Change and Growth, Tradition and Truth

By Dr Gaelan Gilbert, Headmaster of CSA

Did You Notice?

This has been a year of transition and change at CSA. New carpet and paint, new parts of the curriculum, new Headmaster, two new teachers, and the largest group of new incoming students thus far in the history of the school. While good, change can be unsettling. It takes work, endurance, and patience to adapt to change. It takes time.

Change is only possible, or noticeable, because most things stay the same. This is admittedly a philosophical point, but it is also a felt reality. We notice someone’s haircut – a change in appearance – because it’s the most noticeable change in a given moment where other things have mostly stayed the same. If an earthquake is occurring or our own lives are undergoing a significant amount of change, however, someone’s haircut takes a cognitive backseat to the major shifts (literal or figurative) in the environment around us, and may not get noticed.

Change, in other words, is also about attention and perception. There is much that does change that we don’t notice – especially in ourselves – and much that doesn’t change which we take for granted. What we notice and focus on shapes our thoughts, and “our thoughts determine our lives,” as Elder Thaddeus of Vitovnica says.

Story, Tradition, Truth

Seeing the change in our own lives in the framework of a larger continuous or coherent narrative is how human beings make sense of what happens to them. It gives our thoughts a solid basis. This fact is fundamental to all disciplines of knowledge, which have a history of development. Our culture and society also has a history, and history, as the word itself implies, is a story or narrative.

Every story has underlying themes, important characters, and a directed movement from a beginning to an end. As ancient philosophy, Christian theology, and contemporary psychology all attest, human beings think in a narrative fashion. We often see our own lives as stories within a larger story. For Christians who understand their identity to be found in Jesus Christ, that larger story is set forth in what is called Tradition.

The biblical Scriptures, Church history, sacramental worship, and the essential doctrines of the Faith are all parts of Tradition. Each offers a different angle on the same larger Story. A true story, of course; in fact, the story of Truth Himself, Jesus Christ. In being faithful to Tradition, we learn anew who we are and whence we have come. This is a lifelong process, but thankfully our Lord is with us “to the end of the age” (Matthew 28:20).

Tradition implies a certain relationship between change and continuity, between the new and the enduring, especially when it comes to communities like school or church. In the Church, much emphasis is placed on the importance of tradition as a guide and support to our faith in the midst of personal and social change. Christ referred to himself as the Way, the Truth, and the Life (John 14:6), and St Paul talks about his own act of sharing the Good News of the Resurrection using a verb form of the Greek word for tradition, paradosis (1 Corinthians 15:3).

Yet we all have smaller traditions, too. In our families, for example, we may have a tradition of daily meals together or a yearly camping trip. These times are important for carving out space for what is most important. This same principle extends to something even as mundane as the organization of time each day, such as those basic routines that make waking up, cleaning up, or catching up with one another (and our children) both easier and more consistent.

Repetition and Consistency, Routines and Habits

In thinking about it this way, we see that repetition and consistency form the background against which whatever is new or different is engaged and understood. In a practical sense, at CSA our consistent background or foundation is comprised of routines and daily activities that instill good habits: praying together, singing together, thinking together, reciting together, reading together, calculating together, talking together, at certain times and in certain ways.

Quite importantly, all these repeated activities make delayed gratification into second nature. This has lasting benefits. The struggles of adolescent and adult life will be far less formidable with such a skills as “eat growing food before sweet food” and “work before play” firmly in place.

The traditions of thought, speech, and action within individuals and institutions – whether family, church, or school – can be what sustain it and also reorient it back toward the core of its calling and purpose. In being reoriented by its original mission and story, a person and also a school can not only survive times of change, but also thrive in the midst of the necessary changes that are a part of growth and maturation.

After all, the other part of daily life at school is encountering the new. New ideas, new facts, new knowledge – every day! The little traditions of repeated structure and activity at CSA function as a setting within which the new can be encountered by students with both confidence and humility. Our students, faced continually with change through being exposed to new ideas and facts, learn to rely on their good habits and practiced patterns of thought and effort to understand, remember, imagine, and converse. Such patterns are formative. They shape us, both teachers and students, and empower us to cultivate virtue and focus our attention on the work before us.

Change and the Unchanging One

As students advance in knowledge and competency, they are continually drawing on the past in order to better meet what the future brings. The material they are learning changes each year, and they are themselves changing – almost daily. But all this change is happening within a stable framework, a setting in which intellectual, moral, and spiritual formation unfolds along a clear trajectory of Orthodox Christianity and classical education.

Within this educational trajectory, the purpose and aim is the formation of true human persons, made in the image of God, bearing faculties for inquiry, virtue, wisdom, faith, and self-knowledge. In the midst of a changing world, our high calling of living up to the divine image in which we were made is not only exemplified by Our Lord Jesus Christ. He is our example, but He is much more than that: He is the “author and perfecter of our faith” (Hebrews 12:2), and is with us “until the end of the age” (Matthew 28:20). He is not distant – He is closer to us than we are to ourselves, interior intimo meo, as St Augustine says.

It is Christ who helps us along in the journey, extending His hand to us when we are caught in vales of uncertainty or fear, and pulling us up from them, if only we remember to reach out our hand. While this world is full of change, Jesus Christ is “the same yesterday, today, and forever” (Hebrews 13:8). My prayer for the students of Christ the Savior Academy, both during the school year and throughout the summer, is this: may they grow each day to become more like Him – more wise, more patient, more compassionate, more sure in the true source of their strength – and may they do so in the loving heart of family, church, and school.

Such change is good – it is growth. This sort of change is what we should embrace with courage and faith, taking the risk of trust and effort so that we gain both strength and faith. This is the sort of change that St. Paul speaks of in his First Epistle to the Corinthians: “When I was a child, I spoke as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child; but when I became a man, I put away childish things. For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part, but then I shall know just as I also am known” (1 Corinthians 13:11-12).

To know as we are known: this is the hope that we nourish at CSA.