Illuminator - January-March 1998
CHANGING WORLD DEMANDS RELIGION BE ABLE TO ADAPT
Phyllis Meshel Onest, Diocesan Religious Education Director
I recently read an article entitled 'Changing World Demands Religion be Able to Adapt" by syndicated religion columnist Clark Morphew, an ordained clergyman and religion writer for the St. Paul (Minn.) Pioneer Press. The attention-grabbing caption that followed did just that: "With technology leaping forward at rapid pace." Morphew went on to list three things religious people need to know about the world:
 "Technology is moving so rapidly that ordinary people can no longer keep up with the discoveries and new uses for computers." I have found that those who have a computer and are "on line" can access information on probably any religion, including the Orthodox Church, by "surfing the net," at any time of the day!
Morphew goes on to say, "People looking for a new congregation also can fish around on the web and find many Churches advertising programs and events. This new technology may have profound implications for religion, because religious people are going to find a multitude of uses for technology."
Members of the Orthodox Church are no exception. Last week I was on the home page of the Patriarchate of Alexandria searching for information. Our Archdiocese has won awards for its home page. If we click onto <http://www.theologic.com> we can go to anywhere in the Orthodox world we wish with the click of the button: the Ecumenical Patriarchate, various monasteries, churches, schools, dioceses, other Orthodox jurisdictions, individuals, Orthodox publishers, and more!
[21 "Religious people must watch carefully as a genuine worldwide community emerges... Religious [non-Christian] forces from all over the world now offer alternatives to European-style religion.... We have to discover these people and their religion. It will put Christians in touch with a new facet of their own faith." Our family members, including our children and grandchildren, are learning about these "other religions," and, at times, leaving the Orthodox Church.
 "When I graduated from college and seminary, I remember thinking this event celebrated the end of my learning." [Clark Morphew did not graduate from an Orthodox seminary! When I graduated from Holy Cross, I realized that I had learned where to go for more information because there was so much to learn! And that's what was available in English 20 years ago.] He goes on to say: "Although I haven't been in a classroom for years, I haven't stopped learning. Any conscious person has to work very hard in this world to stop learning."
"But in some religious communities, the learning has stopped. Bible studies are poorly attended. Sermons are so boring, people have stopped listening. When people come to church or temple, they talk about anything other that religion. They have accepted a faith that does not require them to continue learning. And the result is an ignorant laity that cannot lead the church into the next century."
"Congregations that have stopped learning will be the losers in the 21st century. Knowledge is now our most valued commodity. A church that isn't learning is caught in a time warp that does not appeal to our society, especially younger people."
The first paragraph of Fr. Dr. Frank Marangos' (Archdiocesan Director of the Religious Education Director) report to the Archdiocese Council begins: "The Religious Education Department enthusiastically accepts the challenge of HIS Eminence Archbishop Spyridon to establish a stronger and more Orthodox catechetical system for the Greek Orthodox faithful in America. As Such, the Department of Religious Education is ambitiously pursuing the advancement of an educational agenda that will assist Greek Orthodox Christians of all ages (emphasis mine) to rediscover their liturgical roots."
The report goes on to identify the method, including using new technologies discussed above - the Internet, plus CD-ROM. Fr. Frank will conduct Leadership Training Seminars and Religious Education Workshops in each Diocese to Archons of the Ecumenical Patriarchate, members of Leadership 100, Parish Council members, Church School Directors, Religious Educators, and other adults "'interested in better understanding the relationship of Orthodox Liturgical Life to Instructional Praxis."
A 5-year curriculum will be developed that includes an 'annual educational theme that is extrapolated and taught to Orthodox Christians in every context of parish, diocese and Archdiocese life. Consequently, DOXA, GOYA, YAL, as well as Philoptochos, Leadership 100, Archons, and parish council members will all have the opportunity to briefly study and reflect upon important aspects of their religious heritage and tradition."
This is long overdue! And given the comments by Clark Morphew, really important to the Greek Orthodox Church. After 25 years as a catechist at all levels, it appears to me that until the last five to ten years, the ongoing education of adults has been discouraged. Although we Orthodox adopted the Protestant model of Sunday School for our children, we chose not to do so for adults. Why? I do not know. It was a mistake!
I believe that we have lost some Church members to non-Orthodox and non-Christian belief systems because of this. In addition, we have parishioners who do not know the basics of the Orthodox faith. A large number of our church school teachers are those who have embraced the Orthodox faith as adults because when the "cradle" Orthodox are asked to teach, they respond, "I don't know enough to teach Church School."
With so many people seeking the spirituality, the stability, the teachings that do not change, and the depth of faith in Jesus Christ that the Orthodox Church does have, why are those who are already Orthodox not taking advantage of what others are seeking? Will the Orthodox Church be ready to enter the 2lst century? Since "we" are the Church, "we" need to ask ourselves this question. If the answer is "yes," thank God. If the answer is "no," we still have some time to catch up.