On September 1-2, St. Tikhon’s seminarians and alumni convened for a joint retreat, which was hailed as the most positive, successful seminarian-alumni gathering in recent memory. The retreat not only afforded students the opportunity to meet the men who were trained at St. Tikhon’s and are now stewards of Christ’s vineyard, but also provided a context in which both groups could grow together in fellowship and self-reflection.
On Thursday afternoon, September 1, Fr. Andrew Stephen Damick of Emmaus, PA (STOTS 2007) spoke about the concept of “Priest and Parish as Family,” and encouraged those assembled to consider that their own parish communities operate under the same dynamics as families do. In a follow-up session with Archpriest Steven Voytovich, Seminary Dean, Seminarians and alumni briefly separated into small groups, and considered how their own personal family experiences might shape parish ministry. Reflections from each group were shared with the larger group. Photo of Fr. Damick is from his fall lecture series presentation to St. Tikhon’s in October of 2014.
That evening, the alumni treated the seminarians and their families to a delicious barbeque dinner. Hamburgers, hot dogs, and watermelon heralded the last month of summer; old friends had a chance to catch up, and new friendships were formed, as conversations lasted well into the evening.
Archimandrite Sergius, Abbot of St. Tikhon’s Monastery (STOTS 2005), delivered a powerful talk the next day on the three stages of spiritual life, as taught by Archimandrite Zacharias Zacharou in his work, “Remember Thy First Love.” Archimandrite Sergius’ words offered encouragement that the difficulties we frequently experience are the “testing of your faith [that] produces patience,” (James 1:3), and it is this patient endurance by which we shall be found to gain the salvation of our souls (Luke 21:19).
The last event of the retreat was unique in that second and third-year seminarians were present at the alumni business meeting as official alumni for the first time. While there were many thoughts, feelings, and deep emotions expressed at this meeting concerning the importance of the work of St. Tikhon’s Seminary, perhaps one theme stands out: the student body and the gathered alumni may learn from each other, and both are dependent in a way on the other. While it is clear that the seminarians may be guided and taught by those currently serving in parish ministry, the clergy also expressed their conviction that they may learn from the seminarians, and be inspired by their zeal and vision for the Church.
This year’s joint seminarian-alumni retreat reminded those present that we rely on each other, as some of us continue serving Christ’s Church and others enter into that ministry. Christ is our source of life and renewal, and as branches of the True Vine, we abide in Him and grow together.
Writer, Jonathan Lincoln