Whatever name you choose to give it, “Sunday School” or “Church School”, the weekly gathering of our young people at the parishes for the purpose of religious education is an important element in the overall process of learning about our Orthodox Christian faith. But the classroom setting is not meant to be the only source for religious education, nor for that matter, should it be the primary one. These church-based education programs are meant to support and strengthen the daily spiritual formation that is occurring in the home and the foundation that comes from actively participating in the liturgical life of the church. Unfortunately, due to a number of reasons, these types of education are greatly minimized leaving many parents to depend on the weekly 30-40 minutes of catechism to pass on the faith.
St. John Chrysostom writes, “With us everything should be secondary compared to our concern with children, and their upbringing in the instruction and teaching of the Lord.” A family’s spiritual formation depends upon the synergy of all its members. Parents and caregivers must provide a consistent and enthusiastic example for the children of a family by leading the participation in Orthodox Christian life. In today’s highly complex world, with the dizzying array of demands that vie for our time, it is critical to establish a solid plan for the religious education of your family. There are several methods of actively engaging in your children’s religious education within your church and home.
Participating in the life of the Orthodox Church as a family unit is an imperative building block for healthy spiritual growth. When we don’t make church the center of our lives, unfortunately, it speaks volumes as to what our priorities are. Tee times, bargain hunting, or any of a myriad of diversions that compete for our time on Sunday morning can and must wait. Therefore, being at church regularly as a family, as elementary as it sounds, is the first step in supporting your children’s religious education. The experience of the liturgical life, primarily that of the Divine Liturgy, will serve as the anchor for your family’s week.
Remember, you as parents and/or caregivers set the tone for the entire family as to what is important for your family. Children quite often become imitators of parental habits, both good and bad. Take some time to examine if you are living out the teachings of the church every day of your life. Do your children see you pray? Do they see you read the Bible? Is there a continuous connection from what is learned in church to what is done in the home… or at work… or the grocery store? What are your daily actions telling your children?
Don’t Be Afraid
Many of us fear having to be our child’s teacher because of our own lack of knowledge on the faith. It is natural to have the apprehension of “not knowing enough” when engaging your children in religious topics. Nobody wants to pass on faulty information or look foolish in trying to pretend we know more than we really do. At some point, and likely quite often, your child will ask you questions about the faith that you will not be able to answer. Remember, we are all in a process of continuing education throughout the duration of our lives. For example, Church School teachers don’t always have the answers—they understand this well before setting foot in their classroom. What all Church School teachers have in common is a love for both their Orthodox Christian faith and children. When question arise, they seek out the answers. As parents, we too need to seek out answers to the many questions that we encounter as our children grow in the faith. Talk to your parish priest and explain your desire to build your faith enrichment. If you are not already, take advantage of Bible studies and adult religious education opportunities within your parish.
It is mutually beneficial for parents and caregivers work together with educators so that learning about the Orthodox Church takes place in a more comprehensive way. Make sure to introduce yourself to your children’s teacher at some point, preferably at the beginning of the school year. With the teacher’s permission, see if it would be possible to sit in and observe a class period. By doing this, you are showing your child that you take great interest in their spiritual development. Inquire with the teacher if there are ways you can enrich what is being taught in class at home. Always ask your child to share what they learned and see if there are opportunities for you to build on the lesson through out the week in the home.
Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one! You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your strength. And these words which I command you this day shall be upon your hearts; and you shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise.
— Deuteronomy 6:4-7
This passage from Deuteronomy is a commission for parents—it doesn’t tell us to drop our children at church and let the people there be responsible for their spiritual upbringing. But rather it commands us to teach our children everywhere we are during every part of the day. By serving as a solid role model for your child, you are giving them a worthy example for emulation—a legacy to be passed on from generation to generation.
George Tsongranis is the Special Projects Coordinator for the Center for Family Care.