The Commencement of the Class of 2023 at St Vladimir’s Orthodox Theological Seminary (SVOTS) was held on Saturday, May 20, 2023. The day began at 9:00 a.m. with a hierarchical Divine Liturgy at Three Hierarchs Chapel presided by His Beatitude Metropolitan Tikhon of the Orthodox Church in America (OCA). During the liturgy, seminarian Ferenc Fehervari (M.Div. ’25) was tonsured a reader; Assistant Professor of Liturgical Theology, the Rev. Dn Dr Vitaly Permiakov was awarded the double orarion; and Assistant Professor of Liturgical Music Dr Harrison Russin was ordained to the Holy Diaconate.
Following a brief recess for lunch, graduates, their families, visiting hierarchs, SVOTS trustees, faculty, staff, and the seminary community gathered in Three Hierarchs Chapel to start the commencement ceremony with a moleben, in accordance with longstanding practice at St Vladimir’s Seminary. His Beatitude Metropolitan Tikhon was joined by His Eminence Metropolitan Saba, Archbishop of New York and Metropolitan of the Antiochian Archdiocese of All North America (AOCANA); His Grace Metropolitan Zachariah Mar Nicholovos of the Northeast American Diocese of the Malankara Orthodox Syrian Church; His Grace Bishop Sinoda of Washington, D.C. of the Eritrean Orthodox Tewahedo Church; His Eminence Metropolitan Ghattas of Baghdad, Kuwait, and Dependencies; the Very Rev. Archimandrite Nektarios Papazafiropoulos, Chancellor of the Greek Archdiocese of America (GOA), representing His Eminence Archbishop Elpidophoros; and the Right Rev. Protosyngellos Jeremy Davis of the Antiochian Archdiocese.
Upon the conclusion of the moleben, attendees found their seats in the Metropolitan Philip Auditorium in the John G. Rangos Building ahead of the formal procession of hierarchs, faculty, and graduating seminarians into the auditorium, marking the beginning of the 84th Commencement Exercises of Saint Vladimir’s Orthodox Theological Seminary. SVOTS President, the Very Rev. Dr Chad Hatfield gave his opening remarks, including a detailed recap of key events and achievements at SVOTS and SVS Press during the 2022–23 academic year.
The Commencement Address was given by the Hon. Alex M. Azar II, who was also awarded a Doctor of Humane Letters, honoris causa, in recognition of his faithful and dedicated philanthropic service over many years within the Church. Secretary Azar gave a stirring speech, drawing on his high-profile leadership experience as Secretary of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (2018–2021) and president of Lilly USA, LLC (2012–2017) to encourage SVOTS graduates to embrace a collaborative style of leadership within their future ministries, to always communicate the “why” behind their decisions, and to respectfully seek input from members of the communities they are called to lead.
Watch the Commencement Address by The Hon. Alex Azar
The Graduating Class of 2023
Twenty-seven seminarians graduated at this year’s Commencement: fifteen were granted the Master of Divinity (M.Div.); eleven received the Master of Arts (M.A.) degree, and one received a Master in Theology (Th.M.). Graduates represented twelve different Eastern and Oriental Orthodox jurisdictions.
The conferral of diplomas was preceded by the salutatory address, given by salutatorian Mother Cassiana Colchester (M.A. Concentration in Theological Scholarship and Research). Mother Cassiana gave thanks to God for a fruitful and humbling experience at SVOTS, reflecting that above all, seminary is about “learning to be weak,” to truly see one’s darkness and failings, “for in this weakness can Christ’s strength and His glory truly shine through.”
Immediately following the conferral of degrees, Student Council President Mark Sultani (M.Div.) presented the Saint Macrina Award to the Rev. Dn Dr Vitaly Permiakov. The Saint Macrina Award is an honor given each year to a professor elected by the student body to recognize his or her effort and excellence in teaching. Sultani commended the entire faculty at SVOTS, saying, “This award gets harder and harder each year because our faculty is just that good. It really feels as if we are in a golden age of stellar faculty who continue to teach us and push us to be better.”
Sultani then presented an unexpected and touching class gift to Fr Chad Hatfield, an icon commissioned with a local iconographer, depicting the Mother of God with Christ in her womb overlooking the seminary campus.
The Rev. Dr Anthony Gilbert (M.Div.) was then named valedictorian of the Class of 2023. In his valedictory address, Fr Anthony urged his classmates to consider two themes in the farewell address, or valediction, our Lord Jesus Christ gave to his disciples in the Gospel of John. In this passage, the longest discourse by Jesus recorded in the gospels, He counsels us to be prepared for tribulations throughout our lives, but also to “be of good cheer, for I have overcome the world (John 16.33).” Fr Anthony concluded his address by calling his fellow graduates to always remember that “He is the source of our strength, and that when we falter or stumble or get lost, He is near and we know His voice.”
The commencement exercises were concluded by a short concert by St Vladimir’s Seminary Chorale and final remarks by His Beatitude Metropolitan Tikhon. Graduate Fr Nicholas Fine (M.Div.) led a large choir of men and women in singing “Let God Arise” in Byzantine chant. Seminarian Naomi DeHaan (M.A. ’24) then led the women’s choir in a new arrangement of the Paschal Exapostilarion, arranged for women’s voices by a student musician. Finally, the Rev. Dn Dr Harrison Russin led the entire chorale in singing “Christ is Risen” by Alexander Kastalsky.
His Beatitude Metropolitan Tikhon concluded the ceremony, first with some lighthearted comments, and then with an earnest injunction, saying,
“By dint of obtaining your seminary degree, all of you will, to some degree or other, be seen as spiritual and intellectual leaders in your communities. Many who dream of church leadership, dream vainly about imposing their own ideas, preferences, and agenda on the Church. Believers do not come to church because they want their pastors’ and lay leaders' personal ideas and priorities. Believers come to the Church because they want Jesus Christ. They hear His voice. He knows them, and Him do they follow. And so to all seminarians and especially the graduating clergy, I say if you wish to serve the Church, if you wish to be a shepherd of Christ's flock, then let go of your own voice and become the voice of Christ.”
Watch the Commencement Exercises, Class of 2023
Read the 2023 Commencement Program
Please pray for the graduates of the Class of 2023! May our Lord God and Savior Jesus Christ bless them in their future ministries and grant them many blessed years!