Posts tagged 1938
A lot of Antiochian-related events this week:
January 30, 1902: Archimandrite Raphael Hawaweeny, head of the Syro-Arab Orthodox Mission in America, began a pastoral journey to Mexico. Later this week — on February 3 — he made a brief stop in Cuba en route to Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula. St. Raphael remained in the Yucatan for a month, until March 2. To his great surprise, he found not only Arab Orthodox Christians, but also many Mexican Catholics who were interested in converting to Orthodoxy. Unfortunately, this would be the only visit St. Raphael ever made to Mexico, and the missionary potential there was never realized. Incidentally, I’ve heard that the Mexican newspapers gave St. Raphael quite a bit of publicity, so if anyone reading this has access to Yucatan papers from 1902 (and can read Spanish), please let me know.
January 31, 1938: Metropolitan Samuel David, head of the Antiochian Archdiocese of Toledo, was excommunicated by both the Patriarch of Antioch and the ROCOR Holy Synod. The backstory was this: In 1935, the Arab Orthodox in America were set to elect a new hierarch who would, it was hoped, unite the long-divided factions of Antiochian Orthodoxy in America. The majority voted for Archimandrite Antony Bashir, who was duly consecrated in New York. But a strong minority favored Archimandrite Samuel David of Toledo. That minority found some other bishops to consecrate their man on the very same day that Bashir was consecrated. This division lasted until 1975, when Met Michael Shaheen of Toledo accepted subordination to Met Philip Saliba of New York.
February 1, 1928: The future Greek Archbishop (and Assembly of Bishops President) Demetrios Trakatellis was born in Thessaloniki, Greece. May God grant him many, many more years!
February 2, 1927: The Holy Synod of the Russian Metropolia (today’s OCA) created “The Holy Eastern Orthodox Catholic and Apostolic Church of North America” (more palatably known as the American Orthodox Catholic Church). This body — let’s just call it the AOCC — was led by Bishop Aftimos Ofiesh, who was simultaneously the head of the Metropolia’s Syro-Arab Mission. Whatever the intent of the Metropolia in creating the AOCC in the first place (and that intent is far from clear), Ofiesh himself viewed the AOCC as the vehicle for Orthodox unity in America. The AOCC was always on the fringe in terms of legitimacy, having been the ambiguous creation of the Metropolia, which itself was on shaky canonical footing in that era. (Only a few years earlier, the Metropolia had declared itself independent of the Soviet-influenced Moscow Patriarchate.) It wasn’t long before Ofiesh and his jurisdiction ticked off their Metropolia creators, driving the AOCC even further away from the mainstream. For all intents and purposes, the AOCC experiment ended in 1933, when Ofiesh married a young girl. However, as Fr. Oliver has recently shown, the AOCC did continue on until 1940 in the person of Bishop Sophronios Beshara, its last surviving hierarch. For a lot more on the AOCC, check out my conversation with Fr. Andrew Damick over at Ancient Faith Radio.
February 5, 1873: The future Fr. Nicola Yanney was born in what is today northern Lebanon. Yanney eventually immigrated to America and settled down in Nebraska. After being widowed at a young age — and with a house full of young children — Yanney was chosen by his fellow Syrian parishioners in Kearney, NE to be their first parish priest. He traveled to Brooklyn and studied for the priesthood under St. Raphael, who had just been consecrated a bishop. In fact, Fr. Nicola was the first priest to be ordained by St. Raphael. Upon returning to Kearney, Fr. Nicola not only shepherded that community, but he was given responsibility for an immense territory — he was essentially responsible for all Arab Orthodox Christians living between Canada on the north and Mexico on the south, the Mississippi on the east and the Rocky Mountains on the west. Roughly speaking, he was the lone priest over all the territory that now comprises the Antiochian Diocese of Wichita and Mid-America. And he was a single parent.
Fr. Nicola was, by all accounts, an outstanding pastor. His end was a testament to his dedication: he died from influenza in 1918. Of course, that was the year of the horrible flu pandemic that killed so many millions. Fr. Nicola’s parishioners were among those dying from the disease, and rather than keep himself safe, Fr. Nicola went to his stricken people, hearing their final confessions and giving them communion. In this way, he caught the flu and soon died. It seems to me that he may be worthy of canonization. (To learn more about Fr. Nicola, read this article by Fr. Paul Hodge.)
Editor’s note: In 1938, Fr. Michael Gelsinger, with his wife Mary, published a Handbook for Orthodox Sunday Schools. Gelsinger was one of the most influential convert clergymen in American Orthodox history. He served in the Antiochian Archdiocese, and this book was published with the blessing of Metropolitan Antony Bashir. We’ve serialized the book’s introduction, and have been running it in a four-part series. Today, we’re publishing the final section of the essay, in which Gelsinger discusses Sunday School students and how to keep children in the Orthodox Church. (Click here for Part 1, click here for Part 2, and click here for Part 3.)
This book contains Bible Stories, Memory Passages, and a Catechism. The Bible Stories are first in importance, and the other materials are to be regarded as supplementary.
Every Lesson in every class must be a Bible Story until all the stories have been thoroughly learned. With every Story something should be learned from the collection of Memory Passages. When a class has thoroughly learned all the Memory Passages, then — and not until then — it may give the whole of its time to a thorough and systematic study of the Catechism alone.
It is often advantageous to offer prizes to pupils for work conspicuously well done. A small prize may be given for each Memory Passage learned; or a token for each Passage memorized may be given, with an attractive prize for the completion of the whole collection. Public oral examinations may be given by the Priest or the Superintendent at a Sunday School Rally, and the best pupils may be given prizes. It is also well to reward both Teachers and pupils who complete a year without absence or tardiness. A copy of the Bible is an admirable prize for pupils who have none already, and suggestions for other prizes are to be found in the catalogue of the David C. Cook Publishing Company, Elgin, Illinois.
The youngest members of the Sunday School should be the babies of the Cradle Roll; and for them, of course, no formal instruction needs to be provided. Every Sunday School should have a Cradle Roll, and should designate someone to be Superintendent of the Cradle Roll Department. On the very day a child is born in the Parish its name should be entered on the Cradle Department Roll; when the child is baptized, the fact should be entered on the Roll, together with the names of the Sponsors; and the Superintendent of the Department should see to it that the child begins attending the Kindergarten class at the age of four.
Pupils above the age of four should be assigned to classes before the year’s work begins. Kindergarten classes may be quite large without being burdensome, for several Teachers may work together in conducting them; but all other classes should be limited to eight or ten pupils at most, and each class should be made up of pupils of about the same age.
Planning for instruction should be guided first of all by the fact that the pupils fall into two main groups: those who cannot yet read well enough to study the lesson book for themselves, and those who can work with the book more or less independently.
Pupils who cannot read a Lesson Story for themselves must have it told to them. Teachers should never read the Story to their pupils, but should tell it to them in simple language with the repetition and expansion that children love. When they have heard the Story, the children should be given a chance to tell it in their own words.
Some children may begin to learn Memory Passages before they enter the Kindergarten class; but in any case some part of every lesson period must be given to memorizing. Passages can be learned from the lips of the Teacher. A group of children easily learns to repeat a Memory Passage in unison, and constant repetition led by those who learn fastest will teach the Passage to those who learn slowly.
Moral training must also have attention in the Kindergarten as in all the years of training that follow. Until pupils are old enough to receive systematic instruction in Christian Ethics, moral training must be managed incidentally; but that does not mean “accidentally” or “occasionally”. Moral training is one of our chief aims, and we must always be on the watch for opportunities to promote it. With never wearied perisistence every Teacher should impress indelibly upon his pupils these fundamentals at least:
- We can be happy only if we love God and obey all His Laws.
- It is wicked to stay away from Liturgy.
- It is wicked to have a dirty body, or a dirty mind, or a dirty heart.
- It is wicked to hate anyone, or to provoke anyone to anger.
- It is wicked to swear, to lie, and to steal.
- It is wicked to harm another’s reputation or to bring him to shame.
These matters must be brought up at every opportunity, and the children must be made to repeat the substance of them to the Teacher so that they will surely learn. If a child says often, “I must never tell a lie, for it is wicked and sinful and evil to lie”, the words will take root in his heart as well as in his mind to make him a man known and respected for truth and honesty.
A book specially prepared for use in the Kindergarten is ready for publication and should be available before long. Meantime, Kindergarten Teachers should use the Lesson Stories given here and teach Memory Passages. Instruction should be varied with instructive games and play so that the children may learn how to get along with each other. They should never be allowed to be boisterous or rowdy, but neither should they be subdued to a rigid and unchildish order. The Kindergarten will be a failure if the children do not thoroughly enjoy being there. The chief business of the Kindergarten, of course, is to teach; but a devoted Teacher who loves children will teach them without making them unhappy.
For pupils who study the Stories a second time the Teacher should provide additional details from the fuller version of the Bible. Work on the Memory Passages must continue, of course, until all are learned; and in the Catechism the Ten Commandments may be begun.
Pupils who can read the Stories will show a considerable range of maturity. Instruction may be planned for two groups of them: for those who are mature enough to use the Bible in developing the Stories further, and for those who are so young that they cannot be expected to do more than to study the Story in the Lesson Book.
The younger group will, of course, be almost as dependent on the Teachers as though they could not read. But since they can study an assigned Story at home, more of the lesson period can be spent on the Memory Passages and the Catechism can be begun sooner.
The older group should be required to read with each Story the chapters in the Bible which contain it or which bear upon it; and they should keep note books to record their reading and to show all they can find out about each Story they study. The Teacher should bring in background material so that the pupils may come to realize that all the Stories they have learned are only chapters in a greater Story which explains God’s Plan for mankind.
It is difficult at present to provide effective instruction for pupils above the age of twelve or thirteen who have completed the Lesson Stories and the Memory Passages, for in America youngsters of that age have access to many attractive substitutes for the pleasures offered by Church and Sunday School. If some way can be found to interest them in continuing their attendance, their restlessness will pass; they will at last be gripped by habit, and thereafter will participate as junior adults in the life and activities of the Parish.
For the present we have no books prepared especially for adolescents. Each Parish will have to study the problem for itself and do the best it can. In another part of this discussion of Sunday School work it is suggested that the Priest may use adolescent boys in considerable number as Altar boys, the idea being not only to teach them Religion but also to accustom them to work collectively in a group which is founded on a connection with the Church. If the boys were bound together by merely social ties their interest in recreations would surely continue, but their organization would as surly disintegrate when one after another would be drawn into association with some other group of friends. But organized activity founded upon the Church has real promise of continuing vitality, inasmuch as the Church is always at hand and is always the same. And if the boys continue their association with each other by entering the Orthodox Frontier, the Church will still be their common concern; and by so much their permanent attachment to the Parish may be regarded as reasonably certain.
Adolescent girls and young women, of course, must be managed somewhat differently; but they too must be encouraged to form organizations based on a common devotion to the Church. Some of them may prepare to become Teachers, and in that way develop a lasting connection with the Parish. Others of them may form Societies which will undertake responsibility for various kinds of necessary work. One group may devote itself to providing flowers or needed comforts for the sick; another group may take a special interest in the children of the poorer families of the Parish, remembering them particularly at Thanksgiving, Christmas, and Easter; another group may be interested in sewing, and could take charge of the making and repair of vestments for the Choir and the Altar boys; and still another group may undertake to provide incense and oil, and any other things that may be required in the Sanctuary. All of these groups might well come to Communion in a body at stated intervals, to remind themselves that Religion rather than some worldly interest unites them.
Scattered all over America are groups of Orthodox people who either have lost their Priest or have always been so weak in numbers that they have never been able to organize a Parish. The youth and the children of these Orthodox families have in many cases taken up foreign Religions. Instead of being Orthodox they are Methodist Episcopalians, Protestant Episcopalians (sometimes called Anglicans), Baptist, or something else; and their parents are heavy hearted because it has been impossible to keep them in the Orthodox Church.
The Sunday School Lesson Books are intended as much for these people as for those fortunate enough to be living in an active Parish. If in any community there is only one Orthodox family, let the head of that household teach the Lessons to the children. In any community where there are as many as two Orthodox families, let them join together to found a Sunday School. If in some community the few Orthodox families are of different origins, — some of them Syrian, others of them Greek or Russian or of some other language, — let them join together to found a Sunday School and, if possible, a Parish. To belong to the Orthodox Church is the greatest blessing anyone can have in this world, and to share this blessing with our children is worth any sacrifice. Before long a complete graded series of Lesson Books will be available, so that those who begin with the present book may continue with the others as they appear. Isolated families who have long felt the need of English books for teaching their children can have them now; and they should begin to use them without delay.
The preceding discussion is intended not only to offer practical suggestions for conducting Sunday Schools in the English language, but also to show that a program for Religious Education cannot be limited to plans for instruction. The leading idea is this: Although the chief purpose of a program for Religious Education in any Parish is the Salvation of our children, the immediate purpose is to insure the survival of the Parish. Accordingly, as our children grow older they must be brought by gradual stages into ever closer connection with the active life of the Parish, until at last as adults they share equally with their elders the responsibilities of adult membership.
For we must prepare our children to take our places. Some of these children must be Priests some day; some of them must be Presidents and Wardens of Parishes; and the least that we expect of any of them — to put it bluntly — is that they shall grow up to be dues-paying members and the parents of still another generation of children.
Accordingly, no Parish can safely limit its program for Religious Education to the instruction offered in Sunday School. It must employ every resource it can devise to awaken personal loyalty to our Religion, and must provide opportunities to express that loyalty in appropriate activities which demand cooperative effort.
The only kind of cooperative effort that can serve either the Parish or the young people themselves is effort that intends to serve the Church directly. We must never forget this fundamental fact: The Orthodox Religion which unites our children as Orthodox Christians is the only interest which they all share unreservedly with us and with one another; and on their enlightened common concern for the prospering of our Religion every Parish must found its hope for continued existence.
Editor’s note: In 1938, Fr. Michael Gelsinger, with his wife Mary, published a Handbook for Orthodox Sunday Schools. Gelsinger was one of the most influential convert clergymen in American Orthodox history. He served in the Antiochian Archdiocese, and this book was published with the blessing of Metropolitan Antony Bashir. We’ve serialized the book’s introduction, and are running it in a four-part series. (Click here for Part 1, and click here for Part 2.) Today, we’re publishing Part 3, in which Gelsinger talks about Sunday School teachers, as well as how to educate adolescent boys.
Teachers of Orthodox Catholic children must necessarily be persons exceptionally loyal to our Orthodox Religion and sincerely devoted to the work of religious education. Lack of experience and training can be corrected, but nothing can make good and useful Teachers of those who are lacking in love for the Orthodox Church or who out of vanity or selfishness find more pleasure in ruling their pupils than in serving them.
When a Sunday School is first organized, some of those appointed to serve as Teachers may have little or no acquaintance with the material they are to teach. The first thing for any such Teacher to do, of course, is to study, and study hard. What he doesn’t know, he must learn; and he must learn without delay. It is not enough to study the lessons from Sunday to Sunday; from the beginning the Teacher must know all that is to be taught to his class during the whole year. The Teacher’s success or failure is of immense importance not only to his pupils but also to the whole Orthodox Church in America. There is no future for our Religion in America unless we can hold fast to our children; and we cannot hold fast to our children unless we teach them. The Teacher of a Sunday School class, therefore, should not forget that he bears a great responsibility, and that he his strictly accountable for what he does with the pupils entrusted to him for instruction.
Every Parish must develop an efficient program for improving the performance of Teachers already in service and for training new Teachers. For improving the work of Teachers already in service, one important means is to have Teachers’ meetings at least once a month so that problems of teaching and discipline may be discussed and solved. The training of new Teachers is best carried on in classes especially organized for that purpose and conducted by the Priest or under his supervision. Before new Teachers are given classes they ought to serve as assistants to Teachers already in service, so that they may see the methods of teaching and discipline practically applied in a classroom.
The training of Teachers must include not only the matters taught in the Sunday School class but also an ample amount of background material. For example, every Teacher ought to know how to find in the Service Books all the things needed for the Vespers, Orthros, and Liturgy of any given day. American conditions require that Orthodox people in general should have wider range of information than is now usual among us, and certainly our Teachers should be among the first to set the example of acquiring it.
All Teachers must be made to understand that discipline demands skill and self control. A Teacher who shouts or scolds is a poor Teacher. Because he doesn’t know how to control his pupils, he loses control of himself. Becaues he loses control of himself, he gives way to excitement and irritation; and so having become as childish as his pupils he joins with them to make reverent attention impossible. Religion cannot be taught in anger nor learned by resentful and rebellious minds. Almost all difficult disciplinary situations have very small beginnings; there is no excuse for allowing a minor misdeed to develop into a major crisis. Teachers in training should be reminded again and again that our Orthodox children come to Sunday School gladly; that their mischievousness is innocent, not criminal or wicked, and represents energy which is useful when properly controlled and directed; and that a Teacher must know how to control without provoking resentment or antagonism.
Every Sunday School should be inspected several times a year by the Parish Priest to make sure that instruction is really effective. The best way to test the effectiveness of instruction is to ask the pupils questions about the material they are supposed to have learned. If any class falls short of a reasonable standard of achievement, an immediate inquiry ought to be made to find out why the work is not better done.
Boys and girls above the age of twelve present the most difficult problem for us at present. If they have been taught in their earlier years, the difficulty in many Parishes will be to find Teachers who can direct them in more advanced studies. If they have been poorly taught in their earlier years, or not taught at all, they will submit reluctantly to instruction that is better suited to their needs than to their years; for children of that age rebel against doing work that is being done in the same School by others who are much younger.
As far as adolescent girls are concerned, there would seem to be no solution except to entrust them to some well-bred woman who has a natural talent for guiding girls of that age. But for adolescent boys there is a plan which any Parish Priest can use. The plan is to use adolescent boys to serve at the Altar, requiring four or more to be on duty every Sunday.
In the parish of St. George in Niagara Falls, New York, a boy begins to serve in the Sanctuary as soon after his twelfth birthday as he can be used. For three months he must serve every Sunday. The Priest explains the Liturgy to him, and the older boys instruct him in his duties as Server. At the end of this period of apprenticeship most boys are trained well enough to serve without direction, and are able to describe the Liturgy from beginning to end with a fair idea of what the Service means.
The plan has in view not only the giving of instruction in Religion, but also the developing of young people who will be fitted to take a responsible part in the life and work of the Parish. Accordingly, during the three months of his apprenticeship a boy is required to obey not only the Priest but also all the older boys who may be serving. In this way a newly enlisted boy learns how to be one of the rank and file for the sake of the common good; the older boys who have latent capacity for leadership have an opportunity to develop it; and all the boys gain experience in the art of working together in harmony.
During the Proskomide of the Liturgy, boys serving their apprenticeship stand near the Priest so that they may see all that he does and may understand what he teaches them as to its meaning. Beginning with the Liturgy of the Catechumens, two boys stand to the North of the Altar and two to the South. Each pair is composed of one boy still in his apprenticeship and of an older boy; behind each pair stands another boy still older. Each pair is directed by the boy who stands behind it, so that everything may be done rightly and promptly, — as, for example, when processions are formed for the Entrances.
Carrying out this plan adds greatly to the burdens of the Priest. He must be gentle and patient if he is not to make himself unfit for his holy duties; and yet it is far from easy to train boys to serve reverently when there are so many of them serving together. But the rewards of success are worth far more than their cost. The boys learn the Service far better than would be possible under any other arrangement; they learn how to work together; and they are kept in close connection with the Church at the very age when they would be most likely to drift away.
After the period of apprenticeship a boy serves in rotation with the other older boys. On Sundays when he does not serve he is required to worship with the people. As he grows older and the number of boys available for duty increases, he serves less and less frequently; but presently he comes within the reach of still another plan, devised to give him a continuing sense of active participation in the life of the Parish.
For when a boy reaches the age of fifteen he is eligible for membership in the Orthodox Frontier. This organization, which began in St. George’s Parish in Niagara Falls and is spreading to other Parishes, is different from other organizations of young people. Although it has a rich program of recreational activities, its chief aims are to spread the Orthodox Religion and to defend the Orthodox Church against all her open and secret enemies. The Orthodox Frontier intends to be what its name implies: an aggressive army of young men who fight vigorously to extend the power and influence of the Orthodox Church. And as such a purpose cannot succeed without personal devotion, the organization requires its members to obey strictly all the laws and precepts of our Religion, — especially to attend Services regularly and to worship devoutly. The religious training of our young people is incomplete unless we can develop in them an enthusiastic love for the Church; and the Orthodox Frontier is intended to provide for our young people a way to express actively the loyalty and devotion which the Church inspires in them.
Editor’s note: In 1938, Fr. Michael Gelsinger, with his wife Mary, published a Handbook for Orthodox Sunday Schools. Gelsinger was one of the most influential convert clergymen in American Orthodox history. He served in the Antiochian Archdiocese, and this book was published with the blessing of Metropolitan Antony Bashir. Last week, we published the first of a four-part series, taken from the introduction to Gelsinger’s book. Today, we’re running Part 2, on “The Sunday School Session.” Gelsinger begins by talking, in minute detail, about how a Sunday School session should take place. He then allows himself to meander into topics of more general interest — language and music. We’ll run Part 3 of this mini-series next Thursday.
The law of our Orthodox Church requires every Orthodox Christian to attend all the Services on Sundays and on other holy days. Therefore, the members of a Sunday School cannot be excused from attendance at the Divine Liturgy, the most important of all Services. And since the work of the Sunday School cannot be done well if the pupils are tired and restless, it is better to have the Sunday School meet before the Liturgy rather than after it.
There is still another reason why the Sunday School should meet before the Liturgy. The Service of the Orthros (Matins) is much neglected among us, in spite of the fact that in importance it ranks next to the Liturgy itself. It is in the Orthros that we find the special meaning of any Feast most fully and elaborately expressed; and it is in the Orthros that we find the greatest variety of hymns by the Church’s most inspired poets and musicians. This Service is neglected in America mainly because many of our people are so lazy and slack that they cannot endure to spend more time in Church than is required for the Liturgy; and some of them complain that even the Liturgy is too long. Under present conditions the only hope of bringing the Orthros back into use is for the Sunday Schools to take over the responsibility for singing it, — a responsibility that possibly could be shared with organizations of young people beyond Sunday School age, such as the Orthodox Frontier Club. But the chief responsibility for the Orthros should be laid upon the Sunday Schools; and as the Orthros precedes the Liturgy, it is highly desirable that all our Sunday Schools at once begin to have their sessions before the Liturgy if such is not their custom already.
The following Schedule is suggested as a guide in planning the Sunday School Session:
- 9:45 — Secretary of the School must be in his place.
- 9:45-9:50 — Teachers get their Class Roll Books and other supplies from the Secretary of the School.
- 9:50 — Teachers must be in their classrooms.
- 10:00 — Pupils must be in their classrooms.
- 10:05-10:10 – The Secretary of the School visits each class to collect the Class Roll Books and the offerings, and then returns to his place to make out his report for the whole School. At the First Warning Bell messengers from the classes will bring him the offerings and the names of pupils who came in after roll call; at that time he will change the Absence marks for those pupils in the Class Roll Books to Tardiness marks, correct the entries for offerings, and bring the report into final form.
- 10:05 — Instruction begins in each class.
- 10:35 — First Warning Bell. Instruction ends, and each Teacher sends a messenger to the Secretary of the School with the names and the offerings of the pupils who have come in since Roll Call. The messenger may go from the Secretary to the place reserved for his class in the Assembly Hall.
- 10:40 — Second Warning Bell. All classes march to Assembly, each class going quietly to the seats reserved for it in the Assembly Hall.
- 10:43-11:00 — Assenbly, directed by the Superintendent (or by the Priest).
- 11:00 — Procession of the whole School, class by class, into the Temple for the Liturgy.
The following program is suggested for the Assembly:
- The Trisagion Prayers, recited by some pupil appointed by the Superintendent. The School should join in for the Lord’s Prayer at the end.
- Recitation by members of different classes. (Memory Passages for which prizes are offered, summary of the Lesson taught in a class, quizzing of pupils by the Superintendent, or any other drill that is truly helpful and not contrived merely for display.)
- Secretary’s Report.
- Birthday Greetings. (Pupils who have had birthdays recently may drop into the Birthday Treasury as many pennies as they are years old. While they put in their pennies the School congratulates them by singing the Many Years for them.)
- Comments and announcements by the Superintendent.
- The Trisagion Prayers recited by the whole School in unison.
- Procession of the whole School, by classes, into the Temple for the Liturgy. Each class is led by its Teacher, and the Teachers are required to stay with their classes until after the dismissal of the Liturgy.
Whenever possible, the Sunday School should enter the Temple in time to sing the Great Doxology and its Troparion (“This day salvation for the world is come”); after which the Priest begins the Liturgy of the Catechumens).
The Trisagion Prayers and the Memory Passages referred to in the program suggested for the Assembly are printed in another part of this book. We are printing also a separate book of music so that our Sunday Schools may have something to sing; for the time has come when we must get rid of every book, every hymn, and every influence of any kind that is not Orthodox absolutely and exclusively.
Until a Service Book with music appears, the Parish Priest should teach the young people as many hymns as possible in the language of the Parish (Arabic, Greek, Slavic, or whatever the language may be). It is very bad indeed for the different Parishes to sing different English translations instead of waiting for a standard English text approved for permanent use. Anyone who has even a slight understanding of our Orthodox Church must know that our Church Services cannot go on without the original languages, and must realize that a Parish will surely die if its young people are not taught to sing in the language of their parents. A standard English translation, prepared at the University of Buffalo and accompanied by the necessary music, is ready for publication; but even when it appears many things will still need to be done in the original languages. To translate all our Service Books into English suitable for public worship, and suitable for singing, will take years of work. Meanwhile our young people must learn to sing in the original languages as well as in English. They should learn to sing in English only such things as have been approved by proper authority as suitable to remain in permanent use everywhere.
The program for Sunday School leaves little time for instruction in singing. Occasionally the Assembly period may be so used, but singing is so important in our Orthodox Church that it really deserves and requires to be developed in a program of its own entirely separate from that of the Sunday School. Accordingly, in every Parish at least one evening a week regularly should be set aside for instruction in music.
We must not forget that our Orthodox Tradition forbids the use of musical instruments in Church Services. This is a rule which we should be very glad to obey, for obedience to it brings rich reward. No Parish that uses an organ or any other musical instruments in its services can ever have good singing. The use of a piano or organ to help people learn to sing something that is new to them is often good, and sometimes is even necessary. But it is one thing to use the piano for teaching, and quite another thing to get people into the habit of depending upon the piano so much that they cannot sing without it. Far better to teach without a piano or organ at all than to develop a habit of dependence upon an accompanying instrument. One of the greatest glories of our Orthodox Church is our music, all of it composed for singing and none of it intended for any musical instrument. Our children inherit with their Orthodox Catholic religion the grandest music ever heard on earth; and they should begin to know the delights of that inheritance as early in life as possible.
Editor’s note: In 1938, Fr. Michael Gelsinger, with his wife Mary, published a Handbook for Orthodox Sunday Schools. Gelsinger was one of the most influential convert clergymen in American Orthodox history. He served in the Antiochian Archdiocese, and this book was published with the blessing of Metropolitan Antony Bashir. Today, we’re presenting the first of a four-part series, taken from the introduction to Gelsinger’s book. We’ll run this mini-series on each of the next four Thursdays.
It is impossible to operate a Sunday School without spending money. Some Parishes can afford to spend more than others can, but every Parish must be willing to provide for its Sunday School as generously as its resources permit. Afte the first year of operation a Sunday School can usually finance itself, especially if the Parish provides adequate equipment at the beginning so that the School can do its work effectively.
The first requirement is that a Sunday School must have a suitable place in which to meet. There should be a room or hall large enough to accomodate the whole Sunday School when it meets for Assembly; and there should be smaller rooms in sufficient number to provide each class with a room of its own, so that when classes are in session they cannot see or hear each other.
In many Parishes, however, it will be impossible to provide a separate room for each class. If several classes must be taught in one large room, they may be separated from each other by screens. Satisfactory screens can be easily and inexpensively contrived by nailing wallboard to wooden frames which have been hinged in pairs. When not in use the screens can be folded up and put away. Screens, of course, will not prevent classes from hearing one another, and a certain amount of noise and confusion is unavoidable when they must be used; but noise and confusion are deadly enemies to the effeciency of the School, and every effort must be made to conduct classes as quietly as possible.
Since the majority of the members of a Sunday School are young children, the accomodations provided must be both safe and pleasant as well as sufficiently spacious. There must be good light, good ventilation, adequate heating, spotlessly clean floors and walls, and spotlessly clean toilets to which no persons except members of the Sunday School are allowed to go while the School is in session. If the hall provided for the Assembly has a concrete floor, it is absolutely necessary that a good wooden floor be built in; for a concrete floor is a menace to the health of the children. The walls should be painted, not in some ugly utilitarian color, but in some pleasant tint; and on them should be hung some appropriate pictures. It will not matter if a child of wealthy parents finds that the Sunday School lacks luxurious appointments; but we are disgraced if we give any child the least reason to think that the place where the Sunday School meets is dirty and cheerless.
Every class needs a table and a supply of chairs. Strongly built card tables, two or more to a class, will serve very well; and an advantage in using them is that they can be folded up and put away when not in use. The chairs should be folding chairs, preferably metal ones that cannot easily be damaged. There should be at least twice as many chairs provided as there are members of the School, so that it will never be necessary to move chairs from one place to another during the session. Money saved by buying fewer chairs will be lost over and over again in damage to the School’s efficiency, for chairs cannot be moved without noise and confusion and loss of valuable time. In providing chairs as in providing other necessities for the Sunday School, stinginess does not save money but throws money away.
The Syrian Archdiocese is preparing lesson materials to meet every need of Orthodox Catholic Sunday Schools conducted in the English language. Music will also be provided. It is surely unnecessary to remind our people that only Orthodox books and Orthodox music should ever be used in teaching our children.
Roll Books and record books, of course, and other supplies of that kind, must be purchased from Sunday School supply companies. No supplies should ever come from any other religious organization, not even if they are offered as gifts; for we are disloyal to our Orthodox Catholic Religion whenever we give anyone even the least reason to believe that the Orthodox Church is dependent upon any other religious organization or in alliance with it. Supplies should always be purchased from a company which is not connected with any particular religious organization. One of the best companies of the kind is the David C. Cook Publishing Company, of Elgin, Illinois, whose catalogue lists an immense variety of supplies for Sunday Schools.