Introducing the Institute of Sacred Arts at St. Vladimir’s Seminary

By Fr. Silouan Justiniano on March 17, 2020


The Holy Liturgy in the Orthodox Church can be said to be the aspiration towards, if not the actualization of, a “complete work of art” – a synthesis of all the arts – whether it be music, painting, mosaic, embroidery, poetry, architecture, sculpture, choreography, rhetoric, etc., at the service of theology and divine worship. But it so happens that in spite of the richness of artistic beauty to be encountered within the Orthodox Church, the confluence of the arts and theology hardly seems to be a focus of rigorous inquiry in seminaries here in the US. This situation, however, is about to change with the establishment of a permanent Institute of Sacred Arts (ISA) which is being launched at the St. Vladimir’s Orthodox Theological Seminary (SVOTS).

The ISA is an outgrowth of the Sacred Arts Initiative (SAI), reviewed in a previous post.
Like the SAI, the ISA will continue to organize scholarly symposia, conferences and cultural events, and find expression through publications, but it will expand its concept to include a developed curriculum to be offered at SVOTS, exploring the mutual relationship between theology and the arts, or as their mission statement puts it, the “intersection of human creativity and holiness.”

This orientation will not only infuse the core curriculum of all seminarians, but also uniquely offer the opportunity to future students to enroll in the Master of Arts (M.A.) program with a concentration in sacred arts. According to their website: “The concentration will feature coursework in both theoretical and applied theology and the arts, with opportunities to specialize in either iconology or music.”


As noted by Peter Bouteneff, ISA director and SVOTS professor, “Many universities and divinity schools are concerned with the arts, but only rarely are they thoroughly integrated with the theology that might undergird them, or with the liturgy that brings them into a coherent, performative whole.” He adds, “We seek to integrate across the sacred arts—visual, aural, rhetorical, and tactile—as a means to study theology, especially through the liturgy, and to bring theological insights into the study of art, a field often dominated by historical, critical, and political perspectives.”[i]

Among the SVOTS faculty the following are offering courses directly related to the sacred arts: Peter Bouteneff, Music and Theology; Robin Freeman, Music and Music Education; Tracy Gustilo, Theological Aesthetics and Themes in Liturgy.

The ISA will also feature an artist-in-residence program which will serve to provide the students, along their research and course of study, with the input (as mentors and project advisors) of practitioners of the arts at the highest level of professional expertise. The ISA affiliated artists and scholars include: George Kordis, Iconography and Iconology; Alexander Lingas, Music, Liturgy and Chant; Vasileios Marinis, Architecture; Fr. Ivan Moody, Music and Composition; Richard Schneider, Iconology; Annemarie Weyl Carr, Art History.

Moreover, the efforts of the ISA will be extended to the general public with the annual five-day Sacred Arts Summer Institute, beginning this year. The aim is to have SVOTS faculty, artists-in-residence, and visiting artists lead master classes on such subjects as singing, conducting, and music composition; icon painting and carving; literature and poetry; and homiletics. It is hoped, as Prof. Bouteneff explains, that “The Summer Institute will be able to go one step further than many weekend or one-day workshops, as SVOTS will integrate arts practice with the highest caliber of theory and theology.”[ii]

Through the efforts of the ISA, the Seminary aims to expand collaborative relationships with other institutions, theological schools, and universities, as well as with creators of sacred art, and create audio and video podcasts for the public. Videos documenting the interviews conducted with the participants of the “Rethinking Sacred Arts” symposium are now available at the ISA website.


Peter Bouteneff, SVOTS professor and ISA director, preparing to conduct a video interview.

Arvo Pärt


The Arvo Pärt Project, which deals with all things pertaining to the music of the Estonian composer and Orthodox Christian Arvo Pärt, also forms an integral part of the efforts of the ISA. Videos documenting various concerts, interviews  and lecture events, such as the “Sounding the Sacred Conference”, can also be found in the ISA website.

According to SVOTS President Archpriest Chad Hatfield, “St. Vladimir’s is now well-positioned to offer something with the ISA that really isn’t available anywhere else…” He also added, “We anticipate making a major impact on the fields of art and theology through the introduction and careful testing of a new and fully arts-integrated model of higher theological education.”[iii]


The ISA has been made possible largely through a variety of sponsors and patrons, including: Drs. Frank and Alcides Kulik; The Henry Luce Foundation; The Leonid Ouspensky and Vladimir Lossky Endowment; and The Prokofiev Endowment.


For further information see the Institute of Sacred Arts’ new website. The following is the ISA promotional video:





[i] As quoted in the SVOTS website article, “Seminary to launch unique Sacred Arts Institute with Luce Foundation grant”, accessed March 10, 2020.

[ii] Ibid.

[iii] Ibid.

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  1. Denise Norman on March 18, 2020 at 10:33 am

    SVOTS has a long history of excellent music instruction, and this looks like it will build on that foundation. Iconology is mentioned, but I don’t see iconography or architecture mentioned. This initiative is very incomplete without a roster of master iconographers and architects included, not only to round out the education of future pastors, but to provide in-depth instruction in those disciplines in the degree program.

    • Andrew Gould on March 18, 2020 at 10:56 am

      As far as I can understand from their press releases, this program is not meant to train practicing iconographers or architects. The faculty listed are art historians and theologians, and I believe the intent is to teach these as academic disciplines. The artists in residence are there to be “observed” and to teach occasional masterclasses. They will not be offering a masters degree program in icon painting, for instance. To my knowledge, the only place in the English-speaking world that offers such a program is the Prince’s School of Traditional Arts in London.

      It is worth noting that some practicing iconographers do hold degrees in theology and art history, and it can be very beneficial for a professional iconographer to study these fields. Iconographer Seraphim O’Keefe attended SVOTS for this very reason. But he had already learned how to paint elsewhere.

      • Peter Bouteneff on March 18, 2020 at 12:14 pm

        Thank you, Andrew — that’s exactly right on all counts.

  2. Philip Tamoush on March 18, 2020 at 3:17 pm

    Hello: This wonderful endeavor is a great follow-up to the original sponsorship by St. Vladimir’s of the first effort. After the opening of the Soviet Union, there became a tremendous interest in authentic Iconography. The Association of Orthodox Iconographers, Architects and Iconologists was formed with Iconographer Fr. Philip Koufos as President. I was blessed to serve as Manager for much of the 1970’s or therabouts. With a succession of Presidents and managers, the Association finally closed or at least went dark. We had almost 500 members at its height: Orthodox, Catholic, Jews, Gentiles, and I am sure our share of Agnostics, who looked at iconography especially as a great potential income-producer. But a core of dedicated Orthodox of all jurisdictions held the group together through many national and regional conferences and workshops. I still have a full set of the Sacred Art Journal which we produced quarterly for many years. If the Institute would like it, it would be blessed to donate it. Subdeacon Phil Tamoush, former Business Manager, Association of Orthodox Iconographers, Architects and Iconologists.

    • Peter Bouteneff on March 19, 2020 at 5:10 pm

      Dear Sbdn Phil, Thank you for your generous words and your immensely thoughtful offer. I’ve just checked the SVS online library catalog and we do seem to have all the issues of the Sacred Art Journal (47 issues). If you were to donate your set to us, we could keep a separate set, in a room dedicated to the arts. But there may be more worthy recipients who don’t have a copy to begin with. Again thank you, and you’ve encouraged me to go back and look through this trove of essays — once our library reopens. Peter Bouteneff

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