Actor's Roots Are in the Pious Life

THE LOS ANGELES TIMES, June 21—Actor LeVar Burton is still remembered for his performance as Kunta Kinte in the now-classic film Roots, and younger fans know him as Lt. Geordi LaForge in Star Trek: The Next Generation. With his own film production company, Eagle Nation Film, Burton is also host and co-executive producer of Reading Rainbow, a PBS children's television show that has garnered five Emmys in its 16 seasons.

In an interview with the Times' Candace Wedlan, Burton also revealed much about his own spiritual life, including his early interest in the priest-hood.

“I was educated by Catholic nuns. In sixth grade I had a teacher who was a staunch disciplinarian,” Burton remembered with affection. “‘Don't be a lazy lump,’ Sister Mary Philip would say, and she would strut around with her ruler clasped behind her back …”

Burton decided to become a priest “when I was 8 or so. I entered the seminary when I was 13. Even then I had some sense that one's life must contribute something. I stayed at St. Pius until I was 17.”

While it was an experience he cherishes, Burton said the seminary served to reveal that he was not meant to be a priest. He decided “it was possible for me to be a spiritual warrior without … a collar.”

Religious and secular plays at the seminary inspired a love for the theater. “A large part of what I was attracted to in that job was the mystery, the spectacle and the performance in addition to the opportunity to be a part of the spiritual life, a community of people,” he observed. “The Catholic liturgy is incredibly theatrical.“

While not speaking in a pejorative sense, Burton explained that “the best priests are very gifted actors. The most prominent spiritual leaders are all charismatic personalities. They're all performers.”

Protestants Help Bring Back Orthodox CCD

RELIGION TODAY, July 1—American Protestants are helping Russian Orthodox Christians teach Sunday school, according to the ecumenical news service.

Ontario, Calif.-based Gospel Literature International created a curriculum for Russia's 15,000 Orthodox parishes. Orthodox leaders approved it and are making it available to their parishes for $1 per book, said Religion Today.

The nonprofit group was established by Gospel Light Publications, a Christian publishing house. The partnership is “nothing short of a miracle” in view of the Orthodox Church's negative views of the West and theology that is often at odds with that of Protestantism, Gospel Literature's Zhanna Berezkina said.

When Gospel Light President Bill Greig told Orthodox leaders he wanted to develop a curriculum for Russia's children, “it took us about two years to win them over,” Berezkina said. Suspicions faded when the Orthodox saw the care taken to adapt the literature to Russian Orthodox liturgy and tradition, said Religion Today.

“We did not want to promote our own ideas or theology,” Berezkina said. Lessons use Byzantine illustrations and follow Scripture readings in the Orthodox calendar.

The Communist government that ruled from 1917-1989 disallowed Christian education for young people, creating the need for a comprehensive Bible curriculum for children. Gospel Literature worked with the Orthodox Church in America to write the curriculum. Printing is funded by churches from many denominations in the West.