Melkite Greek Catholic Church
 

Seeking and Searching
for the Spirituality

Why Not Try Eastern Mysticism?

Office of Educational Services
Melkite Eparchy of Newton
1710 Surf Avenue, Belmar , NJ 07719
Voice 732-556-6917 - Cell 201-417-3804
email doccolie@yahoo.com

Today the desire for some form of mystical experience is fairly evident when one considers the degree to which a variety of eastern religions, philosophies, exercises and practices are in vogue. We can not help but notice the attraction that the exotic religious practices of the East hold for many searching for spirituality. Polls tell us that Americans are looking for personal ecstatic experiences of God. As teachers, we hear young people tell us that they don’t want to hear that Joan of Arc had a vision, they want to have a vision. They want it to happen for themselves.

We are living in confusing times. It was just about fifty years ago that the cover of Time magazine confronted its readers with existential anguish with the question “Is God Dead?” The culprit was science that triumphed in the belief tht “what cannot be known by scientific methods seems uninteresting and unreal.” Since that time , we have seen an increase in automation, technology and the mechanization of life, all of which have contributed to the dehumanization of society in pursuit of a philosophy of life that advocates the enlistment of a bureaucracy of highly trained engineers, scientists, or technicians to run society.

This has had a devastating effect on the human psyche. We hear complaints that the pursuit of technology has made people feel as mechanical as the technology they created.

Our modern arts are a good index of what has been happening. In theater, painting, sculpturing, music, dancing and singing, we encounter a violent rebellion against static, “clear and distinct” Cartesian forms.

Unfortunately, the scientific age has also contributed to a spiritual crisis which acquires with each passing year truly universal dimensions. The result is a world that is not neutral, but a world that challenges us and tries to reduce us to values, philosophies of life and world views profoundly different from our Christian faith. These ideas have crept into the formation and development of our children and have had more impact on their lives than our Church teachings. Sadly, many young people confused and ambivalent about their beliefs are walking away from their churches.

The crisis of the modern world is a crisis of ideas. Thought determines action and ideas shape our lives. Without using our God given gift of discernment, we are likely to accept as gospel the banter of ideas manufactured for us by the media. These ideas are communicated powerfully yet subtly via every political, cultural and social medium. These are the signs of the times and the fruits of the philosophies that mark this moment in history.

It should not surprise us then, that those seeking to make sense of the chaos would resort to consumer driven marketing techniques offering a variety of pseudo spiritual techniques and programs to fulfill the interest in spirituality as a way to transcend the frenetic pace of life and its accompanying anxiety. These are basically eclectic teachings drawn from the traditions of exotic religions and practices.

Today there are innumerable ways of expanding consciousness. For most of these techniques the originators have carefully analyzed the American mind and come up with practical do-it-yourself, non complicated systems. The latest in the stream of self help and self hypnotic techniques is “Reiki” joining “Holistic theology”, Mind Control and variations of transcendental meditation, all with promises to deliver transcendence, universal compassion, earth healing, transmutation of fear, clearing cellular memory grounding, and creating peace.

These programs play on the vanity of Americans who seem convinced that if they are charged “x” number of dollars for the course, they would get their money’s worth – more so than if it were offered free by some church group. It waves enticing slogans that are hard for the bedraggled American to pass up. Sure he wants inner peace and prosperity. Who wouldn’t want to increase his happiness? His wealth? His creative powers? Everyone wants to get along with everyone else. It will take away headaches, tensions and restore you to your pristine health of body and mind. International peace and an end to the ecological problem will result. Sweeping statements in Horatio Alger style of almost instant panacea for all ills – and all one need to do is to pay and then meditate twice a day – not too bad for what one will receive.

The question is – What is the true path to spirituality? “How do we put ourselves back together?” How do we become focused?, How do we become centered? How do we find out who we really are? How do we discover our true nature? How can we live according to our true nature if we don’t know what it is?

That people seek to find wholeness, harmony, peace, and tranquility. is natural. That people seek higher levels of consciousness is also natural. God made us to seek higher levels of consciousness, intimacy, and relationship with Him. How do we go about it? How do we find the transcendent? This is the age old question.

We may find these moments of stretching toward our transcendent self in beautiful music, a good book, a stimulating conversation with a dear friend. There are innumerable ways of expanding our consciousness. In all such methods, the key to pushing ourselves beyond our habitual experiences of ourselves toward the world, to other persons and to God Himself is concentration. This requires silence, inward stillness and the avoidance of distraction.

The two things lacking in most people’s lives are intimacy with God and intimacy with self. The quest for spiritual union with God is as old as mankind. Our Early Church Fathers had answers – in mysticism – the real experience of God. It is in the encounter with God that our lives are transformed. All the knowledge and formulas about God will not change lives. Knowledge about God is different from the experience of God. Unless dogmatic faith is supported by the personal experience of God Almighty, it remains empty.

The first characteristic of our faith is the important truth for spirituality that God is Trinity. The spiritual relevant meaning and implications of this fact is that reality is ultimately and inescapably interpersonal communion. The experience of God presupposes a continuous and progressive series of changes in our created nature and a more and more intimate communion of the human person with the Holy Trinity. Our personhood as human beings ranges widely over space and time and beyond space into eternity. Our human vocation is “theosis” – divinization. As St. Basil the Great says “the human being is a creature that is called to become God.”

So we see that the limits of our personhood are very far ranging and the answer to the question “Who am I?” is not at all obvious. Each of us is a mystery. We are God’s living icons. Each of us is a created expression of God’s infinite Self expression. This means it is impossible to understand ourselves apart from God. Humans cut off from God are no longer authentically human. If we lose our sense of the divine we equally lose our sense of the human.

The novelly emerging fads, couched in spiritual language, do not have the potential to deliver spiritual growth that is borne of a relationship with God. Although these programs borrow physical and mental practices from exotic mystical traditions, they are unable culminate in the mysticism of the Triune God. If we learn and practice these techniques without a true faith in God Trinity, we will never experience God, the essence of spirituality. Our spirituality is about relationship with God that leads to mystical union and our transformation into the ‘likeness’ of God.

God for us is Trinity. - and as we are made in the ‘image’ of God we are in the ‘Image’ of the Triune God. The key to understanding personhood according to the Trinitarian image is not isolated self awareness but relationship in mutual love. In the words of the theologian Dimitrios Staniloe “Insofar as I am not love, I am unintelligible to myself.” What a pity that in a recent survey of people who claimed to believe in God, 62 percent did not believe that God intervenes in their lives.

On the optimistic side, the interest in spirituality has generated what might be called a springtime in the Church, the scientific age that created an existential anguish over the question Is God Dead? has now been replaced by an era of round the clock televangelism. The wind of the All-Holy Spirit has dispelled the effects of technology and dehumanizing rationalism. And as the Psalmist says, mountains of rocks have been transformed into fountains of living waters. And in this continued movement of hungry people looking for a deeper relationship with God, it is a likely moment that we as Eastern Christians are impelled to return to our roots and rediscover the tradition of our Early Fathers. Their mystical practices allow us to overcome our frenetic state of anxiety dealing with the world around us and encourage descent into our hearts from this disordered state. This explains the revival of the Jesus Prayer among those searching for the experience of God. On the shelves in most Religious book stores today we can find a variety of books on the practice of the Jesus Prayer written by authors of many Christian denominations.

The Jesus Prayer is an ancient form of prayer used in the Eastern Churches, based on the repeated invocation of the name of Jesus. It has many different forms. The most traditional one – “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me a sinner.” All of them have the same theological basis and meaning: to let us enter into the divine mystery and to experience the presence of Jesus in our everyday life.

Can such a simple turning within our “heart” and repeating the name of Jesus synchronized with our breathing really be an effective prayer for us today? This is surely the basic technique common to all transcendental forms of meditation; a fixation on a mantra (the name of Jesus) while slowing down one’s breathing and sinking into a state of relaxation. Using the Jesus prayer “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God. . ., have mercy on me a sinner.””

It behooves us also at this time to rediscover our own Eastern Mystical tradition. Let us use the simple but powerful spiritual techniques that are being practiced by all seekers of enlightenment.

The mystical encounter is not exclusive to the ascetic and the disciplined spiritual athlete who goes off into the desert. Inasmuch as we are all temples of the Holy Spirit, He lives and breathes in us When we turn within to listen to that breath breathing in us then we become true temples of prayer. For the mystics, prayer is a state of existence, rather than an action. It is man standing before God in as great a consciousness as man can possess of the awesome, transcendent holiness of God and of his own utter poverty and lack of completeness. The mystic is simply a person like all of us, who meets God in an ever deepening openness to the “Living Mystery” within him. The mystic is the one who consciously lets the Breath of God breathe in him.

He is, as St. Irenaeus says, “The glory of God – a man living to the fullest.” The mystic is the person always becoming more human as the Holy Sprit divinizes the powers placed in man when God made him “according to the Image and Likeness” of God. A fully realized human being has to be a mystic in the truest sense. We should not limit our understanding of mysticism to the aberrations that accompanied the prayer life of the great saints.

The Fathers of the Sinai taught that when we combine the name of Jesus with the regular flow of breath we find that our attention is more easily kept on the One to whom we are praying. These fathers came to be associated with the form of spirituality called hesychasm which developed in the monasteries of Egypt around the fourth and fifth century. Hesychasm refers to the inner tranquility of spirit needed for any deep communion with God. From about the sixth century, this practice called the Jesus Prayer was followed by the monks who lived this hesychastic way of life attempting to achieve inner rest and stillness by laying aside all earthly cares, by quieting the cravings of our fallen nature which get in the way of a deeper relationship with the Lord.

This coordination of the Prayer with the bodily activity of breathing became an important part of hesychast spirituality in the Middle East. Hesychasts would spend great amounts of time ‘practicing the Prayer’ so that it would move from being a conscious, vocal activity to a subconscious one. They wanted the Prayer to be literally unceasing (1 Thess.5:17) This is not something that happens over night, but rather in stages. In the first state, we pray with words on our lips. In the Jesus Prayer, we say the prayer over and over again. In the Second stage, the prayer moves from the lips to the mind. The prayer starts to become a part of us. We become conscious of saying the prayer when we aren’t thinking about it. We don’t will it. It just happens. This may be frightening because we are so accustomed to being in control, and now we hand over control to God in order to move on to the third stage, where the rhythm of the prayer is the rhythm of the heart In the heart we find the peace, joy and fulfillment of living in the overwhelming love of God.

The practice of the Jesus Prayer spread to other parts of the Christian East through the influence of monasticism. While many teachers and advocates of the Jesus Prayer seem to be monks, it is actually an anonymous layman who wrote the book The Way of the Pilgrim that has drawn the attention of Christians today. It tells the story of a simple, vagrant who tried to find out what “Prayer without ceasing” (1 Thess 5:17) could mean and came upon the Jesus Prayer. His story has touched countless believers in East and West and helped make the prayer a viable source of spiritual strength for modern man. We can know if the Prayer is giving us a true experience of God by observing what Jesus taught us: “By their fruit shall you know them” (Mt 7:16)

More learning takes place by doing than by hearing. We best learn to pray by praying. We should not think of the prayer as too difficult or not intended for lay persons. That is the beauty of the Jesus prayer, it is for all who wish to experience the Jesus Prayer as a Christian mystical experience.

The following are suggestions to begin to pray the Jesus Prayer.

  • Create an atmosphere that contributes to the experience by providing an environmental enhancement for stillness and relaxation as a psychological preparation for inward prayer. The quiet, structured environment removes exterior distractions.

The use of the traditional icon corner builds on the Byzantine understanding of the use of icons in prayer. We pray before an icon because the icon manifests graphically the presence of God and serves as a “window to heaven”, inviting us to personally recognize the presence of the One before whose image we stand.

  • Sit in a comfortable position, and try not to move so as not to be distracted or to expend unnecessary energy.
  • To feel that you are going down deep within yourself, you may use any of the commonly accepted countdown exercises Feel yourself as totally relaxed as you continue to go deeper and deeper into yourself.
  • Breathe deeply – inhale and push out with your diaphragm (repeat this several times. Feel yourself breathing in God’s life. Repeat these words to yourself “Jesus Christ, come into my life”
  • As we exhale, let us ask God to have mercy on us. We are going to breathe in Jesus’ life and exhale our sinfulness. Breathe in “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God” . . .exhale, and say to yourself, “Have mercy on me a sinner”; breathe in repeat this and silently close out all distractions. Continue to pray in your mind . . .feel Him in your heart . . .breathe in God’s breathe . . .push out that which keeps you from God.
  • If you feel yourself surfacing, breathe deeply and start over again.
  • Continue to breathe deeply and sit quietly – allow God to speak in your heart.

In the tradition of the true eastern mystic, St. Gregory of Sinai (14th century) describes Christian transcendental meditation as man standing before God in prayer, with concentration by the grace of faith in the indwelling Trinity and he “forces his mind into his heart.” Man in prayer seeks to move beyond images and words to reach an inner stillness (apatheia) or tranquility where he is freed by grace to experience God at the depths of his being. The goal of such spirituality is not to reach a religious “high” or to have an ecstatic experience. It is to fulfill the injunction of the New Testament to pray always. It is to be re-created into the fullness of matured sons and daughters of God. It is to let go of our creaturely hold on our lives in order to enter into a conscious relationship with God as Creator but above all as a loving Father, and to live each moment in the light of that relationship. From the earliest Christians tradition, man has been encouraged to stretch forth to attain an ever greater awareness and honesty in his relationship with God.

The bottom line is that people who are looking for the experience of God will not find it in techniques and recipes. It is only the experience of God that will transform us.. Other practices can alleviate anxiety and stress and claim to provide rejuvenation and refreshment. Our society traditionally emphasizes the immediate, the new and the temporary. They are all fads of escapism. The true mystic enters into life not runs from it.

We all live lives of contemplation. The question is, what do we contemplate? Why not contemplate Jesus. Is it riches, power, prestiege, fame? Or do we contemplate the wonders of God, the glory of his creation, and the joys of the spiritual life. It is not necessary to go away to a monastery to live a life of contemplation. We are all contemplatives. And what we contemplate will play a significant role in the life we live. This is why it is essential that we help our students discover the tradition of the Eastern mystics.

One of the great Christian mystics of the 14th century, Jan Ruysbroeck in his Mirror of Eternal Salvation, writes:

“Above the reason in the depths of the intelligence, the simple eye of the contemplative soul is always open. It contemplates and gazes at the light, the Word. With pure gaze, enlightened by the Light itself, eye against eye, mirror against mirror, image against image.”

We as catechists are called to do more than teach about God, we are being called to help our students to know God –– To enter into a relationship with the God they love – a relationship centered in the heart - It is important for them to be aware of the great mystical tradition of the East that will enable them to live a truly spiritual life and not be deluded by fads that promise much and deliver little. It is also important for them to experience a transforming spirituality that will make them amenable to the generosity of God, who created them to be gods.

The person who is not exposed to the presence of God within will easily accept the absence of God as real. Gradually what the person accepts psychologically becomes real for him. So we should help are student acquire a sense of the reality of God.

The challenges facing us as teachers can be addressed only by a transformation of consciousness. We must encourage our students to push aside all the fads and follow the path of the mystics? God is very much alive in the hearts of those who seek him. How to have a relationship with God has to be treated seriously. It is about time that we stopped looking for something to keep us grounded and follow the way of the Fathers of the Church. Concentrate on the simple but powerful techniques that have been a part of our tradition. Meditation is second nature to the Eastern Christian. Our own conversion and the conversion of the world by the power of God’s love in us is our vocation.

Then that prophetic word moves us to our response. We move outward to build a like community of joy and love that we have experienced through the gratuitous love of the Father for His children. Having been accepted in love by God we have a sense of real identity.

Within our tradition, there is an understanding that the goal of religious education is to form a “whole person” and that achieving this goal involves a dynamic and endless process of growth. Growth and development are seen positively; in terms of personhood, they are endless. Growth in personhood has as its aim growth towards God-likeness, which is ultimately endless because God is a mystery: “ineffable, beyond comprehension, invisible, existing forever and always the same.” Growth in personhood is growth and development of one’s humanity and is consistent with growth toward God-likeness. St. Irenaeus asks, “How could you be God when you have not yet become human?” The human vocation;, in this view;, is to grow from God’s image towards God-likeness. Growth and progress are not only possible but essential to human existence. Each one of us is on a journey; “to be human is to be a traveler, always on the move. It should not surprise us that modern man yearns to be free to discover who he is and not be as many people encountered by him in the course of a day. Bent 0n Personhood implies constant discovery, ever new beginnings, increasing self-transcendence.” (Adversus-Haeresis4:20:6 Irenaeus of Lyons)

“Private interpretation” of the scripture with its roots in the “will of man” underlies heretical teaching (2 peter 1:20,21) So mind expansion techniques and exercises rooted in the “will of man” are false teaching. Simply because If man had the potential of infinite capabilities on his own why would he need God? Gnostic fads make many claim for peace and tranquility but the practices of the mystics go beyond the serenity of the world , but lead us to discover the ecstatic joy of a relationship with God.

 
Office of Educational Services
Melkite Eparchy of Newton
1710 Surf Avenue - Belmar , NJ 07719
Voice 732-556-6917- Cell 201-417-3804
email - doccolie@yahoo.com

CATECHESIS FOR YOUTH: LOOKING TO THE FUTURE

What is our Catechetical mission for our youth in light of current trends in American society and the way they relate to our ancient past and tradition? Today, our world is radically different from that which shaped our mentality, our thought-forms, indeed our whole life as Melkites. Our world is deeply marked by a spiritual crisis brought on by secularism; an approach to life that eliminates God and His plan for humanity from anything we think or do and basically dispenses with God and the Church completely. Society’s ways all too frequently have more of an impact on the lives of our youth than does the church.

Moreover, we are confronted with the pervasive influence of the technology culture and its impact on relationships. In subtle ways the internet shapes our consciousness, our commitments, and even our faith. It tends to isolate our youth from relationships, creating a neo-individualism engendered by reliance on technology and limits human relationships that are necessary for the development of the nobler aspects of human life: Christian growth, maturity and love.

The ultimate meaning of this crisis is that the world in which the Church lives today, is not a “neutral” one, but a world trying to reduce her to values, philosophies of life and world-views profoundly different from, her vision, and experience of God, man and life.

What is worrisome is our seeming inability to face up to the crisis and to seek ways of dealing with it. This inability has had a serious effect on the faith commitment of our youth who are hearing distortion, when they need catechetical direction and guidance. As a result many of our young people have no sense of real commitment to their churches and their tradition and are walking away.

The message of the Gospel may be timeless, but those under our care and guidance are very much products of a particular place and time. What are our kids becoming: God-Like or technocrats?

It behooves us therefore, to make our first catechetical priority youth and to implement programs that best serve their needs in secular American society. Without the participation of the young, we can be assured that all our work is in vain and that our communities will disappear. In our future vision of catechesis we must keep pace with what is happening in American society and culture. This means that we are called to provide the scaffolding necessary to counteract society’s influence and secular ideologies.

We have to go back to our sources. For the Patristic Fathers Christianity was above all an experience, or more precisely, the Church is an experience. Our catechetical focus in the future must include a paradigm shift from book learning to experiential learning.

This calls for the use of modern and exciting expressions that reveal the truths of our faith in a manner that corresponds to contemporary life and young people’s search for purpose and meaning. It calls for catechesis that relates the vision of the Fathers of the church to the real, concrete life, shaped and conditioned as it is now, by a totally different vision. We must seek to resolve the conflict we run into between the dogma we find in books and the practices we learn from the scientifically proven wisdom of the world.

We have a whole vision of man, world, nature, matter, entirely different from the one which shapes our secular world. It is a dynamic vision of never ending growth for all eternity. Most theologians before Vatican II, in teaching about the essence of eternal happiness in heaven, described it in static terms of “seeing God’s essence in the beatific vision.” Such immobility was deemed the ultimate of God’s perfection. Meanwhile our modern world explodes into fresh and exciting richness that for them to consider assent to the truth in any static and immobile terms has very little meaning today.

Our hope is that God has given us a vocation in this life to teach. He has also given us a magnificent tradition directly from the hands of the apostles and while ancient, it is compellingly contemporary by the power of the Holy Spirit to spawn an ever-newness to all things in the church.

Faithfulness to our tradition means, not only acceptance of formulae or customs from past generations, but rather – the ever new, personal and direct experience of the Holy Spirit in the present here and now. All the formulas about religious life will not change lives, only the experience of God. Not only must we appreciate the treasure we have, but we must accept this treasure as a way of life and believe that this is an opportunity to grow and become new men and women for all eternity and to live in the dignity of God and not in the misery of men.

We have to help our youth experience the Divine Liturgy and discover the hidden meanings behind the signs and symbols. They should experience the Church as a Theophany, the eternal breaking into time, and unfolding of the divine life through the deifying transformation of humanity in worship. In the mystery of the Church we are dealing with life being transformed..
We are a risen people, a people empowered by the Holy Spirit, a victorious people, and we celebrate the Resurrection at every Divine Liturgy. We celebrate victory over death and we are not defeated in life.

A Christian Spiritual Makeover?

Our youth must experience who they are before God. Our human vocation is theosis deification – divinization. As St. Basil the Great says the human being is a creature that is called to become God.

We are God’s “living icons”. Each of us is a created expression of God’s infinite and uncreated “self expression”. This means it is impossible to understand ourselves apart from God. Cut off from God we are no longer authentically human – we are sub-human. If we lose our sense of the divine we lose equally our sense of the human.

What may be needed to change the mindset is an extreme Christian spiritual makeover! Our faith is not only a set of beliefs; it is also a set of tools which have the power to transform. They must live the reality of the “image” of God within them making it possible for them to grow and discover the mystery of who they are. They must realize the dynamic potential within them waiting to be activated through a relationship with God in prayer. To function strictly on a human physical level without using their divine potential is functioning with half their God given potential and for all practical purposes, they can never succeed without God. They have to discover that they have a call higher than their own self esteem!

We have to guide our youth to the reality that religion is relevant for living a fuller life, an abundant life, a joyful life, not something they tuck away like an insurance policy to guarantee them heaven when they die. We should hope to involve our students in prayerful consideration of the interrelationships of traditional teachings so that these truths may become living realities affecting daily living. We have to invite them to go beyond the catechism of mere concepts to the insights of the Eastern Fathers that will elicit a “real” and not a “notional” assent to the truths about life and death.

We have a whole vision of man, world, nature, matter, entirely different from the one which shapes our secular world. It is a dynamic vision of never ending growth for all eternity. Most theologians before Vatican II, in teaching about the essence of eternal happiness in heaven, described it in static terms of “seeing God’s essence in the beatific vision.” Such immobility was deemed the ultimate of God’s perfection. Meanwhile our modern world explodes into fresh and exciting richness that for young people to consider assent to the truth in any static and immobile terms has very little meaning today.

Relationship: Interlocked and Intertwined

A contemporary philosopher argues that relationship is constitutive of personhood and that there is no true persons unless there are least two persons communicating with each other. In other words, I need you in order to be myself (John McMarry 1951)
All creation is intertwined in relationship because the same uncreated energy of God infuses all creation with life that would not exist without God’s energy. We have seen that by splitting the atom that nothing is static. Everything is interrelated. We can’t live without interrelationships and so there are two reactions to this exciting exploding world - we can run away or we can enter, participate and be transformed by touching the mystery.

St. Maximus the Great Confessor centuries before Einstein discovered the theory of relativity, saw that God in His uncreated energy - the Holy Trinity burst out of that tremendous community of love to share themselves with us and to make us ‘participators of God’s very own nature’ (2Peter, Ch1,v4) This God is within us. But where are we? What do the young think about relationships?

Spirituality and relationship

Young people don’t want to just learn about relationship with God – they want to personally encounter God in relationship. Teaching them spirituality is teaching them about relationship with God. Have your students ever pondered in amazement how mortals can have a relationship with God. How did God make that possible?

It is essential to unlock the rich treasury of our Eastern Christian Spiritual heritage so needed to offset the pagan pessimism that exists in our secular society. How to pray, meditate, be silent, and listen, how to be modern ascetics, how to combat spiritual warfare, how to pray in the heart using the Jesus prayer are spiritual paths to deepen our relationship with God. That is why the Jesus Prayer is called the Prayer of the Heart.

The word heart is not an easy word to understand – the heart is deep. St Isaac the Syrian tells us that “hidden within each one of us is a secret treasure house an inner kingdom, amazing in its depth and variety a place of wonder and joy – a place of glory – and a place of meeting and encounter.” The inner kingdom is best described as the kingdom of the heart. Heart is the fundamental word in spirituality both East and West. St Isaac tells us to “enter eagerly into the treasure house that is within you so you will see the things that are in heaven for there is but one single entry to both that of the keys of the kingdom is hidden within your soul.”

There is no head/heart contrast. The heart means not just the motions or feelings, the heart in the bible means the spiritual center of the total person – the place of insight – vision and wisdom. (Matt6:21 “Where your treasure is there will your heart be also”)
These spiritual experiences move us to live more purposefully and not to just exist, driven by the winds of destiny. They compel us to be faithful and dedicated to something greater than ourselves they allow us to transcend our physical limitations and as God’s icons, become co-Creators with Christ and lovers of mankind. It opens a path leading to infinite potential not only for success in this life but forever!

The heart is the place where we formulate our primary aim – our hope – the heart expresses our purpose in life and the heart is what determines our behavior and our action the heart in this way is the moral center of the person.

As we continue to grow in the process of becoming like God, we continue to discover our true selves in God. We discover our true identity in God, as we are being transformed into new men and women. We discover the key to our personhood according to the Trinitarian image is not isolated self awareness but relationship in mutual love. The Romanian theologian Fr. Dimitrios Staniloe writes “insofar as I am not love, I am unintelligible to myself”.

Beyond books to living experiences . . .

As our youth grow in their parishes, they need to be brought together where they can freely speak their faith, share their lives as Christians and hear with their “new ears” the teaching of the Spirit so that their own commitment may be deepened. Our young people want to dialogue, discuss, learn from one another and confirm their own beliefs and faith and hope in whatever the Spirit leads to restore Christian living and sensitivity for what is important in life and an awareness that they don’t relate to things only to people; and in that relationship they realize who they are and grow in psychological and Christian maturity. Faith development is a life-long journey, rather than a static point of arrival. Our young people need to be sustained along the way.

Insular attitude

Our youth must overcome their insular attitude and develop pride in their church. They must be confident that our religious tradition is capable of enriching American life. Are we not an example of what a Christian world view and social order should consist of? Haven’t we learned something about communal life, respect for the individual, toleration, and openness in which the disheartened of the world can find some solace? When we speak of preservation of our tradition, we must avoid acting as if they were museum pieces. Our tradition is not to be isolated from mainstream religious America – but part of it.

Although our truths are ancient, they are ever modern, exciting, relational, dynamic and boundless, and offer a good defense against the spiritual crisis brought on by secular lifestyle.

 
Icon of St. NicholasOffice of Educational Services
Melkite Eparchy of Newton
1710 Surf Avenue - Belmar , NJ 07719
Voice 732-556-6917 - Cell 201-417-3804
email - doccolie@yahoo.com

According to the Scriptures, the Church has a number of aspects which determine its life. Every unit within the Church is meant to reflect these dimensions as its priorities. As a Christian people we are committed:

to be a worshipping community ((1 Pt 2:9)

to share life together (Acts 2:42-47)

to proclaim the Gospel (Mt 28:19-20)

to be of service to those in need (Jn13:12-15)

Each Christian community is meant to live out this vision of the Church as a people who worship, who support one another in fellowship, who provide opportunities for bringing people to the Lord (evangelization), for nurturing them once they have committed themselves to Him (catechesis) and for preparing them for ministry.

In one sense, catechetical activity in our diocese began many years ago. Parishes conducted church school programs, missions and youth activities. Wider activity began with the establishment of St. Basil's Seminary in Methuen, Massachusetts. Here faculty and students involved in parish programs developed an initial catechetical text designed to supplement existing materials.

With the establishment of our episcopate in 1966 other resources were developed: an adult education bulletin and, in cooperation with other Byzantine Catholic dioceses, the God With Us catechetical series for children. During this time the diocesan council was urging the establishment of an educational department in our Church. At first this took the form of a committee of the diocesan council. Later a part time office was established and, in 1983, this office was upgraded to a full time ministry for our Church.

The Office of Educational Services presently consists of a part-time director, a full time associate director, and a number of associates from various parishes in the eparchy who are working on different projects.

From its inception, the Office of Educational Services has endorsed the concept of total parish education. Since Eastern Christians stress spiritual growth as a life-long process (theosis), the diocesan office attempts to provide resources and programs for all levels of parish catechesis. The following mission statement was approved by Archbishop Joseph Tawil and the Diocesan Pastoral Council in 1978 and has set the tone for the activity of this Office.

RELIGIOUS EDUCATION: A TOTAL VIEW

The goal of the Christian life, as intended by God, is theosis, the divinization of the believer. We are "to become partakers of the divine nature" (2 Peter 1:4). The Greek Fathers stressed that this participation is in fact a process, one that begins with the mystery of baptism but will not be complete until the resurrection of the dead at the Last Day. From the psychological standpoint, an important aspect of this process is the coming to awareness that we have indeed "put on Christ." One of the patristic names for baptism was, in fact, photismos or illumination. Thus the dynamics of Christian education consists in making the illuminated conscious of the light enkindled in them by the Holy Spirit. "In your Light we shall see Light." Or as St. Simeon the New Theologian has it, "we who have been divinized by grace and by adoption in Baptism are also to be divinized in awareness and knowledge."

This realization of the magnitude of our calling may be brought about by a number of means. One of them is surely formal Christian education. As the baptized person is gradually introduced into a knowledge of the mystery of salvation, he grows, more conscious of the gift of divine life he has received.

WHO SHOULD BE EDUCATED?

For some time the application of this principle in the Western Church has been directed mainly to children, chiefly through parochial schools. While young believers certainly need to be formed in the tradition of the Church, an over-emphasis on children in Christian education has actually been counterproductive to that formation. This ap­proach has lead to the unavoidable conclusion that once a person outgrows school age he is no longer in need of Christian formation.

This approach is clearly foreign to the practice of the East where the first catechetical schools were for adults and where the continual formation of adults by a spiritual guide is still a living practice. Furthermore, in the current renewal of the Roman Church the primacy of adult religious formation has again been stressed. Thus the General Catecheticol Directory, the current policy guide­lines for Roman Catholic religious educators throughout the world, states:

"...catechesis for adults, since it deals with persons who are capable of an adherence that is fully responsible, must be considered the chief form of catechesis. All the other forms, which are indeed always necessary, are in some way oriented to it." (#20)

The National Catechetical Directory of the United States declares the active faith is a free response to God's grace; and maximum human freedom only comes with the self-possession and responsibility of adulthood. This is one of the principle reasons for regarding adult catechesis as the chief form of catechesis. To assign primacy to adult catechesis does not mean sacrificing cateche­sis at other age levels, it means making sure that what is done earlier is carried to its culmination in adulthood (#188).

INFORMATION OR FORMATION?

The Western identification of Christian edu­cation with the schoolroom had a second unfavorable consequence; it tended to equate Christian education with the communication of information on religious topics. Intellectual knowl­edge of correct doctrine, especially in controversial areas, was stressed rather than the spiritual formation of the person, which became something for the few so inclined.

In contrast the earlier— and more authentically Eastern—approach had been to foster a more integrated type of knowledge by a more all-embracing "program" of participation in the life of the community and individual formation by a spiritual father. This type of Christian education fostered, and continues to nourish a knowledge of God in the biblical and Eastern sense of experience in and through relationship. The revival of this type of education in our Church would depend on the raising up of a new generation of spiritual fathers but also on the integration of all the formational vehicles in a given community. Thus liturgical life, community directions and priorities must be seen as educative: contributing to the formation of the community members as much as, if not more than, formal programs. It is, after all, relationships and interactions rather than programs which truly educate.

As such, effort must be taken to harmonize all pastoral activities with the goals of Christian education, both to overcome explicit contradic­tions and also to unify all the educational experiences in the Church, formal or not.

A TRUE COMMUNION

The identification of religious education with the classroom has also tended to isolate age groups from one another. Combined with the practice of dealing with each age and sex group separately even on the social level, this custom provided its own kind of segregation, even dividing families into special interest groups.

The Church, on the other hand—especially in the East—has always seen itself as unifying its people. The concept of a parish family, which gathers at one Liturgy to share the one Loaf and the one Cup, is still the model structure of a church community in our tradition. Accordingly, every effort must be made to bridge generation gaps in the catechetical programs and, other experiences of the community. By bridging together young adults and their elders, by mobilizing adults in the community to care for its children, the parish catechetical program can demonstrate that unity which is the Church's chief priority.

Placed as we are, an Eastern Church living in a time of the renewal in Western circles, it is doubly incumbent upon us to insist on an integrated and wholistic approach to Christian education on the three levels mentioned above. Christian education must be seen as a total effort, involving all age groups, especially adults, coming together in an. integrated experience, of growth within the total Church community. To mount such an al!-embracing and integral educational effort in our. eparchy, all the formational agencies and resource persons at our disposal must work together. Catechetcal programs, liturgical life, the lifestyle fostered in our communities and the programs and resources we may develop need to be harmonized. Only when this is a reality will we be able to foster an awareness of our Christian calling with one mind and one heart.

Consequently, it is the policy of this eparchy that:

  1. Christian education be recognized as intended for all believers, especially adults. and that programs are to be developed which aim at the formation of the total community in a family manner.
  2. 2. The wholistic vision of Christian education as embracing formal programs, liturgical life, personal formation and community lifestyles be recognized and that this recognition be expressed by the coordination of all formational efforts in the eparchy, pastoral life, seminary, publications. youth ministry, liturgical commission, educational services, convention and such others as may be developed.
Currently the following services are offered to our parishes by this office:
A. Parish Services:
1. Consultation on Parish Programs — The director and the associate director are available to visit and observe the church school or other programs, participate in their development or assist in their evaluation;
2.Workshops and Courses — Retreats, catechist formation, cantor training, and adult enrichment offerings are available. A list is published annually.
B. Communications:
1. The Link, an informational newsletter for catechists issued periodically from the office.
C. Prayer Ministry:
1. Society of Publicans - a network of church members committed to daily prayer for the spiritual renewal of our parishes;
2. Inter-parish Days of Prayer are coordinated periodically by parish Theosis groups.
D. Renewal Programs:
1. Antioch— a parish initiation program consisting of a week-end retreat and a continuing study group;
2. Theosis — an interparish retreat focusing on Eastern spirituality, followed by ongoing parish-based support groups and leadership formation;
3. Family Fellowship Days — opportunities for parents and children to gather for common prayer, fellowship, and learning experiences around common themes.
E. Ministry Training:
1. Catechetics — Courses in the inter-diocesan catechist formation program developed by the ECDD are implemented annually in various regions of the eparchy.
2. Leadership – A leadership weekend designed for parish councils may be arranged by parishes upon request.
3. Resources for Parish Ministry — Self-study materials for parish council and cantor's training are available..
F- Publications:
 

Catechist Formation

Office of Educational Services


Office of Educational Services
Melkite Eparchy of Newton
1710 Surf Avenue - Belmar , NJ 07719
Voice 732-556-6917 - Cell 201-417-3804
Email - doccolie@yahoo.com

Overview

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.

  1. 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).
  2. 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).
  3. 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).
  4. 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).
  5. 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).
  6. 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).
  7. 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).
  8. 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).
  9. 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.

 

In the Byzantine tradition we celebrate two resurrections during the Great Week. The first is that of Lazarus, remembered on the first day of the celebration, the day before Palm Sunday. As recorded in Jn 11:1-44, Lazarus is restored to life by Jesus after he had been dead four days. This event was what brought the crowds to acclaim Jesus that first Palm Sunday (cf.. Jn 12:17-18).

The second resurrection is, of course, the resurrection of Christ which we are celebrating during these 40 days of Pascha. In a deeper sense, however, we should not describe both these events with the same word. In the case of Lazarus, his resurrection was really a resuscitation: a restoration to physical life. In the case of Christ, it was not a return to the form of life He had before. It was a transformation of that life, a transfiguring of ordinary human life to the life of glory.

Looking at tile icons of these feasts we find a graphic representation of the difference. In the Lazarus icon we see Christ pointing to the tomb, calling on Lazarus to return. The dead man, wrapped in the burial shroud, does just that. He comes out of the tomb, restored to his family and resumes ordinary life. In the paschal icon, an an­gel points to an empty tomb and all we see are the dis­carded funeral wrappings which held the now glorious body of Christ. There is no restoration, no ordinary life. The message is clear: while Lazarus has come back, Jesus has gone on.

These contrasting events have something to say about the style of community life we desire for our pari­shes. Most of our churches have experienced some kind of resurrection in the past few years, sometimes after an apparent - or even real death. Most, however, have experienced a restoration of life after the manner of La­zarus. They have been restored to a kind of physical life: new temples, new neighborhoods, new church appointments, halls, externals in the liturgical life. However it is the risen Christ, not the resurrected La­zarus who is the source and pattern of Christian life. We are called to enter into His resurrection life, to progress to life in the Spirit of God.

Resurrection life is life directed and permeated by the Spirit of God. For us, this is not something which comes automatically, without attention and a conscious effort to cooperate with what God wants to do for us. Life in Christ must become a focus for our activity: one on which we pray, reflect and share in faith. This holds for our personal lives and also for our common lives. At this time of year there are two common areas of activity which we need to submit to the Spirit of God: our evaluation of the past year and our planning for the year ahead.

It goes without saying that any parish program worthy of the name will conclude the season with an evaluation. As a rule, these tend to focus on the physical or ordinary life of the program:

  • the time frame (we insist on a minimum of 1 hour actual class time, meaning l½ hours unless participants are coming directly from church);
  • attendance (ways of positive reinforcement, contact with parents, etc.)
  • scheduling, facilities, etc.

However there are several other questions, ulti­mately more pressing which we need to ask if our programs are to live on the level of the Spirit:

  • teacher formation (are the catechists com­mitted to their own growth both in the spi­ritual life as well in skills development?)
  • fidelity to programs (Are the programs employ­ed being used in a manner faithful to the spirit in which they are intended? For example, does every session of the children's program include prayer at the icon corner, liturgical singing, and an activity for reinforcement?)
  • liturgical participation (Do the catechetical programs lead to greater awareness of prayer and liturgical life. Do participants come to the rite with understanding or are they just going through the motions teacher wants?)

It is also time to plan for the year ahead (now, not two weeks before the program begins). Again, focus this planning not merely on the physical level but on that of the Spirit. First of all, plan to pray together for direc­tion and growth. Discern where the program and the cate­chists in particular are going in the life of the Lord. Is He asking anything of you in this ministry? Are there any particular goals for the parish in the year ahead which should be reflected in the educational program?

As the summer nears, think of having an overnight of reflection for parish leadership - council officers, education coordinators, etc. - to reflect on these ques­tions. Conduct it at a recreational facility, at parish expense, if at all possible (to say thank you!) or with the possibility of members' families taking part for the fun of the outing.

The raising of Lazarus had a spectacular but limited effect. More to our point, after only two or three days those who had been so excited about this wonder had forgotten and rejected the Wonderworker. The new hall or icons may prove of passing interest, but only the life of the Spirit will touch the lives and hearts of the faith­ful. Let us examine the life of our community and of its catechetical program so that the more vital life of the risen Christ may be manifested in it.

 
Office of Educational Services
Melkite Eparchy of Newton
1710 Surf Avenue - Belmar , NJ 07719
Voice 732-556-6917 - Cell 201-417-3804
email - doccolie@yahoo.com

BLESSED NIGHT by Fr. Jean Rene Bouchet

You who returned from Hades

with the company of the holy ones

Glory to You, 0 Risen Lord!

We can better grasp the significance of the Descent into Hades if we see it as a step on the paschal journey of Christ. He was sent by the Father and came into the world, then He left the world and returned to the right hand of the Father, bring­ing with Him the humanity that He went to seek in the very abysses of Death.

Jesus, Our Lord, the Christ

appeared to us from the bosom of His Father:

He came; He drew us out of darkness

and enlightened us with His Joyful Light.

Day has dawned upon all mankind,

the power of darkness is vanquished;

from His Light has come for us a light

which has given sight to our darkened eyes.

He has stretched out His Glory over all the earth

and lighted the deepest abysses;

Death is despoiled, darkness has fled,

the Gates of Hell are rent asunder.

He has illumined all creatures, -

in darkness from ancient times;

the dead who lay in the dust are raised up and give glory,

for there was for them salvation.

He has made real salvation, and given us Life,

and has been taken to His Father in the highest.

Thence He will come in His great Glory,

and open the eyes of all those who have awaited Him.

St. Ephrem the Syrian

From this perspective, the Descent into Hades expresses the love which God bore for us in Christ, and constitutes the decisive step on Christ's journey towards man­kind seated in darkness and the shadow of death: He came to seek after us even there. In hell, He found humanity captive, from hell, He drew mankind forth.

The Fathers considered Christ to be "en route" since Adam first hid himself in the Garden of Paradise. (Adam in Hebrew is the term for mankind.) "Adam, where are you?" God is in search of man, whom He created in His own image and who yet fled like the prodigal son into a strange land. The entire Old Testament is seen as the jour­ney of the Son in search of the lost sheep. God the seeker and man the disfigured wanderer often form two choirs in the Prophets and the Psalms:

Return, 0 Son of Adam (Ps. 89)

Lord of Sabaoth, make us return (Ps. 79)

I hear my beloved, Behold he arrives,

Leaping over the mountains, Bounding over the hills

Open to me, my sister, my friend, my dove, my perfect one.

(Song of Songs 2:8 & 5:2)

Finally, John the Forerunner announces that the time is ripe, that He is coming, that He is at the gate: "In the midst of you, there is someone you do not know."

The Word pitches His tent among men. Tirelessly He trods their pathways. Having not even a stone on which to lay His head, He announces life and sows it in the hearts of those whom death had marked as his own. The blind see, the deaf hear, Lazarus comes forth from the tomb and Zacchaeus joyfully receives Christ in his house. But He, in the midst of them, travels on His way until that clear morning when He stands before the gates of Jerusalem.

The city rejoices. Jesus has just raised Lazarus from the tomb. He is welcomed by the crowd: "Hosanna to the Son of David. Blessed is He who comes in the Name of the Lord." He goes, knowing the hour has come to pass from this world to the Father.

Daughter of Sion, rejoice; be lighthearted, O Church of God. Behold your King comes to you; go before Him, hasten to contemplate His Glory. Behold the salvation of the world: God goes towards the Cross and the Desired of the nations enters into Sion. Yesterday, Christ raised Lazarus from the dead: today, He Himself hastens towards death. Yesterday, He tore Lazarus from the shackles which held him: today He stretches out His hands to those who would bind Him. Yesterday, He pulled this man from the darkness: today, for the sake of mankind, He plunges into darkness and the shadow of death. And the Church rejoices. (St. Epiphanius)

The triumphal prelude does not hide the drama which is unfolding in darkness, but rather brings it to light, as will also the washing of feet and the last supper. It is the King of Israel, the Prince of Life who is coming, but His royalty is humble service, blood poured out, life given: "If I give to Christ the name of King, it is because I see Him crucified." (St. John Chrysostom)

The procession of the Day of Palms has melted away. The children have been put to bed, the cloaks are folded, the palms withered. Now it is a band of soldiers es­corting Christ, and jeers replace the acclamations. Sweating blood and water, Jesus continues His journey in the night and in anguish: He quickens His step, for the Prodigal Son cannot be far. "Where is this rapid step taking You? Is there yet another wedding at Cana? (St. Romanos the Melodist)

They have dressed Him now in rags: a red cloth for a cloak, a crown of thorns for His head and, for a scepter, He holds in His hand a reed: behold God in search of man­kind: hail our King! Day is breaking. After a stop in the morning chill, Jesus starts again for the place of the Skull. He goes freely towards His passion. On His shoulder a tree: following are a few women, for His disciples have abandoned Him.

The Choir of the Twelve has fled. They have spoken not a word in His behalf, they for whom He is giving His life. Lazarus, whom He brought back from the dead, is not there; the blind man sheds not a tear for Him who opened his eyes to the light; and the lame man who walks because of Him, runs not to follow Him. Only a bandit crucified at His side confesses Him and calls Him King. (St. Ephrem the Syrian)

We are at the place of meeting. There where tradition places the tomb of Adam and the near-sacrifice of Isaac, in the full breeze, between heaven and earth, in the midday sun hidden by the clouds, He is suspended on the tree of the Cross.

"Adam, where are you?" calls out Christ again on the Cross. I have come even here, seeking you. To find you, I have stretched out my hands on the Cross. With outstretch­ed hands, I turn towards the Father to give thanks for having found you, then I turn towards you to embrace you. I have not come to judge your sin, but to save you for the sake of my love. I have not come to curse your disobedience, but to bless you by my obedience. I will find your life, hidden in darkness and the shadow of death; I will have no rest until, descending even to the very depths of hell to seek you out, I have restored you to the heavens. (St. Germanos of Constantinople)

Thirst was consuming Him: My God, my God, why have You forsaken me? Is that the cry of God seeking man, or the cry of wandering man?

All is accomplished, but all is not finished. He departs again, further yet, carried in the arms of men this time: Joseph of Arimathea, Nicodemus, John. Mary and Magdelene follow. In silence, they place Him in a new tomb, and the earth covers Him with its warmth and its peace, as it welcomes the grain of wheat planted by the sower.

The Seed fertile with two natures is tearfully sown this day in the womb of the earth; when it sprouts, it will give joy to the world. (Holy Saturday Orthros)

In the tomb, by His death, the Son of God meets all those who before Him accom­plished that hard passage. He has come even there, to that opaque, cold place where had been swallowed up one by one all of mankind since Adam. In His turn, the Lord of Life plunges into the black waters of hell, just as on the day of His baptism He was immersed into the waters of the Jordan. There rests the lost sheep, There, as earth longs for the rain from heaven, Adam captive in Hades awaits the Savior of the world and the Giver of Life. (Romanos the Melodist)

At His passage, the waters begin to leap and billow like a spring. The river of the forgotten sings like a mountain torrent and baptizes to life the dead it had swallowed. Christ joyfully leads with Him towards the heavens all those who had hoped to see His day.

During this time, Mary His mother waited in faith and Mary Magdelene waited tear­fully at the tomb:

O Earth, open up and bring forth the Savior. (Is. 45:8)

Arise, O God, judge the earth, for You rule over all the nations (Ps. 81)

Let God arise and His enemies will scatter; let the just rejoice before the face of God, let them exalt and dance with joy. (Ps. 67)

The first day of the week, He arose like the sun on a clear dawn. Like the bride­groom coming from the tent rejoices, strong, to run his course, (Ps. 18) He joyfully greets the women bearing spices and the still-fearful disciples: Rejoice, Peace be with you! Mary, go tell my brothers that I return to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God… And before their eyes, He was borne up to the heavens. On Ascension Day, there was on the Mount of Olives more than was at Tabor and more than at Sinai. Heaven and earth are come together in the Feast, and from the cloud which envelops Christ flows the Spirit which makes every tongue in heaven, on earth, and under the earth proclaim: Jesus Christ is Lord.

In the light of this journey of Christ, the descent into Hades assumes its signi­ficance. God became man and set out in search of man, even submitting to death to meet him. Fulfillment of the Incarnation, the Descent into Hades by Christ is also the culmination of His work of salvation. God is with us even there: God is for us even there. In the midst of our worst distresses, our anguishings, our deaths, He has come to pitch His tent, not only to console us, but to save us, that is, to give to us heal­ing in its fullness, to give us the true life. Lazarus, go forth! Adam, go forth, come follow me and live!

Henceforth, we are no longer eternal prisoners of death, of our deaths (and they are legion). To all death, a resurrection; to all impasses, a solution; for in our midst is the risen Christ, who watches over us, cures us, leads us. There is no longer a darkness that the Son of God has not attacked and conquered.

Now hell has become heaven, Hades is filled with light ... for the rising Sun, the Light from on high, has visited those who were seated in darkness and the shadow of death. (St. John Chrysostom)

The gates and bolts which held man captive are burst asunder. I have opened be­fore you a door that no one can close. (Rev.3:8)

Thus on Easter night we tirelessly sing, as we do for forty days afterwards: Christ is risen from the dead, and by His death, He has trampled upon death, and has given Life to those in the tombs.

Whatever the heaviness and murkiness of his own hells, each person can henceforth hear there the murmuring voice of the Christ of Easter saying to him: Peace be with you, arise and walk.

Our God is a God of deliverance

To the Lord our God is freedom from death (Ps. 6: 7, 21)

Dwellers in shadow and darkness

Captives of sorrow and chains

May they give thanks to the Lord for His loving kindness

for His marvels done for the sons of men

For He shattered the bronze portals

and demolished the iron gates (Ps. 106: 10 & 15, 16)

 

The Feasts of September

By Archbishop Joseph Tawil


Office of Educational Services
Melkite Eparchy of Newton
1710 Surf Avenue - Belmar , NJ 07719
Voice 732-556-6917 - Cell 201-417-3804
Email - doccolie@yahoo.com

The Feasts of September By Archbishop Joseph Tawil

The month of September marks the return of our children to their schools and studies and, for the rest of us, the resumption of our normal routine after a vacation break. Time is God's gift to us to experience His loving and mysterious Presence in His creation and in each one of us. ‘For if our outer man is decaying, yet our inner man is being renewed day by day," (2 Cor. 4:16) "until we become one in faith and in the knowledge of God's Son and form the perfect man who is Christ come to full stature." (Eph. 4:13). "For in Him, the fullness of Deity resides in bodily form." (Col. 2:8) The month of September also marks the beginning of the liturgical year and is illuminated by two Major Feasts: the Nativity of the Theotokos on the 8th and the Exaltation of the Holy Cross on the 14th. Let us pause a moment with each of them so as to uncover their rich meaning for our daily lives.

The Nativity of the Theotokos

Mary's figure appears in the second chapter of Genesis "crushing the head of the dragon, representing Satan (v. 15). She is the ‘‘Predestined Woman whom God has selected from all eternity to be the shining dawn introducing Christ, the Sun, into the world." (Acathist). "For God who rests upon the spiritual thrones, has made ready for Himself a holy throne upon the earth. He who has made firm the earth in His Wisdom has pre­pared a living heaven in His love for man." (Vespers). "She is the prologue of the pleasure of God and the first announcer of salvation to mankind. According to the Eastern tradition, Mary was born in Jerusalem, in the house of Joachim and Ann near the Pool of Bethsaida, the ruins of which have been unearthed, and where Our Lord healed the paralytic. St. John of Damascus, who lived in St. Saba's Monastery in the Judean Desert which still exists, wrote in one of his homilies, "I will enter this house and I will cover with kisses the walls which are so dear to me, the walls which sheltered the Mother of God." Since there is no distance for those who love, let us go, in turn, and enter in spirit and cover with kisses the birthplace of the Theotokos, the Queen who gave birth to the King of the Universe, and our Mother.

So, God entered our human history through a woman: "when the designated time had come, God sent forth His son horn of a woman... so that we might receive our status as adopted sons." (Gal. 4:4). He became one of us to make us one with Him. He took what we are and gave us what He is. He took our infirmities and gave us His Divinity. All that we have received from Him was lavished upon us through the "Woman full of grace,'' whom all genera­tions shall call blessed forever. And if the Lord, who promised the sinful woman who washed His feet that "wherever the Gospel is preached, what she did for Him will be told in her memory', ‘ (Mark 14:9), how much more will He not do for His Mother "the All-holy and Ever-Blessed Virgin." Indeed, whoever honors the Son, honors the Mother who gave Him birth and, whoever honors the Mother, also honors the Son. They are so intimately associated in the Mystery of Redemption that they cannot be dissociated, as is shown in Byzantine iconography which always requires that the Mother be represented with the Child and never without Him. This is the eloquent picture on our iconostasis, where the Mother of Light is always associated with the Author of Life, Christ the Redeemer and Savior of mankind. This teaches us that, while our worship must be Christ-centered, we can not forget that it was the fiat of Mary which made it all possible.

The Exaltation of the Holy Cross

This feast commemorates the return of the Holy Cross to Jerusalem after it had been taken away by Chosroes, king of Persia, who invaded the Holy Land and defeated the Romans in 614. It took fifteen years for the Cross to be returned by Herac­lius, the only Roman Emperor ever to visit the Holy Land, who replanted it on Calvary in the midst of the tears of joy of the inhabitants of Jerusalem (629). There is a local tradition that Calvary is located in the center of the world and which gave the name to the adjacent church. The Psalmist says, "Our God is a great God and He wrought salvation in the midst of the earth." (Ps. 73:12). The Church has added to it the following, in speaking to Christ, "When You extended Your arms upon the Cross, uniting all the nations crying out to You, ‘Glory to you, O Lord.'"

The Mystery of the Cross is the Mystery of Mysteries. How can the Source of Life die, the Maker of all be annihilated and exclaim, "My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?" This is the kenosis of the Son of God, who emptied Himself, took the form of a servant and became obedient unto death, even to the death of the Cross. The human mind, which is accustomed to asking why, is completely lost. The Mystery of the Cross is the Mystery of Atonement and wonder: "Let every creature remain silent and adore." For the message of the Cross is complete absurdity for those who are heading to ruin, but to those who are experiencing salvation, it is the Power of God." (1 Cor. 1:18). If we ask why, the only answer we receive is that of St. John, "God so loved the world that He gave His only Son, so that whoever believes in Him may not perish, but have eternal life." (Jn. 3:16). Up until the sixth century, Christians were forbidden to depict Christ on the Cross, because the Cross was the punish­ment of slaves. The first time it appeared was through some Syrian monks living in Narbonne, France, and from whence it spread.

No one is exempt from the cross; not even the Blessed Virgin, who carried her cross from Christ's birth in Bethlehem to Golgotha, where she stood at her Son's side, as He hung on the Cross. The closer we are to Christ, the heavier is our cross for, as St. Paul says, "Those whom He foreknew, He predestined to share the Image of His Son, so that the Son might be the first-born of many brothers." (Rom. 8:29)

The Mystery of the Cross, itself, is not the end. Behind it lies another Mystery, a glorious Mystery of which St. Paul also speaks, "The present burden of our trial is light enough and can earn for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison. We do not fix our gaze on what is seen, but on what is unseen. - What is seen is transitory; what is unseen lasts forever." (2 Cor. 4:17-19). We have been created for life and not for death. We have been created for glory since, in God's wisdom, the world did not come to know Him through "wisdom." it pleased God to save those who believe through the absurdity of the preaching of the Gospel. (1 Cor. 1:21). This is why the Church proclaims, "Behold, through the Cross, joy has come into the world." Christianity is the announcement of joy, the announcement of hope and the reason for our joy and hope is that Christ is risen and lives forever and is at work in the world, through the Holy Spirit, living in the Church and in us. "Let the heavens rejoice and the earth be glad with the whole universe visible and invisible, for Christ, our Eternal Joy is risen." (Paschal Liturgy) This is what we must live and inculcate into our children. We thereby give the world the reason for out hope, for Christianity is Christ—and Christ risen—and, since Christ has risen as the Firstborn, we too shall rise in Him and share in His Glory.

 
by Rev. Economos Romanos Russo
Office of Educational Services
Melkite Eparchy of Newton
1710 Surf Avenue - Belmar , NJ 07719
Voice 732-556-6917- Cell 201-417-3804
email - doccolie@yahoo.com

'LET THE MANGER BE PREPARED'

Make ready, O Bethlehem: let the manger he prepared, let the cave show its welcome. The truth has come, the shadow has passed away. Born of a virgin, God has appeared to men, formed as we are and making godlike the garment He has put on. Therefore Adam is renewed with Eve and they call out, "Your good pleasure has appeared on earth to save our kind."

St. Sophronius, Patriarch of Jerusalem

"God became man so that man could become God." With this sentence St. Athanasius summed up the entire Bible. The liturgical year in the Byzantine tradition is a prolonged celebration of the two truths contained in those few words. During the first half of the year, from September 1st to February 2nd we rejoice in the first mystery: God become man. During the Lenten and Paschal seasons we contemplate the second mystery: man becomes God.

The main focus in preparing for the feast of the Nativity of our Lord in the Byzantine tradition is on the incarnation of the Son or Word of God: in other words, God hecoming man. In order to more fully enter into the meaning of this mystery, we must reread the Genesis account of the creation and fall of man.

In the Image of God

"Then God said, 'Let us make man in our image, after our likeness'... So God created man in His own image, in the image of God He created them; male and female He created them."(Genesis 1:26-27)

The Church recognizes certain of its earliest teachers as having received the divine gift of interpreting the Holy Scriptures and Tradition in the orthodox (i.e. correct) manner, and calls them the 'Fathers of the Church'. The Eastern Fathers made the above passage from Genesis the cornerstone of their anthropologv or doctrine of man. In the plural pronouns "Let US make...in OUR image, after OUR likeness" they saw a prefiguring of the Holy Trinity. Though the work of creation is attributed to the Father, they saw the Son and the Holy Spirit as the "two hands by which the Father created."

The patristic tradition (i.e. the thought of the Fathers) also saw profound implications in the words "in our IMAGE" and "after our LIKENESS". They conceived of the image as something static or unchanging. Either it was there or it wasn't, but the likeness was something dynamic or changing: it could become greater or less. In other words man was created such that he bore a resemblance to God in a way that could grow more and more like God.

Now perhaps the temptation of the serpent in Genesis 3:1–5 is clearer. The serpent "...said to the woman, 'Did God say, "You shall not eat of any tree of the garden"?' And the woman said to the serpent, 'We may eat of the fruit of the trees of the garden; but God said, "You shall not eat of the fruit of the tree which is in the midst of the garden, neither shall you touch it, lest you die."' But the serpent said. to the woman, 'You will not die. For God knows that when You eat of it, your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil."'

How clever is the Evil One! He knew that Adam and Eve had been created in the likeness of God and that they desired nothing so much as to become more like God; so he tempts them to achieve a good end by an evil means. Know good and evil and you will he move like God. That was the essence of the temptation.

"So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate; and she also gave some to her husband, and he ate." (Genesis 3:6)

The act of eating involves taking something outside of you and, by ingesting it, making it part of you. Thus eating the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of coed and evil means that Adam and Eve made evil part of themselves:

"Then the eyes of both were opened, and they knew that they were naked; and they sewed fig leaves together and made themselves aprons." (Genesis 3:7)

Their first reaction was one of guilt. They who, up till then, had rejoiced in their natural nakedness, now that they had ingested evil, felt guilt and, in their embarrassment, covered their nakedness. The Fathers saw this as the darkening of the image of God in man. As a mirror when mottled reflects a distorted image, so was the image of God in man distorted beyond recognition.

Creation to Be Redeemed

God could have abandoned man to his new found evil, but He loved His creation so much that He decided to redeem man from his sin. God says to the serpent: "I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your seed and her seed; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel." (Genesis 3:15) So God promised that a descendant of Eve would bruise the head of the serpent, which is to say destroy the source of that evil. The rest of the Old Testament is the story of that hope for the deliverance or redemption promised by God to man in paradise.

A descendant of Eve, a man, will deliver us from evil. But who will restore the distorted image and bring the likeness to the highest degree? The closest that one thing can resemble another is that the one actually participates in the life of another. Or, as St. Peter says, "His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of Him who called us to His own glory and excellence, by which He has granted to us His precious and very great promises, that through these you may escape from the corruption that is in the world because of passion and become partakers of the divine nature." (2 Peter 1:3–4)

In other words, God intends us to be so much like Him that we will actually share in His being. The process of becoming sharers in the divine nature is called THEOSIS (deification or divinization. This is what St. Athanasius means when he says, "...so that man might become God". But who can give us this power? Only God can give us a share in Himself. And so only God can fully redeem man. If God promised that a descendant of Eve - i.e. man - will crush the source of evil and if only God Himself can restore His image and likeness in mankind, then only the God-Man, Jesus Christ, truly God and truly man, can accomplish the mystery of our salvation.

Since He is the eternal Son of God, He must take upon Himself a human nature and become man, so that the Divine image in fallen man might be restored and the likeness dynamically oriented to sharing in His nature. God becomes man so that man might become God.

Kenosis: the Mystery of God's Love

The mystery of God-becoming-man is called the INCARNATION, the enfleshment, from St. John's Gospel: "And the Word became flesh and dwelled among us" (John l:14). But the Eastern tradition has a special fondness for another word to describe this mystery and its implications for us: KENOSIS or self-emptying, from St. Paul's words in the epistle to the Philippians: "Though He was in the form of God, He did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men." (Phil 2:6-7)

The Second Person of the all-holy Trinity "emptied Himself" and took the form of a servant, that is, became man. He did not count equality with God the Father a thing to be clutched. Our thoughts go back to Adam and Eve in Eden grasping at the forbidden fruit because they thought it would make them more like God. Now it is God the Son, the Word of Cod, who does not grasp at the Divinity, but is born in the likeness of men to give us as a gift what we tried to steal in paradise: likeness to God.

During the Christmas Preparation Period, the Byzantine Churches invite the faithful to enter into the spirit of this mystery by experiencing the expectation felt by the first-chosen people as they awaited the coming of the Savior. But this Savior is God and man: He is the God-Man. And so the period of preparation focuses on these two natures of our Savior. He is true God: He is born of the Father before all ages, the pre-eternal Word of God. In His divine nature He has a Father but no mother. He is also true man. He did not merely appear in human form: He really took upon Himself a human nature.

Jesus Christ is true God and true Man. This is the message of the Fast in preparation for Christmas. In His divine manhood we see an icon of our own divinization. Thus, to celebrate Christmas is not just to recall the birth of our Lord 'way back then' but to reapplv the reality of Christ's being to the continuing process of rebirth in our hearts that is the Orthodox way of salvation. As the process by which the Son of Cod became the Son of Man involved 'kenosis' or self-emptying, a similar kenosis is required of us if we are to be remade in the image and likeness of God. This self-emptying is achieved by prayer, repentance, fasting and the works of charity. When thus purified we can become, like St. Paul, chosen vessels. Into these living chalices are worthily placed the divine body and blood of Christ, so that, as St. Leo the Great says, through these Holy Mysteries we may be transformed into that which we consume.

Rev. Economos Romanos Russo

 
Office of Educational Services
Melkite Eparchy of Newton
1710 Surf Avenue - Belmar , NJ 07719
Voice 732-556-6917 - Cell 201-417-3804
email - doccolie@yahoo.com

In many western Churches, Catholic and Protestant, catechetical materials (and worship materials, for that matter) are produced commercially without any specific connection to the structure of the Church itself. In other Churches, including our own, many curriculum materials are produced by the Church Itself and so are an actual statement of the faith of the entire community. Some materials, such as the God With Us series, are produced by a number of Byzantine Churches together; others are published by our own diocese. All these resources are approved by all the bishops of the respective Churches. We believe that catechesis, like liturgy, is a function of the Church, not of each individual catechist or group of catechists. This is why many curriculum materials are mandated (obligatory) in our Church in the same way that the typicon of our Church prescribes the liturgical services for the parish. These items are indicated in the listing below.

A number of other materials discussed below are produced by one or another Eastern Church, Catholic or Orthodox. They are recommended because they reinforce the basic orientation of our Church toward re-appropriation of our entire Tradition. Since there are few differences between the various Byzantine usages, at least at the church school level, we are able to use many of them without adaptation.

Required and recommended materials for the church school

A major element in the conduct of any catechetical program is the curriculum, which provides the content for the session in which it is employed. The choice of curriculum, therefore, is a basic aspect of program planning. In one sense, however, the local community does not have an unrestricted choice in this matter. Like the texts of our liturgical services, the content of our catechetical programs is meant to reflect, not simply our own preferences, but the Tradition and mind of the Church. In our situation this means that, whenever possible, all materials employed should reflect the Tradition and direction of the Byzantine Churches.

FAMILY CATECHESIS

Adult Instruction Progran on the Sacraments of Initiation Instruction Program on the Sacraments of Initiation (Educational Services) - Catechesis for parents planning to baptize a child. Includes a leader's guide and two participant's texts, one of which is also available in Arabic. Mandated in our diocese.

A Guide for the Domestic Church (Educational Services) An introduction to family practices through the year. Useful for instructing new families and for parents who wish to implement Byzantine family prayer in their homes.

Anthony Coniaris, Making God Real in The Orthodox Christian Home (Light and Life) - Close to 100 suggestions for family centered activities to reinforce the young child's church experience, the liturgical seasons, etc.

Anne Gallagher, Nurturing The Seed of God-Life (Educational Services) - Suggestions for introducing religious practice to infants from birth to 30 months. Includes five activity cards graded according to the child's development.

Mary Lafter, God Made a Beautiful World (Greek Orthodox Archdiocese) - Thirty one-page stories on family and church life for pre-nursery and nursery.

Mary Ann Gidus-Mecera, A Way of Life: Introducing Your Child to the Orthodox Faith (available from both OCEC and the Greek Archdiocese). Material for weekly discussion on saints, major feast days, the Church, and Christian living in the home.

Constance Tarasar, Feasts and Families: 1, The Season of Christmas (OCA Religious Education Dept) - Suggestions for celebrating the Christmas­Theophany season in the home. The text is complemented by a supplement containing patterns for an Advent calendar, Jesse tree, and iconographic creche.

PRE-SCHOOL RESOURCES

Note: The revision of the God With Us Series currently under way includes the addition of two pre-school resources, Learning About God (a two-year pre-school curriculum) and God Is With Us! (kindergarten), currently being piloted in selected parishes. Until these resources are available, we continue to recommend the following:

Basic Curriculum (Recommended):

The Wonder of It All (OCEC) - A basic program for nursery-3 year olds based on pre-liturgical themes introducing the child to the wonder of life and creation.

God My Friends, and Me (OCEC) - A continuation of the above program for nursery-4 year olds, emphasizing relationships among friends, family and God.

Together With God (OCEC) - An introduction for kindergarten-5 year olds to the church building, liturgical gestures, the Divine Liturgy and some major Church feasts.

Note: Many prefer using the current God With Us first grade text, Discover, in their pre-school class and Together With God in the first grade.

Supplementary:

Guardian Angel Children's Prayer Book (Toronto Diocese Religious Ed Dept, available from the Greek Archdiocese) - A beautifully illustrated child's introduction to the Divine Liturgy, basic prayers and the Great Feasts.

Byzantine Coloring Books (Byzantine Seminary Press) and Our Church (Stylite Publishing, Lid) - Basic coloring books on the church building and the Divine Liturgy, Great Feasts, etc..

PRIMARY THROUGH JUNIOR HIGH

Basic Curriculum (Mandated):

God With Us Series (God With Us Publications, available through Theological Book Service) -The official eight-grade series for all Byzantine Catholic dioceses in the United States and several in Canada. The grade-appropriate texts are as follows:

Discover (Grade 1) — the gradual discovery of creation in the light of faith.

Life (Grade 2) — the mysteries of Christian initiation

Together (Grade 3) — The Church, God's people, made visible in the church building and realized in the local community

Promise (Grade 4) — Introduction to the New Testament

Share (Grade 5) — The signs of Christian life as manifested in the lives of the saints

Respond (Grade 6) — Introduction to the Old Testament and Church history

Becoming (Grade 7) — The divine economy as shown in creation, the re-creation in Christ and the life of the world to come

Journey (Grade 8) — A summary of the elements of Christian teaching and living presented throughout the series.

Sacramental Preparation:

‘Pre-Chrismation Catechesis' in General Policy for the Administration of the Sacraments of Christian Initiation (Educational Services) - Suggestions for catechizing children who may have been baptized but not chrismated on three levels (primary, intermediate, and junior high).

Celebrating Life and Love: A Guide for Families Growing in Appreciation of the Divine Liturgy (God With Us Publications) - An eight-theme program for parents helping their primary age children (6-8 years) grow in understanding of the Liturgy and the Eucharist.

Celebrating Forgiveness: A Guide for Families Growing in Appreciation of the Mystery of Repentance (God With Us Publications) - An eight-theme program for parents preparing primary age children (6-8 years) for their first confession.

Constance Tarasar, We Return to God & A Manual for Preparing Children for the Sacrament of Penance (OCA Religious Education Dept) - A text designed for parents working with their children in preparation for first confession. More useful with older children (8-10 years old) than the above, as it presumes the child will read the text.

Note: The above resources must be adapted for group use.

John Boojamra, ‘Penance and Confession', in All Together Now (Antiochian Archdiocese)- A five-session program for primary and intermediate children (7-11) on sin, repentance, and confession, including instruction on how to prepare for this mystery and to participate in it.

Stewardship Programs:

Did You Ever See a Steward? (Concordia, 3558 S Jefferson Av, St Louis, MO) 63118; 1-800-325-3040) - A program for primaries on the basic sense of Chriostian stewardship of creation. Includes sound filmstrip (also available on VHS videocassette), planning guide, and coloring book.

Learning to Give (OCA Department of Stewardship) - Suggestions for introducing this topic with children on five levels of development, beginning with nursery age. Includes a 12-minute sound filmstrip and an idea booklet, Giving Children the Opportunity to Give.

Vacation Programs:

Celebrating Faith (God With Us Publications). A seven-lesson program on the Nicene Creed. Each theme is developed on three levels: primary, intermediate and junior high. This allows each of three classes to experience the program at age-appropriate levels. Also useful for beginning programs in smaller parishes unable to mount a full 8-grade program.

And Jesus Said... (CORE, Romanian Episcopate) - A five day program on Old Testament stories and the parables of Christ with lesson plans on four levels (pre-school through junior high).

Saints and Celebrations (CORE, Romanian Episcopate) - A second vacation school series on the

Great Feasts (Ascension through Dormition) and saints days of the summer.

All Together Now (Antiochian Archdiocese) Six five-session mini courses on various topics (the beatitudes, Christian witness, belonging to the ‘ Church, the church building, confession, and creation) for different levels. Appropriate for a one ~ week summer program or other use.

Baptism and Chrismation (OCEC) - An eight-session program on the mysteries of Christian initiation on four age levels (preschool through high school) on concept/activity cards. Originally designed for the non-graded or combined-grade situation, this- program, now out of print, is useful for an experienced catechist designing a program on these mysteries.

Other short-duration programs can be formed from the OCEC and Greek Archdiocese curricula (see Chapter 16).

Supplementary:

Build Your Own Church: A Paper Construction Kit (Antiochian Archdiocese) - A cut-and-assemble model of the exterior of a Byzantine church building, useful as a project when studying the meaning of the church building (eg in God With Us books three and five).

Byzantine Coloring Books II, III and IV — Feastdays, Sunday Gospels, and Parables (Byzantine Seminary Press) - Three iconographic coloring books containing images for these celebrations and pericopes.

Come Bless the Lord (God With Us Publications) — Forty 8½ x 11" icon prints of the great feasts and major saints. Each print includes a detailed explanation printed on the back of the print and in a separate booklet as well. Booklet also available in an English-Spanish edition.

Coming to Worship and A Visit to the Sanctuary (OCEC) - Two plastic design storyboard sets on the icon screen, holy table, prothesis, and Divine Liturgy enabling students to place the items in these scenes in their proper locations. Useful for reinforcing lessons on the church building and the Divine Liturgy.

Ikon Packets (Greek Orthodox Archdiocese) - Three separate packets, each containing 20 3x4 prints, of icons of the Life of Christ, the Miracles of Christ, and the Saints.

Sophie Koulomzin, God Is With Us: Bible Stories for Children (OCA Religious Ed Dept) - Thirty two-page stories from creation to Pentecost useful for primary classes.

Leslie Merlin, Courage for a Cross (Friendship Press, available from Light and Life) - Six brief stories about the difficulties encountered by a boy growing up Christian in the Soviet Union. Themes include icons, wearing the cross, witness, and the celebration of Pascha.

Louis Savary, ed, The Holy Spirit for Children (The Regina Press, available from Light and Life) - Nineteen Scriptural citations and descriptions on the work of the Holy Spirit from creation to the Church.

Lenten Lotto (OCEC) - A board game teaching the basic biblical and historical events celebrated during the Great Fast and the Great Week.

Lenten Workbook (OCEC) - An activity book based on the themes,' services, and practices of the Great Fast and the Great Week.

Saints for All Ages (OCA Religious Ed Dept) - A ten-booklet series on various sains grouped thematically (eg women martyr; new apostles, Church Fathers, monastics, hymnographers, etc). Useful to supplement classes from the sixth grade on.

We Pray to God: A Prayebook for Children (OCA Religious Ed Dept) - A 24-page booklet of basic daily and seasonal prayers (OCA text) with a brief explanation of prayer for children.

The Divine Liturgy Activity Book (OCEC). Fifty fun activities for the home and classroom to teach children about the meaning of the Liturgy.

Build Your Own Kits: Church; Iconostasis and Altar; Bishop, Priest and Deacon (Antiochian Archdiocese). Each of these three punch-out and assemble kits is a useful help for teaching children about the church building and the orders of the priesthood.

HIGH SCHOOL

While the following materials are not assigned to any grade level, they are listed in an increasing order of sophistication:

General Topics:

Second Helpings (OCEC) - A two volume anthology of 40 articles from past issues of On the Upbeat treating a wide assortment of topics from basic Christianity to liturgy to contemporary questions.

Liturgy

Come Let Us Worship (Educational Services) - First of two ‘liturgical catechisms' covering topics including the concept of worship and the church building. The companion teacher's guide, Exploring Eastern Christianity, offers lesson plans for four mini-courses (history, iconography, church design, worship) using this book as its text.

Sacrifice of Praise (St Basil's Seminary)- Second volume in the series, currently out of print, presenting the Divine Liturgy, and the liturgical year.

Sexuality and Personhood:

The first supplementary track in Becoming (book seven of the God With Us series) discusses this topic from a Christian perspective in four lessons covering the following themes: sexuality is of God and therefore good; it is touched by sin and therefore broken; it is transfigured by the victory of Christ in the mystery of marriage, and - as witnessed by monasticism - its ultimate destiny is to be transfigured in the Kingdom.

Scripture:

The Bible: An Introduction (OCEC) – A six-session text on Scriptural basics, including the makeup of the two Testaments, the cultural background, and the life of Christ. No teacher's guide available.

Jesus the Word (OCEC) - A ten-chapter treatment of the formation of the Gospels, the infancy and theophany narratives, and the temptation in the wilderness, connecting these passages with liturgical use and the commentary of Church Fathers.

Jesus the Teacher (OCEC) - Companion volume to the above, focusing on the call of the disciples, the sermon on the mount, and the messianic mission of Christ.

‘The Beatitudes', in All Together Now (Antiochian Archdiocese)- A five-session program on this summary of the messianic proclamation.

Spirituality:

‘Christian Witness', in All Together Now (Antiochian Archdiocese) - A five session program on the concept of bearing witness and scriptural examples. Appears to be based in part on Called to Be Witnesses (OCEC), a 17 segment series of concept cards which also includes segments on the martyrs, confessors, and monastics in Christian history. Originally intended as a follow-up to the unit on the mysteries of initiation (see Vacation Programs).

The Jesus Prayer (Educational Services) - A six-session introduction on learning to pray the Jesus Prayer. Teacher's guide and participants' leaflets.

Personal Development:

Dee Pennock, Who Is God? Who Am I? Who Are You? (Greek Archdiocese) - A 14-session program on issues relating to personal maturity and the Christian life (identity, guilt, sexuality, fears, etc.), based on the psychological teaching of the Church Fathers. Text and study guide.

 

The Eastern Christian Churches have always celebrated certain moments In the story of salvation, chiefly from the life of Christ, as major festivals: extensions and elaborations of the Easter celebration. Twelve of these have become known as the Great Feasts, solemnly celebrated in all the Eastern Churches and eventually penetrating the Western Church as well. In the Middle Eastern and Eastern European cultures of old, society joined to facilitate celebration of these feasts: work was halted, pilgrimages made and the festivals loomed large in the minds of the people as the central events of the community.

In our society it is vastly different. Not only does the secular culture ignore these feasts, but many parishes minimize them as well, because "no one will come." At the same time, parish announcements, bulletins and flyers will hawk for weeks in advance an approaching St. Valentine's Party or Las Vegas Night. These events have in fact replaced the liturgical holy days in many parishes as the "Great Feasts" of the local community.

However, if parishes approached these social times with the same lack of preparation and creativity as they approach the holy days, it could be guaranteed that no one would come to them either! Try to plan and organize a hafli three days in advance and see. So it is clear that to reconstitute the holy days as prime festivals for our Church, several steps may be taken:

  1. The most obvious is, of course, to celebrate the liturgical services at convenient times: the Vigil Service and/or Divine Liturgy served in the evening will accommodate most parishioners.
  2. Secondly, the parish must be helped to see the importance of the feast by giving it the same planning, effort and publicity as it now gives its social events.
  3. A third consideration is to actually make the liturgical feast the occasion for the important parish socials, as most of our churches do at Christmas and Easter.

Those festivals celebrated in the summer are especially suited to this kind of planning as school is out and families less pressured by school schedules. A picnic or outing at Pentecost, a supper or ice cream social on Transfiguration, a cookout on Holy Cross would certainly boost attendance at the services and begin raising the consciousness of people to seeing these days as our most important Church events. Most communities have summer socials: what reason can there be for not joining these events to the major liturgical celebrations of our Church and reestablish in the minds of our people their importance?

A case in point is the Feast of the Holy Cross (September 14), one of the most popular of the year in the Middle East and the last holiday in summer. Liturgically it is known for the exultation and veneration of the cross, an impressive ceremony which many of our people have never seen. The cross, adorned with basil sprigs, is carried in procession through the church, special litanies are prayed and the cross is lifted in blessing over the four corners of the earth. An evening service, including this ceremony, coupled with a church supper, is an appropriate way to highlight this celebration. In this connection, one traditional practice may be used to highlight the event.

In the Middle East, especially in the mountains, it is customary to light bonfires on this day in memory of the discovery of the cross by St. Helen in the fourth century. To spread the news of the cross's finding from Jerusalem to Constantinople a relay system of bonfires was employed. Since that day Christians in the Middle East have rekindled these fires on the anniversary of this event. Using the bonfire as a do-it-yourself activity, cooking center or campfire is another way of impressing the importance and meaning of the feast on people's minds. The children of the parish make fine firewood gatherers and that project, coupled with an explanation of the bonfire's significance makes them an eager part of the celebration.

Another traditional custom, which can be highlighted on this feast, is the use of sweet basil to adorn the cross. In many parishes families grow this herb during the summer and bring plants to church for the feast. The herb, said to have grown on Calvary, is distributed to all at the close of the service. Younger children would delight in growing and contributing this herb for the celebration.

Preparation for the feast could include a catechetical program on the preceding Sunday which liturgically is a day of preparation for the feast. Such a session could include an explanation of the feast and its troparion and icon to the whole group and then a breakdown into activity groups. The activities outlined below, each typed on separate index cards, could be drawn as lots, executed and then shared with the entire parish as part of the feast-day celebration. The activities are arranged according to the following age levels: 1 (grades 1,2), 2 (grades 3,4), 3 grades 5,6) and 4 (grades 7,8).

Combining a full liturgical celebration with a catechetical preparation and a social extension can help restore these feasts to their intended role in our tradition as the major points of celebration in the life of our Church.

ACTIVITIES FOR LEVEL ONE

  1. Color the cross in the Byzantine Coloring Book (Byzantine Seminary Press, Pittsburgh, PA 14214). Find out why the cross has three bars. Find out why there are flowers around it.
  2. Make a paper cross. Decorate it with a Scripture verse (e.g. 1 Corinthians 1:30).
  3. Show how you make the sign of the cross. How should you hold your hand? When during church services should you make it?

ACTIVITIES FOR LEVEL TWO

  1. Think quietly about some time when you were asked to do something hard or something you didn't want to do. Was it hard to do it? Jesus called hard things like this a cross. Why do you think He did that?
  2. Make a paper cross. On it write the things you dislike doing most. Then copy this verse from the Bible, Matthew 16:14. It tells what Jesus asks us to do with our crosses.
  3. Complete the Morse Code exercise in Together (Book 3, God With Us Publications, McKees Rocks, PA 15136), page 61.
  4. Collect enough twigs to make these crosses:

ACTIVITIES FOR LEVEL THREE

  1. Make a photo and word collage about the cross. Use the hymn from Matins called the "Exapostilarion" for ideas.
  2. Read the chapters "Jesus Is Judged" and "Jesus Christ on the Cross" from the book God Is With Us (OCEC, Yonkers, NY 11210). They tell of the events of Jesus' suffering and death. After you have read them, think about the following questions:
    1. if Jesus' death is so sad, why are we celebrating on the Feast of the Cross? What do you think?
    2. The cross we honor today does not have the body of Jesus on it. It has jewels instead. Why would you think this might be?
  3. Write a paragraph explaining your answers to these two questions. Then mount it on construction paper for display.
  4. Write a haiku (Japanese poem) about the cross. A haiku has three lines. The first line has five syllables; the second line has seven and the third line has five. They do not rhyme.

ACTIVITIES FOR LEVEL FOUR

  1. Read chapter 14 in the book The Creed (Book 11, Greek Orthodox Archdiocese, Brookline MA 02146). Write down any ideas you have not heard before.
  2. Read the hymns of vespers for the Feast of the Cross (from The September Menaion or Byzantine Daily Worship). Find an image in them to make into a banner or poster announcing the feast.

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