Great Lent is often called a time to return to basics because we focus on central dimensions of our Christian faith: we read from Scripture to remind us of the need for a Savior; we become more focused on matters of prayer and worship; we increase our philanthropic and charitable efforts; and, of course, we follow the ascetic discipline of fasting from certain foods.
In some ways, we return to being novice Christians, doing things we were taught years ago. To borrow a concept, we become apprentices once again. According to the dictionary, an apprentice is someone who is “learning by practical experience from more skilled workers.” Parish life could and perhaps should be thought of as an “apprenticeship program” in Christian life.
We learn how to be an Orthodox Christian by participating in the life of the Church with more experienced teachers. The experienced share what they have learned with new generations of participants. The wisdom of experienced people is really important. They have internalized the wisdom of the community through their practice of the Faith. This is best shared in face-to-face encounters.
Who are the “more experienced” in our parishes? First, of course, are the clergy. They have been educated in the Faith at a fairly high level and should be considered the chief teacher of the Faith in a parish (of course the bishop is the chief teacher in the Church). Second, there are the adults in the community who have years of experience living as Orthodox Christians. Don’t underestimate the influence of grandparents and senior citizens. Studies have repeatedly shown that grandparents have enormous influence on the religious lives of the young. Third, there are the teachers and youth advisors. They are a specialized group because of their focus on intentional instruction, class work, discussions, and activity.
Who are the apprentices? First, the young. They are learning and need a great deal of guidance. Second, there are the new to the Faith. They may have read about Orthodox Christianity in a book, but are now trying to apply what they’ve read to their lives. Finally, all of us are apprentices to one degree or another. We are continually learning. We are always disciples – students -- of Christ and the way of life He invites His followers to observe.
How we do this?
Work together, alongside one another. We don’t just bring prosforo to church; we can bake it together. It’s learning by doing.
Advice and guidance. There’s a great deal that is learned “on the job,” especially what’s unwritten or can’t be explained easily. Apprentices are often observed performing their jobs by more experienced teachers, and if possible, being corrected or reminded of things along the way. To continue with the prosforo baking example, someone probably has to show us when the dough has been kneaded adequately. That part of the process can’t be found in a book.
Small jobs, in time, become large jobs. Being a GOYA officer can lead to Parish Council membership. Serving on a committee leads to chairing the committee. Small liturgical roles can become larger ones in time. In this approach, the lived work of the Church is handed on to newer generations, little by little.
Classes are useful. Apprentices often take classes, to learn the theory about their job and to deepen their knowledge of an area. It’s often in preparation for performing a new task. Let’s not underestimate the power of teaching groups. Jesus often His disciples, privately, apart from the crowds. He explained his teachings to them.
Great Lent offers opportunities to place all of these qualities into practice in our parishes, teaching one another, but especially the young and new to the Faith, the way of Christian living.