20 graduates make up SVOTS Class of 2018; 3 honorary doctorates awarded

At its Commencement Ceremonies Saturday, May 19, St. Vladimir's Orthodox Theological Seminary (SVOTS) conferred degrees upon twenty graduates, including thirteen Master of Divinity, five Master of Arts, and two Master of Theology students, and also awarded three honorary doctorates. Nine graduates of the Class of 2018 have been ordained to holy orders to serve in both Eastern and Oriental Orthodox jurisdictions.

On Saturday morning, His Beatitude the Most Blessed Tikhon, archbishop of Washington and metropolitan of All America and Canada of the Orthodox Church in America (OCA), presided at Divine Liturgy at Three Hierarchs Chapel. He was joined by clergy from among the student body, faculty, and Board of Trustees, including Seminary President Archpriest Chad Hatfield, Assistant Professor of Canon Law and Byzantine Studies Archpriest Alexander Rentel, board member and Chancellor of the Orthodox Church in America (OCA) Archpriest John Jillions, and Chair of St. Vladimir's Seminary Alumni Association Board Archpriest David G. Barr.

Commencement began at the Metropolitan Philip Auditorium following the Divine Liturgy, lunch, and a Molieben. After His Beatitude Metropolitan Tikhon officially opened the Commencement Exercises, Fr. Chad Hatfield welcomed the graduates and guests and offered a look back at what he called “a remarkable academic year” at the seminary. (Highlights of Academic Year 2017-2018)

Among the many distinguished guests were two representatives of St. Nersess Armenian Seminary leadership: Bishop-Elect and Alumnus Very Rev. Daniel Findikyan, who was recently elected primate of the Eastern Diocese of the Armenian Church of America, and Priest Mardiros Chevian, the Dean of St. Nersess. Their presence was particularly meaningful at this Commencement, as 2018 marks the fiftieth year of cooperation between St. Vladimir’s and St. Nersess Seminaries. Additionally, at the 2018 ceremonies graduating seminarian Timothy Aznavourian became the first Armenian student chosen to deliver the Salutatory Address at a SVOTS commencement.

The Commencement Address was delivered by Dr. David Bradshaw, chair of the Department of Philosophy at the University of Kentucky. He spoke to the graduating class of the need to share, in particular, three beautiful aspects of Orthodox Christianity still largely unknown or misunderstood in the secular world: Orthodox worship, the wisdom and example of saints and monasticism, and forgiveness.

“If I have learned anything over the years that I have spent teaching, it is that our secular friends want and need this treasure,” he said.

Dr. Bradshaw was also one of three people who received honorary doctorates at the 2018 Commencement. St. Vladimir’s Seminary conferred the honorary doctorates to Dr. Bradshaw, composer Mitered Archpriest Sergei Glagolev, and Seminary Trustee Emeritus Protodeacon Peter Danilchick for their outstanding contributions to the Orthodox Church.

“Their contributions align so fittingly with important facets of St. Vladimir’s Seminary’s mission, namely, leadership and stewardship, academia, and the sacred arts,” said Fr. Chad when the honorary doctorates were announced earlier this spring. “As such, we could not be more pleased to honor these three distinguished individuals.”

Dr. Bradshaw was awarded the degree of Doctor of Divinity, Protodeacon Peter the degree of Doctor of Humane Letters (D.H.L.), and Fr. Sergei the degree of Doctor of Sacred Music.

Following Dr. Bradshaw’s address and the conferral of degrees, graduate Dimitrios Nikiforos delivered the Valedictory Address.

“The day of commencement often finds us at a disorienting moment, standing at the crossroads of unfamiliar paths…” said Nikiforos. “However, today Christ tells us, through the Prophet Jeremiah, ‘Stand at the crossroads and look; ask for the ancient paths; ask where the good way is, and walk in it, and I will give rest for your souls’ [Jer 6.16].”

Mr. Nikiforos concluded his address by thanking God, fellow seminarians and their families and spouses, the trustees, and donors to the seminary for helping make this achievement possible for the Class of 2018.

Student Council President Angelo Niqula then presented the St. Macrina Award for Excellence in Teaching, selected each year by student vote, to SVOTS Director of Music Robin Freeman

“This professor maintains a cheerful demeanor and a personal interest that not only keeps us from stagnating, but the fruits of her labor constantly show in the progress we have made in both the classroom and the chapel,” wrote one student, whose comments Niqula shared before presenting the award.

At the conclusion of the Commencement Exercises, His Beatitude Metropolitan Tikhon offered closing remarks for the Class of 2018, sharing a moving story about a cheerful email he received from an eleven-year-old girl in the midst of her struggle with cancer, which she passed away from not long after sending the email.

“Even as she faced this tremendous physical suffering…and the reality of her own approaching death, she never lost the joy of living, nor did she grow bitter or angry,” said His Beatitude. “I only met her once, when I brought her communion, but her joyful example along with her Christ-like longsuffering confirmed for me that truly the glory of God is revealed in a human person—sometimes most brightly in the most trying of circumstances.”

“And it was a reminder to me,” he continued, “that there is no work that is more necessary than caring for our broken and hurting fellows, all of whom, like us, are made in the image and likeness of that glory.”

“I have this as a source of inspiration in my own life, and I hope that you also can find such inspiration in your own journeys.”

Listen to the 2018 Commencement in its entirety