Monthly Archives: February 2015

On Beginning Great Lent

This week’s blog will offer resources for you to use with your own family, or for you to share with the families of your students. These resources will help parents and teachers prepare to lead themselves and the children in their care through Great Lent. We will begin with part of a helpful article by Ann Marie Gidus-Mercera, called “ Ways to Share Great Lent and Pascha with Your Child,” from Orthodox Family Life, printed in 1997. Used by permission.
Take your child to Church!

Whenever a service is scheduled, plan to attend. Services like The Canon of St. Andrew of Crete may be physically tiring with the many prostrations, but don’t think your child can’t be a part of them. In my own parish, which is filled with pre-schoolers, the children do a great job of making prostrations right along with the adults. Many of the children will join in as “Have mercy on me, O God, have mercy on me” is sung. This experience is good for our children! If they see their parents attending services, they get the message that attending Church is important. If we bring our children to Church with us (both young and old), they get the message that their presence in Church is important. The Canon of St. Andrew of Crete is especially good for teaching our children that we worship with our entire bodies.

Explain the service that your family will be attending.

Notice that the word “family” is used in the first sentence. Now is a good time to stress that the entire family should be attending services. My husband can’t make it home from work in time for all of us to get to services together, but he always meets us at Church. This tells our children that Church is important enough for Daddy to meet us there. As children get older, homework and after-school activities may tempt them (and us!) to skip Church services. Don’t let it! First of all, if we give in, then what we’re really telling them is that worldly affairs are more important than spiritual affairs. By allowing our children to miss Church, we make it extremely easy for them to fall away as teenagers or young adults.

Last of all, if we allow our older children to miss Church, we are telling our younger children that Church is not important when they get to be big sister or big brother’s age. Enforcing Church attendance by the entire family is no easy task. In fact, enforcing it may be one of the hardest jobs you encounter. Sticking to your rule will be even tougher. It’s a choice we must make as Orthodox parents. Maybe, it makes our task easier if we ask ourselves, “What would God want us to do?” The answer is obvious.

Prepare your child for Lent.

The weeks prior to Lent help us take on the right frame of mind for entering Lent. Let them do the same for your child. Read the stories and let your child color [or draw] the pictures prior to attending the Sunday services. You may want to read the story again on Saturday evening, or let your child take the color sheet to Church. A simple reminder Sunday morning concerning what the service and gospel reading will contain can be enough. Pre-schoolers have the ability to remember even the briefest of comments (even when it’s something we DON’T want them to remember!) Keep your explanation simple and BRIEF in order to hold his/her attention. Don’t try to go into a long and draw-out explanation or s/he will lose interest. If s/he has questions or comments, answer them briefly.

Don’t feel mountains have to be moved the day Lent begins, or even during Lent.

It might be a quiet, even uneventful day. That’s okay! Nothing magical needs to happen. We must only be ready to give our hearts to Christ, and we should gladly hand them over in an effort to be a good example to our children. This is our greatest task as Orthodox Christian parents.

You and/or your students’ parents may find it helpful to have a daily calendar for the Lenten Fast. Here is a printable Lenten-focused activity calendar, highlighting important days during Great Lent, that features daily suggestions of activities that families can do together during the fast. The goal of the calendar is to offer ideas that can help you live a more Christ-centered life during the Lenten fast. Find the calendar here:

Following are additional suggestions for preparing for Great Lent with children:


Help your Sunday Church school students create a “Lenten Treasure Chest” that they can fill with “coins” of REAL value, as shown in this free printable page:


Share this great blog with your students’ parents. It is about ways to start keeping a Lenten fast with kids:

Also, here is a fun and thorough variety of fasting meal ideas that can be packed:


Send home this link to a creative way that a family can experience Lent together (including fasting, attending services, and giving to those in need). This easily explains and tracks your lenten journey on the family fridge:


Here is a printable coloring/activity book for the Sundays of Lent and Holy Week:


Here’s an overview of each Sunday of Lent, complete with the message of the week and suggested activities, here:

Here is an overview of Lenten Sundays and Holy Week, with suggested steps of action for teens:


Here are ideas for learning boxes for young children to explore during Holy Week. If your students are of an age that they would benefit from these, consider making these for your students, or passing the link on to their parents:

On Forgiveness Vespers

We are rapidly approaching Great Lent, and it is time for us to begin to prepare our hearts and the hearts of our students! Great Lent begins just as it should, with Forgiveness Sunday. Here are some ideas of ways we can help our students learn about Forgiveness Vespers, so that when they are experiencing this part of Forgiveness Sunday, they can better understand the service and more fully participate.

Why do we have Forgiveness Sunday? We begin Great Lent with Forgiveness Sunday because we need to remember how far we have strayed from the way God intended us to be, and how much we each need His forgiveness. This Sunday reminds us of Adam and Eve’s need to leave Paradise. (Find printable pdfs about Adam and Eve, which can be used to teach our students their story, at, written for younger kids and, written for older kids.) It also reminds us of our own need for forgiveness from God. Read more about Forgiveness Sunday and the icon of the day here:

Why is Forgiveness Vespers an important part of Forgiveness Sunday? We begin Great Lent with Forgiveness Vespers so that we can begin the lenten fast as forgiven people. Our Lord said, “If you forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will forgive you; but if you do not forgive men their trespasses, neither will your heavenly Father forgive you your trespasses (Matthew 6:14).” We pray the Lord’s Prayer daily, “…forgive us our tresspasses as we forgive those who trespass against us…” Forgiveness Vespers offers us the opportunity to forgive and receive forgiveness of our whole Church family. Discuss this concept, stressing the importance of forgiveness, with your students. (Find interesting ways to demonstrate forgiveness – including using disappearing ink or dissolving paper – at

What happens during Forgiveness Vespers? “Before we enter the Lenten fast, we are reminded that there can be no true fast, no genuine repentance, no reconciliation with God, unless we are at the same time reconciled with one another.” (See more at: Forgiveness Vespers reminds us of the importance of asking God and each other for forgiveness. At the end of the service, we ask each other for forgiveness, and extend forgiveness to each other. Prepare your students for this service. Talk with them about what words your parish uses during this time of mutual repentance. Also discuss what those words mean. Model what will happen, so that those who have never attended a Forgiveness Vespers will know what to expect. Remind them of when the special service will take place, and encourage them to come to it and participate with you.
Asking your students’ forgiveness and extending forgiveness to them is a sweet and beautiful moment in a Sunday Church School teacher’s year. Do what you can to help that moment to be able to happen!

Let us begin the fast with joy!

Let us prepare ourselves for spiritual efforts!

Let us cleanse our soul and cleanse our flesh!

Let us abstain from every passion as we abstain from food!

Let us rejoice in virtues of the Spirit and fulfill them in love,

that we all may see the Passion of Christ our God,

and rejoice in spirit at the holy Pascha!

Following are additional related ideas that can help you prepare to teach your students about Forgiveness Sunday:


After a lesson on Forgiveness Sunday with older students check their retention by asking them some of these questions:


St. Polycarp of Smyrna (who is, believe it or not, commemorated on Feb. 23!) is an excellent example of forgiveness. Here’s a printable copy of his life, including references to Forgiveness Vespers:


Find excellent leveled question prompts about repentance and forgiveness here: Question levels begin at grade K, all the way through adulthood.


Here is a link to a great family Gospel lesson on Forgiveness Vespers. Consider printing it and sending it home (or sharing the link) with your students so that they can talk together with their families about this service, before they attend and participate. It includes the Gospel reading, a brief discussion, questions for families to talk together about, and a few hands-on ideas to do together in response.


“Forgiveness is the heart of the matter, and that’s why the Great Lenten season in the Orthodox Church begins with the Sunday of Forgiveness.” ~ Fr. Thomas Hopko


Find a few ideas for object lessons on teaching about forgiveness (these ideas are not Orthodox, but can be a starting place) here:


Read an interesting article on the science of forgiveness at for some interesting insights into why we need to forgive!


Art Projects for Sunday Church School: 3 Dimensional Art

This series of blogs about including art in the Sunday Church School will offer a variety of art techniques and ideas. Each week will focus on one medium, offering a tutorial for one project (which can be used at multiple age levels), as well as several other suggested ways to incorporate the medium in other projects. The purpose of the series is to offer Sunday Church School teachers ideas which they can keep in mind for future reference as they plan to use art in their classroom. Each technique can be applied to a variety of lessons, whether Bible stories, Church history, lessons on the Faith, etc. For the purpose of keeping it simple, the cross will be used in each illustration throughout the series.

Creating three dimensional art in your Sunday Church School classroom is a fairly easy process: but it will require a bit of planning ahead of time in case you do not have all of the materials needed for the project. 3-D art can be created for its own sake (to practice the creativity God has given each person), as a response to a lesson, or even in advance of the lesson (for example, if you are creating sculptures or puppets that will be used to present the lesson itself).

One way to create 3-D art in your Sunday Church School classroom is to allow students to sculpt with air-drying clay. This clay is easily attained at a craft store, dries in the air (doesn’t need to be baked), and can be painted when it is finished or just left as it is.


Before giving your students the opportunity to sculpt something with clay, cover your work surface and gather all the items you will need. For this cross project, we will need air-drying clay, a cardboard cross shape, a bottle or block to roll the clay flat, a plastic knife, a piece of cardboard, newspaper, and some toothpicks (or other clay-decorating tools if you have them).


Begin by rolling the clay to a ⅛” to ¼” thickness on the piece of cardboard.


Place the cardboard shape on top of the clay.


Cut around the shape with the plastic knife. Remove excess clay from the shape; set it aside for later use. (This is a good time to have your students write their name on the piece of cardboard where their cross will be drying.)

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Use the excess clay to decorate the top surface of the cross: roll it between your hands to create long “strings” of clay that can be used for lines or coiled for concentric circles and then gently pressed into the top of the cross. Or create small balls of clay that can be smashed to create clay disks to be used in the decorating. It is up to you and your young artists!

If desired, use the toothpicks or other clay tools to finish the detail work on the cross.


Set the cross aside to dry. When the crosses are dry, you can leave them as they are, or paint them: it is up to you and your students! (You can also glaze them to better preserve them if desired.)


Note: this project was inspired by this one:

Following are a variety of ideas to incorporate 3-D art in the Sunday Church School classroom.


One way to use 3-D art in your Sunday Church School class is to have students make “people” that can be used to act out the week’s Bible or saint stories. Here are a few ideas of ways to do so:

They can create the actors by crafting “paper friends” downloadable from Making Friends: (the Bible-time costumes for the “friends” can be found at
The actors can be crafted from cardboard tubes as found here: or here

Or, they can be crafted from recycled plastic bottles as suggested here:


Clothespins can be used to create 3-D art: animals, people, angels, etc.:


Colorful duct tape can be used to create so many things, both useful and just-for-fun:


Create 3-D art with your students by allowing them to sculpt with sticks:

They can make actual stick people a la

Or, they can make popsicle stick puppets as shown in the picture here:


You can allow your students to create art with seashells: or


If one week’s Sunday Church School lesson includes animals, no problem! Use paper, cardboard, etc. to make some 3-D animals as demonstrated at these pages:,


Create beautiful sculptures with plaster of paris:
Hand squeeze free-form shapes in balloons which can be painted when they dry: or this

“Freeze” God’s own beautiful artwork by making leaf prints with plaster of paris as demonstrated here: