This is family: Reflecting on one year at St. Vladimir’s Seminary

By Dr. Ionut Alexandru Tudorie, Academic Dean

It has been a little over a year since I took up my position as academic dean of St. Vladimir’s Seminary, relocating here from my native Romania. But it was only quite recently that my wife, daughters, and I went out as a family to explore the New York area, even just to a restaurant! To be honest, since we arrived here, we have been trying to focus on this community. And we already have a deep feeling of belonging here. It feels strange to leave campus for a Sunday Divine Liturgy, on the occasions I am called away to be somewhere else. Of course, you meet new people and visit new places, and this is always wonderful, but something in your heart always tells you your family is here, at St. Vladimir’s Seminary.

It is this strength of community that I wish to bring out more than anything as academic dean. To be, again, honest, one of the things I have found profoundly challenging in this country is the strong emphasis placed on self-promotion—which, at least, seems to be more emphasized in North American culture than what I am used to. I wish above all to promote the Seminary. I would like to promote the institution. It is the people who make up this institution—each and every one—who are worth promoting, celebrating, and developing. That is why my work here so far has been guided by two main areas of focus: faculty and students.

It is the strength of the faculty that has made the Seminary so famous in the Orthodox world over the school’s history. The relatively small faculty has an excellent track record of research awards and publications with leading university presses and journals. I am dedicated to promoting and encouraging all members of our faculty to continue contributions in their respective fields. I want to make sure the Seminary does not fall into the habit of promoting just one or two professors, which can sometimes happen in smaller universities and schools. This is important in order to maintain and grow an excellent academic atmosphere and standard here.

This is also a period of great transition for the faculty. In recent years, some of our well-known professors have retired or are taking up other opportunities elsewhere.  This is, of course, a challenge, but there is also great opportunity in this time of change! I believe an important duty of the academic dean is to be able to bring in the best Orthodox scholars when these opportunities arise. And I can tell you there are so many well-trained Orthodox scholars out there.  We will use all our connections and look everywhere for resources, here and abroad. We need the best scholars, who can teach well, at St. Vladimir’s. I am one hundred percent devoted and committed to that.

In this period of transition, there is also opportunity to foster and cultivate the pan-Orthodox vision for this Seminary held by great figures such as Fr. Georges Florovsky. Either as faculty or as visiting scholars, I would like to bring great minds here from as many of the great traditions of Orthodoxy as possible—Russia, the Middle East, Greece, Serbia, Romania, Bulgaria, and so on. (We have, in fact, already begun bringing in new, excellent scholars here, which will be seen in the coming months.) I want St. Vladimir’s Seminary to be a hub for Orthodox scholars. Relating to this goal, we have been working to grow and put more resources into the Seminary’s Father Georges Florovsky Library. Having the best research library possible is an important piece in attracting the best scholars to St. Vladimir’s.

This focus on faculty and academic climate is meant to also benefit the seminarians, the very reason we exist and the other main focus of my duties. Part of my work here has been devoted to fostering collaboration between faculty and students. A new academic symposium highlighting outstanding student papers and monthly Faculty Seminars, led by both faculty and students, have been a part of this effort. As someone who was trained in a very Germanic style of studying theology, I also examine our curriculum from my particular background to see if improvements can be made. For example, we are exploring possibly more offerings dedicated to ethics/bioethics, and more language offerings in the future such as Latin (which is important for Orthodox scholarship, not just Roman Catholic studies), Hebrew, Syriac, Coptic, and others.

It is also my hope that seminarians feel as connected to the school as possible. The seminars, symposiums, and other collaboration efforts are part of this. But I also want them to know me, other than maybe what they have read about in my CV or that I am a Romanian Orthodox person from Eastern Europe. I don’t want them to just see me in chapel and think, “I guess maybe he’s spiritual, or maybe he’s just showing up because of the job!” That’s not enough.  I want to open another layer of communication with the students. It’s not only important for the students, but also for the school. Starting this academic year, my family and I have started hosting one student and their family every Sunday at our home. We are focusing on families initially, and then will start hosting the single students. We learn so many things about them and their needs and goals. I hope we have imparted some warmth to them, but they have certainly made an impact on us, and we are so thankful to be able to share this fellowship with them.

All of the seminarians and families at St. Vladimir’s, not just the ones we have hosted, have been such an inspiration to me since I became academic dean, and they help me to better understand my own service and calling. I am always so surprised, in a very good sense, by those who discover Christ at different stages of life and those who have converted to Orthodoxy. Being born and raised in an Orthodox-majority country, you don’t see as often the kinds of sacrifices and stories you see here all the time. It is, perhaps, more normal to contemplate a life in the Church from a young age there. But I have been in awe of those here who have come from a completely different cultural and religious environment but who put their life on hold, changed its direction completely, sold everything, moved to seminary, and put their and their family’s lives in the hands of the Church. It is before these people I can prostrate myself—and I am not just saying that. I always ask myself, am I able to do such a thing? Am I worthy enough to serve these kinds of people?

These are the people I am so thankful for—the faculty, students, and all of the Seminary community—and who make my work so important. I will give thanks to God if I can look back after however many years I am academic dean here and say that I was able to be part of something important for them, for St. Vladimir’s Seminary. This is, after all, my family.