Monthly Archives: March 2018

On Pursuing Virtue: Gratitude

Author’s note: Although we have written about virtues before (see https://orthodoxchurchschoolteachers.wordpress.com/2017/03/03/on-pursuing-the-virtues-an-introduction/), we will continue this series. There are so very many virtues for us to acquire! Fr. Thomas Hopko’s book “The Orthodox Faith, Volume 4, Spirituality,” offers additional virtues, some of which we will now study. May the Lord have mercy on us and grant us grace as we learn to better walk in His ways!

We will begin this conversation where we often end other ones: with gratitude. We teach our children to say “thank you,” but gratitude is much more than remembering to say these words after receiving a gift or eating a meal! True gratitude is a lifestyle. Fr. Thomas Hopko, in his book The Orthodox Faith, Volume 4, Spirituality, says, “The spiritual person is the one who is grateful for everything. He is the one who receives everything with thanksgiving, and who knows that he has nothing except what he has received from God.”

St. Nikolai Velimirovich agrees, and elaborates in his Prologue from Ochrid: “For as long as you are on earth, consider yourself a guest in the Household of Christ. If you are at the table, it is He who treats you. If you breathe air, it is His air you breathe. If you bathe, it is in His water you are bathing. If you are traveling, it is over His land that you are traveling. If you are amassing goods, it is His goods you are amassing. If you are squandering, it is His goods that you are squandering. If you are powerful, it is by His permission that you are strong. If you are in the company of men, you and the others are His guests. If you are out in nature, you are in His garden. If you are alone, He is present. If you set out or turn anywhere, He sees you. If you do anything, He remembers. He is the most considerate Householder by Whom you were ever hosted. Be careful then toward Him. In a good household, the guest is required to behave. These are all simple words but they convey to you a great truth. All the saints knew this truth and they governed their lives by it. That is why the Eternal Householder rewarded them with eternal life in heaven and glory on earth.” This type of mindset – really remembering that everything, EVERYTHING, is God’s and we are simply His guests, staying in His home and borrowing His linens – completely changes our possessive assumptions and multiplies our gratitude.

Fr. Hopko continues his discussion on gratitude by pointing out that from the time of the Old Testament, thanksgiving has been central to life for the people of God. In the Old Testament times, sacrifices of thanksgiving were offered in the temple, and the Psalms sang thanks to God. This attitude continued in the New Testament times! The word “eucharist” means thanksgiving, so from that time to this day, our worship centers around being grateful: we lift up our hearts and give thanks to the Lord!

Fr. Hopko points out that the Scriptures and the lives of the saints are full of thanksgiving to God, not just for the “good” things, but for everything! The saints have shown their complete trust in God’s provision and care. They have modeled gratitude for us in their deeds and words. St. John Chrysostom reminds us that even things that may look bad to us can be used to bring spiritual growth and salvation by God’s grace! (And he did not just say this. He lived it. He was in the process of being exiled in old age when he died, and yet his last words were, “Glory to God for all things!”)

Fr. Hopko states that the opposite of gratitude is bitterness and complaining. If we are proud and covetous, we will complain about our life. Complaining shows that we are lacking a humble trust in God, and thereby we do not thank Him for everything! When we trust Him absolutely, we will be at peace.

Fr. Hopko closes his chapter on gratitude with this statement: “A person is grateful to the extent that he trusts in the Lord and has love for God and man.”

 

Read more of Fr. Thomas Hopko’s wise words about the virtues, as written in his book, here: https://oca.org/orthodoxy/the-orthodox-faith/spirituality/the-virtues

Here are some scriptures about gratitude, how children benefit from living a life of gratitude, and a few ideas of ways to help our students learn about this virtue:

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Scriptures related to gratitude (let your class read them, let each student select one to artistically copy/decorate, and/or assign each verse to a small group of students who work together to dramatically present their verse to the rest of the class):
And from His fullness have we all received, grace upon grace (Jn 1.16).
Sing praises to the Lord, O you His saints, and give thanks to His Holy Name.
Let us come into His presence with thanksgiving. Let us enter His gates with thanksgiving, and His courts with praise. Give thanks to Him, bless His name!
It is good to give thanks to the Lord, to sing praises to Thy Name, O Most High; to declare Thy steadfast love in the morning, and Thy faithfulness by night.
O give thanks unto the Lord, for He is gracious, for His mercy endures forever! (Pss 30.4, 95.2, 92.1, 107.1).
Let there be no filthiness, nor silly talk, nor levity, which are not fitting; but instead let there be thanksgiving . . . always and for ­everything giving thanks in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ to God the Father (Eph 5.4, 20).
Rejoice always, pray constantly, give thanks in all circumstances, for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you (1 Thess 5.16–18).
Rejoice always in the Lord; again I say, Rejoice! Have no anxiety about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which passes all understanding, will keep your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus (Phil 4.4–7).
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“…researchers are now turning their attention to how gratitude can better the lives of children, too. They’re finding that the experience of high levels of gratitude in the adolescent years can set a child up to thrive.” Read about some of the research and findings in this excellent article: https://www.wsj.com/articles/how-to-raise-more-grateful-children-1519398748
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“Children who learn gratitude become more sensitive to the feelings of others. As gratitude becomes a way of life, empathy takes root and weeds out selfishness as grateful kids look outside themselves to the wide world beyond.” Read more here: http://www.shelivesfree.com/2014/03/raising-grateful-kids-in-an-entitled-world.html
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Share this practical article (seven things parents can do to raise grateful children) with the parents of your students, after studying gratitude as a class: https://thehumbledhomemaker.com/raise-grateful-kids/
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Need some ideas of ways to walk in gratitude? Check out this blog post:
https://orthodoxchurchschoolteachers.wordpress.com/2015/11/27/on-living-a-life-of-gratitude/
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“…a study conducted by Dr. Robert A. Emmons of the University of California, Davis, reveals that cultivating gratitude can increase happiness levels by around 25 percent… other studies have shown that kids who practice grateful thinking have more positive attitudes toward school and family.” Read more about why it is important to cultivate gratitude in our children, as well as 11 practical ways to do so, in this article: https://www.huffingtonpost.com/andrea-reiser/11-tips-for-instilling-true-gratitude-in-your-kids_b_4708019.html
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Here is a very simple-to-prepare object lesson on gratitude. All you need is a box full of old/recyclable items and some imaginative thought! https://www.futureflyingsaucers.com/thankfulness-in-a-box/
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Consider sharing a story (or two!) with your class to help them think about gratitude and thankfulness. These sites offer ideas of books that could be useful:
http://investinginchildren.on.ca/blog/2015/1/14/19-childrens-books-about-gratitude
https://preschoolinspirations.com/books-about-gratitude-thankfulness/
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Find a variety of ideas of ways to teach gratitude, leveled by the children’s ages, here: https://www.today.com/news/get-grateful-20-ways-teach-kids-gratitude-tots-teens-1D80297963
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Gratitude craft idea:
Use recycled jars to create “gratitude jars.” Invite each student to create their own “gratitude jar” label on cardstock. Use packing tape to affix the label to a jar. Fill the jar with gratitude discussion starters on slips of paper (a few examples can be found here: https://creativefamilyfun.net/gratitude-conversation-starters/ or here: https://modernparentsmessykids.com/free-printable-thanksgiving-gratitude-conversation-starters-2/, and your students can write their own on slips of paper). Or send a stack of small sticky-note paper with each student so they can write one thing they’re thankful for each day on a sticky note, fold it together so that the sticky side seals it shut, and add it to the jar. At the end of a month (or a year!), they can open each note to once again be grateful for all of those things!
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Find a few gratitude-themed activities at this page. They are geared to Thanksgiving, but most of them could be used anytime you are teaching about the virtue of gratitude! http://www.dvo.com/newsletter/monthly/2012/november/funtimes.html
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If your students have cell phones with cameras, or if you can round up enough digital cameras, divide the class into a few small groups, give each group a camera, and send them on a gratitude scavenger hunt. This activity (https://lets-get-together.com/2014/10/18/gratitude-photo-scavenger-hunt/) will help each participant to take a moment and realize how much is right around them that they are grateful for! (Note: if you take them outside to do this, round up a few teen or parent volunteers beforehand so that each group has an older supervisor.) You could also give this as a “homework” assignment at the end of a class discussion on gratitude. If you do it this way, invite the students to send you the pictures that they take, and you can compile the pictures into a presentation to share with the class or with your parish!
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With older students, discuss the Akathist of Thanksgiving (https://www.stnicholasdc.org/files/Prayers/Akathist-of-Thanksgiving.pdf). Challenge them each to write a verse of their own.

Gleanings From a Book: “Everything Tells Us About God” by Katherine Bolger Hyde

Author’s note: This book is so eye-catching! As soon as I saw it, I was excited! The illustrations are so appealing. The book’s backstory adds to its intrigue. I couldn’t wait to crack it open and read it! However, I had other writing that needed to happen, so when the book arrived, I reluctantly set it on the shelf to wait until now. It was hard to not peek, but I prefer to write about a book right after reading it, so I forced myself to wait. It was well worth the wait. This is a delightful book.

This beautiful book invites engagement at a glance. The cover sets the tone for the book: it creates an expectation for beauty, variety, and a joyful revelling in God’s generosity with His people. And then, upon opening the book, the end paper catches the reader’s eye. It is a golden, nearly-completed puzzle. But why is one piece missing? And what does this have to do with the title? Before even reading a word, the reader is curious and determined to know more!

The book begins by telling the reader that the world is like a giant puzzle. God made this puzzle to tell us about Himself. He designed each piece – each part of the world – to help us learn some of His secrets. When we really look at the pieces, we can learn about Him through them!

Page after engaging page, the book points out different things in our world and how God uses them to teach us about Himself. For example, the sun tells us we can’t live without God because His love warms our hearts and helps us to grow closer to Him. The food that we eat reminds us that God always makes sure we have what we need, and that He always takes care of us. The animals tell us about God Himself: elephants help us see how mighty God is; hens and chicks remind us of how He cares for us; doves remind us of how the Holy Spirit brings us peace; etc.

Livia Coloji’s charming illustrations simultaneously cheer the reader and invite interaction. Bright colors, playful perspectives, and soft edges all help the reader to feel the warm message of the text. Readers can savor the images as well as the words. The first time through the book, the reader looks forward to turning the page to unveil the next illustration and the next piece of the puzzle. Every reading after that, the reader anticipates the illustrations, revisiting old friends.

The book concludes by answering the initial question. The missing piece in the puzzle of God’s world is each of us! He gives us life so that we can be part of His puzzle. He wants to show the world part of Himself through us! When we love and serve God, we are able to be a puzzle piece to those around us!

The author’s note at the end of the book offers the reader a glimpse at its backstory. The concept of this book was initially presented to Ancient Faith Publishing by Fr. Thomas Hopko of blessed memory. He had written of a conversation with an elderly bishop on an airport run one day. As they drove, the bishop kept pointing things out in the world around them, and talking about how each thing pointed us to God. Katherine Hyde sent Fr. Thomas her rendition of his idea, but it got lost in the shuffle over the years. Fr. Thomas’ family has given their permission for her to publish it, so now we can read this book and marvel at God’s willingness to reveal Himself to us, one piece at a time!

The end paper at the back of the book shows a completed golden puzzle. The reader now knows why the piece was missing and can see how beautiful the puzzle is with all of its pieces in place. Glory to God for including each of us in the puzzle of His world!

Purchase a copy of this book for your Sunday Church School classroom here: http://store.ancientfaith.com/everything-tells-us-about-god/

Here are some gleanings from the book, as well as ideas of ways to use it in your classroom:
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“The sun tells us that nothing can live without God… His warmth fills our hearts, and His love shines on us every day.” (from “Everything Tells Us About God,” by Katherine Bolger Hyde)
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“The water we drink tells us Christ is our life…” (from “Everything Tells Us About God,” by Katherine Bolger Hyde)
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“Rocks tell us Christ is as strong as a boulder… Nothing and no one can ever defeat Him or make him stop loving us.” (from “Everything Tells Us About God,” by Katherine Bolger Hyde)
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“Small things, like flowers… tell us God cares about every detail of His creation.” (from “Everything Tells Us About God,” by Katherine Bolger Hyde)
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“Animals… tell us what God is like… The mother hen tells us He cares for us.” (from “Everything Tells Us About God,” by Katherine Bolger Hyde)
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“Schools… tell us Christ is our Teacher… And He Himself is the perfect student of God the Father: He always does His Father’s will.” (from “Everything Tells Us About God,” by Katherine Bolger Hyde)
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“The people we meet… tell us Jesus became human, just like us.” (from “Everything Tells Us About God,” by Katherine Bolger Hyde)
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“Some years ago, Fr. Tom Hopko submitted to Ancient Faith Publishing a story… In this story… a young Fr. Tom drove an elderly bishop to the airport, hoping to engage in some deep theological conversation along the way. Instead, the bishop humbly and simply pointed out how everything they passed had something to tell us about the nature of God.” (a bit of the back story of the book, from “Everything Tells Us About God,” by Katherine Bolger Hyde)
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Teachers of young students may want to share “Everything Tells Us About God” and then allow the students to color this coloring page from the book: https://store.ancientfaith.com/content/everything-coloring-page.pdf
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Teachers of early elementary will want to share “Everything Tells Us About God” with their class, and then engage in a discussion. What “puzzle piece” from the book did they like, and why? How does God reveal Himself to them? If possible, take the class outside for a short walk around the Church building, stopping from time to time to notice “puzzle pieces” that God has placed around your Church, pointing you to Himself. Back in the classroom, invite the students to think of their own “puzzle piece” and draw or write about it on this printable pdf.
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Older elementary classes can begin the class with a 100-piece nature puzzle waiting for them as they arrive in the classroom. Students can work together to assemble the puzzle, then admire the scene. Talk about how each piece of that puzzle is important; how it would not be complete without any of them. Share “Everything Tells Us About God” with the class. Ask them what they think the correlation is between the book and the puzzle. How does this book change how we see the world?
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Before reading “Everything Tells Us About God” with your students, hand each of them a blank puzzle. Provide watercolor paints, markers, and/or colored pencils and invite them to write a message or create (right on the puzzle) an image that makes them happy. Share the book with them while the images dry. Then have them turn the puzzle over, and on the back of each piece, ask them to write the name of something or someone in their life that points them to God. Who/what are the pieces that God uses in their life to draw them closer to Himself?

(find blank puzzles online – for example, this one: http://www.orientaltrading.com/compoz-a-puzzle-blank-puzzles-28-a2-13646291.fltr;
or in a local craft store – for example, this one: http://www.michaels.com/design-a-puzzle-set-by-creatology/10489364.html)

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Gleanings From a Book: “Sacred Sky and How to Locate 24 Constellations” by Lois Clymer

I am mesmerized by the sky. Day, night, cloudy, sunny, it matters not: I could watch it for hours, if I allowed myself the time. As a child, I loved to lie in the grass and watch the clouds or stare at the stars. Now that I’m an adult, I don’t give myself much time to do that. (Where I live, it is difficult to see the stars at night. This is a big change from my childhood home, where the Milky Way was easily visible.) But even as a “busy adult,” I still notice the sky. There are moments when it absolutely takes my breath away. I find myself gasping, and exclaiming to whoever is nearby, “Wow! Just LOOK at the sky!”

Orthodox Christian author Lois Clymer’s book, Sacred Sky, offers older children (and sky-loving adults) the opportunity to study the sky, learn a bit of history, and see how, even from ancient times, people from all over the world have seen the stars as telling about a divine human who comes to save the world.

Each chapter of the book focuses on a different aspect of the sky. The first chapter is the most detailed. It introduces 24 different constellations and many of their named stars, and teaches the reader how to find them in the sky. The chapter also offers further information about many of the constellations, including the meanings of some of the stars’ names. Many of the meanings remind us of Christ, the conqueror, who came to crush the serpent’s head!

Chapter 2 is focused on the sun, moon, planets, and eclipses. The chapter contains very nice explanations of the solar system, planetary orbits, moon phases, and eclipses. It also offers suggestions of how to find the other planets in our solar system in the night sky.

Chapter 3 explains galaxies and explores our own galaxy, the Milky Way. (If you have never been in a place where you can see the Milky Way, try to do so with your children. It is awe-inspiring and beautiful. Pictures of the Milky Way are beautiful, but they do not do it justice!)

Chapter 4 discusses auroras, more commonly called “northern lights” in the northern hemisphere, and “southern lights” in the southern hemisphere. It offers an easy-to-understand explanation of how and why these lights appear in the sky.

The afterword sheds additional light on the parallels between the night sky and the predictions that a conqueror/redeemer would be born of a virgin in order to defeat Satan. It concludes with, “we now know that Jesus Christ was the fulfillment of this prediction. May we honor Him!” (p. 21)

This book would be an interesting study for an older Sunday Church School class, perhaps in a series of “creation appreciation” lessons or just for something different from the usual lesson. It is written at a level that will be difficult for younger students to understand. However, teachers of younger students could use the book as a resource, sharing some of the pictures along with a paraphrased explanation of some of the information, at the class’ level. Students who enjoy learning about the natural world will benefit from studying this book!

Let us not just notice the sky; let us take the time to really look at it, and to marvel at God’s greatness, which is so clearly exhibited there, and let us encourage our students to do the same! Sacred Sky will help us help our students to be better able to ponder how the sky has helped people, even from ancient times, to learn about Christ. The book will help us to find some of the constellations that pointed to Him, and wonder at the fact that “the heavens declare the Glory of God,” for they have helped people to learn about Him for millenia. As we take the time to be still beneath the sky and look, it can point us to Christ, as well.

Learn more about author Lois Clymer and order her book from her website: http://www.locateconstellations.com/

Here are a few links that can also help you learn more about the sky. Some of these are found in the book Sacred Sky.
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Sunday Church School teachers who share “Sacred Sky” with their older students in a lesson on the wonder of God’s creation in the sky may want to help their students create their own star wheel. The students can then see where the stars are in the sky at any given day/time. Find a printable one at http://www.aosny.org/Starwheel.pdf
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This website may be a good resource for additional material to teach older students about the sky. Although it is not Orthodox-created, we can learn a lot from what is found here, and then share it with our students. Learn more at http://classicalastronomy.com/
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Teachers of younger Sunday Church School students who would like to use a few of the ideas from “Sacred Sky” to help their students appreciate this part of God’s creation may find suggestions of fun activities to do with your students at http://www.mykidsadventures.com/discover-astronomy-for-kids/. The page suggests additional books to read, a snack to make, and other activities that can help the students to learn more about the sky and stars.
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If your students particularly enjoy learning about constellations, you may want to recommend one or both of these books by H. A. Rey:
The Stars: A New Way to See Them (https://www.amazon.com/Stars-New-Way-See-Them/dp/0544763440/)
and/or
Find the Constellations (https://www.amazon.com/Find-Constellations-H-Rey/dp/0544763424/)
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After sharing “Sacred Sky” with your older students, invite them to respond with this simple activity: ask which of the constellations they liked learning about the most? Offer black paper, star stickers, and a piece of chalk, and invite them to draw that constellation. Then ask them to share (verbally or in writing) what they liked about the constellation, and how it points them to Christ.
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The book “Sacred Sky” can help us to better appreciate that “the heavens declare the glory of God.” (Ps. 18:1) Create a classroom art display with that theme. Post the verse on a wall in your classroom. Surround it with pictures of the sky (that you’ve taken or found in magazines), or with sky-themed artwork that your students create. Here are a few suggestions of ways to artistically represent the sky: https://www.adventure-in-a-box.com/painting-space-watercolours-kids/; https://buggyandbuddy.com/starry-night-sky-art/; or http://homeschoolingtoday.com/article/nebula-chalk-art-tutorial/