On Saturday, March 26, His Grace Nicholas, Bishop of Manhattan, paid a visit to the parish school of Holy Virgin Protection Church in Nyack, NY, in order to spend the school day with the students and teachers, taking part in the everyday life of the school.
The Nyack Russian School, one of the oldest parish schools on the East Coast, was founded 70 years ago by Archpriest Seraphim Slobodskoy, once the long-time parish rector and author of the Law of God textbook, now renowned not only throughout America, but the whole world. Students of the parish school continue to study from that textbook to this day. The school currently has 52 students, ages 4-17, taught by 25 teachers, six of whom are graduates of the same school from various years. Classes are held on Saturdays from 9:00 AM to 1:00 PM. All subjects are taught in Russian: Law of God, Russian, Reading, Russian Literature, Russian History, Singing, and Geography. Everyone who works at the parish school does so on a volunteer basis. Preserving their traditions and looking to the future, the school continues its work in improving the school’s curriculum, as well as developing assignments for Russian Orthodox students who do not speak Russian fluently.
His Grace arrived soon after the start of the school day, stopped in the classrooms during lessons, spoke with students who came up to him for a blessing, asked them about their studies, and spoke about how important it is for them to preserve their Russian language and Orthodox Faith. Bishop Nicholas also spent time with the teachers during the general school lunch, which had been organized by the sisterhood, learning about their weekdays and the joys and cares of the parish school.
At the very start of the Coronavirus pandemic, on March 14, 2020, the parish school was closed for quarantine, not even suspecting that its doors would be closed until the next schoolyear. After the forced break, classes began once more in May in a correspondence format over Zoom, thanks to the enthusiasm and support of the administration, teachers, and parish, who had to quickly learn how to use this new learning platform, unfamiliar to many. Students, teachers, and parents all grew accustomed to correspondence classes and were able to successfully complete a complicated schoolyear.
In September 2020, the Russian School polled the families of students and teachers and, in the hopes of the Coronavirus’ decline, opened its doors for upperclassmen, observing all state-mandated safety regulations: masks, social distancing, and disinfection, while the lower grades continued correspondence learning. The Nativity Yolka was held remotely, with singing around the Christmas tree, the play "The Cat’s House" (Koshkin Dom), and Santa Claus (Grandfather Frost), and even a graduation ceremony.
The Russian School was able to renew usual classes only in the 2021-2022 school year. Many families returned to school; the children were glad to meet up with friends once more. The selflessness of the teachers must also be mentioned: all of the teachers continue to come to school to teach, despite the pandemic.
Unfortunately, after two years of pandemic and the accompanying difficulties, the number of students in the parish school has decreased, and the help being offered by parents has become limited. School functions have to be conducted on a smaller scale. Nevertheless, the Nativity Yolka was held at school in marvelous fashion: the play according to A. Tolstoy’s "The Adventures of Buratino" was put on very successfully. Grandfather Frost and Snegurochka greeted everyone with Christ’s Nativity and presented all of the children with presents, while the decorated tree gleamed brightly with lights, while the children danced around it and sang Christmas carols. On Cheesefare, all of the students were treated to bliny. During Great Lent, the families of the Russian School traveled for two days to Holy Trinity Monastery in Jordanville. A traditional concert is planned for later in the spring, along with a "Young Talents" show and a school picnic after the graduation ceremony in May.
Despite all of the difficulties, with God’s help and thanks to the enthusiasm and support of the student families, teachers, school administration, and parish, the Nyack parish school is continuing to fulfill its most important task – raising up children in an Orthodox spirit, instilling in them knowledge and love for Russian culture. Those who would like to sign their children up for the Nyack parish school can contact director of studies Priest Andrew Podymow: firstname.lastname@example.org, or by phone at (845) 507-2444.
It is worth nothing that, after more than half a century, the words of Directive№1101 of the Synod of Bishops of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia, dated September 21/October 4, 1967 and signed by President of the Synod Metropolitan Philaret (Voznesensky; +1985) and Secretary of the Synod Bishop Laurus (Škurla; +2008), remain as relevant as ever:
"…the unprecedented decline of morality among students in the U.S. has become evident, and to a greater or lesser extent in other countries, which directly reflects on our Orthodox children and youth, who encounter temptation and bad examples in their daily attendance of heterodox schools… The Council of Bishops, with the aim of preserving the younger generation from malign influence, resolves:
1) To recognize as exclusively important the existence of Orthodox church schools in our parishes…
6) To recognize as essential that children study in church school at least until 17 years of age, so that in this way they will not be deprived of a moral church influence, at a time when such is especially important for young people entering a mature age…
9) To call upon the parents in every individual family to help their children with homework assignments on the Law of God, as well as other subjects."
Bishop Nicholas’ visit to the Nyack Russian School was a very joyous occasion for the families, teachers, administration and parish, and an expression of sincerest support in the complex work of raising our Russian Orthodox youth and children.