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On Orthodox Education

Orthodox Education

Crucial for Orthodoxy in America

Because American culture and government naturally reduces Christianity to mere ritual, as we have examined in other studies, ministries such as education are marginalized in most parish communities within America. One of the first - if not thee first - step that we should take in building Orthodoxy within America, is the implementation and growth of Orthodox education. If we lose this battle, we lose the future stability of our parishes. The Universities within America are geared against us and have many sophisticated arguments against the Christian worldview. To create Orthodox schools is not only for our children to carry on and battle the world, but for the American Orthodox ethos in general. Orthodox education produces both culture and community! Secular education does the same, and so it is crucial for us to enter this battle with vigilance.

The fathers of the Church teach us that falling away from God is as simple as forgetting God. When we are no longer able to carry the momentum of God’s energy and as St Paul says, “hold every thought captive in Christ,” we drift. How much drifting does it take to end up in a place that is inescapable? Is it possible that we might one day wake up realizing that we are completely surrounded by a hostile environment that demands either complete submission or withdrawal? Perhaps this has already begun to happen and we Christians are in a state of contemplation, wondering and debating on how to get out of the current social conundrum.

It’s not completely clear on how this all began happening…how we lost even the small slices of traditional community and culture within America. There are theories of how it has all culminated, everything from serious error in our historical founding to the uncontrollable flux of immigration, etc. But within the many theories is one underlying element of how humanity has always operated as a community, which many of us will agree that we need to correct: Education.

We live in the most convoluted culture of all history, with radical amounts of information being pitched to us on a daily basis. When we turn on the TV we are being educated. When we read our Facebook feed we are being educated. When we get trained by our company we are being educated. Even when we listen to the radio/Pandora, etc., we are being educated.

It is key for an Orthodox Christian in a secular society to be able to format our lives so as to hear more Orthodox perspectives than secular/agnostic perspectives. This requires a disciplined and perhaps ‘out-of-the-ordinary’ way of life. We will look at this in the later part of this article.

Russia’s Educational Holocaust

America, from the beginning, established her education through her Church, but as the secular rule grew, schools were overran and sold off to the secular organizations. With America, no second revolution needed to happen when Christian education began to disappear, simply because Revolutionary America never intended to maintain a Christian culture. Russia, on the other hand, is a different story.

During the times of the catacombs in Holy Russia, the Soviets would often pick Christians out of various families and groups to send them off to the gulags or simply execute them as an alternative. These Orthodox Christians had to make daily choices as to what they would be bold about and what they would keep quiet about. Hardship and death were at stake every day for these people.

In America today, like 20th century Russia, we are surrounded by people that hate our faith. We, like the Russians, are often very careful of what we say, but a lot less is usually at stake. We are not being imprisoned for standing for truth (for the most part) and we are not being executed in the streets.

The Russian Orthodox people did not just wake up one day to an Atheist takeover. What was slowly happening was that their schools were being infiltrated by the secular intellectuals from the west. Many atheistic and cultic philosophies were being taught by professors in the universities and many of the priests were beginning to buckle to these teachings. The universities, rather than the Church, became the centers for worldview and community!

Education has always been an extension of the Church, but this was the first step in to the complete modernization for Russia. Other political and industrial factors preceded, but when the universities changed, so did the minds and hearts of the people.

Had the Church been able to retain the ministry of education, perhaps there would have been a different outcome of Russia entering WWI and the Bolshevik Revolution. How can we learn from this?

Heaven and Earth

A hallmark of the Orthodox faith is that it is holistic. Our faith, unlike any other spin-off group of the Church, embraces every aspect of life. Nature is not our enemy. In western Christianity, nature is suspect. The material world is considered “fallen” and unredeemable in many aspects. This is why Gnosticism thrives in those groups. Orthodoxy is much different in that we understand the incarnation of Christ to be a supernatural agent within the material world.

Because this world is so mystical, because we are surrounded by so many spiritual and physical variables within life, the  Orthodox Church has created distinctions..but not so many distinctions so as to confuse ourselves. One historically important distinction is that of symphonia (symphony, in English) is the working together of the secular powers with the ecclesial powers. This is what the double-headed eagle that is found on many icons and crosses represents: one eagle for the secular power and the other for the ecclesial power.

The secular power of society is not evil in and of itself. It gravitates toward evil, though, unlike the baptized society, which gravitates toward heaven. Secular(ism) is an evil in itself, though. Secularism has to do with limiting or barring the Church's influence, creating an existential environment that has historically led to disastrous societies.

When the power of the secular society gives birth to a nation, it must be able to join the symphonia of our community. If it cannot, it must be turned away from by Christians!  We must remember that many subjects in life are not exclusively secular, and many of these subjects are within the realm of Christian symphonia. This means that not only do we learn these subjects for our benefit but for the possibility of evangelism/symphonia.

Without Legalism and With Purpose

Orthodox education, unlike secular, revolves around a particular view of mankind: How we are created and what our purpose is in life. Without an Orthodox view of mankind, intellectual subjects become stripped of their true purpose and meaning, training our minds to think in secular rather than spiritual terms. To think in secular terms is to adopt the historical and medieval philosophy of Scholasticism, which lends to a worldview of hardened logic and moral construct.

Orthodox Christians are called to think in “mystical” terms, since we live in a mystical world! Formulating life to the extent of systematizing everything we do goes completely against the energies of God. Nature is relatively unpredictable, and so God’s energy and Spirit moves like the wind, as the Psalmist says. St Paul says that God “works all things together” for God’s people. This is a cornerstone for Orthodox theology and worldview, allowing us to explore this world without the fear and legalism and overly complex systems of life that the Old Covenant people of God had to wrestle with for so many generations, eventually opposing Christianity (the truth) when it was presented by Christ.

If we take out the mystical value of education, we will cease to think in mystical terms. Even Hollywood understand this! There are a number of Science Fiction movies out there that demonstrate how we are turning in to overly systematic environments where no true love and joy can exist. A prime example might be the movie, The Giver, with Jeff Bridges.

Secular Ideals Lead to Secular Community

Every single subject in life, as St Theophan the Recluse states below, needs to be embraced through the faith. If it is not, each unattended subject will birth a new hybrid of thought…a new secular path to travel away from the faith and in to what St John the Apostle calls “the mark of the beast,” where no man can even “buy or sell” without. The secular paths all lead to this “replacement community,” this final entrapment of the Church where all people who find themselves consumed within, will have already sealed their destiny to be apart from God’s gift of eternal life.

“It should be placed as an unfailing law that every kind of learning which is taught to a Christian should be penetrated with Christian principles and, more precisely, Orthodox ones.”

-          St Theophan the Recluse

Orthodox Symphonia with Contemporary Subjects

Math - An absolute necessity, as much as many of us do not like it much. Is there such thing as secular math? Indeed there is! A secularized subject is capitalized on and stripped of its application so as to become an intellectual pursuit of its own (raw data with no application), or a catalyst for non-Orthodox worldviews. Intellectualizing any subject is a pursuit of pride and often a complete mental burnout for many people. Math can be, at a very high level, a strict intellectual pursuit for those who want to be mathematicians. But for most of us, math is an applied subject that is a tool for greater things in life. Let us build great hospitals, schools, rehab centers, temples, etc, with math, but let us not put math in a cage and send our young people in to this cage for burnout or cultivate within them a mind that operates scientifically rather than spiritually.

Technology - Technological advancements that protect nature, including mankind itself, can be encouraged, and perhaps the pursuit of artificial intelligence, etc, can be steered away from. These are just examples and there is room for debate. But that is what makes Christian education so exciting! There is discussions that needs to take place…often.

Engineering - Building structures that give glory to God was a common practice in both the East and West. Domes, arches, iconography, etc. have influenced the all of Europe and the East throughout the ages. There are even fragments within America that have been influenced. Engineering has now evolved with technology, creating a technocratic society within the world. This will be leading to the very mark of the beast that St John speaks of in Revelation. The emphasis of technology and politics will be security for many people, rather than Christ and his Kingdom.

History - How can history even be properly taught aside from a Christian worldview? The first civilized society was the Orthodox (Byzantine) Empire. Emperor St Justinian implemented law based on the Christian faith and all civilized societies in the modern era are a reflection of this great work. Nations, for hundreds of years at a time, where led by the Church or offshoot of the Church. To secularize history and follow the Church’s dung, for instance, trail is just downright dishonest and a complete misrepresentation of history. There is much more to be said about the proper view of history. Fr George Florovsky is brilliant regarding this, and we would like to dovetail off of how he explains the importance of history. Please stay tuned for more on Russian Faith.

Philosophy - St John Chrysostom, for instance was a great Christian philosopher. Chrysostom, in Greek, means “golden mouth.” Many of the Church fathers and ascetics give much more wisdom than any pagan philosopher could ever even dream of. Many of the fathers, including St Paul the Apostle, often challenged Pagan philosophers and converted their philosophy to Christian philosophy! In fact, much of Christian theology is apophatic, a way of teaching what the faith is not, simultaneously teaching what it is. Pagan philosophy has dramatically helped the Church teach the gospel in this way. When we study any ancient philosophy, regardless of being Christian or not, it should be studied in light of its context...how it was being influenced by the Church and how it was challenging the Church, etc., weather it be A.D or B.C. eras.

Medical – St Luke, one of our Holy Apostles, was a doctor. There were a number of saintly doctors throughout the Byzantine Empire, and in fact, the Orthodox Church invented the hospital itself. Proper and ethical medical care within the environment of priests and deacons is an absolutely necessary for an Orthodox worldview. We do not have the holy mystery of healing just so we can have an extra prayer service. We have it to actually heal people within the context of hospice. The hospital is ours and we should begin speaking about taking them back or building our own. Abortions, transgender surgeries, pharmaceutical and insurance companies dictating procedures…all of this and more must go!

Criminal Justice/Law - This is an easy one! There is no law without spiritual input. The question is: Which spiritual source shall we choose? Certainly, we can choose secular spiritualism, which amounts to radical ecumenism and moral relativism. Where is the order or peace in that? To say that all religions can mesh and cohabit peacefully is a most ignorant thing to say. They can cooperate with each other, but only if they each have the freedom to build their own communities to cooperate within. One big [American style] community is nothing but a ticking time bomb, and at best, a community that absolutely has to hinge itself on hedonism since all mankind tends to gravitate toward such a grotesque thing.

Art - Take a trip to St Petersburg, Russia, or Greece and you will see the Christian meaning of art! It’s everywhere. As the Russian Orthodox, Fyodor Dostoyevsky said, “beauty will save the world.” Iconography (Orthodox Christian art) is a sacred art and gives proper foundation for all art. Not everything must be painted as an icon, though. In fact, it must not be! Iconography is sacred and set aside for the communication of the Gospel. But all other art should glean from it and become its own form of Christian beauty. This can extend to anything from home décor to entertainment. Also, Christian art is modest! Pornography and other forms of crudeness are simply not Christian.

Culinary - The Orthodox calendar has fasting guidelines all throughout. Orthodox countries have hundreds, if not thousands of recipes that presuppose the fasts, even if they are not fasting meals.

Theology – Last, and certainly not least, the study of God and his people must be embraced through Orthodoxy. Without proper theology we can know very little about how man and community, in general, operates effectively. Our theology helps us strive between creation and eternity and how the two operate and create harmony with each other.

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