Diocesan Seminarians

Deacon Peter & Chelsea (Xenia) Simko

Home Parish: St. Gregory of Nyssa, Columbus, OH

Seminary: St. Tikhon’s Seminary

Year & Program: 3rd year M.Div. student

Peter hails from Canfield, Ohio, and he grew up worshiping at Saint John the Forerunner Greek Orthodox Church in Youngstown, Ohio.  He served in the altar as a child, and was ordained a reader by now-retired Metropolitan MAXIMOS when he was ten years old. Peter attended Case Western Reserve University, where he graduated with a Bachelor’s degree in civil engineering and met Chelsea.  Chelsea had been raised in the United Methodist Church in Houston, Texas.  Both ended up becoming members of Campus Crusade and Orthodox Christian Fellowship, in which Peter eventually served on the national Student Advisory Board.  Upon graduation, they both landed in Columbus, Ohio; Peter worked as a site civil engineer for several firms, and Chelsea worked as a social worker, eventually getting her Masters of Social Work from The Ohio State University.

In Columbus, the couple attended Saint Gregory of Nyssa, where Chelsea was Baptized and Chrismated in 2012, and where the two were married in January of 2014.  Peter and Chelsea gradually became involved in a number of parish ministries, helping out with whatever they could.  In December of 2017, after completing the Saint Macrina Institute coursework through the Diocese of the Midwest and the Diaconal Vocations Program, Peter was ordained to the subdiaconate by His Grace, Bishop Paul.  Peter is attending Saint Tikhon’s.

Deacon Matthew & Christine McDonald

  • Home Parish: Saint Thomas the Apostle Springfield, MO
  • Seminary: St. Tikhon’s Seminary
  • Year & Program: 3rd year M.Div. student.

Matthew was born in 1981 in San Jose, CA.  He was raised attending mostly Baptist and Pentecostal churches. He first encountered the Orthodox faith at college, when he was brought by a friend to a Vespers service.  He did not begin attending the Church at that time, but a year later began to become more fixated on the idea of a historical Christianity. This led him back to St. Thomas, and he began attending at that time.  After he was married, both he and his wife were baptized and chrismated by Fr. Andrew Moore.  Matthew and his wife, Christine, have three children.

Matthew and his family have attended St. Thomas the Apostle since 2005. Beginning in 2013, Matthew became more involved with serving behind the altar and reading in Church. His wife regularly sang in the choir.

Matthew now attends St. Tikhon’s and is expected to graduate in 2021.

Payton Saunders

Home Parish: Holy Ascension Orthodox Church, Albion, MI

Seminary: St. Tikhon’s Seminary

Year & Program: 2nd year M.Div.

Payton (Anthony) and Bethany (Martha) are Michigan natives who met as students at Spring Arbor University, where they both earned undergraduate and graduate degrees. Payton worked as a math teacher for nine years, first at a therapeutic boarding school, then in public school. Bethany worked as a counselor at a private practice.

Payton and Bethany were chrismated on Holy Saturday in 2010, at Holy Ascension Orthodox Church, in Albion, MI. The Saunders have been active participants in parish life: helping with the services, teaching church school, supporting the local OCF, and serving on parish council.

Payton and Bethany both come from ministry-oriented families, who first taught them to continually offer their whole lives to God. In 2019, the Saunders moved to St. Tikhon’s Seminary, in South Canaan, PA. Payton is expected to graduate in 2022. Payton and Bethany have two young girls, Anna and Adelaide.

Matthew Pings

Home Parish: St. Matthew Orthodox Church, Green Bay, WI

Seminary: St. Tikhon’s Seminary

Year & Program: 2nd year M.Div.

Matthew was born and raised in Wisconsin as a devout Evangelical Christian. His desire to serve God vocationally began in his early 20’s when he was serving with a Christian discipleship program that trained and served in disaster relief/humanitarian aid. Throughout his 20’s he went on to be involved in prison ministry and foreign missions in Peru and Mexico. In 2005 Matthew also began studying at Boyce College (Louisville, KY), where he earned his B.S. in Biblical Studies, majoring in Biblical Counseling.

While in college, Matthew was a member of a unique Southern Baptist church that took practices from the more liturgical-oriented churches and introduced them within an Evangelical framework (pre-written prayers, weekly Communion, Great Lent, etc.). This awakened Matthew to the beauty of liturgical worship and the importance of our bodies in worship. Being that the Evangelical faith was largely silent on this issue, he sought out information from Catholic theological resources.

After graduating from college, Matthew moved home to help take care of his grandmother, a devout Catholic, who had become unable to live alone. As he got to know her faith on a deeper level, he began to commit most of his free time to study Catholic theology. This brought him back to the Church Fathers, where he discovered the Eastern Fathers and the Orthodox Church. After a few years of wrestling with Orthodox theology and practices, Matthew was received into the Orthodox Church in 2015. In the following years, he served as an acolyte, singer, and reader. The inner urge to serve vocationally was still present, so he decided to seek out the blessing to come to St. Tikhon’s. He is unmarried and currently discerning how God might use him in the Church.

Rdr. Jacob Ponomarenko

Home Parish: St. Theodosius Cathedral, Cleveland, OH

Seminary: St. Tikhon’s Seminary

Year & Program: 2nd year M.Div.

Jacob Ponomarenko grew up in a large pious Russian Orthodox family in Cleveland, Ohio. Reader Jacob has been a long-time member of St. Theodosius Orthodox Cathedral in Cleveland. Since the age of six years old Jacob has been serving in the altar at St. Theodosius and other parishes throughout the Midwest Diocese. In April of 2016, Jacob was tonsured a Reader by His Grace, Bishop Paul. After majoring in History at Cleveland State University and minoring in Russian Language, and with the blessing of Bishop Paul, Jacob was accepted into St. Tikhon’s Orthodox Theological Seminary.

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Use the links below to donate to the respective seminaries. You can make a note on your donation about which of our seminarians that you would like your donation to go to.

Are you interested in attending seminary?

Seminary is not just for clergy, it is for anyone who takes their Orthodox Christian faith seriously and wants to offer that desire to the Lord in service to His Church.

The process for applying is simple, but very personal. Begin by praying, then speak with your parish priest today about your desire to attend seminary. If it is blessed, he will bring your desire to the bishop at an appropriate time and the Lord will take care of the rest.

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