Celebrating Similarities and Discussing Differences

By: Allison Hatton

On Thursday, November 18th, the 7th graders at Saint Mary ’s School received two guest speakers for a unique Religion Class. Promoted as a day to discover different faiths during NCEA’s Discovering Catholic Schools Week, students had questions ready to go for two local clergy: Father Brent Shelton, Pastor of Saint Mary Catholic Church and Father Daniel Greeson, Rector of Saint Anne Orthodox Church, located just minutes away from the school.

Father Daniel Greeson and Saint Anne Orthodox Church are a part of the OCA, Orthodox Church in America, while Saint Mary Parish and School are a part of the Diocese of Knoxville in the Roman Catholic Church. Catholicism and Orthodoxy are historically intimately related as in the first millennia they composed one Church. A metaphor is used to liken it to two different people under the same umbrella. Being one Faith in the beginning, differences in beliefs caused a split around the year 1040 called the Great Schism.

Sister Maria Kolbe, Saint Mary ’s middle school religion teacher prepared her students for the visit by asking each one of them to come up with several questions regarding similarities and differences between the two belief systems. The depth of questions ranged from “In order to be Orthodox, do you have to have a long beard?” to “Do you use leavened or unleavened bread for your communion?” Of course, being surrounded by the Dominican Sisters of St. Cecelia, one student asked, “Do the Orthodox have Sisters?”

Sister Mary John, Principal of Saint Mary ’s School welcomed the visit, saying “We share so much in common in our faith in Our Lord Jesus Christ. Today’s visit gave us an opportunity to increase our understanding of one another and to grow in the virtue of reverence by respecting how God is loved and worshiped. At the end of the visit, we prayed the Our Father together. I hope we can continue to pray together and learn from each other.”

All students asked at least one question and both Fathers knew their history, citing where the beliefs originated, why/if they had changed, and what the religious relationship is today between the two Faiths. Father Daniel stated that both religions are in good terms with each other, mentioning that Archbishop Alexander of the Diocese of the South (OCA) recently was a guest of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops’ (USCCB) November General Assembly. Putting it on terms that students could relate to, he related it to a familial relationship like a cousin, once removed. The students laughed and then together said the Lord’s prayer.

On his way out, Father Daniel was stopped in the hallway by a student parishioner from Saint Anne who also happened to be in Sr. Emma’s second grade class. While the students were patiently waiting for their science class, Father Daniel was able to do a quick question and answer session that included his favorite Saint and his favorite bible verse. Still able to understand the small differences in beliefs, the second graders were excited to talk with him and loved his large wooden, three-bar cross which he wore over his cassock.

Both Father Shelton and Father Daniel mentioned that they had a good time and would like to have more conversations about the two Faiths. The visit was arranged by Allison Hatton, the Director of Admissions at Saint Mary ’s School. For information regarding Saint Mary ’s Catholic Church and/or School, please visit their website www.stmarysoakridge.org. For more information regarding Saint Anne Orthodox Church, please visit www.stanneorthodoxchurch.com.