On Teachers and Summer Break

It is summertime in the northern hemisphere, and for many of us, that means a break in the Sunday Church School routine. During this break, let us take time to be refreshed! Having a break gives us time to rest and to evaluate our work. How are we doing? What is working with our students? What is not? What other ideas are out there? What might we want to try that could improve the quality of our students’ education in the Sunday Church School classroom?

Here are a few resources that may help us to evaluate and recharge. (Note: not all of these are Orthodox. Each of them does, however, contain ideas that can help to refresh us and be ready for the next Sunday Church School year.)

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Ever feel like you’re stuck in a rut or just need to breathe a little? This page offers 25 hands-on ideas that people in Christian ministry can do to reset their creative juices: https://childrensministry.com/simply-refreshed/

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Here are 10 suggestions for rest/refreshment during the break from the school year. Aimed at school teachers, many of these work for Sunday Church School teachers, as well. https://www.mmersfrenchresources.com/2017/05/10-ways-to-recharge-during-summer-break.html

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Need a bit of a refresher? You’re not alone! Many teachers need to take some time to refresh themselves so they can continue to encourage and inspire others. Here are some ideas of ways to refresh yourself: https://teach4theheart.com/6-ways-teachers-can-refresh-can-give-students/

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Laughter is good medicine, and can help to refresh your soul. If you find yourself in need of a little laughter, read this article. Do you know any of these students? https://sharefaith.com/blog/2016/09/10-students-sunday-school-teachers-recognize/

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“Whether you hold a relaxed version of your regular Sunday school program or discontinue classes until fall, read on for nine refreshing ideas to help you nurture kids in the summer months too!” https://network.crcna.org/sunday-school/9-refreshing-ways-connect-kids-summer

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You may want to begin evaluating your year with something like this printable document. It asks many questions that can help you think about how things went in your classroom. http://pghpresbytery.org/disciplemaking/pdfs/Evaluation_Tool_for_Teachers.pdf

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Has your parish thought through (and made public) the details on how your Sunday Church School works? Some parents and even visitors may find information like this helpful, whether on a printed handout in the narthex, or online. Check out this parish’s example for inspiration: http://transfiguration.org/ministries/religious-education/transfiguration-sunday-school-teacher-information/

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Check out Orthodox resource lists like this one to see if there is anything out there that you were not aware of which could help you be a better teacher. http://ww1.antiochian.org/online-resource-list-parents-and-teachers

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Do you want to become a better educator? You may find both refreshment and challenge from Praxis Magazine. The Greek Archdiocese publishes this magazine three times a year, and posts many articles and even entire back issues online. (For example, Volume 14, Issue 1, “Teaching Strategies,” is available online in its entirety and you can read it immediately!)  https://goarch.org/-/praxis-magazine

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“Sophie Koulomzin, an Orthodox author and former professor on Orthodox education, tells us, ‘You can teach only that which you have made your own…’” This article challenges Sunday Church School teachers to evaluate their own embracing of the Orthodox Christian Faith, and reflects on how that will influence our students. http://myocn.net/what-is-orthodox-education/

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Take a little time this summer to rethink your classroom organization. Check out our other blogs for ideas of ways to organize your Sunday Church School room.https://orthodoxchurchschoolteachers.wordpress.com/tag/classroom/

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Have you heard of using a binder method for organizing your students’ work? Here’s one suggestion of how to do so: http://illumination-learning.com/main/2012/05/21/church-school-binders/

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Teachers of teens may want to see if any part of this mindset and/or teaching “style” would help their students better connect to the Faith: https://www.youthworker.com/articles/refresh-sunday-school/

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On Pursuing Virtue: Faithfulness

Author’s note: We have written about virtues before (see https://orthodoxchurchschoolteachers.wordpress.com/2017/03/03/on-pursuing-the-virtues-an-introduction/), and now we are continuing the series. There are so very many virtues for us to acquire! Fr. Thomas Hopko’s book “The Orthodox Faith, Volume 4, Spirituality,” offers additional virtues, some of which we will now study. May the Lord have mercy on us and grant us grace as we learn to better walk in His ways!

Fr. Thomas Hopko begins his discussion on faithfulness by reminding the reader that God is absolutely faithful. This virtue is one of His main characteristics! When the virtue of faithfulness is found in people, it is there because of the Holy Spirit. Faithfulness is a fruit of the Spirit.

People who are faithful always keep their word. They are completely loyal. They stay true to their calling. No matter what happens, they steadfastly serve in truth and love. The faithful person will follow God’s will even if others do not notice or appreciate what they are doing. God sets for us the best example of faithfulness. He always makes promises and covenants and always keeps them, even when people have not kept their end of the “bargain.”

God incarnate, our Lord Jesus Christ, showed us humans how to be faithful by being perfectly faithful throughout His life on earth. He carried out his mission dutifully, and thereby accomplished all that God sent Him here to do. Our Lord taught about faithfulness in the parable of the talents. In that parable, He teaches that the truly faithful servant is the one who takes what the Lord gives and fearlessly grows it into more. That servant is the one that is commended, who has truly carried out what his Lord set forth for him to do.

The discussion on faithfulness continues by stating that to be truly spiritual is to be completely faithful in everything: not only in all of our deeds and in all of our words, but even in all of our thoughts! We need to beware of pride, covetousness, cowardice, envy, and the temptation to not humbly serve where we are, with what God has provided: all of these are enemies of faithfulness. Anytime that we think highly of ourselves, are afraid to try what God has asked us to do, wish for our neighbors’ stuff or talents, or continually seek satisfaction from the world, we grow faithLESSness in our life.

If we want to be faithful, we need to be steadfast. We must be fully committed to doing the tasks that God has set before us with whatever faith, grace, and strength He provides. Fr. Thomas says, “The only way to find joy, wisdom, and peace is to be faithful to one’s own uniqueness, knowing that each person has his own specific life and vocation from God which no one else has; his own specific mission which no one else can perform.” When we live and act in this way, we will develop faithfulness in our life, and accomplish those things which God has intended for us to accomplish with our life, for His glory!

May we all grow in the virtue of faithfulness, and help our students to do so as well!!

Read Fr. Thomas Hopko’s discussion of faithfulness here: https://oca.org/orthodoxy/the-orthodox-faith/spirituality/the-virtues/faithfulness

Here are some ideas of ways that we can help to teach our Sunday Church School students about the virtue of faithfulness:

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Though geared toward parents, this series of lessons on faithfulness offers many stories and verses from scripture that can be used to teach faithfulness to Sunday Church School students. It also offers discussion starters about faithfulness in a variety of areas of life, while also offering activity ideas. http://www.kidsofintegrity.com/lessons/faithfulness
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This guide to helping parents talk with their children about faithfulness may offer some ideas that could be used in the Church School classroom. There are ideas for all ages of children. https://www.focusonthefamily.com/parenting/spiritual-growth-for-kids/fruit-of-the-spirit/reflecting-gods-faithfulness
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This lesson on faithfulness is geared to preschool students. It includes printable illustrations for the stories (of Joseph’s faithfulness despite being sold by his brothers and of the Theotokos’ faithfulness to God’s request of her), along with craft and activity suggestions. http://storage.cloversites.com/pinedalechristianchurch/documents/28%20Preschool%20-%20May%2014.pdf
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Teachers of younger students may find a picture book from this list that can help to start a discussion on faithfulness: https://meaningfulmama.com/books-faithfulness-kids.html
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This teacher gives ideas of ways to use the story of Daniel with young students, to help them learn about faithfulness: http://handsonbibleteacher.blogspot.com/2011/03/fruit-of-spirit-faithfulness.html
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This lesson (actually, a children’s sermon) uses the book “Horton Hatches the Egg” and the story of St. Simeon to demonstrate faithfulness to children. It includes links to activity ideas and printable pages at the bottom of the page. https://www.sermons4kids.com/our_god_is_faithful.htm
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This lesson encourages participants to be faithful in all that they do. Based on the parable of the two sons, the lesson offers the story, suggested activities, and printable activity pages. https://www.sermons4kids.com/yes_or_no.htm
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Teachers of early elementary-aged students may find ideas they can adapt and use from this lesson on faithfulness: https://ministry-to-children.com/faithfulness-bible-lesson-fruit-of-the-spirit/
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https://www.jellytelly.com/blog/3-bible-stories-to-teach-kids-about-faithfulness suggests three stories from the scriptures that can help us to teach children about faithfulness: the story of Ruth, the story of David and Jonathan, and the Parable of the Talents. While this page operates on a subscription basis for its video storytelling, the ideas and passages are listed, so that a non-subscriber can find and share the scriptural stories with their students.
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This series of lessons on the fruit of the Spirit includes one on faithfulness, and would be appropriate for teachers with younger students. The ball-catch craft nicely illustrates how we need to be faithful in order to truly succeed! http://flamecreativekids.blogspot.com/2014/09/fruit-of-spirit-curriculum-10-free.html
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A teen leads this (mostly audio) video meditation on God’s faithfulness. A relatable example of how we trust our favorite snack to faithfully taste the same every time, and not let us down, helps the listeners think about God’s faithfulness. There’s also a free printable page with the questions asked in the presentation, so that listeners can write out their answers. http://studentdevos.com/track-2-lesson-1-god-is-faithful/
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This blog post clearly reminds us that God is faithful to us, no matter what we are experiencing. The blog itself is not a Sunday Church School lesson, but either of the two craft ideas would work very well in conjunction with a middle or high school lesson on faithfulness. One suggests decorating a jar to collect stones on which the owner will list the ways that God has been faithful to them. The other involves decorating a box to be filled with scripture reminders of God’s faithfulness (printable verse cards are available at the post). https://www.notconsumed.com/promise-box-so-that-we-may-never-again-forget-his-faithfulness/ ***
“‘O Faithless generation. How long shall I be with you? How long shall I bear with you?’ (Mk 9:19) Think about these disturbingly harsh words from our Lord in the Gospel reading today. ‘O Faithless generation.’ Were they words only for His generation 2000 years ago, or do they describe the times we live in?” ~ http://www.schwebster.org/sermons/struggling-to-stay-on-the-faithful-path

Teachers of older students may want to share this homily on faithfulness with their class, as part of a discussion on this virtue.
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Consider concluding a class on faithfulness by acknowledging faithfulness together. Encourage each student to think of one person that they really rely on, one person who exemplifies faithfulness to them, and then have them create a card to give to that person to thank them for being so reliable. They may want to include a verse about faithfulness (ie: “My eyes shall be on the faithful of the land, That they may dwell with me; He who walks in a perfect way, He shall serve me.” (Ps. 101:6 NKJV); “His lord said to him, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant; you were faithful over a few things, I will make you ruler over many things. Enter into the joy of your Lord.’” (Matt. 25:21 NKJV); or “He who is faithful in what is least is faithful also in much.” (Luke 16:10 NKJV)). Need inspiration for making the cards? What about something simple like this, but with the word “faithfulness” on the front instead of “thank you”? http://www.kwernerdesign.com/blog/easy-diy-thank-you-cards-ombre-watercolor/#_a5y_p=5834276

On Pursuing Virtue: Kindness

Author’s note: We have written about virtues before (see https://orthodoxchurchschoolteachers.wordpress.com/2017/03/03/on-pursuing-the-virtues-an-introduction/), and now we are continuing the series. There are so very many virtues for us to acquire! Fr. Thomas Hopko’s book “The Orthodox Faith, Volume 4, Spirituality,” offers additional virtues, some of which we will now study. May the Lord have mercy on us and grant us grace as we learn to better walk in His ways!

Fr. Thomas Hopko’s chapter on kindness begins with the statement that spiritual people are kind, always gentle, and never cruel in any way. But kindness is more than a fruit of the Spirit evidenced in the life of humans who are following God: God Himself is kind! And He is not just kind to the good. Luke 6:35 reminds us that He is “kind to the ungrateful and selfish.” That’s pretty much everyone, at least at some point in life!

We Christians are encouraged to accompany God in kindness. This is most important when we are helping others to see an error that we have noticed in their life. Fr. Thomas mentions that we can usually put on a kind front for those we don’t know well. But the people who we are the closest to may more easily receive an unkind response or reaction from us. These people are the ones who need our kindness the most, and he encourages us to extend kind words and actions to them, as well as our more casual acquaintances. He says that there is never an excuse to be insensitive or harsh to anyone, regardless of how close we are to them.

Fr. Thomas goes on to clarify that kindness doesn’t mean glossing over or ignoring other people’s sins. Instead, he says, it means that we forgive them. He also states that kindness will not always look like “being nice” to others and going along with them in whatever they do. Sometimes a truly kind person needs to set others straight if they are doing something that is wrong. The person’s kindness will shine through by the way they convey care to the person doing wrong, even in the midst of this correction. He says that a kind person’s correction will not have any cruelty, demeaning, ridiculing, or condemning. Instead, a truly kind person will correct another with encouragement and gentle understanding.

Kindness to all others, lived in this way, is a tall order. May God help us to grow in the virtue of kindness. When we do, we will be able to truly love all others as kindly as He does! May we help our students to do so, as well!!

Read Fr. Thomas Hopko’s discussion of kindness here: https://oca.org/orthodoxy/the-orthodox-faith/spirituality/the-virtues/kindness

Here are some ideas of ways that we can help to teach our Sunday Church School students about the virtue of kindness:

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Inspire your students for kindness! This blog post offers ways a classroom teacher can help to create and nurture an environment of kindness. It’s geared toward regular ed. teachers, but many of the ideas can inspire Sunday Church School teachers, as well! https://www.weareteachers.com/49-ways-to-create-a-tidal-wave-of-kindness-in-schools/
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Teachers with younger students may want to share a story or two with their class, to begin a discussion of kindness. Here are a list of secular books that may fit the bill: https://www.whatdowedoallday.com/childrens-books-about-kindness/
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Here are a handful of the many stories and people from the scriptures that could be used in a lesson on kindness:
Joseph (beginning in Genesis 37)
Rahab (beginning in Joshua 2)
Christ
The Good Samaritan
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The biblical story of Ruth is a story filled with kindness. This middle-years lesson plan focuses on various kindnesses exhibited throughout Ruth’s story, and offers a fun activity and craft idea related to kindness that could be incorporated into a lesson on this virtue. https://ministry-to-children.com/clothed-in-kindness/
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This lesson on kindness is geared towards families, but could be helpful to a teacher planning a lesson on kindness. Find Bible stories, scripture verses, and activities related to kindness here: http://www.kidsofintegrity.com/lessons/kindness
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“I think giving children hands-on ways to serve others and show special acts of kindness will go a long way in teaching them to think of others and derive joy from generosity.” ~ from http://www.momentsaday.com/teaching-children-to-think-of-others-a-simple-random-act-of-kindness/
This link offers an idea of how one mom helped her children perform a random act of kindness. Talk about it with your class, and brainstorm ways that your class can do random acts of kindness, whether together, in your parish, or something that you prepare together and each carry out/deliver separately.
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This two-minute video shares the pages from a picture book about kindness. It can be a helpful addition to a lesson on kindness: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=L5HEKWib33g
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Although this blog post is geared towards parents helping their children learn kindness, it offers ideas for a variety of age groups that Sunday Church School teachers may find helpful as they plan a lesson on kindness: https://www.focusonthefamily.com/parenting/spiritual-growth-for-kids/character-development-kindness/power-of-kindness
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This lesson for younger elementary students offers ways to learn the word kindness and what it means, based on various scriptures. https://ministry-to-children.com/kindness-bible-lesson-fruit-of-the-spirit/
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Many saints model kindness. Share the story of a kind saint with your class during a lesson on kindness.
A few ideas include:
St. Luke of Crimea (https://orthodoxchurchschoolteachers.wordpress.com/2014/06/13/learning-about-the-saints-st-luke-of-crimea-commemorated-june-11/)
St. Seraphim of Sarov (https://orthodoxchurchschoolteachers.wordpress.com/2015/12/04/learning-about-a-saint-st-seraphim-of-sarov-commemorated-on-january-2/)
St. Gerasimos of the Jordan (https://orthodoxchurchschoolteachers.wordpress.com/2016/02/26/learning-about-a-saint-st-gerasimos-of-the-jordan-commemorated-on-march-4/)
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This very simple object lesson uses water, pepper, soap, and sugar to demonstrate the effect kindness has on others: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DPu7r4RdYhQ
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This object lesson uses water and objects dropped into it to demonstrate the ripple effect that kindness has, and offers the opportunity to talk about how no kindness is too small to make a difference: http://penniesoftime.com/object-lesson-on-acts-of-kindness/
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Teachers of older students may want to show their students this 3-minute video about what researchers are finding about how kindness affects us physiologically. After watching, talk about your learnings. How did we get “wired” to respond physiologically to kindness and being kind? Why do you suppose God made us that way? What can happen if we build this virtue in our life? What if we do not cultivate it? https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sUcxoNFiomY&list=PLvzOwE5lWqhQWsPsW5PQQ5gj5OBewwgUw&index=9
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Teachers of teens may find this youth lesson on kindness helpful: https://ministrytoyouth.com/youth-group-lessons-on-kindness/
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Want some ideas of ways your class can do some random acts of kindness? Check out the ones in this blog post: https://orthodoxchristianparenting.wordpress.com/2014/02/12/try-a-little-kindness/
Or in this one: https://orthodoxchurchschoolteachers.wordpress.com/2016/01/01/on-being-a-bucket-filler/

On Pursuing Virtue: Patience

Author’s note: We have written about virtues before (see https://orthodoxchurchschoolteachers.wordpress.com/2017/03/03/on-pursuing-the-virtues-an-introduction/), and now we are continuing the series. There are so very many virtues for us to acquire! Fr. Thomas Hopko’s book “The Orthodox Faith, Volume 4, Spirituality,” offers additional virtues, some of which we will now study. May the Lord have mercy on us and grant us grace as we learn to better walk in His ways!

 

Fr. Thomas Hopko begins his discussion of patience by stating that, in order for us to completely obey God in all that we do, we must have the virtue of patience. This gives us an idea of how important this virtue is! Our Lord demonstrated for us perfect obedience to God in the context of incredible patience.

Patience is one of the fruits of the spirit, and it truly needs to come to us from God, with our cooperation. The Cambridge dictionary defines patience as “the ability to accept delay, suffering, or annoyance without complaining or becoming angry.” This does not come easily to us, nor does it “just happen” in our life. Fr. Thomas writes that we begin to acquire patience when we courageously and hopefully wait on the Lord through everything that comes our way. That means putting up with other people (as well as with ourselves!), and slowly growing in the grace of God. He says it takes a daily effort on our part to follow God’s commandments and do what He wills for our life. “Only those who are patient, according to Christ, bring forth fruit from the seeds of God’s Word that are sown in their hearts.”

Patience does not come quickly. It is work to pursue godliness, and that work is hard and long. Fr. Thomas reminds his readers that we can’t become patient just by using our own willpower: it is a grace that comes to us from God, a fruit of the Holy Spirit.

He writes that patience “is the power to ‘stay on the cross’ no matter what, doing only the will of the Lord.” Patience is not a solitary virtue: it is closely tied with faith, hope, love, humility, and obedience. Fr. Thomas encourages those who want to grow in patience to work at it daily through fasting, prayer, communion, remembering God, abiding in Christ, and viewing life through the light of God’s Kingdom. Uniting ourselves to Christ and living by the Holy Spirit’s power, he writes, is what the spiritual teachers tell us is the only way to acquire the virtue of patience.

May we all grow in the virtue of patience, and help our students to do so as well!
Read Fr. Thomas Hopko’s discussion of patience here: https://oca.org/orthodoxy/the-orthodox-faith/spirituality/the-virtues/patience
Here are some ideas of ways that we can help to teach our Sunday Church School students about the virtue of patience:
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This gathering of ideas for teaching children about patience offers a variety of scriptures and Bible stories, as well as craft and activity suggestions that can be used for various ages. (It is not Orthodox, and is written for parents to use with their children, but much of it can easily be used in an Orthodox Sunday Church School setting.) http://www.kidsofintegrity.com/sites/default/files/Patience-2015.pdf
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Here is a list of picture books that could be used in conjunction with a lesson on patience. They are not Orthodox, and many are not even religious in nature, but can be helpful, nonetheless: https://meaningfulmama.com/books-patience.html
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Consider an activity such as “pass the parcel” (found here https://3boysandadog.com/patience-and-preschoolers-and-free-psalms-printable/) to help young Sunday Church School students learn about patience by practicing it!
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Here is what one teacher did to help her young Sunday School children learn about patience: http://handsonbibleteacher.blogspot.ca/2011/01/this-quarter-seems-to-be-flying-by.html
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This humorous blog post offers ideas of Bible stories on patience, as well as one on IMpatience, that could be part of a Sunday Church School lesson on the virtue. There’s also a suggested craft idea that could be used for a variety of ages! http://jeaninallhonesty.blogspot.com/2008/05/sunday-school-fruit-of-spirit-patience.html
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Find two stories (a fictional one, and a story from the life of Christ), along with a suggested Psalm to memorize, any or all of which could be incorporated into a lesson about patience here: http://childrenschapel.org/biblestories/fruit_patience.html
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These group games help children to practice patience: http://aplaceofourown.org/activity.php?id=500

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Consider an activity such as this color-mixing activity to demonstrate the value of patience. If you do this, you may want to start it at the beginning of a Sunday Church School on patience, and then go on with other parts of your lesson. You can observe the results (hopefully!) by the end of class! http://www.jojoebi-designs.com/2012/09/how-colouring-mixing-can-teach-patience.html
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Another craft that could help to teach patience is something like this http://onelittleproject.com/galaxy-in-a-bottle/2/. (We’d recommend smaller bottles for your Sunday Church School students, so that you can save a little on baby oil. Also, you will want to hot glue or superglue the lids onto the bottles after all the ingredients are inside!) The students will need to be patient with themselves, you, and each other while they create their galaxy in a bottle. Once it is made and shaken, students can experience the beautiful patience of watching it slowly return to its unshaken state!
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This video can spark a discussion on patience with elementary-aged students. The speaker demonstrates the difference between having a short fuse and having patience by using (what else?) burning fuses! https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ycFCnnnrubo&feature=share
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This article is aimed at parents (Christian, but not necessarily Orthodox) but offers leveled activities/discussion starters that Sunday Church School teachers may be able to adapt for use in a lesson on patience: https://www.focusonthefamily.com/parenting/spiritual-growth-for-kids/fruit-of-the-spirit/practicing-patience
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Use padlocks to help you teach patience to pre-teens as suggested in this lesson: http://preteenministry.net/youth-group-lesson-on-patience/
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Here are a few printable pages of quotes that can help older children learn more about patience. The quotes come from the scriptures and from the Church Fathers, and could be used in a lesson on patience, in conjunction with some of the other suggested activities we have mentioned.
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This “seven-minute sermon” video discusses patience, and could be a great start to a class on this virtue with older children or teens. The video is not necessarily Orthodox, but could be very useful in an Orthodox classroom. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eOaaBqlluLY&feature=share
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Patience and diligence work well together. If you missed it before, be sure to catch this post on helping your students learn the virtue of diligence from our first round of blogs about virtues:
https://orthodoxchurchschoolteachers.wordpress.com/2017/04/21/on-pursuing-virtue-diligence/

On Pursuing Virtue: Honesty

Author’s note: We have written about virtues before (see https://orthodoxchurchschoolteachers.wordpress.com/2017/03/03/on-pursuing-the-virtues-an-introduction/), and now we are continuing the series. There are so very many virtues for us to acquire! Fr. Thomas Hopko’s book “The Orthodox Faith, Volume 4, Spirituality,” offers additional virtues, some of which we will now study. May the Lord have mercy on us and grant us grace as we learn to better walk in His ways!

Fr. Thomas Hopko’s chapter about honesty opens with the statement that “the wise man who has knowledge lives according to the truth through a totally honest life.” But what does a “totally honest life” look like? Is honesty just about speaking truth and not telling lies? Or is there more to it? He goes on to explain.

There are several ways that we can live a truly honest life. One way is to always speak the truth and never lie or speak unfairly or demeaningly about others. Another way to live an honest life is to act sincerely, not putting on airs or trying to come across as someone we are not. In other words, we live an honest life if we are not a hypocrite.

Hypocrisy, lying, and deceit are things that Christ hated the most, according to Fr. Thomas. Our Lord accused the devil of these things, for the devil constantly pretends to be what he is not and tries to make others believe that what he says is the truth, although it is definitely not the truth.

We must be mindful of the devil’s trickery and of how cunningly he tries to deceive us, sometimes through other people. Even devoted religious leaders can be part of his deceit: just look at the scribes and Pharisees in the time of Christ! Christ condemned their hypocrisy, as well He should, because of its lack of truth.

In order to live an honest life, we must first and foremost look at ourselves. Do we present ourselves to others honestly, or do we pretend to be someone we are not? An honest person comes across exactly as they are, not speaking or acting in a way that makes others think they are anyone but who they really are.

Fr. Thomas writes that a truly honest person does not just speak the truth and present themselves to others honestly. An honest person is also honest in thought and mind, forever remembering that God sees and knows our heart. In his words, a truly honest person is “utterly honest and pure in all that he things, says and does, knowing that God sees all and judges with righteousness all those who ‘walk in integrity’ (Ps. 26:1, 11).”

May we all grow in the virtue of honesty, and help our students to do so, as well!!
Read Fr. Thomas Hopko’s discussion of honesty here: https://oca.org/orthodoxy/the-orthodox-faith/spirituality/the-virtues/faith1

Here are some ideas of ways that we can help to teach our Sunday Church School students about the virtue of Honesty:
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Want to focus on honesty in your classroom? Consider some of the ideas found on this (non-Orthodox, but creative and helpful) website: http://www.barnabasinschools.org.uk/exploring-values-with-the-bible-honesty/
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Teachers of younger students may wish to enhance a lesson on honesty with a story. Here are some secular books that may be helpful as you plan: https://talkingtreebooks.com/best-character-education-resources/books-honesty.html
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What do the scriptures say about honesty? Here is a list of verses that can help in a lesson about honesty. Sunday Church School teachers could write each reference on a slip of paper before class. Take the slips along and have each student select one reference to look up in the Bible, then read to the class. http://www.kidsofintegrity.com/lessons/honesty/memory-verses
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Teachers of young children may find some parts of this secular lesson on honesty helpful as they gather ideas for a lesson on this virtue: https://talkingtreebooks.com/lesson-plans/honesty-worksheet-kindergarten-grade-1.html
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There are so many ideas that can be gathered from this series of lessons on honesty! It was written for parents to use at home, and is not at an Orthodox site, but Sunday Church School teachers will find many scripture verses, stories from the Bible, and a myriad of different hands-on learning activities here. These ideas can easily be added to a lesson on honesty: http://www.kidsofintegrity.com/lessons/honesty
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Teachers with students of varying ages may want to take a look at the activities suggested in this object lesson containing a variety of ways to talk about the importance of honesty instead of lying. From weaving a tangled web with yarn to trying to cover a quarter with a penny, students will be interested and involved in the lesson. (The lesson is not written from an Orthodox perspective, but can still be very helpful for this topic.) http://storage.cloversites.com/yorkalliancechurch/documents/KS%20Lesson%208%20Honesty.pdf
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Middle-years or older students may find this page useful. It contains questions about honesty and answers as found in the scriptures. http://www.kidsbibleinfo.com/article/102/topics/h/honesty
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Although it has “teens” in the tagline and addresses parents, this (secular) list of ideas for helping children learn about honesty will be helpful to Sunday Church School teachers preparing to teach their students about honesty. We especially liked the obstacle course idea. (Set up two obstacle courses, one easy and one full of obstacles. Allow students to run through both. Then talk about which was easier and why. Talk about how telling lies adds additional obstacles to your life, while honesty is simpler and more straight forwards.) https://www.livestrong.com/article/559757-teaching-teens-the-importance-of-telling-the-truth/
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Teachers with students in the middle years may want to share this children’s sermon – or at least some of the true stories it contains – as part of a lesson on honesty and integrity. Follow the stories with a discussion about how honesty is a lifestyle, and a true measure of our honesty is how we act when no one is watching. https://www.sermons4kids.com/do_right_thing.htm

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Do you know why former American president Abraham Lincoln was called “Honest Abe?” You may want to print the free printable about him at this site, and use it in a lesson about honesty. http://characterfirsteducation.com/c/curriculum-detail/1951185
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Here is a secular-based (but still useful) series of lessons on honesty. We especially liked the idea of using two M&M bags (one filled with something else) to illustrate the importance of honesty and how we need to live an honest life, not just put on the appearance of what we want others to think that we are. http://materials.randomactsofkindness.org/cde/en/5-Honesty-and-Integrity.pdf
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Middle school teachers may find some useful ideas for part of their lesson on honesty, from this (secular) lesson: http://character.org/lessons/lesson-plans/middle/john-a-carusi-middle-school/
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As we prepare for confession, one thing we can do is to look at the Ten Commandments and consider how well we are keeping them. While planning a lesson on honesty, we may want to take a look at these questions about the commandment “You shall not bear false witness.” These questions can help us think about what honesty looks like in an Orthodox life. Sharing these questions with our class will give both us and our students the chance to be honest with ourselves about how well we’re keeping this commandment: “Have I given false testimony against anyone? Have I spoken evil, told lies or spread rumors about anyone? Have I disclosed to anyone the sins and faults of another? Have I made careless statements or done anything else to harm the name and reputation of another? Have I engaged in idle gossip?” (This set of questions comes from: http://greekorthodoxchurchtampa.com/church_files/lent_pascha/ten_commandments_in_preparation_for_confession.pdf)

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The holy Fathers of the Church use words to teach us about false witness and condemnation, but they also teach us by their lives. Here is one story from the book, Sayings of the Desert Fathers. Teachers of older Sunday Church School students may wish to use this story during a lesson on honesty:

“A brother at Scetis committed a fault. A council was called to which Abba Moses was invited, but he refused to go to it. Then the priest sent someone to say to him, ‘Come, for everyone is waiting for you.’ So he got up and went. He took a leaking jug, filled it with water and carried it with him. The others came out to meet him and said to him, ‘What is this, Father?’ The Elder said to them, ‘My sins run out behind me, and I do not see them, and today I am coming to judge the errors of another.’ When they heard that they said no more to the brother but forgave him.”https://stjohndc.org/en/orthodoxy-foundation/thou-shalt-not-bear-false-witness-against-thy-neighbour
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Teachers of teens may want to include quotes about honesty from others, besides the scriptures and the church fathers. Share the following quotes with your students, and invite the students to discuss them. Compare them to the scriptures and the Church Fathers’ teachings on honesty, and discuss. What can be learned from these quotes, as well as the others?
Possible quotes to include:
“Honesty is the first chapter in the book of wisdom.” – Thomas Jefferson
“Take note, take note, O world, to be direct and honest is not safe.” – William Shakespeare
“I hold the maxim no less applicable to public than to private affairs, that honesty is the best policy.” – George Washington
“Make yourself an honest man, and you can be sure there is one less rascal in the world.” – Thomas Carlyle
“An honest man is believed without an oath, for his reputation swears for him.” – Eliza Cook
“It takes strength and courage to admit the truth.” – Rick Riordan
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On Pursuing Virtue: Hope

Author’s note: We have written about virtues before (see https://orthodoxchurchschoolteachers.wordpress.com/2017/03/03/on-pursuing-the-virtues-an-introduction/), and now we are continuing the series. There are so very many virtues for us to acquire! Fr. Thomas Hopko’s book “The Orthodox Faith, Volume 4, Spirituality,” offers additional virtues, some of which we will now study. May the Lord have mercy on us and grant us grace as we learn to better walk in His ways!

Fr. Thomas Hopko’s chapter about hope begins by pairing the virtue of hope with the power of faith. He reminds his readers that Abraham “in hope believed against hope that he should be the father of many nations” (Rom 4:18). He reminds his readers that hope and faith both rest in the unseen.

Hope is knowing that good will result in our life if we are living in faith, according to Fr. Hopko. Hope can help us to be sure that even in the midst of darkness and sin, God’s light and forgiveness is with us and will do for us what we are not able to do. Hope extends to us the reassurance that we need.

Fr. Hopko speaks of the opposite of hope, as well, so that we can be on guard. Despondency and despair are the opposites of hope. He calls these “the most grievous and horrible condition that a person can be in.” These two conditions work together to create the most terrible and damaging situation for our soul. Why? Because when we have no hope, we can’t do anything else. We especially can not have faith.

Fr. Hopko continues, “If a person is faithless, he can be chastised and convinced. If a person is proud, he can be humbled; impure, he can be cleansed; weak, he can be strengthened; wicked, he can be made righteous. But if a person is despondent and despairing, the very condition of his sickness is such that his heart and soul are dead and unresponsive to the grace of God and the support of his brothers.”

But if we fall into despair, it is possible for us to repair the state of our souls with humility and patience. Fr. Hopko tells his readers that when we fall into these states, we must hold steadfastly to the life of Faith, even if we don’t “feel” it anymore. He says when we are experiencing despair, we need to continue to go through each day, living our life of Faith. Even if we are just “going through the motions” of reading scriptures, participating in liturgical worship, keeping the fasts, praying, and working, we must not stop doing these things. He reminds us of St. Benedict’s advice that those in despondency/despair continue to do what they are doing as well as they can, and as attentively as possible. He suggests that we follow St. Seraphim’s encouragement to visit with strong friends who are spiritual, full of hope, merciful, and full of joy.

Staying steadfast through the dry times until we once again experience the light of hope and comfort is what we need to do. It is not an easy way to go (Fr. Hopko reminds us, “those who find it are few” (Mt. 7:14)). St. Evagrius assures us that when one “fights and conquers against despondency and despair, this struggle is followed by a peaceful state and the soul becomes filled with ineffable joy”.

Fr. Hopko addresses those who proclaim that it is virtuous to be without hope, thinking that declaring “all is lost” pleases God as these people sorrow over their sins and the sins of the world. He says it is not virtuous to feel helpless around the wicked or to think we’re at the mercy of evil. Rather, it is a virtue to be “rejoicing in hope, patient in tribulation, continuing steadfastly in prayer”(Rom 12.12). When we do so, we are able to really know and believe that God has the final victory in our life.

May we all grow in the virtue of hope, and help our Sunday Church School students to do the same!

Read Fr. Thomas Hopko’s discussion of hope here: https://oca.org/orthodoxy/the-orthodox-faith/spirituality/the-virtues/hope

Here are some ideas of ways that we can help to teach our Sunday Church School students about the virtue of hope:
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Tell your students the story of Abraham. How can we learn hope from his story?
(If you don’t want to tell it on your own, you may consider reading these to your class: http://www.essex1.com/people/paul/bible15.html (You’ll want to share his story at least to the one marked 18, where Sarah gives birth to Isaac.)
Find ideas for crafts and printable pages about Abraham here: http://www.dltk-bible.com/genesis/chapter15-index.htm
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Share a story (or more!) from the life of the prophet Daniel with your class. Talk about how he hoped in God, and it saved him. Find a story and activity ideas here: http://www.dltk-bible.com/old_testament/daniel-index.htm
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The story of Hannah’s hope in God – and the results of her hope – is a beautiful one to share with Sunday Church School children. Find a 3-minute video version here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JiYumdP4C6k
Find ideas for related activities here: http://www.dltk-bible.com/old_testament/hannah-index.htmn
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The story of Job offers us a wonderful model of how to face trials and hope in the Lord. Share the story with your class. (Here’s a 6-minute video version, if you have younger students: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bInc7sSe9KI) After learning about Job’s story together, talk about how he could (should?) have lost hope so many times. Yet, Job truly trusted God, and God watched over him throughout his trials. What can we learn from Job about the hard things we experience?

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Use two identical balloons filled with different things (to demonstrate the difference between being filled with despair and being filled with hope) as an attention-getter at the start of a lesson about hope! https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1ZFNBXGrXl0

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Here’s a “Be the Bee” episode about holding onto hope, which could be a great discussion starter for a lesson on hope: https://www.goarch.org/-/hold-on-to-hope?inheritRedirect=true
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This secular plan for teaching hope offers some excellent questions that we can ask our Sunday Church School students, as well as some age-leveled ideas that we can glean from as we help our students learn about this virtue in the context of the Faith. http://schools.cms.k12.nc.us/dilworthES/Documents/Character%20Education/Hope.pdf
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Teachers of elementary-aged or older students may want to print off this printable with 31 questions about hope. Each question has a suggested scripture to check for its answer. https://ministry-to-children.com/kids-can-devotion-1/ (It is not Orthodox, but will be helpful to teachers planning a lesson on hope.)
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After a discussion on hope with middle-years or older students, talk about ideas of ways to share hope with others. You may want to include these “4 Ways to Sow Hope”:

1. Write down the wonderful promises in God’s Word (Matthew 28:20, John 14:26-29, 1 Corinthians 1:7-9).
2. Regularly remind yourself of the reality of heaven (Matthew 28:28-30, John 14:1-4, Revelation 21-22).
3. When describing your circumstances, choose hopeful words. Share hardship authentically, but always affirm God’s ultimate game plan (Psalm 27:13-14).
4. Avoid complaining. Grumbling is a magnet for more complaints; avoid passing negative perspectives on to others (Philippians 2:13-16).
(This idea comes from http://www.discipleblog.com/2017/11/teaching-kids-about-true-harvest-faith-hope-and-love/, which is not Orthodox, but has some very helpful suggestions/ideas.)
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With older Sunday Church School students, discuss the difference between trust and hope. This homily would be a great discussion starter: http://stgeorgegoc.org/pastors-corner/fr-ricks-sermons/in-god-we-trusthope
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Share this Orthodox prayer for comfort, inviting students to keep it in mind the next time they feel hopeless and need God’s comfort:
“Almighty God, the Father of mercies and God of
all comfort, come to my help and deliver me from
this difficulty that besets me. I believe Lord, that
all trials of life are under Your care and that all
things work for the good of those who love You.
Take away from me fear, anxiety and distress.
Help me to face and endure my difficulty with
faith, courage and wisdom. Grant that this trial
may bring me closer to You for You are my rock
and refuge, my comfort and hope, my delight and
joy. I trust in Your love and compassion. Blessed is
Your name, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, now and
forever. Amen.” (from http://www.beliefnet.com/faiths/prayer/2009/12/prayers-for-hope-and-comfort.aspx?p=5)
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Share this prayer to the Holy Trinity with your class.
“The Father is my hope; the Son is my refuge; the Holy Spirit is my protector. O All-holy Trinity, glory to You.”
Invite them to tell what “The Father is my hope” means to them. Encourage each member of the class to remember this lesson about hope every time they pray this prayer.
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With older students, talk about this statement: “It’s easy, after all, to tell a kid to be hopeful. It’s entirely more powerful to give them a reason to hope.” Share this (secular) article with them (http://time.com/3395822/teaching-hope/) and launch a discussion on how each class member has received hope over the years. Follow that by a brainstorming session of how each person can give others a reason to hope. What can each class member do, right now, to bring hope to others? Make a plan to help them carry it out.
***

On Pursuing Virtue: Faith

Author’s note: We have written about virtues before (see https://orthodoxchurchschoolteachers.wordpress.com/2017/03/03/on-pursuing-the-virtues-an-introduction/), and now we are continuing the series. There are so very many virtues for us to acquire! Fr. Thomas Hopko’s book “The Orthodox Faith, Volume 4, Spirituality,” offers additional virtues, some of which we will now study. May the Lord have mercy on us and grant us grace as we learn to better walk in His ways!
Fr. Thomas Hopko writes that the virtue of faith is the foundation of all Christian virtue, and that it is at the heart of our Christian life. Without faith, he says, we can not achieve anything wise or virtuous. The virtue of faith is not limited to our faith in God, according to Fr. Hopko: when he speaks of the virtue of faith, he’s also speaking of our faith in the ability of humans to do good and speak truth; as well as our faith in the value of life!

Fr. Hopko calls faith in God “the fundamental virtue of all the saints.” He points us to Hebrews 11, where we find Abraham, the prototype of believers, whose faith we should emulate. Abraham’s faith brought him the promise from God in the first place. His continued faith that God would fulfill that promise which brought the promise to fruition. Genesis 15:6 says that Abraham’s faith was “accounted to him for righteousness.” (NKJV)

He goes on to talk about how we must have faith in God. It follows that if we believe in God, we also believe in His Son, Jesus Christ. Faith in Christ is the center of our Christian life. It also is the foundation of the Church. Faith is how we know and do everything.

He continues with these statements about faith: “Faith, first of all, is ‘the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen’ (Heb 11.1)… [it] is not a blind leap in the dark, an irrational and unreasonable acceptance of the unreasonable and the absurd. Genuine faith is eminently reasonable; it is rooted and grounded in man’s reasonable nature as made in the image of God. Not to believe, according to the scriptures and the saints, is the epitome of absurdity and foolishness.”

Fr. Hopko reminds us that all humans were created to have faith in God. Not believing in Him goes against our nature, and causes evils. It’s not an intellectual mistake or confusion that causes absence of faith in God: rather, that problem comes from sin, impurity, and pride. Lack of faith in God occurs when wickedness keeps the truth from shining through, or when God’s truth is covered by a lie, or when people refuse (knowingly or not) to honor God and/or be thankful to Him.

To be truly spiritual, we need to live by faith in Christ; and, by the grace of God and with His Spirit’s help, be faithful in all things.

May we all grow in the virtue of faith, and help our students to do so, as well!

Read Fr. Thomas Hopko’s discussion of faith in its entirety here: https://oca.org/orthodoxy/the-orthodox-faith/spirituality/the-virtues/faith1
Here are some ideas of ways that we can help to teach our Sunday Church School students about the virtue of Faith:

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Because of the faith of the friends of a paralytic, Jesus healed the man. Read the story in Matthew 9, and consider sharing it with your students as part of a lesson on the virtue of faith. What does this story imply about the virtue of faith? How can our faith affect those around us? How can our friends’ faith (or lack of faith) affect us? “Then behold, they brought to Him a paralytic lying on a bed. When Jesus saw their faith, He said to the paralytic, ‘Son, be of good cheer; your sins are forgiven you.’” (Matt. 9:2) Find printable activities to go with this story here: http://www.dltk-bible.com/jesus/paralyzed_man-index.htm
***
Two blind men had faith that Christ would heal them. “Then He touched their eyes, saying, ‘According to your faith let it be to you.’” (Matt. 9:29) In this instance, He acted according to their own individual faith. You may wish to share this story from the end of Matthew 9 with your students, then discuss how the degree to which we have faith can affect the degree to which we experience healing. (If you share this story with very young students, you may want to offer them this coloring page: http://www.bible-printables.com/Coloring-Pages/New-Testament/20-NT-jesus-teaches-007.htm)
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Right in the middle of Matthew 15, we encounter a woman – a Gentile, no less – who despite her heritage and upbringing has faith that Christ can heal her demoniac daughter. Jesus tries to talk her out of it because she’s not Jewish (and perhaps to test her faith?) but she persists. “Then Jesus answered and said to her, ‘O woman, great is your faith! Let it be to you as you desire.’ And her daughter was healed from that very hour.” (Matt. 15:28) This story can help us teach our students that faith in God is for everyone! Find a lesson plan complete with printables about this story here: http://www.orthodoxabc.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/06/030-EN-ed02_Canaanite-Woman.pdf
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Why should we develop the virtue of faith? Share these scriptures with your students and ask them why this virtue is important:
“So Jesus said to them, ‘Because of your unbelief; for assuredly, I say to you, if you have faith as a mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move; and nothing will be impossible for you.’” Matt. 17:20
“So Jesus answered and said to them, ‘Assuredly, I say to you, if you have faith and do not doubt, you will not only do what was done to the fig tree, but also if you say to this mountain, ‘Be removed and be cast into the sea,’ it will be done.’” Matt. 21:21
“For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ, for it is the power of God to salvation for everyone who believes, for the Jew first and also for the Greek. For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith; as it is written, ‘The just shall live by faith.’” Romans 1:16-17
“I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me.” Gal. 2:20
“For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast.” Eph. 2: 7-8
“…You became examples to all… who believe. For from you the word of the Lord has sounded forth… in every place. Your faith toward God has gone out, so that we do not need to say anything.” 1 Thess. 1: 7-8
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This object lesson could be slightly adapted to be used in an Orthodox Sunday Church School classroom to help students see for themselves what faith is. https://betterbibleteachers.com/2014/11/how-to-explain-faith-to-sunday-school-kids/
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Use two empty plastic water bottles (one with a lid) and a glove to demonstrate the value of being filled with faith when fear comes our way, as suggested in this object lesson: https://www.kidssundayschool.com/332/gradeschool/unseen-faith.php
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Teachers of middle-years students may want to demonstrate faith with their class in this way: one student will play the role of the guide, another will represent each of us when we walk in faith, and the rest will become (or set up) road blocks along the person’s faith journey. The person playing “each of us” will be blindfolded, then the others will set up road blocks along the journey. (These road blocks could be pool noodles, chairs, boxes, etc.; or the students themselves, frozen in a position throughout the demonstration.) Before “each of us” begins his/her journey while blindfolded and listening to the guide, explain that every one of us has the choice of whether or not to have faith that God will guide us and provide for us. We can’t see Him, but we can and should have faith that He is there for us. The guide will use only their voice to help “each of us” get through the journey, just as God uses the Scriptures, the Church, and Holy Tradition to help us get through our journey.
Then let the guide begin to give “each of us” vocal directions to take their journey through the road blocks. Once “each of us” is through, unblindfold him/her and talk about the experience. How well did he/she trust the guide? How well do we each really have faith in God’s provision? What other connections can you/your students make between this exercise and real life?
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With older students, read this verse:
“Let no one despise your youth, but be an example to the believers in word, in conduct, in love, in spirit, in faith, in purity.” 1 Tim. 4:12
Talk about it together. How can your students be an example to the believers? Offer examples of ways that they are already being an example to you and/or your parish. Reassure your students that they are an important part of the parish, and that their involvement makes a difference in the faith of the community. Invite conversation about ways that they can continue to be an example, and maybe even be a better one.
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“…What does faith mean? Does it mean we that read the Creed and willfully accept what it says? Or is it about something more than this?” Delve into this article about faith with older students as you learn together about this virtue. Before reading the article, you may want to discuss this quote, one question at a time. Then read the article and invite responses. http://orthodoxwayoflife.blogspot.com/2014/11/what-is-faith.html
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St. John Chrysostom displayed great faith in his interaction with Emperor Arcadius. If you don’t know this part of his story, read it here and share it with your class: http://www.orthodoxytoday.org/blog/2012/06/the-virtue-of-faith-good-in-both-worlds/
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St. Gerasimos had such great faith that he was able to help an injured lion without being harmed by the animal! His story for you to read and share with your students can be found here: https://orthodoxchurchschoolteachers.wordpress.com/2016/02/26/learning-about-a-saint-st-gerasimos-of-the-jordan-commemorated-on-march-4/
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St. Paisios is a more recent saint who displayed much faith. Read about him and find ideas of ways to help your students learn about him here: https://orthodoxchurchschoolteachers.wordpress.com/2016/12/09/saints-of-recent-decades-st-paisios-july-12june-29/
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St. Maria of Paris is another recent saint who demonstrated the virtue of faith. Read about how her faith changed her lifestyle and saved the lives of Jewish children here: https://orthodoxchurchschoolteachers.wordpress.com/2016/11/04/saints-of-recent-decades-st-maria-of-paris-july-20-or-august-2/
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Another recent saint who was full of the virtue of faith is St. John Maximovitch. Read about him here so that you can ask him to pray for you and your students! https://orthodoxchurchschoolteachers.wordpress.com/2015/07/03/learning-about-a-saint-st-john-the-wonderworker-of-shanghai-and-san-francisco-commemorated-on-july-2/