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His Eminence Metropolitan Joseph's Address to St. Vladimir's Seminary

Crestwood, New York – Sept 14, 2015

Your Beatitude, Metropolitan Tikhon, Your Eminences, Your Graces, Father John, Father Chad, reverend fathers, and beloved faculty and students of Saint Vladimir's seminary,

The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ and the love of God the Father and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with all of you. 

It is my joy to be present with you as you begin your new academic year, with your classes having already begun, and your studies as students, and burdens as professors, already well underway!

St. Vladmir's Seminary has a long history of educating leaders and theologians, and many of our clergy and hierarchs have come to us with the firm foundation that has been imparted to them through their education at St. Valdimir's Seminary.  This legacy is greatly appreciated by all of us. St. Vladimir's Seminary and the Antiochian Orthodox Archdiocese have a rich, positive and fruitful history, and I pledge to do all that I can during my tenure as Metropolitan of the Archdiocese of North America to maintain and enhance this relationship.

Allow me to make some points in this short talk, using St. Raphael, Bishop of Brooklyn, as an example to illustrate what is important.

During this entire year, we have been celebrating the centennial of the repose of our father among the saints, Raphael (Hawaweeny) of Brooklyn. During our various Antiochian diocesan and archdiocesan gatherings this year, our Bible Bowl and Oratorical competitions, preaching and teaching opportunities, camps and retreats, we have reflected upon the life and work of this great man, the first bishop to be ordained in this land, and the last one glori ed in this country before the turn of the century. By reflecting upon St. Raphael's achievements and his Orthodox Christian theology and ethic as a theologian and missionary, we can gain great profit for our common endeavors for Christ's sake in these days.

The saint is famous for his manner of stating his identity: "I am Syro-Arab by birth, a Greek by primary education, an American by residence, a Russian at heart, and a Slav in soul."  This sentiment expresses profoundly the Orthodox Catholic vision of humanity united "not by the will of the flesh nor of man, but of God." We have the particularity of our various lands and nations of origin, but our identity as Orthodox Christians stems from our confession of faith and the baptismal font where we derive our "birth from above," and so we can charitably call every man our brother, since Christ made us all to be renewed in Himself. St Raphael knew this and lived it. He said: "We realize that the Orthodox Church of Christ is 'One,' because while she is composed of different nations and multiple peoples, yet she is one in faith, one in sacraments, and one in sacred canons.  The different Orthodox churches named after certain locations or languages, such as Greek, Russian, Syrian, Romanian, Bulgarian, Serbian, American, or Japanese, are integral members of the one body of the Orthodox Catholic Church, whose head is the Lord Jesus Christ."

I am with you here today in this theological school founded upon similar principles. The practical universality of St. Raphael, as expressed in his own words cited above, meets the intellectual universality of many deans and professors of this school, such as Fr. Georges Florovsky, one of your "stars in the firmament" of the history of this school.  roughout the theological history of this school, faculty and students always rejected any kind of narrow parochialism and embraced an outreach in the Name of the Lord. The academic community of Saint Vladimir expressed the same vision as the saint, however, in an intellectual and academic context, in order to win a listening audience. Let us entertain, then, some of Florovsky's words in particular to elaborate on this point: "Insofar as it is a question of winning lost souls for catholic truth, of the way to bring them 'to the reason of truth,' every course of actionmustbe 'economical,' that is, pastoral, compassionate, loving," and "ultimate Truth is not a static 'world of ideas' but a Living Person...a personal encounter and a continuous intercourse with the Living God. The ultimate goal... is precisely the holy man and the holy community, i.e. the Holy Church, and not just the holy system." St. Raphael, however, was the American forerunner in expressing this catholicity, as he was imbued with this same spirit.

Also, I wish to point out St. Raphael's courage and fortitude in expressing the correct doctrine in the Americas. This fact may be well-known to you: for many years in the 19th and early 20th centuries, Orthodox Christians were hosted by Protestant churches, since they did not have their own church temples yet. You here at St. Vladimir's Seminary are as aware of this in your early history as we are of ours. St. Raphael, like many of your professors, was at first very flexible and open to see where the grace of God might lead this partnership. In his early years in America, the saint was very open to the possibility of organic union with some of the more traditionally minded Protestants. Over time, however, he came to see that this was not pastorally a safe path to pursue. So, despite pressures to the contrary, Bishop Raphael took a strong stand on defending the Faith against liturgical or dogmatic compromise. For example, he wrote, "For a sacrament to be properly performed, it must be administered by a canonically ordained Orthodox bishop or priest .... Any Orthodox person who accepts sacraments from a non-Orthodox priest will be cut off from membership in the Church." The teaching of the Church, according to Saint Raphael, "is built upon the teachings of Christ and his pure Apostles without interruption or change even if she is confined to a small number or a small place as it was in the days of the Arian heresy."

Catholicity implies also all-embracing efforts towards holiness. St. Raphael was not only a practical pastor, but he was also a teacher aiming at leading his congregation towards sanctity. In doing so he made every effort in his writings to include a wide range of sources, and incorporated Eastern and Western scholarship in Arabic, Greek, Slavonic, English, German and French. All along, he focused on leading the people towards the knowledge of God, and towards their sanctification. St. Raphael stated: "We are fully aware that the Orthodox Church of Christ is 'sacred' because all her sacraments are sacred, her teachings are sacred, and her canons are pure, not connected with a secular spirit, thus sufficient for sanctifying the spirits of her members." For this reason, he put his skills to work in the compilation of sacred texts for use in the American environment, and also for theological education in general. He founded The WORD magazine in 1905, a practical organ for communication of Orthodox information and ideas. Building upon this heritage, Saint Vladimir's Seminary had a similar desire: you reached out to non-Orthodox Christian leaders and academic theologians in order to promote a meaningful and personal encounter through which the Faith could be best expressed.

So, today, in these days of confusion and both ethical and dogmatic indifference, how much do we need to be reminded of the strong, courageous, well-expressed, lived-out and sustained vision of Orthodox catholicity as we see it in Saint Raphael's writings?

The deepening of theological education is dear to me as a hierarch. I want my priests and deacons to be well-educated in every way, and ready to express the Faith and also to engage the culture around us. We live now in a perilous state in society in general, both morally and intellectually. We need to be ready to reach out to everyone, with confidence that we can address their need for spiritual healing with the holy Gospel.

I am ready to take stock of the whole enterprise of theological education in this land and to bring my influence to bear, as a member of the Holy Synod of the See of Antioch, in promoting a truly catholic vision of our Orthodox faith and life. I invite you to join with me in this endeavor. With God's help, everything is possible.