“From Obraz to Obrazovanie”
A lecture presented at the 16th International Nativity Readings
For over 80 years, the Russian emigration living in the diaspora has managed to preserve to some extent its faith and culture. That was possible thanks to the efforts and spiritual struggle of Russian parents and educators who found themselves beyond the borders of their native land. They were guided first and foremost by love for God and Orthodox Russia, by the experience brought from their native land to the emigration, and by experience newly acquired in the lands of the diaspora.
As their newly-acquired experience was quite diverse, the process of education, obrazovanie, of course took on a variety of forms in various countries and on various continents. One should immediately note at this point that much of what will be said here regarding the educating of children and youth is applicable as well to the education of adults, to those adults now being brought into the life of the Church; in Christ, chronological age is of no consequence, and whoever is crossing the threshold into the Church for the first time is an infant.
However, at all times and in all circumstances, the specific means of such education have been founded on Orthodox foundation inherited from generations past, and on the living experience of Church life.
When reflecting on the term “education,” on the word “obrazovanie,” one naturally reflects on its etymology, on the root upon which the word is based, and on its profound significance. Everyone recognizes that it stems from the Church Slavonic word obraz, i.e “image.” There is another important consideration: According to what image are we educating or shaping (obrazuyem) and being educated or shaped (obrazuemsya)? While, as we see happening today, the secular world educates its charges in the image of this world, it is quite impossible to talk of any true obrazovanie, [“shaping in the Image”] taking place. Likewise, in such a school there cannot be any true illumination, in the Gospel understanding of the term “Light.”
As long as education ministries (or ministries of enlightenment, as they sometimes erroneously call themselves), be they in Russia or in the diaspora, direct that children be taught that man is descended from dumb beasts, or that they be presented with absurd ideas as historical evidence, which changes with the tides of political change, or force upon them what education officials call “sex education/enlightenment,” true educational enlightenment will stand apart from the secular school, farther away than East is from West.
Contemporary society, both in Russia and in the West, is suffering from a splintering of consciousness because various societal institutions pretend to “form” according to their understanding, separate, disunified parts of a once-single human being formed in the image of God. However, in the Gospel and patristic understanding, education, [obrazovanie, i.e. formation or shaping in the Image], is still not subject to this schizophrenia; for us Orthodox people it remains a reliable beacon pointing the way out of today's unfortunate situation.
Unfortunately, for now, the idea of having an Orthodox school to provide a general education to our children remains but a dream. At our Cathedral in San Francisco, California, there is a daily lycee, but it, like our other educational institutions of its type, is only a supplement to the regular school; the one difference [between parish schools and the lycee] is that as a rule, parish schools have classes only once a week, and not every day. Thus, when talking about education and upbringing, we will have in mind first and foremost education and upbringing within the family, within the home Church, within the Church temple and the parish school, and not in general education school.
Education, upbringing, and illumination, as understood in the light of the
Gospels and in the spirit of the Holy Fathers, are terms that are not synonymous. Rather, they are concepts which as it were reveal the various bounds and manifestations of one holistic process. That is obvious both from their etymology and from the meanings attached to them in the consciousness of the Church.
The very beginning of the path taken by the Russian people on the Christian path demonstrates just to what a great extent the proper approach to education was already prevalent at that early stage. Already in “Russian Justice,” the ancient Russian code of legal standards, it was taught that righteousness was the foundation for proper and just application of ideas, the foundation of chastity. Chastity is not an external physical condition, but a chaste apprehension of the entire world around us, and chaste, healthy ideation – according to the Holy Apostle, the mind of Christ (I Corinthians 2:16). The devil breaks up and disintegrates human thought and the human heart. Schizophrenia is the splintering, the disintegration of reason. Striving after God, following the His Commandments, brings about re-integration, re-establishes that lost wholeness.
From times long past, the Psalter was the favorite book in Rus'. Centuries ago, the Psalmist addressed God-inspired words to our ancestors, and now he likewise appeals to us: "The humble shall see this, and be glad: and your heart shall live that seek God" (Psalms 69:32). One who recognizes his own spiritual impoverishment and bankruptcy, acquires joy, calm, and peace of mind. "Glory ye in his holy name: let the heart of them rejoice that seek the Lord" (Psalms 105:3).
The process of education (formation in the Image) may in some sense be compared to the mystery of catechesis and Baptism. The difference, of course, lies in that Baptism is performed but once, while education continues throughout one's entire life. Parents and other instructors in the educational process perform a service to that Mystery which is analogous to that performed by clergy in the process of catechesis and Baptism. First of all, they teach and demonstrate the model of behavior by their personal example, by emulating Christ. "Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example" (I Peter 2: 21).
Here the actual words of instruction are less important than that life be consistent with those words: "showing [himself to be] a pattern of good works" (Titus 2:7), the instructor impresses oral instructions upon the hearts of those he is instructing. As the Image of God is reflected in man, so the virtues of a man who is a teacher are reflected in his neighbor, who is educated and formed in his image and after his likeness. Here is how the Apostle Paul understood upbringing: "be ye followers of me [in the Greek – copy me] as I do Christ" (I Corinthians 4: 16). In another Epistle, the Holy Apostle bears witness to the fact that just this kind of education is needed: "For whom He did foreknow, He also did predestinate to conform to the image of His Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brethren" (Romans 8: 29). Those He did foresee, i.e. those people in whom God foreknew sincere and constant desire to be well-pleasing to Him, and to achieve eternal salvation.
"But we all, with open face beholding as in a glass the glory of the Lord are changed into the same image from glory to glory, even as by the Spirit of the Lord" (II Corinthians 3:18).
Our transfiguration into that same Image of Christ happens in the Mysteries of the Church and in the virtues. Therein lies education's principal goal: to become like Christ. When education is permeated with the spirit of the Gospels, it leads us along that saving path. Each virtue possessed by a person draws Christ's image patterned on the prototype instilled in his nature, which was made in the image of Christ. It is the task of education to reveal the image of Christ in man. In the God-man we see Divine perfection in all its facets. They become attainable to us as well through love for the Image and communion with Him in the Mysteries, through emulating Him in the exercise of the virtues.
Just as in the Mystery of Baptism, the sponsor takes on responsibility for the one who is baptized, so each instructor – whether a schoolteacher or a spiritual father, answers for the one he is instructing.
However, our current state of affairs clearly reveals deficiencies in our society, its secularization and its estrangement from the Church. As a rule, not only schoolteachers, but even parents and godparents do not recognize their responsibility before God for the soul of the child or adult entrusted to them. Not many are prepared to make a sacrifice for Christ's sake, to sacrifice their supposed freedom and take on the spiritual struggle of service to one's neighbor.
That spiritual struggle is impossible without prayer and without the other Gospel virtues. The sponsor's first task, like that of the teacher and upbringer, is to pray for his spiritual child, for the one he is to raise. It is only in such a framework that the instructor can hope for the success of his mission, only by receiving his student as a precious gift, one he must foster and cherish though prayer, fasting, and spiritual effort. By renouncing Satan each and every day, the teacher confirms his own Baptism and prepares thereby that ground for a fruitful educational process. Renouncing Satan and his angels, man opens up for himself and his neighbor the path to acquisition of the image of God.
In our days, in many families parents do not have time for their children. The teacher, like the priest, can and should fill that need. Even though he may spend significantly less time than do parents with the ones being brought up, he can exert a much greater influence on the children. Experience in prayer gives him the opportunity to apply his habit of communion with God to his interaction with other people. In so doing, he supports and disseminates the Christian culture of communion.
The Russian Church Abroad has always paid a great deal of attention to education. At the Synod, special school committees and an academic committee were established. They develop special teaching materials for parish schools, and also suggestions to the flock, which the Synod disseminates in its pastoral epistles. In our Church, children's education begins with kindergarten, and continues in parish school. The experience of being an Altar server is also of great importance. By serving in the Church, children become accustomed from their earliest years to a truly Christian approach to life. However, today a secular spirit penetrates even into the Altar; among our Altar servers, there even sometimes arises something akin to a “pecking order.” That is something the clergy must root out, thoroughly and resolutely.
The deacons or the priests not only teach the boys to consciously behave properly during Divine Services; they also instruct them in prayer, piety, and attentive regard for the service. They teach them how to behave appropriately toward their elders and toward boys of their own age, and engender in them respect for others. Ideally, there should be a similar process for girls who sing in the choir. The rest interact at the parish school, or in parish activities, youth conferences, and pilgrimages, acquiring thereby a perception of the church that is diverse and multi-faceted.
In speaking of the parish school, one cannot fail to mention the beneficial effect that learning Church Slavonic has on children and youth. Children's minds are like wax, receptive and malleable, and the meaning of the liturgical language can easily be imprinted on them. The extremely rich inheritance of Orthodox hymnography, often inaccessible to adults unfamiliar with Church Slavonic, enriches the minds and hearts of children who study that language in school. In places where the priests are energetic, one and two-day pilgrimages are arranged for Altar servers, choristers, and parish school students. This forms bonds between them, and affords their teachers an opportunity to interact with the youth in a setting free of coercion. Clergy and teachers should carefully prepare for such trips in order to take full advantage of their time on the pilgrimage. In many parishes, similar work is also performed by parish activists, e.g. by the Sisterhood. People who work at the church get together not only for business, but also for religious talks, interpretation of Sacred Scripture, etc. Thus, the clergy have a wide field of activities, various means of educating, rearing and nourishing their flock.
The actual goal of vospitanie , upbringing or rearing, as the Church understands the term, is the revelation of the image of Christ in the person's soul. In a society divorced from the Church, the word vospitanie has long since lost the meaning it originally had in Church Slavonic. Entering the term into an Internet search engine would yield articles about raising children as well as advice on raising… puppies. Raising puppies is defined as accustoming them to habits that are useful and advantageous to the owner. However, often the instructions on raising children do not go beyond simply instilling in them “good habits.” In the Church's understanding of the term, vospitanie means supplying and nourishing the human soul with the Word of God and with the Mysteries.
The Most-holy Theotokos was brought into the Temple “to be raised in the Holy of Holies.” That is how our children should be nourished and raised as well: by hearing the Word of God in the church and at home, and by participating in the Mysteries, first and foremost from infancy having Holy Communion, and later, the Mystery of Repentance. Therefore, the educational process, the process of formation in the Image, must always include preparation for Confession. This is a very subtle area, in which the child needs to have the child-rearers take a sensitive and sympathetic approach. Proper understanding of the Mystery of Confession is premised on the one hand on admission of sin and sinfulness, and on the other, the grace-filled power of the Mysteries which free us from sin, and the joy which comes from living a virtuous life.
Simply going to church along with his parents, godparents, or teachers can teach even the smallest child a great deal, when the piety of the elder is a model that is transferred to the behavior and feelings of the younger. Of course, this presumes that that the piety is not hypocritical or feigned, but comes from the heart and being of those rearing the child.
In the church, transfiguration, renewal, and restoration of fallen human nature take place. Experiencing the Feasts lays a foundation for education [ obrazovanie ] according to the Image [ Obraz ]. In experiencing together the Feasts of the Baptism of the Lord, the Transfiguration, the Entry into the Temple, Pentecost, the Nativity, the Meeting of the Lord, and the Ascension, the child or youth becomes capable of being educated according to the Image – that is if he has been taught that at the center of each feast day is the Image of the Creator, the Image of the One Baptized in Jordan, the One Transfigured in the sight of his disciples on Mt. Tabor, the One carried by His mother into the Temple on the Feast of the Meeting of the Lord…
The child must come to understand that the church of God is not a playground. In a playground, we play, but in the church we pray, and we commune with God. We look upon His Image with a feeling of reverence, and we bow down, expressing our humility. We light candles as a sign of our reverence before the God's majesty.
In the Old Testament Tent of Meeting and in the Temple of Solomon, in which the Most-holy Theotokos was raised, there burned the seven-lamped candle-stand. Today, we likewise offer up to the uncreated Light a material offering. We offer light and flame, along with a plea that our minds be visited with grace-filled illumination, and our hearts with a flame. We dare to touch and kiss the Image, and to draw from it great comfort. That is the visible significance of making contact with the faith (Luke 8:46), the action of pious zeal encountering a hoped-for coming down of grace.
We raise up prayers so as to come closer to the source of grace, so that our thoughts might be concentrated and protected from being scattered. With our internal as well as our external sight, we contemplate God Who appeared in the Flesh, and we impress His Image in our hearts.
Should the priest, instructor, or sponsor depart from the Image, not only physically, by walking out of the church building, but also spiritually, by filling his soul not with holy thoughts and feelings but with idols of passion and desires, what can he, in such a state, offer to Christ or to his charges? What is the point of words of prayerful appeal when they are bereft of a prayerful spirit? Just as little good can come from a word spoken during a lesson if the teacher does so without being convinced that they are true and correct, without being sure that they are essential, and without a fervent faith. Such words dissipate in the air without making any impression on the student. After all, one cannot persuade someone to believe; one can only spark it, or have faith that is infectious.
We should strive toward the goal that, "with open face beholding as in a glass the glory of the Lord, we all be changed into the same image from glory to glory, even as by the Spirit of the Lord" (II Corinthians 3:18). That is something that should be taught not only to children, but to anyone who, as an adult, has begun the process of living within the Church. If we look not only at the face of Christ on an icon in church, but look at His glory within, at His Divine Truth, His virtues and perfection, we are no longer passive and idle observers; we present our soul to the Light-bearing Image of Christ, as to a mirror from which we can receive His Light.
As has already been mentioned, and as each of us knows by experience for better or worse, one's education and rearing begins within the family. We must recognize that we cannot wall off a child from the world; we cannot preserve him in a bottle, cannot isolate him. On the contrary, he must be prepared for setting out into the world, with an accurate understanding of how he should see and apprehend that world. Doing battle with sin is unavoidable. The child should be prepared for that battle, should be supplied with the weapons needed for that battle. The best means to that end, the most powerful educational factor is family life itself – the attitude of the couple towards one another, the attitude of the parents to their children in that Orthodox family, in that little Church.
Family life should be built on the foundation of faith in and love for God, and not on obeying some external rules. The entirety of family life should be permeated with a spiritual authority. Parents and child-rearers can impart to children only what they themselves possess, what they live and breathe, what fills their hearts. They themselves must first of all liberate themselves from the passions, first and foremost rid themselves of irritation and condemnation. The tone of interactions in the home, people's facial expressions and the thoughts and feelings hidden behind them are readily and naturally communicated.
The more a parent or child-rearer strives to live an Orthodox life, training himself in prayer and fasting, in reading of religious instruction and saints' lives, the more readily that can be communicated to the child. When the parent or child-rearer is burning with faith, he can easily ignite that flame in the heart of the child he is raising. If he is exercising himself in prayer, he can readily and without a sense of coercion, talk to the child about it. If fasting exists as something natural in the house, as something unaccompanied by coercion or artificial strain and effort, the child easily becomes used to it. When the parent or child-rearer refrains from any foul language in the presence of the child, but uses it at other times, the child immediately senses inherent hypocrisy and becomes infected with that same spirit. If the child does not hear his instructors use foul language, and does not get any sense that this is a facade, such vices will be alien to him. Everything should be entirely consistent.
Although our everyday reality, especially secular school, is often depressingly far from ideal, education, child-rearing, and illumination in a Christian spirit is not a utopia or an unattainable ideal. However, education in a Christian spirit has always been a difficult matter, in Apostolic times no less difficult than in our own. Spiritual warfare is a natural and inseparable part of our life. Without it, we cannot achieve the Kingdom of Heaven.
Despite the fact that contemporary society is striving to impose upon us their secular values, we dare not live by a double standard. Our task lies in developing and persevering an integrated Christian approach to life, and to communicate it to our children (whether children by blood, or spiritual children), imparting to them love for Christ, for the Gospels, and consequently, for life according to the Gospels. If a child senses his teacher's Gospel love, he is able to naturally withstand attractions to what is sinful and passionate.
One must not impart either to a child or to an adult learning to live the life of the Church only bare, rational knowledge. He must be swaddled, warmed, and protected with love for Christ and for his neighbor, and he must witness a living example of living faith. Parents and child-rearers must act not by imposing pressure or making demands, but by setting a good example. The child or youth (likewise, an adult entering into the life of the Church), must sense that his instructors respect his freedom and his person, as man's Creator himself respects our freedom. Here it is not external pedagogical methods that are important, but rather the well considered ability to be receptive and understanding, based on personal experience in the spiritual life.
According to the Apostle, education must always have the goal of divesting the old man of his deeds, and "put[ting] on the new man, who is renewed in knowledge after the image of Him That created him" (Colossians 3:9-10). It must facilitate the conscious acceptance of the image of Christ. “In Holy Baptism,” writes St. Theophanes the Recluse, “we put on Christ. It is a mystically grace-filled putting on, a perception and acceptance of the spirit of the original Image. What follows is the transfer of all of our Lord Jesus Christ's characteristics to the corresponding parts of our being. To accomplish that takes an effort of will, a spiritual struggle throughout one's life, the production of renewal.”
To conclude this short speech, let us return to its beginning. Rearing, education, and illumination are boundaries and stages of one single process of growing into the life of the Church, preparation of souls to receive God's grace, and to grow in Christ. The light of Christ illumines all – all those who are prepared to receive it.
Illumination is brightness of soul, changing of life, and the inquiry into the conscience, which is from God (I Peter 3:21). Illumination is a relief and assistance to us in our weakness, a putting aside of the flesh, and following after the Spirit, communion with the Word, a straightening of the building, a burning up of sins, communing of the light, dispersion of the darkness. Illumination is the chariot taking us up to God, accompanying Christ, bolstering faith, perfecting of the intellect, the key to the Kingdom of Heaven, change in the way of life, removal of enslavement, loosing of bonds, transformation of our makeup.
We can be safe in holding the sure hope that, put into practice through the efforts of the family, the parish, and Orthodox school, education, upbringing, and illumination as so understood, will bear their fruit: With His grace, the Lord will fill our need, and the children, entrusted to us by God will become truly educated, well brought-up, and enlightened people.