BOSTON – The new Dean of Holy Cross Greek Orthodox School of Theology Rev. Dr. George Parsenios is a prominent scholar of the New Testament and until recently a professor at Princeton University – and he comes to the School of Theology very familiar with its mission. It should be noted here that this interview was given prior to the resignation of George Cantonis from the Presidency of the School.
The interview has follows:
The National Herald: Congratulations Fr. George for your appointment to the Deanship at Holy Cross Greek Orthodox School of Theology. How do you feel about your appointment?
Rev. Dr. George Parsenios: Thank you for your kind words, and thank you for the opportunity to address your readers as I undertake this new and important responsibility. I feel very similarly to how I felt when I became the pastor of the Church of St. Demetrios in Perth Amboy, New Jersey. I am excited and eager to get to work, but I recognize the weight of this position. It is a great privilege to work at Holy Cross, but it is a privilege that comes with a very heavy responsibility. I feel that responsibility profoundly.
TNH: Was it a surprise or something you expected?
Father Parsenios: The application process began a while ago, so I knew there was a chance of my appointment. But I only heard the official word from President Cantonis after the vote of the Board of Trustees.
TNH: On the day of your graduation from the School in 1998 did it cross your mind that someday you would return as its Dean?
Father Parsenios: When I first graduated from the School, I had hoped to return when my doctoral work was completed. Over the years, that aspiration seemed like it would not be fulfilled, for various reasons, and it faded. I even had very advanced talks with the School on a few occasions, but the time to move was never right for my family. Now, though, I am delighted that my initial hope and prayer is coming to reality.
TNH: Given the problems the School has faced over the years and continues to face, what made you to leave your tenured position at prestigious Princeton and go to Holy Cross? We assume you thought very carefully about it.
Father Parsenios: The most important part of this decision has been the eagerness of my wife to move back to Boston. She is a graduate of Holy Cross herself, and is happy about the prospect of returning to an environment centered on theology and worship. Our older children are now in college, and our youngest is at an age when the transition is still possible. As for any problems that you mention, I am inspired by the direction that the School has taken under the spiritual leadership of His Eminence, Archbishop Elpidophoros of America, especially with the hiring of President George Cantonis.
TNH: Please tell us some of your prospects and visions about the School for the next five years.
Father Parsenios: The most central mission of the School is priestly formation. As Dean of the School of Theology, my job is very clear: to support and help the members of the Faculty of the School of Theology to actualize this central mission in every class, every chapel service, and everything else the School does. If this mission is carefully guided and guarded, then so many other things can follow from it. A chief concern is continuing education for priests already serving in parishes, not to mention some form of education directed to our parishes in general. Equally important is the education of lay leaders either to support parish ministry, or to pursue advanced degrees in theology. My job is to see that the central mission of the institution underlies all of this work.
TNH: What attracted you to study and specialized in New Testament Studies?
Father Parsenios: Two important parts of my college study made this a very natural development in my life. I was a Classics major as an undergraduate, and so I devoted myself to the study of Ancient Greek language, history and culture. Alongside this devotion to the Ancient Greek world, I had a profound religious awakening in college and began to explore my faith much more purposefully, especially by reading the Bible. When I went to Holy Cross, and began to apply myself in a more technical way to biblical interpretation, the desire to pursue an advanced degree in New Testament developed very naturally.
TNH: Speaking about the New Testament or the Holy Bible in general, is it the revelation of God to humanity or is it a ‘discussion’ about the revelation?
Father Parsenios: The Bible is both the record of revelation, and the revelation itself. The Bible is, in the first place, a record of God’s work in creating and then saving the world in Jesus Christ. This is why the Bible is ‘closed’, and we cannot add or remove books. God’s work is perfected in Christ, and the Bible is the record of this perfected work. But, the whole life of the Church is designed to bring us into union with God, through sacraments, prayer, and asceticism. One of the chief ways that God draws us to himself and continues to appeal to us is precisely through the reading of Scripture. So, the Bible is both the record of revelation and the vehicle of revelation.
TNH: Do you think the students of Holy Cross should learn and know the Greek language very well, if not perfectly, in order to be able to read and study the New Testament form its original text?
Father Parsenios: My personal history, described above, means that I obviously think it is important, but this is not just my own individual preference. Even Protestant and Catholic students of theology are required to learn Greek as part of their studies, in order to read early Christian texts. Not every priest needs to be a philologist or linguist. Some people will struggle with language. But even struggling students will gain something. The most important thing is to teach students the reason for studying Greek. Every translation is an interpretation, and things get lost in translation. Knowledge of Greek opens up levels of meaning and depth not accessible in translation, and not only in the study of the Scriptures, but also in our liturgical and patristic traditions. Studying Greek is an essential part of theological training.