Giving with Gratitude: Fr. Nicholas and Mat. Mary Roth

Ginny Nieuwsma

Father Nicholas Roth, one of the two co-Valedictorians in the Class of 2014, is the Priest in Charge of Ss. George & Alexandra Orthodox Mission (OCA) in Fort Smith, Arkansas. He is also on the Board of Directors of the Community Rescue Mission, a faith-based organization committed to helping the homeless. A U.S. Army Captain and veteran, Fr. Nicholas served three tours in Iraq and Afghanistan from 2005—2010.

Matushka Mary is a Speech Language Pathologist at the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences’ Kids First program, an interdisciplinary day health care program for children with special health care needs. Father Nicholas and Mat. Mary enjoy cooking, travel, hiking, and camping.

The Roths have been financially supporting St. Vladimir’s since graduating in 2014. They’ve also given back to the Seminary in other ways: speaking on campus to wives of seminarians during meetings of the St. Juliana Society, and hosting seminarians during the summer through their diocesan internship program.

How would you characterize the impact of St. Vladimir's Seminary?

As a parish priest I see the impact of St. Vladimir’s on a daily basis—not simply in terms of what I received at the Seminary that I now offer to parishioners, but also in the wide range of resources that St. Vladimir’s provides for people growing in their faith.

Additionally, the partnerships that St. Vladimir’s has developed throughout the world, particularly through the Giving Tuesday initiatives, have enabled the growth and continued support of Orthodoxy everywhere: from Guatemala to Kenya. Outside of the Church, initiatives like the Arvo Pärt Project have exposed a whole host of people to the faith who might otherwise never have known about Orthodox Christianity.

What was your first exposure to the ministry of St. Vladimir's? What was it that first impressed you about the Seminary? 

I met an Orthodox chaplain, Fr. Peter Baktis (SVOTS 1985), during my second deployment to Iraq. I was impressed by him and thankful for his pastoral care. I eventually became a catechumen through his guidance.

When I began to consider studying at a seminary, I thought of St. Vladimir’s first, due to Fr. Peter’s influence.

Additionally, the publications of St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press were an integral part of our journey to Orthodoxy, as we searched out quality writings that would help us learn more about the faith.  

Of course, our real introduction was showing up on campus! We didn’t even visit the Seminary before deciding to enroll, since I sent in my application during a deployment to Afghanistan. 

We trusted that God would help us end up where He wanted us to be, and we’re extremely grateful that things turned out the way they did. From the moment we showed up, everyone we met was warm and inviting—both students and faculty—and we knew we’d made the right choice.

In your experience, what makes St. Vladimir’s unique?

One huge draw for us was that all seminarians live on campus. We aren’t simply sitting in a classroom with each other, but we rather are worshipping and living together—faculty and students alike.

In this way, we develop and strengthen relationships with one another that are then carried out into the world as we begin our ministries. Since graduating, I speak nearly every week with at least one person we met during our time at St. Vladimir’s—classmates, wives, or faculty members.  

At St. Vladimir’s we were pushed to achieve balance in our lives—an essential skill for maintaining mental and spiritual health in parish ministry. The time demands of seminary are almost endless: family life, rigorous academics, chapel life, pastoral training, community service—and all with the allure of New York City just a short train ride away! 

These activities compete for time and require seminarians to learn how to maintain a healthy life balance and develop clear priorities. Achieving excellence simultaneously in all areas is unrealistic; but each activity is necessary, and so time management becomes the big challenge.

Why do you give to St. Vladimir’s? 

We want others to have that same opportunity to enrich their knowledge, deepen their faith, and then take what they’ve learned out into the world, offering it back in service to Christ’s Holy Church.