Near East School of Theology newsletter – June 2023
From the President’s Word at Commencement – Dr. George Sabra, President, NEST
This year’s commencement is special and different, not because the order or components of the
Service are different or because we only have 2 graduating students receiving their degrees, but
because this year’s graduates and their accomplishment embody so much of what NEST’s mission is
all about. Normally, the majority of our graduates are men and women who are eventually going into
full time church service; they would have been selected and sent to us by their churches to begin with.
In our case today, this is different. Both Samer and Garen, though members of churches and have
been active there, were not officially sent by their churches and are not – as far as we know now at
least – going into full time ministry in their churches. Both are engineers – Samer an electrical engineer
with later specialization in Petroleum Studies, and Garen an agricultural engineer. Both are working
in full time jobs in those capacities; they did not give up their jobs to study theology. Both did a
full degree in theology, and did not just take some courses to expand their knowledge or satisfy their
interest; they did a full Master of Divinity degree of 90 credits, normally three years for a full time
student. It took them longer because they were part time students, continuing to work in their fields.
This is an achievement and a model of which we are especially proud at NEST. For we consider that
theological education is not just for those destined for a full ministry position in the church, but for
all. Our aim at NEST is to spread theological education to the whole of society and not just to the institutional church. Samer and Garen are to be commended for this combination of theological education
and their “secular” jobs, so to speak.
And the second special feature of this year’s commencement is that it reflects so well and so clearly
the ecumenical commitment and nature of NEST’s ministry of theological education. The two graduates
come from the Protestant church and the Armenian Orthodox Church.
“Dear friends, when you leave this Service, you can tell people that you attended a graduation at
the Protestant Seminary of NEST where 50% of the graduates were Orthodox!
But, seriously, we feel we are truly fulfilling our ecumenical vocation by welcoming and accommodating
non-Protestant students, especially from the Armenian Apostolic Church with whom we
have long standing relations. We never cease to mention and take pride in the fact that the head of the
Armenian Apostolic Church, His Holiness Catholicos Aram I, is himself a graduate of NEST.
A third special feature of this occasion is that both graduates concluded their Master of Divinity
with a 6-credit Senior Thesis, and, amazingly both chose topics related to Ecotheology. This is a
concern of theology and the churches that focuses on the inter-relationships of religion and nature,
particularly in the light of environmental concerns. It is a development at the cutting edge of theology
today, and we are proud that NEST students are committed to it.