Saturday, July 7, 2012

2012 Clergy Laity

     Last week, I had the pleasure of assisting Catherine Varkas in exhibiting her course, Orthodox Christian Spiritual Formation, at the 2012 Clergy-Laity Congress of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America.

     We enjoyed meeting a number of priests, educators, parents, and representatives of Greek Orthodox churches from around the country. They shared stories of their children and their parishes, relating both the good and the bad that they've seen, and they shared with us in our desire for an approach to teaching the Faith to our young children that truly transmits the beauty and essence of our Faith.
     Our particular approach to transmitting the beauty and essence of Orthodoxy to the young children (3-6 year olds) is based pedagogically on the methodology and observations of Maria Montessori and Sophia Cavaletti, theologically on the teachings of the Fathers of the Orthodox Church, and has been refined over the years by Catherine's dedication to the child and to the Church.
     My task at the congress was to relay who Orthodox Christian Spiritual Formation is, what our curriculum includes, where we're located, etc, of course, over the course of the few days we were there, I began to feel like something of a broken record, as I pretty much recited the same little speech in some fashion to everyone who approached us.
     It went a little something like this:

"We're a teacher education center that provides teacher training for Sunday School, preschool, kindergarten and homeschool teachers. It's a hands on, experienced based approach to teaching the Faith to young children. This curriculum is a three year curriculum for 3-6 year olds that basically groups preschoolers and kindergartners together and works in the context of a once a week Sunday School classroom or daily preschool or homeschool setting. We offer a course at Hellenic College every June. It's 90 hours spread across 10 days, and it teaches how to interact with the young child and how to give every presentation that the 3 year curriculum contains. If there's a demand for it in your parish or metropolis, we can also come to you."

     If the person engaged in a conversation with me, I usually got around to sharing how it's also a catechism for adults because in order to teach the Faith, especially to young, impressionable children who retain everything they hear and see, you have to really know what you're talking about beyond what you're actually saying.
     For example, in my previous post about the boy who wanted to go to the Mystical Supper, if the teacher hadn't understood that the Holy Communion works outside of time and is truly the Mystical Supper, she wouldn't have been able to respond to his statement the way that she did. He wouldn't have come to that realization and understanding that brought him so much joy.

     I also liked to share how when I work with the children, sometimes they end up giving me a much deeper understanding of the Faith than I was trying to give to them.
     And wouldn't you know, it happened at the Congress.

     There was this 3 1/2 year old boy who was just smitten with all of the materials we brought. He came over and at first was a little hesitant, so I told him he could touch what he was looking at. He started kissing the icon figures on the table, and asking about the angel. We chatted a little bit about Pascha before he went over to the model Holy Table.
     I was all set to show him what was there and give him a sort of abbreviated lesson because of course, I was the adult who knew everything, and he was just some 3 1/2 year old kid who didn't know what anything was and was just going to start playing with the materials if I let him be.
    However, he quickly reminded me that I know a whole lot less than I think.

    Before giving me the chance to do much of anything, he turned and raised the Holy Gospel, opened it and read it, and set it upright on the Table. He "lit" the candles, he scooped up his imaginary Prosphoron and placed it in the Holy Chalice, he poured hot water (which we didn't have represented on our model Holy Table) into the Holy Chalice, he mashed the Holy Spoon down into the Holy Chalice (the same way the priests do) and brought everyone Holy Communion, he brought around the Blessing Cross for everyone to kiss, and on and on, motioning every little detail he could remember from the Liturgy (which amounted to much more than I could've remembered), all without saying a single word, before putting it back exactly the way he found it.
     And all the while, he was absolutely sincere and solemn. He wasn't playing a game. He wasn't silly or disrespectful. He was engaging in something, experiencing something that everyone on the outside just couldn't fully see. 
     It was beautiful, and it relayed the intensity of the child's inner life in a way that I could never convey with words.

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