SVS Press books sent to 3,000 Ethiopian seminarians

Deborah Belonick

Father Seth at Commencement 2017 (photo Mary Honoré)Father Seth at Commencement 2017 (photo Mary Honoré)When Alumnus Fr. Seth Earl graduated from our Seminary in May 2017, the Commencement Program noted his “commendation for service to community.”

No surprise there. During his student days, Fr. Seth had been actively involved in the Student Council, especially in creating and presiding over one of its associated Student Interest Groups: the “St. Moses Society,” an organization that endeavors to foster meaningful conversation on race in the Orthodox Church today. He also had represented St. Vladimir’s at the Orthodox Inter-Seminary Meeting (OISM) gathering in 2015.

Neither was it a surprise when Fr. Seth was named Assistant Priest of St. John the Wonderworker Church, a vibrant parish in the Diocese of the South, Orthodox Church in America, known for active outreach to its neighbors in Atlanta, Georgia.

However—even anticipating Fr. Seth’s community-centered mindset—it was a surprise to learn he recently collaborated with a parishioner of St. Tikhon’s Orthodox Mission in Chattanooga, Tennessee, to send dozens of theological books to 3,000 seminarians in Ethiopia! (Father Seth is “on loan” to the Appalachian Deanery every other weekend, serving Divine Liturgy at the St. Tikhon’s Mission.)

The Ethiopian effort was conceived by Dean Arnold, choir director and chairman of the parish council at St. Tikhon’s Mission. Arnold had previously forged friendships with leaders of Holy Trinity Theological College, in Addis Ababa (HTTC), Ethiopia, the center of theological and ecclesiastical study for all Oriental Orthodox Churches, which provides religious and secular instruction to both clergy and lay members of the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church. During Arnold’s time in Ethiopia, he noted the lack of theological books in the library of HTTC, where 3,000 students are enrolled.

(from left) Perusing the book donations: Vice Academic Dean of HTTC Girma Batu, Dean W. Arnold, Archbishop Themotewos, head of HTTC, and Levi Crawford(from left) Perusing the book donations: Vice Academic Dean of HTTC Girma Batu, Dean W. Arnold, Archbishop Themotewos, head of HTTC, and Levi Crawford“Because Amazon does not ship economically to Ethiopia—this country also bans Starbucks and other global corporations—the students literally cannot get the books they crave to read: Schmemann, Lossky, Meyendorff, and so forth,” explained Arnold. So, upon his return to the States, Arnold took it upon himself to sound the alarm and to call for book donations.

That’s when Fr. Seth stepped in to lend a hand. He helped to arrange, with St. Vladimir’s President, Fr. Chad Hatfield, to have SVS Bookstore bundle up brand new books written by in-demand Orthodox authors—John Meyendorff, John Zizioulas, Georges Florovsky, Vladimir Lossky, Nicholas Afanasiev, Alexander Schmemann, Kallistos Ware, John Behr, and Hilarion Alfeyev. Then, friends of Fr. Seth, who were traveling from New York to Atlanta, delivered them to Fr. Seth, and over Christmas break, he hauled them from Atlanta to Chattanooga and delivered them to Arnold.

Arnold and fellow parishioner Levi Crawford then packed the books in boxes and made the two-legged plane journey to Addis Ababa.  “The Ethiopians were simply delighted to receive their books!” Arnold reported. Officials of HTTC even sent a formal letter of gratitude to him, expressing their thanks for the “spirit of Christian fraternity” exhibited by the donation.

As for Fr. Seth, he says he’s overjoyed to have been able to extend his “community service” to his African brothers and sisters. No surprise there.