Source: Greek Orthodox Youth Online
One of the most difficult things facing Sunday School teachers, I believe, is having to combat with erroneous information communicated from home. Though parents, grandparents, Godparents, and extended family can be a great resource for children to learn about their faith, they can also deter children from discovering true Orthodoxy. Growing up, many of my relatives advised me on things ranging from fasting, to why it was important to partake in the sacrament of Holy Communion, to how to properly dress for church. As I grew more and more educated in my faith, I soon learned that not everything they told me was based on the teaching of the church, but rather their advice was associated with cultural practices. Many of my Sunday School students are at the age now where they are beginning to see the differences between being Greek Orthodox, and being Orthodox. With that in mind, many of them come to me disputing what their parents tell them, and looking for support in their own theories. While sometimes I correct any information I know to be untrue, other times I let them know that sometimes – mother knows best!
A few weeks ago one of my Sunday School students posed a very typical question. As she was dressing for church she happened to put on an anklet, and proceed downstairs to eat breakfast. Her mother, seeing the anklet, told her it was against our beliefs as Orthodox Christians and that she had to immediately remove it. My Sunday School student removed it, but also cleverly tucked it into her pursue in order to ask me later on in our lesson whether she, or her mother, was right.
I posed the question to my class, and listened for their responses: why would an anklet not be appropriate for church? The answers varied over a broad range but what I learned was that often kids know the answers to their own questions but are afraid of being mistaken.
Wearing anklets is no different than wearing pants to church for a female, or wearing jeans as a male. Nor is it different than wearing any other fancy jewellery, or styling hair in an exaggerated fashion, or wearing make up to church. In all of these cased one has to consider three different people to look at: ourselves, others around us, and our relationship with God.
Though we are supposed to wear our best to church, we are supposed to do so in a respectful manner. We must respect the sanctity of our bodies, and our surroundings. By wearing things, like anklets, we attract attention to ourselves and away from God. Though seemingly harmless, trinkets and distinct accessories that we wear distract others from both praying and becoming one with God.
Another thing we must look at is why we wear things to attract attention to ourselves? Not only are we supposed to stay humble, but we’re also supposed to stay detached from worldly possessions. Materialism and vanity lead us further and further away from the road towards Christ.
In the end, another one of my Sunday School students pointed out another distraction the anklet presented: instead of talking about our planned lesson we spent the time talking about what was and was not appropriate to be wearing in church. With our discussion coming to an end, many of my students realized that “just because” was not the only answer to their questions about customs and the church. More importantly, the following week, my students who was once disappointed about not being able to wear her anklet came bouncing into class proud to tell me that she taught her mom some of the reasons why she shouldn’t – and that was exactly what she should have been doing – talking about God and church with her family, and learning with them.
Joanna is the Publications and Youth Leaders Meeting Co-ordinator of the Metropolis Youth Board. She attends All Saints Greek Orthodox Church in Toronto, serving as a dedicated Sunday School teacher. She is studying to become a History/English teacher.