Author Archives: orthodoxchristianparenting

Gleanings from a Book: “Philo and the Faithfulness SuperHoly” by Mireille Mishriky, Illustrated by S. Violette Palumbo

Author’s note: Most Sundays, a young friend from church comes to sit with me during coffee hour. He wants to tell about his week, what dinosaurs he learned about, what he and his brothers built with Legos, what games they invented, etc. A few months ago, when he discovered that I have Ms. Mishriky’s “Philo” books loaded into my phone, he (and sometimes a brother or two) began to also ask for a story. I happily comply whenever I can. Imagine my joy when I learned that a new “Philo” book was coming out! I looked forward to reading it myself, but I especially looked forward to reading it to my young friend! On Sunday I finally had a chance to read it to him, and we both enjoyed the story and were challenged to faithfulness through it. I was glad to share this book with him, and now I get to share it with you as well!

“Philo and the Faithfulness SuperHoly” by Mireille Mishriky is an enjoyable story, just as I anticipated that it would be. But it is more than just a nice picture book. As she did in the other books in the “Philo” series, Ms. Mishriky braces her story with underlying truth, which she presents in a child-friendly and clearly understandable package: that is, in the story of a young Coptic Orthodox boy trying to learn how to juggle his Faith and his daily life.

Philo is an ordinary modern-day boy who meets common modern-day struggles head-on, and learns how to face them in a godly way, with the help of the “SuperHolies” (the fruit of the Spirit, each embodied as a superhero). In “Philo and the Faithfulness SuperHoly”, Philo finds himself at boy scout camp for the first time. He struggles to live out the Faith while in such close proximity to other boys who are not Orthodox Christians. The Faithfulness SuperHoly helps Philo choose to continue to live the Faith, even in a tent with other boys.

Violette Palumbo’s illustrations visually bring Philo to life for the young reader. They are appropriately detailed without overwhelming the eyes. Previous friends of Philo will recognize him right away and anticipate “meeting” another of the SuperHolies, “up close up and personal”. Palumbo adds appropriate touches of humor to the story, as well (i.e.: have a look at Philo’s dad’s face as he helps Philo pack; or the illustration of Philo imagining himself as an old man, telling his grandchildren of his experience). The illustrations add to the story, strengthening it.

Children who read “Philo and the Faithfulness SuperHoly” will find themselves mirrored in Philo in some way or another. They will understand his hesitancy to pray and read scripture in the presence of others who do not believe what they believe. They will be challenged to make the sign of the cross to activate the SuperHolies in their own life when they run into such difficulties. God willing, they will also begin to listen to the Spirit whispering in their ear as He tells them what is right to do, just as Philo “hears” the SuperHolies; and hopefully they will act accordingly. And if the adults in the room are truly listening to the story, they will find themselves beginning to be mindful of these things, as well.

I hope my young friend wants to hear “Philo and the Faithfulness SuperHoly” again. Chances are, he will. And when he asks, I’ll gladly read it to him, not just for the story: but also for the Faithfulness it will inspire in each of us.
The AODCE thanks author Mireille Mishriky for allowing us to see an advanced electronic copy of “Philo and the Faithfulness SuperHoly” so that we could write this review.

To purchase your own copy of “Philo and the Faithfulness SuperHoly” by Mireille Mishriky (or any of the previous Philo books, some of which are available in French and Spanish), you will find it here: https://www.mireillemishriky.com/shop

Here are a few gleanings from “Philo and the Faithfulness SuperHoly”, as well as a few related resources that can help you and your students grow in faithfulness:

***

“‘Always remember to activate your SuperHolies, Philo, not only when you are scared, but also when you can’t make a decision. Always let the Holy Spirit guide you, especially during your camping trip next week,’ advised grandpa.” (p. 7, “Philo and the Faithfulness SuperHoly” by Mireille Mishriky)

***

“‘I won’t need my Bible, Daddy. I won’t have time to read it at night…’ said Philo.
‘There is always time to pray and read your Bible, Philo. Jesus comes first. Everything else comes second,’ said Philo’s father as he placed the Bible inside the bag.” (p. 10, “Philo and the Faithfulness SuperHoly” by Mireille Mishriky)

***

“Philo felt sad. He remembered what his mother often told him. ‘Not everyone loves Jesus, but Jesus loves everyone. Not everyone wants to hear about Jesus, but never stop speaking about His love. You might change someone’s heart without knowing it.’” (p. 13, “Philo and the Faithfulness SuperHoly” by Mireille Mishriky)

***

“Before going to sleep, Philo hesitated. He wanted to pray and read his Bible but he was embarrassed and worried that Tom and the other boys would make fun of him. The tent frame looked like a cross, reminding Philo to activate his SuperHolies.” (p.18, “Philo and the Faithfulness SuperHoly” by Mireille Mishriky)

***

“…the Faithfulness SuperHoly was chosen to help Philo, and she started whispering into Philo’s heart. ‘…You are an example to your friends. Your love for Jesus might make your friends curious about Him. You could be the reason your friends decide to visit a Church or learn more about our Lord.’” (pp. 20-21, “Philo and the Faithfulness SuperHoly” by Mireille Mishriky)

***

Before sharing “Philo and the Faithfulness SuperHoly” with your Sunday Church school class, consider setting up your classroom with a “campfire” for storytelling. Import some rocks for the rock ring, stack a handful of wood pieces for the “fire”, stuff a few yellow/orange/red tissue paper “flames” amidst the wood, and insert a flickering light source (perhaps several battery-operated candles?) in the midst of it all, for atmosphere. When the class enters the room, encourage them to sit around the campfire so that you can share stories. Begin with “Philo and the Faithfulness SuperHoly.” Ask the students some questions about the story, to check their understanding and learning. Be sure to include questions like, “How did Philo’s actions earlier in the evening influence Tom?”; “Have you ever seen your faithfulness to God, demonstrated by your actions, affecting others? How?”; “How would you have handled Philo’s dilemma in the tent?”; and “Have you ever experienced something like Philo’s situation?”

This book is perfect for storytelling, so, while you’re still around the “campfire”, invite them to share their own stories. They can tell a Bible story they know that exhibits faithfulness (besides Daniel and the Lion’s Den, since that one is already taken, in the book!). They can tell of a time when they were able to exhibit faithfulness to God, whether or not it had a happy result like Philo’s. They can tell the story of a saint that they admire for their faithfulness. Each student can choose which type of story to share: but, if possible, they should all share a story, or at least have the opportunity to share one.

If you’d like, you could end the class by having them draw or write about their favorite story of faithfulness.

***

If you have not yet “met” Philo and the SuperHolies, we introduced them (with a few other resources that had just become available) here:

https://orthodoxchurchschoolteachers.wordpress.com/2018/08/17/a-handful-of-resources-summer-2018/

***
Learn more about the virtue of faithfulness, including quotes from the scriptures and from the Church fathers, here: https://orthodoxchristianparenting.wordpress.com/2018/06/27/on-pursuing-virtue-faithfulness/
Perhaps some of the insights into this virtue will be helpful as you approach reading “Philo and the Faithfulness SuperHoly” with your Sunday Church school students.

***

After sharing “Philo and the Faithfulness SuperHoly” with your Sunday Church school class, if it seems that your class needs to continue to grow in faithfulness, check out the lesson ideas suggested here: https://orthodoxchurchschoolteachers.wordpress.com/2018/06/29/on-pursuing-virtue-faithfulness/

***

 

Gleanings from a Book: “Prayer Spa: Ancient Treatments for the Modern Soul” by Jennifer Anna Rich

Do you find yourself ready for a retreat because summer – or life in general – is getting to you? Does life feel stormy, or are there clouds threatening the horizon of your heart? If so, a little spa time is just what you need! We often think of pampering our bodies when we are weary and heavy laden. Sometimes physical rest and relaxation is in order, and it truly helps us. But often afterwards, we get back home and into life again, and we find ourselves right back in a stormy, weary place, wishing we could return to the spa…

What would happen if we would choose to spend our “spa” time and energy on preparing to soothe our soul through prayer? We could then set up an all-encompassing prayer space that ministers to our body as well as our soul. We could also make a plan to restructure our life to include spending time in that space each day, praying.

But how would we go about creating such a space and implementing such a change? “Prayer Spa: Ancient Treatments for the Modern Soul” offers solutions to this question. The book is full of reasons for us to bathe our souls in peaceful prayer. And it doesn’t simply scold us with reasons to straighten out our prayer life: it gently takes us by the hand, introducing us to practical means to do so.

This book is, in itself, a retreat. Each entry is simultaneously soothing and thought provoking. It is written thoughtfully, and every page is poetry which engages the mind while challenging the reader’s thoughts. Themed chapters help the reader think from a distinctly Orthodox Christian perspective about topics related to prayer. They are as follows: Mind…Body…Soul; The Five Senses; Your Prayer Plan; Inner Stillness; An Offering; The Hours; Tools for Therapy. (Readers will likely find the “Tools for Therapy” chapter to become the most visited chapter. It includes a few ideas for ways to invite your body to join in prayer, as well as pages and pages of prayers, ranging from Psalms for each of the Hours to morning and evening prayers.) The author’s near-exclusive use of lower case is intentional; whispering her ideas and findings instead of shouting them, enhancing their soft allure. The final pages of the book are supplements that include a reproducible prayer card for your daily prayer plan, pages of scripture verses to memorize and pray, and recommended books (featuring an important quote from each) for further growth.

In Orthodoxy, we often invite the world to “come and see” what The Faith is all about. The same applies to this book. Attempting to describe it is one thing: but experiencing it is something else completely. The author’s intent with the book is “to bring the hidden wisdom of early christian luminaries to those in the twenty-first century who may not yet have come to experience this tangible way to love your God, your neighbor, and yourself within the fabric of daily life.” (p. 108) She has succeeded. “Prayer Spa” is at once a tall drink of cool water on a hot day and a sturdy lighthouse in a stormy sea. You may wish to “come and see” for yourself.

Whether or not we adopt all of the ideas in “Prayer Spa,” let us embrace its challenge to be intentional in our prayers. Let us indeed commune with God daily, with our whole self, through prayer, thus nourishing our soul. This is the kind of “spa time” that we truly need. Anchoring our life in prayer brings calm and peace to our souls, even in the storms of life.
Thanks to Paraclete Press for sharing a copy with the AODCE so that we could read it and write this review.

Purchase your own copy here: https://paracletepress.com/products/prayer-spa

(Note: although this book may not be applicable for use with your Sunday church school students, its effect on their teacher will certainly impact their lives for the good! And perhaps it will stir in you ideas for growing prayer in your students’ lives.)

Here are a few gleanings from the book:

***

“train your mind to pierce

through the roar of voices

undistracted, to a single focus.

this recalls the stillness of the desert

where our monastic fathers and mothers

honed their communion with a personal God…

 

…massage your attention span

to align and extend its reach.

memorize prayers, scriptures, and psalms

to lift mind and soul

wrap them in together in white cloth.” (p. 15, “Prayer Spa: Ancient Treatments for the Modern Soul” by Jennifer Anna Rich)

***

“prayer is a way toward theosis—union with God

sharing in His divine nature, through grace.

this is a long, narrow pathway

which must be sought after with great humility and perseverance.

 

yet spiritual refreshment is available to any person

who wishes to partake in the tangible beauty

of a life seeking the Holy in this grace-infused world.” (pp. 28- 29, “Prayer Spa: Ancient Treatments for the Modern Soul” by Jennifer Anna Rich)

***

“at the beginning, you must force yourself to pray

but soon, prayer becomes essential to a day well lived.” (p. 33, “Prayer Spa: Ancient Treatments for the Modern Soul” by Jennifer Anna Rich)

***

“…by carrying God’s presence deep in the center of your heart

you may one day become, through grace

a person who has been turned into prayer.” (p. 47, “Prayer Spa: Ancient Treatments for the Modern Soul” by Jennifer Anna Rich)

***

“father anthony bloom taught a method

for gathering the crumbs of wasted time

and transforming them into something holy.

 

the secret of this contemplative exercise is to find joy

simply being with God

as you listen for His voiceless presence  within your heart.” (p. 48, “Prayer Spa: Ancient Treatments for the Modern Soul” by Jennifer Anna Rich)

***

“a fourth-century aid to contemplative prayer

the christian prayer rope is a way to offer time

kairos time, in the moment … not chronos time, by the clock

 

traditionally it is tied with knots made of nine crosses

one cross representing each order of the angels

 

to use the prayer rope, simply repeat the Jesus Prayer

while moving from knot to knot with the thumb and forefinger…” (p. 56, “Prayer Spa: Ancient Treatments for the Modern Soul” by Jennifer Anna Rich)

***

“as creatures contained in time, we can sanctify our days

savor the remembrance of God

by praying “the hours.”

 

the “major hours” consist of morning and evening prayers.

 

you may choose to expand your offering to include

the seven “divine services” throughout the day

spoken on their designated hour, or adjusted to fit your schedule.” (p. 66, “Prayer Spa: Ancient Treatments for the Modern Soul” by Jennifer Anna Rich)

***

“if you have children, let them catch you praying.

share these short remembrances of God with them.

let them discover your own yearning for prayer

as a treat you quietly prioritize each day.

remember, you too are a child of God, beloved.” (p. 69, “Prayer Spa: Ancient Treatments for the Modern Soul” by Jennifer Anna Rich)

***

On Using Games for Summer Fun With Your Students

It is summertime in the northern hemisphere, and many of our Sunday Church schools are taking a break from meeting for classes. If your parish is continuing on with Church school without taking a break, this blog post is for you, as you may find some game(s) here that can be incorporated into a class! If your parish does not have Church school over the summer, but you would like to re-connect with your students (and/or meet upcoming students), perhaps you could use some of these game ideas to create a fun night (or fun Sunday afternoon) for them. If your parish does not have Church school over summer, and you do not plan to host such an event, tuck some of these game ideas into your back pocket for use during the Sunday Church school year.

We have gathered a handful of links to game ideas for a variety of ages and class sizes. Some of these games are just for fun; others can be used in the learning process; and still others could help build community in your classroom. You know your students and what will or will not work in your setting. Glean whatever you deem useful and don’t bother with the rest!

May God bless your summer!

 

Here are the ideas that we have gathered. What game ideas do you have to share with the community? Please share them in a comment!

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Find the rules to eight outdoor games that do not require any sort of prop (no ball or anything) here: https://ladyandtheblog.com/15-games-play-city-cement-games-child-love/

***

Here is a collection of indoor games and activities that could be used (or adapted for use) in a Church school class: https://www.whatdowedoallday.com/fun-indoor-games-for-kids/

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Here are a handful of group games for outdoor play: https://christiancamppro.com/include-everyone-with-these-5-large-group-games/

***

Here’s a collection of rules for more than 60 group games. http://www.group-games.com/index-of-all-group-games

***

These ideas require cooperation, so they are fun team building activities for people of all ages: https://spongekids.com/team-building-activities-for-adults-and-kids/

***

There are so many fun activities and games here, and they all encourage cooperation between participants! These would work with children, adults, or a mixed group. https://www.momjunction.com/articles/team-building-activities-will-keep-kids-busy-summer_0074763/

***

The team-building ideas here are fun and involve the entire group: https://literacyandlattes.com/2016/08/17/team-builders-for-the-classroom/

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Here are 26 fun team-builders for kids: https://www.weareteachers.com/team-building-games-and-activities/

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Each of these games requires at least one beach ball: https://www.birthdaypartyideas4kids.com/beach-ball-games.html

***

Learning About a Saint: St. Artemius of Verkova (June 23/July 6 and October 20/Nov. 2)

In 1532, Cosmas “The Lesser” and his wife Apollinaria, pious peasants in the Russian village of Dvina Verkola, had a son. They named him Artemius. Cosmas and Apollinaria raised their son to love and honor God with his life. Even from an early age, Artemius lived a virtuous Christian life. Some sources say that by the time he was five, Artemius didn’t want to do what other kids his age did. Instead, he loved to work and tried to help his parents however he could with the household chores. He happily obeyed his parents, and any free time he had left when chores were finished, he spent in church. If he couldn’t be in church, he’d sneak away to where no one could see him, and pray.

One day, when he was twelve, Artemius and Cosmas were working together on their farm work. They were out tilling their fields when a thunderstorm suddenly appeared overhead. Artemius couldn’t even run for cover before a lightning bolt struck him and killed him. It was June 23, 1545.

At that time, many people in the region were superstitious, and they believed that a sudden death like Artemius’ was a terrible thing. They thought that he died suddenly because God was judging Artemius for something bad that he had done. Because of this, the people wouldn’t bury him or even give him a proper funeral! Instead, his body was taken to a meadow, where a wooden shell was placed over it, and a fence was built around it.

Thirty-two years later, a deacon named Agafonik was out gathering berries when he saw a bright light shining right up into the air. As Agafonik came closer to the light, he saw the body of Artemius, covered with tree branches, lying in a clearing. The light was shining up into the air right above the boy’s body. The body was incorrupt – he had not decayed at all – in fact it looked to Agafonik like he was just sleeping there! The deacon ran to get the priest and the other villagers. Because his body was incorrupt after all of those years, the whole village knew that Artemius was very holy, so they brought his body back to the courtyard in front of St. Nicholas’ church. They placed it in a coffin covered in birch bark, and kept it in the courtyard of the church.

At that time, there was a terrible flu that was going through the village of Verkola, and many people were dying from it. One man, Kallinik, had a son who had this flu. Kallinik was afraid that his son would also die. He went to the church of St. Nicholas and prayed. He begged Christ to heal his son. He also asked the Theotokos, St. Nicholas, and even Artemius to pray for his son. Then he took a piece of birch bark from Artemius’ coffin back to his home, and placed it on his son’s chest. His son was immediately healed! Kallinik told others in the village what happened. Other villagers who took pieces of the bark from Artemius’ coffin to the sick people in their homes found that their loved ones were all healed, as well!

In the years since his incorrupt body was discovered, there have been other times when St.Artemius has healed people. Sometimes he appears to the people that he heals, and talks with them. For example, once there was a man from Kholmogor named Hilarion who went blind. He was very sad and didn’t feel like doing anything anymore because he couldn’t see. But on the feast of St. Nicholas, St. Artemius came to him. Artemius was holding a staff in his left hand and a cross in his right hand, and he told Hilarion, “Arise, Christ heals you by the hand of His servant Artemius. Go to Verkola, bow down before his coffin, and relate everything to the priest and the peasants.” As soon as St. Artemius finished speaking, Hilarion could see again!

In 1584, people who were grateful for St. Artemius’ help and prayers built a side chapel for him. They moved his body into that chapel from the courtyard where it had been ever since it was found. Years later, St. Artemius healed a military commander’s son. The commander was so thankful that he built a whole church dedicated to the saint! In 1619, St. Artemius’ relics were moved to that church. The church burned down thirty years later, but St. Artemius’ relics were found.

In 1648, more than a hundred years after Artemius died, Tsar Alexis Mikhailovich of Russia ordered that a monastery was built and named for St. Artemius, and placed under his protection. His relics were taken to the monastery with his name so that people could continue to venerate them and ask for his prayers. Over the centuries many miracles were attributed to these relics by people who have approached them with true faith in Christ. Besides healing people from illnesses and blindness, God has also healed lame and deaf people through the prayers of St. Artemius. He has interceded for men and women, old people and young people; and there are so many miracles that God has worked through this saint that one source said it would be impossible to write them all down. Glory to God for His work through this holy child saint!

In the summer of 1918, as the Bolsheviks began to terribly persecute the Orthodox Christian Church, St. Artemius’ relics were among those that were destroyed. Even though his earthly relics have been destroyed, we know that this holy saint is still alive with God, and that he continues to pray for those who ask him to do so! And he has not stopped appearing to people in visions.

An American iconographer, Philip Zimmerman, who was living near Johnstown, PA, had a waking vision of a child saint. The child saint asked him to “paint what he saw for the children at the Village.” Mr. Zimmerman pondered the vision and prayed about it, and finally about 5 years later, he painted what he had seen, the holy saint Artemius. After that, St. Artemius appeared to Mr. Zimmerman additional times, confirming what he had seen in the dream about the saint’s hagiography. At that time, Fr. John Namie was directing Antiochian Village. He coordinated the selection of a site and the building of a rock shrine for the icon on that site. The icon stands there in its shrine to this day, to the right of the entrance to the St. Ignatius Church, in the midst of Antiochian Village Camp. St. Artemius’ shrine stands watch over the huge fields of Antiochian Village, even as the saint watches over – and prays for – the children and adults who spend time there.

 

Through the prayers of St. Artemius the Righteous Child Wonderworker, Lord Jesus Christ our God, have mercy on us and save us. Amen.

 

Here are some related links that may be helpful as you prepare a Sunday Church School lesson about St. Artemius:

***

This blog shares St. Artemius of Verkova’s story in detail, and includes several different icons of him. https://www.johnsanidopoulos.com/2010/10/saint-artemius-of-verkola-righteous.html

***

Together with your class, listen to St. Artemius’ story in Ancient Faith Radio’s podcast, “Tending the Garden of our Hearts”, and then answer the questions and discussion at the end of the podcast. https://www.ancientfaith.com/podcasts/tendingthegarden/st_artemius
***

Your students may find it interesting to look at this list of wonderworking saints who are known to pray for specific needs: http://www.saintbarbara.org/growing_in_christ/praying_to_the_saints

If you share the list with your class, challenge them to find St. Artemius of Verkova in the list. Then recall the miracles that God has worked through him, and encourage the class to think of what other categories he could be listed under. What other saints on the list do they know? Could these saints be listed in any other categories? If so, which ones? What does this cross-listing tell us about the Saints and how God chooses to work through their prayers?

***

How did St. Artemius of Verkova live his life? What made him a saint? Make a list on the board (or, better yet, have each student make their own list) of lifestyle choices that St. Artemius made which allowed him to become so holy. Together, watch this video about how we are ALL called to be saints. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AgocWG9AG7s

Then look back at your list. Which of the choices that St. Artemius made are you also living out in a godly way? Which ones do you need to keep working on/improving in? Take some time to pray and ask St. Artemius to pray for you, that you will be healed (especially if you are ill) and that you will be saved.

***

If you teach your students about St. Artemius of Verkova, you may want to also teach them his troparion. They can sing it on one of his commemoration days, whenever they think of him and want to ask him to pray for them, or whenever there’s a thunderstorm!

Troparion (tone 2)

By the command of the Most High, the sky was darkened with rain clouds,

lightning flashed, threat’ning thunder clashed,

and you gave up your soul into the hands of the Lord, O Artemius most wise.

Now as you stand before the Throne of the Lord of All,

you grant healing unfailingly to those who come to you with faith and love,

and you pray to Christ our God that our souls may be saved.

***

There are so many amazing things that happened to St. Artemius the Righteous Child Wonderworker, both in this life, and after he departed this life. You may wish to give your students the chance to illustrate his story. Print out his story, cut it into sections, and give each student part of the story to illustrate. You can make a class book with the results, or post all of the illustrations, together with their part of the story, in your classroom or on a bulletin board where your whole parish can see and read about this little-known wonderworking saint.

***

Iconographer Philip Zimmerman is still writing icons, and he even leads iconography classes! Check out his website here: https://www.philzicons.com/

Gleanings from a Book: “Anthony, the Great” by John Sarantakis, Illustrated by Misha Pjawka

Just because Anthony is only “four fingers old” doesn’t keep him from helping his family members to keep perspective on their challenges. However, being four has trials of its own, and being a four-year-old who is also an Orthodox Christian affords additional unique tests. But Anthony is ready to meet his challenges! He faces them well with the help of his sidekick Mikey (who happens to be a stuffed dinosaur) and of his patron saint, St. Anthony the Great.

In “Anthony, the Great”, Deacon John Sarantakis offers the tale of a young boy struggling to struggle. The book begins with Anthony reminding everyone that whatever they’re going through is not as big as a dinosaur. Readers of all ages can relate to some part of Anthony’s personality: whether to his love for dinosaurs, his desire for adventure, or his determination to be right. They will be challenged by Anthony’s longing to emulate his patron saint; even when everyone – right down to his favorite stuffed toy – does not do things exactly how he wishes they would be done. Throughout his challenges, Anthony faithfully struggles, as did his patron saint. Each time he does so, love and warmth well up in the heart of the person Anthony has blessed by his struggle. By the end of the book, Anthony discovers something BIGGER than a dinosaur, which is really something to realize!

Misha Pjawka’s watercolor, gouache, and pencil on hot pressed paper illustrations interact with the text in a beautiful dance of playfulness and color, charmingly collaborating to enhance the tale. There’s a degree of transparency to the illustrations that effectively communicates the storyline while also speaking to the state of Anthony’s soul: he clearly longs to do what is right. The book offers its readers an unclouded look at his struggle, both through the text and illustrations. (Side note: both young readers and the young at heart will especially enjoy watching Mikey throughout the book, as he wholeheartedly embraces Anthony’s experiences and adds a touch of humor with his take on them.)

The book ends with a brief overview of the life of St. Anthony. It tells some of his story, and includes his icon. There’s just enough of his story there to help the reader appreciate Anthony’s desire to emulate his patron saint, and perhaps to whet their appetite to learn more about this holy saint who is sometimes called the “father of monasticism.”

I can’t help wishing that Anthony were a real boy. I know that I would enjoy hanging out with him and Mikey, and learning how to emulate St. Anthony the Great by interacting with them. Although he is a fictional character, at least I can enter into Anthony’s life for a moment and be challenged by his struggle to struggle, every time I read “Anthony, the Great”.

 

Purchase your own copy of “Anthony, the Great” here: https://store.ancientfaith.com/anthony-the-great/

Here are a few gleanings from the book, as well as some educational suggestions you could incorporate if you choose to teach a lesson that includes the book. The book is aimed towards children aged 2-10, but perhaps (depending on the makeup of the class) older children would benefit from reading it in the context of a lesson:

***
“No matter what the day may bring, Papa and Mama often take time to remind Anthony what it means to be an Orthodox Christian.” (p. 10, “Anthony, the Great”, by John Sarantakis, Illustrated by Misha Pjawka)

After reading the whole book once, go back to this part. Ask your class what they think Anthony’s parents told him that it means to be an Orthodox Christian? And what does Mr. Sarantakis mean by “No matter what the day may bring?” Ask the class if they pray the prayer that includes this phrase, “Whatsoever tidings I may receive during the day, teach me to accept them calmly, in the firm conviction that all eventualities fulfil Thy holy will…”. If they do, how does it help them during the day when they get good or bad news? If they don’t pray this one, perhaps you could provide a printed copy for them to take with them, so they can learn it and pray it each morning. Find the prayer in its entirety here: http://www.stgeorgeofboston.org/ourfaith/prayers/morningprayer

***

“‘We strive to love God more than anything else,’ says Mama. ‘Sometimes that means not getting or doing what we want. That can be hard. Even so, we struggle to put others before ourselves.’”  (p. 10, “Anthony, the Great”, by John Sarantakis, Illustrated by Misha Pjawka)

Draw a big heart on the board or whiteboard. Ask your students what they love. They will probably mention things, people, and experiences. Then refer to Mama’s quote about trying to love God more than anything else. Ask your students how they do that, and if they agree with Mama that it is hard. Inside the heart, make a (student-generated) list of ways to love God more than anyone or anything else.

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“His patron saint, St. Anthony the Great, had to struggle. A lot… Anthony quietly prayed that he might be more like this great saint of God.” (p. 13, “Anthony, the Great”, by John Sarantakis, Illustrated by Misha Pjawka)

Ask your students what they know about their patron saint. Remind them that the more they know about their saint, the better they will be able to emulate them and the more likely they will feel close enough to their patron saint to ask for their prayers. Encourage them to pray that they will become more like their saint. Here is a blog post suggesting ways to teach children about the saints. Although it is geared to parents, it has some tips that Sunday Church School teachers will be able to utilize as well: http://www.orthodoxmotherhood.com/teaching-your-children-about-the-saints/

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“Papa says temptations are chances to show our love for God.” (p. 16, “Anthony, the Great”, by John Sarantakis, Illustrated by Misha Pjawka)

Ask your class why they think it is that, multiple times each day, we pray that God will lead us not into temptation, yet we constantly find ourselves being tempted? Suggest that perhaps Anthony’s statement about what his papa says can help us to wrap our minds around why we are tempted. Find some resources that will help you think about temptations (in the context of the Lord’s Prayer) here: https://orthodoxchurchschoolteachers.wordpress.com/2016/04/08/on-the-lords-prayer-and-lead-us-not-into-temptation/

The Bible verse stick craft at this page can help your students learn some verses about temptation: https://orthodoxpebbles.com/orthodox-basics/tending-garden-week6/

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“…He was struggling to struggle. He wanted what he wanted when he wanted it, and he wanted to do what he wanted to do when he wanted to do it! Even so, Anthony, remembering his prayer, decided to act like his saint…” (p. 25, “Anthony, the Great”, by John Sarantakis, Illustrated by Misha Pjawka)

After reading “Anthony, the Great”, as you revisit and discuss the book, when you arrive at this part of the book, ask your students what they think about struggle. Is it bad? Is it good? Why do they say that? Can they give examples of times in their own life when they struggle to struggle? In the Orthodox Christian Church, we recognize that struggle is an important – and necessary – part of our Christian life. Read what the scriptures and the Church fathers have to say about it here (and also find related lesson ideas if it seems that your students need to spend more time learning about this important piece of our faith): https://orthodoxchurchschoolteachers.wordpress.com/2018/07/27/on-struggle/

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“‘My sweet boy, because you struggled against what you wanted, you helped your family. I’m proud of you. When we do these things, we imitate Christ’s sacrifice and love for us. A love that is bigger and greater than anything else in the world.’” ~ Anthony’s Papa (p. 27, “Anthony, the Great”, by John Sarantakis, Illustrated by Misha Pjawka)

Ask your students to consider how big God’s love is. Anthony’s Papa says it’s bigger than anything else in the world, and Anthony calls it “bigger than a dinosaur”! Encourage your students to draw or write their response on this page. When they’ve finished, allow each student to share their comparison. Talk about all of these big things, and how much bigger God’s love is. Encourage each other to remember God’s big love, and sacrifice our desires as we imitate Christ and His love.

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On Pentecost and Missions

We often remember Pentecost as being the day of the descent of the Holy Spirit. We remember the tongues of fire and wonder what that experience would have been like. Perhaps we also limit the important events of that day to the room in which the Apostles were waiting as Christ had commanded them to do when he ascended into heaven. We may not think about the rest of that day, or what happened beyond the room.

Pentecost is considered to be the birthday of the Church. After all, it was on this day that the Holy Spirit descended upon the Apostles. That, in itself, was an event worth celebrating, but it did not just happen for the Apostles’ edification. When He descended upon the Apostles, the Holy Spirit enabled them to fulfill Christ’s command to go into all the world and preach the Gospel. We don’t always ponder that connection when we celebrate Pentecost.

So, let’s take a moment to think together about what actually happened that day. When the Holy Spirit descended upon the Apostles, He gave them the ability to speak in other languages. And they didn’t just sit there and marvel at what had happened. Instead, they immediately put that ability to use. They left their secluded room and went right out into the world around them where many people of different languages were gathered. The Apostles began to speak to these others, sharing with them the good news about Christ. Miraculously, because of the Holy Spirit, they could speak to these strangers in their very own languages! And what happened? Acts 2 tells us that more than 3,000 people became part of the Church on that day! That’s quite a birthday celebration!

The icon of Pentecost shows the Apostles in their room, with the tongues of fire over their heads, but it also speaks to the rest of the day’s events. If you look closely at the icon, you see an old crowned man at the bottom of the icon. He is called “Cosmos” and represents the people of the world. He’s crowned to show that people rule over the world itself, but he’s in the dark to remind us of the darkness that everyone is in without Christ. Cosmos is holding 12 scrolls, representing the 12 Apostles who left the safety and blessing of the Spirit-filled upper room to carry the good news of the Gospel to all corners of the world. So, right there in the festal icon, we see this link between Pentecost and missions.

So, as we celebrate Pentecost, let us not just focus on the coming of the Holy Spirit. Yes, His descent upon the Apostles (and on us) is hugely important! We need Him just to breathe and live! But let’s also remember that Cosmos is still in the dark, whether “he” is down the hall, across the street, in another corner of our country, or another part of the world. Just like the Apostles, we must take this gift of the Holy Spirit, which we were given at baptism and Chrismation, and share the good news of the Gospel to every part of the world where we find ourselves. We don’t need to fear not being able to speak the right words: the Holy Spirit will provide (Luke 12:12), just as He did for the Apostles on Pentecost.

Let us celebrate the birthday of the Church with joy. But let us also continue to do our part to accomplish the purpose for Pentecost: that is, to fulfill Christ’s command of going into all the world and preaching the Gospel! May the holy Apostles intercede for us as we go.

Blessed art Thou, O Christ our God,

who hast revealed the fishermen as most wise

by sending down upon them the Holy Spirit:

through them Thou didst draw the world into Thy net.

O Lover of Man, Glory to Thee

(Troparion for the Feast of Pentecost).

Here are some lesson plans about Pentecost and Missions that may be helpful as you plan to teach your Sunday Church School students about the link between them:
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Here are lesson plans about missions at a variety of levels: https://oca.org/the-hub/study-guides/sharing-the-good-news-orthodox-christian-mission-educational-materials-in-c

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This lesson about Pentecost for younger children includes a beautiful icon of the feast, and an explanation that includes Cosmos (at the bottom of the icon). https://orthodoxpebbles.com/new-testament/holy-pentecost/

Find a printable line art version of the icon of Pentecost here: http://orthodoxeducation.blogspot.com/2015/06/pentecost-coloring-icon.html

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“To be a Christian is to be on a mission. And this mission isn’t just something that happened in the past. At this very moment there are missionaries traveling all over the world, preaching the Gospel… And we should remember that this missionary life doesn’t simply belong in faraway places. It belongs in our cities, our neighborhoods, in the everyday life of our parishes.” ~ Steve Christoforou, “Be the Bee” episode 73, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_nkLcoeCEl0&feature=youtu.be

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Hear “Lord have mercy” in many of the languages of Orthodoxy in the video found here (which also shows images of Orthodox Christians around the world) http://orthodoxeducation.blogspot.com/2008/06/languages-of-orthodoxy.html

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This lesson plan about missions and ideas of ways to raise money to support it includes a story from Kenya: https://www.goarch.org/-/missions

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Here’s a missions-focused lesson plan for elementary/middle school: https://www.ocmc.org/images/PDFs/2018_lesson_plan(elementary%20middle%20school).pdf

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Here’s a missions-focused lesson plan for high school students: https://www.ocmc.org/images/PDFs/2017_lesson_plan(high%20school).pdf

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Here’s a missions-focused lesson plan for high school/adults: https://www.ocmc.org/images/PDFs/2018_lesson_plan(high%20school%20adult).pdf

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This series of lessons (available at all age levels) includes this: “As God’s children we are called to witness our faith.   We are called to understand who we are as Orthodox Christians, and to bear witness to God with our families and friends by being good neighbors, reaching out to help others, and standing up and protecting those who are being mistreated, or are victims of discrimination or prejudice.” Find the series (6 lessons at each level) here: http://dce.oca.org/focus/orthodox/

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These three Grade 6-leveled lessons on missions could be adapted for use with older and/or younger students: https://www.orthodoxcatechismproject.org/grade-6/-/asset_publisher/sVl6TXix4npP/content/missions

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Perhaps your entire parish would like to spend a retreat day focusing on missions/evangelism. Here’s what one parish did: http://dce.oca.org/mini/evangelism/

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Your students may wonder what is it like to begin a mission in another part of the world. Share this article about a new mission in Kenya, and encourage your class to remember these brothers and sisters of ours in your prayers: https://www.ocmc.org/resources/view_article.aspx?ArticleId=2411

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Gleanings from a Book: A Forest in the Desert the Life of St. John the Short, by Creative Orthodox

There are very few Orthodox Christian graphic novels. Presumably this is due to the fact that it takes so much time and energy to create one, especially if one wishes to accurately share the life of a saint. St. John the Short was no ordinary person, and therefore this is no ordinary graphic novel. I am grateful that Creative Orthodox* spent so many years researching St. John’s life and painstakingly creating this book. Presenting the story of St. John the Short through the use of this storytelling medium makes his story accessible to people of so many different ages. Young and old alike will enjoy this book and learn so much about (and from!) St. John’s life. As they read, they will be strengthened in their faith. This graphic novel effectively brings to life St. John the Short’s wisdom and insights.

“A Forest in the Desert” shares the life of St. John the Short. It begins with his first youthful attempt to go into the desert and become a monk, follows through his actual monastic calling, and continues all the way through his monastic life. The book offers a glimpse into monastic life as it was in his lifetime. The stories about St. John are intertwined with glimpses into his wisdom, expressed here in his own words. There are also accounts of miracles which God wrought through him, including the healing of a leper and that of a demon-possessed woman; an amazing encounter with the three Hebrew youths from the fiery furnace in Babylon; and more.

The book closes with an epilogue which allows the reader further insights into some of the saints mentioned in St. John’s story. There follow pages of interesting notes, with additional details about some of the events and/or illustrations on previous pages. Each note is clearly labeled with its corresponding page number and adds depth to the book as a whole. Following the notes are illustrations of several of St. John’s sayings.

Creative Orthodox has beautifully utilized the medium of the graphic novel, finding just the right words while also knowing when it is better to communicate with an illustration instead. Many times the drawings say more than words could, thus communicating ideas and events in a way that is easily (and quickly!) understandable. The drawings, done with pen and ink, are simple enough to appreciate at a glance, but detailed enough to convey what they are meant to illustrate. And, while they are not icons, the illustrations (and this book as a whole) point the reader to Christ through the life of this wonderful saint, St. John the Short.

I am truly grateful that Creative Orthodox was kind enough to share the ebook version of this extraordinary graphic novel so that I could read it and share it with you. I have already read it more than once, and have gleaned more from the life of this inspiring saint with each reading.

 

*Note: Michael Elgamal created “Creative Orthodox” so that his work would not be about him. Follow Creative Orthodox’s work through the social media links found here: https://creativeorthodox.com/

Order your copy of this graphic novel here: https://www.facebook.com/pg/creativeorthodox/shop/

Here are a few gleanings from the book, as well as a few suggestions of how to use the book to teach your Sunday Church School students about the life of St. John the Short:

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Bring seeds, a small sapling, and a piece of a branch of a tree (with leaves and seeds, if possible) into class. Place them where the students can see them, to arouse curiosity. When you share this quote from “A Forest in the Desert”, you’ll have props to help your students understand what you’re talking about.

“Saintly life is like a tree. It starts with a seed sown by Christ, that grows through attention and care to spiritual life into a fruitful tree, not only strengthening and nurturing itself, but also giving rise to countless other trees.” (pp. 7-10, “A Forest in the Desert the Life of St. John the Short”, by Creative Orthodox)

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If you are able, take your students outside before sharing the life of St. John the Short with them. Before Church School, stick a stick in the ground somewhere outside the church. When you bring your students outside, show them the stick. Ask them if it is likely to grow. If you have time (and water access), have each student take their turn to get water from a source (preferably a ways away from the stick) and carry it over, to water the stick. Ask again if it is likely to grow. Ask students if they’d water this old stick every day if someone asked them to, and why (or why not).

Then share the story of Elder Amoi’s test of St. John the Short with them. “One day, the Elder Amoi was inspired. He took a piece of dry wood and called John. He asked him to fill a bucket with water and follow. They walked for hours… Abba Amoi planted the stick firmly into the ground. ‘I want you to walk to the well daily, fill up a bucket with water, and come here to water the stick.’ …John understood that watering a dry stick wouldn’t bring it to life, but he quietly obeyed out of love for his abba. And this was how John’s biggest trial started. It wasn’t a one-time test of endurance. It was a daily test of love, perseverance, and obedience… John continued to water the stick every single day for three consecutive years. And the stick into a beautiful tree. Abba Amoi took the fruit of the tree, gathered the monks, and gave it to the elders, saying, ‘Take, eat from the fruit of obedience.’” (pp. 65-70, “A Forest in the Desert the Life of St. John the Short”, by Creative Orthodox)

Talk about obedience and how it can be fruitful. What examples can your students share of times when they were obedient, and were blessed to see the fruit of their obedience?

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Older students will be able to engage in a conversation about this quote:“The saints of God are like a fine tree full of lush green leaves and glorious fruit that are planted in Paradise. Trees that are decorated with all beauties, adorned with glory and placed in a spring – a spiritual spring of life that is the Holy Spirit that waters all of our hearts. Likewise, if a kernel of wheat has to die in order to give fruit, and Christ had to give His life on the Cross in order to give us life, the saints too have to present their lives in sacrifice in order to bear fruit.” ~ St. John the Short (pp. 118-120, “A Forest in the Desert the Life of St. John the Short”, by Creative Orthodox)

To discuss: What other examples from the natural world can you give (besides a tree and a kernel of wheat) that can help us to understand what Christ and the saints have done, in order to bear fruit? What examples from your own life can you share? How have you “died” to yourself, and seen God work in you/seen fruit come from that “death”?

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Near the beginning of a fast, you could share this quote from St. John the Short. Before you do so, however, you may wish to plant several bricks in your classroom and pose the question, “How is fasting like a brick wall?” Field answers, then share this analogy from St. John the Short.

 

“…you frequently find yourselves asking, ‘Why do we fast so often?’ I’ll tell you why. When a king seeks to conquer a city, he surrounds the city walls and blocks access to its water well, spoiling the city’s food supplies. The defending city will soon give in to hunger and thirst and will fall to the attacking army. This is exactly like fasting. When you abstain from eating, you control yourself and guard your soul to rule over evil.” ~ St. John the Short (p. 126, “A Forest in the Desert the Life of St. John the Short”, by Creative Orthodox)

 

Ask your class what they think about the analogy. In what ways does it hold well? Are there any ways that it doesn’t? Consider giving each student a brick and allowing them to write/draw (with oil pens or permanent markers) on their brick all the ways in which fasting will help them to control themselves and guard their soul against evil. Either stack these bricks as a monument in your classroom, to remind all of you of the reason for the fast for its duration, or send each student’s brick home with them to place where they can be reminded of the reasons for fasting (especially when they’re tempted to complain about it).

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Teachers of younger children who wish to share the life of St. John the Short will wish to read “A Forest in the Desert” before class, and select which portions of his life would be best shared with their students. They can then read (or retell) those stories in class, and then offer the students St John the Short favorite part, which will allow the students to respond with their favorite part of his life.

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Teachers of older students may want several copies of “A Forest in the Desert” so that the class can read it together. Depending on the length of class, you may need to break St. John the Short’s story into segments, reading and discussing each in a separate Sunday Church School class period. After having read and discussed the entire book, encourage your students to illustrate their favorite quote from St. John the Short. Or, push them to think of another saint whose graphic novel life story they’d love to read, and offer them this printable so that they can share part of that saint’s life in their own mini-version. (If you do this, consider making copies of the students’ mini-stories and putting all of them together into a class “book” which tells parts of the lives of many different saints!