Archpastoral Reflections - June 2006
Jun 19, 2006
The benefits of a thorough academic education for people of all ages cannot be adequately praised. The inherent benefits that come from receiving a truly advanced education are many, especially in our technologically sophisticated society. As Greek Orthodox Christians, we are blessed with a rich heritage that has long valued an enhanced academic education rooted in the classical notion of "paideia". This classical notion consisted of the elements of grammar, logic, and rhetoric (including philosophy) at a primary level; astronomy, arithmetic, music, and geometry at a secondary level; and the study of learned professions at a tertiary level, such as law, medicine, theology, or science.
Today, the forms of the classical Greek notion of paideia have evolved, but in essence, the spirit of paideia is alive and well in contemporary academic settings. Perhaps the most familiar adaptation of paideia being implemented in today's universities is the concept of a liberal arts education, which includes a widely diversified instruction on an array of subjects, which inspires the student to continuously seek out new intellectual frontiers, and which places critical thinking abilities at a premium.
When enhanced from the perspective of the Christian faith, such an education is unparalleled. The Fathers of our Church were exemplars of people who understood the value of the integration of faith with education. They employed their diverse educations and their training in philosophy to develop and clarify important theological doctrines, resolving some of the most controversial heresies that were in opposition to the teachings of the early Church. Today, we can look back at figures like St. Basil the Great, St. Gregory the Theologian, and St. Photios, as exemplars throughout our Christian history who understood the practical and inherent worth of receiving a generous education, for the glory of God, the One who bestows all wisdom.
Along with the benefit of receiving a great education come great responsibilities. For us as Greek Orthodox Christians, the contributions offered to our world by the Church Fathers raise some important questions: What is our duty as parents and guardians to provide the best educational opportunities available to our children? What is our duty as persons, created in the image and likeness of God, to exist in a constant state of educational development, whether through formal instruction or informal means? What is our duty as citizens to utilize our education to contribute to the public good? What is our duty as Orthodox Christians to offer the benefits of our education toward the work of the Church, namely the proclamation of Christ's Holy Gospel?
These questions are worth reflecting upon throughout the duration of one's entire lifetime. As parents and guardians, we should instill within our children the importance of faith and education, so that they can grow and follow their dreams according to God's will. More than this, we should aim toward cultivating a household where education for its own sake is valued, so that all in the household can develop intellectually together. With regard to our duty as citizens to promote the public good through education, we must be sensitive to the rising and often prohibitive financial costs associated with formal education today, and we must be sensitive to the very real and tragic injustices of our past that have resulted in certain classes of people being placed at insurmountable disadvantages when it comes to receiving access to educational opportunities on par with others. Perhaps the best way to contribute to the public good in this sense is for those who have been blessed with the opportunities to benefit from an outstanding education to do whatever they can in their communities to remedy the effects of these obstacles.
Finally, with regard to our duty as Orthodox Christians to serve the needs of our Church through education, each of you can share your life experiences, under the direction of your parish priest, with others in your community through the various educational programs offered in your parishes. By responding to these duties through such means, we can emulate not only the generosity of our loving God, but we can affirm as one community the premium that we place upon paideia and its concurrent responsibilities as bearers of truly blessed and rich heritage.
Archbishop of America