Monthly Archives: March 2015

Learning Lenten Vocabulary

There are so many terms that we Orthodox Christians use which are unfamiliar to the rest of the world. The Lenten season is certainly no exception to this rule, as we enter into the Triodion, celebrate Cheesefare/Meatfare, attend Presanctified Divine Liturgies, and more. It is appropriate for us to review what these Lenten terms mean, and it is especially important for us to make sure our children understand them! This blog will offer basic definitions of Lenten terminology, and point us to places where we can find more information about each term.

Triodion: “The Triodion [is a season of preparation for Pascha which] begins ten weeks before Easter and is divided into three main parts: three Pre-Lenten weeks of preparing our hearts, the six weeks of Lent, and Holy Week. The main theme of the Triodion is repentance—mankind’s return to God, our loving Father.” from http://www.antiochian.org/fasting-great-lent.

“The Triodion” is also what we call the book which contains the variables for the divine services during this time of the Church year. It’s actually called ‘Triodion’ because there are only three odes in the canons during this season; rather than the usual nine.” ~ by Archimandrite Nektarios Serfes, http://www.serfes.org/orthodox/explanationoftriodion.htm. You can find each day’s section of the Triodion here: http://www.ocf.org/OrthodoxPage/prayers/triodion/triodion.html.

Meatfare: “Meatfare” is the day we say “farewell” to meat, before the fast begins. Read more about Meatfare from St. Theodore the Studite, at http://www.antiochian.org/catechesis-st-theodore-studite-meatfare-sunday.

Cheesefare:  “Cheesefare” is the day we say “farewell” to cheese, before the fast begins. Read more about Cheesefare Sunday and find links to even more about it at http://www.antiochian.org/cheesefaresunday.

Clean Monday: “Clean Monday” is the name given to the first day of the Lenten fast. Read more about this day, including how it is traditionally celebrated in Greece, and find some Greek Lenten recipes here: http://orthodoxtraditions.blogspot.com/2014/02/clean-monday-menu.html.

Fasting: “Fasting” means not eating specific (or, sometimes, all) food. We fast to remind ourselves that “man does not live by bread alone,” that spiritual things are so much more important than physical things. Adam and Eve first sinned by eating, so we choose to not eat, to help us to also remember not to sin. Read more about fasting here: http://www.antiochian.org/fasting-great-lent. Find quotes about fasting from church fathers and contemporary writers as well here: http://www.antiochian.org/taxonomy/term/1146.

Compline: “Compline” means “at the end of the work day” or “after supper” and is a service of Psalms and prayers appropriate for reflecting on the day and asking God’s guidance and blessing on the night ahead. You can find the lenten compline service here: http://www.antiochianladiocese.org/files/service_texts/great_lent/great_compline/Great-Compline-LENT.pdf.

Presanctified Divine Liturgy: “The Presanctified Divine Liturgy  is an evening service. It is the solemn lenten Vespers with the administration of Holy Communion added to it. There is no consecration of the eucharistic gifts at the presanctified liturgy. Holy Communion is given from the eucharistic gifts sanctified on the previous Sunday…” Read more about the Presanctified Liturgy at http://oca.org/orthodoxy/the-orthodox-faith/worship/the-church-year/liturgy-of-the-presanctified-gifts.

Akathist: The “Akathist Hymn to the Mother of God” is so named because “the word ‘akathistos’ literally means ‘not sitting,’ i.e., standing; normally all participants stand while it is being prayed. The hymn is comprised of 24 stanzas, alternating long and short… As the hymn progresses, various individuals and groups encounter Christ and His Mother. Each has his own need; each his own desire or expectation, and each finds his or her own particular spiritual need satisfied and fulfilled in Our Lord and in the Mother of God. So too, each generation of Orthodox, and each particular person who has prayed the Akathist, has found in this hymn an inspired means of expressing gratitude and praise to the Mother of God for what she has accomplished for their salvation.” You can find more information about the Akathist Hymn to the Theotokos, along with the hymn itself, at http://www.fatheralexander.org/booklets/english/m_akathist_e.htm.

Prostration: is a full bow to the ground with the knees touching the ground, and the head touching or near the ground, then immediately standing back up. As the bow to the ground is begun, the sign of the cross is made. Some people touch their knees to the ground first and then bend their upper body down, and the more athletic or coordinated essentially ‘fall’ forward to the ground  with their knees and hands touching at essentially the same time. This is very similar to the familiar gym class ‘burpee’.” ~ from http://www.orthodox.net/greatlent/o-lord-and-master-of-my-life-prayer-of-st-ephrem-01.html.

Prayer of St. Ephraim: This prayer is also called the “Lenten Prayer,” and originated with St. Ephraim the Syrian, who lived in the fourth century. Fr. Alexander Schmemann calls it “a checklist for our spiritual lives” and emphasizes that this prayer, along with other spiritual disciplines of Great Lent, can help us to be freed from basic spiritual diseases that make it almost impossible for us to turn toward God. Here is a  blog that offers insights into the prayer of St. Ephrem, quoting Church Fathers and Orthodox authors: http://modeoflife.org/the-lenten-prayer-of-saint-ephraim-explained/.

Holy Week: “Holy Week” is a week that truly lives up to its name: it is the holiest week of the Church year; there are many holy services to attend during the week; and we should all be very holy by the time we arrive at Holy Week, having just been through the discipline of Great Lent. The Rev. George Mastrantonis says that “Holy Week… institutes the sanctity of the whole calendar year of the Church. Its center of commemorations and inspiration is Easter, wherein the glorified Resurrection of Jesus Christ is celebrated.” He goes on to compare Holy Week to a sanctuary, that (because of the preparation of Lent) we enter “not as spectators, but as participants in the commemoration and enactment of the divine Acts that changed the world.” Read more of his explanation here: http://www.goarch.org/ourfaith/ourfaith8432. Find details about each service that we celebrate during Holy Week here: http://www.antiochian.org/1175027131.

Lamentations: “…the Lamentations refers to the Funeral Service for our Lord. It is actually the Orthros (Martins) for Saturday morning. The Lamentations is the form of a poetic dirge sung antiphonally by two or more groups of people. It is made up of a large number of verses divided in three long stanzas. As one stanza ends, the other begins with a different music. It sees that they were introduced not earlier than the 13th century. The author of these Lamentations is said to be St. Romanos Melodos. The Lamentations are also called Encomia, hymns of praise…” ~ Archimandrite Nektarios Serfes, http://www.serfes.org/orthodox/explanationoftriodion.htm.

Pascha: “Pascha, the name by which Orthodox Christians know the yearly celebration of Jesus Christ’s resurrection, comes from the Hebrew word for ‘Passover.’ In the Old Testament, the Hebrew people ‘passed over’ from slavery under Pharaoh in Egypt to freedom in the Promised Land, with Moses at their head. But this event was only a foreshadowing of something bigger and better to come. In the New Testament, the whole human race ‘passed over’ from slavery under the devil in sin and death to freedom in grace and eternal life, with the risen Christ as its head!… That is why Pascha is our greatest joy and brightest hope as Orthodox Christians! It is the cornerstone of our faith and the main point of the good news we have for the rest of the world. But Pascha is not just the remembrance of something that happened long ago and far away. It has happened to us in our lifetime too. Baptism was our personal Pascha. It made Christ’s death and resurrection our own: our old sinful selves were put to death and buried in its holy waters, after which we were raised up out of them, washed clean of sin and born again to a new life in him.”

Read more about Pascha here http://www.htoc-fl.org/downloads/pascha.pdf, and refresh your memory of how the Pascha service goes with Fr. Thomas Hopko’s article about it here: http://www.feastoffeasts.org/node/55.

Bright Week: “Bright Week” begins on the Sunday of Pascha and ends on Thomas Sunday. It may be called that because the newly baptized people were now illumined, or bright. Also, they wore white all week, so sometimes it is called “White week.” Bright week is a happy time of celebrating Pascha, and the whole week, the doors to the altar are left open as a happy reminder of the torn veil that opened the Holy of Holies in the Temple after Christ’s death, as well as the open stone that led to the empty tomb! Read more about Bright Week here: http://www.johnsanidopoulos.com/2010/04/what-is-bright-week.html.

Here are some ideas of ways to help your Sunday Church School children learn their Lenten vocabulary words:

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Teach the Lenten vocabulary words one at a time. The best way to teach new words is as they come up in conversation (or, in this case, as you anticipate hearing them being used at church). Generally speaking, children learn new terminology better when it is used in context instead of just randomly taught. As you teach each word, ask the children what they already know about it. What do they remember from other years? Try to build as much of a framework around the word as possible for them to “hang the word on.” Then fill in whatever they’ve missed in the definition.

As you begin this learning experience, from time to time, ask your students what one of the words which you already talked about means. Or, give them a definition and see if they can provide the Lenten vocabulary word that fits that definition. Before too long, they will know all of these terms and be able to correctly apply them.

Find a printable pdf of the Lenten vocabulary words with simplified definitions at http://www.antiochian.org/sites/default/files/lenten_vocabulary_words.pdf.

Find a printable pdf of the same words and definitions, arranged so that they can be printed as word cards, here: http://www.antiochian.org/sites/default/files/printable_lenten_vocabulary_word_cards.pdf.

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Apply the vocabulary words by making posters about them. Write each Lenten vocabulary word on a sheet of paper or poster paper. Work together to compile magazine picture collages or to draw sketches that remind you of what each word means. (The illustration could be a silly thing like someone waving at a piece of cheese for “Cheesefare,” etc.) Be creative, and then post your work in a place where you will see it and be reminded of the meanings of these words throughout the Lenten season.

Find a printable pdf of the vocabulary word “posters” here: http://www.antiochian.org/sites/default/files/lenten_vocabulary_word_posters.pdf.

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Personalize the vocabulary words by making small vocab books for each child. Make booklets for each child, writing one lenten vocabulary word on each page. As you discuss the words’ meanings, have each child draw or write in their own words to remind themselves of the definitions.

Find a printable pdf of the vocabulary word booklets here: http://www.antiochian.org/sites/default/files/lenten_vocabulary_booklet.pdf.

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Practice the vocabulary with card games. Make a set of playing cards by printing one of the Lenten vocabulary terms on a set of blank cards. Make a second set with a basic definition printed on each one. Use the cards in one of these two ways:

  1. Play “memory” with them. Mix all of the playing cards well, and turn them upside down so that all that can be seen is the back of the card. Lay the cards out in even rows. Take turns turning two cards face-up. If you find a pair, you keep it and go again. If not, turn the cards back upside down again, and play moves on to the next player.

    2. Play a matching game with the cards: Mix both sets of cards together, and pass out a few to each player (number will vary by number of players), leaving at least one card per player upside down on a “draw” pile. When it is his turn, a player asks another for a word (if he has the definition in his hand) or the definition (if he is holding the word). If the asked player has the card being asked for, he must turn it over to the asker. If not, the asker should draw a card from the “draw” pile (until the draw pile runs out). As soon as a player makes a matching pair, she lays the pair down on the table in front of her. Play continues until all matches have been made. The player with the most matched pairs wins the game. (Actually, all players who have learned their Lenten vocabulary are winners!)

You can make the cards with the printable pdf vocab word cards found here: http://www.antiochian.org/sites/default/files/printable_lenten_vocabulary_word_cards.pdf.

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Play an active game with the vocabulary words after everyone knows their meanings. Print one Lenten vocabulary word each, in large print, on sheets of paper until all of the words have their own sheet. Print the definitions on smaller cards. In a large open area (perhaps outside?), scatter the sheets of large-printed-vocabulary-word-papers around the playing area. One person is the “caller.” The caller holds the smaller cards and, one by one, reads one definition. As soon as a player recognizes the word whose meaning is being read by the caller, the player runs to that word. Points can be awarded in two ways (decide before beginning play): a) Every person who goes to the correct word gets a point. b) The first person who gets to the correct word gets a point. (Or, to combine the two, everyone who goes to the correct word gets one point, and the first person there gets two points!) The person with the most points at the end of the caller’s stack of definition cards is the winner.

You could use the printable pdf poster words for the “large word papers” in this activity. They can be found here:  http://www.antiochian.org/sites/default/files/lenten_vocabulary_word_posters.pdf. Use the definitions from the word cards (printable pdf found here: http://www.antiochian.org/sites/default/files/printable_lenten_vocabulary_word_cards.pdf) for the caller to read.

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Older children can review the vocabulary words with this crossword puzzle: http://www.antiochian.org/sites/default/files/orthodox_christian_lenten_vocabulary_crossword.pdf.

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Lenten Learning: St. John Climacus

The fourth Sunday of Great Lent is called “The Sunday of St. John Climacus.” This blog will help us learn more about the life of St. John and why we commemorate him on this day, so that we can better teach our Sunday Church School students about his life. Here are two ways that we can begin to learn about him:

  1. Watch a 2-minute video about St. John of the Ladder, which introduces him and his book as well as the icon inspired by the book. The video ends with a challenge to young people to keep climbing! https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8VTtpllgQTk.
  2. Read this blog about his life and see pictures of the cave where he lived: https://orthodoxword.wordpress.com/2013/04/14/the-cave-of-saint-john-of-the-ladder/ or here: http://myocn.net/blessings-desert-st-john-ladder-climacus/

Would you believe that we do not actually even know St. John Climacus’ family name?!? Climacus is a Greek word that means “of the Ladder.” He is so named because of the book that he wrote primarily for ascetics. The book is also both challenging and helpful to lay people, and it is called The Ladder of Divine Ascent. St. John Climacus is known for what he lived, taught, and passed on; not for where (or who) he came from.

We do know that St. John was a monk who chose to live his life to the fullest for Christ, beginning at an early age. He was only 16 years old when he went to live at St. Catherine’s Monastery. When he was 20, he was tonsured a monk. One source mentioned that his elder waited those four years to tonsure him in order to test his humility. He lived as a monk for more than 70 years, many of those years in solitude, in a “cave” which was actually a small shelter formed by boulders: a truly humble dwelling. He lived a life of humility.

We also know that St. John’s pursuit of holiness has influenced the lives of Orthodox Christians for every century since he walked on earth. His words in The Ladder of Divine Ascent (which he wrote because the abbot of another monastery asked him to do so) encourage all of us to continue our journey towards the Kingdom of God. His entreaty that we “let the remembrance of Jesus be present with each breath” has challenged Orthodox Christians to live their lives in hesychasm, or the quietness that leads a person to God through constant prayer. (This constant prayer has come to be known as the “Jesus Prayer.”) He humbly led his monks and all Orthodox Christians since then, passing down tools that we can use to grow deeper in our faith.

So, what can we learn from what we know about St. John Climacus? How can we apply that learning and teach our Sunday Church School children to do so, as well?

1. Perhaps we can begin by emphasizing to our students how important it is for Orthodox Christians to live in a way that leads others towards God. Each family’s name is important to that family, but how much more important is the name which all of us bear, “Christian?” Let us evaluate how well we live up to that name, consider how our life is impacting those around us and those who will follow after us, and take steps to “kick it up a notch.” Let us encourage our students to do the same!

2. Another thing we can do after studying the life of St. John Climacus is encourage our students to live godly lives wherever they are! We need to support them in their pursuit of the Faith, doing all that we can to encourage their spiritual growth. We must encourage our students to incorporate themselves into the life of the Church, to continue to be involved with the Sunday Church School and JOY/SOYO, etc. We should encourage our students to attend Orthodox Christian summer camp so that they can meet other Orthodox kids and be strengthened in their faith. We can invest in icons, books, music, etc. to give as gifts to our Sunday Church School students, that will help to point them towards the Faith. We also need to work to inspire our students to offer themselves to God for His service, whether that happens now (serving in the altar, choir, etc.) or later in life (as short- or long-term missionaries, as monastics, or as clergy). Regardless of their age, when our Sunday Church School students take steps like this, whether they are small or large steps, let us support them, release them, and pray for them.

3. We can pursue holiness together as a Sunday Church School class by using the tools that St. John Climacus left for us. We should be praying constantly, pursuing hesychasm with more fervor. We can read The Ladder of Divine Ascent and study the steps with our students. (Download the book here: http://www.prudencetrue.com/images/TheLadderofDivineAscent.pdf. Listen to Fr. Thomas Hopko’s podcast about it here: http://www.ancientfaith.com/podcasts/hopko/4th_sunday_of_lent_st_john_of_the_ladder. Or read this new book that takes a look at each of the steps of St. John Climacus’ Ladder of Divine Ascent: http://store.ancientfaith.com/thirty-steps-to-heaven. Print a copy of the basic steps of the ladder to hang in your classroom as a reminder: http://saintannas.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/03/30-Steps-of-Ladder.pdf. Read about the icon of the Ladder of Divine Ascent here: http://saintannas.org/sunday-of-the-ladder-of-divine-ascent/.) As we practice constant prayer and daily continue our ascent of the ladder, we will become more like Christ.


“Ascend, brothers, ascend eagerly, and be resolved in your hearts to ascend and hear Him who says: Come and let us go up to the mountain of the Lord and to the house of our God, who makes our feet like hind’s feet, and sets us on high places, that we may be victorious with His song.

Run, I beseech you, with him who said: Let us hasten until we attain to the unity of faith and of the knowledge of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, who, when He was baptized in the thirtieth year of His visible age, attained the thirtieth step in the spiritual ladder; since God is indeed love, to whom be praise, dominion, power, in whom is and was and will be the cause of all goodness throughout infinite ages. Amen.” St. John Climacus, The Ladder of Divine Ascent, p. 129

 

Here are a few ideas of ways to teach about St. John Climacus:

This blog suggests ways to teach about the life of St. John Climacus, and also offers directions for a “ladder” craft to help children remember his book: http://kellylardin.com/activities/2014/03/20/fourth-sunday-of-lent-st-john-climacus/

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Send a copy of this page home with each child, so that their family can discuss St. John and the ladder, as well as Sunday’s Gospel reading: http://saintanna.org/assets/forms/st_john_climacus.pdf

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Give each child a copy of an icon of St. John Climacus for them to color and hang up in their home, to remind them of him and his holiness: http://www.ocf.org/OrthodoxPage/icons/clip/johnclim.gif or http://www.ocf.org/OrthodoxPage/icons/clip/climacus.gif

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Let younger Sunday Church School students color this icon of the ladder while you read to them a few of the steps on “the ladder” from St. John Climacus’ book The Ladder of Divine Ascent: http://www.ocf.org/OrthodoxPage/icons/clip/ladder.gif

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Provide materials for students to create their own artistic version of the “ladder of Divine Ascent” as suggested here: http://illumination-learning.com/main/2014/04/23/st-john-of-the-ladder-craft/

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Read some of these quotes from St. John Climacus with older Sunday Church School students, and discuss their meanings and application together: http://orthodoxchurchquotes.com/category/sayings-from-saints-elders-and-fathers/st-john-climicus-of-the-ladder/page/2/

Lenten Learning: St. Gregory of Palamas

The second Sunday of Great Lent is known in the Orthodox Christian Church as the Sunday of St. Gregory of Palamas. There is much to learn from the life of St. Gregory! The way that he lived his life on earth teaches us and our students how to live a truly Christian life.

St. Gregory was born to a wealthy family, but loved God and the Church so much even from childhood that he joined the monastic ranks at a young age. He also convinced many of his family members to do the same! He is known for his life of prayer and his theological wisdom, which came about as a result of that life of prayer. Let us learn more about St. Gregory so that we are better able to teach our Sunday Church School children about his life, and then let us work together to apply our learnings and become more Christlike, as he was.
Here are a few resources that can help us to learn about St. Gregory of Palamas’ life:

Here are a few resources that can help us apply what we are learning about St. Gregory’s life:

Learning about the life of St. Gregory of Palamas can greatly strengthen our theological understanding. Teaching the children in our care about his life will aid our appreciation for the way that he lived his earthly life as we see his deep love for God and how that translated into his daily life. Finding ways to emulate his life will help us to work toward godliness, as well. Let us approach this week of Great Lent, seeking to live our lives in godliness, as did St. Gregory of Palamas.

Troparion (Tone 8)

O light of Orthodoxy, teacher of the Church, its confirmation,

O ideal of monks and invincible champion of theologians,

O wonder working Gregory, glory of Thessalonica and preacher of grace,

always intercede before the Lord that our souls may be saved.

 

The following are quotes from St. Gregory of Palamas:

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“Let not one think, my fellow Christian, that only priests and monks need to pray without ceasing and not laymen No, no; every Christian without exception ought to dwell always in prayer.” ~ St. Gregory of Palamas

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“For our love for God is demonstrated above all by the way we endure trials and temptations.” ~ St. Gregory of Palamas

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“When we strive with diligent sobriety to keep watch over our rational faculties, to control and correct them, how else can we succeed in this task except by collecting our mind, which is dispersed abroad through the senses, and bringing it back into the world within, into the heart itself, which is the storehouse of all our thoughts?” ~ St. Gregory of Palamas

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“It is pointless for someone to say that he has faith in God if he does not have the works which go with faith. What benefit were their lamps to the foolish virgins who had no oil (Mt. 25:1-13), namely, deeds of love and compassion?” ~ St. Gregory of Palamas

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“If from one burning lamp someone lights another, then another from that one, and so on in succession, he has light continuously. In the same way, through the Apostles ordaining their successors, and these successors ordaining others, and so on, the grace of the Holy Spirit is handed down through all generations and enlightens all who obey their shepherds and teachers.” ~ St. Gregory of Palamas

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“… Adam chose the treason of the serpent, the originator of evil, in preference to God’s commandment and counsel, and broke the decreed fast. Instead of eternal life he received death and instead of the place of unsullied joy he received this sinful place full of passions and misfortunes, or rather, he was sentenced to Hades and nether darkness. Our nature would have stayed in the infernal regions below the lurking places of the serpent who initially beguiled it, had not Christ come. He started off by fasting (cf. Mk. 1:13) and in the end abolished the serpent’s tyranny, set us free and brought us back to life.” ~ St. Gregory of Palamas

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“Prayer changes from entreaty to thanksgiving, and meditation on the divine truths of faith fills the heart with a sense of jubilation and unimpeachable hope.” ~ St. Gregory of Palamas

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