2017_festivals_logo_color_web

On Mark 11:17, “My House Shall Be Called a House of Prayer for All Nations.”

Note: the Antiochian Archdiocese’s Creative Arts Festival 2017’s theme is the inspiration for this blog post. We will take a closer look at the theme, to help them to better prepare for the festival in case they participate. Whether or not they do, what we can gather from this passage of St. Mark’s Gospel is applicable to all of us, not just the children participating in the festival!

Have you ever thought about that time when our Lord went into the temple, overturned the tables of the money changers, and drove out the salesmen? Why did He do that? What can we learn from His actions? How can we apply this passage to our own life?

It all began with the Triumphal Entry, the glorious reception that Jesus was given when He arrived in Jerusalem. Even the fact that He was riding on a lowly donkey did not stop the crowd from singing His praises. But instead of glorying in that acclaim, He went straight to the temple and “looked around at all things.” (Mark 11:11) His means of entry into Jerusalem modeled humility and His choice to go directly to the temple exemplifies the priority that should be given to being in God’s house.

Something else is tucked into this passage that could easily be missed. The passage says that He “looked around at all things” but “as the hour was already late He went out to Bethany with the twelve.” This shows us something else: it models self restraint. After all, as He looked around, our Lord saw all of the greedy money-making happening in what should have been a very holy, completely God-focused place. He knew that it was wrong, and had every right to be furious about it. But instead, He left to be with His disciples, calmly choosing being with people over being frustrated about stuff.

The next day our Lord returned to Jerusalem, and went back to the temple. This time He “drove out those who bought and sold in the temple, and overturned the tables of the money changers and the seats of those who sold doves. And He would not allow anyone to carry wares through the temple.”  (Mark 11:15-16) He thus demonstrated the importance of keeping what has been set apart for God free from greed and from earthly stuff.

Once the temple was restored to its intended state, it could also return to its intended purpose of worship and godly teaching. And so Christ taught the people, saying, “Is it not written, ‘My house shall be called a house of prayer for all nations’? But you have made it a ‘den of thieves.’” This teaching was appropriate for the people who had gotten so accustomed to seeing (and doing) marketing in the temple that they perhaps didn’t even think about how inappropriate it was. It turns out that this teaching is also appropriate for those of us living 2000+ years later. Concepts that we can take from this passage include: honoring God’s house as a place to pray; welcoming all because God’s house is for everyone, regardless of nationality; and guarding against deceit and greed that can steal us away from right relationship with God.

St. Paul’s letter to the Corinthians pushes us to look at this event in an even more personal light. 1 Corinthians 6:19 reads, “Or do you not know that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God?” Reconsidering the account of our Lord’s cleansing of the temple from the perspective of our own body being a temple, set apart for God, offers us even more insights for our Christian life. First and foremost, we need to aim to live humbly as our Lord did, especially when things are going well and others are lauding us. Secondly, God should always be our first stop, whether we are looking for personal guidance or we are prioritizing our schedule (being in church at the Divine Services should be at the top of our list). Thirdly, we need Christ Himself to cleanse our hearts, drive away the greed and selfishness in us, and restore us to the way we were intended to be. Finally, we need Him to teach us: how to guard the holiness of His temple, keeping our bodies from being marred by greed; how to welcome all around us to worship Him as well; and how to keep ourselves pure so that we do not house thoughts and desires that steal our focus away from Him.

May the Lord indeed cleanse us, that we may each become a worthy temple that properly worships Him and welcomes others to do the same.

Here are some ideas of ways to help our Sunday Church School class (whether or not they will be participating in the aforementioned Creative Arts Festival) to learn about this passage:

***

Here is a lesson plan on the personal aspect of cleansing the temple, geared to grades 3 to 6: http://www.goarch.org/archdiocese/departments/youth/youthworker/resources/cleaning

***

Here is a printable page full of activities for kids, related to the cleansing of the temple: http://www.sermons4kids.com/cleaning_house_bulletin.pdf

***

Find an attention-getting way to teach about the cleansing of the temple in this lesson plan: http://biblelessons4kidz.com/BL4K%20Database/New%20Testament/Jesus/LSN%20-%20Jesus%20Clears%20Temple.pdf

***

If your students enjoy doing activity pages related to the Sunday Church School lesson, you will want to peruse the printables (at a variety of age levels) in this pdf about the cleansing of the temple: http://freesundayschoolcurriculum.weebly.com/uploads/1/2/5/0/12503916/lesson_11_jesus_clears_the_temple.pdf

***

Older elementary/middle school students may enjoy re-enacting the cleansing of the temple by reading together this play imagining what it could have been like, from the traders’ perspective, before a discussion of the event: http://www.beau.org/~vickir/drama/play1.html

***

Find varied age-level (for ages 2 – 12) lessons about Jesus cleansing the temple here. Click on “Year 2: Kings and Kingdoms,” then select your age level, and go to lesson 5 in that level, “Jesus Clears the Temple.” Find lesson plans, scripts/stories and reproducible pages at each level. http://resourcewell.org/children-ministry/curriculum/

 

13934932_10208971346992673_5854501327622173774_n

Learning About the Saints: St. Phanourios (Commemorated on August 27/September 9)

This morning when I checked my plans for what I would be writing about for this blog post, I immediately got goosebumps. Months ago I had planned that today I would write about St. Phanourios, but I had forgotten that plan until I was ready to begin. Mind you, St. Phanourios is one of my favorite saints, and I frequently request his prayers for myself and for my family. I am indebted to this saint for his multiple intercessions on our behalf. Time after time, his prayers have worked miracles for us, and we are grateful. But the reason for my goosebumps was because St. Phanourios’ prayers just worked a miracle for our family yesterday, so the timing is impeccable. But I’m getting ahead of myself. Let me tell you about this wonderful saint!

Very little has been passed down about the life of St. Phanourios. Around 1500, a previously-forgotten chapel was unearthed in a building project in Rhodes. All the icons in the chapel were disfigured or crumbling, but one was still intact. In fact, it almost looked freshly-painted, it was in such good shape. It features a young man named as “St. Phanourios,” holding a candle-topped cross. Surrounding the central icon are a series of twelve smaller icons depicting the saint’s refusal to give up his faith and the tortures that he endured in the process.

Because of the icon’s miraculously fresh appearance in the midst of rubble, as well as the evidence that St. Phanourios maintained the Faith through his tortures all the way to his martyrdom, the Church leaders in Rhodes agreed that he should be revered as a saint. A church was built in his honor on the site of the ruins. People began to venerate the icon, and they became aware that the prayers of St. Phanourios are blessed with miraculous intervention. Because his icon was found after being lost for so long, and because his name is derived from the Greek word  φανερώνω, or phanerono, which means “I reveal,” people began to ask St. Phanourios to pray that they would again find lost items and/or that they would regain their health. Time and time again, he has done so, and many people have been blessed through his prayers. Somewhere along the line, people began to bake a special sweet bread to share in thanksgiving for the saint’s prayers. (Some have said that he wants this bread to be baked, accompanied with prayers for his mother, who died outside of baptism, but that is not the official reason for baking it. Phanouropita should be baked as a request to the saint for help, or in thanksgiving after he has helped, then shared with an account of the miracle God has wrought through the prayers of His servant.)

Our family will be baking phanouropita very soon because of the most recent miracle God worked for our family through the prayers of St. Phanourios. It’s a long story, so hang onto your hat: Two and a half weeks ago, our son’s computer refused to turn on. Part of his schooling includes online classes, so he uses that computer to connect with his classes and his schoolwork is stored on that computer. He’s also a budding photographer and his most recent work is only on that computer. We really need that computer to work for him, so we prepared to send it to the company from whence it came so that it could be fixed. Unfortunately, this happened on the day before we left for vacation, and we had little on hand to properly package a computer, but wanted to get it off as soon as possible. So we grabbed old packing envelopes and tissue paper, thoroughly wrapped the computer in them, and packed it into a box so that when someone came home a few days later, the shipping company could schedule a pickup and it would be off for repairs before we all got home from vacation. After the pickup, we waited for confirmation that the computer made it to its destination, but we heard nothing. A week later, vacation over, we began to wonder where the computer was, so my husband began to call points along the shipping route to try to track down the package. Through a long and tedious process, we discovered that it had gone missing. We suspected that it had lost its shipping label, and my husband spent hours on the phone, daily, for many days, trying to learn all that he could. And of course we prayed, asking St. Phanourios to help us find the package.

We had many false leads, and there were a few times that we thought it had been found. But every time we’d realize that we had misunderstood or we had received automated confirmations that did not match up to reality. Two weeks after its shipping date, we were becoming convinced that the computer and all of our son’s work which it holds were gone. We continued to pray and ask St. Phanourios to intercede on our behalf, but it was beginning to look like the answer this time would be “no, you do not need to have that computer anymore.”

Yesterday morning my husband spent another hour or more trying to track the computer down: at this point, we were running into the limit of days when they may still be able to access images, etc., of the package. And then, suddenly, I had an odd email show up in my inbox. It was from a company from which I had purchased a humble bag of chai in support of a school choir fundraiser for one of my favorite choir buddies from church. The email told me that a computer had been mailed to their company because one of their mailing envelopes was found in the computer’s packaging, although the package itself had lost its label. Upon further contact, we’ve confirmed that the computer is ours. Glory to God!

I have no idea why the shipping company sent the computer to one of the many addresses stuffed in its packaging instead of looking at all of the packing envelopes, finding the common address on all of the labels (ours), and sending it back here. However, I am thankful that they sent it to an honest company who went to the extra lengths to find our contact information and reconnect us with this much-needed computer! We are grateful to St. Phanourios for his intercessions for our computer, and to God for allowing us to find it once again. We have the recipe for our phanouropita ready and waiting to be baked upon the computer’s return. And in the meantime, we gratefully pray, “Lord, have mercy on the soul of St. Phanourios (and on the soul of his mother), save them, and save us!”

Through the prayers of St. Phanourios, Lord Jesus Christ Our God, have mercy on us and save us. Amen.

To learn more about St. Phanourios, visit these sites:

 

See a photo of the actual icon of St. Phanourios that was found in the rubble so long ago, here: http://orthodoxtraditions.blogspot.com/2013/12/st-phanourios-great-martyr-newly.html

*
Before you teach your Sunday Church School students about St. Phanourios, be sure to read this account of how he miraculously intervened and saved three stranded priests: http://www.johnsanidopoulos.com/2015/08/the-veneration-of-saint-phanourios-on.html

(Also on this page, you will find pictures of shrines that have been built to commemorate the saint, as well as the stories behind some of them!)

*

Did St. Phanourios ever help you find something? You may want to make a batch of phanouropita and share it with your students, telling about the miracle as you do! Here’s a recipe: http://myocn.net/tradition-thanks-st-phanourios-finds/

Find another recipe for phanouropita in this lovely blog post: http://www.orthodoxmom.com/2010/08/27/st-fanourios-the-martyr-and-miracle-worker/

*

Read a non-Orthodox testimonial to St. Phanourios’ help (and yet another recipe) here: http://leitesculinaria.com/51916/writings-greek-phanourious-cake.html

*

Find a prayer to Christ, thanking Him for St. Phanourios’ help, and a prayer to bless a phanouropita here: http://full-of-grace-and-truth.blogspot.com/2009/08/prayers-to-christ-and-st-phanourios.html

Find the akathist to St. Phanourios here: http://full-of-grace-and-truth.blogspot.com/2009/08/prayers-to-christ-and-st-phanourios.html  

*

This beautiful child-sized book tells the story of the finding of the icon of St. Phanourios. Although it is a small book, the illustrations are beautiful and your students will enjoy seeing them: http://orthodoxchildrensbooks.com/eng/index.php/Paterikon-for-Kids-11-20/18-Paterikon-for-kids-Saint-Phanourios/flypage-ask.tpl.html. You can also hear Dr. Chrissi Hart’s reading of this book in her “Under the Grapevine” podcast, here: http://www.ancientfaith.com/podcasts/grapevine/saint_phanourios

*

Before class, print a copy of the icon of and troparion to St. Phanourios for each of your students. Find them together (as well as many other icons!) here: https://app.box.com/s/uvph2nn833y8gr1fj7yd

*

Have a “Lost and Found” theme on the day that you teach your class about St. Phanourios. Read or tell the story of St. Phanourios. If you have personal examples of miracles that his prayers have caused, share them with the children. Before (or together, during!)  the party, bake a St. Phanourios cake to share. If your space allows it, play some games like “Sardines”or “Hide and Seek.” Perhaps you could have a scavenger hunt, or play a version of hide and seek where you have hidden items around the room ahead of time and the children must find them . For a craft, have the kids each make their own “lost and found” game such as  http://www.catholicinspired.com/2010/11/st-anthony-lost-and-found-game.html, only smaller (as suggested here http://www.kidspot.com.au/cute-diy-find-it-jars/ ). Be sure to pre-print and perhaps even laminate the list of items they’ll be putting into the jar, so that they have a nice game (the jar and the list) to take home with them. Every time they play with this game, they will be able to remember St. Phanourios and how he helps people find lost things!

*

This page points to many resources about St. Phanourios: http://www.johnsanidopoulos.com/2015/08/saint-phanourios-resource-page.html

 

13913748_10208914459010509_9046851258301090446_o

Excerpts from “Getting Ready for Your Best Classes Ever,” an Article by Gerry Clonaris

Gerry Clonaris’ article “Getting Ready for Your Best Classes Ever,” published in PRAXIS, Spring 2016 issue, pp. 16-17, offers practical ideas for ways that Orthodox Christian Sunday Church School teachers can begin preparing over the summer for the year ahead. Here are a few bites of the article, to give you a taste of what it contains. First, he offers this encouraging challenge:

“What a blessing that we have been… chosen to lead the way in this most important ministry. And that is the very reason why we need to start our planning now for our coming year. St. Paul says it best in Philippians 3:12-14: ‘…forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead…’ Everything in our world is moving forward and if we are not also moving forward, we are moving backward. And that is something that we as catechists cannot accept.”

He goes on to offer a list of ideas of ways to prepare for the year. Here are three of them:

Lay out a plan for the year. Decide now how you want your class to develop and where you want it to go. What are you going to do differently to improve your program?

Include parents in the plan. Parents are key to your success. Plan to meet with them at the beginning of the year. Let them know what you will be teaching and encourage them to discuss each class session with their children. This one step will make your class a true learning experience and not just an hour of entertainment.

Read two books. Find one book that relates to your class topic and then also read one book on our Orthodox Faith.

He offers additional suggestions of ways to prepare, and concludes, “Serving in this great ministry is a true honor and a great experience for all of us. But it also comes with a great responsibility on our part… Planning and continual education are essential to our role as catechists…”

To read more, see the article in its entirety on pp. 16-17 of the Spring 2016 issue of PRAXIS. Visit http://www.goarch.org/archdiocese/departments/religioused/praxis for subscription information if you do not yet receive this helpful resource!

 

The following are some of the books listed as “suggested summer reading” in the article:

*

A Commentary on the Divine Liturgy, by St. Nicholas Cabasilas, St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 1997. “…This work is… invaluable for all those who wish to understand more about the theory and practice of worship in the Orthodox Church.” Read more at http://www.svspress.com/commentary-on-the-divine-liturgy-a/.

*

The Roots of Christian Mysticism, by Olivier Clément, New City Press, 2013. “By linking together a series of brilliantly chosen texts from the early centuries of the Church, the author lays bare the roots of the deeply mystical spirituality that has flourished among Christians throughout the ages.” Read more and find the book at http://www.newcitypress.com/roots-christian-mysticism-2.html

*

Encountering Women of Faith, edited by Kyriaki FitzGerald, Holy Cross 2009 and 2011. Women theologians who have studied the lives of female saints write about their learnings, including how studying the saint’s life has affected their own personal life. Find the books here: https://holycrossbookstore.com/products/encountering-women-of-faith-set?variant=1018121227

*

The Orthodox Faith by Thomas Hopko, St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 2016. Thousands of people have read these books by Fr. Thomas Hopko (of blessed memory) and have found them to be a helpful resource both to catchumens and Orthodox Christians. Read more about each of the four volumes here: http://www.svots.edu/orthodox-faith-series

*

St. Nectarios of Pentapolis and the Island of Aegina, by Cleopas Strongylis, Holy Cross, 2012. Read about the life of St. Nectarios, as well as many of his letters, in this two-volume set: https://holycrossbookstore.com/products/st-nektarios-of-pentapolis-set

*

Encouraged By the Scriptures: Essays on Scripture, Interpretation, and Life, by
Theodore G. Stylianopoulos, Holy Cross, 2011. A well-known Orthodox Biblical scholar offers his take on some of the scriptures. Find the book here: https://www.amazon.com/Encouraged-Scriptures-Essays-Scripture-Interpretation/dp/1935317229

 

SAM_6476-001

On the Feast of the Dormition of the Theotokos (August 15 or 28)

The final feast of the Church year is the Feast of the Dormition of the Theotokos. At this feast, we celebrate the “falling asleep” (dormition) of the Theotokos. The disciples were miraculously brought together with the Theotokos in Jerusalem, and they were with her when she fell asleep in the Lord. Only Thomas was not present for her falling asleep and her burial. When he arrived a few days later and they opened her tomb so that he could see her body for one last time, they discovered that it was no longer there! Our Lord had taken her body to Heaven, giving all of us hope of eternal life!

How do we explain this miracle to our Sunday Church School students when we can barely wrap our own minds around it? Well, because it is a miracle, we can not explain it. However, perhaps we can offer a slightly similar concept. We can invite the children to think of their favorite toy (especially if they had a particularly-favored “lovey” when they were little). Have them imagine parting with that favorite, and only receiving part of it back again. Invite your students to tell their story if they ever left a favorite toy behind. Perhaps one of those stories would work for the comparison. If not, you could tell a story from your own life/family, or just share this made-up example, “There once was a young girl named Sophie. Sophie was given a stuffed rabbit when she was a baby, and she really came to love that rabbit. Sophie named him Mr. Bun. From the moment she was old enough to grab him, Mr. Bun went everywhere with her! One time while on family vacation, Sophie accidentally left Mr. Bun at a restaurant where her family stopped for dinner. An hour down the road after dinner, Sophie discovered that Mr. Bun was missing. Sophie loved Mr. Bun and could not be without him. So, her family had to drive all the way back to that restaurant to pick him up! Do you think that Sophie would have been happy if the family only brought part of Mr. Bun away from the restaurant and just left the rest of him there? No, of course not! Well, it’s a tiny bit like that, here. Our Lord really loved His mother, the Theotokos. Of course, she was not a toy, but she was favored by God because she lived such a holy life. When she departed this earthly life to go to Heaven, Our Lord took all of her – even her body – to Heaven, too! Now even her earthly body is with Him in Heaven!” Granted, there are many weaknesses in this comparison, but it is a starting place for discussion. After the discussion, you can continue, “The Dormition is a good reminder for us to live holy lives and love God as the Theotokos did! We also want to live in Heaven with Him when we depart this life!”

Here are links to resources that will help your students learn more about the Feast of the Dormition:

*

If you are able to do so, send this printable countdown coloring page to your young Sunday Church  School students for them to use during the Dormition Fast : http://manymercies.blogspot.com/2015/07/dormition-fast-calendar-printable-and.html

*

Older students may enjoy reading through the daily readings found in this countdown craft for the Dormition Fast. Each reading focuses on a different type of the Theotokos as described in scripture: https://craftycontemplative.com/2010/07/28/dormition-calendar-craft/. Study the readings and discuss the types together. (If you like, bring felt and scissors to class, and the students can create their own countdown like this one for use at next year’s Dormition Fast!)

*
Prepare to teach your Sunday Church School class about the Feast of the Dormition by listening to this podcast on the theology of the feast, as explained by Fr. Thomas Hopko of blessed memory: http://www.ancientfaith.com/podcasts/hopko/dormition_of_the_theotokos

*

“If we follow her example, our souls can become like hers and find everlasting rest in Christ’s hands.” (p. 59) Read more in the fascinating segment about the Feast of the Dormition in this book: http://store.ancientfaith.com/heaven-meets-earth. Read about the Feast of the Dormition, learn more about the festal icon, and find the hymns of the feast in this blog post: http://www.goarch.org/special/listen_learn_share/dormition/index_html. Or read more about the feast here https://oca.org/orthodoxy/the-orthodox-faith/worship/the-church-year/dormition-of-the-theotokos.

*

This printable children’s bulletin includes information about the Dormition of the Theotokos: http://myocn.net/wp-content/uploads/2015/08/Childrens-Word-130.pdf

*
This OCA curriculum offers a whole study on the Theotokos. The “Day 4” lessons at each level focus primarily on the Dormition. Lessons are offered for each age group, from age 4 to adult, and contain the story and ideas for related activities that could be done together as a family or Sunday Church School class. http://dce.oca.org/focus/theotokos/

*

This beautiful book tells the story of the Dormition of the Theotokos: http://orthodoxchildrensbooks.com/eng/index.php/Paterikon-for-Kids-21-23-NEW/23-Paterikon-for-Kids-The-Dormition-of-the-Theotokos/flypage-ask.tpl.html. Listen to Dr. Chrissi Hart’s reading of the book here: http://www.ancientfaith.com/podcasts/grapevine/the_dormition_of_the_theotokos1

*

With older children, study the words of this paraklesis:

http://www.orthodoxmom.com/2015/08/09/small-paraklesis-to-the-mother-of-god/ Discuss all the names the Theotokos is given, what she is compared to, and what types she fulfilled.

*

Some children will be fascinated by this miracle that happens annually (with very few exceptions) at the time of the Dormition of the Theotokos, on the Greek island of Cephalonia! It involves snakes and the icon of the Theotokos, and started when nuns prayed and asked the Theotokos to deliver them from pirates: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=F5Za9-uX4b8

IMG_20160715_154927-1

On the Feast of the Transfiguration of Christ (August 6 or 19)

The Feast of the Transfiguration of Christ (commemorated on August 6 or 19) is an important one for Orthodox Christians to celebrate! After all, the Transfiguration was a revelation of the Holy Trinity (God the Father spoke, Christ was there, of course, and the Holy Spirit was revealed in the form of a cloud). Also, at the Transfiguration, Christ’s radiance was physically seen by the disciples so that they could better realize His Divinity. In addition, Moses and Elijah were present, showing the disciples that in Christ the law and the prophecies are fulfilled. And so it was that on Mt. Tabor, God allowed the disciples to have their own “mountaintop” experience, just as Moses (Mt. Sinai) and Elijah (Mt. Horeb) had during their life on earth.

Since this Feast is important, we need to learn about it ourselves, help our children know about it, and together celebrate the Feast! Transfiguration is a difficult concept for anyone to grasp, but especially so for children. How can we help our children learn what it was like for the disciples to see Our Lord’s Transfiguration on Mt. Tabor? Our Lord did not slip into a hidden wardrobe and change out of His ordinary clothes into shiny robes, nor did He simply step into a giant spotlight shining down from the sky. Rather, the disciples were simply permitted to physically see some of His Divine Glory shining through. (But not all of it: just “inasmuch as they were able,” according to the troparion of the day). So, how can we begin to explain or show the Transfiguration to our children?

One way to illustrate this concept would be to decorate three little plastic tubes to represent Christ, Moses, and Elijah.

IMG_20160715_154847-1

We used permanent marker to turn two (upside down) spray hand sanitizer tubes to create “Moses” (holding a walking stick and tablets with the Ten Commandments) and “Elijah” (hands folded in prayer, over a burning fire). Then we took a new (blue) glow stick (also upside down) and added a smiley face for “Christ.” The story can be reenacted with these “characters,” using a throw pillow “Mt. Tabor.”

IMG_20160715_154157

“Christ” can climb to the top of the mountain to pray.

IMG_20160715_154508

While the disciples (all the people gathered to hear the story) watch, “Moses” and “Elijah” can appear, sparking a discussion that includes why they are holding what they are holding, and why they were even part of this event in the first place, as answered in the paragraph above.

IMG_20160715_154736
At the moment of Christ’s Transfiguration, break the glass vial inside the glowstick, allowing the blue to emanate from it. Be sure to explain that, just as the glowstick could have been glowing at any moment (all of the right ingredients were there, but protected from mixing and glowing), Christ is always Divine. However, His disciples could not always see Him illumined, because God was protecting them from something that they would not have understood. It might have even scared them if He was always radiant! (At some point, you may also want to explain that God did not have to “do something” to Christ to make Him radiate; as we have to do something to the glowstick to make it glow. Unfortunately, as always, the analogy falls short of the truth.) However, on Mt. Tabor, God allowed the disciples to see some of His radiance, to help them know beyond the shadow of a doubt that He is God (and also to help them understand that His forthcoming crucifixion was voluntary, according to the kontakion of the day).

IMG_20160715_154637

As the shining glowstick “Christ” sits atop Mt. Tabor, talk together about what it must have been like for the disciples to have experienced this reality, and why it is so important to our Orthodox Faith that we celebrate the Transfiguration as one of the Twelve Great Feasts of the Church.

“When, O Christ our God, Thou wast transfigured on the mountain, Thou didst reveal Thy glory to Thy Disciples in proportion as they could bear it. Let Thine everlasting light also enlighten us sinners, through the intercessions of the Theotokos, O God Thou Bestower of light, glory to Thee!”


Here are some links that can help you and your Sunday Church School Students learn more about the Feast of the Transfiguration of Christ, as well as ideas to help you celebrate the feast together:


*
Continue to learn together about the Feast of the Transfiguration in the book http://store.ancientfaith.com/heaven-meets-earth

*

Read more about the Feast of the Transfiguration, including the hymns for the feast as well as an explanation of the icon here: http://www.goarch.org/special/listen_learn_share/transfiguration/index_html

*

Print this folding stand-up centerpiece about the Feast of the Transfiguration of Christ for your students’ dining room table or icon corner: http://www.antiochian.org/sites/default/files/assets/asset_manager/44cc08f7375825e0a722417e140a9cce.pdf

 

*

Find printable activity sheets about the Transfiguration, geared for older children here: https://www.scribd.com/document/273631504/Orthodox-Transfiguraton-Worksheets

 

*

This transfiguration activity can help to explain the word itself. Use the content in the context of the story of Christ’s transfiguration to add to the mystery of transfiguration! All you need is paper, a cotton swab, lemon juice, and an iron:  http://aprilfiet.com/theology-culture/now-see-transfiguration-sunday-childrens-lesson

*

“Saint Seraphim of Sarov’s life teaches us how we are to nourish our experience of the Transfiguration of Christ. The New Testament, the Psalms, the teaching of Saint Isaac the Syrian, the Jesus Prayer, prayer to the Mother of God, Paschal joy, hiding away from the limelight, compassion and absence of harshness: these were the characteristics of Saint Seraphim’s life. We can acquire some of them. Let us start by seeing what we can do with the New Testament, with the Jesus Prayer, and with the Mother of God…” Read more about the Transfiguration and how we can allow God to transform our lives, in the same way that St. Seraphim of Sarov did: http://www.pravmir.com/can-nourish-experience-transfiguration-christ/

 

 

*

Find suggestions of ways to discuss the transfiguration here: http://myocn.net/transfiguration-its-all-about-change/

 

IMG_20160713_122212-001

On Tattooing God’s Word on Your Heart

Not long ago, I was privileged to participate with my fellow parishioners in the Divine Liturgy for the feast day of Sts. Peter and Paul. A newly ordained priest was serving our community for that liturgy, and it was an evening that I will never forget. I will remember this liturgy not because it took place during his first week as a priest (and yes, he served it well, if you were wondering), but because of the homily that he gave during the course of the liturgy. Fr. David’s words have planted a concept into my mind that I will ever remember and work to attain.

The priest, Fr. David Jacobs, worked for years at the Antiochian Village Camp. My children loved having (then Deacon) David and his sweet family at camp every summer. Our whole family was blessed to spend time with them during our times at family camp at the Village, as well. We were all very grateful for the Jacobs family’s example to the AV community.

Fr. David referred to those years at camp at the beginning of his homily. He said that sometimes the children attending the camp would ask him questions. These questions gave him the opportunity to talk about a variety of subjects, and thus offer to the campers an Orthodox perspective on the topics at hand. One subject that he said often came up was tattoos.

Fr. David said in his homily that he always told the kids at camp that there is one tattoo that every Orthodox Christian should have. (Trust me, if there had been anyone in the congregation that night that wasn’t listening to the homily before, they were listening now!) The tattoo of which he spoke is not a visible tattoo; it is not even a physical one. Even though no one can see it, everyone will know that it is there because of the evidence it leaves behind. Fr. David said that this “tattoo” that we should all have is the permanent imprint of God’s Word on our hearts. He simply said, “Tattoo God’s Word on your heart.”

He went on to encourage us to do all that we can to steep ourselves in the Holy Scriptures. Read the Scriptures, meditate on them, ponder them, memorize them. Each of these actions will help us to permanently etch the Holy Scriptures into our hearts. With God’s Word permanently and irrevocably marked in our hearts, we will live a more godly life. This godly living will, in turn, forever change our life, our community, and the whole world for the better.

He suggested that we begin with one specific scripture, actually a verse of the Epistle reading for the Feast of Sts. Peter and Paul. 2 Corinthians 12:9 quotes our Lord Himself, “My grace is sufficient for you, for My power is made perfect in weakness.” Fr. David repeated the verse that had just been read to us during the Epistle reading. Then he went on to expound on it, allowing us a chance to meditate on it and ponder its meaning. He also had us recite the verse back to him several times, helping us to begin to memorize it. Essentially, he led us by example through the process of beginning to tattoo this scripture on our hearts. Mind you, it is an excellent scripture to permanently implant there: every single one of us needs this verse in our lives!

God willing, this will not be the only scripture tattooed on my heart. By the grace of God, as the years pass, my new goal is for my heart to be completely “inked up” with the scriptures. I have never had a tattoo, but I understand that the after-effect of all those needles is somewhat painful. I have a feeling that my new determination to “tattoo God’s Words on my heart” will also be painful at times. Minimally, I hope it produces a tenderness in my spirit that wasn’t there before. God willing, the final result will make my heart more beautiful and worth every dot of effort. And, by God’s grace, may God’s words inked on my heart be as evident to all around me as if I had them etched in my skin.

“I have always discouraged the use of the human body as a canvas. For me, being an artist and a Christian there was always a clear line as to how one treats the body and how one treats a canvas. A canvas is an object. The body is a holy temple. So when a Christian asks me if it is okay to get a tattoo I say to them “You are asking the wrong question.” You should be asking “How should a Christian care for their body?” This is a question that isn’t asked very often in our culture. If it is asked, unfortunately the answer is more often than not the wrong one. St. Paul tells us our body is a holy temple and that it doesn’t belong to us. It belongs to Christ. It is a temple of the Holy Spirit. This is the perspective that has shaped the teaching that we should devote our energy to tattooing our hearts with the Word of God and shine with the grace of the Holy Spirit rather than inking our flesh as one does with paper and canvas. Treating our bodies as objects will do little for us and those around us. Recognizing our bodies for what they truly are made to be (vessels of the Holy Spirit) will not only change us but (by God’s grace) also those around us.” ~ Fr. David Jacobs

For ideas of ways to “tattoo” the scriptures on your heart and on the hearts of your Sunday Church School students, check out these links:

*

Need a place to start? Check out these scripture verses for memorization inspiration: http://www.feelslikehomeblog.com/2015/01/50-bible-verses-every-christian-should-memorize/

*

In case you missed it, you can read our previous blog post about Scripture memorization here: https://orthodoxchurchschoolteachers.wordpress.com/2016/01/22/on-scripture-memorization-part-1/

*

Find suggestions for making Scripture learning accessible and fun for kids, check out this post: https://orthodoxchurchschoolteachers.wordpress.com/2016/01/29/on-scripture-memorization-part-2/

*

This tutorial leads you through a simple craft project that can help you and your family “ink up” your hearts with Scripture: https://orthodoxchristianparenting.wordpress.com/2016/01/27/verse-of-the-week-box-tutorial/

*

Here is a blog about an art project that can help you and your students “tattoo your hearts” with Scriptures: https://orthodoxchurchschoolteachers.wordpress.com/2016/02/05/on-learning-the-scriptures-by-creating-a-scripture-journal/

*

Have your students carry their “tattoo” project with them everywhere they go! Consider one of these ideas: invite the students to copy a verse you are memorizing on a slip of paper and keep it in their pocket. Or have them use permanent marker to write it on a blank wristband (turn a printed wristband or a produce rubber band inside out if you don’t have a wristband) and wear the verse-covered band. However they choose to carry the Scripture verse with them, every time they see it (or feel  it in their pocket), the student should repeat the verse to him/herself. Challenge them to have it memorized before they lose the paper or the verse wears off of the wristband.

 

13575972_10208698798539132_6644265314833268407_o-001

On Choosing to Live a Life of Joy

“Do what makes you happy” is a common thought in today’s world. Everyone wants to feel happy, to have that positive emotion in our lives. Because of this, we try all sorts of things in pursuit of the “happiness” we desire. Sometimes we succeed – at least for a little – and feel happy. But we learn quickly that happiness is temporal – a fleeting positive feeling. It is soon lost.

Joy, however, God’s joy, is eternal. It is a deep-set “nothing can shake this inner peace” reality. What we all are truly seeking is not happiness: rather, we are seeking joy. We long for the deep, inner joy that comes only from God which is experienced by walking in His ways. In Nehemiah 8:10 we read, “…the joy of the Lord is your strength.” If joy is our strength, we can work as hard as we want to try to be happy: but in reality, it is joy that will strengthen us. So instead of doing what makes us happy, we need to do what makes us joyful.

The scriptures, the saints, and Orthodox theologians have much to say about joy. Here is a taste:

“Restore to me the joy of Your salvation, and uphold me with Your guiding Spirit.” (Ps. 50:14)

“These things I have spoken to you that my joy remain in you and that your joy may be full.” (John 15:11)

“…You now have sorrow; but I will see you again and your heart will rejoice, and your joy no one will take from you.” (John 16:22) Find more scriptures referring to joy here: http://yourvibrantfamily.com/bible-verses-joy/#_a5y_p=4906869

“Joy is not one of the components of Christianity, it is the tonality…that penetrates everything.” ~ Alexander Schmemann

“You and I were created for joy, and if we miss it, we miss one of the reasons for our existence. In fact, the reason Jesus lived and died was to restore the joy we had lost.” ~ Fr. Anthony Coniaris, Holy Joy: the Heartbeat of Faith, p. 1

“In the beginning, there are a great many struggles and a good deal of suffering for those who are advancing  toward God. Afterward, however, there is ineffable joy. It is like those who wish to light a fire; at first, the smoke chokes them, and they cry. Yet by this means, they obtain what they seek, as it is said, ‘Our God is a consuming fire!’ (Heb. 12:24) So we, too, must kindle the divine fire in ourselves through tears and hard work.” ~ Amma Syncletica

St. Nektarios once wrote to Abbess Xenia: “Realize that your cheerfulness gladdens the faces of the Sisters and renders the Convent a paradise. On the other hand, your depression and sullenness are transmitted to the other Sisters, and joyfulness is banished from that paradise. Learn, therefore that the joy and cheerfulness of the Sisters depend upon you, and it is your duty to preserve these in their hearts. Do this even at times by forcing yourself. I counsel you not to surrender yourself to sorrowful fantasies, because this greatly depresses the hearts of the Sisters. Your reward will be great if you become to them a cause for cheerfulness. I give you this advice because I myself have it as a principle. When you gladden the heart of your neighbor… you may be sure that you please God much more than when you occupy yourself with extreme forms of askesis (i.e. prostrations, prolonged prayer, and fasting).”

An elderly saint of the church once counseled a young priest who sought his advice on how to help a young mother in his parish. “Tell her God forgives her… Tell her He forgives her for being lonely and bored, for not being full of joy with a house full of children. That’s what sin really is, you know: not being full of joy.”

Fr. Anthony Coniaris tells the story of a 70- year-old Romanian Orthodox priest in his book Holy Joy: the Heartbeat of Faith (Light and Life Publishing, 2003). This priest had been thrown into prison by Communists in the Soviet Era. His son died in jail, his daughter was sentenced to 20 years, his sons-in-law were also jailed, and his grandchildren had no food and had to eat garbage. Yet, in spite of this, the priest greeted everyone with the words, “Always rejoice!”
“One day, he was asked, ‘Father how can you always say rejoice—you who passed through such terrible tragedy?’

“He replied, ‘Rejoicing is very easy. If we fulfill at least one word from the Bible, it is written ‘rejoice with all those who rejoice!’ Now if one rejoices with all those who rejoice, he always has plenty of motivation for rejoicing. I sit in jail, and I rejoice that so many are free. I can’t go to church, but I rejoice with all those who can go to church. I can’t take Holy Communion, but I rejoice for all those who an. I can’t read the Bible or any other holy book, but I rejoice for those who do. I can’t see flowers, we never saw a tree or a flower during those years. We were under the earth, in a subterranean prison. We never saw the sun, the moon, the stars. Many times we forgot that these things existed. We never saw a color, only the gray walls of the cell and our gray uniforms. But we knew that such a world existed, a world with multi-colored butterflies and with rainbows, but I can rejoice for those who see the rainbows and who see the multi-colored butterflies. In prison, the smell was horrible… Others have the perfume of flowers around them, and girls wearing perfume. And others have pictures, and others have their families of children around them. I cannot see my children but others can. And he who can rejoice with all those who rejoice can always rejoice. I can always be glad.’” (pp. 67-69)

“A choir director once asked his choir after they sang a jubilant Easter hymn, ‘Are you happy?’

‘Yes!’ they said.

Then he said, ‘I suggest you notify your faces!’

“My face, your face, the face of every Christian should be notified to reflect the joy of forgiveness; the joy of repentance; the joy of the good news of Jesus; the joy of the resurrection; the joy of God’s steadfast love; the joy of the Kingdom; the joy of eternal life with God.

“How can this happen? It can happen through prayer. If there is any power that can transform our face, it is the power of prayer.” ~ Fr. Anthony Coniaris, Holy Joy: the Heartbeat of Faith, p. 113

 

Teaching your Sunday Church School students about joy:

“When you teach children, you convey to them not only certain knowledge but the spirit which is behind this knowledge. And you know that the one thing that the child accepts easily is precisely joy. But we’ve made our Christianity so adult, so serious, so sad, so solemn, that we virtually have emptied it of that joy. And yet Christ said whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a little child shall not enter it.” Listen to the rest of the podcast here: http://www.ancientfaith.com/podcasts/wardrobe/joy_orthodox_style

Start a discussion on joy with older students by watching this “Be the Bee” episode: http://www.ancientfaith.com/podcasts/bethebee/prayer_and_joy