CF104 - Personal Learning Statement

What do you think you have gained from the course?

CF104 on the Mysteries of Life and Death was an excellent module. I learnt so much about things I did not know and always had an interest in learning about further. The module initially took me back to my 14 years where we covered a whole term on the '7 Sacraments' in high school. Of course, as Fr Ian Graham pointed out, there are more than seven sacraments, and depending on which Holy Father we cite the list can be quite long.

Fr Ephrem Lash's discussion on baptism was an eye opener. I very much appreciated the opening lectures that catapulted me back to the first baptisms and what they might have looked like/entailed in the Orthodox Church. Fr Ephrem sharply contrasted today's baptisms with those of the Early Church. We need to get out of our comfort zone today- a baptism is not an excuse for a 'gathering' or 'party' etc. His strong statements have repeated in my thoughts many a time during this course. I also liked again the reminder that baptism is a 'seal of God'.

Dr Marcus Plested's lectures on St Cyril and St Ambrose of Milan provided much in terms of mystagogy, a term I had never heard of before. I particularly liked his lecture on St Ambrose of Milan.

I found myself reflecting much on being baptised as an infant, on the Book of Needs and all contained therein, on the funeral service, on the question of what happens to us when we die (funeral service, burial, prayers for the departed, and judgement).

The lecture on the importance of prayers during illness, the need to visit the sick, and the service of the anointing rang home personally. The discussion on exorcisms was also interesting.

Without a doubt my favourite lecture was the last one on Christian Ethics in daily life by Professor David Frost. There were statements in that lecture that brought comfort to me personally and would have hoped to listen to when I was in my teens. I would have to say that Professor Frost is one of the most honest lecturers I have ever come across, but that should not surprise me given his topic of discussion. I listened to his talks many a time, and still appreciate revisiting them when I feel the need. Classic Frost. What a blessing to our Orthodox community!

Please comment on any unanticipated outcomes of the course

CF104 on the Mysteries of Life and Death was personally confronting. We have been so loved by God that we have been given a life to live. The gift of life is so precious.

In the very last week of this module my Aunt Eleftheria slept in the Lord. The lectures reaffirmed to me the promises of God, and that things do not end in this life with death. I was comforted especially during the first days of mourning her loss.

In completing the readings for this Course I came across the incredible contributions by H. Tristram Engelhardt, Jr at Rice University in the Philosophy Department http://philosophy.rice.edu/content.aspx?id=90 Amazingly, I have come across Engelhardt's work in my general research work in the field of technology and ethics but I had never made the connection between Engelhardt being an Orthodox Christian. I will have to get in touch with him now that the module is completed. What a beautiful discovery this was for me!

Did the course change your view of the topic and, if so, in what way?

Previously, I would not have tied the Sacraments to a topic on the Mysteries of Life and Death. I took a few days to reconcile this integration of ideas as one valuable learning. What is our life if not Sacramental?

The topic I learnt most about during this course was suicide. It is what I completed my essay on. For the first time I actually understood deeply what happens when a request is made for a funeral service on behalf of someone who has taken their own life.

My views were changed on the urgency of responding to suicide in a pastoral way within the Orthodox Church. I learnt intimately about the current state of suicide in the world today. I was heart-broken to read that 800,000 people take their life annually according to WHO. And that suicide is the second highest reason for deaths worldwide of 15-29 year olds. And that for every suicide there are about 25 attempts in America. The world loses an individual once every 40 seconds to suicide. My view is that there is a pressing need for intervention strategies to reduce the number of lives lost to this phenomenon. It should be a high priority on social policy strategies for all governments.

Please use this space if you wish to comment further on the academic experience of your course

Unfortunately this session I was unable to make most of the weekly tutorials due to my absence with my work, first to Montreal, Canada and then to Arizona, USA with multiple interstate trips to Canberra, ACT and Melbourne, Victoria. The session also fell during Holy Easter, which I did not mind personally.

After listening to the online material many times over, I spent much time reflecting on lectures in quietude. I began my essay in the first weeks of the course gaining permission fromFr. Alexander Tefft for my topic. I revisited my progress in the middle of the course, and requested an extension in the last week to complete it.

The lectures were of excellent quality and delivered with much passion. Every one of our four lecturers had a different style and delivery, and were extremely detailed and entertaining in their own way.