Graduating Class of 2020 celebrates St. Vladimir’s unique community life

21 May 2020 • Yonkers, NY

For St. Vladimir’s Seminary student Shelby Giokas, there is no question as to what she liked most about her time on campus: the joy of living in a Christian community. “It was so fulfilling and so rewarding,” said Giokas, “there is nothing like it in the world.” And that was exactly what she missed most when a global pandemic caused the Seminary to switch entirely to online courses last Spring. “I remember how we used to talk about the class we had just experienced as we walked together to lunch,” said Giokas. “It was almost impossible for a little Zoom picture to replicate that.”

Shelby Giokas (second from left) and fellow seminarians listening to a talk at the Seminary’s Three Hierarchs ChapelShelby Giokas (second from left) and fellow seminarians listening to a talk at the Seminary’s Three Hierarchs Chapel

Fellow student Fr. Christopher Dillon echoed her sentiments. “Some of our deepest learning happened outside the classroom in discussions amongst ourselves.” But what he missed most were the twice daily church services. “It was a huge support just to be able to start and end the day with prayer and to be able to center yourself like that,” he said. It was one of the ways that the Seminary supported students through the challenges of a theological education. And though Fr. Christopher feels like St. Vladimir’s did the “smart thing” by going online, he admits that he found lengthy Zoom classes more exhausting than in-person ones.

Shelby and Fr. Christopher are both part of St. Vladimir’s Seminary’s Graduating Class of 2020, a class that, because of the pandemic, was ultimately denied two remaining months of the fellowship and community life that they so treasured.

Fr. Christopher with his family and Metropolitan JOSEPH (Antiochian Archdiocese) at Fr. Christopher’s ordination to the priesthood in August 2019Fr. Christopher with his family and Metropolitan JOSEPH (Antiochian Archdiocese) at Fr. Christopher’s ordination to the priesthood in August 2019

The stats for this year’s graduating class are impressive. A total of 33 students completed their degrees—or are expected to complete degrees over the summer (19 Master of Divinity; 11 Master of Arts; 2 Master of Theology; 1 Doctor of Ministry). They comprise the Class of 2020 (another 7 students, who are officially part of the Class of 2019, also finished their degrees during this academic year). Most are bound for parishes, some for further academic study, others for chaplaincy, and still others for education.

The graduates’ jurisdictional breakdown was quite diverse and reflected St. Vladimir’s commitment to pan-Orthodoxy. There were a total of 9 from the Orthodox Church in America (OCA); 5 from the Antiochian Archdiocese; 3 Armenian; 1 Anglican; 3 Coptic; 2 Malankara Jacobite; 1 Syriac Orthodox Church (Kyanaya); 1 Malankara Orthodox Syrian; 2 Patriarchate of Alexandria; 1 Romanian Patriarchate; 3 Serbian; and 1 Georgian. Another graduate is unaffiliated.

The Student Council of St. Vladimir's voted Fr. Nicholas Belcher, lecturer in liturgics, as the winner of The St. Macrina Award for 2020. The award is given to a member of the faculty who has particularly blessed the Student Body as an instructor and a guide to the life of Christian service and vocation. As one student said about Fr. Nicholas, "His classes have been the most valuable of my three years at Seminary, covering liturgical rubrics and Byzantine chant, with a consistent sprinkling of practical pastoral wisdom."

“My heartfelt congratulations to St. Vladimir’s Class of 2020,” said St. Vladimir’s Academic Dean Dr. Alex Tudorie, “which not only thrived amidst the normal rigors of graduate school but also patiently and diligently endured all the limitations that were set by a historic pandemic for the last weeks of their experience at the Seminary. We pray for each and every one of you for a smooth and successful transition into God's vineyard!”

Due to pandemic-related restrictions, St. Vladimir’s Seminary has cancelled its commencement ceremony for the Class of 2020, which had been scheduled for September 12.

The Seminary is exploring the possibility of a combined graduation ceremony for the Classes of 2020 and 2021 on May 15, 2021, if it is safe to do so. Details will be forthcoming.