Gleanings from a Book: “Anthony, the Great” by John Sarantakis, Illustrated by Misha Pjawka

Just because Anthony is only “four fingers old” doesn’t keep him from helping his family members to keep perspective on their challenges. However, being four has trials of its own, and being a four-year-old who is also an Orthodox Christian affords additional unique tests. But Anthony is ready to meet his challenges! He faces them well with the help of his sidekick Mikey (who happens to be a stuffed dinosaur) and of his patron saint, St. Anthony the Great.

In “Anthony, the Great”, Deacon John Sarantakis offers the tale of a young boy struggling to struggle. The book begins with Anthony reminding everyone that whatever they’re going through is not as big as a dinosaur. Readers of all ages can relate to some part of Anthony’s personality: whether to his love for dinosaurs, his desire for adventure, or his determination to be right. They will be challenged by Anthony’s longing to emulate his patron saint; even when everyone – right down to his favorite stuffed toy – does not do things exactly how he wishes they would be done. Throughout his challenges, Anthony faithfully struggles, as did his patron saint. Each time he does so, love and warmth well up in the heart of the person Anthony has blessed by his struggle. By the end of the book, Anthony discovers something BIGGER than a dinosaur, which is really something to realize!

Misha Pjawka’s watercolor, gouache, and pencil on hot pressed paper illustrations interact with the text in a beautiful dance of playfulness and color, charmingly collaborating to enhance the tale. There’s a degree of transparency to the illustrations that effectively communicates the storyline while also speaking to the state of Anthony’s soul: he clearly longs to do what is right. The book offers its readers an unclouded look at his struggle, both through the text and illustrations. (Side note: both young readers and the young at heart will especially enjoy watching Mikey throughout the book, as he wholeheartedly embraces Anthony’s experiences and adds a touch of humor with his take on them.)

The book ends with a brief overview of the life of St. Anthony. It tells some of his story, and includes his icon. There’s just enough of his story there to help the reader appreciate Anthony’s desire to emulate his patron saint, and perhaps to whet their appetite to learn more about this holy saint who is sometimes called the “father of monasticism.”

I can’t help wishing that Anthony were a real boy. I know that I would enjoy hanging out with him and Mikey, and learning how to emulate St. Anthony the Great by interacting with them. Although he is a fictional character, at least I can enter into Anthony’s life for a moment and be challenged by his struggle to struggle, every time I read “Anthony, the Great”.

 

Purchase your own copy of “Anthony, the Great” here: https://store.ancientfaith.com/anthony-the-great/

Here are a few gleanings from the book, as well as some educational suggestions you could incorporate if you choose to teach a lesson that includes the book. The book is aimed towards children aged 2-10, but perhaps (depending on the makeup of the class) older children would benefit from reading it in the context of a lesson:

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“No matter what the day may bring, Papa and Mama often take time to remind Anthony what it means to be an Orthodox Christian.” (p. 10, “Anthony, the Great”, by John Sarantakis, Illustrated by Misha Pjawka)

After reading the whole book once, go back to this part. Ask your class what they think Anthony’s parents told him that it means to be an Orthodox Christian? And what does Mr. Sarantakis mean by “No matter what the day may bring?” Ask the class if they pray the prayer that includes this phrase, “Whatsoever tidings I may receive during the day, teach me to accept them calmly, in the firm conviction that all eventualities fulfil Thy holy will…”. If they do, how does it help them during the day when they get good or bad news? If they don’t pray this one, perhaps you could provide a printed copy for them to take with them, so they can learn it and pray it each morning. Find the prayer in its entirety here: http://www.stgeorgeofboston.org/ourfaith/prayers/morningprayer

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“‘We strive to love God more than anything else,’ says Mama. ‘Sometimes that means not getting or doing what we want. That can be hard. Even so, we struggle to put others before ourselves.’”  (p. 10, “Anthony, the Great”, by John Sarantakis, Illustrated by Misha Pjawka)

Draw a big heart on the board or whiteboard. Ask your students what they love. They will probably mention things, people, and experiences. Then refer to Mama’s quote about trying to love God more than anything else. Ask your students how they do that, and if they agree with Mama that it is hard. Inside the heart, make a (student-generated) list of ways to love God more than anyone or anything else.

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“His patron saint, St. Anthony the Great, had to struggle. A lot… Anthony quietly prayed that he might be more like this great saint of God.” (p. 13, “Anthony, the Great”, by John Sarantakis, Illustrated by Misha Pjawka)

Ask your students what they know about their patron saint. Remind them that the more they know about their saint, the better they will be able to emulate them and the more likely they will feel close enough to their patron saint to ask for their prayers. Encourage them to pray that they will become more like their saint. Here is a blog post suggesting ways to teach children about the saints. Although it is geared to parents, it has some tips that Sunday Church School teachers will be able to utilize as well: http://www.orthodoxmotherhood.com/teaching-your-children-about-the-saints/

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“Papa says temptations are chances to show our love for God.” (p. 16, “Anthony, the Great”, by John Sarantakis, Illustrated by Misha Pjawka)

Ask your class why they think it is that, multiple times each day, we pray that God will lead us not into temptation, yet we constantly find ourselves being tempted? Suggest that perhaps Anthony’s statement about what his papa says can help us to wrap our minds around why we are tempted. Find some resources that will help you think about temptations (in the context of the Lord’s Prayer) here: https://orthodoxchurchschoolteachers.wordpress.com/2016/04/08/on-the-lords-prayer-and-lead-us-not-into-temptation/

The Bible verse stick craft at this page can help your students learn some verses about temptation: https://orthodoxpebbles.com/orthodox-basics/tending-garden-week6/

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“…He was struggling to struggle. He wanted what he wanted when he wanted it, and he wanted to do what he wanted to do when he wanted to do it! Even so, Anthony, remembering his prayer, decided to act like his saint…” (p. 25, “Anthony, the Great”, by John Sarantakis, Illustrated by Misha Pjawka)

After reading “Anthony, the Great”, as you revisit and discuss the book, when you arrive at this part of the book, ask your students what they think about struggle. Is it bad? Is it good? Why do they say that? Can they give examples of times in their own life when they struggle to struggle? In the Orthodox Christian Church, we recognize that struggle is an important – and necessary – part of our Christian life. Read what the scriptures and the Church fathers have to say about it here (and also find related lesson ideas if it seems that your students need to spend more time learning about this important piece of our faith): https://orthodoxchurchschoolteachers.wordpress.com/2018/07/27/on-struggle/

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“‘My sweet boy, because you struggled against what you wanted, you helped your family. I’m proud of you. When we do these things, we imitate Christ’s sacrifice and love for us. A love that is bigger and greater than anything else in the world.’” ~ Anthony’s Papa (p. 27, “Anthony, the Great”, by John Sarantakis, Illustrated by Misha Pjawka)

Ask your students to consider how big God’s love is. Anthony’s Papa says it’s bigger than anything else in the world, and Anthony calls it “bigger than a dinosaur”! Encourage your students to draw or write their response on this page. When they’ve finished, allow each student to share their comparison. Talk about all of these big things, and how much bigger God’s love is. Encourage each other to remember God’s big love, and sacrifice our desires as we imitate Christ and His love.

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On Pentecost and Missions

We often remember Pentecost as being the day of the descent of the Holy Spirit. We remember the tongues of fire and wonder what that experience would have been like. Perhaps we also limit the important events of that day to the room in which the Apostles were waiting as Christ had commanded them to do when he ascended into heaven. We may not think about the rest of that day, or what happened beyond the room.

Pentecost is considered to be the birthday of the Church. After all, it was on this day that the Holy Spirit descended upon the Apostles. That, in itself, was an event worth celebrating, but it did not just happen for the Apostles’ edification. When He descended upon the Apostles, the Holy Spirit enabled them to fulfill Christ’s command to go into all the world and preach the Gospel. We don’t always ponder that connection when we celebrate Pentecost.

So, let’s take a moment to think together about what actually happened that day. When the Holy Spirit descended upon the Apostles, He gave them the ability to speak in other languages. And they didn’t just sit there and marvel at what had happened. Instead, they immediately put that ability to use. They left their secluded room and went right out into the world around them where many people of different languages were gathered. The Apostles began to speak to these others, sharing with them the good news about Christ. Miraculously, because of the Holy Spirit, they could speak to these strangers in their very own languages! And what happened? Acts 2 tells us that more than 3,000 people became part of the Church on that day! That’s quite a birthday celebration!

The icon of Pentecost shows the Apostles in their room, with the tongues of fire over their heads, but it also speaks to the rest of the day’s events. If you look closely at the icon, you see an old crowned man at the bottom of the icon. He is called “Cosmos” and represents the people of the world. He’s crowned to show that people rule over the world itself, but he’s in the dark to remind us of the darkness that everyone is in without Christ. Cosmos is holding 12 scrolls, representing the 12 Apostles who left the safety and blessing of the Spirit-filled upper room to carry the good news of the Gospel to all corners of the world. So, right there in the festal icon, we see this link between Pentecost and missions.

So, as we celebrate Pentecost, let us not just focus on the coming of the Holy Spirit. Yes, His descent upon the Apostles (and on us) is hugely important! We need Him just to breathe and live! But let’s also remember that Cosmos is still in the dark, whether “he” is down the hall, across the street, in another corner of our country, or another part of the world. Just like the Apostles, we must take this gift of the Holy Spirit, which we were given at baptism and Chrismation, and share the good news of the Gospel to every part of the world where we find ourselves. We don’t need to fear not being able to speak the right words: the Holy Spirit will provide (Luke 12:12), just as He did for the Apostles on Pentecost.

Let us celebrate the birthday of the Church with joy. But let us also continue to do our part to accomplish the purpose for Pentecost: that is, to fulfill Christ’s command of going into all the world and preaching the Gospel! May the holy Apostles intercede for us as we go.

Blessed art Thou, O Christ our God,

who hast revealed the fishermen as most wise

by sending down upon them the Holy Spirit:

through them Thou didst draw the world into Thy net.

O Lover of Man, Glory to Thee

(Troparion for the Feast of Pentecost).

Here are some lesson plans about Pentecost and Missions that may be helpful as you plan to teach your Sunday Church School students about the link between them:
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Here are lesson plans about missions at a variety of levels: https://oca.org/the-hub/study-guides/sharing-the-good-news-orthodox-christian-mission-educational-materials-in-c

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This lesson about Pentecost for younger children includes a beautiful icon of the feast, and an explanation that includes Cosmos (at the bottom of the icon). https://orthodoxpebbles.com/new-testament/holy-pentecost/

Find a printable line art version of the icon of Pentecost here: http://orthodoxeducation.blogspot.com/2015/06/pentecost-coloring-icon.html

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“To be a Christian is to be on a mission. And this mission isn’t just something that happened in the past. At this very moment there are missionaries traveling all over the world, preaching the Gospel… And we should remember that this missionary life doesn’t simply belong in faraway places. It belongs in our cities, our neighborhoods, in the everyday life of our parishes.” ~ Steve Christoforou, “Be the Bee” episode 73, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_nkLcoeCEl0&feature=youtu.be

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Hear “Lord have mercy” in many of the languages of Orthodoxy in the video found here (which also shows images of Orthodox Christians around the world) http://orthodoxeducation.blogspot.com/2008/06/languages-of-orthodoxy.html

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This lesson plan about missions and ideas of ways to raise money to support it includes a story from Kenya: https://www.goarch.org/-/missions

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Here’s a missions-focused lesson plan for elementary/middle school: https://www.ocmc.org/images/PDFs/2018_lesson_plan(elementary%20middle%20school).pdf

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Here’s a missions-focused lesson plan for high school students: https://www.ocmc.org/images/PDFs/2017_lesson_plan(high%20school).pdf

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Here’s a missions-focused lesson plan for high school/adults: https://www.ocmc.org/images/PDFs/2018_lesson_plan(high%20school%20adult).pdf

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This series of lessons (available at all age levels) includes this: “As God’s children we are called to witness our faith.   We are called to understand who we are as Orthodox Christians, and to bear witness to God with our families and friends by being good neighbors, reaching out to help others, and standing up and protecting those who are being mistreated, or are victims of discrimination or prejudice.” Find the series (6 lessons at each level) here: http://dce.oca.org/focus/orthodox/

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These three Grade 6-leveled lessons on missions could be adapted for use with older and/or younger students: https://www.orthodoxcatechismproject.org/grade-6/-/asset_publisher/sVl6TXix4npP/content/missions

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Perhaps your entire parish would like to spend a retreat day focusing on missions/evangelism. Here’s what one parish did: http://dce.oca.org/mini/evangelism/

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Your students may wonder what is it like to begin a mission in another part of the world. Share this article about a new mission in Kenya, and encourage your class to remember these brothers and sisters of ours in your prayers: https://www.ocmc.org/resources/view_article.aspx?ArticleId=2411

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Gleanings from a Book: A Forest in the Desert the Life of St. John the Short, by Creative Orthodox

There are very few Orthodox Christian graphic novels. Presumably this is due to the fact that it takes so much time and energy to create one, especially if one wishes to accurately share the life of a saint. St. John the Short was no ordinary person, and therefore this is no ordinary graphic novel. I am grateful that Creative Orthodox* spent so many years researching St. John’s life and painstakingly creating this book. Presenting the story of St. John the Short through the use of this storytelling medium makes his story accessible to people of so many different ages. Young and old alike will enjoy this book and learn so much about (and from!) St. John’s life. As they read, they will be strengthened in their faith. This graphic novel effectively brings to life St. John the Short’s wisdom and insights.

“A Forest in the Desert” shares the life of St. John the Short. It begins with his first youthful attempt to go into the desert and become a monk, follows through his actual monastic calling, and continues all the way through his monastic life. The book offers a glimpse into monastic life as it was in his lifetime. The stories about St. John are intertwined with glimpses into his wisdom, expressed here in his own words. There are also accounts of miracles which God wrought through him, including the healing of a leper and that of a demon-possessed woman; an amazing encounter with the three Hebrew youths from the fiery furnace in Babylon; and more.

The book closes with an epilogue which allows the reader further insights into some of the saints mentioned in St. John’s story. There follow pages of interesting notes, with additional details about some of the events and/or illustrations on previous pages. Each note is clearly labeled with its corresponding page number and adds depth to the book as a whole. Following the notes are illustrations of several of St. John’s sayings.

Creative Orthodox has beautifully utilized the medium of the graphic novel, finding just the right words while also knowing when it is better to communicate with an illustration instead. Many times the drawings say more than words could, thus communicating ideas and events in a way that is easily (and quickly!) understandable. The drawings, done with pen and ink, are simple enough to appreciate at a glance, but detailed enough to convey what they are meant to illustrate. And, while they are not icons, the illustrations (and this book as a whole) point the reader to Christ through the life of this wonderful saint, St. John the Short.

I am truly grateful that Creative Orthodox was kind enough to share the ebook version of this extraordinary graphic novel so that I could read it and share it with you. I have already read it more than once, and have gleaned more from the life of this inspiring saint with each reading.

 

*Note: Michael Elgamal created “Creative Orthodox” so that his work would not be about him. Follow Creative Orthodox’s work through the social media links found here: https://creativeorthodox.com/

Order your copy of this graphic novel here: https://www.facebook.com/pg/creativeorthodox/shop/

Here are a few gleanings from the book, as well as a few suggestions of how to use the book to teach your Sunday Church School students about the life of St. John the Short:

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Bring seeds, a small sapling, and a piece of a branch of a tree (with leaves and seeds, if possible) into class. Place them where the students can see them, to arouse curiosity. When you share this quote from “A Forest in the Desert”, you’ll have props to help your students understand what you’re talking about.

“Saintly life is like a tree. It starts with a seed sown by Christ, that grows through attention and care to spiritual life into a fruitful tree, not only strengthening and nurturing itself, but also giving rise to countless other trees.” (pp. 7-10, “A Forest in the Desert the Life of St. John the Short”, by Creative Orthodox)

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If you are able, take your students outside before sharing the life of St. John the Short with them. Before Church School, stick a stick in the ground somewhere outside the church. When you bring your students outside, show them the stick. Ask them if it is likely to grow. If you have time (and water access), have each student take their turn to get water from a source (preferably a ways away from the stick) and carry it over, to water the stick. Ask again if it is likely to grow. Ask students if they’d water this old stick every day if someone asked them to, and why (or why not).

Then share the story of Elder Amoi’s test of St. John the Short with them. “One day, the Elder Amoi was inspired. He took a piece of dry wood and called John. He asked him to fill a bucket with water and follow. They walked for hours… Abba Amoi planted the stick firmly into the ground. ‘I want you to walk to the well daily, fill up a bucket with water, and come here to water the stick.’ …John understood that watering a dry stick wouldn’t bring it to life, but he quietly obeyed out of love for his abba. And this was how John’s biggest trial started. It wasn’t a one-time test of endurance. It was a daily test of love, perseverance, and obedience… John continued to water the stick every single day for three consecutive years. And the stick into a beautiful tree. Abba Amoi took the fruit of the tree, gathered the monks, and gave it to the elders, saying, ‘Take, eat from the fruit of obedience.’” (pp. 65-70, “A Forest in the Desert the Life of St. John the Short”, by Creative Orthodox)

Talk about obedience and how it can be fruitful. What examples can your students share of times when they were obedient, and were blessed to see the fruit of their obedience?

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Older students will be able to engage in a conversation about this quote:“The saints of God are like a fine tree full of lush green leaves and glorious fruit that are planted in Paradise. Trees that are decorated with all beauties, adorned with glory and placed in a spring – a spiritual spring of life that is the Holy Spirit that waters all of our hearts. Likewise, if a kernel of wheat has to die in order to give fruit, and Christ had to give His life on the Cross in order to give us life, the saints too have to present their lives in sacrifice in order to bear fruit.” ~ St. John the Short (pp. 118-120, “A Forest in the Desert the Life of St. John the Short”, by Creative Orthodox)

To discuss: What other examples from the natural world can you give (besides a tree and a kernel of wheat) that can help us to understand what Christ and the saints have done, in order to bear fruit? What examples from your own life can you share? How have you “died” to yourself, and seen God work in you/seen fruit come from that “death”?

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Near the beginning of a fast, you could share this quote from St. John the Short. Before you do so, however, you may wish to plant several bricks in your classroom and pose the question, “How is fasting like a brick wall?” Field answers, then share this analogy from St. John the Short.

 

“…you frequently find yourselves asking, ‘Why do we fast so often?’ I’ll tell you why. When a king seeks to conquer a city, he surrounds the city walls and blocks access to its water well, spoiling the city’s food supplies. The defending city will soon give in to hunger and thirst and will fall to the attacking army. This is exactly like fasting. When you abstain from eating, you control yourself and guard your soul to rule over evil.” ~ St. John the Short (p. 126, “A Forest in the Desert the Life of St. John the Short”, by Creative Orthodox)

 

Ask your class what they think about the analogy. In what ways does it hold well? Are there any ways that it doesn’t? Consider giving each student a brick and allowing them to write/draw (with oil pens or permanent markers) on their brick all the ways in which fasting will help them to control themselves and guard their soul against evil. Either stack these bricks as a monument in your classroom, to remind all of you of the reason for the fast for its duration, or send each student’s brick home with them to place where they can be reminded of the reasons for fasting (especially when they’re tempted to complain about it).

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Teachers of younger children who wish to share the life of St. John the Short will wish to read “A Forest in the Desert” before class, and select which portions of his life would be best shared with their students. They can then read (or retell) those stories in class, and then offer the students St John the Short favorite part, which will allow the students to respond with their favorite part of his life.

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Teachers of older students may want several copies of “A Forest in the Desert” so that the class can read it together. Depending on the length of class, you may need to break St. John the Short’s story into segments, reading and discussing each in a separate Sunday Church School class period. After having read and discussed the entire book, encourage your students to illustrate their favorite quote from St. John the Short. Or, push them to think of another saint whose graphic novel life story they’d love to read, and offer them this printable so that they can share part of that saint’s life in their own mini-version. (If you do this, consider making copies of the students’ mini-stories and putting all of them together into a class “book” which tells parts of the lives of many different saints!

On Finishing Strong: Ideas for the End of the Church School Year

Some members of our community will soon be finishing their Church School year, to take a break for the summer. Others of us will continue to meet with our students, but will finish in just a few months. Regardless of how soon our year ends, it is wise for us to finish well in order to better send our Church School students off to their next class.

Here are a few ideas of ways to do so:

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Take a class at the end of the year to review what you have studied throughout the year. We amassed a collection of fun review games and ideas here: https://orthodoxchurchschoolteachers.wordpress.com/2015/05/08/ideas-for-year-end-review/

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To encourage your students to express their appreciation for each other, you may wish to incorporate “Goodbye Stars” like these, where each student writes a little note of appreciation on their classmate’s star. (Or, perhaps you’d prefer to use a paper icon, and have them write the notes on the back of the icon or on a card to which it is attached.) https://proudtobeprimary.com/end-of-the-year-goodbye-stars/

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Will you hand out awards at the end of Sunday Church School this year? If so, consider awards like these that focus on the virtues. https://orthodoxchurchschoolteachers.wordpress.com/2017/05/26/on-virtuous-year-end-awards/

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If you are considering offering awards to your students, perhaps you will be inspired by some of these (free!) ideas: https://www.teacherspayteachers.com/Product/End-of-Year-Awards-Freebie-Christian-Character-Awards-3825690

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If you plan to give your students a parting gift, perhaps these clever tags will inspire you to create something similar of your own. https://lessons4littleones.com/2016/04/13/end-of-the-year-student-gifts-gift-tags/

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Here’s another idea for a parting gift. This one offers a variety of “life lessons” symbolized by things kids can use. http://lessonswithlaughter.com/end-of-year-gifts-updated/

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Once the year is finished, be sure to review the year and make notes for yourself for future years. Need some ideas of what to think about? Check out these: https://orthodoxchurchschoolteachers.wordpress.com/2017/06/02/on-evaluating-the-sunday-church-school-year/

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If your Sunday Church School class does not meet over summer,  you may wish to maintain the relationship you’ve built with each student in some special way. Here are some suggested ideas of how to do so: https://orthodoxchurchschoolteachers.wordpress.com/2016/06/17/on-supporting-your-students-throughout-the-summer/

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Gleanings from a Book: “Putting Joy into Practice: Seven Ways to Lift Your Spirit from the Early Church” by Phoebe Farag Mikhail

Note: This book sat on my shelf for several weeks, waiting until I had time to read and review it. Despite the delay, it turns out that the timing is perfect. Here we are, right in the midst of the Paschal season, and the book is full of references to the Resurrection of Christ. And it should be so! For how else can we, Christ’s followers, better celebrate His Resurrection than by responding with joy? If we truly know and believe what He has accomplished for us, our “light and momentary troubles” – yes, even the impossible ones we may be facing at this very moment – pale in comparison to His victory. St. John Chrysostom’s homily which we all just heard at Pascha says, “Christ is risen! And the angels rejoice!” My brothers and sisters, let us join with the angels!

Phoebe Farag Mikhail’s book “Putting Joy into Practice: Seven Ways to Lift Your Spirit from the Early Church” is a balm for the disheartened soul. The author has found a way to simultaneously calm, soothe, and reassure the reader while also challenging them to live in an attitude of godly joy. Readers will step away from the book knowing what they need to do, with tools at the ready to assist them as they pursue true joy.

The book begins with an invitation section which answers the question, “What is joy?;” then offers insights into who/what steals joy from our life. The (much larger) second section of the book introduces seven joyful practices. These seven practices which the author offers as means to the pursuit of joy include: praying the hours; visiting the sick; repenting; giving thanks; offering hospitality; praying arrow prayers; and singing praises to God. Each practice is expounded via stories (both from the author’s experience and from others), scriptures, quotes from Church fathers, contemporary writings, scientific findings (as appropriate), and more. The book closes with an appropriate epilogue, casting the joy-filled light of the resurrection on a modern story of martyrdom which to the world seems to be only a tragedy.

The author admits that it took her five years to write this book from beginning to end. This was not because she had to search for so long to find all the right quotes or because she only has to write in the few moments left here and there to a wife/mother (who also happens to be a Coptic priest’s wife). Rather, she took five years to write the book because, at one point as she was writing, she found herself not practicing joy. She wanted the book to be genuine, tested, lived, so she set the writing aside and worked on her heart. It is my opinion that it was worth her wait. The text is a smooth blend of stories, practical advice, and wisdom founded on the strong base of Scripture and the wisdom of the Church fathers.

Although the author is a Coptic Orthodox Christian, this book is written in such a way that any reader who wants to live a more joyful Christian life will benefit greatly from having read the book. The references to Christian practices exercised in Ms. Mihail’s Church may differ from some other expressions of Christianity, but the ideas behind them are helpful to any follower of Christ. “Putting Joy into Practice” helps its readers to find practical ways to live out St. Paul’s exhortation to the Thessalonians (and to us): “Rejoice always… for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.” (I Thess. 5:16, 18)

If you are generally a joyful person, read this book. It will give you reasons to continue choosing joy, as well as  tools to boost your not-so-joyful days. If you are a complainer and grouch, say a prayer and then read this book, but prepare to change your attitude. Ms. Mikhail’s challenge is difficult to dodge, because the scriptures and Church fathers are pretty straightforward. Regardless of the attitude of their heart at the beginning of the book, readers will step away from it with a smile on their face and – better yet – with joy in their heart.

Purchase your own copy of “Putting Joy into Practice” here: https://paracletepress.com/products/putting-joy-into-practice

Find additional writings by author Phoebe Farag Mikhail at her website, http://beingincommunity.com/.

 

Here are a few gleanings from this book:

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“Why is living in joy so hard? What can we do to live in the joy of the Resurrection when there are so many ways our joy can be stolen? As I pondered these questions, they led me on a path of trying to learn why joy is so hard, but more importantly, to learn how to live in joy, how to protect it from the thieves that strive to steal it, and how to share it with others.” (p. 8, “Putting Joy into Practice: Seven Ways to Lift Your Spirit from the Early Church” by Phoebe Farag Mikhail)

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“We might not be happy every day; in fact, we might face suffering every day. But we can have joy every day. Running after joy is akin to holding a cup upside down. Joy is there, waiting to be given, but it doesn’t enter in. Rather than running after joy the way we might seek after pleasures or happy circumstances, we must instead rest and reorient ourselves into a posture of receiving, not running. The practices I share here are meant to help us reorient ourselves, to turn our cup right side up so that joy enters, and we exclaim, in the words of the psalmist, ‘My cup runs over’ (Psalm 23:5).” (pp. 15-16, “Putting Joy into Practice: Seven Ways to Lift Your Spirit from the Early Church” by Phoebe Farag Mikhail)

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“Joy thieves can be just like the little animals that steal tomatoes from the garden. On the outside, they can be small, cute, and furry, even comforting, and yet somehow they can still manage to steal our joy. The early church fathers called them ‘the passions.’ In this context, passions are not to be completely confused with our modern use of the word to describe a positive, driven desire to do something good or meaningful. Nor are they to be confused with the ‘passion of Christ,’ which is related to the Latin word for suffering and endurance. Rather, these passions are extreme versions of human behavior that lead to sin.” (p. 22, “Putting Joy into Practice: Seven Ways to Lift Your Spirit from the Early Church” by Phoebe Farag Mikhail)

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“Praying the Hours helps us, even in the bustle of our days, to stand in God’s presence and feel this ‘fullness of joy.’ The Hours are not just for ascetics, then, but even for busy, distracted laypeople, an anchor to pull us away from the storms of life into God’s presence and the presence of the entire community of believers. The moment I pick up my prayer book to pray, someone else is praying the same prayer, someone else has prayed another prayer a few moments before me, and others will be praying when I stop. In this way, when I pray the Psalms, I become part of an eternal chorus, even if it seems like I am praying alone. ‘For where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them.’ (Matthew 18:20)” (p. 37, “Putting Joy into Practice: Seven Ways to Lift Your Spirit from the Early Church” by Phoebe Farag Mikhail)

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“The common thread running through these experiences is that visiting the sick is not about finding the right words to say, giving a sermon, or asking intrusive questions. A visit to the sick that brings the joy of the Holy Spirit is a visit that provides giving, listening, and connection. Bring bright flowers, a gift, a meal, or your hands and feet to serve when needed or asked. Bring listening ears and the ability to be silent when necessary. Bring a smile, a song to sing, or a story to tell. Bring a piece of art or craft you have made—-or bring supplies to create something together. Be joy, and expect the experience the joy of visiting Christ himself. Christ certainly needs no sermons from us.” (p. 61, “Putting Joy into Practice: Seven Ways to Lift Your Spirit from the Early Church” by Phoebe Farag Mikhail)

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“Repentance makes room for joy within us, room that was previously filled with sin, shame, and fear. When we repent by turning our lives around like the prodigal son and the Samaritan woman, we experience its joy, and it is contagious. The heavens rejoice. The church rejoices. We cannot help sharing that joy with others, so they too might encounter Christ. Putting joy into practice means practicing repentance, even on a daily basis.” (p. 76, “Putting Joy into Practice: Seven Ways to Lift Your Spirit from the Early Church” by Phoebe Farag Mikhail)

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“I am learning… that when I thank God ‘in any condition, in every condition, and in whatever condition,’ I might not be asking God to take me out of a condition of suffering, or even to see a silver lining around that suffering. Rather, I am thanking him in that condition of suffering, and sometimes I might even thank him for that suffering… Thanking God for suffering is… acknowledging that perhaps that suffering can serve a greater purpose.” (p. 85, “Putting Joy into Practice: Seven Ways to Lift Your Spirit from the Early Church” by Phoebe Farag Mikhail)

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“Sometimes discovering who needs hospitality is a matter of taking a few moments to sit outside, linger on your front porch, or say hello to the neighbor living on the same floor in your apartment building. We might feel overwhelmed by great needs of the world presented to us on the news, but it is our simple acts of hospitality that will change the world, not our worries.” (p. 122, “Putting Joy into Practice: Seven Ways to Lift Your Spirit from the Early Church” by Phoebe Farag Mikhail)

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“These days, when we find ourselves waiting, we fill the time by looking at our smartphones, checking our social media feeds or our emails, making every moment a constant input of information—often information we cannot control or tasks we cannot take action on while in line or sitting in traffic. This can add to our general sense of stress and lack of control… Using arrow prayers can help us reclaim control of our time and energy. Information overload drains us, but prayer fills us.” (pp. 127-128, “Putting Joy into Practice: Seven Ways to Lift Your Spirit from the Early Church” by Phoebe Farag Mikhail)

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Need to learn a few “arrow” prayers? Here are some of the arrow prayers found on pp. 136 -137 of “Putting Joy into Practice: Seven Ways to Lift Your Spirit from the Early Church” by Phoebe Farag Mikhail. You may wish to print them onto cardstock, cut them apart, and glue to decorative paper or a blank index card (which you can decorate if you’re so inclined). Place these prayers around the house, in your purse or briefcase, even in the car so that you remember to pray.

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“The joy of the Lord’s presence starts in the fiery furnace, not outside it… We begin the hymn [of the three saintly youths in the fiery furnace] with an exhortation to the youth in the fire to sing to the Son of God who is there with them in their suffering—and therefore also in their joy. This exhortation applies to us as well. We don’t wait to praise God until after we are saved from the furnace, when our prayers are answered the way we hope they will be. We praise him even in our troubles, acknowledging and confessing that he is there with us in those troubles. When we can wipe away from our eyes the smoke of our problems and praise him, we see him in his glory there—and this is powerful. This is joy.” (p. 146, “Putting Joy into Practice: Seven Ways to Lift Your Spirit from the Early Church” by Phoebe Farag Mikhail)

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“My hope is that, by drawing from examples of how my church helps us live in the joy of the Resurrection, this book might open your eyes to the ways your tradition helps you practice joy. Once you begin to see it, whether you are in a happy situation or in great pain, it is all joy.” (p. 163, “Putting Joy into Practice: Seven Ways to Lift Your Spirit from the Early Church” by Phoebe Farag Mikhail)

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Gleanings from a Book: “Spyridon’s Shoes” by Christine Rogers

Christine Rogers’ new book, “Spyridon’s Shoes” is a comfortable fit for its readers. The language is simple enough for mid-elementary-level readers to read on their own. The story line is intriguing, though, and will capture the attention of younger or older children as well as the adults who read this book.

Young Spyros’ family is hard-working, but nonetheless they experience one hardship after another. The book tells the story of how Spyros (a nickname for Spyridon) and his family face each of their struggles with faith. It also reveals the ways in which God chooses to send help.

The grandfatherly man who arrives and helps Spyros when he badly cuts his foot early in the story is, interestingly enough, also named Spyridon. Spyros offers to call the grandfather “Abba” and the man accepts that nickname. After the first meeting, Abba continues to show up in Spyros’ life, helping him as needed and inspiring him to do what is right. It takes the reader almost the entirety of the book to realize that “Abba” is actually Saint Spyridon himself, appearing to and physically assisting his young namesake who truly needs his help.

Although “Spyridon’s Shoes” is a work of fiction, it is a highly believable and delightful read. This book very naturally shares much of the wisdom of St. Spyridon, challenging readers to growth in their own Christian walk, without the reader feeling at all that they are being preached at by anyone. It incorporates some true stories of ways in which God has used St. Spyridon in the lives of those who have asked for (and received) his help. The book offers a glimpse into the saint’s real life on earth, within the context of a fictitious story.

Besides the story itself, there are a few extras that make this book so helpful to its readers. Vladimir Ilievski’s cover and occasional illustrations throughout the book are true to the story, giving readers a face for each Spyridon, while also bringing to life the setting on Corfu. The pages about St. Spyridon himself, found near the end of the book, help readers to learn even more about this wonderful saint. His troparion and icon are at the end of the book, for those who wish to ask for his prayers and see his icon.

This book is an enjoyable read for young and old alike. If you choose to read this book to your Sunday Church School students, it will probably take two or more class periods to finish, but your students will be engrossed in the story, and they won’t mind at all. Children will resonate with Spyros and love his story so much that they will probably ask to borrow the book when you finish, so that they can slip back into the story, re-reading it on their own. Just like St. Spyridon’s shoes, this book will be well-worn by the classes that own it. We can’t help hoping that Christine Rogers writes more books!

 

Purchase your own copy of “Spyridon’s Shoes” (available in paperback or ebook) here: https://store.ancientfaith.com/spyridons-shoes/

Here are some gleanings from the book (mostly quotes from “Abba”/St. Spyridon, so as not to give away any of  the story line), as well as a few additional resources that you may find helpful if you choose to teach your Sunday Church School class a lesson about the saint:

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“‘Prayer is our link to God, young Spyros. We should give our problems, whatever they are, to God, as we say in the Divine Liturgy that we “commend our whole life to Christ our God”.’ Abba stopped to cross himself and readjust his position on the boulder. ‘We leave everything to the Lord. Whatever He wills… Prayer is beneficial for everything, even the simplest things.’” (p. 33, “Spyridon’s Shoes”, by Christine Rogers)

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“Abba looked out over the waves. ‘With God, as with people, we seek to form a relationship, a friendship. The more you converse with God, which is what prayer is, the more natural it will become. Like speaking to an old friend.’

‘Like you, Abba,’ Spyros said, smiling.

Abba chuckled. ‘You are so young to have such old friends.’” (pp. 55-56, “Spyridon’s Shoes”, by Christine Rogers)

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“Father Theodore nodded. ‘You can pray to Saint Spyridon too and ask for his prayers. The saints in heaven, they are there with Christ, surrounded by His love and interceding for those of us on earth. Their prayers are great gifts.’” (p. 88, “Spyridon’s Shoes”, by Christine Rogers)

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“The miracles Spyros and his family learned about are all true. Saint Spyridon’s shoes continue to wear out every year, even to this day, and they are replaced on his feast day, which is December 12. The worn-out shoes are sent to churches all over the world, and many miracles are worked for the faithful who venerate them.” (p. 99, “Spyridon’s Shoes”, by Christine Rogers)

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St. Spyridon was present at the first ecumenical council. Around that time, he used a brick to demonstrate the unity of the Trinity. He held the brick in his hand and then squeezed it. Miraculously, fire shot up from it, water dripped out of it onto the ground, and then all that was left in his hand was dust. “There was only one brick,” Saint Spyridon said, “but it was composed of three elements. In the Holy Trinity there are three Persons, but only one God.” Read this and more about the life of St. Spyridon, including many miracles worked in his lifetime, here: https://oca.org/saints/lives/2000/12/12/103526-st-spyridon-the-wonderworker-and-bishop-of-tremithus

If you choose to share this story from St. Spyridon’s life with your students, you may want to bring a brick to class and invite them to hold it and see if there’s anything they can squeeze out of it before (and again after) sharing the story with you.

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Teachers of young children may want to read the Potamitis Publishing book “Saint Spyridon: the Miracle with the Clay Tile” with their students. http://orthodoxchildrensbooks.com/eng/index.php/Books-in-English/Paterikon-for-Kids-Saint-Spyridon-and-the-Horses/flypage-ask.tpl.html

After reading the book, you could make this craft. It uses three ingredients to make a “potsherd/brick” ornament, on which your students can draw the saint. It will remind your students of how St. Spyridon used a brick to demonstrate the Holy Trinity: http://www.theorthodoxchildrenspress.com/diy-kids/tocp-diy-family-st-spyridon-clay-ornament/

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Listen to the accounts of several miracles of St. Spyridon, recounted by Fr. Peter Shapiro, here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=V9iWjfYTzBM

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If you read “Spyridon’s Shoes” with your class and share some other stories from St. Spyridon’s life and miracles with them, you might find this reproducible page helpful. It allows children to recall some of the things St. Spyridon has done to serve and help others. It then invites them to consider how they themselves can “wear out their shoes” by serving and helping people around them.

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After a lesson on St. Spyridon, you may wish to pray this prayer (also found at the end of the akathist hymn to him) with your class: “O great and all-marvellous Spyridon, holy hierarch of Christ and wonderworker, boast of Kerkyra [Corfu], most radiant beacon of the whole world, fervent intercessor before God and speedy helper for all who have recourse to you and entreat you with faith! Amid the Fathers at the Council of Nicea you expounded the Orthodox faith most gloriously; you showed the unity of the Holy Trinity with wondrous power, and utterly put the heretics to shame. Hearken, therefore, unto us sinners who entreat you, O holy hierarch of Christ, and by your mighty intercession before the Lord deliver us from every evil circumstance…To many living in dire poverty and want you rendered assistance; you abundantly sustained the poor during famine and performed many other signs through the power of the Spirit of God living within you. Wherefore, forsake us not, O holy hierarch of Christ. Remember us, your children, at the throne of the Ruler of all, and beseech the Lord that He grant us remission of our manifold sins, that He bestow upon us a peaceful life unbeset by misfortunes, that He vouchsafe unto us a tranquil and unashamed end and everlasting blessedness in the age to come, that we may unceasingly send up glory and thanksgiving to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit, now and ever and to ages of ages. Amen.”

 

 

Gleanings from a Book: “A Child’s Guide to Confession” by Ancient Faith Publishing, Illustrated by Nicholas Malara

Ancient Faith Publishing’s editors have compiled and created a beautifully illustrated guide that will help children to prepare their hearts for confession. “A Child’s Guide to Confession” is full of helpful information and questions as well as beautiful illustrations. Here is a brief overview of the book, followed by a few gleanings from its pages.

Don’t let the child-friendly size fool you: it may be small, but this little book is gold. Its engaging illustrations paired with text which gently nudges readers towards repentance make each of its 104 pages invaluable. The book is divided into color-coded sections including a welcome; what confession is; preparing for confession; self-examination; prayers and scriptures to read while waiting for confession; a prayer after confession; a note for parents; and an extensive glossary explaining difficult terms found elsewhere in the book.

The book acknowledges that there are many ways to prepare for confession. The editors decided to focus on 1 Corinthians 13 for this book. God is Love, so it follows that Orthodox Christians prepare for confession by looking at their actions in light of love to see how they measure up, discover where they have fallen short, then repent and confess those shortfalls. Each phrase of the scripture is appropriately illustrated and is followed by a number of child-friendly questions related to the phrase.

Throughout the book, Nicholas Malara’s illustrations offer glimpses into the lives of Orthodox children who are interacting with the Church and their world. The illustrations make the book more accessible to young children, and more delightful for older children. They truly bring Orthodoxy to life for a child (and a few even include a subtle touch of humor that will make the reader smile!).

This book is a must-have for any Orthodox Christian library. It will be a great help to Sunday Church School teachers who are helping their students learn more about and prepare for confession. The book helps children to embrace confession, then walks them through the entire process, from beginning to prepare for confession all the way to the rejoicing that follows. Children of all ages (and their Church school teachers, too!) will benefit from preparing their hearts for confession with this little gem.

 

Contributors to the project include Elissa Bjeletich, Fr. Noah Bushelli, Fr. Nicholas Speier, and Fr. Andrew Stephen Damick.

 

Purchase your own copy of the book here: https://store.ancientfaith.com/a-childs-guide-to-confession/

Here are a few gleanings from the book, as well as a few suggested resources for a lesson on confession:

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“When preparing for confession, find a peaceful place where you can sit and pray and think. If it helps, have a pencil and some paper handy to help you remember what you’d like to confess to your priest. Always start by asking the Holy Spirit to help you…” (p. 15, “A Child’s Guide to Confession”, by Ancient Faith Publishing)

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“You will be speaking to God directly, reminding Him that you believe in Him, that you are one of His disciples, and you will be saying sorry for the things you have done that have created distance between you…” (p. 19, “A Child’s Guide to Confession”, by Ancient Faith Publishing)

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“Love is kind.
Have I hurt a person or an animal on purpose?

…Have I been caring when someone gets hurt?

Have I ignored someone who needed help?” (p. 25, “A Child’s Guide to Confession”, by Ancient Faith Publishing)

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“A Prayer from St. Nikodemos of the Holy Mountain

O Jesus, the most-good goodness

I have done no good before You;

But grant that I may make a beginning because of Your goodness.” (p. 48, “A Child’s Guide to Confession”, by Ancient Faith Publishing)

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“Now you are at church, waiting your turn to speak with the priest and offer your confession. While you wait, read thoughtfully through a selection of these prayers or Bible verses to help soften your heart…” (p. 51, “A Child’s Guide to Confession”, by Ancient Faith Publishing)

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“Dear Child of God,

You did it! The distance that came between you and Christ is now erased. All of the beauty and light and goodness that is beaming out of Him is beaming out of you too! For He is filling you with His powerful light…” (p. 73, “A Child’s Guide to Confession”, by Ancient Faith Publishing)

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“Preparation for confession is best founded in daily watchfulness and open discussion at family gathering times of meals, prayer, and spiritual study…” (from the Note to Parents, p. 85, “A Child’s Guide to Confession”, by Ancient Faith Publishing)

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“Absolution – the removing of sins through the act of confession. When your sins are absolved, they are wiped clean, and the separation between you and God has been erased!” (from the Glossary of Terms, p. 89, “A Child’s Guide to Confession”, by Ancient Faith Publishing)

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After reading portions of “A Child’s Guide to Confession” to your Sunday Church school students, you may want to give them each a copy of this printable, which provides space for them to draw or lines to write notes about what they are ready to confess. They can take the copy home and use it if it would help them to prepare for their next confession.

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In addition to sharing parts of “A Child’s Guide to Confession” with your class, you could also share this episode of “Be the Bee”: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hDrcKX1mpqs

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Find a variety of lesson plans and ideas about confession, for a variety of age levels, here: https://orthodoxchurchschoolteachers.wordpress.com/2018/10/19/on-the-sacraments-the-sacrament-of-confession/

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The activity featured here could pair well with a sharing of the book “A Child’s Guide to Confession” in your Sunday Church School class, as part of a lesson on confession. https://www.goarch.org/-/confession

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