Category Archives: Christian Education

On Pursuing the Virtues: an Introduction

Author’s note: During Great Lent Orthodox Christians focus more intently on becoming more godly and less self-centered. Thus it seemed that Great Lent is the best possible time to feature a series of articles on pursuing virtue. We will spend a series of weeks learning about virtues and looking at ways to teach our Sunday Church School students about them, so that they can join us in our pursuit of them. May the Lord have mercy on us and grant us grace as we learn to better walk in His ways!

In this series of blogs, we will focus the virtues. There are many, but for this series we will focus on the seven capital virtues mentioned in the Pocket Prayer Book for Orthodox Christians: humility, liberality, chastity, mildness, temperance, happiness, and diligence. As the book mentions, each virtue is the positive counterpart of a grievous sin. In order for us to become more like God, to grow in theosis, we must not only resist and repent from those sins in our life, but we must also labor to attain the virtues. Each blog post will focus on one virtue and suggest ways to help our students learn about it and struggle to acquire it. If you are unable to use these ideas immediately, file them away in your thoughts for a time when you can use them with your students. It is important that our Sunday Church School students learn about the virtues so that they are better able to pursue them.

It is important that we teach our students to expect, prepare for, and carry out the struggle to obtain virtues! We must teach them that when they do so, they are not just running away from evil: they are struggling towards something, towards virtues. Carole Buleza, director of the Antiochian Orthodox Department of Christian Education recently explained it like this: “We are made in God’s image and likeness. The image is like God’s stamp on us as a human person. It cannot be changed. The likeness, on the other hand, can change and grow. It is the potential to grow evermore godlike… acquiring virtues [is] a way to grow evermore Godlike. The virtues are specific, [as are] the rungs on St. John Climacus’ ladder. We can choose one, and with prayer, proceed to discipline ourselves so as to acquire it. When our lives are not focused on a major struggle with evil, we need to struggle in the positive direction by seeking to attain the virtues. The saints tell us that suffering (or struggle) is a necessary component of theosis.”

So, dear teachers, let us learn about the capital virtues and teach our students about them, as well. Along the way, may we all be encouraged to focus in on at least one virtue and struggle towards it with all of our heart. And as we struggle, let us remind both ourselves and our students that we are struggling against sin not just by fleeing/fighting from the passions, but also by actively struggling towards virtues.

This prayer of St. Ephrem will be a great aid to everyone in this struggle:

O Lord and Master of my life, take from me the spirit of sloth, despair, lust of power and idle talk. But give rather the spirit of chastity, meekness of mind, patience and love to Thy servant. Yea O Lord and King, grant me to see my own transgressions and not to judge my brother, for blessed art thou unto ages of ages.  Amen.

Here are some links that will help us as we begin to think about teaching our students about the virtues:
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“If we are to enable our children to hold on to their Christian heritage and Orthodox tradition, and more importantly, if they are to grow up as devout Orthodox believers, first we must teach them the virtues, the Scriptures, the saints, and then our doctrines and beliefs and church practices and customs.” http://www.pravmir.com/orthodox-catechism-teaching-children/

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The Pocket Prayer Book for Orthodox Christians  is available here and would make an excellent Pascha gift for Sunday Church School students who are old enough to read: http://store.ancientfaith.com/a-pocket-prayer-book-for-orthodox-christians-vinyl-cover/. This little book is an excellent companion for any Orthodox Christian! It fits in a pocket or purse and contains prayers, thought-provoking information such as the capital virtues which we are working to attain, the entire Divine Liturgy, preparation for confession, and more. Some of the prayers in the book (but not the section on virtues, unfortunately) are also available online here: http://www.antiochian.org/orthodox-prayers

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“Generally speaking, all of the human virtues are attributes of God Himself. They are the characteristics of Jesus Christ, the divine Son of God in human flesh. They are the divine properties which should be in all human persons by the gift of God in creation and salvation through Christ.” find this and more in an introductory article on the virtues, followed by a helpful resource: a series of articles addressing specific virtues, here: https://oca.org/orthodoxy/the-orthodox-faith/spirituality/the-virtues/the-virtues

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“When we teach children to be good, to be gentle, to be forgiving (all these are attributes of God), to be generous, to love their fellow men, to regard this present age as nothing, we instill virtue in their souls, and reveal the image of God within them.” ~ St John Chrysostom http://www.orthodoxchurchquotes.com/2013/07/12/st-john-chrysostom-when-we-teach-children-to-be-good/

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This book is an excellent resource for helping adults to nurture the virtues in children:

http://store.ancientfaith.com/walking-in-wonder-nurturing-christian-virtues-in-your-children/ Read a few excerpts here: http://www.antiochian.org/node/16620

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Talk about this quote with older students: “You are angry with your neighbor, you despise him, do not like to speak peaceably and lovingly to him, because there is something harsh, abrupt, careless, unpleasant to you in his character, in his speech, in his manners—because he is more conscious of his dignity than perhaps is necessary; or because he may be somewhat proud and disrespectful; but you yourself, your neighbor’s physician and teacher, are more guilty than him.
‘Physician, heal thyself.’ Teacher, teach yourself.
Your own malice is the bitterest of all evils. Is it then possible to correct malice by means of evil? Having a beam in your own eye, can you pull out the mote from the eye of another?
Evil and faults are corrected by good, by love, kindness, meekness, humility, and patience.”
+ St. John of Kronstadt, My Life in Christ http://www.orthodoxchurchquotes.com/2014/05/30/st-john-of-kronstadt-you-are-angry-with-your-neighbor-you-despise-him-do-not-like-to-speak-peaceably/

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Find a lesson plan and free printables for an “overview” lesson on the virtues here: http://www.orthodoxabc.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/07/032-EN-ed03_Christian-Virtues.pdf

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Many of the pages in this free printable workbook could be used in conjunction with lessons on the virtues. Some are overarching, about the virtues in general, while others focus on a specific virtue. https://www.scribd.com/document/19435690/Orthodox-Christians-On-Virtue

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“Fairy tales say plainly that virtue and vice are opposites and not just a matter of degree. They show us that the virtues fit into character and complete our world in the same way that goodness naturally fills all things.” ~ Vigen Guroian, Orthodox Christian author of this book which could perhaps be a resource for this unit of lessons: https://www.amazon.com/Tending-Heart-Virtue-Classic-Imagination/dp/0195152646/ref=asap_bc?ie=UTF8

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Share some of these quotes from Scripture and the Church Fathers with older Sunday Church School students, then challenge them to each pick one with which they’ve connected, to share with the class and explain how/why it connects with them. https://ladderofdivineascent.wordpress.com/2008/12/30/hello-world/

 

Gleanings from a Book: “In the Candle’s Glow” by Elizabeth Crispina Johnson

The picture book “In the Candle’s Glow” by Elizabeth Crispina Johnson captured my attention from the moment I saw it. The cover illustration radiates peace as the main character stands prayerfully, gently illumined by a row of candle flames dancing like fireflies as she prays. That juxtaposition of peace and joyful motion made me curious, anticipating what I would read within its pages.

When I slipped the book open, I was not disappointed. It starts with flowers and bees, all blowing and growing in the wind. The life of a candle actually begins in that place: in nature, beauty, wholeness, just as God created the world and meant it to be. Bees partake of that sweet beauty and do their own work of using it to create honey and wax to share with their hive. A pleasant-faced nun sings her way into the book, ready to collect both honey and beeswax, and next thing we know there are slender beeswax candles lying patiently in a church’s narthex awaiting their next job. At last the reader meets the young pray-er from the cover, who dances into the book with much enthusiasm. Once she arrives at the church doors, Felicia stills herself, signs herself with the cross, then prayerfully enters. She notices the color and aroma of the beeswax candles, recalling their history for a moment before selecting one and igniting it, initiating it to its next task: carrying prayers. Felicia quietly prays, and as she does, she sees her prayers hovering, illumined by the candle. She watches as a gentle breeze wafts through the window, carrying the smoke from her candle into the heavens. Her prayers ride along to meet the icon of Christ, which watches over Felicia and reminds her that Christ Himself receives her prayers!

Amandine Wanert’s playful illustrations bring to life the swaying flowers, buzzing bees, singing nun, and dancing Felicia in this story. They also illuminate the gentle glow of candles casting light and hope around the interior of an Orthodox church. Readers will relish the peace that they feel as they read their way from the gleeful buzz of sunny fields to the serenity of prayer in church.

Here are some ideas of ways to study ideas from the book with your Sunday Church School students:

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Help your Sunday Church School students learn about bees with these interesting hands-on activities: https://www.scholastic.com/teachers/articles/teaching-content/explore-world-honeybees/

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This short video can introduce your students to bees and some of the amazing facts about them: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ta154f5Rp5Y

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In “In the Candle’s Glow,” Sister Irene treasured the bees’ work and used some of their beeswax to make candles. Bees work together with monks in this American monastery, too, providing the monks with honey and a little income (the monks take the bees to places that need extra bees for pollination at certain times of the year) in exchange for a hive and plenty of flowers from which they can drink. Read more here: http://dowoca.org/news_140326_1.html. After reading, talk with your Sunday Church School students about the idea: how do the bees help the monks? How do the monks help the bees? In what ways are bees and monks the same? How do we benefit from both?

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After reading “In the Candle’s Glow,” talk with your students about beeswax. Show them a piece of honeycomb (and let them taste it, if they want to!) and talk about how the wax is made for storing the honey and the baby bees. Then talk about the process of turning honeycomb into beeswax candles. Help them to dip their own tiny beeswax candles, just like Sister Irene did in “In the Candle’s Glow.” To do so, have a small (perhaps a potpourri-simmering-size) pot of melted beeswax already heated when they come into class. Also before class, cover the table and floor with newspaper layers taped together to catch any wax drips and cut one or two 12” lengths of candlewick for each student. Fold each length of candlewick in half over a pencil and tape it in place. When you’re ready to begin the candle making process, show your students how to slowly dip their candlewick in the small pot of wax, then pull it out, allow it to cool for a while, then straighten it with their fingers. Allow each student to dip theirs, cool it a bit, and straighten it, then repeat the process. Depending on the temperature of the room, it will take anywhere from 10 to 15 dips to make a slender taper candle. While you take turns with the dipping process is a good time to talk about how peaceful and meditative this work is. Sometimes monks and nuns make candles like this, praying as they work. Perhaps the class can pray the Jesus Prayer together or sing a favorite troparion as you slowly take turns with the dipping process. Once the candles have reached your preferred width, the students can pull the tape off of their pencil and free their pair(s) of taper candles. Show the students how to cut the wick so that the two candles are separated. (You may also want to trim the bottom of each candle flat with a sharp knife on a thick piece of cardboard “cutting board” so that the students can more easily stand their candles upright in a candle stand or a candle holder.) Talk about how deep the wax needs to be, to make a long candle like the ones we light when we go into church. That would take a lot of melted wax! Talk about how long it takes someone to make the pile of candles waiting at church to be burned. In gratitude for that person’s hard work, encourage your students to consider saying a prayer for the person who made their candle, every time they light a candle at church. Gather your candles together and pray the prayer of blessing of the candles, found near the end of “In the Candle’s Glow.” Then allow the students to take their candles along home to use at their family prayer table, or encourage them to light them at church the next time they attend a service.

16682022_10210696526521083_1762604804850405088_nA heat-free beeswax candle-making option (better for younger students) would be to roll your own beeswax candles. Here’s a tutorial: http://playfullearning.net/2013/03/diy-hand-rolled-beeswax-candles/

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Why do we light candles when we pray? If you have older students, engage them in that question for a bit, then compare their answers to those of St. Symeon of Thessaloniki and St. Nikodemos the Hagiorite, as recorded here (under the same question, near the bottom of the page): http://www.stjohnsmayfield.org/what-is-orthodoxy-2/. Encourage them to talk about the answers of those two saints, comparing them to each other and to their own previous answers. Then, encourage your students and yourself to remember, as the page says, “For all these reasons cited by our Holy Fathers, let us often light our candles and make sure as much as possible that they be pure candles. We should abstain from all corruption and uncleanness, so that all of the above symbolism is made real in our Christian lives.”

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Allow your students to respond to the book “In the Candle’s Glow” with an art project. On dark paper, have them draw a candle (here’s one way: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GGOFC6ahnVw) with chalk, oil pastels, gel pens, white or metallic pencils: any medium that shows up nicely on the black paper. Then have your students smudge the candle’s “glow” around its flame. Inside that glow, encourage them to write a prayer; the names of people for whom they want to pray; or a drawing of the people’s faces for whom they are praying.

Gleanings from a Book: “Parenting Toward the Kingdom” by Dr. Philip Mamalakis

(Author’s note: This book is written for parents. We have chosen to include it in this blog anyway, because of how involved we as Sunday Church School teachers are in our students’ lives. Many of the principles of this book can be applied in the Sunday Church School room as well as in the home.)

I was so excited when I learned that this book was in the works! Before reading it, I had great expectations: I anticipated that it would be filled with gentle nudges towards godliness based both on years of education and personal experience. I knew that the wisdom in this book would be presented in a practical way backed by the in-the-trenches research that life with 7 children offers to their parents. And once I received and read the book, I was not at all disappointed!

My expectations for this book were the result of personal experience. Our family had the privilege of meeting the Mamalakis family at Family Camp at the Antiochian Village years ago when they were the featured presenters for the parent sessions. We learned so much from Dr. Mamalakis (and from his lovely wife, Georgia) while we were together. My husband and I could step out of the parent sessions and immediately apply the concepts we had just discussed. Our family is the better for having learned these principles, however imperfectly we have applied them. (An aside: We also benefitted from watching the Mamalakis parents apply the principles they had shared, as they interacted with their children over the course of the family camp sessions. It is a joy to watch these parents lovingly guide their children using the principles! There is an abundance of love in Mamalakis family, and these principles allow them to parent their children in the context of that great love. It is a joy to experience.)
But I digress. Let’s get back to the book. “Parenting Toward the Kingdom” outlines the principles that the Mamalakis family has followed:

  1. Always parent with the end in mind.
  2. Respond, don’t react.
  3. Understand struggles in terms of the values and the virtues of the Kingdom of God.
  4. Separate feelings from behaviors.
  5. Teach the joy of obedience.
  6. Teach the joy of repentance.

Each principle has a chapter (or four!) of the book dedicated to it. Every chapter takes an in-depth look at the principle and cites personal experiences or related stories. The stories and examples make this book very accessible to its readers. The principles can be immediately applied, just as my husband and I experienced when we sat under the Mamalakis’ teachings at Family Camp. I would highly recommend this book to any parent or educator who wants to lovingly guide the children in their care in a godly manner. The book would be a great Adult Sunday Church School curriculum, parish book study, or parenting class text.

“Parenting Toward the Kingdom” is easy read. However, its principles will take a lifetime to apply. May God help (and forgive!) all of us as we parent, grandparent, godparent, and otherwise raise His children towards His Kingdom!

Here are a few quotes from the book, to give you a taste of its contents. Purchase your own copy at http://store.ancientfaith.com/parenting-toward-the-kingdom/.

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“…children are not problems to be solved but persons to be loved and guided.” (p. 13)

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“The only way to learn patience and self-control is to live or interact with someone who tries your patience and tempts you to react. The spiritual life is a struggle to learn how to lvoe as Christ loves, with Christ’s love.” (p. 89)

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“For children who struggle the most, let’s say with boredom in church, cleaning their room, or being patient, it is unfair to compare their behavior with others who don’t struggle in those areas. If our goal is to have children learn the struggle, then we must recognize their efforts as much as the outcome.” (p. 107)

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“The key to setting good limits is to be clear, consistent, firm, and matter of fact.” (p. 157)

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“Stay focused on effort or the virtues you are trying to instill. When children see that we are not mad at them for struggling, they learn that our love is unconditional and our expectations real.” (p. 206)

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“We teach the joy of obedience by helping our children see that obedience is not something just for children. Obedience to God’s commandments is the path for all, parents and children alike… When children feel connected to their parents and see their parents living in obedience to God, they internalize obedience to God as the path of life.” (p. 264)

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Gleanings from a Book: “Orthodox Christian Parenting Cultivating God’s Creation” By Marie Eliades

We recently discovered the book Orthodox Christian Parenting – Cultivating God’s Creation by Marie L. Eliades, published by Zoe Press in 2012. This book is a compilation of quotes and writings about raising and educating Orthodox Christian children. The text is gathered both from Church fathers and contemporary Orthodox Christians, and is presented by theme. (An important note: the introduction to the book tells more about the project and encourages readers to discuss what they read with their spiritual father to see what is best for their own family.)

Themes include:

“The Bigger Picture” (addresses why the book’s content is important)

“Marriage and New Beginnings” (sets the foundation for a new Orthodox family, and offers Orthodox perspectives on infertility/pregnancy/childbirth/adoption/loss of a child)

“Raising our Children” (speaks to childrearing from early childhood through youth)

“In the House of the Lord” (offers the basics of Orthodox family life at Church and at home)

“Adolescence and Growing Up” (talks about the issues and challenges that older children and their related adults face)

“So, They’re Leaving Home” (suggestions for launching a young adult)

We found many encouraging and challenging quotes throughout the book, and will share a few of them with you. This book will be of great benefit to any Orthodox Christians who marry, raise children, and/or teach children about the Faith. We recommend that people in those categories consider reading the book because of its insights into what the Church has taught about raising and teaching children of all ages.

Find the book here: http://www.shop.zoepress.us/Orthodox-Christian-Parenting-Cultivating-Gods-Creation-978-0-9851915-0-4.htm

Here are a few quotes from the book:

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“Saint John [Chrysostom] says that the souls of children are soft and delicate like wax. If right teachings are impressed upon them from the beginning, then with time these impressions harden as in the case of a waxen seal. None will be able to undo this good impression… There is no more wonderful material with which to work than the souls of children. Parents create ensouled icons of God, living statues.” (p. 24)

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From a section from St. Porphyrios:
“Teach the children to seek God’s help. The great secret for children’s progress is humility. Trust in God gives perfect security. God is everything. No one can say that I am everything. That cultivates egotism. God desires us to lead children to humility. Without humility neither we nor our children will achieve anything. You need to be careful when you encourage children. You shouldn’t say to a child, ‘You’ll succeed, you’re great, you’re young, your fearless, you’re perfect!’ This is not good for the child. You can tell the child and say, ‘The talents you have, have been given to you by God. Pray and God will give you strength to cultivate them and in that way you will succeed. God will give you His grace.’ That is the best way. Children should learn to seek God’s help in everything.” (p. 86)

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From a section from St. Porphyrios:
“Young people these days say, ‘You need to understand us!’ But we mustn’t conform to their ideas. On the contrary, we need to pray for them, to say what is right, to live by what is right, and proclaim what is right, and not conform ourselves to their way of thinking. We mustn’t compromise the magnificence of our faith… We need to remain the people that we are and proclaim the truth and the light. The children will learn from the holy Fathers. The teaching of the Fathers will instruct our children about Confession, about the passions, about evils and about how the saints conquered their evil selves. And we will pray that God will enter into them.” (p. 90)

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“The Orthodox educator does not project himself as superior because he sees his own self as more sinful than everyone. His students teach him. He cooperates harmoniously with his colleagues; he bases the success of his work on prayer. He educates himself daily in order to be able to educate his little brothers in Christ. How different is this model of educator from that of the various educated people of our age who often, ignoring the education of the Three Hierarchs, set out with a  luciferian egotism of knowledge, of projection, of worldly wisdom and often more based on their individual net worth. In fact, the Three Hierarchs as brilliant stars can serve to enlighten the darkness of our age, to cast light on the facts of ‘education’ of which our purported leaders of education are entirely unaware.” (p. 135)

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“Orthodox holy Tradition teaches us humility, obedience, repentance and love. Tradition can only be passed on by example. ‘Youth ministers’ will not be able to communicate much about Orthodox spirituality unless the young ones are actually seeing this happen in the home or at least in the homes of other church members. SOMEBODY actually has to start living Tradition in order for it to be conveyed. It is no wonder that the Greek word for Tradition, ‘paradosis,’ means to pass along or hand down something that is living and active.” (p. 160)

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From a section by Fr. Artemy Vladimirov:

“We very much pity those Orthodox Christians who think that the best rest for their exhausted soul is to watch television news. This isn’t a bad thing, perhaps, but it’s a dead thing. You may spend all of the earthly time you have been allotted with such distractions, but you will never be at peace. If you want to calm your mind and ease your heart, try calling instead on the most holy name of Jesus Christ, without haste and with only one intent: to attract His attention and repent of your sins.

“Try taking a walk for ten minutes as you invoke his miracle-working name, and you will see spiritual profit. Begin in a simple, humble manner, ‘O Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me, a sinner.’ You may even do this somewhat mechanically, knowing that this tradition has been sanctified by generations of saints, but as you walk and pray, try not to think of anything else. Just walk in the presence of God.

“In these ten minutes you will find that your fevered mind is soothed, that the noisy bazaar of your thoughts has become light, clear, and direct…” (p. 201)

Learning from the Saints: St. Nina (January 14/27)

Late in the 3rd century, in Cappadocia (central modern-day Turkey), a young girl was born to a Roman army chief named Zabulon, and his wife Sosana (who was the sister of Patriarch Juvenal of Jerusalem). This girl was named Nina (or Nino, as she is called in the Republic of Georgia). Nina and her parents were well off, but decided to sell everything when Nina was 12 and go to Jerusalem to live in the Holy City. Soon after they arrived there, Zabulon was tonsured a monk and went to live in a monastery in the desert, Sosana became a deaconess and helped her brother the patriarch serve the poor of Jerusalem. Nina went to live with a godly woman named Nianfora, who continued to teach her to love and follow God through His Church.

When Nina was 14, she began to wonder about Our Lord’s robe and whatever happened to it. She asked Nianfora how something so precious could just be lost for hundreds of years? Nianfora answered that it was somewhere in Iberia (now Georgia) because it had traveled there after the soldier won the robe with the dice toss at the cross. Nina was very pious and thought that this holy item that had belonged to Our Lord should not be lost and forgotten, so she began to pray, asking the Mother of God to make a way for her to go. One night she had a dream in which the Theotokos blessed her with a cross made of grapevines tied together with hair. The Theotokos told Nina that the cross would be her protection as she traveled to Iberia. When Nina woke up, she was still holding the cross in her hand! She kept that grapevine cross with her for the rest of her life. Soon after this dream, Nina set out to find Christ’s robe with the blessing of her uncle, the patriarch.

Nina traveled first to Rome. While she was there, she met Princess Ripsimia and her teacher Gaiana, and let them to the Faith. The emperor at that time was Diocletian, who was persecuting Christians. Diocletian wanted to marry Princess Ripsimia because she was so beautiful, but she and Gaiana and Nina (and 50 other young ladies) ran away to spare their lives because they were Christians. They escaped safely to Armenia. Unfortunately, Diocletian was so angry he had sent soldiers to follow the young ladies (and to warn King Tiridat of Armenia about them). When the now-warned King Tiridat saw the beautiful Princess Ripsimia, he wanted to marry her! When she refused, he killed her, Gaiana, and the other 50 young ladies with them. Nina narrowly escaped this martyrdom by hiding in some rosebushes.

Alone, Nina continued her journey to Iberia. When she first arrived in Iberia, she befriended some shepherds who gave her food and helped her know where to go to find their capital city of Mtskheta. Along the way, Nina was very discouraged. She began to wonder why she was doing what she was doing. One night as she slept, she had a dream. In her dream, a heavenly visitor appeared to her and gave her a scroll. When she woke up, Nina still had the scroll in her hand. She could even read the scroll: it was written in Greek! It was full of scripture verses which encouraged her to continue on her journey so that she could help others learn more about Christ and His Church. This gave Nina the strength that she needed to continue her journey, and she made it to Mtskheta.

Soon after her arrival in Mtskheta, Nina was saddened to watch a ceremony where the people of Iberia were gathered to worship idols covered in metal. The people shook before the idols as their priests prepared sacrifices for the ceremony. Nina was so sad that she began to pray hard and loudly for the people, that God would enlighten them and show them that He is the true God. Suddenly, a storm came up and all the people had to take cover! Lightning destroyed the idols, crumbling them to nothing. The rain washed away the crumbled pieces. Nina had taken cover in the cleft of a rock, so she was safe, but she saw the whole thing happen. After the idols were washed away, the sun shone once again, and the people came looking for their idols. Of course they found no trace of them. This made the Iberian king wonder if there is another God greater than the gods that they worshiped.

Nina was welcomed into the palace garden by the gardener and his wife, who allowed her to live in a corner of the garden (some sources say in a hut; others say under a bramble). The couple was unable to have children, but Nina prayed for them, and God blessed them with many children after that! They became Christians, and so did many others in the land, as Nina prayed for them and told them about Christ. She became well known because of her godliness and her kindness. God worked other miracles through her prayers as well. For example, once a mother was carrying her dying son through the city, begging for help so that he would not die. St. Nina took the boy, laid him down on her leaf bed, and prayed for him. As she prayed, she touched him with her grapevine cross, and he was healed!

Nina preached even to the Jewish people of Iberia. Interestingly enough, it was through the Iberian Jewish High Priest (who converted to Christianity as well through the teaching of Nina) that she learned about the one thing that she had come to Iberia to find in the first place: the robe of Christ! He told her the story of his great-grandfather Elioz, who had gone to Jerusalem to witness Christ’s death (His death was considered by the Jewish people to be a victory for their nation, so invitations were sent out prior to its happening). Elioz’s mother had warned him not to ally himself with those who killed Christ, because she knew that He was the fulfillment of the Jewish prophecies! Elioz went to Jerusalem and was present at the crucifixion, and managed to get Christ’s robe from the soldier who had won it. He brought it back to Mtskheta, where he found out that his mother had died around the time that Christ did (after feeling in her heart the pounding of the nails as they were pounded into Our Lord and proclaiming that she sensed that He had been killed). Elioz’s sister Sidonia took the robe of Christ when she saw it in his hands, and began to venerate it with kisses. She hugged it to herself and immediately died! Elioz tried to pull the robe from her grasp but was completely unable to do so. He felt afraid about what could happen to the robe at that point, so he secretly buried her, still clinging to the robe, in an undisclosed location. Some say it was in the middle of the palace garden in Mtskheta, where a cedar tree suddenly grew, but no one knows for sure.

When Nina learned this, she was still uncertain of the actual location of the robe of Christ, but began to pray at that cedar tree in the middle of the royal garden in case the robe was truly under there. One night after her prayers, Nina saw many black birds perch in the cedar’s branches. They flew from there to the river, bathed, and came back as white as snow! The now-white birds sat in the cedars branches and sang beautifully. God revealed to Nina that this was to help her to realize that the people of Iberia would come to know Him, be baptized, and continue their lives cleansed of sins. It encouraged her to keep telling all the people around her about Christ, and to pray for them and for their salvation.

The queen of Iberia, Queen Nana, who did not like Christians and worshiped false gods like the Roman goddess Venus, became sick around this time. She went to doctors, but just got worse and worse. It looked like she would die. Although she did not like Christians, Queen Nana had heard that Nina could heal people through her prayers. She commanded that Nina be brought to her. Nina replied that if she wanted to be healed, the Queen would need to come to her humble dwelling instead. The queen was desperate and so she humbled herself and they carried her to Nina’s little living space, where her servants laid the queen on Nina’s bed of leaves. Nina prayed for her, and touched her head, feet, and shoulders with the grapevine cross. As soon as Nina finished making the sign of the cross over Queen Nana in this way, the queen was completely well. She was so grateful to be healed that she stopped worshipping idols and became a Christian instead. Queen Nana and Nina became close friends.

The king of Iberia, King Mirian, was not happy that his queen converted to Christianity. He was ready to have all of the Christians in Iberia killed, even though that meant that his own wife would die. While he was thinking of this plan, he went out hunting on a beautiful day. As he hunted, suddenly a dark cloud came up where he was. It was so dark that the king could not see! Winds began to blow, lightning was all around, and it was all very similar to the frightening storm that hit back when Nina first came to Iberia and the idols had been destroyed. All of the king’s hunting companions left him because they were afraid. Alone, King Mirian cried out to his gods to save him. The storm got worse, and of course the gods did nothing. Finally, King Mirian cried out to the God of Nina, asking Him to save him from this storm and promising to follow God if He did. At that moment, the storm stopped, and the sun shone! King Mirian returned to the city, found Nina and told her of his experience and his promise, which he kept. And that is how the  Light of Christ entered into King Mirian’s life and the lives of his people as well. His joy at his conversion led the king to build many churches to help his people to be better Christians.

After the king’s conversion, Nina continued to preach and teach about Christ to the Iberian people. Her hard work, and the cooperation of the people around her, established Christianity firmly in that part of the world. (Even today, 82 % of the people of the nation of Georgia are practicing Orthodox Christians!)

Nina reposed in the Lord in the early 4th century, in the village of Bodbe, in what is now eastern Georgia. King Mirian had a church built at the site of her repose. Her body is buried there.

O handmaid of the Word of God,

Who in preaching hast equaled the first-called Apostle Andrew,
And hast emulated the other Apostles;
O enlightener of Iberia and reed-pipe of the Holy Spirit,
Holy Nino, equal to the Apostles:
Pray to Christ God to save our souls!
(troparion to St. Nina, in tone 4)

Sources:

http://www.antiochian.org/node/17330

https://oca.org/saints/lives/2013/01/14/100191-st-nino-nina-equal-of-the-apostles-and-enlightener-of-georgia

http://www.pravoslavie.ru/english/67914.htm

http://www.stnina.org/st-nina/life-st-nina-karen-rae-keck

 

Here are additional sources that can help us learn more so that we can teach our Sunday Church School students about St. Nina:

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This picture book is a great way to help younger students learn about the life of St. Nina: http://www.stnectariospress.com/the-life-of-saint-nina-equal-to-the-apostles/

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Share this 8-minute video about the life of St. Nina with middle-years students: http://trisagionfilms.com/project/life-st-nina-enlightener-georgia/

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Older students will benefit from reading the life of St. Nina and studying and/or praying the supplication to her that is found in this book: http://www.holytrinitypublications.com/en/Book/8/313/The_Life_of_St_Nina_Equal-to-the-Apostles_and_Enlightener_of_Georgia.html

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Teens will enjoy reading this Iberian Jewish account of Christ, as it was told to St. Nina, and what happened with His robe:

“Conversing frequently with this Abiathar [the Iberian Jewish high priest], St. Nina heard from him the following tale about the Lord’s Robe:
‘I heard from my parents, and they heard from their fathers and grandfathers, that when Herod ruled in Jerusalem, the Jews living in Mtskheta and all Kartli received the news that Persian kings had come to Jerusalem seeking a newly-born male child of the lineage of David, born of a mother, but having no father, and they called him the King of the Jews. They found Him in the city of David called Bethlehem in a humble cave and brought Him gifts of gold, myrrh, and frankincense. Having worshipped Him, they returned to their own country.
‘Thirty years passed, and then my great-grandfather Elioz received from the high priest in Jerusalem, Annas, a letter which read as follows: “He Whom the Persian kings came to worship and offer their gifts, has reached a mature age and has begun to preach that He the Christ, the Messiah, the Son of God. Come to Jerusalem see His death, to which He will be delivered according to the law Moses.”
‘When Elioz, along with many others, was about to set out for Jerusalem, his mother, a pious old woman of the lineage of the high priest Elias, said to him: “Answer the king’s call, my son, but I beg you, do not ally yourself with the impious against Him, Who they intend to kill; He is the One foretold by the prophets, a Riddle for the wise, s Secret hidden from the beginning of the ages, a Light for the nations and Eternal Life.”
‘Elioz, together with the Karenian Longinus, arrived in Jerusalem and was present at Christ’s Crucifixion. His mother remained in Mtskheta. On the eve of Passover she suddenly felt in her heart something like the strokes of a hammer driving in nails, and she cried out: “Today the kingdom of Israel has perished, because it has condemned to death its Savior and Redeemer; from now on this people will be guilty of the blood of its Creator and Lord. It is my misfortune that I have not died before now, for then I would not have heard these terrifying blows! No more will I see on the earth the glory of Israel!”
‘And uttering these words, she died. Elioz, who was present at Christ’s Crucifixion, obtained the Robe from the Roman soldier to whose lot it had fallen, and brought it to Mtskheta. Elioz’s sister Sidonia, on greeting her brother with his safe return, told him of the wondrous and sudden death of their mother and of the words she had uttered just before she died. Then when Elioz, in confirmation of their mother’s foreboding regarding the crucifying of Christ, showed his sister the Lord’s Robe, Sidonia took it and began to weep and kiss it; then she pressed it to her breast and instantly fell down dead. And no human strength was able to wrest this holy garment from the arms of the dead girl. Elioz committed his sister’s body to the earth and buried her with Christ’s Robe, and he did this in secret so that even to this day no one knows Sidonia’s burial place. Some surmise that it is located in the center of the royal garden, where from that time there grew up of its own accord and still stands a shady cedar. Believers flock to it from all directions, considering it to possess great power; and there beneath the cedar’s roots, according to tradition, is Sidonia’s grave.’
“Having heard about this tradition, St. Nina began to go at night to pray beneath the cedar tree…” ~ from http://www.pravoslavie.ru/english/67914.htm

After reading this passage together, discuss it. Possible questions could include: How is this passage the same as what we Christians have heard about this part of Our Lord’s life? Does the Jewish perspective offer us any insights we may not have had before this? How does hearing a Jewish person’s belief about Christ impact our own?

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Talk with your Sunday Church School students about St. Nina’s cross. How did she get the cross in the first place? How did God use it to bless others? Show them a picture of St. Nina’s cross, which is still reverenced by the Georgian people to this day. (You can find photos of it online, or show your students the video footage of the cross being reverently carried into a service at around :24 in this Georgian news story:https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=y3LVGZ8aO0g.) After the discussion, help your students to each create a grapevine cross to remind them of the one that St. Nina had. Before class, you will need to procure some grapevine (from your own plants, or a friend’s plants, or from a craft store or nursery) and some embroidery floss. When it is time to make the crosses, cut sticks of two different lengths for each cross and use strands of embroidery floss “hair” to tie them into a cross. Their cross can be small, made of just two grapevine twigs, or large, crafted from multiple strands of each size: it is up to you! Send the crosses home with your students so that they can put theirs in a place where it will remind them to be faithful to God and to trust Him as St. Nina did. (Here’s a blog post that can give you an idea of how to tie the cross together. The cross in the blog is made with twigs from a tree, but the method would apply to grapevine as well: http://www.gratefulprayerthankfulheart.com/2012/04/little-wooden-cross-from-sticks.html)

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With older students, study the Gospel verses that were written on the scroll miraculously given to St. Nina in her dream when she was feeling most discouraged about her journey. Here they are:

“Verily I say unto you, Wheresoever this gospel shall be preached in the whole world, there shall also this, that this woman hath done, be told for a memorial of her. (Matt.26:13).
“There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female: for ye are all one in Christ Jesus. (Gal.3:28).
“Then said Jesus unto them (the women), Be not afraid: go tell my brethren… (Matt.28:10).
He that receives you receives me, and he that receives me receives him that sent me (Matt.10:40).
“For I will give you a mouth and wisdom, which all your adversaries shall not be able to gainsay nor resist (Luke 21:15).
“And when they bring you unto the synagogues, and unto magistrates, and powers, take no thought how or what thing you shall answer, or what you shall say: for the Holy Spirit shall teach you in the same hour what you ought to say (Luke 12:11-12).
“And fear not them which kill the body, but are not able to kill the soul… (Matt.10:28).
“Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit: Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the world (Matt.28:19-20).”

After reading the scriptures together, talk about how these words must have encouraged Nina. Then ask your students: do any of these verses stand out to encourage you? Have each student select one of these verses to copy onto a piece of magnetic sheet (magnetic business cards like these would work well: http://www.staples.com/Avery-reg-Inkjet-Magnetic-Business-Cards/product_461559). Send the magnetic verses with your students so that they can put the verse in their locker at school or on their fridge at home to continually encourage them as they did St. Nina!

Saints of Recent Decades: Ideas for Biographical Storytelling

We have reached the end of our series entitled “Saints of Recent Decades.” We know that we have barely scratched the surface of all the Saints from recent decades, but we hope to have introduced you to a few new friends along the way! There are so many others whose lives we could have studied, but we were limited by time. Who did we miss that we should all know about? Comment below to help add more options of recent Saints (we chose to define “recent” as those within the last few hundred years; especially ones of whom we have photographs as well as icons) for the community to learn together about.

With the exception of the very first post in the series, we gave you only the story of the Saint’s life, and did not always offer a way for you to share their story with your class. The purpose of this blog post is to do that: offer suggestions of ways to tell biographical stories. After reading this, we hope that as you share these stories (or the stories of other Saints) with your Sunday Church School students, you have ideas of ways to do so.

Holy Saints, please intercede for our salvation!

Here are some ideas of ways to tell the stories of the lives of the Saints:

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Some Saints’ icons have a main icon written in the center and smaller ones around that tell more of their story. If you can find one of these icons of the Saint whose life story you are planning to tell, you are set! Show your students the icon and tell the stories connected to each one around the outside edge until they’ve heard the entire life story of the Saint. (Here is an example, icons of St. Maria of Paris: https://www.flickr.com/photos/jimforest/3509929913/.)

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As we have suggested for the Bible story presentations (see https://orthodoxchurchschoolteachers.wordpress.com/2016/07/01/bible-story-grab-bags-old-testament/ for example), you can make “Saint Story Grab-bags.” To tell the story of the life of a saint, fill a bag with items that represent each part of the saint’s life. For example, see the items (listed in parenthesis) at the beginning of each paragraph of the story of St. Herman as we noted it here: https://orthodoxchurchschoolteachers.wordpress.com/2016/09/30/saints-of-recent-decades-st-herman-of-alaska-december-13-or-25/ Pull each item from the bag in order, as you tell the saint’s story. You can do this with any Saint’s story. The hardest part of this storytelling method is dividing the Saint’s story up into smaller sections and then thinking of a representative item to put in the bag for that section. The retelling is infinitely easier, because you have the items to jog your memory of what happened at that point in the Saint’s life. (Note: we recommend that you still keep your story/script nearby in case you forget which item comes next!)

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You can also use “Saint Story Grab-bags” as a review! Over a period of time, as you tell each Saint’s story, save one representative item from each Saint’s life and put it in a “Saint Story Grab-bag.” For example, a small toy trash can that reminds you of the Parisian children that St. Maria of Paris saved by using the trash system in the city; a pair of binoculars representing St. Porphyrios’ miraculous long-distance vision; a small towel to represent St. Herman of Alaska’s miraculous healing; etc. After you have told all of the Saint stories you plan to tell, take some review time to pull the item(s) out of the bag and see what the children remember about them. This can take as much as a whole class period near the end of the year, or as little as “okay, we have five minutes of class time left. Who wants to reach in the Saint Story Grab-bag and choose a Saint-story-review piece?” Either way, have the students tell as much of the story as they can remember on their own!
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Create a photo album of the Saint’s life. Collect actual pictures if they are available and put them together in a powerpoint presentation or in a scrapbook. If no pictures are available, find other related photos from the era (ie: a photo of some of the Jews inside of the Velodrome d’Hiver, taken around the same time that St. Maria of Paris was rescuing children) and put those in your album. Then flip through the powerpoint or album as you share the story of the Saint’s life with your students. (Note: if you enjoy scrapbooking, you may want to design your scrapbook online. There are many free templates available, and here’s a great tutorial of how to layer a digital scrapbook page: http://www.sweetshoppedesigns.com/tutorials/index.php/2011/12/using-templates/!)

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Create a timeline of the Saint’s life and use it to share their story. This can be done in many ways. Here are a few:

  1. You can line up representative photos or items across the front of the Sunday Church School classroom (or down the middle of the table if your class meets around a huge table) in the order in which they occurred in the Saint’s life. Work your way down the line as you tell the story.
  2. Hang a rope or bulletin board strip on a wall in your classroom. Use clothespins or thumbtacks to attach photos or items in the order that they are needed to tell the Saint’s life story. (This creates a “retelling rope” of sorts similar to this one: https://s-media-cache-ak0.pinimg.com/originals/bb/53/bd/bb53bdcfe25ce87cfc64cc39f6abbdbb.jpg)
  3. Tie items (or photos) together in the order that they occurred in the Saint’s life; then tuck them all into a big basket or bag and pull on the yarn/string to pull out one item at a time as you tell the story.
  4. Break down the Saint’s life story into smaller parts and think of an item that your students can easily draw that represents each part of the story. Number the items. Write each number and item pair on index cards. At the beginning of class, give each child a piece of paper and an index card with a number-item pair written on it. Have them draw the item and number listed on their index card on their paper. As you tell the story, call out the numbers (in order) and have each student hold up their illustration when their number is called.

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Come to class dressed as the Saint, and tell their story in first person. The costume does not have to be fancy, just enough to give the idea that you are not “you” at that time. “Many times, a simple costume made with a sheet or bathrobe, towels, and belt(s) will do the trick. Finding a prop or two (a cross? a wheel? a platter?) …to carry will add to the final effect. (The icon of the saint can often offer ideas of something …to hold. The story of the Saint’s life can do the same.) The costume does not have to be elaborate to be effective.” (from our blog post https://orthodoxchristianparenting.wordpress.com/2014/10/15/dressed-like-a-saint/)

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Bring props and costumes that can make it possible for your Sunday Church School students to act out the story of the saint’s life as you tell it. Or tell the story in such a way that they can do some actions/motions or say parts of the story along with you as you speak. This is modeled in this video about storytelling (specifically the section beginning at 1:29) : http://raisingchildren.net.au/articles/reading.html

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To tell the life story of a Saint, create stick puppets with photos of the saint and other important people in his/her life. Use the puppets to tell the story of the Saint’s life. A backdrop is optional but could be created out of an enlarged picture(s) of the place(s) where the Saint lived. For a simple way to make stick puppets, see http://www.auntannie.com/FridayFun/ClipArtPuppet/. An alternative to making stick puppets with photos from the Saint’s life would be to create the “characters” needed to retell their life story. If you do not feel comfortable drawing them yourself, you could make some from these paper dolls (https://makingfriends.com/paper-doll-friends/) and attach them to popsicle sticks to create “puppets.” An alternative to stick puppets would be to “act out” the Saint’s story using Lego or Playmobil people (if you have access to them) as the Saint and the others in his/her life.

On the Feast of the Nativity (Dec. 25/Jan. 7)

On December 25/January 7 every year, we celebrate the Nativity of our Lord and God and Savior Jesus Christ. This day is an important one for humankind. For on this day the eternal God, who had deigned to take on human flesh in order to save us from the power of Death, is born into time and space. On this day we celebrate His birth to the Theotokos in a cave. We recognize Joseph’s obedience to God’s messengers in the midst of doubt. We remember the shepherds who were the first to know the Good News of HIs birth when the Angels of God announced it to them. Thus, “the least of these” were granted great mercy. We remember the Magi whose love for and intense study of creation revealed the Good News to them in a manner so convincing that they acted on it and traveled to a foreign land to pay homage to a King they’d never even heard of before. In them, “the wealthy” and “the foreigners” were granted great mercy as well. We recall how nature (for example, the star and the animals in the cave) proclaimed and honored His birth. We observe that Life can come from the depths of the earth, for in a cave our Lord was born, and again later, in a cave, humanity is born into life eternal when He conquers Death and rises from the dead.

It is likely that our Sunday Church School students are already familiar with the story of this feast. Let us be sure that they know where to find it in the Scriptures, in Luke chapter 2. Read this passage aloud together. As you do so, find opportunities to discuss the things mentioned above. Then take a look at the icon of the feast. Challenge your students to identify as many different parts of the scripture passage as they are able to find in the icon. Then talk about the feast and its importance. Establish the importance of the day, and take some time to discuss what Orthodox Christians should do on the day of the feast so that our actions focus on celebrating the feast itself, and do not just bend to societal trends and expectations. This can be difficult, especially if families have established many other Christmas lower-case-t-traditions. Encourage your students to help their family think about the importance of the feast and act accordingly. Even a little step towards celebrating the feast will be a step in the right direction, and will be worth the effort!

The feast will be upon us soon. Let us prepare and celebrate as we should. Blessed Nativity to you, your family, and your Sunday Church School students!

Here are additional ideas of ways to teach your students about the Nativity Feast:

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Find descriptions of the icon of the Nativity at these links:
Click on parts of the icon  to read about them here: http://www.antiochian.org/icons-explained-nativity

See the icon and descriptions about each part of it here: http://media-cache-ak0.pinimg.com/originals/70/62/e2/7062e21a4c0a4cc5358ffe18586bf7fb.jpg

Create some pretty icon ornaments together such as these: http://orthodoxeducation.blogspot.com/2011/11/christmas-orthodox-craft-ornaments.html

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Ask your students if their family has a Christmas tree. Many of them probably do. Talk about how some of the Christmas tree’s symbolisms can point us to the true meaning of the Nativity Feast. Read the feast’s pages in the book “Heaven Meets Earth.” The Nativity Feast’s section explains the many symbols of the Christmas tree. For example, “God’s light, symbolized by the lights sparkling all around the tree, reaches into the deepest, darkest crevices of our being.” (p. 20) Talk with your students about these symbols and how they fit with the celebration of the feast. Invite students to create their own (paper) Christmas trees and including some of these symbols. Teach each student to accordian-fold a large green paper circle to make a “tree” shape. Then allow them to decorate it with markers, tiny paper icon “ornaments,” etc. Add two star stickers (back to back) at the top of the “tree.” Use a hole punch to punch holes from the fold side of each of the accordian folds of the tree. Set the tree over an led votive (many dollar stores sell them two to a pack) so that the tree can “light up.” Before sending the trees home with your students, review again the symbolisms mentioned in the book, so that they can share them with their family when they get home.

15337667_10210013066034998_7986008621671430419_n***

Keeping our focus (and our students’ focus) on Christ during the Nativity “season” is not always easy in today’s world. Find resources to help in this blog post: https://orthodoxchristianparenting.wordpress.com/2015/12/16/ideas-for-keeping-our-focus-on-the-nativity-of-christ/

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Find pins to many Nativity ideas here: https://www.pinterest.com/aodce/nativity/

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This zine can help us teach our students ages 12 and up about the Nativity of our Lord. http://www.goarch.org/archdiocese/departments/religioused/zines/nativityzine. You can also get a teachers’ guide to use with the zine. (See the objectives here: http://www.goarch.org/archdiocese/departments/religioused/resources/midhightextobjectives#For to Us) It also has a free parent guide that could be sent to the parents of our Sunday Church School students. The parent guide features ways to use the zine with children of different age levels; ideas for celebrating the twelve days of Christmas; and information about Christmas celebrations around the world, as well! http://www.goarch.org/archdiocese/departments/religioused/christmas_guide

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With older children, we can take time before the Nativity Feast’s vesperal service/Royal Hours to discuss the verses we will hear and/or chant. For example this one:

O Christ what shall we offer You;
for our sake You appeared on earth as man?
Every creature made by You offers thanks to You.
The angels offer You a hymn; the heavens, a star;
the Magi, gifts; the shepherds, their wonder;
the earth, its cave; the wilderness, the manger:
and we offer You a Virgin Mother.
O pre-eternal God, have mercy on us.
Find the rest of the vesperal service here: http://lit.royaldoors.net/