Monday, October 19th, marked a historical inaugural day blessed by the presence of His Holiness Pope Tawadros II, on his first tour of the United States as Pope. Gathered in the Claremont School of Theology’s Kresge Chapel to celebrate the Day of Inauguration graced by His Holiness, were distinguished guests and scholars including His Grace Bishop Serapion, His Grace Bishop Karas, His Grace Bishop Angelos, His Grace Bishop Pavli, President of Claremont Graduate University Robert Schult, President of Claremont School of Theology Jeffrey Kuan, Her Excellency Ambassador Lamia Mekhemer, Dean Tammi Schneider, Dean Sheryl Holbrook and Her Excellency Ambassador Dr. Sallama Shaker, along with clergy from across the diocese, the board of trustees, and faculty and students from not only Claremont Graduate University (CGU) and Claremont School of Theology (CST) but also prospective students to the bourgeoning St. Athanasius and St. Cyril Coptic Orthodox Theology School (ACTS).
The guests gathered there were addressed by both President Schult as well as President Kuan, each expressing their excitement for the new chapter opened on this inauguration day for both schools. Father John Paul, the dean of the new Coptic Orthodox Theology School, welcomed the distinguished guests and friends, outlining what a momentous occasion this day really was and explaining that this inauguration day came after more than three decades of preparation and was welcomed with open arms by both CGU and CST. He went on to address the purpose of opening a theology school in such a central location as Claremont, elaborating that “We seek to establish not only a strong School of Orthodox Theology, but one that also has a rich body of teaching in Coptic Liturgy…a Patristics department that can focus on the Alexandrian fathers, a place where several courses in the complicated history of the Coptic Church can be explored,” in short, expanding beyond the “House of Studies” model to a more comprehensive school of theological study.
Following Fr. John Paul’s address, His Holiness Pope Tawadros II was introduced by His Grace Bishop Serapion, who focused on the importance of having such a valuable resource as this theological school. Finally, His Holiness spoke to the anticipating audience. After thanking them for their hospitality, His Holiness spoke of “a living body of tradition” that places of theological study have in the Coptic Orthodox Church. He explained that “this world needs strong theological education, more now than ever” to continue St. Athanasius’s vision for theological education when he wrote to his disciple St. Serapion, “But beyond these [Scriptural] sayings, let us look at the very tradition, teaching and faith of the Universal Church from the beginning, which the Lord gave, the Apostles preached, and the Fathers kept”(1:28). He explained the tradition of theological schools paralleling the continuance of this education through theological education to the ultimate and original example of the Great School of Alexandria. His Holiness concluded with the hope that “the school produces not just graduates who have knowledge, but rather, that it produces thinkers, theologians, illustrious men and women that can rise to the questions of today – questions about His very existence, and questions about salvation. Questions about pastoral care and questions about evolution.”
His Holiness left the distinguished guests and scholars with this message of hope for the future success of St. Athanasius and St. Cyril Coptic Orthodox Theology School and with a unique blessing, providing faith and anticipation for this future. At the end of the ceremony, His Holiness Pope Tawadros II, His Grace Bishop Serapion, President Schult and President Kuan collectively signed Memorandums of Understanding, signifying the beginning of a new partnership between Claremont Graduate University, Claremont School of Theology and St. Athanasius and St. Cyril Coptic Orthodox Theology School.
AfterwardsHis Grace Bishop Serapion was inaugurated as the first president of the blessed school, by the apostolic hands of His Holiness Pope Tawadros II.