Monthly Archives: June 2016

Gleanings from a Book: “Blueprints for the Little Church: Creating an Orthodox Home” by Elissa Bjeletich and Caleb Shoemaker

“Where have you been all of my (Orthodox Christian) life?” This pickup line applies, at least for me, to the book Blueprints for the Little Church: Creating an Orthodox Home by Elissa Bjeletich and Caleb Shoemaker! As soon as I heard about this book, I couldn’t wait to get my hands on it and read it. Because I am a parent, I am always looking for ideas of how to better incorporate Orthodoxy into our family’s life. Because I am also an educator, I am in constant search for ideas of ways to make the Faith tangibly accessible to young people. When I heard the title, I was pretty sure this book would be a helpful read on both counts. When I recently received the book, I dove right in and began to read.

From the first page, I could tell that my suspicions were correct. Each page of this book, from the introduction to the “best appendix I’ve ever read in my life” (my exact words to my husband as I read it) is bursting with encouragement, ideas, and challenges for Orthodox parents and teachers. Among the many things that I love about this book is the variety of suggestions that it presents. At its core are the three disciplines in which we are to be continually growing as Orthodox Christians: prayer, fasting, and almsgiving. The book provides proposals from the authors and also includes contributions of “how our family is living this concept” via paragraphs written by other parents. The book does not suggest or imply in any way that there is a hard line of “what everyone must do to be really Orthodox.” Rather, the authors send their reader again and again to check with their own priest. This recommendation begins early. The first page of the book is titled “Ask your priest,” and that attitude of “your spiritual Father knows you best and therefore can most wisely help you know how to apply this” permeates the book, as it should. Each chapter is as useful and practical as the one before, and the whole book ends with an appendix packed with hands-on ideas of ways to celebrate each feast of the Church Year (and more!) together as a family.

Orthodox Christian parents and educators who apply the concepts in this book will firmly establish the Faith in the hearts of the children in their care. In architecture, blueprints are drawn up by trained artists with building experience. In the same way, this book was written by Orthodox Christian parents with experience in both parenting and Orthodoxy. Just as blueprints are necessary to begin a successful building project, this book is a necessary tool for parents and teachers who want to firmly ground their children in the Faith. Any Orthodox Christian who is serious about living their Faith should read this book and begin the slow work of applying it to their family life.

Although I may not have had this book for all of my Orthodox Christian life, I am grateful to have it now. I will be sure to share it with others. Blueprints for the Little Church will be my go-to gift for new converts and/or new parents in our parish. And we will all be the better for it, for when we work to build the “little church” at home, the Church as a whole is strengthened.

Do you need to pick up a blueprint for your little church? Purchase your own copy here: http://store.ancientfaith.com/blueprints

Find ideas for celebrating feast days, similar to the ones described in the Appendix, on the “Blueprints” Pinterest page: https://www.pinterest.com/orthoblueprints/

Listen to Elissa and Caleb talk about their book (including how the book itself came to be), answer questions about the book, and share related stories in this podcast about the book: http://www.ancientfaith.com/podcasts/faithencouragedlive/blueprints_for_the_little_church

Here are some excerpts from “Blueprints for the Little Church: Creating an Orthodox Home” by Elissa Bjeletich and Caleb Shoemaker:

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“This book offers hope to those engaged in the struggle against the passions. It is imperfect advice penned for imperfect people, warring to make sense of a dark and mysterious world through the lens of the Orthodox Faith. Among the myriad voice is trying to tell you what to think and how to act, among the countless sources of monastic wisdom and patristic treasures, among the countless Pinterest boards and parenting blogs, this book makes a humble offering to mothers and fathers who wish to see their family embrace the Orthodox faith and to raise living saints.” (p. 9)

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“The key ingredient in building your little church is to avoid comparing yourself to anyone else. Everyone’ piety is personal; it’s between them and God—and hopefully their Confessor. It’s not one-size-fits-all and just as you can’t expect to try on someone else’s custom made leather gloves and expect them to fit—well, like a glove—you shouldn’t expect someone else’s prayer rule to fit you perfectly, either. There are countless resources online and in print for developing a pious Orthodox life but nothing can compare to a personal conversation with your priest or father confessor, who can guide you through the process.” (pp. 11-12)

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“We cannot provide a meaningful experience with God for our children. We can prepare the ground, present them with opportunities, share our own experiences, but we cannot encounter Christ for them–they must do that for themselves. We can lead them to water, and we can tell them what it means to thirst and talk about how satisfying the water has been in our own lives, but they must decide to drink.” (p. 18)

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“Our modern family homes offer very little stillness; we move frenetically from one activity to the next, and our loud lives seem to have nothing in common with the monastic life. …In some ways it feels as if we cannot accomplish anything spiritual, because we are always called back to …redundant tasks. …Think about the traditional monastery; this community, this space, is set aside for worship and contemplation of God. The monastics engage in simple, repetitive work, with regular interruptions from the talanton or the bells, which call them away from their work to prayer. Parents engage in redundant tasks and find themselves called away from their own thoughts and plans by their children. Both environments are designed to call us away from our own egos and our own plans, drawing us to prayer. Perhaps the family home is not so different from the monastery.” (pp. 23-24)

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“Becoming the little church means acquiring a new mindset. We are not simply raising children to live happy and healthy lives—we are raising saints who will find their rewards in heaven. This is radically different from the popular notion that we want “good kids” or “well behaved kids.” Moralism will only produce pharisees and passionless drones. The saints of God are filled with the Holy Spirit, radiate the Divine Light, and bring others to salvation.” (p. 30)

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“As you set out to create sacred space in your home, know that you cannot do this wrong. Set aside a space in your home and let your icon corner develop as it suits your family best. The important thing is to gather together in prayer and to make room in your home to live out your faith. This is an important step in the creation of your little church, and you will continue to return to these sanctifying activities again and again with your children as you grow together in faith.” (p. 89)

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“The church in her wisdom offers at the healthy rhythm that leads us to a wholesome and good routine. Instead of the frantic pace of a family spinning out of control, the Church provides an intentional, peaceful rhythm that is firmly grounded in prayer and love. In an Orthodox home, time is put to holy use so that the routine is not tearing us apart and wearing us out, but actually contributes to our spiritual lives. When we sanctify time with prayer rules, liturgical cycles, and spiritual seasons, we have time itself as it was intended: as a reminder of God and a tool for our spiritual growth.” (p. 93)

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“…It is vital to the success of your family’s prayer rule that the parents are making the effort to pray daily no matter how briefly. …Parents are the workmen who are building the little church and the children will take their religious cues from them.” (p. 107)

 

“The best way to teach a child what a fast should be is to show them. If we are happily eating less and feeding the hungry more, if we are really studying the Word of God and increasing our prayers, our children will see our honorable fast—and its spiritual rewards—and every word we have said to them will be proven and made manifest.” (p. 132)

 

“The question to ask of yourself and your family is not how much you can afford, but in what ways you can give to God’s work of your time, treasure, and talents.” (p. 154)

 

“From the day our children are baptized, they are full members of the Orthodox Church. They are neither junior members nor extensions of their parents, but full Orthodox Christians with the same free will and potential as adult members. It is common to hear children referred to as ‘the future’ of the parish. This is a lovely thought, but the nomenclature is all wrong. If we really believe the words of the prayers said at baptism and chrismation, then we cannot simply categorize children into ‘the future.’ They are the parish now, fully invested in what happens around them.” (pp. 161- 162)

 

“If we can trust that our children are truly God’s and not ours, we need never be exasperated or humiliated by their behavior. We don’t have to fear they won’t turn out well enough—we need only call upon their Father and ask Him to give them what they need. They are His children, and we must commend them to Him.” (p. 169)

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On Supporting Your Students Throughout the Summer

Summer has come upon us in the Northern Hemisphere! And with it, summer vacations, and (in some parishes, at least) a break from Sunday Church School. If that is the case for your parish, how do you plan to continue the relationship you have built with your Sunday School students? Several years ago, we published this blog post that suggests a few ideas for keeping in touch with your Sunday Church School students over the summer: https://orthodoxchurchschoolteachers.wordpress.com/2014/05/30/keeping-in-touch-with-sunday-church-school-students/.

What other ideas do you have? How do you continue to care for your students outside of the Sunday Church School room? Please share your suggestions and ideas with the community!

Here are a few ideas (besides those mentioned in the blog) of ways that you can show your students that you care about them, even when you are not in class together:

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Praying for your students is, first and foremost, the best thing you can do for them, both during the Sunday Church School year, and over the summer. Here’s one way to do so: by praying for different areas of their life, arranged alphabetically by theme: http://www.courageouschristianfather.com/abcs-praying-students/#axzz49gBvdT94

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Summer is an excellent time to review your job as a Sunday Church School teacher. How did you do this year? What seemed to work? In what areas could you have done better? Read over this (non-Orthodox, but still helpful) list of 8 qualifications for a Sunday Church School teacher, and challenge yourself to improve in at least one of the areas during the coming year. https://disciplr.com/8-qualities-great-sunday-school-teacher/

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“Get to know your students outside of class. This is what makes the difference between a Sunday School teacher and a Christian who is trying to help disciple her students towards God.” Find this quote and more in this great (not Orthodox, but very helpful) article: http://www.parentinglikehannah.com/2013/09/how-sunday-school-teachers-can-partner-with-parents.html

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Several times throughout the summer, write each of your students a letter. It can be lengthy, thanking them for the positive ways they contributed to your SCS class this year, or just a short note wishing them well and encouraging them to keep studying the scriptures and their faith throughout the summer. Consider printing a free coloring page (perhaps this site would have a verse you studied, or one that will encourage your students?) https://papergiftsforestefany.wordpress.com/2015/03/25/scripture-doodles1/ and writing the note somewhere on that printed page. Or perhaps you could find an activity page based on a story you studied in class during the year (here is one possible source:http://sundayschoolzone.com/resource-type/activities-for-kids/). Be sure to mail the letters to your students, even if you see the students at church every week: everyone loves to get “real” mail! (Who knows, maybe one of them will write back to you, as well!)

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Consider hosting a “class reunion” in your Sunday Church School classroom during coffee hour one Sunday during the summer. Eat your coffee hour food together or share ice cream and talk about how the summer is going.

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Near the end of the summer, invite last year’s students to come help you clean up the room and get it ready for the next class. Spend a few minutes after a coffee hour working together to get the room ready for the new group, and, in the process, find out what your students remember about class. This will give you a great chance to touch base with each of them one more time while also finding out what worked and did not in the past year!

 

On Light and the Feast of Pentecost

A brief look at light (and, thus, at Pentecost):

The early story on light/the Light : The universe as we know it began with a simple command: “Let there be light!” Even before there was earth, there was light. God has provided light to our world through the sun ever since He created the earth. In His great mercy, God extended His kindness beyond our physical need for light and has provided The Light of the World! Even before there were humans, there was the Light of the World. God sent us His Son, Jesus Christ,  to illuminate our souls as well!

Significant appearances of light/the Light: Light continues to appear as the earth rotates around its axis, around the sun. The Light of Christ continues on, as well: every Pascha the Holy Fire comes to the tomb of Christ in Jerusalem. At our Paschal Feast every year, we sing, “Come, receive the light,” lighting candles as we celebrate Christ’s triumph over death. It makes sense to celebrate Christ, the Light of the World, and His Resurrection (His moment of greatest triumph) with light. Actually, Christ appearing as light is nothing new: remember the Transfiguration, when “His face shone like the sun, and His clothes became as white as the light.” (Matt. 17:2)? What about when He appeared to Saul of Tarsus who was travelling to Damascus when “suddenly a light (bright enough to blind him) shone around him from heaven” (Acts 9:3) and the voice of Christ spoke to him? The Light of Christ truly illumines all, and has been doing so since He was on earth.

Pentecost and light/the Light: How fitting, then, that when Christ, the Light of the World, ascended to His Father and sent help (the Holy Spirit) to His followers, the event was marked with the appearance of flames of fire over their heads! As He illumined the heads of the disciples, the Holy Spirit also enabled them to speak in other languages, thus illuminating the souls of all around through the truths about Christ that were spoken (in a way that the visiting foreigners could understand)!

The presence of light/the Light in our lives: God continues to send His Holy Spirit to light the world. At our chrismation, we received “the seal of the Holy Spirit,” and He is at work to illumine our hearts, and through us, the hearts of those around us, as well. May we all be enlightened, both physically (by the sun) and spiritually (by the Son) as we continue to live the Faith! And may we live in such a way that all those around us (especially our children) are brightened by the light of Christ in our lives through the grace of the Holy Spirit. Indeed, “the Light of Christ illumines all,” and that illumination is greatly assisted when we cooperate with Christ and His Spirit’s work in our life!

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Thanks to tinyurl.com/phsnt93 and Jesse Brandow for this illustration!

With these thoughts in mind, work together on a simple craft to help your family think about light/the Light and Pentecost as you celebrate the feast. Create individual “flames of fire” (with led candles and tissue paper) as suggested here: http://www.inkandglue.com/home/tissue-paper-votive-flame. Place one “flaming votive” at each person’s place at the dinner table, to remind you that the Light of Christ illumines each of us! During the meal, talk about light, The Light, and Pentecost. Brainstorm ideas of ways to live illumined lives, showing those around you that the Holy Spirit is living within you!

Here are a few other ideas of ways to learn about and celebrate the Feast of Pentecost:


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Here is a blog post we wrote a few years ago about the Feast of Pentecost. It offers ideas of fun ways to celebrate the feast with children. It features links to great ways to learn about Pentecost, as well as ideas for celebrating the feast with our children!

https://orthodoxchurchschoolteachers.wordpress.com/2014/06/06/teaching-children-about-the-feast-of-pentecost/

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Print this pop-up centerpiece about Pentecost to add to your Sunday Church School classroom table: http://www.antiochian.org/sites/default/files/assets/asset_manager/aa2cecccf942072bd7af8ff6fbfcd23b.pdf

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Watch this short animation of Pentecost: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IqG_lvZhU-A

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Find coloring pages about Pentecost here: http://www.biblekids.eu/new_testament/pentecost/pentecost_index.html, and a memory verse coloring page here: http://www.biblekids.eu/bible_memory_verse_2016/pentecost.html

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Here’s a printable word search about Pentecost: http://www.biblekids.eu/bible_word_search_puzzles/bible_word_search_puzzles/pentecost_wordsearch_puzzle.JPG

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This helpful blog offers ways to live our Faith in an illumined manner: http://illumination-learning.com/main/2016/05/25/igniting-the-spark-living-our-orthodox-christian-faith/

 

On the Feast of the Ascension

Here are two possibilities of ways to teach your Sunday Church School Students about the Ascension:

1. Take your students on a hike. Find the highest point of your church’s property, and have your class there. (If you are unable to do so, ask your students about the highest place they’ve ever been. How far could they see? What did they see? Imagine that you have all hiked to that spot together.) When you arrive at that high space, talk about the Ascension. Pretend together that you are the disciples, reunited with your Lord after the difficult time of His death and the joy of His resurrection. How do you feel, having Him in your midst again? If He invited you to the top of the hill like this, would you go with Him? What if He stood in the middle of you and began to talk: would you listen? If He began to tell you He will be leaving, how would you feel? What would you think about? When He suddenly began to float up from the ground and keep rising into the sky, right in front of you, what would you think? (If you are outside, you could demonstrate this with a face “of Christ” drawn on a helium balloon attached a really long string – so you could eventually retrieve it – or with a small plastic toy “Christ” taped to a kite that flies as high as you can get it to go from your picnic spot.) And what if He got so high that He disappeared in the clouds? (If you’ve done the demonstration mentioned, you will need to retrieve the balloon or kite now, noting that we’re not Christ, so we can’t do what He did!) Even though we can’t actually lift into the sky like that, we can imagine what it must have been like for the disciples left behind! What if, as you were talking about Christ leaving and disappearing in that way, suddenly there were two other men there with you, asking what you’re looking for, and telling you that Jesus will come back again someday? How would you react? What would you think? What would you do next? Then talk about what the disciples did next: they went to Jerusalem and waited. Just like Christ told them to do. What do you suppose the disciples talked about as they went back to Jerusalem? Discuss this, especially the fact that we are still waiting for Christ to come again, as you gather your things and head back down the hill to your Sunday Church School classroom.

2. Spend a class period thinking about Christ’s last words to His disciples. Last moments/last words leave an impression to those left behind. Talk a bit about your students’ experiences with “last words” from people they know who have now passed away. Then spend some time thinking about the last moments and last words that Christ had with His disciples before the Ascension:


Matthew 28:19-20 – Just before He ascended, Jesus told His disciples, “Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”

Luke 24:50 says “He lifted up His hands and blessed them” before He ascended into heaven.

Acts 1: 4-5 – Christ tells His disciples to wait in Jerusalem for the Holy Spirit to come and be with them.

Acts 1: 8 – Christ tells His disciples that the Holy Spirit’s power will take them all over the earth, telling people about Him.
Set out art materials and invite each member of the class to choose one of the above to interact with through art. (It’s okay if everyone chooses the same one.) Someone may use chenille stems to create “Jesus” with hands outstretched in blessing, perhaps on a coiled “spring” of a pipe cleaner that allows him to begin “ascending.” Someone else may use a computer to print the words to the great commission (“Go therefore and make disciples…”) and incorporate them into a collage of magazine faces of different races or magazine pictures of different parts of the world. The ideas are endless.

 

Here are a few more ideas for celebrating the Feast of the Ascension with your students:

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After writing the blog post featuring these ideas for the Ascension, we went looking for additional links to share, and found this one that is similar to our blog ideas, but different enough to share: http://www.buildfaith.org/2015/05/08/celebrating-ascension-day-at-home/

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In case you missed it, here is our blog about the Feast of the Ascension from a few years back. It offers a variety of fun activities to do with kids as you celebrate this feast: https://orthodoxchurchschoolteachers.wordpress.com/2014/05/23/teaching-children-about-the-feast-of-the-ascension/

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Print this foldable centerpiece about the feast of the Ascension to decorate your classroom table (or print multiple copies and send one home with each child for their dining room table at home): http://www.antiochian.org/sites/default/files/assets/asset_manager/e99a5a84333ba33b10a74cfd228c33c6.pdf

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If your elementary aged students enjoy word searches, print this one about the Ascension: http://www.biblekids.eu/bible_word_search_puzzles/bible_word_search_puzzles/ascension-of-jesus_word-search_puzzle-2014.JPG


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Watch this clip that uses Lego people to tell the story of the Ascension: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6D0kMWj5NCE

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This (Roman Catholic) mom’s blog post is full of ideas for celebrating the Ascension with children: http://cherishedheartsathome.blogspot.com/2011/06/ascension-day-plans-and-scenes.html

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Look together at the icon of the Ascension. How much can your class tell about the event, just by looking at the icon? Learn more about the festal icon here, and see if there is more to the icon than you knew: http://www.goarch.org/special/listen_learn_share/ascension/index_html