Monthly Archives: December 2015

A Few Christmas Books to Share With Children

Christ is born! Glorify Him!

When you meet with your Sunday Church School students again, (for some of you, anyway) Christmas Day will be passed. But Christmas will not nearly be over: there are 12 days for us to celebrate this feast! Consider continuing your celebration of the Nativity of Christ by sharing books with your Sunday Church School students! Here are a few to consider (in no particular order):

“God Gave Us Christmas” by Lisa Tawn Bergren follows a little polar bear who asks Mama Polar Bear a myriad of questions about Christmas and where it came from. http://lisatawnbergren.com/books/god-gave-us-christmas/

“Little Star” by Anthony DeStefano is the charming tale of a tiny star who gave of himself to light the stable when Christ was born… and is now remembered by some when they place a star atop their Christmas tree. http://anthonydestefano.com/landing/blogs/LittleStar_01.htm

“The Christmas Baby” by Marion Dane Bauer is the story of the birth of the very special baby, Christ, and all who celebrated His nativity. http://www.mariondanebauer.com/bkpages/bk_christmasbaby.html

“Why Christmas Trees Aren’t Perfect” by Richard Schneider is a heartwarming parable about a little evergreen tree whose self-sacrifice mars its perfection; but also makes it most beautiful in the eyes of the Queen, who takes it home as her royal Christmas tree. http://www.goodreads.com/book/show/42288.Why_Christmas_Trees_Aren_t_Perfect

“Angels and Other Strangers” by Katherine Paterson is a collection of nine delightful Christmas stories by the Newbery-award winning author.

http://katherinepaterson.com/books/angels-and-other-strangers/

“The Pine Tree Parable” by Liz Curtis Higgs is the simple story of a farmer’s wife who raises the perfect Christmas tree on their tree farm, and eagerly anticipates enjoying its beauty in her home for Christmas. When the time comes to cut the tree, she selflessly gives it to a penniless family instead, and receives the blessing of great joy.

http://www.lizcurtishiggs.com/childrens-books-by-liz/

 

A Few Christmas Books to Share With Children

Christ is born! Glorify Him!

Do you want to continue your celebration of the Nativity of Christ by sharing books with your Sunday Church School Students? Here are a few to consider (in no particular order):

“God Gave Us Christmas” by Lisa Tawn Bergren follows a little polar bear who asks Mama Polar Bear a myriad of questions about Christmas and where it came from. http://lisatawnbergren.com/books/god-gave-us-christmas/

 

“Little Star” by Anthony DeStefano is the charming tale of a tiny star who gave of himself to light the stable when Christ was born… and is now remembered by some when they place a star atop their Christmas tree. http://anthonydestefano.com/landing/blogs/LittleStar_01.htm

 

“The Christmas Baby” by Marion Dane Bauer is the story of the birth of the very special baby, Christ, and all who celebrated His nativity. http://www.mariondanebauer.com/bkpages/bk_christmasbaby.html

 

“Why Christmas Trees Aren’t Perfect” by Richard Schneider is a heartwarming parable about a little evergreen tree whose self-sacrifice mars its perfection; but also makes it most beautiful in the eyes of the Queen, who takes it home as her royal Christmas tree. http://www.goodreads.com/book/show/42288.Why_Christmas_Trees_Aren_t_Perfect

 

“Angels and Other Strangers” by Katherine Paterson is a collection of nine delightful Christmas stories by the Newbery-award winning author.

http://katherinepaterson.com/books/angels-and-other-strangers/

 

“The Pine Tree Parable” by Liz Curtis Higgs is the simple story of a farmer’s wife who raises the perfect Christmas tree on their tree farm, and eagerly anticipates enjoying its beauty in her home for Christmas. When the time comes to cut the tree, she selflessly gives it to a penniless family instead, and receives the blessing of great joy.

http://www.lizcurtishiggs.com/childrens-books-by-liz/

Ideas for Keeping Our Focus on the Nativity of Christ

We are now well on our way to the end of the Nativity Fast. Very soon we will be celebrating the Feast of the Nativity of our Lord. In the cultural “hustle and bustle” of Christmas, it is easy for us to be overcome by busyness and we can lose sight of what we are celebrating: the coming of Christ to earth, God incarnate! Let us find ways to focus on that, and prepare to celebrate it with great joy! Here are a few ideas that will help us to keep the Nativity of Christ at the forefront of our celebration. Most can be easily used in the Sunday Church School setting. 

Educational ideas:

Teachers of young students may want to use this printable pdf, full of Nativity-themed coloring pages and practice words (free for personal use, so ask permission before using it in your SCS classroom) : http://www.mamaslearningcorner.com/nativity-coloring-pages/

Make your own Nativity coloring book for your students! Print these 24 coloring pictures with quotes from the gospels that work together to tell the story of the Nativity: http://www.dltk-bible.com/advent/index.htm

Find other Nativity-themed coloring pages here: http://www.activityvillage.co.uk/nativity-colouring-pages

Teachers of young students will be glad to find action rhymes and finger plays related to the Nativity (among others) here: http://www.theholidayzone.com/christmas/action.html

Find a Nativity-themed word search geared at upper elementary students here: http://www.theholidayzone.com/christmas/puzzles/The_First_Christmas.html

Older students and adults will enjoy reading and pondering the poems in this collection which are Nativity themed: http://www.theholidayzone.com/christmas/christmas-poetry.html

Print this Nativity-themed word scramble to challenge your students: http://www.theholidayzone.com/christmas/puzzles/One_Night_In_Bethlehem.pdf

Craft/play ideas:

Make these simple popsicle stick puppets for young children to use in their play: http://biblelovenotes.blogspot.com/2011/03/play-friendly-nativity.html

Print this charming Nativity set on cardstock for your children to color, cut, and play with: http://madebyjoel.com/2012/12/paper-city-nativity-scene.html. Or, if you prefer, this one: http://media.focusonthefamily.com/clubhouse/pdf/MyNativity.pdf

Need a tiny gift idea? Print and cut apart this tiny Nativity set, tuck it into an empty mints tin, then wrap the tin with some narrow markers or colored pencils, and give it to your Sunday Church School students: http://madebyjoel.com/2013/12/travel-size-paper-city-nativity-scene.html

Challenge any lego builders in your class to try their hand at this basic Nativity set: a stable with star, Mary, Joseph, Baby Jesus, manger, shepherd, and sheep: http://frugalfun4boys.com/2015/11/16/lego-nativity-set-instructions/ 

They could also make this tiny Nativity (“Project #4”) found here: http://frugalfun4boys.com/2014/12/05/lego-christmas-projects-instructions/

Create a basic wooden Nativity for your classroom that will be played with and last for years to come: http://little-inspirations.blogspot.co.uk/2011/11/wooden-doll-nativity.html

12 Days of Christmas Celebration Ideas:

Read from the devotional book “Celebrating the Twelve Days of Christmas: a Family Devotional in the Eastern Orthodox Tradition”  by Wigglesworth, and gather ideas of things that can be done in your Sunday School class when it meets during the 12 days of Christmas. Read more about the book here: ”https://orthodoxchristianparenting.wordpress.com/2014/12/24/gleanings-from-a-book-celebrating-the-twelve-days-of-christmas-a-family-devotional-in-the-eastern-orthodox-tradition-by-amandaeve-wigglesworth/

Older children will benefit from studying and discussing the sermons/quotes/writings that can be found here: http://www.antiochian.org/nativity/great-feast

To prepare your own heart and gain further ideas of how to help your students, listen to Fr. Andrew George (Annunciation Greek Orthodox Church in Cranston, RI) as he talks about how Orthodox Christians should be preparing for Christmas and then celebrating the 12 Days of Christmas: http://myocn.net/12-days-christmas/ (about 25 minutes)

Find several brief articles offering great ideas and encouragement for Orthodox families and teachers on ways to prepare for the Nativity with children: http://www.goarch.org/special/advent/pfn_nativity_articles.pdf

Gather more ideas from this blog post: http://www.goarch.org/archdiocese/departments/family/articles/offering

 

Gleanings from a Book: “Heaven Meets Earth – Celebrating Pascha and the Twelve Feasts” by John Skinas

Author’s note: I had other plans for this blog post. But when this book arrived in the mail this week, I knew that I had to share it with you immediately. It is THAT good. My other plans will wait!

“The Christian story is not ‘just’ a story. It is truth… that transforms, both in the telling and in the hearing. That is why we enter into the great feasts of the Church and build our lives around them. They are not mere commemorations but transforming stories, true in a way that is more profound than the bare search for ‘fact.’ And they determine not only our calendars and schedules but also the way we see and understand the world.” These words by Fr. Andrew Stephen Damick are a fitting introduction to the book Heaven Meets Earth: Celebrating Pascha and the Twelve Feasts. The book itself was written by John Skinas, and published by Ancient Faith Publishing this year. This book is an excellent resource for Sunday Church School teachers. It would be a fabulous source on which to base a series of Sunday School lessons.

The pages of this beautiful book are full of information and personal challenges related to each of the 12 Feasts of the Church as well as Pascha. Each feast has several pages dedicated to it. The first spread features the icon of the feast (with a details from the icon pointed out in footnotes), the story behind the feast, and related scriptures. The following pages highlight Old Testament connections, a church or landmark in the world related to the feast, the festal hymns, a quote from the Church Fathers, some Festal Traditions, and personal challenges in both the “Think About It” and the “Where are You?” sections. The pages are colorfully illustrated with icons, photos, and related graphics. Each page is a feast for the eyes as well as the mind.

Regardless of the age of the reader, this book will help to nurture a love for the great feasts of the Church. Young children will pour over the beautiful icons and pictures. Older children will enjoy finding connections to the book of “things we sing and hear at church.” Teens and adults will find a plethora of information about each feast. Everyone can be challenged to think about the feast and will find ways to become a better Christian while celebrating that feast. Heaven Meets Earth is an invaluable resource that will be well-loved and much-used in an Orthodox Christian home.

This book belongs in your family’s prayer corner! Find it here: http://store.ancientfaith.com/heaven-meets-earth

The Antiochian Orthodox Department of Christian Education offers free printable standup centerpieces that can be used with each of the feasts. They would pair well with lessons based on this book. Read about them here: https://orthodoxchristianparenting.wordpress.com/2014/08/13/introducing-a-resource-feast-day-stand-up-centerpieces/

Find additional information about the 12 feasts in these places: http://www.antiochian.org/twelve-great-feasts; http://www.goarch.org/ourfaith/ourfaith8713; and http://oca.org/FSicons-churchyear.asp?Section=twelvefeasts, among others.

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Here is a sample quote from each feast’s pages to get you thinking and/or for you to discuss with your Sunday Church School students:

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Nativity of the Theotokos (Sept. 8): “Salvation is near! The first feast of the liturgical year celebrates our new beginning. Mary, the Mother of God, is born, bringing great joy to her parents and hope to the world. It is here that the story of her Son’s Incarnation and our liberation from sin and death begins, since it is in Mary that the Lord will find a place to dwell when He comes down from heaven.” (p. 7)

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Elevation of the Cross (Sept. 14): (from the “Where are you?” section) “The excitement of the new liturgical year may already be gone, and maybe we’ve slid back into our old sinful ways. The Church holds the Cross up to remind us of our calling.” (p. 13)

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The Entrance of the Theotokos (Nov. 21): (from the “Old Testament Connection” section)“The Ark of the Covenant contained: The word of God written in stone; manna that came down from heaven; the rod of Aaron that miraculously budded without water. The Theotokos, the New Ark, contained: The Word of God Himself in the flesh; the Bread of Life who came down from heaven; the Seedless Flower that sprang from the Root of Jesse.” (p. 16)

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The Nativity of Christ (Dec. 25): “Jesus the Messiah is wrapped in swaddling clothes that resemble His death shroud; the manger is the same shape as is tomb; the cave of His birth resembles the cave of His burial. Church Fathers such as Ephraim the Syrian emphasize that God the Word was made flesh so that He could enter Hades and leave it powerless, freeing us from sin and death forever.” (Festal Icon footnote #1; p. 18)

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The Theophany of Christ (Jan. 6): (from the “Festal Tradition” section) “…In joyful continuation of Christ’s act of sanctification, priests immerse a cross into a container of water three times… The priests sprinkle water in every direction, blessing churches, people, and all of creation…. Through this cleansing, Christ continues making everything new…. This is also the season when priests bless the homes of the faithful, reminding us that hour home life should never be separate from our church life; it all belongs to Christ, who has sanctified the waters through His Baptism for the life of the world.” (p. 24)

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The Meeting of the Lord in the Temple (Feb. 2): (from the “Think About It” section) “In preparing to meet Christ, Simeon and Anna stayed connected to the temple, to scripture, to God… every Sunday we meet Christ more intimately than Simeon and Anna could have imagined: in the Eucharist… Appropriately, Simeon’s famous words are used not only at the end of the day, but also after Holy Communion. Having united with Christ, we can ‘depart in peace’ to wherever God calls us to go.” (p. 29)

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The Annunciation (March 25): “In the days of the creation of the world, when God was uttering His living and mighty ‘let there be,’ the word of the Creator brought creatures into the world. but on that day, unprecedented in the history of the world, when Mary uttered her brief and obedient, ‘so be it,’ I hardly dare say what happened then — the word of the creature brought the Creator into the world.” ~ St. Philaret of Moscow (p. 32)

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The Triumphal Entry into Jerusalem: (from the “Old Testament Connection” section) “Jerusalem was crowded with visiting Jews who had come to celebrate Passover (Pascha in Greek), the commemoration of their deliverance from slavery and death in Egypt. Little did they know that this man whom they hailed as their deliverer from slavery to the Romans was entering the city as the Passover lamb being led to slaughter. This sacrifice will release them from their slavery to sin and the eternal death that results from it.” (p. 36)

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Pascha: The Resurrection of Christ: (from the “Where Are You?” section) “Pascha is the highlight of our liturgical year, the feast so great that without it the twelve feasts would lose their light and meaning. No matter where any of us find ourselves, there is nothing to fear now. ‘The Light has shone forth, awakening those who sleep in darkness and turning tears into joy.’ All we have to do is reach out, and Christ will pull us into His everlasting glory.” (p. 45)

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The Ascension of Christ: “For forty days, since Pascha, Christ has been appearing to His disciples, eating with them, showing them His wounds, testifying to the accomplishment of His Crucifixion and proving the reality of His Resurrection. Now they stand watching as the Son of God ascends, raising earth up to meet heaven.” (p. 47)

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Holy Pentecost: (from the “Festal Tradition” section) “Pentecost is the gift Jesus gives to His bride. We’ve received something even greater than the Law; we’ve received the grace of the Spirit of God. Now we are called to be faithful to our Bridegroom.” (p. 52)

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The Transfiguration of Christ (Aug. 6): (from the “Think About It” section) “Even Christ’s clothing shines brightly, showing that everything and everyone connected to Him can shine with His light. In fact, this is our calling: to shine with heavenly beauty in a darkened world.” (p. 57)

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The Dormition of the Theotokos (Aug. 15): “The way in which Christ is holding her soul, wrapped in swaddling clothes, reminds us of the icons in which Mary is holding her Child. Christ is now accepting Mary on behalf of heaven in the same way that she accepted Him on behalf of earth.” (Festal Icon footnote #3, p. 58)

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“Each year, our spiritual journey around this circle of feasts is meant to bring us closer to the One who is at its center, the One who calls us to let His Light shine through our being in an endless day of brightness and joy.” (p. 61)

Learning About a Saint: St. Seraphim of Sarov (Commemorated on January 2)

On January 2, we commemorate the life of St. Seraphim of Sarov. This beloved saint’s humility and kindness to both people and animals provide an excellent example for all of us. His name day falls right after the beginning of the new calendar year. We are writing this blog post a whole month before his commemoration, in order to allow time for us to learn about him and teach our children about his life before any of us make our New Year’s resolutions. Emulating his life –  even just one aspect of his holy way of living – would be an excellent New Year’s resolution for any Orthodox Christian.

St. Seraphim, first named Prochor Moshnin, was born in in Kursk, Russia, in 1759, to devout parents who took him to church and taught him the things of God. At an early age, miracles began to happen in Prochor’s life. For example, when he was only 7 years old, he once fell from the bell tower (which was 3 or 4 stories tall) of the Kursk Cathedral. He should have been seriously injured, but God worked a miracle, and he was unharmed. When he was 10, he became very ill. One night, the Mother of God appeared to him and told him that he would soon be healed. A few days later, a wonder-working icon of the Theotokos was processing through Kursk when rain suddenly began to pour down from the clouds. The procession took a shortcut through Prochor’s family’s yard. His mother carried her sick boy outside to venerate the icon as it passed, and he recovered from his illness that very day.

Throughout the early years of his life, Prochor studied the scriptures and attended church. At age 19, he went to live in a monastery so that he could become a monk. At the monastery, he worked hard and prayed hard. Years later, at age 27, he was tonsured as the monk “Seraphim,” and a few years after that, he was ordained to the priesthood.

After he became a priest, St. Seraphim served God in a variety of ways. He served as the priest for the monastery in Diveyevo; he lived for a while in solitude in the forest; he prayed on a rock for 1,000 days/nights; and much more. Throughout these experiences, he welcomed all visitors, whether they were children, adults, or animals. All the while, he worked at praying the Jesus Prayer. Sometimes when he prayed, he shone with holy light because of how close he was to God.

When the Abbot of Sarov asked St. Seraphim to go back to the monastery to help the pilgrims who came there, he obeyed. The pilgrims who came to see St. Seraphim were greeted with, “Christ is risen!” and he called everyone, “My Joy.” God often revealed to him what the pilgrims’ struggles were, even before they told him about the troubles they were having. Each pilgrim left their meeting with St. Seraphim feeling happy and full of the hope of the resurrection of Christ.

The Theotokos appeared to St. Seraphim 12 times over the course of his lifetime. One of the last times she appeared, he was working at the monastery when he saw her walking around the outskirts of the property. When he saw her, he understood that she was protecting the monastery, and that whoever followed her footsteps in that path would be blessed. He and the nuns spent years digging a canal where she had walked so that pilgrims could also walk there, praying to the Theotokos, and be blessed. To this day, they do. And they are. St. Seraphim reposed in the Lord a few days after the canal was completed. There are many accounts of miracles through his prayers, since his repose in the Lord.

St. Seraphim of Sarov, intercede for us and for our salvation!

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Before teaching your Sunday Church School students about St. Seraphim of Sarov, you may want to do some of your own research, and find more stories from his life. Here a few suggestions:


  1. Read more about the life of St. Seraphim of Sarov, find his troparion and kontakion, and read many of his quotes here: http://www.fatheralexander.org/booklets/english/seraphim_e.htm

 

  1. Find a detailed telling of the story of the life of St. Seraphim of Sarov, complete with icons and paintings (and even some photos of the still-standing buildings!) here:  http://www.symeon-anthony.info/StSeraphimSarov/StSeraphimSarov.htm

 

  1. Share a book about his life with your students. For example, this one: http://www.stnectariospress.com/st-seraphim-of-sarov-childrens/

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Here is the life of St. Seraphim of Sarov, written in child-friendly language which you could read with your Sunday Church School students or print copies to send home for the students to share with their family: http://www.serfes.org/lives/stseraphin.htm

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Younger children will enjoy listening to Katherine Bolger Hyde’s short story, “Friend of the Holy Spirit: St. Seraphim of Sarov,” as read by Dr. Chrissi Hart, here: http://www.ancientfaith.com/podcasts/grapevine/readings_from_under_the_grapevine_program_41

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Older children will enjoy watching this English-subtitled Russian cartoon illustrating the life of St. Seraphim and reading the English subtitles. (Note: the translation is a little rough in some places.) https://dotsub.com/view/a606618f-801a-4d24-99c3-6788e73645c8

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If you teach a teen Sunday Church School class, you may want to use these resources in your discussion of St. Seraphim of Sarov’s life:

Read what one person is learning from the life of St. Seraphim of Sarov while writing a musical tribute to the saint’s life: http://www.pravoslavie.ru/english/81028.htm

Hear another person’s story of St. Seraphim’s interaction with his life: http://www.ancientfaith.com/podcasts/frederica/a_visit_from_st._seraphim

Read one pilgrim’s account of her visits to the Holy Trinity-Diveyevo Women’s Monastery, including some miracles she experienced in this holy place where St. Seraphim spent so much of  his time, here: http://www.manastir-lepavina.org/duhovnik/index.php?read=2363

Listen to a homily on St. Seraphim, given by a priest who was given St. Seraphim’s name, here: http://www.ancientfaith.com/podcasts/redeemingtime/st._seraphim_of_sarov

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Find suggestions for celebrating St. Seraphim of Sarov’s name day here: http://www.charmingthebirdsfromthetrees.com/2013/07/festal-learning-basket-saint-seraphim.html?m=1 and here: http://www.creativehandscreativeminds.com/2014/01/st-seraphim-of-sarov.html?spref=pi

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Together with your class, pray the Akathist (or even just part of it) to St. Seraphim of Sarov: https://akathisthymns.wordpress.com/seraphim/

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For you to ponder (or to discuss with older Sunday Church School students): “God is fire, warming and igniting the heart and inward parts. So, if we feel coldness in our hearts, which is from the devil (for the devil is cold), then let us call the Lord: He, in coming, will warm our heart with perfect love, not only towards Himself, but to our neighbors as well. And the coldness of the despiser of good will run from the face of His warmth.” ~ St. Seraphim of Sarov

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For you to ponder (or to discuss with older Sunday Church School students): “True hope seeks the one Kingdom of God and is sure that everything necessary for this mortal life will surely be given. The heart cannot have peace until it acquires this hope. This hope pacifies it fully and brings joy to it.” ~ St. Seraphim of Sarov

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For you to ponder (or to discuss with older Sunday Church School students): “When the evil spirit of sorrow seizes the soul, then, by filling it with bitterness and unpleasantness, it does not allow it to pray with necessary diligence; it disrupts the attention necessary for reading spiritual writings, deprives it of humility and good nature in the treatment of others and breeds aversion to any discussion. For the sorrowful soul, by becoming as if insane and frenzied, can neither accept kind advice calmly, nor answer posed questions meekly. It runs from people as if from the perpetrators of its embarrassment, not understanding that the reason for its illness — is within it. Sorrow is the worm of the heart, gnawing at the mother that bore it.” ~ St. Seraphim of Sarov

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For you to ponder (or to discuss with older Sunday Church School students): “The true goal of our Christian life consists of acquiring God’s Holy Spirit. Fasting and vigil, prayer, mercy, and every other good deed performed for Christ — are means for acquiring the Holy Spirit of God. Only deeds performed for Christ give us the fruits of the Holy Spirit.” ~ St. Seraphim of Sarov