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2013-2014 Sunday School Year Message from Carole Buleza

The following excerpts are from the Director of the Department of Christian Education Carole Buleza's address to Sunday School teachers. The full text is available in the September 2013 edition of The Word.

All of us teachers, I trust, begin the Church School Year with the hope that our efforts will produce in our students a closer relationship to Jesus Christ. In my conversations with teachers through the years, the same concerns come up — the children don't come regularly to Church but it's not their fault; we can't have church school for more than 20 minutes without parents coming to get their children; our materials are not engaging the children. Except for the last, which I hope to address soon, these are, and will continue to be, perennial concerns. What can be done?

I teach high school at my parish, St. John Chrysostom, in York, Pennsylvania. My students are not in the same high school and don't get to see each other during the week. They went to get refreshments right after Divine Liturgy and it was hard to get them to class on time. I made a deal with them.

We would begin as soon as the last person got to class, and dismiss 20 minutes later. This means I need to have a lesson plan that is concise — I know what the outcome is to be, and how to get there efficiently. Sometimes lessons are spread over a few weeks. I also surround my students with life-giving images. Since I have them for only 20 minutes, I want my space to work for me. Last year I put up bulletin board strips and began using posters in my classroom from the Holy Land series and from the Creative Festivals.

These, along with their art and writing during the year, will surround them with images related to the reality of Jesus Christ and their faith.

In his book, The Educating Icon, Dr. Anton Vrame states that the Orthodox classroom should be a holy place. This year I will ask them how we can make our time and space holy....

The early Christians, because they were an underground religion for the first 300 years, included heretics. In fact, the first opportunity for Christian leaders to openly discuss the faith was at Nicaea in 325. Several faith matters simmered all over the empire during the underground years. The right position in matters of orthodoxy was not easy to discern; in most cases, scriptural “proof-texts” were used by all sides involved in a debate.

While the antics of some of these Church Fathers depressed me, I always returned to the phrase, “see how they love one another!” The stories of unselfishness during the early centuries resonated as “true Christianity.” What about today? Are we the Church Christ intended? What is the “Blessed Kingdom?” What does it mean to be the Orthodox Church? Why the Church?

The last question is one that increasingly is being asked by our youth, either verbally, or by their lack of attendance. It is the ultimate question asking for a response from the presenters at the 2013 Orthodox Institute, “Blessed is the Kingdom: Acts 2:42 and Today” – “The first Christians inspiring the Christians of the 21st century.” The event will bring together well-known Orthodox speakers beginning with Metropolitan Savas (Zembillas) of Pittsburgh, whose keynote address will be on “The Spirit of Giving in the Early Church."