May 24, 2018 Length: 44:31
In this episode, Fr. Anthony interviews Fr. John Peck, the Dean of Great Marty Euphemia Orthodox Theological Academy. Fr. John shares his assessment of the biggest challenges Orthodox parishes face in America and the ways that this new academy seeks to help them face them. The academy is not designed to replace seminary education or compete with traditional Orthodox seminaries. Rather, it is designed to fill a real need Fr. John and other priests have found in their ministries: the equipping of the saints for ministry.
Fr. Anthony Perkins: Christ is risen! Indeed he has risen! This is Fr. Anthony Perkins. Let’s talk vocations. Today it’s a real blessing: we’ve got Fr. John Peck with us today. He is the pastor of All Saints of North America Orthodox Church in Sun City, a suburb of Phoenix, Arizona. He’s an Orthodox priest under the Patriarch of Constantinople. He previously served in Kodiak, Alaska, and Fairbanks of that same great state. He served in southern Illinois and Canton, Ohio, and in Prescott, Arizona. You may know him from his blog, The Orthodox Church of Tomorrow, which is frjohnpeck.com, or because he’s a founder and active with several web-based educational programs and ministries like Good Guys Wear Black: Discerning Your Vocation in the Orthodox Church; that’s goodguyswearblack.org, which is the origin or the parent of this podcast. Also the Preacher’s Institute, one of my favorite sites, the world’s premier online Orthodox homiletics resource, and that’s preachersinstitute.com. If you are ever for some bizarre reason stumped about what to preach, go there and read what the Fathers preached; you can’t go wrong. Then, Journey to Orthodoxy, a very active site, fantastic work there, worth its own podcast interview for those on the path to the Orthodox Christian faith; that’s journeytoorthodoxy.com. I encourage you to support that ministry. It’s amazing, the work that the Holy Spirit is doing through sites like this. These are a testimony to Fr. John’s calling, to his great energy.
Today we’re going to talk with him, though, about another project he’s involved with. He’s the dean of the Great Martyr Euphemia Orthodox Theological Academy. You can visit and learn more about that at orthodoxacademy.org or just hold your horses and listen to our conversation. [Laughter] Fr. John, Christ is risen!
Fr. John Peck: Indeed he has risen, Father. Thanks. You know, it all sounds really great when you say it like that, so thank you for that.
Fr. Anthony: Well, we’ve been friends for many years, and I don’t think we’ve actually met face-to-face, but we ran into each other online.
Fr. John: Gosh, I don’t think we have.
Fr. Anthony: It’s just this great friendship. We have a similar energy, a similar desire to serve Christ’s Church. I don’t remember how many times I’ve interviewed you for OrthoAnalytica, but it’s at least three or four.
Fr. John: I think three times, yeah.
Fr. Anthony: Great conversations there. If you’re interested, just go to OrthoAnalytica; it’s on iTunes, on the web. You can see one of the neat things that people enjoy is just hearing priests talk. We’re friends, we’re interested in serving Christ, and it’s real; it’s genuine. We’ve talked about many important things, but one of the things that we share a love for is vocational work: helping people discern what their calling is. Everyone is called. I love the fact that you’ve rolled up your sleeves and taken this in a beautiful direction here with St. Euphemia Orthodox Theological Academy.
Sorry, tell us a little bit more about yourself. I hit some of the high points, but there’s more to you than just your internet work and your internet ministries. Give people a feel for Fr. John Peck, the man, not just the myth and legend.
Fr. John: Well, you said all the good stuff, so it’s almost pointless to go on further. I am very happily married. I’ve been married since 1984, and I have three adult sons and now four grandsons: the last one was born on Holy Saturday this year, which made for an interesting Holy Week and Pascha, but everything is great, everything is glorious. Phoenix has actually been cooler than normal for a little bit longer this year, so it’s like a little reprieve before the heat starts. That’s all the interesting stuff, honestly. Trying to stay busy and trying to accomplish the things that get put before you.
As you and I have discussed, there are lots of gaps in what’s available for Orthodox Christians, but more importantly there’s lots of gaps in what’s possible for outreach and ministry and reaching people. Technology makes it a lot easier to do more with less, which—I think I’m the poster child for that: how to do more with almost nothing. That’s what I appear to be good at. I don’t want to be good at that, but that’s something that I think I’ve almost mastered. As a result, this year, for example, Journey to Orthodoxy has tripled the amount of contacts and the amount of inquiries that we’ve received in any year previous. So it’s keeping me very busy. They normally ask the same kinds of questions, but of course not everybody wants to talk on the phone, not everybody is in your time zone, so you end up having to craft letters and emails one at a time. You can’t just cut-and-paste answers in. Of course, no matter how fast you type, it is time-consuming, so it does take a lot of time for this.
But every year we seem to increase the number of people that we help come into the Church. We actually never see them. Last year it was [about] 68 people, not counting those that had become catechumens, but 68 people had actually come into the Orthodox Church with some of our help in connecting them with local parishes. This year we’re trying to exceed that. I’d have a giant church if I had all these people here in my own parish, but I’m glad to send them wherever the nearest church is. This is another thing: you find out that a lot of people are not near a church or not near a church that will help them out. I talked to somebody in Germany—there’s only a few churches in Germany; there’s a couple in Norway—if they can’t get to those churches or if they can’t make a connection with the priest, then it’s— So we try to formalize a little bit of what we are able to do in terms of education and a little bit of formation and guidance from my little desk here—that’s the best way to put it. Just to try to make sure that everybody gets connected who wants to be connected, nobody slips through the cracks, and that we’re not haphazardly saying, “Read this book and then get back to me,” but actually taking them through a process from the very beginnings to entrance into the Church. That’s the difficult part.
In my church, the process is pretty straightforward. There’s a new member class that everybody has to take part in, even Orthodox people who transfer into our parish: everybody has to take the new member class, because I want to make sure everybody knows what’s covered there: what’s the Gospel, what is the Gospel, what is the Church, what are the marks of the Church, what are the benefits of Church membership, what are the expectations of members? That’s the other thing. Once people come through the new member class, the expectations of Church members are written out very clearly. Here they are, and you can sign it. Now, I don’t take them. I say, “This is for you. If you agree to this, then you’re going to have a good time in our parish, and if you can’t agree to these, then you’re not going to enjoy being here, because this is what’s expected of all our members.”
Fr. Anthony: Yeah, yeah,because people have different expectations based on their histories, and as you say even people who are Orthodox… Orthodox parish cultures are different, expectations are different, and so on. That can lead… It’s better to take care of that early on. Through communication you can avoid some huge problems later on, where expectations are not met.
Fr. John: I agree. It builds a lot of confidence, too. People know right up front what the expectations are, and they’re not even members yet. So from there they go into a catechumen class, which is… there’s a textbook that we go through. Then there’s our online catechumen class which is separate from the textbook and covering different topics. There are recorded lectures I expect them to listen to and to fill out worksheets on. Then once they’re brought into the Church then we sort of move more into the interior life, a period of mystagogy, and a preparation for interior work so that they understand what are the powers of the soul, what are the curative exercises as Theophan the Recluse talks about, what are the five stages of temptation, what is watchfulness, what are the techniques of watchfulness, things like this. So that, again, they’re not simply dropped off once the chrism is dry, they don’t have anything to do and they’re not sure what does it mean to be an Orthodox Christian.
In the online work, it’s a much more complicated thing to get someone from a differently Christian background, a former Orthodox background, no Orthodox background, no Christian background, and sort of walk them through these very same steps. Since parish membership is different in lots of parishes, we have to adjust a lot of that new member information. Catechism is basic information. So it’s a challenge; it’s a challenge with each person. Since I don’t have the resources to hire staff, I do it myself as well as I can, but mostly I try to hand them off to good Orthodox clergy in the area or other Orthodox Christians in the area who will take some responsibility to start formation for them. Long story short, that’s what I spend a considerable amount of time doing in my own parish and my online work.
Fr. Anthony: Wonderful, yeah, and I think that gives people a very good understanding of who Fr. John Peck is.
So I’ve got a question for you. This wasn’t part of the deal when I asked you to come on, but it may be the case that someone listening has time and a vocation to help you with that kind of work. Are you interested in taking on an apprentice in this work?
Fr. John: Oh, I could use all the help I can get, for sure. They would have to go through the thing, though, so that they’re actually teaching what I’m teaching. That is, I don’t like to micromanage, but I also don’t like loose ends. I want to make sure everybody’s on the same page, everybody’s on the same team.
Fr. Anthony: Well, there’s trust-building, and you’re responsible for anyone that you deputize, right?
Fr. John: Yeah.
Fr. Anthony: So you have to screen, because not everyone who thinks they’re called to do evangelical work is suited for it.
Fr. John: That’s right. It’s a knack, because you do have to have a large degree of dispassion in dealing with questions, because people write things from their heart, and they can come off as very aggressive, and they’re not. They’re simply asking a question, and there may be a question behind this question. These things are important to these people, so you can’t get defensive about things. You can’t be offended if it comes off kind of rough. It is a difficult work, but it’s got to be done, and nobody else is doing it right now. I mean, you guys are doing it in your parishes and in your personal arenas, but the Journey to Orthodoxy has made it kind of a worldwide mission.
Fr. Anthony: That’s fantastic. So you’ve spoken of some of the challenges internationally that Orthodoxy faces, and one of those is we don’t have really enough boots on the ground yet. We’ve got to get out there. Necessity is the mother of invention, so technology takes care of some of that, but that face-to-face interaction with other believers, the sacraments, the mysteries of the Church—this is a very physical, visceral faith. So that’s definitely one of our problems.
I was wondering if we could maybe narrow our focus a little bit and look maybe regionally or just to America: What are the three biggest challenges that our parishes face?
Fr. John: Well, I think poor education and formation, catechesis and mystagogy, are not procedurally set in place. You can go to one parish and there’s an entire process for sort of starting from the moment you walk in the door until the moment you have accepted godchildren of your own, a year or two into being a member. There’s a whole process outlined in that that you are going through. In other places, for whatever reason—the priest is very busy, he travels, he works outside the parish—and he doesn’t have time for a lot of that, so it’s a one-on-one thing, it’s a lot of personal reading. So you end up with a lot of sort of different results. People go to the internet to sort of fill in the gaps, and when you’re going to the internet to fill in the gaps, you’re not always getting authoritative teaching. Let’s just put it that way, the good things.
So I think poor catechesis is one. We live in an increasingly dangerous and hostile public arena. Christian oppression is very clear in this country right now. Christian beliefs are considered low status, and the marginalization of Christianity is very well underway. The writer in The New Yorker earlier this week talks about the “creepy infiltration” of Chick-fil-A into New York. What he’s talking about is people who have the audacity to be Christian publicly. It’s Christian-shaming is what it is: they’re trying to shame people into being silent and making sure that they realize that they are not welcome here and that they will be under attack and it’s okay to attack them.
And finally—and this is related to it—the inability of many of our people to realize that that is our current cultural situation. It came on very fast to a lot of people. It’s much worse than they think it is, and it’s not stopping where it is right now; it’s going forward much faster. These are the big challenges, I think, that parishes have to prepare people for. I was interviewed a couple years ago about preparing for the underground Church.
I mentioned that I think an important, specific catechesis is necessary to prepare people, but also we should push levels of leadership down, train people for satellite missions. If you’re out in the middle of nowhere, it doesn’t mean you can’t do nothing. If you have a priest who will give you some guidance, you can actually just have a couple of people there, get together, just do some basic services, have prayer; and we can train people to do that, and it doesn’t have to be a disaster. There’s always a lot of concern because we have a ton of unemployed readers in this country, people who were made readers when they were age six or something. You can’t just hand them leadership of a nascent community, because it’s pointless. But if you actually train people with an eye toward that, then it’s a much easier thing.
We have, in Orthodoxy, a lot of converts who were former heterodox pastors, and they’re doing nothing. They don’t necessarily want to be ordained—maybe they do, maybe they don’t, but whatever—they’ve got pastoral experience, they have pastoral skills, and a lot of them don’t live near Orthodox churches where they can go regularly, so why not put them to work? That’s what I see as important in contemporary America. We’ve got to get ready for real adversity, and we can do it.
Fr. Anthony: Yeah, and an anti-fragile, decentralized system is not just good for the way it responds to adversity—although it is, right? Centralization is awful: it’s fragile, it’s manipulable, and all kinds of things. A decentralized system is anti-fragile, but it’s also dynamic; it’s evangelical.
Fr. John: It’s very dynamic, yeah. It’s the Orthodox system. I talked to some of our Catholic brethren who were like: You know, your leadership is all over the place. You can’t agree on anything! I said: Well, first of all, we agree on the things that are important, and secondly, that diffuses leadership, protecting us from being hijacked. You can’t just hijack Orthodoxy by getting everybody in one club together and sort of pushing it through. It can’t be done, because we’re everywhere. Our leadership is very diffuse; that makes it powerful.
Fr. Anthony: Right, yes. One of our temptations in Orthodoxy is an excessive clericalism. This is me speaking; I’m not putting words in your mouth.
Fr. John: Sure, sure.
Fr. Anthony: My opinion is we have to be willing to build, equip the saints. We’ve got people in our parishes, we’ve got people in our communities, who are called to this work. They’ve just never been put to the plow, and they’re ready.
Fr. John: That’s because… It’s not a criticism of seminaries. A seminary’s job is to prepare priests to care for parishes, but if you don’t train priests to train laypeople for leadership, then they don’t know what to do. So nothing is done. This is one of the things that I hope we can close the gap on. This is one of the purposes of the program of the Academy, it’s to help push down those levels of leadership and good, solid, theological inquiry.
Fr. Anthony: Fantastic. Yeah, because one of the… When you talk to a priest, and you say, “Why don’t you identify leaders in your parish to take on more responsibility and to help you in the things that are driving you crazy?” They’ll rationalize by saying, “Well, basically, I can’t trust them. They’re not theologically trained,” and so on. It’ll be fantastic—wouldn’t it be great if we had some kind of —I don’t know—training regimen that isn’t designed necessarily to point people towards [ordination] or being ordained, but rather to enable and equip all the saints. Wouldn’t that be fantastic?
Fr. John: What a great idea. We should do something like that. [Laughter] That’s exactly what we’re doing, yes.
Fr. Anthony: You noted on your website that when you’re talking about the Academy, you have this wonderful quote: “The impact of your education with us should show results in your local parish. We must be doers of the Word and not hearers only.” This is fantastic! I love this. How is this going to happen? What does this look like?
Fr. John: Well, first of all, the program—as you know, Father, because we’ve talked about it—it’s not a Master’s level program, so it’s not really intended to compete with high-level theological institutions. It’s something entirely different. Now for us, in the vicariate, the program will act as an education for deacon, priest—they’ll start with this if they don’t already have the theological education. They’ll go on to seminary-level work. But we wanted something that was practical, that was very thorough in terms of its foundational effect, and it’s broken into four simple categories. The first semester is Scripture; the second semester is dogmatic history and canon law; the third semester is theology, and there is a course particularly in [moral theology]
which is where right now Orthodoxy is very weak—there’s exceptions to that, of course, but we need to have that—and then the fourth one is pastoral praxis.
When somebody goes through the Academy program, when they’re done, they should not only be able to teach very well in history and Scripture and theology and that sort of thing, but they should also have all the materials to have the new members class and the catechism class and the mystagogy. They should have everything they need to run a successful satellite mission from two or three people to 30 to 40 families. When they get to that level, then they need a priest, obviously, and probably before that time, but they’ll have everything they need up to that point, all the materials that they need, to operate successfully. So they don’t have to create something out of nothing; they don’t have to reinvent the wheel. They’re using materials that are time-tested and successful.
That’s kind of our thing. We want to focus on the homeschooling mom out in the middle of Australia, who’s one of our applicants. We want to focus on the guy in Indonesia who can’t get to seminary but is in a leadership role. Or in Uganda; we have a lot of students in Jordan, for example. The Academy, as you know, Father, will have courses in English and in Arabic, because there’s a lot of Arabic students that really can’t afford to study, but they’re very interested in learning more so that they can help the Church. We’ve started a scholarship program for them. It’s an acronym. It’s called the MESSIAH scholarship: Middle East Student Scholarship In Academic Honors, something like that. The idea with this scholarship is to scholarship these students in so they can do the entire program, and the entire two-year program can be done for $5,000. It really is the best deal in Orthodox theological study. Everything is completely online, so if you’re in a village in deep Alaska, you don’t have to worry about Amazon delivering books; you just have to download the materials. Everything is included.
We’ve tried to make it as easy as possible for everyone to get everything they need, and again, to push the availability of these programs down to a level where it’s going to do the most good. When I say that, I don’t mean that Master’s programs and above are not doing good; they are, but there’s a big gap between the high school level and the Master’s level, and that’s the gap we’re filling in right now. That’s the focus of our program: to provide a good, challenging undergraduate-level program that people can go on from if they want to, but they don’t have to, and they can still get involved in helping out at their parish or, as I said, taking care of things in a satellite location under the spiritual direction of a distant parish.
I hope that makes sense.
Fr. Anthony: It does. It makes perfect sense. As we’ve discussed, one of the things that this could enable is small-group ministries within a parish.
Fr. John: Oh, yes, yes.
Fr. Anthony: I know this gets pooh-poohed by people because it’s more of an Evangelical Protestant model, but the small-group ministry, this face-to-face small group accountability and so on, is very powerful, but it does require a certain level of formation in order for it to be able to be led well. This is ideal for this.
Fr. John: It is. On my parish website, I have a section called “Christian Life Education,” and it talks about the new member class, the catechumen class, the mystagogy class, Bible study, etc., but it ends with what’s called the Synodia. The Synodia is what Fr. Elchaninov in his book to young priests calls the young church. It’s small groups; it is Orthodox. The thing is that the way it’s Orthodox is that the teacher gathers his disciples around him, and he guides them and he teaches them. They, of course, have disciples that they guide and teach as they get more experienced. The difference is that everybody isn’t a holy elder, so people have in their mind, “We can’t possibly do this.” Well, that’s not true. If you know more than someone else, you can teach them something. If you care about them, you can certainly keep them on the straight and narrow, and you don’t have to wing it yourself, because you yourself should be under the spiritual authority of someone who knows what you’re doing. It’s not complicated. It is not complicated; we’re just… people have never experienced it before, so they’re nervous about it.
Fr. Anthony: Right, and this will give them the confidence and the training that they’ll need. There’s so many canned classes that you can get now. Fr. Barnabas Powell has that excellent series, and there are many others. But it’s not the kind of thing where it’s necessarily a good idea to just say, “Hey, you five people live in the same area. Watch this and talk about it,” right? [Laughter] You want someone there who kind of knows where the boundaries are. This is safe, and past here there are dragons, kind of to drag people along. Not to serve as their primary pastor, but in the Church there are many, many, many vocations. Just pretending you’re like a priest and therefore allowed to teach, or not—oh, and of course “anybody can teach children”—no.
Fr. John: No, no, that’s a big mistake! That’s the one thing: you have to have someone who understands the knack of it. If you don’t have the knack of it, don’t do it. Yeah, you and I agree on that.
Fr. Anthony: This is fantastic. I’m really excited about this. This and all your ministries are in my prayers.
One of the challenges, though, is with distance learning, and I know this because people tell me this all the time. As you know, I help administrate, administer a distance program as well.
Fr. John: I know you do.
Fr. Anthony: There are challenges. What about formation? This is one of the great questions. What about formation? How is it that someone is going to get not just the intellectual data about Orthodoxy, but get that fullness?
Fr. John: Well, with distance education of course there’s no way to do it without the community. Even hermits are connected to a community. We don’t have any bones about saying that. We say: Listen, if you’re out there on your own, that’s fine, and we’ll do what we can do for you in terms of knowledge and advice and that sort of thing, but you have to be under a spiritual father, you have to be connected to a community that can pray for you and that can help you out, and that you can be involved in and minister to. That’s where formation really takes place.
We try to sort of fence around some of the difficulties by taking the Academy motto, which is that saying of Nikolai Velimirovic: “We must be super conservative in our Orthodox faith and super modern in propagating it.” So when somebody has questions about what our positions on things are, they’re pretty conservative. In fact, they ought to be super conservative. But when it comes to sharing the faith, we should be super modern. We should be super inventive. That means not to be afraid to try things.
A friend of mine is a dean of a business college, and he would, after the fall of the Iron Curtain, visit one of these Communist Bloc countries, to help them out in their business colleges and such. He found out that there was an interesting phenomenon there. If somebody tried something once and it failed, nobody ever tried it again. Now, in America if somebody tried something and failed, an American would look at that and say, “You just did that wrong like this.” It’s sort of the Wile E. Coyote school of business: Just move the tree and you’ll get the Roadrunner. No big deal. You won’t smash into it next time. But he never did that. He always went on to the next Acme thing that he ordered.
This is a lot of that idea, sort of endemic in the Orthodox mindset—at least, I experienced it in the east coast, the eastern part of the U.S.—“Well, we did that and it failed.” I remember when I started doing a 24-hour Orthodox Christian radio program online. This was before Ancient Faith Radio, before Orthodox Christian Network. I remember people telling me, “Oh, we did a radio program once. It was on Sunday morning. Nobody listened, because they were all in church.” I said, “Well, why would you do an Orthodox program when all the Orthodox people are in church? That’s ridiculous. Let’s try something different.” The idea of people listening to the internet for radio at that point was not on very many people’s radar, but we did it, and we had live broadcasts from our services. I had our church wired up for it. So mistakes were heard: people coughing, babies crying. You know, it was live. Then teachings and other things that came after that.
Well, one day we had a visitor. He said, “Hey, my name is John Maddex.” I said, “Oh, I know who you are. You’re the best mind in Christian radio today.” He said, “Yeah, I hear you’ve got this thing going on. You mind if I ask some questions about it?” I said, “Yeah, sure, let’s sit down and talk.” Finally, he said, “Well, when are you going to show it to me?” I said, “John, you’re sitting on it. You see that computer under your chair? That’s the whole thing right there.” He asked if I would be upset if he would try it. I don’t think I’m telling tales outside of school here. I said, “No! I have no idea what I’m doing. Here, you’re an expert—do it!” After that, Ancient Faith was born and he’s done a magnificent job with it—because he knows what he’s doing. But this is the thing. Don’t be afraid to try something, tweak it, and if necessary hand it off to somebody who actually knows how to do it properly.
There’s so much that is available for us to do. In a lot of ways, Orthodox are sort of caught in the wake: “What is someone else doing? We could do that, too.” I look at it kind of the opposite. I look at it and think, “What do I need done?” Well, I’ve got people three hours away from here north; I’ve got people three and a half hours away from here northeast; I’ve got a guy three hours south. These are where I want to start my satellite missions, but obviously I can barely pay my rent: I’m not going to be able to drive out to all these every week, so guess what? We’re going to have online meetings. Problem solved. I can send them materials they can print up themselves. Problem solved. We can get together and have online meetings. Problem solved. They can still meet each other, they can talk to each other, I can bring them together a couple of times a year, to meet each other face-to-face, talk about ideas and everything, so that they know each other. As I said, you and I have been friends for a really long time, but we’ve never actually physically met. I still hope we get a chance to, but we’ve become friends.
I’m actually talking about this at a symposium in Crete this June. The digital age is not simply providing new challenges and new opportunities to the Orthodox, but it allows us to decide what we want our mission to be, because we can actually use technology on our terms, to accomplish the goals that we have. So there has to be some clear vision about it. I’ve been a mission priest for over 20 years, so my vision of this is pretty clear. I want it to save me work, I want it to save me gas, I want it to allow connection where it’s necessary and to promote connections where online connections won’t do. So when I want my guys networked, I want to make sure that they can talk to each other, they can ask each other advice. I want these satellites to work very well.
Once again, God sends you people. I’ve got several guys in my parish that are interested in ministries. They’re going to start doing the programs. Some of them are thinking about the priesthood, some the diaconate. So it happens—we’ll see what the Lord has in mind—but for me this is about the work, and there is a lot of it. I’m always happy to talk to someone who’s interested. I’m always happy to tell them, “Listen, I hope you don’t mind if I steal this idea, but it’s really good. I don’t want to figure it out myself.” We share a lot of things this way.
Fr. Anthony: Yeah, and with the Great Martyr Euphemia Theological Academy, you’re realistic in your expectations of it. It’s not, as you said earlier, designed to take the place of seminary. It’s not a complete formation package. It’s part of it, and it’s necessary for many parishes and many people because of their circumstances. This is awesome. What I love about being Orthodox in America is you get a combination of the fullness of the faith with the entrepreneurial spirit, with this can-do attitude. We cannot just sit on our hands; we’ve got to get out there and do stuff. As Dave Ramsey says, “Get out there and break something!” Get it done.
Fr. John: Nothing happens until something moves.
Fr. Anthony: We can clean up, we can adjust later, but our enemy is inertia.
Fr. John: Yes, I completely agree with that. Somebody asked me about that early on. I said: Look, I know it’s not prominently featured on the website, but under “Academics,” there’s a tab that says “Post-diploma Studies.” Basically, if someone is a student in the vicariate or has the permission from their bishop, once they’ve got the diploma, they can come on location—if a deacon, six to nine months, if a priest, at least a year, 18 months—and they can receive additional education and formation that’ll culminate with, for a deacon, a 21-day spiritual retreat, they’ll celebrate liturgy every day; for a priest, the traditional 40-day spiritual retreat: they’ll celebrate liturgy every day. They’ll be involved in these satellite missions, they’ll be doing additional intensive study, they’ll be involved in a lot of liturgics, a lot of formation.
But you can’t do that by distance. You can simply offer it for people who’ve done the distance thing, but it’s got to be picked up at the end, and that’s the dove-tail for that. If our African students, who are going to be taking this course… there’s no question that this is not going to be sufficient for priesthood. We let them know that; we let their bishops know that. But we also let them know that this should be this step forward in what we’re doing so that they can see and make sure that they’re accomplishing the goals that they have for their region. I hope that makes sense.
Fr. Anthony: It does; it makes perfect sense.
Well, Fr. John, this has been fantastic. I’m glad to have you back on. You’ve got so much energy. You’re doing so many things that all of us can benefit from. Your process is also worth studying.
Fr. John: Wow, thanks.
Fr. Anthony: What are some of your plans for the future?
Fr. John: Well, for one, we need out here on the West Coast, a practical theological seminary pretty soon. I don’t know that… I’m speaking just for myself; I don’t have any mandate to do anything like that, but I’m interested in it, and I window-shop for land and things like that all the time. That’s always a possibility. Again, something very practical; the dove-tailing would make it really easy to do.
We do need to establish, and I think we need to prepare people for, underground Church, for not being seen, for being in rural areas where the Orthodox faith can grow. I think that’s going to be very important. Since we can see that on the horizon, we should be preparing for it now. Even people who don’t enter the seminary, excuse me, the Academy, I think we can continue to make things available to them for preparation.
Then, finally, I think we need to establish solid satellite missions and satellite parishes and a process and a system for developing them. That’s one of the things that I’m doing here in Arizona: trying to work out the bugs of that. But as you said, the best way to do something is to get out there and break a few things and figure out how not to do it.
Fr. Anthony: Fantastic.
Fr. John: Those are the things I’m working on.
Fr. Anthony: Very good. Why don’t you tell us how we can find out more about the Academy and your other ministries?
Fr. John: The Academy, as you said, the website is orthodoxacademy.org. There’s a downloadable, online catalogue that you can look at; you can download it and look at it on your own time in PDF format or you can see it embedded online. The applications for the diploma program, which is the full two-year program, and the non-diploma program, which is for people who are not going full-time but still want to take a class or two per semester, those applications are available online. We will be offering some continuing education courses very shortly. Those are mostly for clergy; they’re a higher level course, obviously. Most of the questions should be available at our website. If not, you can certainly get in touch with me.
Let me say this also, Father: We are doing our very best to encourage anyone that’s interested to participate. By that I mean if your husband or wife is taking a course, we have an exceptionally profound spouse-study discount. It is exceptionally profound; it’s like 80% off. We have a military and veterans discount for people who are active-duty military or non-deployed reservists or just veterans; they receive a discount also. Then, for people who gather together a group that actually want to go through a course or the entire program locally, we have a cohort designation discount: a discount of 10% for people who are interested in studying together. There are some additional requirements. If you want the cohort designation discount, you have to have someone sort of guide you through, but everybody in the cohort would get 10% off also. It’s an excellent way for diaconal candidates to go through a program together, since they’ll be interacting with each other throughout the entire course of study.
We’ve really tried to keep it down and make it as successful as possible. All that information is on the website: orthodoxacademy.org. We’re on Facebook, and of course I’m all over social media, so it should not be difficult to contact me with any questions. I hope not; I’ve tried to make it as easy as possible.
Fr. Anthony: Okay, and if you would, please, could you just round us out, finish us up with a word of encouragement and blessing for all of our listeners who are trying to work out their salvation with fear and trembling and find ways that they can serve Christ, serve his Church, and glorify him?
Fr. John: Well, brothers, the Orthodox tradition is not an Orthodox tradition of fear or timidity. It’s a tradition of boldness: it’s a tradition of getting out there, it’s Cyril and Methodius, it’s Peter and Paul, it’s Philip and his daughters. You don’t have to do everything, and you don’t have to stand up on a hill and preach like Paul did in Athens. In fact, that wasn’t very successful, actually. It’s the one-on-one discussions. It’s the one-on-one prayers. Pull people into the Church. Love them into the Church. But whatever you do, don’t do nothing.
It’s entirely possible for someone to go through their life, bringing people into the Church one by one, and having a multitude of people into the Church because of their results. Don’t be shy, don’t be afraid, and don’t be afraid to ask for help, don’t be afraid to imitate someone else. There’s always an opportunity to do good. Let’s face it: these days, doing a good deed, it’s very difficult to do sometimes. No good deed goes unpunished. Get ready for that, but by the same token where evil abounds, grace superabounds. The Holy Spirit is already out there, waiting for you to be the catalyst for the things that he wants to do in people’s lives and change them and save them and sanctify them and just make their life erupt in grace.
Get out there and do it, and if you need help or you’ve got questions, get in touch with myself, get in touch with the Academy, get in touch with Fr. Anthony, get in touch with your priest. We actually know how to do this stuff, and I promise we’ll share it. Keep us in prayer, too. Prayer is what keeps us alive.
Fr. Anthony: Pray for us, yes, please. Fr. John, thank you so much for your time. I look forward to having you on again.
Fr. John: Thanks, Father. God bless. Christ is risen!
Fr. Anthony: Indeed he is risen!