My education: St Ephrem’s Institute of Eastern Church Studies

St Ephrem’s Institute of Eastern Church Studies was established in 1974 as the Scandinavian extension of the People’s University of the Americas. For much of its history, it was closely associated with the Scandinavian representation (Svea Synod) of the Apostolic Episcopal Church and with the American World Patriarchs; like those communions, its character was ecumenical.

The People’s University of the Americas (PUA) was founded in San Juan, Commonwealth of Puerto Rico, in 1967 (and incorporated as a non-profit educational institution there in 1973) by Archbishop Uladyslau Ryzy-Ryski (1925-78), Chancellor to the Holy Orthodox Catholic Patriarchate of America and first Patriarch of the American World Patriarchs (as Patriarch Uladyslau I). At its inception, PUA opened with two schools: the Faculty of Theology & Canonic Law and the Faculty of Philosophy & Literature. Further faculties in American History and Government, Law, and Naturopathy were added during the 1980s and 1990s.

Patriarch Uladyslau addresses the graduating class at the People’s University of the Americas, 1975

The University offered degrees at bachelor, master and doctorate levels. Instruction was offered on campuses in Ponce, Cayey and El Verde, with a particular social emphasis dedicated to the education of the poor. Working adults were catered for through evening classes. The University took a position that it was opposed to distance learning and all its academic activity took place on campus. In 1989, the United States Attorney-General issued a letter recognizing PUA as an established institution of learning recognized as such by a qualified state agency. With the turn of the century the construction of a new campus in Ponce was announced.

PUA applied for regional accreditation in the United States in 2004 and suspended enrolments pending the outcome of this process. During the same year, the University was acquired by the National Association for Foreign Attorneys in Florida and renamed UNPAM University. The University continues to exist today but no longer grants degrees.

In Scandinavia, St Ephrem’s Institute was under the direction of Archbishop Professor Bertil Persson, who was both a presbyter in the Church of Sweden and a bishop in the Apostolic Episcopal Church (which was in intercommunion with the American World Patriarchs). As such, it served primarily as a means of promulgating research and scholarly publications, focusing on the principal areas of church history and the Aramaic language. In addition, it was the repository for a substantial archive of records and information concerning the smaller independent churches, much of which would eventually be consolidated in Independent Bishops: An International Directory (Persson, Bertil; Bain, Alan; Ward, Gary L.; preface by Melton, J. Gordon; Detroit, Apogee Books, 1990), which was produced with the Institute for the Study of American Religion at the University of California at Santa Barbara.

St Ephrem’s Institute functioned both in Sweden and in Norway, where its degrees were awarded principally to churchmen and theological scholars. The degrees were generally awarded by Diploma, which meant that, although they were full earned degrees, they were awarded based on the Institute’s assessment of the work and standing of the graduate rather than after examination or supplication.

The Honorary Fellows of St Ephrem’s Institute included HH Pope Shenouda III of the Coptic Orthodox Patriarchate; Mt Revd Mar Aprem, Metropolitan of the Church of the East; HH Patriarch Ignatius Zakka I Iwas of the Syrian Orthodox Patriarchate; and HB Patriarch Maximos V Hakim of the Melkite Greek Catholic Church. There was also a distinguished board of Research Professors.

I was awarded the degree of Doctor of Divinity by St Ephrem’s Institute in 2008, the year in which I was also appointed as a bishop in the Apostolic Episcopal Church. As will be seen from the diploma below, the basis for the award was “his Outstanding Works on Church History”. My work in that area has concentrated on a continuation and expansion of topics that in some cases were previously also the subject of publications of the Institute, particularly the histories of the smaller independent churches and the biographies and ministries of their clergy. Subsequently, I would publish my biographies of ecclesiastical pioneers Arnold Harris Mathew and Joseph René Vilatte.

The death of the Institute’s Vice-President in 2008 led me to understand that mine would be the final degree of St Ephrem’s Institute to be awarded.

In India, meanwhile, an institution founded under the inspiration of St Ephrem’s Institute has outlived its European progenitor. St Ephrem’s Ecumenical Research Institute (SEERI), which is situated in Kottayam, Kerala, and affiliated as a research centre to the Mahatma Gandhi University, was inaugurated on 14 September 1985 by Mar Thoma Mathews I, Catholicos of the Orthodox Syrian Church and an ecumenical collaborator of Archbishop Persson. It is a centre for the study of the Syriac language and cognate subjects.

About johnkersey

Historian, musician and educationalist.
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