Monthly Archives: January 2016

On Scripture Memorization (part 2)

We recently blogged about the importance of Scripture memorization in the life of an Orthodox Christian. That blog post was geared toward adults and teens. However, our younger children are equally part of the Holy Orthodox Church, and it is also important for them to memorize Scripture. The reasons that children should commit the Scriptures to memory are the same as those for adults. However, because they are children, the methodology should differ somewhat. So the next question is, how can we best help our children to memorize the Scriptures?

We can help our children to learn the Scriptures by taking them to church. The Divine services are filled with Scripture. Fr. Thomas Hopko of blessed memory and his wife helped their children to memorize Scripture when they were young. In his podcast, “How to Read the Bible,” he included this humorous anecdote about his children’s memorization of the Scriptures via the services, and how they applied their learning: “My own children, …went to church so much… I remember they used to memorize the psalms of the Liturgy of the Presanctified Gifts. And they knew how to use them. I remember when I would try to get my kids to go to bed, …they would quote to me: ‘I will not give slumber to my eyes or sleep to my eyelids until I find the place for my Lord.’. When I’d try to wake them up, they would say, ‘It is in vain that you rise early and go late to rest, eating the bread of anxious toil, for he gives to his beloved sleep.’” So, yes, even while in church our children are memorizing Scriptures that are found throughout the services!

We can help our children to learn the Scriptures by exposing them to passages at home. We should be reading the Scriptures to them. The daily readings that the Church offers pair nicely with family prayer time, or we can select a book from the Bible and read it aloud, bit by bit, at bedtime. (One family did this over a period of several years, and eventually read the entire Orthodox Study Bible aloud together!) We can also print passages of Scripture and hang them up around our house. (For example: as beautifully framed artwork; simply stuck with a piece of tape to the bathroom mirror; or posted by magnet onto our fridge.)

We can help our children learn the Scriptures by finding ways to help them memorize them. Some children can benefit from rote repetition of a Scripture passage, as some adults prefer as a way to learn, but they will enjoy the memorization process much more if we find ways to make it fun! One teacher-turned-homeschooling mom, who implemented a variety of methods for Scripture memorization over the years, offers the following ideas: Take turns reading the passage. Read it together in different “voices.” Read the passage and skip words, to see who can fill them in. (Take turns with this reading, as well! Children enjoy trying to stump their parent/teacher by skipping hard words to remember, often skipping several words in a row!) Write the entire passage on a chalkboard or white board and read it together; then erase a word or two and read again; and continue doing so until it is completely erased, but everyone can still “read” the whole passage! Write each word of the passage on a separate note card, mix them up, and work together to unscramble them. (Go on to make a second set, divide into two groups, and have a race to see which group can re-assemble their verse first! After that round, remove cards from the mix, one or two at a time, so players have to remember which words are missing as they re-assemble their verse.) Tape each word of a verse at a different spot in a room, and take turns touching the words in verse order. (Then, see who can do it the fastest!) Use your own creativity to find other fun ways to memorize! The children will be able to help with this.

It is not so much about what method we use to help our children learn the Scriptures: it is just really important that we help them learn the Scriptures and commit them to memory! May we all resolve to better learn the Scriptures this year. May we also help our children to do the same. In the process, we can have fun!

Here are more ideas of ways to help our children memorize Scripture:

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Find additional games and activities for Scripture memorization with kids here: http://www.hiphomeschoolmoms.com/2014/02/5-simple-ways-help-kids-memorize-Scripture/

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Print these A to Z verse cards for kids to memorize: http://www.myjoyfilledlife.com/2014/09/26/hide-em-heart-Scripture-cards-free-printable/

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Here is a set of verses featuring key words from A to Z. Each set offers printables that include the verse (at different levels for different ages) and some related activities to assist in the memorization process: http://totallytots.homestead.com/InMyHeart2.html  

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Here is another set of A to Z memory verse printables: http://wildflowerramblings.com/homeschooling/a-to-z-bible-verses-children-free-printable/

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For this set of simple A to Z Bible verses, each verse begins with a letter of the alphabet: http://www.homeschoolcreations.com/files/ABC_Bible_Verses.pdf

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Print and laminate these A to Z verses, put them on a ring, and just flip through them as you memorize! (free for personal use): http://www.delightingintoday.com/2012/06/abc-bible-verse-cards-free-download/

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Here are Scripture verses printables from 1 to 10 (each contains a number word) for children to memorize: http://wildflowerramblings.com/homeschooling/bible-verses-from-1-to-10/  

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These printables contain excellent verses for children to memorize: http://wildflowerramblings.com/homeschooling/best-bible-verses-for-children-free-printable/

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On Scripture Memorization (part 1)

Author’s note: These blog posts are usually written to be used with Sunday Church School Students. While some of the information in this blog can be applied to your students, for the most part, this blog post is for you. May it be part of making you a better
Orthodox Christian, and thereby, a better Sunday Church School teacher!

“It is important for us to memorize the Holy Scriptures!” We often hear that statement, ponder it for a moment, agree, and go on with our lives. Since this new year is still fresh and we are still in the process of resolving to be better people, however, let us consider going beyond just thinking about memorizing the Scriptures and actually implement ways to do just that.

Why it so important for us to commit the Scriptures to memory? Metropolitan Kallistos Ware put it simply in an interview on “Come Receive the Light,” when he said, “The answer surely is–memorizing impresses the words upon us. By memorizing, we mark the words of the Bible in our heart. By memorizing, we make the words of Scripture part of ourselves.”

Historically, memorizing the Scriptures has been an important part of Orthodox Christian life. For example, St. Pachomius, considered by many to be the founder of communal monasticism, was a man of Scripture. He required prospective monks to memorize at least 20 Psalms and 2 of St. Paul’s epistles (yes, the entire books!) before they could join the community, and everything in the community itself was regulated by the Scriptures. He said,“The Scriptures are the single most important thing to guide our lives.”

Even today, our Orthodox Christian life should have at its very core the Holy Scriptures. The Gospel book resting on the altar of our Church is a constant visual reminder for us of how our life in the Church revolves around the Gospel of Christ. St. Seraphim of Sarov said, “We should swim in the words of the Holy Scripture, like a fish is swimming in the water.” In other words, we need to know the Scriptures so well that we breathe them, we are immersed in them, we live through them. As a fish cannot survive without the water in which it swims, we cannot properly live our Christian lives without immersing ourselves in the Scriptures.

So, let us resolve to work harder to commit the Scriptures to memory. As we memorize, the Scriptures will become part of ourself, guide our life, and settle to the very core of our being. Memorizing the Scriptures is a resolution worth making at any time, and regardless of when it is made, it is imperative that act on this one! Our spiritual lives depend on it.

Following are a number of links that can be helpful as we work on memorizing Scriptures.

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Listen to this podcast about the importance of memorizing Scriptures: http://www.ancientfaith.com/podcasts/nassif/desert_spirituality_for_city_folks_part_6_pachomius

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“I can remember going to Russia with a friend of mine who, like me, taught in University–and this was in the Communist era–when Bibles were very difficult to obtain. And I smuggled some copies of the Bible in Russian with me.

 

And when I was visiting a Church, and there weren’t many people around, I was speaking with an elderly lady and I said to her, ‘Would you like a copy of the Bible?’

 

And she said, ‘Oh! All my life I’ve wanted to have my own copy of the Bible. Yes,’ she said, ‘I have a friend who has a Bible, and sometimes she lends it to me and allows me to read it.’

 

And this astonished me. We take it for granted we can easily obtain Bibles. But that was not the situation under Communism in Russia. And so, I gave her a copy of the Bible. We were in Church and she took it and put it on a reading desk and opened it. And she began reading. And all the time she made Signs of the Cross and bowed to the ground. And tears flowed down her face.

 

And my friend said, ‘If we gave a copy of the Bible to one of our colleagues in the Theology faculty at the University, do you think they would react like that?’ So that opened my mind to what a great gift we have in the Bible, in Scripture. And how we, in the West, take this gift for granted. But often Christians under persecution have not been able to have their own Bibles.

 

Now in Russia things are much better, but in those days the Bible was a rare and precious book. And we ought to have the feeling that that lady had, as she wept to have her own copy of the Bible.” ~ Metropolitan Kallistos Ware, from an interview on “Come, Receive the Light” http://myocn.net/metropolitan-kallistos-ware-memorizing-Scripture/

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Read about 10 reasons to memorize Scripture, such as: our Lord Himself memorized Scripture; it helps us resist temptation; it renews our minds and transforms us; etc. Find these reasons and more here: http://www.unlockingthebible.org/reasons-memorize-Scripture-bible/

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Scripture memorization also helps to alleviate stress, helps us make wise decisions, and comforts us when we are feeling sad, as stated here: http://rickwarren.org/devotional/english/why-memorize-Scripture.)

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Here is one suggested method for Scripture memorization. It encourages us to learn the location of the verse, then the gist of what it is about, associate the verse with its location, and then carry the verse around with us so we can practice it until we have it completely memorized. Read more about this method here: https://carm.org/how-to-memorize-Scripture

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Wondering where to begin with Scripture memorization? This page offers many Scriptures that are important for Orthodox Christians to memorize: http://www.stlukeorthodox.com/html/biblestudy/meaningfulbibletexts.cfm. You may be surprised to see that you have memorized many of them already!

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This pdf offers ideas of ways to memorize Scripture, as well as beautifully written printable verses from the gospel of John that can be printed and posted around the house to help you learn: https://s3.amazonaws.com/a.voskamp/BlogFiles/theJesusProject(LARGE)MEMORYPRINTS.pdf

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Here are 8 verses from the Psalms, typeset over beautiful pictures, that you can print and cut out to make individual verse cards. Keep one by your bed or at your sink until you have it memorized, and then replace it with another: http://www.lovegodgreatly.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/06/Memory-Verse-Cards-Printable.pdf

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Add a Scripture memory app to your phone such as this one: https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=com.codeinfaith.bibleinme&hl=en

Time for House Blessings

Theophany has already passed for those of us following the new calendar. The waters have been blessed. Our souls have been cleansed and refreshed by the drinking/sprinkling thereof. So now it’s time to help our Sunday Church School students learn about house blessings to ensure that they are prepared when the priest arrives to bless their home.

We should teach our students that the house blessing has been part of Orthodox Christian practice for centuries. They should also learn that although the house blessing is not a sacrament, it is an important part of helping Orthodox Christians to live the Faith at home. We also should teach our students (or at least refresh their memory) about the house blessing service itself: First, we can teach them about the service – the order of service, the prayers, and the hymn. Talk together with your class about the prayers, which request God’s sanctification of the home, and what they mean. Together sing the troparion to remind the students of how it goes; and then discuss the words in the troparion. Consider how special it is that they will have time to spend with the parish priest. Remind them that every member of the family can participate in and help with the house blessing, and that the entire family will benefit from the house blessing.

A little education will help our students and their parents to be ready for their house blessing. By teaching them about the house blessing itself, and helping them know what to do to help during the blessing, we will thereby also help our priest! So, let us do all that we can to prepare our students so that they can help to ready their home and their hearts for this special time of blessing!

Here is a useful printable that can help us teach our students about Theophany and house blessings. It also provides a checklist that we can go over together to be sure that we have everything ready! http://www.antiochian.org/sites/default/files/Antiochian_Theophany.pdf

Here are a few other links and ideas that can help you as you prepare to teach your students about house blessings:

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The house blessing service can be found in its entirety here: http://www.goarch.org/chapel/liturgical_texts/home_bless

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“If the priest comes to bless the home when the children are present, they have the opportunity to see the parish priest in a different and personal situation. If the priest permits, they can lead the way through the house, or hold a candle. They can show him their rooms or pets or favorite toys. They receive a blessing with water. For children, the house blessing shows the connection of the Church to the home.” ~ Phillys Onest, from http://www.antiochian.org/content/why-do-we-have-our-homes-blessed  (used by permission)

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“…By sanctifying our home, we extend the grace of God to the neighbors.” ~ from an Indonesian Orthodox house blessing video found here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YJm2S5qeDns
Teachers of older students can watch this video with their students. After watching, initiate a conversation about how our Orthodox brothers and sisters around the world worship. What is the same in an Indonesian house blessing as in your own? What is different?

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Help your Sunday Church School students prepare for their house blessing ahead of time: brainstorm, and then as a class come up with a list of things they can do to help.
Perhaps they can help to clean the house. They could also prepare the prayer corner and/or gather the items needed for the house blessing. (Find details about the service itself, as well as a list of needed items here: http://www.orthodox.net/10things/theophany-house-blessings.html.)

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One item needed for a house blessing is a candle. You could make special rolled-beeswax candles like these (http://www.thecreativesalad.com/2011/11/21/rolling-beeswax-candles/)
with your students, which they could then use at their house blessing.

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Another item needed for a house blessing is an icon of Theophany. In case your students’ families do not yet have this icon, the children could prepare one in class, and take it home to have on hand when the priest comes to bless their house. Younger students can color their own copy of the icon, which can be found here and printed: http://i1.wp.com/www.edmontoneparchy.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/09/Colouring-Theophany-copy-copy.png.
Older students could adhere a color copy of the Theophany icon onto a pre-painted or stained piece of  wood, using Mod Podge as suggested in this blog post: http://illumination-learning.com/main/2014/11/18/family-classroom-project-major-feast-days/.

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Although it is not on the list of things needed for a house blessing, encourage your students to write a thank you note for the priest as suggested in this blog post: http://illumination-learning.com/main/2015/02/16/feast-days-epiphany/. Help them to think of how many times Father does this service (and yet he never complains – he even is happy to be at our house!), how tired his voice must feel from singing the troparion over and over in each house he visits (which is why it is important that we help him by learning it and singing along!), how special it is that he traveled all the way to our house and took time for our family, etc. After talking through all of these things, give the students time to write a thank you note to give to the priest when he comes to their home to bless it. Be sure to send these notes home in case anyone has their blessing this week!

On Theophany

On January 6 (January 19 for those following the old calendar) Orthodox Christians celebrate(d) Theophany. What exactly does the term “Theophany” mean? In case you didn’t know, Theophany means “the manifestation of God.” It is the perfect name for this day: for, indeed, Christ was revealed to the world at His baptism.

Why is Theophany so important? (It is the third greatest feast, after Pascha and Pentecost, even greater than the Nativity Feast!) It is significant for several reasons. First, it is the day in human history that marks when our Lord was baptized by John in the Jordan. More importantly, Theophany marks the point in our theological history when the Holy Trinity was revealed to the world. On Theophany, God’s voice was heard as He spoke, the Incarnate Word (Christ) was seen in the flesh as He was baptized, and the Holy Spirit was present in the form of a dove as He descended from Heaven. St. John of Damascus adds the following reasons for Theophany’s significance: “… the Lord was baptized, not because He Himself had need of cleansing, but to bury sin by water; to fulfill the Law, to reveal the mystery of the Holy Trinity, and finally, to sanctify the nature of water and offer us the form and example of Baptism.”

How can we help our students to learn more about Theophany? First and foremost, we can encourage them to experience it for themselves by attending the services! The Divine Liturgy is celebrated, and afterwards, the service of the blessing of the waters. Note for future years: If we help our students to learn the troparion ahead of time, they can even sing along during the water blessing service. Many children enjoy this service because they love to watch their priest fling water on the icons and walls of the church, to feel the splash of Holy Water as it lands on them, and to taste the water for themselves after the service! We can also teach our students that the whole day of Theophany should contain delicious foods and a festive atmosphere, as well: it is a great Feast of the Church! Let us teach our Sunday Church School students about this feast, attend the services with them, and together celebrate with joy!

Christ is baptized! In the Jordan! We hope that you had a blessed Theophany!

Here are additional ideas of ways to help your Sunday Church School students learn about Theophany:

Print this stand-up centerpiece,one copy per student, to be the focus of attention on their home dining table during Theophany. It has a lineart copy of the icon, a simple explanation of the feast, and the troparion on the other side! It is a great way to decorate our table while focusing on the importance of this feast:http://www.antiochian.org/sites/default/files/assets/asset_manager/aae2368f6b752c8cba042e21917405cc.pdf

Here’s a printable bulletin called “The Children’s Word,” completely dedicated to Theophany. Print it and share it with your students to help them learn more about this great feast! http://myocn.net/wp-content/uploads/2014/12/Childrens-Word-99.pdf

Find great ways to teach your Sunday Church School students about Theophany, including an activity with pictures from the icon, here: http://orthodoxeducation.blogspot.com/2015/01/kali-fotisi-wishes-to-you-for-good.html

Teach your class about Theophany using the definitions, links to icons (even one to color!), and other suggestions found here:http://www.theologic.com/oflweb/feasts/01-06.htm

Send a Theophany activity e-card to your Sunday Church School students, here: http://www.hamatoura.com/GreetingCard/Greetings.php?subject=Theophany%20of%20Jesus%20Christ&link=07JesusTheophany-En

If your Sunday Church School students enjoy crafts, consider having them decorate their own holy water bottles, with small new plastic bottles, permanent markers, and other decor (such as appropriate stickers, adhesive rhinestones, etc.). The children can take these bottles to have them filled with holy water, then they can take the holy water home and partake of as needed. (Perhaps they can keep the holy water bottle in their icon corner in their room, or at the family icon corner! Here is one idea of how to decorate a holy water bottle: http://www.catholicicing.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/06/holy-water-bottle-craft.jpg

To learn more about Theophany before you teach about it, consider listening to this podcast by Fr. Thomas Hopko of blessed memory: https://orthodoxword.files.wordpress.com/2010/01/theophany-the-radiant-shining-forth.mp3
or read this blog by Elissa Bjeletich: http://blogs.ancientfaith.com/raisingsaints/teaching-theophany/

 

On Being a “Bucket Filler”

Happy New Year! May 2016 be a year in which you fill many buckets, and in which your own bucket is filled to overflowing!

“Wait, what’s all this talk about buckets?” you may be wondering. Well, one way of looking at how we treat others is to consider that everyone has an invisible bucket which holds their good feelings of love, peace, and joy. Every word we speak and every thing we do either helps to fill another person’s bucket or “dips” (removes) some good feeling like love, peace, or joy away from them. Whenever you do something to fill another’s bucket, your own bucket fills as well! (No surprises there! This concept is found in St. Luke’s Gospel: “Give, and it shall be given unto you; good measure, pressed down, and shaken together, and running over.” Luke 6:38) Similarly, if you “dip” from someone else’s bucket, your own bucket becomes even emptier.

The bucket concept has been around for decades, but was brought to a child’s level by Carol McCloud, when she wrote the book Have You Filled a Bucket Today? A Guide to Daily Happiness for Kids in 2006. Find the book here: http://www.bucketfillers101.com/have-you-filled-a-bucket-today.php. The book is instructional, but full of delightful illustrations that drive home points like this: “When you’re a bucket filler, you make your home, your school, and your neighborhood a better place to be!” Listen to the book, read aloud in its entirety, here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bGqyHoQZXuk.  

There are many other books that can help children to learn about the concept of “bucket filling.” Consider reading one or more to your Sunday Church School students, and extend the challenge of bucket filling to them! Take for example the story How Full is Your Bucket? For Kids by Tom Rath and Mary Rekmeyer. This book is the story of Felix, a boy who learns about bucket filling, tries it, and learns that one’s bucket can be emptied and refilled at points throughout a day, but that he prefers to have his bucket full! (He also learns that he enjoys filling the buckets of others.) Listen to someone read this book here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=A5R6-2m_qHk. This third book is my favorite: it caught my eye in the local public library long before I knew the others existed! It is called Will You Fill My Bucket? Daily Acts of Love Around the World, and is written by Penny Weber. This book allows the reader a glimpse into the lives of children around the world, and the opportunity to learn what it is that fills their bucket! (Not necessarily all the same things your child might expect or need…)

Here are additional links that can help you to teach your students more about bucket filling:
See an interview with Ms. McCloud about her book here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4GOh18uZBlw.

Older students and adults will enjoy reading some of the psychology behind “bucket filling” and “bucket dipping” here: http://www.bucketfillers101.com/pdfs/Valusek.pdf.
Younger students may enjoy listening to the song “Fill Your Bucket” by The Learning Station here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WaddbqEQ1NE

Find ideas from one teacher who uses “bucket filling” in her classroom here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Rh7zqz0faZw

To help your students to actively begin to fill the buckets of those around them, you may want to check out this sampling of the free printables from the official “Bucket Fillers” website that can help us to become bucket fillers:
A coloring page for little folk: http://www.bucketfillers101.com/pdfs/ColoringPg1.pdf

A word search: http://www.bucketfillers101.com/pdfs/WordSearch.pdf

A Bucket-filling A to Z printable checklist: http://www.bucketfillers101.com/pdfs/A-ZCheck-ListBoxes.pdf

An end-of-day questionnaire: http://www.bucketfillers101.com/pdfs/JournalQues.pdf


Besides being a “bucket filler” in our own home/work/Church/community, each of us can also reach out to people we do NOT know, and help to fill their buckets, as well! We should be doing all of this already, because our Lord Himself instructed us to love our neighbor as we love ourselves! (Matthew 22:39) As this new year begins, let us resolve to become bucket fillers not only for those immediately around us, but for others who really need to have their bucket filled, whom we may never even meet! Here are a few groups that you and your students can help as they fill the buckets of other children. You may want to select a few of these organizations to introduce to your class, vote on which one to help, and decide how to work together to help then in their bucket filling.

Did you know that 1 in 30 American children will experience homelessness at some point in this year?!? Project Night Night is a non-profit organization that works with volunteers to provide nighttime comforts (a bedtime storybook, a stuffed animal, and a blanket; all in a sturdy tote bag) to homeless children in shelters all over the country. See http://www.projectnightnight.org/ to find more information and/or find out how you can be involved! Project Night Night is a hands-on way for our children to “fill some buckets” for kids whose buckets are surely empty!

Project Linus began when someone read an article about a young girl with leukemia whose special blankie helped her get through the treatments. The reader decided to begin supplying a local cancer treatment center with blankets for little patients, and the project was born! The purpose of the Linus Project is to supply new handmade blankets to sick or traumatized children throughout the United States. It also provides a way for creative individuals in the community to generously share their abilities! See https://www.projectlinus.org/ to learn how you can be involved. Author’s note: Our ladies’ group at church gathers to make blankets for this project, from time to time! Join us! Consider gathering a group to “fill some buckets” by making blankets. “National Make a Blanket Day” is always on the third Saturday of Feb., so this year it is on Feb. 20, 2016!

The International Orthodox Christian Charities (IOCC) is working with needy people all around the world. Watch this video to see what the IOCC is doing to help children in Syria: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cI7e0Tdm_eU Then prayerfully consider how you and your parish can generously help this important work! The children of Syria (and any other war-torn place) have buckets that must be nearly empty, and while we cannot be in their physical presence to refill those buckets, we can give to other Orthodox Christian groups such as the IOCC who can!

The International Orthodox Christian Charities (IOCC) also gathers baby kits for families in emergency situations who have babies (http://iocc.org/kidspage/hearttoheart_baby1.aspx). They gather school kits to give to children in need (http://www.iocc.org/kidspage/schoolkit1.aspx). (The IOCC also gathers other types of kits for emergency situations. These kits are not necessarily geared to children. See http://iocc.org/kits.aspx for more details.) Assembling these kits can be a great way for your children and/or your parish to “fill a bucket” for someone in the world who truly needs to have something good ladled into their life.

Consider sponsoring one of the children at San Miguel Del Lago, a residence for children in need in Guatemala that is run by the nuns of the Monastery of the Holy Trinity. Visit http://www.hogarafaelayau.org/cms/ to find out more. (Author’s note: this is a personal favorite, as I was privileged to meet the mothers and children on a visit to Guatemala. The work that the nuns are doing is filling the empty buckets of these precious children every day!)

Other Orthodox Christian groups working specifically with children include:
The Saint Innocent Orphanage for boys in Mexico (http://www.projectmexico.org/orphanage/)

The Children’s Relief Fund which sponsors needy children in Lebanon and Palestine (http://www.projectmexico.org/orphanage/)

All of our Orthodox Christian Summer Camp Programs (for example, the Antiochian Village: https://avcamp.org/choose-donation-type/)
The Treehouse in Wichita, KS, is an Orthodox Christian organization that works with new mothers and their children who need basic necessities, education, personal care, and Christ’s love. (http://wichitatreehouse.org/make-a-donation/)

What ideas do you have for bucket filling? How will you and your Sunday Church School students help those around you (and those far away from you) who are in need, in this new year? May God richly bless you, generously filling your bucket, as you do so!