Orthodox Christian Education - An Unending Activity Of Our Parishes And Our Homes
Orthodox Christian Education is an ongoing activity that takes place every day in our local parish and our homes. Yes, every community activity, e.g., luncheon, parish annual assembly, Sunday school, folklore practice, choir rehearsal, etc. is an educational activity.
The community is the place for us to grow in holiness, to experience spiritual healing, and the place where we are challenged to live our Orthodox faith as holy men, women, and children.
According to this understanding, every member of a local Eucharistic community is a life-long student and teacher. Of course, the same can be applied in our homes. The parents cannot teach their children if they themselves are not open to growing in faith and knowledge of Jesus Christ.
A delightful story on how to teach about God's Love and Care for us
Here is a wonderful story that you can teach children about God’s loving care for mankind. One family made their garden an opportunity to talk about God. As the spring planting occurred in the small garden, the family members discussed what kind of sign to put over the garden. Ann, the six year old, suggested they take the vegetable’s eye view and make a sign which said, “God watches over us.” Then, while inspecting the summer growth, they occasionally referred to their sign and talked about God’s role in nature. For them it was existential, that is, their own carrots, lettuce, tomatoes, and corn. They made the sign which became their cue to reflect upon God in their lives.
We teach by our example
All this is to say that children must be able to discover authentic Orthodox Christianity in their home. Children should be able to see their parents praying before their home altar or icon corner. They should see their parents burning incense before icons, and lighting the vigil lamp and candles. Ideally, every room in the house should have an icon hung on the wall. The icon corner or home altar should have a Bible, Cross, the prayer book, The Prologue, an icon of Jesus Christ, an icon of their home patron saint, and a vigil lamp.
Evenings are an opportune time for the family to reflect on the day, pray together, read the lives of the saints, make the sign of the cross, read scripture, or simply to share a family story. Children love stories. They love to stand in front of colorful icons with the vigil lamps lit. They love to smell incense. This is an opportunity for children to discover religion through their senses.
The celebration of the major Feast days, such as Pascha/Easter, Christmas, etc., brings forth a special atmosphere with wearing festal clothing. Lenten seasons are times when families should spend more time together in prayer and contemplating the Word of God. Values and priorities are apparent in the way a home is decorated. Family meal times and fellowship at the dining table is another educational opportunity, as well as extending hospitality to others.
Parents, pray for your children
Parents should start praying for their children from the moment they learn of their conception. And they should never stop praying and talking to God about their children. Our homes are the primary schools of religious education, and we are teachers. We parents should never stop learning how to more effectively communicate love, self-esteem, respect, and the truths of our faith to our children.
Keep in mind
Here is something that parents can keep in mind as they carry on the Christian education of their children:
- Let me do it myself and I will understand.
- You tell me and I will forget.
- You show me and I will remember.
The first tip reminds us of the fact that our children better understand the things that they do themselves. This is to say that our actions and faith expressions have to be genuine and faithful to our Orthodox Faith. Our children closely observe our actions and expressions, and they mirror everything that we do. This is no small responsibility. Studies indicate that children remember 90% of the things that they do.
The second tip tells us that it is not enough to just once orally communicate a certain truth. It has to be followed up many times, and if necessary demonstrated. Study shows that children remember only around 10% of the heard information.
The third tip is very much tied to the first one. It is necessary to demonstrate to a child how to make a prostration, the sign of the cross, or how to venerate an icon, etc., but they should also be given an opportunity to do these things on their own. This way we build confidence and self worth. Study indicates that children retain 50% of the things demonstrated.
The main ‘university’ of our Christian Education is our home and our parents are our teachers. The secondary ‘university’ of our Christian Education is the community or parish. Parents, clergy, and fellow parishioners have a great responsibility in utilizing all the available resources and adjusting the curriculum to their home and parish needs.
God and Church have to have priority in our lives. We need to make every effort in bringing our children to church regularly, but most especially to the Divine Liturgy. The services of the Holy Orthodox Church are great teaching tools. It is imperative to explain the meaning of each service as well as encourage more active participation.
Our Orthodox Church, aside from the Bible, has great spiritual wisdom deposited in the writings of the Holy Fathers, Her sacred history, the Lives of saints, hymnography, etc. All we have to do is dig deep with only one desire: to “seek the Kingdom of God and His righteousness.”
May it be blessed
May the official beginning of Church School classes in the parishes of our diocese be viewed as another opportunity to grow in faith; an opportunity to build up the Church, the Body of Christ, and to grow into infinite communion with the Triune God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. May God grant it!