Author Archives: orthodoxchristianparenting

On Pursuing Virtue: Obedience

Author’s note: We have written about virtues before (see https://orthodoxchurchschoolteachers.wordpress.com/2017/03/03/on-pursuing-the-virtues-an-introduction/), and now we are continuing the series. There are so very many virtues for us to acquire! Fr. Thomas Hopko’s book “The Orthodox Faith, Volume 4, Spirituality,” offers additional virtues, some of which we will now study. May the Lord have mercy on us and grant us grace as we learn to better walk in His ways!

Fr. Thomas Hopko’s chapter on obedience helps us understand how important the virtue of obedience is to an Orthodox Christian:

In the Orthodox spiritual tradition, obedience is a basic virtue: obedience to the Lord, to the Gospel, to the Church (Mt 18.17), to the leaders of the Church (Heb 13.7), to one’s parents and elders, to “every ordinance of man” (1 Pet 2.13, Rom 13.1), “to one another out of reverence for Christ” (Eph 6.21). There is no spiritual life without obedience, no freedom or liberation from sinful passions and lusts. To submit to God’s discipline in all of its human forms, is the only way to obtain “the glorious liberty of the children of God” (Rom 8.21). God disciplines us as His children out of His great love for us. “He disciplines us for our good, that we might share His holiness” (cf. Heb 12.3–11). Our obedience to God’s commandments and discipline is the exclusive sign of our love for Him and His Son.

Our Lord was the ultimate example for us of what obedience looks like. His obedience was a marker of His humility, according to Fr. Thomas, who points to St. Paul’s discussion of Christ’s humility in Phil. 2:8. St. Paul explains that, in His humility, Jesus was obedient to His Father to death, “even death on a cross.” Our Lord obeyed God in everything that He did.

Fr. Thomas goes on to talk about the fact that there is no shame or demeaning in obeying God. Rather, doing God’s will is actually glory and life for whoever does it! Obedience is our greatest joy, and the way that we achieve the highest dignity. It is the way of perfection for everyone, even for Jesus Himself.

Although He was a Son, He learned obedience through what He suffered, and being made perfect He became the source of salvation to all who obey Him (Heb 5.8–9).

Disobeying God is the source of all sin, according to Fr. Thomas. When we refuse to submit to God, sorrow and death are the result.

St. John’s gospel records for us the words of Christ, who here tells us how important it is for us to obey God:

He who has My commandments and keeps them, he it is who loves Me; and he who loves Me will be loved by My Father, and I will love him and manifest Myself to him.… If a man loves Me, he will keep My word, and My Father will love him, and we will come and make our home with him. He who does not love Me does not keep My words; and the word which you hear is not Mine but the Father’s who sent Me. (Jn 14.21–24).

May we all grow in the virtue of obedience, and thereby love God as we should!

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

Here are some ideas of ways that we can help our students to both learn about and grow in the virtue of obedience:
***
Although this blog is written by a mother and aimed primarily for use in the home, we can easily use some of the lessons, games, and books suggested in its links to help students of various ages learn about (and how to work towards!) obedience: https://meaningfulmama.com/20-activities-and-lessons-that-teach-obedience-to-kids.html
***
Find 11 different examples of obedience (or disobedience!) from the scriptures, as well as questions that you can ask your students related to the stories. (This is not an Orthodox site, but will be a helpful resource for this study.)
http://www.kidsofintegrity.com/lessons/obedience/bible-stories
***
This page offers hands-on ideas of ways to teach about obedience. From cooking to role play to games, there are many fun and educational ideas here. (This is not an Orthodox site, but will be a helpful resource for this study.)
http://www.kidsofintegrity.com/lessons/obedience/hands-options
***
Share this story, discussion, and art activity with your students as part of a lesson on obedience:

There was once, in Scete, an old monk named Abba Sylvanus. He had a disciple named Mark who was acquiring the virtue of obedience well. Mark was a scribe, and Abba Sylvanus loved him because he was so obedient.
Abba Sylvanus had 11 other disciples. It bothered these disciples that Abba Sylvanus loved Mark more than them. The old men in Scete also did not like that Abba Sylvanus had a favorite in Mark.
They went to the abbot one day, to talk to him about it so that he could improve his ways. Abbot Sylvanus invited the old men to walk with him through the monastery. At the door of each cell, the abbot knocked, called the brother’s name, and asked each brother to come out because he needed him. He went by all of the cells, and not one brother obeyed quickly.
When they got to Mark’s cell, the abbot knocked at the door and said, “Brother Mark.” He did not even get to finish his sentence. As soon as Mark heard Abba Sylvanus’ voice, he jumped up and came out of his cell, and Sylvanus sent him off on an errand.
While Mark was gone, Abba Sylvanus asked his guests, “Where are the other brothers?” None of the others had come out from their cells. Then he invited the men to go with him into Mark’s cell. They saw that Mark had been writing. He had started the Greek letter “omega,” but as soon as he had heard Abba Sylvanus’ voice, he ran out and did not even finish the other side of the letter. So only half the letter was there in the book, waiting for him to come back and finish it.
When the men from the village saw how obedient Mark was, they turned to Abba Sylvanus and instead of trying to make him not have a favorite anymore, they said, “Abba, now we also love this brother that you love, because God loves him, too!” ~ from “Paradise of the Fathers,” vol. II, p. 53, translated by E. A. Wallis Budge

After sharing the story, ask your students to talk about it. What made Mark so special to the Abbot? How promptly did he obey? Why do you think his obedience made such a difference in his relationship to the abbot?
Then talk together about obedience. Invite students to think about how quickly they obey those in authority over them. Allow them to share examples of when the did and when they did not obey quickly, and what resulted. Talk about how obedience can make a difference in their relationships with those in authority, just as it did for Mark and Abba Sylvanus, and as it does with us and God.
In response, challenge your students to create a piece of art that will remind them to obey quickly, just as Mark did. (Perhaps they could draw Mark dashing out the door of his cell, dropping his writing utensil behind. Or they could write a list of examples of when they will obey quickly instead of putting it off. Or if they enjoy lettering, they could write the word “Obey” but only use half of the word or half of each letter.)
***
Share this quote with older students, and then discuss it together: “A truly intelligent man has only one care — wholeheartedly to obey Almighty God and to please Him. The one and only thing he teaches his soul is how best to do things agreeable to God, thanking Him for His merciful Providence in whatever may happen in his life. For just as it would be unseemly not to thank physicians for curing our body, even when they give us bitter and unpleasant remedies, so too would it be to remain ungrateful to God for things that appear to us painful, failing to understand that everything happens through His Providence for our good. In this understanding and this faith in God lie salvation and peace of soul.” ~ St. Antony the Great

***
Here are the directions for how to make a simple device, “Bob,” that you can easily use during an object lesson on obedience: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=340_NJjcQ-c&feature=share
(You could also use this as a craft for your students to make their own “Bob” to take home, to remind them to be immediately obedient!)
***
Here are three different objects (and lesson ideas) that you could use to help your students learn about obedience: https://ministry-to-children.com/godly-obedience-object-lessons/
***
Find a variety of (non-Orthodox, but useful) ideas of ways to help your students learn about obedience here: http://www.biblewise.com/kids/char_topic/obedience.php
***
These classroom games help children to practice obedience: https://itstillworks.com/12522688/obedience-games-for-kids
***
Here are a few activities that encourage obedience: http://www.parentinglikehannah.com/2017/10/fun-ways-to-teach-kids-obedience-2.html
***
This character-building educational site is not religious in nature, but offers ideas and free downloads to help children want to grow in obedience. Perhaps some of it could be incorporated into a lesson on this virtue. (Especially the Abraham Lincoln story.) http://characterfirsteducation.com/c/curriculum-detail/2153183
***
How did Jesus respond to His earthly parents when he was a teen? Here’s a 6-minute video about that time that Jesus was 12: https://youtu.be/_6T5Z4IuGeA

(Note: this is not Orthodox, but uses the gospel of Luke’s account of this event in a way that can very easily help us to discuss obedience with older students.)
***
This lesson on obeying parents is not Orthodox, but its story examples and hands-on activity could be used to help our students learn about the blessing that comes with obedience. https://ministry-to-children.com/obey-your-parents-lesson/

Advertisements

On Pursuing Virtue: Gratitude

Author’s note: Although we have written about virtues before (see https://orthodoxchurchschoolteachers.wordpress.com/2017/03/03/on-pursuing-the-virtues-an-introduction/), we will continue this 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!

We will begin this conversation where we often end other ones: with gratitude. We teach our children to say “thank you,” but gratitude is much more than remembering to say these words after receiving a gift or eating a meal! True gratitude is a lifestyle. Fr. Thomas Hopko, in his book The Orthodox Faith, Volume 4, Spirituality, says, “The spiritual person is the one who is grateful for everything. He is the one who receives everything with thanksgiving, and who knows that he has nothing except what he has received from God.”

St. Nikolai Velimirovich agrees, and elaborates in his Prologue from Ochrid: “For as long as you are on earth, consider yourself a guest in the Household of Christ. If you are at the table, it is He who treats you. If you breathe air, it is His air you breathe. If you bathe, it is in His water you are bathing. If you are traveling, it is over His land that you are traveling. If you are amassing goods, it is His goods you are amassing. If you are squandering, it is His goods that you are squandering. If you are powerful, it is by His permission that you are strong. If you are in the company of men, you and the others are His guests. If you are out in nature, you are in His garden. If you are alone, He is present. If you set out or turn anywhere, He sees you. If you do anything, He remembers. He is the most considerate Householder by Whom you were ever hosted. Be careful then toward Him. In a good household, the guest is required to behave. These are all simple words but they convey to you a great truth. All the saints knew this truth and they governed their lives by it. That is why the Eternal Householder rewarded them with eternal life in heaven and glory on earth.” This type of mindset – really remembering that everything, EVERYTHING, is God’s and we are simply His guests, staying in His home and borrowing His linens – completely changes our possessive assumptions and multiplies our gratitude.

Fr. Hopko continues his discussion on gratitude by pointing out that from the time of the Old Testament, thanksgiving has been central to life for the people of God. In the Old Testament times, sacrifices of thanksgiving were offered in the temple, and the Psalms sang thanks to God. This attitude continued in the New Testament times! The word “eucharist” means thanksgiving, so from that time to this day, our worship centers around being grateful: we lift up our hearts and give thanks to the Lord!

Fr. Hopko points out that the Scriptures and the lives of the saints are full of thanksgiving to God, not just for the “good” things, but for everything! The saints have shown their complete trust in God’s provision and care. They have modeled gratitude for us in their deeds and words. St. John Chrysostom reminds us that even things that may look bad to us can be used to bring spiritual growth and salvation by God’s grace! (And he did not just say this. He lived it. He was in the process of being exiled in old age when he died, and yet his last words were, “Glory to God for all things!”)

Fr. Hopko states that the opposite of gratitude is bitterness and complaining. If we are proud and covetous, we will complain about our life. Complaining shows that we are lacking a humble trust in God, and thereby we do not thank Him for everything! When we trust Him absolutely, we will be at peace.

Fr. Hopko closes his chapter on gratitude with this statement: “A person is grateful to the extent that he trusts in the Lord and has love for God and man.”

 

Read more of Fr. Thomas Hopko’s wise words about the virtues, as written in his book, here: https://oca.org/orthodoxy/the-orthodox-faith/spirituality/the-virtues

Here are some scriptures about gratitude, how children benefit from living a life of gratitude, and a few ideas of ways to help our students learn about this virtue:

***
Scriptures related to gratitude (let your class read them, let each student select one to artistically copy/decorate, and/or assign each verse to a small group of students who work together to dramatically present their verse to the rest of the class):
And from His fullness have we all received, grace upon grace (Jn 1.16).
Sing praises to the Lord, O you His saints, and give thanks to His Holy Name.
Let us come into His presence with thanksgiving. Let us enter His gates with thanksgiving, and His courts with praise. Give thanks to Him, bless His name!
It is good to give thanks to the Lord, to sing praises to Thy Name, O Most High; to declare Thy steadfast love in the morning, and Thy faithfulness by night.
O give thanks unto the Lord, for He is gracious, for His mercy endures forever! (Pss 30.4, 95.2, 92.1, 107.1).
Let there be no filthiness, nor silly talk, nor levity, which are not fitting; but instead let there be thanksgiving . . . always and for ­everything giving thanks in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ to God the Father (Eph 5.4, 20).
Rejoice always, pray constantly, give thanks in all circumstances, for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you (1 Thess 5.16–18).
Rejoice always in the Lord; again I say, Rejoice! Have no anxiety about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which passes all understanding, will keep your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus (Phil 4.4–7).
***
“…researchers are now turning their attention to how gratitude can better the lives of children, too. They’re finding that the experience of high levels of gratitude in the adolescent years can set a child up to thrive.” Read about some of the research and findings in this excellent article: https://www.wsj.com/articles/how-to-raise-more-grateful-children-1519398748
***
“Children who learn gratitude become more sensitive to the feelings of others. As gratitude becomes a way of life, empathy takes root and weeds out selfishness as grateful kids look outside themselves to the wide world beyond.” Read more here: http://www.shelivesfree.com/2014/03/raising-grateful-kids-in-an-entitled-world.html
***
Share this practical article (seven things parents can do to raise grateful children) with the parents of your students, after studying gratitude as a class: https://thehumbledhomemaker.com/raise-grateful-kids/
***
Need some ideas of ways to walk in gratitude? Check out this blog post:
https://orthodoxchurchschoolteachers.wordpress.com/2015/11/27/on-living-a-life-of-gratitude/
***
“…a study conducted by Dr. Robert A. Emmons of the University of California, Davis, reveals that cultivating gratitude can increase happiness levels by around 25 percent… other studies have shown that kids who practice grateful thinking have more positive attitudes toward school and family.” Read more about why it is important to cultivate gratitude in our children, as well as 11 practical ways to do so, in this article: https://www.huffingtonpost.com/andrea-reiser/11-tips-for-instilling-true-gratitude-in-your-kids_b_4708019.html
***
Here is a very simple-to-prepare object lesson on gratitude. All you need is a box full of old/recyclable items and some imaginative thought! https://www.futureflyingsaucers.com/thankfulness-in-a-box/
***
Consider sharing a story (or two!) with your class to help them think about gratitude and thankfulness. These sites offer ideas of books that could be useful:
http://investinginchildren.on.ca/blog/2015/1/14/19-childrens-books-about-gratitude
https://preschoolinspirations.com/books-about-gratitude-thankfulness/
***
Find a variety of ideas of ways to teach gratitude, leveled by the children’s ages, here: https://www.today.com/news/get-grateful-20-ways-teach-kids-gratitude-tots-teens-1D80297963
***
Gratitude craft idea:
Use recycled jars to create “gratitude jars.” Invite each student to create their own “gratitude jar” label on cardstock. Use packing tape to affix the label to a jar. Fill the jar with gratitude discussion starters on slips of paper (a few examples can be found here: https://creativefamilyfun.net/gratitude-conversation-starters/ or here: https://modernparentsmessykids.com/free-printable-thanksgiving-gratitude-conversation-starters-2/, and your students can write their own on slips of paper). Or send a stack of small sticky-note paper with each student so they can write one thing they’re thankful for each day on a sticky note, fold it together so that the sticky side seals it shut, and add it to the jar. At the end of a month (or a year!), they can open each note to once again be grateful for all of those things!
***
Find a few gratitude-themed activities at this page. They are geared to Thanksgiving, but most of them could be used anytime you are teaching about the virtue of gratitude! http://www.dvo.com/newsletter/monthly/2012/november/funtimes.html
***
If your students have cell phones with cameras, or if you can round up enough digital cameras, divide the class into a few small groups, give each group a camera, and send them on a gratitude scavenger hunt. This activity (https://lets-get-together.com/2014/10/18/gratitude-photo-scavenger-hunt/) will help each participant to take a moment and realize how much is right around them that they are grateful for! (Note: if you take them outside to do this, round up a few teen or parent volunteers beforehand so that each group has an older supervisor.) You could also give this as a “homework” assignment at the end of a class discussion on gratitude. If you do it this way, invite the students to send you the pictures that they take, and you can compile the pictures into a presentation to share with the class or with your parish!
***
With older students, discuss the Akathist of Thanksgiving (https://www.stnicholasdc.org/files/Prayers/Akathist-of-Thanksgiving.pdf). Challenge them each to write a verse of their own.

Gleanings From a Book: “Everything Tells Us About God” by Katherine Bolger Hyde

Author’s note: This book is so eye-catching! As soon as I saw it, I was excited! The illustrations are so appealing. The book’s backstory adds to its intrigue. I couldn’t wait to crack it open and read it! However, I had other writing that needed to happen, so when the book arrived, I reluctantly set it on the shelf to wait until now. It was hard to not peek, but I prefer to write about a book right after reading it, so I forced myself to wait. It was well worth the wait. This is a delightful book.

This beautiful book invites engagement at a glance. The cover sets the tone for the book: it creates an expectation for beauty, variety, and a joyful revelling in God’s generosity with His people. And then, upon opening the book, the end paper catches the reader’s eye. It is a golden, nearly-completed puzzle. But why is one piece missing? And what does this have to do with the title? Before even reading a word, the reader is curious and determined to know more!

The book begins by telling the reader that the world is like a giant puzzle. God made this puzzle to tell us about Himself. He designed each piece – each part of the world – to help us learn some of His secrets. When we really look at the pieces, we can learn about Him through them!

Page after engaging page, the book points out different things in our world and how God uses them to teach us about Himself. For example, the sun tells us we can’t live without God because His love warms our hearts and helps us to grow closer to Him. The food that we eat reminds us that God always makes sure we have what we need, and that He always takes care of us. The animals tell us about God Himself: elephants help us see how mighty God is; hens and chicks remind us of how He cares for us; doves remind us of how the Holy Spirit brings us peace; etc.

Livia Coloji’s charming illustrations simultaneously cheer the reader and invite interaction. Bright colors, playful perspectives, and soft edges all help the reader to feel the warm message of the text. Readers can savor the images as well as the words. The first time through the book, the reader looks forward to turning the page to unveil the next illustration and the next piece of the puzzle. Every reading after that, the reader anticipates the illustrations, revisiting old friends.

The book concludes by answering the initial question. The missing piece in the puzzle of God’s world is each of us! He gives us life so that we can be part of His puzzle. He wants to show the world part of Himself through us! When we love and serve God, we are able to be a puzzle piece to those around us!

The author’s note at the end of the book offers the reader a glimpse at its backstory. The concept of this book was initially presented to Ancient Faith Publishing by Fr. Thomas Hopko of blessed memory. He had written of a conversation with an elderly bishop on an airport run one day. As they drove, the bishop kept pointing things out in the world around them, and talking about how each thing pointed us to God. Katherine Hyde sent Fr. Thomas her rendition of his idea, but it got lost in the shuffle over the years. Fr. Thomas’ family has given their permission for her to publish it, so now we can read this book and marvel at God’s willingness to reveal Himself to us, one piece at a time!

The end paper at the back of the book shows a completed golden puzzle. The reader now knows why the piece was missing and can see how beautiful the puzzle is with all of its pieces in place. Glory to God for including each of us in the puzzle of His world!

Purchase a copy of this book for your Sunday Church School classroom here: http://store.ancientfaith.com/everything-tells-us-about-god/

Here are some gleanings from the book, as well as ideas of ways to use it in your classroom:
***
“The sun tells us that nothing can live without God… His warmth fills our hearts, and His love shines on us every day.” (from “Everything Tells Us About God,” by Katherine Bolger Hyde)
***
“The water we drink tells us Christ is our life…” (from “Everything Tells Us About God,” by Katherine Bolger Hyde)
***
“Rocks tell us Christ is as strong as a boulder… Nothing and no one can ever defeat Him or make him stop loving us.” (from “Everything Tells Us About God,” by Katherine Bolger Hyde)
***
“Small things, like flowers… tell us God cares about every detail of His creation.” (from “Everything Tells Us About God,” by Katherine Bolger Hyde)
***
“Animals… tell us what God is like… The mother hen tells us He cares for us.” (from “Everything Tells Us About God,” by Katherine Bolger Hyde)
***
“Schools… tell us Christ is our Teacher… And He Himself is the perfect student of God the Father: He always does His Father’s will.” (from “Everything Tells Us About God,” by Katherine Bolger Hyde)
***
“The people we meet… tell us Jesus became human, just like us.” (from “Everything Tells Us About God,” by Katherine Bolger Hyde)
***
“Some years ago, Fr. Tom Hopko submitted to Ancient Faith Publishing a story… In this story… a young Fr. Tom drove an elderly bishop to the airport, hoping to engage in some deep theological conversation along the way. Instead, the bishop humbly and simply pointed out how everything they passed had something to tell us about the nature of God.” (a bit of the back story of the book, from “Everything Tells Us About God,” by Katherine Bolger Hyde)
***
Teachers of young students may want to share “Everything Tells Us About God” and then allow the students to color this coloring page from the book: https://store.ancientfaith.com/content/everything-coloring-page.pdf
***
Teachers of early elementary will want to share “Everything Tells Us About God” with their class, and then engage in a discussion. What “puzzle piece” from the book did they like, and why? How does God reveal Himself to them? If possible, take the class outside for a short walk around the Church building, stopping from time to time to notice “puzzle pieces” that God has placed around your Church, pointing you to Himself. Back in the classroom, invite the students to think of their own “puzzle piece” and draw or write about it on this printable pdf.
***
Older elementary classes can begin the class with a 100-piece nature puzzle waiting for them as they arrive in the classroom. Students can work together to assemble the puzzle, then admire the scene. Talk about how each piece of that puzzle is important; how it would not be complete without any of them. Share “Everything Tells Us About God” with the class. Ask them what they think the correlation is between the book and the puzzle. How does this book change how we see the world?
***
Before reading “Everything Tells Us About God” with your students, hand each of them a blank puzzle. Provide watercolor paints, markers, and/or colored pencils and invite them to write a message or create (right on the puzzle) an image that makes them happy. Share the book with them while the images dry. Then have them turn the puzzle over, and on the back of each piece, ask them to write the name of something or someone in their life that points them to God. Who/what are the pieces that God uses in their life to draw them closer to Himself?

(find blank puzzles online – for example, this one: http://www.orientaltrading.com/compoz-a-puzzle-blank-puzzles-28-a2-13646291.fltr;
or in a local craft store – for example, this one: http://www.michaels.com/design-a-puzzle-set-by-creatology/10489364.html)

***

Gleanings From a Book: “Sacred Sky and How to Locate 24 Constellations” by Lois Clymer

I am mesmerized by the sky. Day, night, cloudy, sunny, it matters not: I could watch it for hours, if I allowed myself the time. As a child, I loved to lie in the grass and watch the clouds or stare at the stars. Now that I’m an adult, I don’t give myself much time to do that. (Where I live, it is difficult to see the stars at night. This is a big change from my childhood home, where the Milky Way was easily visible.) But even as a “busy adult,” I still notice the sky. There are moments when it absolutely takes my breath away. I find myself gasping, and exclaiming to whoever is nearby, “Wow! Just LOOK at the sky!”

Orthodox Christian author Lois Clymer’s book, Sacred Sky, offers older children (and sky-loving adults) the opportunity to study the sky, learn a bit of history, and see how, even from ancient times, people from all over the world have seen the stars as telling about a divine human who comes to save the world.

Each chapter of the book focuses on a different aspect of the sky. The first chapter is the most detailed. It introduces 24 different constellations and many of their named stars, and teaches the reader how to find them in the sky. The chapter also offers further information about many of the constellations, including the meanings of some of the stars’ names. Many of the meanings remind us of Christ, the conqueror, who came to crush the serpent’s head!

Chapter 2 is focused on the sun, moon, planets, and eclipses. The chapter contains very nice explanations of the solar system, planetary orbits, moon phases, and eclipses. It also offers suggestions of how to find the other planets in our solar system in the night sky.

Chapter 3 explains galaxies and explores our own galaxy, the Milky Way. (If you have never been in a place where you can see the Milky Way, try to do so with your children. It is awe-inspiring and beautiful. Pictures of the Milky Way are beautiful, but they do not do it justice!)

Chapter 4 discusses auroras, more commonly called “northern lights” in the northern hemisphere, and “southern lights” in the southern hemisphere. It offers an easy-to-understand explanation of how and why these lights appear in the sky.

The afterword sheds additional light on the parallels between the night sky and the predictions that a conqueror/redeemer would be born of a virgin in order to defeat Satan. It concludes with, “we now know that Jesus Christ was the fulfillment of this prediction. May we honor Him!” (p. 21)

This book would be an interesting study for an older Sunday Church School class, perhaps in a series of “creation appreciation” lessons or just for something different from the usual lesson. It is written at a level that will be difficult for younger students to understand. However, teachers of younger students could use the book as a resource, sharing some of the pictures along with a paraphrased explanation of some of the information, at the class’ level. Students who enjoy learning about the natural world will benefit from studying this book!

Let us not just notice the sky; let us take the time to really look at it, and to marvel at God’s greatness, which is so clearly exhibited there, and let us encourage our students to do the same! Sacred Sky will help us help our students to be better able to ponder how the sky has helped people, even from ancient times, to learn about Christ. The book will help us to find some of the constellations that pointed to Him, and wonder at the fact that “the heavens declare the Glory of God,” for they have helped people to learn about Him for millenia. As we take the time to be still beneath the sky and look, it can point us to Christ, as well.

Learn more about author Lois Clymer and order her book from her website: http://www.locateconstellations.com/

Here are a few links that can also help you learn more about the sky. Some of these are found in the book Sacred Sky.
***
Sunday Church School teachers who share “Sacred Sky” with their older students in a lesson on the wonder of God’s creation in the sky may want to help their students create their own star wheel. The students can then see where the stars are in the sky at any given day/time. Find a printable one at http://www.aosny.org/Starwheel.pdf
***
This website may be a good resource for additional material to teach older students about the sky. Although it is not Orthodox-created, we can learn a lot from what is found here, and then share it with our students. Learn more at http://classicalastronomy.com/
***
Teachers of younger Sunday Church School students who would like to use a few of the ideas from “Sacred Sky” to help their students appreciate this part of God’s creation may find suggestions of fun activities to do with your students at http://www.mykidsadventures.com/discover-astronomy-for-kids/. The page suggests additional books to read, a snack to make, and other activities that can help the students to learn more about the sky and stars.
***
If your students particularly enjoy learning about constellations, you may want to recommend one or both of these books by H. A. Rey:
The Stars: A New Way to See Them (https://www.amazon.com/Stars-New-Way-See-Them/dp/0544763440/)
and/or
Find the Constellations (https://www.amazon.com/Find-Constellations-H-Rey/dp/0544763424/)
***
After sharing “Sacred Sky” with your older students, invite them to respond with this simple activity: ask which of the constellations they liked learning about the most? Offer black paper, star stickers, and a piece of chalk, and invite them to draw that constellation. Then ask them to share (verbally or in writing) what they liked about the constellation, and how it points them to Christ.
***
The book “Sacred Sky” can help us to better appreciate that “the heavens declare the glory of God.” (Ps. 18:1) Create a classroom art display with that theme. Post the verse on a wall in your classroom. Surround it with pictures of the sky (that you’ve taken or found in magazines), or with sky-themed artwork that your students create. Here are a few suggestions of ways to artistically represent the sky: https://www.adventure-in-a-box.com/painting-space-watercolours-kids/; https://buggyandbuddy.com/starry-night-sky-art/; or http://homeschoolingtoday.com/article/nebula-chalk-art-tutorial/

 

Gleanings from a Book: “Time and Despondency” by Dr. Nicole Roccas

As soon as this book arrived in the mail, I resolved to read it and share some gleanings from it with this community. My thought process was somewhere along the lines of: “It will be great for parents and teachers to read this book so they can help their despondent kids.” In my mind’s eye, this book had the makings of an excellent tool for young people or for adults with teens in their life.

I was right.

And I was wrong.

Nicole Roccas’ “Time and Despondency” takes the reader on a journey through time and thought as it addresses the relationship between time and despondency, which is “no less than a perpetual attempt by the mind to flee from the present moment, to disregard the gift of God’s presence at each juncture of time and space.” (p. 15) The book offers much to ponder, including quotes from church fathers and other noted Christian authors, all pointing to the fact that despondency is a real problem for Christians. Not just teens and young adults encounter despondency. It is a struggle for Christians of all ages. Parents and teachers, too. Myself included.

But this book does not merely shake a finger in the face of its readers, scolding them for not caring or for abandoning the present or God, Who meets us in the present. Rather, the book extends grace to the reader. It encourages them to do the same to themselves and to others. Then it walks the reader through a host of ideas of ways to begin to heal and step away from despondency; whether with counter statements from scripture or with stepping stones built on virtues and disciplines.

As it turns out, I needed to read this book. Perhaps someday it will be helpful to me as I relate to the teens and young adults in my life. But right now, I needed to read this for my own salvation. Maybe once I have “removed the log from my own eye” I can begin to help others. I encourage you to read it, as well, so that we can journey together out of despondency and back to the present, where we find – and connect with – God.

You can purchase a copy of “Time and Despondency” here: http://store.ancientfaith.com/time-and-despondency/

Listen to Dr. Nicole Rocca’s podcast here: http://www.ancientfaith.com/podcasts/timeeternal

Find her blog here: https://blogs.ancientfaith.com/timeeternal/

Note: when I read a book so that I can write a “Gleanings” blog post, I mark potential quotes to share by adhering sticky notes beside the quote. When I take a photo of the book to use for the blog’s illustration, I usually remove those sticky notes. This book, however, is so highly quotable that it garnered many, many sticky notes. I left them in the book for this illustration photo so that you can see for yourself that the gleanings I am sharing are not nearly all of the ones I’d have liked to share! There is so much to ponder in this book. Here are some gleanings from it:

***
“‘Despondency is the impossibility to see anything good or positive; it is the reduction of everything to negativism and pessimism. […] Despondency is the suicide of the soul because when man is possessed by it, he is absolutely unable to see the light and desire it.’” (Dr. Nicole Roccas quoting Alexander Schmemann, “Time and Despondency”, p. 23)
***
“Despondency has an infinite array of disguises and symptoms. Among the most universal signs is inner restlessness, yet this can present itself in countless ways, depending on the person. For some, the restlessness makes it problematic to sit alone, to read a book to completion, to pray for any length or intensity, or to finish a task at work. Others can perform all of these activities but find themselves hounded by a stubborn anger or boredom while doing so. For still others, despondency begins as an inclination towards sleep, eating, distraction, or worry.”
(Dr. Nicole Roccas, “Time and Despondency”, p.26)
***
“Just as the poison of spiritual sickness begins in the soul, so too does healing. Even after despondency has affected the body or those around us, restoration starts within us and unfolds a new directions to revive all aspects of a person’s self and life…. In other words the restoration of a single human soul has almost limitless transformative effects that ripple throughout the rest of the world.” (Dr. Nicole Roccas, “Time and Despondency”, pp.34-35 )
***
“Time is the dimensional fabric that allows relationship and action to happen. Without it, there would be little prospect of communion, forgiveness, or change of heart—all life-giving possibilities hinge on the interaction of time and eternity in the here and now of our existence. When we begin to look at these two realms from the vantage point of Christ and human relationship, it seems that eternity is not as far off as we often assume. In fact, eternal life—and with it, healing from despondency—begins when we start to exercise that capacity to ‘realize’ life while we live it every, every minute…” (Dr. Nicole Roccas, “Time and Despondency”, p. 44)
***
“…time affords us: the opportunity to turn toward (or away from) God, life, love, and goodness. Like a lover or a friend, God left space for a path back to relationship. In the fullness of time, Christ entered our world to pave this path for our sake. His Incarnation and Resurrection open the door for us, as God’s creatures, to ‘redeem time’…” (Dr. Nicole Roccas, “Time and Despondency”, p. 48)
***
“Viktor Frankl wrote, ‘Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms—to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances.’ Lest these words be dismissed as cliche, it’s worth mentioning that Frankl honed his thinking on human psychology while a prisoner in Auschwitz. Whenever I make excuses for my attitude, this quotation offers a suitable reality check.” (Dr. Nicole Roccas, “Time and Despondency”, p. 61)
***
“The opposite of this despondent condition is not happiness nor jubilation, but rather love—a turning outward from the self to one’s neighbor, God, and Eternity. The latter is crucial; in the view of the Church Fathers, the “every, every minute” we fail to realize in this life consists not merely of love or beauty but of eternity itself. Time then, becomes not only the vehicle of relationship and eternity, but the path of transformation we can travel to get there.” (Dr. Nicole Roccas, “Time and Despondency”, p. 65)
***
“Every day, every moment is accounted for in the church, and not just on an abstract levels but physically and concretely through the fasts, feasts, and seasons, all of which seek to manifest Christ in and through time. The Church calls not just our minds but our whole being and all our wandering loose ends back into existence, back into presence… Every juncture of sacred time links us to the Incarnation, the reaching of Eternity into this world, and in doing so, unites us not only to Christ but to the realization of are very selves as icons of Him. (Dr. Nicole Roccas, “Time and Despondency”, p. 88)
***
“Prayer is like a coin with two sides, doing and being. The ‘doing’ of prayer includes all the externalities—the words we articulate (audibly or not), the candles we light, the prostrations we make, the spaces we designate for prayer. In Orthodox Christianity, we have an abundance of highly developed rituals and practices to help us cultivate the journey inward. We sometimes burn incense, or use prayer ropes, or set certain corners of our homes apart for prayer. These rituals are not meant to be rote or mindless, but to nourish reverence and to remind us that we are incarnational beings—our bodies must learn to pray as well as our minds.” (Dr. Nicole Roccas, “Time and Despondency”, p. 98)
***
“We may not have chosen our disease, we may have no control over its remedy, but we can still choose to remain rather than to resist. ‘Abide in Me,’ Christ beckons us (John 15:4)—Stay. Endure. Surrender. Anyone in the midst of great pain knows it is a thousand times harder to accept this invitation than to give our hearts over to bitterness or despair. To stay with Christ where we are (rather than to seek Him where we are not) requires surrender and longsuffering, both of which move us to choose between him or hardness of heart.” (Dr. Nicole Roccas, “Time and Despondency”, p. 122)
***
“I’m of the opinion that the inverse of thanksgiving is not ingratitude but rumination, a relentless mental preoccupation with resolving the unfavorable aspects of our circumstances… Among other things, it suggests we may be living too much in our minds—that our mind is not dwelling in our heart, but oppressing it.”(Dr. Nicole Roccas, “Time and Despondency”, p. 141)
***
“Work that is good for the soul is hard enough that the mind must focus on it, but easy enough that the work can be sustained for long periods of time… There is a humble creativity in performing ordinary tasks like making the bed or folding clothes… When we can manage such tasks with even a hint of grace and care, they are transfigured into something holy.”
(Dr. Nicole Roccas, “Time and Despondency”, pp. 151-152.)
***
“…one of the most beautiful things about sacredness is that it’s not all or nothing—it comes to us in small, ordinary things and times, and asks us to see the holy in finite moments. For whatever reason, we humans can only understand or encounter holiness in small morsels at a time—in a chalice, a piece of bread, a sip of wine. Any encounter with the sacred reminds us that it is enough to start somewhere, anywhere—it is enough to put one foot forward, to turn to Christ for one real moment. Wherever we begin, Real Life will seep out into the other areas of our existence.” (Dr. Nicole Roccas, “Time and Despondency”, pp. 166-167)
***
“The liturgies of the Orthodox Church are punctuated countless ties by a simple supplication: ‘Lord, have mercy.’ To modern ears, such a prayer may sound stifling and self-diminishing: is God really so vengeful we must beg His forbearance at every turn? But in Orthodox conceptions, mercy is the balm of salvation, and to ask it of God affirms that He is merciful and loving in the first place.” (Dr. Nicole Roccas, “Time and Despondency”, p. 175)
***
“Redundant as it seems, worship in the liturgy turns time into a pilgrimage back—not back to our shame and feebleness, but through our feebleness and back to engagement, back to communion, back to Christ, one Kyrie eleison at a time.” (Dr. Nicole Roccas, “Time and Despondency”, p. 175)

 

On Demonstrating Love to Our Students

As we approach Valentine’s Day and see reminders of love everywhere around us, the opportunity arises for us to evaluate how well we are loving others. It is one thing to say that we love someone, but often quite another thing to act in such a way as to show them that our words are true. However, even God Himself is demonstrative with His love: “…God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” (Romans 5:8) If God, who IS Love, chooses to demonstrate His love, how much more should we, who are not in essence love, do our best to do the same?

The reason that we know and love God is because of His demonstrative love for us. Because we love God, it follows that love for others should flow out of the love that we have for Him. St. Justin Popovich indicated such (and more!) results of loving God when he said, “Love for Christ overflows into love for one’s neighbor, love for truth, love for holiness, for the world, for purity, for everything divine, for everything deathless and eternal… All these forms of love are natural manifestations of love for Christ. Christ is the God-man, and love for Him always means love for God and for man.” And St. Basil the Great encourages us to demonstrate our love, not just for family and friends, but to everyone in his statement, “As God illumines all people equally with the light of the sun, so do those who desire to imitate God let shine an equal ray of love on all people.”

So, how are we doing? Is our love for God overflowing as it should into the lives of those around us? Are we telling others that we love them? Better yet, are we demonstrating our love to them by the way that we treat and interact with them? And how well are we demonstrating our love to all people, not just those we know?

Let us begin by better demonstrating our love to our Sunday Church School students. When they experience our love for them, they will learn to demonstrate love to others in their life, as well. Here are some ideas of ways to go beyond merely telling our students that we love them, showing them with our actions that our words are true.

***

This mom interviewed her daughters to find out their favorite ways that their parents show them love. We found the resulting list to be creative, fun, and inspiring! Most would work best in a family setting, but some can be done with our Sunday School class! http://www.shelivesfree.com/2015/02/huge-list-fun-ideas-love-kids.html

***

Check out this list of 35 simple ways that parents can demonstrate their love to their children. Some of them also apply to us, with our students: https://amotherfarfromhome.com/love-your-child/

***

If you are familiar with Gary Chapman’s book “The Five Love Languages,” you know that different people prefer to be loved in different ways. His book suggests these five ways in which people prefer to receive and show love: acts of service, physical touch and closeness, gift giving, words of affirmation, and quality time. This blog post encourages us to figure out which love language(s) are each child’s favorites, and to express our love to them in that way. It includes practical suggestions of ways to show love in each love language. Although geared to families, many of these will work in the SCS classroom, as well.

https://encouragingmomsathome.com/50-ways-to-love-your-child-every-day-using-love-languages/

***

This list of 25 questions will help each of us to learn more about our students. How many of these questions could we ask our students, to demonstrate our love for them by learning more about their interests? http://www.telegraph.co.uk/sponsored/finance/family-matters/11334865/questions-for-kids.html

***

God demonstrates His love for His children in so many ways. One way is that He has filled our world with glimpses of His love. If we are able to do so, we can take our class outside to enjoy nature together and look for evidence of God’s love in our world. If we can’t go outside, we can at least look at resources that show it to us! For example, here is a slideshow of heart shapes – a small sampling of the love He has tucked into the world for us to find: https://kids.nationalgeographic.com/explore/wacky-weekend/hearts-in-nature/

***
In addition to setting an example of demonstrating our love to our students, we can also teach them to demonstrate their love to others in their life. This object lesson uses shaving cream to help the listeners think about how love grows us, is better when it’s not kept bottled up, and makes the world better when we demonstrate it: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tmh_0IyXxOk
***

Another way to teach our students to demonstrate their love to others is with this simple object lesson. This lesson uses a bicycle wheel to demonstrate that, if we want to be close to God, we must get closer to (and show love to) others: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5gp4yigvSdI

***

Kids talk about ways to love others in this video that could start a discussion in your class: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BcYlA58E_ss

***

This simple game could be used in a classroom setting to demonstrate love for class members by using words of affirmation: http://makinglifeblissful.com/2015/02/love-game-for-kids.html

***

This lesson, although not Orthodox, can easily be used to teach children how to love others like superheroes and draw them to God like magnets: http://www.mylifetree.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/01/childrens-ministry-cape-experience.pdf

***

In case you missed it, here’s a blog we wrote about continuing to share our love with our students beyond Valentine’s Day: https://orthodoxchurchschoolteachers.wordpress.com/2017/02/17/on-sharing-our-love-beyond-valentines-day/

 

Several Divine Liturgy Resources for Young Children

We have previously shared the lovely board book “What Do You See at Liturgy?” by Kristina Kallas-Tartara. As we mentioned in that blog post, the book consists of a gentle rhyme paired with pictures of what a child will see when they go to the Divine Liturgy. We continue to recommend this book as a helpful tool to help little ones enter into the service when their attention needs to be redirected.

Recently, it came to our attention that Kristina has written a second beautiful board book for young children, and that she has created other useful resources as well. The second book she has written is called “What Can I Do at Liturgy?” It carefully walks a child through the liturgy, emphasizing the things that they can do. Too often, children experience the “can’ts” in church. It is easy for us adults to slip into “can’t” mode when shepherding young ones through the Liturgy. We say things like, “No, you can’t run around right now; You can’t go out for a fifth drink of water; You can’t make siren noises as you pretend to put out the fires you see;” etc. This book offers us the opportunity to find and encourage the “cans.” Every page is full of pictures and suggestions of all that children CAN do (and SHOULD do) during the Liturgy. From lighting a candle to signing themselves with the cross to communing to looking at icons to singing, praying, and sharing. This book is packed full of suggestions of things that the children can do in the liturgy! Here is an example: one spread shows a series of Orthodox children, each doing part of the sign of the cross. 26805494_10213524190090905_3951597830320811227_nThey’re ordered sequentially, and using a hand that young readers will mirror to correctly make the sign of the cross. (What a brilliant idea, to use the left hands of the children in the photos so that the readers will naturally mirror it and use their right hand!) We highly recommend this beautiful and useful book to any parent, godparent, or Sunday Church School teacher who is helping young children to more fully participate in the divine services.

The author has another fine resource which we recently discovered. She used the photos that were taken to create her two charming books to create an Orthodox “memory” game! The durable “chunky” photo cards can be utilized in a variety of ways. Parents and teachers can employ the cards for vocabulary review, to play a matching game, or to play a number of other games. Directions for 6 different games and 4 fun classroom activities are included with the card set. This little set of cards will be used again and again by families and Sunday Church School teachers. They offer a fun way to learn, and are yet another way to “bring home the faith” with children.

And last, but not least, Kristina Kallas-Tartara has a blog called “Raising Orthodox Christians”. Its byline is “Helping Children Experience the Orthodox Faith”. On this site, you will find activities, lessons, recipes, and more. Parents and teachers will find ideas for educating their children and students at this site, and may want to follow the blog so as not to miss new resources that she posts! Check out her blog site here: https://raisingorthodoxchristians.com/

We hope that you find these resources helpful. What other Liturgy resources for small children do you recommend to the community?

***

If you missed the blog post introducing “What Do You See at Liturgy?”, find it here: https://orthodoxchristianparenting.wordpress.com/2016/05/04/a-handful-of-helpful-books-for-children/
***

Find Kristina Kallas-Tartara’s book “What do You See at Liturgy?” here: https://www.etsy.com/listing/196402444/what-do-you-see-at-liturgy-orthodox .

***
Kristina Tartara’s book “What Can I Do at Divine Liturgy?” is available here: https://www.etsy.com/listing/466843238/what-can-i-do-at-divine-liturgy-orthodox

***

In case you missed it, a few years ago we shared some thoughts on how important it is for children to be part of the Divine Liturgy in this blog post: https://orthodoxchristianparenting.wordpress.com/2014/02/19/the-work-of-the-people-includes-children/
***

In case you missed it, this blog post offers ideas of ways to help children participate in the Divine Liturgy: https://orthodoxchristianparenting.wordpress.com/2016/05/18/on-helping-children-to-participate-in-the-divine-liturgy/

***
To purchase the Orthodox Matching Game, visit: https://www.etsy.com/listing/476655247/my-orthodox-matching-game

26805505_10213524190130906_5096242565671623914_n