Think Outside the Box for a Renewed Sunday Church School Year

 

It’s that time of year again! The time of year where you are starting to realize that summer vacation is over and that the Sunday Church School year is starting up any day now! (PANIC TIME!) Before you know it, you are attending the welcome back luncheons, kick-off picnics, parent/teacher mixers, whatever events your parish may do at the beginning of the year, and then boom – you are standing in your classroom with a group of kids and an attendance sheet in your hand.

If you are like me, chances are a few months ago you ended the Sunday Church School year a little bit (or more than a little bit) exhausted, but with a list of things to improve for the next year. And, if you are also like me, that list got moved to the bottom of a pile, LOST, IGNORED and FORGOTTEN. And now, here we are about to start the new school year with the same old-same old.

Well perk up Sunday Church School teachers because I have some good news! It is not too late to make some changes for this coming year!

First off, let’s start off by talking about the purpose of Sunday Church School and about your role as a religious educator! Sunday Church School is not meant to replace the Divine Liturgy and other services, but rather it is meant to be a supplement to them by providing historical, sacramental, and spiritual context to all of the amazing services and feasts of our faith. It is also a place to teach about Orthodoxy as a whole and to explore living a life in Christ, by teaching through the examples of the lives of the saints. Last but not least, it is a place to create a small community within the larger community of the Church. The majority of church communities are made up of mini-communities, which can help provide a space for each person to feel a sense of belonging and camaraderie.  The most important part about these mini-communities–and the part that can often be missing–is making sure to link the mini-communities back into to the larger community.

Your role as a religious educator is to help teach and nurture your mini-community.  You have been given a huge role and honor by being a Sunday Church School teacher. You are helping to contextualize and link your students into our Faith. That is not a small role!

When I think about religious education, the following passage comes to mind:

The gifts He gave were that some would be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until all of us come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to maturity, to the measure of the full stature of Christ.” Ephesians 4:11-13

Being a Sunday Church School teacher is a calling! As teachers, we are being called by Christ Himself to help build up the body of Christ. The Church is the Body of Christ, which is why it is so important to make sure you link your mini-community into the larger community!

So now, with all that being said, how can we get away from the same old-same old and shake things up a bit this year?

Something that I have to remind myself to do each year is to try and put Sunday Church School into a proper context.  Below are a few things that have personally helped me and some of my teacher friends prepare for our classes.


Tips for helping update your lessons:

  1. WHO are your students:

Start off by learning about the age group that you are teaching. Even if you have been teaching this grade for one year or many years, it is not a bad idea for us all to get a bit of a refresher! We can gain much insight into our students just by learning more about what is going on with them developmentally and we should adjust our lessons and teaching tactics accordingly to make sure we are teaching to their level.

  1. WHAT are they learning:  

Time to update your curriculum! The world that our students are living in revolves so much around technology, something that is constantly changing and improving. I am not saying that you should constantly be trying to keep up with the latest tech in your classroom and trying to find the coolest and most hip lesson plans, but rather, take the time to read over your lesson and see where you can improve and update it

  1. WHERE are they learning:

Your students sit in classrooms for 5 days a week at school and the last thing they want to be doing is sitting in another classroom on their day off. Shake things up, make things hands-on, get up and move! Teaching a lesson about Holy Communion? Prearrange with your priest to come for the last 5 minutes of class to actually show your class the Chalice and other tools used for Holy Communion close up. Teaching a lesson about the environment? If the weather is good, teach the class outside! Teaching a lesson about [insert your topic lesson here]? Bring in a guest speaker, bring in props, incorporate technology, have a class debate, etc! The possibilities are endless! The hardest part of teaching is setting aside adequate time to prepare yourself to teach. You won’t be able to make your lesson hands-on and interactive if you are only preparing 15 minutes before.

So to recap: keep your lessons student-centered, not content-centered; incorporate different types of learning and cater to different learning styles within your lesson; and change up the routine by including active learning and group collaboration.

Another very important thing that you can do to help you and your class prepare for the lesson is to pray! Say a prayer before you teach, pray for your students, and most importantly, pray as a class. The following prayer is from the Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom:  

Shine in our hearts, O Master Who loves mankind, the pure light of Your divine knowledge, and open the eyes of our mind that we may comprehend the proclamations of Your Gospels. Instill in us also reverence for Your blessed commandments so that, having trampled down all carnal desires, we may lead a spiritual life, both thinking and doing all those things that are pleasing to You. For You, Christ our God, are the illumination of our souls and bodies, and to You we offer up glory, together with Your Father, Who is without beginning, and Your all-holy, good, and life-creating Spirit, now and forever and to the ages of ages. Amen.

These are things that we can all do on a week-to-week basis to help improve our class time, but there are also some things that you can do and continue throughout the year to help build your classroom into a safe and fun mini community.

Here are some more tips to help manage a safe and fun classrooms:

Elementary and younger:

  • Set clear classroom rules or boundaries. Yes we want our classroom to be fun, but we also want it to be safe. Setting classroom rules or boundaries can help create a safe environment without stifling creativity!
  • Have a class routine, but keep it creative! Kids, especially younger kids, need a routine. Something as simple as starting and ending your class the same way every week can help students better focus and feel comfortable in the familiarity.

Middle School:

  • Co-establish classroom rules and guidelines. This age group can be harder to manage; they don’t want to just be told what to do. So combat that by having your students collaborate to come up with the classroom rules and guidelines write them down on a poster board and hang it in the room (I have even had them sign the poster to show that they agree to follow the rules). Make sure the students include anti-bullying guidelines to help make the classroom a safer place.
  • Create class traditions: Have your class come up with some fun traditions that they can do together and look forward to – a change up from the regular routine of class.  (Examples: every second Sunday someone brings in donuts, or at the end of every class they all have a funny dance they do together.)

High School:

  • Know what your students want to learn. Teenagers have reached the age where they are taking their independence by storm. They are learning how to drive cars, learning how to be leaders and taking ownership of their lives. Let them take some ownership of their class.  Have them choose topics that they might want to learn about sometimes, let them choose what order the lessons will be in. Allow for them to grow in their faith by allowing them to own their faith.
  • Respect your students by being prepared! Teenagers know when you are prepared and when you are not and they often are not afraid to let you know that. Respect them as your students by being a prepared teacher. If your class is more discussion based, make sure you have researched that day’s topic and run it by your parish priest to make sure that you and he are on the same page. If you don’t know the answer to a question, don’t pretend that you do because they will know when you are trying to make something up. It is ok to let them know that you don’t know the answer and that you will research it or talk to the priest and get back to them next week…and then make sure you DO get back to them. And most importantly, no matter what the topic is, be sure to include references to the scripture and always link the lesson back to our Faith and church tradition!
  • Create a safe no-judgment zone. Yes, you want your class to be cool and edgy with mind-blowing conversations. Guess what, your students aren’t going to open up and talk about these things if they don’t feel like their opinions or thoughts are safe from laughter and judgment from either you or their fellow students. Bullying should never be tolerated. No one should feel like they are not welcome or taken seriously in their Sunday Church School class. As a teacher, take what they say seriously, let them know that they can talk to you and ask questions, no matter how “stupid” the questions may seem, and encourage them to think deeper about the topics.

To recap, keep your classroom fun, but safe; be flexible, but prepared. Some of these tips may not work for your classroom, but hopefully they will help you think deeper about your class and give you a little bit of encouragement and inspiration to think outside the box and make your class better than it ever has been before!

As a teacher, you are so needed and appreciated and remember you are not alone! Not only is your class a mini-community within your larger church community, but you as a teacher are part of a mini-community of teachers! There are thousands of Orthodox Religious Educators all across the country who are just like you! Create a support system by having monthly or bi-monthly meetings with your parish Sunday Church School teachers, not just to plan, but as a time to talk about the ups and downs and to support each other. There are also Religious Educator Facebook groups that you can join. These help connect teachers across the country and provide a space for everyone to share resources and lesson plans (DRE plug: the Orthodox Christian Religious Educators Facebook group, is a group created and monitored by the Archdiocese Department of Religious Education).

Here are a few more links and resources that can help you prepare as a teacher

THANK YOU for answering the awesome CALLING to be a Sunday Church School teacher!

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Angeliki Constantine is an Educational Ministry Specialist in the Department of Religious Education for the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese. She has bachelors in Early Childhood Education and a Masters of Divinity. She has been a GOYA advisor and a co-Sunday Church School teacher at St. Nectarios Greek Orthodox Church in Roslindale, MA since 2009.

 

What is a Phishing Attack and Tips for Protecting Yourself

Cybercriminals are using social engineering to craft emails that appear as though they have been sent from a legitimate organization or known individual. The purpose of these emails is to either gain access to your device or trick you into revealing personal information like credit card numbers or passwords. These emails often entice users to click on a link or open an attachment containing malicious code. This type of social engineering has been termed “phishing,” because - like fishing in a lake - cybercriminals are casting their reels, hoping you take the bait.

Best Practices to Protect Yourself

Email

  • Be careful when clicking directly on links in emails, even if the sender appears to be known; attempt to verify web addresses independently. Check out this PC World article for tips on verifying links.
  • Exercise caution when opening email attachments. Be particularly wary of ZIP, EXE, or DMG file attachments. As a best practice, NEVER open an attachment from an email.
  • Avoid revealing personal or financial information in email, and do not respond to email solicitations for this information. This includes following links sent in email.
  • Be suspicious of unsolicited email messages from individuals asking for sensitive information.
  • If you are unsure whether an email request is legitimate, try to verify it by contacting the company directly. Do not use contact information provided on a website connected to the request; instead, check previous statements for contact information.

Websites

  • Pay attention to the URL (address) of a website. Malicious websites may look identical to a legitimate site, but the URL may use a variation in spelling or a different domain (e.g., .com vs. .net). This is one of the most common ways used to trap people.
  • Even for legitimate purposes, be cautious about sending sensitive information over the Internet before checking a website's security. This AVG article has tips for verifying a site’s security.
  • Update web browsers regularly to ensure known security holes and vulnerabilities have been patched.

Computers and Other Devices

  • Install application and operating system updates regularly. Outdated applications and operating systems are vulnerable and the target of most attacks. Read this Norton Antivirus article on the importance of installing updates.
  • Install and maintain anti-virus software, firewalls, and email filters.
  • Perform frequent backups of your computer and files and verify those backups regularly. If your system becomes compromised, you can restore it to its previous state.
  • The safest practice is to store backups on a separate device that cannot be accessed from a network or the Internet.

Additional Resources:

What Young Adults Are Really Saying About Church

 

In February 2018, we at Y2AM released our newest podcast, We Are Orthodoxy. The project was a couple years in the making, and I, for one, have been so excited to share it with the world.

The podcast’s premise is fairly straightforward: we interview Orthodox young adults and listen to their stories so we can better understand why they are (or are not) still connected with Christ and His Church.

It’s been an awesome experiment and, as we prepare to launch season 2, I’m happy to say that the reception to the podcast has been overwhelmingly positive. People seem open to hearing what others have to say about their experiences in the Orthodox Church, which is something that is inexpressibly valuable.

The experiences themselves have been varied. I’ve actually been amazed to hear exactly how different each of these people are!

It’s especially surprising because when Steve and I travel around the country for our “BeeTreats,” we almost always hear well-meaning and concerned adults offer their theories on why young people are leaving the Church in droves. They suggest that it’s secularism, evolutionary biology, or even the LGBTQ+ agenda; that cultural trends are undoing the good work of the Church.

The reality, however, is that these theories tend to be founded on little (if any) evidence. Few people who think they know why young people are falling away from the Church have stopped to ask those who have left what is going on in their lives; even fewer pause to really listen to the experiences these young people would share. So, instead of hearing the real stories of real Orthodox Christians, we offer our own theory, a narrative that we think explains this epidemic of disengagement.

But such a story cannot be the story of every person.

In fact, the more people we interview, the more we see just how varied all these stories truly are. Nobody has the exact story as someone else.

But even amidst the shockingly unique experience of young adults, we have seen at least one interesting (and potentially surprising) commonality.

No matter where someone’s relationship with the Church stands, they seem to have an enduring respect (and even love) for the Liturgy.

Steve and I have spoken to dozens of young adults for We Are Orthodoxy, and we’ve spoken to hundreds more across the country during BeeTreats and other events. The complaints these young people offer have never been about worship; not even once.

Sure, there may be some complaints about the language used in worship, as it presents an obstacle to understanding when one doesn’t speak Greek, but the complaints have never once been levied against worship itself.

In fact, one of the interviewees who no longer believes in God went so far as to say that he even thinks it’s good for people to gather to worship (!). Of course, one might ask, “Worship what?” But for him, just the act of gathering to worship and honor the mystery of life is enough.

This is shocking to me.

Even though some people want nothing to do with the Church; even though some do not even believe in the possibility of divine action in the world; even though some people strongly disagree with the spiritual or moral teachings of the Church, they still believe that the worship and liturgical life of the Church is good (even if they don’t believe they’re worshipping anything - or Anyone - in particular).

What are we to make of this?

There’s a couple things I think we need to recognize.

First, that the answer to this whole “Young People Leaving the Church” thing is a lot more complex than we may think.

How is it that someone could stop believing in God, and yet still feel such reverence for the worshipping experience of a community? How is it that someone who has left the Church because of its moral teachings would still long to be at Pascha, even though she knows she can’t rightly partake of the awesome mysteries of Christ?

What are we to make of this deep longing in the hearts of young people, a reaching for transcendence of some kind, even while they express serious doubts about the existence of the transcendent?

I wonder if we’ve done a poor job of reading the times, causing us failurel to understand that belief in our time is complex. It’s not as simple as believing or not believing. It seems to be that our age is one of believing while also not believing (and vice versa).

It seems that no matter what someone comes to believe, there remains some inescapable longing for something that lies beyond themselves, that is to say, for something transcendent. Whether that transcendent something is God, the concept of justice, or even just mystery itself, the reaching for something remains.

Second, it seems like a lot of this is problem is our fault.

As I mentioned above, there are a lot of theories about why young adults are falling away from the Church. One of them suggests that young people, raised in a modern secular culture, disagree with the moral teachings of the Church. While it’s true that many young people do experience this tension, young people generally aren’t generally citing the Church’s moral teachings themselves as reasons they’re falling away. Sure, they have disagreements, but for young people, it seems to be much more about how those disagreements are handled and navigated that fuels their disengagement.

When we ask young adults to share their stories on We Are Orthodoxy, we don’t just hear accounts of intellectual disagreements with the Church. Instead, we hear profound experiences of hurt, pain, and missed opportunities.

The issues these young people have aren’t with abstract beliefs (even if they disagree); their issues are with other people.

Of course, “nobody’s perfect.” And yes, people (including those of us in the Church) are people. And precisely because none of us is perfect, we need to make it a lot easier for people to admit when people make mistakes.

Because, as we’re hearing from young adults, today’s fights and scandals and poor decisions can have lasting consequences in the hearts of people who are affected by them.

We need own the reality that we have ministered poorly, that we have become distracted with things other than the Gospel of Jesus Christ and His Church. We have settled for lesser kingdoms and missions than the Kingdom of God and the Missio Dei.

And we need to repent.

We need to turn back toward Christ, finding in Him the vision of what we are to be, of who we are to become. He alone is the Life-Giver, and without Him we are a Church without Christ, a body without a head.

And can a body with a head do anything else besides die?

Season 2 of We Are Orthodoxy premieres September 7.

Christian is a Young Adult Ministries Coordinator for Y2AM. He is a husband, father, coffee drinker, sandal wearer, podcaster, and CrossFitter. Christian has his MA in Children, Youth, and Family Ministry from Luther Seminary and is a Licensed Associate Marriage and Family Therapist. Christian and his family live in Phoenix, Arizona.

Photo Credits:

Liturgy: spbda Flickr via Compfight cc 

4 Tips for Preaching the Gospel Online

Several of my friends and colleagues were recently in Crete for the 2nd International Conference on Digital Media and Orthodox Pastoral Care. Orthodox Christians from around the world gathered to share valuable experiences, offer important insights, and wrestle with deep questions about the Church’s relationship with technological tools. 

Fr. Barnabas Powell gathered some of the American participants for a discussion on his podcast, Faith Encouraged Live. It was a great episode; you should check it out.

We at Y2AM have learned a lot about using digital media to share the Gospel (and I think we’ve been pretty good at it). So I teamed up with my friends Fr. Andrew Damick and Ben Cabe from Theoria and we came up with 4 tips for preaching the Gospel online. 

(You can find the video we made at the end of this post.)

1. Don’t Simply Inform. Inspire.

When Jesus confronts the devil in the desert in Matthew 4, Satan reveals his impressive knowledge of Scripture. He can quote the Bible, chapter and verse, with incredible ease (with far more ease than I will ever display, certainly).

Yet this parlour trick never turned into authentic faith.

As we’ve discussed before, ministry is not simply about communicating religious ideas. As Christians, we’re called to do more than convey perspectives. Our goal is not simply to inform people, but to help transform them into faithful Christians by God’s grace.

Unfortunately, over the past few decades, ministry work has tended to aim squarely between the eyes, engaging people on a purely intellectual level. Its real goal should be the healing of the heart.

Digital work is especially at risk of being too preoccupied with abstract ideas. We can be tempted to see blogs and videos and podcasts as primarily about communicating Orthodox concepts

But if this digital work isn’t helping deepen people’s love of Christ, if it isn’t helping them grow in faith and come to better know the Lord Himself, then it’s all in vain. 

How many Orthodox Christians can recite Church trivia, yet lack a real relationship with our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ? 

If people are merely consuming our digital work, then we are not effectively ministering to them.

If people are merely considering interesting ideas about God, then we are not effectively ministering to them.

If people aren’t developing the courage to repent or the desire to pray, then our digital work is missing the point.

2. Leverage Virtual Community into Eucharistic Community.

I remember the first time I really fell in love with a band.

When I was about ten years old I bought my first CD: Pearl Jam’s debut album, Ten. It’s a classic of American rock and helped cement the band as leaders of 90s alternative grunge. 

I couldn’t stop listening to it. 

In the years to come, I discovered the incredible community that can develop around artists you love: fan clubs and internet forums dedicated to discussing their work; music festivals where you can spend a day in the sun listening to your favorite bands perform your favorite songs; websites that enable you to download tabs and play songs for yourself. Each of these realities connect you to the band in a unique way, and they all make you feel like a part of something bigger than yourself.

The internet in particular offers a powerful platform that allows communities to develop around shared ideas and interests. Though it’s interesting to note that people tend to leverage these communities into real world interactions: music fans go to concerts, comic fans go to Comic-Cons, YouTube fans go to VidCon, etc.

Similarly, good digital work can help build an online Orthodox community. I listen to a lot of Ancient Faith podcasts and read a lot of blogs, for example, and I enjoy talking about them on Facebook and Twitter. I’m a part of digital communities that form around the work of people like Fr. Tom Hopko.

However, if that community stays virtual, we’re missing something. Just like music fans don’t get stuck on online forums (but rather make their way to concerts), we need to make sure Orthodox communities don’t get stuck online. 

Our goal isn’t to simply help people consider Orthodox concepts. Our goal is to help people do the difficult ascetic work of fasting and prayer. It’s to help people come together for Liturgy, to “come and see,” to “taste and see that the Lord is good.”

3. Be an Authority, not a Personality.

We launched Be the Bee, Y2AM’s first video series, the feedback was overwhelmingly positive. Parents told us about how they’d watch with their kids on the way to Sunday Liturgy; young people told us about how it reignited ignited their prayer life.

But then, in the summer of 2014, something odd happened when I went to the Clergy Laity Congress in Philadelphia: someone asked me for an autograph.

In fact, a bunch of kids asked me for autographs that week

Be the Bee was only a few months old at that point, and it was an early reminder that we needed to be very clear about our goals with the series: 

Were we trying to create some kind of persona for people, to get people excited about meeting “Steve” at retreats and conferences? Or were we trying to get people excited about knowing Jesus?

I decided I wouldn’t give the kids any autographs. Instead, when asked for one, I drew the Be the Bee logo and wrote out a simple sentence: “God bless you.”

I wanted to draw a very clear line between trusting me as one seeks God and simply seeking me

The Church has always had people it could rely on to preach the Gospel. To this day we have a long list of Saints and Fathers to whom we turn as reliable teachers: from Athanasios to Porphyrios, from to Maximos the Confessor to John of San Francisco, and so on.

When I see someone share a podcast by Fr. Tom Hopko, I know it’s going to be good. When Fr. Andrew published his latest book on St Ignatius, I knew it would be good because I’d read his blogs and his previous books (like Orthodoxy & Heterodoxy) and listened to his podcasts.

The Orthodox Church is full of reliable teachers who can be counted on to faithfully preach the Gospel. And while we can come to trust them over time, to see them as reliable (and even authoritative) teachers on certain topics, we have to be careful not to see them as mere media personalities, people to follow or pursue as ends in themselves.

On one level, as Elissa Bjeletich has often joked, “Orthofamous isn’t famous.” We need to get over ourselves and our silly ambitions.

On a deeper level, if one is ever tempted by “Orthofame,” either to bestow it upon or receive it from others, we need to realize that it’s a dangerous form of idolatry that distracts from Christ and misses the mark.

4. Know Your Limits.

As word spread about Be the Bee, I remember how much I enjoyed discussing difficult questions with people in the comments. We’d get all sorts of questions from all sorts of people: whether they were Orthodox Christians struggling with doubts or inquirers who had just encountered the Church for the first time. 

I also remember the first time I got a question I knew I shouldn’t answer: a person asked, not a question of theology or Church practice, but something deeply sensitive and personal.

I’ll admit, I was tempted to answer. I was tempted to offer something that sounded wise and sensitive; part of this was a sincere desire to help, but some of it was also pride and the desire to seem like I could help.

Thank God, I didn’t answer the question. Instead, I responded with a different question: “is there a priest in your life that you can talk to?”

In the years since, I’ve talked about this with Fr. Andrew and other clergy who have an online presence, and I think this comes up far more often for clergy than lay people. After all, during coffee hour after Liturgy, no one is going to ask me to hear their confession. 

Fr. Andrew is very clear about the boundaries that anyone who is doing digital ministry work (and especially clergy) need to maintain. When he receives questions of a pastoral nature, he’s quick to respond that he can’t answer: his pastoral work is limited to his parishioners and the people whose confessions he hears. 

Like we said above, a sort of digital community can form amongst Christians online. But its intimacy is limited. I might feel that I know a priest simply because I listen to his podcasts and read his books, but I don’t really know him. And he certainly doesn’t know me.

And that’s why he’s not in a position to offer me pastoral guidance simply because I’m a podcast subscriber. 

Knowing ones limits is incredibly important for everyone who is involved in the creation of digital ministry work. Sometimes that means having the discipline to avoid offering pastoral advice. Sometimes it means having the self-awareness to avoid discussing topics that one doesn’t fully understand.

And, for many of us, it may mean having the discipline to realize that we don’t need to create digital ministry work in the first place.

We don’t all need to write a blog or start a podcast or video series.

But each of us needs to love God with all his mind and soul and strength, and his neighbor as himself.

Each of us needs to pray. To fast. To receive Holy Communion

Whether or not we’re called to do this particular kind of work, we are all called to be faithful Orthodox Christians in the real, physical world.

Steven Christoforou is the Director of Y2AM.

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Want more from Y2AMSubscribe to our email list and get weekly tips for your spiritual life every Monday! And you can support Y2AM even more by becoming a supporter. Your contribution can help us continue the work we’re doing.

BONUS: Y2AM is working on a brand new ministry training course, which will be available August 20th. In the meantime, subscribe to our newsletter to hear the latest about the course. And check out a keynote address Steve recently delivered for more of Y2AM's vision for ministry.

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The Environment and the Greek Orthodox Church

As you may all know, in 1989, then Patriarch Demetrios proclaimed September 1 as the annual day of prayer for the Care of Creation.  Since 1991, Patriarch Bartholomew has focused on the environment as a critical issue.  Not only has he continued with that special day, but since 1995 he has also hosted eight international environmental symposia on various bodies of water with focus on that body of water and the surrounding nations.  These symposia have been on the Aegean Sea, Black Sea, Danube River, Adriatic Sea, Baltic Sea, Amazon River, Arctic Sea, and Mississippi River.  As a result of his emphasis on protecting the environment, former Vice-President Al Gore gave him the name of the “Green Patriarch”.  He subsequently hosted two environmental summits in Turkey on the island of Halki.

In late 2014, Patriarch Bartholomew met with Pope Francis and convinced him to put the protection of the environment on his agenda.  As a result of this meeting, in June 2015 Pope Francis issued his environmental encyclical “Laudato Si”, protection of Our Common Home.  This 184 page encyclical was written with the help of our Metropolitan John of Pergamon and Fr. John Chryssavgis.  In August 2015, Francis sent a letter to all of his hierarchs stating “following the tradition of the Orthodox Church, we are proclaiming September 1 as the World Day of Prayer for Care of Creation.” 

The Roman Catholic Church has taken the pope’s encyclical very serious.  Within three years of its release, the Chicago Archdiocese has formed an Encyclical Working Group to educate its members and implement the encyclical.  Catholic universities have also taken it seriously and are offering classes on environmental and social sustainability.  At least one large Catholic university has made a new requirement for every student, regardless of his or her major, to take a course on environmental science or environmental sustainability in order to graduate.  It is almost 30 years since our patriarch first showed his concern for the environment, and we are not doing what the Roman Catholic Church has done in just three years. 

Last month, Patriarch Bartholomew hosted his ninth international environmental symposium, “Toward a Greener Attica”, in the prefecture of Attica, Greece, and I was fortunate to have the opportunity to attend it.  The focus was on various environmental issues like climate change and water conservation as well as social issues like managing and caring for refugees. This four-day symposium took place in Athens and the Saronic islands of Septses and Hydra. 

One of the action items resulting from this symposium was to go out and educate as many people as possible so they can help care for our environment.  Consequently, I would like to make a few recommendations for each of the parishes at this 44th Biennial Clergy Laity Congress.

  1. If you haven’t done so already, form an environmental ministry at your parish.  Use this ministry to convey to your parishioners the importance of protecting the environment.
  2. Try to implement some environmental strategies at your parish.  One way for assistance on this effort is to follow the book “Greening of the Orthodox Parish” by Fred Krueger.
  3. Conduct an environmental vesper service on August 31.  Our church, SS Peter & Paul, first did this four years ago, and the following year we conducted the vespers along with our neighboring Roman Catholic Church.  In addition to the priests from both churches, we also had a bishop from each church.  Then last year, we repeated the vespers, but this time at the Roman Catholic Church along with the same clergy.  This is something you may wish to consider.  Following each vesper service, we had a coffee reception and a speaker.

I would also like to recommend for an environmental course be added to the curricula at Holy Cross Hellenic College – if one is not already required.  If this is so important to Patriarch Bartholomew, it should be important to all the HCHC students.  If such a course were already offered at the college, you would not have seen what I observed earlier this week.  When I visited the campus on Tuesday, I was somewhat disturbed with the amount of bottled water that was distributed to all the visitors.  Instead of bottled water, there should have been water stations and plastic cups offering tap water.  In addition to the environmental benefit, this would also help the financial situation of the college.  Bottled water is about 300 times more expensive than tap water, and its quality specifications are not as stringent as those for tap water.  In addition, it takes twice the volume of the bottle in water just to produce the plastic bottle.  In other words, when you drink 12 ounces of bottled water, you are consuming about 36 ounces and creating a waste product that most likely will not be recycled. 

I hope that we can all take the interest in and the care of our environment more seriously.  Remember, we did not inherit the environment from our ancestors, we are borrowing it from our children.


George P. Nassos spent 31 years in the corporate world working for International Minerals & Chemical Corp for 16 years and 15 years for Chemical Waste Management. He taught for 14 years as Industry Associate Professor and the Director of the M.S. in Environmental Management and Sustainability program at Illinois Institute of Technology’s business school. He subsequently focused on consulting in renewable energy and environmental sustainability as well as marketing a new waste-to-energy technology. Last year, Nassos was appointed to the new Director of the MS in Sustainable Management program and Executive-in-Residence at DePaul University Driehaus College of Business. He was recently elected as a founding member of the Advisory Circle of the Encyclical Working Group of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Chicago focusing on implementing Laudato Si’. He earned a B.S. in Chemical Engineering (U of Illinois), M.S. and Ph.D. in Chemical Engineering (Northwestern U.) and an MBA from Northwestern-Kellogg. He attends Saints Peter & Paul Greek Orthodox Church in Glenview, IL. and is a member of the Archdiocesan Advisory Committee for Science and Technology.

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