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OSSAE OKR-Delhi Diocese

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MESSAGE BY OSSAE PRESIDENT H. G. Dr Yakob Mar Irenaios

THE JOYFUL EXPERIENCE CALLED SUNDAY SCHOOL
(Dr. Yakob Mar Irenaios Metropolitan)

The fundamental premise of education is that, it has to be a joyful experience for both the teacher and the student. This equally applies to both the involved "parties" in this process, for; they are the actors and beneficiaries of this most traditional human venture. Actually, this totally human endeavor is as old as old as humanity itself. Human beings are educated, and not "trained", as in the case of animals. Learning, which starts the day a person is born into this world, (or even earlier), has for its sources, varied elements in society. Humans learn from nature, from books, from other human beings; and of course, from one's own conscience. Because learning starts so early in life, the schedule of education needs to get activated early. In this deliberate or informal learning process, parents, relatives, friends, media; and social institutions – secular and religious – do play critical roles.

Learning, whether secular or religious, follows certain patterns, and follows certain natural rules. This is the reason why the Sunday school has to observe seriously the structures and designs developed in secular education as well. The Sunday school has its own objectives and aims, as part of the teaching ministry of the Church; however, it need to be "scientific" 'fruitful" and "credible'. Lord Jesus Christ exhorted his disciples to go out into the world and "teach" the nations. Hence, it is a divine assignment for the Church to teach.

In the case of Jesus, the divine teacher, he is never seen to teach his disciples formally. But he taught – and the disciples and the people learned from him. Here, learning took place in a relationship of love, and a desire for the benefit and well- being of the learner. Here the Guru is not just a person, but a principle, a tradition. He was talking about life in earth and heaven, and their relationship, and the need for love, service and repentance. These were 'life-issues', which were of concern to the people at large. The people found that his words were relevant for their life – hence they listened to him eagerly. It carries a message for teachers and educators everywhere, that the learning material has to be, and should be seen to be, relevant and significant to life. Otherwise, however big the lesson may be, at least the students may not be much interested in it. "Why should I study this?" is a pretty pertinent question, which shall first be addressed by the educator, who sits down to shape and fix the curriculum for schools!

Because the Sunday school is also a "school", this aspect shall be taken care of, by the church and the church educator. Often, the lessons in the Sunday school schedule, may be looked upon as "other worldly", and not much relevant to the present realities. The point which shall be brought home to the learner is that life in this world is tied up with that in the eternal world; and that one leads to the other. The people of Jesus' times were interested in such matters as well.

It is acknowledged that learning everywhere, has to be a joyful experience for the learner, and not a burden. Actually, the proof of learning is the joy and sense of fulfillment resulting from the new 'behavior' developed. Real learning comes in the form of a new awareness, a new illuminationand a new brilliance. There is substance in the observation that all real learning comes from God; it is the Holy Spirit who directs it and helps us learn. The Prophecy says that everyone shall be taught by God (Isaiah 55:13). That obviously is a pointer. God has given the promise that He makes everything new; learning comes afresh, and makes the learner new.

In learning, 'connections' do matter a lot. The learner makes sense of the many learning items, by making it comprehensive, through establishing meaningful connections among learning elements. Learning is a continuum; every new aspect of knowledge is in the context of, and adding to the knowledge corpus till date. Thus, past, present and future count in education; there is an obvious connection between all the three. This principle is very significant in the Sunday school too. The Old Testament always points to the mysteries explained in the New Testament. And, the New Testament recalls earlier prophesies and mystical experiences to interpret the salvific events. This is applicable even in Church history. Though time passes, there is an unseen continuity and 'flow' in history. The undying 'vision' of the Church Fathers is relevant and valuable for all times.

Nevertheless, it is significant that the family has a decisive role in the spiritual and moral development of children. Actually, the Sunday school develops on the "foundation" of Christian life laid in the family. The "Orthodox atmosphere" in the family is the life- breath of the early spiritual development of children. Learning in Sunday school shall always be connected meaningfully to life at home and in society. Unless this is accomplished, children who are growing up may find many discrepancies and disconnections between what they imbibe in the Sunday school, and the 'real' life elsewhere. Slowly, they need to be apprised of what is real, what is apparent and what is sham in human life. They need to cultivate such distinctions in their practical Christian life.

Like every other "school", the Sunday school also needs to prepare and groom the young ones for life. The Church needs workers functioning in different capacities in it. Whatever 'call' each person receives, it has to be illuminated in the context of the concerns of the Church. Stories of the saintly monks in Christian monasticism, and those of martyrs, can really inspire the young people; and instill in them a sense of purpose in life. In many ways, a Christian is an "apostle." Every person has to fulfill certain divinely assigned responsibilities. The Church is never a worldly institution, running after power and money; and has to "show" that in its life. Young people, being idealistic, shall be attracted by a serving and suffering Church!

The onus of communicating the Christian 'message' to our children rests mainly with the Sunday school teachers, who are actually engaged in the "teaching mission" of the Church. Hence, they always need to entertain such a vision based on a rare sense of dedication. The Guru, here, is not a formal and professional individual, but a parent and mentor to the pupils. The life of the Guru counts a lot; since, as different from the secular school, the Sunday school in concerned about the meaning of life and the ultimate destiny of humanity. It shall always remain attached to the local parish church and the celebrations of the sacraments. The holy Bible, the writings of the Fathers and the holy Liturgy, shall serve as a bridge between the life of students in the community and their "citizenship" in heaven.

Therefore, the Sunday school cannot afford to be drudgery for the students; it has to appeal to the mind and conscience of the learners. Of course, this is achieved through lessons, exercises and practical experiences in the church and the community. It thus becomes very obvious that the teaching ministry of the Church is shared by the liturgical activities in the church, and the dynamic uninterrupted functioning of the Sunday school. So, every parish has to provide for the Sunday school in the best manner possible.

One serious handicap with our Sunday school practice, is lack of proper space, and adequately trained teachers. The latter issue is partly solved by the in-service programmes and the new orientation in the curriculum of the two terminal classes. There are only very few parishes, which can provide an "educational space" for conducting classes. This malady is not easy to be corrected. Each parish has to plan andprovide a proper space and an educational environment for the Sunday school. The space and physical provisions in today's Sunday school classes largely fail to convey the message that it is also a school; and thus attract the children towards it. This larger issue shall be addressed at some point, in order to make our church education programme more fruitful and relevant.