From the Mailbag: Education of Western Rite Priests?
Q: Hi Ben,
Love the blog and have been a reader for a long time. I was wondering if you would mind providing some details on education for ordinands. Obviously, most clergy come from other churches and did seminary long ago. But does the Western Rite Vicariate send people to seminary again? Where do they go?
A: Thanks for the question, as well as your kind words about this small blog.
In a nutshell, our Western Rite Orthodox students have the same theological education as Byzantine Orthodox students. They go to an Orthodox seminary and study Eastern Orthodox theology from Orthodox professors alongside Byzantine seminarians. As I've noted (and sometimes been disparaged for), "Western Rite Orthodox do not have a unique or different approach to theology from our Eastern Orthodox brethren."
As with (more) Byzantine "converts," some Western Rite parishes joined en masse. To avoid leaving them clergy-less, these priests (who usually had seminary degrees) went through St. Stephen's Course, with its Master's program through Balamand University. Others have gone on to get their Doctor of Ministry through the Archdiocesan program. (I know, at a minimum, Fr. Joseph Gentile [AWRV] did so a few years ago.)
Since these seminary chapels celebrate the Byzantine rite, where do Western Rite Vicariate students learn about liturgics? Through the St. George Institute, Fr. Edward Hughes visits Antiochian WRV seminarians to instruct them in the liturgical aspects of serving the Western Rite. (Fr. Hughes is a fine priest and an outstanding teacher.) Subdn. Benjamin Andersen, who worshiped at St. Mark's AWRV in Denver, served another Western Rite mission while at St. Vlad's.
I'm not certain how ROCOR handles this matter, but Fr. Michael of St. Petroc Monastery seems favorably disposed to having students learn via the University of Joensuu (Finland)'s Orthodox Theology program, followed by hands-on liturgical training. (And of course, Fr. Anthony Nelson, who has a bi-ritual parish in Oklahoma City, graduated from Holy Trinity Seminary in Jordanville.)
To be brief, Western Rite Orthodox priests have the same theological training as Eastern Orthodox, because they have the same faith as Eastern Orthodox. At present, our seminarians are trained liturgically in a hands-on manner — and from what I've seen, are trained well. At a minimum, perhaps the relationships WRO develop with their fellow students at seminary, through St. Stephen's Course and/or through other Orthodox educational programs will demonstrate that Eastern and Western Rite Orthodox share a common faith and will help unite them in a unity of the heart, even as the Eucharist unites them in a mystical union all Its own.