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!