Monthly Archives: July 2018

On Struggle

Struggle. The word itself may make us shudder inside. In this culture of “live for yourself; do what feels good; if it doesn’t work for you, quit,” struggle is often labeled as evil, and we feel inclined to avoid it at all costs. Throughout time, humans have disliked struggle and attempted to be freed from it. Some have even considered struggle to be evidence of sin or wrongdoing, even touting freedom from struggle as evidence of godliness.

So, what’s an Orthodox Christian supposed to do with struggle? Should we try to evade it? If we are struggling, does that mean that we are failing in our Christian life?

Let’s begin by taking a look at the scriptures to see what they say about struggle. According to Strong’s Concordance, the Greek word for struggle is ἀγωνίζομαι, or agónizomai. It translates to English in different ways, including “to contend for a prize,” as well as “struggle.” We find it in Luke 13:24, “Strive to enter through the narrow gate, for many, I say to you, will seek to enter and will not be able”. We also find it in 1 Corinthians 9:25, “And everyone who competes for the prize is temperate in all things. Now they do it to obtain a perishable crown, but we for an imperishable crown.” I Timothy 4:8-10 also uses the word: “For bodily exercise profits a little, but godliness is profitable for all things, having promise of the life that now is and of that which is to come. This is a faithful saying and worthy of all acceptance. For to this end we both labor and suffer reproach, because we trust in the living God, who is the Savior of all men, especially of those who believe.” And we find it again in 2 Timothy 4:7, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.” According to the scriptures, struggle is necessary for the Christian life. Striving, competing, laboring, and fighting the good fight all help to urge us in the right direction: toward a deeper faith in God and His Kingdom.

What about the holy fathers? Do they teach us about struggle?
Yes, they do. If we examine their lives, we can learn much about struggle! But they also use words to teach us about it. Here are a handful of their many teachings about struggle:

“Nothing is so incongruous in a Christian, and foreign to his character, as to seek ease and rest.” ~ St John Chrysostom

“Of course, it would be easier to get to paradise with a full stomach, all snuggled up in a soft feather-bed, but what is required is to carry one’s cross along the way, for the kingdom of God is not attained by enduring one or two troubles, but many!” ~ Elder Anthony of Optina

“Do not grow despondent and enfeebled in spirit, seeing the constant struggle within you of evil against good, but like a good and valiant soldier of Jesus Christ, our great Founder, struggle courageously against evil, looking at the crown, prepared by the Lord for all who conquer evil in this world and in their flesh. ‘To him that overcometh, will I grant to sit with Me in My Throne’(Rev. 3:21).” ~ St. John of Kronstadt

“Brothers, as long as you have breath in your bodies, strive for your salvation. Before the hour comes in which we shall weep for ourselves, let us practice virtue eagerly. For I tell you that if you knew what good things are in heaven, what promise is laid up for the saints and how those who have fallen away from God are punished and also what torments are laid up for those who have been negligent – especially those who have known the truth and have not led a way of life worthy of it so as to inherit that blessedness which is reserved for the saints and to flee the punishments of these torments – then you would endure every pain in order to be made perfect in the virtue which is according to Christ.” ~ St Pachomius

“It is by warfare that the soul makes progress.” ~ St. Tikhon of Voronezh

Struggle. Sometimes it hurts. Always, it is hard. But, according to the scriptures and the holy fathers, it is necessary. Struggle allows us to embrace our Lord more tightly. It enables us to see His hand at work in our life. It provides us with opportunities to trust Him more fully. So, although we may not like struggle, and we may be tempted to try to be freed from it, we must not. Struggle helps us grow away from sin and towards godliness.

May the Lord strengthen us and help us to struggle.

 

Struggle is not just for us as adults to learn about and embrace. Here are a few ideas to help us teach our Sunday Church School students about struggle:

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Poor Ping. He is usually able to grow anything. When the emperor gives out seeds to all of the children and tells them to bring back their plants in one year – and that the plants will choose his successor, Ping cannot get his seed to grow. He struggles all year with that seed, trying everything he can think of, but nothing grows. He has to take the seed, in the dirt, ungrown, to the emperor at the end of the year… This retelling of a Chinese folktale, “The Empty Pot,” by Demi, will be an excellent addition to a lesson on struggle. (You can see the pictures and hear the story here: https://youtube.com/watch?v=nSoqBWPq8U0)

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Although these picture books are grouped together as books “addressing perseverance,” some of them definitely feature struggle and could be a great help to a class discussion. https://selfsufficientkids.com/childrens-books-perseverance/

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This secular lesson on the benefits of struggle may give you some ideas for helping your students learn the value of this difficult task! https://blog.classcreator.io/teaching-kids-to-struggle-growthmindset/

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Show younger students photos or video footage of an animal that needs to struggle in order to thrive. Here are some video links that may be helpful:

Birds emerging from their nest: http://earthporm.com/someone-put-camera-birds-nest-see-caught/

A butterfly emerging from its chrysalis:

https://youtube.com/watch?v=Gt-5lS9hJFA

Talk together about what you’ve just learned. If these creatures need to physically struggle as part of their normal growth, how much more should we humans both physically and spiritually struggle in order to grow!

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Share quotes about struggle from holy people with middle-years or older students as part of a discussion. Choose from those we wrote about in our discussion of struggle, and/or some of these: “Just as people do not enter a war in order to enjoy war, but in order to be saved from war, so we do not enter this world in order to enjoy this world, but in order to be saved from it. People go to war for the sake of something greater than war. So we also enter this temporal life for the sake of something greater: for eternal life. And as soldiers think with joy about returning home, so also Christians constantly remember the end of their lives and their return to their heavenly fatherland.” ~ St. Nikolai Velimirovich

“God’s grace always assists those who struggle, but this does not mean that a struggler is always in the position of a victor. Sometimes in the arena the wild animals did not touch the righteous ones, but by no means were they all preserved untouched.
What is important is not victory or the position of a victor, but rather the labor of striving towards God and devotion to Him.” ~ St. John Maximovitch

“Let us strive to enter by the narrow gate. Just as the trees, if they have not stood before the winter’s storms cannot bear fruit, so it is with us, this present age is a storm and it is only through many trials and temptations that we can obtain an inheritance in the kingdom of heaven.” ~Amma Theodora

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Send middle-years or older students searching in the scriptures. What do the scriptures say about struggle? Talk about how, according to the Strong’s Concordance, the Greek word for struggle is ἀγωνίζομαι, or agónizomai, which does not just mean struggle. It translates to English in different ways, including “to contend for a prize,” as well as “struggle.” Send them to find it in Luke 13:24, (“Strive to enter through the narrow gate, for many, I say to you, will seek to enter and will not be able”.) Can they locate it in 1 Corinthians 9:25? (“And everyone who competes for the prize is temperate in all things. Now they do it to obtain a perishable crown, but we for an imperishable crown.”) How about in I Timothy 4:8-10? (“For bodily exercise profits a little, but godliness is profitable for all things, having promise of the life that now is and of that which is to come. This is a faithful saying and worthy of all acceptance. For to this end we both labor and suffer reproach, because we trust in the living God, who is the Savior of all men, especially of those who believe.”) The same word is used in 2 Timothy 4:7! (“I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.”) Comparing these four passages should give the students a better grasp on what agónizomai means, as well as an idea of how important it is to the Christian life! Ask them what they can conclude about it, based on these four passages. (Striving, competing, laboring, and fighting the good fight all help to urge us in the right direction: toward a deeper faith in God and His Kingdom.)

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With older students, begin a class on struggle by sharing this article to launch the discussion. The article points out how, in nature, struggle is necessary for growth.

https://heraldextra.com/print-specific/columnists/the-struggle-s-the-thing/article_f68dc972-8b19-5c55-ae39-4b0dc0bba3cc.html.

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“We can choose to look at all of life’s circumstances as opportunities to be sanctified. We can turn towards Christ instead of trying to face our passions on our own. And lastly, we should take heart and not be discouraged nor become judgmental of others who struggle against passions different from our own.” Teens and adults alike will benefit from reading this blog post on three lessons learned from St. Porphyrios, and it could be easily incorporated into a class on struggle. https://blogs.goarch.org/blog/-/blogs/three-lessons-from-saint-porphyrios

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On Learning About the Saints

In the Orthodox Church, we are each admonished to learn about the saints. We quote the Holy Fathers and are encouraged to study the lives of all the saints who have gone on before us. But do we ever take a moment to consider why are we encouraged to do this? What value is there in learning about the life of someone who lived so long (years or even millennia) before us?

This blog post will take a look at a few of the reasons why we should learn about the saints; through the words of Holy Fathers and saints.

When we learn about the saints, we can see that they struggled, too.

What is important is not victory or the position of a victor, but rather the labor of striving towards God and devotion to Him.” ~St. John Maximovitch

“…You have seen that on the icons of the saints, the Lord Jesus Christ is represented above, with the imperial globe in one hand and with the other extended in blessing. This is taken from reality. From heaven the Lord ever watches over those who combat for His sake upon earth, He helps them actively, as the almighty King, in their struggle with the enemies of salvation, blesses His wrestlers with ‘peace and joy in the Holy Spirit,’ and bestows the crown of life upon them after they have finished their earthly exploits.” ~St. John of Krondstadt

We can observe the ways in which the saints succeeded (and sometimes also failed!), and learn from them.

“The saints were people like all of us. Many of them came out of great sins, but by repentance they attained the Kingdom of Heaven. And everyone who comes there comes through repentance, which the merciful Lord has given us through His sufferings.” ~St. Silouan the Athonite

“…some falls and relapses of the former sinful life are inevitable. Do not let this disturb you, do not despond. Rome was not built in a day. Everything takes time. It is through many trials and great struggle that we each enter the Kingdom of God…
Sometimes this process of rising proceeds quickly, at times it slows down…Do not be discouraged when you see no improvement. One thing is needful: try to live according to the Gospel commandments…
If you do succumb [to sin], repent before the Lord, ask forgiveness, and rise to fight again. And so until death.” ~Abbot Nikon

“He also said concerning Abba Pior that every day he made a new beginning.” ~Abba Poeman

We can use the saints’ lives as a guide and/or measuring stick to help ourselves stay on track.

“We should always be on the lookout to compare ourselves with the Saints and the lights who have gone before us. If we do, we will discover that we have scarcely begun the ascetic life, that we have hardly kept our vow in a holy manner, and that our thinking is still rooted in the world.” ~St. John Climacus

“A person can become a saint anywhere. He can become a saint in Omonia Square [in Athens, synonymous with vice and corruption], if he wants. At your work, whatever it may be, you can become saints – through meekness, patience and love. Make a new start every day, with new resolution, with enthusiasm and love, prayer and silence – not with anxiety so that you get a pain in the chest. If it happens, for example, that you are given tasks to do that fall outside the remit of your duties it is not right for you to protest and become irritated and complain. Such vexations do you harm. Look on all things as opportunities to be sanctified.” ~St. Porphyrios

We can ask the saints to pray for us.

“Many think that the saints are far from us. But they are far from those who distance themselves from them, and very close to those keep the commandments of Christ and have the grace of the Holy Spirit. In the heavens, all things are moved by the Holy Spirit. But the Holy Spirit is on earth too. He lives in our Church. He lives in the Mysteries. He is in the Holy Scriptures. He is in the souls of the faithful. The Holy Spirit unites all things, and therefore the saints are close to us. And when we pray to them, then the Holy Spirit hears our prayers, and our souls feel that they are praying for us.” ~St. Silouan the Athonite

“’I love them that love me, and glorify them that glorify me.’ (Proverbs 8:17, I Kings 2:30,) says the Lord of His saints. The Lord gave the Holy Spirit to the saints, and they love us in the Holy Spirit. The saints hear our prayers and have the power from God to help us. The entire Christian race knows this.” ~St. Silouan the Athonite

“Call with faith upon the Mother of God and the Saints and pray to them. They hear our prayers and know even our inmost thoughts. And marvel not at this. Heaven and all the saints live by the Holy Spirit and in all the world there is naught hidden by the Holy Spirit. Once upon a time I did not understand how it was that the holy inhabitants of heaven could see our lives. But when the Mother of God brought my sins home to me I realized that they see us in the Holy Spirit and know our entire lives.” ~St. Silouan the Athonite

Through the prayers of our Holy Fathers, of Thy Most Pure Mother, and of all the Saints, have mercy on us and save us. Amen.

Here are a few more quotes from saints about why we can/should learn about and from the saints, as well as a few resources to help us begin the learning!

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“In them [the Lives of the Saints] it is clearly and obviously demonstrated: There is no spiritual death from which one cannot be resurrected by the Divine power of the risen and ascended Lord Christ; there is no torment, there is no misfortune, there is no misery, there is no suffering which the Lord will not change either gradually or all at once into quite, compunctionate joy because of faith in Him. And again there are countless soul-stirring examples of how a sinner becomes a righteous man in the lives of the Saints: how a thief, a fornicator, a drunkard, a sensualist, a murderer, and adulterer becomes a holy man─there are many, many example of this in the Lives of the Saints; how a selfish egoistical, unbelieving, atheistic, proud, avaricious, lustful, evil, wicked, depraved, angry, spiteful, quarrelsome, malicious, envious, malevolent, boastful, vainglorious, unmerciful, gluttonous man becomes a man of God─there are many, many example of this in the Lives of the Saints.

By the same token in the Lives of the Saints there are very many marvelous examples of how a youth becomes a holy youth, a maiden becomes a holy maiden, an old man becomes a holy old man, how an old woman becomes a holy old woman, how a child becomes a holy child, how parents become holy parents, how a son becomes a holy son, how a daughter becomes a holy daughter, how a family becomes a holy family, how a community becomes a holy community, how a priest becomes a holy priest, how a bishop becomes a holy bishop, how a shepherd becomes a holy shepherd, how a peasant becomes a holy peasant, how an emperor becomes a holy emperor, how a cowherd becomes a holy cowherd, how a worker becomes a holy worker, how a judge becomes a holy judge, how a teacher becomes a holy teacher, how an instructor becomes a holy instructor, how a soldier becomes holy soldier, how an officer becomes a holy officer, how a ruler becomes a holy ruler, how a scribe becomes a holy scribe, how a merchant becomes a holy merchant, how a monk becomes a holy monk, how an architect becomes a holy architect, how a doctor becomes a holy doctor, how a tax collector becomes a holy tax collector, how a pupil becomes a holy pupil, how an artisan becomes holy artisan, how a philosopher becomes a holy philosopher, how a scientist becomes a holy scientist, how a statesman becomes a holy statesman, how a minister becomes a holy minister, how a poor man becomes a holy poor man, how a rich man becomes a holy rich man, how a slave becomes a holy slave, how a master becomes a holy master, how a married couple becomes a holy married couple, how an author becomes a holy author, how an artist becomes a holy artist…” ~St. Justin Popovich

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“If you wish, the Lives of the Saints are a sort of Orthodox Encyclopedia. In them can be found everything which is necessary for the soul which hungers and thirsts for eternal righteousness and eternal truth in this life, and which hungers and thirsts for Divine immortality and eternal life. If faith is what you need, there you will find it in abundance: and you will feed your soul with food which will never make it hungry. If you need love, truth, righteousness, hope, meekness, humility, repentance, prayer, or whatever virtue or podvig, in them, the Lives of the Saints, you will find a countless number of holy teachers for every podvig and will obtain grace-filled help for every virtue.” ~St. Justin Popovich

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The Saints hear our prayers and are possessed from God of the strength to help us. The whole Christian race knows this. Fr. Roman told me that when he was a boy he had to cross the river Don in the winter, and his horse fell through the ice and was just about to go under, dragging the sledge with it. He was a little boy at the time and he cried at the top of his voice, ‘St. Nicholas, help me pull the horse out!’ And he tugged at the bridle and pulled the horse and sledge out from under the ice. And when Fr. Matthew, who came from my village, was a little boy he used to graze his father’s sheep like the Prophet David. He was no bigger than a sheep himself. His elder brother was working on the other side of a large field and suddenly he saw a pack of wolves rushing at Misha—Fr. Matthew’s name in the world–and little Misha cried out, ‘St. Nicholas, help!’ and no sooner had the words left his lips than the wolves turned back and did no harm either to him or his flock. And for a long time after that the people of the village would smile and say, ‘Our Misha was terribly frightened by a pack of wolves but St. Nicholas rescued him!’ And we know of many an instance where the Saints come to our help the moment we call upon them. Thus, it is evident that all heaven hears our prayers. – St. Silouan the Athonite

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“St. Marcella and her compatriot Christian widows and young women adopted a plain manner of dress, in contrast to the sumptuous clothing their patrician status demanded. This group became known as the ‘Brown Dress Society’ in Rome. The 300-400s AD were the formation period of monasticism in the Church. Repeatedly in hagiography, women and men were noted to have shunned ‘costly array’ when they entered a celibate life, dedicated to Christ… Put your hair up and your work clothes on, because life is messy!” ~From the introduction to this wonderful new blog about the lives of women saints: https://browndressproject.com/

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Find a calendar/schedule of Orthodox Christian children’s book about saints and their corresponding feastdays here: https://www.pinterest.com/pisc304/reading-through-the-year-of-grace/

What saints’ stories do you recommend to the community?

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Here are a few resources that you may find helpful in your quest to learn about the saints.

Some of the back issues of Little Falcons magazines focus on saints. Find “Mary the Theotokos” (issue #80) and “Heroes” (issue #38) among other back issues here: http://www.littlefalcons.net/

Traveling Companions, by Christopher Moorey, is an alphabetical index of many saints of the Church. Easy to read and understand, this book can be used by adults or children, and introduces the reader to a saint for almost every day of the year (and several saints, on some days!). http://store.ancientfaith.com/traveling-companions/

Christ in His Saints, by Fr. Patrick Henry Reardon, showcases the lives of about 150 saints and heroes found in the Holy Scriptures. The writing style is geared towards older children and adults. http://store.ancientfaith.com/christ-in-his-saints

What other saint resources do you recommend that the rest of the community read?

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Take a few minutes each day to listen to Deacon Jerome Atherholt’s podcast about one of the saints of the day. http://www.ancientfaith.com/podcasts/saintoftheday

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Find a series of blog posts about recent saints, beginning here: https://orthodoxchurchschoolteachers.wordpress.com/2016/09/23/saints-of-recent-decades-an-introduction/

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Learn the troparion to some of the saints, so that you can sing them on the day when we commemorate them. Here is a recording that could help to that end, with a few of them: http://eikona.com/great-saints-major-feasts/
And here are the words for others, for you to chant: http://www.saintromanos.com/downloads.html

What troparia are your favorites?

On Teachers and Summer Break

It is summertime in the northern hemisphere, and for many of us, that means a break in the Sunday Church School routine. During this break, let us take time to be refreshed! Having a break gives us time to rest and to evaluate our work. How are we doing? What is working with our students? What is not? What other ideas are out there? What might we want to try that could improve the quality of our students’ education in the Sunday Church School classroom?

Here are a few resources that may help us to evaluate and recharge. (Note: not all of these are Orthodox. Each of them does, however, contain ideas that can help to refresh us and be ready for the next Sunday Church School year.)

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Ever feel like you’re stuck in a rut or just need to breathe a little? This page offers 25 hands-on ideas that people in Christian ministry can do to reset their creative juices: https://childrensministry.com/simply-refreshed/

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Here are 10 suggestions for rest/refreshment during the break from the school year. Aimed at school teachers, many of these work for Sunday Church School teachers, as well. https://www.mmersfrenchresources.com/2017/05/10-ways-to-recharge-during-summer-break.html

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Need a bit of a refresher? You’re not alone! Many teachers need to take some time to refresh themselves so they can continue to encourage and inspire others. Here are some ideas of ways to refresh yourself: https://teach4theheart.com/6-ways-teachers-can-refresh-can-give-students/

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Laughter is good medicine, and can help to refresh your soul. If you find yourself in need of a little laughter, read this article. Do you know any of these students? https://sharefaith.com/blog/2016/09/10-students-sunday-school-teachers-recognize/

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“Whether you hold a relaxed version of your regular Sunday school program or discontinue classes until fall, read on for nine refreshing ideas to help you nurture kids in the summer months too!” https://network.crcna.org/sunday-school/9-refreshing-ways-connect-kids-summer

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You may want to begin evaluating your year with something like this printable document. It asks many questions that can help you think about how things went in your classroom. http://pghpresbytery.org/disciplemaking/pdfs/Evaluation_Tool_for_Teachers.pdf

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Has your parish thought through (and made public) the details on how your Sunday Church School works? Some parents and even visitors may find information like this helpful, whether on a printed handout in the narthex, or online. Check out this parish’s example for inspiration: http://transfiguration.org/ministries/religious-education/transfiguration-sunday-school-teacher-information/

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Check out Orthodox resource lists like this one to see if there is anything out there that you were not aware of which could help you be a better teacher. http://ww1.antiochian.org/online-resource-list-parents-and-teachers

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Do you want to become a better educator? You may find both refreshment and challenge from Praxis Magazine. The Greek Archdiocese publishes this magazine three times a year, and posts many articles and even entire back issues online. (For example, Volume 14, Issue 1, “Teaching Strategies,” is available online in its entirety and you can read it immediately!)  https://goarch.org/-/praxis-magazine

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“Sophie Koulomzin, an Orthodox author and former professor on Orthodox education, tells us, ‘You can teach only that which you have made your own…’” This article challenges Sunday Church School teachers to evaluate their own embracing of the Orthodox Christian Faith, and reflects on how that will influence our students. http://myocn.net/what-is-orthodox-education/

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Take a little time this summer to rethink your classroom organization. Check out our other blogs for ideas of ways to organize your Sunday Church School room.https://orthodoxchurchschoolteachers.wordpress.com/tag/classroom/

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Have you heard of using a binder method for organizing your students’ work? Here’s one suggestion of how to do so: http://illumination-learning.com/main/2012/05/21/church-school-binders/

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Teachers of teens may want to see if any part of this mindset and/or teaching “style” would help their students better connect to the Faith: https://www.youthworker.com/articles/refresh-sunday-school/