Dr Jaroslav Pelikan falls asleep in the Lord

Dr Jaroslav Pelikan, one of St Vladimir’s Seminary Trustees and friends fell asleep in the Lord on Saturday, May 13, 2006 after a battle with cancer at the age of 82.  Recognized by many as the most noted church historian of our times, Dr Pelikan made St Vladimir’s Chapel his parish home.  Dr Pelikan began serving on the Board of Trustees of St Vladimir’s Seminary in 1998 and from 2004 to 2005 he was the Corporate Secretary.  Until his passing, Dr Pelikan was also the Chairman of the Academic Affairs Committee of the seminary’s Board.

Jaroslav Pelikan Dr Pelikan is survived by his wife, Sylvia; three children, Martin, Michael and Miriam, and three grandchildren. A viewing was held at Holy Transfiguration Orthodox Church in New Haven, Connecticut.  A Vigil Funeral Service was held at St Vladimir’s Seminary Chapel on Tuesday evening, May 16, 2006, at 7:00 pm.  Click here to read the eulogy delivered by Fr John Erickson. A Memorial Divine Liturgy was celebrated on Wednesday morning, May 17, 2006, at 9:00 am.  Click here to read the eulogy delivered by Fr Steven Belonick.

Jaroslav Pelikan was born in Akron, Ohio on December 17, 1923, to parents from Slovak families, who were born in Slavic Europe. Dr Pelikan’s father was a Lutheran pastor and his paternal grandfather was a bishop of the Slovak Lutheran Church in America. For most of his life Dr Pelikan belonged to the Lutheran Church, but in 1998 he and his wife Sylvia were received into the Orthodox Church in St Vladimir’s Seminary Chapel.Members of Dr Pelikan’s family remember him saying that he had not as much converted to Orthodoxy as "returned to it, peeling back the layers of my own belief to reveal the Orthodoxy that was always there."

Dr Pelikan often quoted a line from Goethe’s “Faust,” which says, “What you have as heritage take now as task, and thus you will make it your own.” Unlike most church historians, who focus on one period or one aspect, Dr Pelikan ranked as one of the only authorities in the entire field of Christian history. His books and articles included subjects as diverse as the New Testament, the Reformation, Saint Augustine, Kierkegaard and medieval philosophy, and he is credited with broadening Western church scholarship to include the Eastern Orthodox tradition.

In his life Dr Pelikan wrote nearly 40 books and over a dozen reference works covering the entire history of Christianity. Some of his most significant books are the five-volume “The Christian Tradition: A History of the Development of Doctrine,” “The Riddle of Roman Catholicism” and a multi-volume English edition of the works of Martin Luther. Not only was he the author of scholarly books, but he also wrote several best-sellers for general readers, including “Jesus Through the Centuries,” “Mary Through the Centuries” and “The Idea of the University: a Reexamination.”

Dr Pelikan received honorary degrees from 42 universities all over the world. He delivered the prestigious Guifford Lectures in Scotland and the Gilson Lectures in Toronto; President Bill Clinton appointed him to the President’s Committee on the Arts and Humanities, and at the age of 80, he was appointed scholarly director for the “Institutions of Democracy Project” at the Annenberg Foundation.

In 2004 the Library of Congress awarded him with the John W. Kluge Prize for Lifetime Achievement, a crowning honor in his career. The Kluge prize is awarded in areas that the Nobel Prize does not recognize, namely, the humanities and social sciences.  The citation for the John W. Kluge Prize declared, “He has illuminated many aspects of both political and religious life through the visual arts, music, literature, textual interpretations and the role of the university.”

Dr Pelikan was a member of the faculty of Yale University since 1962. In 1972, Yale appointed Dr Pelikan as Sterling Professor of History. Before joining the Yale faculty in 1962, Dr Pelikan taught at Valparaiso University in Indiana, Concordia Seminary and the University of Chicago. His many positions included terms as dean of the Yale Graduate School (1973-78), as president of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences (1994-97), as board chairman of the American Academy of Political and Social Science (2003-04) and as founding chairman of the Council of Scholars at the Library of Congress.

In lieu of flowers, the family requests that memorial donations be made either to the Jaroslav Pelikan Theological Endowment at St Vladimir’s Orthodox Theological Seminary, founded by Dr Pelikan with his 2004 Kluge Prize award (please make checks payable to "St Vladimir's Seminary", with "Pelikan Endowment" in the memo), or to the Jaroslav Pelikan Publication Fund of the Yale University Press, founded in 2005 by the governors of the Press to assist publication of books on the intellectual history of religion.

Listen to an interview with Dr Jaroslav Pelikan on the radio program, “Speaking of Faith” at http://speakingoffaith.publicradio.org/programs/pelikan/index.shtml where they discuss the history and nature of creeds, and how a fixed creed can be reconciled with an honest, intellectual faith that changes and evolves.

For more information about Dr Pelikan’s life see this article by Fr John Erickson.

May his memory be eternal.