Orthodox Sunday School in Zhytomyr
Oleksandr PYVOVARSKYI tells about a powerful center of Orthodox education in central Ukraine’s Zhytomyr Region, a Sunday school attached to St. Michael’s Cathedral of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church-Kyivan Patriarchate (UOC-KP).
When Ukraine gained its independence in 1991, religious life started to revive. The number of religious communities multiplied dozens of times. When possible the state returns religious buildings which were used for non-intended purposes, to the faithful. Restored church buildings charm one with their beauty. New buildings are being built. The presence of religious ministers in the press and on TV has become usual. Churches are crowded with people on Sundays. Questions of teaching religion-related subjects at school are discussed in society.
It seems to me that in this diversity of events of religious life, insufficient attention is paid to religious education, teaching the fundamentals of Christian doctrine to believers, starting with children of school age. For the alpha and omega of any religious organization is not the availability of a religious building, the financial possibilities of the community, or other factors, but is the believer who is deeply filled with Christ’s teaching, lives according to God’s Law, and knows and comprehends everything taking place in church during the Liturgy. “For where two or three come together in my name, there am I with them.” (Mt. 18:20) These words of the Bible indicate that, in the theological sense, the church is a gathering of people. I am convinced that only this kind of a believer is the future of the church.
The sacred book of Christianity, the Bible, testifies that the human being, with his inner world and problems, is the main value for all Christian churches. Only the book of Genesis describes the creation of the world, whereas all the other ones describe joys and misfortunes, the life problems of the person.
The pastor of St. Michael’s Cathedral of the UOC-KP in Zhytomyr, winner of the Ohienko Prize, Mitred Archpriest Fr. Bohdan Boiko, understands all this very well. It was he who founded a Sunday school at the church in distant 1992 in order to teach the basics of the Orthodox faith. The school has become known far outside our region and even Ukraine. Teachers from other regions of Ukraine, and not only of the Orthodox church, come to familiarize themselves with the work of the school.
The enthusiast of the work, Fr. Bohdan, at first himself conducted classes for the children in rooms in the church building like the library, his study, and other rooms. At the same time, the pastor looked for enthusiasts for the work among parishioners, giving preference to people with pedagogical qualifications. The teachers were confronted with some challenges: where to find a room, literature, how to develop the curriculum. Not everything was established at once.
It is enough to say that the curriculum was formed by the staff of the school over seven years. To do that, they studied the experience of analogical schools of various Orthodox churches, the Roman Catholic Church, and Protestant churches. The curriculum is designed for children from 5 to 14 and, what is interesting, also for adults, including older people.
Children at the school learn well-known concepts of Christian church life. The teachers give close attention to laying the foundations for the general worldview of the child. They stimulate the child’s desire to live by faith. It is a three-level school: the first level is represented by children who know nothing of Christianity; the second level includes “church-reared” children, who live the parish life of the community; and the third level includes persons who have learned Christ’s teaching and can be teachers themselves. Many of them continue to study in seminaries. About two dozen of the school’s graduates have become priests and one became a bishop of the UOC-KP (Ioan Yaremenko, Cherkasy).
Today, 380 children study at the school. The school occupies several church rooms. General education events are held on the fourth floor of St. Michael’s Church. The experienced teachers use modern audio and video equipment in the educational process. The school runs numerous circles: needlework, folklore, fine arts, choral singing, various sports circles. The school has three pianos and a grand piano. It has become a tradition to hold all-school days of health, when the whole school goes out to a forest on a fine day to participate in numerous sports events. It would be a mistake to think that the school stops its activities in summer: each year, 300-400 pupils of the Sunday school improve their health in summer camps.
I think it is time for the attentive reader to ask about the sources of financing for the Sunday school. The teachers of the school work on a charitable basis and receive no salary. Only local benefactors, who are not indifferent to the fate of the Orthodox church, substantially help the school.
Today, much is said about inter-denominational understanding in society and the cooperation of Christian churches in the field of charity and social ministry. The Sunday school of St. Michael’s Parish of Zhytomyr establishes this in deed and not in word and is a good example to other churches.
This text was posted on RISU’s Ukrainian-language site on 12 May 2006.