Donor Views

A Bedrock Issue: Why I Support St Vladimir’s Seminary


Judy and Dan Braun have been married for 47 years, and have been blessed with 3 kids and 6 grandkids. Dan’s father, Fr Jon Braun, is a retired Antiochian priest. Santa Barbara, California is their hometown and has been the home base for Dan’s commercial real estate investment business since 1978.

Dan’s associations with St Vladimir’s Seminary date back many years. In 2019 he enjoyed attending the Leadership Conference on campus. As Board Chair for the University of St Katherine (USK) in San Diego, longtime Antiochian Trustee, and member of the Order of St Ignatius, Dan takes his philanthropic commitments seriously. The St Vladimir’s Seminary team was able to catch up with him for a conversation at the 2023 Antiochian Convention in July.

Dan, tell us about your journey to the Orthodox Church.

My story relates to the entrance of the Evangelical Orthodox Church into canonical Orthodoxy in 1987. My father, Fr Jon Braun, was one of the leaders of a group that eventually became the Evangelical Orthodox movement. Our family’s entry into the Orthodox Church happened simultaneously with that whole process.

This journey had many twists and turns. In the beginning, my father and other coworkers in the Campus Crusade for Christ, an evangelical outreach to college students, began searching for the Church.

My dad would work on a college campus for a weekend, sharing Christ through talks and personal interactions with students, and he would see many step forward to “ask Jesus into their hearts” as the evangelicals describe the “sinner’s prayer.” But then that was it. These fledgling converts were supposed to be good to go without any follow-up. My dad, Fr Peter Gillquist, and others began to have serious conversations for years that led to a deep dive into Church history. There had to be more, they thought. Thus began their search, and over many years that led us to the Orthodox Church.

There was a point where we thought our group of churches might end up being Catholic. Then the leaders of the Evangelical Orthodox made a trip to meet with the Ecumenical Patriarch but nothing came of that.

In the meantime, there was a connection made with Patriarch Ignatius and then Metropolitan Philip of thrice blessed memory. This resulted in a meeting with the Patriarch and Metropolitan at the Archdiocese Convention in southern California. As a result of the Antiochian Archdiocese’s warm welcome to this group of seeking Protestants, about 2000 people from around the United States were chrismated.

I was 33 at the time, married with three kids, and I was completely on board. The first time I set foot in an Orthodox Church was St Nicholas Cathedral in Los Angeles. I went down there with my father to attend the service prior to my chrismation. I remember sitting there in the church thinking, “This is a real Church!” There was such a comfort in this instead, and a contrast to our typical 60s, 70s, seat of the pants, free flowing worship style and governance. What a difference to come from a homegrown movement, and then to walk into the Cathedral knowing, “This Faith has been here awhile.”

We’re all interested in why you chose SVOTS to support the education of seminarians!

Not to sound trite, but it’s a no-brainer. Recently, Fr Chad attended the Order of St Ignatius meeting at the Antiochian Convention. In the Q&A period, he made the point that we have a demographic problem. We need priests! And of course, to form priests and to educate them, we need our seminaries. It’s a bedrock issue. There are not many Orthodox seminaries of any size in the entire United States!

Also, our family had an early connection with SVOTS because as I mentioned, we had a lot of contact with the Seminary in our evangelical years. Fr Schmemann and Fr Hopko came out to California and visited us many times and we took many opportunities to ask them questions. They were formative in our journey to the Orthodox Church. In addition to Fathers Alexander and Tom, we also had a lot of contact with the greater institution through conferences and discussions of relevant issues within the Church. And so many of our Antiochian priests have come from SVOTS! So I have a natural and deep connection to St Vladimir’s Seminary.

What would you say to people who are trying to decide how to allocate their giving? What case would you make for seminary education?

Without priests and clergy, you don’t have an Orthodox Church. If you love the faith, you love Christ, you love the Church, care deeply about it, St Vladimir’s Seminary is the bedrock of everything else. I’ve been on the Archdiocese board for over 20 years and we support other causes too. It’s important to help the poor and Judy and I support our own parish too. (And by the way, our priest is a St Vladimir’s Seminary graduate.)

While St Vladimir’s Seminary is by no means the only target for our giving, it’s a really important part of it.

Do you read the Press books?

My wife has a huge stack of them (laughter).

What would you like to see in the future for SVOTS?

Part of the answer would be that it’s above my pay grade. However, I do serve as board chair for USK so I’ve learned a lot about education in general; I’ve had a front-row seat as to how hard it is to finance the work and how complex it is to run a school of higher education. I can certainly identify with the challenges that SVOTS has! It can be very stressful.

Yet it’s absolutely essential work! There aren’t many places in North America today where you can go to get any kind of education that is Orthodox. And yet today, I’d be concerned about having my children in almost any of today’s schools.

Fr Chad and I spoke a few months ago at  Metropolitan Saba’s Enthronement, and he shared his hopes and dreams for the Seminary; I’m excited to watch what happens next for SVOTS.         

In what ways do you see St Vladimir’s Seminary in the US as bringing light to the world?

The Seminary has done an excellent job, very diligently, in relation to its size and how many students it has. We love the Seminary and are happy to be able to support it.

The communications are good, and the Press and Seminary are known to many. So much that promotes the Faith comes out of St Vladimir’s Seminary. If a beacon on a hill’s job is to send out light, the Seminary does that well. Then it’s up to people to receive that light.

Some of the other things are good, too: the Leadership Institute, for instance, and the programs that are supporting and training new priests. I’d give St Vladimir’s Seminary an “A.”