In commemoration of the Feast of St. Tikhon of Zadonsk, the patron of St. Tikhon’s Monastery and Seminary, a few thoughts suggested to me after listening to Fr. Sergius’ powerful speech at the recent All-American Council:
St Tikhon’s Seminary and Monastery is a place where the impossible happens everyday. Miracles are perhaps taken for granted there because without them St. Tikhon’s would cease to exist. It’s not simply a place where saints once walked, it’s a place where sanctity is a daily offering, more like sweat from a worker’s brow than a beam of light from a cherub’s halo. It’s a place where saints are made, made in the crucible of struggle, conflict, repentance, prayer, prayer, and more prayer. It’s a place where the Liturgy has been served, virtually everyday, since 1905. Indeed, without the Liturgy St. Tikhon’s would cease to have a purpose. As a result, it is a place of liturgical beauty, where the highest degree of quality, intentionality, and grace can be observed in every detail, from the movements of the servers to the manner of reading hours, from the singing of the Cherubic Hymn to the delicate carvings on the reliquaries. St. Tikhon’s is not the brainchild of any one genius, it has experienced scores of captains at its helm with varying degrees of navigational talent. The liturgical integrity that the monastery has maintained and the blossoming that can be noticed at present is the result of that unique combination of seminary and monastery which is a large part of the miracle that is St. Tikhon’s.
Often, the comment is made, “It is really nice having a seminary with a monastery close by,” as though it was just a matter of a “spiritual” ambiance. It’s not just “nice,” the monastery completely reshapes the experience of the seminarian, and by extension the priest and his parish. The seminarian has no need to “reconstruct” services that have been studied in the classroom as a sort of “practical” realization of the principles learned in class. He (or she) studies to better serve and better understand the significance of the words and actions experienced in the liturgical services, actions that he or she enters, and in no wise “constructs.” The services are not for the seminarian and it is very significant that services continue at St Tikhon’s Monastery regardless of seminary’s academic calendar.
Nevertheless, one cannot diminish the contribution of the seminary to the miracle that is St. Tikhon’s. There has always been a beautiful, symbiotic relationship between the two (with expected bumps along the way). One side of the street has always been able to lend assistance to the other in time of need. While the monastery has provided the seminary with a living witness of Orthodox Christianity lived at 100% (as Fr. Sergius likes to put it), the seminary has been able to supply the monastery with a steady flow of talented young men and women who (at least for three years) dedicate their whole being to living the Liturgy.
It is for these reasons that I firmly believe that St. Tikhon’s Monastery and Seminary should be recognized as the ideal laboratory for working through questions of liturgical practice and the ideal vehicle for disseminating this experience to the OCA more broadly. This in the field of: rubrics, aesthetics, music, iconography, liturgical order, service text publications, and architectural design. Abbot Sergius of St. Tikhon’s Monastery, in his address to the 2018 All-American Council, hinted at this unique position and to a certain degree St. Tikhon’s has already taken that position in several areas mentioned. However, to fully capitalize on this position St. Tikhon’s Monastery and Seminary have a good deal of work ahead of them. Firstly, to overcome the dismissive attitude held by many priests and parishes that St. Tikhon’s is simply a “traditional” and “Russian” seminary with a monastery attached, and nothing more. Secondly, to prove to the larger Church that St. Tikhon’s really is a place of the highest possible degree of spiritual life and liturgical excellence by continuing to produce saints, pastors, publications, and artistic liturgical craftsmen. Thirdly, St. Tikhon’s Seminary needs to realize and expand the existing talents and resources residing in her physical plant (i.e. the large property on which to build and expand), her professors, administrators, and students. Touching upon the suggestion offered by St. Tikhon’s new dean, Fr. John Parker, St. Tikhon’s is in an ideal position to become a leading educator in iconography, wood carving, musical composition and conducting, vestment making, architectural design, etc. This means that St. Tikhon’s needs to also enlarge her staff and supply of adjunct teachers (ex.: Andrew Gould for a semester in Principles of Orthodox Architectural Design). St. Tikhon’s could also form a group of emissaries to provide training and support to missions and parishes across North America in spiritual renewal, liturgical practice, musicianship, etc.
All of this takes money, you say? Yes, but it’s St. Tikhon’s, it’s a place where miracles have been occurring everyday, since 1905. Why not now?