The Saint Photios Orthodox Theological Seminary is an institution of higher learning that prepares candidates for service to the Orthodox Church in a clerical or teaching capacity.
The Saint Photios Orthodox Theological Seminary is an accredited institution of higher education under the jurisdiction of the American Eparchy of the Church of the Genuine Orthodox Christians of Greece. It is located in the town of Etna, in the mountains of Northern California, approximately one hour south of the Oregon border.
A private nonprofit institution, the Seminary is licensed by the California Bureau for Private Postsecondary Education. Licensure means that the institution is compliant with the minimum standards contained in the California Private Postsecondary Education Act of 2009 (as amended) and Division 7.5 of Title 5 of the California Code of Regulations (CCR).
The Seminary is accredited by the Association for Biblical Higher Education, headquartered in Orlando, Florida. The ABHE is one of four national faith-related accrediting organizations for religious schools and seminaries recognized by the United States Department of Education (USDE) and the Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA).
The goals of the Seminary are to serve the Church of the Genuine Orthodox Christians of Greece and to promote the wider Christian witness by preparing clergy and laity to minister to the parishes of its Eparchy in the United States of America and in Canada, as well as in future missions worldwide, and by providing them with the necessary theological, spiritual, liturgical, moral, pastoral, and intellectual formation to perform the Mysteries, foster Church growth through missionary work, teach the Orthodox Faith, and, in accordance with the dictates of Christian Scripture, care for those in need, both within and outside the parish community.
The primary objective of the Seminary is to offer rigorous training to students in those academic and practical disciplines that are requisite for active service to the traditionalist Orthodox Church, mainly as clergy, but also as cantors, teachers, and iconographers. Students will also be educated in Scripture, theology, languages, philosophy, history, and pastoral psychology, which are necessary elements in forming a modern Christian apologetic that, though employing the language of the day, attests to the immutable truths passed down to the present from the early Church, including the Church Calendar (sometimes called the “Old” or “Julian” Calendar), which the Church of the Genuine Orthodox Christians of Greece follows and in which it has its roots.
The specific objective of the Seminary is to ensure that its students graduate with a thorough knowledge and accurate comprehension of the primacy of Holy Scripture and its expression in, and concord with, the teachings of the Church Fathers, Holy Tradition, and the sacred doctrines of the Eastern Orthodox Church.
Description of the Seminary
In a quiet, rural environment conducive to spiritual growth and serious theological study, the Seminary nurtures the vocations of its students, affording them the unique opportunity of learning and studying Orthodox theology in the framework of their daily experience of the Eastern Orthodox spiritual, ascetical, liturgical, and mystical tradition. Active participation in that tradition will enable students to experience firsthand the spiritual depth of the Orthodox Church and its Divine worship and aims. Being keenly aware of the serious commitment, in terms of relocation and the time demanded of those who desire to serve the Church, the Seminary seeks to facilitate the admission of qualified candidates to its degree programs. To this end, it strives to provide those whom it admits with a high-quality, yet suitably affordable, seminary education, such that no truly capable candidate will be turned away for lack of financial means or undue strain on the candidate’s spouse and family, if the candidate is already married before entering the Seminary.
The Seminary also hopes, as funds permit, to sponsor short periods of sabbatical or independent study for Orthodox scholars of note, who will be provided room and board and the use of the Metropolitan Chrysostomos Theological Library, as well as the opportunity to interact with students and, when possible, offer lectures and instruction.
In the twenty-first century, Orthodox theological education is facing many special challenges. It must deal with the increasing deviations in the surrounding society from the religious and moral values of traditional Christian life. At the same time, it is confronted with deviations in the Orthodox world itself from the unified witness of Holy Tradition, the Patristic consensus, and the indispensable Biblical foundations of Orthodox doctrines, moral behavior, and Church polity. The Seminary clearly sees its role as an essential one in the defense of the Faith against innovation and the preservation of all that which the Church has inherited from Christ. Hence, the motto of the Seminary, from the words of the Holy Apostle Paul in his Second Epistle to the Greek Christians of Thessalonica: “Stand fast, and hold the traditions which ye have been taught” (II Thessalonians 2:15).
History of the Seminary
The Saint Photios Orthodox Theological Seminary is in certain ways a pioneering endeavor, since the primary constituency that it serves, the Church of the Genuine Orthodox Christians of Greece, was not, prior to the foundation of the Seminary, able to enjoy as fully as would be desirable the benefits of being shepherded by clergy formally educated in theology.
The principal issue at stake was the renovation, in the early 1920s, of the age-old Festal Calendar of the Orthodox Church, one of the eventual consequences of which was the exclusion, at the insistence of the official State Church of Greece, of potential Ordinands for parishes and communities belonging to the Old Calendar Church from the theological schools at the universities in Athens and Thessalonike. In an effort to remedy this deficiency, in 1981 Archimandrite Chrysostomos (the future Metropolitan Chrysostomos of Etna) established the Center for Traditionalist Orthodox Studies (CTOS), under the auspices of the Saint Gregory Palamas Monastery (SGPM) (located at that time in Hayesville, Ohio, but from 1983 onward in Etna, California), and subsequently, in 1986, after his Consecration to the Episcopacy, inaugurated a study program to educate clergy for the Church in North America, conducted almost entirely through correspondence and featuring a Diploma in Orthodox Theological Studies (Dip.Theol.) and a Licentiate in Orthodox Theological Studies (Lic.Theol.). This study program, which continued until 2016, graduated altogether forty-four students, sixteen in the Diploma in Orthodox Theological Studies program and twenty-eight in the Licentiate in Orthodox Theological Studies program. Five of the graduates from the Licentiate program went on to complete accredited doctoral degrees at nationally renowned theological schools.
The overall success of the CTOS’s programs notwithstanding, it became very clear as the years went by that correspondence courses were seriously inadequate as a means of training future clergy. While the program generally served its purpose, the limited interaction with students, which in practice consisted of an oral examination at or near the end of each program of studies, meant that only the most highly disciplined and self-motivated students flourished. Even in its best moments those involved in the program knew that they could never aspire to the highest forms of pedagogy, accomplished only through personal interactions in an enthusiastic classroom setting. It was, moreover, always the dream of Metropolitan Chrysostomos of Etna to found a regular in-residence seminary for this very important purpose. Events in the wider Church scene greatly facilitated the realization of what had, for so many years, remained only a vision. A significant convergence and rapprochement of two discordant factions in the Old Calendar movement in the early years of the previous decade not only brought together these factions but also accentuated the need for clergy with academic formation and credentials to serve in a now considerably expanded ecclesiastical structure, in which there were not a few parishes and missions without clergy and thus without a regular liturgical life for much of the year.
As though in response to this pressing need, in the beginning of 2015 two families, that of Mr. Alexis V. Lukianov and that of Mr. Michael N. Gombos, Sr., independently approached the SGPM with the request that it initiate a theological seminary, as a revision and enhancement of the former CTOS degree programs, under the SGPM’s direction, in Etna, California. After a prolonged in-house discussion among the monastics who would ultimately be shouldering the faculty and administrative duties of the proposed seminary, the proposal was accepted. This was in May of 2015. Within two months, the Saint Photios Orthodox Theological Seminary was incorporated as a legal entity, a ten-thousandsquare-foot building was purchased, and an engineering firm began work on plans for a serious makeover of the existing facility. As work began on the building and grounds, new fronts were engaged: a set of bylaws was drafted, a Board of Directors was appointed, an application for nonprofit status was filed with and granted by the Internal Revenue Service (IRS), an application for licensure for degree programs was filed with the BPPE, and an application for accreditation was filed with the ABHE.