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:
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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
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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
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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
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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.)
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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

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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!)
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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/
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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
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These classroom games help children to practice obedience: https://itstillworks.com/12522688/obedience-games-for-kids
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Here are a few activities that encourage obedience: http://www.parentinglikehannah.com/2017/10/fun-ways-to-teach-kids-obedience-2.html
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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
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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.)
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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/

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