Lenten Sundays Series: Great and Holy Pascha

This is the ninth in a series of posts that focuses on the Sundays of Great Lent (and Holy Week and Pascha). Each week we will share ideas of ways to help your Sunday Church School students learn more about that particular Sunday’s focus. We will share each blog early, so that you have time to read it before the forthcoming Sunday, in case you find any of those ideas helpful for your particular class.

Here’s a meditation on Great and Holy Pascha for you to ponder before you create a lesson for your students:

 

Great and Holy Pascha is the most important day of our entire church year. We call it the “Feast of feasts” for this very reason. On this day we celebrate Christ’s victorious triumph over death. This is the reason He came to earth and became incarnate: so that He could trample down death by His death, and save us.

On Holy Saturday, we heard St. Matthew’s account of the women finding the empty tomb during the vesperal Divine Liturgy. The Paschal Gospel reading acknowledges that we know the events of the day already, having just partaken of them all week. So instead of revisiting these events on Pascha, we turn our ears to the first verses of St. John’s Gospel: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God and the Word was God… In Him was life and the life was the light of men…” The passage reminds us that God created the world and has now re-created it through Christ. This Gospel reading points us to the reason for all of the events we have just witnessed, and reminds us of the truth of the hope that we have in Christ.

Much later in the day, when we gather again for Agape Vespers, the Gospel reading assures us of the reality of Christ’s resurrection, when He appears to His disciples and even Thomas cannot deny that Christ, God incarnate, has defeated death and is alive. The words of Christ to His disciples are offered to us as well, in all the languages we are able to muster, for they belong to every human on earth. He says to them, “Peace be with you!” and again, “Peace to you!”

He goes on to send his disciples (and us) out into the world, breathing Life into them when He breathes on them and tells them to receive the Holy Spirit. Just as God breathed into Adam and Eve when He first created the world, He breathes into His disciples as He creates His Church. So Pascha celebrates Christ’s resurrection and thus, the beginning of the Church. He thus fully tramples down death: His resurrection has trampled physical death, and His Church offers us spiritual life instead of spiritual death.

On Great and Holy Pascha, we begin a 40-day season of celebrating Christ’s victory over death, and the beautiful gift He gives us in the Church. Glory be to Jesus Christ! Glory be forever!

Christ is risen!

Christos Anesti!

Al Maseeh Qam!

Christos Voskrese!

Cristo ha resucitado!

Hristos a Inviat!

Krishti Ungjall!

 

Here are some resources that may be helpful as you plan a lesson on Pascha for your Sunday Church School class:

***

Very young children will benefit from this colorful lesson about Pascha, using Orthodox Pebbles’ illustrations of four icons as its core: https://orthodoxpebbles.com/new-testament/four-icons-for-pascha/

***

Find a lesson about Pascha, geared to younger children, here.

***

Potamitis Publishing’s book #13 in their Paterikon for Kids is entitled “The Resurrection of Christ” and is a child-sized book that helps young children to understand more about what Pascha is all about. One page will even make your students want to sing! Get your copy here: http://orthodoxchildrensbooks.com/eng/index.php/Paterikon-for-Kids-1-17-5-NEW/The-Resurrection-of-Christ/flypage-ask.tpl.html?pop=0

***

Issue #71 of the Orthodox children’s magazine “Little Falcons” is all about Pascha. Order it here.

***

Lesson #6, here, is about Pascha. It is available at a variety of levels:

http://dce.oca.org/focus/pascha/4-6/

http://dce.oca.org/focus/pascha/7-9/

http://dce.oca.org/focus/pascha/10-12/

http://dce.oca.org/focus/pascha/13-17/

http://dce.oca.org/focus/pascha/adults/

 

***
Here is another leveled set of lessons about Pascha that may be helpful to you as you prepare to teach a class about this glorious feast:
http://orthodoxsundayschool.org/epistles-feasts-and-sacraments/3-5-years-old/pascha

http://orthodoxsundayschool.org/epistles-feasts-and-sacraments/6-9-years-old/pascha

http://orthodoxsundayschool.org/epistles-feasts-and-sacraments/10-12-years-old/pascha

http://orthodoxsundayschool.org/epistles-feasts-and-sacraments/middle-school/pascha

http://orthodoxsundayschool.org/epistles-feasts-and-sacraments/high-school/pascha
***

Find a few suggestions of things to do with your class to help them learn about Pascha here:

https://orthodoxchurchschoolteachers.wordpress.com/2016/04/29/pascha-celebration-resources-for-sunday-church-school-teachers/

***

Learn more about the feast itself, and find some classroom resources here: https://orthodoxchurchschoolteachers.wordpress.com/2017/11/17/on-the-liturgical-year-for-teachers-the-time-of-easter-pascha-and-pentecost-part-6-of-7/

***

 

Things to See and Do in Holy Week: a Printable Booklet

Each day of Holy Week, there’s a special service (or more) that we Orthodox Christians celebrate together. Print out the following pages and send them home with your students, encouraging them to spy out the following items/events. After you print these pages, cut them in half, then re-organize/stack/assemble them into a little booklet, and staple it together. You may wish to add blank pages between these for doodling or for services your students will attend that are not listed here. Encourage your students to follow along, marking the icon following each item after it happens. (They could use colored pencils, markers, pens, small dot stickers, or whatever works best for them.)
Thanks to missionaries Alexandria Ritsi and Nathan and Gabriela Hoppe, this booklet has been translated into Albanian, and formatted to be printed back-to-back. They have given us permission to share it with this community. Here is where you will find the Albanian version to download and print.

Thanks to Ruxandra Kyriazopoulis-Berinde for translating it into the Romanian language. Here is the Romanian version.

Lenten Sundays Series: Palm Sunday

This is the eighth in a series of posts that focuses on the Sundays of Great Lent (and Holy Week and Pascha). Each week we will share ideas of ways to help your Sunday Church School students learn more about that particular Sunday’s focus. We will share each blog early, so that you have time to read it before the forthcoming Sunday, in case you find any of those ideas helpful for your particular class.

Here’s a meditation on Palm Sunday  for you to ponder before you create a lesson for your students:

On this sixth Sunday of Great Lent, we will be celebrating Christ’s triumphal entry into Jerusalem as we prepare to enter into Holy Week. We usually refer to this feast as the Entrance of Our Lord into Jerusalem, but we also call it Palm Sunday.

From the beginning of time, victorious kings have ridden joyously into their home cities after battle, surrounded by cheering crowds celebrating their success. The celebrations have changed over the years, but at the time of Christ, such a parade would have included palm branches being waved and laid on the road.

As we look at St. Matthew’s account of Christ’s triumphal entry, we see that this is exactly the kind of welcome our Lord received as He entered Jerusalem. We know that Jesus is not just a King, but the King of Kings, but at the time, not everyone knew or accepted Him as such. However, when He raised Lazarus from the dead, word got around about that great miracle, and He was welcomed into Jerusalem with palm branches being waved and set on the ground; and some people even lay their cloaks on the ground to welcome Him.

Not only did they act in these king-welcoming ways, but the people also loudly proclaimed who He is. They said, “Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is He who comes in the name of the LORD! Hosanna in the highest!” (Matt. 21:9) All this commotion caught the eye of the entire city, and other people started asking, “Who is this guy?” and they heard that it was Jesus, the prophet who came from Nazareth in Galilee.

On Palm Sunday, we enter into His Triumphal Entry into Jerusalem, joining the crowds in welcoming Christ. We wave palms (or pussy willows) and also cry, “Hosanna in the highest! Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord!”

We know why He is coming; what He is coming to do. How much more should we welcome Him? After all, we know that He is not only a great Healer/Wonderworker, but that He is the very God Himself, incarnate! Let us therefore welcome Him with adoration and honor into our parish on this special day. It is right that we do this! However, we should be welcoming Him in the same way every day into our own life and heart. We can allow this Holy Week which lies ahead to help us begin to properly do so.

“O Christ God, when Thou didst raise Lazarus from the dead,

before Thy Passion, didst confirm the universal resurrection.

Wherefore, we, like babes, carry the banner of triumph and victory,

and cry unto Thee, O Vanquisher of death:

Hosanna in the highest! Blessed is He Who cometh in the Name of the Lord!”

 

Here are a few suggestions of places to find ideas for a lesson on Palm Sunday:

***

Find a lesson for younger children based on Palm Sunday (and one for Lazarus Saturday, as well as one for Holy Week) here: https://orthodoxabc.com/church-and-feasts/#1527067826531-90e19604-f6b4

***

Find lessons for Palm Sunday at many levels, here:

http://orthodoxsundayschool.org/epistles-feasts-and-sacraments/3-5-years-old/palm-sunday

http://orthodoxsundayschool.org/epistles-feasts-and-sacraments/6-9-years-old/palm-sunday

http://orthodoxsundayschool.org/epistles-feasts-and-sacraments/10-12-years-old/palm-sunday

http://orthodoxsundayschool.org/epistles-feasts-and-sacraments/middle-school/palm-sunday

http://orthodoxsundayschool.org/epistles-feasts-and-sacraments/high-school/palm-sunday

***

Listen to this Sunday’s Gospel reading told in simple terms for younger children, and read from the Gospel for older children, at https://www.ancientfaith.com/podcasts/letusattend. Find 5 levels of printable pages with questions for related discussions at http://ww1.antiochian.org/christianeducation/letusattend.

***

Find lessons about Palm Sunday at a variety of age levels, in lesson #3 here: http://dce.oca.org/focus/pascha/ (age levels include: 4-6, 7-9, 10-12, 13-17, 18+)

***

Find a variety of resources (including a 3-minute video re-telling of the story of what happened that day) related to Palm Sunday that could be used for lessons at various age levels here (not Orthodox, but many of the resources could still be helpful):  https://ministry-to-children.com/palm-sunday-for-kids/

***

Issue #79 of “Little Falcons” is dedicated to Palm Sunday. It contains articles and activities related to Palm Sunday, written on a variety of levels for children of many ages. Order a copy here.

***

In case you missed it, here’s another blog post we wrote about Palm Sunday: https://orthodoxchurchschoolteachers.wordpress.com/2016/04/15/on-the-feast-of-the-triumphal-entry-into-jerusalem-palm-sunday/

***

Here’s a small collection of Holy Week resources, gathered a few years ago, that may be helpful as you approach Holy Week: https://orthodoxchurchschoolteachers.wordpress.com/2016/04/22/holy-week-resources-for-sunday-church-school-teachers/

***

 

Gleanings From a Book: “Easter in Ramallah” by Wafa Shami, Illustrated by Shaima Farouki

As we prepare to approach the holy and glorious Paschal feast, we do well to remember that we are not the only ones preparing for and then commemorating the resurrection! Sometimes we may forget that people in other parts of the world are celebrating as well. But they are! Easter in Ramallah by Wafa Shami offers its readers a sweet glimpse into Paschal traditions in Ramallah, Palestine.

It is a delight to read the story of Noor and her best friend Laila, as they share the experience of Holy Week and Easter together. Western readers may be surprised to learn that the girls are of different faiths: one is Christian, one is Muslim, yet they are truly best friends, which is not always what westerners expect from relationships in that part of the world. These girls literally (and figuratively) live side by side, for they are next-door neighbors who play together and find themselves one moment frankly discussing the struggle the other must experience while fasting according to her faith tradition; and the next moment they are together attending the “Parade of Light” so that they can each light a candle with the Holy Fire.

Readers will come away from this story with the sense that they’ve visited Palestine over Easter. They will feel the warm sun on their heads; imagine sharing the fresh green almonds with their friend; and almost hear the bands marching in the Light Parade. They will wish to taste the ka’ek and ma’moul sweet treats which sound so delicious. They’ll wonder if all of those natural vegetable dyes actually work for coloring eggs. They will want to put on their own best Easter clothes, and try to crack Noor’s eggs with one of their own. Best of all, readers will step away from this story delighted by the peace and friendship that it exhibits between Palestinians of different faiths.

Shaima Farouki’s watercolor illustrations of the story are gently whimsical, visually enlivening spring in Ramallah. Each beautiful illustration contains just enough detail to offer an accurate glimpse into Palestinian life. They round out the story, adding details that delightfully enhance it.

We recommend Easter in Ramallah as a lovely addition to any home, school, or Church school library. It expands its readers’ world by allowing them to think beyond their own celebration of the resurrection. It also offers the opportunity for readers to notice what traditions are the same the world over; which ones are slightly different; and which ones are brand new (and perhaps ones which they, too, would like to embrace). This book offers a satisfying taste of what it is like to celebrate Pascha in Palestine.

 

Purchase your own copy of Easter in Ramallah here: https://www.amazon.com/Easter-Ramallah-story-childhood-memories/dp/0960014705/

***

Readers who want to see photos of Easter in Palestine can scroll through these: https://www.aljazeera.com/indepth/inpictures/2014/04/pictures-palestinians-celebrate-201442185435930350.html

***

What makes Palestinian Pascha unique? Read this to find out: http://www.anothervoice.info/blog/2016/5/1/5-ways-palestinian-eastern-orthodox-easter-is-unique

 

Lenten Sundays Series: The Sunday of St. Mary of Egypt

This is the seventh in a series of posts that focuses on the Sundays of Great Lent (and Holy Week and Pascha). Each week we will share ideas of ways to help your Sunday Church School students learn more about that particular Sunday’s focus. We will share each blog early, so that you have time to read it before the forthcoming Sunday, in case you find any of those ideas helpful for your particular class.

Here’s a meditation on the Sunday of St. Mary of Egypt for you to ponder before you create a lesson for your students:

 

On this fifth Sunday of Great Lent, we focus on the life of St. Mary of Egypt. St. Mary was born in Egypt, left home at the age of 12, and spent the next 17 years taking advantage of men for her own physical pleasure. Not until she was on a pilgrimage to Jerusalem (for all the wrong reasons, but God works even through our wrong choices) did she begin to question the path she was taking. It was when she was unable to enter the church to venerate the Holy Cross that she realized something was wrong. The Theotokos herself helped Mary to understand the severity of her sins, and she repented. She repented so completely that she spent the rest of her days in the desert, fighting against her own fleshly desires and sins. God was with her there in the desert, and he showed His presence to her by providing for her needs and helping her to learn the scriptures and the ways of the Church even without another human there to teach her about them. This allowed Mary to grow more and more holy.

A holy monk, Zosimas, was the lone person she saw, and she did not see him until 47 years after she fled to the desert. They had only two encounters, both of which encouraged each of them. Zosimas was able to learn of Mary’s story, and Mary was able to receive Holy Communion at the hand of Zosimas right before she died. Each of these two people longed for holiness in their own life, and both were humbled by the other’s presence on their journey.

This humility is an interesting contrast to Mark 10:32-45, the Gospel reading for this Sunday. This Gospel reading reminds us of the squabbling disciples, who are fighting for greatness in this passage. It is interesting that the Church has chosen to offer us the opportunity to study the life of St. Mary, who fought her pride and humbled herself in the desert for most of her life; and then contrast it with the disciples’ desire to sit at Christ’s right hand in His kingdom. It is as though the Church is saying to each of us, “Here are two approaches to life in the Kingdom of God. Who will you choose to be like?” We all know who we should emulate, but repenting and humbling ourselves as completely as St. Mary did is not easy by any stretch of the imagination. Yet here is her life, offered to us as we approach the end of Great Lent, encouraging us to continue to fight the good fight as she did; to abstain from our passions so completely that we learn from Christ Himself and find ourselves humbled when we are in the presence of even the humblest of fellow humans.

Holiness is not limited to those with a perfect background. Although God can certainly work in and through those who have always lived holy lives (as did Abba Zosimas), He also brings healing and holiness to those of us who repent completely and turn our focus away from the things of this earth and completely on Him (as He did in the life of St. Mary of Egypt). Glory to God who embraces us as we struggle and meets us in that place!

In you the image was preserved with exactness, O Mother;

For taking up your cross, you did follow Christ,

And by your deeds you did teach us to overlook the flesh, for it passes away,

but to attend to the soul since it is immortal.

Wherefore, O righteous Mary, your spirit rejoices with the Angels.

 

St. Mary of Egypt, please intercede for our salvation!

Here are a few ideas of ways to help your students learn about St. Mary of Egypt:

***

Find lesson plans about the life of St. Mary of Egypt for various age levels here:

http://orthodoxsundayschool.org/church-history/3-5-years-old/st-mary-egypt

http://orthodoxsundayschool.org/church-history/6-9-years-old/st-mary-egypt

http://orthodoxsundayschool.org/church-history/10-12-years-old/st-mary-egypt

***

This child-sized picture book tells the story of St. Mary of Egypt’s life with simplified wording, and illustrates it beautifully: https://www.svspress.com/saint-mary-of-egypt-paterikon-for-kids-25/

***

Young children may enjoy this “turn your life around” activity that uses a simple craft to encourage us to learn repentance from St. Mary of Egypt. http://orthodoxeducation.blogspot.com/2014/04/st-mary-egypt-turn-life-around.html

***

Middle-years students will benefit from seeing this 4-minute video about the life of St. Mary of Egypt: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HhqzOfWPV4g

***

This retelling of the life of St. Mary of Egypt tells her story in a child-appropriate way, and includes a number of icons that could be helpful as you share her story with your Sunday Church School students: http://frederica.com/writings/st-mary-of-egypt-for-all-ages.html

***

For a lesson on the life of St. Mary of Egypt including basic information about the her life here: http://dce.oca.org/assets/templates/bulletin.cfm?mode=html&id=17

***

Find a beautiful icon of St. Mary of Egypt, including scenes from her life, as well as a helpful description of it, here: https://iconreader.wordpress.com/2011/04/09/the-vita-icon-of-st-mary-of-egypt/

 

After reading the icon, you may want to offer each student a copy of this printable graphic-novel-style sheet that tells the life of St. Mary of Egypt. http://manymercies.blogspot.com/2015/03/life-of-st-mary-of-egypt-printable.html

***

After a class about St. Mary of Egypt, you may want to print this and send it home with your students. It features a simple meditation about the Sunday, and discussion and activity suggestions for a family learning time. https://www.goarch.org/documents/32058/2618758/familygospellesson_maryofegypt.pdf/e09632ba-fda2-46ed-a631-f3e030c16f98

***

Older students will benefit from listening to this talk on part of the life of St. Mary of Egypt, and then discussing it together. This talk includes practical suggestions of things to do if/when you find yourself unable to pray or to make the sign of the cross: https://orthodoxlivonia.org/files/Adult-Ed-Classes/2018-03-25-Ad-Ed-Class.mp3
It is a 25 minute talk, so perhaps you will want to provide paper and pencils for note-taking and/or doodling during the listening.

***

There are five “takeaways” from the life of St. Mary of Egypt mentioned in this article that can be applied to students of any age. As you prepare a class about her life, read this article and see if any of these five learnings should be stressed for your particular students: http://www.pravmir.com/5-things-still-learn-st-mary-egypt/

 

Lenten Sundays Series: The Sunday of St. John Climacus

This is the sixth in a series of posts that focuses on the Sundays of Great Lent (and Holy Week and Pascha). Each week we will share ideas of ways to help your Sunday Church School students learn more about that particular Sunday’s focus. We will share each blog early, so that you have time to read it before the forthcoming Sunday, in case you find any of those ideas helpful for your particular class.

Here’s a meditation on the Sunday of St. John Climacus for you to ponder before you create a lesson for your students:

Today we commemorate St. John Climacus and his work “The Ladder of Divine Ascent,” both of which have had a great impact on the Holy Orthodox Church through their influence on the monastic community and on the Church at large.

St. John was given the name “Climacus” because of his writings. “Climacus” means “ladder” and thus his name is a nod to the work by that name. From a very young age, John desired to serve God with all of his heart. He became a monk at the Mt. Sinai Monastery when he was only 16 years old, and he served there faithfully for years before going into the desert to live a hermit’s life.

The fight against the devil and his passions was difficult, but John faithfully prayed and focused on Christ, and over time he became holier because of his refusal to give in to those passions. His holiness drew people to John, and even monks would come to him to ask for advice. God gave him the gift to be able to help people who were severely tempted and/or upset to be at peace.

God used John to work some miracles during his lifetime. For example, one time his disciple Moses was far from their dwelling, searching for dirt for their garden, when he got very hot and tired, so he took a rest under a big rock. As this was happening, John was back at his cell, praying, when he had a revelation that Moses was in danger. John began to pray fervently for his disciple. Later in the evening, when Moses returned home, he told John that while he had been sleeping under the rock, he heard John calling him, so he woke up and moved quickly, just as the huge rock crashed down right where he had been sleeping! God had heard John’s prayers and saved Moses with this miracle.

Many years passed, and John continued to faithfully pray and read from the lives of the saints. He continued to live a holy life. At age 74, he was made the abbot at the Mt. Sinai Monastery. The monks there asked him to write down all of the rules that he’d followed for his whole life, so that they could follow his example. He wrote about thirty steps that can lead monks (and any Orthodox Christian) closer to God. He called the steps “The Ladder of Divine Ascent.” Although this book was written about 1,400 years ago, it is still considered the ultimate guide to the Christian ascetic life.

St. John Climacus, please intercede for our salvation!

 

Here are a few suggestions of ways that you and your students can learn about St. John Climacus, if you choose to teach a lesson about him and/or the ladder of Divine Ascent.

***

“The ascetic example of this great Saint of the Church inspires us in our Lenten journey.” Before teaching your class about him, you may want to read this thorough account of the life of St. John Climacus here: https://www.goarch.org/sunday-stjohnclimacus

***

Teachers of young children may want to incorporate this art idea into a lesson on St. John Climacus and his Ladder of Divine Ascent: http://www.creativehandscreativeminds.com/2014/03/st-john-of-ladder.html

***

Find ideas of ways to help your students learn from St. John Climacus’ life, and from his “Ladder of Divine Ascent” (including craft ideas) here: https://orthodoxchurchschoolteachers.wordpress.com/2015/03/20/lenten-learning-st-john-climacus/

***

Middle-years students (and older ones) will benefit from reading or listening to this article by Fr. Andrew Lemeshonok from St. Elizabeth Convent: http://orthochristian.com/102249.html Here is a sample from the article:

“The forthcoming week is devoted to a great ascetic – Saint John Climacus. Spiritual life is a ladder, which leads to the Heavenly Kingdom. We climb it, we fall down, we hit the ground, we stand up and we fall again. The thing is, we need to stand up over and over again… The main thing is to humble yourself – to acknowledge your own weakness and to let God enter your life. You do not need to surprise people with your feats and talents. The Lord speaks simply in the Gospel: ‘Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls’ (Matthew, 11:29).”
After reading the article, discuss it together as a class. Talk together about ways that we fall from the ladder, and what should be our response when we do fall (get back up and start climbing again). Encourage each other to get back up and climb again. You may want to close this class with an art activity: consider allowing your students to create a poster that reminds them of this lesson. Perhaps it could be an encouragement to keep trying, to keep climbing the ladder, even when they fall; or a reminder that they are on a ladder in the first place; or a quote from St. John Climacus himself. Encourage them to hang the poster in their room or to give it to someone who needs encouragement to keep climbing.

***

Have you ever read “The Ladder of Divine Ascent” by St. John Climacus? It is available as a pdf here: http://www.prudencetrue.com/images/TheLadderofDivineAscent.pdf

Consider printing off a step (or two) that could be the most beneficial to your older Sunday Church School students, and engage them in a discussion about that step. How does St. John recommend that we climb towards God in that way? Has anything changed in the years since he wrote this, or is this step still relevant to us today? How can we, right now, work towards climbing that step of the ladder?

***

Classes of older middle school students or older could benefit from reading this article, “Why Do We Need the Ladder?” The article offers reasons from a deacon, a priest, and an archpriest of why it is important for modern-day Orthodox Christians to read and learn from St. John Climacus’ “Ladder of Divine Ascent.” After a quick review of the life of St. John  (which the students may be able to contribute, depending on their previous studies), divide the class into three groups. Give one interview from the article to each of the three groups. Allow the groups some time to read their interview/portion of the article and come up with a few main points to share with the other groups. Encourage them to come up with a creative way to share their points with the rest of the class. Allow time for each group to present their portion of the article with the rest of the classroom, so that you can all learn together how we can benefit from St. John’s writings. http://orthochristian.com/102181.html

***

This three-minute video takes a closer look at the icon of the Ladder of Divine Ascent and could be a helpful addition to a lesson on St. John Climacus. http://orthochristian.com/92323.html

***

Teachers and older students will benefit from listening to this talk on the life and teachings of St. John of the Ladder: https://orthodoxlivonia.org/files/Adult-Ed-Classes/2018-03-18-Ad-Ed-Class.mp3 (The talk is 33 minutes long.)

 

Lenten Sundays Series: The Sunday of the Veneration of the Holy Cross

This is the fifth in a series of posts that focuses on the Sundays of Great Lent (and Holy Week and Pascha). Each week we will share ideas of ways to help your Sunday Church School students learn more about that particular Sunday’s focus. We will share each blog early, so that you have time to read it before the forthcoming Sunday, in case you find any of those ideas helpful for your particular class.

Here’s a meditation on the Sunday of the Veneration of the Holy Cross for you to ponder before you create a lesson for your students:

On the third Sunday of Great Lent, we celebrate the Sunday of the Holy Cross. We’re halfway through Lent at this point, and perhaps some of our determination and eagerness for the Lenten journey is waning a bit. That is exactly why the Church Fathers chose this Sunday for us to commemorate the Holy Cross.

Fr. Alexander Schmemann, in his book “Great Lent”, reminds us that throughout Great Lent we are crucifying our own self, trying to live up to this week’s Gospel reading. The Gospel reading for the Sunday of the Veneration of the Holy Cross is from Mark 8 and 9, and reminds us of Christ’s command, “If any man would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me” (Mark 8:34). Schmemann goes on to explain that it would do us no good to take up our cross and follow Christ if it were not for Him taking up the Cross in the first place. “It is His Cross, not ours, that saves us. It is His Cross that gives not only meaning but also power to others.” (1, pp 76-77)

In gratitude for His taking up the Cross, and to encourage us to continue taking up ours, the Church has given us this Sunday. His example of suffering willingly and completely reminds us that our struggles are small in comparison. But it also reminds us that He understands struggle and pain. Today’s epistle reading exhorts us, “For we have not a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.” (Hebrews 4:15-16) Christ’s conquering death by taking up the Cross offers us the hope of resurrection as well as the assurance that our struggle is not in vain: it leads us towards Him, towards heaven.

The placement of the Veneration of the Holy Cross in the middle of Great Lent is more than just an encouragement for us to keep going. It also is a fulfillment of an earlier event. “It’s very beautiful, actually. Think of Paradise, the Garden of Eden. The Tree of Life was placed in the middle of the garden of Eden, and here [in the middle of Great Lent] we find the Holy Cross — often said to come from the wood of the Tree of Life, for this wooden Cross is indeed the means to eternal life. The Holy Church places it here to remind us of Adam’s sin, and to remind us that it is only through the Holy Cross that we will find eternal life.” (2, pp 107-108, brackets mine)

And so, in the hope of the resurrection; with determination to continue our struggle (for He understands struggle and has made a way for us); let us sing with joy today, “Oh Lord, save Thy people and bless thine inheritance, granting to Thy people victory over all their enemies; and by the power of Thy Cross, preserving Thy kingdom!”

Glory to God for His example, His victory, and His great mercy towards us and our own struggles, through the Life-Giving Cross!

Resources:
1. Schmemann, Alexander. Great Lent; Journey to Pascha. St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 1974.
2. Bjeletich, Elissa and Kristina Wenger. Tending the Garden of Our Hearts: Daily Lenten Meditations for Families. Ancient Faith Publishing, 2019.

Here are a few resources you may find helpful as you prepare to teach your students about the Sunday of the Veneration of the Holy Cross:

***
This short lesson explains veneration in very simple terms. Teachers of young children may find it helpful to read this before leading a class on the Sunday of the Veneration of the Holy Cross. https://stmichaeljermyn.org/files/CHURCH%20SCHOOL/Venerating-Icons.pdf
***
What does it mean to venerate something, and why do we venerate the cross on THIS particular Sunday of Great Lent? Find some of these answers here and share them with your students : https://orthodoxchristianparenting.wordpress.com/2015/03/11/on-the-sunday-of-the-veneration-of-the-holy-cross/
***
Find stories, activities, and ideas related to the Holy Cross in this back issue of “Little Falcons”, a magazine for Orthodox children. To order, print this document and order issue #47.
***
Teachers whose students are mid-elementary or older may find this to be a helpful reading with their class. It ties together the story of how the Sunday of the Veneration of the Holy Cross came to be and the epistle and Gospel reading for the week. http://dce.oca.org/assets/templates/bulletin.cfm?mode=html&id=43
***
Find activity ideas and printable resources, geared for a variety of age levels and related to the Veneration of the Holy Cross here: https://orthodoxpebbles.com/orthodox-basics/tending-garden-week4/
***
Your students may learn a lot from watching this short video about the cross: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=K1RUgfqI33M
***
Want to do an art piece featuring the Cross as part of your lesson on the Sunday of the Veneration of the Holy Cross? The following links offer tutorials for a variety of art techniques that have a cross as their central theme. The tutorials utilise art mediums that are common to many Sunday Church School classrooms.
Paper: https://orthodoxchurchschoolteachers.wordpress.com/2014/12/13/art-projects-for-sunday-church-school-paper/
Crayons:
https://orthodoxchurchschoolteachers.wordpress.com/2014/12/19/art-techniques-for-sunday-church-school-using-crayons/
Chalk: https://orthodoxchurchschoolteachers.wordpress.com/2015/01/09/art-projects-for-sunday-church-school-chalk/
Markers:
https://orthodoxchurchschoolteachers.wordpress.com/2015/01/17/art-projects-for-sunday-church-school-using-markers/
Watercolor paints: https://orthodoxchurchschoolteachers.wordpress.com/2015/01/23/art-projects-for-sunday-church-school-using-watercolor-paints/
Mixed media:
https://orthodoxchurchschoolteachers.wordpress.com/2015/01/30/art-projects-for-sunday-church-school-mixed-media-collage/
3-d art: https://orthodoxchurchschoolteachers.wordpress.com/2015/02/06/art-projects-for-sunday-church-school-3-dimensional-art/