I am Orthodox teaching at a Catholic school. I was wondering if there are any Orthodox elementary or secondary schools in my area and if so, where?
If there are none, is there any way to found one? I want my children to go to school and be able to talk about God and their Orthodox Christianity, but so far I haven’t had any luck. My 4-year old son is going to start pre-school this fall at the same Catholic school where I teach. I feel safer with him there, but starting in first grade the students start getting the Catholic doctrine (which I don’t want him to get as it might confuse him). Any suggestions?
I would love to teach at an Orthodox school and be able to attend liturgy where I am free to worship the way I was brought up. As it is, I must attend mass to chaperone the children, but don’t have to worship with them. This is not an easy task. My principal takes mass very seriously—she is a nun. I do, however, enjoy the school itself. The children are much better behaved and we are allowed to mention God without the law coming down on us.
In closing, I would just like some information on any possible Orthodox schools and maybe some resources for teaching my children at home.
Concerning Orthodox schools in your area, I know of none. In fact, there are very few Orthodox schools in the US, other than in the New York City, Chicago, and I believe San Francisco areas. [Most are Greek Orthodox schools, such as Plato and Socrates in Chicago.]
Concerning the establishment of a school, one would have to consider a variety of things, not the least of which is funding and facilities. This can be an extremely costly endeavor, to say the least. One could quickly calculate that the cost for a tiny, modest Orthodox school with eight teachers, a classroom facility, utilities, supplies, etc. can easily approach several million dollars—a staggering amount which must be funded. Add to this a wide variety of state requirements, building code adjustments, and the like, and one could find a parish’s tab for a parish school running 50 times that of the parish budget itself.
In my own experience, my wife and I chose to send our children, for at least part of their education, to Catholic schools. While they did indeed have to participate in the religious classes—in general, they were pretty “generic” and in, in some cases, downright “touchy-feely”—they were in no way coerced to participate in the sacramental life of the school. Today, our children are 24 and 22. Our son, 24, has lived and worked for the Orthodox Church in Bialystok, Poland for nearly 3 years—as I write, in fact, he and some Orthodox friends from Poland are on Mt Athos planting an orchard—while our daughter, 22, is completely devoted to the Church and teaches Sunday School. Despite their years in Catholic school, the Orthodox identity they obtained in healthy parish life not only enabled them to endure any challenges they faced [which indeed were few], but also served as inspiration for the eventual conversion of several of their classmates. One thing they did learn by attending a Catholic school was to bear witness to their Orthodox faith, which they had to do on countless occasions. This proved to be of tremendous benefit now that they are adults, as they were forced to articulate their Orthodox faith to non-Orthodox from the time they were very little.
How well I remember, after our son had completed 10th grade at a Catholic high school, someone asking me in his presence, “Father, aren’t you afraid that by sending your son to Catholic school he might want to become Catholic?” Before I could answer, my son replied, “After attending guitar masses every Friday in a gym, celebrated at times by a priest in jeans, I absolutely learned one thing: to appreciate the beauty and richness of my Orthodox faith.” As the Old Testament states, “out of the mouths of babes comes great wisdom.”
I firmly believe, based on my personal experience—I attended Catholic school for nine years in my own childhood—and the experience of my children, that if Orthodox parents offer their children a solid liturgical life and help to build a strong Orthodox identity in their children, they will not leave the Church. We Orthodox love to cast blame on the “others” for “watering down” our children’s Orthodoxy; often, we fail to give them a solid Orthodox identity.
Another consideration: I have read reports which claim that, of those Roman Catholics who complete the full battery of Catholic school, perhaps only 15 percent remain active in the Catholic Church. This is an alarming statistic, and one which Orthodox Christians may wish to ponder seriously. Clearly, if 12 years of Catholic school cannot guarantee that a Catholic remains Catholic, 12 years of Orthodox school cannot guarantee that an Orthodox Christian remains an Orthodox Christian.
I have heard of a few attempts at parishes trying to organize Orthodox schools, generally with little success. The plans for some seem to have less in common with traditional parochial school models and approach a sort of “collective home schooling,” which is a whole different model. Noble as such attempts are, it is only my opinion that nothing can replace raising a child from birth in the liturgical and sacramental life of the Orthodox Church, supplimented by close associations and fellowship with other Orthodox Christians, participation in Church school, Orthodox camp and retreat programs, development of close relationships with the parish clergy and leadership, etc. Such things build from birth a solid Orthodox identity, which I believe is the key to “keeping the kids in the Church.”