24 June – 10 July 2016 • Australia
The Very Reverend Dr. John Behr, dean of St. Vladimir’s Orthodox Theological Seminary (SVOTS), returned home from a 3-week teaching assignment in Australia with gifts of an Akubra hat, boomerang, and hand-painted icon of St. Athanasius. In turn, he left behind enormously significant “gifts” for local Eastern and Oriental Orthodox Christian communities in the Land Down Under.
From June 24–July 10, 2016, Fr. John taught an intensive course in Patristics titled “The School of Alexandria” at St. Athanasius Coptic Theological College (SAC). As well, he served and delivered public lectures in ten parishes affiliated with Greek, Russian, Antiochian, Serbian, and Coptic Orthodox communities; headlined a “Youth in Christ” meeting; led a spiritual retreat for clergy titled, “Life in Christ”; and gave a nationally syndicated interview on ABC Radio’s “The Spirit of Things” program.
Additionally, he delivered a paper at the annual ANZATS (Australian and New Zealand Association of Theological Schools), reporting for the first time in public on the findings from his new edition and translation of and extensive introduction to Origen’s On First Principles (to be published by OUP in December 2017). At the same conference he also participated in book launch of the title, The Life of Repentance and Purity, by Pope Shenouda III, a collaborative publication between St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press (SVS Press) and SAC Press which has become the fastest selling title in SVS Press’s history.
Also included in his schedule were personal meetings with His Eminence Archbishop Stylianos (Harkianakis), primate of the Greek Orthodox Church in Australia and dean and founder of St. Andrew’s Greek Orthodox Theological College, Sydney; and His Eminence, Archbishop Paul (Saliba), metropolitan of the Antiochian Orthodox Christian Archdiocese of Australia, New Zealand, and the Philippines. All told, Fr. John spoke to nearly 1,300 people in the metro areas of Sydney and Melbourne.
Father John’s whirlwind teaching engagements were coordinated by two St. Vladimir’s alumni: His Grace Bishop Dr. Suriel, chancellor and dean of SAC and bishop of the Diocese of Melbourne and Affiliated Regions (Coptic Church); and Christine Jabbour Ayoub (M.A. ’03). Both offered high praise and appreciation for Fr. John’s visit.
In the July 10 and July 17, 2016 editions of Epsajee (The Word), a diocesan publication of the Coptic Orthodox Church, Bishop Suriel stated, “Our visiting lecturer, Father John Behr, has returned to New York, leaving behind a legacy of academic rigor in learning, a love of the church fathers, and a genuine commitment to cultivate service and community in our Christian journey.
“Words could not fully capture the impact that Fr. John’s visit and input has had upon students, staff, clergy and others at SAC,” he continued, “And everyone has been challenged by Fr. John’s dedication to lifelong learning, his love of God, and his generosity in sharing his profound knowledge of church history—especially the early church fathers—in a contemporary, eloquent, and engaging manner.”
Father John himself expressed gratitude for the opportunities given to him to renew and strengthen ties between St. Vladimir’s Seminary and a broad base of Eastern and Oriental Orthodox Christian communities—ties that in part began with a visit to Australia by Dean Emeritus Protopresbyter Thomas Hopko (+2015) in 1997. He especially remarked on burgeoning possibilities for future student exchange, and joint work between the publication houses of SVOTS and SAC.
“I am expecting more Australian students, at the request of Bishop Suriel, to come to our Seminary in New York to be carefully and highly educated in our Master of Arts and Master of Theology Programs,” said Fr. John, “and then to return to SAC as faculty prepared to influence hundreds and hundreds of future students by instruction in sound theology.
“They, along with many other foreign students we’re expecting—Antiochian, Serbian, Greek—will join our American family here at SVOTS,” he said, “continuing our long history of being the place where Orthodox Christians of all ethnic and jurisdictional backgrounds are praying and studying together in unity.
“Moreover,” he added, “SAC Press will also soon begin acting as a distribution center for SVS Press books in Australia, and this amazing arrangement will allow St. Vladimir’s to continue its mission of spreading the Word of God through the written word.”
The ongoing feedback regarding Fr. John’s recent visit to Australia indicates that his positive predictions will bear out. His teaching assistant at SAC for his summer/winter (Australia) course titled, “The School of Alexandria”—which examined the key figures of Origen, St. Athanasius, and St. Cyril and their influence on the development of theological thought—was Abraam Mikhail, an Australian born seminarian who is currently studying at SVOTS and who does indeed plan to return to SAC as faculty after earning his degree.
Mr. Mikhail summed up his learning experience by saying, “Father John is very engaging, and his attention to detail makes us focus and think and re-think—or read and re-read—the text. His famous line is: ‘struggle with the text!’ and I would daresay it’s been not only a valuable but also an enjoyable experience.”
As the Aussies would say, “Good on ya, mate!”
View a video of Fr. John speaking at St. Mary’s Coptic Orthodox Church, Kensington, VIC, Australia, at the invitation of Bishop Suriel, on the topic, “Standing by the Cross, Putting on Christ” .