Monthly Archives: April 2018

On Pursuing Virtue: Faith

Author’s note: We have written about virtues before (see https://orthodoxchurchschoolteachers.wordpress.com/2017/03/03/on-pursuing-the-virtues-an-introduction/), and now we are continuing the 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!
Fr. Thomas Hopko writes that the virtue of faith is the foundation of all Christian virtue, and that it is at the heart of our Christian life. Without faith, he says, we can not achieve anything wise or virtuous. The virtue of faith is not limited to our faith in God, according to Fr. Hopko: when he speaks of the virtue of faith, he’s also speaking of our faith in the ability of humans to do good and speak truth; as well as our faith in the value of life!

Fr. Hopko calls faith in God “the fundamental virtue of all the saints.” He points us to Hebrews 11, where we find Abraham, the prototype of believers, whose faith we should emulate. Abraham’s faith brought him the promise from God in the first place. His continued faith that God would fulfill that promise which brought the promise to fruition. Genesis 15:6 says that Abraham’s faith was “accounted to him for righteousness.” (NKJV)

He goes on to talk about how we must have faith in God. It follows that if we believe in God, we also believe in His Son, Jesus Christ. Faith in Christ is the center of our Christian life. It also is the foundation of the Church. Faith is how we know and do everything.

He continues with these statements about faith: “Faith, first of all, is ‘the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen’ (Heb 11.1)… [it] is not a blind leap in the dark, an irrational and unreasonable acceptance of the unreasonable and the absurd. Genuine faith is eminently reasonable; it is rooted and grounded in man’s reasonable nature as made in the image of God. Not to believe, according to the scriptures and the saints, is the epitome of absurdity and foolishness.”

Fr. Hopko reminds us that all humans were created to have faith in God. Not believing in Him goes against our nature, and causes evils. It’s not an intellectual mistake or confusion that causes absence of faith in God: rather, that problem comes from sin, impurity, and pride. Lack of faith in God occurs when wickedness keeps the truth from shining through, or when God’s truth is covered by a lie, or when people refuse (knowingly or not) to honor God and/or be thankful to Him.

To be truly spiritual, we need to live by faith in Christ; and, by the grace of God and with His Spirit’s help, be faithful in all things.

May we all grow in the virtue of faith, and help our students to do so, as well!

Read Fr. Thomas Hopko’s discussion of faith in its entirety here: https://oca.org/orthodoxy/the-orthodox-faith/spirituality/the-virtues/faith1
Here are some ideas of ways that we can help to teach our Sunday Church School students about the virtue of Faith:

***
Because of the faith of the friends of a paralytic, Jesus healed the man. Read the story in Matthew 9, and consider sharing it with your students as part of a lesson on the virtue of faith. What does this story imply about the virtue of faith? How can our faith affect those around us? How can our friends’ faith (or lack of faith) affect us? “Then behold, they brought to Him a paralytic lying on a bed. When Jesus saw their faith, He said to the paralytic, ‘Son, be of good cheer; your sins are forgiven you.’” (Matt. 9:2) Find printable activities to go with this story here: http://www.dltk-bible.com/jesus/paralyzed_man-index.htm
***
Two blind men had faith that Christ would heal them. “Then He touched their eyes, saying, ‘According to your faith let it be to you.’” (Matt. 9:29) In this instance, He acted according to their own individual faith. You may wish to share this story from the end of Matthew 9 with your students, then discuss how the degree to which we have faith can affect the degree to which we experience healing. (If you share this story with very young students, you may want to offer them this coloring page: http://www.bible-printables.com/Coloring-Pages/New-Testament/20-NT-jesus-teaches-007.htm)
***
Right in the middle of Matthew 15, we encounter a woman – a Gentile, no less – who despite her heritage and upbringing has faith that Christ can heal her demoniac daughter. Jesus tries to talk her out of it because she’s not Jewish (and perhaps to test her faith?) but she persists. “Then Jesus answered and said to her, ‘O woman, great is your faith! Let it be to you as you desire.’ And her daughter was healed from that very hour.” (Matt. 15:28) This story can help us teach our students that faith in God is for everyone! Find a lesson plan complete with printables about this story here: http://www.orthodoxabc.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/06/030-EN-ed02_Canaanite-Woman.pdf
***
Why should we develop the virtue of faith? Share these scriptures with your students and ask them why this virtue is important:
“So Jesus said to them, ‘Because of your unbelief; for assuredly, I say to you, if you have faith as a mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move; and nothing will be impossible for you.’” Matt. 17:20
“So Jesus answered and said to them, ‘Assuredly, I say to you, if you have faith and do not doubt, you will not only do what was done to the fig tree, but also if you say to this mountain, ‘Be removed and be cast into the sea,’ it will be done.’” Matt. 21:21
“For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ, for it is the power of God to salvation for everyone who believes, for the Jew first and also for the Greek. For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith; as it is written, ‘The just shall live by faith.’” Romans 1:16-17
“I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me.” Gal. 2:20
“For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast.” Eph. 2: 7-8
“…You became examples to all… who believe. For from you the word of the Lord has sounded forth… in every place. Your faith toward God has gone out, so that we do not need to say anything.” 1 Thess. 1: 7-8
***
This object lesson could be slightly adapted to be used in an Orthodox Sunday Church School classroom to help students see for themselves what faith is. https://betterbibleteachers.com/2014/11/how-to-explain-faith-to-sunday-school-kids/
***
Use two empty plastic water bottles (one with a lid) and a glove to demonstrate the value of being filled with faith when fear comes our way, as suggested in this object lesson: https://www.kidssundayschool.com/332/gradeschool/unseen-faith.php
***
Teachers of middle-years students may want to demonstrate faith with their class in this way: one student will play the role of the guide, another will represent each of us when we walk in faith, and the rest will become (or set up) road blocks along the person’s faith journey. The person playing “each of us” will be blindfolded, then the others will set up road blocks along the journey. (These road blocks could be pool noodles, chairs, boxes, etc.; or the students themselves, frozen in a position throughout the demonstration.) Before “each of us” begins his/her journey while blindfolded and listening to the guide, explain that every one of us has the choice of whether or not to have faith that God will guide us and provide for us. We can’t see Him, but we can and should have faith that He is there for us. The guide will use only their voice to help “each of us” get through the journey, just as God uses the Scriptures, the Church, and Holy Tradition to help us get through our journey.
Then let the guide begin to give “each of us” vocal directions to take their journey through the road blocks. Once “each of us” is through, unblindfold him/her and talk about the experience. How well did he/she trust the guide? How well do we each really have faith in God’s provision? What other connections can you/your students make between this exercise and real life?
***
With older students, read this verse:
“Let no one despise your youth, but be an example to the believers in word, in conduct, in love, in spirit, in faith, in purity.” 1 Tim. 4:12
Talk about it together. How can your students be an example to the believers? Offer examples of ways that they are already being an example to you and/or your parish. Reassure your students that they are an important part of the parish, and that their involvement makes a difference in the faith of the community. Invite conversation about ways that they can continue to be an example, and maybe even be a better one.
***
“…What does faith mean? Does it mean we that read the Creed and willfully accept what it says? Or is it about something more than this?” Delve into this article about faith with older students as you learn together about this virtue. Before reading the article, you may want to discuss this quote, one question at a time. Then read the article and invite responses. http://orthodoxwayoflife.blogspot.com/2014/11/what-is-faith.html
***
St. John Chrysostom displayed great faith in his interaction with Emperor Arcadius. If you don’t know this part of his story, read it here and share it with your class: http://www.orthodoxytoday.org/blog/2012/06/the-virtue-of-faith-good-in-both-worlds/
***
St. Gerasimos had such great faith that he was able to help an injured lion without being harmed by the animal! His story for you to read and share with your students can be found here: https://orthodoxchurchschoolteachers.wordpress.com/2016/02/26/learning-about-a-saint-st-gerasimos-of-the-jordan-commemorated-on-march-4/
***
St. Paisios is a more recent saint who displayed much faith. Read about him and find ideas of ways to help your students learn about him here: https://orthodoxchurchschoolteachers.wordpress.com/2016/12/09/saints-of-recent-decades-st-paisios-july-12june-29/
***
St. Maria of Paris is another recent saint who demonstrated the virtue of faith. Read about how her faith changed her lifestyle and saved the lives of Jewish children here: https://orthodoxchurchschoolteachers.wordpress.com/2016/11/04/saints-of-recent-decades-st-maria-of-paris-july-20-or-august-2/
***
Another recent saint who was full of the virtue of faith is St. John Maximovitch. Read about him here so that you can ask him to pray for you and your students! https://orthodoxchurchschoolteachers.wordpress.com/2015/07/03/learning-about-a-saint-st-john-the-wonderworker-of-shanghai-and-san-francisco-commemorated-on-july-2/

On Pursuing Virtue: Obedience

Author’s note: We have written about virtues before (see https://orthodoxchurchschoolteachers.wordpress.com/2017/03/03/on-pursuing-the-virtues-an-introduction/), and now we are continuing the 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!

Fr. Thomas Hopko’s chapter on obedience helps us understand how important the virtue of obedience is to an Orthodox Christian:

In the Orthodox spiritual tradition, obedience is a basic virtue: obedience to the Lord, to the Gospel, to the Church (Mt 18.17), to the leaders of the Church (Heb 13.7), to one’s parents and elders, to “every ordinance of man” (1 Pet 2.13, Rom 13.1), “to one another out of reverence for Christ” (Eph 6.21). There is no spiritual life without obedience, no freedom or liberation from sinful passions and lusts. To submit to God’s discipline in all of its human forms, is the only way to obtain “the glorious liberty of the children of God” (Rom 8.21). God disciplines us as His children out of His great love for us. “He disciplines us for our good, that we might share His holiness” (cf. Heb 12.3–11). Our obedience to God’s commandments and discipline is the exclusive sign of our love for Him and His Son.

Our Lord was the ultimate example for us of what obedience looks like. His obedience was a marker of His humility, according to Fr. Thomas, who points to St. Paul’s discussion of Christ’s humility in Phil. 2:8. St. Paul explains that, in His humility, Jesus was obedient to His Father to death, “even death on a cross.” Our Lord obeyed God in everything that He did.

Fr. Thomas goes on to talk about the fact that there is no shame or demeaning in obeying God. Rather, doing God’s will is actually glory and life for whoever does it! Obedience is our greatest joy, and the way that we achieve the highest dignity. It is the way of perfection for everyone, even for Jesus Himself.

Although He was a Son, He learned obedience through what He suffered, and being made perfect He became the source of salvation to all who obey Him (Heb 5.8–9).

Disobeying God is the source of all sin, according to Fr. Thomas. When we refuse to submit to God, sorrow and death are the result.

St. John’s gospel records for us the words of Christ, who here tells us how important it is for us to obey God:

He who has My commandments and keeps them, he it is who loves Me; and he who loves Me will be loved by My Father, and I will love him and manifest Myself to him.… If a man loves Me, he will keep My word, and My Father will love him, and we will come and make our home with him. He who does not love Me does not keep My words; and the word which you hear is not Mine but the Father’s who sent Me. (Jn 14.21–24).

May we all grow in the virtue of obedience, and thereby love God as we should!

Find Fr. Thomas Hopko’s discussions of the virtues here: https://oca.org/orthodoxy/the-orthodox-faith/spirituality/the-virtues

Here are some ideas of ways that we can help our students to both learn about and grow in the virtue of obedience:
***
Although this blog is written by a mother and aimed primarily for use in the home, we can easily use some of the lessons, games, and books suggested in its links to help students of various ages learn about (and how to work towards!) obedience: https://meaningfulmama.com/20-activities-and-lessons-that-teach-obedience-to-kids.html
***
Find 11 different examples of obedience (or disobedience!) from the scriptures, as well as questions that you can ask your students related to the stories. (This is not an Orthodox site, but will be a helpful resource for this study.)
http://www.kidsofintegrity.com/lessons/obedience/bible-stories
***
This page offers hands-on ideas of ways to teach about obedience. From cooking to role play to games, there are many fun and educational ideas here. (This is not an Orthodox site, but will be a helpful resource for this study.)
http://www.kidsofintegrity.com/lessons/obedience/hands-options
***
Share this story, discussion, and art activity with your students as part of a lesson on obedience:

There was once, in Scete, an old monk named Abba Sylvanus. He had a disciple named Mark who was acquiring the virtue of obedience well. Mark was a scribe, and Abba Sylvanus loved him because he was so obedient.
Abba Sylvanus had 11 other disciples. It bothered these disciples that Abba Sylvanus loved Mark more than them. The old men in Scete also did not like that Abba Sylvanus had a favorite in Mark.
They went to the abbot one day, to talk to him about it so that he could improve his ways. Abbot Sylvanus invited the old men to walk with him through the monastery. At the door of each cell, the abbot knocked, called the brother’s name, and asked each brother to come out because he needed him. He went by all of the cells, and not one brother obeyed quickly.
When they got to Mark’s cell, the abbot knocked at the door and said, “Brother Mark.” He did not even get to finish his sentence. As soon as Mark heard Abba Sylvanus’ voice, he jumped up and came out of his cell, and Sylvanus sent him off on an errand.
While Mark was gone, Abba Sylvanus asked his guests, “Where are the other brothers?” None of the others had come out from their cells. Then he invited the men to go with him into Mark’s cell. They saw that Mark had been writing. He had started the Greek letter “omega,” but as soon as he had heard Abba Sylvanus’ voice, he ran out and did not even finish the other side of the letter. So only half the letter was there in the book, waiting for him to come back and finish it.
When the men from the village saw how obedient Mark was, they turned to Abba Sylvanus and instead of trying to make him not have a favorite anymore, they said, “Abba, now we also love this brother that you love, because God loves him, too!” ~ from “Paradise of the Fathers,” vol. II, p. 53, translated by E. A. Wallis Budge

After sharing the story, ask your students to talk about it. What made Mark so special to the Abbot? How promptly did he obey? Why do you think his obedience made such a difference in his relationship to the abbot?
Then talk together about obedience. Invite students to think about how quickly they obey those in authority over them. Allow them to share examples of when the did and when they did not obey quickly, and what resulted. Talk about how obedience can make a difference in their relationships with those in authority, just as it did for Mark and Abba Sylvanus, and as it does with us and God.
In response, challenge your students to create a piece of art that will remind them to obey quickly, just as Mark did. (Perhaps they could draw Mark dashing out the door of his cell, dropping his writing utensil behind. Or they could write a list of examples of when they will obey quickly instead of putting it off. Or if they enjoy lettering, they could write the word “Obey” but only use half of the word or half of each letter.)
***
Share this quote with older students, and then discuss it together: “A truly intelligent man has only one care — wholeheartedly to obey Almighty God and to please Him. The one and only thing he teaches his soul is how best to do things agreeable to God, thanking Him for His merciful Providence in whatever may happen in his life. For just as it would be unseemly not to thank physicians for curing our body, even when they give us bitter and unpleasant remedies, so too would it be to remain ungrateful to God for things that appear to us painful, failing to understand that everything happens through His Providence for our good. In this understanding and this faith in God lie salvation and peace of soul.” ~ St. Antony the Great

***
Here are the directions for how to make a simple device, “Bob,” that you can easily use during an object lesson on obedience: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=340_NJjcQ-c&feature=share
(You could also use this as a craft for your students to make their own “Bob” to take home, to remind them to be immediately obedient!)
***
Here are three different objects (and lesson ideas) that you could use to help your students learn about obedience: https://ministry-to-children.com/godly-obedience-object-lessons/
***
Find a variety of (non-Orthodox, but useful) ideas of ways to help your students learn about obedience here: http://www.biblewise.com/kids/char_topic/obedience.php
***
These classroom games help children to practice obedience: https://itstillworks.com/12522688/obedience-games-for-kids
***
Here are a few activities that encourage obedience: http://www.parentinglikehannah.com/2017/10/fun-ways-to-teach-kids-obedience-2.html
***
This character-building educational site is not religious in nature, but offers ideas and free downloads to help children want to grow in obedience. Perhaps some of it could be incorporated into a lesson on this virtue. (Especially the Abraham Lincoln story.) http://characterfirsteducation.com/c/curriculum-detail/2153183
***
How did Jesus respond to His earthly parents when he was a teen? Here’s a 6-minute video about that time that Jesus was 12: https://youtu.be/_6T5Z4IuGeA

(Note: this is not Orthodox, but uses the gospel of Luke’s account of this event in a way that can very easily help us to discuss obedience with older students.)
***
This lesson on obeying parents is not Orthodox, but its story examples and hands-on activity could be used to help our students learn about the blessing that comes with obedience. https://ministry-to-children.com/obey-your-parents-lesson/