Monthly Archives: August 2016

On Mark 11:17, “My House Shall Be Called a House of Prayer for All Nations.”

Note: the Antiochian Archdiocese’s Creative Arts Festival 2017’s theme is the inspiration for this blog post. We will take a closer look at the theme, to help them to better prepare for the festival in case they participate. Whether or not they do, what we can gather from this passage of St. Mark’s Gospel is applicable to all of us, not just the children participating in the festival!

Have you ever thought about that time when our Lord went into the temple, overturned the tables of the money changers, and drove out the salesmen? Why did He do that? What can we learn from His actions? How can we apply this passage to our own life?

It all began with the Triumphal Entry, the glorious reception that Jesus was given when He arrived in Jerusalem. Even the fact that He was riding on a lowly donkey did not stop the crowd from singing His praises. But instead of glorying in that acclaim, He went straight to the temple and “looked around at all things.” (Mark 11:11) His means of entry into Jerusalem modeled humility and His choice to go directly to the temple exemplifies the priority that should be given to being in God’s house.

Something else is tucked into this passage that could easily be missed. The passage says that He “looked around at all things” but “as the hour was already late He went out to Bethany with the twelve.” This shows us something else: it models self restraint. After all, as He looked around, our Lord saw all of the greedy money-making happening in what should have been a very holy, completely God-focused place. He knew that it was wrong, and had every right to be furious about it. But instead, He left to be with His disciples, calmly choosing being with people over being frustrated about stuff.

The next day our Lord returned to Jerusalem, and went back to the temple. This time He “drove out those who bought and sold in the temple, and overturned the tables of the money changers and the seats of those who sold doves. And He would not allow anyone to carry wares through the temple.”  (Mark 11:15-16) He thus demonstrated the importance of keeping what has been set apart for God free from greed and from earthly stuff.

Once the temple was restored to its intended state, it could also return to its intended purpose of worship and godly teaching. And so Christ taught the people, saying, “Is it not written, ‘My house shall be called a house of prayer for all nations’? But you have made it a ‘den of thieves.’” This teaching was appropriate for the people who had gotten so accustomed to seeing (and doing) marketing in the temple that they perhaps didn’t even think about how inappropriate it was. It turns out that this teaching is also appropriate for those of us living 2000+ years later. Concepts that we can take from this passage include: honoring God’s house as a place to pray; welcoming all because God’s house is for everyone, regardless of nationality; and guarding against deceit and greed that can steal us away from right relationship with God.

St. Paul’s letter to the Corinthians pushes us to look at this event in an even more personal light. 1 Corinthians 6:19 reads, “Or do you not know that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God?” Reconsidering the account of our Lord’s cleansing of the temple from the perspective of our own body being a temple, set apart for God, offers us even more insights for our Christian life. First and foremost, we need to aim to live humbly as our Lord did, especially when things are going well and others are lauding us. Secondly, God should always be our first stop, whether we are looking for personal guidance or we are prioritizing our schedule (being in church at the Divine Services should be at the top of our list). Thirdly, we need Christ Himself to cleanse our hearts, drive away the greed and selfishness in us, and restore us to the way we were intended to be. Finally, we need Him to teach us: how to guard the holiness of His temple, keeping our bodies from being marred by greed; how to welcome all around us to worship Him as well; and how to keep ourselves pure so that we do not house thoughts and desires that steal our focus away from Him.

May the Lord indeed cleanse us, that we may each become a worthy temple that properly worships Him and welcomes others to do the same.

Here are some ideas of ways to help our Sunday Church School class (whether or not they will be participating in the aforementioned Creative Arts Festival) to learn about this passage:

***

Here is a lesson plan on the personal aspect of cleansing the temple, geared to grades 3 to 6: http://www.goarch.org/archdiocese/departments/youth/youthworker/resources/cleaning

***

Here is a printable page full of activities for kids, related to the cleansing of the temple: http://www.sermons4kids.com/cleaning_house_bulletin.pdf

***

Find an attention-getting way to teach about the cleansing of the temple in this lesson plan: http://biblelessons4kidz.com/BL4K%20Database/New%20Testament/Jesus/LSN%20-%20Jesus%20Clears%20Temple.pdf

***

If your students enjoy doing activity pages related to the Sunday Church School lesson, you will want to peruse the printables (at a variety of age levels) in this pdf about the cleansing of the temple: http://freesundayschoolcurriculum.weebly.com/uploads/1/2/5/0/12503916/lesson_11_jesus_clears_the_temple.pdf

***

Older elementary/middle school students may enjoy re-enacting the cleansing of the temple by reading together this play imagining what it could have been like, from the traders’ perspective, before a discussion of the event: http://www.beau.org/~vickir/drama/play1.html

***

Find varied age-level (for ages 2 – 12) lessons about Jesus cleansing the temple here. Click on “Year 2: Kings and Kingdoms,” then select your age level, and go to lesson 5 in that level, “Jesus Clears the Temple.” Find lesson plans, scripts/stories and reproducible pages at each level. http://resourcewell.org/children-ministry/curriculum/

 

Learning About the Saints: St. Phanourios (Commemorated on August 27/September 9)

This morning when I checked my plans for what I would be writing about for this blog post, I immediately got goosebumps. Months ago I had planned that today I would write about St. Phanourios, but I had forgotten that plan until I was ready to begin. Mind you, St. Phanourios is one of my favorite saints, and I frequently request his prayers for myself and for my family. I am indebted to this saint for his multiple intercessions on our behalf. Time after time, his prayers have worked miracles for us, and we are grateful. But the reason for my goosebumps was because St. Phanourios’ prayers just worked a miracle for our family yesterday, so the timing is impeccable. But I’m getting ahead of myself. Let me tell you about this wonderful saint!

Very little has been passed down about the life of St. Phanourios. Around 1500, a previously-forgotten chapel was unearthed in a building project in Rhodes. All the icons in the chapel were disfigured or crumbling, but one was still intact. In fact, it almost looked freshly-painted, it was in such good shape. It features a young man named as “St. Phanourios,” holding a candle-topped cross. Surrounding the central icon are a series of twelve smaller icons depicting the saint’s refusal to give up his faith and the tortures that he endured in the process.

Because of the icon’s miraculously fresh appearance in the midst of rubble, as well as the evidence that St. Phanourios maintained the Faith through his tortures all the way to his martyrdom, the Church leaders in Rhodes agreed that he should be revered as a saint. A church was built in his honor on the site of the ruins. People began to venerate the icon, and they became aware that the prayers of St. Phanourios are blessed with miraculous intervention. Because his icon was found after being lost for so long, and because his name is derived from the Greek word  φανερώνω, or phanerono, which means “I reveal,” people began to ask St. Phanourios to pray that they would again find lost items and/or that they would regain their health. Time and time again, he has done so, and many people have been blessed through his prayers. Somewhere along the line, people began to bake a special sweet bread to share in thanksgiving for the saint’s prayers. (Some have said that he wants this bread to be baked, accompanied with prayers for his mother, who died outside of baptism, but that is not the official reason for baking it. Phanouropita should be baked as a request to the saint for help, or in thanksgiving after he has helped, then shared with an account of the miracle God has wrought through the prayers of His servant.)

Our family will be baking phanouropita very soon because of the most recent miracle God worked for our family through the prayers of St. Phanourios. It’s a long story, so hang onto your hat: Two and a half weeks ago, our son’s computer refused to turn on. Part of his schooling includes online classes, so he uses that computer to connect with his classes and his schoolwork is stored on that computer. He’s also a budding photographer and his most recent work is only on that computer. We really need that computer to work for him, so we prepared to send it to the company from whence it came so that it could be fixed. Unfortunately, this happened on the day before we left for vacation, and we had little on hand to properly package a computer, but wanted to get it off as soon as possible. So we grabbed old packing envelopes and tissue paper, thoroughly wrapped the computer in them, and packed it into a box so that when someone came home a few days later, the shipping company could schedule a pickup and it would be off for repairs before we all got home from vacation. After the pickup, we waited for confirmation that the computer made it to its destination, but we heard nothing. A week later, vacation over, we began to wonder where the computer was, so my husband began to call points along the shipping route to try to track down the package. Through a long and tedious process, we discovered that it had gone missing. We suspected that it had lost its shipping label, and my husband spent hours on the phone, daily, for many days, trying to learn all that he could. And of course we prayed, asking St. Phanourios to help us find the package.

We had many false leads, and there were a few times that we thought it had been found. But every time we’d realize that we had misunderstood or we had received automated confirmations that did not match up to reality. Two weeks after its shipping date, we were becoming convinced that the computer and all of our son’s work which it holds were gone. We continued to pray and ask St. Phanourios to intercede on our behalf, but it was beginning to look like the answer this time would be “no, you do not need to have that computer anymore.”

Yesterday morning my husband spent another hour or more trying to track the computer down: at this point, we were running into the limit of days when they may still be able to access images, etc., of the package. And then, suddenly, I had an odd email show up in my inbox. It was from a company from which I had purchased a humble bag of chai in support of a school choir fundraiser for one of my favorite choir buddies from church. The email told me that a computer had been mailed to their company because one of their mailing envelopes was found in the computer’s packaging, although the package itself had lost its label. Upon further contact, we’ve confirmed that the computer is ours. Glory to God!

I have no idea why the shipping company sent the computer to one of the many addresses stuffed in its packaging instead of looking at all of the packing envelopes, finding the common address on all of the labels (ours), and sending it back here. However, I am thankful that they sent it to an honest company who went to the extra lengths to find our contact information and reconnect us with this much-needed computer! We are grateful to St. Phanourios for his intercessions for our computer, and to God for allowing us to find it once again. We have the recipe for our phanouropita ready and waiting to be baked upon the computer’s return. And in the meantime, we gratefully pray, “Lord, have mercy on the soul of St. Phanourios (and on the soul of his mother), save them, and save us!”

Through the prayers of St. Phanourios, Lord Jesus Christ Our God, have mercy on us and save us. Amen.

To learn more about St. Phanourios, visit these sites:

 

See a photo of the actual icon of St. Phanourios that was found in the rubble so long ago, here: http://orthodoxtraditions.blogspot.com/2013/12/st-phanourios-great-martyr-newly.html

*
Before you teach your Sunday Church School students about St. Phanourios, be sure to read this account of how he miraculously intervened and saved three stranded priests: http://www.johnsanidopoulos.com/2015/08/the-veneration-of-saint-phanourios-on.html

(Also on this page, you will find pictures of shrines that have been built to commemorate the saint, as well as the stories behind some of them!)

*

Did St. Phanourios ever help you find something? You may want to make a batch of phanouropita and share it with your students, telling about the miracle as you do! Here’s a recipe: http://myocn.net/tradition-thanks-st-phanourios-finds/

Find another recipe for phanouropita in this lovely blog post: http://www.orthodoxmom.com/2010/08/27/st-fanourios-the-martyr-and-miracle-worker/

*

Read a non-Orthodox testimonial to St. Phanourios’ help (and yet another recipe) here: http://leitesculinaria.com/51916/writings-greek-phanourious-cake.html

*

Find a prayer to Christ, thanking Him for St. Phanourios’ help, and a prayer to bless a phanouropita here: http://full-of-grace-and-truth.blogspot.com/2009/08/prayers-to-christ-and-st-phanourios.html

Find the akathist to St. Phanourios here: http://full-of-grace-and-truth.blogspot.com/2009/08/prayers-to-christ-and-st-phanourios.html  

*

This beautiful child-sized book tells the story of the finding of the icon of St. Phanourios. Although it is a small book, the illustrations are beautiful and your students will enjoy seeing them: http://orthodoxchildrensbooks.com/eng/index.php/Paterikon-for-Kids-11-20/18-Paterikon-for-kids-Saint-Phanourios/flypage-ask.tpl.html. You can also hear Dr. Chrissi Hart’s reading of this book in her “Under the Grapevine” podcast, here: http://www.ancientfaith.com/podcasts/grapevine/saint_phanourios

*

Before class, print a copy of the icon of and troparion to St. Phanourios for each of your students. Find them together (as well as many other icons!) here: https://app.box.com/s/uvph2nn833y8gr1fj7yd

*

Have a “Lost and Found” theme on the day that you teach your class about St. Phanourios. Read or tell the story of St. Phanourios. If you have personal examples of miracles that his prayers have caused, share them with the children. Before (or together, during!)  the party, bake a St. Phanourios cake to share. If your space allows it, play some games like “Sardines”or “Hide and Seek.” Perhaps you could have a scavenger hunt, or play a version of hide and seek where you have hidden items around the room ahead of time and the children must find them . For a craft, have the kids each make their own “lost and found” game such as  http://www.catholicinspired.com/2010/11/st-anthony-lost-and-found-game.html, only smaller (as suggested here http://www.kidspot.com.au/cute-diy-find-it-jars/ ). Be sure to pre-print and perhaps even laminate the list of items they’ll be putting into the jar, so that they have a nice game (the jar and the list) to take home with them. Every time they play with this game, they will be able to remember St. Phanourios and how he helps people find lost things!

*

This page points to many resources about St. Phanourios: http://www.johnsanidopoulos.com/2015/08/saint-phanourios-resource-page.html

 

Excerpts from “Getting Ready for Your Best Classes Ever,” an Article by Gerry Clonaris

Gerry Clonaris’ article “Getting Ready for Your Best Classes Ever,” published in PRAXIS, Spring 2016 issue, pp. 16-17, offers practical ideas for ways that Orthodox Christian Sunday Church School teachers can begin preparing over the summer for the year ahead. Here are a few bites of the article, to give you a taste of what it contains. First, he offers this encouraging challenge:

“What a blessing that we have been… chosen to lead the way in this most important ministry. And that is the very reason why we need to start our planning now for our coming year. St. Paul says it best in Philippians 3:12-14: ‘…forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead…’ Everything in our world is moving forward and if we are not also moving forward, we are moving backward. And that is something that we as catechists cannot accept.”

He goes on to offer a list of ideas of ways to prepare for the year. Here are three of them:

Lay out a plan for the year. Decide now how you want your class to develop and where you want it to go. What are you going to do differently to improve your program?

Include parents in the plan. Parents are key to your success. Plan to meet with them at the beginning of the year. Let them know what you will be teaching and encourage them to discuss each class session with their children. This one step will make your class a true learning experience and not just an hour of entertainment.

Read two books. Find one book that relates to your class topic and then also read one book on our Orthodox Faith.

He offers additional suggestions of ways to prepare, and concludes, “Serving in this great ministry is a true honor and a great experience for all of us. But it also comes with a great responsibility on our part… Planning and continual education are essential to our role as catechists…”

To read more, see the article in its entirety on pp. 16-17 of the Spring 2016 issue of PRAXIS. Visit http://www.goarch.org/archdiocese/departments/religioused/praxis for subscription information if you do not yet receive this helpful resource!

 

The following are some of the books listed as “suggested summer reading” in the article:

*

A Commentary on the Divine Liturgy, by St. Nicholas Cabasilas, St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 1997. “…This work is… invaluable for all those who wish to understand more about the theory and practice of worship in the Orthodox Church.” Read more at http://www.svspress.com/commentary-on-the-divine-liturgy-a/.

*

The Roots of Christian Mysticism, by Olivier Clément, New City Press, 2013. “By linking together a series of brilliantly chosen texts from the early centuries of the Church, the author lays bare the roots of the deeply mystical spirituality that has flourished among Christians throughout the ages.” Read more and find the book at http://www.newcitypress.com/roots-christian-mysticism-2.html

*

Encountering Women of Faith, edited by Kyriaki FitzGerald, Holy Cross 2009 and 2011. Women theologians who have studied the lives of female saints write about their learnings, including how studying the saint’s life has affected their own personal life. Find the books here: https://holycrossbookstore.com/products/encountering-women-of-faith-set?variant=1018121227

*

The Orthodox Faith by Thomas Hopko, St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 2016. Thousands of people have read these books by Fr. Thomas Hopko (of blessed memory) and have found them to be a helpful resource both to catchumens and Orthodox Christians. Read more about each of the four volumes here: http://www.svots.edu/orthodox-faith-series

*

St. Nectarios of Pentapolis and the Island of Aegina, by Cleopas Strongylis, Holy Cross, 2012. Read about the life of St. Nectarios, as well as many of his letters, in this two-volume set: https://holycrossbookstore.com/products/st-nektarios-of-pentapolis-set

*

Encouraged By the Scriptures: Essays on Scripture, Interpretation, and Life, by
Theodore G. Stylianopoulos, Holy Cross, 2011. A well-known Orthodox Biblical scholar offers his take on some of the scriptures. Find the book here: https://www.amazon.com/Encouraged-Scriptures-Essays-Scripture-Interpretation/dp/1935317229

 

On the Feast of the Dormition of the Theotokos (August 15 or 28)

The final feast of the Church year is the Feast of the Dormition of the Theotokos. At this feast, we celebrate the “falling asleep” (dormition) of the Theotokos. The disciples were miraculously brought together with the Theotokos in Jerusalem, and they were with her when she fell asleep in the Lord. Only Thomas was not present for her falling asleep and her burial. When he arrived a few days later and they opened her tomb so that he could see her body for one last time, they discovered that it was no longer there! Our Lord had taken her body to Heaven, giving all of us hope of eternal life!

How do we explain this miracle to our Sunday Church School students when we can barely wrap our own minds around it? Well, because it is a miracle, we can not explain it. However, perhaps we can offer a slightly similar concept. We can invite the children to think of their favorite toy (especially if they had a particularly-favored “lovey” when they were little). Have them imagine parting with that favorite, and only receiving part of it back again. Invite your students to tell their story if they ever left a favorite toy behind. Perhaps one of those stories would work for the comparison. If not, you could tell a story from your own life/family, or just share this made-up example, “There once was a young girl named Sophie. Sophie was given a stuffed rabbit when she was a baby, and she really came to love that rabbit. Sophie named him Mr. Bun. From the moment she was old enough to grab him, Mr. Bun went everywhere with her! One time while on family vacation, Sophie accidentally left Mr. Bun at a restaurant where her family stopped for dinner. An hour down the road after dinner, Sophie discovered that Mr. Bun was missing. Sophie loved Mr. Bun and could not be without him. So, her family had to drive all the way back to that restaurant to pick him up! Do you think that Sophie would have been happy if the family only brought part of Mr. Bun away from the restaurant and just left the rest of him there? No, of course not! Well, it’s a tiny bit like that, here. Our Lord really loved His mother, the Theotokos. Of course, she was not a toy, but she was favored by God because she lived such a holy life. When she departed this earthly life to go to Heaven, Our Lord took all of her – even her body – to Heaven, too! Now even her earthly body is with Him in Heaven!” Granted, there are many weaknesses in this comparison, but it is a starting place for discussion. After the discussion, you can continue, “The Dormition is a good reminder for us to live holy lives and love God as the Theotokos did! We also want to live in Heaven with Him when we depart this life!”

Here are links to resources that will help your students learn more about the Feast of the Dormition:

*

If you are able to do so, send this printable countdown coloring page to your young Sunday Church  School students for them to use during the Dormition Fast : http://manymercies.blogspot.com/2015/07/dormition-fast-calendar-printable-and.html

*

Older students may enjoy reading through the daily readings found in this countdown craft for the Dormition Fast. Each reading focuses on a different type of the Theotokos as described in scripture: https://craftycontemplative.com/2010/07/28/dormition-calendar-craft/. Study the readings and discuss the types together. (If you like, bring felt and scissors to class, and the students can create their own countdown like this one for use at next year’s Dormition Fast!)

*
Prepare to teach your Sunday Church School class about the Feast of the Dormition by listening to this podcast on the theology of the feast, as explained by Fr. Thomas Hopko of blessed memory: http://www.ancientfaith.com/podcasts/hopko/dormition_of_the_theotokos

*

“If we follow her example, our souls can become like hers and find everlasting rest in Christ’s hands.” (p. 59) Read more in the fascinating segment about the Feast of the Dormition in this book: http://store.ancientfaith.com/heaven-meets-earth. Read about the Feast of the Dormition, learn more about the festal icon, and find the hymns of the feast in this blog post: http://www.goarch.org/special/listen_learn_share/dormition/index_html. Or read more about the feast here https://oca.org/orthodoxy/the-orthodox-faith/worship/the-church-year/dormition-of-the-theotokos.

*

This printable children’s bulletin includes information about the Dormition of the Theotokos: http://myocn.net/wp-content/uploads/2015/08/Childrens-Word-130.pdf

*
This OCA curriculum offers a whole study on the Theotokos. The “Day 4” lessons at each level focus primarily on the Dormition. Lessons are offered for each age group, from age 4 to adult, and contain the story and ideas for related activities that could be done together as a family or Sunday Church School class. http://dce.oca.org/focus/theotokos/

*

This beautiful book tells the story of the Dormition of the Theotokos: http://orthodoxchildrensbooks.com/eng/index.php/Paterikon-for-Kids-21-23-NEW/23-Paterikon-for-Kids-The-Dormition-of-the-Theotokos/flypage-ask.tpl.html. Listen to Dr. Chrissi Hart’s reading of the book here: http://www.ancientfaith.com/podcasts/grapevine/the_dormition_of_the_theotokos1

*

With older children, study the words of this paraklesis:

http://www.orthodoxmom.com/2015/08/09/small-paraklesis-to-the-mother-of-god/ Discuss all the names the Theotokos is given, what she is compared to, and what types she fulfilled.

*

Some children will be fascinated by this miracle that happens annually (with very few exceptions) at the time of the Dormition of the Theotokos, on the Greek island of Cephalonia! It involves snakes and the icon of the Theotokos, and started when nuns prayed and asked the Theotokos to deliver them from pirates: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=F5Za9-uX4b8