By Anton Vrame
John Lawrence Boojamra (1942-1999): At the time of his death, Boojamra held three positions: Director of Christian Education of the Antiochian Orthodox Christian Archdiocese of North America from 1970; Executive Secretary of the Orthodox Christian Education Commission from 1975; and Adjunct Professor and Director of the Religious Education Program at St. Vladimir's Orthodox Theological Seminary from 1977. A man of boundless energy, all of these positions were part-time. Boojamra's primary employment was as a chemistry teacher at Brooklyn Technical High School in New York, which he did from 1968-1996. As an author of both theoretical works on Orthodox Christian education and textbooks and other resources for use in Orthodox Christian parish education programs, Boojamra profoundly influenced Orthodox Christian thinking and practice in Christian education.
John Lawrence Boojamra (August 6, 1942-November 11, 1999) was a native New Yorker. He attended Brooklyn College - City University of New York, earning a B.S. in 1964. From there he enrolled at St. Vladimir's Orthodox Theological Seminary, Crestwood, New York, with the apparent intention of becoming a priest because he earned the Bachelor of Divinity (he was never ordained). After graduation, he spent time at the Ecumenical Institute of the World Council of Churches in Switzerland. He pursued graduate studies in Church History at Fordham University, studying with Fr. John Meyendorff, and earned his Master's and Ph.D. His doctoral dissertation (1976) was titled, The Ecclesiastical Reform of Patriarch Athanasios of Constantinople (1289-1293; 1303-1309). It appears that he did not study religious education formally; he certainly did not receive a degree in the field. However, in his writings we find references to works by John Westerhoff, Berard Marthaler, Gabriel Moran and C. Ellis Nelson. Examining only his footnotes one can see that Boojamra began a deliberate conversation between sources from the history of the Eastern Christian Church and the religious education theorists of his day.
While pursuing his graduate studies at Fordham, Boojamra became a chemistry teacher in New York, teaching for nearly thirty years at the Brooklyn Technical High School. He also became involved in Christian education for the Antiochian Orthodox Christian Archdiocese of North America as well as through the pan-Orthodox educational agency, the Orthodox Christian Education Commission (OCEC). He was the director of Christian education for the Antiochian Archdiocese from 1970 and the Executive Secretary of the OCEC from 1975. In these capacities, he oversaw the development of materials for Sunday schools that would be used by many Orthodox parishes in America. He also led workshops for teachers, wrote essays on Christian education for the Antiochian Archdiocese magazine, The Word. He also wrote scholarly articles on Orthodox Christian education, providing a theoretical foundation for the educational ministry of the Orthodox Church.
He became an adjunct faculty member at St. Vladimir's Orthodox Theological Seminary in 1977, teaching courses in Christian Education and Church History, eventually creating the Master's program in Christian Education at St. Vladimir's. In addition, he taught courses in Church History at Fordham University. He was one of the founding members of the Orthodox Peace Fellowship. After lecturing in Alaska for several summers, in 1985 he co-founded the Eagle River Institute in Orthodox Theology at the St. John Antiochian Orthodox Cathedral, outside Anchorage. Boojamra's influence was largely felt within the Orthodox Churches in the United States. As the professor of Christian Education at St. Vladimir's for over two decades and the lead professor of its Master's in Christian Education, he influenced countless clergy and lay teachers, especially those who would serve in the Antiochian Orthodox Christian Archdiocese of North America and the Orthodox Church in America. Although none appear to have pursued advanced studies in Religious Education, his students have become developers of resources and coordinators of Christian education and youth ministry programs at the diocesan level. Foundations for Orthodox Christian Education (1989), which contains a collection of Boojamra's primary writings in the field, is still widely read.
Boojamra was married to Stellie Ann Anagnos, who died in 1989. He has a son, Constantine Boojamra, Ph.D. and a daughter, Nicole Boojamra. Boojamra died very suddenly and unexpectedly.
Contributions to Christian Education
Since the 1950's founding of the Orthodox Christian Education Commission in the United States, there has been a continual discussion on the need for the Orthodox to develop theoretical resources on the nature of education in the life of the Church. John Boojamra was among the first to begin this conversation. As a theologically trained educator, Boojamra was actively involved in teaching the Orthodox faith and preparing Sunday school materials for many years before he began writing about it from a theoretical perspective.
We can see three recurrent issues in his thought. The first was a response to what he called the "liturgical captivity" of Orthodox Christian education. For many years, the publications of the Orthodox Christian Education Commission, which produced the resources for many Sunday church schools, focused largely on explaining the liturgical life of the Orthodox Church to young people. As Boojamra would later write, the church is liturgy but it is more than liturgy (1989, p. 30). He would begin to broaden the content of Christian education materials that the OCEC and Antiochian Archdiocese would produce to include ethics, social issues, spirituality, scripture, doctrine, as well as liturgical topics.
The second issue is that Orthodox Christian education must be rooted in the Orthodox understanding of personhood. He coined the term hypastagogy - meaning personhood education - as a contrast to pedagogy and androgogy. The best exposition of his ideas about personhood and education were expressed in "The Liberation of Christian Education" (1991a). In practice, for Boojamra, Christian education should be more concerned with formation than information (although important). He was concerned that that contemporary Church school programs had reduced Christian education to facts, dates, numbers, and doctrines that can be presented in a classroom in a forty-five minute period (1989, 8-9). In this process, adults have been ignored as learners and "(w)hen adult education is conducted, it is treated as just more childhood education and is carried out in the same format" (1989, 9).
Third, a recurring theme in Boojamra's writings was the community - the family, the parish, and the Church - as the locus of formation. He frequently used the phrase "total parish education" to highlight this importance. On this point, he published articles on "socialization theory" in religious education (1981, 1989). He was a strong proponent of cooperative learning strategies. In his writings on socialization and the family, Boojamra engaged the literature on Christian education in Roman Catholic and Protestant thought and began to filter it through Orthodox Christian experience and thought, making connections to the patristic tradition as well as contemporary developments in Orthodox theology.
Boojamra's influence was largely felt within the Orthodox Churches in the United States. As the professor of Christian Education at St. Vladimir's Seminary for over two decades, he influenced countless clergy and lay teachers. He oversaw the development of textbooks for the Orthodox Christian Education Commission and the Antiochian Orthodox Church; these books were used in Orthodox parishes throughout the English-speaking Orthodox world (the only other major publisher of resources in English is the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America).
His book Foundations for Orthodox Christian Education (1989) has been used as a primary textbook in Orthodox Christian education since its publication. At the time of its publication it was the most complete articulation of Orthodox education available. As there are still only a few theoretical texts for the field, Foundations is still widely read by Orthodox educators.
Boojamra never stopped working on issues in Church history throughout his life. In fact, he published more in this area than in Christian education. His writings in Church History may be less well known, but are no less significant: Church and Social Reform (1993), and articles in journals such as The Greek Orthodox Theological Review, St. Vladimir's Theological Quarterly, Church History, Byzantion, and many others.
For most of his career, he worked as a solo act, with scant funding, and always on a "part-time" basis. He did not write as much as we would have liked on education. At the time of his death a manuscript on adolescents in the life of the Church was unfinished.
In a discipline with a handful of specialists globally, Boojamra's contribution to Orthodox Christian education is central. His focus on personhood and community as key concepts for Orthodox education are lasting contributions. In addition, his ability to mine the Orthodox Tradition and engage contemporary education literature provides a methodology on which future Orthodox religious educators might build.
- Boojamra, John L. and Teebagy, Joan (1994). Him again: A youth study program for the Orthodox Church. Yonkers, NY: Orthodox Christian Education Commission.
- Boojamra, John L. (1993). The Church and social reform: The policies of the Patriarch Athanasios of Constantinople. New York: Fordham University Press.
- Boojamra, John L. (1991). Focus on you: Six youth study programs for the Orthodox Christian Church. Englewood, NJ: Orthodox Christian Education Commission.
- Boojamra, John L. (1989). Foundations for Orthodox Christian education. Crestwood, NY: St. Vladimir's Seminary Press.
- Boojamra, John L. (1982). Church reform in the late Byzantine empire. Thessalonica, Greece: Patriarchal Institute for Patristic Studies.
- Boojamra, John L. (1977a). A contemporary reading and library guide for the Orthodox parish. Englewood, NJ: Department of Christian Education, Antiochian Orthodox Christian Archdiocese of North America.
- Boojamra, John L. (1976). The Ecclesiastical Reform of Patriarch Athanasios of Constantinople (1289-1293; 1303-1309). Ph.D. Thesis. Fordham University.
- Boojamra, John L. (1967). An investigation of the Christian attitude towards the natural sciences as seen in the creation commentary of St. Basil the Great. B.Div. Thesis. St. Vladimir's Orthodox Theological Seminary.
Chapters in Books
- Boojamra, John L. (1995). Schism and parallel hierarchies: Antioch during the First Crusade, 1995. In J. Boojamra (Ed.), First one hundred years (pp. 115-139). Englewood, NJ: Antakya Press.
- Boojamra, John L. (1988a). The captivity of Orthodox Christian education. In T. Stylianopoulos (Ed.), Orthodox Perspectives on Pastoral Praxis (pp. 127-141). Brookline, MA: Holy Cross Orthodox Press.
- Boojamra, John L. (1981a). Constantine and Justinian. In J. Allen (Ed.), Orthodox Synthesis (pp. 189-209). Crestwood, NY: St. Vladimir's Seminary Press.
- Boojamra, John L. (2000-2001). Translating our vision: The ethical dimension. St. Nersess Theological Review, 5-6, 145-153.
- Boojamra, John L. (1999). The Christian family: Pedagogical mode. Living Pulpit, 8 (3), 23.
- Boojamra, John L. (1998). Constantine and the Council of Arles: The foundation of Church and State in the Christian east. Greek Orthodox Theological Review, 43 (1-4), 129-141.
- Boojamra, John L. (1996a). Towards a Philosophy of Christian Education. The Word, 40 (10), 17.
- Boojamra, John L. (1996b). The Goal of Church Education. The Word, 40 (7), 17.
- Boojamra, John L. (1991a). The Liberation of Christian Education. Phronema, 6, 39-49.
- Boojamra, John L. (1991b). Christianity in greater Syria after Islam. St. Vladimir's Theological Quarterly, 35 (2-3), 223-229.
- Boojamra, John L. (1988b). Cluster ordinations: Investigations into an ecclesiastical non-issue. St. Vladimir's Theological Quarterly, 32 (1), 72-87.
- Boojamra, John L. (1987). The transformation of conciliar theory in the last century of Byzantium. St. Vladimir's Theological Quarterly 31 (3) 215-235.
- Boojamra, John L. (1986). Schism. The Encyclopedia of Religion (vol. 6). New York: Free Press-Macmillan.
- Boojamra, John L. (1985). The social thought and reforms of Athanasios of Constantinople. Byzantion, 55 (1), 332-382.
- Boojamra, John L. (1984). Theological and pedagogical perspectives on the family as educator. Greek Orthodox Theological Review, 29 (1), 1-34.
- Boojamra, John L. (1983). The affair of Alexis and Roman: Two documents of 1361. Greek Orthodox Theological Review, 28 (2), 173-194.
- Boojamra, John L. (1981b). Socialization theory as a historical model for Christian integration. St. Vladimir's Theological Quarterly, 25 (4), 219-237.
- Boojamra, John L. (1981c). The papal commonitorium of 879 and the Photian Synod (879/880). Etudes Byzantines, 8.
- Boojamra, John L. (1979). Problems concerning autocephaly. Greek Orthodox Theological Review, 24 (2-3), 192-200.
- Boojamra, John L. (1977b). The Emperor Theodosius and the establishment of Christianity. Byzantina, 9, 384-407.
- Boojamra, John L. (1976). Original sin according to St. Maximus the Confessor. St. Vladimir's Theological Quarterly, 20 (1-2), 19-31.
- Boojamra, John L. (1975). Christian philanthropia: A study of Justinian's welfare policy and the church. Byzantina, 8, 354-374.
- Boojamra, John L. (1974). The eastern schism of 907 and the affair of the tetragamia. Journal of Ecclesiastical History, 25 (2), 113-133.
- Boojamra, John L. (1973). Witness in the contemporary age. St. Vladimir's Theological Quarterly, 17 (1-2), 181-186.
- Boojamra, John L. (1969). On science and technology. St. Vladimir's Theological Quarterly, 13 (3), 131-148.
- Boojamra, John L. (1967). Christian origins of modern schience. Concern. 22, 5-6.
- Boojamra, John L. (1996c). Interview with Dr. John Boojamra. Again. 19 (1) 10-13.
- Boojamra, John L. (n.d.). Baptism: A way to life. Newsletter, Department of Christian Education, Antiochian Orthodox Christian Archdiocese, Volume 10 (1), Special Edition.
Excerpts from Publications
Boojamra, John L. (1989). Foundations for Orthodox Christian education. Crestwood, NY: St. Vladimir's Seminary Press. (p. 8).
"Christian education is by its nature total education. It involves total persons throughout their lives, and it involves the total parish in every aspect of its life. It cannot be limited to or defined by the classroom, with the child as the sole learner or the teacher as the sole educator."
Boojamra, John L. (1989). Foundations for Orthodox Christian education. Crestwood, NY: St. Vladimir's Seminary Press. (p. 9).
"We have ignored the fact that Christianity is religion of adults, presented in adult categories, and speaking to needs that adults, through life-experiences have come to possess."
Boojamra, John L. (1991a). The Liberation of Christian Education. Phronema, 6, 39-49. (p. 40).
"Christian education is properly hypostagogy, since it is the education of the 'whole' person (he teleiotes) (2 Col. 3:14, Heb, 6:1) in preparation for 'whole' personhood. The efforts of Christian educators must either parallel normal human growth processes or stimulate those processes. In fact, the educational function of the Church is the nurturing of individuals into the fullness of humanity of Christ's perfect personhood, thus building up the 'body' of Christ, 'until we all may arrive at the unity of faith and the understanding of the Son of God that brings completeness of personality, tending toward the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ' (Eph. 4:13).
Boojamra, John L. (1996c). Interview with Dr. John Boojamra. Again, 19:1, 10-13. (p. 11).
"The most unique contribution of Orthodoxy in (education) is the Church's careful distinction between experience and explanation, and the truth that the experience of any reality always precedes the explanation."
Boojamra, John L. (1996a). Towards a Philosophy of Christian Education. The Word, December. (p. 17).
"The function of Christian Education is, among other things and for programmatic purposes, organized around two principles - conveying information and building community. These two points have found their way into our curriculum materials as well as into my lectures and workshops. We have, for instance, focused on 'cooperative education' as a way of teaching and learning, conveying information and building a sense of community. The second point is the more difficult. It is connected to the first inasmuch as all learning is relational by nature; that is it happens between people and among people. In general, little learning takes place, except in highly motivated situations such as graduate schools in specialized areas, by the traditional lecture and classroom format. People learn best by relating to one another."
Boojamra, John L. (2000-2001). Translating our vision: The ethical dimension. St. Nersess Theological Review, 5-6 (p. 150).
"In the twenty-first century formal pedagogy will be the single most important ministry in the Church, especially when the culture in which we have chosen to live or which we have ourselves created supports less and less what Christians deem virtuous and ethical."
Boojamra, John L. (2000-2001). Translating our vision: The ethical dimension. St. Nersess Theological Review, 5-6. (pp. 150-151).
"It is clear that pedagogy (child education), androgogy (adult education), or hypostagogy (personhood education) will be an important part of the Orthodox Church in the new century. The basic issue we have to deal with in ethics is the integrity of human personhood, and that integrity growing and developing in a believing community which expresses itself both liturgically, in the broad sense of a worshipping community, and socially as carrying with it certain customary variables that describe it and by which it describes itself."
Boojamra, John L. (1988). "The captivity of Orthodox Christian education," in T. Stylianopoulos (Ed.), Orthodox Perspectives on Pastoral Praxis, pp. 127-141. Brookline, MA: Holy Cross Orthodox Press.
Boojamra reviews the present state of the educational enterprise in the Orthodox Church in North America, in particular reviewing how the Orthodox have adopted concerns, approaches, theories, and methodologies that may not be consistent with Orthodox values.
Boojamra, John L. (1989). Foundations for Orthodox Christian Education. Crestwood, NY: St. Vladimir's Seminary Press.
A compilation of Boojamra's major writings on Christian education where we see Boojamra engaging contemporary thought on Christian education. In them we can see issues that he will return to throughout his work, especially the issue of personhood education or hypastogogy â a term he will coin later and the role of community â family and parish â in the educational endeavor.
Boojamra, John L., (1991a). The Liberation of Christian Education. Phronema, 6, 39-49.
In this essay, Boojamra proposes hypastogogy â the education of the whole person - as the goal of Christian education from an Orthodox perspective. He places the theological concept of personhood â hypostasis, which emerged in the Trinitarian and Christological controversies of the fourth century within the realm of educational theory. Note: Phronema is a journal published by the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of Australia, not easily located in libraries.
Boojamra, John L. (1998). Constantine and the Council of Arles: The foundation of Church and State in the Christian east. Greek Orthodox Theological Review, 43, 129-141.
Using primary sources, Boojamra examines Constantine the Great's interest and involvement in the Council of Arles (AD 314) and his impact on the subsequent involvement of the new Christian empire in ecclesiastical matters.
Boojamra, John L. (1993). The Church and social reform: The policies of the Patriarch Athanasios of Constantinople. New York: Fordham University Press.
The Byzantine Orthodox Church was perhaps the strongest institution in the empire after the restoration of Byzantine control following the Latin occupation (1204-1261) caused by the Fourth Crusade. Boojamra studies the policies of Patriarch Athanasios of Constantinople who occupied the throne twice (1289-1293, 1303-1309). The book explores Athanasios' calls for social justice and his political involvement renewing the central imperial institutions.
Anton C. Vrame, Ph.D. (Boston College) is Director of the Department of Religious Education of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America.