Mirror, Mirror, on the Wall…

…What am I supposed to do with this all?

lijin_raju.img_assist_custom-285x400St. Vladimir’s Seminary is a challenging environment, and yet as I step back and think about why I’m here, I am inspired and motivated to continue and finish strong. I grew up in a clergy household with parents who exemplified such genuine selflessness and love that it gave me a foretaste of God’s unconditional love. They illustrated to me that the word “serve” doesn’t have to be limited to a mission trip or the parish. Regardless of the time or place, they live a life ready to serve the Lord and His people.

In high school, God planted in me the desire to come to seminary to gain more knowledge. Even though it was a result of envying my dad because he knew all the answers to my questions, I believe this desire was sent by God. As the years passed by, I started seeing a need in our Church for lay leadership and guidance for many young Orthodox Christians, especially those in college. Thus, my reason for a theological education changed from how seminary can serve me, to how seminary can prepare me to serve the larger community.

People often don’t understand why I’m in seminary. “What’re you going to do with a theology degree?” “Are you trying to be a priest?” “You’re wasting your years. You need to get married soon!” “Are you going to be a nun?” I have learned to smile at these questions, and they provide me with motivation to keep moving forward.

One’s expectations of what seminary life is like are guaranteed to be debunked. I have struggled on a much deeper level than ever before, and have discovered that I must overcome difficulties through the power of God rather than through willpower. I have wrestled with managing time and balancing school, church, and my personal life. It sometimes seemed as if no matter how hard I worked, I never felt satisfied.

In the process, I came to learn it’s not about finding time to write the perfect paper, or obtain perfect grades.When I started focusing more on drawing closer to God, I began to achieve balance between my course load, friendships, and lay leadership responsibilities. I learned that the purpose of seminary is not to absorb all the knowledge the Church has to offer, but to learn the right approach for handling any situation that arises in life and ministry.

L to R: Lijin Raju, Mariam Ceena Varghese, Dr. Anne Glynn Mackoul, Bishop Maxim, Metropolitan Zachariah, Mor Polycarpus Augin (Eugene) Aydın, Bishop Alexander, Bishop Irinej, SVOTS Prof. Paul Meyendorff

L to R: Lijin Raju, Mariam Ceena Varghese, Dr. Anne Glynn Mackoul, Bishop Maxim, Metropolitan Zachariah, Mor Polycarpus Augin (Eugene) Aydın, Bishop Alexander, Bishop Irinej, SVOTS Prof. Paul Meyendorff

God has opened up more doors than I ever imagined. The Holy Synod gave me the opportunity to be one of the seven delegates of the Malankara Orthodox Syrian Church for the Assembly of the World Council of Churches in Korea in 2013. This was such an enlightening experience; I was able to both see the impact of Christianity on a global level and meet inspiring Christian dignitaries from around the world, including St. Vladimir’s alumni. It was even more incredible to see the delegates of both Eastern and Oriental Orthodox Churches sitting in one room as a unit for a session. My group sessions in Korea taught me it is not uniformity that glorifies God, rather unity in Christ.

Thanks to seminary, I have strengthened my foundation in theology and acquired skills to help me as I plan to get my Masters in Social Work. I hope to incorporate my degrees in psychology and theology into social work. God has painted a clearer picture for me as I continue on this journey in serving Him and His people.

As I near my last term at St. Vladimir’s, I am exceedingly thankful: thankful to God for knowledge, lifelong friendships, my professors and mentors, confidence to lead conferences and retreats, continuous support and prayers of others, the challenges, the all nighters for papers and finals, the pumpkin carving night, ladies’ nights, prison ministry, Chef Nat’s amazing food, and last but definitely not least, my formation. I thought seminary was breaking me down by physically, mentally, and spiritually challenging me. As time progressed, I saw that it was a source of healing for my soul. Father John Behr’s words from orientation have stayed with me. I have come to understand that, “[I] am not here to find [myself] but to find Christ.”

Lijin Hannah Raju is in her second year of the Master of Arts program at St. Vladimir’s Seminary. She is a part of the Malankara Orthodox Syrian Church and comes from Dallas, Texas. Lijin holds a B.S. in Psychology, and hopes to pursue a Masters in Social Work after seminary and pursue a career as a social worker. Combining theology and psychology, she also looks forward to working with the youth of the Malankara Church to help bring a better understanding of Orthodoxy and to encourage an Orthodox way of life in all aspects. When she is not stressing about classes, Lijin loves to spend time and laugh with family and friends. Three of her favorite activities are playing football, trying good food, and making room for dessert. This reflection first appeared in the Seminarians Speak section of the St. Vladimir’s Seminary website.

Leave a comment

Filed under Reflection

The Greatest of Riches

From St. John Chrysostom’s Homily 21 on Ephesians 6:1-4

St. John Chrysostom by Fr. Andrew Tregubov (SVOTS '79)

St. John Chrysostom by Fr. Andrew Tregubov (SVOTS ’79)

Let everything take second place to our care for our children, our bringing them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord. If from the beginning we teach them to love true wisdom, they will have greater wealth and glory than riches can provide. If a child learns a trade, or is highly educated for a lucrative profession all this is nothing compared to the art of detachment from riches; if you want to make your child rich, teach him this. He is truly rich who does not desire great possessions or surround himself with wealth, but who requires nothing.

This is how to discipline and teach your child; this is the greatest of riches. Do not worry about giving him an influential reputation for worldly wisdom, but ponder deeply how you can teach him to think lightly of this life’s passing glories; thus he will become truly renowned and glorious. Whether you are poor or rich, you can do this; these lessons are not learned from a skillful professor but from divine revelation. Do not ask how he can enjoy a long life here, but how he can enjoy an infinite and eternal life in the age to come. Give him the great things, not the little things. Do not strive to make him a clever orator, but teach him to love true wisdom. He will not suffer if he lacks clever words; but if he lacks wisdom, all the rhetoric in the world cannot help him. A pattern of life is what is needed, not empty speeches; character, not cleverness; deeds, not words. These things will secure the Kingdom and bestow Gods blessing. Do not sharpen his tongue but purify his soul.”

Emphases added. Excerpt taken from On Marriage and Family Life (SVS Press, 1986).

Leave a comment

Filed under SVS Press Excerpt

Rejoice, O Vladimir, enlightener of the Russian lands

St. Vladimir by Fr. Andrew Tregubov (SVOTS '79)

St. Vladimir by Fr. Andrew Tregubov (SVOTS ’79)

Rejoice, cause of the salvation of countless souls in the land of Russia.

Rejoice, inexhaustible wellspring of God’s blessings and mercies.

Rejoice, good farmer who planted the garden of the divine faith in your kingdom.

Rejoice, torrent of the sweet water of piety given the people of Russia to drink.

Rejoice, for you glorified the divine faith.

Rejoice, for the King of kings imparted Solomon’s wisdom to you.

Rejoice, for Christ also bestowed on you David’s meekness.

Rejoice, for the zeal of Elijah and the right faith of the Apostles were yours as well.

Rejoice, O Vladimir, enlightener of the Russian lands.

From the Akathist to St. Vladimir, Ikos 8.

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

What I Did This Summer

The Orthodox Church in Norway is a tiny community in a predominantly secular and Lutheran country. Most of our parishes are mission churches and there are only a very few established churches. By coming to the United States and St. Vladimir’s Seminary, I hoped that my family and I would get a broader experience of the Orthodox Church, in a culture similar to our own.

Dn. Theodor, serving in California

Dn. Theodor, serving in California

There is of course a lot one can learn through reading books and attending classes, but the proper forging of an Orthodox identity and worldview requires being in relationship  with others, and living in community, together with immersion in the services of the Church. One of the most important ways of learning to know our faith better has simply been just through living together with our Orthodox brothers and sisters in the St. Vladimir’s community.

After seminary we plan to go back home to Norway and serve the Church there. We came to the faith through a small mission and we are most likely going to return back home to one as well. We were therefore very fortunate this summer to expand our exposure to mission work in two very different and dynamic parishes with the Orthodox Church in America (OCA); one in the Diocese of the South, in Beaufort, South Carolina, and the other one in the Diocese of the West, in San Diego, California. Both missions were started less than four years ago and are already thriving and expanding.

 Beaufort, South Carolina, is a lovely town. We easily grew accustomed to the pace and way of life in the South. The community of St. James Orthodox Church was very welcoming to as and treated us as family members from our first day there. We were warmly invited to dinners and social events, and a very generous family opened up their home so we’d have a place to live our entire month there.

Dn. Theodor with Fr. James Bozeman (SVOTS '12)

Dn. Theodor with Fr. James Bozeman (SVOTS ’12)

I also was able to spend a lot of time with Fr. James Bozeman (SVOTS ’12), rector of the parish, helping him out with parish affairs. Summertime is quiet and we had less pressing pastoral work than is normally the case, but that gave us all the more time to talk about mission life, and do more manual and administrative work. Thankfully we also got some welcome time to relax (St. Vladimir’s Seminary is very busy!), see the surroundings, and go to the beach.

Through the long talks Fr. James and I had together, discussing the life of a mission, priestly formation, and other issues related to ministry and life in the Church, we found that we shared some of the same experiences and background. We were also able to visit a few other churches and priests, and all this broadened my sense of ministry in the Church, offering me a unique perspective on the ways a mission can be grown.

Dn. Theodor, Hanne, and Simon, with Fr. Andrew Cuneo (SVOTS '10)

Dn. Theodor, Hanne, and Simon, with Fr. Andrew Cuneo (SVOTS ’10)

In San Diego we spent three weeks with alumnus Fr. Andrew Cuneo (SVOTS ’10) and the community of St. Katherine of Alexandria Orthodox Mission. Father Andrew kept us busy. In addition to doing regular parish business, such as serving, preaching, visiting parishioners and so forth, he also wanted us to take us around to visit clergy, parishes, and monasteries in the area. One of the many highlights of our time in California was visiting the Holy Virgin Cathedral, Joy of all Who Sorrow in San Francisco, where the relics of St. John Maximovich are kept and venerated.

Both internships complemented each other in a great way. We saw the inside of a mission to a greater extent in Beaufort than in San Diego, but experienced a wider range of church life in California. I also utilized many of the skills that we’ve learned so far in seminary, as I was serving as well as preaching. Many services and feasts were celebrated, baptisms were held, reflections given and catechism classes taught, plus some administrative work.

We were very grateful for this opportunity to serve in the Diocese of the South and the Diocese of the West this summer, and want to extend our gratitude to all those who enabled us to go.

Deacon Theodor (Tor) Svane, ordained in May of 2014, is the Student Council President and a third year seminarian from Bergen, Norway. The Svanes are under the The Patriarchal Exarchate for Orthodox Parishes of Russian Tradition in Western Europe, with Archbishop Job (Getcha). Before coming to seminary he worked as a civil engineer in a major consultant firm in Norway. His wife Hanne is a cultural anthropologist and taught intercultural communications at a college. Simon (4) is the center of the family, gives them great joy, and keeps them busy. This reflection was written for the “Seminarians Speak” section of the St. Vladimir’s Seminary website.

Leave a comment

Filed under Reflection

A Prayer to Our Holy Father Innocent

O Holy Hierarch and Father Innocent! The Lord chose you and ordained you to go and bring forth much fruit in His new vineyard on the frontiers of Russia and America. You dedicated your life to building up the Body of Christ in the New World and the Old, and brought the treasures of the Holy Apostolic Faith to Alaska and Siberia. We, your spiritual children, kneel before your holy icon and ask you to intercede for the Holy Orthodox Church in your adopted and native lands. As you were humble and kind, help us by your prayers to be patient and generous. As you persevered under difficult circumstances in a remote and lonely region, strengthen us in our dedication to Christ and His Gospel. As you loved God and your flock and devoted your life in service to them, pray to Our Lord that our hearts may be filled with love for Him and our neighbor. You planted the seeds of the Orthodox Faith in Alaskan soil: implore the Lord that we may be accounted worthy to continue the work you so gloriously began, to bring the Light of Christ to every corner of America. You indicated the Way into the Kingdom of Heaven by your words and example: intercede for the salvation of all of us who venerate your holy memory.

Icon and Relics of St Innocent of Alaska (Photo: Leanne Parrott Photography)

Icon and Relics of St Innocent of Alaska (Photo: Leanne Parrott Photography)

By your holy prayers may we become worthy of the precious spiritual heritage which God has entrusted to us through you, and sing eternally the praises of the Holy, Consubstantial, and Life-Creating Trinity; the Father and Creator who is without Beginning; the Son, Our Lord and Savior who became Man in order to sanctify and save us; and the Comforter, the Holy Spirit who enlightens and enlivens all, now and ever and unto ages of ages. Amen.

Prayer from the Akathist Hymn to Saint Innocent of Moscow, emphases added.

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

The Protection of the Holy Theotokos

A homily delivered in the Three Hierarchs Chapel at St. Vladimir’s Orthodox Theological Seminary on the Feast of The Protection of our Most Holy Lady the Mother of God and Ever-Virgin Mary (Wednesday, October 1, 2014).

In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

S prazdnikom!

When one looks into today’s feast of Pokrov, the Protection of the Holy Theotokos, you can bump into a number of traditions which surround it. Its origins are attributed to a crisis in Constantinople. It might have been a crisis brought on by a siege by the barbarian Avars. Another says it was the Scythians who were besieging the city. Yet another story says it wasn’t a siege at all, but speaks of a horrible plague ravaging the city.

In the midst of the crisis, the faithful Christians assembled to keep vigil at the famous Blachernae church. In attendance were St. Andrew and his discipline Epiphanius. These men were granted a vision of the Holy Virgin, extending her veil over the assembled faithful, her veil of protection. The city was delivered from its crisis, and so we keep this feast in thanksgiving.

Protecting Veil of the Theotokos. Russian, c. 1800. (Credit: The Temple Gallery, London)

Protecting Veil of the Theotokos. Russian, c. 1800. (Credit: The Temple Gallery, London)

As it was over a thousand years ago, Orthodox people are gathered in another church. We are all here, each of us mindful of his or her own personal crises. Looking over the walls of our lives perhaps we see a thousand tiny campfires on the horizon: our fears for the future, laying siege to our hearts. Or maybe they’re our doubts, which will not leave us in peace, their noise constantly drifting over from the other side of the gate. Or perhaps a plague has struck us down with despondency, sapped our energy, and we’re lying sick with gloom.

A feast like today, then, brings us great joy and hope. We celebrate the Theotokos’ protection then but also her continued protection now. She hears our prayers and our sighs. We experience the consolation of God, mediated by her son, and at her intercessions. If we place ourselves in a position of humility, of love, of gentleness, of patience towards each other, then like those gathered in vigil facing their destruction, we place ourselves in a position where we too are able to receive her protection.

For this we can take inspiration from St. Romanos the Melodist, whose feast day is also today, and who joins the Mother of God in the icon of the feast. He stands on the ambo, holding up a scroll, a kontakion. When the attacks come in our lives, his familiar words from his familiar hymn, instinctively spill from our lips: “O Champion Leader, to you I offer thanks of victory, O Theotokos, you have delivered me from terror…” and our fears, doubts, depressions, and trials are brought before God’s mercy for healing and deliverance. Siege and sickness are transformed into another opportunity for the power of God to work in us as we emulate the Holy Virgin’s supreme fidelity to Christ.

We can be confident that no matter what this day brings, good or bad or in-between, we are strengthened by the Spirit of God, and as we leave this chapel and begin to go about our many tasks for today, we can do so with gratitude and thanksgiving that God has not abandoned us in our difficulties but listens to the petitions of his mother on our behalf. Amen.

 

The Rev. Kyle Parrott (SVOTS ’13) received his M.Div. from St. Vladimir’s Seminary and is currently completing a Masters of Theology at St. Vladimir’s. Father Kyle spent his early years in the Anglican church before becoming active in several Evangelical churches. His interest in missions led him to participate in short–term outreach in Grenada (in the Caribbean) and in Uruguay. The Parrotts’ daughter Sophia was born in 2011 at the beginning of Fr. Kyle’s studies. Matushka Leanne is a gifted photographer and has chronicled many events for the St. Vladimir’s Website.

Leave a comment

Filed under Homily

The Exaltation of the Precious and Life-creating Cross

Come, ye faithful, and let us venerate the life-giving Wood, on which Christ, the King of Glory, stretched out His hands of His own will.

Photo: Leanne Parrott Photography

Photo: Leanne Parrott Photography

To the ancient blessedness He raised us up, whom the enemy had before despoiled through pleasure, making us exiles far from God.

Come, ye faithful, and let us venerate the Wood, through which we have been counted worthy to crush the heads of our invincible enemies.

Come, ye kindred of the nations, and let us honor in hymns the Cross of the Lord.

Hail, O Cross, complete redemption of fallen Adam.

With Thee as their boast, our faithful kings laid low by thy might the people of Ishmael.

We Christians kiss thee now with awe, and glorifying God who was nailed upon thee, we cry: O Lord, who on the Cross was crucified, have mercy upon us, for Thou art good and lovest mankind.

 

Hymnography from the stichera for the veneration of the Cross, emphases added.

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized