Monthly Archives: May 2014

Keeping in Touch With Sunday Church School Students

It is nearly the end of the school year, and many parishes take the summer off from Sunday Church School. Whether we are continuing to teach our Sunday Church School students throughout the summer or we have a summer break, it is important that we stay in touch with our students. God has entrusted them into our care for this season of their lives, we’ve had time with them in our classes (and hopefully positive interchanges with them, outside of class, as well), and they now know and trust us. Whether or not they’ll still be in our Sunday Church School class in the fall, it falls to us to keep building relationships with our students and encouraging them in any way that we can!

Here are a few ideas of ways to work at relationship building with our Sunday Church School students:

1. Continue to pray for them. Lift them to God daily, and ask the Theotokos and the saints to pray for them as well.

2. Seek them out after church. When you are able, touch base with the students at church, asking them about their week, what they’re learning, etc. A little attention and compassion goes a long way in letting someone know that they’re important to you.

3. Use electronic resources to keep in touch. For example, send out an occasional email. Or text the children if they have phones. Check out the free teacher/parent/student texting services offered at http://thejournal.com/articles/2013/06/11/7-free-apps-for-keeping-parents-and-teachers-connected.aspx.

4. Remember the students with summer birthdays (or namedays), and send them a card or give them a call on their special day.

5. Consider doing some sort of church service project (weed the flowerbeds or clean the church or bake something special for coffee hour) together, for an excuse to be together again.

6. Invite the children and their families to a picnic, pool party, miniature golf outing, or hike together.

7. Take advantage of every opportunity to remind the students of things you studied together in class this year: Bible or saint stories you studied, Bible verses you learned, information about The Church, etc. Whenever you see an opportunity in your conversations to make a connection, do it! That will help to cement those concepts into their minds.

Regardless of the means we use to stay in touch, it is important that our students know that they are cared for by their Sunday Church School teachers. Let us do what we can to help these young members of our parish know that they are loved. Let us also continue to find ways to help them learn more about Our Lord and His Church.

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Teaching Children about the Feast of the Ascension

It is nearly the end of the Paschal season already. We Orthodox Christians have been celebrating Christ’s resurrection for many days, beginning with the glorious celebration of Pascha! The end of the Paschal season offers us yet another opportunity to celebrate: the Feast of the Ascension of Christ, which always falls on a Thursday, is celebrated 40 days after Pascha. This Feast is one of the twelve Great Feasts of our Orthodox Church Year. Yet, for many of us, it goes by nearly unnoticed. Let us learn more about this feast and teach our Sunday Church School students about Our Lord’s return to heaven and His promise to send us the Holy Spirit.

The Ascension is important to us as Orthodox Christians for many reasons: it marks the end of Jesus’ time on earth reassuring His followers, after His resurrection; it is the date on which Christ gave his last commandment to His disciples; and it is the day in which Christ Himself took human flesh (His body!) into heaven, the presence of God, restoring man’s communion with God by giving humanity a permanent place of honor in heaven. (See more at http://www.theologic.com/oflweb/feasts/ascen.htm orhttp://www.metropolitannektariosofhongkong.org/2013/06/celebrating-the-feast-of-ascension/.)

Here are some ideas that can help to teach children about the Ascension:

Troparion (Tone 4)
O Christ God, You have ascended in Glory,
Granting joy to Your disciples by the promise of the Holy Spirit.
Through the blessing they were assured
That You are the Son of God,The Redeemer of the world!

Kontakion (Tone 6)
When You did fulfill the dispensation for our sake,
And unite earth to Heaven:
You did ascend in glory, O Christ our God,
Not being parted from those who love You,
But remaining with them and crying:
I am with you and no one will be against you.

It is important for the children to learn what the Ascension is about; that it is one of the 12 major feast days of the Orthodox Church; and that it is to be celebrated! How you choose to communicate those ideas with the children is up to you. However we choose to do so, may we all be prepared, and properly celebrate the Feast of the Ascension: for, through Christ’s Ascension, we humans have gained restoration with God!

Teaching Children about the Creed

The following excerpts on the Creed are an easy way to start teaching children about our statement of faith. These excerpts could be read to/with a Sunday Church School class. They are selected from Natalie Ashanin’s article “The Creed Is What We Believe,” first published in Little Falcons (http://www.littlefalcons.net/) magazine, “Creed,” issue #37. Used by permission.

“Have you ever been asked to describe your faith? To tell what you believe? If you are like a lot of people, you probably got tongue tied and everything you knew seemed to fly out of your head… But all you have to do to avoid this embarrassing situation is to become familiar with the Creed, or, as it is often called, ‘The Symbol of the Faith.’

“The word ‘creed’ comes from the Latin word, ‘credo,” which means ‘I believe.’ The Creed was originally developed for use in baptism, when the person being baptized would make a statement of what he believed. We still use the Creed in baptisms and chrismations… Reciting the Creed is like reciting  the Pledge of Allegiance to our country, but this pledge of our faith in God is a far greater pledge than one to any country on earth. When we sing or recite the Creed during the liturgy, we are acknowledging that we accept and believe in what the Church teaches us and there is an implied pledge to uphold and witness to these teachings…

“Because the liturgy is a ‘work of the people’ in which everyone is called to participate, most of the prayers say ‘we’ or ‘us,’ but the Creed uses ‘I’ because each person is called to make their own statement of faith. In order for Christians to act together as a people of God, they must have a common belief and the Creed serves the purpose of bringing them together in their faith.

“The Creed starts with a statement about ‘God, the Father almighty, maker of heaven and earth.’ God made everything because He is perfectly good. He made everyone and everything so that all would be good and happy with Him.

“Then it continues with a description of our Lord Jesus Christ as the only begotten Son of God and how He came down from heaven to save us, suffered and died and rose from the dead. We affirm that He ascended into heaven and will come again to judge the living and the dead.

“The final part of the Creed speaks of the Holy Spirit who proceeds from the Father. It continues to acknowledge faith in ‘one holy, catholic, and apostolic Church.’ The word catholic is used here in its original meaning of universal, that which includes everyone. It does not refer to the Roman Catholic church, which separated itself from the Orthodox Church in 1054.

“When you hear the Creed being recited in church try not to use a book, but see how much you can remember by heart. Over time it will become second nature to you and then, when someone asks you to tell them what you believe, you will have it all there on the tip of your tongue. No, you don’t have to recite it word for word, but you will know what it is that you believe and be able to explain it to others.” (pp. 4-8)

There is a coloring book of the Creed as shown through icons, for the youngest students, found at http://www.stnectariospress.com/the-creed-in-coloring-icons-and-stickers/. Slightly older children can learn about the Creed by reading the illustrated “I Believe: The Nicene Creed” found at http://www.amazon.com/I-Believe-The-Nicene-Creed/dp/0802852580. Older students will benefit from studying this guide to the Nicene Creed (with a study guide) available at http://www.stnectariospress.com/the-nicene-creed-for-young-people-with-study-guide/.

Let us as Sunday Church School teachers pass on the Faith by teaching “The Symbol of the Faith,” the Creed, to our children. We should carefully examine the Creed phrase by phrase with our students, helping them learn what it means. Once we have done that, we can help them memorize the Creed and encourage them to find ways to embrace it for themselves.
Most importantly, let us live lives that exemplify to our students that “I believe…”

Teaching About New Life in Christ (connecting spring with Christ’s resurrection)

It is spring in the northern hemisphere, the time of year when we witness new life everywhere we look outside. Seemingly dead plants and empty ground are busting forth with leaves, buds, and flowers. With the death and glorious resurrection of our Lord fresh in our minds, this is the time of year for us to make connections for our students between what is going on in the world and what has just happened in the church year.

Here is one suggestion of how to do so:

1. Talk about fall/winter and how it looks outside during those seasons. Ask the students what the church building/property looked like in those months. Show pictures if you have any available, to remind them of how cold and dead the outside of the church looked, during the winter months.

2. Then, take your students for a little walk outside the church now that spring is here. Walk around on the parish’s property, looking for growth/signs of life. Talk about each thing you find, and how it looks different from its winter look.

3. Back in the classroom, make a comparison (verbal or a chart) of the church grounds’ winter look with the spring one.
4. Ask the students what is the difference between the two. Talk about new life, and how it makes you feel: Hopeful? Excited? Happy? Right?

5. Ask the students what just happened in the church year (we celebrated the death and resurrection of Christ). As the students how what they’ve just observed outside is like what has just happened in the church year. Invite them to make the connection between the new life of spring and Christ’s resurrection.

6. Talk briefly about the students’ baptisms. Make a further connection by reminding them that baptism is like dying with Christ, and being raised to life again, only now, as a follower of Christ – a Christian. Help the students make the connection between the new life they received in baptism and Christ’s rising from the dead. (You could also refer to the recent singing of and/or actually SING the Apolytikion of Palm Sunday, which again demonstrates the connection:  “O Christ God, when we were buried with Thee in Baptism, we became deserving of Thy Resurrection to immortal life. Wherefore, we praise Thee, crying: Hosanna in the highest! Blessed is He that cometh in the Name of the Lord.” Note: if you do so, you may want to talk about “immortal life” being the new, forever life that is granted to us through Christ.)

7. Brainstorm with the children ways in which they can live their new life that Christ has given them through His breaking the power of death and raising us all with Him to new life through baptism. What are the best ways for them to “blossom” as Christians? Talk about how the students feel when they live in those ways: Hopeful? Excited? Happy? Right? Encourage them that, though they may not be “blossoming” perfectly all the time, just like spring plants, in our lives there is also room for growth, for more “blossoming.”
8. Craft/extender: use brightly colored cupcake liners to create “flowers.” Glue a bright paper circle to the middle of each liner, as the flower’s center. On each flower’s center, have students write one way that they can live their new life in Christ (ie: being kind to my sister; saying my prayers; paying attention in church; etc.). Mount the “flowers” on paper with hand-drawn stems (if they’re being taken home immediately) or on a bulletin board in the classroom labeled “Blossoming With New Life in Christ” (or something similar).
9. Challenge each student to look for ways to show their new life in Christ, at home or at school, this week. (And then, the next time you meet, remember to ask them for stories of how they or someone they know showed that they are blooming for Christ!)

Mothers In God’s Service (reprinted with permission from Life Transfigured: A Journal of Orthodox Nuns, Vol. 21 #2)

The following article applies to all Orthodox women: mothers, grandmothers, godmothers, Sunday Church School teachers, and fellow parishioners alike. Each woman in the Church has an important role in the parish, and can be used by God to be a great blessing to the children and young people of the parish! May the article encourage the women who read it to “serve God in motherhood,” as we work together to raise the little ones in our parishes to love and follow God.

“Whether we are aware of it or not, we are all called to serve God. Whatever talents He has given us, we should choose to use in the service of His glorification.
One such talent is the ability of a woman to care for the children she bears. She takes care of their physical needs and also tries to promote what she herself perceives as a need to know God. To women, God has given the wonderful mission of raising children, of building little temples for Him, raising another generation inspired to praise God.

Orthodox Christians understand just how exalted motherhood is. Has God not willed to be incarnate of a woman – Mary, the blessed offspring of aged Joachim and Anna? She was found worthy to take part in the mystery of the incarnation, having perfected in her soul purity, humility, obedience, silence, simplicity and a gentle disposition. She knew that such is precious in the sight of God (I Pet. 3:4). And in the environment of her purity of mind and speech, as well as her quiet comportment, she raised her holy Son with gentle love and care. While she is unique in her holiness, she is absolutely beautiful in her humanity. Perhaps every woman cherishes the wish in her heart to have the special grace that renders the Mother of God the saint of saints and the model of purity and silence.

To all who are called by God to motherhood, may it be granted not only to be worthy servants of His chosen flock, but also to take part in raising that God-glorifying generation. While God entrusts the leading to spiritual growth and development of virtues to many people, including priests and godparents, He chooses women to serve Him in motherhood, and we ought to understand that it is a holy calling. A woman worthy of being called “mother” is also worthy of being deemed “martyr” because raising children is a great sacrifice of self. Do not underestimate the serious and holy service you render when you accept from God to raise the little ones He gives you.

Happy Mother’s Day! ”

Reprinted with permission from Life Transfigured: A Journal of Orthodox
Nuns, Vol. 21, No. 2, Summer 1989, p.10. Holy Transfiguration Monastery, Ellwood City, PA.

Gleanings from a book: “Conversations With Children” by Sister Magdalen

Sister Magdalen, of the Stavropegic Monastery of St. John the Baptist, Essex, England has been working with children and helping them grow in their Orthodox faith for many years. In 2001 she published a book called Conversations With Children: Communicating our Faith. The book walks the reader through important tenants of the faith, via many of Sister Magdalen’s conversations with children.

“For a Christian adult, to speak with a child is a refreshing experience. New light shines on aspects of life which we may either take for granted or refuse to face.” (pp. 13 – 14) Sister Magdalen interacts with children about “games, clothes, films, lessons, and about ‘nothing in particular,'” (p. 14), which is likely the reason why the children in her circles have been so open to learning from/with her. We as SCS teachers do well to follow her example: not simply talking at the children in our Sunday Church School classes, but speaking with them; listening to their questions and comments; and learning from/with them as well.

Conversations With Children is divided into three chapters. “Theology has a direct relevance to the Christian education of children. Those who speak with children need a vision of the human person God calls us each to become; this is therefore the focus of Chapter 1. Chapter 2 concentrates on the educator’s vocation to be a channel of life-giving Tradition… Occasionally I give … talks in a more formal setting… to young people… Some of these feature in Chapter 3.” (pp. 14 – 15) Each chapter is divided into sub-headings, where Sister Magdalen writes about the topic of the subheading, and then incorporates quotes from conversations she has had with children regarding that subheading.

Throughout the book, Sister Magdalen refers to the adults in a child’s life as “teachers.” This is intentionally done, as all adults are teaching the children around them: whether by word or deed. “From the outset I remind the adults who hope to learn from this book that children must know us as real people, not merely as educators…. If teachers are themselves grateful children of our Heavenly Father, their children will learn from this attitude more than from anything else… We teach best when we simply enjoy the company of our beloved children.” (p. 16)

On every page, the reader is challenged by Sister Magdalen’s insights and her wisdom in speaking to children. It is apparent that she has great love for God’s little ones, and that He has granted her a gift to be able to effectively teach and guide them. And though she is older than they are, she is not above learning from them. She says in the book that the “…conversations recalled here will make it obvious how much I gain from the children.” (p. 15) Thus, the conversations she carries on with children are not only for their growth, but also for hers; and, by her writing, for the reader’s, as well.

This week’s daily inspirations will feature quotes from the book, intended to challenge our faith and make us better teachers. May we indeed rise to the challenge of teaching our Sunday Church School students. Most importantly may even our conversations with the children in our class point them (and us) to the Faith.
Conversations with Children
by Sister Magdalen
Published by the Patriarchal Stavropegic Monastery of St. John the Baptist
Essex, England

2001