By looking at some of the patristic writers we can glean a few ideas or ideals which they held concerning Christian education. Christianity came into a world which was on the verge of great change and Christianity itself was to be a catalyst to that change. The religious world view was about to shift from what has been described by historians of religion as an archaic perspective to an historic one. This followed the axial period of religious development which had occurred some 500 years before the birth of Christ. This shift in perspective is not unlike the one in which (at least according to some interpreters of culture) we are currently experiencing (the shift from what has been termed the modern world view to what is being called post-modern is for some the new axial age). The early Christians were able to distinguish a theology of education with specific goals and methods which were different from that of the pagan world which surrounded them. This is something which we must continue to do today in the changing world in which we live.
The Patristic period resisted a mass approach to education, rejecting a one-size-fits-all approach to education. Instead they emphasized the need to shape the educational endeavor to the individual needs and capabilities of their varied students. Though their methodology focused on holiness and wisdom (a practical and practiced approach to Christian education), the bottom line goal was to know God. A good amount of the training was practical, experiential, taught in the forum of a few disciples learning from their Master (even when it was children learning from their Christian parents). Learning from example, imitation of the Lord and of the Saints, role modeling, and learning virtuous living from the lives of the saints (story telling), were all used to help attain the goal.
The task for Orthodox religious educators today remains discerning what are the methods, goals and underlying theology which we need as we face the Twenty-First Century. What can we learn from the early centuries of Christianity which will help us in our current situation? This means not simply imitating their methods but gaining the wisdom to know which methods to use today at the appropriate times, and also determining when creative solutions are called for.
This blog is based upon an article I wrote in 1998 which itself consisted of a few excerpts from a much longer paper I wrote on Christian education years earlier. I hope in the near future to be able to “translate” this longer manuscript into a blog series. Blog bytes are more digestible to most than long articles. Bullet points might be even more acceptable to a greater number of people but I haven’t learned Power Point to be able to reduce all information to that level.