During the first week of August, the Board Members of the St. Sophia Ukrainian Orthodox Theological Seminary, gathered via ZOOM for their annual meeting. Even though everyone wished they could have met in person, the resurgence of COVID-19 infections necessitated the use of virtual means to meet and discuss the life of the seminary.
Having opened the meeting with prayer, His Eminence Metropolitan Antony, Prime Hierarch of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the USA - Rector and Chairman of the Seminary Board, welcomed all the attendees, stating how nice it was, even via computer screens, to see everyone. His Eminence stated that the pandemic has hit everyone hard, bringing us all to a new reality. While we have been faced with unprecedented challenges, we have also been the recipients of unforeseen blessings. While financial struggles have increased, spiritual strength has also multiplied.
Very Rev. Fr. Stephen Hutnick, Treasurer, agreed with Metropolitan Antony, declaring that donations were way down this past year, as parishes and faithful coped with difficult situations. In previous years the annual Seminary Fundraising Campaign, launched in September, would bring in substantial funds, however, last year, very few people responded to the mailing, with even fewer sending in donations during the Nativity period.
As Fr. Stephen presented the financial reports, describing the expenses, which were within budget, the board members realized that this year it will be necessary to consider a capital fundraising program. The cost of running the seminary is $30K/month, which covers all the expenses, utilities, food, transportation, professors fees, educational materials, rental fees, etc. While the sum is steep the seminary is a bright light in the life of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the USA, and the Metropolitan stated that he had confidence in the faithful of the Church, that when a need was presented to them, they would come through and support the seminary.
The love and support of the faithful was clearly demonstrated this year, as the seminary purchased a new van. The previous van, donated by the UOL, had acquired many miles and the repair costs were becoming astronomical, and it was decided that it would be financial responsible to stop pouring out funds to fix the aging vehicle, and instead purchase a new reliable mode of transport. The van is a necessity for the seminary. It is used daily for shopping for groceries, taking the students to local appointments such as doctors, and dentists. However, it is also utilized in traveling to local and distant parishes. It is critical that the students witness life in parishes, learn how to serve, observe the needs of the faithful and understand how to fulfill their callings.
The seminary was not able to outright purchase the van, therefore His Eminence Archbishop Daniel, Ruling Hierarch of the Western Eparchy - Vice-Chairman of the Board, took out a personal loan to finance the purchase of the much-needed vehicle. Having purchased the vehicle, a petition was made to the parishes and faithful to help cover the cost. The people responded generously to the need, and within three months the van was paid off. The van that will seat all ten seminarians, with additional cargo room above for vestments and other items required when visiting parishes, will soon be seen visiting local parishes, bringing with it joy and spiritual edification as it travels through the United States.
The Student and Exchange Visitor Information System (SEVIS), the system that the U.S. Department of Homeland Security uses to track Exchange students who come to the study in the US, has approved the recertification of the seminary for the next two years, allowing the institution to continue to bring in students from abroad.
The Association of Theological Schools - (ATS), has approved the seminary for initial accreditation. In the Autumn of next year the seminary will submit necessary paperwork, in hopes of achieving a status of five-year accreditation.
The St. Sophia Seminary has also been registered with the United States Department of Education, allowing the for the use of the Top Level Domain extension of “.edu”. The previously used “.org” identified the URL as belonging to a charity or non-profit organization. The use of the “.edu” domain name confirms and supports the recognition of the seminary as a recognized educational institution.
The new academic year will begin this month on the 30th of August, offering 20 courses of study for full and part-time students. At present there are 22 fulltime and part-time students registered, with two registered for the Youth Ministry Certification Program.
Before settling down to their studies, the seminarians will undergo a few weeks of practical studies, as they travel on a Mission Trip to visit the disabled orphans in Ukraine. The children eagerly await the visit of the mission trip from the UOC of the USA, each year. The team members bring with them not only much needed supplies, but, much needed love as they spend time praying, feeding, playing and caring for the children. It is not only the children who benefit but the mission team members also grow from the experience. It easy to grow complacent to the world’s needs, focusing on self. However, when they witness the difficult life of others, the children living with major physical and mental disabilities, who still face each day with joy and hope in their eyes, the team members themselves get transformed.
This year, due to COVID, it was decided to limit the mission trip participation to the seminary students. When presented with the suggestion of going to visit the orphans, the seminarians all agreed to participate and to fund their own way. The young men undertook numerous fundraising initiatives to raise the money to not only cover the cost of their own passage, but, to purchase supplies for the orphans. The seminarians stayed up late baking prosphora which they sold remotely and online. After only a few hours of sleep, they continued with their daily studies and responsibilities, not once slowing down, but dedicating themselves wholeheartedly to the initiative and wishing to assist the children in need. In addition to prosphora, the seminarians baked paska breads and had them delivered in time for Pascha, and produced a Nativity CD which sold out.
Having collected the funds necessary, they plan to leave for Ukraine on the 8th of August, to spend time with the disabled orphans, to bring them love, and to learn from them. His Eminence Archbishop Daniel, who will be leading the Mission Trip, asked that everyone keep the team members and orphans in their prayers. May the trip be successful, may they each share the Gifts of the Holy Spirit with each other, and return to the US with renewed vigor and dedication as they continue their studies and future plans of serving in the Lord’s Vineyard.
As the meeting concluded, Metropolitan Antony reiterated the importance of having a seminary. We are all here not as a business, or as a typical school, but, we are here as an institution of God. We answer and are held to a higher calling. We are to spread the Word of God, and grow the Church of Christ, not only for the glory of God, but, for the salvation of mankind. To achieve this we need to have good, pious, educated clergy who are dedicated to their calling, and excited about helping those entrusted to their care achieve salvation.
Our local parishes require clergy in order to live their faith, to gather as a parish community, and to grow the next generation of Christians. The St. Sophia Seminary diligently interviews candidates who wish to join the student body, selecting only those individuals who seem interested in following a true calling. These young men go through rigorous training, not only via books, but, through practical exercises and experiences. They are required to rise early, work at their studies, serve during daily Liturgies, all while learning to be compassionate, how to relate to future parishioners, and to run parishes.
His Eminence expressed his faith in God and in the faithful of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the USA, in assuring a bright future for the seminary. Metropolitan Antony stated that historically when a need arose, and the faithful were made aware of it, they always stepped up and the seminary was able to divert a crisis. It is with much thanks to and hope in the faithful of the Church that the Metropolitan brought the meeting to a close.
With final prayers and well wishes the Seminary Board members signed off. As the ZOOM meeting room emptied, the board members returned to their day feeling refreshed. With renewed hope, they mulled over new ideas and contemplated ways of assisting the seminary, and thereby the Church, in the upcoming year and beyond. With continued prayers, and the strong faith of the hierarchs, clergy and laity of the Church supporting it, the Seminary has a bright future ahead.