The Venerable and Ancient Patriarchate of Alexandria and All Africa has surprised us with its courage and initiative in the past. We need only recall the appointment of deaconesses by His Beatitude, Pope and Patriarch Theodoros II. While there was debate whether it constituted a true “ordination” (cheirotonia), rather than a blessing (cheirothesia), the fact remains that the Patriarchate took an initiative in such matters.
The same can be said regarding the establishment of St. Mark’s Academy, offering theological education through distance learning. Other such Academies exist, but St. Mark’s promises a quality, contemporary, and challenging curriculum. Situated in Johannesburg, South Africa, by making use of electronic media it makes learning available to all, regardless of distance and location. In addition, due to favourable exchange rates for foreign students, tuition is affordable to many.
The faculty presently consists of a group of five highly qualified academics and an external independent moderator. Between them, there are five with doctorates and one with a master’s degree. More academics will be sourced as the need arises. The staff also consists of persons responsible for administration and financial issues.
St. Mark’s pilot course is the three-year Programme in Orthodox Christian Studies. It is not yet an accredited diploma, but is recognized by the Church. The Academy has been working together with the South African Department for Higher Education for accreditation. Presently, they require that students be present in Johannesburg for a formal written examination. This would greatly add to the cost. The Academy is exploring other possibilities.
The Programme covers the necessary subjects of Scripture, doctrine, liturgics, and church history, but also brings the faith to life as “theory becomes practice” in personal and social ethics, spiritual life, and pastoral care. Students are challenged to consider the relationship between the Church and the churches, their differences in beliefs and outlook, and the dialogues and meetings aiming at mutual understanding and greater unity. Contemporary theologies—liberation, feminist, African, alternative, etc.—are explored, as well as the Church’s response to these.
Finally, a concise view of World Religions is offered, together with modules in missiology—the mission of the Church to the world and proclaiming the Gospel to all nations, something very dear to the heart of this Patriarchate.
It is possible that students may want to take single modules from the Programme, but St Mark’s cannot guarantee that, should the student be registered elsewhere, the credits would be recognised.
Each module includes an intensive reading programme. The Academy is presently developing an online library that contains the required and recommended set works. This is a substantial savings in costs of books that would otherwise need to be ordered. Students receive the syllabus, bibliography, and course objectives. They are guided in their reading and are given a series of questions and an essay topic to work on and submit within the allocated time. The final semester requires a longer assignment or research project on a topic of the student’s choice. After a successful three years, the student receives a Certificate in Orthodox Christian Theology.
Short courses on various topics are offered at various times, but tend, for the moment, to require physical presence.
Exciting prospects are open in the field of post-graduate studies (master’s and doctorates) as the Academy explores the prospect of “twinning” with a local, accredited college that would offer the degrees the recognition that students deserve. St. Mark’s will keep students and prospective students informed of developments.
Under the auspices of the Patriarchate and the direction of Metropolitan Petros (Parginos) of Accra, who recently attained his doctorate, the Academy already has numerous students from such diverse places all over the world as Egypt, Italy, Belgium, Portugal, Zambia, and South Africa.
Registration may take place on one of two occasions, in time for the semester beginning in January or the one beginning in July.
Additional information can be found on the website of St. Mark’s Academy under Academic Programmes and Student Information, or by writing directly to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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Metropolitan Petros (Parginos) of Accra was born in Johannesburg, South Africa. After matriculating from SAHETI School he studied English and Greek Literature at the Universities of the Witwatersrand and of Johannesburg. He taught Greek language and culture at Saheti and was appointed head of the Greek Department for the high school.
In 1998 he was ordained to the diaconate and to the priesthood, and later obtained an MA in theology from Balamand, focusing on ecclesiology, and a second MA from the Catholic College of St Augustine in Johannesburg, focusing on spirituality and the Orthodox neptic tradition. He attended courses in Christian ethics, education, ecumenical and interreligious dialogue, pastoral care, and psychology. He holds a Licentiate in Logotherapy (existential psychology).
In 2019 he completed a Doctorate through the University of the North West, focusing on the dialogue of the Orthodox Church with the Roman Catholic Church.
In 2017, with the blessings of His Beatitude, the Pope and Patriarch of Alexandria and All Africa, Theodoros II and of the Holy Synod, he founded, organised, and administers St. Mark’s Academy, which offers theological education by means of distance learning, using electronic and online means of communication.
His Eminence was ordained to the episcopate as Metropolitan of Accra on December 6, 2019. In his episcopal ordination speech (full text here), he called for a Church “that is not afraid to debate, not only with other churches, confessions, and religions, but with the contemporary world and the sciences,” a Church “that is the voice and the harbour of the underprivileged, the persecuted, the forgotten, the marginalized, those that have need of compassion and humanity.”