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.
Vasilije Vranic came as a full-time student on the MA in Pastoral Theology. He has since succesfully completed his studies and is now married to his wife Jelena. The Vranic family live in the USA where Vasilije serves as a deacon in St. Sava Serbian Orthodox Cathedral, Milwaukee. Since Feb 2008 Vasilije and Jelena are the proud parents of their little baby boy Petar.
Here is what Vasilije said about himself and about his time in Cambridge:
I was born in 1976 in Sarajevo, of the late Perisa Vranic, protopresbyter, and Jelena Vranic, professor of music. As a son of a priest I started to come regularly to the Church to attend all the services and so the Church became my second house. It was my great pleasure and indeed an honour to be in the altar with my Father who was celebrating the Liturgy and to help him, and around that time I have made firm decision about what I wanted to do with my life.
After I completed the elementary school I moved to Belgrade and enrolled into the Seminary. After finishing three years in Belgrade I was invited by Hilandar monastery to continue my education on the Holy Mountain, from where I graduated in 1996. Then I received a scholarship from the Lutheran Church of Germany to spend a year in Sibiu (Romania) learning German at the Goethe Institute. After finishing the course I spent one year in Belgrade teaching Greek at the Public University 'Bozidar Adzija' (an alternative school). After that I enrolled into St. Sava Serbian Orthodox School of Theology in Libertyville (USA) from where I graduated in June 2002.
I am very glad that I have been admitted to the Institute for Orthodox Christian Studies because even though I am in a foreign country I feel that I am in a very friendly environment. Here we have staff of very capable young people and experienced professors together, working hard to represent their and our faith to people who might have never heard about it and at the same time to provide a possibility for us the orthodox students from all over the world to study here in Cambridge at the one of the best universities in the world.
Elizabeth Higgs was a part-time student of the Institute following the Certificate of Higher Education in Orthodox Christian Studies. She is now married to Vasileios Stamatelatos, one of our former MA students, and they live together in Greece. These were her words about the Certificate course:
I graduated from Queens University of Belfast in 1996 with a degree in scholastic philosophy. During my time at University I was an active Anglican and was very involved in an ecumenical prayer group, which in the context of Northern Ireland at the time was particularly poignant. On leaving University I knew that I wanted to get back to real life and do something personally and spiritually challenging, so I moved to the L'Arche Community in Cork to live with adults with severe learning difficulties. During my 18 months there, I became acutely aware of the way in which community life strips you bareÐyou are confronted with who you really are and the extent of your own needs. The people that I lived with really showed me how what matters is not what qualifications or degree we have but the extent of our capacity to love. I had to learn to receive love, as they were more open and capable of expressing their love and their feelings than I was. Their spontaneity was amazing and their faith in God was alive and natural. However, being the only non-Catholic Christian in the community affected me quite deeply and I left the Community and went to Poland where I taught English in Warsaw for one academic year.
The experience in Poland was like having time out - it was a break from the pressure of what it meant to be a 'good Christian' - it was a time during which I thought a lot about my life and what I was doing and the reasons why. I came back to the UK and did a PGCE and worked as an RE teacher for two years in Birmingham. My father became Orthodox in 1998 and when I got back from Poland I started going to church with him. This led to my own entry into the Orthodox Church in December 2001 in Greece. Joining the Institute's Certificate course feels like a real opportunity to learn more about the Orthodox faith and living an Orthodox life. I have now moved to Cambridge where I am teaching school refusers. The balance that I am currently enjoying in life between the course, my job and the community of other young Orthodox living here in Cambridge has contributed to making me feel very at home and excited about the future.
Ioana Dumitrache was a full-time MA student and she also worked for the Institute as a Graduate Assistant while studying here. She is now married and works as an Assistant Lecturer for the University in Bucharest (Faculty of Orthodox Theology). Before she left for Romania, Ioana kindly took part in an interview at IOCS:
Ioana, what are the differences between Orthodoxy in Romania and Orthodoxy as you have experienced it in England?
I think that Orthodoxy has a unity of spirit which enables one to feel at home when attending Orthodox services anywhere, despite natural cultural differences. I would rather refrain from making sharp distinctions between Orthodoxy here or Orthodoxy there. However, there are particularities about the Orthodox Church in England - both good and bad. I was struck by how intricately the different jurisdictions seemed to overlap, but I enjoy immensely being part of a very small community, where worship is something you do rather than something you witness as a spectator, and those around you are people you know well and your friends. Also I think being a minority in a Protestant see, the Orthodox here are more acutely aware of their tradition and identity which they do not take for granted.
What has your experience of the Masters in Pastoral Theology been like so far?
The MA in Pastoral Theology has proved quite a challenging experience, firstly because I had to adjust to a style of teaching which is specific to Cambridge, but to which I had not been exposed before, and secondly because it meant an opportunity to discuss crucial theological issues in an ecumenical context - only two of the twelve students on my course were Orthodox. I felt that it is important that there are Orthodox students on the course, as it is an opportunity for the Orthodox voice to be heard.
Tell us something about your life so far?
I was born in Bucharest, 1979 and only became practising Orthodox as a teenager, being influenced by a great religious renewal which took place in Romania after the fall of communism. This revival involved mostly young people who believed that Christian values could be the foundation on which a new society could be built and who sought models in personalities formerly persecuted by the totalitarian regime, most of whom had emerged from prisons and forced labour camps with renewed and even stronger Christian beliefs. My growing interest in theology materialised by attending the courses at the Faculty of Orthodox Theology in Bucharest. In my third year I took some time out and came to England to work as a volunteer in a school for severely disabled children. This enabled me to attend the part time courses of the Institute, an experience I enjoyed tremendously, benefiting from it both in terms of theological knowledge and human encounter. This is why I decided to come back here for full time studies, after graduation.