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“The Fact That Our University Is Small Has Played to Our Advantage During the Pandemic”

“It was fairly easy for us to switch to distance learning,” said SFI Vice Rector, Dmitry Gasak, as he gave his 2020 year-end report on our traditional Commencement Day on the 2nd of December, which was also convened by teleconference. “At the beginning, we did have some experience with distance learning, and the fact that our university is small has played to our advantage during the pandemic – it gives us mobility.”
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Among the main events of the past year have been the appointment of a new Rector for the Institute, state accreditation of programmes, and the grand opening of a new building for university facilities.

“Since the end of March, all the university’s educational programmes, including the bachelors and masters degrees in theology and ten other programmes, have been conducted by distance learning. At the moment we are occupied with trying to answer the question of how to run internships/practicums for distance learning, especially given that in most instances our students have no access to hospitals, hospices or other such institutions these days,” continued Dmitry Gasak.

We have also learned to hold academic conferences using the new formats. In November we ran a History conference under the rubric Stalinist Collectivisation: Relevant Problems, organized by SFI and the Chayanov Research Centre at the Moscow School of Social and Economic Sciences. Our greatest loss this year was not being able to hold our annual, international theological conference on Orthodox Ecclesiology, which has been put off until spring next year,” noted Dmitry Gasak.

The Institute’s employees have also adapted to the new working conditions well. “For many the new conditions were unusual and they had to bring computers and documents home,” said the SFI Vice Rector. “But all our divisions coped quite well, which gave us cause to be grateful for the fact that our Institute is quite small and mobile.”

The Institute has also preserved the possibility for its employees to come in and work in their usual office space by following standard safety and security measures during the pandemic. “And although a number of our employees did have to endure the new illness, our situation is calm, in the main, and under control,” said Dmitry Gasak. “Thanks be to God, we haven’t lost anyone to COVID.”

2020 marks a new era in life for SFI, the founder and first Rector of which is Fr. Georgy Kochetkov, who passed the title of Rector on to PhD in History, Professor Aleksey Mazurov: “Our new Rector, Aleksey Borisovich Mazurov, is a member of the Patriarch’s commission for culture, and isn’t new to our Institute. For 10 years now he has headed the SFI accreditation committee and has done this – despite his heavy workload – in a very informal way, also actively taking part in the Institute’s work.”

Aleksey Mazurov

Aleksey Mazurov

Another important event this year was the attempt to get accreditation for two educational programmes in Theology. “Despite the negative decision made by Rosobrnadzor (the state board for educational oversight), we wish to thank the entire team of employees who worked to prepare the materials for accreditation – for all their selfless work toward that goal,” said Dmitry Gasak. “And we should also mention the startling speed with which the information regarding the negative decision appeared in the media (TASS, Interfax) – quite surprising given the insignificant size of our Institute. The rapid appearance of the negative results in the press does create the general impression that the decision was anticipated.”

Despite the negative decision of Rosobrnadzor, the previous accreditations still remain in place until spring 2021, due to a resolution passed by the Russian government in the wake of the pandemic.

Another long-awaited event was the grand opening of the Institute’s new building in Tokmakov pereulok, and the blessing of the building. With the blessing of Patriarch Kirill, the new building contains a chapel dedicated to St. Philaret of Moscow. “We hope that the pandemic will come to an end and the Patriarch will come to bless the chapel to become St. Philaret’s Church,” said Dmitriy Gasak. He added that the Institute chapel at Pokrovka, which was outfitted in the 1990s with the blessing of Patriarch Alexiy II, has been renamed as the Pokrov Chapel, since 14 October, 2020.

Over the course of the past year the Institute has parted with several of its trustees and teachers. One of them who passed away was Anatoly Andreevich Krasikov, Doctor of History, Professor and former head of the Russian Academy of the Sciences Centre for the study of Religion and Society; “Krasikov was a good friend and an apologist for SFI and the Transfiguration Brotherhood,” said Dmitry Gasak. “And the passing away of Olga Sigizmundovna Popova, a Doctor of Art History, Professor at Moscow State University, and Byzantinist well-known in Russia was also a great loss to us. We will remember her wish for us – that we should be strong – and try strive to live up to it.”

“This year we also parted with our long-time teacher of general history, Ella Yevgenjevna Rozhkova, History PhD and untiring employee, who worked with her students up to the very end of her life. Today we would also like to remember Igumen Innokenty (Pavlov), who died in May 2020. Igumen Innokenty formerly taught at SFI and stayed involved in the life of the Institute up until the end of his life,” added Dmitry Gasak.

In thinking about the year to come, Gasak spoke of continued plans to re-accredit the Theology programmes and plans to license the masters programme in History, as well as the transition off the bachelors and masters programmes to the new FGOS3++ educational standard.

“We can see that the scholarly and educational activities of the Institute are in demand and bear fruit leading to the enlightenment of minds, transformation of souls, and the reinforcement of people’s personal faith and desire to serve their neighbour by doing good,” concluded Dmitry Gasak.