Monthly Archives: February 2017

Gleanings from a Book: “In the Candle’s Glow” by Elizabeth Crispina Johnson

The picture book “In the Candle’s Glow” by Elizabeth Crispina Johnson captured my attention from the moment I saw it. The cover illustration radiates peace as the main character stands prayerfully, gently illumined by a row of candle flames dancing like fireflies as she prays. That juxtaposition of peace and joyful motion made me curious, anticipating what I would read within its pages.

When I slipped the book open, I was not disappointed. It starts with flowers and bees, all blowing and growing in the wind. The life of a candle actually begins in that place: in nature, beauty, wholeness, just as God created the world and meant it to be. Bees partake of that sweet beauty and do their own work of using it to create honey and wax to share with their hive. A pleasant-faced nun sings her way into the book, ready to collect both honey and beeswax, and next thing we know there are slender beeswax candles lying patiently in a church’s narthex awaiting their next job. At last the reader meets the young pray-er from the cover, who dances into the book with much enthusiasm. Once she arrives at the church doors, Felicia stills herself, signs herself with the cross, then prayerfully enters. She notices the color and aroma of the beeswax candles, recalling their history for a moment before selecting one and igniting it, initiating it to its next task: carrying prayers. Felicia quietly prays, and as she does, she sees her prayers hovering, illumined by the candle. She watches as a gentle breeze wafts through the window, carrying the smoke from her candle into the heavens. Her prayers ride along to meet the icon of Christ, which watches over Felicia and reminds her that Christ Himself receives her prayers!

Amandine Wanert’s playful illustrations bring to life the swaying flowers, buzzing bees, singing nun, and dancing Felicia in this story. They also illuminate the gentle glow of candles casting light and hope around the interior of an Orthodox church. Readers will relish the peace that they feel as they read their way from the gleeful buzz of sunny fields to the serenity of prayer in church.

Here are some ideas of ways to study ideas from the book with your Sunday Church School students:

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Help your Sunday Church School students learn about bees with these interesting hands-on activities: https://www.scholastic.com/teachers/articles/teaching-content/explore-world-honeybees/

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This short video can introduce your students to bees and some of the amazing facts about them: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ta154f5Rp5Y

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In “In the Candle’s Glow,” Sister Irene treasured the bees’ work and used some of their beeswax to make candles. Bees work together with monks in this American monastery, too, providing the monks with honey and a little income (the monks take the bees to places that need extra bees for pollination at certain times of the year) in exchange for a hive and plenty of flowers from which they can drink. Read more here: http://dowoca.org/news_140326_1.html. After reading, talk with your Sunday Church School students about the idea: how do the bees help the monks? How do the monks help the bees? In what ways are bees and monks the same? How do we benefit from both?

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After reading “In the Candle’s Glow,” talk with your students about beeswax. Show them a piece of honeycomb (and let them taste it, if they want to!) and talk about how the wax is made for storing the honey and the baby bees. Then talk about the process of turning honeycomb into beeswax candles. Help them to dip their own tiny beeswax candles, just like Sister Irene did in “In the Candle’s Glow.” To do so, have a small (perhaps a potpourri-simmering-size) pot of melted beeswax already heated when they come into class. Also before class, cover the table and floor with newspaper layers taped together to catch any wax drips and cut one or two 12” lengths of candlewick for each student. Fold each length of candlewick in half over a pencil and tape it in place. When you’re ready to begin the candle making process, show your students how to slowly dip their candlewick in the small pot of wax, then pull it out, allow it to cool for a while, then straighten it with their fingers. Allow each student to dip theirs, cool it a bit, and straighten it, then repeat the process. Depending on the temperature of the room, it will take anywhere from 10 to 15 dips to make a slender taper candle. While you take turns with the dipping process is a good time to talk about how peaceful and meditative this work is. Sometimes monks and nuns make candles like this, praying as they work. Perhaps the class can pray the Jesus Prayer together or sing a favorite troparion as you slowly take turns with the dipping process. Once the candles have reached your preferred width, the students can pull the tape off of their pencil and free their pair(s) of taper candles. Show the students how to cut the wick so that the two candles are separated. (You may also want to trim the bottom of each candle flat with a sharp knife on a thick piece of cardboard “cutting board” so that the students can more easily stand their candles upright in a candle stand or a candle holder.) Talk about how deep the wax needs to be, to make a long candle like the ones we light when we go into church. That would take a lot of melted wax! Talk about how long it takes someone to make the pile of candles waiting at church to be burned. In gratitude for that person’s hard work, encourage your students to consider saying a prayer for the person who made their candle, every time they light a candle at church. Gather your candles together and pray the prayer of blessing of the candles, found near the end of “In the Candle’s Glow.” Then allow the students to take their candles along home to use at their family prayer table, or encourage them to light them at church the next time they attend a service.

16682022_10210696526521083_1762604804850405088_nA heat-free beeswax candle-making option (better for younger students) would be to roll your own beeswax candles. Here’s a tutorial: http://playfullearning.net/2013/03/diy-hand-rolled-beeswax-candles/

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Why do we light candles when we pray? If you have older students, engage them in that question for a bit, then compare their answers to those of St. Symeon of Thessaloniki and St. Nikodemos the Hagiorite, as recorded here (under the same question, near the bottom of the page): http://www.stjohnsmayfield.org/what-is-orthodoxy-2/. Encourage them to talk about the answers of those two saints, comparing them to each other and to their own previous answers. Then, encourage your students and yourself to remember, as the page says, “For all these reasons cited by our Holy Fathers, let us often light our candles and make sure as much as possible that they be pure candles. We should abstain from all corruption and uncleanness, so that all of the above symbolism is made real in our Christian lives.”

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Allow your students to respond to the book “In the Candle’s Glow” with an art project. On dark paper, have them draw a candle (here’s one way: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GGOFC6ahnVw) with chalk, oil pastels, gel pens, white or metallic pencils: any medium that shows up nicely on the black paper. Then have your students smudge the candle’s “glow” around its flame. Inside that glow, encourage them to write a prayer; the names of people for whom they want to pray; or a drawing of the people’s faces for whom they are praying.

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On Sharing Our Love (Beyond Valentine’s Day)

For a few weeks of every year, our culture is inundated with love. Everywhere we go we see hearts, roses, chocolates, Cupid and his arrows, and Valentine’s Day cards. The world is a swirl of pink and red. Then Valentine’s Day comes, and we can definitely feel the love! But what about February 15th? Or the 22nd? Or March 19? Do we still feel the love then? Even more importantly, are we still sharing our love then?

It is easy to focus on making sure that our Sunday Church School students feel loved on that one special day, Valentine’s Day. It is appropriate for us to celebrate our loved ones and declare our love for them! But why stop at just Valentine’s Day? These precious people should be at the top of our “I want you to know that I love you” list: not just on February 14, but all year long!

The purpose of this blog post is to encourage each of us to continue to let our students know that we love them, even on “ordinary” days. We searched and found many ideas of ways to do just that. We are sharing a few of the ideas in hopes that some will strike a chord and ignite in us a new determination to warm our students with our love. If we do so, even when all the roses have wilted, the chocolates have been eaten, and the Valentine’s Day cards have been read, these important people in our life will get the message: “I love you, and I always will.”

Here are a few of the ideas we found:

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Find lots of ideas of ways to use sticky notes to send messages of love and encouragement to your students here: http://www.kirstenskaboodle.com/positive-messages-for-students/

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Help your students create some scripture-based love notes to share with their friends and family! Here are some free printable ones for starters: http://paththroughthenarrowgate.com/gods-love-notes/

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One way you can show your students that you love them is to create your own secret greeting with each of them. Need inspiration? Check out this school teacher’s individual student greetings: http://people.com/human-interest/north-carolina-teacher-personalized-handshakes-students/

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Find some ideas of ways to love the more-difficult-to-love students here: http://childrensministry.com/articles/discipline-sos/

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“Caring about your students doesn’t necessarily mean having a constant gushy feeling about them. Caring means commitment …feelings come and go. True love stays, in spite of annoyances. Love is a commitment you make to your kids.” Read more in this article:  http://www.christianitycove.com/sunday-school-teaching-what-caring-about-your-students-really-means/

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Find 10 simple ways to show love to your Sunday Church School students here: http://childrensministryleader.com/10-ways-show-love-kids/

Gleanings from a Book: “Parenting Toward the Kingdom” by Dr. Philip Mamalakis

(Author’s note: This book is written for parents. We have chosen to include it in this blog anyway, because of how involved we as Sunday Church School teachers are in our students’ lives. Many of the principles of this book can be applied in the Sunday Church School room as well as in the home.)

I was so excited when I learned that this book was in the works! Before reading it, I had great expectations: I anticipated that it would be filled with gentle nudges towards godliness based both on years of education and personal experience. I knew that the wisdom in this book would be presented in a practical way backed by the in-the-trenches research that life with 7 children offers to their parents. And once I received and read the book, I was not at all disappointed!

My expectations for this book were the result of personal experience. Our family had the privilege of meeting the Mamalakis family at Family Camp at the Antiochian Village years ago when they were the featured presenters for the parent sessions. We learned so much from Dr. Mamalakis (and from his lovely wife, Georgia) while we were together. My husband and I could step out of the parent sessions and immediately apply the concepts we had just discussed. Our family is the better for having learned these principles, however imperfectly we have applied them. (An aside: We also benefitted from watching the Mamalakis parents apply the principles they had shared, as they interacted with their children over the course of the family camp sessions. It is a joy to watch these parents lovingly guide their children using the principles! There is an abundance of love in Mamalakis family, and these principles allow them to parent their children in the context of that great love. It is a joy to experience.)
But I digress. Let’s get back to the book. “Parenting Toward the Kingdom” outlines the principles that the Mamalakis family has followed:

  1. Always parent with the end in mind.
  2. Respond, don’t react.
  3. Understand struggles in terms of the values and the virtues of the Kingdom of God.
  4. Separate feelings from behaviors.
  5. Teach the joy of obedience.
  6. Teach the joy of repentance.

Each principle has a chapter (or four!) of the book dedicated to it. Every chapter takes an in-depth look at the principle and cites personal experiences or related stories. The stories and examples make this book very accessible to its readers. The principles can be immediately applied, just as my husband and I experienced when we sat under the Mamalakis’ teachings at Family Camp. I would highly recommend this book to any parent or educator who wants to lovingly guide the children in their care in a godly manner. The book would be a great Adult Sunday Church School curriculum, parish book study, or parenting class text.

“Parenting Toward the Kingdom” is easy read. However, its principles will take a lifetime to apply. May God help (and forgive!) all of us as we parent, grandparent, godparent, and otherwise raise His children towards His Kingdom!

Here are a few quotes from the book, to give you a taste of its contents. Purchase your own copy at http://store.ancientfaith.com/parenting-toward-the-kingdom/.

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“…children are not problems to be solved but persons to be loved and guided.” (p. 13)

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“The only way to learn patience and self-control is to live or interact with someone who tries your patience and tempts you to react. The spiritual life is a struggle to learn how to lvoe as Christ loves, with Christ’s love.” (p. 89)

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“For children who struggle the most, let’s say with boredom in church, cleaning their room, or being patient, it is unfair to compare their behavior with others who don’t struggle in those areas. If our goal is to have children learn the struggle, then we must recognize their efforts as much as the outcome.” (p. 107)

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“The key to setting good limits is to be clear, consistent, firm, and matter of fact.” (p. 157)

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“Stay focused on effort or the virtues you are trying to instill. When children see that we are not mad at them for struggling, they learn that our love is unconditional and our expectations real.” (p. 206)

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“We teach the joy of obedience by helping our children see that obedience is not something just for children. Obedience to God’s commandments is the path for all, parents and children alike… When children feel connected to their parents and see their parents living in obedience to God, they internalize obedience to God as the path of life.” (p. 264)

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On Overcoming the Winter Blues

The beginning of February marks the middle of winter for the northern hemisphere. For many people, winter can a dreary and depressing time. Why is this the case? Are children also thus affected by winter, or is the sense of gloom limited to adults? Can anything be done to help those of us who feel discouraged during the winter months?

We did a little research into the above questions, and learned a few things which we will share with you. We learned that there are multiple reasons why winter can drag down our emotions, especially because of the reduced light and/or sunshine that people living in wintery climates experience. The combination of less daylight and colder outdoor temperatures also discourages people from getting fresh air and exercise (two other possible remedies for combating gloom). We learned that children are affected by these struggles in a similar way as adults are affected. We found many suggestions of things to do to combat the so-called “winter blues” including the idea of getting out of the house within 2 hours of waking up, and exercising (outside, if possible). (Author’s note: my teen son invited me to try this out, so this morning we got up a few minutes earlier than usual, threw on our coats, and briskly walked around the block before beginning our regular morning routine. It was an invigorating and sweet way to begin this dreary, gloomy winter day! We will do it again.)

Below you will find links to a few favorite articles we encountered in our research which address  the above questions. We hope that the next time you experience mid-winter (whether right now or in a few months, depending on where in the world you live), you will find some of this information and these ideas helpful. Together, let us take steps to combat the gloomy feeling that winter can so easily invite in our own life and in the lives of our Sunday Church School students!

“If there were no tribulation, there would be no rest; if there were no winter, there would be no summer.” ~ St. John Chrysostom

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Teachers who may be facing the Winter Blues may benefit from some of the ideas found in this article: https://www.edutopia.org/blog/adding-spring-beat-winter-blues-nick-provenzano

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Help your Sunday Church School students chase their blues away with ideas such as these: http://share.ctainc.com/2017/01/03/111852/

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Sunday Church School students who are feeling weary of winter may benefit from some version of one of these classroom Winter-Blues-beating ideas: http://www.teachhub.com/baby-its-cold-outside-surviving-winter-blues (Note: these are for a regular classroom, but we thought some of the ideas could inspire a Sunday Church School teacher to help their students face the blues!)

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Younger students can benefit from more physically active curriculum in wintertime, according to this blog post: https://earlyeducationplantation.wordpress.com/2016/12/20/6-tips-for-beating-winter-blues-in-early-ed/

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This pdf offers ideas of ways to help young children (either at home or at school) to overcome the Winter Blues: http://www.pakeys.org/uploadedcontent/docs/ECMH/Focus_ECMH_Winter_Blues_1031110.pdf

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Older Sunday Church School students may enjoy a winter-inspired change in the Sunday Church School routine such as the “snowball (review) fight” suggested here: http://teacherpop.org/2015/02/6-classroom-activities-to-beat-the-winter-blues/