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LTS Graduation Speech

By Deacon Pawel, Prefect LTS

I would firstly like to thank you all for your attendance here today at this, the first graduation ceremony of the Lived Theology School dedicated to St Maria of Paris.

A special welcome is extended to Professor John Kapsalis and Professor Mary Marrocco who were the first teachers of the LTS seminars and also to the Right Reverend and Most Honourable Professor Ultra Tums, professor of Church History at the Knotted Stomach School of ecclesiastical history and Clan Chief of the Auchenshoogle in Scotland. Whilst Professors Kapsalis and Marrocco enlightened our interns, and others, at the LTS open seminars, with their knowledge and wisdom I can say, without hesitation, that one of our interns would not have made it through the church history module without the constant support of Professor Tums.

A school needs a home and we thank and welcome Harry who provided us with Lourmel, the LTS house. Without this basic there could have been no Lived Theology School and we would not be having this ceremony today.

Back in one of my homelands we are in these days commemorating the 70th anniversary of both the Battle of Britain and the London Blitz. This is appropriate even here, as there are often times when the Mission resembles a battlefield with dogfights in the air and like the Blitz one is never sure from what, or whom, or where, the next attack will come or, as in the blitz, exactly what form it will take. Like the Blitz, mission life tests and exposes the mettle of a person. Like Great Britain Naomi and Michael have won through to the victory of this day.

Winston Churchill said to the Canadian parliament in Ottawa during the dark days of 1941:

“We have not journeyed all this way across the centuries, across the oceans, across the mountains, across the prairies, because we are made of sugar candy.”

Well, our interns came at least across the prairies to LTS and over this past year have proved that they are not made of sugar candy.

Why did they cross the mountains and the prairies to become interns at this Lived Theology School? Their personal reasons are precisely that, personal. But I can say something about what LTS called them to. This Lived Theology School is the only place in North America that offers to its interns an integrated course in Orthodox mission built on four cornerstones:

  • a reflective theological study of the nature and practice of Orthodox mission
  • immersion in the liturgical worship of the Church
  • many and varied opportunities for practical diakonia or service of the poor and marginalized
  • life in community

There are places of higher learning of course in the Orthodox Church in North America that can, and do, offer much more advanced academic theological education than LTS can and does. And perhaps it is true in one way as Churchill said at Harvard University in the still dark days of 1943 that “empires of the future are the empires of the mind.” (Speech at Harvard University, September 6, 1943) But knowledge of Orthodoxy is nothing if it is not incarnated in living practice and Orthodoxy becomes united with Orthopraxis. Both Naomi and Michael are to be commended for the way in which, as their final assessments demonstrated, they, after one year of living Orthodox mission, were able to relate the theory to the practice of Orthodox mission and the practice to the theory. The credit for this goes to their real teachers, the poor and the marginalized who come to the Mission, and without whom the teaching they received would have been just a useless empire in the mind. They may not have the academic knowledge of a PhD graduate in Patristics but I like to think that if St John Chrysostom or St Basil popped into LTS they would recognise their teachings in our interns by the life they are living.

I can confidently say that Michael and Naomi have often during this past year shared Winston Churchill’s sentiment to the War cabinet, “So little time, so much to do.” They have both learned and practiced the fact that there are usually no easy solutions, no cuddly, fuzzy “miracles” on a cloud to solve people’s brokenness and that sometimes one needs to remember that before the Resurrection came the Descent into Hell and that sometimes all one can do is to sit a while in hell with someone. But they also learned to follow the advice of Winston Churchill, even if they didn’t know they were doing so, “If you are going through hell, keep going.” It speaks to their personal integrity that in all the challenges they faced during their internship, and there were many, that they did not succumb, as far as I know, to Churchill’s rule, “When I was younger I made it a rule never to take strong drink before lunch. It is now my rule never to do so before breakfast.” But I am only the Prefect of LTS and Prefects don’t know everything that goes on! I can tell you that if they were having a strong drink before breakfast they certainly weren’t sharing it. They did however develop a fine tradition of hospitality at Lourmel, the LTS house; an extension of their own community life there, to others in the community of the Mission and the parish. 

The unglamorous daily grind of an Orthodox Mission, it ain’t romantic folks, would be unsustainable, and wouldn’t be Orthodox, without the daily bread of liturgical and personal prayer. Naomi and Michael lived out their commitment daily to this way of life not simply by being present but also by fully involving themselves by taking responsibility for the conduct of the services; this not just at “parish” services but on a daily basis for the people of the Mission. They also did much of the hidden work behind the scenes in caring for the physical fabric of the chapel and ensuring that everything was ready for services and thus living out their love for the House of the Lord. Lamps don’t fill and light themselves and vestments don’t change colour themselves and the floor is not self-cleaning. As is frequent in Orthodox mission the important things are the small things not the grand gestures and that is true whether it is in the chapel or other parts of the building.

Winston Churchill, in an uncharacteristically Calvinist mood, said of himself, “We are all worms. But I do believe I am a glow-worm.” Both Michael and Naomi had their glow-worm moments but Orthros at 6.45 on Friday morning, especially in the long and busy days of winter, wasn’t always one of them.

I don’t need to tell you how Naomi and Michael have made themselves part of the community of the parish – you all know it. Only those of us here every day really know how they have made themselves part of the Mission community. Each of them formed bonds with people at the Mission for as one of them wrote; “only when mission becomes the whole of your life can you become part of the lives of others.” And in this year as interns, mission has been the whole of their lives.And sometimes this was a heavy load and they could say with St Maria of Paris who when she was complimented on the wonderful work she was doing, “but it is so hard.” But that is precisely where Orthodox mission begins in the ascetism of doing for others in a place where “the Poor our Teachers” will soon let you know how well, or badly, you are doing. 

Lamentations come occasionally in the liturgy of the Church but they are a daily event at the Mission when a certain person is present and the cry goes up “Where’s Naomi? Is Naomi coming? When is Naomi coming? Is Naomi away, she didn’t tell me? Is Naomi coming back soon? Is Naomi upstairs? Is Naomi downstairs? Is Naomi in the washroom? Is she coming out soon? Is she all right she hasn’t come out of the washroom? (Well, actually Naomi has sneaked down the back stairs to do some work) I haven’t seen Naomi (for at least 2 whole minutes) is she coming back? When is she coming back?” [1]

Michael and Naomi made a big step, a graduation, when they left the Prairies to come to Toronto to become interns at the Lived Theology School now they are graduating once more. But graduating in Orthodox mission is not like a final exam at university, done and completed. Winston said it well when he said, “Now this is not the end. It is not even the beginning of the end. But it is, perhaps, the end of the beginning.” (Speech at Lord Mayor’s Luncheon, Mansion House, London, November 10, 1942)

Dn Pawel
Prefect LTS

[1] Update on the Naomi search – “Perhaps she is in the washroom.” “No, she isn’t, I’ve checked!”