Ιερά Μονή Αγίου Ιωάννου Προδρόμου Καρέα
https://www.imaik.gr/?p=695
Export date: Mon Aug 8 19:21:47 2022 / +0000 GMT

Subjects for the catechetical work in the parish


 

INTRODUCTION


tChristian education or teaching is also known in our Church History with the word "Catechism" which is the instruction of individuals in the faith and tradition of the Orthodox Church. The catechetical work was, from the beginning of Church life, one of the main duties of the Church itself. The Church had to teach her members (adults and children) as a mother teaches her children the art of life.


Catechumens were named those people who were instructed in Christian faith and were prepared for baptism and the full participation in Church life. Still we have in our Church this instruction, the catechism, not only for those who are going to be baptized, but this teaching tradition of the Church helps us, the Christians, to know deeper our faith and to live the real Spiritual life in the Church. So the Orthodox faith is handed down from generation to generation through teaching. Parents, clergy and teachers do this teaching and are called Catechists and they have to work hard to continue the same tradition. A catechist is called to be a vehicle of the Holy Spirit. He does not say his own thoughts, his own ideas, and his own points of view. He expresses what Jesus Christ teaches. He is open to accept what Holy Spirit says, because He is the source of all wisdom and goodness.


The Orthodox teaching always stresses the spiritual messages of the Holy Bible, the doctrinal truths expressed through Church Tradition, the biblical texts and the Church Fathers' teaching. Especially the Orthodox Liturgical services and the Feasts are always “training school” for the believers, and the source for a genuine instruction. We, today, are heirs of such teaching tradition and try to keep this experience of Christian education more than 2000 years.


Here in our attempts to assist catechists in their teaching work we prepared and present this series of material with subjects concerning the “Orthodox Christian Catechesis” as an effort of the whole Community in the Orthodox Parishes.


For this work the catechists dealing with teaching adults and young children can find more help in the subjects of the manuals: “Material for Mothers Unions' Meetings” and “Teaching subjects on Orthodox Christian Life”. In the present manual we are dealing with the catechetical work in the Parishes, put some stress on the children's Christian guidance and on the personality and the work that a catechist does. He can use the materials of these manuals according to the age of people he has in front of him.


E.G



1. ORTHODOX CHRISTIAN EDUCATION AS AN EFFORT OF THE TOTAL PARISH COMMUNITY


Christian education has the purpose to introduce a person to a truly Christian life that is to help the person to know, to understand and accept the Church life. This acceptance happens successfully in the life of the whole parish community where every person stops to be a separate individual and becomes a vivid part of the One Body, the Church.


Fr. Alexander Schmemmann says: “The essential aim of the Church is not merely to offer knowledge about God, not training a human being to become simply a “good person”, but to “build up” a member of the Body of Christ, a member of the new “chosen race” and the “holy nation” (1 Peter 2:9) “whose life in this world began on the day of Pentecost”


Christian education is a means to the end which is the communion with God and the life in His Kingdom. So Christian education leads us not only to know about God but leads us to know of God. That is not merely to know theoretically about God, but to have experience of God's life. It is to lead us to “the life of grace, of communion with God, life of love, unity and spiritual progress towards eternal salvation.”


Christian education is not a matter concerning only the priests or the catechists but it is an effort of the family and the total parish community. It is a process that starts at very early years of life at home and takes place in all dimensions of Church life: through worship, through teaching, and through practice of our faith in family and community life.


In order the Christian education to be effective and contribute to the building up of the real members of the Church, these three dimensions (worship, teaching, and practice) must be closed related. Therefore, whatever plan we make for educating people of our Church, we must take into consideration that the real education takes place and becomes permanent through worship, through teaching and through our life in community that is the practice. These three dimensions – worship, teaching and practice – are traditionally the way of Christian Education in Church. Through them the Church members come to know in depth the Christian faith, to know themselves, to know who really they are, to know their responsibilities and their relationship to God and to the other people.


We shall examine in some details how we can use these three dimensions (ways) in catechizing-educating people in the Church.




  1. 1.       Worship


The Orthodox Christian catechesis uses the Orthodox Worship to introduce anyone into the life of the Church. The first step is the believers to be taught in every detail all about the worship in the Church, to be helped to know and understand the deep meaning of the Church services.


The Divine Liturgy must be in the center of Christian education. It is necessary for adults and children to be explained carefully and in any detail what exactly is the Divine Liturgy and what it is the meaning of everything that we do in it. “Taste and see how good is the Lord”, we sing in the Divine Liturgy. “Taste” is the meaning of experience and “see” is the meaning of understanding. So through these senses we understand and experience the Grace of God, which is given to the participants in this great Sacrament.


The Divine Liturgy catechizes us through the experience and understanding the deep meaning of every detail of the Liturgical actions. The essential role of the Divine Liturgy helps us to become responsible members of the Church and Christians in the full meaning of the word. That is why we must start catechizing the members of the Church very early. The understanding of the Worship is very basic for our spiritual life because it leads us to the assimilation of Christian doctrines and to the practice of the Christian life. The Worship is the perfect “school” for the Church members where they learn clearly how to live at home and at society with the other people.


Worship introduces us to the reality of God's Kingdom and His presence among us. In the Worship we have a revelation of God Who exists, what He has done for us, how He loves us, and how we are expected to respond to His love. It is really in the Worship that we encounter Holy Trinity and His love, enter into His presence, and experience the reality of His Kingdom, so our life finds its destiny which is our perfection. In the Feasts of the Church we experience God's acts of salvation that is the events through which He saves us. We read the Scripture and sing the Church hymns, which speak about the feast events. With the Church Feasts we mean the celebration of the events of Jesus Christ's life on earth, of His Mother and of all the Saints.


In Worship the word of God is proclaimed in readings, in hymns, iconography, movements, colors, music, incense, processions and other Liturgical actions. In the sermon, the priest takes the written word of Scripture and transforms it into our daily lives. He has to lead us with his speech to understanding of the Church life, and calls us to respond in faith through prayer, repentance, confession, sacrifice and love.


As members of the Church we need to be carefully trained in order to understand what is happening in the Church services and how through our behavior can help others in worship. Only then we shall be able to catechizing others properly. We have not any excuse when, being members of the Church, we do not know to make the sign of the cross in an Orthodox way. This is the least we have to do as Orthodox Christians, but it is very important because through that we are worshipping God and confessing our faith.




  1. 2.       Teaching


Teaching others (adults or children) the Orthodox Faith provides us with opportunities to shape first of all our understanding of the “why” we are Orthodox Christians and clarify the meanings of the correct faith that has been revealed to us. Before going to teach others, young or adults, we have to ask ourselves if we understand fully what God wands us to do and if we have the deep faith to Him. Only then we will be able to teach successfully others.


 The catechetical schools or other teaching opportunities must present the real Christian life and the foundations of the Christian message. The Scripture, the Divine Liturgy, the doctrine and the spiritual life must be presented in relation to life, not simply theories and generalities that have little or no relevance to our life, and have not any result to others.


The meaning of who we are as Orthodox Christians and what we believe must be able to be reflected back through our worship and our actions in every day life. These questions help us to see if we are truly Christians and live according to Jesus Christ's teachings. The Orthodox teaching includes practical guidelines for children, youth, parents, and adults generally on how to live a Christian life. This teaching, in order to be successful, needs to provide living examples or experiences in Church life, in order to be understood what it means to live and act as a Christian community.


The actual purpose of teachings is not simply to acquire knowledge, but to be able to assimilate that knowledge for our personal and spiritual growth. Through the teaching we must be able to deepen our understanding of the words and actions that we experience in the Divine Liturgy. During the teaching we can have the opportunity to discuss the relationship between the theory and actions, to examine our behavior and to set goals based upon our knowledge and experience.


Together, worship and teaching contribute to the development of a Christian spiritual life which is actualized through living the Christian life.


3. Practice and Application.


It is through the practice that our worship and teaching are translated into action. In this case of practice we focus on understanding and applying of God's revelation in our lives. The worship is the “What” of our life as Christians, the teaching is the “Why” and the application and practice is the “How”; how we realize and apply the faith in our daily life. Catechism through practice becomes personal and not remains general theories but involves the practice of skills and values, and the working on virtues. Only then we can say that the teaching becomes vivid life and brings salvation.


Through all of them, worship, teaching and practice we strive for the deification, the perfection that is described as “communion with God, as love, unity and spiritual progress towards eternal salvation”.


In the fellowship of the others we learn to transform words into deeds. Living in a family or in the community of the parish, we learn to transform the theoretical teachings into deeds, everyday actions. We learn by working side-by-side with the others who are trying also to work out their salvation, and we become disciples of Jesus Christ in this process.


We learn how to serve others, to care for God's creation, to act rightly and justly, to be patient and keep silence. We learn how to listen to the others, not criticize them, and how to speak. As we struggle for our souls and spiritual improvement, others may learn from our efforts, from our attempts.


We may become teachers for relatives, friends, neighbors or strangers, simply by who we are and how we behave. In this sense, each of us, as a member of the Church, is a teacher. But whether our teaching is good and successful or not depends only upon our knowledge of the faith – how deep and correctly we know it – but mainly upon the deeds we practice. Our example teaches better than our speech.


Generally we learn how to transform our life through the effort of personal prayer, through reading and thinking on the lives of Saints, and through the counsel and direction of an elder or a father confessor. Through all of them we can have wider understanding of Church life and increase the spiritual relationships with others. Education through practice (and example) is very important and creates a strong foundation for our spirituality. It helps us to become aware of our spiritual needs, to be engaged actively in our own spiritual struggles, and to acquire skills necessary for witness out faith.


Jesus Christ and His Saints are models for how we should behave towards others, towards the world and towards God Himself. Whether we become involved in the society or engaged in services to others Jesus Christ provides the examples of how we think and act as Christians.


Priests, catechists and parents when they are active Christians can help other persons to become aware of their need to undertake responsibilities, to engage in their own spiritual struggles, to acquire skills necessary for serving God and people in the Church, to have friendship and fellowship and to participate in acts of mercy and love towards others.


In the modern societies the individualism is reigning in all the human expressions. The interpersonal relationships, the trusts and the concern for one another have replaced by concern only for “myself”. The unity in the family and in the community suffers from continual breakdown or simply does not exist anymore. In such environments the Spiritual life of the Church can provide a healing and supportive role for people to find their way to God as members of the Orthodox Church.


Our daily life and work must be an extension of our participation in the Divine Eucharist and an experience reflecting what we lived and experienced in the Divine Liturgy.


Our daily life cannot be separated from Church life, but must be a witness of it. Only then we can say that the worship, the teaching and the practice educated us and changed our life, and through these we can educate the new generations. Exactly this can be our catechetical work in our Parish and in the Church generally.


2. PURPOSE OF CATECHESIS (SUNDAY SCHOOL) IN AN ORTHODOX PARISH


The Church Catechism is not something we discovered during the last decades. In the Orthodox Church we have a heritage of two thousand years of Church tradition in teaching and instruction. It was established from the very beginning by Jesus Christ Himself. He was the first great Teacher and He commends us, through His Apostles, to: “Go and make disciples of all nations teaching them” (Matt. 28:19–20).


As the early Church grew and developed, Christian catechism became a basic part of the community life. The faithful had a constant training in the knowledge of God. The catechumens (people who were instructed in Christian faith) through teaching were prepared for the full participation in Church. This instruction, the catechism, still remains until today. Always people need to know the real faith, and to practice it. So through teaching in the Church we succeed to bring up people in the Church life, in order to know and to live the true teaching of Jesus Christ.


In the Christian history the instruction in faith is called “Catechism”, that is teaching of the Orthodox faith. The catechetical work is from the beginning, one of the main duties of the Church. The Church has to teach continuously her members (children and adults) and feed them spiritually as a mother feeds her children and teaches them the art of life.


The Church Fathers, from the first centuries of Christianity up today, devoted themselves in the catechetical work. Many of them have written their teachings in many volumes. Also they have written their views on the teaching matters and explained in details how the catechism ought to be done. Their views are the guideline for us today for our teaching in today's Catechetical Schools, as we call the Sunday Schools. The person who does this catechetical work is called “Catechist” and the pupils, the persons at any age, who are under training, are called “Catechumens.”


A catechist (a teacher) is called to serve God through teaching the Christian faith and to be a vehicle of the Holy Spirit. He does not teach his own thoughts and his ideas, his own points of views. He teaches what Jesus Christ has taught us, what our Orthodox Christian faith is. He can be an instrument through which God works in the lives of people.


In the Orthodox Church the teaching has always put stress on the spiritual messages of the Holy Bible and the doctrinal truths that are expressed through Church tradition and the Church Fathers' teachings. The Orthodox Liturgical services were and still are the training schools for the believers and the source for a real instruction.


We shall see in brief what the exact purpose of teaching in Catechetical Schools is. And it is necessary for each one of us, who does this work, to have clearly in mind, all the time, the purpose of this work in Church. It is this purpose that will determine the value of the work, the methods we shall use, and will measure the effectiveness of our teaching.


That is, if we have clearly in our mind the purpose of our teaching then we will be able first to adapt our teaching to the peoples' abilities in order they to understand and accept the messages, and secondly to evaluate our work. If we read St. Paul's epistle to the Ephesians (4:11–15) we will find an answer to our question: “What the purpose teaching our faith to people”?


St. Paul says that the teachers have to teach: “For the perfecting of the saints for building up the body of Christ, speaking the truth in love”.


(a) “Perfecting of the Saints.” Very clearly here is put the goal of the Christian teacher's work: to perfect, or equip saints. Listening to that, we stay with some kind of astonishment. We have some doubts and many questions because sainthood to be the goal of our teaching work seems unbelievable!  We usually think that sainthood is a quality that is not fitted in everyone from people we teach and also in ourselves. But this is a wrong view. This goal is based on the human nature. Human beings are created in “the image and likeness of God.” That is, we are given by our Creator the potentialities of becoming like Him, to become perfect. So the goal of catechism is to help people to reach their great destination the perfection, to get their full development in Christ, to become saints, to reach deification.


The understanding of that goal of Christian teaching has important implications in the whole catechetical work. That is why a catechist every time after his teaching has to ask himself the following questions:


1. Did I succeed, through my teaching today, to give some help to these present people to work for their own perfection? 2. Did I give clearly the messages in order they to understand them and easily to put them into practice? 3. Did I stimulate my peoples' learning or I offered only theories and general ideas? These generalities and theories are boring and not raise the interest. 4. Was my lesson simple and understandable by these people who were in frond of me or I taught in vain? 5. Did I help these people to make one step forward to their personal maturity, and to their spiritual life?


(b) “For building up the Body of Christ”. Through our teaching we have to give people (adults and children) to understand that they are not separated individuals but they are connected closely with the others, and whatever they do they have to take into consideration the others. They have to take care not to harm or to offend the others, but to respect them, because the members of the Church are parts of One Body, the Body of Jesus Christ.


As members of the One Body we depend on the other persons. We are united with the others and this is the unity of faith and love. Through this unity we can become perfect. This means that if we cut off ourselves from the others (if we stop to love them, to care for them) and we act alone as individuals we shall be lost and spiritually we shall die. The teacher in the catechetical school has to teach that only in love and unity with the others we can be saved from the weaknesses and the spiritual death. Through the teaching in Church people are helped to become good citizens of heaven, while they will have good relationships with the others in this life.


(c) St. Paul says; “Speak the truth in love”. This helps us to understand the essential quality of our teaching work, which is “to speak the truth and “speak in love”. In our catechetical work we have to “speak the truth.” And the first thing we have to do is to know perfectly the real truth and to try to stay stable on that truth and not influenced by theories or ideas that are not accepted by Orthodox Church.


Yet it is not enough to memorize the truth (the faith) and merely to present it to the people. We need something more than that. It is not enough to know the “content” of our faith. We need something more: we need to practice this in our everyday life, and to present it “in love”. This is an important educational presupposition in our catechetical teaching. We must try every moment to put into practice what we teach. A humble patience on our part and a deep love for the people are basically required from a catechist. He must have in mind that the call to teach is the opportunity to continue the process of his own spiritual improvement through his service in the Church.


If we really want to serve the Church through teaching the Orthodox faith we have to try to acquire the very good habit to examine frequently ourselves as a teacher asking questions like these: 1. Do I understand deeply the massage of this subject and did I make an attempt to put into practice it?     2. Did the content of my teaching helps people to gain the knowledge of God and strengthen their relations with Him? 3. Did I give to them some practical ideas for their personal struggle or I gave to them theories and general ideas?


Only in that way we can say that we fulfill the purpose of our work in CatecheticalSchool and we can influence the people who are in front of us paying attention to the Word of God.



3.  WHEN SHOULD CHRISTIAN EDUCATION BEGIN

We hear many times this question: “When should Christian education begin”? “At which age the children must have the catechetical lessons?” There are people who say: "We have time to start teaching our children when they will grow up. Children are too young to instruct and catechize them. Leave them to be grown ups and then teach them about faith and Church life..." Or others say: "Knowledge will come with the age..." "When the children begin to think and to understand they will be ready for education..." etc.


We can say that answers as these, are delusive. And delusions like that are disastrous for the children and for all the society. Because if we leave our children without Christian guidance and training from the first years of childhood we destroy with our own hands the future of our community, in other words, we destroy our life. In the Old Testament, the wise Sirach teaches us: "Do you have children? Instruct them, and make them obedient from their youth". (Wisdom of Sirach: 7:23).


It is a real delusion to believe that the children are unable to learn when they are young. This shows that we do not know at all the child's abilities to learn, to think and to understand. If we know the child's characteristics we answer to the question, “when education begins?”, that the best age to begin the Christian education is the infancy, if not earlier than that.


There is a proverb, very wise really, saying: "What the child learns, the adult does not abandon". We see, frequently, parents to be powerless with their older children's behavior because they did not take the trouble to train them in their tender years. Also, in ourselves, we find bad habits that now we cannot change them because we are used to them since our childhood and now is quite late to do something.


The same it happens with our spiritual life. It is much more difficult for an adult to change his behavior than it is for a young child. It is not easy for us, in our adulthood, to change our way of life and we need a strong will and deep work to do it in ourselves.


A short story from the Church life can give a vivid example for our spiritual struggle that must start as soon as possible in our life.


"An old Monk, distinguished for his holy life and his understanding of the human soul, once gave a command to one of his disciples: "Uproot this tree from the ground", he said. “In obedience to the Elder the disciple undertook the task. But the tree had already gown deep roots and, in spite of his efforts, he couldn't move it. "Father", he said: "What you have told me to do is completely impossible!" The Elder showed him another tree, a young seeding. The disciple immediately uprooted it without any particular effort. Then the Elder said: "Look, you could do nothing with the tree that had grown deep roots, but you could easily pull up the young seeding tree... Think about it..."


We also, as teachers-catechists, have to think about it. The uprooting of the bad habits and bad behaviors in an old age is much more difficult, even impossible, than in the early years of age. As catechists we must be deeply anxious for the Christian and moral training of the children to plant in them the faith since they are very young.



Why the training must begin in early childhood?

 1) The child grows continuously and rapidly. We know that never does human nature develop so quickly and in so many ways as in first years of childhood. The bodily development advances quickly and steadily and also the spiritual even more so. Very early the child forms his first concrete ideas, learns to think, to reflect and grasps the love of God.


The child's will grows stronger and gradually begins to work independently. His mind is working perfectly and enriched by his surroundings and very soon he starts to apprehend the idea of God. He develops the feelings of love, hate, satisfaction or shame. A child is a full-developed human person and his childhood is the most important and decisive period of his life. It is unfair for the catechists to lose this so important period of life and leave children to grow up without any help from the Church through teaching.


 2) The training has a two-fold purpose: to uproot and to plant. The childhood is the best age for this training: planting and uprooting. The work of a teacher is to observe constantly the inclinations of the child and, with proper training, to uproot whatever is bad habit. If he delays to do that the evil becomes well rooted and the child's heart becomes overgrown with weaknesses and then that will be very difficult to pull the wrongdoings out.


To train a child is not only to uproot evil, but also to accustom him to do the good from a young age. This is the best period of life to cultivate in the soul of a child the faith in God, obedience, truthfulness, love, humility etc.


 The adults, some times, think that the children have the right to do something bad or evil just because they are children, and they try to excuse an uncontrollable, disobedient, greedy child. But the best period of training is missed and the child is left alone to fight for his character. Some adults say: "But they are only children", "We cannot take their fault so seriously!"


These ideas, many times, serve to justify and excuse children's faults and bad habits, but also to cover up our own indifference and neglect over children's upbringing and education. Our carelessness in training children makes us to justify ourselves and to say: "We cannot demand or expect virtues from a child", but why not?  Was not our Lord Jesus Christ given us as an example the little children, and told us to love them?


 3) The child very early in his life starts to express his own desire. For example, if an infant discovers - as quickly as he can - that he is able to get whatever he wants by crying, he will cry until his desire is satisfied. The more often this is repeated, the more stubborn and capricious he will become. The same happens with other human expressions and feelings; with the passing of years they are manifested in their full extent. That is why it is necessary to begin training as soon as possible to control of the desires.


As the child starts to know good and bad things, he needs help to desire the good and to be accustomed in doing it. The child at that stage must be guided and trained to this from the first years of childhood, so that later, when he shall understand the good, he shall exercise his will and do that.


We see in the life of many Saints that from childhood they, with their parents' help, cultivated the virtues of godliness, obedience and simplicity.  Jesus Christ says of children: "Let the little children come into me" (Mark 10:14). That means, children have the abilities to understand what Christ teaches and they are capable to live according to His commandments.


Training from early childhood in the Church


Training from infancy is possible. It is even indispensable. Therefore the teachers have to start educating the young members of the Church as soon as possible. We have to be very careful with instructing young children in the Church life. This means that our catechetical lessons have to start early in order to train the children according to their age characteristics.


St. John Chrysostom, concerning the work of parents, says: "Do you complain that your son is unmanageable? You could easily have corrected him while he was yet a child. You could have accustomed him to order, to study, to consistency in his duties. You could have treated the weaknesses of his soul.  When the ground of his heart was still suitable for cultivation, you should have uprooted the thorns, before they were firmly rooted. Because of your negligence, the child's passions will now be very difficult to overcome".


The Holy Scriptures make clear to us the basic reason why we must accustom children to good from their infancy. The wise Sirach writes: "If a youth chooses his path, he will not depart from it when he would be old". That is to say, if a man even from his youth chooses the good path, if from his young years he loves the good, knows and loves the will of God then even when he grows old he will not change. The proverb: "As in the cradle, so in the grave", reminds us the same thing.


More than other traditions, the Orthodox Church emphasizes the religious importance of infancy. Even from the very first weeks of child's life, the child is the object of special Church services: at eight days after child's birth we have the naming of the child and at forty days his Churching, that is his presentation to the Church. The most important is that the infant can receive the three Sacraments: Baptism, Chrismation and Holy Communion.


So the Church makes the infant a bearer of the Holy Grace and protects him from the power of evil from the very beginning of his life and before his full development of his thinking and understanding. The holy Sacraments, which the infants receive, are channels of the gifts of the Holy Spirit that are kept open in the life of the children.


The bringing up of the infant takes place in the family. Usually the parents and other adults, who live with him, are the first educators for the infant. The family is mainly responsible for the Christian education of infants. Later the young child receives Christian education from school and especially from the Church.



4. ROLE OF PARENTS IN HELPING CHILD'S SPIRITUALITY


Parents play a basic and very important role in helping the development of the child's spirituality. We must have in mind that the most significant part of child's life is spent at home under the immediate influence of his parents and home environment. An authoritarian, strict parent creates aggression and hostility, while a democratic and mild one leads the child to constructive and good behavior and to get the idea of the Church life.


The child very early in his life has vivid models to imitate, the parents. The good and wise co-operation in love between the parents helps enormously the children to overcome any difficulty and to develop spiritual traits. Through the parents' love and real interest children find easily the way to God and His teaching. Children who remain helpless and rejected at home are becoming cruel, unfriendly, unhappy, ready all the time to quarrel, are impolite, boastful and selfish. They have not any contact with God and the other people.


That is why it is urgently need the parents to train the children with a deep Christian way in order to help them in shaping their own spiritual personality, to know the love of God and to become good members of the Church. If the parents wish their children to be stable in their life, good members of the Body of Christ, the Church, with sincere thoughts, feelings, attitudes, goals and ideas, they should treat them accordingly and start teaching them the God's life, especially through their example,.


It is one thing to tell theories about teaching children and quite another to put them into practice, because without actions the theories are useless. Parents need the theories in order to do their teaching work properly. We are going to see here some aspects of the parents' behavior at home that can clarify their attempts in leading the children to the life of the Church.


Usually it is easy for the couple to blame each other, to blame the relatives or the school environment for their children's poor behavior and ignorance of Christian life. Certainly we must accept the tremendous influence, both positive and negative, that parents, relatives, school and home environment have. Let us focus especially on what the parents are doing and not doing at home where child's development is primarily improved.


1. Children's guidance


Children's guidance is the primary role of parents in shaping child's spirituality. They have many opportunities to know children's abilities and weaknesses and to guide them properly to the Christian life. They can, and should, do many things in order to assist children in their religious development. Parents need to understand the children's stress and help them to cope with their failures. Children usually experience failure in many of their activities and attempts. They have to be guided to try again and again and not to be disappointed but call God's help.


Sometimes the child begins to choose to act irresponsibly and usually to get rid of any attempt, or he runs way from his feelings of disappointment after a failure. This child is in a very bad situation and needs desperately guidance. The parents are the proper persons to play this role for guiding the child to try to become strong enough to face difficulties and failures.


2. Parents' anger


There will be times when a parent seems to be angry with his children and he will need to show anger even he does not feel it; he expresses it in order to help the children. If the parents really love the children, whatever are their actions, then the children should be able to understand that the parents' anger is not directed against them as persons, but only against their undesirable behavior, against the bad action.


The child then feels sorry because his actions have embarrassed the parents who love him. This is an effective way for child to understand the great truth: “hate the sin not the sinner”, and he becomes capable of making the distinction between himself and his own bad behavior and to think that: ‘My parents love me but not my bad behavior”


The situation becomes very bad if a child is the innocent victim of his parents' anger that really belongs elsewhere. In this case the parents are, from different reasons, ready for an explosion and they need only a slight spark to set it off. Some behavior of a child supplies the spark, and this child catches the full force of the explosion. Parents in such situation cannot be a good model for their children and more than that they are entirely unable to guide successfully the children in the spiritual life.


When parents are angry, from any reason, there is an important rule that they have to follow: "Never put a punishment when you are in a state of uncontrolled temper”. It will lead to an aggressive behavior, or it will leave permanent scars of fear and disappointment. Of one thing the parents can be sure: punishment or any command under these circumstances will not help the children to the self-discipline, self-control.


 3. Parents' ambitions and expectations.


 The parents have to expect from a child only that he can do according to his age and to his abilities. Otherwise their expectations can be a problem for the psychological and spiritual development of the child.


Parents must be ready, with patience, to listen to what children are saying, to find out what they are thinking and feeling and to understand their point of view. Only then the parents will be able to lay aside their own ambitions and recognize who their children are exactly and what they need. Sometimes the parents are eager to have children clever, progressing all the time, to fulfill their own ambitions. The only success that, at the end, these parents have is to destroy children's personality! Parents, therefore, have to avoid, by any means, such behavior and they need to encourage their children to try to improve their own abilities by any means.


4. Parents love, accept and protect


Love, acceptance and protection are three strong and powerful characteristics of good parents. One cannot force anyone else to love; the only thing that that it needed is help from outside. Parents must give to their children this help and real love, which is an unselfish concern for each one child. The infant can experience love with the pleasure he feels in taking food or having rest in mother's arms. It can overcome any suffering in love relationships.


It is very easy for a child to expect the parents to solve his problem, to make the decisions for him and he believes that this exactly is love to him. But this is a very great mistake. The real love is to guide the child and allow him to decide by himself and to try to solve little problems he faces.


Parents love all their children as they are and not expect the same behavior from all of them, and not separate them in “good” and “bad” ones or in boys and girls. This division creates great problems in all of them and is the very heart of many troubles and the basis of a very bad upbringing. Parents have to accept all their children as they are unique persons and try to do whatever they can to help them. The feeling of acceptance by parents is very strong and becomes source of power for every child and very good training.


 Another expression of parents' love for children is to help them to feel security which is necessary for their early age, and that parents are available when they need them. This feeling gives children a sense of security and is prepared to meet the new stresses of the peer group at school and the society later, and generally with this confidence the child forms good relationships.


A parent must love his children without having an urgent need to be loved and respected by them. He, who needs children in order to gain significance for his life, has rather failed in his parental work generally. He is always afraid of losing children's love and so he does not dare to deny anything to them and to control their behavior. Such parents feel threatened and in order to have children's love become over permissive or tyrannical parents.


Parents must be permissive to their children but not over-permissive. By that we mean that they have to accept the normal childish behavior and the individuality of each child and give them freedom to try to do by themselves their best. Over-permissiveness is not love, brings anxiety and increases demands for privileges that many times cannot be granted. An over-permissive parent fails in training children in their personal spirituality. Child has to learn to accept love and to give love, to face suffering instead of running away from it. This is the best way to be prepared for his life.


Unhealthy emotions are often taken mistakenly as love. We have cases that parents hang on their children with possessive affection and the hope of been loved and respected in return. The results are almost always disastrous. Sometimes parents think that they love their child if they try with any means to protect him, but this is a mistake. Overprotecting and domineering parents do not prepare their children to develop correctly their personality. Parents have the temptation to make decisions for their children rather than guiding them to decide for themselves. So they do not love really the children and do not help them to improve their ability to stand on their own feet.


5. Parents respect children


Parents have always to remind themselves that they have in front of them children with their own personality, with their own thoughts and feelings, with their own expressions. That is why parents must very early to become aware of what a child thinks and feels and to show respect to him. Children give easily many clues of their inner world.


Their feelings become obvious through their words, the tone of their voice and through gestures. All that the parents need to have is ears to listen, eyes to observe and a heard to feel in order to show respect to children for what they are and to avoid criticizing and condemning them.


Have ears for a child, listen him with sensitivity is very important for a normal development of his personality. The child experiences frustration when the parents seem uninterested in his feelings and thoughts and they do not respect him. As a result the child believes that his own ideas are stupid and unworthy of attention and that he himself is not loved. Parents who listen with attention help the child that he is respectful. “Only men who stand as children before God are ready to respect and teach children”, says R. S. Lee.


6. Freedom in upbringing children.


God created us with the great gift of freedom. A child needs to be treated as a free person in order to develop his inner abilities. Generally it is easy for an adult to treat a child as a thing rather than as a free person because of his immaturity and helplessness. But the golden low of rearing a child is: Treat children as free persons, never as an object.


 Freedom does not mean license to do whatever one wants. The child's desire for independence is natural but he must be taught that it always comes with responsibilities. And anxious parents do not create free responsible persons. Parents are often moving between permissiveness and authoritarianism. Through these ways they try to educate their children and at the end they fail. Children who were brought up in fear makes a child's character very weak; he has not any confidence on himself and on others.


 In controlling a child continuously for any reaction there is the danger of destroying his personality. On the other side the lack of any guidance and a complete freedom may leave him feeling that no one is really concerning about him. But when a child feels that he is important to the parents, not just because he is “good child”, but because the parents care for him as he is, even the most difficult situation can be faced.


5. PARENTS-TEACHERS AS GUIDES IN CHRIST FOR THE CHILDREN


The aim of life


To be a parent or a teacher in the Church it is a special blessing by God. It is a blessing and, at the same time, it is a very serious responsibility. God gives the children to us and wants from us to be good guides of them to their way to reach the aim of their life. Parents and teaches have to lead the children carefully and successfully to their personal aim of life which is "the form of God". In fact this is the final aim of all human beings. We are created "icons of God" and we have given by God the potentiality to become like Him. The Church Fathers say, “God became man that man might become god”. Here we can see the aim of human beings.


So the aim of our life is to reach diving life. We -the human beings- have been created because of God's great love, to become "gods out of His grace". It is really a magnificent aim. It is an aim above everything else and beyond every material and human achievement. We in our every day life, used to put different kind of aims and try to fulfil them in any case. We wait to have a good family, to have riches, to be educated, to have positions in the social life, to have a good and easy life, and so on. All these seem to be good, but not enough for our life. Not even one of them is the real aim of our life. These can became only means to our trying to fulfil the real aim.


Parents and the Church teachers first of all have to realise the real aim of their own life and to work consciously to that direction. And secondly they have to help the children to acquire and find the real aim of their life.


Guides in Christ


How we can be guides in Christ for the children? A child is not able to find its own aim of life in Christ. We would like to say that here is a matter of a general spiritual atmosphere in which children taste God's presence and His love. If parents and teachers have this spirit, even without words, children can acquire the desire to know God and find the way to Him. If the aim of our life is to reach divine life, this means that every moment has extremely great significance; every aspect of our life needs to be treated with wisdom. Also we must have in mind that without Christ we cannot get anything.


So we have to ask God about what to do, what to say, and how to express what we say. We have to "invite" divine grace by prayer. We must pray in the morning in the evening, at any moment in order to know God's will and to achieve our highest aim and to help our children reach it.


The child's spiritual needs


The child's spiritual needs are many, but we are going to mention some of them: Love, spiritual care, prayer and some of the needs of a child.


 Love.  Every child needs to be welcomed with love into the family and in parish community. The love which a child receives from the others since the beginning of his life is irreplaceable. It is a secure foundation on which he can build his life and find its real meaning. Lack of this love -for any reason- leaves wounds which are incurable in the child's life, unless the child receives the special grace of love God that happens when someone who lacks parental love in early life succeeds to find the way to God.


But in the every day life we see many people who are too weak to bear sufferings from missing the basic love and become unable to face their life. Unlimited parental love then is the first that a child needs since his early life.


Spiritual care. We know that the mother during the pregnancy takes some physical care. This is important, but it is not enough for the child inside her he needs something more. We know from Holy Scripture that from their mother's womb children can sense the presence of God. You remember St. John the Baptist who leapt in his mother's womb when he recognized the presence of the incarnated Lord. In the life of St. Sergius we read that when he was in his mother's womb he kicked her at the most sacred moments of the Divine Liturgy. So it is necessary the parents to live a Godly life and the mother to take spiritual care for the child even when it is in her womb.


The parents and the catechists have to pray constantly for the children because these children belong to God. The prayer and the Sacramental life of parents and teachers are the best guides of children to God. Also their thoughts and feelings provide the atmosphere in which the children develop.


Prayer. Parents and teachers in order to guide children safely to Christ must have a vivid prayerful life. They have to pray constantly, that is before, during and after any duty, especially whatever concerns teaching. They have to say “the Jesus prayer” and to leave everything to God Who is always present and in His great love solves any problem we refer to Him. This prayer influences deeply the children and guides them successfully.


Once a baby is born the parents' love for the child is expressed in many ways. Here we want to mention the spiritual expressions in every day life. One - perhaps the biggest - is prayer. The parents can say their own prayer near the child. In other words, they can surround the child with their prayer. They can pray inwardly when they hug their child. They can bless the baby with the sign of the cross, and ask God, and the Mother of God, and the Saints, to bless and protect their child. When the child is asleep the parents can pray and make the sign of the cross over the child's body. This payer is a fundamental power for the child.


The needs of a child. The child needs to belong, except of family, to the wider community of the Church that is why he has to entering as soon as possible to the Body of Church. In the Orthodox Church there are special services for the child when it is named on the eighth day, on the fortieth day the child is dedicated in the Church. Parents should not neglect these opportunities and go to the Church to meet the priest and to get the blessing.


St. John Chrysostom in his work "On the Education of Children" speaks about the naming of a child. He knows the custom of giving a child the name of a relative or of some hero from the tradition, but he suggests that children should be named after a holy person, so that they have a Saint as their example. We should make each child aware of the Saint whose name he bears and we can pray to that Saint to bless the child. We can have - if it is possible - an icon of the Saint and teach the child about his patron's life.


Our Church receives very young children (infants) for Baptism and Holy Communion and she is not waiting until they grow up in order to choose their own way. Men some times ask why Church does like that. The answer is that the parents feed the baby just from the beginning of his life and not wait till he is old enough to decide on his own the kind of food. And all parents talk to their child very early in his life and they do not leave him till he will choose what language he will speak. We have to realise that the Church does the same with the Holy Baptism, which gives us spiritual freedom and does not take away our freedom.


Parents should lead their child to Baptism as soon as they can. The grace of Baptism is never taken away; it may be covered over by sin, it may be left uncultivated, but it is there for ever. Children who have the seed of Holy Baptism are more likely to turn to God as adults, even if they have not been educated Christians.


Parents in their attempt to protect their children from the influence of evil they bring them as soon as they can into the kingdom of God. S. Koulomzin says “During the very first weeks of his life the infant receives three Sacraments: Baptism, Christination and Holy Communion. So the Church makes the infant a bearer of grace and protects him from the power of evil long before he shows any hint of awakening intelligence and understanding. In that way there is a perfect background for the future adult whose life is reaction to a development received in infancy”.


6. CHILDREN'S CHRISTIAN EDUCATION


It has been known that the Christian education of children should be carried mainly within the home, within the family and in the Church. The parents are the first teachers for the children and they are called to teach their own children all about our faith and lead them to the way of Church life. After parents the catechists come to continue this work in the Church. This teaching has to be start right from the early child's life.


Prayer, the most necessary


When parents are dealing with children should be guided by prayer. As we have seen in our previous subject prayer is the whole atmosphere in which child should be brought up. A home is blessed when the family is praying and the everyday tasks are accomplished with the spirit of prayer.


When we are speaking of prayer we do not mean only keeping a prayer rule. Mainly we mean a constant prayer with our mind and our heart. It is not so difficult to try that way. It is only a matter of habit; we mean that everyone can regularly during the day pray, slowly, with all his being, putting everything else out of his mind and saying: "Lord, Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me". The intensity of the prayer, even if it is so short, has the effect that the feeling of prayer of God's presence remains for a long time, even if the person is occupied with other tasks.


If we live in an atmosphere of prayer it is more difficult to get angry to somebody else or to feel despair. And it is easier to follow what God inspires our heart to say or to do. Decision or reaction which is governed by the prayer is a successful one. Also in answering children's questions the parents and the catechists should be guided by prayer, acknowledging before God that He alone knows what is best for the child.


Parents and teachers have to pray constantly for the children. Also they have to pray with children; to give them a good example of life of prayer.


"Example is everything"


Something which is very important for every parent who is his own children's Christian educator is that: "example is everything" and becomes the best teacher. St. John Chrysostom says that “if children hear their parents speaking in an insulting or aggressive manner, they will learn to speak in this way too. A thousand words do not teach so many things as the example”. The same of course has to do with the catechists.


Obedience is something that children should learn from a very early age, as a natural part of life. Here also the example of the parents and of the adults is of supreme importance. If the parents are not seen showing respect for each other's will, the child will not learn obedience. Obedience is spiritually vital and children have to acquire it when they are young, because there is very difficult to learn it later. It is hard for a selfish adult to change if he has been spoiled since childhood.


It is also spiritually necessary for the children to learn patience, humility and love. Again the parents' example is of a great importance. The children learn much better from the parents' reaction in patience to sickness, to difficult moments of a death, than from their words and theoretical teaching on theses subjects. By example also children can learn to share their things with others and to help the others who need it.


Our relationships with God should be relationships of love only. With this kind of relationship we must inspire children. We should never punish or threaten children using God's name. Never suggest to a child that Christ does not love him when he is naughty, or saying that he is ill as a punishment from God. Do not turn God into a kind of punisher or policeman! Children will hate Christ who is a "policeman" or the "one" who sends illness, punishments and what ever bad thing in their life. So they think that God does not love them when they are naughty. This is disastrous because it is not true. Christ is only love and always loves sinners and He died for them.


It is important for children to see and feel that their parents love each other and there is agreement between them. Practically this means that if the mother and father have a disagreement, it should, as far as possible, be resolved peacefully. Parents should not quarrel, especially in front of the children, or contradict each other. If children have seen their parents to quarrel or disagree, they must see them also to be reconciled. So parents teach through their own example forgiveness and reconciliation.


The Christian education of children is mainly done by example and by the atmosphere of love and prayer in the home. By these the child's heart is deeply touched; without many explanations he acquires prayer as a natural activity, and without logical proofs he knows God's presence.


St. Nektarios always remembered his grandmother's love and how she stood in prayer before the icons. Love, prayer and example, are more effective than words. These lead children to God. Our work as parents or teachers of Christian education is often a hidden work. It is more through life than through words and endless teachings and advices.


Icons as means of education


In our Church we have the icons of Jesus Christ, of Mother of God and of the Saints. The icons are a good way for children to know and love Christ and the Saints. Even from a very young age the children can come in touch with the icons. They like them. Icons speak to all of us directly and visually. Adults tend to verbalize their own experiences, while children often understand deep theological meanings through icons. They learn about Jesus Christ, His life, His miracles, His death and Resurrection. They learn with an easy way about the life of Mother of God and about the Saints.


It is suggested parents to have at home some icons and through them to teach children about our faith. Also they have to teach children to make, in a proper way, the sign of the cross. Teaching the sign of cross you teach children very fundamental truths and basic theological meanings.


Attending Church services


Children in our Church are full members of the Body of Christ. We do not have special children's services, because children in Church are equal members of Christ's Body as adults are. And we all experience the services of the Church not only by mind but by heart also. Even if a child cannot yet understand all that is happening, he can see, hear, smell, taste and touch for himself and experience the presence of the Holy Spirit. We must not deprive our children of this experience. We must prepare them to appreciate it, to look forward to it, and to participate in it by prayer, by attending the services, by receiving Holy Communion and in as many other ways as possible.


Frequently it is necessary to explain to children what is going on in the service. Let children ask questions about all these happening in the Church. We can also encourage a child to tell Christ about his own difficulties, problems and joys. During a service, if he is tired of following it, he has to ask God to help him to appreciate the service and to ask His blessing.


Receiving Holy Communion


Children should be prepared for receiving Holy Communion from the earliest possible age, and look forward to it. Parents and catechists later have to discuss with children all about the meaning of the Holy Communion and to help them to understand that we are receiving God Himself, His Body and His Blood. For that very important event we have to prepare ourselves with repentance, prayer and respect to God. We have to pray before receiving Holy Communion and to thank God afterwards. It is very important children very early to learn some practical things they have to do when they are going to receive the Holy Communion. (Parents and catechists can find relevant information about “practical points for receiving Holy Communion” in the TEACHING SUBJECTS ON THE ORTHODOX CHRISTIAN LIFE chapter 27).


Educators, first of all must not forget that the measure of grace we receive from Holy Communion depends on our repentance and the feeling that we are unworthy to receive God in ourselves. Our humility is that which attracts God's grace. The tradition of our Church is that the preparation is very important for receiving Holy Communion. About this preparation we have to speak to children and to inspire them to love this preparation through all life.


As you know there is in our Church a special service of preparation but if it is difficult for children to read by themselves, parents can do it a day before receiving Holy Communion. Also they must ask each other's forgiveness before receiving the Holy Sacrament.


A prayer for children


“O Lord Jesus Christ, Who loved and blessed children, have mercy on the children of our time and save them. Make, O Lord, the un-baptized children may be baptized and be strengthened in their faith to You Who are Love ineffable. Save, O Lord, those children whom unbelieving parents and teachers corrupt them with atheism and turn them away from You, our Savior.


 Save those children whose pure soul is destroyed by all the immortality in the streets, in the parks, and save them from the impurity of the today's society. Save, O All-merciful Lord, those children who are orphans and have fallen into the hands of cruel guardians or those who are supposed to rear them but do not. Save them from hearing blasphemous words and from seeing malicious deeds.


Save, O Son of God, the children who are going here and there, without giving by the others any guidance in Your holy law; without training them in truth and mercy and in all deeds of goodness and righteousness. Help the children of this age, O Almighty One, so that they may grow up and mature to Divine and heavenly citizenship, for their eternal salvation and for Your glory and praise. Amen”


(You can use this “prayer for children” when you pray for your own children and for the children all over the world. This prayer is writing by Bishop Nikolai Velimirovich in his book: “The Struggle for Faith”).


7. ORTHODOX CHRISTIAN TEACHER WHO IS HE? WHAT IS HIS WORK IN PARISH? 


1. Catechist's vocation – his calling


An Orthodox Christian teacher (catechist) has a special vocation in the Church. He has a call from God to serve people in the Church through his teaching and guiding them in the faith of Jesus Christ.


The purpose of human life, as St. Seraphim of Sarof said, is the “acquiring the grace of the Holy Spirit, the God.” He explained that the meaning of any action, or any way of life, is not in what we actually do but in how we do that and in the measure in which our work or our actions fill us with the Holy Spirit. If the teacher's work in the Church is done with these feelings, then it is a real vocation which is enriched by God's Grace.


The important thing is whether our activities bring into our heart the inspiration of Divine Grace. Then our work, whatever it be, teaching, singing, gardening, cleaning or helping others, will become our real vocation. When a teacher participates in other's spiritual development this work is for him a real channel of Divine Grace. When he feels that his own personality becomes more and more real as he communicates with the students in front of him, then he has real vocation, he accepts the God's call.


When a catechist teaches others Christian faith he himself is the first who is influenced by this teaching and he learns more and more concerning the faith of Christ. So this work penetrates him and he becomes a channel of Divine Grace. He becomes the vehicle through which the Christian faith makes its impact on a person's growing mind.


Sofia Koulomzin in her book “Our Church and our Children” says: “It is indeed a stimulating experience to become a wire through which passes God's powerful electric current. Once you have experienced this, you have found a real vocation and feel that it holds you”.


The catechist with his teaching work introduces others and especially the younger generation into the fullness of the life of the Church. In order to do that he has to pass to them his own authentic experience of Church life using a convenient teaching in order they to have the proper experiences.


No books, even the best of them, no programs even well prepared, will replace the personal influence of the teacher, and his good example. We know very well that we teach mainly by our example than by instructions. Of course we use books, methods, plans in our teaching work, but we know that the teacher basically passes his personal experiences to his pupils. That is why he must be an inspired, faithful and open-minded person in order to use any textbook in creative way. A narrow-minded catechist teaches mechanically and in a dead way, without any good result.


If the Orthodox Christian teacher's faith, however small, is sincere, authentic and continuously increased, if he is spiritually a “growing” person (not a static one), if he is humble, loving person who tries to learn continually, he has all of them which make a “good teacher”.


Many young people, who sincerely would like to serve the Church in this field of teaching, hesitate to undertake the work of teaching our Orthodox Christian faith to people, because they feel they are not qualified to do so. This feeling is good, if it is sincere, but it must not stop them to go on trying their best. They must have in mind that the call to teach is the opportunity for themselves to continue the process of their own spiritual maturity through their service in the Church.


2. The catechist as a person.


We shall mention here some aspects from the teacher's (catechist's) personality which can influence the people he is teaching.


a) The teacher has to accept the call from God to serve with humility the Church through his teaching and guiding the pupils to the life in Christ. This acceptance means that he is willing to offer himself to God and to people. Of course he is not able to do this service by his own abilities and his own qualifications but he offers willingly himself and the grace of God is coming on him and makes him able to carry on this important duty.


The catechist willingly gives himself to God to serve Him and His people. He believes that when he is ready to offer himself to Church work he does a small percentage of the whole work and God Himself shall do the rest. “I give you what I have…” (Acts3:6) St. Peter said to a needy man. He had “no silver and gold”, he had Jesus Christ the Savior and that he gave to man. The Christian teacher offers the treasure of his faith in Christ. He is not trying to give something else but that faith with all his possibilities and capabilities.


b)Humility is very important in teaching work. The catechist must know very well his own capabilities, accept them thanking God for them and does not complain for what he has not. The humble teacher is conscious of his limitations and accepts that not all pupils in the class are pleased with him, and not all of them are interested in his lesson even it is well prepared.


 Humility protects him from getting upset when he has failures in his teaching work. In these occasions he has to say to himself: “who am I to be successful all the time? I have to try again and again.” And also has to pray asking God to make his mistakes means for the benefit of himself and of his pupils. These thoughts help the teacher to improve his humility and to avoid frustration and disappointment.


c) We all agree that the capacity to love the pupils (children or adults of teaching group) is the most important trait for a teacher. Love is the moving power in the educational work. We educate if we love, we teach successfully if we love pupils and all who are in front of us in the classroom and love also the subject we teach.


Love is an enormous aspect, the only foundation of the Christian education and the most important trait for a catechist. In order to say what is love we shall mention here the definition of love given by Apostle Paul: “….Love is patient and kind, not jealous or boastful, not arrogant or rude, not insisting on its own way, not irritable or resentful, not rejoicing at wrong, but rejoicing at right, bearing all things, believing all things, hoping all things” (ICorinth.13:1-7). (Read carefully these advices and think seriously).


If we ask ourselves: Do we have such a love? We answer: no! But we should not despair. Exactly this is our struggle. This is our way to follow in our teaching job through a real love. We accept all our pupils. We rejoice when they prove to be right and we hope that the most difficult pupils will be touched by the grace of the Holy Spirit. Love is to show respect for each one and treat him with politeness and real love. This kind of love is a very important aspect for every catechist who tries to guide others in the life of Church. If he sees the pupils with the eyes of love, his service in the Church is successful and he becomes a real spiritually mature person.


3. The faith of a teacher


Something which must be taken into serious consideration is the faith that a Christian teacher has; in other words if his faith is the true Orthodox faith, because he is going to give thought teaching what he has. If he has the true faith of Christ he gives it; otherwise he gives his own ideas, his own views, and so he fails as Christian teacher.


Faith is a basic dimension in the process of teaching work. It is a personal matter which relates directly the teacher with God Himself. But, we know that, the teacher teaches through his personal spiritual maturity rather than through his speech. Faith is to “know” God, to know that man is created to become “like God”, to know what God has done for human beings out of His love. This faith is the basic force that keeps man moving out to meet God, to become fully what He wanted from him to become “like God”.


The faith is literally the foundation of our teaching in the Church. We cannot give if we not possess. It is impossible to speak about God if we do not know Him and His endless love for us, if we are not full of faith in Him. Our purpose in teaching is to inspire, to strengthen the faith in each individual. And that becomes possible only when our faith is firmed, unmoved and strong enough to face the difficulties and the doubts that come frequently.


Faith is not something static, it is not something given once and for all. But it is something which can be improved and become deeper through teacher's experience of participation in Church life, through his constant trying to know more and more about the Orthodox faith and, of course, by God's enlightenment. That is why the willingness to learn is a decisive factor for a teacher. Through knowledge the faith becomes stronger.


Every catechist has to try by any means to learn more and more about his Orthodox Christian faith. He should have a pretty good knowledge of the Holy Bible. He must have a good idea of the meaning of the Old Testament, especially to understand the real and seep meaning of the events of the world's creation by God; because people have so many wrong ideas about what is referring to Genesis first chapters concerning the creation and the fall of human beings. The catechist must have the correct faith on these events of creation in order to pass this faith to persons in front of him.


The catechist has to know well the Liturgical life of the Church, which is so rich and deep that he has continuously to try to know and understand its deep meaning. The Liturgical life of the Church is so rich and deep that we must always try to know and to go deeper in its meaning. Also to understand the Sacraments of the Church, the Liturgical Tradition in Worship, the doctrines, as they expressed in the Creed which we recite in our worship.


We are living in a society which, in majority, does not know Orthodoxy. So the catechists are constantly facing by choices and decisions. They have to be ready to face the challenges and to speak about their faith, about Orthodox attitude to life and to death, about the deep meaning of Orthodox spirituality, prayer and salvation in the Orthodox Church.


4. Orthodox Church Tradition


Another dimension which plays an important role in catechist's work is the Holy Tradition of the Church. We mean that the catechist has to know well the Tradition of the Church life and also to serve the Church in that Tradition. Many people have problems concerning their tribe traditions.


They say: “we have our own cultural traditions, which in some cases say something different from the Church Tradition. We are confused, what have we to do? Which tradition do we have to follow”? If the catechist knows exactly what the Holy Tradition of the Church is, he has not any doubt to follow it leaving all the other traditions and teach only this Church Tradition.


Tradition, generally, is what is handed or transmitted from one generation to the other. When, through our baptism we accepted the life in Christ and we belong to the Holy Orthodox Church, we must follow exactly to what the Church teaches us to do, and be faithful to this Holy Tradition.


The Church Tradition interprets the writings of the Church Fathers, the decisions of the Ecumenical Councils and the Holy Scriptures and Jesus Christ's teaching. This Tradition includes the Holy Sacraments, the veneration of our Lord's Mother, Virgin Mary, and all the Saints as well as the Church life, the Holy services and the Divine Liturgy.


The Church Tradition is a vital basis in a catechist's teaching and that is why he must know well the Holy Tradition of the Orthodox Church and learn more and more about it. So the catechist will be able to teach others about it, too. The catechist must help the people to love and be comfortable in the Holy Tradition that can be, more or less, a “second nature” in their life.


8. ORGANIZING A CATECHETICAL CLASS


IN THE ORTHODOX PARISH


A catechetical class, in order to work effectively, must be carefully and well organized. We are here referring to some practical points concerning the organizing a class for teaching people in an Orthodox Parish.


(1) The first thing you have to do before you start teaching is to separate the pupils into groups according to their age. Don't mix children under 10 years old with teenagers or youth. It is impossible to make a real teaching and catechetical work if you have all the ages mixed up in one class. Your attempts to teach all of them at the same time in the same room will be in vain.


It is impossible for the children to follow the teaching which is addressed to adults, and it is boring for the adults to be taught with children. If really you want to have a successful class you have to separate them and to teach them in different hours. Have separate groups of early childhood children (4–6 years) from late childhood children (7-11 years). You must have separate groups with teenagers and other with youth and adults.


(2) Pay attention to the time of your teaching. Never give catechetical lessons during the time of Divine Liturgy. When the Divine Liturgy is going on you personally and the persons of the catechetical class must be present to participate in it. There is no any convenient time of the Divine Liturgy to take the pupils out of the church to teach them. The most important duty of all of us is to participate in the Divine Liturgy and not to do anything else even catechetical work at that time when the Divine Liturgy is going on. You, the catechists must find any other time convenient to you and to your pupils for the lessons, perhaps a time after the Divine Liturgy.


(3) The lessons must be done not occasionally but every week – on Sundays or at any other day of the week. Do not postpone, for any reason, the lesson for another occasion. Frequent and systematic lessons are necessary in order to have good results and to succeed in the purpose of teaching.


(4) Place of gathering. All of us understand how important it is to have a special place for the lessons. Of course if it is impossible to have such a place, it is better to have the lessons in the open air than to miss them entirely because of lack of place. If you have a room for teaching, try to keep it tied and clean. Have a blackboard and chalks to use them during the lesson. It is necessary also in the room to have one or two icons on the walls.


(5) Systematic attendance. You, as a teacher in the catechetical class, have to take special care for the frequent and systematic attendance to the lessons of the people. Practically it is suggested to have a special note book and to write on it all the names. Try to remember them and to address to them by their names. Also on the note book check their presence in each lesson. You have to pay attention to their presence in the lessons and from time to time you can praise them for their uninterrupted attendance. Show your interest for them and ask them about their absence from the lesson.


(6) Except of a well planned and successfully presented lesson in the class, try to organize also some activities for the attendants. Through them you will give the opportunity to the members of your class to use their own personal abilities. That helps them very much in many cases. We mention some of these activities and you can find much more to put into practice:      (I) Playing a drama in the class or in other occasions. Through that you give an opportunity to pupils to create good dialogues and to produce nice and meaningful dramas, through them many messages can be passed.  (II) Organizing a common work for the church building, for example cleaning the church building, doing work in the garden, planting flowers etc. (II) Collecting different things to offer to needy persons or visiting the sick and help them.


Some more thoughts for Catechists. We add some thoughts and expectations. To be a catechist is a special calling from God to work in His Church. This job in the catechetical field is a very important one. We mention here some expectations the Church has for the teachers of Sunday schools who are working in the Orthodox Parishes.


a) Love God and the Orthodox Christian Faith. The first expectation is the most essential. Love God and seek His will for you in your life, and ask His guidance in your teaching. Appreciate and try to know the depth of our Orthodox faith. Live this faith and let it show that you desire to spread it.


b) Love your pupils. Let your teaching work to reflect a true love personally for people and for their spiritual improvement. Show your care about each one individually. Try as soon as you can to learn and remember their own names, and be familiar with them. Try to learn something about them personally and their own problems; this can be a very good motivation for them to come nearer to you and pay attention to what you say.


c) Believe in the importance of teaching and commit yourself to this work. Jesus Christ said us: “Go…teach them to observe all that I have commanded you” (Matt.28:20). In Proverbs 22:6 we read: “Train a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not depart from it”. Your work as catechist is very important in the Church service. It is then necessary to commit yourself fully to it. Accept the challenge and commit yourself to the responsibilities of being a good catechist and doing your best. Be enthusiastic. Great zeal and inspiration come from God. The teacher's enthusiasm will show that he really cares about the pupils and believes in what he is saying. All these will influence the pupils


d) Prepare and present the lesson well. A very important work you have to do is to prepare well the lesson. Never go to the class unprepared. Set goals and plan for the entire year. Take time to prepare an interesting lesson with a variety of activities for each time you have lesson. The better prepared you are, the more confident you will be, the better the presentation will be and the more the pupils will learn and want come back for more.


e) Communicate well. Adapt your teaching material to the needs and level of your pupils. Keep in touch with the other catechists or with the priest and let them know what you are thinking about the lessons you are going to teach, or about your problems you face and the needs you have. If you are dealing with children try to have a communication with the parents and tell them how they can help their children to face their problems.


f) Seek to improve your teaching skills and to grow in faith. Try to find as much as you can helpful reading material and seek professional advice from anybody who can help you. Participate in teachers' meetings and do whatever you can to get as much as it is possible benefit from these opportunities. Pray, read the Holy Bible, participate regularly in worship services of our Church, and especially in the Holy Sacraments.


g) Be on time. It is so important that you arrive on the day you have the lesson early in order to prepare the room for your lesson, to greet people when they arrive, to start the lesson on time, and to set the example. If your pupils see that you are punctual, they will try hard to be on time themselves. Set a good example. This expectation is really the sum total of all of the above. Let your teaching and daily life show that you really care about faith. Strive in words and deeds to be the good Orthodox Christian and help your pupils to do their best in order to become so.


Generally the catechist has to: Pray that God will bless his attempts and the purpose of his teaching; to know very well the purpose of the catechetical school and to serve it with all his heart; to prepare each day's lesson carefully. The more self-confident he is, the better he will do his work; to know people in front of him personally and let them know what the rules in the Church life are and try to keep them. Lastly he has to encourage them to try continuously to put into practice what they learn and especially to participate properly to the Holy Liturgy and all Worship services of the Church.


9. HOW TO TEACH IN A CATECHETICAL SCHOOL


How we are going to teach? This "how" depends first on the age characteristics of people who are in front of us and secondly on the content of subjects which are presented to them. It helps us very much if we put some questions on ourselves before we start planning our lessons: “How can I give the lesson in order people to be interested in it?”, “How can I make God alive in their life?”, “What is the most effective way to teach the Christian faith to others in order to know God and love Him?”


These are questions to be asked by any catechist when he undertakes the Holy task of training people.


1. General teaching suggestions


(a) Knowledge of truth. In order to communicate effectively the Orthodox truths the first thing that is requested from a catechist is to know very well these truths. Knowledge is never enough if it is not connected with the personal experience, only that way it would be able to teach people.


It is taken for granted that a Christian teacher will sincerely try to live in his faith, as well as teaches it. This implies: daily prayer (constant prayer), participation in the Church services, frequent Confession and Holy Communion and all Sacraments, reading of Holy Bible and spiritual books, observing fasts, remembering Church feasts (Holy days), etc.


The Christian teacher must have a relationship of love to every needy and weak person and the ability to encourage them to any effort and struggle even the success is slightest. In other words the catechist must have a spiritual relationship with people whom he is called to teach. In this relationship the catechist not only he gives but also he receives, and in his prayer includes each person individually. The "togetherness", the unity is a great creative power that deeply affects the life of the Church parish.


b) How to present a lesson. The catechist must have in mind that he himself teaches only and the pupils learn. So he has to help them by any means to absorb the knowledge he gives, understand it and try to put into practice. This exactly is learning. The people learn when they are interested, when the new knowledge is related with their every day life, and when they feel the need or the desire to learn something useful for them. Having all these in mind the catechist tries to present properly the lesson doing a good and careful preparation of the subject he is going to present.


 (c) Preparation of the teaching subjects. The catechist must take seriously into consideration that the good preparation for teaching is fundamentally important; that is why we have here some practical ideas for preparing a teaching unit. Without it the catechist definitely fails in his teachign. So he must have in mind some steps to consider when he prepares the teaching lessons. These are the following:


1. Recall the whole unit of teaching and keep the aim of the lesson always in mind, by any means, to achieve it. 2. Read carefully the whole lesson, giving special attention to things the pupils have to take and to put into practice. 3. Prepare yourself in relation to lesson so that you will feel more confident and will be able to help your pupils in their learning. 4. Have always in mind the characteristics according to the age of pupils, who are in front of you, and adopt the content of lesson accordingly.


Another thing that is required from a catechist is to have constantly in mind some more practical points for his preparation in order to teach effectively: * He should be familiar with the content of the whole unit he is to deal with during the whole year. * He reads the whole lesson several days in advance in order to feel comfortable with the teaching material


* A day before the lesson sets aside for at least an hour to make a concrete "lesson plan" suitable for his pupils. He writes down on a piece of paper the plan and the questions he has to make; of course he can add more questions during the lesson.  * He must have clearly in mind what he has to communicate in each lesson. In other words the aim of the lesson must be all the time in front of him.


When a teacher goes to the class unprepared he says generalities, uninteresting things and the only success that he has is to communicate to his people the fact that he has not taken his ministry seriously. Proper preparation for lessons is really essential especially when they are given to children.


Usually we are exciting when we are going to give a talk to adults, and we try to prepare ourselves as much as we can. We are nervous and have an obvious anxiety before we go to class. But I have to say that lessons given to children need to be prepared even more than those for adults. The teacher has to work hard beforehand, and not to depend on the inspiration of the last moment at the lesson time thinking that the pupils are children!


Sometimes teachers pretend that they know what they are trying to teach when they have not really prepared it. But they have to pay much attention on the above teaching suggestions for preparation and make every time the presentation in such a way that they will have the people's interesting alive to accept the offering lesson.


(d) Planning the lesson.  We would like to stress the importance of "lesson plan" in the process of teacher's preparation. It is necessary for him before teaching the lesson to make a "lesson plan". He has to find the ways for conveying of new information. Also he has to state specifically the aim of the lesson, asking himself, "what I have to teach and why"? At last he has to find one of the various available methods of teaching to use.


We would like to suggest some practical ideas for planning a lesson. The steps you have to follow are: 1. You have to keep clearly in mind the aim of the lesson throughout all the teaching time. 2. Decide which method you shall follow and what questions you will ask your pupils. 3. Find interesting ways to reach your goal and to help pupils to grasp the new knowledge and experience.  4. Find material needed in your lesson – the Holy Bible, icons, pictures, anything else you need for the lesson.


Planning and preparing a lesson must be a teacher's own creative act. And he has to do that always before teaching work. Sometimes the lesson plan, however carefully prepared, may work out differently. Some unexpected situations may arise and the catechist must be flexible and leave a less important item, even if it was well planned.


          Some more teaching suggestions: ** Try to have as many information about the teaching subjects as you can. Do not stay only to material given by the teaching manual you have.  ** Put yourself in the place of pupils and ask yourself, “Is that clear to me?” “Do I understand fully this point?” “What I expect from the others?” ** Try to have in the lesson a good mixture of reading, story telling and reflective discussion. You can adapt the lesson as the situation demands. But you are obliged to have always a lesson plan.


 ** Take into serious consideration the interests of your pupils, and try in any way to keep their interest alive. ** Try not to overwhelm people with great deal of general information. Give only whatever is concerning the aim of the lesson. No more, no less.


** After each lesson spend a few moments reviewing the session. Ask yourself what went well and why; or what went wrong and why. Consider how you can improve your next lesson. This step in your teaching work is very important and you never omit it; stay for a while for an evaluation of your work and be sincere with yourself.


2. Methods of teaching


For an effective teaching work we must take into consideration some practical ways of presentation of subjects. These ways are known as methods of teaching. Method is everything that a teacher does to teach and through which a pupil learns. Methods are ways of communication.


It is known that communication is completed by the response of the people. A complete teaching process may be characterized as communication, and its success depends mainly on methods we use each time. With the word "method" we are referring more specifically to "techniques" which are aids to teaching and learning. And when we say that a teacher has to decide between the methods which one he shall use, we mean which technique he shall follow for presentation of the whole lesson. An experienced teacher comes to class having in mind not all the appropriate methods but the method he is going to use. It is better for him to be prepared in advance in one method in order not to be confused with what he will find teaching.


We suggest the following four methods of teaching: Teaching by telling, teaching by showing, teaching by doing and teaching by group discussion. Every time we use a method convenient to the subject and to the age of our pupils. In the method of teaching by telling we have not only oral explanation of a subject but we pass the massage better if we use convenient stories, which are interest to children and to adults. That is why we have to know how to narrate a story in order to have good results.


3. How to tell a story


Using in catechetical teaching, stories satisfies all the people from all ages. For the children the stories are longer than those for the adults. To tell a story well the catechist must do more than repeat the words written in the book. Pupils (from any age) are bored by poorly read stories. The catechist must tell the story in his own words – never to read it from a book. He must make the story alive and real. If the story has touched catechist's heart, if he received a message from it, he can do everything to help people feel the message too. To tell a story well he has to keep in mind the most important parts of the story so that the main idea of the story to be very clear.


     Use different tones of voice. Our voice has different tones. Sometimes we talk very low and other times we talk loudly, sometimes we narrate in a conversational tone and express our feelings with our voice. When for example we tell the story of the Good Samaritan and say that: “The traveler was going along the path alone, and he was afraid…” we should tell this part in a low tone of voice in order to give the idea of fear and danger… When we say that the traveler was attacked by the thieves who left him almost dead… we should raise our voice to give the idea of the attack and the danger that the travel was going through. Generally when we tell about something sad our voice should express sadness. If we tell about something happy, our voice should be happy.


Use the eyes. Our eyes can help us tell a story well. We can hold the attention by looking into peoples' faces. In this way we make each one to feel that we know he is there, listening. Each one should feel that we tell the story especially to him. We should look from one to another and with our eyes show the love we feel for each one in front of us. Our eyes also help to show our feelings about what happens in the story. So don't let our eyes wonder about the room, on the ceiling or on the floor, or out of the window. When we are speaking to people we keep our eyes on them!


Use gestures. When we tell a story we use different gestures. Our face, our eyes our smiles, all our body can help tell the story. Through gestures we express, for example, our enthusiasm and the others would feel the same experience that we have. We should smile when we tell something pleasant, beautiful; we should have a sad face when we tell something sad. With hands and arms we can make many gestures during the story telling in order to help the others to understand better the story. If we study the story carefully we will discover new ways to make it more alive and help the others to grasp the messages we want to pass. So we make the story vivid and hold the attention of people and please them.


10. WHAT A TEACHER HAS TO KNOW ABOUT THE TEACHING SUBJECTS


The choice of the teaching subjects depends mainly on the aim of Christian education. We have said that the aim of teaching people the Christian faith is to help them to know the Orthodox faith, to go near to Jesus Christ and to introduce them to the life of the Church; in other words to give them the sense of belonging to the Church. The basic truths of Orthodox faith, the great realities of Church Liturgical life and the moral and spiritual values of the Church are eternal, and so they are convenient for all people of any age at any time. These truths have a meaning and a purpose for every human being, at every stage of his development.


We have to pay special attention to the subjects we teach to people not to be merely information material presented in a systematic order, but to be reasonable explanations, which lead to experience, because the Christian life means far more than acquiring knowledge about it. It is something that is putting into practice just now.  So we avoid to leave doubts to the people who are attending the catechetical subjects; doubts in basic themes of faith and to supply them with information to be understandable, memorized and stored up for use at any time of their life. So we put stress on experience.


To live in God is not to have a mere knowledge about Him. Knowledge alone is not able to bring the experience of life in Christ. "Knowledge of God" is not the same as "knowledge about God". The knowledge of God brings the person nearer to God, and to people, in a relationship of love. All the theories and the knowledge about God must be a means to experience God.


With our teaching subjects we help children to come nearer to God. But we, the teachers, cannot "make" people to achieve this sense of nearness, and to know God.  We can only prepare the soil, water it, fertilize it and plant the seeds through the proper training. But the act of the seed's growth will remain the response of the person himself to the grace of God.


We can say that our work among people is successful if would help them to know of God. There is no moment when the process of acquiring knowledge of God can stop. The best achievement of Christian education is to have the persons to realize that this process of acquiring the knowledge of God is continuous one and that it demands efforts throughout the life.


General subjects of teaching


(a) Events of the holy Bible.  Through stories and events from the holy Bible we can teach people the content of our faith. The importance of telling especially the stories, parables etc, from the Bible, lays not so much on the actual plot of the story, but on the fact that it gives basic messages to us. The great message is that God exists and He shows Himself in the life of the Saints and of every faithful person with his acts.


The first ideas about God that the people can grasp are those of His love, His concern for us and for the world we live in. The freedom, given to us with our creation, seems to be a difficult idea, but even the youngest ones can grasp it, if we use the proper Bible stories, parables or events, and give the indispensable explanations. We have also to repeat this important gift of freedom many times in our teaching.


The stories of Adam and Eve in paradise, (Adam giving names to animals, of how Adam and Eve lost paradise, and of God's promise to them about their salvation etc.), can be told simply and factually in order people be able to grasp the meaning of human freedom. Through the events of the creation of men and their fall, God's promise of salvation, of the birth, the teaching, the death and the resurrection of Jesus Christ, we represent the truths about God's love for people, and His expectation for our return to Him.


It is equally good to tell the stories of Christ's miracles, showing that He cares for people and helps them. The story of Jesus Christ and the little children and of course the event of His nativity, are always well liked especially by the children. (The same stories can be told many times with the children actively participating in them).


With Bible parables and the meaning they have, people, according to their capacity, recognize the idea of "right" and "wrong" and the importance of the responsibility of choice and its consequences and they grasp the meaning of the sin (which means missing the aim of life and breaking of relations with God). Also people, even the young ones, are mature enough to understand the meaning of repentance and to feel sorry after a bad behavior and to ask forgiveness. This especially is a very important lesson for everybody to learn.


The story of the Prodigal Son, for example, is the most direct presentation of God's love and man's returning to Him and asking forgiveness. It directly gives many vital messages to pupils of any age. A person can understand these deep messages and the most spiritually mature older people find them completely meaningful. With them we can discuss the difference between the Prodigal son's repentance and Adam's response after his sin. He blamed of Eve and she blamed of the serpent. They did not accept their own sin, blamed the other and did not ask forgiveness.


 People many times have the tense to blame others about what happens to them, and find difficulty to understand their situation and to repent. We also can speak about the difference between Peter's denial and Judas betrayal. Peter was repented and cried bitterly, while Judas instead for repentance he did something very bad, he hanged himself.


Generally we can teach people, in our catechetical school, much better through a well remembered and well-liked Bible story reflecting God's love, God's care and His protection, than through theories and bare statements like these: "God loves us", "God is love", "we must love Him".


(b) Christian faith. All the concepts of Christian faith are understandable and acceptable by persons of any age. We insist on that because some people have the impression that not all the truths are acceptable by children. This opinion is not correct because the understanding and acceptance depend not on the age of the individual but, first on the way we represent these truths and secondly on the person's desire and his free choice after listening to the truth, to accept it and to put it into practice. Exactly to that direction the teacher has to work, to interpret the ideas and the impressions in terms of the person's experience of life and through Bible teachings.


Speaking of teaching doctrine, we come to the concept of the Holy Trinity. People early in their life have learned the use of the words: "In the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit", since these are used in the prayer and in the worship. Now we should add some more basic ideas that will help them to understand better the whole theme. We can use some Biblical stories, which we shall interpret correctly from doctrinal point of view. In the story of creation of the world and human beings we find the first knowledge about the Holy Trinity, the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. The Creator is speaking in plural saying: “Let us make humankind…”


Orthodox people see in the church building the icon of the Holy Trinity depicting the visit of the three angels to Abraham who is addressing to them as one Person. The story can be told and the icon shown to illustrate it. Also the story of Epiphany can be told, stressing how people saw the Son, heard the Father's voice and saw the Holy Spirit, in the form of a dove. We have to avoid abstract definitions of the Holy Trinity, because many times it is beyond the intellectual needs of people.


We select teaching subjects also from our faith concerning the Sacraments. In our Church we have seven Holy Sacraments: Baptism, Chrismation, Holy Communion, Confession, Holy Unction, Holy Matrimony and Ordination. The four of them are compulsory and the other three are voluntary. Through all these Sacraments God blesses and sanctifies us. We receive the Holy Spirit through the Holy Sacraments.


It is extremely important for the catechumens to experience the fact that the Church sanctifies and blesses all the important moments of our life, from birth to death. Long before we understand fully the theological meaning of the Sacraments we should have the experience of Baptism, Chrismation, Holy Communion and later of Confession.


The catechist can tell the story of the Christ's Last Supper, telling them that this was the way Holy Communion was given for the first time. That Jesus Christ Himself gave it to His disciples using the very same words we hear in the Divine Liturgy and that He told us to do the same in His memory. The people's attention can be focused on that icon of Last Supper, which is often seen above the Royal Door in the icons screen in the church. Also the catechist should teach in some extent, about Holy Communion, the preparation and the practical ways to receive the Holy Body and Blood of Jesus Christ.


All of us we have seen the service of the Sacrament of wedding. We have heard about Ordination of priests and the Sacrament of Holy Unction. So the catechist includes lessons about the sanctification by the Church of all the events of human life through the Holy Sacraments.


Besides the Sacraments there are many ways in which the Church blesses the different events of our life: Churching of the baby in its presentation by its parents, blessing of new homes, shops; blessing of water, special prayers there are for the sick, for the dead, special services of thanksgiving, before and after meals; prayers before going to sleep, prayers before the beginning and at the end of schoolwork, etc. It is necessary for the catechists to introduce people to many of these experiences. It is not enough a Sacrament and the special services, only to be "taught" or even to be explained theoretically, but it is very desirable to establish a close relationship with all of them.


When especially we have children in our catechetical class we must, in the year's program, prepare a list of events that could give them the experience of Church life and its cervices. The following suggestions might be helpful; of course all these depend on the local situations.


* Planning for the pupils to attend the service in the church when the parents come with their newborn baby for the Churching. Speak about the special prayers that the priest reads for the child entering in the Church.


* Planning for the pupils to be present at a service for the memory of the dead in the Church, usually Saturdays. The pupils could bring the names of relatives or friends who have passed away written on a piece of paper and give them to the priest to be remembered at this service.


* Planning for the pupils to attend baptismal services, wedding and ordination of a priest and to participate in the Sacrament of Holy Unction.


After these opportunities the catechist has to discusspupil's observations and answer their questions.


(c) Worship in Orthodox Church. It is very important to teach about worship, which in our Church is very rich. The Divine Liturgy, the heart of the worship, has to be explained in details for the older especially people in order to help them to understand its deep meanings, and to be able to participate in it. Instruction about worship is to giving a better familiarity with the Liturgical life of the Church. That means not only information, but also active participation in the services. The explanations become interesting and meaningful only when they are closely connected with the actual experience of the event or the action.


Another subject to be taught, concerning the worship, is prayer – common and individual – which helps people to improve their Liturgical experience and worship. Teach them about the prayer as a way of speaking to God Who loves us and wands us to speak to Him. Also it is necessary to teach different prayers and to help, especially the children, to practice them.


It is not enough to teach or to explain the Divine Liturgy, the services and the Church prayers, but the most important is the participation in them with a constant growing and deepening understanding of them.


(d) Experience of Church life. We try to include such teaching subjects as to inspire the people to make Church life their own life and not thinking that Church life is something else, something for the others, something separated from their own personal life in the world. If people use to make this distinction this means that our Christian training has failed.


People acquire experiences of Church life if we, through our lessons, help them to get awareness of themselves as "persons" created with freedom by God. By that we mean to recognize that each one of them is the "image of God" by creation and has to try in his life to reach the "likeness of God". This growing self-knowledge approves pupil's ability to recognize his place among others, and to improve his relationships to them.


One of the most important purposes of teaching these subjects is to be established among the people an atmosphere of respect for each other's personality, of interest in each other, of mutual recognition of achievements, of willingness to admit mistakes, of readiness to forgive, and of compassion. This is a safe-way for people to become real members of the Body of the Church and to acquire deep experiences of Church life.


The catechist has to think about teaching subjects asking frequently himself questions like these:


“Do the content of the subjects of teaching help the people to gain the knowledge of God and strength their own relationship to God?”, “Do these help them to feel real parts of the Church by leading them to experience and participate actively in Church life?”, “Does the content of the lessons and of course the manner of teaching help the pupils to develop real relationship with God, with the others and with themselves”?


Asking these questions the teachers can check up the content of the teaching subjects and, keeping in mind these criteria, they help to improve the whole Christian catechism.


Sources for the teaching subjects


Our Orthodox Church and its life is a very rich source for teaching material. The only thing the catechists need is to learn how they will find these sources and dig in them to bring out the treasure.


(a) The Holy Bible. Teacher's main source for subjects is the Holy Bible: Old and New Testament. Using the Holy Bible in the classroom you must be sure that the others see you reading it or referring to it. Try to put the Bible passage in your own words in such a way that people can understand its meaning. With the older persons try to help them in using the Holy Bible and finding the passages they want. Teach them how they can put into practice the message of the Bible in their everyday life.


When the subject is from the Old Testament you have to help people to understand the deep meaning and the symbols of the Old Testament, which finds its fulfillment in the New Testament, in Jesus Christ. For example: The pass over the Red Sea and the entrance into the Promised Land prescribes our Easter, and the entrance into the God's Kingdom. The Judges, Prophets and all God's people in the Old Testament were spoken about Jesus Christ and find the final fulfillment in His birth, life, death and resurrection.


(b) Church Liturgical Year. The Liturgical year of the Church is a fundamentally important source from which we can pump up subjects of teaching our faith. Through these subjects we have the opportunity to discover the meaning of the Liturgical year and of the feasts celebrated by the Church through which the content of the Christian faith is expressed.


The every day feasts of Saints in our Church are, in fact, the most effective instrument for our Christian teaching. Our Church every day remembers one, two or more Saints and she is referred to them by their names. We have millions of Saints and commemorate their memory once a year mostly in the day they died for Christ which is their birth to eternal life. We respect and venerate the Saints as our examples in the faith and life of the Church. Also when we were baptized we were given a name after a Saint. Each Christian should learn something about the Saint who's the name he has and venerate in this day his Saint.


The great feasts of Church Liturgical year give a lot of opportunities to teach people our faith. We must recognize that there is a continuous process in Church life. As Orthodox Christians we have every year through the Saints' feast very deeply meaningful experiences.


The Church Liturgical year starts on 1st of September and ends on 31st of August. The first great feast we celebrate is that of the Nativity of Virgin Mary, 8th of September. Virgin Mary, the Theotokos who brought our Savior to this life. Generally the attention can be drawn to Theotokos, to her icons and to the veneration in the Orthodox Church. Many other occasions there are during the year to speak of the Mother of God, the Theotokos.


On September 14 the theme of the Holy Cross is presented in Church through the feast of the Elevation of the Holy Cross. The Liturgical rite of the Elevation is one that strongly impresses us and we have to attend the service and after that we can have a good and deep discussion about the cross. Many subjects can come out of this theme about cross (the salvation through Christ's cross, making on us the sign of the cross, the story of the vision of holy Cross by St. Constantine etc).


The feast of Archangels Michael and Gabriel (8 November) can be relevant for teaching on the invisible world, angels, and our guardian angels. The Entry of holy Virgin Mary into the Temple (November 21) can be a teaching subject about Theotokos as our interceder. Christmas period is very rich in subjects for teaching very important doctrines of our faith. Also the feast of Theophany is a good opportunity to speak about the Holy Trinity, the baptism of Christ, the sanctification of the water and all the nature, the use of the holy water for blessing, the Sacrament of Baptism, our own baptism etc.


With the beginning of the pre - Lenten period and the great Lent, the subjects to teach are many. For example every Sunday of this period brings its special message and has a very meaningful depth for teaching. Also the special prayers and services of the Lenten period have many spiritual ideas to be taught. And then there is our Lord's suffering, death and resurrection that become an unlimited source for teaching subjects.


It is not our purpose to give here a detailed plan of subjects and instruction. We put only the stress on the fact that in our Church there are many sources that must be taken into consideration when we are going to teach in a class the Christian faith. Every major feast, every Liturgical experience should be reflected in the teaching plans.


(c) The church building and symbolism. The church building usually is not an ordinary building. It is built on a special architectural plan and everything in it (outside and inside) has a symbolical meaning. The different objects in the church building are good sources for Christian teaching.


The things that people see in the church building are objects that particularly catch their attention. They can understand the objects' deep meaning if we explain them properly. We have to teach all these through presentation and interpretation of each one of these objects according to persons' age. We must go into the church building to show and explain the exact objects and explain their use and symbolism. The parts of the church building have their own meaning and can be explained in several lessons.


* We can speak about the exterior of the church building: the shape of the building and its orientation; the roof with the domes and crosses on it; the bell tower, the bells and the purpose of ringing etc.


* The interior of the church building is divided in three parts: Narthex or Vestibule, Nave and Sanctuary. We can explain in details all about them.


* The iconostasis, the icon screen, that separates the Nave and the Sanctuary, has three doors and many icons are on it. All of them have a special meaning and a reason why they are there.


* The icons are an ideal source for Christian education. The theological meaning of icons is so accurate that we can teach Orthodox doctrines through them with success. The Orthodox icon is not a photograph; it is more than a portrait. Iconography (the painting of icons) depicts what happens to people after God touches them; they become new persons. The icons teach the new life in Christ. Icons have been called books, prayers, hymns, sermons in form and color. The icons are the visual Gospel. So the Christian catechist has to teach children to read these "book". They will remember forever what they see while they hear about it.


* In the Sanctuary, which is the place set aside for the clergy only when perform the divine services, there are two special tables: the Altar and the Oblation Table. On them there are many sacred vessels used for the services and especially for the Divine Liturgy. We cannot name them here and explain their use and symbolism. But all of them compose a source for teaching our faith and worship.


* The candles, oil lamps and the sign of the cross can be subjects of teaching, explaining their symbolism and theological meaning in the Orthodox Church. No Church service can be held without lit candles and burning incense. The icons, the holy cross of Christ, the holy Gifts for the Divine Liturgy (the bread and the wine), the book of holy Gospel etc, are honored by sensing them and lighting candles and oil lamps in frond of them.


* The Christians usually make in themselves the sign of the cross. The catechist must speak about the symbolical meaning of making the sign of the cross, how and when we make it. The people must be taught all these about the cross in order to make the sign of the cross properly, not in a hurry or mechanically, but with careful attention. The sign of the cross in our bodies is a kind of confession of our faith and also it is a prayer for saying thanks to God and for asking God's blessing upon others and upon us.


* The vestments of the clergy are very important objects for people. It is time in Church training to teach about the vestments' meaning, and explain why the priests when they celebrate are wearing them. The vestments are much like icons. They are like windows through which we look to see Jesus Christ. Vestments are not a kind of decoration for the priest but they serve to hide the personality of the priest so that worshippers, seeing Christ through the vestments, may know that it is He who celebrates, blesses, teaches and sanctifies through the priests.


Through the clerical vestments, young persons especially, may have the first concept of priesthood. They learn the symbolic meaning of each article of vestments, the differences in the vestments of deacon, priest and bishop. When they put on each item of vestments they pray reciting God's words that have a deeper meaning for each particular vestment.


Generally the priestly vestments can work as a very impressive means especially for the young pupils to grasp the deep meaning of the Christian worship. What they perceive through their senses and from all these external things remain permanently in their mind and their heart.


1I. TEACHING CHRISTIAN FAITH TO LITTLE CHILDREN


In the Holy Bible we have a very important and impressive passage concerning the position of children in the Church. When Christ's disciples, in an effort to maintain an adult level of teaching, tried to prevent mothers to bring children to Jesus Christ, He said that to children belongs the Kingdom of God, and that whoever does not receive the Kingdom of God as a little child shall not enter it (Mark 10:13-16).


Here we have clearly illustrated God's relationship with little children. After that Jesus Christ took the children in His arms and blessed them, laying His hands on them. He gave His love not through teaching, not even through a story, but through actions and bodily contact. He made them feel His closeness through their physical senses and speaking to adults, He said that if they will not become like a child they shall not see the God.


These events show clearly how important for us is to teach Christian faith to little children starting as soon as possible. If we leave our children without Christian guidance and training from the first years of childhood we destroy with our own hands the future of our community, in other words, we destroy our life. In the Old Testament, the wise Sirach (7:23) teaches us: "Do you have children? Instruct them, and make them obedient from their youth".   (In a previous lesson (No 3) we tried to answer to this question: “When should Christian Education begin?, and why).


So all these help us to understand how important it is to deal sincerely with teaching children and guide them in Church life. We must seriously to undertake catechetical work with young children. That is why we are going to deal especially with the preparation of catechetical lesson for children.


Proper preparation of a catechetical lesson is essential. Lessons given to children especially need to be prepared even more carefully than those lessons for adults. The teacher has to work hard before starting teaching children, and do not depend upon the inspiration of the moment at lesson time thinking that his pupils are just children and so it is very easy to teach them!


The teacher also must not pretend he knows what he is trying to teach when he has not really prepared it. Children, even the younger ones, know when the teacher has not well prepared and they will misbehave and be disobedient, because the lesson is not interest and they feel boring.


Good teaching always means give time and using the personal talents in preparing the lesson. Before the work at catechetical school begins it is necessary for the teacher to start with personal prayer asking God's grace for this important work of teaching children. The next that the teacher has to do is to be carefully prepared, first of all for the whole session and secondly for each day's work. He will find much help in his work if he knows well the whole content of the lessons and the general procedure of them, and also if he plans for each lesson separately. (We have seeing about that in previous lesson).


The catechist must read carefully these procedures so that a good preparation for each lesson will be sufficient during the session. Only in that way the catechist shall feel comfortable and shall work peacefully and successfully with the young catechumens, the children.


If the catechist has a teaching manual it is important for him to read the whole book before teaching the first lesson in order to gain an over-all view of the course and see the interrelationships of the lessons and find their main purpose. In case that there is not any manual the teacher must prepare himself a clear plan for the lessons he has to teach during the session.


Preparation for the whole term


A catechetical school teacher must have a written plan of lessons and work for the whole term. He must know exactly what he has to teach during the term and what will be the general purpose of teaching Christian faith to children this term, and what will be the procedure of each lesson. If there are plans for lessons, prayers, songs and activities would be very helpful in the work every time and the catechist will feel comfortable in contact with the little children. On the other side children will be ready to accept the massage.


It is necessary the catechist to have prepared plans for subjects concerning the Christian faith and to believe that every item of our Orthodox faith can be accepted and understandable by little children if they are given with a proper way. For example subjects from Church feasts, different Church occasions, stories from the Holy Bible, the meaning of the holy Sacraments (Baptism, Holy Communion etc. and the way to participate to them).


Preparation for the day's teaching


Proper preparation of a lesson is also very essential. Lessons given to children need to be prepared even more carefully than those for adults. Every lesson must have a basic plan to make the theme interesting. The plan in a lesson is like the bones in the body, or like the branches in the tree.  Without bones we cannot have the body and without branches there is not tree. So the plan is necessary for a successful lesson.


The catechist has to work hard before going to teach children. He must not depend on the inspiration of the moment during lesson time; this is a strong temptation that many times teacher faces. He must not pretend that he knows what he is trying to teach (even to small children) when he has not really prepared it. Children, even younger ones, know when the teacher is not well prepared for the lesson, and so they are not interest on that.


A catechist must have a plan for the lesson every time he presents it. He finds a story, convenient to the main teaching subject, and he tries to narrate this properly, and things about the purpose and main points of the discussion he will have with children. He plans also the exact activities, games and songs he is going to teach this day having continuously in his mind the aim of the lesson. He never leaves aside the prayer before and after the lesson and helps children to pray always in their life.


The teacher must know very well the story which he is going to use in the lesson in order to tell it properly. He never reads the story from the book but he narrates it by heart. The story must have a beginning, middle, an end and a clear aim. The teacher puts an emphasis on the main points of the story to help children to grasp the message he is going to pass through. The story must be simple and short, and to be told slowly and distinctly looking only at children's eyes. Repeating the main points of the story helps children to grasp the meaning of the story and to have a real learning.


In the course of a teacher's preparation is the practice in singing songs before going into the class. He has to know many songs and rhymes suitable for young children and he is well prepared to teach them at the proper time accompanied by movements and different actions.


Before teaching the lesson the catechist has to find all the visual material (especially icons convenient to the lesson) that he is going to use in order to help children to understand deeply the teaching. Also he can use drawing pictures related with the content of the lesson. Though all of them young children are helped to grasp the deep meaning of the lesson and so we can say that our catechesis is following a successful way.


The teacher must be very careful with using language. He is practicing carefully to use simple and understandable words and expressions in order to explain some difficult theological meanings. Generally he must be accurate in his expressions, because children are able to understand many things even if we, the adults, have our doubts about that; also children easily believe anything an adult, and especially the catechist, tells them. So our responsibility, guiding the children in the Orthodox faith, is tremendous.


 Eleni Ganouri

Post date: 2012-02-13 23:43:36
Post date GMT: 2012-02-13 21:43:36