Word Magazine April 1999 Page 11
by Fr. Jason DelVitto
We are very fortunate that as Orthodox Christian parents that our children have, at their disposal, excellent Church School educational programs and materials made available through the Department of Christian Education of our Archdiocese, Dr. John Boojamra, Chairman. One of the primary responsibilities of a parish priest is to ensure that his parish maintains a Church School program for all children, staffed by qualified and willing educators dedicated to the propagation of the Orthodox faith. Parents are entrusted with the responsibility that, in addition to handing on the faith within the primary community of the home, their children will be given every opportunity to participate in their local parish’s educational programs. The clergy and laity are equally aware of the need for sound educational programs for our children and are to be commended for all of their efforts in this area of Church life. What is equally important, and sometimes neglected, is the responsibility on the part of every Orthodox parent and adult to make sure that he or she is also being nourished in the faith.
By virtue of our baptism, each of us is called to grow in faith, hope, love and knowledge in Christ as we seek to live in communion with God. Our pilgrimage as Christians in this world calls each of us to a daily rule of prayer, study and reflection on the Word of God and the teachings of the holy Orthodox faith. Our education in the faith must not stop once we “graduate” from our Church School programs or when we sense that we have reached a point where we have mastered the “basics” of the faith.
Nor must we adopt an attitude that only a certain group within the community of faith are to be educated while the rest of the community can somehow make it on “general knowledge.” Not all of us are called to be educators or academic theologians, but all are called to find our own way in nourishing ourselves on some level of continuing education within our lives. Not all are teachers, but we are all learners. Responsible Orthodox parents and adults realize that being educated in the faith is a lifelong process, a process that includes ongoing catechesis or learning. We can never stop growing in knowledge within the Orthodox Tradition.
It is also important for us to realize that education in the faith is much more than just learning “data” or “information” about God and the faith. Our primary goal in life is to live in communion with God. While an educational process within the Church does indeed teach us about God, its primary motivation is to allow the human person to grow in Christ experientially, in relationship in and with the living God. One of the titles ascribed to our Lord Jesus Christ during his public ministry was that of “Rabbi” or “Teacher.” Our Lord the “Teacher” not only hands down truths about God and his Kingdom to His disciples, but is the very “incarnation” of those truths, the very fulfillment and presence of the Kingdom of God. The early disciples or followers of our Lord, who “disciplined” themselves to hear the message of Jesus, became acutely aware that their “education” in the faith called for great commitment and a new life in relationship with Jesus and, through him, our Father in heaven. For Orthodox, education implies a dynamic movement which embodies all aspects of our lives: personal growth, community building and the desire and ability to pass on what we have received as a gift. Herein lies our responsibility as parents and adults: to continue in the knowledge of our faith so that we, being well equipped, may hand over that which we have experienced and learned from the depths of our Tradition. While the Holy Spirit is indeed the guarantor of the faith, each one of us who has been anointed with that same Spirit is commissioned to teach others by word and deed.
There are a number of ways in which we, as adults and parents, can deepen our knowledge of the faith. As mentioned earlier, maintaining a daily discipline of prayer and reading serves as a necessary foundation for our growth in God. With regard to Orthodox literature, there are numerous publications available covering a variety of topics on the Orthodox faith. While it was not so long ago that publications dealing with the Orthodox faith were few and far between, that surely has changed dramatically. Parishes and homes are establishing libraries containing a variety of Orthodox literature. If your parish has an adult education program, become involved. If not, help create one with the support and direction of your parish priest.
Another possibility, which is taking place in a number of parishes, is the establishment of “guided reading groups.” Reading groups can choose a particular book on the faith and, through a group leader, meet perhaps once a week to work through the book together. Families would do well to establish some sort of weekly evening gathering where parents and children can explore the faith within the context of their home experience. There are great numbers of ways in which we can continue to learn and grow in God and the faith He has given us. Our task is simply to begin and remain faithful to our purpose.