A Syrian Orthodox nun is currently studying theology and English in Toronto, courtesy of the Anglican Foundation’s Scholarship of St. Basil the Great. Sister Tabitha, 48, whose family name is Faiza Behnam, is the fourth recipient of the scholarship, which was founded by now-retired Bishop Henry Gordon Hill, formerly of the diocese of Ontario, and is administered by the Anglican Foundation.
“This is a good experience. The culture is different in many ways, even the weather!” said Sr. Tabitha in an interview.
Sr. Tabitha has been a member for three years in the sisterhood of St. Jakoboite of Baradaos. She has a PhD in education psychology.
During the academic year, she is residing at the convent of the Sisters of St. John the Divine in Toronto, and taking courses at the University of Toronto and the Toronto School of Theology.
“I am learning so much,” she said. For example, she said, she is gathering information about the administration of the Sisters of St. John the Divine that she will be able to use back home, where her sisterhood is only 11 years old.
However, coping with Canadian urban culture and lifestyle is sometimes stressful and Sr. Tabitha notices things that the average city-dweller might take for granted. “People all day are running, from morning until 6 o’clock. At home, the time of work is from eight or nine to two or three o’clock.”
She is attending services at both Anglican and Orthodox churches and wonders why she doesn’t “see a lot of teenagers in church.” At home, she said, there are more young people at services.
The scholarship is to enable an interchange of students between the Oriental Orthodox churches, the Assyrian Church of the East and the Anglican Church of Canada. It alternates from year to year: in one year, a student from one of the Eastern churches comes to Canada to study for one year; in the next year, a student in Canada studies for six months in an Oriental Orthodox or Assyrian church in Canada, then studies overseas for six months. The scholarship, worth $20,000, was first awarded in 1995.