Office of Educational Services
Office of Educational Services
Since the rise of Protestantism in the West religious education has been more and more considered the task of the school, whether it be a day school or Sunday school format. As a result our model of catechesis is too often assumed to be the classroom and the model catechist is the classroom teacher.
While professional teachers are indispensable to our programs because of their group management and communication skills, we still must recognize that our model catechist is not the classroom teacher but the pastor. The task of the classroom teacher is often seen as communicating a knowledge of this or that subject. The task of the catechist is more than that. Like the pastor, the catechist is a leader of worship, both the prayer sessions in the class and – as role model – the regular liturgical life of the parish. Children know when their catechist is at Liturgy, at vespers, at other services and whether they are participating actively or not.
Like the pastor, the catechist may be drawn into the lives of the students—their joys, their problems, their home life—both to share and sometimes to counsel. Like the pastor, the catechist may find special moments outside the formal class time to witness their faith to both the students and their families. Like pastors, catechists have been given a “charge”: a group of people to whom they minister and for whom they are responsible to the Lord. The parish priest may have 100 families in his charge while the catechist has three. Still, there are more similarities between catechist and pastor, than between catechist and public school teacher.
CATECHISTS’ SPIRITUAL FORMATION
Which model we follow has consequences as to how we view the formation of catechists. If our model for catechesis is the classroom, we will stress classroom techniques; if we follow the pastoral model suggested above, our formation will have a different emphasis. It will stress the interior conversion and growth to which every serious Christian is called and which is particularly expected of anyone serving the Church in ministry. No one can help others grow in the Christian life without living it themselves.
Related to this is the fact that, at this time and place in the life of our Church, we have come to realize that we do not know our spiritual heritage as we ought. Most of us were not raised in a living experience of authentic Eastern Church life. We need to rediscover what is authentically – Eastern Christian, sometimes from scratch. The number of catechists who freely admit that they did not know anything about the contents of the books they are teaching from bears witness to this.
These needs have determined the structure of the Interdiocesan Catechist Formation and Adult Enrichment Program sponsored by the ECDD (see Section 6, below), which also publishes most of the materials used in our parish programs. The program concentrates on raising awareness of our Eastern spiritual heritage and applying this awareness to discern the vision of our catechetical curriculum. The basic theology, liturgy, spirituality and ethics of the Christian East become the focus for reflection and application to the catechetical session.
The ECDD program presents this material in a number of courses listed below, each of which consists of six topic sessions. The course texts, indicated in italics, are available through Theological Book Service.
- Introduction to Catechist Formation — An exploration of the fundamentals of service as a catechist: the call, the tasks, the background of catechesis in general and the importance of personal formation (text: Discerning Your Call).
- Elements of Holy Tradition — A look at Tradition as the ongoing operation of the Holy Spirit; an examination of various outward forms of this Tradition (Scripture, Church Fathers, creeds and councils, liturgy and iconography) and how the Spirit works in them (text: Stream of Living Water).
- Introduction to Eastern Theology — A reflection on the basic teachings of the Nicene Creed: the mystery of God, God’s self-revelation, Christ as the fullness of that revelation, and the Spirit as the presence of God with us now. The Church, the Body of Christ, and the life of the world to come are also discussed (text: With Eyes of Faith).
- Introduction to Eastern Spirituality — The Byzantine approach to faith, worship and prayer along with the place of asceticism community and service as our personal response to God’s self revelation are considered (text: The Face of God).
- Introduction to Eastern Liturgy — The spirit informing our liturgical tradition, the daily and yearly cycles n Byzantine worship, liturgical space and the roles of the liturgical ministers in our tradition are presented, along with a basic exploration of the Divine Liturgy (text: Life and Worship).
- Catechesis: Forming a People — Exploration of what constitutes a total parish formation program, including catechesis for adults, children and youth. (texts: The Parish Catechetical Program and A Vision of Youth Ministry).
- Introduction to Eastern Christian Moral Thought — The Eastern approach to this subject relates righteousness of living to the holiness of life which is ours through baptism (text: Shown to be Holy).
- The Old Testament — Topics for these sessions include how the Eastern Churches see the Old Testament, its place in Christian life, and how its types are fulfilled in the New Testament. (text: The Old Testament: a Byzantine Perspective).
- Aspects of Eastern Catholic Church History — Major periods considered include the apostolic Church and the age of the martyrs, the golden age and monasticism, the missionary period and adaptation to culture, the pluralism, fragmentation and movements to unity in the Church, and the Church in America (text: To the Ends of the Earth).
Other courses projected will cover the following topics: the Holy Mysteries: the Sanctification of Life, The New Testament, Prayer, The Divine Liturgy, Deification: Main Theme of the Church Fathers and Spirituality and Personal Growth.
These courses are given in a variety of formats in centers serving Byzantine parishes throughout the country. In areas where there are several parishes in geographical proximity, courses are offered on an inter-parish basis. Such a model enables catechists to become acquainted with their counterparts in other Byzantine parishes and to share ideas with them. Where such cooperative offerings are not possible, courses may be offered for an Individual parish. In either case the six sessions may be held in all day seminar, half day or evening formats.