Seminary holds joyous commencement for classes of 2020, 2021

Graduating Classes and Seminary Faculty

Giving thanks to God, St. Vladimir’s Orthodox Theological Seminary hosted Commencement Exercises for the graduating classes of 2020 and 2021. The ceremony was held outdoors in front of Three Hierarchs Chapel on a beautiful, sunny afternoon Saturday, May 15, 2021.

The Seminary hosted commencement for both classes this year, as last spring’s commencement exercises had to be postponed due to pandemic-related restrictions. The two classes were made up of fifty-one men and women from a multitude of Orthodox jurisdictions and other churches—thirty-three from the class of 2020, and twenty-two from the class of 2021 (four graduates obtained two degrees, one from each year).

Divine Liturgy at Three Hierarchs Chapel

The celebration of the graduating classes and the close of academic year 2020-2021 began with Divine Liturgy Saturday morning. His Beatitude Tikhon, archbishop of Washington, metropolitan of all America and Canada, and chairman of St. Vladimir’s Seminary, presided over the Liturgy. The community gathered at chapel again for a Moleben before the start of the commencement ceremony.

Words of Thanksgiving & Wisdom

Seminary President Archpriest Chad Hatfield began the ceremony by noting several highlights from St. Vladimir’s academic year.

“By the Grace of God, we were able to welcome this incoming class and our returning seminarians for in-person learning. I want to extend my sincere gratitude to everyone at the Seminary who worked hard to ensure we were able to remain open to offer residential theological education and spiritual formation—which is, of course, the ideal in training future priests and leaders of the Church,” said Fr. Chad. “It was not an easy year, but we did it,” he continued, as he and the crowd applauded.

Fr Chad speaks

Along with Seminary graduates, guests, faculty, and staff, the Commencement Exercises were especially blessed by the presence of Metropolitan Tikhon; His Eminence Metropolitan Joseph, archbishop of New York and metropolitan of the Antiochian Orthodox Christian Archdiocese of North America; His Eminence Mor Titus Yeldho, archbishop of the Malankara Archdiocese of the Syriac Orthodox Church in North America; His Eminence Mor Silvanus Ayub, archbishop of the America, Canada, and Europe region of the Knanaya Archdiocese of the Syriac Orthodox Church; His Grace Zachariah Mar Nicholovos, metropolitan of the Northeast American Diocese of the Malankara Orthodox Syrian Church; His Grace Bishop Daniel Findikyan, primate of the Eastern Diocese of America of the Armenian Church; Archpriest John Parker, dean of St. Tikhon’s Orthodox Theological Seminary and alumnus of St. Vladimir’s Seminary; Priest Mardiros Chevian, dean of St. Nersess Armenian Seminary; and Priest M.P. George, professor of liturgics and liturgical music at Old Theological Seminary in Kottayam, Kerala, India.

Metropolitan Joseph offered words of wisdom and encouragement to the graduating classes.

“On behalf of our Antiochian Archdiocese, I congratulate all of you, as your years of study now come to a successful conclusion,” wrote His Eminence.

He also reminded graduates of the challenges they will face in service of the Church, including dealing with a variety of personalities and being aware of the devil’s attacks.

“When St. Anthony saw all the snares of the devil laid bare, he cried out, ‘How can anyone get through such snares?’ And a voice from heaven said one word: ‘humility.’ This our greatest need in ministry. Just as pride can rob our good deeds of any benefit, so humility has the power to make our weakest efforts bear much fruit.”

Guests listen to commencement addresses

Words from the Graduating Classes

During the ceremony St. Vladimir’s Academic Dean Dr Ionut-Alexandru Tudorie invited Natalie Freeborg and Hieromonk Michel Mikhail to deliver the Salutatory and Valedictory Addresses, respectively.

Freeborg noted that, while unique and challenged by unprecedented circumstances, the seminary experiences of the classes of 2020 and 2021 were in no way defined by the pandemic. Instead, thanking the tireless efforts of the Seminary administration, faculty, and staff, Freeborg remarked that her and her colleagues’ theological education was “business as usual.”

Natalie Freeborg

“For us, this ‘business as usual’ has meant forging connections, building up a truly Christian community; it has meant pursuing academic excellence, reading the works of our forbearers, and writing papers of our own in response; most importantly, this business as usual is best defined by the liturgical prayers and traditions that have trained us to direct our minds, bodies, and hearts more fully towards Christ.”

Bringing to mind God’s call to the prophet Jeremiah, Fr. Michel offered insightful words of encouragement to his fellow graduates.

“God called Jeremiah to remind the people of their first love, when they first discovered God and their faith. Our Lord Jesus Christ warned us that the love of many will grow cold,” he said. “So we are the ministers of God, sent out into the world to be burning coals. We are called to rekindle the fire in the hearts of the faithful.”   

The St Macrina Award

Another member of the graduating class of 2021, Student Council President Patrick Russell, presented this year’s St. Macrina Award for Excellence in Teaching, selected each year by student vote, to Professor Rev. Dr. Bogdan Bucur.

“I cannot count the number of times I have heard people in the refectory excited to go to class to learn from Fr. Bogdan, or comment that three hours [in class with him] seemed like a class that had only started,” said Russell.

Closing Remarks from His Beatitude

Following a performance of the Exapostilarion of Pascha by the St. Vladimir’s Seminary Chorale, Metropolitan Tikhon offered a final reflection to close the Commencement Exercises.

“I would encourage you to take a lesson from your experience of seminary life, the blessed experience you have had of living in a Christ-centered community, and take it with you, wherever you go,” said His Beatitude. “It will help you to build new Christ-centered communities and to graft new branches onto the one Vine. It will help you to bear fruit, so that others may bear even greater fruit….

Metropolitan Tikhon speaks

“The world will offer you images of virtual community and fake friendship. But it is better to devote your energy to creating genuine community and true friendship through sacrifice, kindness, and selflessness. For this, you have the example of Christ Himself. May He inspire you in this manner and bless all of you, and keep you in all that you do for the Glory of God.”

May God grant the graduating classes of 2020 and 2021 many years!