Religious education: Youth
The Russian Orthodox Church has at its disposal a very large network of Sunday schools throughout the country, which, being actually institutions for additional education, have involved dozens of thousands of children from the age of 4 to 13. In this area the Church has accumulated a considerable experience. However, the attendance of Sunday schools by 14-16 year-old teenagers is more an exception than a rule. This can be accounted for by the fact that the traditional forms and methods of educational work in Sunday schools, except for those used in art workshops, are unacceptable in fact in the work with teenagers of this age group who refuse to accept them. As a result, these teenagers are left out of the church system of additional education. They tend to become indifferent and apathetic and often leave the Church.
In search for ways out of the situation, the Church has blessed the establishment of a Methodology Research Center of Orthodox Pedagogy. It has set as one of its tasks to carry out educational and formational work with teenagers and to develop non-traditional methodologies of education. Being a non-commercial association of volunteers supported by donations, the Center is engaged in developing methods and forms of formation and spiritual guidance.
At present the Center is developing its work in the following areas:
Developing pedagogical technologies, forms and methods of work with Orthodox schoolchildren. At present, it is the most intensive effort of the Center. The following activities have been adopted as priorities:
The participants spent the second day at the Yasenevo Orthodox classical gymnasium. After a talk with the adults who shared their experience of family and professional life, they were divided into groups to discuss "Family", "Profession", and "State". The results of the discussion including conclusions and unsolved questions were reported to the issue meetings, which set up accents and offered ways of solving basic problems. In the evening a tea-party took place at which the two-day work was summed up in a preliminary way.
The third day was spent at the Academy of Slavic Culture (ASC). In the morning, the participants in the rally discussed the progress made under the City of Kitezh program of rallies. They observed that before the project started there were almost no contacts between Orthodox schools. Normally, much more attention is given to specific disciplines, while neither time nor energy is left for the problems of life and choice in life arising during the formation of a person. This situation only confirms the need to hold such activities as the City of Kitezh rallies. Such rallies, discussions and round-table conferences are also relevant because if in the past it was the Tradition that helped people to live and understood the Truth, nowadays, when traditions have survived in rather a meager condition, one has to fill in the gaps in understanding the Truth resulted from the historical developments of the last century.
In the afternoon, the participants were introduced to the Academy of the Slavic Culture. Several senior staff members explained the life of the Academy's preliminary classes, secondary school and higher education students, faculties and the areas in which the Academy works. The participants in the rally visited the Academy's chapel frescoed by students themselves, icon-painting workshop and small museum representing the Slavic way of life and culture.
The Citizens of Kitezh issue meeting discussed plans for the summer rally of Orthodox schoolchildren. The children and adults were divided into 8 groups of 4 or 5 people, each to prepare its own plan for the summer rally. When all the plans were heard out, it turned out that very many believed it necessary to conduct the rally in what tradition holds to have been the place of the City of Kitezh on Svetly Yar Lake. It was a surprise for all when the Academy proposed Novgorod as the place for the rally. On the whole, very many forms for the rally were proposed, including hikes to various places, Orthodox summer camps, etc. The final decision on the place, time and form of the rally is to be made by the Organizing Committee made up of members of the Methodology Research Center of Orthodox Pedagogy and all those participants in the previous rallies who want to contribute. The last day of the rally was concluded with a thanksgiving held in the Academy's chapel.
On the whole, the rally proved to be more productive than the summer one. Some teenager participants wrote reports in which they described their impressions in a fascinating detail and summed up the rally.
The second major direction in which the forms and methods of work with Orthodox schoolchildren are developed is reviewing studies and conferences of teenagers. This year, with the blessing of His Holiness Patriarch Alexy II of Moscow and All Russia and the support of Bishop Alexy of Orekhovo-Zuevo, a national review of studies and a conference of Orthodox schoolchildren are to be held under the motto "The Russia's Youth: Orthodoxy. Education. Science". They are organized by the Methodology Research Center, the Board of Orthodox Schools Directors and the Pleskovo boarding school. The primary aim of the review and the conference is to intensify the educational-practical and research work of Orthodox schoolchildren. This project is to be implemented in the two stages: a review of the studies made by schoolchildren and a conference to be held in September 2000. The nominations of the review and the conference are as follows:
The work of senior schoolchildren to prepare and implement independent projects appears to be interesting and promising. Thus, senior schoolchildren from the Pleskovo boarding-school have prepared a entrepreneurial project called "The City of Kitezh Creative Center". The project proposes to carry out the following activities:
Through participating in the project, many teenagers have joined the really practical work to design and implement various new resources or to use the available resources in a new, non-traditional, way. Properly speaking, it is entrepreneurial work, which has been given special attention since December 1999. The first practical results have already been achieved in this preparation for entrepreneurial activity.
Thus, Alexander Oblog, a 9-grader from the Pleskovo boarding-school, working under the Excursion and Pilgrimage Center project, designed and carried out an excursion to the New Monastery of the Saviour for all the participants of the City of Kitezh Winter-2000 rally.
A group of children from the Pleskovo boarding-school succeeded in preparing and conducting the City of Kitezh Winter-2000 rally of Orthodox youth. The rally had to be transferred from a place near Moscow to Moscow proper on a short notice, but the children managed to change its format in good time, to change the whole program of the rally and to conduct it on a high substantial and organizational level. Interestingly, the pattern of preparing and conducting the rally carried out by the children allowed to attract the necessary funds, which was about 7000 rubles, and to make the event cost efficient. Moreover, from the entrepreneurial point of view, the rally proved to be highly profitable. Indeed, the teenagers profited by acquiring new knowledge, expertise, organizational skills, designing abilities and new resources for realizing entrepreneurial initiatives in the forms of new business contacts and the awareness that with God's help they can work out and implement rather complex projects on their own. It is important to note that all the works to prepare and conduct the rally were carried out according to the design developed by the children on their own.
The Orthodox Kitezh-Grad newspaper for youth, another result of the entrepreneurial training of schoolchildren undertaken by the Pleskovo boarding-school, has already gained popularity in and outside Moscow. Four issues have come out in about 6 thousand copies. The newspaper is cost-effective. Adults still help the children to prepare and publish it. They participate in the making-up and proofreading. The editor-in-chief is also an adult, Rev. Maxim Pervozvansky. It is understandable because the circulation of the newspapers is rather large; it is distributed throughout the country, and it has been blessed by Patriarch Alexy II of Moscow and All Russia himself, and the responsibility therefore is too great for children.
All the above-mentioned projects are carried out at present on a regular basis. They have been adjusted technologically and can be translated to other educational institutions and other territories of the Russian Federation. We are ready to share our small experience in doing this job with others.
Summing up the experiment in the entrepreneurial training of schoolchildren from Orthodox-oriented educational institutions, it can be concluded that it has been highly effective. Even in the experimental stage when the organizers had more questions than answers to the question how of this should be carried in specialized educational institutions, the Center did more than it was normally achieved in the work with secular schools. We believe it to be especially significant that financial stimuli were not used to encourage teenagers. At the same time, all their entrepreneurial projects are socially significant and cost-effective, if measured not by ruble but by other, really entrepreneurial indications of profitability.
It is desirable, in our opinion, to make a broader use of the experience of children's additional education and to develop the practice of training Orthodox teenagers for the preparation and realization of entrepreneurial projects of social significance as a form social service. It is worth examining the possibility and desirability for groups of Orthodox students to participate in either the Moscow students' contest of entrepreneurial projects or to organize an independent contest for the Orthodox schoolchildren and students.
The development of individual educational and methodological aids for Orthodox-oriented educational institution. The aims of this work are as follows:
The Center has also published an educational and methodological aid for raising the level of teachers' skill in training teenagers for economic and entrepreneurial activity, which takes into account the Russian cultural, historical and ethnic-confessional peculiarities.
The examination of the actual state of Orthodox education in Russia is another major thrust in the work of the Center. Here the Center has set itself the following tasks:
The sociological surveys undertaken are of preliminary nature. At the same time, the data obtained have helped to become aware of the need to prepare and conduct an analysis of the state of the religious and ethical education of the Russian youth.
Cooperation with Orthodox pedagogical public bodies. Among the concrete results of the work in this area is the active participation of the Center in the Conference on "The 21st Century ¾ the Era of Spiritual Enlightenment" which was held by the Heirs of Alexander Nevsky society in October 1999. The Center also managed to take part in the national reflection-action conference on "Additional education for children in Russia: Problems and prospects of development in the 21st century", which took place in November 1999. Among the speakers at the conference were Rev. Sergiy Rybakov and Rev. Maxim Pervosvansky. They managed to give Orthodox sounding to a number of problems discussed.
The Center has become member of the initiative group for a Union of Orthodox Educators, in which its workers are responsible for the theme of developing additional forms of children's education.
To establish a network for propagating information about the development of Orthodox pedagogy the Center has worked in the following directions:
As far as the material and technical equipment of the Center is concerned, the minimal conditions necessary for work have been created. With the blessing of Bishop Alexy of Orekhovo-Zuevo, the Center has been given room at the New Monastery of the Saviour. A modern computer with the necessary software has been installed to prepare publications, to create databases and to establish and maintain electronic contacts.
Though the Center has no formal legal status, it has worked actively for a year and a half now. At present it is engaged in implementing educational programs and, through the intercession of St. Sergius of Radonezh, the patron saint of all teachers and students, has made the first modest progress. The work of the Center has been rewarded with a letter of thanks from the Federation of the Independent Trade Unions in Russia.
The Center plans to develop in 2000-2001 the following new activities:
Address: Novospassky monastery, Krestyanskaya
Square 10, Moscow, Proletarskaya or Krestyanskaya Zastava metro stations.
In this complex situation, it is very important that all those who wish to help in any way to young people who just begin independent life should try to join their efforts.
One of possible methods of work with youth may be borrowed from the experience gained in the city of Podolsk near Moscow.
This spring, an Orthodox Youth Center has been organized in Podolsk. Lying in the basis of its work is the principle of close cooperation between the city administration and the Podolsk deanery. Organizationally, the Center is one of the structures of the city's Youth Committee, and its program is carried out in two major areas.
The first area is the participation of the Center's workers in the youth events held by the city administration. For instance, when the Youth Committee organized a festival devoted the Bimillennium of the Nativity of Christ, the Center's workers participated in almost all the events of the festival. Or another example, there is a hotline run by the Youth Committee to give psychological counsel to teenagers and youth. Under this project, an Orthodox priest keeps vigil once a week, which the hotline invariably mentions in its advertisement, and anyone can call and talk to the priest about his or her problems and receive advice about church life.
Another major task is to get the city administration involved in the events held by the Orthodox Youth Center. For instance, the city administration covered a considerable part of expenditures for the Orthodox summer camp organized at one of the churches of the Podolsk deanery. Besides, the Center has arranged regular pilgrimages and excursions for schoolchildren and students in Podolsk. The Youth Committee has assisted in organizing these activities by providing transport, equipment, advertising, etc.
It is early of course to speak today of any serious success achieved by the Orthodox Youth Center in Podolsk, as it has existed for only a few months. One would like to hope, however, that its work would become in the future a kind of link between the full church life and our society still far as it is today from appreciating Christian values.
Rev. Yevgeny Gening
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