Melkite Greek Catholic Church
 
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

Planning Your Program

Eight Principles for Designing Parish Programs

Planning is an essential part of any serious organizational effort, and the parish catechetical program is no exception. While many aspects of Church life are a given (there will be a Christmas, whether we plan for it or not), we need to determine how and where to deploy our energies so that the growth of our community in the Lord will best be served. The following eight principles suggest a way of discerning an appropriate course of action when planning a catechetical program.

First Principle – Plan Regularly and Early

Often in parishes there is very little, if any, long term planning. People plan one event at a time without regard for the wider picture of the Church's ultimate purpose, or the integration of individual projects into the total effect of church life.

Some aspects of your program, such as your basic calendar, or beginning and ending procedures, may be planned a year in advance. Other elements, such as special programs may be scheduled three or six months in advance, depending on the success or failure of similar programs earlier in the season. In any case, basic planning should be done at least six months in advance. Thus planning for the fall should be done the previous spring.

Goals should be reviewed regularly with a view to changing or extending them, depending on how effectively they have been implemented or how impractical they hay have turned out to be. Just because a goal was once set, that does not mean that it was automatically implemented or can be. Thus some churches schedule a major planning session in to spring to set their schedule for the next fall and the entire next year, whenever possible.

Second Principle – Plan Through Prayer

Undergirding any church planning, for Christians, should be prayer. Is this project in harmony with what the Lord is asking of His people? Do we have any indication that this is or is not according to the mind of the Church? Where do we see the Lord in this action? Christian planners need to ask these questions at every step of the planning process, especially at the beginning. Include a significant prayer time in your planning sessions.

Third Principle - Recall Your Essential Mission and Major Objectives

Every specific goal in program planning must relate to the basic aims of the Christian life. Thus, for example, we would not imagine giving door prizes to encourage church attendance; this runs counter to the spirit of the gospel call to give oneself to the Lord. Accordingly, we need to keep before our eyes the relationship of any individual program to the more basic purposes of the Church.

In our Tradition we take it as given (a) that the aim of Christian life is theosis, the sharing in the divine nature; (b) that theosis is fostered through participation in the life of the Church, particularly the mystical life of the liturgy; and (c) that the general objectives of catechesis are to affect believers' behavior, knowledge and attitudes in such a way as to dispose them to share in this life.

The specific programs in the Church must be designed with this aim in mind: to so dispose the participants that they will be motivated to deepen their sharing in the sacramental life of our Church.

And so in every step of planning we need to look at all sides of an idea in relation to these given principles. What are the positive effects in relationship to the Church's basic goals? What are the negative effects? What might be the long term consequences? What other perspectives might be considered?

Questions for Reflection
How might the following programs dispose or detract students from deepening their commitment too the life of our Church?
A Teaching children all prayers in Arabic,
B Introducing rock music in the liturgy;
C Incorporating prostrations, incense and changing into the classroom prayers.
What do you think would best dispose teenagers to participate in our Church's liturgical services?
Having an exclusive teen liturgy
Insuring them action roles in the regular parish Liturgy;
Conducting a church school class on the history of the Liturgy
Would any of the suggestions above run counter to the Church's basicviews on liturgy?

Fourth Principle - Assess the Needs of the Community

Before planning any specific program, you must determine what needs you are trying to meet by gathering and analyzing data about the community. This means determining the background, knowledge, values, expectations, concerns, pressures, and cultural environment of the people involve. Effective planning must be people-centered since, although there is such a wealth of spiritual riches in our Church's Tradition to be shared, people can only interiorize what they are ready to absorb.

Besides people's individual needs, the church planner must consider in the life of the community as a whole; where are they in their life together, in their journey of faith. Usually there are many sub-groups in a parish – the descendants of the founders, new immigrants, converts- and each group has a different set of expectations as to what Church is supposed to be. Perhaps you will need to run a different kind of program for each group, while still challenging them to accept one another and see the value in each other's approach.

Data gathering is the approach by which we collect the information needed to design an appropriate program for any given group. The chief methods, each with advantages and disadvantages, are (a) by written instruments, (b) by interviewing, and (c) by observation and memory. Some may be more appropriate in some situations than in others.

Written Instruments (questionnaires) are especially useful for gathering date from large groups of people who do not come together at any one time (such as the congregation in a parish with several Sunday Liturgies). They are also important as a follow-up to a general discussion, as many people are reluctant to speak their mind in gatherings lest they offend some of their fellow parishioners.

When designing a written instrument remember that the sharpness of the question determines the usefulness of the answers. Thus avoid questions to be answered "Yes" or "No", unless you add "why" or "explain your answer". At the same time you need to check the tone of your questions: do they imply which answer is "the right one"? Finally, you must also decide how anonymity or asking for signatures will affect the answers you get.

Remember that many people don't take questionnaires seriously unless they have evidence that some action will result to their advantage.

In any case, be aware that data collected by such a written instrument is only part of what is needed to plan a program.

Questions for Reflection
Which of the following questions is the most effective/least effective in gathering date preliminary to planning?
A. "Would you attend a youth group if we began one at St. X's? ( )Yes; ( ) No; ( ) Maybe
B. "If a Youth Group were begun at St. X's, would you be more likely to join if:
( ) you had transportation
( ) the group met on Sunday evening
( ) The group met on a school night
( ) My friend (name) wanted to join
C. "If you could pick the person who would be your group advisors, whom would you pick (choose three parishioners, please)?

Interviewing – Conducting personal conversations with individuals gives the data gatherer another side of the picture. Personal interviews can give you an insight into the other's experience of Christian formation, the parish, or relationships with certain groups in the parish. On the other hand, sincere there is no anonymity, the person may attempt to please the interviewer. Group discussion may get people thinking about topics which they had not thought of before, especially if it follows upon an engaging presentation. Another commonly used technique to stimulate such thinking in group settings is brainstorming. Everyone identifies, without discussion in detail, the needs, objectives, or procedural steps which they envision. The facilitator compiles a list of these suggestions. Brainstorming is not for the purpose of discussion or decision making, but for generating data and helping participants get a clearer idea of the directions in which they might proceed.In either case, face to face discussion is useful if it enables people to freely share their experiences and helps build a climate of mutual trust Beginning attempts to facilitate such discussions should always be followed by the opportunity to put in writing things people would be reluctant to say aloud.

Observation and Memory - You too have a past experience with these people if you have been their fellow parishioner for any length of time. You will have your own reactions to what they say. Use what you know,but be another person should interview certain people with whom youhave had previous experience. Once you have gathered as much data as you can throughconversations, questionnaires, group discussion, and the like, you mustanalyze it. In this process you will collate the information you have gathered, analyze it for trends and priorities, then narrow the field to determine which specific needs to address at this time. The following four steps are helpful:

  1. Collating – Here you put all the answers to the same question together.
  2. Seeking Trends – Now you compare the responses, looking for similarities and differences. If you detect a trend in the responses, try writing a summary "answer" for each question which reflects the trend (s).
  3. Analyze trends – What is underlying these answers? Does the trend ofresponses to one question explain the answers to another? Does the questionnaire indicate real concerns or problems?
  4. Narrow Down – Are there several possibilities? Do you need to choose one? Will your choice be based on the number of possible participants or the importance of the issues to some persons' lives?

Going through this process works best when it is a group effort. In this way you have the insights of several persons analyzing the input. You may also need to issue a second questionnaire after you begin narrow down the options. Here the questions must be even more specific than in the first questionnaire.

Fifth Principle – Identity Specific Objectives

You can now design a program with a specific focus based on the input which you have generated. Begin by writing a statement of purpose which spells out your aims for this particular activity

This statement of objectives should:

  1. Identify the problem, based on the analysis gathered above;
  2. Specify "the who" – a definite target group (if you are planning for children, a specific age group should be indicated);
  3. Specify "the what" – the desired behavioral goals your program is meant to generate, the desired action which should result to enable persons to do something more effectively;
  4. Be realizable in a specified period of time ("the when");
  5. Be measurable as much as possible so that we can know when the objective has been attained (Note that, while our ultimate spiritual objective, theosis, is not measurable and is ultimately dependent on ourprayerful response to the grace of the Holy Spirit, other objectives, such as interiorizing a specific attitude or learning a specific behavior, are measurable.)
  6. Be clear and concise so that all participants can have a concrete understanding of the program's aims;

Thus, after a parish questionnaire has determined that people want to learn some new liturgical hymns, your statement of objectives for a new music program might be: "To help the bulk of the congregation learn onenew chant each month". You have determined the who, the what, and the when.

Having a clear objective enables the planners themselves to maintain a clear focus for their activities. Coming to a clearly understandable objective helps prevent participants from developing contrary expectations and resulting frustration. It also gives us a basis for evaluation after the stated time so that we can know whether or not we succeeded.

Sixth Principle – Design A Strategy

Once you have determined your measurable objective, your next step is to agree on how that objective will be carried out in actual events. Thus in terms of the above objective, we might decide to realize it "be rehearsing for ten minutes at the end of each Divine Liturgy".

To achieve the most practical strategy the following criteria are often suggested:

a) Is there enough time to prepare and/or present it?

b) Does it utilize the appropriate human resources in the community?

c) Are any materials needed available and/or affordable?

d) Does the strategy maximize participation and creativity on the part of the participants?

Seventh Principle – Spell Out the Procedural Steps

In this phase you detail all the steps of your program – what happens when, who does what, etc. – to organize the efforts of those involved. Ordinarily procedural concerns include:

Time (date and time period)

Place (space use and arrangement)

Group Dynamic (ice breakers, interest centers, etc.)

Program Design (techniques)

Materials and equipment

Publicity (advance notice, recruiting and registration)

Leadership functions (specific descriptions)

To apply these steps to our music program, we would address issues such as, How would the music be made available? Who would duplicate and distribute it? Who would do the actual teaching? Would various choir members take turns demonstrating the chant while others were placed strategically throughout the congregation? How long would the choir need to master these pieces themselves before introducing them to the congregation?

Eighth Principle – Review and Evaluation

The last step in the planning process is to determine whether you achieved your objectives, whether the program was successful in terms of what you were hoping to achieve. Thus the evaluation looks at accomplishment and effectiveness. It is possible, however, that a program may positively accomplish a change of behavior but negatively affect attitudes. This is often the case when children are obliged to learn or act in a certain way: we achieved our goal of getting them to participate in vespers, but they have come to hate it! Thus evaluation must assess both the behavioral and attitudinal effects of any program.

Evaluation can be made in a number of ways, such as:

a) Interviews of participants;

b) Observations by program leaders;

c) Involvement of selected participants with planners in an evaluation meeting.

In planning any program each planning step should be summarized in writing in as much detail as possible. This is of great importance for future programs. If you choose to repeat a successful program, you have an excellent basis from which to work: you need not start from scratch each time. If elements in the program did not work and need to be revised, you will have an accurate record of that as well. Perhaps most importantly from a Christian perspective, you have something concrete to pass on to a successor rather than obliging him or her to start from scratch.

Implementing Your Strategy

The following procedural steps are common to most events. The planner should expect to record these steps and then determine who will be responsible for implementing them. Use this page as a checklist in helping others prepare events and programs:

Beforehand:
Contact all necessary people committed to participation (teachers, students, parents, clergy, guest speakers)
Set the date. Maker sure that you avoid conflicts with others activities, avoid crowding one or another time of year with activities while leaving other times empty, and insure that activities are appropriate to the season and the needs of the parish.
Select and reserve the location of program, class or meeting.
Arrange for publicity (printed, mailed, the pulpit, bulletin board).
Secure needed supplies (audio visuals, tables and chairs, stationary goods, classroom supplies, name tags, registration blanks, handouts, etc.)
Determine who will perform basic tasks, eg. Open up, set up, register, conduct the opening and closing prayer, and start the session.
During:
Insure that the program begins on schedule.
Arrange for introductions, announcements
Be available for problems
Continually evaluate the course of the program and the participants' response
After:
Secure participants' evaluation (teachers or facilitators and students).
Put the facility in order and lock up
Set a time to reflect on the evaluations and implement findings into the next session of this type

Program Planning Guide

Method of Assessing Needs-

Writing and Objective –

Identify the problem

Identify the What:

Identify the Who:

Identify the When:

Identify the Measure Desired:

Stated Objective: - TO

Strategy: - BY

Procedural Steps:

Time –

Place –

Dynamic –

Design –

Material Needed –

Publicity –

Leadership Functions –

Method of Evaluation-

Suggestions for New Program -

 
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:
 
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.
 
Office of Educational Services
Melkite Eparchy of Newton
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Voice 732-556-6917 - Cell 201-417-3804
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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)

 
by Rev. Economos Romanos Russo
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'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
Saint Stephen

One of the more important developments in catechetics in our Church in recent memory has been the growing spirit of cooperation between the various Eastern Catholic eparchies in the United States and Canada. As of this writing, there are ten Byzantine Catholic dioceses in the US. and another seven in Canada, in addition to dioceses of several other Eastern Catholic traditions (Armenian, Chaldean, Maronite and Syrian). Yet, until recently, there was little interaction among them. How did this come about?

One of the characteristics of Eastern Churches, in contrast to the Roman, is that each national Church is relatively autonomous. While all Byzantine Churches, for example, employ the same liturgical and spiritual Tradition, each has its own body of bishops, language, and musical heritage. And so, when Byzantine Christians emigrated to the New World, they came both speaking and praying in different languages. When parishes and, later, dioceses were established, it was on the basis of the national Churches from which the immigrants had come. In time, all these Churches would move to the use of English in worship and life, but their structures remain separate. Naturally, Churches of non-Byzantine Eastern traditions would have their own structures as well.

Currently the following Churches exist in North America, all sharing a common Byzantine Catholic heritage, but differing in structure, ethnic origin, and particular uses. Dioceses are headquartered in the cities indicated.

  • Melkite: Newton (USA)
  • Montreal (Canada)
  • Romanian: Canton (USA)
  • Ruthenian: Pittsburgh, Passaic, Parma and Van Nuys (USA);
  • Unionville (Canada)
  • Ukrainian: Philadelphia, Stamford, Chicago, Parma (USA);
  • Winnipeg, Toronto, Edmonton, Saskatoon, New Westminster (Canada)
  • More variety exists in the Syriac or Aramaic traditions represented in the following jurisdictions:
  • Chaldean: Deerfield, MI.
  • Maronite: Brooklyn, Los Angeles (USA)
  • Montreal (Canada)
  • Syrian:Jersey City, NJ (USA & Canada)
  • There is also an Armenian Catholic Exarchate for the USA and Canada headquartered in New York City.

EFFORTS TOGETHER

In 1970 representatives from the Melkite and Ruthenian dioceses in the United States began discussing the possibility of common catechetical action. Out of this discussion, the God With Us series was envisioned and developed. Over the next ten years, representatives from these dioceses worked together to produce this material. In time, representatives from several other dioceses became involved in this cooperative venture.

With more dioceses committed to this work and with the completion of the eight grade series, diocesan catechetical personnel formed an ongoing organization, the ECDD (Eastern Catholic Diocesan Directors of Religious Education) conference. Working as an arm of the United States Eastern Catholic bishops' conference, the ECDD has published nine books for adult enrichment and catechist formation. ECDD is also in the process of publishing Light for Life, a handbook for Byzantine Catholic catechesis. Two parts, entitled The Mystery Believed and The Mystery Celebrated, have already been published. The third part, The Mystery Lived, is currently in preparation. ECDD is also in the process of expanding and revising the God With Us Series. It also distributes other publications of catechetical interest through Theological Book Service.

 
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

Antioch

"It was at Antioch that the disciples were first given the name of Christians". (Acts 11:26)

There is a great deal of talk today in the Churches about evangelization: the bringing of the Gospel to the men and women of our world. Evangelization certainly lies at the very heart of the Gospel in that it is a direct expression of the love of God for all His creatures. However, in the average Christian circle, evangelization sometimes is more a matter of bringing more people to our church which may be something quite different.

The two concerns need not be unrelated, however, if ‘our church' is in fact a community of faith. It is no secret that many of our parishes are primarily social communities, serving either recent immigrants and their descendants, who see the church from an ethnic bias, or the old cliques who grew up together and are more interested in maintaining their social and power structure rather than Christian living. At best they may be liturgical communities which maintain a good Sunday morning experience for a community whose members have little to do with one another the rest of the week.

And so the first challenge in evangelization is in forming a Christian community in the parish which is centered on living the Christian life and which is welcoming to others. It is, after all, unjust to invite people into a parish which has little or no use for the Christian Life.

In some parishes people have little or no previous exposure to the broad vision of Christian life, much less an ongoing experience of Christian community. Their Christianity is on the level of milk, not solid food, in the imagery of the New Testament. As a beginning resource for developing such communities, we at Educational Services have adapted elements of the Antioch Weekend, an initiatory weekend program long used in some circles of the Western Church.

The Antioch Weekend was developed at the University of Notre Dame in the early 1960's to help Catholic college students live a more complete and dedicated Christian life. Itself based on Cursillo techniques applied to the YCS Study Weekend format, it has since been adapted for use in parishes, prisons, youth groups and many other circumstances where people desire a fundamental experience of Christianity. The version promoted by our Office adapts it to the particular circumstances of the adults in our Byzantine parish communities and builds on it to provide for an ongoing experience of Christian community.

The program may be used in a number of ways, with diverse audiences. The first use of the Antioch in a parish should be with the ‘regulars', in the attempt to create a basis in faith to the existing community and to initiate small groups. The weekend may be repeated several times during this preliminary period affording as many people as are willing the opportunity to participate in this program.

Subsequently the weekend could be held once or twice a year, depending on the size of the parish (or group of parishes), as an initiation program for new residents, converts, marriage partners, etc. as a way of introducing them into both the doctrinal and communal sides of the Christian life. People unable or reticent to commit themselves to a full weekend program may be invited to participate in an ongoing group and then attend a weekend when they are ready. The Initial Weekend The Antioch Weekend was envisioned as catechesis in the best sense: as communication of life. Knowledge is involved, but it is not the kind of knowledge that can be contemplated in a detached way, like a formula describing a chemical reaction. It is knowledge of the living God which must have immediate implications for life in that it is a call to repentance, that change of mind and heart which marks the Orthodox believer of every age.

The presentation of an integrated Christian vision from the Gospel and the basic core of patristic Christianity is at the heart of the Antioch Weekend. The talks aim at proclaiming and personalizing the basic aspects of the Nicene Creed (the Trinity and the Christian Community) and the individual Christian life. God's fatherly love is presented in the context of His Old Testament promises that He will be with Abraham and His descendants and that He will make of them a great people. This first promise is seen as fulfilled beyond expectation the incarnation, where the Son of God becomes present to us by becoming one of us, and at Pentecost, where the Spirit takes up His dwelling in us forever. The second promise is realized in the Church, the numberless descendants of Abraham by faith. The personal prayers (praying with icons, Morning Prayers, prayers in the groups) and the liturgical services (Akathist, Confession, the Liturgy, and the Panagia) attempt to express these basic beliefs in the dynamic of worship. The individual Christian life is seen as our response to the mystery of God's love thus proclaimed and celebrated.

One of the reasons weekends work is that they bring people into a new, though temporary, social environment. Many participants will have heard already what they will hear in the course of the weekend program. But the weekend takes them ‘out of their ordinary environment—where the Gospel is not taken seriously and where they are surrounded by temptations, distractions, and lack of faith—and creates a climate that facilitates encounter with the Lord.

The team's faith can be contagious. The gospel both requires and promises radical change, and a weekend can help participants believe that such change is possible for themselves by demonstrating it in the lives of the team members who are men and women like themselves.

The Ongoing Program

The first page of the original Antioch Weekend leaders' manual warns: "Do not bother putting on an Antioch Weekend without also forming a follow-through program. The weekend itself is designed to be only an invitation into a program." The Antioch Weekend is designed to be only a small part of an overall effort. For growth in Christianity, continued participation in some sort of follow-through program is more important than making an Antioch Weekend.

Hence to the original Antioch Weekend we have added a design for an ongoing program utilizing the small-group process so effectively used by many churches. Such programs basically consist of opportunities to pray together, to share the experiences of living a Christian life, and to study some appropriate elements of that life. In our Church this would presume opportunity for liturgical worship and for exposure to Eastern spirituality. Accordingly a basic follow-through program might consist. of bi-weekly or weekly meetings with:

  • a) Vespers or other appropriate service
  • b) A time for informal sharing of personal Christian experience
  • c) Presentations and discussions on the various chapters of Archbishop Joseph Raya's The Face of God (McKees Rocks, PA, God With Us Publications, 1987), a basic introduction to Eastern spiritual themes, such as wonder at the mystery and economy of God,the response of the Church as personified in the Mother of god, prayer, the mysteries, repentance. This work is useful for people who know the externals but need to be introduced to the spirituality which underlies them.

Subsequent Steps

The growing Christian should expect to move beyond this milk to more solid food. This is the Theosis Program, described below, a further development of Christian growth experiences based on a deeper level of the good news: the concept of deification or sharing in the divine nature (2 Pt 1:4). This, in turn leads into the next segment of the program, leadership training,, which revolves around the maturing of Christians in ministry and prepares them to take more significant roles in the community.

Theosis

A combination of factors prompted the Office of Educational Services to develop what it calls the Theosis Program. The first of these is the spiritual condition of our parishes. Up until now the principle of adhesion in many parishes has been a mixture of social, familial and ethnic ties among people who really had not yet come to be at home in the wider society. The Church was our ‘reservation': a place where we could be comfortable in the company of our peers and thus fulfill our religious ‘obligations' in a relatively painless environment.

All that is over. We can purchase hummus and tabboule in supermarkets. We can socialize in the wider society more comfortably. We can take part in non-ethnic civic groups or fraternal organizations without feeling out of place. We no longer look to the church to be our social center. Those who have seen the primary function of the Church as a place to be with ‘our own kind' while simply tolerating its spiritual identity or even the Christian life itself, will identify with the Church less and less. Their descendants have no need of these ‘non-church churches'. People will look to our Church only because (or if) they find a vibrant spiritual life there. Once more, as in its earliest years, the Church has no other purpose than to live the life in Christ!

As individuals within our congregations come to realize, through various means, that they are the temple of the Holy Spirit (cf. 1 Cor 6:19), they need to be brought together in groups where they can freely and easily speak their faith, in groups where they can share their lives as Christians and hear with their "new ears" the teaching of the Spirit that their own commitment to the Lord may be dëepened. When this happens, the liturgical life flourishes, people get involved in the life of the community, even the collection goes up! These committed believers; become the nucleus of faith, which can gradually spread its influence throughout the worshipping community and involve others in the following of Christ. Unless such communities develop in our parishes, we cannot in conscience encourage people to join our Church. We will be promoting a spiritual heritage which has no contemporary expression, which is found in the pages of books but not in the local congregation.

The first goal of the Theosis Program, then, is to assist in the development of spiritual life groups in our parishes. The name we have given this program is the Greek word for deification, the Eastern Churches' key understanding of what the Christian life is all about. The program aims to arouse within us a deeper awareness of what God is doing in us, so that we can grow in the Christian life ourselves within the framework of our Eastern Christian tradition.

A second factor influencing the design of this program is the existential situation of our diocese. Although we have had a hierarchic jurisdiction for over thirty years, most of our parishes are functioning much as they were before we received a bishop. Each parish functions on its own with little if any reference to other parishes in the diocese. The geographical distances involved accounts for some of this, but there is also the reluctance we all feel to change. In response to this situation we felt the need to enable our communities to experience a further dimension of theosis: what the Fathers called the ‘community of the Holy Spirit.' For this reason the program includes interparish weekend retreats and days of prayer, leaders meetings and conference calls as we seek to link together people of faith in parishes throughout the diocese in a common experience of our Eastern spiritual tradition. The Theosis Program would thus be a vehicle through which this eparchy could move from being simply a canonical entity to a discernible community in the Holy Spirit.

The first stages in the program, reflecting these two factors, include:

  • a) A Weekend Retreat bringing together members of all our Melkite parishes in a given area;
  • b) The formation of Ongoing Study and Support Groups back home in each parish;
  • c) Periodic Days of Prayer bringing weekend participants back together for prayer and sharing.

Christ has promised us a life full of adventure: "1 came that they might have life and have It to the full" (Jn 10:10). His coming has as its purpose to bring us to a fullness of life, to energize us in a way that sets no limit to our potential by making us sharers in the divine nature (2 Pt 1:4). The Theosis Program seeks to bring us to a deeper perception of this reality and, by a greater experience of the community in which He has placed us, to give us a richer experience of that life here and now.

To schedule a Theosis weekend or for more information, contact the Office of Educational Services.

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