TEACHINg DIFFICULT TOPICS
Vol. 9, Issue 2: Teaching DifямБcult Topics $4.95
St. Philip and the Ethiopian In this icon, we see the story from Acts 8:26–36. St. Philip the Deacon is teaching the Ethiopian eunuch as they ride on a horse-drawn cart. Philip was traveling from Jerusalem, whose walls we see in the background, toward Gaza. On the way, he met the Ethiopian, a high court official of the Queen of Ethiopia. As he drew near, Philip heard the Ethiopian reading from the Isaiah 53:7–8, “Like a sheep he was led to the slaughter....” Philip asked, “Do you understand what you are reading?” The Ethiopian replied, “How can I, unless someone guides me?” This event points to the importance of teachers and the process of teaching in the life of the Church. This particular icon hangs in the offices of the Department of Religious Education of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America.
Wisdom, Ancient and Modern These things I have spoken to you, that in Me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world. John 16:33 I believe in Christianity as I believe that the sun has risen: not only because I see it, but because by it I see everything else. C. S. Lewis Enter into the Church, and wash away your sins. For here there is a hospital and not a court of law. Do not be ashamed again to enter the church; be ashamed when you sin, but not when you repent. St. John Chrysostom By calling Christianity revolutionary, and saying it is dedicated to change, we are not siding with Progressives—just as, by conserving it, we are not siding with Conservatives. His All Holiness Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew Where two or three are gathered in My name, there I am in the midst of them. Matthew 18:20 There is nothing evil save that which perverts the mind and shackles the conscience. St. Ambrose The dismissal, “Let us go forth in peace,” sends each believer out on a mission to the world in which he or she lives and works to witness to others—not through words— but by what they are. Ion Bria For as the body is one and has many members, but all the members of that one body, being many, are one body, so also is Christ. For by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—whether Jews or Greeks, whether slaves or free—and have all been made to drink into one Spirit. For in fact the body is not one member but many. 1 Corinthians 12:12–14 The Church exists in order to be always changing into that same reality that she manifests, the fulfillment of the invisible in the visible, the heavenly in the earthly, the spiritual in the material. Fr. Alexander Schmemann
In our sacred task of teaching our Orthodox faith, we engage with many difficult topics that are part of our life in this world. These include social and cultural influences, contemporary political issues, the challenges of family life and raising children, and the many facets of interpersonal relationships. One approach to difficult topics within the educational ministry of the parish is to avoid them altogether. Some might say that the goal of religious education is to teach religion, and therefore we should focus on teaching about the Church, the Divine Liturgy and sacraments, the saints and icons, the Bible, and so on. However, if we truly understand all of these elements of our Orthodox faith, we know that one of the fundamental qualities related to them is the full engagement with our world. The Gospel, the purpose and ministry of the Church, and the lives of saints reveal a bold and loving interaction with all aspects of life and being. It is from the resources of this great spiritual treasure of our faith that we are to find the courage to address difficult topics. We can see the necessity of this in our pedagogical efforts by examining some rather inadequate dealings with the difficult issues of our time. One such dealing is to ignore critical issues affecting the lives of our children, youth and adults, or to dismiss them as sad realities of our world with no relation to our Orthodox faith. Another inadequate approach is attempting to address difficult topics without careful analysis of the issues and without awareness of the dynamics and impacts or of the challenging viewpoints that may be influencing hearts and minds. Finally, another insufficient approach to difficult topics is presenting isolated answers or responses to them without teaching how a person can use the resources of our faith in order to confront hard issues. As religious educators we should find in our relationship with God and our Orthodox faith the strength, guidance and courage to address difficult topics. We cannot ignore the issues that are pressing upon the lives of the people of our parishes. This means that we must also engage with these issues through careful study and reflection, reading the Holy Scriptures and the writings of the Fathers of the Church, consulting with our parish clergy, and participating in discussions that focus on applying our faith to the challenges of our contemporary world. Furthermore, we must be committed to a ministry of equipping people properly, so that they will have the spiritual tools to relate faith to life. Through an emphasis on prayer, participation in the life of the Church, ongoing study, and educational programs in the local parish, we can provide an environment that will prepare children, youth and adults to engage the truth and wisdom of our faith throughout their lives. Let me emphasize one additional aspect of our ministry. Difficult topics are by their very nature often the source of tension and conflict. In all that we do, we must follow the example of our Lord and address these topics in a loving manner. Certainly, we can be firm about what our faith teaches. But our courage to teach the truth must be accompanied by our love for others. This is a valuable lesson that we are called to share by example and in our ministry, following the beautiful exhortation by St. Paul, â€œLet us speak the truth in loveâ€? (Ephesians 4:15). Our goal is to see the power of the love of God guide souls and minds to a greater understanding of the truth that overcomes any difficulty and brings the unique and beautiful peace and love of Christ even in the midst of the most turbulent conditions.
Archbishop of America
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When I first thought about the cover story for this issue of PRAXIS, I thought it was a bit unusual. Why would this important publication from our Archdiocese Department of Religious Education want to discuss “Teaching Difficult Topics”? But as I thought more about it, I soon realized that these “difficult topics” are often at the heart of our religious convictions and that many of our teachers shy away from them precisely because they are difficult to discuss, though their students look for a place to think about them and learn from the wisdom of our Greek Orthodox Faith to deal with these challenging issues. Even a cursory review of our Tradition reveals that the Church does not and should not shy away from “difficult topics.” Our Lord Himself was asked very difficult questions both by His disciples and his opponents. For example, in Matthew 19, the Pharisees asked Christ about the proper grounds for divorce, and in Matthew 22, He was asked about an issue related to remarriage. Second, our Lord regularly talked about the appropriate use of wealth in a world filled with poverty. Third, our patristic heritage is filled with examples of commentary about “difficult matters.” St. John Chrysostom, in his Sixth Homily to the Neophytes, that is those who were about to be baptized, openly chastised his hearers that they were attending to the races and games at the hippodrome rather than attending to the spiritual season of Great Lent. Topics are often difficult because they lie at the intersection of our Faith, our personal values, and our daily lives. Discussing them requires making ourselves vulnerable with our conversation partners, but also trusting that they will avoid pronouncing judgment on us, or even worse, proclaiming themselves superior because of their personal opinion. Our world today is filled with difficult topics, and too often we have lost the ability to discuss them in a civilized manner. The posturing and shouting we see in the media about these challenging topics is not the way of the Church. The Church should be a safe space where civil dialogue about difficult matters can take place, even when we disagree with one another. So, I applaud the Department of Religious Education for including this theme in PRAXIS. The magazine continues to have a positive impact on the life of our parishes, raising important issues that the ministries of every parish should be including in its work.
With love in Christ,
Metropolitan of San Francisco
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SUBMISSION gUIDELINES Submissions should be 1,000–2,000 words in length and directly discuss education in the theology and tradition of the Orthodox Christian churches. Lesson aids or graphic enhancements may accompany the articles submitted. We also encourage the submission of photographs relevant to parish life (praxis). Please also provide a biographical sketch of the author not exceeding fifty words. PRAXIS Magazine is seeking submissions of lesson plans based on articles from previous or current issues of PRAXIS. Submissions should use the article as the text/background of the lesson plan. Lesson plans are welcome for any or several age groups. Please send submissions in a Word document with a length of 1,000–2,000 words to firstname.lastname@example.org. Material previously published or under consideration for publication elsewhere will not be considered without prior consent of the editor. We reserve the right to edit for usage and style; all accepted manuscripts are subject to editorial modification. Articles sent by mail should be accompanied by an electronic version on CD-ROM in Microsoft Word for Windows or for Macintosh. Articles in Microsoft Word may also be e-mailed as an attachment to email@example.com. Address submissions to: Anton C. Vrame, PhD, and/or Elizabeth Borch.
CREDITS Executive Editor: Managing Editor: Design and Layout: Copyeditor: Front Cover: Inside Cover: Back Inside Cover: Back Cover: Printing:
Anton C. Vrame, PhD Elizabeth Borch Maria Diamantopoulos-Arizi Aimee Cox Ehrs Courtesy of I-Stock Photo Department of Religious Education Unknown source Department of Religious Education Lane Press, South Burlington, VT
Special thanks to Polly Hillier for the images from St. Photios Shrine. Remaining photography courtesy of I-Stock Photo and Elizabeth Borch.
The views expressed in this magazine are not necessarily the views of the Department of Religious Education. © 2010, Department of Religious Education of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America. ISSN 1530-0595.
A publication of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America, PRAXIS magazine is published three times a year. The subscription rate is $15 per year. Checks, payable to the Department of Religious Education, should be sent to: PRAXIS Circulation 50 Goddard Avenue Brookline, MA 02445 (617) 850-1218
Volume 9, Issue 2: Teaching Difficult Topics
teachiNG aND LiViNG DiFFicULt iSSUeS
Fr. Stanley S. Harakas
DiaLoGUe: commUNicatiNG With a DiFFereNce Dn. Markos Nickolas
c oNtemPorarY BioethicaL iSSUeS For orthoDoX c hriStiaNS
Dr. Gayle Woloschak
teLL it SLaNt: SeX eD aND the Faith Priscilla Callos
PremaritaL iSSUeS Brad Borch
t he DiScerNiNG orthoDoX PareNt: heLPiNG chiLDreN NaViGate LiFe iN the PUBLic SchooLS
SERIES & ARTICLES 23
reLiGioUS eDUcatioN BaSicS: LiVe the LitUrGY. teach the LitUrGY.
AnGeLs And AUtism: FindinG FAitH For tHe AUtistic cHiLd
Reviewed by Anton C. Vrame
tHe WomAn And tHe WHeAt And t He mAn And tHe Vine Reviewed by Elizabeth Borch
St. BriGiD oF K iLDare
t he NiceNe creeD: t he orthoDoX PerSPectiVe aND itS reLeVaNce toDaY
Jane G. Meyer
Fr. George Zervos and George S. Gabriel
St. PhotioS GreeK orthoDoX NatioNaL ShriNe Polly Maouris Hillier
From the Director: t he chaLLeNGeS oF oUr time Anton C. Vrame
Teaching Difficult Topics
Teaching and Living Difficult Issues
early everyone in a position of responsibility in the Orthodox Church—such as clergy, parents, religious educators, church council members and everyday laity—have to deal with difficult and sometimes confusing issues of moral or religious teaching and even more importantly, must decide how to deal with them in daily living. We are acutely aware of such issues precisely when we sense that there are conflicting ideas about them. On the other hand, we have plenty of knowledge and experience about some issues that we are not perplexed about. We know it is wrong to steal, murder or deal with people deceptively. Those are standards that are universally recognized. It is relatively easy to page 6
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Fr. Stanley Samuel Harakas teach Sunday School students and our own children not to steal, harm others or deceive people. The problems arise when there are many differing views in our society and sometimes within our own Church, and we realize we are facing dilemma after dilemma about what we should teach, and what we should do in the many different situations that we must face. The truth is that we cannot always depend fully on what has been said in the past because many of the topics we face today simply were not issues in the ancient Orthodox Christian tradition. For example, St. Basil’s monks asked him whether Christians should go to the doctor when ill or just trust in the Lord for healing. In his Fifty-fifth Long Rule, St. Basil said that
Teaching Difficult Topics
the physician’s art is a gift from God and that we should avail ourselves of it. But he added an admonition: we should not put all of our trust in the physician, but also, always through prayer and the sacraments, seek healing from God. But neither the monks nor St. Basil could have raised or answered other questions such as those we deal with today—because they didn’t exist! What are we supposed to teach about issues such as modern methods of contraception or abortion (the pill, morning-after pills); AIDS; test tube babies; surrogate mothers; genetic screening; modern explanations of homosexuality; how to treat transsexuals; cloning; organ transplants; donation of organs at death; the technologies surrounding death and dying (cremation, “pulling the plug,” and euthanasia); and stem cell research, just to name a few issues. No wonder there is a sense of insecurity in speaking and teaching about such matters! It would seem that the average Orthodox Christian would have much hesitation regarding them, since to decipher the Church’s teaching about them requires a very thoughtful and thorough study and evaluation of the Church’s whole tradition to form a consistent, informed and spiritually comprehensive stance for each of them. Certainly, this is not something everyone in the Church is trained or competent to do. Those who address these questions for the Church are called ethicists, but bishops, priests and other specialists, such as psychiatrists and psychologists, also address such issues. Generally speaking, the method used is to address the whole range of values embodied in the Scriptures and the Holy Tradition of the Church from the very beginning to the present. Usually, such thinkers ask which moral rules of our Faith might apply to the issue at hand. Then, we examine the consequences of any possible course of action, both good and bad. We would then need to look at the intent of any proposed course of action, that is, what is the goal to be
accomplished? Any act must also be evaluated on the basis of motive, that is, what is it that is moving us to decide or to act? We must also measure each decision in the light of the supreme value of Christ-like love (agape). But then, no matter what is decided, the means for achieving it must be fitting and appropriate to the Christian life. Because in any complicated issue there are be conflicting values and disvalues, ambiguities must be judged and balanced. Further, judgment needs to be made relative to the concrete situation in which the decision is being made. And finally, whatever is decided should take place within the mind of the Church as a whole. It is never just an individual thing. Admittedly this a daunting task, and there will be, even among the experts, priests and bishops of the Church some differences until the Church as a whole finalizes its stance. Fortunately, that has begun to happen. In more and more local Orthodox Churches (for example, the Orthodox Church of Greece and the Russian Orthodox Church), some very solid guidelines serve the average clergyman, Sunday School teacher or even parent. One example that is readily available is the statement issued in 2000 by the Bishops’ Council of the Russian Orthodox Church, The Basis of the Social Concept of the Russian Orthodox Church.* This book’s Orthodox Christian perspective on many contemporary issues provides guidance for the average clergyman, church school educator and parent facing a myriad of complicated and difficult issues. But knowing the Church’s teaching on specific issues does not always resolve them in a clear-cut way because there are often conflicting values and alternative courses of action, even when we are committed to doing the right thing. Living the Faith needs discernment and Christian sensitivity. Here is an example. I was recently approached to give advice in a situation that, considering the increasing public projection of homoPRAXIS
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sexuality, created a problem for a family. Briefly put, a married couple with four young children faced a dilemma when an aunt declared herself a lesbian. The parents did not feel comfortable inviting her to their home with the lesbian partner because they judged such a visit would imply approval of this behavior, which is considered sinful in the Scripture, Church canon law and Orthodox spiritual life. The situation was complicated by the fact that the other aunts of the children expressed no desire to show such disapproval. Here many Christian values are interconnected. What follows is part of how I approached this issue, suggesting the proper stance for the parents: In this situation, we have several conflicting value issues, making the choice of a course of action difficult to decide. This is true because in the Christian tradition there are several Christian stances that may appear to be in conflict, though I believe that they are not in fact. For us to live as God wants us to live, growing toward Godlikeness, we need to develop a loving relationship with all people. However, to love is not to indulge others in sinful behavior, nor is it simply liking someone: we are to love even our enemies. Love means to be genuinely concerned about the true well-being of another and acting on it. When you show disapproval of homosexual behavior as neither pleasing God nor being in harmony with a God-like life (1 Corinthians 6:9, in which many different behaviors are declared as excluding a person from the Kingdom of God, including “sexual perverts” [RSV], in Greek arsenokoitais, literally, “men in bed with men”), you are thinking and acting in a loving (agape love, i.e., Christ-like love) way. This is so because you are concerned about her present and eternal welfare. I think that the aunt herself knows this; that is why she feels she must reject the Christian teaching because otherwise she is self-condemned. You also have a responsibility to protect and guard your children. So, because you do not want your children to gain the impression that the lesbian relationship is acceptable, you need to isolate them from it as much as possible. The lesbian couple, regardless of any overt behavior in the presence of your children in your own home, would be an inappropriate presence because it implies acceptance and endorsement of the relationship. However, because the sister refuses to come to your home alone, that issue is resolved at least for the time being. The other issue is your relationship with the other members of the family who are seemingly accepting (and endorsing)
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the relationship. You should not let the presence of the lesbian couple keep you from associating with the other members of your family at gatherings where all will be present. Do your best to distance yourselves and your children especially. Be civil and courteous, but if their behavior becomes aggressive, you do not have to tolerate it. As Scripture says, “As for a man who is factious, after admonishing him once or twice, have nothing more to do with him” (Titus 3:10). Eventually the other family members may have to choose between her and your family. In any case there will be stress and pain, if not handled properly, Nevertheless, do not yourselves seek confrontation nor condemn the aunt unprovoked. We are instructed “to speak evil of no one, to avoid quarreling, to be gentle, and to show perfect courtesy toward all men” (Titus 3:2) and to “strive for peace with all men, and for the holiness without which no one will see the Lord” (Hebrews 12:14). “Holiness” literally means separation from what is sinful, so it justifies this recommendation. Nevertheless, our overarching behavior patterns should be “salted” with an attitude that was expressed by St. Paul, when he instructed us to “live in harmony with one another; do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly; never be conceited. Repay no one evil for evil, but take thought for what is noble in the sight of all. If possible, so far as it depends upon you, live peaceably with all ” (Romans 12:16–18). You need to make clear that you disapprove of this behavior and that you will isolate yourself and your family from it. It is she who rejects those conditions and refuses to visit alone. That is her doing, not yours. On the other hand “so far as it depends upon you,” be courteous and “noble in the sight of all.” Living the Christian life has never been easy, but we are obligated to live it as fully as possible.
Fr. Stanley Harakas is serving at Christ the Savior Mission in Spring Hill, FL, after teaching ethics at Holy Cross – Hellenic College for many years.
* The book’s contents are available on the Web site of the Orthodox Peace Fellowship (http://incommunion.org/?p=7). Copies can be ordered from the publisher, St. Innocent/ Firebird Videos, Audios & Books, www.firebirdvideos.com or (313) 535-9080.
Lenten Triodion begins January 24
Holy Week aND Pascha
ollow Christ and the Church through each stage of Holy Week—from the Saturday of Lazarus to the Agape Vespers service—with this fullcolor guide from the Department of Religious Education. In the zine-style booklet, author Stephania Gianulis pinpoints the relevance and meanings of the services, hymns, and scripture readings. Special features on each page illuminate icons, traditions and history. The Teacher Guide, created for grades 5–8, includes one unit of five lessons and additional activites at the end of the guide. Each lesson draws out one theme of the services: 1. Saturday of Lazarus and Palm Sunday: The joy of hope fulfilled 2. Bridegroom Services: Living a life that prepares us for meeting Christ 3. Holy Wednesday and Thursday: Healing and unity in the sacraments Journey through Holy Week Student Zine (L183) 20 pages 1–99 $2.95 each 100+ $2.50 each
4. Holy Thursday Evening and Holy Friday: Christ’s full humanity and full divinity in suﬀering, pain, and death 5. Holy Saturday and Pascha: Sharing the joy of the Resurrection Suitable for ages 10 and up—for use during retreats, in church, at home, or in the classroom.
1. Focusing activity To get the students thinking about the element of surprise, ask the following questions:
North to Caesarea
to Joppa pp
• Can you name something that you wished for really hard, something really wanted, that came true?
• If you were excited about it, how long did that excitement last?
2. Name present praxis Ask students: • Has there been a time in your life when God surprised you with a joyous blessing? This may be difficult for students, so you may need to guide this process to make it easier. You might share a personal example, tell about recent news item, or offer categories such as: at school, with family, with friends. An especially appropriate example could be it involved a time of sadness that ended with a joyous surprise. Allow students to share examples and discuss.
The Jerusalem of the time of Jesus has mostly been lost, but traditions and archaeology help tell us roughly when and where the events of Holy Week might have happened. Each of the four Evangelists tells the story of Jesus Christ’s last days in a slightly different order, and the Church’s schedule of services doesn’t precisely follow Jesus in “real time.” The timeline below summarizes Jesus’s last days from the entry into Jerusalem to the resurrection. During the Gospel lessons this week, listen for the places shown on the map. Legend
• Did things get boring? Did you ever start to complain about it?
Alternative: Use the “Hopes Up!” activity (found at the end of this guide). You will need to redirect the questions below to focus on hope instead of surprise.
• Ask the students to give examples and explain their reasoning.
G Golden Gate
Mount of Olives
• What happened after that?
• Was there ever anything that didn’t turn out how you wanted it to, even though you were really excited at first?
to the Dead Sea
In Bethany, about two miles from Jerusalem, Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead. He stays there with His good friends.
Jesus enters Jerusalem in triumph and drives the sellers from Temple. He goes back to Bethany that night.
Jesus returns to Jerusalem and teaches and heals there. He also encounters the Pharisees and Sadducees.
Jesus continues to teach in the Temple, drawing the anger of the Jewish leaders.
Wednesday A woman anoints Jesus with expensive perfume while He is at the house of Simon the Leper in Bethany. Judas begins to plot to betray Jesus.
Walls in the time of Jesus Roads Rivers Mountains Upper Room Traditional locations Gethsemane Known locations
Jesus and His disciples share the Passover meal in the Upper Room and then go to the garden at Gethsemane. There, Jesus is arrested and taken to back to the city, where He is tried and beaten at the hands of the Sanhedrin (council of Jewish leaders).
In the morning, the Sanhedrin turns Jesus over to the Romans. Jesus appears before Pilate, who has Him flogged, mocked, and finally crucified. Jesus dies, and Joseph of Arimathea places His body in the tomb; this is considered the first day in the tomb.
Jesus enters Hades and conquers death— second day in the tomb.
Jesus rises from the dead early in the morning, and the women find His tomb empty—third day in the tomb.
3. Reflect on present praxis Ask students: • What do these kinds of surprises do for our faith? • How do they help us? • How do we feel when God blesses us with a joyful surprise? You may want to record students’ responses on a board or chart paper. Responses may include: faith becomes stronger; know that God cares for us; feel certain and secure in God; feel able to trust and rely on God.
4. Access the Christian story and vision Be sure that the students have read pages 2–3. Tell students: Lazarus’s family and friends felt extreme joy, and their most desperate hopes were fulfilled when Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead. This was a shock that they never could have expected. They were still celebrating in this joy, and as the news of the miracle spread, 3
Journey through Holy Week Teacher Guide (L183-1) 25 pages 1 unit of 5 lessons $9.95 each Greek Orthodox archdiocese of america ∙ department of religious education ∙ (800) 566-1088 ∙ firstname.lastname@example.org
Teaching Difficult Topics
Dialogue Communicating with a Difference Markos Nickolas We Differ. Each of us is unique. At any given moment, we may have certain perceptions, ideas, feelings and needs that do not align with those of others around us. Living in harmony with others seems possible when we agree. What about when we do not? How can we remain in the communion of God’s love even when we differ with one another? How can we deal with our differences in a constructive and godly manner? How can we “love one another” when we don’t see eye-to-eye? One possible answer to these questions is “through dialogue.” Dialogue Facilitates Understanding. Instead of avoiding and isolating ourselves from those with whom we differ, or, worse, fighting with them, it is far better to engage with them if possible in an honest and respectful dialogue aimed at increasing mutual understanding. A dialogue is not the same as a debate. A debate is an intellectual competition. There is a time and a place for intellectual and academic debates, following the rules of rational argumentation. Interpersonal matters, however, call for dialogue rather than for debate. In a dialogue, both parties honestly express how they feel and what they need and want while opening their hearts and minds to hear the needs, feelings and requests of the other person. People who value their relationships engage in dialogue. Cultivate Positive Thoughts about the Other. Quite often we carry on an internal dialogue in our heads before (or between encounters) engaging the other person in conversation. Therefore, it is important to shorten the distance between “us” and “them” that exists in our own minds. Are we finding fault with them while overlooking their good qualities? Have we lapsed into judgment and condemnation in spite of our Lord’s word (Matthew 5:22; 7:1)? We need to make a concerted, ascetic effort to counteract this tendency. Such an effort involves cultivating positive thoughts about those with whom we differ, praying for them, and nurturing in ourselves the desire for them to be well and feel valued. Helppage 10
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ing others feel better about who they are is integral to loving them. Harboring positive and loving thoughts helps create an accepting atmosphere in which to engage in constructive dialogue. Just as criticism causes people to put up emotional walls, acceptance engenders receptivity. When people feel secure and cared for, they become less defensive and more open to caring about the needs of others. Create a Safe Environment for Dialogue. A safe environment for dialogue is one in which both sides come to the meeting with good intentions, concern not only for their own needs but also for the needs of the other party, and genuine openness to the hopeful possibility that a mutually beneficial solution can be found. To engage in dialogue we need to cast aside anger and other negative emotions. When angry feelings arise, we best hold our tongue (James 3:1–12; Psalm 141:1). If things become heated once a conversation is underway, we may say, for example, “I’m sorry, I need to take a time out,” or, “I’d like to check back with you in twenty minutes, if that’s okay?” In some cases, we may need to enlist the presence of a third party as a witness to facilitate the communication process (1 Corinthians 6:1). Maintain a Safe Environment for Dialogue. Having created a respectful, nonthreatening environment, we need to carefully maintain it. This means refraining from sarcasm, judgment, blaming, assuming, criticizing, interrupting, labeling, stereotyping, lecturing, insulting, threatening and other aggressive behaviors, remaining focused on the here and now, and avoiding bringing up negative experiences from the past. In addition to the actual words we say, the tone of voice we use and the “body language” that we convey is important. We want to preserve an attitude of mutual respect and cooperation while expressing our concerns and listening to the concerns of the other person. Our goal is to reach a better understanding of one another and achieve a mutually sat-
isfactory (win–win) solution rather than to defeat the other person as in a zero sum competition. Harmony Requires Differentiation. Openly differing with one another may at times feel uncomfortable. In our desire to avoid conflict and establish harmony, we may be tempted to avoid or rush through the part of the dialogue in which we honestly express our differing feelings and needs. That would be a mistake. Differentiation of viewpoints within a couple or a community is essential to harmony. As in music, there would be no harmony if all the voices sang the same notes. Similarly, everyone benefits when each person brings his or her unique insights and perspectives to the table. Differentiation makes it possible for issues and feelings to be brought into the open so that differences may be addressed for the good of all. It is very important that we honestly and tactfully speak our truth and listen empathetically to the other person. Address One Issue at a Time. When there are multiple issues to discuss, we must focus on one at a time. Both parties may wish to agree first about which issues to discuss. Another alternative is to simply take turns presenting issues. In other words, we need to decide on who will speak first and agree to alternate. The “sender” should express his or her message
as clearly and succinctly as possible. Concision is important because what we want is a collaborative dialogue, not successive, long-winded monologues. Once the sender feels satisfied that his or her message has been accurately received and understood (though not necessarily agreed with), then the two parties switch roles and the sender becomes the receiver. Improved understanding regarding one issue builds confidence, which empowers the parties to tackle other issues. It is usually a good idea, therefore, to begin with simpler problems before attempting harder ones. Say What You Observe, Feel, Need and Want. Sending clear, honest and tactful messages is an integral part of dialogue. To send such a message, the sender must first look inward and discern in the present moment what he or she is feeling and figure out which need underlies that feeling. By focusing on what one needs rather than on what one dislikes, for example, we increase our chances of finding mutually agreeable solutions. In his helpful book, Nonviolent Communication: A Language of Compassion (Puddledancer Press, 1999), Marshall Rosenberg provides a simple formula for sending and receiving interpersonal messages. He identifies four components of compassionate communication—observing, feeling, needing and requesting—and recommends sending messages in the following manner: PRAXIS
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When I see that , I feel _______ because my need for _______ is/is not met. Would you be willing to _______ ? Notice that this way of phrasing things connects our feelings to underlying needs rather than attributing them to other people’s behavior. What others say and do may be the stimulus for our feelings, says Rosenberg, but they are not the cause. “Our feelings,” he explains, “result from how we choose to receive what others say and do [based on] our particular needs and expectations in that moment” (p. 51). It is important, therefore, that we take responsibility for the feelings that we have. What Does the Other Person Observe, Feel, Need and Want? Receiving messages accurately is another critical part of dialogue. When we are receiving, we need to focus our attention to hear the feelings, needs, observations and requests even when they are not explicitly stated. We want to listen not only to the other person’s words but also to nonverbal cues to discern what he or she has been observing and is feeling, needing and requesting from us. To listen well, we have to let down our defenses and put ourselves as much as possible in the other person’s place. It is also important to look one another in the eyes. This is no time to scowl. To avoid that, we may have to consciously soften the look in our eyes. If the message we receive is intensely emotional, it is a good idea to reflect back and paraphrase what we have heard to confirm that we have accurately understood the message that the other person intended to send. Hearing a clear paraphrase will usually feel more satisfying to the other person than if we
have a great church school project? Did you plan a productive retreat? Do you have an effective lesson plan? Then please share those good ideas with us—and the rest of the orthodox world! We invite our readers to submit their quality content for publication. help us spread the word! e-mail email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org. Maybe your class project or lesson plan will appear in the next issue of PRAXIS magazine!
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were to merely say “OK” or “I understand.” We may use the four-part formula to guide our listening, as follows: When you see that _______ do you feel _______ because your need for _______ is/is not met? Would you like for me to _______ ? Harmony Is the Fruit of Dialogue. At any given moment we will have differences with people around us, including those who are nearest and dearest. Remember, harmony is not the absence of difference but the result of processing differing feelings, needs and wishes through constructive dialogue. We do not always have to agree with each other in order to love one another in Christ. Rather, love involves giving others and ourselves permission to have feelings and opinions even when we differ. In addition, love seeks understanding. One of the most basic ways to obtain understanding is through dialogue. Constructive dialogue involves respectfully and tactfully sending clear and honest messages to communicate what we feel, need and want while in turn listening empathetically to the observations, feelings, needs and requests of others. The more we can engage in such dialogue, the better chance we have of achieving mutual understanding, fulfilling our needs, and experiencing harmony in our relationships, to the glory of God. Markos Nickolas, PhD, is Deacon at St. Athanasius Church in Arlington, MA. He works in Boston as a hospice chaplain and mental health counselor, and he teaches in the Field Education Department at Holy Cross Greek Orthodox School of Theology.
Teaching Difficult Topics
Contemporary Bioethical Issues for Orthodox Christians
Gayle E. Woloschak
thics is considered a part of religion, yet society as a whole affects (and perhaps should affect) ethics, emancipating it of any specific religious feeling. This opens a host of possibilities to act in ways that are ethically acceptable but not in keeping with Orthodoxy. While it is difficult to unravel the precise relationship between ethics and religion, it should be possible to provide the faithful with the resources to make life’s decisions in keeping with the prescripts of Orthodoxy. These resources are the best found through interactions between theologians and scientists who are Orthodox; such dialogues can be made public to the benefit of the participants and the audience.
The goal of this article is to provide approaches to discuss contemporary bioethical issues in adult discussion groups and adult classes for Orthodox Christians. At the outset, it is perhaps good to consider why engagement of the Orthodox community in these issues is important. Clearly, biomedical issues affect people every day—through medical care, diagnostic tests, medications, and more. The capacity of technology to change our lives steadily increases, and as new technologies become available, the number of decision points in people’s lives increases. In the past, for example, when a couple was childless, their choice was only whether or not they would adopt children. To-
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Teaching Difficult Topics
day they have options of in vitro fertilization (fertilization of the embryo in a test tube), surrogate mothers, and many more. Until about thirty years ago, at the end of life, patients and their families did not have choices about how far to go in resuscitating a patient and whether breathing tubes and feeding tubes should be considered. Today these are a normal part of discussions that doctors have with the terminally ill and their families. The availability of genetic testing has created opportunities for people to determine whether they themselves or their children are at risk for developing certain diseases. All of these decision points can create trauma for those involved in making decisions, including the clergy giving advice and the family and friends of those affected. There is a need to prepare our faithful for such discussions; when confronted with these problems they are most often outside a Churchly context, and often with a little prior knowledge about the complete implications of their decisions. However, it is possible to have advance discussions and places where faithful can go to find answers when needed. To have such resources in the wider context of the Church could foster the need to make life decisions informed by Orthodoxy.
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One aspect of this discussion that becomes apparent from the start is the great complexity of the questions addressed and the need for technical expertise to facilitate this discussion. While most clergy have had training in ethics during their seminary years, few have a scientific and/or medical background that will allow them to understand the nuances of modern biomedical know-howâ€”in fact, one could argue that it is inappropriate to expect a technical understanding of these issues from our clergy. In addition, most of these issues are changing with the further developments of technology. While one might have understood a particular issue several years ago, the tools used to deal with the medical problem at present may have changed so much that they shifted the ethical aspects of the given procedure into a new direction. Based on these considerations, it is important to engage the aid of someone in the parish or broader Orthodox community who is a scientist or physician or who is tied to these questions professionally and understands the biomedical aspects of the problems. Discussion that is not scientifically or medically accurate can be hurtful because it misinforms our faithful and makes them distrust the Church with regard to decisions about difficult issues they are facing.
Teaching Difficult Topics
Nevertheless, it is also important that the science not be the focus of the discussion, but rather that it inform the discussion. We must not lose sight of the fact that we are looking for Orthodox approaches to guide us in dealing with the changing biomedical landscape and not only to explain the scientific or clinical question. As Orthodox Christians, our perspectives are likely to be distinct from those found in the general public and reflected by the biomedical community at large. Patriarch Ignatius of Antioch perhaps summarized this best when he used the following example: “When an Orthodox hermit, well into the twentieth century, gives poisonous snakes little cups of milk to drink, he knows them in a different way than the scientist.” In terms of approach, discussion should focus around certain specific issues or case studies. Broad discussion can be useful for issues like stem cell research, but these topics often have little impact on the individual unless placed into medical context. When the possibility of stem cell research contributing to the treatment of heart disease or diabetes is brought into the equation, the topic becomes less esoteric and takes on a personal dimension. Everyone knows someone who suffers from heart disease or diabetes and can relate to the difficulties of struggle with ethical decisions on a course of treatment that can cure these diseases yet not contradict the principles of the Church. The development of a “case study” approach with specific examples (even if fictional) can be helpful in bringing the point home to people’s hearts and minds. They need to be informed not only for their own possible, present or future, benefit, but also to be able to be compassionate to those others (Orthodox or not) who are making such decisions. For example, debate on the issue of in vitro fertilization might be more meaningful if it is placed in the context of a hypothetical couple who cannot have children, their specific attitudes on the issue, the choices in methodology that can be made, a weighing of benefits and concerns associated with different methodologies, a commentary on whether in vitro fertilization is appropriate under these circumstances. This permits a nuanced discussion that is often difficult when a topic is being considered broadly or out of context. Probably the greatest difficulty associated with discussion of biomedical–ethical issues is assessing an Orthodox perspective on many of these issues. For some topics such as abortion or suicide (including physician-assisted suicide), one need only look carefully through the canons, the Church Fathers, and the writings of contemporary Orthodox scholars to find a rather united view on the issue. However, many topics of interest to contemporary adults, such as stem cell research, in vitro fertilization, and end of life issues, do not have ready answers in the writings of the Church Fathers: they could not consider issues
that did not occur in their time. On the other hand, a close read of contemporary Orthodox scholars reveals a disparity of views. From a teaching perspective it is very difficult to discern what the Orthodox understanding is on these issues and what the correct attitude for an Orthodox Christian should be. This difficulty is emphasized by the fact that Orthodox scholars themselves do not agree on the answers to the issues in question. Therefore, it is still helpful to look at the canons or Church teachings that could be even most tentatively connected with the contemporary question at hand. Doing that, one must work diligently to grasp the mind-set that went into shaping of a particular canon or Church teaching—what the Fathers were thinking when they developed their perspective in the first place—the historical framework, the actual problem they were facing, and the beliefs that were in the minds of the fathers as they were making decision. From all of this, then, we must discern how this information can be used to develop Orthodox views about contemporary issues that would be consistent with the canons. The goal is to use the canons, the teachings of the Fathers, the lives of the saints, and the collected wisdom of the Church as a reflection of the truth and beliefs of the Church as a basis for developing opinions on practices that we carry out today. The Church has defined the Gospel—the question is how to bring this into the problems that face the Church and the world in today’s age. In the end, however, this often becomes a matter of interpretation that may change as we learn more and are able to engage in more discussion on the issues. What this all means, then, is that we may not be able to provide Orthodox faithful with answers to all of their questions on contemporary biomedical issues. In some cases, we may at best be able to frame the questions in an Orthodox way, give some idea of how the Church Fathers addressed similar issues, and provide a framework for continued dialogue on the issue so that the stage is set for future discussion. Metropolitan Anthony Bloom rightly stated the contemporary problem when he wrote: “Our task is not merely to imitate what was done by the saints of previous eras, but somehow to appropriate at a much deeper level the way in which they engage their own historical environment, seeking to respond as they would have responded had they lived in our day.” Gayle Woloschak is Professor of Radiation Oncology at Northwestern University, Director of the Zygon Center for Religion and Science, and Adjunct Professor of Religion and Science at Lutheran School of Theology–Chicago. She is a member of Sts. Peter and Paul Ukrainian Orthodox Church in Palos Park, IL. PRAXIS
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Tell It Slant Sex Ed and the Faith
everal summers ago, my camper came to me with a minor crisis. Having spent most of her afternoon free time attempting to rectify the situation in solitude, she confided in me as a last resort: “My hair’s too flat!” As her sister in Christ, and having suffered from a similar affliction for many years, I did what any twenty-three-year-old camp counselor would do: I gathered my rat-tail comb and hairspray, and I spent my brief pre-chapel prep time volumizing the sixteenyear-old’s coif. Now I don’t know about you, but when I see big hair, I think of Deborah Harry and my aunts in the 80s: basically, people who know— or knew, depending on the decade—how to have a good time. My campers also had a good time in mind when they told the (tastefully) fluffed girl, “Oh! You look HOT! You know, like you just got out of BED!” By the last sentence, their laughter was decidedly different— deeper than when they discussed the awkward trappings of teenage fashion, and with the distinct implication of an accompanying wink. Perhaps my biggest mistake came in my reaction: poking my head out of the counselor room, I stared at the girls making the statement and blurted out, “Hey—you guys know nothing about that!” As any seasoned youth worker or counseling professional will tell you, there are myriad reasons why this page 16
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statement was unhelpful, but mostly because (and I knew this when I said it) it was simply not true. The girls let me know it, too. It’s not that they got defensive, per se; but as if on cue, they simultaneously smirked at me, and then proceeded to the chapel in the shortest skirts they could get away with. In a subsequent summer, I had another camper who was a brilliant, well-behaved and kind high-school senior. She approached me with a situation regarding a boy she was spending a lot of time with. As the story went, he had attempted to kiss her, which she refused on account of “the whole pregnant thing.” I wondered if she was hiding something and had slipped with that statement—if she was ashamed to tell me that they had been doing more than kissing in the woods. But two minutes later, she said, “And I know you can’t get pregnant from kissing . . . Or can you?” Her face revealed both meekness and shame. I asked if she really wanted to know—which she did—and later found myself having to explain basic female biology. To a sixteen-year-old! On the one hand, I’m happy she felt safe to discuss this with me. But on the other, although I don’t judge her ignorance, I can’t help but think that there were many, many failures along the way that led to this particular conversation. As Orthodox Christians, we claim to have the “fullness of the truth”—basically, whatever knowledge humans possess
about God is in Orthodox dogma, both scholastically and spiritually. This isn’t meant to be a bragging point, really; it’s just that we love our Creator, and to love someone means getting the facts straight, as well as expressing and acting on those facts as best as we possibly can. In reality, it’s the least we can do for our Thrice-Holy Maker. Or is it? See, in Matthew 25, Christ launches into a discourse on the Final Judgment using sheep and goats to distinguish the favorable from the unfavorable. Not only is His point to have us engage in acts of love and philanthropy, but to consistently act with love toward one another, which is tantamount to loving God. It’s about the core relationships, with ourselves, with each other and with the Creator, and how each of these is inextricably tied with the other. “What you’ve done for the least of these, you’ve done for Me.” Think about it this way: the “least” we can do for God is treat everyone else with the same love we’d show to Christ himself. Would you tell Christ that “sometimes kissing leads to pregnancy” when you know that’s completely false? Having said that, I’ve recently found a fair amount of wisdom in Emily Dickinson’s poem “Tell all the Truth but tell it slant,” especially in the final line: “The Truth must dazzle gradually or every man be blind.” Take Christ’s interaction with the Samaritan woman in John 4:1–42: There he is, standing with (among others) a multiply-divorced fornicator; and instead of calling her a whore or saying she’d experience hellfire unless she repented, he hung out with her by the well for a little while before he mentioned knowing about her current cohabitation situation. In stating the facts in an easily digestible way for her and for her spiritual situation, Christ wasn’t lying—he was speaking the
lthough few occasions in the life of a parish are as joyous as a wedding, priests frequently face the difﬁcult pastoral challenge of gently but ﬁrmly explaining the church’s requirements to the loving couple— who are often shocked by what they hear. Religious educators would do an important service to both the couple and the priest by educating our youth about the issues they may encounter. primary among these issues is cohabitation—couples living together. although societal norms on sex outside of marriage have shifted dramatically, the church’s stance has emphatically not: “shacking up” is, in so many words, “living in sin.” The couple must understand that it is unhealthy to enter into the marriage relationship under this cloud, and although it is a matter for pastoral sensitivity, many priests will require that the couple live apart for several months before the wedding. our youth also need to know there are various relational impediments that make marriage impossible (for example, godparents may not marry the parents of their godchildren—consult your metropolis’s chancellor for more information). also, the bride and groom will be expected to go through several premarital counseling sessions with the priest, as well as confess with the priest. finally—and perhaps most importantly—is teaching the profoundly beautiful orthodox theology of marriage. This divine mystery represents the relationship of christ with his church, and provides a loving environment within which a couple can help one another grow more christ-like. getting married is an enormous milestone in the life of two people, and a joyous occasion in the life of the church. it also represents an extraordinary opportunity for spiritual reawakening and growth on the part of the couple. By providing a strong foundation on the church’s teachings and expectations regarding this sacrament, we will go a long way toward making our newlyweds happier, holier and more successful. Brad Borch is an educational multimedia developer and works for Internet Ministries.
Teaching DifficulT Topics
truth effectively. This is a delicate balance that requires mastery before taking on a sex education program. But you can do it. On that note, I’ve compiled a list of dos and don’ts based on both my experiential knowledge and my research. Take from this what you will: DON’T make the conversation all about sex! First, the concept of personhood is inherently complex, too much to be diminished into one aspect (sexuality). Second, the topic of sex itself involves so many other pieces (self-respect, the concept of God, a person’s relationship with God, with each other and with creation), with each piece being so vital to the fullness of the truth about sexuality that merely discussing “What Not To Do” is an insult to the wholeness of this sacred bond. DON’T believe the hype! Both ends of the religious spectrum will tell you different things about sexuality and sexual issues. Your goal as an Orthodox Christian educator is to be both intellectual and spiritual. For example: While reviewing the government report that discusses how ineffective and dishonest many leading abstinenceonly programs are (and in several ways, they are), trust the Holy Spirit to nudge you into a place of constructive criticism of both the research and the program itself. Use your truth-seeking nose to sniff out a solution. And don’t be afraid of collaborating with a coworker / priest / friend. Th is is a rough subject to navigate on your own! DO be honest with yourself regarding your past, the Church’s teachings, your personal beliefs, and inconsistencies therein (if any). These things must be resolved in your heart before you can have this sort of discussion with your kids; and if you find yourself wrestling with them more than you thought you would, find a spiritual confidant. With honesty comes humility, and with humility comes an ability to love. page 18
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DO understand your boundaries. Being neither parent nor friend, you have a unique relationship with the kids. Because they only interact with you for a hot minute each week, you need to spend much of the school year creating an environment of trust, love and spiritual enlightenment—but for them. Remember that you’re a teacher for the kids, and if you start saying something that feels personal (like something only you, your spiritual guide, and your therapist know), put the kibosh on the comment. A large part of creating a fruitful, spiritual classroom environment relies on your ability, as an educator, to understand yourself. And look: You’re smart. You get it. Keep that in mind as you maneuver your way through a sex talk with fourteen-yearolds who don’t want to trust you. Again, spend your school year manifesting a comfortable atmosphere. (This starts from day one—you can’t talk about sex with people whose names you can’t pronounce, let alone remember.) And, for heaven’s sake, have a faith in yourself! After all, as a creature made in the image and likeness of God, you have to. DO be a spiritual mythbuster! There are all sorts of little golden nuggets of Orthodox trivia that would shine a light of “What? Really?!” in the faces of kids who probably don’t hear too often how great their faith is. All they need to unearth these gems are miners: people to do the dirty fact-finding work. Over the years, I’ve discovered that certain tidbits really make their eyes pop, such as: “The Orthodox Church loves sex so much, she has several feast days to celebrate conception!” Usually this requires the follow-up of: “And outside of the Virgin Mary, how do people get pregnant?” Now, this may not seem like a huge deal to you, the Lovely, Enlightened Educator; but for a lot of people, their only understanding of Christianity’s relationship with sex is one of shame and sin—and when they believe their religious institu-
Teaching DifficulT Topics
tion frowns upon a drive as natural as, say, burping, of course they’re inclined to bolt for more complacent pastures! To be totally honest with you, I was once a pierced-nose record-label representative who listened to cheesy 80s dance jams; and for the longest time I thought that Orthodoxy didn’t understand me. I had a serious identity meltdown. It took a week at Holy Cross before I realized that I didn’t understand Orthodoxy—at all, really. I spent the subsequent three years geeking out over just how relevant, understanding and loving it really is. And perhaps my biggest “aha!” was the realization that Orthodoxy is, in fact, for everyone and in
everything: in sex, in love, in Creation and in the Created; as timeless, as honest, as simple and as Truth. So go. Dig. Unearth some wisdom. And don’t forget to share the wealth. Priscilla Callos earned her Master of Divinity from Holy Cross, where she spent a year researching the topic of adolescent sexuality. She is currently Youth Director at St. George Orthodox Church in Cleveland, and is slowly co-developing a coalition of young Orthodox artists. She can be reached at priscilla. email@example.com.
Lenten Reading from the DRE
Walk in the Light: Spiritual Exercises in Great Lent for Young Adults
The Sign of the Cross: The Gesture, The Mystery, The History
F. M. Courey (Genesis World Press, 2008) AR316, $19.95
Andreas Andreopoulos (Paraclete, 2006) AR058, $19.95
Inspired by the text of 1 John, Fr. Courey leads young adults in renewing their personal commitment to Christ and His Church. The 40 exercises include prayers, Orthodox Study Bible readings, reﬂection questions, and other devotions. For use by individuals or by groups—meeting once weekly, with personal exercises on the other six days—starting the Sunday before Great Lent. “It stripped me of everything I have held onto in this world and brought me closer to Christ, more than I ever thought would be possible.” —E.R., age 25
Millions of Christians around the world use the sign of the cross—and have done so for centuries—as a gesture of blessing. The sign of the cross is literally a tracing of the Cross of Christ onto the body. With this dramatic but simple gesture, Christians invite the mystery of the cross into their everyday lives. Accessible and brief (152 pages), Prof. Andreopoulos’s readable account will fascintate and inspire all who desire to know more about the inherited spiritual practices of everyday life.
Power of the Cross Mary Paloumpis Hallick (Holy Cross Orthodox Press, 2009) AR059, $14.95 For nearly two millennia, Christians have honored both the Cross of Christ and images of it. Presv. Mary Hallick, a lifelong educator, traces the history of the True Cross and the wide variety of cross images used in public and personal worship. With the help of illustrations and descriptions of cross types and shapes from historical Christianity and from other religions and cultures, young readers can explore the cross on their own or with the help of parents and teachers. Companion volume to The Story of Icons (T35, $14.95).
Greek Orthodox archdiocese of america ∙ department of religious education ∙ (800) 566-1088 ∙ firstname.lastname@example.org
Teaching Difficult Topics
The Discerning Orthodox Parent
Helping Children Navigate Life in the Public Schools Despina Stavros
arenting Eastern Orthodox Christian children in today’s modern American context is an exciting, rewarding, burdensome and perplexing challenge. Our children have easy access to a stunningly wide range of ideas, images, products, temptations and worldviews. The public education system, often dramatically underfunded, is charged with the responsibility of providing formative instruction in the building blocks of knowledge. Public schools are mandated to be responsive to differences in learning, as well as being sensitive to the ethnic, racial, cultural and socioeconomic diversity of today’s students. Amid this storm of competing needs, waning resources and divergent priorities, it is the job of Orthodox Christian parents to develop a powerfully discerning eye when it comes to their children’s educational experience. This article will focus on three particular areas of discernment. They are: • How do I find what is “true, and noble and right” (Philippians 4:8) about my child’s education and join in efforts to support and build on those things? • How do I wisely determine when something about my child’s education is detrimental and working against his or her development as an Orthodox Christian and decide what to do to change it. • How do I enable and encourage my child to directly and indirectly bring aspects of our Eastern Orthodox faith into contact with his or her education and educational system? Now that our oldest child is about to graduate from high school, I am often asked about the challenges we have faced over the years spent navigating our way through the public school system. It is important for me to give a realistic response, and I pray that our children’s Orthodox foundation continues to be strong as they move out of high school and into college and adulthood. page 20
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Joining Forces with the Good As the mother of four daughters who are all (except our eighteenmonth-old) part of a large urban public school system, sending each one off to public kindergarten was one of the most anxious and uncertain times in my life. Many thoughts, rumors, headlines and questions ran rampant through my head each time I have faced this important milestone in each child’s life. Are we doing the right thing? Is the school safe? Who will my children’s friends be? Will the school environment and teachers nurture our child’s individual needs? All parents want the best for their children. Public schools may be secular, but I have been pleasantly surprised to find that oftentimes the schools are quite capable of doing things that are “true, and noble and right.” Our children’s public school experiences have not merely been composed of classroom book learning, but also have included experiential learning, cooperation, goodness, and philanthropy. Our kindergartener’s school has a motto: “Work hard, Show Respect and Be Responsible.” All of the children at her school recite it and practice it daily. The teachers and administrators depend on help from parents, organizations and businesses to share their time, talents and treasures to make her school a better place for learning. This “school stewardship” is vital for the stability of programs that promote peace, conflict resolution, and after-school activities in music, arts, sports and science. The school accesses the unique
Teaching Difficult Topics
abilities of parents who are musicians, doctors, fire fighters and police officers, just to name a few, who periodically and even regularly donate their time, knowledge and talents. One stay-at-home mom even volunteered to make ice cream with the kids to supplement a lesson on hot and cold. It is during these times that parents can enter the classroom both to “get a feel” for the tone of the class and, more importantly, to reach out and make a difference in the children’s lives. What are some ways that Orthodox Christian parents can tap into and help build up what is already good about their children’s school? One possibility is to find out from parents, teachers and administrators what needs exist within the school community. Beautiful opportunities for philanthropy may already be in place or may be welcomed if offered. Other examples of “true, noble and right” that we have encountered in the public schools include: a partnership with the local nursing home where our elementary school choral students walk several times a year to sing for the residents; a used uniform sale where families can donate their child’s outgrown uniforms to be purchased by other families at an extremely low cost; and monthly community-building events, held at little to no cost, so that families can come out with their children and enjoy a movie night together. This is especially important in our kindergartener’s school, where 78 percent of the children are from low-income families.
Assessing for and Protecting against the Harmful Do things happen at school that are detrimental to our children’s development as an Orthodox Christian? Yes, there are issues in all schools that parents need to be aware of. Exposure to drugs, violence and sex are inescapable realities in most public middle and high schools. It is our job as parents to teach our children how to cope and deal with such issues that inevitably become part of their school environment. The majority of teachers and administrators are looking out for the best interests of the children they serve, but they need the support of parents. By staying involved and maintaining good communication with a child’s teachers, parents will be better informed of the culture, policies and incidents at their child’s school. We have counted on our solid grounding in Orthodoxy and our commitment as a family to support us during these difficult school situations. Our priority for the safety of our children has been challenged several times, mainly when our older daughters were in middle school. All parents want a safe, nurturing environment for their children, and if physical or emotional safety is at risk, parents must take immediate action. If parents hear from their child or from any other source of an incident that raises a safety concern, a trip to the school is warranted to assess the whole story and to determine if action is necessary. As we all know, information is not always accurate by the time it filters down to the students and parents. By directing inquiries to teachers and school administrators, appropriate concern and an expectation of accountability are demonstrated. Most importantly, these tough situations can be used as teaching tools, communicating with children and discussing the difference between right and wrong, between acceptable and unacceptable behavior. The clarity of a parent’s expectations is a powerful ally in forming children. A parent’s reaction to and handling of such problems as an Orthodox Christian is what a child will notice, remember and hopefully emulate. For the majority of the time, however, it is less acute situations that arise. It is important to discern which issues require direct intervention and at what level of intensity any intervention should occur. In that way, when a parent approaches a teacher or principal regarding a concern, it will quickly be apparent that the issue is something important and deserving of attention. For example, discovering that a child has a library book with inappropriate language and subject matter may warrant a meeting with the principal and librarian. PRAXIS
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Oftentimes, administrators are not even aware certain problems exist, and positive school-wide changes may follow from such a meeting. Additionally, letting an issue rest for a day, discussing the details together after the children have gone to bed, or rethinking a particular situation has helped us to be thoughtful, balanced and firm in working with our children’s educators. Another example involves disagreement with the purpose of a series of questionably useful homework assignments given to our child. As adults, our experience helps us realize that in life, we are often required to carry out menial or unpleasant tasks. Talking negatively about the assignment or teacher to one’s child may be more detrimental than the assignment itself. Instead, acknowledge the frustrating feeling that a “busywork” assignment creates so that the child is heard, and then help them to move on and just do the unpleasant work. By maintaining a positive approach to both the assignment and the underlying lesson of perseverance and resilience, a child can learn a valuable lesson about discipline, endurance and respect. These are lessons that build character and demonstrate to a child what values are important to his or her family. In middle and high school, our children’s lives can become even busier with after-school activities, sports and increasing amounts of homework. Even though they become more independent in completing their work, it is our responsibility as parents to take the time to maintain involvement with our children’s learning. Talking daily with children about what is being taught and discussed in class, what they are reading and what their friends are saying provides an invaluable window into their educational page 22
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experience. Asking questions, checking their homework, and supervising their use of the cell phone, television and computer are all key parts of this. The “mom network” is helpful to support those tough and maybe not-so-popular decisions. It is very helpful to befriend your children’s friends’ parents, who are hopefully on the “same page” as you are. Sometimes being able to offer a special/fun alternative to a less-desirable event is helpful as well (e.g., a sleepover or a movie instead of the dance). Staying involved in these ways helps Orthodox Christian parents fulfill their role of discernment and protection. Bringing Orthodox Christianity to School Encouraging our children to bring aspects of the Orthodox faith into the classroom started early for us, and was actually driven by the children themselves. From the time they were first graders, our oldest girls were often excited to share their Christian faith with their friends and teachers in ways that were simple and welcomed by their teachers and classmates. Religious objects or Church-school projects became their show-and-tell items. Our kindergartener chose her St. George button from her little sister’s baptism to bring to school. She got to show it to her class and explain why St. George is special to our family, which is full of Georgias and Georges. Each Holy Friday, our children proudly present an official letter from our parish priest explaining what an important day of worship it is and that our children will not be attending school in order to attend the Holy Friday retreat and services at our church. In second grade, our older girls brought in red eggs after Pascha and
Teaching Difficult Topics
demonstrated the “Christos Anesti” egg-cracking tradition to the class. They continue to make the sign of the cross before eating lunch and maintain the fasts while at school. And for the school’s International Night, we volunteer to help decorate the Greece table, displaying crosses and icons that illustrate how Orthodoxy is an integral part of our culture and lives. I have found that the public schools are sensitive to the many religions represented in our world today and welcome the ways the girls have shared our Orthodox faith at school. When Orthodoxy is part of children’s day-to-day life, their school
friends and teachers see this and know that this is at the heart of who they are. By growing up in a discerning household, children watch, listen to and learn from their parents, growing in wisdom and inner strength to become discerning Orthodox Christians themselves. Despina Klonaris Stavros is the mother of four daughters and works part-time as a snurse at Children’s Hospital in Boston. She and her family reside in Boston and are parishioners at St. Gregory the Theologian Greek Orthodox Church in Mansfield, MA.
Religious Education Basics
Live the Liturgy. Teach the Liturgy.
or nearly four decades, Orthodox Christian religious educators have emphasized that Sunday Church school should not be held during the Divine Liturgy. In his classic book, Liturgy and Life, Fr. Alexander Schmemann writes, “It seems self-evident to me that to organize a so-called ‘Sunday School’ during the Divine Liturgy deeply contradicts the spirit of Orthodoxy. . . . Sunday is primarily a liturgical day, and it should be church-centered and liturgy centered.” In agreement with Fr. Schmemann, the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese since the 1970s has emphasized that children should attend as much of the Divine Liturgy as possible and practical for the parish. We will spend the bulk of our adult lives as Orthodox Christians in various worship settings—not in classes or other parish activities. The habit of attendance and participation in worship begins very early in our lives. A recent study from the Pew Forum on American Religious Life reported that adults who had not formed the habit of regular attendance in worship as children and teenagers (i.e., they acquired it from their parents) were more likely to drift away from the religion of their family later in life. Teachers play a large role in helping children understand the Divine Liturgy, the actions, the rituals, the words and, importantly, how to participate in the service. Classroom time should be set aside for questions and answers about that day’s worship. To answer the questions, teachers should con-
tinue to learn as much as they can about the development, nature and meaning of Orthodox Byzantine worship. There are practical steps you can take right now. Use the following checklist as a guide to begin incorporating the Divine Liturgy in each of your classroom sessions: • Do you encourage your students to attend the Divine Liturgy with their families? • Do you emphasize the importance of attending the Divine Liturgy from the time it starts, with “Blessed is the Kingdom . . .”? • Do you emphasize participation in the Divine Liturgy? • Do your students see you attending the Divine Liturgy and participating in the service? • Do you discuss the Sunday Epistle and Gospel lessons in your classes? • Do you encourage families to read the lessons as a family before the Liturgy and discuss them on their way home, especially in light of that day’s sermon? • Do your opening and closing prayers in class reflect the liturgical season, such as Lent or the Feast Day closest to the day of the class session? • Do you remember students’ name days in class and study those saints’ lives? PRAXIS
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Angels and Autism: Finding Faith for the Autistic Child Reviewed by Anton C. Vrame, PhD
information, viewers of this DVD will experience the challenges facing autistic children and their families, especially as those related to their involvement with the life of the Church. According to the Centers for Disease Control, 1 in 150 children overall, and 1 in 94 boys, will be diagnosed with autism. Some studies show that the rates may be even higher, as much as 1 in 50. Autism is usually identified in children around 18–24 months of age. As the DVD points out, there are three keys in diagnosing autism: 1. Delayed development of communication skills, even to the point of a child being nonverbal 2. Difficulty learning and maintaining social skills children with autism will often want to be alone 3. Repetitive behaviors
e are growing increasingly aware of special needs children in our parishes. The number of diagnoses of special needs has increased tremendously. Not too long ago in PRAXIS (Spring 2009), readers learned about the “Challenge Liturgy” and the Hellenos House for children with special needs in New York. One of the more common diagnoses these days is autism, which is a “spectrum disorder,” that is, it can appear in various manifestations from mild to severe. “Angels with Autism,” a documentary produced by the Philoptochos Chapter at the St. John the Baptist Greek Orthodox Church in Euless, Texas, raises awareness of the issues families face in their quest to offer children with autism a spiritual life. With parent interviews, interspersed with expert
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The interviews in the film are moving, as parents talk quite honestly and openly about their struggles to engage their children with Church and the strategies they employ to deal with the challenges. As they are coping with these challenges, the parents also realize that some of the greatest challenges are with the other people in the parish, who are generally unaccustomed to being around a child with autism. The experts discuss how a church environment—crowds, loud noises, many distractions—can disturb the child with autism and that parents need to start small, not only preparing the child for the experience but also preparing their priest and fellow parishioners about their child. The experts emphasize that the other parishioners should avoid being judgmental about the parents, embrace them, and accept them and their children. Produced by St. John the Baptist Philoptochos (Euless, Texas) of the Metropolis of Denver and M3 Films. Anton C. Vrame, PhD, is the Director of Religious Education of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America.
The Woman and the Wheat and The Man and the Vine Reviewed by Elizabeth R. Borch
hese books are a delight! The newly released The Woman and the Wheat complements The Man and the Vine, published in 2006. Through the stories’ characters—the man, his young daughter, and their vineyard, and the woman, her Border Collie, and their farm—author Jane Meyer and illustrator Ned Gannon show how all of creation participates in the Eucharistic offering. The Woman and the Wheat takes us through the process and beautiful metaphor of offering the holy bread. Meyer’s text is narrative and poetic at the same time, patiently working through the steps of growing the wheat, baking the bread, and then finally receiving the Eucharist with joy. With each part of the process, prayers of supplication are offered—for the earth and the harvest, family and friends. So elegantly,
this story captures the innate purpose or our lives as sacrament. “The woman” and “the man” are every woman and man, and their land is every land. Specific names, times, and places are irrelevant, giving the reader the sense that the story is the same “in all places and at all times.” Ample white space frames the Gannon’s vibrant, rich watercolor illustrations. The illustrations capture the expression of the sacred and simple life that is developed in the story. Idealized and innocent, the illustrations and text of this work are perfectly married. These books are fabulous for reading aloud with preschool and elementary school children. Gannon’s illustrations are both sophisticated and clear, engaging readers of all ages. The sing-songy (but respectful) lyrical text is fun to say and listen to: Then the woman of the wheat came near to the cup and she bowed her head down low. She opened wide and the love filled her mouth and she thought of the wheat, and she thought of the love. She kissed the cup and she prayed a prayer, and the joy grew loud in her soul. The books would also be enjoyable for older elementary schoolers; although the text bodies are short, the vocabulary and syntax might frustrate newer readers. The Woman and the Wheat (St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 2009), hardcover, 32 pages. The Man and the Vine (St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 2006), hardcover, 32 pages. Elizabeth Borch is the Managing Editor of PRAXIS magazine.
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St. Brigid of Kildare Jane G. Meyer From Dairymaid to Saint The most well-known and beloved female saint in Ireland, St. Brigid of Kildare was born in the fifth century (around 450—during that time when all of Christendom was still unified), just after the birth of St. Patrick, that tireless bishop who came to love and believe in the people of Ireland. Together, Sts. Patrick and Brigid made a mighty impact, spreading Christianity like wildfire to a pagan people who were open and ready to learn of Christ’s salvation. Though there are various accounts of her life, all written after her death, the impression she made on the Irish land is undisputed, and the spirit of St. Brigid comes across strongly in each of them. Even today, her feast day on February 1 is celebrated widely. More than 1400 years after her death, holy sites related to Brigid still abound.
an audience. A leper happens by. Brigid has nothing to give the man—no food, no blanket—so she hands him her father’s sword! When she is brought before the king, a furious exchange happens as Brigid’s father rants about this typical behavior. The king laughs, saying, “If she gives away her father’s things, how much more would she give away mine, since I am nothing to her!” The wise king encourages Brigid’s father to set her free, and offers him one of his own fine swords as consolation. Brigid’s devotion to Christ tumbled over into a dream of becoming a nun. She establishes the first community of nuns in Ireland, eventually building a wonderful cathedral city at Kildare, where both men and women monastics settled around her, as well as a community of lay people and artisans. Kildare became known as a place of great arts, especially in metal craft, and learning. In fact, the monastery created the Gospel Book of
One popular account of Brigid’s young life shows her laboring by her mother’s side as a dairymaid, learning to tend cows and churn butter. Her mother was a Christian bondswoman who worked for the druid who owned her, but Brigid’s father was a pagan chieftain. At the age of ten, Brigid left her mother to live and work in her father’s house. Once in charge of her father’s large kitchens, Brigid surprised the household by giving away much of the food at her disposal. At that time in Ireland, there were laws that regulated hospitality, and Brigid, with the love of Christ in her heart, sometimes took them to a beautiful, radical extreme, giving to the poor well beyond that which was typically expected. Her father wasn’t always pleased with the way she gave away his bread, meat, milk, and even his coat. One story shows him so upset that he bundles her into his carriage to sell her to a neighboring king. She waits outside, seated in the carriage, while he seeks
Kildare, an illuminated manuscript that was said to have rivaled the famous Book of Kells. And though Brigid continued to live a simple life, she must have been an able leader and abbess for such a large community to flourish around her in such a short period of time. Brigid influenced many people and helped establish countless monasteries in Ireland. She met each man, woman, girl, and boy as if she were meeting Christ himself. Her acts of boundless generosity are reflected in this poem attributed to her: I would like the angels of Heaven to be among us. I would like an abundance of peace. I would like full vessels of charity. I would like rich treasures of mercy. I would like cheerfulness to preside over all. I would like Jesus to be present.
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I would like the three Marys of illustrious renown to be with us. I would like the friends of heaven to be gathered around us from all parts. I would like myself to be a rent payer to the Lord; that I should suffer distress, that he would bestow a good blessing upon me. I would like a great lake of beer for the King of Kings. I would like to be watching heaven’s family drinking it through all eternity. This is but a tiny glimpse of her life. If you’d like to read more about her, I’d recommend a quick visit to www.oca.org, where you can search for her by her feast day, February 1. For an indepth account of her life, see the extensive list of saints on the Web site of St. Patrick Catholic Church in Washington, DC, www.saintpatrickdc.org. Learning about Brigid by Doing Though Brigid’s story is dotted with preaching and encouraging others through words, her actions are what have made her beloved. In fact, one of the most poignant stories is how she once told the story of Christ and His salvation to an old chieftain who was near death. As he lay suffering, Brigid picked up some of the rushes from the earthen floor and began weaving them into a cross. He asked what she was doing, and in this way, as her hands were busy, she told the story of Christ’s coming, His death and resurrection, and how this old chieftain might be saved. He believed, and he was baptized before his death. Weaving the “St. Brigid’s cross” is still done in Ireland each year, on the eve of her feast. The crosses are then hung above the door for blessing and protection. Making a St. Brigid’s Cross Weaving a St. Brigid’s cross is a fun activity for an older Sunday school class or simply to do at home. While weaving, you can share ideas on how to show love for Christ by loving those around us. Find some natural plant material from your local area or from a florist. Rushes are traditional, but you could also use wheat stalks or long grasses. If you’re teaching very young children, you could use pipe cleaners or those wonderfully sticky and easy-to-use Wikki Stix. For each cross, you will need: • 12–16 reeds, pipe cleaners or Wikki Stix • String or, if you use reeds, four small, tan rubber bands • Scissors
Directions: 1. Hold one reed vertically, and fold another in half around the midpoint of the first. 2. Take a third reed and fold it around the second one, parallel to the first. You should now have a T-shaped piece, with one arm having one strand, another having two and the third having three. 3. Fold fourth reed around the third one to form a cross. 4. Fold a fifth one around the fourth, parallel to the single strand. As you work, snug the reeds against the center and hold it tight. 5. Continue folding reeds around the previous one (and the ones beside it) working in a circular fashion until you have created enough of a woven center. 6. When the center is as big as you like, hold the reeds together carefully and tie the ends of each arm tightly with reeds, string or some type of natural fiber, or bind with a rubber band. Trim the ends with scissors. Before your class, I especially recommend making a sample and watching this short YouTube video before your class, which shows a woman from County Sligo in Ireland making a cross in real time: www.youtube.com/watch?v=iMj7RJDwp8U. (Directions on making a St. Brigid’s cross taken from The Life of St. Brigid by Anna Egan Smucker, reproduced by permission of the publisher, Appletree Press.) Matthew 25 in Real Time Another teaching idea either for the home or for a church school setting is to read The Life of St. Brigid: Abbess of Kildare alongside the latter verses, starting with Matthew 25:31. Once finished, open up the conversation to discuss simple ways we can love our neighbors in the name of Christ. Hand out index cards and pencils, and then challenge students to think of some form of giving they could do during the week and write it down. The following week, ask them to report on how their acts of generosity turned out. Some ideas to help the children in their thinking are: • Write a note to a neighbor who is sick or draw someone a picture and deliver it with a smile • Bring an extra snack or sandwich to school and give it away to someone who normally sits alone, or bake cookies for someone who might normally be shunned • Say a prayer and light a candle each evening for someone who is struggling or who is difficult to love • Look through your closet and give away some of your old things, or maybe even go through your neighborhood, passing out flyers and collecting clothes that you can take to a shelter (especially warm coats and blankets)
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KNEADINg PRAYERS INTO LOAVES OF BREAD St. Brigid wasn’t frightened of the poor or lonely. Her love of Christ was the reason for all her goodness and openness. She churned endless vats of butter because of that love. She tended sheep because of that love. She traveled the countryside enduring hardships and establishing monasteries because of that love. Here in Santa Barbara, we host a large population of homeless people because of our nice weather. Our church has embraced these folks, ministering to them by offering food and clothing, support and counseling. I admit that they are sometimes tough to deal with, but what a blessing when there is a turnaround in one of their lives—when after years of abuse someone takes the steps to become sober or when a job is found and the road to housing begins. This miracle has happened more than once in our community. But I have small children, so I cannot participate daily, or even weekly, in a ministry like this. So in the spirit of St. Brigid, I started doubling up on my bread making, always baking twice as much as our family needs. When I knead, I pray for those to whom the bread will go, and when it is baked, I head out into the streets to give it away. Sometimes I simply run across the street to an unsuspecting neighbor, sometimes I’ll give it to a family with a new baby, and other times I’ll walk it to the back of the park where I know I’ll find hungry folks hidden in the bushes. This is just a small gift that I can give, but the act of giving has softened my heart and taken me out of my own cozy world—opening my door a little bit more to those same strangers that Brigid loved. May all of our lives reflect that love; may we make a difference, too, changing the world a little at a time with our good deeds, our good thoughts, our fervent prayers and our abundant love of the triune God. Troparion O holy Brigid, you became sublime through your humility, and flew on the wings of your longing for God. When you arrived in the eternal City and appeared before your Divine Spouse, wearing the crown of virginity, you kept your promise to remember those who have recourse to you. You shower grace upon the world and multiply miracles. Intercede with Christ our God that He may save our souls. Jane G. Meyer is a children’s book author and editor, and the former Assistant Managing Editor for The Handmaiden, a journal for Orthodox women. Her newest picture books, The Woman and the Wheat and The Life of St. Brigid: Abbess of Kildare, were released by Conciliar Press in 2009 (www.conciliarpress.com). For more about Jane and her work, visit www.janegmeyer.com.
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Parent Guide Free download from the center for Family care For Holy Week prep tips, daily activities and family prayers, download the 6-page Journey through Holy Week Parent Guide from family.goarch.org. resources for holy Week (from the Parent Guide) BOOKS FOR CHILDREN Christ Has Risen, Children! by Svetlana Visotskaya—The story of Pascha as celebrated in the Orthodox Church, told through magnificent, colorful iconographic art. Available from Light & Life. BOOKS FOR TEENAGERS Holy Week and Pascha by Euphemia Briere—The period in the life of Christ from the raising of Lazarus to the Resurrection, as reﬂected in the Divine Services of the Orthodox Church. Simply explained, with beautiful fullcolor icons and iconographic illustrations, it is a treasure for ages 10 to adult. From St. Nectarios Press. BOOKS FOR ADULTS Making God Real in the Orthodox Christian Home by Fr. Anthony Coniaris—This very popular book on the Church at home devotes an entire section on how to make Holy Week and Pascha an integral part of family life. From Light & Life. HOLY WEEK AND PASCHAL MUSIC Thy Passion by the Boston Byzantine Choir—This CD brings the listener the most beautiful moments of Holy Week from the morning of Lazarus Saturday to the evening of Holy Friday. It celebrates the Passion of Christ in the tones and hymns of the most ancient Christian church yet understandable to English speakers. Available from www.conciliarpress.com.
Center for Family Care Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America 79 Saint Basil Rd. ∙ Garrison, NY 10524 (845) 424-8175 ∙ family.goarch.org
The Nicene Creed
The Orthodox Perspective and Its Relevance Today
he Fathers of the First and Second Ecumenical Councils who gave us the Nicene Creed in 325 and 381 began with the words, “I believe.” By these words they meant, “We write here what we believe: In one God, Father Almighty, Creator of heaven and earth, and of all things visible (orata) and invisible (aorata).” There is only one God. This God is Almighty and He created all things in heaven, earth and in the universe. Whereas man needs material with which to create anything, God can create from nothing (ek tou medenos); there was no preexistent material for Him to work from. God the Father is Almighty, and this means that He is all-powerful, omnipotent, having no weaknesses. He created those things that can be seen and those things that cannot be seen. For example, we can see one another but we cannot normally see the bodiless angels. The second article of the Nicene Creed says, “And in One Lord Jesus Christ, the only-begotten Son of God, begotten of the Father before all ages,” meaning that Jesus has always existed with the Father. The English words “only-begotten” convey the purpose of the Greek adjective, monogenes, and helps us to understand that the Son of God is one of a kind, the only one begotten of the Father. And we say Jesus is “Light of Light,” meaning that there are not two divine lights but one; Jesus is the Light that shines forth from the Father and source of Light. And, therefore, Jesus is “true God of true God, begotten, not created, of one essence with the Father through whom all things were made” (see John 1:10). This tells us that no other person but Jesus is a son generated or begotten (gennethenta ou poiethenta); the word poiethenta refers to something that is a creature, something that was made and had a beginning of its existence, for there was a time when it had no existence. In this manner, the Creed tells us that the Son of God is co-eternal and co-beginning-less with the Father. Here, the unique word omoousios is used, which means “of the same (omo) essence
Fr. George Zervos and George S. Gabriel (ousia) with the Father.” And being of the same divine essence and nature, the Father and the Son, the Creed adds, “through Whom all things were made,” repeating the Bible’s teaching that the Son of God, carrying out the will of the Father, made all things and sustains all things (see John 1:10; Colossians 1:16–17). “Who for us men and for our salvation came down from heaven and was incarnate of the Holy Spirit and the Virgin Mary and became man (enanthropesanta).” Of course, Jesus’s conception through the Holy Spirit is a deep mystery and is beyond our comprehension. God the Father sent His beloved Son from the Heavens to free humankind from sin, decay and permanent death, healing and restoring them to the path of sanctification and immortality in body and soul. The word “incarnate” means “in the flesh.” The Nicene Creed uses the Greek word sarkothenta to say that God was made flesh or took on flesh in the Virgin’s womb. But the word “flesh” does not refer only to the body; it means the whole human being, body and soul. Here, again, the Creed follows the Bible and clarifies the matter by equating sarkothenta with enanthropesanta; “incarnate” (or “was made flesh”) and the words “became man” mean the same thing. “And the Word became flesh” (John 1:14). “He was crucified for us under Pontius Pilate, and suffered and was buried; and He rose (anastanta) on the third day, according to the Scriptures.” This article tells us three things. First, it confirms the prophets who described Jesus’s suffering and horrific execution. These facts concerning Jesus’s last days on earth were first prophesied in the Old Testament. Second, His death is confirmed by His burial in the tomb. And third, by mentioning Pontius Pilate by name, it gives us a historical reference as to when Jesus was crucified and suffered the agony of the Cross. The term anastanta or “he who has risen” can have more than one meaning, but here, like in the Bible itself, it clearly refers to His burial and PRAXIS
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His resurrection from the tomb. The “third day” does not mean that 72 hours had passed, but that the third day of His burial had just commenced when He rose, just as the first day in the tomb, Friday, was not the 24-hour day, but far fewer hours. In the Bible, part of a day is counted as a day. While His human body was in the sepulcher, through His human soul, the Son of God entered into Hades, the temporary place of the souls of the dead (not the everlasting perdition or kolasis), preaching salvation to all who had died from the beginning. “He ascended into heaven and is seated at the right hand of the Father.” According to the New Testament, the Apostles and the other disciples saw Jesus ascending into the heavens. In other words, He returned to sit at the right hand of the Father in glory, where He sat before the world was made (see John 17:5). But this time, also seated with Him on the throne of God is His humanity. “And He will come again with glory to judge the living and the dead. His kingdom shall have no end.” When Jesus comes again with “all His angels,” He will judge justly, separating those who are worthy to enter His kingdom from those who, because of their lack of love for God and neighbor, are not worthy. These shall be sent to the permanent hell or perdition. “And in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the Creator of life, Who proceeds from the Father, Who together with the Father and the Son is worshipped and glorified, Who spoke through the prophets.” In this article, we declare that the Holy Spirit, together with the Father and the Son, is the One Lord, the Creator of life. The Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit have one divinity, one power (mia theotes, mia dynamis), as the feast of Pentecost proclaims. The Son of God gave the words “proceeds from the Father” to us when He spoke of “the Spirit of truth who proceeds from the Father” (John 15:26). This means that the cause of the Spirit’s timeless, eternal origin is the Father alone. The Spirit’s origin is called “procession” (ekporeusis), and the Son’s origin from the Father is called “generation” or “begetting” (genesis). The persons of the Holy Trinity are worshipped and glorified together as one true God. The Holy Spirit was present in the Old Testament, and through the prophets He revealed the truths of God. “In one holy, catholic and apostolic Church.” God ordained only one holy, catholic and apostolic Church, and He imparted her to the entire world through His Holy Apostles and the Holy Fathers, transmitting the True Faith until the judgment day. There are countless denominations and sects that have fallen away from her, but she is not diminished. She has preserved the full true faith and life in Christ. She is the one holy, Orthodox and true catholic Church because she alone possesses the fullness of the truth, the right belief (orthodoxia), and, therefore, of the grace of Christ. “I confess one baptism for the forgiveness of sins.” Just like there is only one true Church and Faith, there is only one true page 30
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baptism. To be baptized means to be immersed under water for the remission and, inseparably, for the healing of sins—not only those sins acquired, but also and especially our propensity toward sin in our fallen nature inherited from our fallen first parents, Adam and Eve. Thus, in the triple immersion of baptism, the old fallen person who was separated from God is buried, and he or she is born anew through the Holy Spirit, rising from the third immersion as from a watery tomb and putting on Christ. It should be noted that, in the Orthodox Church, the baptizer (priest or bishop) is the server of the baptism, but it is not he who energizes it. The Lord Jesus is the Celebrant who invisibly energizes the baptism through the priest’s or the bishop’s actions. This is why the Orthodox clergyman never says “I baptize… in the name of…” but rather, The servant of God . .. is [at this moment being] baptized in the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” The priest or the bishop acts as the audible voice and visible hand in the place and type (en topo kai typo) of Christ the Divine Celebrant, not only in this but also in every mysterion. “I look for the resurrection of the dead, and the life of the age to come.” This is the hope of all Christians. And the Nicene Creed provides us with the opportunity to proclaim our faith daily in the anticipation that our body will rise from the grave and be reunited with our immortal soul. And thus restored as a complete person, we will be judged, not by angels, not by demons, but by Christ alone, “for the Father judges no one, but has committed all judgment to the Son” (John 5:22). The Nicene Creed, or Symbol of Faith (Symvolon tis Pisteos), as it was called at the First Ecumenical Council and is still called in the Church to this day, is vital for all believers because it preserves and teaches the truths of God in its time-tested declarations. It dispels all false teachings, heresies and schisms—past, present and future. The relevance of the Creed today shall endure throughout all the tomorrows to come, assuring, protecting, comforting and grounding our children and us in the Truth. It is no wonder, then, that the Fathers urged the faithful to recite the creed daily, in their morning prayers. We also need to honor in prayer and gratitude the 468 Fathers who participated in the writings of the Nicene Creed at the First and Second Ecumenical Councils. For the Orthodox believer, it is our spiritual legacy that we must always maintain without change, revering and preserving it, because exactly as Holy Scripture is the word of God, so, too, is the Nicene Creed. God inspired and man wrote.
Fr. George Zervos is protopresbyter at St. Nicholas Church in Jamestown, NY. George S. Gabriel, PhD, is the author of Mary: The Untrodden Portal of God (Zephyr Publications, 2000).
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from the Department of
e knew not whether we were in heaven or on earth . . . We know only that God dwells there among men.” As St. Vladimir’s emissaries found, heaven and earth meet in the Church through the Divine Liturgy. The newest full-color zine from the Department of Religious Education begins with a brief history of worship in the Orthodox Church and then details each section of the Divine Liturgy.
Heaven on Earth Student Zine (M09)
Heaven on Earth Teacher Guide (M10)
1 unit of 6 lesson plans
1–50 $3.95 each 50+ $2.95 each
Special features include a “visual dictionary” of liturgical items, a look at Church architecture, and an exploration of the Creed’s scriptural foundations. Develop active understanding and engagement with prayers, hymns, readings and the Eucharist by combining the student text with the comprehensive unit in the Teacher Guide. Suitable for age 10 (grade 5) and up—for use in the classroom, during retreats or at home.
The Teacher Guide for each middle school zine is a comprehensive classroom unit of 4–6 thematic lessons. Each lesson’s activities and discussions lead students to a deeper understanding and active application of the short texts in the zine. The lessons follows the five-step “shared Christian praxis” format, described in the introduction to each guide. 1. Focusing activity: Draw students’ attention to the theme of the class session, using a story, allegory or symbol. 2. Naming present praxis: Help students identify a part of the Orthodox Tradition or their current way of life. 3. Reflect on present praxis: Help students inquire about and consider the implications of their life or the Orthodox Tradition. 4. Access the Christian story and vision: Segue into the content of the lesson, which includes
activities and discussion, in addition to the zine texts. If the students have not read the zine’s passages before class, this would be the time. 5. Appropriate the story and vision: Students make the Christian “story” their story. Students retell the teachings in their own words, responding to and interacting with them in an authentic way. 6. Decision for lived response: Students take what they have learned and consciously decide how this lesson can be put into practice and bear fruit in their lives.
from the Department of
hrist’s greatest gift to us is the Eucharist, the “Sacrament of Sacra-
ments.” It is the central event in the Orthodox Church and the highest form of our worship. Through the themes of remembrance, thanksgiving, forgiveness, and community, Of Your Mystical Supper explores the mystery of the Eucharist.
The first in a series of zines for high school students, the text introduces the fullness of the Church’s teachings with Scripture and excerpts from the Fathers, such as St. Nicholas Cabasilas and St. Justin Martyr. Of Your Mystical Supper helps readers develop a more mature understanding through engagement with the tough questions—including ”Why is the Eucharist closed?” and “Why do we insist that bread and wine become body and blood?” The zine also describes liturgical practices and traditions, such as the making of prosphoro. Suitable for age 13 (grade 8) and up—for classroom, retreats or home. Student Zine (M11); 20 pages Teacher Guide (M12); 1 unit of 5 lesson plans COMING SOON! Order now for later delivery.
1–50 $3.95 each 50+ $2.95 each $9.95 each
St. Photios Greek Orthodox National Shrine
Polly Maouris Hillier
here are many reasons to visit St. Augustine, Florida. At 437 years old, it is America’s oldest city with a rich and multicultural history. There are many well-established attractions—even Ponce de Leon was impressed with its water (Fountain of Youth Archaeological Park), and today visitors are amazed with the city’s full-size replica of Michelangelo’s David (in the courtyard of the Ripley’s Believe It or Not Museum). The coastline runs about fifty miles along the Atlantic. From the beach, it is quite common to see pelicans fly in formation overhead while dolphins swim in the distance. There are many houses of worship in St. Augustine, but if you are looking for art in the Orthodox Church, then the iconography of St. Photios Chapel in St. Augustine’s Colonial Spanish Quarter is the place to visit. The chapel is attached to the 1900-square-foot building initially known as Casa Avero. The Averos built this family home in 1740 during the First Colonial Spanish Rule. As per the Treaty of Paris, the Spanish abandoned Florida and the British ruled St. Augustine (1763–1783). Casa Avero remained empty until 1777, when Governor Patrick Tonyn gave the building to the survivors of the New Smyrna Colony. The refugees found sanctuary there. It became their place for prayer and fellowship. These pioneers comprise the first permanent settlement of Greeks on the continent. Here is their story. Dr. Andrew Turnbull was a Scottish doctor who served as an envoy of the British Crown assigned to Asia Minor. With the 1763 Treaty of Paris and help from the English government, he became an entrepreneur who in 1768 wanted to establish the largest colony in the New World. Turnbull page 34
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planned to create plantations to grow cotton, hemp, indigo and silk in order to capitalize on the needs of England’s Industrial Revolution. However, he was hard pressed to find workers. Northern Europeans were reluctant because Florida seemed too foreign. At the same time Parliament was at a loss in how to help the Greeks out from under the yoke of Ottoman rule. Turnbull’s colony needed workers and the Greeks needed a new situation. This arrangement would provide a place in which Greeks could live freely and establish themselves under a flag of freedom. Turnbull found the work force he was looking for. In the spring of 1768, eight ships left the port of Mahon, Minorca, with 1,402 on board. The pilgrims left their homes in Smyrna, Asia Minor, Crete, the Mani area of Greece, Italy, Corsica and Minorca. They came as indentured servants who after seven years of service were promised freedom and fifty acres of land. They landed in St. Augustine on June 26, 1768, minus more than 200 of their fellow travelers who had died en route. After taking on fresh supplies, they sailed seventy-five miles down the Florida coast to establish the 101,400 acres granted to Turnbull. He named his settlement New Smyrna, after the birthplace of his wife, Gracia dura Bin and his oldest son, Nicholas. Turnbull arrived with 1,200 settlers, but he had provisions for just 500 people. From the onset, the situation was dire. It seems that about 100 people died every year due to neglect and the harsh treatment of the overseers. In fact, the plight of the colonists is best described as one of broken promises, dreams replaced with nightmares, and the realization that there was no way out from this situation except for death.
In more recent history, Dr. E. P. Panagopoulos wrote the book New Smyrna: An Eighteenth Century Greek Odyssey after years of exhaustive research. James and Stella Kalivas, George and Olga Fotiou, Tom and Despina Xynidis, Steve and Gerry Sarris, and Spero and Martha Zepatos (all residents of St. Augustine) embraced Panagopoulos. They presented the information to Archbishop Iakovos and petitioned for a memorial in honor of the first Greek colony. On discovering that Casa Avero was the actual refuge that housed the surviving colonists, they convinced owner Walt Frazier to sell. Although they had no firm agreement from the Archdiocese, they signed a binder to purchase the property. Today the Archdiocese honors these individuals with the title “Founders,” in recognition of the tenacity of Olga Fotiou and Tom Xynidis and the faith of the Kalivas, Zepatos and Sarris families. The Archdiocese purchased the building in 1965. The property became an archaeological dig under Florida State University archaeologist Kathleen Deagan. On June 13, 1972, Casa Avero was listed with the U.S. National Registry of Historic Places. In 1984, the American Institute of Architects recognized architect Ted Pappas of Jacksonville, Florida, with the prestigious Award in Excellence for his restoration of this colonial Spanish building. On February 27, 1982, it was dedicated as a national shrine by Archbishop Iakovos to the memory of that first colony and to all Greek immigrants who came to these shores seeking a new world and a new life. St. Photios the Great was Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople during the middle of the ninth century. The Orthodox Church honors St. Photios as a theologian, a supporter of missionary activity and a defender of the Faith. We celebrate his feast day on February 6. All of the icons in the chapel have been executed in the traditional Byzantine style, which expresses visually the the-
ology of the Greek Orthodox Church. There are five domes with archways depicting twelve saints. Most of the icons have been painted directly on the walls. These fresco icons were panted by brothers George and John Filippakis. The fresco to the right of the entryway depicts St. Photios teaching Sts. Cyril and Methodius, whom he sent into Moravia to preach the Gospel of Christ. Visitors learn that this resulted in the conversion of the Slavs to Christianity. On the left St. Photios is seen in the court of the Emperor Michael III. The icon teaches us that St. Photios is called to become Patriarch of Constantinople, the capital of the Byzantine Empire. For many non-Orthodox visitors to the shrine, this is their first time in an Orthodox house of worship. Inquisitive travelers can follow the chapel map, reading the descriptions of each icon. Reactions vary, but the feedback generally echoes that of the tourist who declared the shrine to be a peaceful oasis in the historic district. Others have called it the jewel of St. George Street. Through May 31, 2009, the shrine is hosting the exhibit “Painted with a Needle: Folk Embroidery of Greece.” There are examples of crochet work from the Monastery Panaghia Voithia in Chios, as well as domestic and ecclesiastical needlepoint, crewel, embroidery and other textile applications. Paraklesis (Supplication) services are held Fridays at noon. St. Photios Greek Orthodox National Shrine is open to the public Monday through Saturday, 9–5, and Sunday, 12–6. Admission is free. For information, visit www.stphotios.org, call (904) 829-8205, or e-mail email@example.com.
Polly Maouris Hillier is the director of the St. Photios Greek Orthodox National Shrine. PRAXIS
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From the Director
The Challenges of Our Times Dear R eader, When we began thinking about “Teaching Difficult Topics” as a cover story for this issue of PRAXIS, one of the first questions we had to clarify was what made a subject “difficult.” We gave our authors the following explanation: First, there are topics that adults have always found uncomfortable to discuss with young people, like sexuality. Second, there are topics on which the Tradition of the Church is not as clear as we might like. For example, although we might say that the Orthodox Faith is antiviolence or antiwar, there are “warrior saints.” Related to this, there are topics that are unique to era that had not been faced in the past, like stem-cell research. Third, there are issues about which well-meaning faithful disagree, such as the role of government in our lives. I hope that you agree that the authors in this issue have shed useful light on how we may begin to address these difficult topics in our parishes. With this definition of “difficult,” it’s easy to develop a huge list of possible topics. All one has to do is pick up a newspaper, watch the evening news, or surf the Internet. We live in challenging times. It’s not possible to pretend they aren’t—difficult topics touch our lives daily. One day religion seems to be on the wane; the next it is growing in importance. Science and technology advance almost daily, raising new ethical dilemmas. A new film or book can change
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our dinner conversation overnight. Keeping up is a full-time job, and sometimes as soon as we think we understand, we find we are already out of date and need to begin again. Although the Church may be referred to as an “ark,” shielding us from storms, the Church sails in the storm and does not pretend that it isn’t raining outside. The Church may be an oasis, but oases exist in the desert. The Church should be a place where we can examine topics of importance to our era, what our Faith Tradition has and has not said, and our own attitudes about them. It’s always important to ask ourselves about the reasons behind our opinions and values. As people of faith, we believe we have something to say about these difficult topics, but in order to say something, we must study both our Tradition and the topic itself to the best of our ability. Preferably, we should look at reliable primary sources and documents. Teaching and learning are inextricably linked. To be a better teacher, one must become a better learner.
Anton C. Vrame, PhD Director
The Tower of Babel This story is found in Genesis 11:1–9, immediately after the story of Noah and the Ark. We might assume that the story depicts events related to Noah’s family, but the text only describes the characters as “they.” The story explains how the Lord multiplied the languages of the world from one single language (v. 1). The reason for tower’s construction comes a bit later, “And they said, ‘Come, let us build ourselves a city, and a tower whose top is in the heavens; let us make a name for ourselves, lest we be scattered abroad over the face of the whole earth” (v. 4). When the Lord visits the tower, He is shocked at the audacity and of the builders, so He “scattered them abroad from there over the face of all the earth, and they ceased building the city.” In the image we see workers building the tower.
Published on Jul 19, 2011