Friday, January 28, 2011


I promised a while back I would share what is happening within our church Sunday School program.  It is a long story, one which is just in the opening chapter of being written, but I will try to share what I can.  A few years ago a friend asked me if I knew anything about the Catechesis of the Good Shepherd.  I did not, but promptly began to search the internet.  Sadly, information seemed sparse.  I could not get a handle on what it was.  I also only saw it within the context of the Catholic and Episcopalian faiths. I was not aware of the existence of an Orthodox church using the program.  I did however like the use of objects and figures to aid in sharing the faith.  That, along with my love for Waldorf methods, led me to purchase a few items to use with my children, and also inspired the creation of my Holy Week Boxes.

  All of this was simmering in my mind, as well as numerous conversations with our church school director over her frustrations with the current Sunday School curriculum.  We both were blessed to travel to Pennsylvania last March for the St. Emmelia Conference (planning to be there again this year, hope to see some of you there!).  It was there that we attended a presentation and workshop on the Catechesis of the Good Shepherd within the Orthodox church.  We were blown away.  I admit, I had my reservations at first.  As a classical method homeschooler, I was not a fan of Montessori education, and CGS is based on Montessori methods.  But our director was sold.  Her enthusiasm was contagious and by the time we got home, we were conspiring on how in the world we could manage to get trained and implement this program.  It was a daunting task.  Training for Level 1 (children ages 3-6) involved roughly 3 weeks of intensive coursework, not to mention the long term commitment from our parish for the implementation of this program and the talents of many parishioners to create the necessary materials.  We were greatly blessed that our priest, after hearing an explanation of the program, was as excited as we were.  We all saw this as an opportunity to truly raise a group of children in our church in an Orthodox way; using all of the senses, apealling to the heart of each child, presenting opportunity after opportunity for each child to fall in love with Christ, perhaps taking a journey with these children that would lead both us and them to true heart prayer with God. 

So what makes Catechesis different from traditonal Sunday School methods?  Let me share with you one of the first lessons we learned in training.  The word "catechism," from the Greek and having roots in the meaning of "to sound down,"  has come to mean "an elementary book containing a summary of the principles of the Christian religion, especially as maintained by a particular church, in the form of questions and answers."  One frustration I have heard voiced by those searching for answers about the Orthodox church is that there is no single standard catechism parallel to the Westminster Confession of Faith .  We are not a faith of legalism and rules.

"Catechesis", also from the Greek, means "oral instruction, to teach by word of mouth".  That defines the Orthodox faith in so many ways.  That is one of the ways we are so different from the Protestant church.  We uphold Scripture as Holy, infallible, the Word of God.  We also have preserved and passed down the oral tradition of Christ and the disciples for millenia.  After all, it wasn't until the third century that the New Testament came to exist in its recognized format.  What did those amazing Christians of the first few centuries rely upon?  These are the men and women under Nero, Decius, Diocletian, the faithful who were torn to pieces by animals, burned alive, beheaded for their undying love for Christ.  They did it all without a Bible.  How did they learn the faith?  Oral tradition.  The handing down of precious words, the passing on of Holy Truths.  The instilling of a burning love for Christ and a desire to give all for Him.

So, how do we carry on that oral tradition?  And how do we reach the hearts of our children?  How do we teach them more than knowledge?  As a parent and teacher, I can make my children learn their multiplication tables.  I can stand over them and require they read a book.  I can make them learn a scientific formula. I can even teach them the "rules" and the "catechism" of the faith.   I will never be able to make them love God.  I can only pass along the faith, and pray that it reaches their heart.  Catechesis is a method of presenting love for God that seeks to reach that heart.  It zeros in on the things that appeal to the heart and senses of a child.  It teaches them of the deep love Christ has for them as their Good Shepherd, one who cares for them, loves them always, knows them by name, and will leave all others to go find them when they are lost. 

And it cannot be passed on through two-color printed pamphlets, or memory work, or the parroting back of answers for a teacher.  It must be passed on in an intimate manner, soul to soul, and it affects the teller as much as the listener.  Each time I prepare to enter the room, to hand down another tiny and amazing piece of our faith, I am humbled.  I do not carry the faith these little ones have.  I do not have the same wonder about the creation they still possess.  I must work to remember to give thanks for the things that delight a child.  And as I watch a 4 year old hold a tiny mustard seed in her hand, and ask me over and over again to read from scripture the parable of the mustard seed, and I watch as she stares at that seed, contemplates it, composes songs about its journey from tiny seed buried deep in the earth to great branches spreading forth for the birds, I deeply feel the words of Matthew 18:3: 
 "Verily I say unto you, Except ye be converted, and become as little children, ye shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven."
This catechesis is as much for me as it is for them. 

If you are interested in more information about catechesis in the Orthodox church, you can go here.  Under the direction of her priest and with the blessing of Bishop JOSEPH, Seraphima Butler has been a pioneer, working for nearly 10 years to become trained in these methods while adapting them to the Orthodox faith.  I also hope to continue to share a few more bits and pieces of my experience soon.  You might also want to sign up for the online Orthodox conference hosted by Illumination Learning, where Seraphima will be speaking about CGS in the Orthodox church.


MA F said...

We have been so blessed since be coming Orthodox but our one bittersweet emotion is that we left behind our CGS program at our old parish.

Our new parish is just to small to implement full cgs but I have brought elements into my tiny class of 3 preschoolers and continue to use it in our home.

I'm looking forward to the conference and seeing how some of the elements can be adapted to Orthodoxy.

Thank you for sharing your lovely photos.

DebD said...

Thank you, thank you! I've been co-teaching our Preschoolers for 2 years and have been so disappointed by the lack of good material. I'm going to do a little research and bring it to our Church School coordinator.

Karissa Knox Sorrell said...

I think this was good for me to read! I've just kind of felt like I haven't really known what was going on in the atriums. My kids seem to enjoy it, though. Eph really likes you!

Unknown said...

Beautiful blog, Anna! I am blessed by your words. Seraphima

Unknown said...

What a wonderful post! Thank you! I am a Sunday school co-teacher in our parish; we have a 20-30 minute lesson post-liturgy. I had been looking at your Pascha boxes post to see if I could make them for my K-2 class. I unfortunately did not make a list of the items you had come up with before the post was removed-I am sooo glad you mentioned them again! Is there any way to send the post to me or repost it? I'd be very grateful and I know my class would too! God bless, Geneviève

Anna said...

Chrismated in Coffeeland - I can imagine how hard it would be to leave a catechesis program, but I am sure what you are doing with the children will be of immense value to them. As for adaptation - it is a very long process, Seraphima has worked for years to adapt theology, and is still in the process for level 3. I look forward to further training myself!

DebD - I encourage you to look into it, it has been a huge blessing to our parish, though it is a major commitment.

Karissa - glad it helped, Eph is so much fun to work with!

Mama T - sorry, I removed the post temporarily b/c it is part of a workshop I am giving in March. If you will leave me your email, I will be glad to send you my notes/list of items. I plan to put the post back up in March as well!

Unknown said...

Thank you so much Anna! Here is my email: Wish I could attend your workshop!

Unknown said...

I just wanted to let you know that last year I made some notebooking pages for Holy Week for my children to use using your photos of your Holy Week boxes. I would love to send them to you, but am not sure how to contact you other than leave a comment?



Anna said...

leave me your email and I will send you an email - I would LOVE to see what you did!

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