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Our Goal: Knowing God

Happy Graduates for the 2014 class celebrating: Ramez Mikhail, Nicholas Siniari, Chris Dillon, Keith Melville, Ronnie Long (kneeling), Joseph Henre, Jim Atty, Michael Abrahamson (kneeling), Bruce Plympton, Octavian Gabor, Gorgi GurcinovskHappy Graduates for the 2014 class celebrating: Ramez Mikhail, Nicholas Siniari, Chris Dillon, Keith Melville, Ronnie Long (kneeling), Joseph Henre, Jim Atty, Michael Abrahamson (kneeling), Bruce Plympton, Octavian Gabor, Gorgi GurcinovskAn address offered by Sdn. Jeremiah Vollman, at the Antiochian House of Studies 2014 Graduation

From the November 2014 edition of The Word magazine

I have been afforded the honor of sharing a few thoughts as a representative of those who are graduating from the "Applied Theology" program this week. I hope to reflect concisely on some of the principles and themes, and I hope that you, my colleagues, find them to be consistent with your experience as a student.

I have now been here for two consecutive weeks, so I begin by asking forgiveness of those who have been stuck with me this whole time – please forgive me for any and all offenses. It has been a joy to be with you; I hope that in some way I have conveyed the love of Christ to you, as you have to me.

Next I would like to express gratitude: thank you to our administrators (Fr. Joseph, Archdeacon Peter, Cherri, and Mary), to our most capable instructors, and to the Antiochian Village staff. Thank you to our fathers in Christ, Sayidna John, Sayidna Nicholas – and Sayidna Thomas (who was here last week) – thank you for your loving leadership and living example of "applied theology." It has been a gift to us that we could spend time with you, to get to know you personally.

We have undertaken a course of study in Applied Theology. This term doesn't simply connote the application of language and concepts to paper, but the offering of life to lives, the offering of person (or self), to persons (or others). What we seek first is not to write papers, but to be written upon with the Spirit of the living God. (2 Corinthians 3: "You are a letter of Christ ... written not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of human hearts.") Through the course of our study and guided projects we have heard repeatedly that our goal is the experience of union, and that our theology is not a matter of abstraction (though it may seem to be abstract at times); the famous statement of St. Athanasius reflects this: "God became man, so that man might become god." We strive to know God, rather than to know about God – this is the truest theological endeavor. One of my favorite quotes, attributed to St. Isaac the Syrian, is this: "I do not desire to count milestones, but to enter the marriage chamber." (Cherri, this doesn't mean that I don't want my certificate of completion!) Intimacy by way of union with God is our goal.

Theology and anthropology (our understanding of what it means to be human) are necessarily bound together. The latter cannot exist without the former, especially in light of the Incarnation. Here the Logos united Himself with humanity to become the Theanthropos (the God-Man), that all humanity – and creation, we might add – might return to its natural state. Our theology and anthropology are inextricably bound to one another precisely by the reality of love, as love is the communion of persons. The ability both to give and to receive, love is the constant and unending reciprocal exchange of what is ours, one to the other. This is at the heart of our effort, of the Christian life. I hope that love, the eternal virtue, will remain our constant motive, in that "God is love." My prayer is that true love will be both our source and our goal, our means and our end.

We have learned that experience is a prerequisite to leadership. We cannot lead others where we ourselves have not been. Some entry into the mystery of the Holy Trinity is necessary; it is necessary that one has embarked on the healing journey of salvation. So, by the grace of God – which is His very presence in our lives – may we become effective workers in the vineyard.

I will conclude with a couple of quotations. In the beautiful words of Fr. Joseph Antypas, "Our goal is not to harvest, but to sow." In the words of our Metropolitan Joseph: "If you desire to grow in your relationship with God, fall on your knees in repentance, then stand up and get to work: we have much to do."