Peter Efthymiadis - MA Pastoral Theology
I came from Canada to Cambridge with the goals of studying theology and experiencing a new culture. Cambridge seemed ideal because I could study in English, in a world-renowned academic setting, and have easy access from London to other places in Europe. In Canada I studied at Dalhousie University, Halifax, Nova Scotia, earning a Bachelor of Arts in Sociology and Psychology. During these years my faith in God and love for the Orthodox Church grew. Upon graduation from Dalhousie, I desired further education in only one subject: theology.
The Institute for Orthodox Christian Studies affords me the opportunity to deepen my Orthodox theological understanding, learn about non-Orthodox Christian traditions represented in the Cambridge Theological Federation, and become a member of a vibrant Orthodox community. I receive superlative student support from the best theological scholars world-over. I have free access to important lectures held by Cambridge University.
I have been challenged to think more deeply about the Orthodox faith; consequently, I am becoming a witness and defender of the Orthodox Church. Thus, my experience here as a student has been profound and auspicious.
Iren Kaulics - MA Pastoral Theology
I come from Hungary and have been enrolled in the MA course through the Institute since last October. My father, who is a devoted Greek Catholic priest, was the first person who kindled my interest in Orthodox Theology. During my teen years, with my family and friends, I had many visits to Orthodox churches and monasteries all over Europe which had an enormous impact on me and finally I was received into the Orthodox Church in 1997 in Hungary.
Since then I have been an active member of the Orthodox Youth Movement of Hungary, where I have taught catechism for children and I have been involved in organising local youth events.
After I graduated from ELTE University of Budapest in Pedagogy, I visited the Saint John the Baptist Monastery in Essex where I became acquainted with IOCS and Syndesmos - The World Fellowship of Orthodox Youth. The first Syndesmos event I took part in, a Youth Festival in France, was a life-changing experience: meeting young Orthodox Christians from all over the world, participating in services in many languages and having conversations with famous theologians.
The next year whilst working in Cambridge I had the opportunity to follow the Certificate Programme of IOCS which gave me a similar experience to the one I had during the Syndesmos festival. In later years I studied French for four months in Paris and I completed a one and a half year internship at the headquarters of the World Council of Churches in Geneva. More recently I have been working for Syndesmos in Athens and studying Greek for three months in Thessaloniki where I had the opportunity to experience closely the everyday life in a traditionally Orthodox country.
The rich experience of the last few years of travelling and working in different countries with people of different beliefs, cultures and life styles made me think a lot about the meaning of life, faith and theology - for which reason I decided to do the MA course at the Institute.
IOCS is a great place to study theology since, apart from having access to great academic staff and programmes, one has the opportunity to live in a multicultural environment in a pan-Orthodox setting, experiencing the life of the Orthodox Church in a dynamic, friendly local parish community as well as in the lively and ever hospitable monastery in the nearby Essex.
Tom Cook - BA (Hons)
I was raised as a Roman Catholic in South Wales, and was received into the Orthodox Church when I turned 40. I took my first degree in Philosophy - that is analytical Philosophy of the hard-nosed, Anglo-American school, none of your Foucault and Derrida - and, like many of my friends, I drifted into that eclectic corner of the working world known to the uninitiated as "IT".
I now live in Nottingham with my wonderful wife and children, toiling by day in "IT" and doubling as a part-time student of Theology. Once a month, I make the 200 mile round trip to Cambridge and I can honestly say that I have never come away from one of these study weekends without feeling stimulated and inspired. The Institute has a contagious sense of mission - to help replant Orthodoxy in the West - and part of the way it does this is by fostering a spirit of refreshing and mutually enriching pan-Orthodoxy.
Of course, everyone knows that the teaching is of a world class standard. Where else might one almost routinely expect to hear Metropolitan Kallistos discussing, say, the Ravenna Statement, or Aidan Hart explaining reverse perspective in the iconographic tradition? However, perhaps more surprisingly, there is still an intimate, almost family, atmosphere. In this atmosphere, I have made many friends.
One of the most important things that has happened during my time at IOCS is that I have learned that it is fine to ask theological questions, providing that this questioning is done in the right spirit. The Church Fathers teach us this spirit and consequently teach us how to do theology. Perhaps it is obvious to most other people, but it has only gradually dawned on me, that Christianity, by which I mean the Orthodox Faith, is not a puny and fragile thing; it will not turn to dust if it is scrutinised too closely; and it need not snivel and cringe in the face of genuine science or the modern world. Orthodox Christians are not curators of a world historical religion. The Orthodox Christian Faith is as strong and true and profoundly contemporary as it has always been. This creeping intuition, due at least in part to my studies at the Institute, has helped me a lot, and has undoubtedly strengthened my faith.
Although I had originally intended to finish my studies after gaining a Certificate in Orthodox Christian Studies, I've since decided to continue my studies to BA level. In one of his talks (What is Theology?), Metropolitan Kallistos distinguishes between three different types of theologian. Those of the first rank are the saints, but there is also room for theologians of the second rank - those who are not themselves saints but who love and trust the saints, and try their best to learn from them. Those in the third rank do not trust the saints or wrongly consider themselves to be in the first rank. I am trying, in my own small way, to become a theologian of the second kind. The Institute must surely be unique, and I feel privileged to be associated with it.