The seventh-graders at St. Mary School in Oak Ridge received two guest speakers for a unique religion class Nov. 18.
Promoted as a day to discover different faiths during the National Catholic Educational Association’s Discovering Catholic Schools Week, students had questions ready to go for two local clergy: Father Brent Shelton, pastor of St. Mary Church, and Father Daniel Greeson, rector of St. Anne Orthodox Church, located just minutes away from the school.
Father Greeson and St. Anne Orthodox Church are a part of the OCA, the Orthodox Church in America. Catholicism and Orthodoxy are historically intimately related as in the first millennia they composed one Church. A metaphor is used to liken it to two different people under the same umbrella. Being one faith in the beginning, differences in beliefs caused a split in 1054 called the Great Schism.
Sister Maria Kolbe Rossi, OP, St. Mary’s middle school religion teacher, prepared her students for the visit by asking each one of them to come up with several questions regarding similarities and differences between the two belief systems. The depth of questions ranged from “In order to be Orthodox, do you have to have a long beard?” to “Do you use leavened or unleavened bread for your communion?” Of course, being surrounded by the Dominican Sisters of St. Cecilia, one student asked, “Do the Orthodox have sisters?”
Sister Mary John Slonkosky, OP, principal of St. Mary School, welcomed the visit, saying, “We share so much in common in our faith in Our Lord Jesus Christ. Today’s visit gave us an opportunity to increase our understanding of one another and to grow in the virtue of reverence by respecting how God is loved and worshiped. At the end of the visit, we prayed the Our Father together. I hope we can continue to pray together and learn from each other.”
All students asked at least one question, and both priests knew their history, citing where the beliefs originated, why/if they had changed, and what the religious relationship is today between the two faiths. Father Greeson stated that both religions are on good terms with each other, mentioning that Archbishop Alexander of the Diocese of the South (OCA) recently was a guest of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ November General Assembly. Putting it on terms that students could relate to, he compared it with a familial relationship like a cousin, once removed. The students laughed and then together said the Lord’s Prayer.
On his way out, Father Greeson was stopped in the hallway by a student parishioner from St. Anne who also happened to be in Sister Emma Calvo’s second-grade class. While the students were patiently waiting for their science class, Father Greeson was able to do a quick question-and-answer session that included his favorite saint and his favorite Bible verse. Still able to understand the small differences in beliefs, the second-graders were excited to talk with him and loved his large wooden, three-bar cross which he wore over his cassock.
Both Father Shelton and Father Greeson mentioned that they had a good time and would like to have more conversations about the two faiths. The visit was arranged by Allison Hatton, the director of admissions at St. Mary School.