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:

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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
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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)
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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
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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
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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/
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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
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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?
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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.
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“…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
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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/
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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/
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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/
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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/
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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/

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