Sunday, May 24, 2015

Graduation Speech

Your Beatitude, reverend fathers, fellow students, brothers and sisters: it is a great honor and a blessing to be here with you today. Out of the many people who have given me their support, I would like to thank Fr. Luke and Fr. Ephraim, my instructors and fellow seminarians, friends in Hawaii and San Francisco, and, of course, my family: my parents, Keith and Maria Martin, my younger brother, Christian, and my sisters, Po‘okela and Isabella. They unfortunately were not able to be here to celebrate with me, but will be watching this on video later.

The first time I visited Jordanville was nearly six years ago for the Summer Liturgical Music Program. The trees were a verdant green, just like they are today, and I almost felt that I was in the Shire and that I was going to run into a hobbit at any moment. Fr. Luke, who had heard that I was interested in seminary, took me by the elbow and led me to his office, where he gave me a seminary catalog. It took a year for me to finally decide to go to seminary, because it was such a big step to live for five years somewhere in the middle of upstate New York.

I entered Jordanville with a great deal of expectations and fears, mostly involving getting up at five-thirty in the morning. My original intention was actually just to stay for two years and move on to whatever came next. Well, five years later, here I am! Whatever the case, my entire life seemed to be shifting gears and changing course. I experienced many things for the first time. My first experience in the altar was here, and I was quite awkward and clumsy as a first-year. At one time, while I was trying to balance a candle in one hand and an analogion in the other, my hair caught fire. The other altar-server, who knew little English, would for quite a while afterward point at me and say, “John, fire!” Another new experience was my taste of fish holodets. For those of you who have not had the pleasure of trying this Jordanville delicacy, it consists of pureed fish suspended in savory gelatin. We have it every Pascha and Christmas. To put it lightly, it was an acquired taste, but for some strange reason it seemed to get better and better with each passing year. Finally, two years ago I went to Russia for the first time with a youth choir. Since I was a part of the seminary choir, I had the opportunity to take part in this all-expenses-paid trip. We had a whirlwind tour of Russia, going to Moscow, then St. Petersburg, and then Moscow again, all in the course of a week.

After the initial excitement of novelty wore off, I began to realize that coming here had not automatically changed me, and that the Uncreated Light didn't suddenly burst from my face the day I stepped into my dorm room. The same thing applied to my schoolmates: everyone was here with their own strengths and weaknesses. Sometimes they got on my nerves, and sometimes I got on theirs. But in the end, I thought of my fellow seminarians as “a happy few,” a band of brothers. There were five people in my first-year class: David from Texas, Jason from Walla Walla, Washington, Srdjan the Serb from Chicago, Stojanche from Macedonia, and me. We each had our own opinions and personalities, and we oftentimes clashed with one another, but in so doing we became more well-rounded people. We were like potatoes being poured into the potato-peeling machine; we bounced off each other, but in the end came out washed and neatly peeled. Now there are only three of us left: Stojanche, me, and Ilija, who started a year later but put in the valiant effort to catch up with us. David and Jason went on to become monastics at Holy Cross Monastery in West Virginia. Fr. David is a rassophore monk, and Jason is now known as Hierodeacon Paisios. As for Srdjan, his bishop sent him to Moscow Theological Seminary, where he was also tonsured a monk. When he told me of his decision to become a monk, I said to him, “What, are we all going to become monks now!?” Now he’s Hieromonk Sergius. Even though we are separated by great distances, I still think of them as my fellow seminarians and brothers in Christ.

For those of you who are continuing on your seminary journey, I would like to say: hang on. I know that sometimes you’ll have your bad days. There were many days when I felt frustrated and longed for the beaches of Waikīkī. But with God’s help, you’ll make it, and years from now, when you look back at your time here, I hope you will remember the valuable lessons you learned, in class, in school, and among yourselves. I myself will treasure the memories I made here for the tomorrows to come. Thank you.