YONKERS, NY—St. Vladimir’s Orthodox Theological Seminary welcomed two prestigious guests from Russia to its campus this fall: the Minister for Justice of the Russian Federation and the President of The International Foundation for the Unity of Orthodox Christian Nations (IFUOCN). Both Russian visitors were drawn to campus because of the seminary’s global influence in theological circles, including the 250 million Orthodox Christians worldwide that share its creed.
In November 2009, the seminary administration welcomed The Honorable Alexander V. Konovalov, the minister for justice, and his wife, Maria Suslina, to chapel services and gave them a campus tour. Mr. Konovalov—whose U.S. counterpart would be the Attorney General—is a devout Orthodox Christian, with a long-standing interest in the works of the former dean of St. Vladimir’s, Father Alexander Schmemann, particularly his views on the challenge of secularism. Father Schmemann, who died in 1983, had enormous religious influence on Russian society during the Soviet Era, through Radio Liberty Broadcasts and samizdat writings—including capturing the notice and admiration of Alexander Solzhenitsyn. The seminary has the distinction of the being the first place Solzhenitsyn visited after his 1974 expulsion from the Soviet Union.
In October 2009, Professor Valery A. Alekseev, president of The International Foundation for the Unity of Orthodox Christian Nations (IFUOCN), attended chapel services and made a formal announcement to the seminary community: the IFUOCN had chosen the seminary as the recipient of its major annual award—the “Unity of Orthodox Peoples Award.” The annual prize is given “for outstanding activity aimed at strengthening the unity of Orthodox nations and promoting Christian values.” Former recipients include several heads of state, various churchmen and institutions, and political and cultural figures, among them, former Russian president Vladimir Putin, Boutros Boutros-Ghali, the sixth Secretary-General of the United Nations, and famed Serbian filmmaker, actor, and musician Emir Kusturica.
In January 2010, the Patriarch Kirill I, head of the Russian Orthodox Church, will chair the presentation ceremony of the IFUOCN in the Cathedral of Christ the Savior in Moscow, and will officially bestow the award, which also includes a monetary prize. The dean and the chancellor of St. Vladimir’s, The Very Rev. Dr. John Behr and The Very Rev. Dr. Chad Hatfield, respectively, both plan to attend the event.
The Very Rev. Dr. John Behr, dean of St. Vladimir’s, expressed his delight at the seminary’s selection, saying, “Throughout our history deans and faculty members have worked tirelessly for Orthodox unity. We are encouraged by the foundation’s recognition of this, and we will strive ever harder for the unity of the body of Christ.”
Chancellor of the seminary, The Very Rev. Dr. Chad Hatfield, concurred, stating, “Recently, a bishop, an alumnus of our school, told me, ‘St. Vladimir's Seminary serves no one particular archdiocese or jurisdiction of Orthodox Christians in America, but rather the global Orthodox Church.’ This award reflects the truth of that bishop's observation.”