This year’s conference offered courses that emphasized the importance of theological and spiritual training for adults. Keynote speakers included Kevin Allen, Fr. Timothy Baclig, and Michelle Moujaes. Held at Antiochian Village in Ligonier, Pennsylvania, from November 5-8.
Ms. Carole Buleza: We are very pleased that our keynote speaker tonight is with us, Mr. Kevin Allen. Kevin Allen is the adult education coordinator at his parish, St. Barnabas Antiochian Orthodox Church in Costa Mesa, California. He has coordinated one-day seminars for his parish and the wider community as well as series of continuing adult education, meeting several nights’ worth over—what am I trying to say?—several weeks of a series of adult education. He’s done this for ten years and brought in notable Orthodox speakers, for example, the popular author Frederica Mathewes-Green, bioethicist Tristram Engelhardt, Abbot Damascene (Christensen), and Fr. Irenei (Steenberg). Kevin also developed a catechism module for inquirers into the Orthodox Church from the population that is gathered out in several areas in California, from New Age and Eastern religion backgrounds. This is titled “Enter by the Narrow Gate.”
Kevin has been the host of the interview program on Ancient Faith Radio, The Illumined Heart, and is today doing the Ancient Faith Today program which is a call-in program—am I correct?
Mr. Kevin Allen: That used to be the case; now pre-recorded.
Ms. Buleza: Okay—addressing questions about Orthodoxy. He is married and has two daughters and four grandchildren. So we welcome from California—Kevin Allen. [Applause]
Mr. Allen: Thank you, Carole, and thank you for inviting me. I’m very honored to be here. Your Grace, Bishop Thomas, reverend fathers, your blessing. Brothers and sisters in Christ, Christ in our midst.
Audience: He is and ever shall be.
Mr. Allen: You know, the subject I’ve been asked to speak about tonight—and Carole came up with the title: “Adult Education is Crucial to the Parish,” and I would add to that: “Is Crucial to the Church”—is one I’m passionate about, although I’m not a professional educator. However, as Carole mentioned, I’ve been putting together adult education series and seminars and outreach events with the blessing of our priest for about ten years. As you know, when you speak to an Orthodox audience, you have to start out with a patristic quote, so here’s mine. I’m going to start out with Tertullian, the third century Christian author and apologist. I do think that this quote sets the right tone for the discussion tonight about the crucial need for adult education ministry in our pan-Orthodox parishes.
Tertullian wrote—and I’ve been very impacted just by this—“Christians are made, not born.” I’ll repeat it: “Christians are made, not born.” And his point is obvious. It’s that the making of a Christian is an intentional process, and this is obviously the primary mission of the parish and the Church. If we don’t participate in the making of Christians, we fail.
So the question then is: How do we make Christians? Well, in Orthodox terms—and we had a wonderful seminar here last year on the subject—becoming a Christian of course begins with this sacrament of baptism, but it’s really the life-long spiritual process of transformation known as theosis, or, in some cases, divinization, which is the gradual process of transfiguring union of the believer with the divine energies of God, so that the believer becomes by grace what God is by nature. Let’s keep this in mind. This process is called “theosis,” not “osmosis.” It doesn’t just happen automatically. Yes, it’s by the grace of God, and, yes, the sacraments are a vital part of the process, but authentic spiritual transformation involves the intentional engagement of the whole human being, because in Orthodoxy we are holistic: soul, body, and mind.
What’s my premise this evening? Well, my premise is that continuing adult education is a crucial and necessary part of spiritual formation; it’s not just some extracurricular activity. As a significant part of the process of being formed in Christ, adult education is crucial to the making of Christians, and therefore crucial to the parish and again to the Church as a whole.
One of the reasons I am committed to adult education is because this is how I discovered Orthodoxy over 21 years ago. My family and I attended a mega-sized Evangelical church as you can see. The church had occasional adult education seminars, one of which included a several-weekend series on the early history of the Church, led by a professor of early Church history from Fuller Theological Seminary. I was really quite surprised, maybe even shocked, as it turned out, and deeply influenced by the seminar. I was especially challenged by how different early—or what the professor called “primitive”—Christianity was from the faith, the worship, the theology, and especially the ecclesiology of the contemporary mega-church Evangelicalism that we’d experienced.
In those days in Evangelicalism, as some of you probably know, we were all looking for what was called the “early Church model,” and the actual historic Church was very different from what I assumed it was. I figured it was just, you know, an early Protestant Church, or early version thereof. At that time, I was struggling with Evangelicalism and its lack of formation and transformation in my own inner life. The seminar opened my eyes to a very different Christianity. So after the seminar I went up to the professor, whose name is Nathan Feldmeth, and I asked him, “Professor, is this early Church you’ve been teaching us about the same Church the Eastern Orthodox Church claims to be?” And the professor didn’t hesitate. He shook his head: “Yeah.”
Then I asked him, “If this is what Christianity was for the formative years of its existence as you’ve been teaching us, and if it continues today as the Orthodox Church”—I was only aware of the Greek Orthodox Church at that point—“then why wouldn’t I want to become Orthodox if I want to be a member of the early and apostolic Church Tradition?” Well, he thought about it for a couple of seconds; it seemed like a bit. And then he responded this way; he said, “Well, the question you have to ask yourself is: Does getting back to the primitive Church really matter?” I thought that was a fair question for an Evangelical professor, and I struggled and wrestled with that for a while. But ultimately for me and for thousands of other ex-Protestant converts to the Orthodox Church over the past 30+ decades, once one is introduced to the history, the theology, and the spirituality of the historic Eastern Church, being in the apostolic Church does matter.
You might be thinking at this point, “That’s great that adult education was important to you and led you to the Orthodox Church, but why does the Orthodox Church need continuing adult education ministries across our pan-Orthodox landscape?” Well, there are many reasons. First, we desperately need continuing adult education in the Church at large so that our members are encouraged and supported to resist what many knowledgeable observers within Orthodoxy, from Alexander Schmemann of blessed memory as early as the 1960s to the current observer, Monk Maximos Constas of Holy Cross Theological Seminary, caution that the Orthodox Church’s most corrosive, pervasive, and destructive influence is secularism, the formal definition of which is “indifference to, rejection, or exclusion of religion and religious considerations in our daily lives.”
Secondly, adult education ministry is critical so that our people are not ignorant of our faith tradition, our doctrines, and the reasons for them, like our ascetic life. And thirdly, adult education is critical so that our faithful can learn to integrate our faith in their lives so that they do not become merely nominal—meaning “in name only”—Orthodox Christians. This reminds me of a scriptural verse in Revelation 3:15, where the Lord says, “Would that you were either hot or cold. Because you were lukewarm and neither hot or cold, I will spit you out of my mouth.”
How does secularism manifest itself in the Church? According to a source of objective data which I will refer to in a minute, many of those who self-describe as Orthodox appear to reflect the moral, religious relativism of the post-modern, unChristian culture rather than the Orthodox Tradition or phronema, or mindset, in their politics, values, lifestyles, and priorities. But clearly living according to the world’s values and standards is not what it means to be an Orthodox Christian.
Another concern and reason for the need for adult education is that many observers are concerned that the Orthodox Church—not in her traditions or canons, but at the mainstream level—is going the way of the mainline Christian churches in the 20th and 21st centuries, which have, by and large, surrendered themselves to post-modern secular norms of moral relativism, diversity, and inclusion on issues like homosexuality, same-sex marriage, sexual mores, and abortion, rather than to the Church’s traditional teachings. I’ll speak more about this when we get to my source for these conclusions in a moment.
Just as a bit of a sideline which isn’t scripted, I did an interview about a month and a half ago with a young man named David Daleiden. He is the president of the Center for Medical Progress. He is the young man behind the exposé videos on Planned Parenthood. Frankly, I was a bit taken aback by the number of negative and critical emails I received from Orthodox who objected to the fact that they said I was and AFR was making a hero out of a man who was “breaking the law,” that the Orthodox Church doesn’t proselytize, that we’re not a theocracy, and that we have no right therefore to be promoting someone who is against abortion and therefore breaking the law. Of course, I wrote back as kindly as I could and said, “Have you seen our Church’s teaching on abortion?” And many of them said, “I have no problem with the Church’s teachings. It’s just that I think abortion should be legal.” [Laughter] I’m kinda scratching my head.
You know, someone suggested that this could be related, perhaps, to the influence of partisan politics, because, as we know, many in the Church and a growing number of young people support progressive politics and agendas often opposed to traditional Church teachings, and this is not meant as a partisan political statement on my part. Personally, I’m de-registered as both a Democrat and a Republican. However, I would submit that if we reflect the secular lives in our personal experiences in our politics and in our social values, even if we maintained our ancient rites and rituals on Sundays, or on some Sundays, this would be of little to no effect on our lives, the lives of our families, and the culture around us.
In terms of speaking of politics, the wonderful Metropolitan Anthony (Bloom) of blessed memory wrote, “The Church cannot belong to any party, but at the same time it is neither non-partisan nor post-partisan. It should be the voice of conscience, one enlightened by the divine light. In the ideal state, the Church should be able to say to any party or political current”—and I really like this—”this is worthy of man and God, and this is unworthy of man and God.”
As a follow-up to the previous quote, as one of our great contemporary Orthodox theologians, Metropolitan Hierotheos (Vlachos), reminds us: We are Orthodox insofar as we are of the holy Fathers, but it helps to know what the holy Fathers teach so that you can be Orthodox insofar as them. Not to get anybody depressed or scandalized, there are a lot of Orthodox that know nothing about the holy Fathers. So being Orthodox is clearly—and I’m sure you agree with me—not merely about being on parish membership rolls or going through the motions on Sundays or coming from an Orthodox Christian background, but rather it’s understanding what our Orthodox faith really means and embodies, and struggling to live this in this life so to be fit for the life to come.
What are the purposes of adult education? First, if properly presented, adult education can lay a very useful foundation for spiritual formation. Two, adult education provides nourishment for the mind and soul, development of the mind that initially leads the heart, that, along with the ascetic, liturgical, and sacramental practice of the Church, rounds out the spiritual life of Orthodox Christianity. Third, adult education ideally should emphasize the core doctrinal content of our Orthodox faith, but in my view in ways that relate to the experience of people in our time and culture, not just be abstract teaching, but be related to the challenges, the concerns, the problems, the issues that all of us struggle with. And fourth, adult education provides encouragement, direction, and correction that keeps us on the narrow path to God. And last, it offers a kindling or re-kindling of our faith and spirit when faith wavers.
Whom should adult religious education ministry be directed to? The Roman Catholic Church, in an international guideline on adult catechism, identifies four categories—I throw in a fifth—for who benefits from adult education and to whom adult instruction should be directed. I think this is an excellent guideline, and one that we in the Orthodox Church in our parishes can consider in their educational ministries. First, it should be directed to adults in geographical areas which have become de-Christianized. Now, the Catholics are talking about places like Albania, Eastern Europe after the fall of Communism, but I don’t think I’m overstating the case by saying our country is increasingly becoming de-Christianized. So we’re talking about here and we’re talking about now.
Secondly, adults who were catechized in childhood, but who have fallen away from the faith, so-called “reverts.” That’s another important priority for adult education. Third, adults who have benefited little from catechesis, either because they absorbed little when they took it, or were incorrectly or poorly catechized. We’re seeing much better catechism in my view than we did 20 years ago. Fourth, adults who were baptized as children but were not subsequently catechized, and have found themselves therefore as adults in the situation of catechumens. I would add to this list converts from non-Orthodox Christian faith traditions—Catholics, Evangelicals, mainstream Protestants, etc.—because this demographic group brings into Orthodoxy many ingrained non-Orthodox theological perspectives from which they must transition to an Orthodox understanding and mindset.
So I would humbly submit that if we intend to be a parish and an Orthodox Church that truly maintains our Orthodox legacy of fidelity to holy Scripture, that truly maintains the apostolic Tradition of the Church Fathers, and is a true light to the ever-darkening world in more than name only, then we need to do a better job of spiritually forming our adults in the authentic Christian faith. This, therefore, includes intellectual formation.
I’ve been referring to a source of objective data, which I’m going to get to some of the questions in it. What do I base my conclusions on? Well, I’m going to refer to the Pew Forum on Religion called the “U.S. Landscape of Religion.” It was taken in 2008. This was a poll taken of all the religious groups in the United States, of various ages and genders, including Catholics, the myriad Protestant denominations, Evangelicals, as well as Muslims, Mormons, Buddhists, Hindus, and those who self-describe as Orthodox Christians. I refer to the results of this poll because it’s the only thorough and extensive poll I’m aware of taken of Orthodox Christians on their actual beliefs. I would hope that our Assembly of Bishops would extend this and do a bigger sampling, so that they would know and see where our people really are. Let’s review. Buckle your seatbelts.
But before I get to that, the polling criteria, first of all, doesn’t really indicate which Orthodox jurisdictions were polled, and I know many of you are going to hear the results and say, “Well, that’s not my parish. We don’t… That couldn’t possibly be in our parish,” and I don’t argue with that. I’m fully aware that polling has its deficiencies, because when they do national polling of 35-40,000 people, by the percentage of that group, we are 0.06% of the entire population of the country, so we get a very small sampling. But even with such a small sampling of Orthodox such as in this poll, the results especially when compared to the responses compared to other Christian groups show us something. By the way, I checked with Alexei Krindatch, the pollster for the Assembly of Bishops, and he said that the Pew Research is a very respected and reliable poll.
So here’s the first question: “Do you believe in a personal God?” Only 49% of the Orthodox surveyed in this poll said they believe in a personal God. The U.S. national average was 60%. Again, Orthodox: 49%. Half. And this was lower when compared to Catholics, who agreed with the statement by 60%, Evangelicals 79%, and mainline Protestants 62%. So we were at the low end of the totem pole.
Secondly: “Is God an impersonal force?” 34%, or one-third, of the Orthodox polled said that they believe God is an impersonal force, despite our clear trinitarian and christological teachings. Again, this was a higher response to this question when compared with Catholics, who agreed by 29%, Evangelicals only 13%, and mainline Protestants 26%.
Another question: “Can many religions lead to eternal life?” 72% of the Orthodox polled in this survey agreed with this statement, that many religions can lead to eternal life, and only 20% of the Orthodox polled said, “My religion is the one, true faith leading to eternal life.” Obviously, they forgot or didn’t read John 14:6, where Jesus says, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”
Another question: “Do you read the Bible?” More than half—55%—of Orthodox Christians polled said they seldom to never read the Bible. This is all public information, by the way. You can check this out. And this is in the age of digital communication, where the daily Bible readings of the Church are even offered by iPhone, and can be read on the go. As we know, St. John Chrysostom wrote: “This is the cause of all evils: the not-knowing of Scripture. We go into battle without arms, and how are we to come off safe” (Homilies 19, on the book of Colossians.
And some questions were asked about beliefs that are very much in the news and the public forum. “Should abortion be illegal in all or almost all cases?” And this was before the late-term abortion debate. Well, I found this very sad. Only 30% of Orthodox Christians polled agreed with the statement that abortion should be illegal in all or almost all cases, lower again than the U.S. national average of 43%; Catholics 45% and Evangelicals 61%. And this directly contradicts our scriptural injunctions and canon law.
Another: “Should homosexuality be discouraged”—not outlawed, not illegal, but should homosexuality be discouraged—“by society?” Only 30% of the Orthodox polled in the survey said that homosexuality should be discouraged, again, lower than the national average of 40%. This is across the entire spectrum: Buddhists, Muslims, Hindus, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Seventh Day Adventists. Catholics were 45% and Evangelicals 61%.
So the bottom line I take from this polling is that, despite whether it’s 100% accurate of every parish in the country—and I know that’s not the case—Orthodox Christians polled were much less reflective of holy Scripture, the Orthodox Church’s teachings, and our canons when compared to Catholics and Evangelicals and their doctrinal teachings and standards. There’s just come out a brand-new study by Pew that I was just made aware of, and it’s about the certitude of belief in God. Again, sadly, and I hope I’m not depressing anybody, because we’re here to do something about this, the Orthodox polled were the lowest of all Christian groups in saying that they believed 100% in the existence and certitude of God, even lower than mainstream, mainline Protestants and the rest. So we have not done well on these polls, and I’m not sure, frankly, if our bishops are aware of this, and another reason for the need for adult education.
Dr. Andrew Walker, who is a lay preacher in the Russian Patriarchal Church in England and an Orthodox University educator, reflects:
Orthodoxy has preserved the form of the Church in her canons and theology, but in practice, Orthodox Christians have often failed normatively to be the Church. That is to say that the outward form of religion has been sustained in terms of rites and practices, but sometimes there has been very little inner reality of knowing God.
So I would say, and many others I have spoken with about this agree, that the responses in the Pew poll are, in large part, a consequence of the lack of solid intellectual formation and continuing education as part of spiritual formation in the Orthodox Church and especially among young people and young adults, and as we know, we see wide gaps and a falling-away in our parishes between the ages of 20 and 40.
Well, what is the most important factor in keeping youth serious about and committed to their faith into their adulthood? According to a very important landmark sociological study, called the National Study of Youth and Religion—I believe I recall it was about 50,000 young people—it is the parents who practice their faith sincerely, pray consistently, that are the major influencers related to adolescents keeping their faith into their 20s, and not church school. According to this large study, just 1%—one percent—of teens aged 15-20 who were raised by parents who attached little importance to their religion were highly religious in theirmid- to late 20s. But by contrast—and this is important—82% of children raised by parents who prayed regularly, spoke about their faith at home, attached great importance to their believes, and were active in their congregations or parishes were themselves religiously active as young adults.
What does this have to do with adult education? My point in bringing in this landmark survey is that if we want to keep our children committed to the Orthodox faith and Church and the kingdom of God, it is critical that we equip adults and parents in their own faith lives so they can raise children who are appropriately formed, because, as St. John Chrysostom told us, the home is the domestic, little church. That’s where the real work takes place. As holy Scripture teaches us, it’s a job of the Church to “equip the saints for the work of the ministry, for the building up of the body of Christ” (Ephesians 4:12).
So, getting back to education, you often hear that the heart is the key in Orthodox spirituality, but Orthodoxy doesn’t teach, from everything I’ve read, that there is a dichotomy between reason and the heart. Orthodoxy offers a distinctive balance between understanding right doctrine, right worship, and ultimately direct and personal experience with God (theoria). St. Gregory of Nyssa, for example, considered reason (logos) a gift from God and a virtue to be used to its fullest extent, provided it recognizes its proper role and limits. For St. Gregory, reason was the “highest faculty” of the human being and the mark or image of God. And the Cappadocian Fathers—St. Basil, St. Gregory of Nyssa, and St. Gregory Nazianzus—were defenders of rationality and reason as much as they were guardians against its excesses. And Blessed Theophylact, one of our great patristic Bible commentators, wrote:
Reason bestowed on us rational creatures is a light to enlighten us as to what we ought and ought not to do, but if a man makes poor use of this logos, he darkens himself.
So the purpose of reason, according to Blessed Theophylact and the others, is primarily to direct us to live according to God’s commandments.
There’s another crucial purpose of Orthodox adult education. Although adult education differs from evangelism in intent and purpose, adult education is often a great and soft way to evangelize the local community outside the dome. You don’t have to overtly proselytize, be pushy, have altar calls; just educate on subjects of interest to Orthodox and non-Orthodox alike. As you all know, in recent poll numbers, 20% of Americans, and growing, are no longer a part of any faith tradition; they’re called nones, and most have a distorted view of Christianity.
More and more, spiritual religious ideas are being mixed up and distorted, even by—unfortunately for me to say; please don’t take offense—even by Orthodox Christians. And it’s wonderful to invite seekers and inquirers to Sunday Liturgy, but as Fr. Thomas Hopko said, Liturgy is essentially designed for Orthodox faithful. So we need to find additional points of entry, and adult education is a wonderful venue for doing that. Is it not the prophetic role of Orthodoxy in the West to share the authentic apostolic faith with non-Orthodox in a welcoming environment?
As a follow-up to that, Archimandrite Meletios wrote:
The presence of an Orthodox community in an area should be felt in terms of the love and service that emanate from it. A self-serving Orthodox community does nothing to further the kingdom except perhaps in making the light of Orthodoxy available to successive generations, but even then it is a pale and sad vision of Orthodoxy that is handed on.
As one of my heroes, Protopresbyter Thomas Hopko of blessed memory, wrote:
An Orthodox church is essentially a teaching and learning community. An Orthodox parish without well-prepared evangelical and exegetical sermons at its liturgical services and well-prepared doctrinal and catechetical sessions as part of its educational ministry, whatever else it may be, can hardly be an Orthodox Christian parish.
Tough words, to be sure, but the point is that being an Orthodox parish, at least according to Fr. Thomas, is more than simply conducting one or two liturgical services a week. Again, adult education is crucial to being an Orthodox parish.
You know, in California, where I live, for example, as well as many western states, there is a very strong influence of New Age and Eastern religion and spirituality, especially Buddhism and yoga in their many varieties. So at our parish we have had seminars, two-day seminars, usually Friday night, all day Saturday, sometimes even Saturday evenings, with time for discussion on subjects appealing to Eastern religion spiritual seekers like a very successful seminar we did called “Christ the Eternal Tao” by Fr. Damascene Christensen, who wrote a book of the same name, and “Eastern Orthodoxy and Mysticism,” as Carole pointed out, with Fr. Irenei (Steenberg). We drew hundreds, seekers and inquirers, and many from outside the Church, including a Tibetan Buddhist with whom I stayed in contact over the last four years.
A few years ago, we began to have a trickle of New Age and Eastern religion inquirers attending the church, and several ultimately became catechumens. They were from local Hare Krishna and Self-Realization Fellowship groups. SRF was founded by Paramahansa Yogananda, in case you’ve heard of him. And having come from that spiritual background—not Buddhism, but Hinduism—myself, I expressed concerns to our priest that our normal catechism approach would likely not address many of the questions of those coming from Eastern religious backgrounds, so my priest asked me to compile a catechism module for New Age and Eastern religious seekers. For example, when you talk to Hindus or Western Hindus about the Incarnation of Christ, they’re used to the word “incarnation.” They believe Krishna was incarnated, Hanuman the elephant god was incarnated. So they have a very different view of the Incarnation than we do. If you talk about the Jesus Prayer, they go: “Oh, it’s a Christian mantra.” So we have to be able to explain to them, in terminology that they will relate to, what we are teaching.
So with the blessing of my priest, I developed a guideline, titled, “Enter by the Narrow Gate,” not to replace but to augment catechism for those influenced by non-Christian Eastern religious traditions, especially Western Hinduism and Buddhism. One of our new catechumens came from the Hare Krishna temple, where he was a weekly pooja leader and a Hare Krishna monk running around on the corner, giving away books and flowers and things like that. St. Nikolai Velimirović, in his prayer-poem, “Prayers by the Lake,” where he extols Krishna and Buddha as forerunners to the true Incarnation of Christ, was very influential on his ultimate conversion.
Protestants and Evangelicals, as many of you know who came from those traditions, are increasingly becoming interested in Church history and the Church Fathers, so classes or book clubs on these subjects could be a powerful draw for non-Orthodox Christians, building bridges for them to enter the Church. One of our priests here this weekend, Fr. Josiah, has done a lot of bridge-building with Evangelicals and Protestants. He taught at California Baptist, and many became Orthodox, not so much by him proselytizing, but as in what John Cardinal Henry Newman famously said, “To be deep in history is to cease being Protestant.” I love that line.
And, again, from Fr. Thomas Hopko:
The inclusion of educational ministry is crucial to the parish, appearing as a Christian witness to the community without, and it is crucial in being a source of spiritual nourishment to the community within.
So one might ask: How does a parish devoid of a culture of religious education re-create itself? Ideally, the local bishop and priest should take the lead and be committed to continuing adult education, and at the minimum communicate that learning is intrinsic to faith development and spiritual formation. As Scripture reminds us: “Therefore, we must pay closer attention to what we have heard, lest we drift away from it” (Hebrews 2:1). They—bishops and priests, in my opinion—should lift up ongoing study, including adult education, as an essential and necessary function of the parish. And parishioners should be encouraged to attend the classes and/or visit sister parishes when such adult education events take place, even, in my opinion, of their canonical jurisdiction.
So if adult education is not part of your parish culture, I’d consider starting small, even with just a few within the parish, even five or ten who are interested, and go from there. Hopefully a culture of continuing adult religious education and enthusiasm will catch fire and go from there.
It also makes sense—at least we found in our parish that it makes sense to consider forming a committee or a team for adult education and outreach, so that the burden does not fall entirely on the priest, and I’m talking about things like setting up the chairs, getting the materials, sending out the emails, doing the fliers, things of that nature.
And then one question some of you may be wondering is: Must the priest do it all? I think this is important. The priest does not have to do it all himself, although he can, obviously. Depending on the workload of the priest; whether the priest is bi-vocational as some mission priests are; the age, health, and energy of the clergy; the catechetical teaching skills of the priest, adult education ministry may be an additional challenge and burden to the life of the priest which, as you know, is and can be overwhelming. But deacons, lay teachers, lay catechists in the parish who are qualified to instruct—and I would encourage that they should be identified and/or trained—and/or guest speakers can be involved in adult education.
In my parish, for example, we had six adult education seminars in 2014, which we called the “Acquiring the Mind of the Church,” adult spiritual formation classes, and we had another six in 2015. All of our seminars in 2015 were presented by local guest speakers. Now, I live in Orange County. We’re surrounded by a lot of Orthodox churches, from L.A. to San Diego, and it’s therefore easier for me to call up or email a local priest and say, “Would you come and teach on this subject?” It may be tougher in some other areas. But, again, all of our seminars were presented by local guest speakers. And our priests are competent teachers, but, again, the seminars, which were one hour in length with one half-hour for questions and discussion, were presented by those outside the church on subject that affect theosis, things like how to resist temptation, prayer in a world of distraction, marriage and singlehood, why ascetic struggle is necessary, how to read the Bible as an Orthodox Christian, how our thoughts determine our lives, how to prepare for confession, the state of the soul after death, how to prepare for death, living the Liturgy, and the last one we had, which was excellent, was preparing for confession. Coming up in just about a month, we’re going to have an Advent retreat with Fr. Abbot Tryphon, the abbot of All-Merciful Savior Monastery and the podcaster and blogger of The Morning Offering on Ancient Faith Ministries, and he’s going to give an all-day seminar entitled, “I Will Walk Among You and Be Your God, and You Shall Be My People.” We already have over 150 people pre-registered and paid, so we know it’s going to be a good turnout.
I’d also suggest considering different times, formats, schedules, and approaches to adult religious education. That is, after or during coffee hour on Sundays when the children are in Sunday school perhaps, weeknight classes—I know there are several that do a series after vespers—Saturday mornings as we do works, one-day retreats or events, again depending on the schedules and the needs of your parishioners.
If adult education is brand-new to your parish, again, I’ve said this, but I’d start small. Perhaps you could start with a weekly or bi-weekly Bible study. You know, the Bible study leader—who can be the priest, which would be wonderful, but if necessary someone else—can work from Blessed Theophylact’s line-by-line Bible commentary, a standard of patristic commentary on the Scriptures, and there are now commentaries in English on all four gospels and the epistles to the Galatians and the Ephesians. Using this commentary significantly minimizes the research time required by the Bible study leader, while ensuring a commonly accepted, line-by-line patristic commentary and approach, so that the leader isn’t just going into his own opinions. And if you intend to draw Protestants and Evangelicals to your parish, you probably won’t attract them or keep them without a Bible study and ongoing education, which is critical in the Evangelical life. Bible studies also create a sense of fellowship and intimacy within the parish that is often missing in larger or commuter parishes.
We found, too, that a book and study club or discussion group might also be a great way to start. There are wonderful patristic books from St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press called the Popular Patristics series which one can read as a group and discuss, like On the Incarnation by St. Athanasius, a wonderful book to study during Advent, or On Marriage and Family Life by St. John Chrysostom. The series provides a great introduction to a variety of writings by many of the Church Fathers which, as I mentioned, I would suspect very few of our Orthodox faithful really know and have read. We hear about them. You have to start your seminar with a quote by one of them, but very few have actually read them, I suspect. Other books are also available that can include things like Beginning to Pray by Metropolitan Anthony (Bloom), The Orthodox Way by Metropolitan Kallistos, and The Jesus Prayer—there are several—Frederica Mathewes-Green did one of them.
So, to conclude: continuing adult education ministry is critical and crucial to the spiritual health of the faithful and to the community around us. The gate by which we enter the kingdom of God is increasingly becoming narrow, and we need to have ongoing instruction, guidance, encouragement, inspiration, support, and, where necessary and importantly, correction. I’ll conclude with a closing quote on the need for adult education. This is from St. Nikolai Velimirović: “The better one knows our Orthodox faith, the more he loves it.” This came out of his Missionary Letters. Thank you very much for your attention and for your interest this evening. [Applause]