Teach the Faith

Now that we are a couple of months into our Sunday Church school year, I want to ask, “Are we teaching the Faith?” Our task is to hand on the contents of the Orthodox Christian Faith to another generation. Naturally, a central dimension of religious education is providing students an opportunity to talk about their lives, having great discussions about their questions and experiences, so that we can study the Faith itself.

When we ask students to share their experiences, we are stirring up the soil so that we may plant the seeds of the Orthodox Christian Faith. To stir things up, we must challenge their assumptions about their experiences, asking the “critical thinking” questions about their lives, either to affirm what they already know or to begin to change them. Why do they think the way they do? Where did they get some information? Why does it make sense (or not) to them? Where does their Orthodox Christianity “fit in” with that?

The parables of Jesus were stories that His hearers could easily understand because they were stories about the everyday experiences of the people of His day. They included stories about farmers, families, masters and servants, religious leaders, people in prayer, and others.

I’ve always imagined Jesus’ hearers listening to the parables and responding, “Aha! That’s my life too.” And then after a moment, continuing, “Wait a minute. That’s what God wants? Forgiveness? Mercy? Humility? Caring for my neighbor, the one I don’t like? I might have a problem.”

Through the stories, God’s message, the Good News that God is loving, forgiving, seeks justice and righteousness, care and compassion and wants all people to return to His way is communicated. The parables, based in people’s experiences, became the tool for bringing them more deeply into the Faith itself. To put this into an Orthodox Christian setting, I can imagine the questions that could follow: Who is this God we keep talking about? Is it the God I heard about from my friends or on television? Who is His Son, Jesus Christ? Who is the Holy Spirit? How are we supposed to pray and worship? How am I supposed to live my life, treat my neighbors?  And plenty of others could be asked.

When these questions start being raised, our work as religious educators really begins. Our work is to lead our students (edu care means to lead forth, to draw out) into these questions, to move beyond their personal thoughts about them and to dive into the sources of our Christian Orthodoxy – Scripture, Saints, Liturgy, Theology, History – the shared experiences of our Church. This is when we open the Bible, read the Fathers and our contemporary theologians, study the texts of our services, and more, in order to learn what the Orthodox Christian Faith has taught for centuries and continues to proclaim. Our long term goal educationally is to help our students speak confidently and competently about their about the content of their Orthodox Faith, to be able to apply the precepts of the Faith to their lives, to become practitioners of Orthodoxy, and, of course, to accept them, to believe the precepts of Orthodox Christianity.

So, use those personal experiences and questions that our students have, but move beyond them into the deeper issues of the Faith itself. Make sure that your lessons are including as much content the Orthodox Christian Faith as possible: Scripture, Saints, and Theology. Study on your own. Work with your parish priest and the rest of the teachers to study topics in depth.

More to come!

 

 

 

 

Test your Phishing skills

Ten Telltale Signs of Phishing

Phishing emails come in all shapes and sizes, but fortunately there are some “tells” you can look for to help suss out potential scams.

  1. It just doesn’t look right. Is there something a little off with the emails? Too good to be true? Trust your instincts if they tell you to be suspicious.

  2. Generic salutations. Instead of directly addressing you, phishing emails often use generic names like “Dear Customer.” Using impersonal salutations saves the cybercriminals time so they can maximize their number of potential victims.

  3. Links to official-looking sites asking you to enter sensitive data. These spoofed sites are often very convincing, so before revealing personal information or confidential data examine the site to make sure it’s real.

  4. Unexpected emails that use specific information about you. Information like job title, previous employment, or personal interests can be gleaned from social networking sites like LinkedIn and then used to make a phishing email more convincing.

  5. Unnerving phrases. Thieves often use phrases meant to scare you (such as saying your account has been breached) to trick you into acting without thinking, and in doing so revealing information you ordinarily would not.

  6. Poor grammar or spelling. This is often a dead giveaway. Unusual syntax is also a sign that something is wrong.

  7. Sense of urgency. For example: “If you don’t respond within 48 hours, your account will be closed.” By convincing

    you the clock is ticking, thieves hope you’ll make a mistake.

  8. “You’ve won the grand prize!” These phishing emails are common, but easy to spot. A similar, trickier variation is asking you to complete a survey (thus giving up your personal information) in return for a prize.

  9. “Verify your account.” These messages spoof real emails asking you to verify your account with a site or organization. Always question why you’re being asked to verify – there’s a good chance it’s a scam.

  10. Cybersquatting. Often, cybercriminals will purchase and “squat” on website names that are similar to an official website in the hopes that users go to the wrong site, such as www.google.com vs. www.g00gle.com. Always take a moment to check out the URL before entering your personal information.

For more information and tools to help you avoid the phisherman’s net, visit www.sophos.com/prevent-phishing.

Can you tell which emails are real and which ones are phishing?

Look at the images below or in this PDF document. The images are in two sets, where the first image shows three potential email scams, and the second images identified which ones are phishing schemes and why.

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!

------

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.
  • Report spam email with your mail client's Spam/Junk button.

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.

Passwords

If you do become a victim of phishing, having secure passwords may help mitigate the effect the attack will have:

  • Never share your username or password with anyone
  • Never put your password in easily-visible areas.
  • Always use complex passwords - at least 8-10 characters with numbers and special characters/punctuation. Phrases are easier to remember!
  • Avoid dictionary words.
  • Change your password frequently.
  • Never use the same password twice.

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 

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