It’s a new semester and I’m again teaching in St Sophia Ukrainian Orthodox Theology Seminary’s distance education program for youth ministers. This time around, I’m teaching Christian doctrine for youth minister. As I did last semester, I’ll post my class notes here. You are welcome to use them if you’d like. You’re also welcome to ask questions or offer your own thoughts on the material.
So, here’s the first class!
We need to keep two things in mind when we teach doctrine.
First, Jesus Christ is the foundation, center and goal of our teachings. A class in Christian doctrine isn’t the religious equivalent of a philosophy class where we might learn about different schools of thought. Rather, teaching the faith is first and foremost about introducing people–whatever their age or background–to Jesus Christ. As catechist (religious education teachers) we’re really matchmakers. We want to help people not just know about Jesus but to help them fall in love with Him.
All the various sources of Christian doctrine–Tradition, Scripture (Bible), Liturgy, the teachings of the various Councils and the Fathers, the lives of the saints, the Church’s legal tradition (the canons), our music, iconography and architecture (Church Art)–have Jesus Christ as their source and goal. If I lose sight of Jesus, or if I don’t introduce Jesus to my students, then I’ve failed as a catechist.
The different sources of Christian doctrine all have their secular equivalent. For example, often we confuse ethnic customs with being Orthodox. It’s important to keep in mind this isn’t simply a matter of confusing being Ukrainian or Serbian or Greek or Russian with being Orthodox. Sometimes we confuse being Orthodox with being American (“What do you mean the Church isn’t a democracy!”).
Likewise, the culture has its own “sacred” texts, non-negotiable teachings, revered teachers and heroes that are admired and imitated. Not all of what the culture offers is bad. In fact, some of it is really quite good (e.g., the dignity of the human person), But we need to be very discerning in what we accept and reject from the culture.
The standard for evaluating culture is the same for our classes: Does it help or hinder a person’s relationship with Jesus Christ and the Church?
To answer this question for our students, we need ourselves to have a relationship with Jesus Christ. To have a relationship with Him, I need pray and read Scripture daily, attend Liturgy on Sunday and feast days, receive Holy Communion on a regular basis and go to Confession.
Being a catechist builds on my own Christian faith. As a catechist, I also need to study. A catechist who doesn’t study the sources of Christian doctrine is like a physician who doesn’t know anatomy and physiology. Bad as it is for a doctor not to know about the human body, it’s worse for a catechist not to know and love Jesus Christ or to be indifferent to the Church’s doctrine.
So, let’s study what the Church believes!