Archive for the ‘Education’ Category

Who cares and Why?

We want children to be compassionate, to have an ethic of caring but we shouldn’t approach this in a merely mechanical and humanistic way. You can’t separate the ethics of caring from belief in God, the realm of the Church or life in the home or the studies in school. That is why the school has to support and find support from these other pillars of education.– the Church, the Home and the School, which are the three pillars of education. To separate  these  makes the job of education more difficult or impossible.

Doesteyevsky said through his famous Brother’s Karamazov, that Hell is the torment of not loving.God is love and we are created to also love.The ethics of caring is related to who we are as persons. Love of God and love of our neighbor is a fulfillment of our ontological reality. Otherwise, the ethics of caring is just a mask put on a hellish existential fact…nothing matters. When we don’t care…it is a sign of our disease.

Our childhood is the womb of our formation. There is a whole psychology of child raising based in spiritual life and the formation of the soul and character.

Caring is more than a sentiment and as we see in certain enigmatic occurrences in Scripture, there is a hierarchy of values and necessity for discernment in what we care for.

  • Honor father and mother; but he who loves father or mother more than Me is not worthy of Me
  • The man who was called but first wanted to go back and bury his father
  • The poor you always have with you; As you do to the least of these my little ones you do to Me
  • Martha who served the Lord: Martha, Martha you are troubled about many things but Mary has chosen the better part
  • After St. Peter showed love and concern for the Lord, He said to him…Get thee behind Me satan because you value the things of men more than you value the things of God.

The right thing done at the wrong time or in the wrong way is NOT THE RIGHT THING! And something that isn’t right done for godly reasons can be the RIGHT THING, as for example a man going into a brothel to save someone from a destructive life.

The spiritual life  otherwise called the life in Christ is not a cookie cutter way but one that requires discernment and the uttermost care. Care for others therefore requires that we take care to please Christ above all things which illumines the optical lens of discernment.
Fr. Patrick


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A mother complained to a priest about the sudden and radical change in her teenage girl. “Father, she was fine, sweet and happy, and then all of a sudden she changed. Her appearance, her language, her attitudes all suddenly became gross.”

Is it possible that a child can suddenly change? Is she possessed? Has she been corrupted by some so-called friends? Did something happen to her to disturb her purity and peace? How can a person, even a young one, so suddenly change? Or is it possible that the changes were happening ever-so-slowly, and subtle seeds were planted and growing without parental notice?

Each day seeds are landing in the ground of the senses, the mind and the heart. This is true for all of us but especially critical for children. If we look to the Gospel parable about the sowing and growing of seeds, we will perhaps find some answers:

And He said, “The kingdom of God is as if a man should scatter seed on the ground, and should sleep by night and rise by day, and the seed should sprout and grow, he himself does not know how. For the earth yields crops by itself: first the blade, then the head, after that the full grain in the head. But when the grain ripens, immediately he puts in the sickle, because the harvest has come.” Mark 4:26-29 (NKJV)

How do these seeds come?

Seeds are carried by the wind, on the fur of animals and on clothing; floating on the water, falling in the ground, rooting in fertile or inhospitable areas. In other words, they come in all ways through sensorial impressions and into the heart, mind and soul. They come through conversations, books and especially movies and music.

St. Siloan relates that when he was a young boy a bookseller came and spoke of atheistic ideas—seeds that landed in his impressionable soul and troubled him for years. A college student who was a strong believer had to read Nietzsche for a course and was troubled by his thoughts and ideas.

St. Mary of Egypt, while in the desert, had to fight the blasphemous jingles that she was used to hearing and reciting when she lived an impious life in the world before her conversion. They would come back to her and she had to fight the desire to sing them again.

Seeds come in many ways and they are designed to adhere and germinate, grow and take root. Without attention and vigilance we don’t notice these seeds in ourselves or their manifestation. If this is true in us—and it is—how will we see what is happening with our children?

The mother might have been right in saying about her daughter’s changes: Where was I that I didn’t see it coming?

We need to attend to and take care of the weeds while they are still small, and to do so in the right way. We also need to know the right way to respond both to newly formed seeds and to old habits not conquered earlier. Here we would benefit from the wisdom of the Lord.

The Parable of the Wheat and the Tares: Matthew 13:24-53 (NKJV)

Another parable He put forth to them, saying: “The kingdom of heaven is like a man who sowed good seed in his field; but while men slept, his enemy came and sowed tares among the wheat and went his way. But when the grain had sprouted and produced a crop, then the tares also appeared. So the servants of the owner came and said to him, ‘Sir, did you not sow good seed in your field? How then does it have tares?’ He said to them, ‘An enemy has done this.’ The servants said to him, ‘Do you want us then to go and gather them up?’ But he said, ‘No, lest while you gather up the tares you also uproot the wheat with them. Let both grow together until the harvest, and at the time of harvest I will say to the reapers, “First gather together the tares and bind them in bundles to burn them, but gather the wheat into my barn.”’”

We cannot and should not always try to rip out bad behavior or ideas. We need to take care of the wheat as well as the tares. Should we oppose the evil, or encourage the good, or both? And at what time and with how much force? These are not physics questions or medical or surgical questions. They are practical questions that parents face. Our attitude to our children can’t be all NO! We have to have a culture and family life that is alive, cultured, spiritual and filled with YES!

“My son is selfish,” one mother admitted, “always justifying himself and blaming others. Lectures although they are profoundly truthful don’t seem to change anything.”

What does he look like? He looks like a boy who is served as if an equal or superior to everyone else because he has been treated that way. It was unintentional, but who else is given food on demand, taken everywhere for his benefit, cared for physically and brought to Church? He has no responsibility, and therefore is in a higher category than his slave parents.

Upon further investigation, it appears that the boy is living in an unreal existence where he has no responsibilities, where there is nothing he is needed to do, and nothing he is required to do to help the family life. He is driven everywhere and is cared for with tender care, but the end result is self-centeredness and a weak sense of compassion or awareness of others. Will lectures and berating help? I don’t think so. We need to get to some of the root causes and change them and possible do some remedial Christian therapy. The boy needs responsibility for his wellbeing.

We hear in the news about osteoporosis, mostly as a female problem. But according to one doctor men can also have osteoporosis. As a matter of fact, astronauts living in outer space begin to lose bone mass because they do not have exercises which are weight bearing. Perhaps there is an analogy here with children who don’t have responsibility, or weight-bearing labors. They become weaker and more sarcastic. Some family responsibility and sharing of the load just might help!

Sweeping, setting the table, clearing the table, washing pots, folding laundry, carrying laundry baskets, cleaning rooms, caring for the pets, shoveling the sidewalk … There are many things to do and children should be trained in being useful and helpful. If a child is working hard, the child might have more respect for all the other people who are working hard for his or her benefit.

Attention to the character and attitudes of our children is really a labor of love and absolutely necessary. It is better and easier by far to do-it-as–you-go rather than wait for big problems– tares and wheat bound and rooted together.

Perhaps then we won’t be caught by surprise by “sudden” changes because we will be tending the tares and wheat each day with them.

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A Day At School

Each day at Saint Herman of Alaska Christian School we begin with prayer. We do the Third Hour from the Horologion, and as part of the Third Hour we chant the troparion for the feast and the saint of the day. We chant the troparion and kontakion of our patron, St. Herman. We also hear the Epistle and Gospel reading of the day, and a homily either related to the Scripture, or to the festal period, or to another relevant topic. We sing the stichera of St. Herman, venerate the icons and receive the priest’s blessing. At the end of prayers we say the “prayer before a lesson”: O most gracious Lord, send down the Holy Spirit… Each day the lives of the saints are read from the Prologue during the first 5-8 minutes of our lunchtime meal. Meals start with prayer and end with the “prayer after meals”: We thank Thee O Christ our God, that Thou has satisfied us with Thy earthly gifts… On the name day of students, teachers or visitors we pray and sing Many Years; we also offer short molebans (supplicatory services at times of need) or prayers for visitors or for those who will travel. Prayer is the incense of the day–prayers for the increase of our knowledge, prayers that we fulfill Christ’s commandments and prayers for the well-being of others and general thanks for all things.

Being focused on the spiritual elements of the day is important. St. Nektary of Optina said that each day has its own grace, a specific and precious and unique spiritual jewel, and that it is our task to capture this grace of the day. Yes, it is true. Each day is as unique as the fingerprint of our hand–no two are alike. This day will never happen again, even though we think of the days “rolling into each other,” “another day, another dollar,” and other over-generalizations. This day is unique and I am assigned to respond to it. The saint, the Gospel, the hymns of the day all speak to me. The people I meet and the events of the day all are opportunities to fulfill the Lord’s will and commands. Why should I be asleep to this? Why should I miss the opportunity to learn, to grow?

The beauty of our school is that it is also a community and school of love and virtue. We have each other. Love of God and love of our neighbor can be practiced with each other. Learning to care for the cares of others, learning to obey and show respect, and to forgive, all these can happen and are encouraged here. We don’t need a special department of character development and ethics. Rather, these things are intrinsic and explicit in our daily life; for here school is, together with the Church, part of spiritual life, and part of our life in Christ … we just need to pay attention to the details of our day.

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A Geronda or Staretz is a spiritual father who helps us on our path to the Kingdom of God through his prayers, his example and the grace of God with him. Of course our Lord is our Saviour, but a Geronda has authority because of his experience, his direct personal knowledge of God, his knowledge of the human heart and his special relationship with us. Because of these things, we listen to him and take what he says seriously. Geronda, what should I do about these intrusive thoughts that come to me? How can I overcome my feelings of resentments or pride? He understands and has something to tell us or show us. We don’t challenge or question our Geronda but instead try to follow what he says.

Nowadays we have given the status of Geronda to the media. I say the media is our new Geronda because we are so deeply affected by it and believe too readily what it says to us. But where is it leading us?

Many of us get our historical facts from movies that are more or less  accurate. A recent example of the effect of blatantly distorted history is the movie and book The Da Vinci Code. An elderly Russian professor who lived through the lies of Communist rule was aghast at how the book utterly twisted the facts of the lives and times portrayed. Dan Brown made up his own version of history and totally fabricated facts about historical personalities, and people believed the impressions based on a false history. He told everyone that his book was not history but a fabricated story, but having read it, people believed the story. There are many other examples of the power of the media to lead and shape people’s thoughts and lives. Maybe people who lived under oppressive regimes exercised their muscles of discernment on the twisted lies and manipulations of the media. Whatever the party line was, they knew it wasn’t the truth, and they had to piece together a truer picture with a lot of effort.

While the bumper sticker tells us in a tone of rebellion to QUESTION AUTHORITY and we begin to argue with our parish priest, our parents and other authority figures, we listen passively to the TV, radio and internet which have been given by us the authority–unknowingly or knowingly–of our new geronda. The real Geronda continues in his prayers for us patiently waiting our awakening and return!

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Who is an educated person?

While chatting with a good friend who is a teacher, I mentioned the idea that in order to teach children we have to know the goal or outcome we want. We should be very clear what it means to be educated because that is our goal for our children, isn’t it? “Who,” I asked her, “is an example of an educated man or woman? What makes them educated, and how did they get there?”

She is a great teacher and exemplary in many ways, but she had to admit that she never thought about education in that way. Which is the point … we all assume that we know what we mean by an educated person. But we might all be thinking of different things by the same word. That’s why educated people like to use definitions!

How would you define an educated person? Who are examples of such people?

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What is most valuable to us and to our children? Making the things of God most beautiful, and giving them first place in our life and in our children’s lives, will show our children what is most valuable and what we most value. Our home is not only our castle, but the evangelical witness of our values. Therefore, our icon corner should be more beautiful than our entertainment center. We should hold to the times of prayer more assiduously than getting to soccer practice on time. We should keep the feasts and fast more definitively than vacations and days off. Little by little the edifice of values is erected in the psyche of the family and children. Instead of filling them with stories about men who went from rags to riches, or praising people who succeeded in worldly pursuits, show them rather the people who overcame vice, stood up to untruth, and became holy as a result. Otherwise, what is the message?

With the best intentions we are trying to give our children wonderful experiences. We drive them to soccer, ice-hockey, karate, baseball, gymnastics, and ballet–even on Sunday mornings and Feast-days–but we have trouble getting them and ourselves to Church on time (or to Church at all)!

We can only squeeze so much juice out of the lemon of time. Time is even more valuable than money. How we spend the time of each day affects our whole family and ourselves. Make time for the most valuable things; set aside and guard the time for Church, for prayer, for study, and for time together as a family and community. Guard it as you would your most precious treasure. The day has so much meaning to it, and it too often passes in front of us like a blur.

St. Seraphim of Veritsa said that the persecution of our times will be a subtle turning away from ‘the way’: “… There will come a time when not the persecutions but the money and the goods of this world will take people far from God. And many more souls will be lost than in the time of persecutions …”*

Therefore, we need to pay attention and give first place to the things of God, the things that are of most value. Beware the whirl of unfruitful business.


*(Life – Miracles – Prophecies of Saint Seraphim of Viritsa, trans. Fr. Nicholas Palis. Greece: Orthodox Kypseli Publications.)

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People send their children to our Orthodox Christian school for different reasons … very different reasons. They appreciate a safe environment, classes that are small, or classes that are able to meet their child’s unique needs. Their children might have had problems or were unhappy with their previous school experience. Maybe they were under-challenged. They like the Christian environment. One parent told us that he thinks it is good for his child to see men in black robes and beards, icons and be exposed to prayers … so many reasons, each one particular to a family. Though we realize that God calls people together in various ways, we want to make clear our goals and reasons for our Orthodox school. That won’t necessarily change the logic of the parents, but at least it will make clear what we are aiming at.

So why? We are doing something very normal as far as we are concerned. We believe in Christ, and we not only believe in Him but our senses and thinking have been changed as a result of knowing Him. Our curriculum is based on the Orthodox faith, on what we know and on how we as Orthodox Christians see the world, life, and ourselves. We proclaim in the Liturgy of St. Gregory, the Pre-Sanctified Liturgy: The Light of Christ Illumines All! Our understanding of history, geography, language arts, mathematics, science and etc. are affected and deepened by this Illuminating Light in a unique way. Someone said: “math is math.”  Is that true? Are subjects of study compact things without deeper meaning? Don’t they have lateral and vertical dimension and relate to other realms of knowledge? Whatever happened to the sense of what is behind or within or under the philosophical foundation or axioms that are the basis of what one studies?

There is no value-free, philosophy-free school or curriculum, as there is no house that doesn’t start with a foundation and build from there. That is why every political regime in modern history has fought to control the educational system. As parents, teachers, pastors and evangelists, we have a big stake in education from the ground up, not just higher education or “religious education.” Curriculum planners and teachers express their world view in what and how they teach. This is why Orthodox schools are vital.

Children need to be educated and need to understand the world from an Orthodox view, from teachers and parents that know Christ and see the world, life, and their own soul with the illumination of Christ. This is very important. The children need to be formed in this environment, but they need also to learn how to wrestle against the world view they will encounter after they leave our school or home.

This takes place while they are still within our influence. While you are riding to school, the children are looking around and drinking in what you aren’t seeing, and thinking about what you aren’t hearing. If you asked them who they should invite to their party, and they said please invite the poor, because they heard a sermon at school about the Lord, Who said that we should invite the poor to our party and not just our friends, what would you say? You might think: we can’t because they will rob us. From the earliest age we are forming our children and their relation to the poor, the sick, the aged. Please pay attention. At school we visit the elderly and the children are excited and also challenged. They set up for our weekly the soup kitchen. Maybe they can come and help serve when they are older.

St. Herman said that the Christian has to learn to fight through realms of demons to acquire the kingdom of heaven. School is one of the training grounds … learn the facts, what really happened, learn the faith, also learn to counter and refute wrong doctrine, and, most importantly, to stand in the faith and live it.

Our school is not meant to shelter children from the world but to prepare them to be in the world but not of the world. We prefer that our children understand the world in which they providentially live, not fear it. Let the world be affected by the presence of young adults who know themselves, who know their faith and their God.

Education is serious … not just for our economic future but for our eternal future, and for our present life. How we live in accordance with the Truth while we are still here in this world is our preparation for this blessed future and it also makes the journey to our eternal existence much richer.

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