Protagonist School began its 9th year in September! Before us lies another year of joys and frustrations, challenges and successes. Our first through third graders continue at the location near St. Procopios Church in the park. St. Procopios is known to be the protector of Tirana because of the many miracles he has produced here, so we know our little ones are under his care! Meanwhile our fourth through ninth graders occupy three floors of the new building near the Annunciation Church. The school has been beautified with lots of potted flowers and posters with nature scenes, along with photos from special events from the school’s past nine years. I was thankful to see that this year a number of students who had left for various reasons in years past have returned. This attests to the consistent quality education that our school offers. In other schools, academic grades are often given arbitrarily and good grades can be bought; fortunately that doesn’t happen at our school.
This year I am teaching English to the eighth and ninth graders. Although teaching this age can be very challenging, I enjoy spending time with them and seeing how far they’ve come since I first taught them when they were in second and third grade. The new English method we’re trying out will help them hone their four language skills of reading, listening, speaking, and writing.
In October we will start up our afterschool clubs again. I continue to offer the catechism club, “Spiritual Journey.” Last year we began an excellent book together called Divine Messages, written by His Beatitude, Archbishop Anastasios, and recently translated by Deacon Anastasios (my husband, Todi’s new name since ordination). Altogether, about fifty students took part in the club and enjoyed a number of activities. Although our school is not able to offer the club much money for its activities, we were able to host a Christmas party with games, crafts, and snacks all of which the children really enjoyed. In January I told them about St. Basil and introduced them to the tradition of Vasilopita (St. Basil’s Bread); little Esti was so excited to find the coin in his piece. As we ended our afterschool program in May, we took a field trip to Shen Vlash Monastery where the Orthodox Church of Albania has its seminary. The students met the director of the school, Bishop Nikola, toured the grounds, lit candles at the church, and enjoyed games and a picnic. We plan to continue teaching from the same book this 2010-11 school year and also plan to develop the companion activity book we started last year.
Meanwhile Deacon Anastasios continues his efforts in editing the journal Kerkim (trans: Research or Searching). The journal is geared towards intellectuals, students, and educated faithful. It covers a wide range of topics and thus allows the church to reach out to a new group of people. The fifth issue of the journal came out in August and has been well received. The European Union named 2010 the “Year against Poverty,” and the current issue covers many aspects on this same theme of poverty.
In addition to the journal, Dcn. Anastasios also has many projects involving book translations. Recently a book called How Will They Believe If They Don’t Hear was published, and now a dogmatics book by a professor of the University of Athens is soon due out. Several others are in the works. The faithful of Tirana are able to purchase these books for very low prices at the church bookstore. This effort to re-educate the Orthodox faithful of Albania is an important one; after all, they found it impossible to find any books of this kind during the difficult years of Communism.
Of course on Sundays and other feastdays you will find Dcn. Anastasios serving in the Liturgy and spending time with members of the parish, instead of at his computer!
Since Deacon Anastasios was ordained about one and a half years ago, I’ve sometimes found it interesting to see how the average Albanian reacts to clergy. The priests and deacons of the Orthodox Church of Albania always wear their black robes and keep beards and moustaches so they are certainly noticeable—especially in Tirana’s sweltering summer months. For the most part, people from the cities are used to the sight and don’t react much outwardly. Faithful Orthodox we meet on the street are respectful and are more likely to greet him. Some others may stare in interest or make comments to their companions, but usually in the city he is treated more or less equally by Christian, Muslim, and atheist alike. One time though, as we drove along through the countryside we passed a predominantly Muslim village. A group of people on foot saw us coming from afar and as we drew near, one woman yelled out with a face full of anger “Oh Pig!” I was shocked since I hadn’t seen this reaction before. (Dcn. Anastas explained that she called us pigs because Christians eat pork meat whereas Muslims consider the meat of pigs unclean.) I was thankful that this sort of reaction is not the norm. At the other extreme, a few weeks later, we were having coffee together at a café near the church and, as we left, a little boy tugged at his grandmother’s arm, “Granny, look the Lord is leaving!” His grandmother, delighted at his childhood innocence, repeated it over and over, laughing.
Our own little one, Vasili, is almost 2 years old and very active. He gets into everything in the house and enjoys climbing bookcases and onto counters, continually keeping me on alert. He loves to carry a candle or small censor around the house to all the icons and to sing at the top of his lungs! He’s just starting to talk (both languages) and keeps us laughing all the time. In January we were blessed to have His Beatitude baptize him in the small baptistery chapel at the Annunciation cathedral. Our close friends from the parish here are his godparents.
Please keep our family in your prayers.