As one can easily imagine, to begin a new life as an Orthodox seminarian is an experience filled with joy, trepidation, and uncertainty. Although fulfilling in many respects, there is much apprehension on the part of often times young men who have decided to explore a vocation to Christ’s Holy priesthood. It is in the face of such awesome responsibility to protect the Eucharist, minister to the faithful, and witness to the world as truth bearers that new seminarians can feel overwhelmed with the seriousness of the role they in all probability will one day assume. It is in this context that gentle reassurance and pastoral care is desperately needed from Priests who remind us that they are with us. Here in our second week of classes this is precisely what the alumni of St. Tikhon’s Orthodox Theological Seminary did for us.
Beginning with a group photograph which was unmistakably a family portrait gathered around Bishop TIKHON, all students were greeted with open arms by Priests who had passed before us as seminarians in this Holy place. They offered us a plenteous meal and graciously hosted us as though we were in their homes. They sat and ate with us, sharing stories that were at times humorous and moving, yet always encouraging. They asked us questions about our journeys and related to us in a way that was inherently brotherly in the truest sense of the word. In short, they ministered to us as only they could, resulting in what seemed like a simultaneous sigh of relief among all students. For us, it was an evening at home.
The highlight of the evening came near the end of our time gathered together as one by one, priests of all different ages approached a microphone to introduce themselves and offer some words of advice and encouragement. Of the many important themes they presented, each spoke to a different aspect of clergy and seminary life which was attentively received by the seminarians. We were reminded by “retired priests” who were now just as busy as they ever were that “once a priest, always a priest.” They addressed our concerns about living in a new place by reminding us that we were in a place where saints have walked, a holy place that we should fully appreciate and honor. We were reassured by the promise that God would care for us through times of great tribulation, and that even though there are times when serving Christ brings great difficulty and pain it is always the love of serving him that brings Priests to the altar. Such were the words of strong, wise, and loving servants of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ that were supplemented time and time again by offerings of help in any way possible. Truly, it was a moment that touched each and every seminarian in a very profound way.
As the evening drew to a close, each seminarian began his evening studies with a renewed glimmer of hope, cloaked in the love of Christ. Despite an increasing work load and mounting responsibility, that night we knew that we were not and would never be alone. That night, we knew that we were among our own family. That night, we knew we were home.