Ecumenical support for Orthodox seminarians
There are 183 young men at the Russian Orthodox seminary in Stavropol currently training for the priesthood. Aid to the Church in Need has for many years now maintained close contact with this seminary and here too, as in many other places, there are close and friendly relations between Catholic and Orthodox.
In addition to their academic studies, the seminarians also work with the elderly, the disabled and orphans, in order to gain some practical experience of pastoral work. By now in fact this has become a standard element of priestly formation, and not only in Stavropol.
Our support for the training of these future Orthodox priests in fact also indirectly helps the situation of the Catholics in Russia since, given the minority situation of the Catholics in the country, those Orthodox priests who are well disposed towards the Catholics and who maintain positive contacts with the Catholic Church can also become valuable assistants for the Catholic communities as well. Already, we can see this happening in many places and in fact, more and more such joint initiatives are being organized today.
More about Stavropol
The city of Stavropol, which today has around 370,000 inhabitants, lies in the northern Caucasus Mountains and was originally established in the year 1777 as one of the 10 fortresses designed to defend the southern frontier of the Russian Empire. At that time it was quite common in Russia to give Greek names to newly founded towns and cities. In fact the name of the town ”Stavropol“ actually means “City of the Cross.“ Today the city is also known as the “Gateway to the Caucasus.”
The seminary in Stavropol was founded back in 1846. However, during Soviet times and since 1920, it was only open briefly, from 1946 to 1960. It was not until 1988 that it was finally reopened as a Spiritual School, and not until 1990 that it was given the status of a higher spiritual seminary.
The situation in this area is particularly difficult, owing to its geographical proximity to the “troubled” republics of Chechnya, Ingushetia and Dagestan, where the situation is quite explosive. The results of the war in Chechnya and the internal conflicts between moderate Islamic groups and radical Wahhabi-influenced Muslims – conflicts either conducted locally or “exported” in the form of terrorist attacks – are leading to a continuing emigration of ethnic Russians, who are increasingly leaving even the southern, ethnically Russian heartland around Stavropol. The result has been a weakening of the presence of the Russian Orthodox Church in the region, with once Christian villages now becoming Muslim and more and more mosques appearing. In the face of these developments the Orthodox Church in the Caucasus faces some particular challenges which have to be taken into account in the formation of its clergy.
Consequently, and at the request of the Moscow Patriarch, the seminarians in Stavropol have for some years now included Islamic studies in their formation. The seminary also offers its students the opportunity to learn Arabic. But the library also includes works of Catholic theology, which Aid to the Church in Need has helped to provide.
Aid to the Church in Need gives regularly for the formation of these future priests, and this year again we are helping with a contribution of 438 CAD for each of the 183 seminarians – which translates into a grand total of 80,154 CAD.
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