Back at St. Tikhon’s…

Having just been reminded by my ‘missions professor’ to stay up with the site, I thought I’d give a summary of why I’ve been silent for the last month or so…for those of you who may not know.

At the end of August I left my home and mission in Oklahoma to return to my last year of seminary at St. Tikhon’s in NE Pennsylvania. As we had said in earlier postings, St. Basil the Great Mission has been able to stay open because of the our members’ support and commitment. There are prayers offered in the chapel three days a week as those doing the prayers are able to do so in any given week…

The prayers are being offered on behalf of the Mission (maintaining prayer in the chapel), by a few of those who have connected, or re-connected, with Orthodoxy through the Mission. None have chanted in Church before and they have to do it alone, week after week, until I return – a very daunting task. Please pray for them!

Since I have been back at school its been a dead run.  I’ve had two illnesses and was also sick from dehydration. The humidity on my arrival (from very hot but very dry OK), was consistently at 94%. A contributing factor is also the fact that air conditioners in N.E. PA are as rare as snow-mobiles in Oklahoma.

It was harder to return this year. Between the thesis I’m in the process of writing, (appropriately enough on ‘Hell’), and the heavy class load; on top of horribly missing home and the Mission, I’ve been almost overwhelmed. For the first six-weeks I spent just about every waking moment I wasn’t ill trying to complete class assignments ahead of time in order to have time to work on my thesis. Thank God it was a successful strategy and at this point I have just a few things remaining to do in my other classes … By the end of the month I’ll probably be able to focus all my attention on the thesis and the Mission.

As difficult as it is to be away from home, it is obvious to me I’m where I am supposed to be. The expression “it is what you make of it,” is of course true of everything we experience, but St. Tikhon’s has been the greatest example of this in my life. It can be a school of repentance and humility or just a place to study theological theories and ‘qualify’ for ordination. Some discover the mind of the Fathers and the therapy of Orthodox worship where others only complete the course-work and learn rubrics.

The struggle is always with self-love and pride, but it manifests itself here most often as anger that settles into bitterness and judging as a world-view if not expelled. I say only half kidding we should rename the school The University of Judging – or as it was seen from my perspective my first year: Judging U.

On the positive side, for those who find repentance it all becomes very personally relevant. Everything in the services and in the studies, and especially in the social interaction within the community, becomes integrated rather than separate areas. As Christ and the mind of Christ are found, we also become increasingly aware of our sins and passions … Nothing is wasted – nothing is neutral.

As in a monastery and marriage, because of the almost constant and close contact, by the second year – certainly by the third – the sins that have made the deepest mark are pretty obvious to the others. So obvious that, as with those other environments, there’s not much of an attempt to try to hide them … the veneer is almost transparent.

Also like the monastery and marriage, those we struggle with become very close to us. If the struggle is to overcome the ego we were sent here to battle, the relationships are deep and profoundly important. Conversely, to the extent they are used to protect the ego is the extent to which they are appreciated by the egocentric … Most of us struggle with having, and being, both kind of friends.

I’ve been working on this as I’ve had the time for over a week now so I’ll close. I’m going to try to post more frequently in the near future, both on my life here and also on St. Basil Mission. I hope in just the next few days to have some pictures of the people and place that make St. Tikhon’s Seminary what it is…At least, what it is to me.