Beholding the Blessings of the
Toronto Orthodox Theological Academy
An Interview with the V. Rev. Archimandrite Ignatios Delis
By Evagelos Sotiropoulos*
October 8, 2012
The Toronto Orthodox Theological Academy was founded in 1997, commenced operating in 1998, and recently began another school year. The Academy is affiliated with St. Paul’s University in Ottawa and offers a rigorous four-year program in Theological Studies; in May 2012, the Hellenic National Academic Recognition Information Center announced its decision to officially recognize the degree offered by the Theological Academy. To date, 40 students have graduated from the Academy, with 25 of them ordained and serving the communities of the Metropolis. In 2006, the V. Rev. Fr. Ignatios Delis was appointed Dean of the Toronto Orthodox Theological Academy.
Since becoming the Academy’s Dean, can you describe some of the changes you have witnessed both with the school itself and with its students?
There have not been too many substantive changes to the operations of the Academy since I became Dean.
During my time here, we have been blessed to have excellent students. Although not all come with the express purpose of becoming priests, they each enter the Academy with good intentions to learn about Orthodoxy and of earning a degree in Theological Studies. Some of our graduates, I should note, who wish to be ordained, face the challenge of first getting married.
We attract many applications each year, not only from people in Canada but also from abroad, including Greece and Africa, as well as from other Orthodox Churches (e.g., Romanian; Serbian; and, Ukrainian). All applications are evaluated in detail by a three-person committee of professors from the Academy.
Still, a challenge since becoming Dean that relates specifically to students is identifying and attracting good candidates; in this regard, I frequently communicate with priests across the country about potential applicants.
What would you say are the principal characteristics of a successful student and a good clergyman?
One key characteristic is that the student has been taught about Orthodoxy from a young age; has learned to pray; to repent and confess; to go to Church on a regular basis and to participate in the Holy Mysteries. These characteristics, which are generally rooted in one’s upbringing, increase the likelihood that a student will succeed at the Academy because the program itself is similar to being part of a Christian family where most things are done together in a spirit of love.
I want to say, however, that my answer of course does not preclude individuals with a passion for the priesthood from succeeding even without such an upbringing.
In addition, a specific personality trait which is important to possess is an open heart. This means people who can communicate well; are sociable and can easily develop good relations with others; have friendly personalities; and, welcome all people just like Christ let the little children come to Him (Mt 19:14).
What advice would you give those individuals who are thinking about applying to the Theological Academy?
The first question I always ask a potential student is, “Why do you want to come to the Academy?” I try to understand their motivating factor; do they feel God is calling them to serve the Church?
If someone feels that God is calling them and the person himself desires to become a priest, my advice would be that he should not hesitate to apply to the Theological Academy because the entire program offered will help to prepare him in the best way to serve the people as a priest.
Can you outline the daily schedule in terms of student life here at the Toronto Orthodox Theological Academy?
The program here is a demanding one, but also very rewarding.
Between Monday and Friday, students wake-up at approximately 7:00 AM and begin the following schedule:
- 8:00 – Orthros (Matins) or the Divine Liturgy depending on the liturgical calendar; the holy services are performed exclusively in Greek (from November 15 to December 25 [40 days] the Divine Liturgy is performed each day)
- 9:00 – communal breakfast; the day’s Gospel is read in English and discussed amongst the attending clergy and all students
- 9:30 – classes begin
- 12:30 – communal lunch
- 1:30 – classes resume
- 4:30 – Great Vespers or Paraklesis / Apodeipnon
- 5:30 – communal dinner
Students have free time between 6:00-8:00 and are expected to study between 8:00-10:00, although flexibility of course exists for students with the blessing of the Dean.
While Divine Liturgies are also performed on Saturday and, of course, Sunday, the activities of students are not fixed from Friday afternoon to Sunday evening.
Do you think the Academy prepares students with the necessary information to succeed in today’s society, or are additional resources required that can help prospective priests deal with the challenges of leading a parish, both administratively and spiritually?
The Academy’s program is very thorough and indeed equips students with the necessary information and while we continually provide support, it is the students themselves who must work to cultivate an understanding of psychological issues, societal pressures and pastoral responsibilities; to deal with different circumstances – people who are unemployed, who are sick, and who are depressed, for example. It’s important to heed the words of the Apostle Paul, who wrote to the Romans, “Rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep” (12:15).
The Academy provides the essential knowledge but like any teaching program, students should continue building their knowledge even after graduating.
One very positive feature we offer is a true spiritual family-like Christian environment for students who live here at the Academy.
Many of the Metropolis priests who completed the Academy together, for instance, have very close relations and offer each other much assistance and support.
The program we have here allows for conversations to develop easier and gives students the opportunity to engage professors with questions and concerns. Almost all professors are priests, which is of great value because they each share their different experiences and therefore allow students to learn about different topics which are relevant to pastoral life in today’s society. These priests discuss challenges (e.g., dealing with family members who have different opinions on issues of importance) which is also of great value because classes become more than a simple theoretical discussion.
This is all done within the context of a liturgical life, study of Holy Scripture and of the Holy Fathers of the Church and building the pastoral skills for future priests, with faith, hope and love in God.
The life of a clergyman – and that of his Presvytera – is one of sacrifice. From performing the divine services to other responsibilities such as helping parishioners and those in need; often, however, people are quick to criticize priests. How do you reconcile these two issues and how does the Academy prepare students for such realities?
There will always be people who are critical of priests for various reasons and experiences. The point for a priest, however, is to always strive to do his best in serving the people, be it praying for them or helping to properly prepare them to participate in the Holy Mysteries.
Moreover, it is important to perform all tasks with eagerness and always avoid doing such things for money – and even avoiding this appearance. For me, this is a critical point and one which I try to instil in the students.
Finally, the attempts of each of us here at the Academy is to give inspiration to the students – the future priests of our Church – to always work within the Church with apostolic zeal for their own salvation and for the salvation of God’s people.