The St John of Damascus Institute of Theology stands in the vicinity of the Patriarchal Monastery of our Lady of Balamand, and proceeds from it as a child from its mother. It was founded because an increasing need felt by the Antiochian See on the internal, as well as external levels.
On the internal level, there was an increasing need within the Church for clergy who would be aware of the dimension of the Sacrament of Ministry, and the meaning of holiness. Knowledge begins by offering one’s heart to God. “Give me your heart son, and I shall give you understanding and life” (Prov 23: 26). As the founder of the Institute expressed it: “It is the duty of theology to lead to the formation of a man who would see and talk, and who would utter the words about the divine things. It is the duty of theological teaching to help the student go over the book as book, and reach a spiritual experience in the heart, because from the heart, the eyes are opened to the real knowledge of Christ and His divine act in the entity of the student, his behavior and his intellectual judgments. It is true also that theoretical information does not necessarily, although theological, enrich the personality of the one who knows it. It makes no change except allowing the one who knows it to be informed”.
The theologian is the one who is invited to accompany the human sciences and convey to human beings the gifts that God has offered them. He is also called to be an example in his behavior. “Let your light shine before men so that they may behold your good deeds and glorify your Father who is in heaven” (Matt 5: 16). The founder affirms saying: “at the St John of Damascus Institute of Theology, We aim at finding the appropriate atmosphere for educating Orthodox spiritual leaders, who will overcome the dualism of abstract intellectual knowledge, and he who believes, will shine through his words and deeds. It is not simply important to know about Christ, it is also important to love Christ, and love the world He redeemed.” The Institute aims at making the Antiochian Church, known both in its heritage, and in the present, so that its theologians are not estranged from their eastern tradition, nor their role in transmitting this heritage.
I move here to the external role of the Institute. It prepares its graduates to be aware of the fact that Orthodoxy should be his way of life, and that makes him a universal being, not limited solely to theoretical theological concepts. His awareness of his identity makes his mission efficient in the Christian and Islamic worlds alike. He is invited to make Christianity known to the Muslim world he accepted and is living in. The main role of the University of Balamand, as well as of the Institute of Theology, is to play a role in spreading this Antiochian tradition, which has an open mind to others, and to his mission, so that he may be to the world like salt in food. In History, Antioch was known to have embraced the Church’s mission, and to have been aware of it in the Christian world. It was not limited by guideline, nor did it show any slothfulness. Open-mindedness was always key, because it is aware that its role lies in making the Christian heritage of the East known to the Christian communities and Churches in the West.
Last but not least, the Role of the Institute is to prepare leaders filled with divine and worldly wisdom, who would be in the world but not of the world. They are invited to be in the world, bearing in mind incarnated love, service, and sanctification.