By Pamela Scarpa
“Let the children come to me, so not to hinder them; for to such belongs the Kingdom of God. Truly I say to you, whoever does not receive the Kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it.” Mark 10:14-15
It’s 6:55 am and my eyes are just opening up to a new day. I think to myself, only five more minutes of sleep. Any minute, my children will be barreling through my bedroom door urging me to get up. It’s Sunday morning in the Scarpa household, and we have two hours to pull ourselves together before leaving for church. The energy and eagerness of the kids pull me out of bed, with their large smiles meeting ours. Together we start our morning: beds are made, rooms are fixed and breakfast is served. It’s the Sunday of Orthodoxy and Church School begins at 10am sharp! Its now time for the hour long car ride to our second home, St. Anthony’s.
Much like my children, Sundays were always the best day of the week for me. Waking up early on a Sunday is something I am very familiar with; in fact, I’ve been doing it my whole life. I grew up in North Jersey, born to Syrian immigrant parents and attended St. George in Little Falls until my marriage brought me to our parish in 2004. It’s that same pattern of faith that drives me to continue the tradition with my own children.
As a parent, I find most things easier to explain when told from a viewpoint of faith. We celebrate holidays like Christmas and Easter in remembrance of our Lord’s birth and resurrection, and not to purchase lavish gifts and chocolate for our loved ones. For example, instead of receiving gifts during our annual St. Nicholas dinner, our children donate gifts to the less fortunate. It is our hope that this small gesture will plant a seed into their young minds, a seed that will branch out later as teens, young adults and as future church leaders.
I’ve long associated education as a beacon for advancement. In school we learn about subjects that will enhance our intelligence and move us forward into a career. We learn among peers that have the same community, socio-economic class and maybe even the same ethnicity. Our days are filled with tests, quizzes and recess. All those things are beneficial for our minds, but what about our souls?
In today’s society, it’s unfortunate that we are moving further away from spiritual beliefs. Beliefs in a high-power or just being generally spiritual are replacing society’s belief in God. It’s hard for a religious person like myself to see more value in political correctness vs. the teachings of Our Lord and Savior. How can we explain humanity without the acknowledgment of His existence?
The teachings of the Bible offer reason and understanding, and are the best way to debunk new norms. Don’t get be wrong, I am all about forward thinking, but my ideals regarding faith have always stayed traditional, much like the Orthodox Church. That thought process was established many years ago in Ms. Joyce’s church school class. That is where I first learned The Creed and Lord’s Prayer, which I proudly recite each week during liturgy.
The need for Christian education is as immediate as when the disciples first appealed to Jesus: “Teach us to pray.” Luke 11:1
Christian education is a permanent challenge to the work of the Church. Not only did our Lord and Savior continuously teach the word of God during His earthly mission, but the Church also viewed Christian education as one of its essential ministries. A love for faith is most often established in youth when youth are highly regarded as the most important members of a parish. They are the future of the Orthodox world.
The focus of our efforts to educate our beloved children in the Orthodox Christian faith begins in our household and is reinforced weekly in our Church School program. When we bring our children regularly to Sunday School we provide them with a gift of religious knowledge that has lifelong value and significance; not only as Orthodox Christians but as human beings.
We help develop the spiritual life and moral upbringing of our children. Our personal example and involvement in the religious education of your children are extremely important. In a secular world which places more importance on self enjoyment, it is humbling to see the faces of our children engaged in religious education. Everything that is taught is practiced including Communion, Confession, Holy days and prayer. What is learned in school Monday through Friday can last a lifetime, but what we learn on Sundays will last an eternity. “My house shall be called a house of prayer for all nations.” (Mark 11:17)
It’s just about 10am when we pull into the church parking lot. As we exit the car, we are greeted by the sound of bells, signaling the end of Matins and the start of the Divine Liturgy. In the distance, I see my nieces and nephews running towards us, their arms open wide, ready to embrace their cousins. My children do the same as they joyfully meet in the middle. Hand in hand they walk down the short flight of stairs into the main gathering area where they are greeted by the church school director. Each child places his or her donation envelope into the designated box and hurries along to an assigned classroom. After a quick hug and kiss for the teachers, all doors are shut and class begins. I rush upstairs into church, light my candle and sit down in my usual spot.
Right before communion, I see the long line of church school students standing at attention. They are arranged in two parallel lines, their arms neatly crossed over their chests. Each one stands quietly, occasionally whispering words to a neighbor. Toward the back of the line, I see my three children. Each one offering me a small wave – I respond with a quick wink and smile.
As they approach the chalice, I see them announce their names, open their mouths wide for communion and eagerly make the sign of the cross. Two more hours until we gather back in our car. I wait in anticipation to hear about their morning and what they learned in church school.