Rev. Matthew Baker, a 37-year-old Orthodox Christian priest who died in a car accident on March 1 while pursuing a doctorate in theology, was awarded a degree posthumously on May 16.
Eva Badowska, PhD, dean of the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences (GSAS), presented the diploma to Baker’s wife, Presbytera Katherine. She was accompanied by two of her sons—Isaac, 12, who accepted his father’s doctoral hood, and Cyril, 4. It was the final award given out at the GSAS diploma ceremony at the University Church on the Rose Hill campus.
Baker is mourned by Fordham faculty and colleagues and by the entire Orthodox theological community. A letter from His All Holiness Bartholomew, Archbishop of Constantinople, New Rome and Ecumenical Patriarch was read at Baker’s funeral, Badowska said.
Baker was one year shy of completing a dissertation on Georges Vasilievich Florovsky, an Orthodox Christian priest, historian, theologian, and ecumenist who engaged in the 20th-century philosophy movement of hermeneutics, she said.
“Though his dissertation was not yet finished, Father Matthew Baker already established himself as an expert on the thought and writings of Orthodox theologian Georges Florovsky and published numerous articles on Florovsky and related topics, many of which were translated into Greek and Russian,” Badowska said.
“At the time of his death, his curriculum vitae was already well ahead of what we typically expect of freshly minted PhDs. This posthumous doctorate thus honors not simply his memory and the goal he and his family had worked towards, but his actual academic achievements.”
A native of Cranston, Rhode Island, Baker resided at St. Vladimir’s Orthodox Theological Seminary in Yonkers while he worked toward his degree. He held a Master of Divinity from St. Tikhon’s Orthodox Theological Seminary in South Canaan, Pennsylvania and a Master of Arts from Holy Cross Greek Orthodox School of Theology in Brookline, Massachusetts.
He was ordained to the priesthood in January 2014 by His Eminence Methodios, Metropolitan of Boston of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of North America. That same month he began teaching as an adjunct professor of theology at Hellenic College/Holy Cross Greek Orthodox School of Theology.
Aristotle Papanikolaou, PhD, professor of theology and the Archbishop Demetrios Chair in Orthodox Theology and Culture, served as his dissertation adviser.
Papanikolaou, who is also senior fellow and co-founder of Fordham’s Orthodox Christian Studies Center, said Baker was no ordinary doctoral student.
“Matthew had a brilliant mind and a great love of theology, but not simply for its own sake. He believed it mattered for people’s lives, and most especially for people’s relationship with God,” he said.
“He’d already developed international contacts, and was becoming internationally recognized as an emerging voice in Orthodox theology.”
An online crowdfunding account set up to help provide for his family raised $763,900 from 6,543 donors. Information on providing support can be provided here.