D.Min. Questions & Answers with Fr. Sergius Halvorsen

by Fr. John A. Peck

Some time ago, I contacted Fr. John Behr at St Vladimir Seminary to ask about the dormant D.Min. program, and to inquire about the possibility of renewing it, maybe for a homiletics program, to which he responded, “It’s not dormant, it was terminated some time ago!” How happy I was to find out that SVS has indeed restarted their D.Min. program and have included a significant preaching curriculum. We contacted the director of the program, Fr. Sergius Halvorsen, and asked some basic questions to shed some more light on this program. Again, this program focuses on Advanced Preaching and Exegesis for homiletics as a part of the curriculum, so, of course, we are very interested!

Fr. Sergius Halvorsen

The SVS DMin program was dormant for awhile, and now is being re-established. Is the SVS faculty and dean supportive of this reworking of the DMin?

The DMin at St. Vladimir’s started in 1987 and was terminated in 2009 due to low enrollment. Quite simply, there were only so many Orthodox priests and chaplains within driving distance of our New York campus. In 2009, the faculty and dean suspended the program with the hope that it could be revived in the near future. When I was appointed to the faculty in July of 2012, Fr. John Behr our Dean, and Fr. Chad Hatfield, our Chancellor, expressed a very strong interest in reviving the DMin as a hybrid distance learning program.

In fact, at one of our very first meetings, they asked me to outline how the DMin could be offered using distance education.

So, this renewal of the Doctor of Ministry as a hybrid program has always been a priority for the dean and faculty of St. Vladimir’s. Over the course of the last year and a half, an incredible amount of work has been done by the Dean, the Chancellor, the Academic Dean, Dr. John Barnet, and other members of the faculty in order to obtain the approval of our accrediting body (the Association of Theological Schools) and to work out the numerous details of initiating a new program like this. They have been enthusiastically supportive and encouraging throughout all of this work.

What is the vision for this renewed program?

Our vision for the program is that it will strengthen pastoral ministry by integrating doctoral level academic work with applied pastoral praxis.

What are the goals for this new program?

Students who complete the program will: demonstrate an advanced competency in the practice of ministry in the Orthodox tradition; perform analytical and ministerial research in Bible, Patristic texts and contemporary sources; integrate advanced theological knowledge into their ministry in the local context; and communicate the Gospel of Jesus Christ more effectively through all facets of their ministries.

How long is each cohort?

Each cohort will consist of 15 to 20 students who will complete the program in three years. This program consists of eight core courses and a final project. The academic calendar for the DMin has been specifically tailored to accommodate the responsibilities of parish priests. (link to proposed academic calendar) Students will complete roughly half of each course via distance learning and will complete the other half during one-week intensives at our New York campus.

What will this DMin allow the graduate to do with this degree? That is, what would you like to see graduates of this program go on to do and accomplish?

First of all, the DMin will help priests, chaplains and pastoral professionals to better fulfill their fundamental ministry of bringing the love of God and the Gospel of Jesus Christ to those who are suffering and are in need. More particularly, the DMin will help students to develop areas of expertise in pastoral ministry in order to serve as resources within the Orthodox Church and in society at large.

For example, I have spoken with one potential student who serves as military chaplain. He is interested in doing advanced work on an Orthodox Christian approach to spiritual and emotional healing for soldiers and their families who are suffering from the long-term effects of violent trauma and PTSD. Through work in the DMin program, this student could become an extremely valuable resource for others, and could share crucial insights through writing, blogging, preaching and speaking. My hope is that every one of our DMin students will develop his or her own particular area of expertise and will be able to share that expertise with others.

If someone does not get in on the first cohort, when will the second cohort begin?

The second cohort will begin as soon as we are able to enroll a minimum of fifteen students. Maintaining a viable community of teachers and learners is essential to the success of this program and that is why we have a minimum size for the cohort. With more than twenty students a cohort starts to become somewhat impersonal, and with fewer than about twelve it loses the dynamism that comes when students with diverse backgrounds and ministries work together. Our target number of fifteen ensures that even if a few students have to drop out over the course of the three year program, we’ll still end up with a viable cohort.

Are there PhD programs you would recommend for Orthodox clergy who wish to become expert teachers in Homiletics (as you yourself are)?

Students who are looking to become teachers of homiletics, could do very valuable work in our DMin. I am very hopeful that a few of our students will focus on homiletics in their final project. Having a DMin from St. Vladimir’s Seminary with an emphasis on preaching, would be a very good place to start if one was hoping to teach homiletics. If one is looking to do a PhD in homiletics, my best advice would be to look for a PhD advisor, before looking at programs.

The only thing more difficult than getting into a PhD program is getting out of one, and nothing is more important to the successful completion of a PhD than having an advisor you can work with. I had the tremendously good fortune to work with Dr. Charles Rice at Drew University for my PhD, but I found him through reading a book that he had written on preaching. So, to find a good PhD program in homiletics, read as much of the current literature as you can, find the scholar or scholars who are doing research in areas that interest you, and then apply to the PhD programs at their schools.

If someone has more questions, who should they call to talk to?

If someone would like to learn more about the DMin at St. Vladimir’s they can call me at 914-961-8313 x367 or send me an email at, shalvorsen@svots.edu

Any final comments you’d like prospective applicants to know?

To learn more about the program, please look at the program page on our website:


SVS Doctor of Ministry Program

St. Vlad’s Offers D.Min. With Advanced Preaching Focus

News about PreachingWell, here it is. After discussions about the dormant D.Min. program at SVS and the need for more homiletics offerings, we now have something serious and available to us. This is on a cohort basis – it won’t be available every year.

Brothers, don’t let this opportunity slide by. Tell Fr. Sergius you saw it here.

Priests, chaplains, and other professionals in ministry may now earn an accredited Doctor of Ministry (D.Min.) degree online through a new program at St. Vladimir’s Orthodox Theological Seminary, Yonkers, NY. The hybrid program, which combines distance learning with one–week, on–campus intensives, is bridging a gap for students who cannot reside full time on campus. The program will begin in fall 2013, and applications now are being accepted.

“Pastors today face immense challenges,”

emphasized The Rev. Dr. J. Sergius Halvorsen, assistant professor of Homiletics and Rhetoric at St. Vladimir’s and the program’s director.

“The depth and intensity of suffering and spiritual darkness in the lives of the people we serve is startling. Facing such serious challenges, there has never been a greater need for excellence in pastoral ministry.

“My hope is that the D.Min. Program at St. Vladimir’s would provide priests, chaplains, and other pastoral professionals with advanced knowledge and skills in order to bring the gospel of Jesus Christ to those who are suffering,” noted Fr. Sergius. “It is also my hope that the program would foster deep and lasting friendships among the students and contribute to authentic spiritual and pastoral renewal. “All in all, the D.Min. Program will ‘build bridges’ in several ways: overcoming geographical distance for interested students; providing a pathway to a new level of pastoral training and academic research; and, best of all, connecting colleagues in ministry,” concluded Fr. Sergius.

St. Vladimir’s is accepting applications for the first cohort of fifteen students, who will go through the program as a community of learners that support one another academically, spiritually, and personally. The cohort will serve as an essential support network for the students during the course of the program and will model a form of collegial ministry in which pastors lift up and inspire one another in the ongoing work of building up the Body of Christ.

The D.Min. Program will integrate doctoral level academic work with applied pastoral practice, and members of the St. Vladimir’s faculty, along with Orthodox scholars from other institutions, will teach the eight core courses:

  • Advanced Preaching and Communications;
  • Bioethics for Ministry;
  • Counseling in the Parish;
  • Ministry in a Secular Age;
  • Ministry to the Sick and Dying;
  • Missiology;
  • Scripture: Exegesis for Preaching; and
  • Youth Ministry.

The final phase of the program will be a project that combines research at the doctoral level with the intentional application of pastoral theory in pastoral ministry.

Program applicants must have at least three years experience in ministry subsequent to their first theological degree; be currently serving in a position of ministry; and be capable of doing doctoral level academic work. Anyone interested in learning more about the program may contact Fr. Sergius at shalvorsen@svots.edu, or (914) 961-8313, x367.

Read more about the distance learning D.Min. Program, including technology requirements.

OCA Represented at Festival of Young Preachers

OCA 2013 Festival ParticipantsThe Orthodox Church in America’s Department of Youth, Young Adult, and Campus Ministry was represented at the National Festival of Young Preachers in Atlanta, GA January 2-5, 2013.  Sponsored annually by the Academy of Preachers, this festival brings together young Christians between the ages of 16 and 28 for three days of preaching, fellowship, and education. This year’s theme was “The Gospel and the City.”

Each young preacher delivered a 16-minute sermon on the theme and a selected passage from scripture during the festival.  They also attended preaching workshops offered by seminary professors and took advantage of opportunities to reflect and work on their sermons in small peer group sessions.

Representing the OCA were Andrew Boyd, OCA Director of Youth, Young Adult, and Campus Ministries, and Ms. Anna Vander Wall of Trinidad, CO, who won the department’s recent “Youtube Challenge”.  Andrew delivered a sermon on Acts 1:6-11, reflecting on what it means to be a witness to Christ in our time and place.  Anna’s presentation focused on Psalm 137 and on our exile from God’s Holy City.

Two OCA students from Saint Vladimir’s Seminary also participated in the festival—Harrison Russin and Priest James Parnell, both of whom are in their final year of the Master of Divinity program.  Priest Sergius Halvorsen, the seminary’s Assistant Professor of Homiletics and Rhetoric, served as the mentor for all four of the OCA participants. Father Sergius also led a workshop at the festival, titled “Sacramental Preaching,” in which he used the Nativity Icon as an example of the powerful, scriptural images one can create in listener’s minds through our words.  This year’s festival saw the strongest Orthodox representation to date.

Youtube videos of the four Orthodox participants’ sermons will be posted on the OCA Youth Facebook page as soon as the Academy makes them available.  Transcripts of the four sermons will appear in the February 2013 edition of “Wonder”, the Youth Department’s blog.

“I encourage all of our young people to consider attending this annual national event or similar regional events sponsored by the Academy,” said Andrew.  “In the future, we will be making more funding available to help cover the costs of attending such events.  While liturgical preaching in the context of the divine services is usually reserved for our clergy, preaching Christ’s Gospel and giving ‘a good defense for the hope within in us’ is a necessary skill for every Christian.”

“Everyone I met at the festival was genuinely interested in Orthodoxy,” added Anna.  “Most had heard of it but were curious to learn more about its history and teachings. I was encouraged that most of the young people I interacted with were very optimistic about the power of Christianity in healing a broken world. I left the festival strengthened in my faith.”

Source: OCA.org


Homiletics News at St. Vladimir Seminary

Fr. Sergius Halvorsen was an early supporter of Preachers Institute, and we are very happy that St. Vlad’s is taking homiletics seriously. We hope that the new hybrid D.Min. will also include a ‘Homiletics’ major, but this remains to be seen.

Congratulations, Fr. Serge!

Fr. Sergius Halvorsen Joins Faculty, Institutes Homiletics Course and D.Min. Hybrid Program

February 18, 2011 • Deborah (Malacky) Belonick

“Renewing St. Vladimir’s commitment to the formation and continuing education of Orthodox Christian priests, I am pleased to make public the hiring of Fr. Sergius Halvorsen, who will teach homiletics to our student body and who also will develop a D.Min. hybrid program that will provide nourishment to pastors ‘in the trenches,’ ”

announced seminary Dean, Archpriest John Behr.

“I am thrilled that Fr. Sergius is joining our faculty,” continued Fr. John. “We will now be able to offer the finest instruction in homiletics possible, being, in fact, the only Orthodox Christian seminary to have a full-time faculty position in that discipline. We also will be the first Orthodox institution in North America to offer the hybrid D.Min. program. I am really excited about these and all the other educational developments that we will see coming to fruition within the next few years at our school.”

Those “developments” include an intentional pastoral focus to enrich the education of seminarians on campus and priests in parishes who will serve or who now serve churches in North America.

“We are first and foremost concerned about all seminary graduates who are ‘working on the ground,’ and our primary goal at St. Vladimir’s is to offer them the coursework and programs they need to fulfill their pastoral ministries,” Fr. John emphasized.

Father Sergius, a 1996 alumnus of St. Vladimir’s who in 2002 earned his doctorate from Drew University in Liturgical Studies with an emphasis in Homiletics, will be assuming a full-time, tenure-track position at the seminary Fall semester 2011, as “Assistant Professor of Homiletics and Rhetoric.” Initially, he will teach two core courses per semester, Homiletics and Christian Education, and will develop electives in his areas of expertise. Additionally, he will serve as Director of Field Education, overseeing training programs in prison, hospital, and parish ministry. While teaching and directing field education, Fr. Sergius also will begin to prepare a proposal for a new D.Min. program, designed to be a hybrid distance-residential learning program.

Fr. Sergius gained significant expertise in developing distance learning programs while working at Holy Apostles College and Seminary, where he was employed from 2000 to 2011, and where he held the positions of Assistant Professor of Patristics and Rhetoric, and Director of Distance Learning. There, Fr. Sergius oversaw the change from a “correspondence course” model, in which email was used instead of surface mail, to a “second generation” model, in which technology and broadband Internet access were used to create communities of teachers and learners. The program has enjoyed great success; currently, the distance learning program at Holy Apostles has more than three hundred students, with more than one hundred and fifty students enrolling in courses each semester.

Fr. Sergius, in transitioning from his position at Holy Apostles and to St. Vladimir’s, envisions a distance-residential learning program specifically designed to be accessible to clergy throughout the United States. Especially, he noted that the hybrid program to be designed will address the issue of proximity to the seminary campus, a factor that caused the demise of a once-vibrant D.Min. program in previous decades at St. Vladimir’s.

“It had been difficult to maintain the viability of an on-campus D.Min. program due to the fact that the pool of potential students—Orthodox clergy living within driving distance of the seminary—was relatively small. However, offering the program as a hybrid vastly increases the number of potential students,” Fr. Sergius explained. “As a hybrid distance-residential program, Orthodox clergy can earn a D.Min. without having to relocate to Yonkers, by doing the majority of their study via distance learning. Yet, they will also benefit from spending time among the local SVOTS community during regular on-campus intensives.

“There are a number of preliminary steps required before we can formally begin the D.Min. program,” he further stated. “In the coming months we will be conducting surveys to assess potential interest in the D.Min. as a hybrid program. Part of this survey work will be to determine which ‘majors’ are the most interesting to potential students. D.Min. majors could include, but are not limited to: pastoral counseling, parish revitalization, homiletics, and missiology.  Further, the surveys will help us determine if there are other majors that are of interest to potential students.

“It is absolutely essential for the program that we offer the majors that are most helpful to our clergy and that will most strengthen their ministries,” concluded Fr. Sergius. “Once we identify the best majors, we will work out the specifics of the program and ensure that the new program is in compliance with the American Association of Theological Schools (ATS) and with New York State authorities. We hope that the first class of D.Min. students in this hybrid program will begin their studies in Fall semester 2012, which means that students could begin registering in the spring of 2012.”

Note: Future D.Min. applicants must hold an M.Div. and have five years of pastoral ministry experience. Visit our Website regularly to review the progress of the program.

Plotting The Course

by Fr. Sergius Halvorsen

Professor of rhetoric and homiletics at Holy Apostles College and Seminary in Cromwell, CT, Fr. Sergius is a founding member of the Preachers Institute. In this article, he gives some effective guidelines for sermon preparation in this article on the function of Orthodox Christian preaching.

The sermon that is preached in the context of the Divine Liturgy should lead the hearer on the path of sanctification and theosis. According to Holy Scripture, the way of sanctification and theosis is a journey that begins with the fall of our first parents in the garden, and culminates with the passion, death and resurrection of Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

For each one of us, our personal journey follows an identical trajectory: it begins with our personal recognition of our fallen sinful way of life, and by the Grace of God, we turn away from sin, and follow Christ to the Cross, trusting in His Power, and in the hope of His Resurrection. Baptism is the sacramental expression of this journey. It begins with exorcisms and renunciations of Satan; then we are washed clean of our sins in the water of Baptism in which we put on Christ; we are then sealed with the Gift of the Holy Spirit in Chrismation; and finally we partake of the broken body and spilled blood of Christ as a foretaste of the Kingdom of Heaven. Every time we gather as the Church to celebrate the Lord’s Supper, we retrace the fundamental life-giving journey of sanctification and theosis, which is a journey from repentance to salvation. By God’s grace we are called to turn away from sin and self-centered living, and embrace the saving way of the Cross of Jesus Christ, a journey that is made anew every time we partake of Christ’s broken body and spilled blood. This essential message of the Gospel is most perfectly summarized in the preaching of Christ,

“Repent, for the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand.” (Matt 4:17) Continue reading Plotting The Course