Reflections on Holy Cross Greek Orthodox School of Theology

 

Fr. Thomas FitzGerald, Th. D. Interim Dean

Professor of Church History and Historical  Theology

Introduction

Holy Cross has had a profound influence upon  the life of the Church  and society. Since 1937 about eleven hundred students have graduated from Holy Cross. Today, about seven hundred of these graduates from Holy Cross are serving in the United States and Canada and in well over twenty other countries. The graduates of Holy Cross include many devoted bishops, priests, and deacons. Our graduates also include men and women who serve the Church  as theologians, authors, counselors, chaplains, religious educators, camp directors, musicians, iconographers, administrators, missionaries,  and monastics.

Holy Cross has a responsibility of preparing future clergy for the Church. The mission and well­ being of the Church in America requires clergy who are persons who have identified themselves with Christ and his gospel. For future clergy, however, this commitment must be enhanced by theological education, spiritual formation,  pastoral  insights, and  leadership  skills. Clergy are called to lead  worship, to teach the faith, and to assist others  in their growth  in holiness within the believing community. The clergy have the responsibility, as St. Paul says, "to prepare God's people for works of service, so that the body of Christ  may  be built  up" (Eph. 4:12).

Over the past seven and a half decades, the expectations for clergy have increased greatly. The needs of the Church have expanded widely. We certainly expect our priests to lead the Divine Liturgy and sacraments. We also expect them to be caring pastors, to be teachers of prayer, to be good  preachers,  to be thoughtful  interpreters  of Scripture  and tradition,  to  be sensitive counselors, to be examples for the young, to be cooperative leaders, and to be representatives of  the Church in the society. Yes, the expectations for the clergy are great because the needs of the Church  are great today.

Holy Cross also has the responsibility to prepare other men and women who seek to serve the Church and society with the benefit of Orthodox theological education and spiritual formation. Clergy are necessary to the life of the Orthodox Church.  However,  clergy alone are not enough for the well-being of the Church in our day and age. As our Church  has matured  in this country, we have also recognized the important  ministries that can  be undertaken  by competent  laymen and laywomen who have also studied the various theological disciplines. The Church benefits greatly from their talents and ministries, which complement and support the ministry and leadership of the clergy. As St. Paul says, "There are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; there are  varieties of services,  but the same Lord" (1 Cor. 12:4-5).

Here at Holy Cross, the program of theological education and formation for future clergy and lay leaders is demanding! It generally takes three or four years of graduate-level study. This follows four years of undergraduate studies. Holy Cross offers three graduate degree programs  in Theology. These are the Master of Divinity, the Master of Theological Studies, and the Master of Theology. The School also offers the Summer Program  for the Diaconate.  We also offer a certificate program in Byzantine Music. Holy Cross is a full member of the Boston Theological Institute. The School benefits from the programs of the Kallinikion Institute's Summer Greek Language Program, the Pappas Patristic Institute, the Mary Jaharis Center for Byzantine Art and Culture, and the Missions Institute of Orthodox Christianity.  In many ways, the School of Theology also is enriched  by its relationship with the undergraduate college.

In addition to the Boston Theological Institute, Holy Cross has a formal "sister school" relationship  with  the School of Theology  of the  University  of Thessaloniki. Holy Cross also has a faculty and student exchange program with St. Vladimir's Orthodox Theological Seminary in New York. And finally, Holy Cross recently has a formal relationship with St. Sophia Ukrainian Orthodox Seminary in South Bound Brook, New Jersey.1

Recommendations

  • Strengthen publicity about the singular mission and activity of Holy Cross.
  • Review the recommendations of both ATS and NECHE with an eye to possible curriculum revisions.
  • Examine again the possibility of offering a Doctoral degree program.
  • Strengthen the commitment to on-line learning.
  • Establish a certificate program in Youth Ministry  related to the MTS degree program.
  • Examine the possibilities of a program in Counseling.
  • Examine the expectations of the Supervised Field Education Program.

Students

This semester, we welcomed 29 new students into the School of Theology. This brought the total number of graduate students to 75. They are a very thoughtful and devoted group of men and women. However, they come to Holy Cross with a variety of educational and spiritual backgrounds. They come to Holy Cross at time when society has a strong secular orientation, where Christian teachings and values are challenged. Some have been more involved  in church  life than others. Some have already demonstrated a strong knowledge of Orthodox theology and history. Othe;,are at the beginning  stage.

Most are interested in ordination or other expressions of church service. They have expressed a deep commitment to Jesus Christ. They have expressed a desire to grow  in their relationship to him. They have demonstrated a willingness to deepen their understanding of the faith and traditions of the Orthodox Church. When I look at these new students and as well as the ongoing students I give thanks to the Lord. And, I recognize the profound challenge before us to nurture and to guide them  in their faith development.

Recommendations

  • Recognize the differences in backgrounds and scholarly preparation among the students: of particular  significance  are the needs of women students and  married students.
  • Recognize the issue of student debt.
  • Provide more scholarships  and student aid for all Theology students.
  • Better coordinate courses and student activities.
  • Examine the academic and community demands upon the  students.
  • Better express the relationship between  learnings, spiritual formation  and philanthropy

Faculty

 

The faculty members are central to our mission. We have eleven full-time teaching faculty members and a small number of adjunct members. All the members of the faculty have an obligation to be faithful teachers, mentors, and role models. Many are recognized  not only for their teaching abilities but also for their contributions to theological scholarship. Many have published significant books and articles related to theology.  A number are well known  because of their lectures and parish retreats as well as their involvement in ecumenical and interfaith dialogues. Some contribute to the specialized ministries of the Ecumenical Patriarchate,  the Greek Orthodox  Archdiocese,  and the Assembly of Canonical  Orthodox Bishops.

Recommendations

  • Fill the vacant position in Canon Law.
  • Provide the faculty with instruction on teaching techniques and the use of audio visual material.
  • Explore opportunities for benefactors of "named chairs."
  • Review the process for promotion and tenure.
  • Provide greater opportunities for team  teaching of certain courses.
  • Encourage all faculty  members to be mentors and advisors.

Accreditation Issues

 

The Association of Theological Schools (ATS) reaffirmed in 2019 the full accreditation of Holy Cross for a five-year period with a focused visitation to take place in 2023 The ATS also reaffirmed  our four-degree programs.

The Association asked for two reports related to our degree programs. First, a proposal for the MTS program that includes "an appropriate concluding exercise that allows for summative evaluation." This Report is due on October 1, 2019. Our Report was sent to ATS. A statement already exists in the catalogue.

Second, we are asked to provide an update about the process of educational assessment. Our study should refine learning goals, clarify and enrich assessment tools, provide an analysis of assessment findings, and demonstrate how analysis shaped appropriate changes. The faculty is preparing a response to these challenging educational concerns. This report is due on April 1, 2020

The ATS also imposed three notations which reflect serious concerns for the school. 1. "The institution's planning process  is insufficient  or ineffective." 2. "The institution  does not adequately, or appropriately  define, exercise or implement the roles, responsibilities and structures  of authority  and  governance."   3. "The Institution's  financial  resources are  not adequate for long term institutional vitality and there is no credible plan to address this issue in a timely  and effective manner."

The school  has two years to address these critical observations  from ATS.

I would quickly add that these notations are serious, However, they reflect information  presented by the previous administration. A focused  ATS visitation  for Holy Cross will take place in 2020. A comprehensive study and visitation are set for 2023.

Curriculum

 

The School of Theology faces three major curriculum challenges. First, we are obliged to provide our students with an appreciation of the breadth and depth of Orthodox Christian theology and life. This is a theological tradition that is centered upon Christ and his gospel. It spans two thousand years of Church life. As a tradition of faith, holiness, and philanthropy, it crosses numerous cultural contexts and linguistic expressions.

Second, we are obliged to provide our students with an appreciation of the wider theological world and the issues of the society. Both as believers and as a Church, we do not exist in a cultural and religious ghetto. Because of this our students must have an appreciation of other religious traditions. These include the teachings of Catholicism and various expressions of Protestantism. This appreciation must also include the teachings of Judaism, Islam, as well as other world  religions and ideologies.

Likewise, our students need an appreciation of the critical issues facing our society. American society offers a unique context for our Church to live and to exercise its ministry, yet future clergy and lay leaders must also have an appreciation of the crucial issues facing this society. While recognizing the distinctive values of American society, we must also be sensitive to the dangers of depersonalization, secularism, materialism, and consumerism. There have been dramatic developments in American society in recent years regarding relationships, family, sexuality, morality, medicine, and technology. Moreover, we cannot close our eyes to the dangers of war, injustice, poverty, sexism, discrimination and the abuse of the environment. As followers of Christ, we are called to bear witness to the values of the Gospel. This requires that we be thoughtful  and prudent interpreters of our society.

And thirdly, our theological education must be done in a community that encourages an authentic relationship with God and healthy relationships with others. This means that the School is concerned with what is frequently called "spiritual formation." We seek to fashion an environment that is not simply concerned with conveying theological facts, because knowledge without love and faith is shallow. We need to be concerned with personal growth, maturity, and the cultivation of healthy and supportive relationships.

Recommendations

  • Affirm the important role of contributing to the spiritual formation of our students.
  • Examine critically the quality of our theological curricula.
  • Study and provide recommendations for the many demands on the time of our students.
  • Provide means through which critical issues in Church and society are examined. This should provide a basis for the reexamination of the curricula.
  • Provide specialized courses in areas such as Religion and American Society, Western Christianity, Science and Religion, and World Religions.

A Center for Orthodox Theological  Reflection  and Scholarship

 

Holy Cross is a significant center for theological reflection that addresses critical issues facing the Church and society. In addition to our formal degree programs, the School provides a focal point where faculty, students, graduates, and visiting scholars can come together on this beautiful campus.

The faculty of Holy Cross has contributed to a renaissance of Orthodox theology. This renewal is expressed in an approach to theology that transcends the arid scholasticism and polemicism coming out of periods of oppression and limited educational opportunities of previous centuries. Today the approach of the faculty is one that relates worship, theology, and philanthropy. It is an approach that has an ecclesial character and sensitivity to the realities of society. It is an approach that recognizes that all authentic theology has a pastoral character because it is concerned with salvation in Christ.

Holy Cross formally engages many of the critical issues facing the Church and society. This takes place though our courses, conferences, special lectures, and publications. In recent times, Holy Cross has sponsored a number of significant conference: "The Church in a Pluralistic World" (2002), "Violence and Christian Spirituality." in 2005, a "Conference on Missions" in 2011, a "Conference on Liturgical Renewal" in 2013 and the "Conference on Divine Compassion: Orthodox Christians in Service of Perfect Love," in 2013. These conferences brought together notable theologians and Church leaders from both the United States and abroad to address critical issues facing the Church and society.

Within the Orthodox churches today, there is an unhealthy tendency toward isolation and self­ sufficiency. triumphalism, phyletism, ethnic animosities, and prejudices can easily come to the surface. Indeed, there is a tendency among some Orthodox to avoid the critical issues facing the

Church and the societies in which we live. In addition, there is a sectarian movement among some that distorts Orthodox  teachings  and misleads the faithful.

Because of the critical challenges we face today, there is a tremendous need for Orthodox leaders and theologians to have the opportunity to meet and to identify and discuss critical concerns.

These include issues of internal Church life such as the role of women, youth ministry, religious formation,  and jurisdictional divisions. These also include  issues such as the identity of the human  person, human rights and  responsibilities, poverty,  world religions,  bioethics,  moral issues, technological  developments, and the environment.

Recommendation

  • Provide conferences and symposia which address critical  issues in Church  and Society.
  • Encourage benefactors to sponsor these conferences.
  • Provide video recording of these conference.
  • Publish the proceedings of these conferences.

Publications

 

Holy Cross has contributed to the dramatic proliferation of Orthodox theological literature in the past 80 years. Not long after the founding of Holy Cross in 1937, the Holy Cross Press was established. Over the decades, Holy Cross Orthodox Press has published about a thousand books and liturgical texts. These books have been authored by some of the most widely read contemporary Orthodox theologians. And, since its establishment in 1954, The Greek Orthodox Theological Review has published hundreds scholarly articles and book reviews. It has also published notable texts documenting Church life. The Review is received by individuals and theological libraries throughout the world. Through its publications Holy Cross has profoundly contributed  to the dissemination  of Orthodox theology  in this country and throughout the world.

Recommendations

  • Reaffirm the value of Holy Cross Orthodox Press and the Greek Orthodox Theological Review for expressing contemporary Orthodox thought.
  • Secure funding to support these publications.
  • Encourage benefactors and sponsors to support these publications.
  • Increase the subscriptions to the Review.

A Center for Ecumenical Dialogue

 

By sponsoring consultations, meetings, and lectures on ecumenical themes, Holy Cross has played a leading role in advancing Christian unity and has contributed to the process of overcoming religious misunderstanding and bigotry. Over the past fifty years, Holy Cross has hosted numerous meetings of the World Council of Churches, the National Council of Churches, and the Massachusetts Council of Churches. The North American Orthodox-Catholic Bilateral Consultation has met regularly on our campus. In addition, many of our faculty members have represented the Ecumenical Patriarchate and the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese in meetings of ecumenical  organizations  and dialogues.

Our students also have had the opportunity to participate in lectures and courses offered by Catholic and Protestant schools of the Boston Theological Institute, and numerous Catholic and Protestant  students  have come to take courses  here at Holy Cross. These exchanges  are important. They  provide students and faculty with opportunities to meet and to speak with  persons of other traditions. These encounters do not weaken our Orthodox faith; rather, they provide us with opportunities to share our Orthodox  faith  perspectives  and traditions. They provide us with opportunities  to heal old wounds and contribute  to the well-being of the society. In coming to know the other, we come to know  ourselves  better.

Recommendations

  • Affirm the importance of the faculty's  involvement  in ecumenical dialogue.
  • Provide opportunities for conferences and symposia on ecumenical  and  interfaith themes.

Orthodox Unity

Holy Cross contributes to the unity of the Orthodox Church in this country and throughout the world. One expression  of this commitment  is the fact that over the years Holy Cross  has welcomed numerous students from other Orthodox Churches and jurisdictions. These include: Antiochian Orthodox, Serbian Orthodox, Romanian Orthodox, Albanian Orthodox, Ukrainian Orthodox, Carpatho-Russian Orthodox,  Bulgarian  Orthodox, and  Russian  Orthodox. We welcome students from the Oriental Orthodox Churches as well, including the Coptic Orthodox, Armenian Orthodox, Malankara Orthodox, and Ethiopian Orthodox. All these students join the Greek Orthodox students in courses and campus activities. They come to Holy Cross  because of its strong reputation  for theological  education  and formation  and  because they have learned of our openness to theological scholarship, engagement,  and dialogue. The international  students come to study theology in a country which values education, religious freedom and which recognizes  the reality of pluralism.

When he served  in this country,  Archbishop  Athenagoras,  later Ecumenical  Patriarch, had a vision of a single theological  school  that  would  contribute to Orthodox  unity. As early as 1934, he proposed that the Greek Orthodox, Syrian (Antiochian) Orthodox,  and Russian  Orthodox join to establish one graduate school of theology in Pomfret, Connecticut. He viewed this school as a means of uniting the Orthodox in America, who were deeply divided by languages, cultures, politics, and calendar.  Regretfully,  divisions among the immigrants,  chiefly the Russian Orthodox, did  not make this proposal  for a unified theological school  a possibility in 1934.

The vision of Archbishop Athenagoras is realized  at Holy Cross. Our student  body  reflects the great diversity of Orthodoxy today. Students from different Orthodox churches, traditions, and cultures have a distinctive  blessing to come to study  and  pray together, to know one another, and, at the same time, to strengthen the bonds of Orthodox unity  in this country and throughout the world. They are united  in their commitment  to Christ and their desire to serve him.

There are graduates of Holy Cross serving the Church and society in well over twenty-five countries. These include Canada, Greece , and Cyprus. They also include such diverse lands as Palestine, Lebanon, China, France, Korea; Ugand a, and Finland. When they return to their home church  and their home coun try , these international  students  bring with them  valuable perspectives on Church  li fe, theological education, and educational  methodology. They  bring with them a sense of being part of a worldwide Orthodox Church.

Recommendations

  • Provide specialized scholarships for Orthodox students from other Orthodox churches and jurisdictions.
  • Encourage greater contacts among Orthodox jur isdictions, and their leadership.
  • Propose possibilities for smaller Orthodox seminaries to transfer its students to Holy Cross.
  • Consider the creation of " Houses of Studi es" for students from other jurisdictions.
  • Propose alterations in curricula for students from other jurisdictions.
  • Establish greater contacts between the Admission office and youth programs in other jurisdictions.

Conclusions

Holy Cross is engaged  in a singular  ministry  of providing  theological  education  and formation for future clergy and  lay  leaders of the Orthodox  Church.  lt  is a ministry  that seeks to advance the gospel of Christ through the rich perspectives of Orthodox Christianity. This educational ministry is essential to the well-being and development of the Greek Orthodox  Archdiocese.  It is also essential for the ministry of other Orthodox jurisdictions in North  America and  in other parts of the world.

As an accredited graduate school, Holy Cross is a unique center of faith, education, and service where men and women come to study the various disciplines of Orthodox  theology. This takes place within a community  that is rooted  in a common commitment  to Christ. It is a community that is nurtured by prayer , shared Christian va l ues, and a deep appreciation of the rich inheritance of the Orthodox faith.

As with every educational and Church-related institut ion, Holy Cross has also experienced serious challenges over the years. These were related to administrative ma tters, fac ul ty, and finances. Yet , despite these li m itat ions, Holy Cross has developed over eighty years into a distinctive center of O11hodox theological education and formation that is recognized by theologians and theological  schools throughout the world.

Holy Cross has had a significant and positive influence on the Chur ch, its faithfu l, and its parishes for over seven decades. Graduates of Holy Cross, both clergy and lay leaders, have nurtured the faith of countless believers both in this country and in many other countries. Holy Cross has a profound influence both within our Church in this country and far beyond the borders of its campus.