Anberin Pasha, OCN's Digital Disciple Producer and Program Coordinator is a Graduate student in the Master's of Divinity Program at Hellenic College Holy Cross Greek Orthodox School of Theology in Brookline, Massachusetts.
Why the Oratorical Festival Matters?
In a time when most people can barely express their faith and what they believe in, Dr. Anton Vrame, Director of the Department of Religious Education of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America, explains that the benefits of participating in the Saint John Chrysostom Oratorical Festival for young people are enormous. They learn the formal aspects of preparing and delivering a speech in front of an audience and articulating their faith based on research and study from seventh grade and up, developing important skills in public speaking.
I met one of the winners of the Oratorical Festival here at the Hellenic College Holy Cross Greek Orthodox School of Theology. The St. John Chrysostom Scholarship that Alexandra Drechsler had won for her speech at the Nationals made it possible for her to attend Hellenic College. This eighteen-year-old is deeply centered in her Orthodox Christian faith. She is poised, articulate and is mature well beyond her years. What is more, when complimented on her many virtues, she acknowledges these gifts with genuine humility. Clearly there is more to the Oratorical Festival than meets the eye, for Alexandra, Mario (who I had profiled in an earlier article) and some 19 freshmen who recently joined Hellenic College are not just any kids on the block.
Not too young for theological insights
Dr. Vrame and the DRE are hard at work keeping the festival on track with the many parishes across the United States. Often times he is struck by the scholarly depth and profound theological insights of the speeches. According to him they are worthy of being published in academic journals.
Gregory Floor, the Director of Admissions at Hellenic College Holy Cross has served as a judge on several Oratorical Festivals and confirms the high standard of the speeches. “What goes into these speeches is nothing short of an academic endeavor.” observes Gregory Floor. It involves researching the topic, interpreting what contemporary society has to say but also going back and reading what the Church Fathers have said and finding scriptural support. Imagine the possibilities of a young person reading St. John Chrysostom for the first time, it might open up a world they never imagined.
The St. John Chrysostom Scholarships
Both the Oratorical Festival and Hellenic College are about academic endeavors and about having their flames lit observes Gregory Floor. What could be a better fit for students who are eager to learn and grow in an environment that is both academically challenging and spiritually enriching?
This led him to instituting the St. John Chrysostom Scholarships. Every year, top speakers of the Oratorical Festival are able to apply to Hellenic College on a rolling basis.
Alexandra Drechsler affirms her path eloquently, “As I began my journey at Hellenic College (with that nice St. John Chrysostom scholarship!), the theme of my speech continued to inspire me: How can I prepare myself to serve God in whatever He is calling me to do? The daily chapel services, amazing Orthodox community, and theological opportunity at Hellenic College have been the beginning of this journey of preparation. I pray that God would further ready me to serve Him, both now and in the future.”
Paving the way to success
The future for these young people will be bright. Dr. Vrame who has followed their lives is not surprised to note that the participants have gone on to lucrative careers in journalism, law and other fields. The positioning of the Oratorical Festival at that critical juncture in their lives, in those formative years when their contemporaries at school might be distracted by all things new, the Oratorical Festival steps in and leads the faithful to academic achievements and in matters of Faith a profound understanding will steer their lives in a positive direction.
Out of 500 plus Greek Orthodox parishes in the United States, Gregory Floor observes that in the 200 parishes that participate, the engagement is serious and communal in aspect. The young people are not only supported by their families but by their priests, parishes, their Sunday school teachers, friends and siblings, so that the event is one in which the entire community partakes, weaving bonds of friendship and love that last through their lives. Even today Alexandra holds true to the friendships she made back then.
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