When I reflect on my journey as a seminarian one word looms in the background of my story — transfiguration. I count myself as one twice converted; first to church in general, and then to the Orthodox Church. Change is a constant theme and in the Orthodox spiritual life that is a good thing! Like so many of our seminarians I came to the Orthodox Church after a great deal of disillusionment with secular living and subsequent searching. I wanted something that made a difference in my hollow life — transfiguration.
The existential anxieties of our age have become almost cliché now, but I make no apologies for framing my faith journey in these terms. After all, we often have to look into ourselves to see how much we need Christ. Only then, can we begin the Christian journey of focusing and dedicating the whole of our selves to Him — transfiguration. It was precisely my drive to draw near to Christ that led me to specialize in the field of Christian Spirituality during my undergraduate studies. Engaging this field from a historical perspective quite naturally lead me to the Orthodox Church. At one point I found myself saying to a friend: “It seems to me that if I become Orthodox I will experience Christ with a depth that I won’t find anywhere else.” Everything in our tradition from Liturgy, to iconography, from ascetical writings to the lives of the saints, invites us to contemplate the reality of Christ, a reality that is radically transformative.
I came to St. Vladimir’s to pursue ordination for precisely this reason; a conviction that Christ brings about the change we all need both as individuals and communities. I see a broken world in need of healing, a despairing world in need of hope, a world wrapped in darkness in need of light, a dying world in need of new life. Christ is all these things and more. Everything we do at seminary revolves around Christ. We contemplate Him in the Eucharist, in the Scriptures, in prayerful silence, and in neighborly love. It is this vision that is continually changing our lives — transfiguration.
So like my fellow classmates I came to seminary simply because of my love for Christ and His holy Church. I came because of this unique beauty has forever changed my life and there is a burden in my heart to share this Beauty with others. But seminary is a place of planting seeds. The tree has yet to grow, mature, blossom and bear fruit. The challenge while being in school is to continually respond to life in ways that cause me to grow in Christ. There are many great people here to befriend, many beautiful liturgies to attend, many profound books to read, and there is the constant danger of growing acclimated to such things.
As the old saying goes, familiarity breeds contempt. A seminarian must remain awake, alive and watchful. We must look at all that we do as a means of meeting Christ, as a potential moment for transfiguration.
My hope and prayer for myself and my classmates is that we will come out of seminary as changed people, molded as clay in the hands of God. That the seeds of Christ planted in us will bear fruit because we have been faithful to water them. I have every confidence that this will be the case as long as our focus remains on Christ. I say this because I know Christ is always about one thing — transfiguration.
Stephen “Seraphim” Long is a second year Master of Divinity student who converted to Eastern Orthodoxy through his studies of early Christian spirituality. He has worked for over ten years in youth ministry and remains passionate about education within the Church. Currently he is chair of the student society for Christian missions, a member of the SVOTS Student Council, and a dedicated dish-washer in the kitchen. He hopes to serve the Church as a “learned hieromonk” after graduation.