A GREAT TRIBUTE TO A GREAT TEACHER
A Seminary Student Remembers What He Learned from His English Teacher, Mrs. Lillian Arezina
By Fr. Slobodan Čavka
The job of a teacher is a sacrifice. The job of a teacher is not to think for the students, but to teach the students to think for themselves. The job of a teacher is a selfless, not a selfish act. The job of a teacher concerns altruism, not egotism. It does not a matter what a teacher can do, rather the success of a teacher is reflected in what her students are able to achieve. A true teacher teaches her students not only facts but makes her students into better people.
The list of such principles could go on and on. From my point of view, all the above have something in common. All these principles are beautifully displayed in the life of Lillian Arezina, the English language teacher at St. Sava College of Theology in Libertyville.
It seems to me that in memoriam articles in modern society, in a way commit an injustice to deserving people. Such form of posthumous honors, from a human perspective, arrive too late. Although I am aware that “the Lord’s eyes see differently than man's,” and that His judgment is incorruptible, fair and final, I still want to - contrary to established practices - write a word about a person who is still with us.
Not meaning to sound too harsh, I am afraid that we who are in the church or of the church are negligent in honoring these important and deserving people. This is true especially if their help is no longer needed and they “can no longer do anything to us”.
It is not my intention to fill this text with her biographical data, but to rather convey something of the indelible spiritual traces, which this diligent woman is leaving behind. On behalf of her former students, I wish to emphasize what we are eternally grateful to our teacher Lillian Arezina, who was so much more.
Her venerable character has truly always been - and will always be - a source of strength and inspiration for her students. She chose teaching as her lifelong profession. This is an honorable profession, which has placed her in a tragically privileged position. Even though her circumstances, the system, and the people – everything had directed her to be bad, she was good. Even though everything directed her to be selfish, she was generous. Even though everything directed her to “slow down on her job”, she remained dedicated. Even though everything directed her not to trust people, she, however, trusted them.
Her message to her students was clearly written above her desk: “Go into the world and do well, but more importantly, go into the world and do good”! In addition, we heard her frequently repeated words, saying: “Have the strength to be different!” Undoubtedly, she knew that more than any words, her life would be the strongest message and instruction for us. To do as she wrote and as she spoke. She was a woman of action, with inexhaustible energy, with a constant need to be on the move, but she was also always ready for the main, character role. Although fully aware of her talents and abilities, as well as her character, she lived much more for others than for herself.
She helped by advising, educating, and often financially. Finding themselves in a foreign country, our young people did not have many doors on which they could knock. To knock and to have them open. The door of her heart was always open. Even if I was working with accurate statistics, I could hardly list all the educational courses that she paid for our students, all the traffic fines she settled, all the debts she returned on behalf of others, all the checks she wrote to help her students...
She was patient even with the ignorant and deceiving, which she was clearly able to discern. Even if those disagreed with her, the point is that from the encounter with her they would always come out smarter and better, and more aware of what was their real value. Although she taught only English, she also taught us many lessons and prepared us for life. And at the very beginning, this was the least what we expected from “her” class. It seems that she labored, and others have entered into her labor (Jn. 4:38). Unrelated, but a very important point.
Her living faith in the risen Lord was tested, and confirmed, when in 2004, in an attempted robbery, her husband was monstrously killed by several young men – because of 40 dollars in his pocket.
Words can hardly describe what an impact this tragic death had on her life. Thirty-seven years of a good marriage were terminated when two of them were supposed to enjoy the fruits of their love - their children. Her husband was successful in everything he did, but his greatest desire to be a grandfather was denied. A life paradox presents a sad fact that such a quiet and peaceful man was so brutally and violently murdered.
What is even sadder is that Lillian spent her entire teaching career working with young people, helping them to become the best possible. It is indeed ironic that precisely the young people brought so much pain into her life.
This pain she endured knowing that our life is but a journey to the place where there is no sorrow or pain, to the place where we encounter Him, Who is and who does so that we are. This belief helped her not to get attached to earthly things, but to weave good works, securing them to heaven.
Undoubtedly, Lillian Arezina had a direct and fruitful influence on the work of St. Sava College of Theology in Libertyville, and indirectly on the life of the Serbian Orthodox Church, but also on the fullness of Orthodoxy in America. Through her example, I learned that there are no ancient and modern people, but only the true and false ones.
Although aware that only eternity will reveal the full range of this woman’s life, I wanted to thank God - in this way - for allowing me and many others to have her as a teacher, a friend... a mother. At the same time, I will continue to pray that she, with her Christian influence and her testimony, continues to illumine the way for many young souls, which are in a desperate need of light. Artificial illumination or sanctity somehow does not appeal to me. Therefore, my wish is that this text is a reminder to all teachers, that it is far more effective seeing a sermon, than hearing it...