Author’s note: During Great Lent Orthodox Christians focus more intently on becoming more godly and less self-centered. Thus it seemed that Great Lent is the best possible time to feature a series of articles on pursuing virtue. We will spend a series of weeks learning about virtues and looking at ways to teach our Sunday Church School students about them, so that they can join us in our pursuit of them. May the Lord have mercy on us and grant us grace as we learn to better walk in His ways!
In this series of blogs, we will focus the virtues. There are many, but for this series we will focus on the seven capital virtues mentioned in the Pocket Prayer Book for Orthodox Christians: humility, liberality, chastity, mildness, temperance, happiness, and diligence. As the book mentions, each virtue is the positive counterpart of a grievous sin. In order for us to become more like God, to grow in theosis, we must not only resist and repent from those sins in our life, but we must also labor to attain the virtues. Each blog post will focus on one virtue and suggest ways to help our students learn about it and struggle to acquire it. If you are unable to use these ideas immediately, file them away in your thoughts for a time when you can use them with your students. It is important that our Sunday Church School students learn about the virtues so that they are better able to pursue them.
It is important that we teach our students to expect, prepare for, and carry out the struggle to obtain virtues! We must teach them that when they do so, they are not just running away from evil: they are struggling towards something, towards virtues. Carole Buleza, director of the Antiochian Orthodox Department of Christian Education recently explained it like this: “We are made in God’s image and likeness. The image is like God’s stamp on us as a human person. It cannot be changed. The likeness, on the other hand, can change and grow. It is the potential to grow evermore godlike… acquiring virtues [is] a way to grow evermore Godlike. The virtues are specific, [as are] the rungs on St. John Climacus’ ladder. We can choose one, and with prayer, proceed to discipline ourselves so as to acquire it. When our lives are not focused on a major struggle with evil, we need to struggle in the positive direction by seeking to attain the virtues. The saints tell us that suffering (or struggle) is a necessary component of theosis.”
So, dear teachers, let us learn about the capital virtues and teach our students about them, as well. Along the way, may we all be encouraged to focus in on at least one virtue and struggle towards it with all of our heart. And as we struggle, let us remind both ourselves and our students that we are struggling against sin not just by fleeing/fighting from the passions, but also by actively struggling towards virtues.
This prayer of St. Ephrem will be a great aid to everyone in this struggle:
O Lord and Master of my life, take from me the spirit of sloth, despair, lust of power and idle talk. But give rather the spirit of chastity, meekness of mind, patience and love to Thy servant. Yea O Lord and King, grant me to see my own transgressions and not to judge my brother, for blessed art thou unto ages of ages. Amen.
Here are some links that will help us as we begin to think about teaching our students about the virtues:
“If we are to enable our children to hold on to their Christian heritage and Orthodox tradition, and more importantly, if they are to grow up as devout Orthodox believers, first we must teach them the virtues, the Scriptures, the saints, and then our doctrines and beliefs and church practices and customs.” http://www.pravmir.com/orthodox-catechism-teaching-children/
The Pocket Prayer Book for Orthodox Christians is available here and would make an excellent Pascha gift for Sunday Church School students who are old enough to read: http://store.ancientfaith.com/a-pocket-prayer-book-for-orthodox-christians-vinyl-cover/. This little book is an excellent companion for any Orthodox Christian! It fits in a pocket or purse and contains prayers, thought-provoking information such as the capital virtues which we are working to attain, the entire Divine Liturgy, preparation for confession, and more. Some of the prayers in the book (but not the section on virtues, unfortunately) are also available online here: http://www.antiochian.org/orthodox-prayers
“Generally speaking, all of the human virtues are attributes of God Himself. They are the characteristics of Jesus Christ, the divine Son of God in human flesh. They are the divine properties which should be in all human persons by the gift of God in creation and salvation through Christ.” find this and more in an introductory article on the virtues, followed by a helpful resource: a series of articles addressing specific virtues, here: https://oca.org/orthodoxy/the-orthodox-faith/spirituality/the-virtues/the-virtues
“When we teach children to be good, to be gentle, to be forgiving (all these are attributes of God), to be generous, to love their fellow men, to regard this present age as nothing, we instill virtue in their souls, and reveal the image of God within them.” ~ St John Chrysostom http://www.orthodoxchurchquotes.com/2013/07/12/st-john-chrysostom-when-we-teach-children-to-be-good/
This book is an excellent resource for helping adults to nurture the virtues in children:
Talk about this quote with older students: “You are angry with your neighbor, you despise him, do not like to speak peaceably and lovingly to him, because there is something harsh, abrupt, careless, unpleasant to you in his character, in his speech, in his manners—because he is more conscious of his dignity than perhaps is necessary; or because he may be somewhat proud and disrespectful; but you yourself, your neighbor’s physician and teacher, are more guilty than him.
‘Physician, heal thyself.’ Teacher, teach yourself.
Your own malice is the bitterest of all evils. Is it then possible to correct malice by means of evil? Having a beam in your own eye, can you pull out the mote from the eye of another?
Evil and faults are corrected by good, by love, kindness, meekness, humility, and patience.”
+ St. John of Kronstadt, My Life in Christ http://www.orthodoxchurchquotes.com/2014/05/30/st-john-of-kronstadt-you-are-angry-with-your-neighbor-you-despise-him-do-not-like-to-speak-peaceably/
Find a lesson plan and free printables for an “overview” lesson on the virtues here: http://www.orthodoxabc.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/07/032-EN-ed03_Christian-Virtues.pdf
Many of the pages in this free printable workbook could be used in conjunction with lessons on the virtues. Some are overarching, about the virtues in general, while others focus on a specific virtue. https://www.scribd.com/document/19435690/Orthodox-Christians-On-Virtue
“Fairy tales say plainly that virtue and vice are opposites and not just a matter of degree. They show us that the virtues fit into character and complete our world in the same way that goodness naturally fills all things.” ~ Vigen Guroian, Orthodox Christian author of this book which could perhaps be a resource for this unit of lessons: https://www.amazon.com/Tending-Heart-Virtue-Classic-Imagination/dp/0195152646/ref=asap_bc?ie=UTF8
Share some of these quotes from Scripture and the Church Fathers with older Sunday Church School students, then challenge them to each pick one with which they’ve connected, to share with the class and explain how/why it connects with them. https://ladderofdivineascent.wordpress.com/2008/12/30/hello-world/