Prerequisites for Seminary Study: Do I Have What it Takes?
What educational background do I need to study at St. Nersess?
To study at St. Nersess students must have an undergraduate degree. This can be a Bachelor’s degree in most any subject. Among our alumni we have had students who came to St. Nersess with undergraduate degrees in areas as diverse as electrical engineering, chemistry, business, linguistics, natural science, theology, history, music and others.
I don’t speak Armenian. Can I study at St. Nersess?
Yes. At St. Nersess you will study Modern and Classical Armenian. Seminarians preparing for priesthood also spend a term abroad in Armenia and/or Jerusalem to master their spoken and written Armenian language skills in preparation for ministry.
Are there any courses I should take before coming to Seminary?
If you are not a native speaker of Armenian, and are able to take Armenian language courses either at college or elsewhere, do so. Also, if you have learned to read music (or better yet, to sight-read music) by the time you start Seminary, it will give you a head-start in your studies at St. Nersess.
Do I have to be a deacon before I study at Seminary?
No. While some students have already been ordained as deacon (sargavak), sub-deacon (gisasargavak), stole-bearer (ooraragir), or acolyte (tbir), this is not a requirement for admission to St. Nersess.
I do not live in North America. Can I study at St. Nersess?
While the Seminary was established with the particular mission of attracting and training priests and lay church leaders from the dioceses of North America, students from other countries have studied at St. Nersess. Interested applicants from abroad must meet all admissions requirements and submit a written letter of endorsement from their Diocesan bishop.
Do I have to have a college major in theology to study at St. Nersess?
No. College students who are interested in studying at St. Nersess should major in practically any area that interests them. In many ways it is better to major in an area far from theology and philosophy. Priests and other lay ministers not only have to learn theology well, but they have to be able to communicate it effectively to people who have little or no theological background. So a major in the sciences, in business, art, history, or another area might actually be a good preparation for seminary study. Among our alumni are men and women who majored in chemistry, electrical engineering, history, linguistics, education, natural sciences, physical education and others.
Seminary Studies: Courses, Teachers, Grades, Requirements
What’s the best thing I could do to prepare for Seminary?
Read the Bible. The Bible is the foundation for Christian life and it is the foundation for everything you will learn in Seminary. Christians are never “finished” with the Bible.
Is it hard to learn Armenian?
Compared to most foreign languages, Armenian is a not a difficult language in terms of its grammar. German and Russian, for example, are much more difficult languages. Of course learning any new language will take effort and discipline. St. Nersess has top-notch instructors of Armenian language and we use state-of-the-art learning materials and technologies. If you put your mind to it, you will learn.
What is the language of instruction?
All introductory-level classes are in English. Some advanced seminars are taught in Armenian.
What kind of subjects to seminarians study?
You will find a complete list of course offerings here.
What are classes like at St. Nersess?
Classes are small, intimate and informal. Many classes have only 3 or 4 students plus the professor. Formal lectures are rare. Often students and teacher sit around a single table and enjoy a good deal of give-and-take in a very relaxed and friendly atmosphere.
Is seminary like college?
In some ways. There are classes, papers, tests, grades, books and all the rest. Worship and prayer are a central to seminary life. God is part of daily life. Many seminarians find the atmosphere in seminary more caring and family-like than what they experienced in college.
Do seminarians have any free time?
Seminarians budget their own time. It is up to each seminarian to attend to his or her classes, participate in daily worship and other community activities without fail, and devote adequate time to studying. Seminarians often have blocks of free time in the afternoons and evenings. They usually are entirely free on weekends and Sunday afternoons (after church). Of course on holidays, vacations, and between semesters, seminarians are free.
Marriage and Celibacy
I believe God may be calling me to the priesthood. How do I know if I should marry or become a celibate priest?
Married versus celibate priesthood is a distinct calling from God. Discerning this call–in other words, seeking to understand whether you should be a married or a celibate priest–is a process that should not be rushed. One does not need to make this decision before applying to Seminary. Once admitted to Seminary, you will have access to faculty members, clergy, alumni, and spiritual and formation advisors to help you make this very important and sacred decision.
What is the difference between a married priest and a celibate priest?
In the Armenian Church married priests (called Der Hayr) and celibate priests (called Hayr Soorp) have exactly the same hierarchical rank (kahana) and identical duties and responsibilities
In former times the opportunity for higher education was only available to celibate priests. Today, however, this is no longer the rule. Both married priests and celibate priests may aspire to higher studies beyond Seminary, especially in Armenia and the United States.
Celibate priests are associated with of one of the three monastic centers in the Armenian Church today: Holy Etchmiadzin, the Great House of Cilicia, or the Brotherhood of Sts. James in Jerusalem.
Do celibate priests have more time to devote to their ministry than married priests?
Possibly, but not necessarily. Obviously celibate priests do not have obligations to wife and children as married priests do. This can give celibate priests greater flexibility in carrying out their ministry, especially where this involves travel.
Ultimately a priest’s use of time depends largely on his spiritual life, organizational skills and discipline. There are many married priests who balance family responsibilities with their ministry very effectively and fruitfully.
Many married priests would also point out that their wives are partners in ministry, who enable them to be more effective pastors.