t do everything, nor should he do everything. Churches don’t grow when there’s only one person doing ministry. You have to empower people and provide the resources and training they need to develop and live the life of the Church.”

The Body of Christ

In many ways, the pandemic has rendered to the Church an opportunity unlike anything experienced in modern history. And people are responding.

A spiritual renewal is happening across this country and around the world. People are making genuine and authentic faith commitments through Orthodox parishes like never before. But new believers need to grow, and that happens when they are connected to a local parish that is thriving.

Think about the Church of Corinth, the recipients of St Paul’s First Epistle to the Corinthians. The Christians in Corinth were new to the faith, new to the authority of God and church leadership. They argued constantly, were frequently confused, lived unhealthy lives, and relied on their own individual freedoms and authority.

They had yet to live into the structure Christ had laid out for them in the Church, and they had yet to recognize that he had chosen them to expand his kingdom on earth.

Paul writes to remind them, in love, that true freedom depends on God and on being active members of Christ’s Body: the Church. He implores them with patient love that they are empowered by God with gifts of the Spirit, all of which, in every variety have a vital place in the Body of Christ:

Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; and there are varieties of service, but the same Lord; and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who empowers them all in everyone. To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good… For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. For in one Spirit you were all baptized into one body—Jews or Greeks, slaves or free—and all were made to drink of one Spirit.” (1 Corinthians 12.4–7, 12–13)

Guardians of the Truth

Today, more than ever, people need deep faith, wisdom, and a community of believers to help them navigate the uncertainty of life. At St Vladimir’s, seminarians are taught to restore within everyone a sense of the holy centered on the communal experience of the Eucharist. As a residential community, we actively participate in offering our God-given gifts back to God, as the chosen members of his Body.

Personal transformation into the likeness of Christ is the solution to the growing desperation in the world. At St Vladimir’s, seminarians are taught to desire personal transformation by inspiring a profound and ongoing conversion in Christ. This transformation is not just an abstract idea—it is an authentic, personal, ongoing relationship with Christ, which bears fruit tenfold, affecting generations to come.

The gospel must be spoken. At St Vladimir’s, seminarians are prepared to share hope with the world by demonstrating an unwavering commitment to the truth of the gospel. For such a time as this, the world needs leaders committed to being the “guardians of the truth” that Metropolitan Leonty (1876–1965) knew would be essential in America. You need courageous leaders to lean into their calling as the chosen ones of God to participate in the Body of Christ, using their gifts for the glory of God.

It is through the calling of regular, willing individuals like you that God is able to move and bring people, families, communities, and nations back to life. It is your generosity that is ensuring the future of Orthodoxy, the strength of individual parishes, and the ability to continue to send priests on mission to be catalysts for the gospel until the whole world hears and knows the hope that is eternal and the light that will never grow dim.

St Vladimir’s will prepare men and women to go out into the world and proclaim God’s truth. We will continue to build healthy parishes, which in turn builds healthy communities, healthy people, and a healthy world.

Will you join us by making a donation to St Vladimir’s—and the future of the Church?

Your generosity will support the missionary work for which God has called us. Pray and ask God how he wants you to support St Vladimir’s for such a time as this.

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May God be with you during this time. And may his unwavering truth compel you to cling to him and proclaim with joy, the hope of our Risen Lord, Jesus Christ.

Compelled to pray, pursue, and proclaim,

The Very Rev. Dr Chad Hatfield
President, St Vladimir’s Orthodox Theological Seminary