By Laura Ieraci
CHICAGO — Fiodar Litvinau’s spiritual identity and intellectual goals came into sharp focus in Rome.
A native of Belarus, Litvinau came to the Eternal City on a scholarship to study at the Pontifical Biblical Institute, starting in 2011. He earned his licentiate in biblical theology and, in 2016, moved to Germany, where he is currently a doctoral candidate in the theology faculty of the University of Munich.
While his studies may seem to have progressed in a straightforward way, Litvinau credits his years as a resident of The Lay Centre with giving his academic research direction, fostering his sense of Christian identity and developing his intellectual mettle.
The Lay Centre is a “multicultural and multidisciplinary” community, where “circumstances are perfect to share your research and ideas with people from different fields, which helps you to do your research, and to proceed and broaden in your research,” he said.
Being able to engage in respectful discussion with people of different cultures — some who may disagree with your ideas — is an essential skill to learn for life in the academy, he added.
“This type of discussion helps you to refine your language. It teaches you how to articulate and present the problem of your research, and to refine your ideas,” he said. “In dialogue, you learn to ask and answer questions.”
He said his interreligious experiences and friendships at The Lay Centre contributed significantly to his choice of a topic for his doctoral research: the transmission of tradition, specifically in the New Testament and the literature of Second Temple Judaism.
Litvinau said his interest in Judaism started in Rome, when he began reading the Bible more closely and discussing Judaism with a Jewish resident scholar at The Lay Centre. This opportunity for daily dialogue allowed him to engage with another religious tradition, not only through “a book, but from the point of view of the person,” he said.
“Sharing everyday life with people of different denominations and religions,” he continued, “is the most important experience I had at The Lay Centre.”
Litvinau said his time at The Lay Centre also affirmed him in his faith and reinforced his identity as an Orthodox Christian.
“I felt so included at The Lay Centre that it helped me to understand my identity better and to feel it more because of the climate of respect,” he said. “It is a great place to feel that we (Christians) are one church.”
He also described The Lay Centre as a “very healthy” place “for study and sharing, based on the pillar of community.” Community and fellowship are vital supports for graduate students and cannot be taken for granted, he said.
Litvinau has maintained the friendships and scholarly network he developed while in Rome. In his experience, Lay Centre alumni — even those who resided at The Lay Centre before or after him — have always been willing to help each other, especially as regards the advancement of scholarly research and ideas, he said.
The Lay Centre staff have continued to be available, helpful and friendly as well, even after his departure from Rome, he said.
“The Lay Centre helped me then,” he added, referring to his time in Rome, “and it helps me now.”
He shared how delighted he was to be welcomed warmly at The Lay Centre on three return trips to Rome after graduation. He would quickly connect with the resident community, whom he would meet, mostly for the first time, during his short stays. He said he enjoyed engaging conversations with the scholars over meals and found the familiar spirit of openness and welcome.
He also commented on how The Lay Centre seems to create instant bonds of friendship among resident scholars, regardless of when or how long one may have lived there.
“The Lay Centre brings people together,” said Litvinau. “It’s not just a place. It creates a scholarly and spiritual community.”
Photo courtesy Fiodar Litvinau