Certainly not in Berkeley anymore

Here’s a picture from out of the window of my dorm room (affectionately referred to as a “cell”: let the reader understand!) from this morning:

There was some sleet Thursday night that barely made it to the ground, and had mostly melted by morning. This was different: a steady, fluffy, snow driven by a strikingly cold wind (I need a balaclava), that just kept coming and coming and coming. There was a power outage, too. I think all our campus is back up now. I wasn’t aware that snow would cause outages. Apparently a very large tree near the campus (most still have their leaves) became overburdened with snow and just crashed to the ground, taking some power lines with it.

I had forgotten how beautiful this crisp, clear, and cold weather is. I was taken back to childhood by the sight of snowfall, and of melting piles of snow, but especially by the brisk air and the sunlight. The light has a particular quality here that I’d filed away somewhere as “autumn light”, and it’s here in all its glory. Anyhow, I love it.

We’ll see how much I love it later when the banks of snow are ten feet high and I have to fight my way through it all to get to chapel and class!

Stuff and whatnot on classes

I’m in an unusual position. For those who know me, back in Berkeley, when you would find me reading (very often at table 311 in the Panini section of Jupiter!) you would find me reading something that could generally be considered “Orthodox seminary fare.” My reading matter of choice is, in roughly descending interest: Bible, Church Fathers, Patristics, Biblical Studies, History/Archaeology, and Classics. The fact that I’ve been reading most of these subjects since 1984 (Church Fathers and Patristics since about 1997), I’ve got quite a lot of reading under my belt. That my undergraduate education was in Biblical Hebrew under Jacob Milgrom at UC Berkeley, where, by lucky coincidence, I also had classes with Hayim Tadmor and Moshe Weinfeld while they were visiting, is something that I’m always grateful for, even more than I was while in the midst of it. The training I received then led to my being able to continue my studies without being part of a graduate studies program. As I was working full-time, I was also able to afford to buy all the books I wanted to read, more than I really needed, as it turns out. Even so, I’ve had the benefit (some would say, and I would not correct them, guided by Providence) of learning a great amount of very useful stuff which is coming in handy now that I have begun a seminary program. Aside from excellent study habits and organizational skills (the latter being something that an adult in the workplace either develops and succeeds with or doesn’t and flounders), I’ve got a pleasant personality, and I enjoy helping other people when I have the opportunity. I don’t want this to sound like some kind of bragfest, but intend it rather as background for the commentary on my first few weeks of classes below. I’m not the average first year MDiv seminarian track student at my school, if there even is such a creature.

So, here are some short description of the classes I’ve got right now, all of which are interesting in different ways.

First is Introduction to the Old Testament, with Fr Eugen Pentiuc. Fr Pentiuc is the author of, among other things, a book of his that I picked up on the recommendation of a friend, a very interesting book-length standalone commentary on Hosea, Long-Suffering Love: A Commentary on Hosea with Patristic Annotations (Holy Cross Press, 2002; reprinted 2008), and the very interesting sounding West Semitic Vocabulary in the Akkadian Texts from Emar (Harvard Semitic Studies 49; Eisenbrauns, 2001), and a book assigned for our class that I hadn’t known of before seeing the syllabus: Jesus the Messiah in the Hebrew Bible (Paulist Press, 2006). Fr Pentiuc is a very engaging lecturer, full of enthusiasm for the subject. I look forward to spending more time with him to work on some other engaging projects. In fact, I’m hoping he’ll be able to help me learn Syriac while I’m here. If not that, I’m sure we’ve got other interesting things to work on. I have numerous ideas for projects related to the Old Testament rattling around in my head, and some actually in progress, so it will help tremendously to have someone readily available to both bounce ideas of off and to get me to knuckle down and do things. I tend toward a kind of ADD in my independent studying: “Okay, let’s start working on a history of modern biblical criticism from Michaelis onwards . . . Oh! Look! A book of Sumerian poetry in translation! . . . Oh, online Emar tablets! Wait! Let’s type up Hebrew paradigms!” So, a little direction will be welcome. I found out that the only bar around here that I’ve yet been in (John Harvard’s in Cambridge), which I mightily liked a liking thereof, is also a place that Prof Pentiuc likes to meet to talk at. So that’s a plus. So, I’m looking forward to getting to work with Fr Pentiuc some more.

Second is Religious Education, with Dr Anton Vrame. Having never read up on education of any type, I’m finding this one to be fascinating. The history of Sunday schools alone was an eye-opener. Anyhow, this is a very promising class, particularly for introducing various tools and approaches that’ll come in handy later on. The bibliography for the class (that is, the recommended and required readings in toto) is intriguing, if daunting. While I have in the past been one to regularly read all the recommended reading, this is a class where much of it will need to wait, as there are entire books assigned as recommended reading, and several of these are not even in our library. I’ve bought a couple of the more seminal works (Groome’s Christian Religious Education and Boojamra’s Foundations for Christian Education), but I’ll check out the others (Interlibrary Loan, get ready!) and evaluate them for keepery at that point. I’ll have to go through them at a later date. But this class has already got me thinking of projects for various kinds of students of all ages, particularly in how my familiarity with the internets and various gizmos may be useful in this regard. This week I’ll be talking with people at Holy Cross Press (Dr Vrame is the head of the press) about ebooks. More on that later.

Next is Byzantine Music I. This class is awesome. It’s beyond awesome, in fact. I am now learning Byzantine musical notation, how to read it and chant it. Within four years, I should be very good at it. That’s just too awesome to even describe. The professor is Menios Karanos, and he’s both very good at it and obviously loves it. You can tell when you see him in services as Protopsaltis in our chapel.

New Testament Greek. We’re using the old Stephen Paine book, Beginning Greek: A Functional Approach (Oxford, 1961). The teacher is Evie Zacharides-Holmberg, and she’s also teaching the liturgical Greek class which follows on this. She’s been teaching from the Paine book for long enough to know from memory the page numbers of where, say, the relative pronouns are found. Very interesting! She really knows the Greek well, but some of the students are having trouble adjusting, as they haven’t had any language classes before, so the concepts, much less the terminology, is all new. It’s a steeper learning curve for some of our fellow students as their first language isn’t English! So, they’re learning a new foreign language through the medium of another foreign language. Imagine how frustrating that could be!

Church History. This one is the first of a series of several Church History classes, with an eventual focus on the Ecumenical Patriarchate. Right now, we’re just in general history territory. After a month, we’ve just gotten to Constantine. So I think we’ll be going more in depth over the next few weeks. Or maybe we’ll keep doing a century a week or so! Anyhow, I’m an avid reader of Church History anyway. The books assigned for this class are Chadwick’s The Early Church (Penguin History of the Church, volume 1; revised ed. 1993), Bettenson’s Documents of the Christian Church (3rd ed, 1999; I see there’s a new edition out next month), Kesich’s Formation and Struggles: The Birth of the Church AD 33-200 (The Church in History series, volume 1a; St Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 2007; this is the only modern Church history series done from an Orthodox perspective, a corrective to Catholic and Protestant distortive approaches to issues like church authority and various East/West controversies), and John Meyendorff’s Imperial Unity and Christian Divisions: The Church from 450-680 AD (The Church in History volume 2). [In the Church in History series, the two volumes above are okay, but the other two currently available volumes are absolutely excellent: volume 3 by Andrew Louth, Greek East and Latin West: The Church AD 681-1071, and volume 4 by Aristeides Papadakis, The Christian East and the Rise of the Papacy: The Church 1071-1453 AD. I suppose we’ll be using those next semester or later. This class is taught by Fr Tom FitzGerald, who is also the dean of the graduate school. He’s extremely knowledgeable and yet comfortable to leave topics to be covered in more depth in one of our following classes, whether Dogmatics or Liturgics or Exegesis or whatever. That’s quite refreshing!

Patrology. This is my favorite class, not too surprisingly. The teacher is Fr George Dragas, who is a real treasure. As the qualities about him that so strike me are spiritual in nature, I hesitate to describe them. Suffice it to say, I enjoy his lecturing and speaking with him after class, immensely. And I am not alone in this, as several generations of seminarians have thought the same. The book we’re using is one that he translated, Greek Orthodox Patrology: An Introduction to the Study of the Church Fathers, by Panagiotes Chrestou. Chrestou’s Patrology in Greek is in five volumes, and is the most recent multi-volume Patrology, and the only one from an Orthodox perspective. The translated volume above comprises the first half of the first volume only. Fr George is working on the rest. He’s going to be giving us printouts of preliminary translations of some of the rest as textbook material this semester now that we’ve finished with the above-mentioned volume.

So, that’s it right now for the classes I have. I’m going to be writing some more on general aspects of life here, as thoughts strike me. I just need to get back in the habit of blogging, really! I’ve been slacking off for too long, for which I apologize. So, stay tuned.

New beginnings

Some will know that I’ve begun an MDiv program at Holy Cross Greek Orthodox School of Theology in Brookline, Massachusetts. And those of you that didn’t, well, now you do! At the request of several interested parties, I’ll be posting some occasional thoughts on what it’s like to be a “returning student” to an Orthodox seminary, a strange beast to the thoughts of most. I decided that I won’t post anything about the trials and tribulations involved in getting to this point. The process was somewhat messy. So, as my mother taught me, as I cannot say anything nice about that, I will instead say nothing at all. And we’ll move on!

Holy Cross Greek Orthodox School of Theology is situated in a particularly beautiful part of the most beautiful suburb of Boston, Brookline. The school is actually both Hellenic College (a four year undergraduate college) and Holy Cross (the graduate school; Masters progams only, no doctorates). The school is affiliated with the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America, which is under the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople. Archbishop Demetrios is the bishop commemorated in liturgies. There are just over 200 students total at the school, most of which live here on campus in either a dormitory (where I live now; more on that below) or in family housing, for married students and their children, of which there are quite a few! The campus is small, but beautiful. It’s situated on what appears to be the highest hill near Boston, with the chapel at the highest point on the campus, so we have a good view of Boston (but I was spoiled with a stunning view of San Francisco Bay from work and home back west; we aren’t high enough or far enough to have a view like that–I can’t even see the ocean from here). There are two hawks, a male and a female, which live here and will perch on the cross atop the dome of the chapel. Very striking. Very near to campus is Jamaica Pond, a large pond which is great to walk around, at least for now while the weather is nice! In walking distance is the cute little town of Jamaica Plain; it’s Berkeleyesque, but the architecture is much more interesting. Old New England houses really look like proper houses to me. It must be a childhood thing (I was born in Manchester, NH, just north of here a bit). One of the neatest things is that the curbstones are granite, not concrete. And there are huge stone walls everywhere. Somebody has done a lot of stonecutting around here! It’s a nice touch, these giant chunks of granite everywhere as curbs. And the corners of streets with drains and manholes cut into them are really cool. I’ll have to post some pictures of those. The weather is, at best, fickle. As one of my professors has said, “This is New England. If you don’t like the weather, wait fifteen minutes.” Part of me wonders how these people can live here. Just over this past week, there’s been a fifty degree spread in temperature, both rainy and sunshiny. When I arrived at the beginning of September, there was super high humidity and it was in the high 70s and 80s. I loved it! It was positively tropical. Today, it was 81, but not as humid. Tomorrow it should be around 84, they say. But as I said, the humidity has dropped already, so it’s not as nice. I’m the one who loves it hot. When I heard of that heat wave that hit New England a couple weeks before I got here, I was positively jealous! But enough of weather talk.

I haven’t had much time to wander about or even visit Boston itself aside from a dinner with a visiting friend a few days after I arrived (Hi Doug!), and an evening trip into Cambridge (my first T trip, organized as a group thing for new students, the ‘Boston T Party’!). There are several people here who know the area very well and walk (as I love to do), so they’ve pointed me in various directions, but I’ll just have to tag along on one of their excursions, and do a bit of my own wandering, as well. Now that I’m feeling more settled, I’ll probably be able to do that soon. I’ll probably end up in Cambridge quite a bit, as that’s the most likely contender for the combination of venues that I require for me to feel as though I’m living a civilized existence (good bookstores [PLURAL!], cafés with good coffee and fresh baked goods, pubs with local brews, tailors, cobblers, etc). We’ll see. I don’t expect to find a Jupiter here, but something that’s relatively similar would be nice. I don’t expect winter outdoor seating in this area. More’s the pity!

So, I live in a dorm. I never thought I would ever live in a dorm. But now I do and it’s not so bad. The worst part was actually moving in. I had my stuff from Berkeley shipped here via one of those shipping cubes, and then had to move everything up three flights of stairs (there is no elevator here!). The measurements I got for this room were incorrect (some rooms are the measurements I was given, but not the one I’m in), so I ended up having a book giveaway of about 200 or so books (10 medium sized boxes) as soon as I arrived, and gave away two bookshelves too. I had no room for them, and there is no storage for such a huge amount of stuff here, nor could I face lifting it back into some other storage container. So, within a day of my arrival a whole bunch of people got to know me as the guy giving away literally a ton (indeed, quite literally a ton, roughly 2,000 pounds!) of scholarly books on all kinds of interesting subjects. I’m still getting used to that. I’ll go to my bookshelf to look for a book and it’s not there. Oh well. That was a lesson in acquisitiveness. I’ll replace some of those books in the future, but not all of them, for sure. And certainly not while I’m living here! I’ve learned my lesson of having to lift all that stuff! Over the course of two days, I lifted 3,950 pounds of stuff out of that cube, with roughly half of that going into my dorm room. And I have to move everything out of here at the end of the year, as they use the dorms during the summer for conferences and such. So I’m already dreading that move. Really. I shudder when I think of it. But living in the dorm is not so bad. I thought it would be some wild bacchanal that would drive me insane. It’s not. It’s a Christian school after all. Which is decidedly not to say that all of the dorm’s inhabitants are pietistic spotless lilies, pure as the driven snow. But the character of the students here is really striking for its absolutely being a cut above what I’m used to seeing. I’m truly impressed with the people around me. I’m actually finding this a positive experience, rather than the nightmare that some led me to expect.

(to be continued tomorrow!)