Monthly Archives: May 2018

On Pursuing Virtue: Honesty

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 about honesty opens with the statement that “the wise man who has knowledge lives according to the truth through a totally honest life.” But what does a “totally honest life” look like? Is honesty just about speaking truth and not telling lies? Or is there more to it? He goes on to explain.

There are several ways that we can live a truly honest life. One way is to always speak the truth and never lie or speak unfairly or demeaningly about others. Another way to live an honest life is to act sincerely, not putting on airs or trying to come across as someone we are not. In other words, we live an honest life if we are not a hypocrite.

Hypocrisy, lying, and deceit are things that Christ hated the most, according to Fr. Thomas. Our Lord accused the devil of these things, for the devil constantly pretends to be what he is not and tries to make others believe that what he says is the truth, although it is definitely not the truth.

We must be mindful of the devil’s trickery and of how cunningly he tries to deceive us, sometimes through other people. Even devoted religious leaders can be part of his deceit: just look at the scribes and Pharisees in the time of Christ! Christ condemned their hypocrisy, as well He should, because of its lack of truth.

In order to live an honest life, we must first and foremost look at ourselves. Do we present ourselves to others honestly, or do we pretend to be someone we are not? An honest person comes across exactly as they are, not speaking or acting in a way that makes others think they are anyone but who they really are.

Fr. Thomas writes that a truly honest person does not just speak the truth and present themselves to others honestly. An honest person is also honest in thought and mind, forever remembering that God sees and knows our heart. In his words, a truly honest person is “utterly honest and pure in all that he things, says and does, knowing that God sees all and judges with righteousness all those who ‘walk in integrity’ (Ps. 26:1, 11).”

May we all grow in the virtue of honesty, and help our students to do so, as well!!
Read Fr. Thomas Hopko’s discussion of honesty 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 Honesty:
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Want to focus on honesty in your classroom? Consider some of the ideas found on this (non-Orthodox, but creative and helpful) website: http://www.barnabasinschools.org.uk/exploring-values-with-the-bible-honesty/
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Teachers of younger students may wish to enhance a lesson on honesty with a story. Here are some secular books that may be helpful as you plan: https://talkingtreebooks.com/best-character-education-resources/books-honesty.html
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What do the scriptures say about honesty? Here is a list of verses that can help in a lesson about honesty. Sunday Church School teachers could write each reference on a slip of paper before class. Take the slips along and have each student select one reference to look up in the Bible, then read to the class. http://www.kidsofintegrity.com/lessons/honesty/memory-verses
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Teachers of young children may find some parts of this secular lesson on honesty helpful as they gather ideas for a lesson on this virtue: https://talkingtreebooks.com/lesson-plans/honesty-worksheet-kindergarten-grade-1.html
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There are so many ideas that can be gathered from this series of lessons on honesty! It was written for parents to use at home, and is not at an Orthodox site, but Sunday Church School teachers will find many scripture verses, stories from the Bible, and a myriad of different hands-on learning activities here. These ideas can easily be added to a lesson on honesty: http://www.kidsofintegrity.com/lessons/honesty
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Teachers with students of varying ages may want to take a look at the activities suggested in this object lesson containing a variety of ways to talk about the importance of honesty instead of lying. From weaving a tangled web with yarn to trying to cover a quarter with a penny, students will be interested and involved in the lesson. (The lesson is not written from an Orthodox perspective, but can still be very helpful for this topic.) http://storage.cloversites.com/yorkalliancechurch/documents/KS%20Lesson%208%20Honesty.pdf
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Middle-years or older students may find this page useful. It contains questions about honesty and answers as found in the scriptures. http://www.kidsbibleinfo.com/article/102/topics/h/honesty
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Although it has “teens” in the tagline and addresses parents, this (secular) list of ideas for helping children learn about honesty will be helpful to Sunday Church School teachers preparing to teach their students about honesty. We especially liked the obstacle course idea. (Set up two obstacle courses, one easy and one full of obstacles. Allow students to run through both. Then talk about which was easier and why. Talk about how telling lies adds additional obstacles to your life, while honesty is simpler and more straight forwards.) https://www.livestrong.com/article/559757-teaching-teens-the-importance-of-telling-the-truth/
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Teachers with students in the middle years may want to share this children’s sermon – or at least some of the true stories it contains – as part of a lesson on honesty and integrity. Follow the stories with a discussion about how honesty is a lifestyle, and a true measure of our honesty is how we act when no one is watching. https://www.sermons4kids.com/do_right_thing.htm

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Do you know why former American president Abraham Lincoln was called “Honest Abe?” You may want to print the free printable about him at this site, and use it in a lesson about honesty. http://characterfirsteducation.com/c/curriculum-detail/1951185
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Here is a secular-based (but still useful) series of lessons on honesty. We especially liked the idea of using two M&M bags (one filled with something else) to illustrate the importance of honesty and how we need to live an honest life, not just put on the appearance of what we want others to think that we are. http://materials.randomactsofkindness.org/cde/en/5-Honesty-and-Integrity.pdf
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Middle school teachers may find some useful ideas for part of their lesson on honesty, from this (secular) lesson: http://character.org/lessons/lesson-plans/middle/john-a-carusi-middle-school/
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As we prepare for confession, one thing we can do is to look at the Ten Commandments and consider how well we are keeping them. While planning a lesson on honesty, we may want to take a look at these questions about the commandment “You shall not bear false witness.” These questions can help us think about what honesty looks like in an Orthodox life. Sharing these questions with our class will give both us and our students the chance to be honest with ourselves about how well we’re keeping this commandment: “Have I given false testimony against anyone? Have I spoken evil, told lies or spread rumors about anyone? Have I disclosed to anyone the sins and faults of another? Have I made careless statements or done anything else to harm the name and reputation of another? Have I engaged in idle gossip?” (This set of questions comes from: http://greekorthodoxchurchtampa.com/church_files/lent_pascha/ten_commandments_in_preparation_for_confession.pdf)

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The holy Fathers of the Church use words to teach us about false witness and condemnation, but they also teach us by their lives. Here is one story from the book, Sayings of the Desert Fathers. Teachers of older Sunday Church School students may wish to use this story during a lesson on honesty:

“A brother at Scetis committed a fault. A council was called to which Abba Moses was invited, but he refused to go to it. Then the priest sent someone to say to him, ‘Come, for everyone is waiting for you.’ So he got up and went. He took a leaking jug, filled it with water and carried it with him. The others came out to meet him and said to him, ‘What is this, Father?’ The Elder said to them, ‘My sins run out behind me, and I do not see them, and today I am coming to judge the errors of another.’ When they heard that they said no more to the brother but forgave him.”https://stjohndc.org/en/orthodoxy-foundation/thou-shalt-not-bear-false-witness-against-thy-neighbour
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Teachers of teens may want to include quotes about honesty from others, besides the scriptures and the church fathers. Share the following quotes with your students, and invite the students to discuss them. Compare them to the scriptures and the Church Fathers’ teachings on honesty, and discuss. What can be learned from these quotes, as well as the others?
Possible quotes to include:
“Honesty is the first chapter in the book of wisdom.” – Thomas Jefferson
“Take note, take note, O world, to be direct and honest is not safe.” – William Shakespeare
“I hold the maxim no less applicable to public than to private affairs, that honesty is the best policy.” – George Washington
“Make yourself an honest man, and you can be sure there is one less rascal in the world.” – Thomas Carlyle
“An honest man is believed without an oath, for his reputation swears for him.” – Eliza Cook
“It takes strength and courage to admit the truth.” – Rick Riordan
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On Pursuing Virtue: Hope

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 about hope begins by pairing the virtue of hope with the power of faith. He reminds his readers that Abraham “in hope believed against hope that he should be the father of many nations” (Rom 4:18). He reminds his readers that hope and faith both rest in the unseen.

Hope is knowing that good will result in our life if we are living in faith, according to Fr. Hopko. Hope can help us to be sure that even in the midst of darkness and sin, God’s light and forgiveness is with us and will do for us what we are not able to do. Hope extends to us the reassurance that we need.

Fr. Hopko speaks of the opposite of hope, as well, so that we can be on guard. Despondency and despair are the opposites of hope. He calls these “the most grievous and horrible condition that a person can be in.” These two conditions work together to create the most terrible and damaging situation for our soul. Why? Because when we have no hope, we can’t do anything else. We especially can not have faith.

Fr. Hopko continues, “If a person is faithless, he can be chastised and convinced. If a person is proud, he can be humbled; impure, he can be cleansed; weak, he can be strengthened; wicked, he can be made righteous. But if a person is despondent and despairing, the very condition of his sickness is such that his heart and soul are dead and unresponsive to the grace of God and the support of his brothers.”

But if we fall into despair, it is possible for us to repair the state of our souls with humility and patience. Fr. Hopko tells his readers that when we fall into these states, we must hold steadfastly to the life of Faith, even if we don’t “feel” it anymore. He says when we are experiencing despair, we need to continue to go through each day, living our life of Faith. Even if we are just “going through the motions” of reading scriptures, participating in liturgical worship, keeping the fasts, praying, and working, we must not stop doing these things. He reminds us of St. Benedict’s advice that those in despondency/despair continue to do what they are doing as well as they can, and as attentively as possible. He suggests that we follow St. Seraphim’s encouragement to visit with strong friends who are spiritual, full of hope, merciful, and full of joy.

Staying steadfast through the dry times until we once again experience the light of hope and comfort is what we need to do. It is not an easy way to go (Fr. Hopko reminds us, “those who find it are few” (Mt. 7:14)). St. Evagrius assures us that when one “fights and conquers against despondency and despair, this struggle is followed by a peaceful state and the soul becomes filled with ineffable joy”.

Fr. Hopko addresses those who proclaim that it is virtuous to be without hope, thinking that declaring “all is lost” pleases God as these people sorrow over their sins and the sins of the world. He says it is not virtuous to feel helpless around the wicked or to think we’re at the mercy of evil. Rather, it is a virtue to be “rejoicing in hope, patient in tribulation, continuing steadfastly in prayer”(Rom 12.12). When we do so, we are able to really know and believe that God has the final victory in our life.

May we all grow in the virtue of hope, and help our Sunday Church School students to do the same!

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

Here are some ideas of ways that we can help to teach our Sunday Church School students about the virtue of hope:
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Tell your students the story of Abraham. How can we learn hope from his story?
(If you don’t want to tell it on your own, you may consider reading these to your class: http://www.essex1.com/people/paul/bible15.html (You’ll want to share his story at least to the one marked 18, where Sarah gives birth to Isaac.)
Find ideas for crafts and printable pages about Abraham here: http://www.dltk-bible.com/genesis/chapter15-index.htm
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Share a story (or more!) from the life of the prophet Daniel with your class. Talk about how he hoped in God, and it saved him. Find a story and activity ideas here: http://www.dltk-bible.com/old_testament/daniel-index.htm
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The story of Hannah’s hope in God – and the results of her hope – is a beautiful one to share with Sunday Church School children. Find a 3-minute video version here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JiYumdP4C6k
Find ideas for related activities here: http://www.dltk-bible.com/old_testament/hannah-index.htmn
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The story of Job offers us a wonderful model of how to face trials and hope in the Lord. Share the story with your class. (Here’s a 6-minute video version, if you have younger students: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bInc7sSe9KI) After learning about Job’s story together, talk about how he could (should?) have lost hope so many times. Yet, Job truly trusted God, and God watched over him throughout his trials. What can we learn from Job about the hard things we experience?

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Use two identical balloons filled with different things (to demonstrate the difference between being filled with despair and being filled with hope) as an attention-getter at the start of a lesson about hope! https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1ZFNBXGrXl0

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Here’s a “Be the Bee” episode about holding onto hope, which could be a great discussion starter for a lesson on hope: https://www.goarch.org/-/hold-on-to-hope?inheritRedirect=true
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This secular plan for teaching hope offers some excellent questions that we can ask our Sunday Church School students, as well as some age-leveled ideas that we can glean from as we help our students learn about this virtue in the context of the Faith. http://schools.cms.k12.nc.us/dilworthES/Documents/Character%20Education/Hope.pdf
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Teachers of elementary-aged or older students may want to print off this printable with 31 questions about hope. Each question has a suggested scripture to check for its answer. https://ministry-to-children.com/kids-can-devotion-1/ (It is not Orthodox, but will be helpful to teachers planning a lesson on hope.)
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After a discussion on hope with middle-years or older students, talk about ideas of ways to share hope with others. You may want to include these “4 Ways to Sow Hope”:

1. Write down the wonderful promises in God’s Word (Matthew 28:20, John 14:26-29, 1 Corinthians 1:7-9).
2. Regularly remind yourself of the reality of heaven (Matthew 28:28-30, John 14:1-4, Revelation 21-22).
3. When describing your circumstances, choose hopeful words. Share hardship authentically, but always affirm God’s ultimate game plan (Psalm 27:13-14).
4. Avoid complaining. Grumbling is a magnet for more complaints; avoid passing negative perspectives on to others (Philippians 2:13-16).
(This idea comes from http://www.discipleblog.com/2017/11/teaching-kids-about-true-harvest-faith-hope-and-love/, which is not Orthodox, but has some very helpful suggestions/ideas.)
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With older Sunday Church School students, discuss the difference between trust and hope. This homily would be a great discussion starter: http://stgeorgegoc.org/pastors-corner/fr-ricks-sermons/in-god-we-trusthope
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Share this Orthodox prayer for comfort, inviting students to keep it in mind the next time they feel hopeless and need God’s comfort:
“Almighty God, the Father of mercies and God of
all comfort, come to my help and deliver me from
this difficulty that besets me. I believe Lord, that
all trials of life are under Your care and that all
things work for the good of those who love You.
Take away from me fear, anxiety and distress.
Help me to face and endure my difficulty with
faith, courage and wisdom. Grant that this trial
may bring me closer to You for You are my rock
and refuge, my comfort and hope, my delight and
joy. I trust in Your love and compassion. Blessed is
Your name, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, now and
forever. Amen.” (from http://www.beliefnet.com/faiths/prayer/2009/12/prayers-for-hope-and-comfort.aspx?p=5)
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Share this prayer to the Holy Trinity with your class.
“The Father is my hope; the Son is my refuge; the Holy Spirit is my protector. O All-holy Trinity, glory to You.”
Invite them to tell what “The Father is my hope” means to them. Encourage each member of the class to remember this lesson about hope every time they pray this prayer.
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With older students, talk about this statement: “It’s easy, after all, to tell a kid to be hopeful. It’s entirely more powerful to give them a reason to hope.” Share this (secular) article with them (http://time.com/3395822/teaching-hope/) and launch a discussion on how each class member has received hope over the years. Follow that by a brainstorming session of how each person can give others a reason to hope. What can each class member do, right now, to bring hope to others? Make a plan to help them carry it out.
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