Western Orthodox Theological Institute
|Dear Prospective Student:
The Western Orthodox Theological Institute (WOTI) is a private religious institution that was founded through the development and amalgamation of several small tutorial type seminary programs. WOTI was originally known as St. John Chrysostom University. For many years, the only feasible way of training students living in the same area was tutorial. Several students, living with the bishop were taught by the bishop. While the training was excellent, in most cases, it was not possible to earn a degree in Western Orthodox theology. Other sources were the main universities and established seminaries by mainline churches such as the Roman Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, and numerous Protestant Churches.
The development of the Western Orthodox Theological Institute (WOTI), came about in 1977 when two bishops of the Western Orthodox Church founded Duarte Costa University in St. Louis, Missouri which has since closed. The institute later became a resident program out of Altoona, Pennsylvania until 1980 when St. John Chrysostom University was founded which had headquarters in St. Louis, Missouri.
The predecessors to both these institutes were the St. Stephen Martyr Seminary College in Veguita, New Mexico. The priests of several churches received their training there, in residence program, although the bulk of their theological training was later accomplished through correspondence and periodic one-on-one examinations with the bishop and other instructors.
In 1981, after several months of discussion, a meeting between several Orthodox-Catholic Churches and their presiding bishops brought about the mandates for the formation of the Western Orthodox Theological Institute (WOTI) with Archbishop Jerome Joachim (of reposed memory) as its first President and Dean. The American Orthodox Church, along with several other churches, including the Catholic Christian Church gave their approval for the formation of this Institute that would serve the needs of those who sought the priesthood in the Orthodox-Catholic and Old Roman Catholic Faith.
As has been the history of the Independent (not a part of mainline Churches) movement, disagreements between church groups often is the downfall to great ideas. The president of the Board, The Most Rev. Jerome Joachim, retired in 1982 while the Most Rev. David M. Johnson resigned due to health matters. The remaining member of the Board of Directors, The Most Rev. Joseph Thaddeus, SSJt., Ph.D., became the new President of WOTI.
With the help and assistance of The Most Rev. James A.M. Dennis and his Episcopal Superior, The Most Rev. Mikhail Augustine Francis Itkin, both of reposed memory, WOTI grew to a newer excellence and prestige in supplying the Independent Catholic and Orthodox-Catholic movement with priests in accordance with ancient practices and teachings.
The very concept of a "University Without Walls" is not really new, but fits rather well into those churches who seek both a married and unmarried ‘Worker Priest’. With today’s economic and technological advancement, a late blooming vocation is no longer thwarted. Although many mainline churches of the Roman Catholic Confessions do not necessarily allow for a married priesthood, or the costs of education are far to great, WOTI is the means to overcome those obstacles.
Various Churches who follow and practice true Christianity as given us from ancient times, and who are in support of WOTI, allow for both married and unmarried priests. Costs are minimal in comparison to mainline church seminary studies. Yet WOTI exists to meet the specific needs of those Churches who follow what is (errantly) termed as "Sacramental Church". Old Catholic and Orthodox-Catholic churches have recognized WOTI for providing solidly based doctrinal education, sufficient for ordination and an innovative post-certification course leading to theological degrees.
WOTI addresses itself to the calling for a new kind of church where the idea of ‘ministry’ is the work of all people, one in which professionals, ordained and non-ordained do not have a monopoly on decision making; where the work of ‘ministry’ becomes a work of all the people.
In the Eastern Orthodox and Roman Catholic Churches, it was not uncommon in ancient times to train their members in situations outside of, and away from, Seminaries and Universities. Many great saints of both churches were trained in this fashion.
There are always men and women who want to proclaim the ‘GOOD NEWS’ that we are loved, that life has a future, that the Kingdom of God is both here and not yet. They have caught the excitement of Pentecost and want to communicate it. The ‘Good News’ is something that is shared, and sharing is only done in a sharing context. This began with the Apostles who generated communities of believers everywhere they told the story. Their preaching was not the same as the preaching of today which is noted today as proselytizing. The form of proselytizing as practiced today is a violence that goes against the very teachings of Jesus Christ Himself who made no demand on any one, but sought only those who wanted to know and learn for they were true Seekers of Truth. The ‘Good News’ was brought to Seekers of Truth who had heard of the man called Jesus. They asked the Apostles about the man called Jesus, who then became known as the Christ by everyone who accepted His teachings at the hands of the Apostles and their disciples. Meetings and worship were conducted in the homes of the various faithful, as well as in the catacombs.
"These (the baptized) remained faithful
to the teaching
One of the first acts of the group was to distribute the functions of the group among the gifted. Ministries were initiated:
"So the twelve called a full meeting of
Each local group was a "church" (Faith of the people), tied together not by the antics of violent proselytizing or even a building, but by preaching, praying, letters and collections for local communities in need, and the breaking of bread (The Body of Christ), The Bread of Life, and sharing in the Cup of Truth (the Blood of Christ). Those of the church who had given over the other duties after seven had been chosen, were devoted to true prayer and preaching only to those who came to them and asked about their Faith in Jesus Christ, not by the going out into the streets or knocking at unknown doors of people who never asked for them to come (Proselytizing) .
Where today do these acts truly exist within the churches of Christendom without the church getting involved in some form of secular political action in the local, county, state or federal government affair? Are the works of the Church today truly the people or more for the coffers by involving the secular politics? The later would be more true than the former!
Since the first century, forms of ‘Church’ have changed through the interaction of "Telling the story" with the cultures of the time. From the early small informal groups there developed cathedrals and symbols of power that paralleled the medieval courts and princes. In the East, the servant-hood of leaders were enveloped things not as servants of the people of God, but things that elevated servant-hood into princedoms. In the West, the present-day business style chanceries provided complete computer read-outs of the financial state of each parish, and sometimes each parishioner, a culturally conditioned conduit of gospel servant-hood.
There are among us, men and women who love the historic church and see the possibilities of the church continuing to be a carrier of the message of Jesus Christ, proclaiming His message of the Kingdom to come. Some of these people believe that they can appropriate its history, patiently acquire a sympathetic understanding of its past, and respond to today’s culture in the process. While Church memberships in many areas are either decreasing or changing, some of those very people have the audacity to believe that the present configuration of servant-hood can be converted to one that fits both their personal faith style as envisioned by some of the parishes of the Roman Catholic Church in America, or the Eastern Orthodox of the ethnic variety, while fitting such into the American culture of today. Their spirit filled optimism called "hope" energizes them to withstand the resistance to change both their peers and elders as well as the bored, the dropouts; and to offer their own selves as change-agents to an old church while believing it is breaking out in a fresh vitality. Many of them are what you see today as "Community" Churches who claim they are "Non Denominational". A category of Ministers who are far from being "non-denominational". They are very "denominationally" oriented by two primary factors. Their own upbringing and the one or more denominations that trained them. Even the phase, "non-denominational" is a catchall phrase based on secularistic political action. Those people are fledglings preparing for ministry. Whether or not they succeed in bringing about such change from within their respective Roman, Eastern or Protestant churches remains to be seen. But of the faithful, there are those of us who wish to continue in our Faith (Practicing and praying according to ancient custom), free from the political-church that exists today.
True as it is, politics has been with us since the Church established by Jesus Christ began, after His Death and Resurrection. The Book of Acts points out this fact! Yet, while politics has been with us, even more so since the first large schism (1054 A.D.) from the original beginnings of the Church… the actions involving various methods of lies, stealing, murder and mayhem, including violent acts upon people both physically and mentally, the Church continues to splinter and change which has created denominations of every stripe and type.
The people who join with us today wish for the Church to be as free from man-made politics and secular political action as possible. This would return "Church" closer to its roots or beginnings as established by Jesus Christ. And these people of today come from all over the United States, even through out the world. They subscribe to the Orthodox-Catholic belief and the ‘Worker-Priest’ movement.
If you were to go to the various groups or denominations of different Churches in mainline Christendom and ask them to define "membership and life in the church," they would each show you there is variety. One group would see "Membership and life in the Church" as a treasure house of doctrine, another a house of prayer, another a caring fraternity, and yet another a launching pad for social action. Indeed, each group, by their various definitions, would be meeting different needs for different people. However, the weakness of the special interest groups (as they would become under those definitions) is the lack of challenge for people who are enough like us to be able to pray together and relate with one another, but different enough to remind us of the parts of us that we would prefer to ignore.
The basic model of today’s church at almost every level, is that of the "patient-client" model. The professionals are prescribing or offering services. This is the model of government. The prime example being our governmental Welfare System which produces a dependency relation that reinforces itself and has produced a culture of poverty. This has been and is criticized as an education stance. Information is handed out, returned in an examination, and a document called a diploma is stamped like a welfare receipt. The electronic mass media, particularly television and spectator sports, makes us consumers, eliciting passivity and apathy. Increasingly, our culture takes on the shape of a retirement community. The mainline churches are only one more institution which offer services today, rather than developing and involving people in making something out of their lives over and above secular political action. It is difficult for the bureaucrat who sits behind a desk in a welfare office to understand that his or her posture toward a client is demeaning to that client; because the bureaucrat offers them services without which the client cannot live. The bureaucrat feels that his or her own life is worthwhile.
However, the poor person who waits in the clinic, or whatever line for a document to be stamped, understands that this is not a servant behind the desk, but one who holds the lever of power over their own lives. Because power has so many materialistic rewards and the thought of losing it is so threatening, the possessor can hardly imagine how people’s lives are stunted from being dependent upon the bureaucrat. The scene in Welfare Offices is a paradigm, example, of today’s mainline churches! No longer is God’s greatest gift to humankind respected or allowed to be put to use …. FREE WILL!
Councils give us documents; bishops give direction to pastors, which are to be translated into organizations, collections and letter-writing campaigns with detailed instructions on how people are to perform the assigned role.
This service model is not the "Kenosis" model which means "emptying one’s self" to attain the level of the other, thus destroying the patient-client relationship. Kenosis is the one of the primary purposes of Church.
"Though He was in the form
of God, Jesus did not
To change the system to the Gospel model of emptying one’s self of power so that people may assume responsibility for their own lives as Christians (as Seekers of Truth) is threatening to a church that is more concerned with maintaining the privileged authority structures than allowing people to become "Church". The dedicated clergy person who exhausts him or herself in service to people cannot understand that his or her model of service may not be the model of the servant-hood of Jesus Christ any more than the mother who works herself to the bone in serving her children can realize that she is creating a crippling dependency, which inhibits growth and ultimately causes rebellion or neurotic behavior in her children.
While people may not be able to articulate or understand their need for a model of ‘ministry’ where they are subjects rather than objects, they are less enthralled by the super-servant model and less inclined to seek these services.
Yes, the time has come for the parish priest to abdicate his or her role as administrator. As Father John R. Gilbert wrote from his research and planning work for the Archdiocese of St. Paul, Minneapolis, of the Roman Catholic Church, this idea is the most revolutionary suggestion since the 1840’s when the bishops of the Roman Catholic Church in America began their campaign to effectively take over the administration of parishes from lay people. Money is power! If control of finances were given to the lay parishioners, the roles of Bishop, Priest and Parishioner would drastically change.
The churches today may, in appearance, have changed towards this newer presentation model of "Church". Yet, in many respects, it is the same as before, only with a new façade. Bishops should have a right to maintain certain controls over how finances are spent, but only for clergy institutions of training and official Episcopal management needs. Otherwise, this newer approach should be the manner under which churches should operate, as it did in the early beginnings of the Christian communities.
The time has come, and the Western Orthodox Theological Institute (WOTI) is meeting that challenge for a new model Church. This challenge, this change, requires that the parish community assume responsibility for itself. The people who make up the parish will define their common needs and mission; then they will assume responsibility for meeting and carrying out that mission. "The restoration of what the Apostles of Jesus Christ began, now can come full circle to the way it should be as they began it," said Bishop Joseph Thaddeus of (American Orthodox Church 7/4/82).
The most obvious structural change this implies involves the role of the priest. He becomes a member of the parish community with very important functions; (example: Celebrant, Theologian and Counselor). However, the parish priest ceases to be the chief decision-maker. The parish community, with the priest as an advisor and participant, must decide what structures are necessary for its smooth functioning. The important point is this: the parish assumes responsibility for itself rather than assuming the priest is responsible for it.
There have been those who claimed that these suggested revisions in the role of the priest amounts to a "Protestantizing" of the parish and the Church as a whole. This is not the case of our conception.
The Protestant Churches hire and fire their ministers, thereby controlling what is said and done. This is not the suggestion or the action to be taken here. The model of "Parish – Community – Church" requires that the priest remain the link between the parish and Peter (Peter being, in these instances, the bishop who is the successor of the Apostles). The Bishop’s right to judge the "Orthodox-Catholicity" of the parish and its activities would go unchallenged when it comes to faith or doctrines and rites.
The model of "Church" that we have found to be working emphasizes "Community" rather than just "service" – the distribution of communion, the body or bread of life (Jesus Christ), the sharing that goes on in the neighborhood rather than a cathedral-style liturgy. The Church then focuses on the gifts of the members rather than neatly defined flow charts. It is obviously not every Old-Catholic, Catholic Christian, Liberal Catholic, Orthodox-Catholic, Independent Catholic Sacramental Church’s ideal of "Church" or for every group of people of every culture, nor does it represent the majority of either Roman Catholic or Eastern Orthodox Catholics of the times.
The reading of the signs of the times is that the "community model" will become more and more acceptable, for indeed the return of the "Catacomb Church" community will become necessary; and to this end the Western Orthodox Theological Institute (WOTI) has been striving toward, preparing people regardless of where they come from, or from what walk of life, non-violent lifestyle, economic class or status that they may be.
Ministry is always in context. What we understand to be ‘ministry’ flows from our understanding of "Church". Our understanding of "Church" is the result of our dialogue with the world in which we live a any given time, and our religious heritage. Therefore, we must begin with those who are ministering, being ministered to, and such others who have a desire to some form of "ministry" in today’s world. These people will include those who have seemingly dropped out of society, having been left alone for one or more reasons. They need to be brought back into the fold where their own silent meditations can be an example to those who need to hear and see both materially and spiritually.
Since you are a part of today’s world, it is to you that the Western Orthodox Theological Institute (WOTI) serves as the vehicle for reaching that path which will lead you, ultimately, to the great ‘pearl of great price,’ the price of knowing that out of the struggles of your pain of heart faith in Jesus Christ, you serve God, His people, His children. This is accomplished through a practical and basic preparation in one form or another.
Without leaving your present employment, or whatever you may doing to survive… you can and will learn that which will bring you into the fold of Jesus Christ’s chosen only through your own diligence to learn and earn, to study and work.
With God’s blessings to you and your’s according to your own nature and degree of ability to face the challenge through understanding and practical application of the knowledge you gain, I am most assuredly a sinner of sinners; and,
Your Servant in Jesus Christ
MAR Joseph Thaddeus, SSJt., Ph.D.