Odessa seminary enters second year

September 21, 2011

by Norman Threinen

Seminary students in Odessa with Dr. Threinen (right) and interpreter, Marya

After a two-day delay leaving Toronto due to Hurricane Irene, I was finally on my way to Odessa again on August 30. This is my fifteenth trip in as many years to the country from which my German ancestors emigrated more than a century ago.

Since seminary classes would not begin for a few days after my arrival, I took a two-day side-trip for research purposes to Lviv. This city was once called Lemberg when it served as the capital of the Austrian province of Galicia in the days when my ancestors lived in the area. Coincidentally, my modest guest accommodations were in the facilities of the former German Lutheran Church which had been handed over to the Baptists after the collapse of theSoviet Union in 1989.

On September 6, Concordia Seminary,Odessa opened its second academic year in its new building. With the local pastor Rev. Oleg Shewtschenko conducting the service, I preached on 1 Kings 3:5-9 with the theme, “What is your dream?” Our current six students attended along with Marya my interpreter, a young lady from Dnepropetrovsk where Lutheran Church–Canada missionary Rev. Alexey Novrotsky serves.

For the first six-week session in this academic year, I am teaching two courses. A study of the book of Genesis will occupy the students’ attention in three-hour blocks of time in the mornings and Christian Ethics studies fill similar periods in the afternoon. After this six-week session, other professors and pastors from Canada will teach courses throughout the year to prepare the students for their vocation as pastors. The seminary is not admitting new students until the current students have graduated in 2013.

Rev. Dr. Norman Threinen

Having taught these students for three months in September 2010, I am pleased to see a notable growth in maturity in their theological outlook and a greater seriousness about preparing for the ministry. Although the size of the student body has diminished from a year ago, I recognize greater cohesion in the group including our student from Moldova. Spirited discussion still takes place both in the classroom and in such places as the seminary dining room, but it is all an essential part of shaping future theologians and pastors for the Lord’s Church.

A grant from LWML-Canada is funding the installation of more adequate kitchen facilities, and plans are in place for additional development of the seminary facilities including a separate chapel. The overall setting in which theological training currently happens is already far superior to that under which previous classes of pastors studied.

The seminary program itself, including travel of faculty to Ukraine, is  funded by generous Canadian donors through the Concordia Lutheran Mission Society.

Our thanks to all who have, through their prayers and gifts, supported this mission of training of Lutheran pastors in Ukraine which is so vital for strengthening the Lutheran Church and for the expansion of the Gospel in this former Soviet Union country.

Rev. Dr. Norman J. Threinen is a professor emeritus of Concordia Lutheran Seminary, Edmonton and president of Concordia Seminary, Odessa.

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A timely illustration for seminary students

May 11, 2011

Dr. Dimitroff (second from left) and seminary students celebrate Victory Day, May 9

by James Dimitroff

May 9 is a national holiday in Ukraine (and in most of the former Soviet Union). It was universally called Victory Day as it marked the final capitulation of Nazi forces in World War II, with special reference to the Nazi onslaught that started against the Soviet Union in June 1941.

In Ukraine, which suffered occupation by Nazi forces between 1941 and 1944, memories are especially severe and tragic. And so even though Ukraine enjoys sovereign statehood today, the government still celebrates the victory over Hitler and his forces.

In the city of Odessa, the lilacs burst into bloom just before May 9. With spring in the air, Odessa seminary students decided, rightly, to respect the holiday and attend a festival honouring the World War II defenders of the city, and Ukraine in general. We drove downtown from the seminary and parked near the central train station. There, through the park, we visited several tank emplacements, saw a few of the remaining veterans proudly wearing their medals and vintage uniforms, and heard an orchestra play patriotic tunes.

Of course, being good Lutherans, the students arrived an hour and a half before the festivities began. That meant we needed something to fill in the time. “Why not walk to the Black Sea?” they suggested. It sounded like a perfectly reasonable idea, especially since the seashore was only “20 minutes” away.  Some 40 minutes later, we were still walking, but finally arrived at a lovely, private beach not yet open for business.

We got back to the city plaza in good time. We watched the parade and heard the patriotic music. The younger generation in Ukraine has a hard time imagining events of 66 years earlier. There seem to be more immediate concerns: high inflation in the economy (somewhere around 10 percent per month), unemployment and a muddled political picture.

As we drove back to an area called, ominously, The Catacombs, we stopped to see the underground tunnels used by partisans in their struggle against the Nazi occupation. These underground labyrinths weave an extensive net that extends for a hundred miles deep underneath the Odessa highlands and city proper.

Tomorrow we return to the seminary curriculum, which happens to be “The Nature of Sin.”  A perfect tie-in to what we saw today: results of unbridled sin and defiance of God’s love and law in the city of Odessa and world-wide. We will have lots to talk about as we look at humanity’s inhumanity, our inherent corruption, and God’s great love in sending us a Saviour who brought us redemption.

Rev. Jim Dimitroff is pastor of  Grace Lutheran Church in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan.


LCC pastor reports from Ukraine seminary

May 1, 2011

 by James Dimitroff

Rev. Dr. James Dimitroff, who is fluent in Russian, is beginning a six-week seminary teaching assignment in Odessa , Ukraine.

May Day greetings to all from the heart of Odessa, Ukraine! May Day used to be the big political holiday with parades and fireworks. Now things are far more quiet. 

Arrival here from Toronto via Istanbul was hectic and slightly confusing. The Concordia Seminary, where I am to teach beginning tomorrow, was closed for the Easter holidays. All the students went home to villages and other cities for a few days’ rest with family. Only one student, Valery Verba, returned early to meet me at the Odessa airport. We had never seen one another, but amid the wild crush of frantic Odessans trying to return home from Turkey, Valery somehow found me easily.

The Ukraine immigration inspector was more officious. He demanded to know exactly how much cash I was carrying at that moment and the reason for my coming to Ukraine. I told him I was the Concordia Lutheran Seminary instructor but he heard only the word “seminar” and let me through with little trouble.

Odessa is in bloom—all the flowering cherry trees, apple trees and linden trees declare the glory of God’s creation. On the surface, it is a charming seaport with more than 1 million people living in and around the coastal areas. Pre-trip reading of a new book just released in 2011 (Odessa: Genius and Death in a City of Dreams) spells out the tragic history of this major Ukraine metropolis. True, there were decades of great export deals, a large Jewish cultural influence and the special flavour of Odessan humour. But so much was lost during the war years. Odessa was occupied by Fascist Romania as a “gift” from their Nazi allies. Horrendous pogroms and deportations followed.

When the Soviets regained control in 1945, they proclaimed Odessa to be a “Hero City” because it had resisted the Nazis for 87 days. There were only a total of four original “Hero Cities” that earned this special mention. This is important because next week, on May 9, Odessa will celebrate “Victory Day” as a national holiday along with many other former republics of the former Soviet Union.

Concordia Lutheran Seminary is a beautiful example of cooperation in international mission. The brand-new building, dedicated in August 2010, is comfortable and clean. Its location on the outskirts of Odessa means there is a haven of peace and quiet for the seminarians to study and apply themselves.

 This morning, I visited the Lutheran congregation pastored by Rev. Oleg Shewtshenko in downtown Odessa. As Oleg is away in Germany for a few weeks, the main sermon was given by Valery Verba, the only student I’ve met so far. Seminary students fill in at this congregation from time to time. That church too has been beautifully and tastefully rebuilt. It is the landmark St. Paul’s Lutheran, which towers over the city from one of its highest hills. For almost a century, ships arriving at the Odessa port would use the light from St. Paul’s steeple to be their beacon for navigation.

Our beacon is Jesus Christ. This morning’s sermon dealt with Our Lord’s powerful words to Thomas and Thomas’ subsequent declaration of new-found faith. In his sermon, Valery Verba asked the parishioners to examine their faith too, so that it is not found to wobble in the face of “Reason’s” so-called challenge.

Once again, may I wish you a blessed May Day from the Instructor’s Room in Concordia Lutheran Seminary. Keep the Odessa seminary and its students in your fervent prayers as they prepare for a lifetime of faithful ministry to the Lord and Beacon of our life, Jesus.

Rev. Jim Dimitroff is pastor of  Grace Lutheran Church in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan.


Early Christianity revisited in modern Ukraine

November 29, 2010

Dr. Threinen (third from left) and eight seminary students recently received copies of The Book of Concord in Russian.

by Norman Threinen

It never ceases to amaze me how personally relevant theology often is for students attending seminary classes in foreign mission areas! When I began teaching courses on Early Christianity and the Survey of the Bible at the seminary in Odessa, Ukraine, I expected that a study of the Bible would personally touch the student’s lives and professor alike; it always does in many ways. But the most memorable experience for me came as we looked at the growth of the church in the Early Christianity course. Quite naturally, the topic came up of the way people became members of the Christian church in the centuries following the period of the New Testament.

The topic prompted one student to tell his story. His wife came to faith after she accepted an invitation to attend worship from another young mother whom she met in a park. Merely tolerant at first, he came to faith when he saw how his wife changed following her conversion to Christianity and, as he waited for her after church. he observed how happy church people seemed in spite of really difficult times. Similar stories from other students told me this student’s story was not unique. Having come out from under Communism only twenty years ago, people are experiencing conditions much like those of the early Christians. It is simply amazing that despite having the Christian Gospel in this country for more than 1,000 years this should be the case.

Reflecting on the first weeks of classes, I am gratified to note that our student body of eight men are relating to one another well. Some have a better background of knowledge and some enter into the discussions more readily than others, but judging by the diligence with which they attend to their studies, all are serious about becoming pastors in the church. For some it means being apart from their families for periods of six weeks while they attend seminary. For all it will mean facing an uncertain economic future when they are finished seminary training since SELCU congregations have not yet learned to support their pastors.

I continue to appreciate the skill Pastor Oleg Schewtschenko brings to translating my lectures, and for the presence of my dear wife, Muriel.

Dr. Norman J. Threinen is rector of Concordia Seminary, Odessa, Ukraine


Chilly news from Ukrainian seminary

November 4, 2010

by Norman Threinen
The nights are getting longer, the weather colder, coughs and colds more common, sweaters and warm jackets worn both inside and outside. And the little band of future preachers for the Synod of Evangelical Lutheran Churches in Ukraine is faced with a grim reality—the promised natural gas hook-up which was to provide heat for the new seminary building for the cold winter ahead will not materialize until spring 2011 at the earliest.

Since we rely on electrical heaters for some warmth we hope the occasional power outages are few and short-lived. And we pray for a mild winter!

Odessa seminary students face cool classes until a natural gas line is connected


In the midst of these difficulties, the eight students, translator and professor remain in good spirits. Our cook, Larisa, is providing a somewhat varied menu for meals. She has become a genuine house-mother, beaming as students come back for seconds of borsch and chiding a student on occasion for not finishing his plate of food.

In the academic area, more gifted students help other students who struggle to understand the problems associated with the current courses: New Testament Introduction and Lutheran Confessions. Tatania, our new interpreter from Lviv, is finding it necessary to expand both her Russian and English vocabulary with the help of textbooks we use and is meeting the challenge admirably.

As the instructor, I’ve have found it interesting to work with four different translations of the Book of Concord in my Lutheran Confessions course: my English Tappert translation; a Ukrainian translation; and two Russian translations, one translated from English and the other translated from the original German and Latin. Each student will receive personal copies of the Russian volumes when they arrive from Finland, but everything seems to take longer in Ukraine than back home.

My personal four-month tour of duty will extend until November 28, hopefully before the snow and the subzero weather come.

Rev. Dr. Norman Threinen is rector of Concordia Seminary in Odessa, Ukraine. He is a professor emeritus of Concordia Lutheran Seminary, Edmonton, Alberta.


Looking back and looking forward: God’s blessings in Ukraine

August 26, 2010

by Norman Threinen

What a difference twelve years has made in the work of theological education in Ukraine! 

In July 1998 when I arrived in Odessa to begin seminary education it was directed largely at lay pastors who were already serving congregations; Bishop Viktor Graefenstein was the only ordained pastor in an emerging church which would become the Synod of Evangelical Lutheran Churches in Ukraine (SELCU). At that time, there were only two city congregations and two village congregations involved. 

Dr. Threinen (centre) and members of the first seminary class in Kamenka

Although I was received warmly, the customs and immigration process was quite scary.  On forms which had no English, I had to make a precise accounting of money I was carrying; I could only guess what my answers should be! Officials searched all my luggage. And after I arrived, the first order of business was taking my passport to the police station to register my presence.

In 2010 all of this is changed.  Ukraine does not require a for Westerners staying less than six months. No accounting of funds under $1,000. No luggage checked. No registration with the police.

There is of course a significant change in the facilities for seminary training. In 1998 the church arranged a somewhat comfortable apartment for me in Odessa, but the seminary classes were held in the village of Kamenka, an hour away. The “classroom” space was an apartment used by the small congregation in the village. It was a three-room apartment plus a kitchen but one room was stacked to the ceiling with humanitarian aid from Germany, another with sacks of flour used by the bakery the church had acquired to provide funds for the mission. The remaining room was not only where we taught, but the congregation used it for worship so there was constant assembling and re-assembling. Students sat on backless stools with make-shift desks on their laps. 

Ukrainian summers can be very hot and with up to ten men seated side-by-side along the whole length of the room, the atmosphere was stifling. There was no air conditioning, of course, and no fan to move the air. In contrast, now we have a substantial building which includes a faculty suite and a large classroom.  

Twelve years ago, students who provided transportation for me slept in the church office in Odessa. Others slept crowded in a room in the apartment block where we held the seminary classes. The new seminary building has a dormitory on the second floor which will more than accommodate the current student body of eight. 

Whereas twelve years ago we ate our meals in the small kitchen where everyone was wedged in, the new seminary building has a kitchen and a separate dining room.

The first seminary graduates in 2001 included Oleg Schewtschenko, now pastor in Odessa (third from left); and Alexey Navrotskiy, now LCC's missionary in Ukraine (fifth from left). Also in the photograph are Dr. Leonard Harms and Dr. Norman Threinen (far left); Rev. Roland Syens (front row second from right) standing beside Bishop Victor Graefensten (front row, third from right).

As far as the students are concerned, most of them in 1998 were seasoned lay leaders, some more teachable than others. In 2010, none of the students is in that category. As to being teachable, that is still to be determined. 

      
The Kamenka facilities did not have sufficient heat to accommodate classes in winter. However, the new seminary building makes it possible to run the theological program throughout the school year rather just over the summer. During summer students were tempted to pressure the professors to adjust classes to enable them to go to the sea on occasion. 

We also hope students will not feel the need to go home every weekend and thereby focus more on their studies. 

I look forward to this phase in theological education in Ukraine. The Lord has blessed us under adverse conditions; from one pastor in 1998, the church now has fifteen.  I fully trust He will continue to be with us as He has promised, “Lo, I am with you always.”

Rev. Dr. Norman Threinen is rektor of Concordia Seminary, Odessa and professor emeritus of Concordia Lutheran Seminary, Edmonton.


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