Weeks of preparation for the new ecclesiastical year and the beginning of a new year of formal parish education at St. Stephen Serbian Orthodox Church in Lackawanna culminated in a festive church school and Tammies registration day on Sunday, September 12, 2021. Upon the recommendation of the Eastern American Diocesan Department of Christian Education, Father Vladislav Golić, and Popadija Sara introduced a new model for children’s religious education. Coupled with the children’s program, to be accompanied by a novel educational outing, is the continuation of the popular adult education lecture series. At a planning meeting, proposing to implement a curriculum entitled Orthodox Journeys for the 2021-2022 church school year, Father Vladislav presented it to the teachers, Deacon Steven Gjurich, Reader Gregory Korbut, Protinica Victoria Trbuhovich, Popadija Sara Golić, and Nancy Mondich, who unanimously supported its use.
On Sunday morning, already in the parking lot one could feel the sense of excitement as parishioners warmly greeted one another after summer vacations, travel to Serbia, and the long period of isolation necessitated by the COVID-19 pandemic. Aside from the usual preparatory portion of the liturgy, the proskomedia, a blessing of new vestments preceded the Liturgy of the Word. The parishioners of St. Stephen Church are grateful to the Mazaris family, owners of the nearby Apollo Restaurant, for their more-than-generous donation of three sets of vestments for the clergy—priest and deacon—and the altar servers. A full complement of men and boys, donning the varied colored stihars, and the welcome return of a full choir provided a prayerful atmosphere.
At the end of the liturgy, following the invocation of the Holy Spirit at the beginning of instruction and the blessing of the children with holy water, Father Vladislav blessed the backpacks that the children had arranged at the front of the church and gave each child a small cross to attach to his backpack as a further blessing to carry to school.
Early morning activity also included the preparation of the annual Tammies’ Brunch. The parent organization of the tamburica and dance group served an ample, delicious breakfast, after which Father Vladislav gave a presentation of the educational plans for the coming year.
The primary focus of the children’s education program is the Orthodox Journeys curriculum, with a weekly themed set of lessons geared toward various age groups. The intention is to provide every family, each week via email, a parents’ guide sheet and a children’s packet to introduce the next week’s lessons. Parents are encouraged to select age-appropriate topics from the guide sheet to discuss with their children in preparation for Sunday, when the children will receive a duplicate packet during their instructor-led class. Teachers will have additional materials to augment the packets as they develop lessons geared for their classes. As always, the teachers will incorporate instruction related to the yearly liturgical cycle, the fasts and feasts, liturgical music, church history, lives of saints, and other topics as Father Vladislav directs them.
More than 50 children registered for the Christian education classes at this back-to-school event. Many of them opted to continue with or join the Tammies and Dancers group, which has been part of the church school program since its inception. Another option for children’s education this year will be an online school of Serbian language, culture, and tradition, through a curriculum entitled, Sava.
Father Vladislav intends to resume adult education via Zoom gatherings, discussing the Gospel of St. Mark. This program, well attended last year, will again be offered on alternate Tuesday evenings for Serbian language speakers and on alternate Wednesday evenings for English language speakers. Participants will have the opportunity to ask questions and discuss other topics of interest to them and on which they seek deeper understanding, ranging from the most elementary to complex theological questions. Adults are also invited to participate in two pilgrimages to monasteries: Holy Transfiguration Monastery in Ellwood City, Pennsylvania, and St. Sava in Libertyville, Illinois.
A new children’s extra-curricular activity this year will be a trip to see the production depicting the life of the Holy Prophet King David at the Sight and Sound Theater in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. Not “theater-in-the-round,” but “theater-on-three-sides,” this unique venue annually produces a Biblically themed play with an extensive cast and extraordinary effects, including live animals. It is reported to be a captivating production that holds the attention of even the youngest children while presenting a Biblical story that they will not forget. To provide fellowship with their Orthodox Christian peers, the excursion will continue, taking the children to St. Nicholas Church in Steelton, Pennsylvania, where they will have a camp-out night and other activities with the youth of that parish, potentially including a visit to Hersheypark.
Without a doubt, every person who participated in the Divine Liturgy, partook of the Holy Mysteries, witnessed the joy of the children, enjoyed the brunch, heard the presentation, and shared in the fellowship of this back-to-school event is looking forward to a productive year of learning. With God’s help and through the prayers of his Most Holy Mother and St. Stephen the First Martyr and Archdeacon, may the faithful of the parish live their lives “more abundantly,” as the priest prays at the liturgy, through their participation in Eucharist, love, and education.