Arimathea
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Religion
The human animal is the worshipping animal. Toward the divine, we have a need to pray, to sacrifice, to offer up, and to praise. From the spirit dances of primitive animism to the rational contemplation of philosophical paganism, from the ethical code of the rabbis to the theological vision of the scholastics, from the sprinkled blood (the origin of blessing) of temple cults to helping the poor in simple Christian charity, men need to relate the immanent and the transcendent -- they see their particular lives in time and space transfigured and transfused with meaning unbounded by human things. Religion is this aspect of human life where the everyday and worldly intersects with the ultimate and divine. Is this an accident of human evolution, or is it a racial neurosis brought upon us as conscious beings who live in the shadow of our own death? Is it a reflection of the divine order, where creatures naturally orient themselves toward their source? Has God revealed himself to us, as the Christians claim? In this realm, I shall try to delve into such questions as an Orthodox Christian who ever pesters God with "Why?"
Friday, January 31, A.D. 2014
Georgian Stylite

Tomorrow is the feast of Saint Anton the Stylite of Martqophi (January 19 / February 1). Fifteen hundred years later, a stylite still prays in Georgia: “Katskhi Pillar Monk, Maxime Qavtaradze, Renews Age-Old Tradition In Georgia.” The article includes some beautiful photographs as well as a trailer for a documentary about Fr. Maxim:

You may read more about the documentary The Stylite: A Matter of Faith on its main site.

Posted by Joseph on Friday, January 31, Anno Domini 2014
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Monday, January 27, A.D. 2014
Walsh and the Good Book

Happy feast day of Saints Nina and Sava, especially to the Georgians and Serbians out there!

I recently followed a recommendation by John C. Wright to read Matt Walsh’s page. Wright is, as usual, right; Walsh’s writings are quite sensible and entertaining. I particularly enjoyed his post “Why do you Christians always throw the Bible in my face?” A sample:

In any case, Christians are always shoving their religion in people’s faces. Everything they say, every position they hold, every thought they express — it’s all RELIGION. Even if they don’t explicitly say, “I think this because of my religion,” we all know the score. If it comes from RELIGION, as a secularist, I must hate it. If it’s been heavily influenced or transformed by RELIGION or RELIGIOUS people, I must hate it. That’s why I’m not a big fan of art, architecture, democracy, science, medicine, philosophy, astronomy, the university system, the abolition of slavery, America, Natural Law, Natural Rights, mathematics, the justice system, literature, music, and civilization.

Devious. Devious Christians. It’s like they have this secret plot and they use all of these methods to subversively give glory to their fake sky wizard. That’s a good line, isn’t it? I take this idea of God; the uncaused cause, the first mover, the Creator, the Absolute, the Answer to the riddle that no quantum physicist has ever been able to solve, and I equate it to a “wizard.” As if belief in dimensions of existence that transcend our physical plane can somehow be fairly compared to belief in magical Disney creatures. It’s an effective tactic, isn’t it? Aquinas, DaVinci, Shakespeare, Washington — most of the intellectual giants and great leaders in the past two thousand years have been guided by this conviction, but I can utterly dismiss it with one sarcastic and belittling phrase. There are thousands and thousands and thousands and thousands of pages of Christian apologetics written by some of the smartest men and women to ever walk the face of the Earth, yet I can chalk it all up to something as absurd as the Tooth Fairy. And you know what? I can do that without even reading ANY of those pages! You know why? Because I’m a critical thinker, my friend.

A critical thinker — I think about criticizing things. And then I do, without understanding the depth, enormity and beauty of that which I mock.

Walsh goes on to do a contemporary version of C.S. Lewis’ great point about Jesus’ being a madman, a con man, or the Son of God.

Posted by Joseph on Monday, January 27, Anno Domini 2014
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Wednesday, January 22, A.D. 2014
Leviticus 26

Today is the forty-first anniversary of Roe versus Wade. Remember the marchers—and remember their cause.

We have in the Old Testament a dramatic depiction of individual and collective obedience, rebellion, repentance, and redemption. The script is there for all to see, and yet we so often ignore the story, thinking that we are living in another tale with a different plot—and with a different author. However, it is the same adventure, too often a misadventure, and we would be wise to learn from the Hebrews’ hard lessons. Here in the twenty-sixth chapter of Leviticus is the Lord’s rather explicit summary of his covenant with Israel. It is not subtle; there are no asterisks or small printed disclosures. It is legislation along with the plain consequences of how man responds to the rules. We should take heed.

Ye shall make you no idols nor graven image, neither rear you up a standing image, neither shall ye set up any image of stone in your land, to bow down unto it: for I am the Lord your God.
Ye shall keep my sabbaths, and reverence my sanctuary: I am the Lord.
If ye walk in my statutes, and keep my commandments, and do them;
Then I will give you rain in due season, and the land shall yield her increase, and the trees of the field shall yield their fruit.
And your threshing shall reach unto the vintage, and the vintage shall reach unto the sowing time: and ye shall eat your bread to the full, and dwell in your land safely.
And I will give peace in the land, and ye shall lie down, and none shall make you afraid: and I will rid evil beasts out of the land, neither shall the sword go through your land.
And ye shall chase your enemies, and they shall fall before you by the sword.
And five of you shall chase an hundred, and an hundred of you shall put ten thousand to flight: and your enemies shall fall before you by the sword.
For I will have respect unto you, and make you fruitful, and multiply you, and establish my covenant with you.
And ye shall eat old store, and bring forth the old because of the new.
And I set my tabernacle among you: and my soul shall not abhor you.
And I will walk among you, and will be your God, and ye shall be my people.
I am the Lord your God, which brought you forth out of the land of Egypt, that ye should not be their bondmen; and I have broken the bands of your yoke, and made you go upright.
But if ye will not hearken unto me, and will not do all these commandments;
And if ye shall despise my statutes, or if your soul abhor my judgments, so that ye will not do all my commandments, but that ye break my covenant:
I also will do this unto you; I will even appoint over you terror, consumption, and the burning ague, that shall consume the eyes, and cause sorrow of heart: and ye shall sow your seed in vain, for your enemies shall eat it.
And I will set my face against you, and ye shall be slain before your enemies: they that hate you shall reign over you; and ye shall flee when none pursueth you.
And if ye will not yet for all this hearken unto me, then I will punish you seven times more for your sins.
And I will break the pride of your power; and I will make your heaven as iron, and your earth as brass:
And your strength shall be spent in vain: for your land shall not yield her increase, neither shall the trees of the land yield their fruits.
And if ye walk contrary unto me, and will not hearken unto me; I will bring seven times more plagues upon you according to your sins.
I will also send wild beasts among you, which shall rob you of your children, and destroy your cattle, and make you few in number; and your high ways shall be desolate.
And if ye will not be reformed by me by these things, but will walk contrary unto me;
Then will I also walk contrary unto you, and will punish you yet seven times for your sins.
And I will bring a sword upon you, that shall avenge the quarrel of my covenant: and when ye are gathered together within your cities, I will send the pestilence among you; and ye shall be delivered into the hand of the enemy.
And when I have broken the staff of your bread, ten women shall bake your bread in one oven, and they shall deliver you your bread again by weight: and ye shall eat, and not be satisfied.
And if ye will not for all this hearken unto me, but walk contrary unto me;
Then I will walk contrary unto you also in fury; and I, even I, will chastise you seven times for your sins.
And ye shall eat the flesh of your sons, and the flesh of your daughters shall ye eat.
And I will destroy your high places, and cut down your images, and cast your carcases upon the carcases of your idols, and my soul shall abhor you.
And I will make your cities waste, and bring your sanctuaries unto desolation, and I will not smell the savour of your sweet odours.
And I will bring the land into desolation: and your enemies which dwell therein shall be astonished at it.
And I will scatter you among the heathen, and will draw out a sword after you: and your land shall be desolate, and your cities waste.
Then shall the land enjoy her sabbaths, as long as it lieth desolate, and ye be in your enemies’ land; even then shall the land rest, and enjoy her sabbaths.
As long as it lieth desolate it shall rest; because it did not rest in your sabbaths, when ye dwelt upon it.
And upon them that are left alive of you I will send a faintness into their hearts in the lands of their enemies; and the sound of a shaken leaf shall chase them; and they shall flee, as fleeing from a sword; and they shall fall when none pursueth.
And they shall fall one upon another, as it were before a sword, when none pursueth: and ye shall have no power to stand before your enemies.
And ye shall perish among the heathen, and the land of your enemies shall eat you up.
And they that are left of you shall pine away in their iniquity in your enemies’ lands; and also in the iniquities of their fathers shall they pine away with them.
If they shall confess their iniquity, and the iniquity of their fathers, with their trespass which they trespassed against me, and that also they have walked contrary unto me;
And that I also have walked contrary unto them, and have brought them into the land of their enemies; if then their uncircumcised hearts be humbled, and they then accept of the punishment of their iniquity:
Then will I remember my covenant with Jacob, and also my covenant with Isaac, and also my covenant with Abraham will I remember; and I will remember the land.
The land also shall be left of them, and shall enjoy her sabbaths, while she lieth desolate without them: and they shall accept of the punishment of their iniquity: because, even because they despised my judgments, and because their soul abhorred my statutes.
And yet for all that, when they be in the land of their enemies, I will not cast them away, neither will I abhor them, to destroy them utterly, and to break my covenant with them: for I am the Lord their God.
But I will for their sakes remember the covenant of their ancestors, whom I brought forth out of the land of Egypt in the sight of the heathen, that I might be their God: I am the Lord.
These are the statutes and judgments and laws, which the Lord made between him and the children of Israel in mount Sinai by the hand of Moses.

Lord, have mercy.

Posted by Joseph on Wednesday, January 22, Anno Domini 2014
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Tuesday, January 21, A.D. 2014
Egypt’s Copts

Last month, 60 Minutes did a segment on the Copts. It is short but worth watching:

I am thankful that Western media outlets as well as political leaders are starting to show concern for Egypt’s Christians. Even Prince Charles has raised awareness of their perilous situation. May they survive the troubled times and flourish. You may read more about the Copts on Arimathea with “A Visit with the Copts” and “Copts in Crisis.”

In addition, let us keep in mind the travelers who are heading to Washington to participate in the March for Life tomorrow. It will be the forty-first anniversary of Roe versus Wade. It is supposed to be a cold but sunny day. May their witness bring encouragement to the marchers and a change of heart to the nation.

Posted by Joseph on Tuesday, January 21, Anno Domini 2014
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Monday, January 20, A.D. 2014
Magical Gifts in Russia

May you have a blessed Synaxis of Saint John the Baptist today. Christmastide is now over, but I wish to share a few more seasonal news items and videos. Euronews recently carried a story about the visit of the magi’s gifts to Russia this year: “They came from afar to see the gifts of the wise men in St. Petersburg.”

Note the woman interviewed who discovered new information about the faith during her veneration of the relics. The Soviets ensured that generations of Russians were ignorant of their ancestral religion, and the level of popular religious knowledge is low. However, it is getting better in Russia, which is sadly not the the case in America. American teenagers are largely ignorant heathen who do not even recognize major biblical events or the people involved.

Now, some readers will roll their eyes and channel their inner David Hume when they read about Orthodox folks’ venerating the gifts of the magi. The gifts are normally kept on Mount Athos in the Monastery of Saint Paul; you may read the monastery’s description of the gifts on Full of Grace and Truth: “The Precious Gifts of the Magi, and the Monastery of St. Paul.” Their argument is basically that the Theotokos was like every Jewish mother who hordes everything connected with her child—and even more so, given that her baby boy is the messiah. People were—and still are—interested in his stuff, you know. Moreover, I lean toward believing the tradition, even in its seemingly outlandish claims, over the Bollandist approach that pretends that we moderns know far more than we do. How many times have the Bollandists and their ilk had to eat crow? Such a reductionist attitude is not only mistaken in Christian hagiography; time and time again, pagan myths and folk legends have been shown to point to fact. We should be a bit more modest before we discount the established and ancient opinions of men, but modern man is ever learning anew that fire is hot.

As for Theophany yesterday, there are dozens of news stories online about the celebrations, especially since the Olympics will soon open in Sochi and journalists from all over are already in Russia. How many times did the following statement occur among the press this past weekend? “Naked Russians dip in the water outside in mid-January? Hey, let’s do a story on that.” For coverage and photographs of the day, check out Russia Profile, Seattle Post-Intelligencer, NBC News, CBS News, Moscow Times, Daily Mail, Irish Times, Kyiv Post, and Euronews. Just looking at the pictures makes me cold. The Ethiopians and the Greeks have it much easier.

Posted by Joseph on Monday, January 20, Anno Domini 2014
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Tuesday, January 7, A.D. 2014
Patriarchal Encyclical for Christmas

Christ is born!

I wish everyone who keeps the old calendar a very merry Christmas! Enjoy the feast of Christ’s Nativity.

For the glorious day, I offer Patriarch Bartholomew’s Christmas encyclical for this year. It is surprisingly frank for words from Constantinople—a stellar sign in the East, indeed.

+ BARTHOLOMEW
By God’s Mercy Archbishop of Constantinople-New Rome and Ecumenical Patriarch
To the Plenitude of the Church:
Grace, mercy, and peace from the Savior Christ, born in Bethlehem

Beloved brothers and sisters, children in the Lord,
“For to us a child is born, to us a son is given.”
(Isaiah 9.5)

Many centuries ago, the Prophet foresaw and announced with enthusiasm and joy the birth of the child Jesus from the ever-Virgin Mary. Naturally, even then, there was no period of census by Augustus Caesar, no place to stay for the safety of the Holy Virgin who was carrying a child by the Holy Spirit. So the holy Joseph as her betrothed and protector was obliged to lead her to a cave, a manger with animals, “in order to give birth to a child.”

Heaven and earth received them, offering thanks to their Creator: “The angels offered the hymn; the heavens a star; the wise men gifts; the shepherds a miracle; the earth a cave; the desert a manger; and we the Mother Virgin.” The shepherds were keeping watch over their flock, protecting them throughout the night, while the angels were witnessing the Mystery in ecstasy, singing hymns to God. (From Vespers of the Nativity)

The sweetness of the Holy Night of Christmas once again embraces the world. And in the midst of human trial and pain, of unending crises, of passion and enmity, of concern and despair, it presents the mystery of the Incarnation of the Divine Word as a genuine and timely solution. For He descended as dew in a field of cotton inside the womb of the ever-Virgin Mary in order to give rise to righteousness and much peace. (See Ps. 71.7)

In the silence and peace of that sacred night of Christmas, Jesus Christ – being without beginning, invisible, incomprehensible, immaterial, ever existing and the same – enters the drama of history bearing flesh, being insignificant, simple, poor and unknown. At the same time, he comes as a “wonderful, counselor, almighty, prince of peace, everlasting father.” (Is. 9.6) Indeed, he comes as a human being, born of a Virgin Mother, to solve the complexity of sin and grant resolution to the impasse of life’s anxiety through His grace and mercy, while providing destiny, value, content, as well as an exemplary ethos and model for the human adventure.

The Lord assumed and sanctified all of human nature. The pre-eternal God condescended to become for us an embryo and be borne inside the womb of the Theotokos. In so doing, He both honored human life from its earliest stage and taught us respect toward humankind from its earliest conception. The Creator of all accepted to be born as an infant and be nurtured by a Virgin. In so doing, He honored both virginity and motherhood, spiritual and natural. This is why St. Gregory the Theologian exhorts: “O women, be as virgins, so that you may become mothers of Christ.” (Homily XXXVIII on Epiphany, PG36.313A)

So the Lord appointed the marriage of male and female in the blessed family. The institution of Christian family constitutes the cell of life and an incubator for the spiritual and physical health and development of children. Therefore, the manifold support of the institution of the family comprises the obligation of the Church and responsibility of leadership in every country.

In order for a child to be raised in a healthy and natural way, there needs to be a family where man and woman live in harmony as one body, one flesh, and one soul, submitting to one another.

We are certain that all spiritual and ecclesiastical, much like the vigilant shepherds of old, but also the leaders of our world, know and accept this divine truth and reality, which we once again proclaim from the Ecumenical Patriarchate during this Christmas period. We must all encourage the creation and function of natural families, which can produce citizens that are spiritually healthy and joyful, filled with sentiments of security, based on the feeling of safety provided by a strong and protective father as well as a nurturing and loving mother. We need families where God might find rest. We invite and urge the entire plenitude of our holy Orthodox Church to live in a manner that is worthy of their calling and do everything that is possible to support the institution of marriage.

Brothers and sisters, “the night is far gone; the day is at hand.” (Rom. 6.12) The shepherds are already headed toward Bethlehem in order to proclaim the miracle. They are inviting us to follow them “like other star-gazing wise men filled with joy” (From the Christmas Troparion of the 4th Ode), bringing “worthy gifts” “such as fine gold to the King of ages, incense to the God of all, and myrrh to the immortal that lay dead for three days.” (Anatolios, Vesperal Hymn at Christmas) That is to say, the gifts of love and our faith, which test us as Christians, especially as Orthodox Christians, in the ethos and tradition of the family, the Fathers, and the Church, which has always practiced the Orthodox way through the centuries and to this day holds together our blessed society, whose cell for sacred life and growth is the family.

Beloved brothers and sisters, children in Christ,
2013 years have passed since the birth of Christ in the flesh
2013 years have passed and, like then, Christ continues to be persecuted in the person of the weak by Herod and all kinds of contemporary Herods
2013 years have passed and Jesus is persecuted in the person of Christians in Syria and elsewhere
2013 years have passed and Christ still flees like a refugee not only in Egypt, but also in Lebanon, Europe, America and elsewhere, seeking security in an insecure world
2013 years have passed and the child Jesus remains imprisoned with the two hierarchs in Syria, Paul (Yazigi) and Youhanna (Ibrahim), as well as the Orthodox nuns and many other known and unknown Christians
2013 years have passed and Christ is crucified with those who are tortured and killed in order not to betray their faith in Him
2013 years have passed and Jesus is daily put to death in the person of thousands of embryos, whose parents prevent from being born
2013 years have passed and Christ is mocked and ridiculed in the person of unfortunate children, who experience the crisis of the family, destitution and poverty.

It is this human pain, sorrow and affliction that our Lord came and once more comes to assume during this Christmas season. After all, He said: “As you have done to one of these, the least of my brothers and sisters,” you have done to me.” (Matt. 25.40-41) It is for these that He was born of a Virgin, for these that He became human, for these that He suffered, was crucified and arose from the dead. That is to say: for all of us. Thus, let each of us lift up our personal cross in order to find grace and mercy when we seek His assistance. Then, the born Emmanuel, our Savior and Lord, will “be with us.” Amen.

Christmas 2013
+ Bartholomew of Constantinople
Your fervent supplicant before God

Glorify the Lord!

Posted by Joseph on Tuesday, January 7, Anno Domini 2014
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Monday, January 6, A.D. 2014
Living in the Spirit

A blessed Christmas Eve to those who follow the old calendar and a happy Epiphany to the new calendarists!

A few weeks ago on the feast of Saint Hilarion (Troitsky) of Vereya, Patriarch Kirill of Moscow delivered a sermon on the epistle reading from Galatians at the Stretensky Monastery: “Living in the Spirit.” May it be edifying for you.

Let us ask Saint Hilarion to pray to the Lord that we may always walk in the Spirit.

Posted by Joseph on Monday, January 6, Anno Domini 2014
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Friday, January 3, A.D. 2014
Seven Traits of a Truly Orthodox School

Merry Christmas and Advent greetings (depending on your calendar)!

George Michalopulos has linked to a thoughtful address on Orthodox education by David Hicks to the Orthodox Christian School Association. You may wish to read “The Seven Traits of a Truly Orthodox School” in its entirety. I recommend it—except for its infuriating and inconsistent employment of the feminine pronoun as a neutral pronoun and for its lack of the Oxford comma. Here are some selections:

My first question is this: Is there such a thing as a distinctively Orthodox education which one might expect an Orthodox school to offer, or do we mean by an Orthodox school a place where Orthodox families send their children to receive an education in substance much like the one they would otherwise receive at a state school, albeit with smaller classes, more loving teachers, better discipline, morning prayers, a compulsory religion course or two, and icons on the walls? The second question, if I can make a persuasive case for a distinctively Orthodox education, is: How does this education differ from the one the Church already offers in its religious education classes? . . .

Here’s my brief: I believe there is or ought to be a distinctively Orthodox education in our schools, and I think that between our schools and the religious studies departments in our churches there is or ought to be perfect philosophical alignment. Where they differ is in the content of what they teach and, to a degree, in the methods they use.

Were I the headmaster of an Orthodox school, I would be perfectly happy with the statement of purpose that the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese developed for its Department of Religious Education: “The purpose of Orthodox Christian Education is to help build up the Church, the Body of Christ, by nurturing every person in the life of personal communion with the Holy Trinity, and thus, through this ministry, to bear joyful witness to God’s loving and redeeming work in the world.”

The fact that there is nothing here about literacy, or mastery learning, or superior scores on high stakes tests, or preparing for Harvard, or putting the first woman on the moon doesn’t disturb me, as an educator, in the least. Why ask for bread when you can have manna? Why write in periodic sentences if you can write in iambic pentameter? I believe our schools should be utterly committed to, and all about, the highest and best purpose for each child of God in a desk, and that is not merely about literacy, high test scores, and Harvard. Otherwise, where is our faith? “After all these things the Gentiles seek. For your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you.” (Matthew 6:32-33)

But simply stating this as our high purpose or philosophy doesn’t make it so. It still begs the question, what should an Orthodox education look like anyway? Perhaps you’ve heard of the 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. Well, here are the 7 Traits of a Truly Orthodox School.

1. We understand that learning grows out of relationships, in this case the intimate relationship between the teacher and his pupils. This begins, of course, with our Creator, who is not a unitary deity gazing at his own naval, but is three persons in relationship with one another, yet all bound by the will of the Father. It is a relationship characterized by love demonstrated in actions based upon profound concern for the well-being of each student as a child of God. Admittedly, it is difficult to talk about this in our culture because of the prevalence of twisted adult-child relationships with selfish and evil intentions, but we cannot let our culture, toxic as it is, dictate the essential traits of our schools. If anything, it should only underline the need for believing and practicing Orthodox teachers in every classroom. Ultimately, we must ask, how can a school be Orthodox if the teachers, who are meant to exercise this profound influence on their pupils, are not themselves Orthodox?

2. Aligned to this trait is our bedrock understanding of personhood . the uniqueness and preciousness of all persons as children of the God who loved His children so much that He sent His only-begotten Son into the world to die and bring them home to Himself. The Holy Trinity teachers us, we as persons do not exist as individuals; we come alive in our relations with God and with one another. As the English poet and cleric John Donne said, “No man is an island.” So our schools are preoccupied with questions like these: Who is this person God made me to be? What are the relationships I am meant to have, and what do these relationships require of me? . . .

3. Of course, we must ask, what is studied in an Orthodox school? In the Syrian schools just mentioned, students learned to read by using the Psalter, which they were required to commit to memory and which also became the basis for lives of unceasing prayer. I’m not proposing that, but I would propose a selection of content (objects of study) based on the following criteria:

Does the text, implicitly or explicitly, allow for a vertical element, a metaphysical space, even if not explicitly Christian, or does it assume only a horizontal element, naturalistic, materialistic, nihilistic?
Does the text celebrate sin, or does it expose sin for what it does, corrupting minds, souring relationships, destroying life, and flirting with death?
What are the virtues this book is challenging our students to cultivate?

Notice I haven’t said anything about studying only texts produced by Christians, let alone Orthodox Christians. Anyone who has read St. Basil’s treatise on the role of pagan literature in Christian formation or knows anything about St. Clement’s school in Alexandria knows that such a proscription would be against the spirit and best traditions of Orthodoxy. On the other hand, if you’re studying American history, why would you pass over the history of Paul Johnson to read a secular historian? Or if you’re studying the Middle Ages, why would you read a dull enlightener like William Manchester, who is not even a medievalist, when you can read Steven Runciman, Christopher Dawson and C. S. Lewis? Or better yet, when you can study the works of the Middle Ages themselves, the cathedrals, the paintings, the writings of Boethius, Chaucer, Anna Comnena, Dante, John Chrysostom, Benevenuto Cellini, Erasmus, et al? Orthodox schools should not be about textbooks and other forms of second-hand learning. Burn them!

4. Now I come to the heart of my argument. The fact is, there is no academic disadvantage to our students in failing to study the cultural detritus that everyone else is studying. This is so not only because the works we study in Orthodox schools are more demanding, more full of meaning, richer and closer to the source, but because the most researched and data-supported educational theory declares it so. What you teach is not nearly as important as how you teach! Whether you entirely buy this theory of not, it should relieve you of any anxieties you might feel about carefully selecting your study questions and reading lists.

So, how ought we to teach at an Orthodox school? Above all, we ought to have clear instructional protocols that ask all teachers to use an interrogatory method based on high-order reasoning. The teacher needs to identify the essential questions for every lesson, use differentiated strategies in instruction, and never complete a lesson without a high-order assessment. Without this, she [sic] will not build the critical-thinking, complex-problem-solving, high-order- reasoning skills that universities are looking for and that every productive citizen needs. Nor will he be faithful to our best traditions as Orthodox Christians. Remember, we are nurturing humans, not automatons: creatures whom their Creator made in His own image, with reasoning minds and free wills. The conclusions that our students come to after having weighed all the evidence and heard all the arguments are those that will guard them against the intellectual fads and fancies of this world at the same time as providing them with the critical tools to tackle any new topic or question with confidence and discernment.

5. Still, when it comes to the selection of our teaching content and the organization of the curriculum, our schools do have a point of view and a story to tell. We have a theology of history and a meta- narrative that culminates in the Incarnation, Passion and Resurrection of our Lord, events in time that made all things new. It is, to be sure, a largely implicit story. It begins with our school year, organized around the Church calendar, its Feasts and Fasts, its Saints Days and readings from the Gospels, Epistles, and Lives of the Saints. Our school days ought, to some extent, to reflect the Hours. And the books we study either draw upon the great 6 themes of our narrative and God’s redemptive work in history, or they call attention to the shallowness, emptiness and depravity of a world absent God and the hope of redemption and Resurrection.

I’ve heard it argued that this is the very reason not to send your child to an Orthodox school. “This is not education, but indoctrination!” It is tempting to respond to this charge as Tertullian might have done: “If this be indoctrination, then let us all be indoctrinated!” But this isn’t necessary. Our story is no more doctrinaire than that of the State schools wherein religion is a proscribed topic and God is never mentioned, nor a theology of history ever taught. What is the implicit story there? Simply, that God doesn’t exist, or if He does, He doesn’t matter. Do we really believe this? Do we want our children to believe this? Let’s be clear about this: the State’s narrative is much more shocking and anti-historical than ours, as well as one that effectively censors from the curriculum many of the deepest thinkers and much of greatest literature of all time simply because they don’t fit the narrative.

6. The ancient Greeks, who invented the school, as you probably all know, did not distinguish in their language between “education” and “culture.” When seeing the word “paideia,” modern English translators have to decide from the context whether to write education or culture. I think there’s an important lesson for us here. Culture is the most profound education of all. It pervades everything, and it is perpetually indoctrinating and educating us whether we are aware of it or not. Think of the profound effects television, popular music, video games, and social media have on us and on our children.

For this reason, an Orthodox school that fails to organize itself along the lines of what sociologists call a “deep culture” is largely failing in its mission. Think of that school in Nisibis with its daily “recitation of the choirs” (reciting of memorized psalms) and its community meetings. One of the great beauties of our faith is the temple. When we enter the temple, all our senses tell us that we have left the world behind. It should be this way with our schools as well. The hardscape should be compelling and unequivocally Orthodox; the rituals, the traditions, the celebrations, the rules—all should reflect and encourage Orthodox habits of heart, mind and body. . . .

7. Finally, it seems to me that an Orthodox school owes itself and its graduates a culminating course of study reflecting back on all that the student has learned from a specifically Orthodox point of view. If he’s equipped to do so, this might be the perfect course for the local priest to teach. Whatever the case, some fieldwork, perhaps in a monastery, some research, nowadays probably on the internet, and an extended essay ought to be integrated into this demanding course. Whether they make confessions or conversions (decisions that are not in our hands), our graduates ought to be able to give an account of the practices and beliefs of Orthodox Christians, as well as of our quarrel with and hope for the world.

Perhaps at this point, before concluding, I should digress briefly to respond to the question I raised earlier: How does this education differ from the one the Church already offers in its religious education classes? Well, other than the fact that the School is called upon to teach basic skills like reading and writing and a much broader range of subjects like chemistry, strings and Mandarin, I would offer these thoughts:

—The Church focuses exclusively on Orthodox beliefs and practices. The School compares Orthodox beliefs and practices to others and examines them in the light of history and the often hostile attacks on them, from pagan times to the present. It offers an Apologia.
—The Church offers itself as the all-holy Bride of Christ worthy of our unquestioning devotion and obedience. The School is called upon to distinguish between our Lord’s perfect intention and the historical struggles of the Church, both with internal and external enemies, to live up to the Bridegroom’s intention.
—The Church assumes a child’s faith and prepares the child to enter more fully into the richness of Christ’s Kingdom. The School does not assume. It presents, studies and defends the Faith in response to the existential questions that drive the curriculum (and life) and to which non-Orthodox answers are also studied. . . .

Excellent! I wish Orthodox and other Christian educators the best in their good works.

Posted by Joseph on Friday, January 3, Anno Domini 2014
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