RELIGIOUS EDUCATION CONCERNS
It is our firm conviction that every Parish ought to have a religious education program for all age groups. There can be no doubt that our faithful are in need and truly desire an enlightened educational program on the Greek Orthodox Church. The responsible person for such a program ought to be the Parish Priest by virtue of the fact that he is a specialist in the Greek Orthodox religion having received a graduate degree in Orthodox Theology.
However, in the medium and larger-size Parishes, the Parish Priest cannot assume this program alone. He needs the assistance of the well-informed and dedicated Greek Orthodox laity who are willing to serve their God and His Church in whatever capacity the Parish Priests requests of them. In the case of small Parishes, where there are either one or two teachers, it is highly recommended that the Parish Priest assume full responsibility of imparting religious education instruction to his young people. In this instance, the religious education is not to be offered on Sunday mornings, but rather on a week-day in conjunction with the Greek Language School, inasmuch as the Parish Priest in the small Parishes is likewise the Greek School Teacher.
After all, the Priest is a Teacher, as our Lord was oftentimes called. In many parts of Greece, as on the island of Chios, the Priest is frequently addressed as ‘Teacher’. As a matter of fact, those of us who are over forty received our catechism instruction while attending the Greek Language School.
As regards religious education, we need to rid ourselves of Roman Catholic and Protestant terminology. The words ‘Sunday School’ are Protestant in origin and should be replaced by Orthodox terminology, that being, Catechism School. Consequently, we should begin to refer to our parochial schools of religious education as Catechism Schools. It is our opinion that Sunday is the least appropriate time for Catechism School, especially if it is conducted at the same time as the Divine Liturgy is being celebrated. A Greek Orthodox does not fulfill his or her Sunday church attendance obligation by attending Catechism School. Catechism School is in way a substitute for the Divine Liturgy.
Actually it would be most advisable that the Catechism School meet on a week-day or Saturday, so that on Sunday, the Greek Orthodox family could worship together instead of being divided one from another on Sunday mornings. The Orthodox Church is a family-oriented Church. One becomes a full-pledged member of the Orthodox Church as an infant upon being baptized and chrismated, and not later in life as is the innovated practice of the so-called Western Churches. However, we realize that this is the ideal situation, especially as regards the large and medium-sized Parishes. We understand that Catechism School sessions on Saturday are an impossibility in many instances. But how is that in many of our Parishes, the Greek Language School meets on Saturdays? Why not begin Church Services on Sunday earlier, so that Catechism School for all age groups might follow the Divine Liturgy? Why must we be so delinquent when it comes to our church attendance? Whenever that is impossible, Catechism School may meet on Sundays preferably not during the celebration of the Divine Liturgy, thereby affording the teachers and pupils the joyous experience of participating in the Divine Liturgy. The possibility of setting aside the first Sunday of each month as Family Sunday was considered by us last year as a possibility wherein the young people would worship together with their parents on that particular Sunday. The results, however, were such that neither the pupils nor the parents attended for the most part church services on the designated Family Sunday.
The importance of the teachers and pupils experiencing the celebration of the Divine Liturgy cannot be over-emphasized. We are aware unfortunately, that local circumstances in certain instances necessitate that Catechism School function simultaneously as the Divine Liturgy is being celebrated.
In conjunction with the importance of attending the Divine Liturgy, the myth of receiving Holy Communion only 4 times a year must be sponged from the minds of our young people. As we all know too well, whenever the Divine Liturgy is celebrated, the faithful are invited to come forth with fear, faith and love to receive the precious Blood and Body of Jesus Christ. We believe in encouraging our young people to receive Holy Communion on a monthly basis and then too as a family. Thereby, at the home, all the members of the family will be practicing their Orthodox faith, ungoing together the spiritual exercise of fasting, prayer, etc., in anticipation of receiving Jesus Christ through Holy Communion to nourish and enrich them spiritually. Again, as regards the larger Parishes, wherein the seating capacity of the local church is limited, at various times throughout the year, Family Communion ought to be scheduled on a Saturday morning. Furthermore, the Sacrament of Penitence should be required of all pupils 7 years of age and older. Habits are developed during the formative years of ones life.
In that many parents have relinquished their sacred responsibility and privilege as regards the religious training of their children, the Church has assumed primarily this task and that includes the realization of the necessity of Confession which not only has become the neglected Sacrament, but in many instances the forgotten Sacrament of the Greek Orthodox Church.
Special attention and emphasis this school year should be placed on the teaching of Orthodox prayers and hymns, primarily in Greek. The Prayer Book and Hymnology, recommended by us to you, is that compiled by Fr. Harry Hatzpoulos of Boston, published in 1962. All the prayers and hymns are written in Greek, followed by English phonetics and an English translation. A minimum of 6 Orthodox prayers and hymns should be the goal of each class. With the advent of audio-visual aids, the teacher, who has no musical talents, can readily make use of church hymn records available or have the Priest or Chanter or Choir Director tape a hymn and replace it on a simple instrument as a cassette to the pupils. The importance of learning to chant various Orthodox hymns in Greek cannot be over-emphasized. It makes for a more meaningful and joyous experience at the Orthodox Church Services. Otherwise, rather than being a participant at our corporate worship services, we reduce the members of our congregation to the status of spectators, as opposed to doing what is being done for all and by all. Congregation participation needs to be stimulated within our Orthodox Churches. Wherever possible, a person should be designated for the instruction of Orthodox hymns in addition to the establishment of Junior Choirs in each of our Parishes.
In that we have been talking about audio-visual aids, a person should be designated in charge of the local audio-visual department of each Parish. That person should be authorized by the Parish Council to have all the necessary audio-visual equipment films, filmstrips and slides as produced by our Holy Archdiocese through the most valuable and commendable efforts of Fr. Peter Kalellis. These audio-visual aids are not to be limited to the exclusive use of only the Catechism School, but should be available for all the Parish Family.
Along with the most valuable audio-visual materials on the Orthodox faith now available, there are the educational materials which are constantly being revised by Archdiocesan Department of Religious Education. Consequently, nowadays there is no excuse for using non-Orthodox materials.
It is at this point that we wish to reassert that in teaching a person the Orthodox Faith, one must not direct entirely one’s energies and efforts to feeding the mind, but especially the heart. The mind of necessity will not lead to faith and love of Jesus Christ and the Orthodox Church. Rather it is to the heart of man that we should direct our appeal, and then the scales will fall from the eyes of man and he will begin the continuous struggle of faith and love in Jesus Christ as our Saviour and in the Greek Orthodox Church as the Mother Church of Christendom. What we must avoid is prejudicing the minds of our young people. We must present objectively to them the Orthodox Church according to the history, doctrines, canons and traditions of our Holy Orthodox Faith, and not try to impress them with our personal opinions on matters of faith and morals. Allow them to grow in the fullest and purest knowledge of the Orthodox Faith. Adequate attention should be given to teaching the Holy Mysteries, the writings of the Church Fathers, as well as, the lives of the Saints. We must stress the uniqueness of Christ as the God-Man. Religious education ought to relate creation to salvation and God’s presence in history. It should give proper treatment to the mystery of the Holy Trinity. Religious instruction should not be silent on the reality of sin and its consequences. It should present the Church’s position on chastity before and after marriage. The Theotokos should be presented as a model for chastity and motherhood.
As regards teaching methods, two contradictions now prevalent need to be resolved. One of them assumes that the child is too immature for the fullness of the Greek Orthodox doctrine and tradition. This is in direct contradiction with the common assumption that in secular knowledge the child is two years ahead of his father or grandfather. Orthodox doctrine must be taught the child at every age according to the level of his understanding, but without adulteration and ‘myths’.
The second contradiction is the assumption that the child despite his supposed religious immaturity, is able to profit by being told of conflicting theological theories or by being referred to books that do not teach the essential moral and doctrinal facts with certainty. No child is mature enough to discern truth from error unless he is first firmly taught the truth. In short, what we need is conformity in the teaching of religious essentials and in the broad principals of how to teach them. Our Catechism Schools ought to reflect the ethos and mind of our Holy Greek Orthodox Archdiocese and Ecumenical Patriarchate.
We wish to conclude our presentation on Religious Education Concerns on the same note as we began it. That being, every Parish ought to have a religious education program for all ages. An adult religious program ought to be instituted by the Parish Priest on a weekly basis wherever possible. If this is not feasible on a monthly basis, or at least on a seasonal basis, as during the Advent and/or Great Lent. Another avenue available are occasional retreats at a local retreat house in the evenings for men and in the mornings for women. The spiritual renewal program of our Holy Archdiocese has this very purpose of offering our Greek Orthodox adults an enlightened religious educational program. Let us seek to walk together as pilgrims in the pursuit of faith and knowledge of Christ and His Church, and to witness our Orthodox faith in the diakonia of religious education.