The Athenian philosopher Socrates taught that the proper education of children safeguards the integrity and durability of civilization. Why? Because the “proper” education of children – a classical education – ensures that the mind, body, and soul of each student are strengthened and refined in the activities that are natural to them: thinking, acting, and living “the examined life.” For Socrates, education should create the internal conditions – virtue, wisdom, and the love of truth – out of which a person can live “the examined life” – that is, a life in which they come to know themselves and their place in the world. In this way, a person gains self-knowledge and the ability to contribute to their society.
From an Orthodox Christian perspective, “the examined life” means something far more. It evokes the “good restlessness” spoken of by the 20th-century monk, St. Paisios of Mt Athos (pictured above): the abiding sense that – as a rational (logikos) being made in the image of Triune God – each one is still becoming the person God has made him or her to be. “Our hearts are restless until they rest in Thee, O God,” says St. Augustine of Hippo. Rather than leave things up to fate or circumstance, each person has an essential part to play in fulfilling their God-given potential. St. Paisios says it this way: “Desire and effort must come from you; God will provide the power and the result.”
In this season of Lent, the Prayer of St Ephraim reminds us that such things as “sloth, meddling, lust of power, and idle talk” can distract us from the true pursuit of our calling as children of God. Yet how do we instill this desire, and strengthen this effort, of which St Paisios speaks, in our children? The Orthodox classical education at Christ the Savior Academy seeks to accomplish this. In the tradition of St. Paul’s admonition in Philippians 4:8-9, the curriculum at CSA is designed and the teachers are dedicated to training each child in the pursuit of what is good, true, and beautiful. Such a pursuit is transformative:
it steels the mind against false premises and invalid arguments;
it strengthens us to make morally upright decisions and gives us the courage to act them out;
it equips us for a life of independent learning, articulate communication, and practical ingenuity;
it showers us with examples of emulable historical figures, political communities, and scientific discoveries;
it forms an enduring appetite for the most exalted art, architecture, music, and literature the world has ever known;
it asks questions whose depth exposes the pillars of God’s wisdom in upholding all things;
it sees the purification of the heart through prayer and the grace of God as the most important attainments in life;
it sees the saints as teachers and models for the combination of knowledge, love, courage, humility, and faith;
it reminds us that true greatness is not measured by fleeting praise, but by hard work and trust in God;
As the final item above reminds us, the adventure of a classical Orthodox Christian education will involve a measure of effort and endurance. We can be encouraged yet again by the words of Scripture: “And not only that, but we also glory in struggles, knowing that struggle produces perseverance; and perseverance, character; and character, hope. Now hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out in our hearts by the Holy Spirit who was given to us” (Romans 5:3-5). This – our verse of the year at CSA – emboldens us to draw on the wells of strength and grace that Our Lord pours out upon us, when we are endeavoring in any work that glorifies Him and lives out the love He commanded us to have for one another.
A classical Orthodox Christian education cultivates the qualities within each child for nurturing “the good restlessness” – an eagerness to serve God and our neighbor, and to continue to learn more about the world which He made for us. These qualities are virtue, wisdom, and the love of Truth itself – or, we should say, Himself. For in Jesus Christ, the Logos, all that which is true finds its proper place and home.