“I feel a sense of vitality and vision for where we’re going,” said Dunlop, who has been dean of the school since 2007. “We have a good group of students who seem” to be eager to learn the ways of the Orthodox Church, he said.
This year the seminary is celebrating the 40th anniversary of the school, which was founded by the late Fr. Joseph Kreta in Kenai. The seminary moved to Kodiak a year and a half later.
Not only is this an anniversary year, but a transitional one, Dunlop said, alluding to the impending election of a new bishop for the Alaska Diocese of the Orthodox Church. Alaska’s last bishop, Nicolai Soriach, resigned amidst a flurry of controversy several years ago.
In the meantime, the Diocese has been served by Bishop Benjamin Peterson, who resides in San Francisco. Peterson has visited the diocese periodically in a “locum tenens” position, a term that means “place holder.” Peterson has acted as “the place holder bishop because we don’t have a resident one,” Dunlop said.
In the past, Alaska was served by bishops who spent a significant amount of time at the seminary where they taught courses and stayed at an apartment in the administration building.
Dunlop said anticipation of a new bishop has invigorated the seminarians. “We look forward to the bishop being able to spend more time on campus,” he said.
This year the seminary has a “full house” of 17 students, most of whom represent Alaska Native groups. “We have a broad ethnic spectrum,” Dunlop said. “This year we have more single students than usual. About half the student body is single. That’s a unique feature.”
Many of those students are either children or nephews and nieces of Native Orthodox priests, carrying the names of Frs. Trefon, Nick, Askoak and Larson. “It’s good to know that the next generation is interested in serving the Church,” Dunlop said.
Realizing the close-knit, family-oriented nature of the villages represented at the seminary, the administration attempts to bring those features to the Kodiak campus.
“We’ve been having community gatherings and meals in village style to gather together as community,” Dunlop said. “We try to do that regularly as family, as one community, which is similar to village life. In a lot of ways, we’re like a little village.”
The seminary is also “trying to incorporate village ways of singing,” Dunlop said, noting that Alaska melodies and tones are used in the choir and Native languages in the services. “That’s one aspect of how we worship,” he said.
Students learn about Kodiak Island culture by traveling to island villages with local priests to help conduct services for Orthodox feast days.
“We want them to get experienced in ministry by meeting and talking to the people,” Dunlop said. This summer, one of the seminarians participated in a youth camp in Ouzinkie. “That was an excellent experience for him.”
One of the touchstones of the seminary is the revival of archival work and translation which was launched by the late Dr. Lydia Black in 1998.
The project has been taken over by second-year teacher, Daria Safronova, who shares Black’s Russian heritage. “It has really been developing,” Dunlop said.
Safronova, who teaches Russian church history at the seminary and Russian at Kodiak College, has worked with Kodiak Island elders and linguists in transposing prayers and other parts of Orthodox services into Alutiiq.
She has made remarkable discoveries in the archival center, including a 1910 Divine Liturgy text in Alutiiq, Dunlop said.
“That has been the Rosetta stone for the Alutiiq language,” Dunlop said.
While the seminary looks back at the contributions made by the clergy and parishioners of the past, it looks ahead to evangelizing and teaching an ancient Christian faith that can be just as vibrant to 21st century people as it was to the martyrs and fathers of the church.
“We have a strong involvement and interest in missions,” Dunlop said, noting that missiology “is another added feature to our program. We’re focusing more on missions.”
The seminary is working with the Orthodox Christian Mission Center and other missionary agencies in inspiring students to get involved with mission work.
Dunlop said that the community may be interested in attending various seminary classes, including Russian church history and Alaska church history, which will be taught by former dean, Fr. Michael Oleksa.
In addition to his duties as dean and professor at St. Herman’s, and his work as a local and village priest, Dunlop has also been a student himself. Recently he acquired doctor of ministry degree from Pittsburgh Theological Seminary. With that accomplishment, Dunlop will share the title “doctor” with his wife, Dr. Bea Dunlop, seminary registrar and professor.