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 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.

Personal Learning Statement - CF102 The Gospels

1. What do you think you have gained from the course?

This term I completed the unit, The Gospels (CF102). I feel like I learnt so much in such a very short space of time (circa 2 months of continuous study, several hours per day on average). I have attempted to document this end-to-end learning journey on my personal web site. These snippets include, my notes from the lectures, sources for my essay on parables, key definitions I thought I should document over time, key software and online systems to help with studying the Bible and much more.

The two main things I gained from this course are:

a. Knowledge of The Gospels and their contents, especially how the background setting of each evangelist may have affected how they wrote their gospel for their specific outreach communities (e.g. Matthew for outreach to the Jewish community, often quoting from the Old Testament). Also the difference between the Synoptic Gospels and the Gospel of John in style (Jesus teaches the crowds using parables in the Synoptic Gospels, and Saint John instead provides accounts of where Jesus meets individuals one-to-one, i.e., universal typologies), the role of miracles in the early church, and the introduction of the hypostatic paradigm, and the device of antinomy and paradox throughout the Gospels. I enjoyed the focus on each Gospel and corresponding evangelist, and then several weeks on John the evangelist, christology, the person and finally anthropological aspects. I especially appreciated understanding more about the way that modern scholars conduct biblical criticism as opposed to the way the Early Church Fathers focus more on content of the Scriptures than form.

b. Even greater faith in the Euaggelion as the inspired word of God. In studying, for instance, the Parables, I see how unique Christ's teachings are, in form, in content, in layered meaning- literal, moral and spiritual. I have found myself in continual amazement over God's gifts to us. I have wanted so much, especially in the morning and before going to sleep, to consider Christ, and to pray to Him as the living God, even more convinced of His eternal presence. I have also come to a closer more intimate awareness through the Gospel of John of Trinitarian theology and can better detect passages that signify intercommunion between the divine members of the Holy Trinity.

2. Please comment on any unanticipated outcomes of the course.

I have persistently been challenged by this course- yes, knowledge is important, but of greater importance is a stable prayer life, and acquiring the mindfulness of the Fathers. As I researched deeply into the topic I had chosen to be assessed in, I realised how much more important the acquisition of spiritual lessons embedded in our life is (e.g. the lessons of the parables) beyond creating an exhaustive library of reference citations for my essay in a worldly sense. The continual challenge for me personally will be to excel in my studies at IOC but at the same time to strive to cultivate harmony in all other aspects of my life to the best of my ability. It is perhaps why I so much appreciated the 10 lectures delivered by Rev. Dr. Nikolai Sakharov. He struck a fine balance between the content we should be introduced to given our candidature and the required knowledge to understand various approaches to the Bible WITH beautiful stories from the Fathers and Mothers of our Church. This was exactly what I looked forward to while I listened to the lectures again and again -- hardcore content of biblical studies, intermingled with learnings from stories that have been passed down from generation to generation and documented in the lives of the Saints. 

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

I did not exactly understand the place of the "person" prior to this course as I had not really thought about it too carefully, outside a human rights context.

I also came to a better understanding on the structure of the Gospels, whereas previously I would not query for instance, why accounts differed one to the other, and why one Gospel included more detail than the other.

I thought the discussion on the formation of the Canon was also critical. In addition, the importance of interpreting Scripture using the consensus patrum and not one's own ideas.

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

This course is set out so well using the online learning platform. The lectures by Rev. Dr. Nikolai are treasures. He makes such complex things so simple to understand, is so thorough, and a pleasure to listen and learn from. A lot of material is covered in a single lecture. I found the weekly meetings with Rev. Dr. Alexander Tefft to be highly complementary to my learning- he was a wonderful guide and every interaction on group chat was something I looked forward to at 6am. The materials provided of required reading and recommended reading links were excellent. I found myself more comfortable with the intensive mode of delivery, going through the lectures back to back, and then re-playing them again. This experience has been such a positive start that I cannot wait for the next course to begin.