Introducing Orthodox culture into the school curriculum
- 2004.10.02 Sedmitsa:
Introducing the Foundation of Orthodox culture into the school curriculum:
pro et contra (TV programme, 02.10.04)
The Orthodox Encyclopaedia TV programme, aired on the TVC channel 02.10.04
Due to the Archpastors Council of the Russian Orthodox Church, the script
of the TV programme shown on October 2 could not be published directly
after the broadcast
Father Alexiy Uminskiy, presenter: - Good morning, you are watching The
Orthodox Encyclopaedia. Today, when teachers receive best wishes on their
professional holiday, we decided to talk about school. We are waiting that
the school will provide our children not only with education, but with
upbringing. Whom, then, and how does the modern school bring up? It is
obvious that an individual is formed through the study of literature,
history and culture. More and more people realise that the centuries-old
Russian history and culture are rooted in Orthodoxy. What do today's
schoolchildren know about Orthodoxy? What is the state's attitude to
teaching the Foundations of Orthodox culture at schools? Today, we are
going to talk about it with Olga Vasilyeva, Doctor of History, chairman of
the Religious studies department at the Russian Presidential Academy of
Civil Service. You are welcome to call our studio and ask your questions.
Our quiz today is also connected with education. Do you know which
educational institution the young Mikhail Lomonosov enrolled to having
arrived to Moscow to study? You can send your answers to our pager, and the
winner will get a volume of the Orthodox Encyclopaedia.
Among this week's events in church life the most prominent is of course the
preparation for the Archpastors Council.
Item: Preparing the Archpastors Council
On the eve of the Archpastors Council, on October 1, the members of the
Holy Synod of the Russian Orthodox Church gathered in the Patriarch's
residence in Chistiy pereulok. The meeting, presided at by His Holiness the
Patriarch, was dedicated to the aims and tasks of the approaching
Archpastors Council, which will be opened on October 3 with a celebratory
divine service in Christ the Saviour's Cathedral. During the following five
days, the participants of the Council will discuss the prospects of reunion
with the Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia, the issue of general
consecration of some local saints, among them, the famous Moscow saint, St.
Matrona. The issues of church law courts and the Church's social service
will also be discussed. The Archpastors Council will end on October 8, in
the Lavra of the Holy Trinity and St. Sergius, on the memory day of St.
Item: The Land Act
The lands that belonged to the Church before the 1917 revolution, and were
then nationalised and confiscated, will be partially restored to the
rightful owner. On September 24, the State Duma passed a bill that will
make possible the gratis transfer of land under churches and temples to
religious organisations. The absolute majority of the MPs voted in favour
of the bill.
But even so, the Church does not become the landowner, it will simply be
able to use the lands that belonged to it once. The land that religious
buildings stand on is given over to the Church for unlimited utilisation,
until the religious organisation itself ceases to exist.
The document was ratified by the Senate and all that is needed now is the
President's signature. The MPs believe that the act will restore justice to
a certain degree, although it is clear already that it is only able to
resolve a twentieth part of problems in this sphere.
Item: "The Cross in Russia" album. Presentation in St. Daniel's' monastery
"The Cross in Russia" - this is the title of the album presented to the
public in Moscow's St. Daniel monastery. The authors dedicated their unique
effort to the 700th anniversary of the repose of St. Prince Daniel of
Moscow. The album shows the variety of images that the main symbol of
Christianity exists in, the role that the cross has played in our country's
Philaret, Metropolitan of Minsk and Slutsk, the Patriarch's Exarch in
Byelorussia: - This album shows Russia's love to its cross.
It took the writers five years to collect all the necessary source
material. The book contains several hundred pictures of crosses of various
forms: new and old, personal, pectoral crosses, reliquaries and veneration
crosses . The book contains fourteen tales on Russia's miracle-working
crosses, among them crosses that belonged to great Russian saints. The
authors found out the tales about forgotten shrines themselves in faraway
Svetlana Gnutova, compiler: - We wanted this book to be a celebration of
Christianity's most important symbol, we wanted it to be optimistic and
very well made.
Archimandrite Alexis, Deputy of St. Daniel's monastery: - This album is not
only useful, it is also very interesting and colourful. I think we will all
benefit from reading this wonderful book.
The album is unique on many counts: the majority of the crosses have never
been presented to the public before. The writers and compilers are already
thinking of making a new volume.
Item: The artwork of Priest Sergiy Kashevnik on show
Priest Sergiy Kashevnik's childhood dream was to study insects. But he
didn't become an entomologist, the Lord had another vocation in store for
him. But his holy orders did not make him stop loving these wonderful
Priest Sergiy Kashevnik: - These pictures are a result of my love to
nature, especially to insects. This is a living, stunning beauty, absolute
harmony. The butterflies express the divine nature of the creation. They
are perfect creatures.
The priest from a village in the Moscow region calls his art realistic. The
material that he uses is also 100% natural: wood, flowers and butterflies.
And light, which always accompanies beauty.
Priest Sergiy Kashevnik: - The stunning thing about butterflies is that
they conduct light, it's easy to see in the pictures. They reflect and
Father Sergiy's works open our eyes to a simple truth: the way from the
transient to the eternal is very short. The artist is dreaming to create a
monumental picture the size and shape of a tropical tree. To achieve this,
he is going to Malaysia, where butterflies are hunted all year round.
Father Alexiy Uminskiy: - The topic of our programme today is studying
Orthodox culture at school. As soon as the Russian Orthodox Church started
to speak out on the necessity of introducing this subject to schools,
society was torn apart by arguments. What is the problem? Our expert speaks
on the issue:
Alexander Zhuravskiy: - For several years, discussion has never stopped
around the problem of teaching the foundations of religious knowledge at
schools. The discussion is mostly centred around the Foundations of
Orthodox culture, although it is well known that in such regions as
Bashkiriya or Tatarstan the foundations of Islam and Islamic culture are
taught freely and for quite a long time.
This discussion has several aspects, and the first is what exactly we are
teaching, what the contents of this course is. Here the opponents have
different views. Some think that the foundations of Orthodox culture,
religious culture have to be taught, others say that it would be better to
teach history of world religions. Some think that nothing at all should be
taught in this area, for example, some human right defenders who think that
any knowledge of religion given in a state school is against the
Constitution, which is of course wrong. These people believe that anything
the Church has to offer is a priori religious, and in this way religion is
trying to infiltrate the state lay schools.
On the other hand, there were attempts to introduce subjects that looked
like Catechism in the guise of cultural studies. At the same time, there is
a brilliant textbook on Foundations of the Orthodox culture, written by
Father Boris Pivovarov.
Another aspect of discussion in society is the place that this course
should take in the curriculum: should this be a component obligatory for
all state schools, a regionally managed component or an optional course.
The Foundations of Orthodox cultures can be successfully taught regionally.
Moreover, we know that in many areas, the Foundation of Orthodox culture
and cultures of other religions are successfully taught. The present senior
officials of the Ministry of education say that the History of religions
should become a course obligatory for all state schools in the country.
This can give a way for future work. What matters is not the name of the
course but its content, and the Church should be open for social discussion
Father Alexiy Uminskiy: - Our guest in the studio today is Olga Vasilyeva,
Doctor of Histpry. Good morning. So, we have outlined the issue. What do
you think would be the best way for our schoolchildren and students to
receive information in Orthodoxy, and should they receive any at all?
Olga Vasilyeva: - I believe both schoolchildren and college students need
to get some knowledge of Orthodoxy. And, as your expert has just said, this
knowledge is partly contained in established school courses: Literature,
National history, History of art and so on. But I think that this is not
enough, and that we have to think together and produce a special course on
this issue. The question is what kind if course and how to teach it.
Father Alexiy Uminskiy: - While preparing this show, we have visited a
state school and looked at the teachers' and pupils' attitude to Orthodoxy.
Item: State school
This is a usual Moscow school with a standard curriculum. The Foundations
of the Orthodox culture are not taught here. And event the politically
correct History of religions is absent form the schedule. And the answers
to the question if a lesson in Orthodox culture is necessary, differ:
Tikhon Grebennikov, pupil, School no. 247: - When they start to study some
religion, those who have another religion won't understand, and then
there'll be fights and things in the school, because of your religion.
Irina Markova, pupil, School no. 247: - I think that if we have children of
another religion in the class, it will be hard for them if we only study
Christianity. And they are, say, Muslims. They'll be hurt.
Orthodoxy is still an unusual phenomenon in the modern school. Children
know very little about religion and about Orthodoxy in particular, and do
not discuss faith with one another. That is why very often, they do not
understand their classmates who are believers.
The children who come to the Sunflower Orthodox club for children and
teenagers, organised by the church of St. John the Theologian in the
village of Mogiltsy near Sofrino, know from their own experience what it
means to be a church-going school pupil.
Anastasiya Zaytseva, Sunflower Orthodox club for children and teenagers: -
The problem is that I wear a skirt to the school and not trousers. And when
I start explaining what faith is, what Orthodoxy is, they don't understand me.
Kristina Naumova, Sunflower Orthodox club for children and teenagers: -
When I was just starting to go to church, every time a fast began, our
teacher would start organising trips pr discos. Most of the time I just
don't come, and the teacher has stopped paying any attention to me, she
pays more attention to the other kids now.
Thus, the teachers' 'tolerance' hurts, only this time it is the little
believer who suffers. And yet, there is still no subject in any school that
would help a child, believer or non-believer, to find moral guidelines,
spiritual values, that would shape him or her as an individual. It is
thought that the school curriculum is quite enough for that.
Eteri Tsurkan, teacher of history, School no. 247: - Of course I think that
we, Orthodox Christians, must know the history of religion, the history of
our Church. But we give this information constantly within the course of
History. There isn't a single topic in Russian cultural studies that
doesn't touch upon the Orthodox heritage.
Maybe the information that the school curriculum gives is enough. But not a
lot of children know that Ilya Muromets is not a fairy-tale character, but
a Russian saint, that St. Petersburg was named not after Peter the Great,
but after Peter the Apostle; that the whole Russian army, together with
Field marshal Kutuzov, prayed before the icon of Our Lady of Smolensk on
the eve of the battle of Borodino. Not a single modern history textbook
contains this information. But there is extensive information on Tutankhamun...
Eteri Tsurkan, teacher of history, School no. 247: - I'm strongly against
priests teaching this course. It must be a teacher. I'm not saying it has
to be a school teacher, a history teacher. It might be a teacher with a
Father Iliya Zubriy, Rector of the church of St. John the Theologian, Head
of the Sunflower Orthodox club for children and teenagers: - I don't think
the issue should be artificially complicated like this. A priest is a
member of the society like everyone else. I think it would be interesting
for children to talk to a priest, to ask him what defined his choices, why
he became a priest, why he thinks that a person needs spiritual life like air.
For more than 70 years of atheistic state, the majority of people ceased to
understand that Christianity, Orthodoxy is not only the object of religious
studies, but the foundation of the whole Russian life and culture, the
foundation of our moral beliefs. Unwillingness to know anything about your
nation's spiritual life is tantamount to forgetting your own roots. And a
tree, as we all know, cannot grow without roots.
Father Alexiy Uminskiy: - Many people complain about the lack of spiritual
values in the modern society, in our children. They say that even the
Soviet children were morally purer and better brought up. In those days,
ideology was the instrument of upbringing. A lot was wrong in it, no doubt,
but at the same time it is obvious that most of the moral values were based
on Gospel truths, on Christian morals, even then. Is there a similar
instrument of upbringing today?
Olga Vasilyeva: - I can give a very short answer to your question. I think
that in the school that we have lost, the instrument of upbringing was
really very strong and obvious. Actually, personally I believe that the
family should bring a person up first and foremost, and not those school,
but our tradition has always made the school responsible both for education
Nowadays we don't have anything of the kind, and I call this generation a
lost generation. I think that many teachers will agree with me. I just want
to say, that, as a historian, I can say that this is connected to what
happened to our country as a whole. A country ceased to exist, it's not
there on the map any longer. The ideology that gave people certain moral
guidelines also disappeared, and nothing came to take its place. And that
is why we have started to recall our toots, it stands to reason. But to be
perfectly honest, we have to say that our people have always been
religious. I work in the archives of the 1970-s, and I become more and more
convinced. It's wrong to say we were all atheists without exception.
Father Alexiy Uminskiy: - Certainly, I was a school pupil myself in the
19790-s and I became a believer in those atheistic times, probably no
thanks to the school, in spite of the school more likely, but anyway, it
happened. But nowadays, many people believe that the Foundations of the
Orthodox culture course could become this missing defining instrument at
school. We have asked people in the streets. Let's see what they have answered:
Item: Questioning the passers-by
- It will be much better, people will start to understand one another better.
- I think it's very good for general education.
- Children are very susceptible to religion at that age, and if this is
introduced against their will, I think it will be wrong.
- I think that children should make their choice, I think this course must
- What's the point of separating culture as a whole and Orthodox culture.
What's the difference?
- It will be a waste of time and the kids will become confused, because
they will say one thing at one lessons and completely different things at
- I think nowadays, in view of all the current affairs, it's a necessary
course. Let the kids believe in God, and not stand about in dark lanes
shooting drugs and all.
Father Alexiy Uminskiy: - A lot of people don't understand the difference
between Catechism and the Foundations of the Orthodox culture. They suspect
the Church of trying to start a religious mission in state schools. But
what we are talking about is not preaching of faith but teaching the
foundations of Russian culture. And the question arises, who can teach this
course? Does a priest fit a school?
Olga Vasilyeva: - I think that those who believe that are deceiving
themselves. I firmly believe that this campaign is politically motivated.
You remember how large-scale it was last year, with polls and so on. And
because there were attempts to introduce Catechism, some people were
scared, of course. The main thing here is to understand what we want to
teach and how we want to teach it. The thing is, we can glean some
information from the course of the Russian literature, although it's been
narrowed lately. But we need some spiritual knowledge, we must nurture the
germ of goodness that a child is born with. Someone has to take care of it,
teach it. The question is, who?
I think that this has to be a person of high moral fibre, first of all,
because you cannot deceive a child when you teach one thing and do the
opposite. The teacher has to follow the moral principles. Whether it has to
be a teacher or a clergyman, well, I think that some co-operation is needed
here, because a teacher can show, explain and teach, but then the children
must really feel it with their own hearts, and this is where the clergyman
comes in - keeping in mind that parents have to give their consent, because
the school is worldly and the Church is separated from the state. I don't
think any parent will be against his child becoming better and nobler.
Father Alexiy Uminskiy: - The question of teaching Orthodox culture
triggers heated discussion. But don't other religions try to teach the
foundations of their cultures, the cultures of Islam or Buddhism?
Olga Vasilyeva: - Yes, there are attempts of the kind. And when we were
listening to Alexander Zhuravskiy, the expert, he showed us textbooks
published for these ends by various religious groups. I think this is
right. By the way, as different from the tumult accompanying the
Foundations of the Orthodox culture. Other religions have done this quietly
and brought about no political dispute.
Father Alexiy Uminskiy: - In large cities, in Moscow, for instance, when
there are children of various religious backgrounds in a class, teachers
are often afraid of conflicts that may appear in case the Foundations of
the Orthodox culture are introduced. How well-grounded are these misgivings?
Olga Vasilyeva: - You have stated from the very start that this course
operates within cultural studies, and carries, first and foremost, a moral
task, this is the most important thing. I think there will be no problem if
the content of this course is tactfully constructed - this question was
raised by experts, too - and if the textbook gives information on the
foundations of other cultures that exist in the country. We have always
been a tolerant country. Our biggest national group is the Tartars, they
are Muslims, and the Orthodox people have traditionally been very tolerant
Father Alexiy Uminskiy: - Bu the way, how did they get round this problem
before the 1917 revolution?
Olga Vasilyeva: - Very simply and tactfully. The Catholic and Protestant
pupils attended the Catechism, and Muslim children and their teacher did
something else at the time, they were not compelled to attend it.
Father Alexiy Uminskiy: - My spouse's grandfather grew up in a very
religious Jewish family, but he attended the Catechism when he was a
schoolboy before 1917, because he wanted to, he was interested.
Olga Vasilyeva: - This is another proof of the fact that we have very good
historical experience and sound principles.
Father Alexiy Uminskiy: - And there's another thing I'm thinking: if I were
living in a country with a different culture, say, India, I would consider
it necessary to study the foundations of the country's religious culture,
so that I and my children would be able to communicate properly within that
Another question: very often, bureaucrats and headmasters think that the
worldly character of education means it has to be atheistic. Is it really
the same thing?
Olga Vasilyeva: - Of course not, there is a huge difference. The difference
lies first and foremost in the laws. The school is subject to the state. In
Poland, on the contrary, some schools are subject to the Catholic Church,
they are church schools, which give an education equal to that of lay
schools, with a valid diploma. Our schools are subject to federal laws.
Father Alexiy Uminskiy: - Thank you, Olga Yuryevna, for coming to our show
today, all the best to you, and have a nice day.
Culture is a huge, complex phenomenon, which makes a country's population
into this country's nation. The name of culture has always embraced
religion, science, education, moral foundations of the people's and the
state's behaviour. These words by Academician Likhachev could be said about
the Foundations of the Orthodox culture school course.
Father Alexiy Uminskiy: - And here are the results of our quiz. Which
educational institution did the young Mikhail Lomonosov enrol to having
arrived to Moscow to study? The first one to get the answer right was
Natalia. Congratulations! You are getting a volume of the Orthodox
Encyclopaedia. And now, here is an item with the correct answer.
Which educational institution did the young Mikhail Lomonosov enrol to
having arrived to Moscow to study?
In winter 1730, the 19-year-old and nearly moneyless Lomonosov walked on
foot all the way from his native village of Kholmogory (now Archangel
region) to Moscow, where he enrolled at the Slavonic Graeco-Roman Academy.
This was Russia's first and only higher education institution then. It was
founded in 1682 by Tsar Feodor Alexeyevich and was located nearby the
Kremlin, on the Nikolskaya street, in the monastery of
Saviour-behind-the-Icons. That is why it was popularly known as the
Here, statesmen, priests and teachers were taught. Students studied grammar
and physics, arithmetic and church history, philosophy and theology. In the
early 18th century, the Slavonic Graeco-Roman Academy became the largest
seat of Russian culture and education. In 1814, it was reformed, given the
name of the Moscow Ecclesiastic Academy and moved to the Lavra of the Holy
Trinity and St. Sergius.
Father Alexiy Uminskiy: - Our programme is over. I thank everyone who
called the studio and took part in the discussion and the quiz. You can
read the online version of the show on Sedmitza.Ru, were you can also read
the most recent news on religious life in our country and abroad almost in
real time. Next week, we will witness the Archpastors Council of the
Russian Orthodox Church, and our show next Saturday will be wholly
dedicated to this moist important event. All the best to you, and may God
guard you all.
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