In the last few weeks, my priest approached me and asked that I become involved with the Church School on Sunday mornings. As One Lately Come, I was humbled that he would do such a thing, to be sure! I do it with his blessing.
Sunday Schools, or Sunday Church Schools are, from what I can see, a re relatively "new" in Orthodoxy, although one dear friend told me of her childhood in Greece, where the children gathered in mid to late afternoon every Sunday for catechesis. As she said, this is the way it was. No one really questioned it. Children were involved in Orthros and Divine Liturgy (as parents guided them) in the morning, and in the afternoon they were instructed.
In many Orthodox communities, Church School overlaps Divine Liturgy: the children receive the Holy Mysteries, and then they go to their classes. Of course, this means that they and their teachers miss the closing prayers of the Liturgy -- and in some cases the time for instruction varies greatly, depending on what is happening that Sunday.
It seems to me than an "ideal" would be a distinct time period for Church School -- something that does take place in many Orthodox communities. Orthros at 8, Church School at 9, Divine Liturgy at 10. In other places the Church School follow Orthros and Divine Liturgy and has a set period.
It will be interesting to see how we grow in this area.
In one sense, a family that regularly participates in Vespers, Orthros, and Divine Liturgy will pray much of what is commonly taught in "Sunday Schools." The lessons, psalms, prayers and hymnody convey all that is needful.
Church Schools do not replace prayer, fasting and catechesis in the home. Icon corners, prayer books and discipline are a blessing, never merely an option in this society of ours. It is troubling to see many families ignoring the fasts of the year, not using the prayers of the church in the home.
Children of every age are to be brought to and participate in the liturgical services of the church. They learn from early on that this is part of our life in Christ, and that it most certainly is not something just for adults. The practice of coming in at any point in the Divine Liturgy must be discouraged, for it teaches children that this isn't for them or that it is no important. Children should learn the acts of piety from parents at an early age -- making the sign of the Holy Cross, venerating icons, bowing one's head, standing at appropriate points in the service. As soon as possible the "toys" that are often brought should be eliminated.
The Church school should teach the faith, reinforcing that which is practiced in the Divine Liturgy and that which is practiced in the home.
The ongoing catechesis of the whole community is important -- the idea here is not that we "pass another test" or that we get points for another course. What is prayed is what is practiced, and what is practiced is what is prayed. One of our teachers said recently that one of the children in her care wondered at one part of the ceremony of the Divine Liturgy -- but she was not able at that point to explain it to him. That is the connection, isn't it? We receive what Holy Mother has given, and we practice as she has taught us, and we continually grow in greater understanding throughout our lives together in Christ
I'm looking forward to seeing more of Christ's blessings in our endeavor!
Glory to God for all things!