Glory be to Thee who hast shown us the light…”

Author: 
Rami Dahdal

Rami and fiancée RebeccaRami and fiancée RebeccaI've often wondered if I would ever see the light at the end of the tunnel, which has represented this journey of mine for the past three years at St. Vladimir's. It's been a journey full of joy, new friendships, learning, and achievements...but it's been equally full of sadness, loss, misunderstandings, and defeats.

My time at St. Vladimir's has been like a roller coaster: full of ups and downs with some loops thrown in-between — and I'm not particularly fond of roller coasters, either! But when I muster up the strength to ride one, I realize at the end that it wasn't so bad...and was actually quite fun. In fact, my roller coaster ride at seminary has prepared me for the many more I will (most likely) ride in my ministry — figuratively speaking.

I'm grateful for the diverse and first-hand experiences I've had at St. Vladimir's. Before coming here, I thought Orthodoxy consisted only of things done in my home parish: Byzantine chant, vespers on Saturdays, liturgy on Sunday, and the occasional feast day, celebrated a few times a year.

Instead I heard traditional Russian chant, experienced daily matins and vespers with vigil on Saturdays, raced to my parish assignment on Sundays, and went to another liturgy during the week for a feast day or saint's commemoration—a big adjustment for me, but one, I believe, I needed, because without learning to change and adjust, I would remain stagnant.

I got to see another side of Orthodoxy, and what a sight! The St. Vladimir's "Damascene" and "Cassia" choirs were some of the best I'll ever hear, and the liturgical services are done more fully, at times, so that I could experience how these services were originally celebrated. And, for the most part, we students were the ones responsible for making it all happen.

St. Vladimir's also did a great job of letting me experience the life of a priest. Here, I learned the meaning of the Scripture: "You are not your own" (1 Cor 6:19). Priestly ministry is a life of service to others — period. Here, I was tasked with chapel duty, meal crew, and janitorial duty; with preparation for special events and participation in student council; with attending choir rehearsal and fulfilling parish assignments; with navigating relationships and even volunteering for the Advancement Department, and so forth.

To top off the rigorous schedule, there's Great Lent. As an Antiochian student I traveled three to four times a week to extra services. For Holy Week I visited a different parish everyday.

All this leads me to talk about my best experience while at St. Vladimir's. The summer after my first year, as part of the seminary's M.Div. requirement, I did my chaplaincy internship at Banner Good Samaritan in Phoenix, AZ. I fulfilled 400 hours of Clinical Pastoral Education (CPE), which included patient visitations and classroom sessions for self-reflection.

It was the best thing I'd done in my three years at St. Vladimir's — hands down.

Why? Because communication will be at the heart of my future ministry, and CPE helped me become a better communicator by helping me recognize where I needed to improve. CPE's also the reason why I have decided to continue down the road of chaplaincy.

Last December I applied for a CPE residency in Wichita, KS, at Wesley Medical Center: Over the winter break I had an interview with Wesley, and a couple weeks later they offered me the position, which I gladly accepted. I begin August 31.

My CPE residency will be a one-year chaplaincy program geared towards helping students learn how to become better communicators. By "communicate," I mean listening. As I've learned from my seminary professor, Dr. Albert Rossi, active listening is "85% of effective counseling."

Following my residency, if God so chooses, I hope to continue chaplaincy work toward CPE certification. I believe chaplaincy is an important ministry to the continuing work of Jesus Christ, one at the front lines of the "Great Commission."

But why did I choose Wichita for CPE training?...because that's where my fiancée, Rebecca, is from. I met Rebecca in the fall of my second year, when she came to St. Vladimir's to visit her best friend. She left after meeting the man she'll spend the rest of her life with. On August 22, 2015, I'll marry THE most amazing woman, and I'll look forward to spending each day with her for the rest of my life.

I'm grateful to St. Vladimir's for providing the moments leading up to this point, to a future that (to me at least) looks bright—like a light at the end of the tunnel.

Rami Dahdal is a third-year seminarian in the M.Div. program. He is from sunny Glendale, AZ, and loves photography and comic books (Batman is his favorite). He has a younger sister and brother, and is an uncle of two beautiful boys, Ace and Jax. His home parish is St. George Antiochian Orthodox Church in Phoenix, AZ. 

During his seminary years, Rami served as a St. Vladimir's staff photographer, capturing many seminary and church events. These included: the enthronement of Metropolitan Joseph, where his photos were also used for The Word magazine; the Sunday of Orthodoxy during Lent; the St. Vladimir's "Giving Tuesday" fund-raising drive, the community's Thanksgiving celebration, ordinations of classmates, and Orthodox Education Day. 

Rami's looking forward to beginning his chaplaincy program, marrying the beautiful Rebecca Farha, and serving his archdiocese.