As a first–year Master of Arts (M.A.) student at SVOTS, I sing soprano in the mixed choir, am treasurer of the Orthodox Ecology Group on campus, and am especially enjoying the Patristics course that I am taking this semester. I am also the lone Byzantine Catholic student of St. Vladimir's Seminary.
When I first arrived on campus this fall, this made for some slightly awkward discussions as my fellow students incrementally figured it out: "So, where are you from?"
"Oh, I think I know the priest there. What's his name again?"
Then, the big revelation: "Actually, I go to the church across the street from that parish—I'm Byzantine Catholic."
Gulp. During my first days here, I would hold my breath after answering these kinds of questions, waiting to see how my classmates would respond. I was, after all, an Eastern Catholic studying at an Orthodox seminary (which makes me a bit of an oddity). After a week or so, my initial trepidation waned and I could breathe easier, because everyone here met me with love.
The students and staff here at the Seminary universally welcomed me with friendly solicitude and curiosity. Some differences remain evident—for example, I go to Divine Liturgy elsewhere on Sunday, and Lent started much earlier for me—but in everyday life at the Seminary these divergences seem very small. My fellow students and I eat together in the refectory, worry about our Greek quizzes together, struggle through those Thursday night choir rehearsals side by side, and pray together at weekday Matins and Vespers. When Hurricane Sandy hit the campus this past October, knocking out the electricity, many of us congregated in our dorm's Common Room, singing songs by candlelight and cooperating to contrive ways to make hot coffee in the morning.
These and many other moments helped to unite our class, bringing us together in communal life without obscuring our diversity. We come from the East Coast, West Coast, and all over the world, from differing jurisdictions, and some of us even from Oriental Orthodox or Eastern Catholic churches. But in one way or another we are all here because we want to serve Christ's Church and know that St. Vladimir's is an ideal place to come and be formed for this service. It is a great blessing to have the chance to be here together, to pray together daily, talk about our faith in Christ, and reassure each other in our dedication to serve Him. The fact that we come from different churches which are not in communion becomes—for me at least—an ever–present reminder of the heartache of schism: that we are separated from our brothers and sisters whom we love. In communal life, day–to–day interactions help to free us from stock images of each other, so that when we do discuss our differences and divisions, we are prepared to do so from the perspective of friends, of brothers and sisters in Christ.
Time at seminary flies by quickly, and soon enough we will all be spread out again across far distances and different jurisdictions. I trust, though, that these friendships that we have built will endure long past graduation and will serve as a reminder of those who are separated from us and our common love for Christ's Church.