With an eye to perceiving the present and future needs of our Ukrainian Orthodox Church, the late Patriarch Mstyslav had the foresight to establish our St. Sophia Seminary at our church centre complex in South Bound Brook, New Jersey. Seeing that the education provided by seminaries of different jurisdictions, both in the United States and Canada, did not fit all of our particular needs, a seminary that would be truly our own was the logical solution. In 1975 our seminary was duly instituted and the white mansion at the corner of Davidson and Easton Avenues became our permanent home. Being in close proximity to Rutgers University, New Brunswick Theological Seminary and Raritan Community College provided additional educational resources for those who wished to complete their undergraduate degrees.
Over the years, St. Sophia graduates have become priests and deacons, and have served our church well. People sometimes wonder why there is often a time lag between seminary student days and ordination. Let us remember that seminaries are where vocations are tested and proved. One might be a very good student of high moral fibre, who yet discovers that the life of a priest is not for him. Unsuitable candidates, also are weeded out in the process. Because one must make the heavy decision of being married or not before an ordination takes place, there is often a delay of a year or so, or more. Despite delays and small graduating classes, the seminary has fulfilled its promise over these many years.
Our seminary not only is charged with the duty of educating and providing worthy candidates for the priesthood and diaconate of our Ukrainian Orthodox Church, both here and also abroad, but also trains religious workers. In the fall of 1996 a modest roster of two students expanded to four for the spring and increased to fifteen the next fall. Even with some attrition, the promise of thirteen solid students, for the fall 1998, is a very heartening development. Our student body is comprised of Ukrainian -Americans, converts, as well as students from Brazil, Ukraine and Rumania. Like other Orthodox Theological Schools in North America, we now accept women who wish to pursue an education in Theology. Ann Stoll, besides excelling in her studies has worked with our Youth Ministry department in our Consistory.
All students take the core of subjects necessary to give a solid theological foundation. Ukrainian language, church history, Kievan Chant ,and our unique Ukrainian cultural history are also stressed, so as to fully prepare our candidates to serve the needs of our Ukrainian Orthodox faithful. For those who do not have proficiency in the English language, a year of intensive study precedes the theological studies.
As prayer life is at the heart of a seminarians day, the services in the chapel are both a joy and an education in themselves. Twice a day, services in the morning and evening provide some spiritual feeding as well as giving opportunity for familiarity with hours, vespers, compline, midnight office and other services of the daily cycle. To sing Vespers or a Divine Liturgy in the St. Andrew Memorial Church is also a valuable experience. At times students visit parishes as the hierarch makes his parochial visitations. Not only does this provide practice with liturgical services, but it gives exposure to practical parish life.
Classwork and study is but one focus of daily seminary life. A work-study programme provides some financial remuneration for specified jobs around the seminary. Our students are also exposed to College chaplaincy and many other areas of practical pastoral service through the Field Education Programme. Hopefully your future priests will already be familiar with sick calls and have developed a good bedside manner and a host of other requisite skills long before ordination and a parish assignment takes place.
The seminary wants to give the general public access to Orthodox theology and has instituted both a fall and a spring lecture series, which has had good response from Orthodox of a variety of ethnic backgrounds. Through the Orthodox Inter-Seminary Movement, our students have met with seminarians of different Orthodox seminaries and have forged bonds of friendship and co-operation.
We have an especially close fraternal relationship with St. Andrew's College in Winnipeg and recently have had visits from two professors from this Canadian Ukrainian Orthodox institution. As time goes on, and as we participate with other schools, St. Sophia and our whole diocesan centre here in South Bound Brook has raised in the favorable perception and estimation of Orthodox of other jurisdictions.
Like the Ukrainian Orthodox League, our seminary has applied for membership in Syndesmos, an international fellowship of youth movements and theological seminaries throughout the world. Already we have been invited to participate in Syndesmos events happening in various parts of the world. This year, Ann Stoll, who attends our seminary, was privileged to attend a Syndesmos-sponsored Women's Conference and Youth training session at Makarios Orthodox Seminary in Nairobi, Kenya. As the only North American delegate along with two Orthodox women from Finland and on from Albania, our seminary got some worldwide recognition.
When our foreign students graduate, Brazil and Ukraine will be the beneficiaries of students with solid Orthodox theological training in the Ukrainian Orthodox tradition.
Our own American students, bearing their Licentiates in Sacred Theology will be ready to meet the challenges of parish life as a new millennium dawns.
A diocesan seminary can be the barometer of the health of the church as a whole. When we have but few native American seminarians, it can mean , either that our parishes are not nurturing our youth or that, by comparison, priesthood in our church is perceived as not being an honored or worthwhile endeavour compared with jobs in the world. In order to keep providing worthy clergy for our church we must have more candidates. We are very serious about the training of our seminarians and we hope that not only are you praying for people to heed the call to serve the Lord, but that you are busy nurturing and giving needed encouragement to those who are interested.
When you receive an appeal for the support of St. Sophia's, YOUR SEMINARY, we hope that you will be generous. This institution will not have a future, if our faithful do not give their financial and moral support to it. In the last appeal, 500 very generous families gave their support through donations, but this number is indeed small when you consider that the mailing appeal went out to some 10,000 families of our diocese. It is hoped that this small review of the seminary and its life will attract your interest and will spur you on to give some support in the future. If you know someone who has shown any interest in seminary education, please direct them to us so that we might be able to set up an interview.
Very Rev. Fr. Bazyl Zawierucha
For more information, contact us by email: StSophiaSeminary@aol.com or at
St. Sophia Seminary
P.O. Box 495
South Bound Brook, NJ 08880
Tel 1 732 356 0090
Fax 1 732 356 5556