Dear Orthodox Religious educators by dfgh4bnmu


									                                   Religious Education in Gauteng

                Conference on Orthodox Religious Education

                                         New Valamo, Finland

                                     28 July 2006 – 2 August 2006

                                    By Mikhail Christoforou
    Member of the Youth and Cultural Centre of the Holy Patriarchal Church of SS Cosmas and Damian
                                      Johannesburg, South Africa

Fellow Orthodox Religious Educators

This speech will create some awareness about religious education in the Gauteng Province in
South Africa.

I will provide information about our 1st Orthodox seminary - the Alexandrian Catechetical
School of Petros VII - which began three years ago. I shall speak about the private school
SAHETI which has served the educational needs of the Greek community of Johannesburg
for thirty years. I will provide information about missions that a group from our community
have been engaged with. And finally conclude with brief information about the number of
parishes, and the types of informal religious education that occurs.

I would like to begin my presentation with a quote from a Syndesmos online-text. The event
was the 7th International Consultation of Orthodox Theological Schools and the topic
Theological Education and Modernity by Archpriest Thomas Hopko:

   The task of Orthodox theological education is basically two fold. It is to affirm and
   explain the Orthodox Christian faith, and to assist believers in applying and practising
   this faith in their daily lives (Hopko 1994, 1).

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                        Valamo Lay Academy 28th July - 2nd August 2006 , Finland.
It is with joy that I shall now inform you of how these two conditions are being met by the
educators at our seminary which was established in September of 2003 with the blessings of
the late Patriarch of Alexandria and all Africa Petros VII, through his Eminence our
Metropolitan of Johannesburg and Pretoria Seraphim acting as dean and the pastoral care of
Fr. Athanasius Akunda as deputy dean and chief administrator – who originates from Kenya
and has studied in the USA. The seminary still needs work and funds in order to aspire to a
world class theological school, but its presence is already like a small flame that glows in the
heart of the eastern suburb of Yeoville - an area of Johannesburg which has unfortunately
entered a period of rapid urban decay and neglect following the end of apartheid. In the past
three years the school has enrolled twelve scholars, the most advanced being Father
Nectarios Mandipaushe, who is currently furthering his studies in Orthodoxy at your very
own Joensuu University.

The seminary has 13 experts as lecturers including Archbishop Seraphim and Fr. Athanasius.
The following courses have been established to make up the syllabus offered:
1) Church History and Missiology
2) Patrology
3) Dogmatics
4) English: grammar and literature
5) Religious Education
6) Catechism
7) Liturgical Theology
8) Teliturgics
9) Old and New testaments
10) Orthodox Spirituality
11) Agiology
12) Ecology
13) Church Music
14) Hospital Ministry

While priesthood is the personal choice of each graduate, they are all expected to do
missionary work, preferably returning to their own ethnic group. The seminary’s teaching
methodologies are geared to instilling a well rounded holistic education in its graduates that

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                        Valamo Lay Academy 28th July - 2nd August 2006 , Finland.
will prepare them for anything they may encounter in their missionary and pastoral
endeavors. The Religious Education course forces the students to apply the academics of
teaching Orthodoxy to the contemporary situation in which they live. They are taught the
subtleties of communicating with potential converts. The people that each graduate will
encounter in future missionary work will belong to a wide array of various cultural groups
and religious backgrounds. The students are well educated in the other religions in order to
be prepared for dialogue with one of these believers. They are trained in the ways of adapting
to the level of thought and understanding of each person that they will engage with - and with
sympathy for each person’s spiritual upbringing. An example of one of the ways in which
this is done is through peer to peer conversation. One will take the stance of an Orthodox
Christian missionary while the other will take the stance of a practitioner of a traditional
African religion, for example. The task will be for the training missionary to be challenged in
a rhetorical debate by his peer to prove why his religion is the truth and his peer’s isn’t. Thus
a simulation of a situation that a missionary will encounter on his path is created.
In an exam situation where one is expected to write about the works of the Holy Spirit, they
write about their own experience of divine grace in their lives and not merely to repeat was is
written in Holy Scripture.

Accommodation is provided for most of the students as their homes are usually too far for
them to travel back and forth during semester time. Students have total freedom to leave the
Seminary when ever they wish but they are warned that it will be at their own risk as crime is
a common occurrence in the surrounding area. They are trained to not only do the right thing
when they are being followed behind by there superiors. They learn the value of
responsibility in times and places where their superiors are not present, to understand that
what they do pleases God and is for there own benefit in many cases. Students also have
social times to go out and visit their friends or have fun, at least three times a week including
Saturdays. All of them join in cleaning, cooking and some times they are assigned to work in
groups. An opportunity is given to the students during a weekly meeting to speak openly
about anything that is troubling them and Fr Athanasius helps each one sort out there

The seminaries’ chapel provides the students the opportunity to lead an active ecclesiastical
life: Every day starts with an Orthros service at 7.00 (or 6.30 if there is a divine liturgy) and
ends with an Orthros and a Compline after Supper. All services are done in English and local

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                        Valamo Lay Academy 28th July - 2nd August 2006 , Finland.
dialects represented by the students and all are entitled to chant. Each third year student is
supposed to give a homily at least 4 times a semester after the Divine Liturgy.


SAHETI (South African Hellenic Educational and Technical Institute), established in 1974,
is as an English medium private school dedicated to providing a modern education, whilst
inculcating the ethos and values of Hellenism. These include the right to freedom, equality,
democracy and citizenship. It is a private school which includes classes from kindergarten
level to high school.

As part of the standard curriculum the subject Religious Studies (RS) is geared to address the
pupil’s spiritual needs as the greater majority of the almost 1000 students are orthodox. Non-
Orthodox members of the school are encouraged to treat this subject culturally and
academically which is done so in a spirit of tolerance and understanding. RS was taught since
the school began, in two basic directions: a general approach to religion dictated by the
Department of Education and an introduction to the Orthodox Faith taught by teachers of
Greek, since they were/are by-and-large, Orthodox in faith. The subject-direction changed
since 1990 with the arrival of Father Petros Parginos as resident priest. While still a layman,
but a member of the teaching staff, he reformed the RS syllabus which is taught in English.

The Kindergarten children learn to pray in Greek, in the well-known prayers such as: Aghios
O Theos (Holy God) – Christos Anesti (Christ has risen) – Pater Imon (Our Father) and have
visits from Father Petros as feast days arrive and as the need arises.
In the primary school (Grades 1 – 7) RS is part of the Greek curriculum taught with notes
taken from Father Petros' syllabus and text books of the Greek Ministry of Education. These
contain, among others, certain texts from the Old and New Testament. A basic acquaintance
is made with the element of Greek Orthodox teaching.
From grades 8 – 12 however each year is dedicated to focusing on a particular aspect of
religion. Subjects covered include:

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                        Valamo Lay Academy 28th July - 2nd August 2006 , Finland.
Grade     Subject
8         The Liturgical Year
9         Church History
10        The Orthodox Faith/Doctrine.
11        World Religions
12        Moral issues and ethics.

In the History subject the themes covered also provide knowledge of Church history due
them being a History of the Greek Nation who has always shared an inseparable life with the
Church. Subjects covered include:

Grade Historical Period
8       Byzantium
9       Modern Hellenic History
10      Ancient Hellenic History
11      Byzantium (In more depth than Grd 8)
12      Modern and Contemporary Hellenic History and the Diaspora

Learners are also taught about the other major religions in the world, such as Judaism, Islam,
Hinduism, Buddhism as well as traditional African Religion. Father Petros wants to instil
tolerance and sympathy in his pupils for people whose ways of worship are different,
especially since they are growing and living in the multi-cultural and pluralistic environment
that is South Africa.

The School Chapel opened its doors ten years ago but only served the needs of the school by
having week-day liturgies for the learners, weddings and baptisms for those past pupils of the
school that requested them. In May of 2005, the School Chapel opened as a fully functional
church. With the blessings of His Beatitude, Our Pope and Patriarch Theodoros II, and those
of His Eminence our Metropolitan Seraphim, the chapel now functions every Sunday and
feast-day and serves the needs of the school community and the community at large. His
Beatitude, recognizing the demands of the times and the needs of our youth and of Orthodox
faithful that are English-speaking, has decreed that the chapel will use English as its main
liturgical language.

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                         Valamo Lay Academy 28th July - 2nd August 2006 , Finland.
I asked Fr Petros what some of the problems are that he is challenged with in how pupils
react to religious education. He said that there is a lot of ignorance and unfortunately, some
indifference. Many of the pupils have been incorrectly taught from a young age by older
family members such as parents or grandparents. This then has to be corrected and replaced
with the truth. The pupils also tend to give an unnecessary amount of focus to small things
when a fundamental knowledge of basic principals is lacking. In the classroom many pupils
show interest in learning and ask questions, but the same degree of interest does not reflect in
their homework assignments. There are also fundamental problems with regard to church
life. Either the parents do not bring their children to Church on Sundays or they arrive late. Fr
Petros suggests this could be from the learners spending all week at school and therefore not
wanting to be there on Sundays also. Nevertheless he is trying to break this bad habit of lack
of punctuality by making parishioners aware that each part of the service is important for
them to celebrate in order to experience the beauty of the whole service.

It is the school’s intention that the chapel greatly contribute to rectifying many
misunderstandings and incorrect practices regarding the faith at a time when the faithful and
their children are being exposed to and bombarded with varying and conflicting messages.
Parents are encouraged to attend with their children, as the school would like children to
begin to see church as part of their lifestyle and as quality time that the whole family can
spend with God.

The chapel is open daily from 07h15 to 15h30 and many scholars make use of this time for
their daily devotions. Divine Liturgy is occasionally celebrated on weekdays and pupils
attend on a rotational basis. Classes are held in the chapel when the subject is appropriate.
Adult classes on religious issues, catechism and Bible study are held every Wednesday
evening in the school's chapel. There is a friendly and casual approach which encourages
persons to participate and ask probing questions.

It is strongly encouraged that parents bring their pre-school children to services as Holy
Communion is taken with great enthusiasm by many of the young ones, and as they get older
it is with more consciousness and understanding. Confession generally begins with pupils
from between 13 and 14 years old. Fr Petros is also a counsellor for all members of the
school community on a daily basis.

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                        Valamo Lay Academy 28th July - 2nd August 2006 , Finland.
In order to provide a holistic education, one that is hands-on and alive, a dynamic outreach
program requires each class to take up a project to assist disadvantaged people. For example
one of the grades may raise money for, or spend time with HIV/AIDS-orphans. Another
grade will be assigned to go and visit people in old age homes who have little contact with
the outside world. The younger grades will have the task of collecting old clothes and toys
for different charities. The school also involves the children in fund-raising activities where
monetary donations are given to various needy associations.

The pupils of SAHETI are offered a well rounded religious education and Fr Petros is a
loving spiritual father.


Through the endeavors, spiritual blessings and prayers of our late Patriarch Petros VII, and
his eminence Archbishop Seraphim we now have several mission congregations in the
northern part of the Archdiocese outside of the city of Pretoria composed of groups of people
in or near Soshanguve, Mamelodi, Dennilton and Eldorado Park in north-western Gauteng.
People in these places speak a variety of languages, including Tswana, Northern Sotho,
Tsonga, Ndebele and Zulu. Some liturgical texts have already been translated into Northern
Sotho and Tswana, and there is hope to get others translated when suitable translators can be
found. In Mamelodi a missionary gathering meets for Church services and a chapel has been
built in Eldorado Park south of Johannesburg, where there are a number of mainly Afrikaans
speaking coloured people, mainly children, who were baptised in July 2001. Fr Jacobus who
is Afrikaans-speaking serves the Divine Liturgy. There are other congregations that have
been formed in the North-West, Mpumalanga and Limpopo provinces. In July 2002 three
people from Soshanguve were baptised, and one of them, Johannes Rakumako, was sent to
the Patriarchal Seminary in Nairobi, Kenya, to train as a priest and has returned and been
ordained and now serves one of the mission congregations. A plot has been acquired in
Soshanguve on which a church will be built.

The monastery of St. Nectarios is the first to be established in our Archdiocese. It lies in a
peaceful and scenic area not more than 45 minutes drive from Johannesburg.                        It is
conveniently located to allow for day visits and short spiritual retreats by the Clergy of our

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                         Valamo Lay Academy 28th July - 2nd August 2006 , Finland.
Church and other volunteers from our community. The establishment of this centre of
Orthodox monasticism and practice close to Johannesburg will enrich many families own
Christian experience, helping all to engage in today's social, cultural, religious and ethical
dilemmas as an Orthodox witness. The intention of the St. Nectarios Monastery is to help
nurture the next generation of Orthodoxy Clergy and laity and to witness to the living
tradition of Orthodox Christianity and monasticism whilst at the same time providing a safe
and peaceful location for prayer, religious youth camps, seminars and other appropriate


Sunday Schools operate at all 19 churches of our Archdiocese. 16 are Greek, 1 Russian, 1
Romanian and 1 Serbian. The schools of all the parishes total 30, and there are 26 teachers. 5
of them teach higher level, 10 middle school level and 15 teach lower level. Through the
auspices of His Eminence Archbishop Seraphim once a month an educational pastoral
seminar is held for our teachers where they gain from lectures by expert guest speakers.
Every year an annual festival is organised for all the Sunday schools with religious plays and
poetry recitals.

I would lastly like to mention my spiritual father Fr. John Tsaftaridis who originates from
Zante (Zakinthos). Since 2001 he has endeavoured tirelessly and with love to create bonds
between people in our community - both orthodox and those of other faiths. His endeavours
include the organisation of various conferences and fascinating discussions aimed especially
at the youth (but appealing to all) addressing issues such as alcohol and drug abuse,
bioethics, stress, depression and aids from an orthodox point of view.

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                         Valamo Lay Academy 28th July - 2nd August 2006 , Finland.
Below find the contact details of the priests mentioned:

Fr. Akunda Athansius (Seminary):

Tel: (+2711) 648-7527

Fr. Petros Parginos (SAHETI):

Tel: (+2711) 453-8210

Fr. John Tsaftarides:

Tel: (+2711) 477-4005

Web site addresses of the Johannesburg and Pretoria Archdiocese and the whole of Africa:

Johannesburg and Pretoria:


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                           Valamo Lay Academy 28th July - 2nd August 2006 , Finland.

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