New Unit published 8th May
The Discovering Orthodoxy online catechesis has just published a unit considering if the Evidence for Jesus.
Access to this unit requires free registration on the Discovering Orthodoxy course. Just follow the Registration link at the top of the page.
Student registration allows us to provide greater support to the global community of students.
In this introductory unit Father Peter Farrington describes the structure of the course material, and H.E. Metropolitan Seraphim speaks about the value of catechesis, or spiritual instruction.
A short essay considers some of the thoughts of St Cyril of Jerusalem in regard to catechesis, while a brief Bible Study invites students to consider the necessary aspect of study as part of the Orthodox Christian life.
What is Faith?
In this unit Father Peter Farrington invites us to consider the nature of Christian Faith. It is often parodied as belief without reason or a naive trust in myths and legends. On the contrary the Christian faith is something reasonable, grounded in experience and evidence.
Is it necessary to have faith to be able to benefit from an Orthodox catechesis? Father Peter describes the different varieties and degrees of faith, and finds the beginning of faith in the desire to know God.
Evidence for God
In this unit Father Peter Farrington considers whether science requires an atheistic point of view, or whether it is possible and reasonable to engage in scientific studies while also believing that there is an intelligent and purposeful creator.
The unit also considers the variety of scientific evidence which allows scientists to consider that the existence of God makes most sense.
Beginning with .. Church History
In this unit H.E. Metropolitan Seraphim of the Coptic Orthodox Patriarchate will be introducing the study of Church History as a necessary aspect of our catechesis.
It is we look back to the life of the Church that we learn how to live in the present and with hope for the future.
Discovering Orthodoxy - Unit 1 - Introduction
Introduction - Text
The London School of Orthodox Christian Studies has begun the development of this major project because it is committed to widening the scope of Orthodox education to include interested people from as many diverse groups as possible. Our intended audiences include members of the Oriental Orthodox communion of Orthodox Churches, members of the Eastern Orthodox communion of Churches, members of the Roman and Eastern Catholic Churches, members of every variety of Protestant community, and those from non-Christian and non-religious backgrounds.
You will see that in fact we believe that catechesis, the process of spiritual education, has benefits and possibilities for people in every situation and from every background. We hope that members of the Orthodox Churches will be able to deepen their experience of the Orthodox Christian life through participation in these materials, but we alse hope that all Christians of whatever backgrounds and traditions will find something in this programme which encourages them to become more completely a Christian man or woman. Even those who have no real experience of the Christian faith will find here, if our intentions are fulfilled, a means of understanding a little better what Christians, and especially Orthodox Christians believe, and perhaps coming to a personal commitment to that faith, and to God the object of our faith, which challenges and transforms their own life.
The course materials are all presented in English, but we hope that through the course of 2013 we will be able to engage in translating them into one or two other languages. We hope to make these materials as widely available and useful as possible.
Catechesis is more than education, it is a growing participation in the spiritual way of life which is being taught. The word comes from the Greek meaning 'to instruct by word of mouth', and it would be proper to imagine in the early years of the Church a group of catechumens, those receiving catechesis, sitting around their catechete or teacher while he explained the Christian faith to them. This understanding of the term has helped us to set the level of our materials. They are designed to replicate in some small way the teaching which might take place in any ordinary congregation, perhaps after the liturgy, where those seeking instruction have gathered around to hear some aspect of the faith explained. It is not intended to be an academic course, nor even a programme of study with a fixed beginning and end, rather the catalogue of course materials will be built up so that students can follow a variety of trajectories through the units at their own pace and to some extent in line with their own interests and concerns.
One of the great catechetes of the Church is St Cyril of Jerusalem, not to be confused with St Cyril of Alexandria, a rather later though no less important figure. St Cyril of Jerusalem was responsible at one time for the preparation of those who had asked to be baptised, and we are fortunate to have available to us a series of lectures which he gave to those catechumens being catechised, and which continued after their baptism to explain some of the mysteries of the Church. He lived in the 4th century, at a time when the Emperor Constantine had embraced Christianity and had begun to build some of the great Churches of the Holy Land.
St Cyril introduced his catechesis and considered those who were sitting around him. Very briefly it will be useful to reflect on the words he spoke on such an occasion. In the first place he says..
God is lavish in his benificience, yet he waits for each man's genuine will.
This reminds us that at the beginning of engaging in this course of study we may be sure that God wishes to bless us, but he waits to see that we are really committed to a growth in our understanding of the spiritual way. St Cyril adds..
Honesty of purpose makes you called: for if your body is here but not your mind, then it profits you nothing.
In the same we should consider that it is not enough to read the words that will be published here, or listen to the lectures. We must engage with these studies so that our intention is worked out each week or each fortnight, or on whatever occasion we sit down to study for an hour or two. There is no-one watching our study, other than God, and so it is better not to pretend to begin with no real interest. But if we do have an honest intention to study the Orthodox faith, then we must press on with attention.
Then St Cyril warns some..
Let none of you enter saying, Let us see what the faithful are doing: let me go in and see, that I may learn what is being done. Do you expect to see, and not expect to be seen? And do you think, that while you are searching out what is going on, God is not searching thy heart?
We must remember that in the 4th century the spiritual way of the Christian community was kept hidden from those outside the Church. The mysteries of the Church were indeed mysterious because they were not seen or known by those who had not been baptised. This must have created a certain curiosity among some people, and so it was not unknown for some of those who were sitting in the class of catechumens to be there only to see what Christians did.
It is interesting that St Cyril does not demand that such a person be thrown out of the class. On the contrary he asks such a person, one who is interested only for the sake of later causing trouble, to leave the meeting, reflect on what they have seen of the Church and what they already know of the Christian faith, and return the next day to participate with honourable intentions.
Indeed St Cyril even has a word for those who have decided to enter into the process of catechesis because they are romantically attached to a Christian woman..
I accept this bait for the hook, and welcome you, though you came with an ill purpose, yet as one to be saved by a good hope. Perhaps you knew not where you were coming, nor in what kind of net you are taken. You have come within the Church’s nets: be taken alive, flee not: for Jesus is fishing for you.
So even in this case, or the case of a servant or employee wishing to please his master, St Cyril takes the same positive view. It does not matter, he says, why you have come here or what your own understanding of your purpose is. You have begun this course of study, as far as the Church is concerned, because Jesus Christ himself is concerned for you and about you. Perhaps you do not believe this, as you begin this online catechesis, but it is our own belief. That whatever the reason which has led you to this point we believe that God wills it for your good, and we welcome you, as St Cyril would have welcomed you. He says..
For God seeks nothing else from us, save a good purpose.
And we ask nothing more. Only that you study these materials as best you can, and with as much serious attention as you are able to give. May the Lord bless your efforts and reward your attention.
Introduction - Audio/Visual
Father Peter Farrington introduces the Discovering Orthodox online catechesis, and H.E. Metropolitan Seraphim speaks about catechesis in this short video.
Introduction - Bible Study
Each unit produced in the Discovering Orthodoxy online catechesis will include a short Bible study. A catechesis is not simply or most importantly an academic exercise, but is a spiritual one. Therefore it is always appropriate and necessary to link the subject being considered with the words of the Holy Scripture.
And Jesus came to them and spake unto them, saying, All authority hath been given unto me in heaven and on earth. Go ye therefore, and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them into the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost: teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I commanded you: and lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world.
Read this passage in whichever version of the New Testament you prefer. What are the different aspects of this instruction or command of the Lord? What are the different things that he calls upon those who follow him to engage in? What is the basis for this command? What does it depend on? Have you always experienced the Church as a place of discipleship? Why have you begun this process of catechesis? What are you hoping for?