Dear Parents of All St. John of San Francisco Orthodox Academy Students,
Next week, the Church will enter that pre-lenten period of "last minute" fun and festivity called Cheesefare Week. Among the many activities planned at the school, Spirit Week (which have ordinarily taken place during the second week of Great Lent at St. John's Academy) will now be celebrated during Cheesefare Week. For those of you unfamiliar with this St. John's Academy tradition, during Spirit Week students are permitted to attend classes dorned in the clothing accessories and decorations of their respective House's colors. Alexandria's blue and orange; Constantinople's gold and purple; Jerusalem's red and green will all be on display throughout the week. As long as students are still in their usual school uniform, they may show off their House colors in any other way they would like (within reason, of course).
On the first week of Great Lent - called "Pure Week" in the Orthodox tradition - the Church calls on us to set aside our earthly cares and devote ourselves to an internal spiritual reevaluation. God knows how attached we are to the world, and how difficult it is for us to separate ourselves from worldly concerns. Therefore, He helps us organize our lives by setting aside particular periods of time during the year when we are called to devote most of our attention to our
spiritual concerns rather than worldly ones.
In order to help us re-direct our attention away from our worldly worries and cares, the Church takes four evenings to gather together to sing a special canon of prayers, written by St. Andrew of Crete. According to St. John's Academy tradition, all students of the Academy K-12 are required to attend this canon on all four evenings of the first week of Great Lent, Monday, 18 March through Thursday, 21 March. All students should come to the Holy Virgin Cathedral (rather than to their local parishes) in their school uniform, arriving promptly at 6:00 PM. Pupils in Kindergarten through fifth grade will be asked to stay for the canon (which usually ends around 6:45 PM), while students in grades six through twelve will also be required to stay for the vespers service, which usually concludes around 8:30 PM. Of course, no homework will be assigned to any of St. John's students who attend these services throughout the week. However, students who do not appear the canon and vespers all four evenings, starting at 6:00 PM, will be given a special make-up assignment to be monitored and evaluated by their Religion teacher.
I do realize that this is hard for some because many of our students engage in extracurricular activities like sports and performing arts throughout the school year. It would seem that requiring the whole school to attend services four evenings in a row is difficult; but this is exactly why we DO require that all St. John's students be in attendance at the beautiful and moving service that is the Canon of St. Andrew. St. John's Academy's primary mission as an Orthodox school is to educate our children first and foremost in the best way to live an authentic and meaningful Christian life. At the center of every life in Christ there is a cross; that is, a point from which we stand and give up the personal pleasures and preferences of our every day lives for the sake of a higher, better, eternal Life. For one week in the year, giving up the things and activities which we usually have and do throughout the year in order to gather together in Christian fellowship and prayer represents a most ancient and venerable expression of a Christian's commitment to that higher Life in Christ.
On 25 March, students and teachers of St. John's Academy who follow the revised Julian calendar (the so-called "new calendar") will celebrate the Feast of the Annunciation. To honor the wishes of those who would like to celebrate this feast and spend this day with families, there will be no classes at St. John's Orthodox Academy. This will not effect the normal celebration of the Annunciation on the "old calendar", Sunday, 07 April.
Wishing you a delightful Cheesefare Week, a repentant Pure Week, and a blessed Feast of the Annunciation,
St. John of San Francisco Orthodox Academy