Gleanings from a Book: “Time and Despondency” by Dr. Nicole Roccas

As soon as this book arrived in the mail, I resolved to read it and share some gleanings from it with this community. My thought process was somewhere along the lines of: “It will be great for parents and teachers to read this book so they can help their despondent kids.” In my mind’s eye, this book had the makings of an excellent tool for young people or for adults with teens in their life.

I was right.

And I was wrong.

Nicole Roccas’ “Time and Despondency” takes the reader on a journey through time and thought as it addresses the relationship between time and despondency, which is “no less than a perpetual attempt by the mind to flee from the present moment, to disregard the gift of God’s presence at each juncture of time and space.” (p. 15) The book offers much to ponder, including quotes from church fathers and other noted Christian authors, all pointing to the fact that despondency is a real problem for Christians. Not just teens and young adults encounter despondency. It is a struggle for Christians of all ages. Parents and teachers, too. Myself included.

But this book does not merely shake a finger in the face of its readers, scolding them for not caring or for abandoning the present or God, Who meets us in the present. Rather, the book extends grace to the reader. It encourages them to do the same to themselves and to others. Then it walks the reader through a host of ideas of ways to begin to heal and step away from despondency; whether with counter statements from scripture or with stepping stones built on virtues and disciplines.

As it turns out, I needed to read this book. Perhaps someday it will be helpful to me as I relate to the teens and young adults in my life. But right now, I needed to read this for my own salvation. Maybe once I have “removed the log from my own eye” I can begin to help others. I encourage you to read it, as well, so that we can journey together out of despondency and back to the present, where we find – and connect with – God.

You can purchase a copy of “Time and Despondency” here: http://store.ancientfaith.com/time-and-despondency/

Listen to Dr. Nicole Rocca’s podcast here: http://www.ancientfaith.com/podcasts/timeeternal

Find her blog here: https://blogs.ancientfaith.com/timeeternal/

Note: when I read a book so that I can write a “Gleanings” blog post, I mark potential quotes to share by adhering sticky notes beside the quote. When I take a photo of the book to use for the blog’s illustration, I usually remove those sticky notes. This book, however, is so highly quotable that it garnered many, many sticky notes. I left them in the book for this illustration photo so that you can see for yourself that the gleanings I am sharing are not nearly all of the ones I’d have liked to share! There is so much to ponder in this book. Here are some gleanings from it:

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“‘Despondency is the impossibility to see anything good or positive; it is the reduction of everything to negativism and pessimism. […] Despondency is the suicide of the soul because when man is possessed by it, he is absolutely unable to see the light and desire it.’” (Dr. Nicole Roccas quoting Alexander Schmemann, “Time and Despondency”, p. 23)
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“Despondency has an infinite array of disguises and symptoms. Among the most universal signs is inner restlessness, yet this can present itself in countless ways, depending on the person. For some, the restlessness makes it problematic to sit alone, to read a book to completion, to pray for any length or intensity, or to finish a task at work. Others can perform all of these activities but find themselves hounded by a stubborn anger or boredom while doing so. For still others, despondency begins as an inclination towards sleep, eating, distraction, or worry.”
(Dr. Nicole Roccas, “Time and Despondency”, p.26)
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“Just as the poison of spiritual sickness begins in the soul, so too does healing. Even after despondency has affected the body or those around us, restoration starts within us and unfolds a new directions to revive all aspects of a person’s self and life…. In other words the restoration of a single human soul has almost limitless transformative effects that ripple throughout the rest of the world.” (Dr. Nicole Roccas, “Time and Despondency”, pp.34-35 )
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“Time is the dimensional fabric that allows relationship and action to happen. Without it, there would be little prospect of communion, forgiveness, or change of heart—all life-giving possibilities hinge on the interaction of time and eternity in the here and now of our existence. When we begin to look at these two realms from the vantage point of Christ and human relationship, it seems that eternity is not as far off as we often assume. In fact, eternal life—and with it, healing from despondency—begins when we start to exercise that capacity to ‘realize’ life while we live it every, every minute…” (Dr. Nicole Roccas, “Time and Despondency”, p. 44)
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“…time affords us: the opportunity to turn toward (or away from) God, life, love, and goodness. Like a lover or a friend, God left space for a path back to relationship. In the fullness of time, Christ entered our world to pave this path for our sake. His Incarnation and Resurrection open the door for us, as God’s creatures, to ‘redeem time’…” (Dr. Nicole Roccas, “Time and Despondency”, p. 48)
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“Viktor Frankl wrote, ‘Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms—to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances.’ Lest these words be dismissed as cliche, it’s worth mentioning that Frankl honed his thinking on human psychology while a prisoner in Auschwitz. Whenever I make excuses for my attitude, this quotation offers a suitable reality check.” (Dr. Nicole Roccas, “Time and Despondency”, p. 61)
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“The opposite of this despondent condition is not happiness nor jubilation, but rather love—a turning outward from the self to one’s neighbor, God, and Eternity. The latter is crucial; in the view of the Church Fathers, the “every, every minute” we fail to realize in this life consists not merely of love or beauty but of eternity itself. Time then, becomes not only the vehicle of relationship and eternity, but the path of transformation we can travel to get there.” (Dr. Nicole Roccas, “Time and Despondency”, p. 65)
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“Every day, every moment is accounted for in the church, and not just on an abstract levels but physically and concretely through the fasts, feasts, and seasons, all of which seek to manifest Christ in and through time. The Church calls not just our minds but our whole being and all our wandering loose ends back into existence, back into presence… Every juncture of sacred time links us to the Incarnation, the reaching of Eternity into this world, and in doing so, unites us not only to Christ but to the realization of are very selves as icons of Him. (Dr. Nicole Roccas, “Time and Despondency”, p. 88)
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“Prayer is like a coin with two sides, doing and being. The ‘doing’ of prayer includes all the externalities—the words we articulate (audibly or not), the candles we light, the prostrations we make, the spaces we designate for prayer. In Orthodox Christianity, we have an abundance of highly developed rituals and practices to help us cultivate the journey inward. We sometimes burn incense, or use prayer ropes, or set certain corners of our homes apart for prayer. These rituals are not meant to be rote or mindless, but to nourish reverence and to remind us that we are incarnational beings—our bodies must learn to pray as well as our minds.” (Dr. Nicole Roccas, “Time and Despondency”, p. 98)
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“We may not have chosen our disease, we may have no control over its remedy, but we can still choose to remain rather than to resist. ‘Abide in Me,’ Christ beckons us (John 15:4)—Stay. Endure. Surrender. Anyone in the midst of great pain knows it is a thousand times harder to accept this invitation than to give our hearts over to bitterness or despair. To stay with Christ where we are (rather than to seek Him where we are not) requires surrender and longsuffering, both of which move us to choose between him or hardness of heart.” (Dr. Nicole Roccas, “Time and Despondency”, p. 122)
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“I’m of the opinion that the inverse of thanksgiving is not ingratitude but rumination, a relentless mental preoccupation with resolving the unfavorable aspects of our circumstances… Among other things, it suggests we may be living too much in our minds—that our mind is not dwelling in our heart, but oppressing it.”(Dr. Nicole Roccas, “Time and Despondency”, p. 141)
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“Work that is good for the soul is hard enough that the mind must focus on it, but easy enough that the work can be sustained for long periods of time… There is a humble creativity in performing ordinary tasks like making the bed or folding clothes… When we can manage such tasks with even a hint of grace and care, they are transfigured into something holy.”
(Dr. Nicole Roccas, “Time and Despondency”, pp. 151-152.)
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“…one of the most beautiful things about sacredness is that it’s not all or nothing—it comes to us in small, ordinary things and times, and asks us to see the holy in finite moments. For whatever reason, we humans can only understand or encounter holiness in small morsels at a time—in a chalice, a piece of bread, a sip of wine. Any encounter with the sacred reminds us that it is enough to start somewhere, anywhere—it is enough to put one foot forward, to turn to Christ for one real moment. Wherever we begin, Real Life will seep out into the other areas of our existence.” (Dr. Nicole Roccas, “Time and Despondency”, pp. 166-167)
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“The liturgies of the Orthodox Church are punctuated countless ties by a simple supplication: ‘Lord, have mercy.’ To modern ears, such a prayer may sound stifling and self-diminishing: is God really so vengeful we must beg His forbearance at every turn? But in Orthodox conceptions, mercy is the balm of salvation, and to ask it of God affirms that He is merciful and loving in the first place.” (Dr. Nicole Roccas, “Time and Despondency”, p. 175)
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“Redundant as it seems, worship in the liturgy turns time into a pilgrimage back—not back to our shame and feebleness, but through our feebleness and back to engagement, back to communion, back to Christ, one Kyrie eleison at a time.” (Dr. Nicole Roccas, “Time and Despondency”, p. 175)

 

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On Demonstrating Love to Our Students

As we approach Valentine’s Day and see reminders of love everywhere around us, the opportunity arises for us to evaluate how well we are loving others. It is one thing to say that we love someone, but often quite another thing to act in such a way as to show them that our words are true. However, even God Himself is demonstrative with His love: “…God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” (Romans 5:8) If God, who IS Love, chooses to demonstrate His love, how much more should we, who are not in essence love, do our best to do the same?

The reason that we know and love God is because of His demonstrative love for us. Because we love God, it follows that love for others should flow out of the love that we have for Him. St. Justin Popovich indicated such (and more!) results of loving God when he said, “Love for Christ overflows into love for one’s neighbor, love for truth, love for holiness, for the world, for purity, for everything divine, for everything deathless and eternal… All these forms of love are natural manifestations of love for Christ. Christ is the God-man, and love for Him always means love for God and for man.” And St. Basil the Great encourages us to demonstrate our love, not just for family and friends, but to everyone in his statement, “As God illumines all people equally with the light of the sun, so do those who desire to imitate God let shine an equal ray of love on all people.”

So, how are we doing? Is our love for God overflowing as it should into the lives of those around us? Are we telling others that we love them? Better yet, are we demonstrating our love to them by the way that we treat and interact with them? And how well are we demonstrating our love to all people, not just those we know?

Let us begin by better demonstrating our love to our Sunday Church School students. When they experience our love for them, they will learn to demonstrate love to others in their life, as well. Here are some ideas of ways to go beyond merely telling our students that we love them, showing them with our actions that our words are true.

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This mom interviewed her daughters to find out their favorite ways that their parents show them love. We found the resulting list to be creative, fun, and inspiring! Most would work best in a family setting, but some can be done with our Sunday School class! http://www.shelivesfree.com/2015/02/huge-list-fun-ideas-love-kids.html

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Check out this list of 35 simple ways that parents can demonstrate their love to their children. Some of them also apply to us, with our students: https://amotherfarfromhome.com/love-your-child/

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If you are familiar with Gary Chapman’s book “The Five Love Languages,” you know that different people prefer to be loved in different ways. His book suggests these five ways in which people prefer to receive and show love: acts of service, physical touch and closeness, gift giving, words of affirmation, and quality time. This blog post encourages us to figure out which love language(s) are each child’s favorites, and to express our love to them in that way. It includes practical suggestions of ways to show love in each love language. Although geared to families, many of these will work in the SCS classroom, as well.

https://encouragingmomsathome.com/50-ways-to-love-your-child-every-day-using-love-languages/

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This list of 25 questions will help each of us to learn more about our students. How many of these questions could we ask our students, to demonstrate our love for them by learning more about their interests? http://www.telegraph.co.uk/sponsored/finance/family-matters/11334865/questions-for-kids.html

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God demonstrates His love for His children in so many ways. One way is that He has filled our world with glimpses of His love. If we are able to do so, we can take our class outside to enjoy nature together and look for evidence of God’s love in our world. If we can’t go outside, we can at least look at resources that show it to us! For example, here is a slideshow of heart shapes – a small sampling of the love He has tucked into the world for us to find: https://kids.nationalgeographic.com/explore/wacky-weekend/hearts-in-nature/

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In addition to setting an example of demonstrating our love to our students, we can also teach them to demonstrate their love to others in their life. This object lesson uses shaving cream to help the listeners think about how love grows us, is better when it’s not kept bottled up, and makes the world better when we demonstrate it: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tmh_0IyXxOk
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Another way to teach our students to demonstrate their love to others is with this simple object lesson. This lesson uses a bicycle wheel to demonstrate that, if we want to be close to God, we must get closer to (and show love to) others: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5gp4yigvSdI

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Kids talk about ways to love others in this video that could start a discussion in your class: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BcYlA58E_ss

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This simple game could be used in a classroom setting to demonstrate love for class members by using words of affirmation: http://makinglifeblissful.com/2015/02/love-game-for-kids.html

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This lesson, although not Orthodox, can easily be used to teach children how to love others like superheroes and draw them to God like magnets: http://www.mylifetree.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/01/childrens-ministry-cape-experience.pdf

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In case you missed it, here’s a blog we wrote about continuing to share our love with our students beyond Valentine’s Day: https://orthodoxchurchschoolteachers.wordpress.com/2017/02/17/on-sharing-our-love-beyond-valentines-day/

 

Several Divine Liturgy Resources for Young Children

We have previously shared the lovely board book “What Do You See at Liturgy?” by Kristina Kallas-Tartara. As we mentioned in that blog post, the book consists of a gentle rhyme paired with pictures of what a child will see when they go to the Divine Liturgy. We continue to recommend this book as a helpful tool to help little ones enter into the service when their attention needs to be redirected.

Recently, it came to our attention that Kristina has written a second beautiful board book for young children, and that she has created other useful resources as well. The second book she has written is called “What Can I Do at Liturgy?” It carefully walks a child through the liturgy, emphasizing the things that they can do. Too often, children experience the “can’ts” in church. It is easy for us adults to slip into “can’t” mode when shepherding young ones through the Liturgy. We say things like, “No, you can’t run around right now; You can’t go out for a fifth drink of water; You can’t make siren noises as you pretend to put out the fires you see;” etc. This book offers us the opportunity to find and encourage the “cans.” Every page is full of pictures and suggestions of all that children CAN do (and SHOULD do) during the Liturgy. From lighting a candle to signing themselves with the cross to communing to looking at icons to singing, praying, and sharing. This book is packed full of suggestions of things that the children can do in the liturgy! Here is an example: one spread shows a series of Orthodox children, each doing part of the sign of the cross. 26805494_10213524190090905_3951597830320811227_nThey’re ordered sequentially, and using a hand that young readers will mirror to correctly make the sign of the cross. (What a brilliant idea, to use the left hands of the children in the photos so that the readers will naturally mirror it and use their right hand!) We highly recommend this beautiful and useful book to any parent, godparent, or Sunday Church School teacher who is helping young children to more fully participate in the divine services.

The author has another fine resource which we recently discovered. She used the photos that were taken to create her two charming books to create an Orthodox “memory” game! The durable “chunky” photo cards can be utilized in a variety of ways. Parents and teachers can employ the cards for vocabulary review, to play a matching game, or to play a number of other games. Directions for 6 different games and 4 fun classroom activities are included with the card set. This little set of cards will be used again and again by families and Sunday Church School teachers. They offer a fun way to learn, and are yet another way to “bring home the faith” with children.

And last, but not least, Kristina Kallas-Tartara has a blog called “Raising Orthodox Christians”. Its byline is “Helping Children Experience the Orthodox Faith”. On this site, you will find activities, lessons, recipes, and more. Parents and teachers will find ideas for educating their children and students at this site, and may want to follow the blog so as not to miss new resources that she posts! Check out her blog site here: https://raisingorthodoxchristians.com/

We hope that you find these resources helpful. What other Liturgy resources for small children do you recommend to the community?

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If you missed the blog post introducing “What Do You See at Liturgy?”, find it here: https://orthodoxchristianparenting.wordpress.com/2016/05/04/a-handful-of-helpful-books-for-children/
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Find Kristina Kallas-Tartara’s book “What do You See at Liturgy?” here: https://www.etsy.com/listing/196402444/what-do-you-see-at-liturgy-orthodox .

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Kristina Tartara’s book “What Can I Do at Divine Liturgy?” is available here: https://www.etsy.com/listing/466843238/what-can-i-do-at-divine-liturgy-orthodox

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In case you missed it, a few years ago we shared some thoughts on how important it is for children to be part of the Divine Liturgy in this blog post: https://orthodoxchristianparenting.wordpress.com/2014/02/19/the-work-of-the-people-includes-children/
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In case you missed it, this blog post offers ideas of ways to help children participate in the Divine Liturgy: https://orthodoxchristianparenting.wordpress.com/2016/05/18/on-helping-children-to-participate-in-the-divine-liturgy/

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To purchase the Orthodox Matching Game, visit: https://www.etsy.com/listing/476655247/my-orthodox-matching-game

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On Winter Fun and Learning

It is winter in the northern hemisphere. For some of us, that means it is very cold outside! In an effort to lift our chilled spirits, we have done some research and found a few snowy lesson ideas that we hope will be helpful to the community. Keep reading to find some links that offer ideas of ways that snow can challenge us spiritually, help us to encourage and challenge our students, and further everyone’s growth towards the Kingdom of Heaven! We will also include a few fun wintry activities that can be used in conjunction with the class discussions.

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With younger students: Cut a paper snowflake as you lead (an Orthodox version of) this discussion. http://freebiblelessons.net/object-lessons/whiter-than-snow

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Find a variety of winter-themed Bible lessons here. The site is not Orthodox, but these lessons can easily be used in an Orthodox Sunday Church School classroom. https://cherigamble.com/2015/01/08/10-cool-and-easy-bible-object-lessons-experiments-for-cold-winter-days/

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Find more winter-themed Bible lessons on this page. The site is not Orthodox, but these lessons can easily be used in an Orthodox Sunday Church School classroom. Many of these lessons include a recipe that can be made in class. https://cherigamble.com/2017/02/19/more-cool-and-easy-bible-object-lessons-experiments-for-cold-winter-days/

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This lesson plan, although not Orthodox, can be easily adapted to be used in an Orthodox classroom. It includes a simple coffee-filter-snowflake craft that is part of the lesson. http://www.aboutthechildrensdepartment.com/2011/02/free-snowy-lesson-for-children-whiter.html

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With middle year students: Talk with your students about this verse: “Though your sins be like scarlet, they may be as white as snow; though they be red like crimson, they shall be as wool” (Isaiah 1:18). How white IS snow? Most often, it appears to be super white, especially when the sun shines on it. However, in reality, the snow is millions of translucent ice crystals, all reflecting the light. Since they reflect all of the light (every color in the light spectrum), they appear to be white. If we live lives of repentance and virtue, as Christians should, our hearts will be clean and our consciences clear. Then we will reflect the Light of Christ, radiating His purity to all. Before class, you may want to read the science behind snow’s “whiteness”, here: https://science.howstuffworks.com/nature/climate-weather/atmospheric/question524.htm

The “God’s Fingerprint In Creation” section of this page (this magazine is not Orthodox, but this particular article could be used in an Orthodox setting) explains it very well for your students: http://archives.kidsviewmag.org/article/94/view-previous-issues/december-2009/why-is-snow-white.

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With older students: Read Isaiah 1:18 together. Ask the students what they think it could mean. Then discuss the following words of St. Nikolai Velimirovich, with regard to this verse:
“O, the boundless mercy of God! In His greatest wrath upon the faithless and ungrateful people, upon the people “laden with iniquity, a seed of evildoers, children that are corrupters” (Isaiah 1:4), as “princes [rulers] of Sodom” (Isaiah 1:10) and upon the people who have become as the “people of Gomorrah” (Isaiah 1:10) – in such wrath, the Lord does not abandon mercy but rather calls them to repentance. Just as after terrible lightnings, a gentle rain falls. Such is the Lord long-suffering [patient] and full of mercy and “neither will He keep His anger forever” [Psalm 102:9 (103:9)]. Only if sinners cease to commit evil and learn to do good and turn to God with humility and repentance they will become “white as snow.” The Lord is mighty and willing. No one, except Him, is able to cleanse the sinful soul of man from sin and, by cleansing, to whiten it. No matter how often linen is washed in water with ashes and soap, no matter how often it is washed and re-washed, it cannot receive whiteness until it is spread under the light of the sun. Thus, our soul cannot become white, no matter how often we cleanse it by our own effort and labor even with the help of all legal means of the law until we, at last, bring it beneath the feet of God, spread out and opened wide so that the light of God illumines it and whitens it. The Lord condones and even commends all of our labor and effort, i.e., He wants us to bathe our soul in tears, by repentance to constrain it by the pangs of the conscience to press it, to clothe it with good deeds and in the end of ends, He calls us to Him: “Come now,” says the Lord, “and let us reason together” (Isaiah 1:18). That is, I will look at you and I will see if there is Me in you and you will look upon Me as in a mirror and you will see what kind of person you are. O Lord, slow to anger, have mercy on us before the last wrath of that Dreadful Day.” ~ St. Nikolai Velimirovich, The Prologue of Ochrid, Book 2

How does this apply to our life today? What will each member of the class do, or how will we live “so that the light of God illumines… and whitens…” us?!?

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There are so many winter/snow/ice-related science experiments that can be done to help our students learn. Some of these can be used in conjunction with aforementioned lesson ideas. Others may inspire you to create your own wintry object lesson! http://lemonlimeadventures.com/must-try-winter-science-experiments-for-kids/ (Many of these do not require actual snow.)

https://igamemom.com/fun-snow-science-for-kids/ (These require snow.)

https://igamemom.com/winter-science-activities-for-kids/ (200 winter science activities for those of us whose students really love science!)

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Some of these snow-related indoor games could be used in conjunction with wintry object lessons. Check out https://www.momooze.com/indoor-activities-winter/ or https://confidencemeetsparenting.com/indoor-snowball-activities/.

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Some of the craft ideas here (for example, some of the snowflake or snow globe craft suggestions) would blend nicely with a wintery object lesson. http://www.kidactivities.net/category/Seasonal-Winter-ArtsCrafts.aspx

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Create your own super-white snow for each student to play in and take home. They’ll each need one part white hair conditioner to 6 parts baking soda (½ C conditioner to 3 C baking soda is suggested in this video). If your students mix their own, they’ll need a bowl to mix it into, a baking tray to play on, and a sealable container to take it home. See this for details: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AZbjrYcNpPs

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Help your students to create a “snowflake cross” as illustrated here: https://raisingorthodoxchristians.com/2017/12/07/finding-christ-amidst-the-snowstorms-of-life/#more-158161

On the Liturgical Year for Teachers: Pentecost and the Time After Pentecost (part 7 of 7)

This series of blog posts will offer basic information and resources regarding the liturgical year. It is our hope that Sunday Church School teachers will find this series helpful as they live the liturgical year with their students. The series will follow the church year in sections, as divided in the book “The Year of Grace of the Lord: a Scriptural and Liturgical Commentary on the Calendar of the Orthodox Church” by a monk of the Eastern Church. May God bless His Church throughout this year!

Our final installment in this series on the liturgical year for teachers focuses on Pentecost and the time immediately following Pentecost. The time of Pentecost is a fitting “end” to the liturgical year, for Pentecost marked “both a culmination and a start. A new way was opening to the disciples, but they had prepared themselves for it.” (1, p. 213) The monk continues, “…we cannot enter into Pentecost without preparation. We need first to have assimilated the whole spiritual substance that the fifty days between Easter and Pentecost have offered us. Before that, we need to have experienced the risen Christ: the days of the Passion, too, need to have been lived through. In short, one must have matured.” (1, p. 213) So, in many ways, Pentecost is the logical ending to the spiritual work we have done throughout the liturgical year. And when we join together with the apostles and the Theotokos in prayer and expectation, the Holy Spirit is able to move in our lives just as He did at Pentecost. The author goes on to talk about how the theme of light in the liturgical year comes to its fulfillment at Pentecost: “this divine light first appears with the birth of Christ; it grows with Him; on Easter night it triumphs over the darkness; at Pentecost it reaches its full zenith… The riches and symbolism of the liturgical year are worth nothing if they do not help this ‘inner light’ to guide our life.” (1, p. 217)

Historically, pentecost was an Old Testament feast, celebrated 50 days after Passover, and it celebrated the 10 Commandments being given to the Israelites. At Pentecost, “…the pentecostal feast is fulfilled and made new by the coming of the ‘new law,’ the descent of the Holy Spirit upon the disciples… This moment has traditionally been called the birthday of the Church.” (2, p. 113) The feast of Pentecost “is the celebration of what must happen and does happen to us in the church today. We have all died and risen with the Messiah-King, and we have all received his Most Holy Spirit. We are the ‘temples of the Holy Spirit.’ God’s Spirit dwells in us… We… have received ‘the seal of the gift of the Holy Spirit’ in the sacrament of chrismation. Pentecost has happened to us.” (2, pp. 115-116)

And the Church year does not stop with Pentecost! A few more important feasts remain for us to note after Pentecost and before the beginning of the new Church year. Among them are the Feast of the Transfiguration, the feast celebrating the event which confirmed for His disciples the divinity of Christ. “Next to Jesus appear Moses and Elijah. Moses represents the law. Elijah the prophets. Jesus is the fulfilment of all law and of all prophecy. He is the final completion of the whole of the Old Covenant; He is the fulness of all divine revelation.” (1, p. 240)

The Feast of the Dormition also falls during this final portion of the Church year. The monk who wrote “The Year of the Grace of Our Lord” offers this thought about the importance of the placement of this feast, calling it a feast “not only of Mary, but of all human nature. For, in Mary, human nature reached its goal. One week after the start of the liturgical year, we celebrate the birth of the most Holy Virgin. Two weeks before the end of the liturgical year, we celebrate the death and glorification of Mary. Thus, associated with and subordinate to the cycle of Jesus’ life, the cycle of Mary’s life manifests the destiny and development of a human nature which is entirely faithful to God. It is the human race which is carried up and received into heaven with her… the perfect flowering of grace that we marvel at in mary on August 15th suggests what the line of development could be in a soul which applied itself to making the great gifts received during the liturgical year  — the gift of Christmas, the gift of Easter and the gift of Pentecost — bear their fruit.” (1, p. 244).

Of the liturgical year as a whole, the monk writes, “This cycle never repeats itself; each one of its aspects reflects the inexhaustible depth and fullness of Christ, and, as a result, becomes new for us to the extent that we understand it better. The liturgical year is a prism which receives the white light of Christ and splits it into different colours. Christ is the year.” (1, p. 246) As we live live each liturgical year that our Lord bestows upon us, may we continually grow to understand the liturgical cycle better. May we also help our Sunday Church School students to do the same.

Footnotes:

1. A monk of the Eastern Church. The Year of Grace of the Lord. Crestwood, NY: St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press; 2001.

2. Fr. Thomas Hopko. The Orthodox Faith volume ii: Worship. Syosset, NY: OCA, 1972. Fifth printing, 1997.

Here are some related links, including ideas for teaching students about Pentecost and the time after Pentecost:

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The book featured in this blog post offers a plethora of information about each of the feasts, and can help you to prepare to teach your students about Pentecost! https://orthodoxchurchschoolteachers.wordpress.com/2015/12/11/gleanings-from-a-book-heaven-meets-earth-celebrating-pascha-and-the-twelve-feasts-by-john-skinas/

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Find ideas for helping your students learn about Pentecost here: https://orthodoxchurchschoolteachers.wordpress.com/2014/06/06/teaching-children-about-the-feast-of-pentecost/

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This blog post about teaching children about Pentecost looks at light and its involvement in the feast: https://orthodoxchurchschoolteachers.wordpress.com/2016/06/10/on-light-and-the-feast-of-pentecost/

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Share this book with younger students. http://www.stbarbaramonastery.org/product/TGF-PENT Listen to Dr. Chrissi Hart’s reading of the book at the beginning of this podcast: http://www.ancientfaith.com/podcasts/grapevine/readings_from_under_the_grapevine_program_7

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Find a short lesson on Pentecost here: http://www.orthodoxabc.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/06/023-EN-ed02_Pentecost.pdf

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Find printable activities about Pentecost for use with students in the middle years here: http://dce.oca.org/assets/files/resources/Pentecost-Activities.pdf

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Find out about the Serbian tradition of strewing grass on the floor of the church in the Pentecost portion of the article “How Orthodox People Celebrate the Feasts” in the Little Falcons Magazine “Feasts.” (back issue #31, available here: http://www.littlefalcons.net/pdf/2016_Backissues.pdf)

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Begin a discussion about Pentecost with your students by looking at the icon of the feast. Perhaps you could also share with them one of these children’s homilies about the icon:
Fr. Noah Buschelli’s children’s homily on the icon of Pentecost can be found here: http://www.ancientfaith.com/podcasts/letthechildren/pentecost

Fr. Seraphim Holland’s homily includes enthusiastic answers from children: http://www.ancientfaith.com/podcasts/redeemingtime/childrens_sermon_on_pentecost

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Discuss with your older students the “kneeling prayers” before the service itself. Read slowly through the prayers, thoughtfully wondering about each part and allowing students to make connections as they are able. This post summarizes and offers some of the scriptures behind each prayer, and could be a helpful starting place: http://stgeorgegoc.org/pastors-corner/fr-ricks-sermons/why-kneel-before-god-purposemeaning-of-kneeling-prayers-of-pentecost (Find the text to the service here: https://www.goarch.org/-/the-great-vespers-of-pentecost)
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Listen to St. Romanos’ words on Pentecost, read here by Kh. Frederica Mathewes-Green: http://www.ancientfaith.com/podcasts/frederica/on_pentecost   

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You and your students can prepare for the Feast of the Transfiguration by studying the homilies about the feast found in this blog post: https://orthodoxchurchschoolteachers.wordpress.com/2014/08/01/preparing-for-the-transfiguration-of-christ-august-6/

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Here are some ideas of ways to help your students learn about the Feast of the Transfiguration:
https://orthodoxchurchschoolteachers.wordpress.com/2016/07/29/on-the-feast-of-the-transfiguration-of-christ-august-6-or-19/

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Learn together about the Feast of the Dormition of the Theotokos with some of the ideas found in this blog: https://orthodoxchurchschoolteachers.wordpress.com/2016/08/05/on-the-feast-of-the-dormition-of-the-theotokos-august-15-or-28/

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Help your students to make these (free!) printable centerpieces for their prayer table or dinner table, for each feast: http://www.antiochian.org/1127698508

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On the Liturgical Year for Teachers: The Time of Easter (Pascha) and Pentecost (part 6 of 7)

This series of blog posts will offer basic information and resources regarding the liturgical year. It is our hope that Sunday Church School teachers will find this series helpful as they live the liturgical year with their students. The series will follow the church year in sections, as divided in the book “The Year of Grace of the Lord: a Scriptural and Liturgical Commentary on the Calendar of the Orthodox Church” by a monk of the Eastern Church. May God bless His Church throughout this year!

The time of Easter and Pentecost is a season of great rejoicing in the Orthodox Christian Church. In this part of the liturgical year, we celebrate Our Lord’s glorious resurrection, His ascension, and preparing our hearts for His sending of the Holy Spirit to us at Pentecost. Each of these events has a feast of its own in our liturgical year, because of their great importance.

Easter (as it is called by the monk who wrote “The Year of Grace of the Lord,” though many of us refer to this feast as Pascha) is a feast in its own category: it is the Feast of Feasts, and is too important to be included with the other 12 feasts of the liturgical year. And rightly so, for it celebrates a victory like no other! “Easter is… the centre, the heart of the Christian year. It is on its date that the whole liturgical cycle depends, because this determines the moveable feasts of the calendar.” (1, pp. 176-177). “The celebration of Easter in the Orthodox Church…is not a dramatic representation of the ‘first Easter morning.’ There is no ‘sunrise service’ since the Easter matins and the Divine liturgy are celebrated together in the first dark hours of the first day of the week in order to give men the experience of the ‘new creation’ of the world, and to allow them to enter mystically into the New Jerusalem which shines eternally with the glorious light of Christ, overcoming the perpetual night of evil and destroying the darkness of this mortal and sinful world…” (2, p. 105) “The day of the Resurrection has always been a day of profound joy and the festival of festivals.” (3)

To help us recall the importance of this feast, during the week immediately following Pascha, the doors on the iconostasis stay open and we don’t prostrate ourselves or fast. “Easter week, in Greek, has a very beautiful name: ‘the Week of Renewal.’ …The Resurrection of Jesus tells us that we can be changed.” (1, p. 181) The troparion of the Resurrection is frequently sung during the time of Easter, which continues through the Ascension and on to the eve of Pentecost. (1)

The Feast of the Ascension falls 40 days after Pascha. This “is the day when, in liturgical terminology, we ‘take leave’ of the Easter feast. We commemorate the last day of the physical presence of the risen Christ amongst his disciples; and to honour this presence, to honour the Resurrection once more, the Church on this Wednesday repeats the service for Easter Sunday in its entirety.” (1, p. 198) The ascension of Our Lord is important in part because, in ascending, He took His fleshly body into heaven. He did not discard His physical body, but rather restored humanity completely by taking it with Him! “The ascension of Christ is his final physical departure from this world after the resurrection. It is the formal completion of his mission in this world as the Messianic Saviour. It is his glorious return to the Father who had sent hin into the world to accomplish the work that he had given him to do.” (2, p. 111)

The time of Easter leads right up to the eve of Pentecost, a week and a half after Ascension. The scriptures read in the liturgy on the eve of Pentecost remind us that, “As long as we live, there is still time to make the essential decision and obey the word which tells us, as it told Simon Peter, not to be concerned with what others do, but to concentrate ourselves wholly on the only true essential: ‘Follow thou me.’” (1, p. 204) The blessing of the Holy Spirit’s presence in our lives (thanks to Pentecost) makes that possible, but we are getting ahead of ourselves: we will discuss Pentecost in our next blog post!

Purchase your own copy of “The Year of Grace of the Lord,” by a monk of the Eastern Church, here: https://www.svspress.com/year-of-grace-of-the-lord-the/ This book, quoted above, will be an excellent resource for you to read and learn from, throughout the Church year.

May we learn more about the feasts of Pascha and the Ascension, so that we can celebrate them more joyously, and better teach our students about these important feasts of the liturgical year!

Footnotes:

1. A monk of the Eastern Church. The Year of Grace of the Lord. Crestwood, NY: St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press; 2001.

  1. Fr. Thomas Hopko. The Orthodox Faith volume ii: Worship. Syosset, NY: OCA, 1972. Fifth printing, 1997.
    3. Calivas, Rev. Alciviadis C., Th.D., (1985, 8/13). “Orthodox Worship”. Retrieved from https://www.goarch.org/-/orthodox-worship

    Here are some related links, including ideas for teaching students about the time of Easter (Pascha) and Pentecost:

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The book featured in this blog post offers a plethora of information about each of the feasts, and can help you to prepare to teach your students about Pascha and the Ascension! https://orthodoxchurchschoolteachers.wordpress.com/2015/12/11/gleanings-from-a-book-heaven-meets-earth-celebrating-pascha-and-the-twelve-feasts-by-john-skinas/

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Find ideas for teaching your students about Pascha in this blog post: https://orthodoxchurchschoolteachers.wordpress.com/2015/04/10/celebrating-the-feast-of-feasts-great-and-holy-pascha/

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This blog post offers resources Sunday Church School teachers may want to use when teaching their students about Pascha: https://orthodoxchurchschoolteachers.wordpress.com/2016/04/29/pascha-celebration-resources-for-sunday-church-school-teachers/

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Teachers of middle-years students may want to consider discussing this book (which happens during Lent and finishes around the time of Pascha) with their students: https://orthodoxchurchschoolteachers.wordpress.com/2016/05/27/gleanings-from-a-book-queen-abigail-the-wise-by-grace-brooks/

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Help your students learn what goes into their family’s Pascha basket (and why it is there!) with this educational resource: http://orthodoxeducation.blogspot.com/2014/04/pascha-basket.html
You may want to send this printable home with them after your discussion: http://www.holy12.org/holy12/files/PaschaBasket.pdf

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Together as a class, discuss Paschal traditions in the parish and in your students’ homes. Read pages 23-24 of the article “How Orthodox People Celebrate the Feasts” in the Little Falcons Orthodox Children’s magazine Issue #31, available here:  http://www.littlefalcons.net/pdf/2016_Backissues.pdf

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Find some ideas for teaching your class about the Feast of the Ascension here: https://orthodoxchurchschoolteachers.wordpress.com/2014/05/23/teaching-children-about-the-feast-of-the-ascension/

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Find additional suggestions for teaching about the Ascension here: https://orthodoxchurchschoolteachers.wordpress.com/2016/06/03/on-the-feast-of-the-ascension/

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Help your students to make these (free!) printable centerpieces for their prayer table or dinner table, for each feast: http://www.antiochian.org/1127698508

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On the Liturgical Year for Teachers: The Passion (part 5 of 7)

This series of blog posts will offer basic information and resources regarding the liturgical year. It is our hope that Sunday Church School teachers will find this series helpful as they live the liturgical year with their students. The series will follow the church year in sections, as divided in the book “The Year of Grace of the Lord: a Scriptural and Liturgical Commentary on the Calendar of the Orthodox Church” by a monk of the Eastern Church. May God bless His Church throughout this year!

Holy Week is often called such because of the great and holy events in the week (1), but “in the Orthodox Church the last week of Christ’s life is officially called ‘Passion Week.’”(2, p. 88) Passion Week is immediately preceded by Lazarus Saturday and Palm Sunday. We are including those days in this discussion of the week, since they are an integral part of the last week of our Lord’s life on earth before His death and resurrection.

Lazarus Saturday and Palm Sunday are the perfect beginning to this important week in the life of the Church. “The resurrection of Lazarus and the triumphant Entry of Christ into Jerusalem encapsulate the events and mystery of Holy Week: Christ is revealed as the source of all life and proclaimed and acknowledged King.”(1) Lazarus Saturday gives us a glimpse of Christ as “the Resurrection and the Life” as He raises Lazarus and demonstrates His power over death. (2, p. 84) Lazarus’ resurrection convinced many that Christ was the long-awaited Messiah-King, hence the Triumphal Entry into Jerusalem on (Palm) Sunday. Palm Sunday is one of the 12 major feasts of the Church Year. Every Lazarus Saturday and Feast of the Triumphal Entry of Christ, may we ponder and be willing to say: “the master calls me. He wants me to stay with him, not to leave him throughout the days of his Passion. During these days he wants to reveal himself to me – who perhaps ‘already stink’ – newly and overwhelmingly. Master, I come.” (3, pp. 137-138)

Passion Week itself is the most sacred week of the year, beginning with the feast celebrating Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem, all the way through the anticipation of the resurrection which we feel on Holy Saturday. Monday through Wednesday we celebrate “Bridegroom” services at Matins, remembering the coming judgement; and striving to prepare our hearts for the coming bridegroom. On Holy Thursday, we remember the Lord’s Supper and celebrate with a Divine Liturgy. “The very event of the Passover Meal itself was not merely the last-minute action by the Lord to ‘institute’ the central sacrament of the Christian Faith before his passion and death. On the contrary, the entire mission of Christ… is so that God’s beloved creature, made in his own divine image and likeness, could be in the most intimate communion with him for eternity, sitting at table with him, eating and drinking in his unending kingdom.” (2, p. 91)

On Holy Friday and Saturday, as we encounter the trial, crucifixion, death, and burial of our Lord, “we are confronted with the extreme humility of our suffering God. His death becomes our true birthday. And so these days are at once days of deep gloom and watchful expectation. The Author of life is at work transforming death into life…”(1) The reading of the twelve selections from the Gospels which tell about the passion of Christ takes place at the Matins service of Holy Friday, usually celebrated on Thursday night. Those readings, combined with the Hours of Holy Friday, offer us the opportunity to hear and relive the passion of our Lord, interspersed with prophetic scriptures, Psalms, and even the beatitudes. The Vespers of Good Friday commemorates our Lord’s burial; the Matins of Holy Saturday is full of “spoiler alerts” and finally proclaims the good news of Christ’s resurrection. Holy Saturday’s Divine Liturgy is both somber and celebratory, for, “The Church does not pretend…that it does not know what will happen with the crucified Jesus… All through the services the victory of Christ is contemplated and the resurrection is proclaimed. For it is… only in the light of the victorious resurrection that the deepest divine and eternal meaning of the events of Christ’s passion and death can be genuinely grasped, adequately appreciated, and properly glorified and praised.” (2, p. 98) It is at this service, historically, that baptisms occurred. To this day, it is an annual opportunity for Orthodox Christians to die and rise with Our Lord. But all the events at the end of Holy Week point to Pascha: “The peace of Holy Saturday is entirely oriented towards the great event of Sunday morning, towards the power and the joy of the Resurrection.” (3, p.161)

When Thou didst submit Thyself unto death,

O Thou deathless and immortal One,

then Thou didst destroy hell with Thy Godly power.

And when Thou didst raise the dead from beneath the earth,
all the powers of Heaven did cry aloud unto Thee:

O Christ, Thou giver of life, glory to Thee!
Purchase your own copy of “The Year of Grace of the Lord,” by a monk of the Eastern Church, here: https://www.svspress.com/year-of-grace-of-the-lord-the/ This book, quoted above, will be an excellent resource for you to read and learn from, throughout the Church year.

Footnotes:

  1. Calivas, Rev. Alciviadis C., Th.D., (1985, 8/13). “Orthodox Worship”. Retrieved from https://www.goarch.org/-/orthodox-worship
  2. Fr. Thomas Hopko. The Orthodox Faith volume ii: Worship. Syosset, NY: OCA, 1972. Fifth printing, 1997.
  3. A monk of the Eastern Church. The Year of Grace of the Lord. Crestwood, NY: St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press; 2001.

 

Here are some related links, including ideas for teaching students about the Passion:

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Find background information about Holy Week that you may find helpful prior to teaching about it here: http://www.antiochian.org/lent/holy-week

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Find additional background information about Holy Week here: http://www.patheos.com/blogs/orthodixie/2010/03/orthodox-holy-week-2.html

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If you have electronic communication with your students’ parents, consider sharing this Holy Week resource with them: http://www.orthodoxmotherhood.com/children-during-holy-week-tips-for-parents/

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Find activity ideas to help your students focus on/learn about each day of Holy Week, beginning with Lazarus Saturday, here: https://orthodoxchurchschoolteachers.wordpress.com/2015/04/03/holy-week-activities/

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Teach your students about Palm Sunday, the Feast of the Triumphal Entry into Jerusalem. Before you do so, check out some of the ideas in this post: https://orthodoxchurchschoolteachers.wordpress.com/2016/04/15/on-the-feast-of-the-triumphal-entry-into-jerusalem-palm-sunday/

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Find links to crafts and activity ideas to help your students learn about Holy Week here: https://orthodoxchurchschoolteachers.wordpress.com/2016/04/22/holy-week-resources-for-sunday-church-school-teachers/

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This blog post offers links to a variety of activities that you can share with your students as you approach Holy Week: http://www.orthodoxmotherhood.com/orthodox-holy-week-activities-children/

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This blog post offers ideas of things to put in learning boxes for the days of Holy Week. These learning boxes would be a very hands-on way to teach or review the week with your students. http://www.sttheophanacademy.com/2010/03/pascha-boxes.html (updated here: http://www.sttheophanacademy.com/2011/04/revisiting-pascha-learning-boxes.html)

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Before you approach the subject of the Cross and Christ’s crucifixion with your students, you may want to read the ideas and insights presented by these brothers and sisters in Christ (including a priest, a child psychologist, parents, Church School director, etc.): https://orthodoxchurchschoolteachers.wordpress.com/2015/04/03/on-the-cross-of-christ-and-leading-children-through-holy-week/

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If you have a Holy Friday retreat or simply want to focus on activities for Holy Friday, check out these two ideas: http://orthodoxeducation.blogspot.com/2011/04/holy-friday-for-teens-and-children.html

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Teachers of teens may want to consider sharing some of the stories in “The Road to Golgotha” with your class, for discussion starters. Read a review of the book here: http://www.orthodoxmotherhood.com/review-road-golgotha/

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