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Understanding the Truth about Orthodox Christianity through its Traditions!
By Eva Kokinos

To help participants understand the difference between the following in the Orthodox Christian faith.
* Big “T”s → Major traditions that are part of our fundamental beliefs
* Little “t”s →Traditions that vary from different parishes, regions, and cultures, but are not fundamental beliefs of Orthodox Christianity.
* Myths → Things that people perceive or incorrect traditions that are passed down.

Shine within our hearts, loving Master, the pure light of Your divine knowledge, and open the eyes of our minds that we may understand Your teachings. Instill in us also reverence for Your blessed commandments, so that having conquered sinful desires we may pursue a spiritual way of life, thinking and doing all those things that are pleasing to You. For You, Christ our God, are our light, and to You we give glory, together with Your Father and Your Holy Spirit, now and forever. Amen. (Prayer of Enlightenment – My Orthodox Prayer Book)

Share your favorite family tradition for Christmas or Pascha.

Warm-up Questions
What traditions do you have with your families?
o    Family vacations or reunions
o    Going to special services together
o    Having Sunday Dinner all together

What traditions does your school have?
o    School fight song
o    School colors
o    Mascot
o    Important days or times in the season (Homecoming, Prom, etc.)

What do these traditions mean to your family or to your friends at school?
o    Traditions show us that we are different than others.
o    Upholding traditions shows a respect and honor for the past.
o    Traditions help us relate and feel connected to our roots, our history.

Read opening quotation from Fiddler on the Roof. “A fiddler on the roof. Sounds crazy, no? But in our little village of Anatevka, you might say every one of us is a fiddler on the roof, trying to scratch out a pleasant, simple tune without breaking his neck. It isn’t easy. You may ask, why do we stay here if it’s so dangerous? We stay because Anatevka is our home. And how do we keep our balance? That I can tell you in a word – tradition!

As Orthodox Christians, we are all in our churches, trying to be the best Christian we can be without being crushed under the pressures of society and temptation. It definitely isn’t easy. So our friends might ask us, why be an Orthodox Christian if it is so difficult? We are Orthodox Christian because it is our spiritual home. And how do we keep our balance… tradition!

Supplies needed: 5-7 pieces of white poster board or paper, pens or markers
-    Split the large group into 3-5 smaller groups
-    Give each small group a poster board and pen/marker
-    Each group needs to write down all of the things they believe or have heard are traditions in the Orthodox Church.
-    Give the group about 10 minutes to come up with their traditions.
-    Once the small groups have finished, bring them all back to one large group.
-    Each group will now read their traditions. The large group will vote on whether the tradition is a Big T, Little t, or Myth.
-    The leader(s) will then give the correct answer. If you have a priest present, it is fun to give him three pieces of paper… saying Big T, little t, or Myth. So when the group votes about the tradition, the priest puts up the right answer and then elaborates if necessary. If the group gets the answer wrong, the leader(s) should offer an explanation.

Why do you think we have traditions in the Orthodox Church?
o    To help us remember the history and important things about our faith.
o    To help protect and preserve the faith that has been handed down.
o    To keep our minds focused on the right things.
o    To show what we believe, to serve as a witness to others.

Where do the Orthodox Christian traditions come from?
Big Ts → Big Ts are really the basics. These are, for the most part, the immovable beliefs of our faith. No matter what culture or language, these are the things that do not change from church to church.
•    Holy Scripture
•    The Holy Sacraments
•    Our Worship (Divine Liturgy, Orthros, Vespers, etc.)
•    Our Theology

Little ts → Little ts are still very important to our Orthodox Christian identity. They give our faith a sense of uniqueness and beauty. However, they are changeable. In other words, these traditions are specific to a culture or region and sometimes are very different from one another.
•    Language (English, Greek, Romanian, Russian, etc.)
•    Red eggs for Pascha
•    Tsoureki or Pascha bread
•    Byzantine chant or Western choral music

Myths → Myths are just what they say… myths. There are many so-called traditions out there that are really just not part of our Orthodox Christian faith. Sometimes they stem from real traditions of the church. They aren’t always created to confuse or mislead people.  Somehow, these myths simple became attached to what is perceived as Orthodox Christianity.
•    EX. My Big Fat Greek Wedding – Spitting on people at weddings.

We thank You, Lord our God, that again on this occasion You have opened our eyes to the light of Your wisdom. You have gladdened our hearts with the knowledge of truth. We entreat You, Lord, help us always to do Your will. Bless our souls and bodies, our words and our deeds. Enable us to grow in grace, virtue and good habits, that Your name may be glorified, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, now and forever. Amen. (Prayer After Study – My Orthodox Prayer Book)

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