Monthly Archives: October 2017

On the Liturgical Year for Teachers: Great Lent (part 4 of 7)

This series of blog posts will offer basic information and resources regarding the liturgical year. It is our hope that Sunday Church School teachers will find this series helpful as they live the liturgical year with their students. The series will follow the church year in sections, as divided in the book “The Year of Grace of the Lord: a Scriptural and Liturgical Commentary on the Calendar of the Orthodox Church” by a monk of the Eastern Church. May God bless His Church throughout this year!

Great Lent consists of the 40 days leading to Holy Week, which, in turn, immediately precedes Pascha. Since its early days, Great Lent has been observed as a time of penitence, spiritual growth, and illumination. Although it is a time of great spiritual struggle, it is also a time of deep joy for Orthodox Christians, as we prepare our hearts to experience Christ’s Passion and Resurrection.

In the early centuries, Church practice included baptizing people at the Paschal Vigil. This was also when Christians who had gone astray and returned to the Faith were reconciled to the Church. In order to train and prepare these people for joining (or re-joining) the Church, an “intense period of preparation, which included fasting, began forty days before Holy Week… it gradually became a universal institution, observed by catechumens and faithful alike for its salutary effects on the life of the Christian community.” (1)  

The monk-author of “The Year of Grace of the Lord” points out that the Liturgy of the Presanctified Gifts reminds us that “Lent… commemorates Israel’s forty years of wandering in the wilderness, those forty years during which the chosen people…went forward with faith towards the far-off promised land…” (2, p. 109) He goes on to remind us that these years (as well as during Great Lent), God’s people relied on Him fully, and He provided physically with food as well as spiritually with His presence, the Ten Commandments, and many miracles. The monk continues, “Lent recalls the forty days that the Lord Jesus spent in the desert during which he contended with Satan, the tempter. Our Lent must also be a period of fighting against temptation… During the time of Lent, the Church leads us, as if by the hand, towards the radiant paschal feast. The more serious our Lenten preparation has been, the deeper we shall enter into the mystery of Easter and gather its fruits.” (2, p. 110)

Bishop Kallistos Ware said, “The primary aim of Great Lent is to make us conscious of our dependence upon God.” (1) We are encouraged to focus on three things during Great Lent: prayer, fasting, and almsgiving. Lent is a time for repentance, that we may turn from sins and earthly cares to focus our whole being on Christ and His glorious resurrection, which heals us completely. This truth grants us great joy amidst the struggles we encounter during Lent.

“Let us begin the lenten time with delight.. Let us fast from passions as we fast from food, taking pleasure in the good words of the spirit, that we may be granted to see the holy passion of Christ our God and his holy Pascha, spiritually rejoicing.” (from Vesper Hymns)

Let us participate fully in the life of the Church throughout Great Lent. As we do, let us also struggle to properly prepare our hearts and the hearts of our students for Holy Week and Pascha. If we do, when we arrive at the Feast of feasts, we will be prepared and filled with joy!

Footnotes:

  1. Calivas, Rev. Alciviadis C., Th.D., (1985, 8/13). “Orthodox Worship”. Retrieved from https://www.goarch.org/-/orthodox-worship
  2. A monk of the Eastern Church. The Year of Grace of the Lord. Crestwood, NY: St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press; 2001.

 

Here are some related links, including ideas for teaching students about Great Lent:

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Here is a blog post about Forgiveness Vespers, the beautiful way in which we begin Great Lent: https://orthodoxchurchschoolteachers.wordpress.com/2015/02/13/on-forgiveness-vespers/

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This blog post suggests ways to help your students begin Lent well. It includes links to resources such as a daily lenten calendar that helps families learn about the themes of Great Lent with suggested activities for each day, among others. https://orthodoxchurchschoolteachers.wordpress.com/2015/02/20/on-beginning-great-lent/

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This blog post about the Presanctified Liturgy is geared towards families, but could be helpful to share with your students’ parents to help encourage them to attend these Lenten liturgies: http://www.orthodoxmotherhood.com/presanctified-liturgy-children/

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During Great Lent, we celebrate the Feast of the Annunciation. Here’s a blog post that can help you teach your students about this feast! https://orthodoxchurchschoolteachers.wordpress.com/2016/03/18/620/

(An additional helpful resource is the quarterly publication “Blessed Children,” published by St. George Antiochian Orthodox Cathedral, Pittsburgh, PA. Volume 4, Issue 1 is all about the Annunciation and contains articles related to it: ranging from the icon to the church of the Annunciation to a challenge to say “Yes!” just like the Theotokos did.)

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The second Sunday of Great Lent is the Sunday of St. Gregory of Palamas. This blog post may be helpful as you help your students learn more about him: https://orthodoxchurchschoolteachers.wordpress.com/2015/03/06/lenten-learning-st-gregory-of-palamas/

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The fourth Sunday of Great Lent is the Sunday of St. John Climacus. Here’s a blog post that could be helpful as you prepare to teach your students about him: https://orthodoxchurchschoolteachers.wordpress.com/2015/03/20/lenten-learning-st-john-climacus/

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The issue of “Little Falcons” magazine that is called “Fasts” is filled with articles related to fasting. “What Can We Do for Great Lent?” (pp. 20-21) offers practical suggestions of things children can begin to do during Great Lent to grow closer to God and to be more like Christ. It would make a fabulous discussion starter near the beginning of Lent; and your class could return to it later in the fast, to give yourselves a “checkup” as to how you are doing in these areas. “Fasts” is Issue #30 of Little Falcons. It is available as a back issue here:  http://www.littlefalcons.net/pdf/2016_Backissues.pdf).

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On the Liturgical Year for Teachers: Christmas and Epiphany (part 3 of 7)

This series of blog posts will offer basic information and resources regarding the liturgical year. It is our hope that Sunday Church School teachers will find this series helpful as they live the liturgical year with their students. The series will follow the church year in sections, as divided in the book “The Year of Grace of the Lord: a Scriptural and Liturgical Commentary on the Calendar of the Orthodox Church” by a monk of the Eastern Church. May God bless His Church throughout this year!

The feasts of the Nativity (simply called ‘Christmas’ in “The Year of Grace of the Lord: a Scriptural and Liturgical Commentary on the Calendar of the Orthodox Church”) and Theophany (referred to as ‘Epiphany’ in that same book) fall within days of each other, regardless of the calendar being followed. Christmas falls on Dec. 25 (or January 7), and Theophany follows on its heels, on January 6 (or 19). For many of us, local culture offers multiple traditions related to Christmas, but few (or even none) related to Theophany. The monk who wrote the book encourages his readers to think beyond our culture’s interpretations (or perhaps misinterpretations?) of these feasts, and embrace them in a truly Orthodox manner.

The monk notes that most of the western church, “officially assigns a place to Epiphany which is not inferior to that of Christmas; but the devotion of the faithful has definitely concentrated on this last feast; it would even seem that, for the majority… Christmas has become more important than Easter. However, being faithful to the early tradition, we consider Epiphany to be the highest and most complete celebration of the coming of our Lord amongst men.” (p. 66) He goes on to encourage his fellow Orthodox Christians to “consider the period which lasts from Christmas to Epiphany as an indivisible feast, of which Christmas is the starting point and Epiphany the culmination.” (p. 66-67)

His meditation on the Nativity reminds us that in our hymns, we sing of Christ as the Dayspring from on high, and we mention that those of us who were in shadow and darkness have found the truth. The monk continues by pointing out that the Eastern Church thinks of Christ in terms of light. “Byzantine Christians certainly do not forget that the Word became a small child who was laid in a manger; but, while Western Christians seem, since the middle ages, to cling with pleasure to this flesh and blood child, the East sees above all in the Incarnation the coming of light, its triumph over darkness, and our own conversion from the night of sin to the divine radiance.” (p. 67-68) He concludes that the spiritualization of Christmas found in the Eastern Church is a different mindset than the west. May we approach the Nativity of our Lord with the mindset of celebrating the coming of the Light into our world, and live in such a way that Our Lord can shine in our lives, driving out the darkness.

The monk’s meditation on Theophany reminds us that “Epiphany is the first public manifestation of Christ. At the time of His birth, our Lord was revealed to a few privileged people. Today, all those who surround John… witness a more solemn manifestation of Jesus Christ. What does this manifestation consist of? …On the one hand, there is the aspect of humility represented by the baptism to which our Lord submits: on the other hand, there is the aspect of glory represented by the human witness that the Precursor bears to Jesus, and, on an infinitely higher plane, the divine witness which the Father and the Spirit bear to the Son.” (p. 82) As we celebrate this important feast, may we honor Our Lord’s humility while also being awed by His glory.

So, let us take some time to learn more about what the Church teaches and practices with regard to both the feasts of the Nativity and of Theophany. Let us teach our students what we have learned. In this way, all of us together can better celebrate these blessed feasts!

 

Purchase your own copy of “The Year of Grace of the Lord,” by a monk of the Eastern Church, here: https://www.svspress.com/year-of-grace-of-the-lord-the/.This book, quoted above, will be an excellent resource for you throughout the Church year.

Here are some related links, including ideas for teaching students about the Nativity and Theophany:

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This link offers quotes from saints, excerpts from books, festal music upon which to meditate, and homilies from recent bishops all focused on the Nativity of our Lord: http://www.antiochian.org/nativity/great-feast

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Read about Middle Eastern traditions for Theophany, such as “baptizing” dough in water and letting it hang outside to dry for a few days, then using the dough to make donuts at Theophany; and leaving a window in the home open so the Holy Spirit can enter; in the article “Holiday = Holy Day” by Natalie Ashanin, in “Feasts,” Issue #31 of Little Falcons magazine. This issue is still available here:  http://www.littlefalcons.net/pdf/2016_Backissues.pdf)

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“The Treasured Traditions and Customs of the Orthodox Churches” by Mary Paloumpis Hallick offers a variety of Christmas traditions from different Orthodox jurisdictions. It would be interesting to study the different customs as a class! From Serbians saving a piece of Christmas bread for the first visitor to their home; to the 12-dish Carpatho-Rusyn “Holy Supper” served over straw or hay on Christmas Eve; to the youngest Ukranian child watching through the window for the first evening star to appear before the Christmas Eve feast can begin; to the Russian babouschka offering gifts to children in attempt to make up for not offering food or shelter to the Magi; to the Greek sweet Christmas bread called “Christopsomo”; to the Romanian children caroling through their neighborhood while carrying a pole topped with a large wooden star bedecked with ribbons and bells… There are so many different traditions, and all of them are interesting. Consider sharing some of these traditions with your students over the course of a class or several class periods in a row, and be sure to invite them to share their family’s Christmas traditions, as well! Find the book here: https://www.amazon.com/Treasured-Traditions-Customs-Orthodox-Church/dp/1880971690

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Check out the AODCE’s nativity board on Pinterest for inspiration if you need ideas for teaching your students about the Nativity of Our Lord! https://www.pinterest.com/aodce/nativity/

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Help your Sunday Church School students learn about the Nativity of our Lord! You may want to include some of the ideas we posted in this blog: https://orthodoxchurchschoolteachers.wordpress.com/2016/12/16/on-the-feast-of-the-nativity-dec-25jan-7/

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There are many educational activity ideas for helping students of varying ages to learn about the Nativity in this blog post: https://orthodoxchurchschoolteachers.wordpress.com/2015/12/18/ideas-for-keeping-our-focus-on-the-nativity-of-christ/

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Find some ideas of ways to teach your students about Theophany in our blog post about the feast: https://orthodoxchurchschoolteachers.wordpress.com/2016/01/08/on-theophany/

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Find a few links that can help you learn more about Theophany so that you are better prepared to teach your students about this feast here: http://www.antiochian.org/nativity/post-feast

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In the fall 2002 “Handmaiden” magazine (sadly, now a no-longer-published magazine for Orthodox Christian women), Heather Zydek wrote an article called “Baptizing the Waters of America: the Theophany Traditions of the American Orthodox Church.” If you are able to locate a copy, read this article to find the variety of Theophany traditions that Orthodox churches across the United States employ in their celebrations of the feast! These traditions vary from region to region, as well as jurisdiction to jurisdiction. It is very interesting to read how our brothers and sisters celebrate the feast! Perhaps studying these traditions will help our students better appreciate our own traditions by helping them see the reasoning behind each tradition.

On the Liturgical Year for Teachers: The Time of Advent (part 2 of 7)

This series of blog posts will offer basic information and resources regarding the liturgical year. It is our hope that Sunday Church School teachers will find this series helpful as they live the liturgical year with their students. The series will follow the church year in sections, as divided in the book “The Year of Grace of the Lord: a Scriptural and Liturgical Commentary on the Calendar of the Orthodox Church” by a monk of the Eastern Church. May God bless His Church throughout this year!

Beginning on November 15 (or 28), Orthodox Christians around the world begin to prepare their hearts for the coming of Christ at Christmas. This time of preparation and fasting is 40 days long and leads right to the Feast of the Nativity. (It is the same length as Great Lent, which leads to Holy Week and Pascha; but there are different restrictions in each fast.) The Feast of the Presentation of the Theotokos in the Temple takes place during the Nativity Fast.

This season of the Church year is called “Advent” by many Christians, as they focus on the coming of Lord. In “The Year of Grace of the Lord,” the author, a monk of the Eastern Church, writes “One might perhaps feel that this term ‘coming’ is purely symbolic, for in fact Christ comes to us at all times, and even lives in us. Nevertheless, this approach and this presence of Christ, both of which are eternal, take on a special character at Advent-tide… A special grace of the ‘coming‘ of the Lord is offered us. The Lord Jesus is already present to us; but the grace of Advent allows us a more vivid, and quite new, awareness of this presence.” (p.45)

The monk continues the chapter on Advent by summarizing our prayers during this season with one word. The word that we pray during Advent-tide is “Come!” When we pray the word sincerely, this one-word plea fills us with hope, and we anticipate the Lord’s coming with greater fervor. As the weeks of Advent-tide pass, God willing, each day that we pray, we pray more purely. The author continues, “Our prayer at Advent, ‘Come’, could… be interpreted thus: ‘Oh, let me be aware of Thy presence in me — May the whole world feel Thy presence.’” (p.46)

Our focus during Advent is on the light which will be shining forth. Just as the days begin to lengthen after Christmas, the darkness in our hearts will be enlightened by the Son which Christmas brings into the world. After all, He is the Light of the World!

This year, during the Nativity fast, may we continually pray, “Come!” and prepare our hearts – and the hearts of our students – to receive the light that shines forth in Christ!

Make ready, O Bethlehem: let the manger be prepared, let the cave show its welcome. The truth has come, the shadow has passed away; born of a Virgin, God has appeared to men, formed as we are and making godlike the garment He has put on. Therefore Adam is renewed with Eve, and they call out: ‘Thy good pleasure has appeared on earth to save our kind.’

Purchase your own copy of “The Year of Grace of the Lord,” by a monk of the Eastern Church, here: https://www.svspress.com/year-of-grace-of-the-lord-the/ This book, quoted above, will be an excellent resource for you to read and learn from, throughout the Church year.

Here are some related links, including ideas for teaching students about the Nativity Fast:

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Prepare your own heart before you begin to teach your students about the Nativity Fast by taking advantage of these articles and resources: http://www.antiochian.org/nativity/pre-feast

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Find a plethora of Nativity Fast ideas and resources for families to use with children (some could also be used in the Sunday Church School context) in this blog post: http://www.sttheophanacademy.com/2011/11/living-nativity-fast.html?m=1

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Find helpful Nativity-Fast-related resources for students at various levels here: https://oca.org/news/headline-news/dce-offers-educational-resources-for-the-nativity-fast

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“Each celebration in the church is preceded by a preparation… Leading to Christmas, we have Advent… When we see Christmas decorations and lights being set up, we know that something soon will take place. In the Church, there are events and hymns sung to remind us and get us ready for the event. This is the way we prepare for the celebration of Christmas.” (from “Preparing , Waiting, Expecting,” p. 13, of “Fasts,” Issue #30 of Little Falcons. Available here:  http://www.littlefalcons.net/pdf/2016_Backissues.pdf)

This article would be a great way to begin discussing the Nativity Fast with younger students.

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“November 15 is the starting point for a spiritual journey to the day of this great joy.  This journey is one one that requires our development of greater humility so we can fully appreciate what God have given to us.  This is by nature an ascetic journey. Like our journey to be united with God, it is not one where we can make use of our social relationships or our material possessions.  This is a journey where we must learn to surrender our souls to the will of God, relinquish our control over the journey to Him whose birth we are about to celebrate. This is the spirit we must embrace as we enter into this fast. It is a period of preparation just as the manger was prepared for Christ.” ~ from http://orthodoxwayoflife.blogspot.com/2011/11/nativity-fast.html

This article would be an excellent “Nativity Fast” discussion starter with older students.

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Help your students keep their focus on Christ throughout the Nativity Fast with some of these ideas: https://orthodoxchurchschoolteachers.wordpress.com/2015/12/18/ideas-for-keeping-our-focus-on-the-nativity-of-christ/

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Help your students prepare their hearts for the birth of Christ with ideas and activities such as these: https://orthodoxchurchschoolteachers.wordpress.com/2015/11/13/on-preparing-our-hearts-anticipating-the-birth-of-christ-each-day-of-the-nativity-fast/

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This brand new book is an excellent resource for teachers and parents to use with children during the Nativity season: https://orthodoxchurchschoolteachers.wordpress.com/2017/08/18/gleanings-from-a-book-welcoming-the-christ-child-family-readings-for-the-nativity-lent-by-elissa-bjeletich/

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Find ideas of ways to help your students learn about the Feast of the Entrance of the Theotokos into the Temple here: https://orthodoxchurchschoolteachers.wordpress.com/2016/11/18/on-the-feast-of-the-entrance-of-the-theotokos-into-the-temple-nov-21-or-dec-4/

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Find ideas of ways to help your students learn about the Feast of the Entrance of the Theotokos into the Temple here: https://orthodoxchurchschoolteachers.wordpress.com/2016/11/18/on-the-feast-of-the-entrance-of-the-theotokos-into-the-temple-nov-21-or-dec-4/