What Once Was – Reflections from a Graduate of the Holy Theological School of Halki

Reverand Father George C. Kaloudis was born and raised in Kambia, Chios. Kambia is a small village in the northern part of the island, at the foot of the Pelinneon Mountain. 1 Fr. George lived on the island with his family through high school. When he graduated in 1955, he went directly to the island of Halki to study theology in preparation for the priesthood at the Holy Theological School of Halki. There were only 22 other seminarians studying with him at the time.  

Rev. Fr. George C. Kaloudis receiving the honor of Protopresbyter from His All Holiness Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholemew

The Holy Theological School is located on the island of Halki, at the top of a hill called the Hill of Hope. It is an hour boat ride from the shore of Constantinople, modern day Istanbul. The Monastery of Holy Trinity sits on the grounds of the School. It was founded during the Byzantine period. 2

According to the Patriarchate’s website, ‘The Holy Theological School of Halki was established in order to meet the educational needs of the Church of Constantinople and of Orthodoxy in general.’ Other reasons given were the need to confront western ideologies with an anti-Christian bias, such as materialism and socio-philosophical systems with rigorous argumentation as well as the need to confront the proselytization efforts being conducted by western Christian denominations.2

The school functioned as a monastic brotherhood, accepting only male laymen, clerics or monks. Students dressed in a short black cassock and were only allowed limited outings on designated days. Its location allowed it to be a place of the intense academic, ecclesiastical and theological study. On top of their regular studies, great weight was given to the teaching of Byzantine music.2

Fr. George recollects “I didn’t interact in the day to day life on the island of Halki because as students we were only allowed to stay within the school grounds. We would take leisurely walks around the school but never really experienced what daily life was like on the island. From what I can remember, there were a few Greek residents on Halki.”

He also remembers that the climate between the School and the Turkish government was a peaceful one. There was a lot of vandalism and threats were made towards Greek businesses in Constantinople. The threat was always there, Fr. George recalls, but the School was kept safe for the students who came from different parts of the world, including Russia, Serbia, Bulgaria and Africa.

The School attracted students from all the countries under the spiritual jurisdiction of Orthodox Patriarchates and Autocephalous Churches, as well as from friend heterodox churches.3

The Halki Theological School Graduates Association gives an in-depth description of what students gained in their years at the school, ‘A graduate of the School knows that Theology is not academic knowledge but existential experience, interpreted by Theology. He has discarded the blinkers of formalities and has learned to flee the trenches of prejudices and to converse in a spirit of love, humiliation and wisdom, with only one objective in mind, namely to contribute to the realization of the desire of the Lord for all to be one. The anguish of the Lord becomes his sensitive point with respect to the modern man and his problems.’3

After 127 years since its establishment in 1844 the Holy Theological School of Halki was closed in 1971.3 It was closed due to a law that was passed by the Turkish government prohibiting the operation of private institutions of higher education. The School remains closed today despite worldwide efforts to open its doors once again. Recently, under the initiative of His All Holiness, Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, international ecological conferences and seminars have been hosted at the School.2

Rev. Fr. George C. Kaloudis with family and friends in front of the Holy Theological School of Halki
Today Fr. George is the Presiding Priest at Holy Trinity Greek Orthodox Church in Chicago. He moved to Chicago in 1964. The first Sunday services he presided over were held in a classroom. His parish had just 25 parishioners but together they slowly built Holy Trinity from the ground up. In 1967 Fr. George was able to perform Divine Liturgy in the Holy Trinity Church. He has a close-knit family consisting of his wife, Presvytera Stamatia, four children and six “beautiful” grandchildren.

Fr. George continues to study theological philosophy and when he has time, he gardens.
He shares that, “The closing of Halki is a huge loss for Orthodoxy,” and like so many of us he has faith that one day the doors will re-open and religious freedom will once again be possible in Turkey.

1 http://www.chiosonline.gr/kambia.asp
2 http://www.patriarchate.org/patriarchate/monasteries-churches/halki
3 http://www.estiahalkis.org/en/about.htm

                                                                                                                     -Vivian Siempos
 with input from John Mindala