This is the first of what will be many ‘secret’ (anonymous) seminarian reviews of the seminary experience. We want to give prospective seminarians a real look at life at seminary, and it is often quite different than expected. This is not an exercise in libel or defaming – far from it. We want to know what it is really like out there right now; good, bad, or indifferent. Thanks to all our ‘secret seminarians.’
A Day in the Life of a Seminarian:
St. Tikhon’s is a wonderful place for an Orthodox an individual whom feels called to a vocation in the Orthodox Church. St. Tikhon’s was established in 1938 as a “Pastoral School” for the formation of priests and continues this mission today. The center of the life of St. Tikhon’s is the monastery church where a full cycle of services are celebrated each day. It is here that our day begins and ends. The Hours and daily Divine Liturgy begin at 6:30 AM during the week. Each student is encouraged to attend daily but expected to attend liturgy at a minimum of 3 times during the week in addition to Sunday Vigil and Divine Liturgy (some are assigned to outside parishes locally based on jurisdictional requirements). We will conclude our day by attending the Vigil service for the next day at 4:30 PM.
Between services we have a day packed full of classes. As a first year seminarian, most will take 21 credits hours. A first year seminarian can expect to begin classes at 8:30 am We have just enough time to grab a small bowl of cereal or bagel in the refectory after liturgy. Classes continue through until Vespers begins at 4:30 PM. First year students will take courses in Church history, Biblical Greek, Church Slavonic, Old Testament courses, Orthodox Spirituality, Church Order, Liturgical Practicum, Music Theory, Choir, and Dogmatics just to name some.
Seminarians also have noon prayer where a student is selected to give a very quick meditation on the day’s scripture reading. This prayer service is conducted in the seminary’s practice chapel and is done separately from the monastic community. After the prayer service we all go to a simple but respectable lunch in the refectory, again separate from the monastery. Students are put in KP teams to assist with serving and clean up then back to classes.
Fridays tend to be a half day of classes, but seminarians are given an obedience to clean a portion of the seminary prior to leaving for the day.
The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly:
The seminarians and staff at St. Tikhon’s have been nothing but welcoming and helpful to me.. The Monastery is a wonderful blessing, do to it’s full cycle of daily services and the peaceful surroundings. It is the ideal place for a man who is studying for the priesthood to be able to work on his prayer life in conjunction with academic studies.
I would like to mention that St. Tikhon’s is by far the cheapest orthodox seminary that offers a M.Div degree in the U.S. For someone that is not receiving any parish or diocesan support it is really the way to go! It should also be mentioned that by the efforts of many, especially the Dean Father Alexander Atty, the seminary is under going a wonderful facelift. This is a bit burdensome right now during the construction but the facility will be all the better for it in the near future.
In addition, St. Tikhons is a very pan-orthodox setting. While the services are conducted in the Russian tradition under the New Calendar, all jurisdictions have students here. I can say that the rector Bishop Tikhon and the entire staff and student body are very respectful of the varying traditions that attend here. As an example of the pan-orthodox makeup of St. Tikhon’s this year’s incoming class consists of 5 ROCOR, 4 OCA (1 from the ROEA), 2 Serbian, 1 Ukrainian, 1 Antiochian, and 1 GOA students.
St. Tikhon’s is not a Theological Academy, per se, it is a Pastoral School. If someone is heading out to seminary sole purpose of the Academic education then this school would not be the best fit. Yes, we study theology and yes the work load is heavy but St. Tikhon’s is not intended to be an academic powerhouse. However, St. Tikhon’s does have some very highly esteemed instructors but it’s intend is to form virtuous pastors to serve parishes. I happen to think this is a plus because I am not interested in higher education in the academia but am interested in serving the Church. However, I have heard some that were disappointed with the academics and wanted more. It’s a matter of perspective and goals.
The liturgical life within the seminary takes place in the monastery in which the seminarians play a very active role in serving and singing on the kliros. If you happen to be a good singer you are assigned to the kliros for specific days. If you happen to not be that strong of a singer you will not sing at liturgy but are invited to singer vespers if you would like. Serving at the altar is not all that equitable either. The canonarch of the monastery will ask students to serve at random; usually you will see the same few in the altar. From my perspective this is a flawed system and I know that it is a process that is going to be addressed by the rector. If you happen to be an ordained clergy (deacon or Priest) the monastery will schedule to serve on specific days.
There is no doubt that seminary life is difficult, but when there is a family involved it is compounded. The schedule of a seminarian and the workload is a lot and family time is lost. Not only is family time lost but in most cases a means to support ones family is lost. There is not a lot of time in order to find work though the seminary might be able to offer something part-time work. Again this would be at the sacrifice of family time.
Northeastern Pennsylvania is a different world that most places throughout the U.S. The seminary has activities for the wives to be involved which has helped but the isolation that is felt by my family is something that is going to take sometime to get use to. It seems to be a similar story amongst other seminarians and their families. The first year is just plain hard. Also, the winters in Northeastern Pennsylvania can be very rough. Since moving here from a very pleasant climate I have been warned by almost everyone that the winter is going to be a test of faith.
Thanks to our anonymous seminarian for this report.
If you would like to submit your own ‘secret seminarian’ report for your seminary, write to us, and tell the truth.