SVOTS Receives Grant from Lilly Endowment Inc.

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Saint Vladimir’s Orthodox Theological Seminary has received a grant of $1M from Lilly Endowment Inc. to help establish a new program to strengthen preaching and homiletics in Orthodox Christian parishes.  

This effort to provide ongoing training to established Orthodox parish clergy is being funded through the Compelling Preaching Initiative of Lilly Endowment Inc. St Vladimir’s Seminary received the funding in an invitational round of grants for the initiative, which is designed to help Christian pastors strengthen their abilities to proclaim the gospel in more engaging and effective ways.

This grant will seed the development of training, learning, and peer support for Orthodox preachers and their hearers, make a variety of resources available to preachers nationwide, and will develop programs and resources based on the findings from an earlier Lilly Endowment planning grant, with opportunities for mutual sharing with others working in homiletics, rhetoric, and corresponding fields.

The three objectives for the new preaching program at St Vladimir's Seminary can be summarized as Renew, Research, and Resource. Through continuing education, peer learning, and engagement with local parish communities, we will help renew the preaching ministries of Orthodox clergy; and help good preachers be great preachers. Our research efforts will include surveys and interviews of hearers to better understand what compelling preaching looks like in local parish contexts, and we will also host an interdisciplinary academic conference on preaching in the Orthodox Church. Finally, we will develop a curated online preaching resource to inspire preachers in their ongoing work.

St Vladimir’s Seminary president, The Very Rev. Dr Chad Hatfield expressed gratitude for the grant, saying, “We are confident that this program will be successful and will garner support from a broad cross-section of individuals, judicatories, and parishes during the first five years, and beyond.”

Fr Sergius Halvorsen, Assistant Professor of Homiletics and Rhetoric at St Vladimir’s Seminary, will direct the new program. Fr Sergius takes on this project with enthusiasm, noting, “Being part of this inspiring initiative from Lilly Endowment Inc. is truly an answer to prayer. More than two decades ago I began my doctoral studies with the dream of helping to improve preaching in the Orthodox Church. With this grant, and with our world-class team at St. Vladimir's, we have a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to strengthen preaching and build up the Body of Christ."

Sharing in the administration of the program at St Vladimir’s Seminary are Fr Lucas Christensen and Arpi Nakashian. Fr Lucas will serve as the Assistant Director for this program. He is a priest of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America, and is currently working on his Ph.D. at the University of Notre Dame.

Arpi Nakashian, the recently appointed Director of Online Education, will assist in developing online tools and programs to support preachers.

“We are excited about the work that these organizations will do to foster and support preaching that better inspires, encourages, and guides people to come to know and love God and to live out their Christian faith more fully,” said Christopher L. Coble, Lilly Endowment’s vice president for religion.  “Their programs will serve a significant number of aspiring and current preachers who are working to reach and engage increasingly diverse audiences both within and beyond congregations.”

The Compelling Preaching Initiative is part of the Endowment’s longstanding interest in supporting projects that help to nurture the religious lives of individuals and families and foster the growth and vitality of Christian congregations in the United States.


Lilly Endowment Inc. is an Indianapolis-based private philanthropic foundation created in 1937 by J.K. Lilly, Sr. and his sons Eli and J.K. Jr. through gifts of stock in their pharmaceutical business, Eli Lilly and Company. Although the gifts of stock remain a financial bedrock of the Endowment, it is a separate entity from the company, with a distinct governing board, staff, and location. In keeping with the founders’ wishes, the Endowment supports the causes of community development, education and religion and maintains a special commitment to its founders’ hometown, Indianapolis, and home state, Indiana. A primary aim of its grantmaking in religion is to deepen the religious lives of Christians, principally by supporting efforts that enhance congregational vitality and strengthen the leadership of Christian communities. The Endowment values the broad diversity of Christian traditions and endeavors to support them in a wide variety of contexts. The Endowment also seeks to foster public understanding about religion by encouraging fair, accurate, and balanced portrayals of the positive and negative effects of religion on the world and lifting up the contributions that people of all faiths make to our greater civic well-being.


Saint Vladimir’s Orthodox Theological Seminary (SVOTS) is a higher education institution that embraces the challenge of serving the Church and the needs of Orthodox Christians in the twenty-first century. SVOTS trains priests, lay leaders, and scholars to be active apologists of the Orthodox Christian Faith—focusing on academic rigor and spiritual formation within a residential Orthodox community. The Seminary is chartered by the
University of the State of New York and accredited by the Commission on Accrediting of the Association of Theological Schools in the United States and Canada (ATS) to offer the following program degrees: Master of Divinity, Master of Arts, Master of Theology, and Doctor of Ministry.