A frequent question that the Department receives from teachers and parents is “What should children know about their faith by the time they are ‘X’ years old?” This question is fueled by a number of influences. First, schools have expectations that their students should reach certain milestones at various stages in their education. Teachers are expected to prepare their students to meet those points in the course of the year, usually because there will be some kind of test. Second, education itself is goal-oriented. Educational progress is measured by the acquisition of certain objectives. Teachers and students want to know their level of progress. Third, parents want to be able to assist their children in the learning process. Knowing the expectations and what the program hopes to accomplish is beneficial.
The aim of education in the Orthodox Church is “to nurture, instruct, and direct each member of the community of faith – the Church – in Christian living, or as Orthodox writers typically call it, the life in Christ, so that each person grows ‘in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ’ (2 Peter 3:18) and become ‘a partaker of the divine nature’ (2 Peter 1:4). Alternately stated, the goal of … catechesis is for each person to become an icon, a living image of God, a person who lives in continual fellowship – communion – with God, reflecting a particular way – the Christ-like way – of knowing and living in the world.” (A. Vrame, The Educating Icon, 1999, p. 63). This vision of education involves acquiring information but also involves living according to the precepts of that information.
Thus, an Orthodox Christian ought to be well-informed about the rich content of the Orthodox Tradition. Being able to name, to retell, to identify, to list, and more are dimensions of what it means “to know” one’s faith. A Church school program should be able to transmit these concepts to its students. But “knowing the Faith” also involves being able to appreciate its content, to consider how it influences one’s life, to participate in it, and to respond to its call of commitment to faith in Jesus Christ and His Church. For example, what is the benefit of reciting the Lord’s Prayer in a classroom setting, and a teacher’s assessment that the student has memorized it, without praying the Lord’s Prayer at home and reflecting on the words themselves?
The real curriculum for learning the Orthodox Faith is the life of the Church as experienced in a dynamic, faith-filled parish. Our education in faith is a lifelong journey. No Church school curriculum can include or teach everything. Any series of published textbooks is merely the first step of learning. Even in the best series, the authors, editors, and publishers make choices about what they believe most valuable for learners to achieve in a certain timeframe.
What follows -- at the elementary school level -- is the result of reading the existing “Living Our Orthodox Faith” textbook series, published by the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese Department of Religious Education between 1989 and 1993, and summarizing the concepts that the textbooks strive to teach. We have tried to distill their contents, by grade level, to answer the question, “What should my child learn in grade X?”
For middle school / junior high and high school textbooks (published from 1995 - 2011), we have provided each text's learning objectives.
Please note the following:
- New terms and concepts in a text are in bold type.
- At the end of each grade, the Bible stories, lives of saints, and hymns covered by the textbook are also listed. It should be noted that Bible stories are frequently summarized in the textbooks to present the main point of the lesson or the story as well as to meet the developing reading skills of a student. When appropriate, based on reading ability, a student should begin using the Bible directly and learning Bible skills.
- You will notice how the concepts become more involved and the number of stories increase as the learner progresses.
- You will notice how certain concepts and topics, e.g., the Divine Liturgy, repeat themselves from year to year and are presented in new ways based on the theme of the book. The goal of the textbook series is not to present all of the information on a single topic in one year, never to return to it, but to revisit key topics in an unfolding pattern of discovery for the learner.
- Some items, such as prayers introduced in each unit, are found only in the Teacher’s Guides to the books.
Of course, individual parishes and teachers add material, information, (lives of saints, feast days, Sunday scripture readings) and activities, which will add to this list. Finally, the following list assumes that a child attends Church school faithfully, has a well-prepared teacher, and a family that is involved in the life of the Church, involved in the learning process, and reinforces the concepts at home.
Anton C. Vrame, PhD
- First Grade: Me and My World
- Second Grade: Loving God
- Third Grade: Sharing God’s World
- Fourth Grade: Growing with God
- Fifth Grade: God Calls Us
- Stewardship: Serving in God's World
- Facing Up to Peer Pressure
- Knowing Christ
- For to Us a Child Is Born
- Journey through Holy Week
- Journey through Great Lent
- Heaven on Earth: The Divine Liturgy
- A Lamp to My Feet: Introduction to the Bible
- First among Equals: The Ecumenical Patriarchate
- Come Receive the Light Bible Studies, vol. 1 (objectives to come)
- Come Receive the Light Bible Studies, vol. 2 (objectives to come)
- Rejoicing in One Lord, Jesus Christ (objectives to come)
- Who Is God? Who Am I? Who Are You? (objectives to come)
- Of Your Mystical Supper: The Eucharist
- What Is the Church? (forthcoming)
- Who Do You Say that I Am?: The Person of Christ (forthcoming)
Prepared by Stephania Gianulis and Aimee Cox Ehrs
Additional material added by Anton C. Vrame, PhD