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Keeping holy days - holy

posted Jun 18, 2010, 9:21 AM by   [ updated Jun 29, 2010, 10:56 AM by Yulia Russiyanova ]
At the St. John of San Francisco Orthodox Academy, our aim is to raise up children who, together with attaining the highest in academic standards, are also strengthened in their love and Orthodox piety toward God, secure and at-home in His Church. We are a school in which every student is exposed to an excellent academic curriculum stressing the classical dimensions of learning—the arts, the sciences, literature and culture; but we are also a community in which every student, every teacher, every family worships together in the Divine Services of the Orthodox Church, growing in what St. Nicholas Cabasilas famously called ‘The Life in Christ’. 

As a school, we mark out our calendar not by the customary categories of the civil year, but by the festal cycles of the Church. While other institutions may partition the year around Spring Break, 'Winter Holidays' and the like, St. John’s forms its school year around Holy Pascha, Great Lent, and the major feasts of the Church’s worshipping life.

For the major Feasts of the Church’s year (e.g. Pascha, the Nativity of the Mother of God), we do not hold normal classes in the Academy. Rather, we provide a day in which children are free to keep the Feast with their families: attending the Divine Liturgy in the morning (either at their home parish or at the Cathedral) and then honoring the Feast at home, in their communities, in their lives. We ‘require’ children to attend such Liturgies, inasmuch as we are a Church school and it would be inconceivable for us not to insist that all our students and staff spend such holy days in the Church; but our aim is to build in our students a deep desire for such days and such worship—helping them grow in understanding of the Feasts, the services of which they are a part, and the whole Christian life manifest in these days. Our hope is always that what is ‘required’ becomes what is desired, and our day-to-day work is to foster the love and joy of young people for the Church’s life that will bring this about.

For some Feasts, St. John’s is unable to spend the day without classes—due to the fact that we are a professional educational institution and have an obligation to provide a certain number of days in school in each calendar year. However, these days, too, are holy; and in the new school year we will be doing even more to ensure that they kept sacred, special and unique in our school life.

Such Feasts (for example, the Feast of the Exaltation of the Precious Cross, which falls on Monday, 27th September 2010) will be marked out by students attending together either the early Liturgy at the Cathedral, or a special Liturgy in the crypt beneath the Academy. The day will then continue in school proper, but it will be a different sort of day. Classes will be modified to take note of the special nature of the Feast, and help mark the day as different in the hearts of students and staff. History classes might focus upon examples of the Feast’s significance in various historical periods; English classes might have students write a poem or short piece of creative writing on the Feast or saint commemorated that day; Religion classes might focus on the meaning of the Feast; music classes might learn the principal hymns of the day. Lunch will be a special communal occasion for the whole community of St. John’s to keep the joy of the day together.

In such a way, we keep holy days holy in our school life, extending and advancing our learning in a way that helps each of us—teachers as well as students—see the special character of these days the Church calls ‘feasts’, in the way they fit into our lives as Orthodox Christians.

One of our key aims at St. John’s is to help each of our students know, understand and implement the basic beliefs and practices of the Orthodox Christian faith in his or her personal life. The Feasts are a critical part of this faith, and in this way we will seek even further in the new school year to emphasize their uniqueness, and set them apart as sacred and holy to our life together.

INXC, Hieromonk Irenei
Principal, St. John's Academy

Note for parents:

You can find out precisely which Feasts in the 2010-2011 school year will involve classes on the day, and which will not, by visiting the School Calendar at any time. Click on any Feast day's entry for fuller details, including whether children are expected to attend Liturgy at their home parishes or together at the Cathedral/crypt; times of services on the day; etc.