Matters of Life and Death: Introduction

What's Inside:

Aim: This unit is intended to accomplish the following:

1. To prepare teens to make decisions concerning life and death issues such as euthanasia, abortion, capital punishment and suicide based upon the spiritual teachings of the Orthodox faith.

2. To provide participants a working knowledge of the Church's teachings on these contemporary issues.

3. To foster within teens a healthy Orthodox understanding of the sanctity of human life and death.

4. To educate teens about the liturgical services regarding the dead and their significance for developing a sense of God's presence in their lives.

5. To instill in teens a sense of the value of human life in the context of the Church community throughout the ages.


Objectives: By the end of this unit, participants should be able to

1. Understand and articulate the Church's teachings on euthanasia, abortion, capital punishment, and suicide, including biblical foundations and synodal affirmations.

2. Be familiar with the role of the dead in our Orthodox spiritual life, especially the meaning and importance of funeral services and memorials.

3. See moral and ethical decisions, not in isolation, but in connection with the relationships between ourselves, God, and each other, and how we view and value life itself.

4. Share their feelings and opinions on controversial subjects in an open and safe environment that fosters personal spiritual growth.

5. Identify Orthodox alternatives and solutions to the problems of euthanasia, abortion, capital punishment and suicide.

6. Recognize that the condemnation of such practices is not based on a distant, philosophical, and ethical system of rules nor born out of an emotional extremism but rather rooted in the pastoral care of the Church in its concern for upholding the value and quality of all human life.

Ages: For teens ages 13-18 and up.

Suggested reading and Useful texts:

Synodal Affirmations on marriage, Family, Sexuality, and the Sanctity of Life. 10th All American Council of the Orthodox Church in America, July 1992.

Resource Handbook Volumes I and II. Family Life section. Orthodox Church in America, Department of Lay Ministries.

Funeral Services. Orthodox Church in America.

Holy Bible


How to use this book:

This book is divided into seven sessions. Each session is designed to take 45 minutes to 1 hour with the option of expanding activities. Each session is divided internally into several sections, described as follows:

Aim: Also known as the rationale, this session provides the basic principles and reasons for which the session was designed. This section provides you, the leader, with an insight into why you should teach the material and what you should understand in order to make it more meaningful for yourself as well as the participants. The Aim section may also defines the goal of the session, which is the general, spiritual outcome hoped for the unit session.

Objectives: These are specific accomplishments that should occur as a result of taking this course. They include skills, experiences, and ideas that participants will acquire. Objectives are usually framed in terms of "By the end of this unit, students should be able to . . . ."

Useful Texts: This section includes any texts to be used during the session or in preparation. The useful texts described at the beginning of the entire unit (above) should be on hand at most times for most session'.

Procedure: This section provides a general overview of the session in terms of procedure, or what needs to be done. Feel free to rearrange the procedure in order to fit your requirements.

Check-In: Each session begins with a brief check-in and warm-up. The specific warm-up is described to suit each session. After check-in, it is important to briefly review the lessons of the last session. Ask for three key points or ideas that they should have learned. Review is an important way of tying the unit together and making it possible for newcomers to find out what they missed.

Activity #'s: Each session contains a number of activities. Each activity is described first in terms of the time required and the concept behind it. In the main text of the activity, parts which should be spoken (preferably paraphrased in your own words if possible) are in bold type. Sections which lead to a question and response discussion are prefaced as "Question:" Text not in bold print generally signifies instructions to you, the instructor.

Most activities include a directed discussion. As with all discussion groups, you should be sure to do two main things. First, wait for a response after asking a question. If you need to, reword it or ask it again to be clear. Do not answer questions for students. Sometimes students hesitate or hope that you will answer it for them. Be patient with them and wait them out if necessary. They will quickly become used to responding more openly. Hopefully, they will be warmed up by check-in. The second main technique is to always affirm what students say, even if you disagree with it. You can affirm by first repeating it back to them (active listening) and then, in addition, write it down on a chalkboard or poster board. You can then find it easy to refer to it later.

Throughout this unit, questions are followed by basic answers in order to assist the teacher in guiding the discussion. In some instances, the answers may be reflected in synodal proclamations. Often though, the answer will be flexible enough that you may wish to encourage students to discuss the question enough so that they come to a suitable conclusion that contains the main ideas of the answer given here. The more they discuss these ideas, the more they will learn, the more they will make them their own.

To direct a discussion, use the given script as a guideline. Adjust your presentation by using your own words and style. These are suggested questions. You may find yourself moving in fruitful directions without using all these questions. Pay attention to the flow of the conversation and keep it lively and on track.

Session Conclusions: Each session ends with a recommended "exhortation", or summary of the session's main ideas. In addition are any suitable closing prayers or activities.


Remember that your preparedness and your interest in the subject matter and in the participants themselves are invaluable. If you think what you are doing together is important, it will rub off on them. At the same time, the issues addressed in this unit are emotionally charged and leaders should be able to remain calm and at peace, presenting a willingness to listen and to accept patiently the struggles through which these issues can bring us.

Please read and think about each session well before the time you teach it. We suggest that you gather materials from parish and public libraries, consult with your priest on any questions. In addition it is always a good idea to reflect on the lesson several days beforehand, as good ideas and insights come over time. Pray.

Begin and end each session with a prayer (i.e., O Heavenly King, It is Truly Meet). It is important for the participants to know that doing God's will is always achieved when we continuously call upon his name. To enrich the participants understanding of their own Orthodox faith, prayers and hymns from relevant feasts and services will be included as source material, and you may wish to teach them as well or otherwise integrate them into your own program. Check with your parish priest about what would be most appropriate.

Finally, Be flexible and creative! This unit can adapt to your local situation, your input and your creativity. Do not be afraid to alter sessions or rearrange materials to better suit your needs and circumstances. The more the materials is made suited to your youth, the more successful we will all be!

Let us hear from you! After completing this unit, please return to us the response sheet attached at the end of the packet with your evaluation and comments. These are essential if we are to improve the program. You can also share your experiences and photos for the Orthodox Church newspaper. Many people throughout the church need to see that things like this are being done. You can contact us by email at or mail the Orthodox Church in America, Education and Community Life Ministries, PO Box 675 Syosset NY 11791. May your ministry flourish!

Suggestions and Guidance for teaching Matters of Life and Death

This unit deals with life and death and choices, with suffering, with dying — somber subjects. This unit does not intend to create despair but to create hope. Youth leaders are therefore encouraged to take opportunities to keep it light and to use appropriate humor without creating an air of superficiality or flippancy. Youth leaders should pay attention to the general mood of the group and watch out for those who might withdraw. Attempt to keep the group moving towards the light of Christ, even when it may be through the darkness.

In the modern, Western world, there seems to be a strange double-standard for talking about death with teens. When with children, we so often try to protect them from the pain of loss, that they may never really learn the proper coping mechanisms for death. Then, at some sudden and unexpected point in their teens, we expect them to be able to handle it like an adult, and treat them so. Let us approach our teens with recognition of their experience and their inexperience at the same time. They may be able to hold back tears better, but they often still have the hearts of children. So do we, for that matter.

There are several ideas to keep in mind when teaching this or any other unit of study, especially for first time and inexperienced teachers:

  • Our Church directs our attention with all of our senses, so that our entire person may be transformed and transfigured. So to, when discussing the faith, should we use all the possible senses: sight, hearing, touch, taste, smell.
  • Orthodoxy is more than a belief system. It is more than even a "way of life". Rather, it is a whole framework for experiencing, interpreting, and interacting with the world. Our way of teaching should always be "Orthodox" in spirit, even if we happen to use methods or materials that have no visible connection to the Church. The style of teaching should always reinforce the pattern of relationships we see in the Church. As Orthodox Christians, we are called to do more than practice what we preach, we are called to become what we preach through theosis.
  • Problem solving: 75% + of solving a problem is defining what the problem is. Do not begin trying to solve any problem without first discovering the nature of the problem. Often if there is more than one problem, we must decide which problem is the most pressing. We must also be willing to evaluate multiple solutions. Pray for wisdom and humility.
  • Learning is an adventure. Keep it safe, simple, and open to the unpredictable and the adventure will happen.
  • Debrief and process after a unit. This encourages lesson retention, personal integration, and if done in the group encounter, debriefing begins to teach peer ministry. Debriefing is threefold: "What did you feel?"; "What does it mean to you?"; and "What will you do?" (Reflection, Interpretation, and Application)