A successful season for the Orthodox Institute, an innovative and highly regarded Christian Education training program pioneered by Antiochian Christian Education Director Carole Buleza, concluded with a three day Institute at Antiochian Village  in November. Institutes took place in cities both in Canada and the U.S. St. Michael's Church in Van Nuys, California was the site for the first Institute on September 18; subsequent Institutes were hosted in Edmonton on October 2, then Harrisburg on October 9, Ontario on October 23, and finally at Antiochian Village on November 4-7. Noted iconographers and speakers taught sessions that fit into one of three tracks: Church School Director, Teacher Training, or Orthodoxy. Participants came from all regions and jurisdictions.
Besides racking up the miles, Director Carole Buleza also met with many teachers across the country, and she commented on the spirit of pan-Orthodox cooperation present this year, enabling her to reflect afterwards that this year's Institute "was a decisive event for Orthodox Christian Education." (See an Institute photo gallery here .)
Attendees offered these retrospectives:
This past November the halls, meeting rooms and dining hall at the Antiochian Village were alive with the language of iconography. At this year’s Orthodox Institute, the 10th anniversary, the theme was icononography; the history of icons; the stories they tell; praying with icons and using them as a tool for teaching. The three-day institute began with a keynote address by Frederica Mathewes-Green, who spoke of her personal experience with icons and her journey to Orthodoxy; this was followed by two days of workshops on icons, which included presentations by the well-known iconographer/illustrator, Niko Chochelli, iconographer, Cheryl Pituch and authors, Anton Vram and Chrissie Hart and the staff of the Antiochian Orthodox Department of Christian Education.
Participants came from as far away as western Canada and as close by as York, PA. There were Church School directors and teachers representing many Orthodox jurisdictions in attendance. For one participant who was attending for the first time, the institute was “ . . . encouraging and refreshing . . .” and he said the presentations on icons “ . . . were very helpful and deepened my understanding of them.” Another veteran attendee who had been to four previous institutes said, “I thought it was one of the best I have attended. I learned so much and I have copied all of my notes and handouts and will be giving them to our Church School director. “
The theme for next year’s Orthodox Institute will be Holy Scripture with featured keynote speaker, Fr. Thomas Hopko. The department of Christian Education invites and encourages everyone to attend the Orthodox Institute. Remember, Christian Education is not just for kids!
Vasiliki Oldziey, Diocesan Coordinator, DOWAMA
The 2010 Orthodox Institute of Southern California at St. Michael Church, Van Nuys, CA was a day of valuable learning and fellowship for those involved in Orthodox education. The church schools of eight different parishes benefited from staff participation in the teacher training and church school director seminars. Also, furthering one's own understanding of the Faith was a big part of this Orthodox Institute. A large crowd of participants who had listened to Father Andrew Damick's podcast series "Orthodoxy and Heterodoxy" from Ancient Faith Radio came eager to hear him speak in person.
Kh. Elaine Alkhas, Church School Director, St. Michael Antiochian Church, Van Nuys, CA
I was blessed to have the opportunity to attend the 2010 Orthodox Institute at Antiochian Village this past month. I am a new church school director and have only been teaching since 2009. I had no idea what the conference was about so I had no “expectations”. Well even if I had the highest expectations they could not have been high enough to match the excellent program that was offered.
First, just the nuts and bolts, everything was well organized. Meetings started on time and ended on time (I’m a Greek I’m not used to that at all!).
Presenters were prepared and provided tangible, viable resources. Information was shared by attendees as well and whatever was not available on paper was offered electronically to be downloaded on our own time. The courses offered covered a broad scope. Whether a teacher or director, there were succinct choices available filling many needs. My church school cup was full indeed!
Now, on a spiritual and personal level, this was also beyond wildest expectations. The village offered true hospitality from the moment of entering. Starting the weekend with Frederica Mathewews-Green’s presentation “The Open Door” my heart was opened and ready to receive all that would come to me the rest of my time at the Village. Beginning and ending every day together in prayer and worship set the tone for our busy daily schedules. Never did I feel rushed or stressed. Of course the 5 star meals and great coffee didn’t hurt either. The fellowship was real and meaningful, friendships were made, I know I left knowing I would see many of my new friends again.
I hope I have planted a small seed in your hearts to prayerfully consider finding a way to attend the 2011 conference, God truly honored the work of all those involved.
Sandra Anderson, Ministry Development; St. Mary Greek Orthodox Church, Minneapolis, MN