Education is an all-inclusive topic, touching upon every aspect of the human intellect and soul. Religious education, a predominant element of our lives as Orthodox Christians, will be the focus of this brief reflection.
Religious education concerns itself with fundamental questions of existence, and, through various ways and means, it seeks to help people to grow in the knowledge of God as they come to terms with these questions. Religious education deals with questions such as these: Who is God? What is my relationship to God? What is the ultimate destiny of human beings? What are the origins of the universe? What is life? What happens at the time of our death? It is in this sense that religious education uniquely differs from other fields of education; such as education pertaining to health, finances, or formal academic study.
Fundamental questions of existence are deeply embedded within the human soul, and they persist lifelong. Two examples of persons who spoke eloquently on behalf of humanity in this search for meaning come to mind. The first of these figures is the Psalmist, who upon considering from afar the immensity of God's creation, the heavens, the moon and the stars, turned inward in an attempt to understand his own human predicament of seemingly miniscule significance before the Lord and asked, "What is man, that You are mindful of him" (Psalm 8:4). Millennia later as humanity grew into its technological adolescence, the world would hear the very same passage of Psalm 8 read aloud by astronaut Edwin "Buzz" Aldrin, this time after having stood, by the grace of God, on the surface of the moon itself. Like the Psalmist, "Buzz" Aldrin was in fact asking a question on behalf of all humanity; like the Psalmist he turned inward to acknowledge his own seemingly infinitesimal significance before God. Both men knew what it meant to be humble before God and truly understood the significance of the proverb, "The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom" (Proverbs 1:7).
This proverb and the examples of these two figures of ancient and modern history, have three meaningful implications for religious education as we endeavor to continue upon the path of our predecessors to understand fundamental questions of our human existence. First, it is clear that we must approach our religious education with humility, rather than with arrogance. Before the awesomeness of God, we are indeed very tiny, yet at the same time God loves us beyond degrees that surpass our human comprehension. Second, as we endeavor to grow in our knowledge of existential questions that will always persist in our mind, we must acknowledge the necessity of our regular reading of the Holy Scriptures and works of theology, beginning with the writings of the Fathers of the Church and continuing into contemporary works of religious literature. Third, our religious education would not be complete without our acknowledging that among all modes of learning the most superior mode is through our worship of the Almighty God in our Church, where together with our co-worshippers, we open not only our minds to the wisdom of God but also our hearts to His infinite love, and where we receive the most inspiring and extraordinary religious education.
May this Paschal season now at hand present us all with renewed opportunities to consider the importance of religious education in our lives as we continue in our human quest to seek knowledge and to understand the most fundamental questions of our existence, and may the perfect love of the Risen Christ be with you now and always.
Archbishop of America