Monthly Archives: July 2014

An Orthodox Christian Perspective on the Movie “God’s Not Dead”

“The most committed atheists were once Christians.”

Whether or not this statement by Professor Radisson in the movie “God’s Not Dead” is true is uncertain. But the storyline of this 2014 movie directed by Harold Cronk would certainly lead the watcher to believe that it could be true. In the movie, the professor himself sets out to “unconvert” the Christian students that come into his philosophy class: employing logic, sarcasm, put-downs, and even threats to that end.

The movie follows student Josh Wheaton through his initial months in college, beginning with the first day of his philosophy class, where all students in Professor Radisson’s class were required to write down on a piece of paper, “God is dead;” and hand that paper in to the professor, or face difficult consequences. Undeterred, Josh chooses to not write the statement, and is thereby challenged by the professor to logically prove to him and the entire class that God does, in fact exist, and that He’s alive. Throughout the movie, the viewer also meets the professor’s girlfriend and part of her family, a few fellow students in the class, other students at the college, a cynical reporter, and a pastor and his missionary guest; all facing challenges of their own. As in real life, all of these people’s stories are going on simultaneously, and the viewer wonders until the end why they are all included in the movie.

There are parts of the movie that seem a bit forced. Some would say that, to a degree, the movie is somewhat of an advertisement for the Christian singing group “The Newsboys” and the show “Duck Dynasty.” Culturally-sensitive types may dislike the portrayals of the vengeful Muslim father or the seemingly-uncaring Chinese father as they interact with their children who are exploring Christianity. As a whole, Orthodox Christians will notice that parts are overtly Protestant/Evangelical in their approach to God, faith, and conversion. Remembering that the movie was filmed with an American Protestant Christian audience in mind may be the best way to approach the film, see past the weaknesses, and focus on its strength.

This movie’s best strength is the underlying message that the Faith is worth standing up for in the face of difficulty. The message is crystal clear, and the viewer finds themselves rooting for Josh every time it is his turn at the philosophy class podium. Numerous characters in the movie face the opportunity to stand up for what they believe in, and the viewer is able to observe whether or not they do, as well as the results of their choices. The movie makes the viewer think about standing up for his/her own faith in the face of adversity.

Because it is an opportunity to think about defending one’s faith, “God’s Not Dead” is a good movie for young Orthodox Christians preparing to enter high school or college to watch and then discuss with their parents or youth leaders.

Discussions questions could include:

  1. What is the main message of this movie? What do you think about it?
  2. Have you ever faced a situation such as Josh’s? What did you (or would you) do?
  3. Do you remember Reverend Dave‘s answer to Josh’s dilemma, at the beginning of the movie? How does Matthew 10: 32-33 apply to your life?
  4. Discuss the following quotes (or others) from the movie:
  • “How did I not see this in you?” ~ Kara “Because you saw what you wanted.” ~ Mark
  • “Some of the most important work God wants us to do seems meaningless.” ~ Rev. Jude
  • “The most committed atheists were once Christians.” ~ Prof. Radisson
  • “Sometimes the devil allows people to live a life free of trouble, ‘cause he doesn’t want them turning to God.” ~ Mina’s mother

Youth leaders/parents may also want to point out the differences in theology between Orthodox Christian teachings and those expressed in the movie (for example, salvation as a continuing process aided by the Eucharist and the other sacraments/teachings of The Church vs. use of the “sinner’s prayer” as the chief means of salvation).

The premise of this movie is nothing new: people have been trying since the days of the first martyr, Stephen, to dissuade others from their faith in God (and His son). This movie provides the viewer with the opportunity to think once again about his/her own faith and encourages the viewer to stand for Truth despite the opinions of all those around them. The movie has the potential to embolden the watcher to stand firm as Josh did before the “Professor Radissons” in his/her life. And then, maybe it can one day be said of those professor-types that

“The most committed Christians were once atheists…”

According to http://godsnotdeadthemovie.com/, this movie will be available on dvd/blue ray on August 5, 2014. Information about the movie itself can be found at:http://www.imdb.com/title/tt2528814/?ref_=ttqt_qt_tt

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On Managing Your Sunday Church School Class

Already it is midsummer, so believe it or not, it is time to begin thinking about getting back into the school and Sunday Church School routines! Whether your parish has Sunday Church School year round, or takes a break over summertime, the new church year is a good time to implement changes and/or begin new routines. This week’s note and subsequent posts will address classroom management and suggest ideas of ways to prepare for and run your Sunday Church School class.

Prepare, prepare, and prepare for each lesson!

  • Pray for your students.
  • Ask God and the saints to help you with your general classroom preparations as well as with each of your lessons.
  • Keep your students in mind while you prepare each lesson (this gets easier as the year goes on and you discover how each of your students learns best).
  • If you’re telling a saint or Bible story, study it well; perhaps even gathering a few props to make it more interesting; and then think through questions to ask to engage the students.
  • If you’re doing a craft, no matter how simple/straightforward it may seem, try it ahead of time. This will assure you that you have all of the necessary items, reveal any weakness in your directions, and give you a sense of how long it takes and/or what’s the most difficult part of the craft.
  • If you’re playing a game, be sure to know the directions inside and out, thinking through possible scenarios of questions that may arise and how to answer them.

Create a welcoming space!

  • Be sure there is enough space in your classroom for all of the students on your roster. Since enrollment changes from year to year, this year’s class could be much smaller or larger than last year’s! You want to be prepared for all of your students.
  • Decide where/how the students will sit/stand/play, at which part of the Sunday Church School class, and set up the room accordingly.
  • Decorate the room with posters/bulletin boards/items that give an overview of what you will study during the year; and be sure to include at least one icon as the focal point during prayers. These decorations could actually go up throughout the year, during the course of your studies, or they can be already posted from the beginning of the year, as “teasers.”
  • Consider having one display area in the room that is decorated with help from your students (for example, have each of them draw a picture of themselves, and then post the entire paper “class” together somewhere in the room).  This display can change periodically, or stay up all year.
  • Consider changing the space where the children sit and/or work, from time to time, in order to keep it interesting. (Of course, if you have a large classroom, you can change where they sit/stand throughout the course of the class itself; ie: they can sit on the floor to hear a story, then work around a table for the craft/activity pages/etc.).
  • Post classroom rules where it is easy for everyone to see them, so everyone knows what is expected of them. (They can be written together as a class; but need to be posted so that you can refer back to them if necessary.) If you write these together as a class, be sure to have planned ahead and thought through what all you want the class to include in this list of expectations!

Include everyone!

  • The Silent One – Speak to the child outside of Sunday Church School, assuring them that you are glad they’re in your class, and that you value their answer/opinion, as much as anyone else’s. Plan with the child a hand signal or even a wink that can double as a “backup plan” to answer your question if they don’t feel comfortable speaking in the classroom context.
  • The Hand-Waver – Set guidelines with your class about expectations regarding answering questions; encouraging politeness and turn-taking. If one of your students insists on waving around their hand in attempt to gain more attention in class, consistently ignore it. And then, outside of class, speak with the child about why you do not reward that behavior, reminding them gently of your guidelines. Be sure to reward polite behavior when students comply!
  • The Chatterer – Your classroom guidelines should include something about when it is appropriate for students to talk; and when they should be just listening. Encourage chatterers to follow those guidelines. If they don’t, have a plan in place for responding to them: maybe just to  ignore the chatter, or to give the student a specific assignment in which they need to talk (ie: “when I’m finished explaining this, I will need you to read this to the class” or “after I have finished talking about this part, you can tell us in your own words what is the main point of today’s lesson”).
  • The Class Clown – There is often at least one of these in every class: so plan ahead, and teach your students about being respectful to others and that Sunday Church School is not the place to try to draw attention to themselves. Think of creative ways in each lesson to allow for humor and/or dramatic flair, so that all of the children have the opportunity for this sort of creative/comic outlet. If you have a plan to incorporate this into your lessons, the rest of the lesson, you are able to simply say, “It’s not time for that, yet; but later in the lesson, we will be (acting or doing something funny or otherwise dramatic), and I will need help with that. Let’s work on this (whatever the current activity is) and I’ll be watching to see who can best help me, later.”
  • The Gigglebox – Some children are easily amused, and will giggle at everything, especially the class clown. Remind this student of the classroom rules about when it is time to be quiet (yes, laughter is noisy, just like talking!), and encourage them to save the giggles for later. You will need to get to know your students, to see who can sit together and who can’t; who makes who laugh; etc., and plan accordingly. Chances are, the Gigglebox shouldn’t be right next to Class Clown!
  • The Wiggleworm – It is difficult for some children to be still. Especially if they have just stood for the Divine Liturgy, your students may just need some wiggle room. Find a way to incorporate a little movement into your class times. A few examples: sing a song with motions. Have a set of “wiggle buster” stretches that you always use to begin class, which ends with standing still to pray. Ask review questions from past lessons in which the children “move three seats to the right if you think the answer is a, two seats if it is b, or one seat to answer c,” and yes, you may end up with a few children piled in the same chair. You get the idea. If you have children that simply must move all of the time, consider providing them with quiet movement activities they can use while listening; such as a fabric marble maze (http://www.playeatgrow.com/2012/03/play-homemade-toys-marble-maze.html) or some other quiet finger-busying device; or provide a short piece of pool noodle to put under their feet that they can roll around quietly to give their legs something to do as they listen (http://cazanoova.blogspot.com/2011/09/pool-noodles-part-2.html).
  • If you need some ideas, you can find other discipline tips at http://ministry-to-children.com/kids-ministry-discipline-tips/.

As we look to the year ahead, let us do so with joy and gratitude for the gift God is granting us in each of our students. As we plan for the year, may we do so carefully, that we be well prepared to manage each moment with those students. Most of all, may God grant us love for each student, wisdom to teach them well, and strength for each class of the upcoming church year!

Someone to Look Up to: Teaching About Elder Paisios of Mount Athos

“Because in the old times we had men of great stature; our present age is lacking in examples-and I am speaking generally about the Church and Monasticism.  Today, there are more words and books and fewer living examples.” ~ Elder Paisios, from his book With Pain and Love for Contemporary Man

In these modern times, there may be fewer living examples, but God has provided some wonderful modern examples for us to emulate to the best of our ability, whose stories we must share with our students, the future generation of the Church. Elder Paisios himself is one of those examples, and it is important that we teach our Sunday Church School children about him and his life! This week’s posts will give ideas of activities to do when teaching our students about him. Here is a brief summary of his life:

Elder Paisios was born in Cappadocia, Turkey, in July of 1924. He was baptized with the name Arsenios, by St. Arsenios himself. When Arsenios was only two months old, the Christians of Cappadocia were deported to Greece. So it was that young Arsenios grew up in Greece.

Young Arsenios loved God very much and did all that he could to live a holy life, even when he was a child. He fasted, prayed, and loved to read books about the lives of the saints. Once, when Arsenios was 15 and suffering some doubts about the deity of Christ (yet determinedly praying on, anyway), Christ Himself appeared to Arsenios and spoke to him. This event chased away the doubts in Arsenios’ mind and made him more determined than ever to be the best Christian that he could possibly be.

To further imitate Christ, Arsenios became an apprentice in a woodworking shop. He learned to make everything from window frames to iconostases. He made coffins for the departed, but would not accept any payment for them; he considered the coffin his donation to the family of the departed. When he wasn’t working in the woodshop, Arsenios would teach other children about Christ and the Church.

World War 2 began, and when Arsenios was 21, he was taken into the army. Many times he would help other soldiers at great risk to himself, but God protected him. He served his country for five years, when he was dismissed from the army. At that time, Arsenios went home to help his mother with his family, since his father passed away while Arsenios was in the army.

A few years later, Arsenios was finally able to go to Mt. Athos, where he had always wanted to live. Arsenios was tonsured as the monk Paisios at age 32. As a monk, he did many things: he made bread, he helped at the guest house, and he prayed for most of each night.

Several years after that, the Theotokos revealed that Paisios should re-open a monastery near his home village of Konitsa. He helped to rebuild the church, even carrying heavy marble slabs up to the church from the village on his back, when the villagers wouldn’t share their donkeys. (But when they saw Father Paisios carrying them himself, they changed their minds and used their donkeys to help him!) Once the monastery was rebuilt, Father Paisios lived there and worked, befriending everyone from children to bears and other animals whom he met along the way.

In 1962, the Theotokos led Father Paisios to Mt. Sinai, where he lived in a little cell and sold carved wooden objects. He used the money that he got for the carvings to provide food and clothes to the Bedouins that lived in tents nearby. He was especially loved by the Bedouin children, who called him “Abuna Paizi.” Often, he gave them sandals to help their cracked feet, as well as hats or whatever else they needed that he happened to have on hand. Father Paisios was only at Mt. Sinai for two years when he got sick and needed to go back to Greece to recover.

Once he was well again, Father Paisios went back to Mt. Athos. This time, he had a simple cell surrounded by many plants and trees, with an outside sitting space for visitors. Father Paisios welcomed and cared for visitors in the day, whether human or animal, and prayed and carved wooden items at night. On one day, Father Paisios had visitors, and a snake came toward them all. Father Paisios stopped the others from harming the snake. He gave the snake water to drink and told it to leave, since he had other company now. The snake drank the water and left, just as Father Paisios had requested.

At one point in these years on Mt. Athos, Father Paisios had a lot of headaches, and one of his eyes hurt a lot. He was granted the opportunity to see his guardian angel, who smiled at him, and touched his eyes, then disappeared. Father Paisios’ pain was immediately gone! God had done a miracle for him!

As Father Paisios got older, he moved to another part of Mt. Athos. Many people would come here to see him. He would serve them Turkish Delight and water, and speak with them. He continued to do all that he could to help others; either giving them things they needed, or giving them advice, or praying for them that God would meet their needs.

He continued to meet with and help people, even when he was very sick and soon ready to pass away. A few days before his repose, Father Paisios was still welcoming people to speak with them, even though he was now so ill that he had to stay in bed all of the time. As he had done for all his life, he showed people God’s love and that he cared for them, right up until he departed this life on July 12, 1994.

Elder Paisios continues to help others, even though he is no longer living on earth. He helps by praying for people and working miracles. His writings are full of wisdom, and many people who read them are encouraged to become more like God, as well.

Elder Paisios in his great humility would not want us to see him as a “man of great stature:” rather, he would point us to Christ and tell us that he, himself, had only just begun the journey of becoming like Christ. Let us honor the elder’s ascetic labors by, ourselves, doing what we can to pray more, fast better, and be kinder to everyone (human or animal) that we meet. And let us teach our children to do likewise.

Holy Elder Paisios, pray unto God for us!

Read more about the life of Elder Paisios here: http://orthodoxwiki.org/Paisios_(Eznepidis)or  here: http://gabrielsmessage.wordpress.com/saints-and-elders/elder-paisios/
Watch/listen to stories of his life and miracles here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=k4un8kDLECY&list=PLdWXl9r5ROuXUigTBDBE5rl87Im7ATj5p

In the Light of the Son ~ an object lesson on being in Christ’s presence

It is summer time for those of us in the Northern Hemisphere, and we are enjoying long days of sunlight. It is the perfect time of year to help our Sunday Church School students think about Christ, the Light of the World, and the effect of having Him in our lives/ being in His presence! Here is a science-related activity that can help us to show our students the effect that light can have on a physical object.

“In the Light of the Son” object lesson:

Objectives: 1. Children will create an original work of art with sun-sensitive paper.
2. Children will see the effect that the sun has on the sun-sensitive paper.
3. Children will be reminded that “the Light of Christ illumines all.”

4. Children will conclude that being in Christ’s presence changes us.

Materials: sun-sensitive paper (such as http://www.orientaltrading.com/api/search?Ntt=sun+sensitive+paper or http://www.stevespanglerscience.com/sun-sensitive-paper.html); shapes for making the “print” (paper cutouts; flat items; items found in nature); cardboard; dishpan of water (or a sink); a sunny day; one piece of sun-sensitive paper artwork that is “printed” ahead of time (for illustration purposes)

Lesson Component/Activity:

Opening: After beginning the Sunday Church School class time with prayer, encourage the children to think back to Pascha, and discuss what happened at the rush service (remind them that it was dark, and they were holding candles, etc.) . Then, ask the children about “receiving the light” of Christ. What does it mean to “come, receive the light?” Tell them that this lesson will help them to think about receiving the light and how it will affect their lives.

Introduction: Show the children a piece of light sensitive paper. Discuss how it looks. Show them another. How do they compare? They look the same, indistinguishable. Show the children the piece of sun-sensitive paper on which you have already made a “print.” Invite conversation about it. Tell the children that this piece of paper began just as the others, but something changed it.

Content:
1. Tell the children that you will all be working on a science experiment in Sunday Church School today.
2. Give directions for making sun prints.
a. Gather items to make the print.

b. Decide how to arrange the items.
c. Go outside in the sunshine, bringing along the items, a piece of cardboard, and the sun-sensitive paper.

d. Place the sun-sensitive paper on the cardboard.

e. Quickly arrange the items on the paper.

f. Let the paper sit, undisturbed, in the sun for the allotted amount of time.

g. Carefully carry the cardboard and paper inside.

3. Make the sun prints, following the steps above.

4. Clear the items off of each paper, then rinse it in the dishpan or sink full of water for the amount of time stated in the directions.
5. Place the papers in a place where everyone can look at them as they dry.
6. As they dry, show the children a piece of “undeveloped” sun-sensitive paper, to compare it to their art pieces. Then, ask the children about the pictures. Do they look like they did when we took them outside? How are they different from the way they were? Are they all the same? They were all under the same sun: what makes them different?
7. Help the Sunday Church School children come to the conclusion that the sun’s light changed the papers; and that the differences between the pieces of art depended on what was placed on them.

8. Refer back to the earlier conversation about Pascha, asking the children to make a connection between the sun prints they made and “receiving the light” at Pascha. Guide the conversation, reminding the children that Jesus is “The Light of The World” and that being in His presence changes our lives forever, just like being in the sun has forever changed the sun-sensitive paper.

9. Discuss also how things in our lives/things that happen to us are like the different items placed on their papers: we all are in the presence of the same Christ, yet we’re all different, and show the effects of His light in our lives in different ways, because of the different things/events in our lives.

Response:
1. Ask the children how they can be in Christ’s presence? (through prayer, by coming to church, by communing, through reading scriptures, by seeing Him in the faces of everyone they meet, etc.)

2. Encourage them to do what they can to be in His presence as often as they are able, reminding them that “the Light of Christ illumines all” (and changes us all forever!)
3. Pray, asking Christ Himself to illuminate and change each member of your class, changing them for the better, for the rest of their lives.

Closing:

Ask the children a few questions in review, to evaluate their learning:

1. What have you learned about the effect of the sun on sun-sensitive paper?
2. Tell how that relates to Pascha/receiving the light of Christ?
3. How should this light-sensitive paper print that you made remind you of the power of being in Christ’s presence?

Close in prayer, and send the children home with their artwork; encouraging them to tell their family members about how the sun changed the paper (and the Son of God can change their lives).

Flat-laying items placed on the sun-sensitive paper, ready for sun exposure.Flat-laying items placed on the sun-sensitive paper, ready for sun exposure.Back indoors, a few minutes later, with the items removed to reveal the sun exposure.Back indoors, a few minutes later, with the items removed to reveal the sun exposure.During the "development" in water, a color reversal occurs.During the “development” in water, a color reversal occurs.The finished piece, beside an unexposed piece of sun-sensitive paper.The finished piece, beside an unexposed piece of sun-sensitive paper.