Category Archives: Christian Faith

Gleanings from a Book: “A Journal of Thanksgiving: Record Three Years of Gratitude in a Sentence a Day” Compiled by Nicole M. Roccas

For many of us, it is nearly the end of a dreary winter. Although spring is just around the corner, the wintry series of gloomy house-bound days may be tempting us to despair. And now Great Lent has arrived, bringing with it its own set of challenges and hard (but beautiful) work. This is the perfect time for Nicole Roccas’ journal to become available, for we need the grace and challenge that it offers.

In “A Journal of Thanksgiving”, Nicole has compiled and edited a variety of quotes about giving thanks to God in all things. Instead of simply collecting the quotes into a nice little book for her readers to read, ponder, and likely, forget them, Nicole has upped the ante. Each quote appears at the top of a page marked for a specific day of the year, and is followed by three sets of lined spaces, wherein the reader is invited to record a sentence or two of gratitude for something from their day. The intent is for the reader to daily record their gratitude in this journal over a period of three years, welcoming genuine thanksgiving into their life in the process.

In a brief letter at the beginning of the journal, Nicole sets the stage for the reasoning behind its creation. She reminds the reader that thanksgiving has always been at the heart of Orthodox Christian spirituality, so we should continually be working toward endlessly offering thanks to God.The quotes she has selected for the book encourage giving thanks in the good things and for the beauty around us, always recognizing God’s provision for our lives. They also challenge us to give thanks in the struggles, the hardships, the ugliness in which we find ourselves, all the while recognizing God’s omniscience and wisdom.

The book is set up to follow a calendar year, beginning with January 1st. However, Nicole encourages her readers to just begin immediately, when they receive the book, and continue on from there. If, on any given day, one cannot think of a single thing for which to be grateful, never fear: the book ends with 33 thanksgiving prompts that will help anyone who is struggling in ingratitude.

Readers of all ages who wish to grow in their spiritual life will challenge themselves to embrace life with genuine gratitude that pours forth to God, heedless of their circumstances and comfort level. This book is a small step in that direction. Giving thanks – even just for one thing each day – for three years will begin to grow gratitude in the reader/journal writer’s life, and they will grow closer to becoming the person that they were created to be: a grateful, humble servant of God.

The timing of this book’s release is impeccable. After all, what could be a better time to begin the discipline of growing gratitude in our hearts than during Great Lent? May we all grow more grateful, not just during the lenten season – or even “just” for the three years it will take us to work through this book – but for the rest of our lives.

Find the journal here: https://store.ancientfaith.com/a-journal-of-thanksgiving/

Readers who are journeying through the book are encouraged to share their journey on social media with the hashtag #ThanksWritingAFP

Here are a few of the quotes from the book, to help you begin to think about giving thanks to God:

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“Just as athletes win crowns by their struggles in the arena, so are Christians brought to perfection by the trial of their temptations, if only we learn to accept what the Lord sends us with patience, with all thanksgiving. All things are ordained by the Lord’s love.” St. Basil the Great, Letter 101 (January 2, “A Journal of Thanksgiving: Record Three Years of Gratitude in a Sentence a Day” Compiled by Nicole M. Roccas)

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“Nothing is holier than the tongue that in distress gives thanks to God; truly in no respect does it fall short of that of martyrs.” St. John Chrysostom, Homily 8 on Colossians (February 18, “A Journal of Thanksgiving: Record Three Years of Gratitude in a Sentence a Day” Compiled by Nicole M. Roccas)

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“Life-giving and merciful Trinity, receive my thanksgiving for all Your goodness.” Akathist of Thanksgiving, Kontakion 13 (April 11, “A Journal of Thanksgiving: Record Three Years of Gratitude in a Sentence a Day” Compiled by Nicole M. Roccas)

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“We shall give thanks to You, O God;

We shall give thanks, and call upon Your name.

I shall describe all Your wonders.” Ps. 74:2,3 (June 25, “A Journal of Thanksgiving: Record Three Years of Gratitude in a Sentence a Day” Compiled by Nicole M. Roccas)

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“We give thanks unto You, O King invisible, who, by Your measureless power, made all things and, in the greatness of Your mercy, brought all things from nonexistence into being.” The Divine Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom (August 31, “A Journal of Thanksgiving: Record Three Years of Gratitude in a Sentence a Day” Compiled by Nicole M. Roccas)

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“Let us increase our thanksgiving—not in words, nor in tongue, but in deeds and works, in mind and in heart. Let us give thanks unto Him with all our souls.” St. John Chrysostom, Homily 19 on Ephesians (October 1, “A Journal of Thanksgiving: Record Three Years of Gratitude in a Sentence a Day” Compiled by Nicole M. Roccas)

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“Do you eat? Give thanks to God both before and afterwards. Do you sleep? Give thanks to God both before and afterwards. Do all in the Name of the Lord, and all shall be prospered to you.” St. John Chrysostom, Homily 9 on Colossians (December 16, “A Journal of Thanksgiving: Record Three Years of Gratitude in a Sentence a Day” Compiled by Nicole M. Roccas)

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Gleanings from a Book: “A Child’s Guide to Prayer” by Ancient Faith Publishing Illustrated by Tara Pappas

Ancient Faith Publishing has released yet another helpful book in their “Child’s Guide” series*, titled “A Child’s Guide to Prayer”. The simple explanations and prayers in this book are enhanced by Tara Pappas’ beautiful illustrations, and both help the book live up to its name. It will, indeed, be an excellent prayer guide for its readers. And its child-friendly size makes this book easily managed by even the smallest of hands.

The “Child’s Guide to Prayer” is conveniently divided into color-coded sections, making it very easy to identify and locate the various types of prayers by simply looking at the colored bar on each page. Each section contains a few sentences of explanation, followed by several simple prayers. The book is carefully written, using words that children can both understand and pronounce. The book’s sections include: What is Prayer?, Morning Prayers, Evening Prayers, Words of Faith, Prayers During the Day, Prayers for Mealtimes, Prayers for Family and Friends, Prayers of the Saints, Prayers to the Saints, Psalms to Pray, Communion Prayers, Prayers Before and After Confession, and Ways to Pray. The book concludes with several lined pages where children may write their own prayers and/or list the names of family and friends that they are praying for and how/when God answered those prayers.

Scattered throughout the book are Tara Pappas’ delightfully colorful illustrations. Some  of the illustrations feature children, others feature animals, and a few even contain appropriately-placed icons. Every illustration relates to the prayers in the section where it is found. The illustrations offer images from nature (both realistic and imaginative), and they add a brightness to the book, as well as just a touch of whimsy. At the root of every illustration, there’s a sense of deep peace. These illustrations make the reader want to pray, to join in, in order to also be able to experience such peace.

Parents and teachers who desire to help the children in their care to grow closer to God will want to add “A Child’s Guide to Prayer” to their library. While this book could be shared, children will certainly feel more ownership (and more easily able to participate) in a group prayer time if they each have their own copy. The prayers, teachings, and sweet illustrations in this book will engage the reader and lead them into a peaceful place, the place of prayer.

The “Child’s Guide to Prayer” is available here https://store.ancientfaith.com/a-childs-guide-to-prayer/

 

*Also available in the “Child’s Guide” series from Ancient Faith Publishing is the “Child’s Guide to the Divine Liturgy” (available here: https://store.ancientfaith.com/a-childs-guide-to-the-divine-liturgy/) and the “Child’s Guide to Confession” (available here: https://store.ancientfaith.com/a-childs-guide-to-confession/; we wrote about it here: https://orthodoxchristianparenting.wordpress.com/2019/04/24/gleanings-from-a-book-a-childs-guide-to-confession-by-ancient-faith-publishing-illustrated-by-nicholas-malara/    https://orthodoxchurchschoolteachers.wordpress.com/2019/04/26/gleanings-from-a-book-a-childs-guide-to-confession-by-ancient-faith-publishing-illustrated-by-nicholas-malara/)

Here are several “gleanings” from the book. These are chiefly quotes from the notes and little teachings found amidst the prayers:

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“What is prayer? Is it just closing our eyes and saying words out loud in church, or bowing our heads and crossing ourselves before we eat? Prayer is talking to God and listening while God talks to us… We pray because we want to be with God and know Him better. We pray because He loves us more than we can imagine and we want to love Him back.” (p. 9,  “A Child’s Guide to Prayer” by Ancient Faith Publishing Illustrated by Tara Pappas)

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“Saying a few prayers from your whole heart is better than saying a bunch of prayers just from your lips.” (p. 13,  “A Child’s Guide to Prayer” by Ancient Faith Publishing Illustrated by Tara Pappas)

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“Remember, God wants to be in conversation with you. You are special to Him. Asking for His help, even in the small things, will help your relationship with Him to grow. Don’t forget to make the sign of the cross, which is a way of praying with your body!” (p. 35,  “A Child’s Guide to Prayer” by Ancient Faith Publishing Illustrated by Tara Pappas)

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“God gives us friends and family so that we aren’t alone but live in communion together. Pray for those who are in your life, both during good times and when times get tough.” (p. 51,  “A Child’s Guide to Prayer” by Ancient Faith Publishing Illustrated by Tara Pappas)

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“The saints in heaven are sitting near Christ, and they can join us in praying. Many people have received healing and had their prayers answered by asking a saint to pray for them.” (p. 75,  “A Child’s Guide to Prayer” by Ancient Faith Publishing Illustrated by Tara Pappas)

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“Psalms are songs written to praise God. For thousands of years people have been praying the psalms to help them thank God, worship Him, know Him better, and ask for His help. Here are a few psalms for you to pray—in the Bible there are 151 psalms to choose from!” (p. 79,  “A Child’s Guide to Prayer” by Ancient Faith Publishing Illustrated by Tara Pappas)

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“Divine Liturgy is a time of prayer from the moment we enter the church until we leave. Try your hardest to sing, worship, and pray from your heart throughout the liturgy.” (p. 97,  “A Child’s Guide to Prayer” by Ancient Faith Publishing Illustrated by Tara Pappas)

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‘Did you know that a priest cannot perform a liturgy without other people praying with him? A Divine Liturgy needs both people and a priest, because when we’re having communion, God wants the community to pray together. It’s important that we learn to pray alone, but there is special power when a community of Christians prays together… your prayer matters!” (p. 108,  “A Child’s Guide to Prayer” by Ancient Faith Publishing Illustrated by Tara Pappas)

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Gleanings from a Book: “Apostle to the Plains: The Life of Father Nicola Yanney” by The Saint Raphael Clergy Brotherhood

Have you ever wondered what it was like to be an Orthodox Christian in the plains of the United States in the late 1800s and early 1900s? “Apostle to the Plains: The Life of Father Nicola Yanney” offers a glimpse of the life of this immigrant who lived a faithful Orthodox Christian life in the American plains before there were churches available in the region. It follows Fr. Nicola through his immigration, his adjustment to life on the plains, his ordination, his intense years of service as a missionary priest, all the way to his departing from this life. American Orthodox Christians – especially those in the Antiochian Archdiocese – will do well to read this book, to expand their knowledge of the history of Orthodox Christianity in the United States.

Readers who have marveled at the experiences of Laura Ingalls Wilder’s books will see some parallels in “Apostle to the Plains.” The Yanneys also lived in a sod house for a period of time while they were homesteading. Although the Ingalls family’s experiences preceded the Yanneys’ by some 20 years, and happened largely in different states, both families suffered illnesses and loss. There were times when each family struggled to attend school or church (because there was none, or it was far away). And despite their hard times, both families endeavored to do what was right and persevered with dogged determination.

A large portion of “Apostle to the Plains” is dedicated to recounting the missionary journeys and busy life of Fr. Nicola’s years as a traveling priest, and at points these chapters feel a bit overwhelming. Even with today’s technology and travel infrastructure, his months of travel and the few weeks at home in between trips would exhaust anyone. But when the reader remembers that his travels happened more than a century ago, with much slower communication and more tedious means of transportation, what he accomplished is truly astounding. Fr. Nicola and his family clearly loved God and took their calling to be a priest (and the priest’s family) very seriously, and they embraced the reality of what that entailed.

Fr. Nicola’s life was far from easy: he left his home in Lebanon at age 19, with his brand-new bride (whom he barely knew) shortly after their wedding and moved to far away Nebraska, where they had to adjust to new language and culture, different weather, and near isolation from family; and where there was no Orthodox Church. The book goes on to share their trials in homesteading, the joys of births and occasional clergy visits, the sorrows of losses and deaths in the family. When Fr. Nicola was ordained to the priesthood, he not only was in charge of the parish in their hometown of Kearney Nebraska, but he was also charged with being the missionary priest who visited Orthodox Christians all over the American plains.

A large section of the book follows Fr. Nicola’s travels. When he traveled, Fr. would hear people’s confessions, commune them, baptize those in need of baptism, marry young couples, and do all the priestly things for the Orthodox Christians who were scattered about the many parts of the plains of the United States. He always tried to be home again with his boys for Christmas and for Pascha (and often for all of Great Lent), but his travels kept him away from them and his home parish for months at a time every year. It was not an easy life for him or for his family, nor did it provide enough financial income.

Fr. Nicola was generous to a fault. Throughout his life, he raised money to share with others back home in Lebanon, and to fund local causes. He and the family generously hosted guests for Sunday luncheons. He traveled extensively, at great cost to himself and his family – and his being away from home made him unable to work and thus make additional income. So he and the family had very little financially. In fact, they had so little that even with re-mortgaging their home multiple times, he was unable to pay $140 in damages from a lawsuit that had been brought against him and his parish! Fr. Nicola gave and gave and gave of both his money and his time, and had very little on earth to show for his generosity.

Readers may be surprised to find that this book offers a glimpse into the life of St. Raphael of Brooklyn as well. The saintly bishop ordained Fr. Nicola, and Fr. Nicola was under his jurisdiction for the rest of Bishop Raphael’s life. Fr. Nicola supported, honored, and admired Bishop Raphael and was justifiably sad when he departed this life. The saint’s passing not only removed him from his position overseeing the Syrian Orthodox churches in America, it also brought great division to those churches. “Apostle to the Plains” explains this division in a way that helps modern American Orthodox Christians to learn more about some of the struggles in the history of our Church.

Fr. Nicola continued to care for his flock right up to the very end of his life. He visited and cared for his Spanish-flu-suffering parishioners in his hometown of Kearney just hours before his collapse and death from that same illness. His sudden passing was a shock to his parishioners, the entire Kearney community, and the Orthodox Christians across the plains whom he had served so diligently.

The Afterword of the book, titled “The Legacy of Father Nicola” is a powerful ending, as it helps the reader to ponder how well the servant of God Nicola Yanney ran his race. It encourages the reader to look beyond Fr. Nicola (and the entire Yanney family)’s struggles, to see the victories, and especially to note his faithfulness. Reading this after having read the book’s account of his life, the reader cannot help but be encouraged in their own life to “know Him and the power of His resurrection, and the fellowship of His sufferings… [that they] may attain to the resurrection from the dead.” (from Phil. 3:10-11)

May Fr. Nicola Yanney’s memory be eternal!

You can purchase “Apostle to the Plains: The Life of Father Nicola Yanney” as a paperback or an ebook here: https://store.ancientfaith.com/apostle-to-the-plains-the-life-of-father-nicola-yanney/

Find additional information about Fr. Nicola Yanney, including interviews, videos, and slide shows related to his life and his gifts to the Antiochian Orthodox Church in America; a map of the states that he served; and more at St. George Orthodox Christian Church (the parish that he helped to found in Kearney, Nebraska)’s website: https://www.saintgeorgekearney.com/reverend_nicola_yanney

Here are some gleanings from the book:

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“He would soon be married, and he wanted Martha and their children to live in safety and peace… In America, he could make a new home not only for himself and Martha but also for his brothers. If they all worked together, Nicola could send enough money to make sure that their father would live the rest of his days in comfort, cared for by loved ones who would remain in their village. To do this, however, Nicola himself would have to leave home.” (p. 23,  “Apostle to the Plains: The Life of Father Nicola Yanney” by The Saint Raphael Clergy Brotherhood)

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“While Martha continued to refurbish the [sod] house, Nicola turned his attention to the rest of the homestead. He only had a few months to prepare. Both he and Martha had experienced light snowfalls in the foothills of Koura, but nothing had prepared them for winter on the open plains… In the worst weather, the family would be beyond the reach of help for days and sometimes weeks at a time. Stables and pens had to be built for their animals and more supplies had to be brought from town and stored for the winter in case the roads became impassable.” (p. 51,  “Apostle to the Plains: The Life of Father Nicola Yanney” by The Saint Raphael Clergy Brotherhood)

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“Even without a church of their own, the Syrians celebrated Saint Simeon’s feast day together as they had back in Fi’eh, as well as Christmas, Pascha, and other holy days. Nicola especially desired to help the newcomers, knowing how difficult it was to keep his Orthodox faith in the foreign land, especially without a church or a priest. Though their gatherings were filled with folk songs, dancing, and food, Nicola always remembered to offer prayers and lead his friends in singing hymns, knowing that it was their faith that bound the small community together more than anything else.” (pp. 58-59,  “Apostle to the Plains: The Life of Father Nicola Yanney” by The Saint Raphael Clergy Brotherhood)

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“The kindly priest was… interested to hear of Nicola’s education at the monastery school. One of the reasons for his cross-country tour was to find pious men who might be ordained to serve the scattered Orthodox Syrians. Hearing this, the Syrians suggested that Father Raphael meet the Yanneys… At nine o’clock in the evening, fifteen of the Yanneys’ friends piled into four wagons to accompany Father Raphael on the eighteen-mile trip to the homestead… As they drew near the farm, their singing and shouting grew louder. Several of the men drew out their pistols and fired shots into the air to wake their unsuspecting friends. The Yanneys came running out of their small home, astonished by what was happening, and fell at Father Raphael’s feet. The priest greeted them warmly.” (pp. 72-73,  “Apostle to the Plains: The Life of Father Nicola Yanney” by The Saint Raphael Clergy Brotherhood)

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“With no other Syrian Orthodox priest living within a thousand miles of Kearney, Father Nicola had to serve his daughter’s funeral… At the conclusion of the funeral, Father Nicola placed his priestly stole on Anna’s head and said the prayer of absolution. He had arrived too late to hear her confession or to give her Holy communion.” (p. 146,  “Apostle to the Plains: The Life of Father Nicola Yanney” by The Saint Raphael Clergy Brotherhood)

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“‘My dear Elias, may you be pleasing to God. Be the best version of yourself. Avoid crude and offensive talk. Do not joke coarsely or easily give your heart to others. Be conscientious of your health before anything else… I ask God’s special blessings on you, that you take care of your brothers and your fellow countrymen. Make me proud. Keep me posted about yourself and write me often so that I always know you are fine. I kiss your cheeks thousands and millions of times…’” ~ from a letter Fr. Nicola wrote to his son Elias (pp. 183,  “Apostle to the Plains: The Life of Father Nicola Yanney” by The Saint Raphael Clergy Brotherhood)

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“Though he had been tending to his parishioners only hours earlier, Father Nicola was confined to bed—unable to rise, his strength gone. By late that night, he knew that he was dying and had little time left. Motioning weakly, he beckoned his sons to his side. He had left them on their own so many times, and now he was leaving them once more. Calling Elias, John, and Moses close, Father Nicola said goodbye as he struggled for breath. As they leaned over their father, he gave them a final word by which he himself had tried to live, whispering, ‘Keep your hands and your heart clean.’”(p. 247,  “Apostle to the Plains: The Life of Father Nicola Yanney” by The Saint Raphael Clergy Brotherhood)

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“The legacy of Father Nicola Yanney continues to this day… In him we see a worthy model of the Christian life—one who was faithful in adversity, steadfast in suffering, zealous in evangelism, and selfless in serving others. Through the daily sacrifice of his priesthood, Father Nicola laid down his life for his friends in imitation of his Master.” (pp. 266-267, “Apostle to the Plains: The Life of Father Nicola Yanney” by The Saint Raphael Clergy Brotherhood)

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More On House Blessings

Several years ago we wrote a blog containing ideas of ways to help our students learn more about house blessings. If you missed that post, check it out here: https://orthodoxchurchschoolteachers.wordpress.com/2016/01/15/time-for-house-blessings/. The post encourages us to prepare our students for their house blessing, talking them through the experience, and discussing its importance. The post offered multiple resources to help instruct the students about this important event in their home, several related craft ideas, and a link to a printable page that can help the students to prepare for their house blessing.

This year we did a bit more research into teaching about house blessings. We found several ideas that we thought perhaps would be helpful to the community. We are sharing them as an extension to our original post. So you may want to check out the original, then take a look at these additions, in order to maximize your options!

May the Lord bless each of us, and our students, and all of our families as we prepare our hearts and our home for our house blessing!

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This short video by the Orthodox Children’s Press shows young children some of the things needed for a house blessing. It “talks” them through the process, as well. (The words are included in the video, but they are unspoken, so non-readers will need to have the script on the screen read to them as the words are shown.) This video could be a good introduction and/or review for a lesson about house blessings. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=C8sAG4K9wE8

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Teachers of young children may find this information and lesson about Holy Theophany (which talks a bit about house blessings) helpful as they teach the children about this wonderful event. https://orthodoxpebbles.com/new-testament/holy-theophany/

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This site offers lessons geared for children around 6 years old. Lesson 16 of this module helps them to learn about Theophany and lesson 17 about house blessings. The plan is scheduled in the Church school year, long before the actual event in the Church year. Activities include planting their own basil so that the students will have basil leaves for their house blessing. https://www.followers-orthodox.com/3-6-years-infants/age-6-click-to-reveal/term-1-module-1/

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This lesson helps students ages 6-9 learn more about Theophany. It offers a craft idea for holy water that incorporates an icon of the baptism of Christ. http://orthodoxsundayschool.org/epistles-feasts-and-sacraments/6-9-years-old/theophany

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Draw Near Designs offered a simple guide to prepare families for their house blessing, complete with a “map” of where on their prayer table to place each item needed for the blessing. They have also included ways to incorporate children in the preparation for the blessing. It may be helpful to review some of these with the students in your class as they prepare for their house blessing. Check out the post here: https://www.drawneardesigns.com/blog/2019/1/23/house-blessings?

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Print a copy of this prayer from the early Church for each student. Read through it together, and talk about we are asking God to do when we pray these words. Encourage your students to decorate the edges of the prayer, then mount that to colorful cardstock, backed with magnets so that they can put it on their fridge at home. It can be a good prayer to pray as they prepare for their house blessing, but it also is a good one to keep in view throughout the year, between house blessings!

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If your students enjoy drawing, perhaps you will want to invite them to illustrate their own copy of this prayer, in booklet form. Print this page for the text, and then cut each section of the prayer apart, creating 8 pieces (the cover, and seven pages). Fold two sheets of paper in half. Insert one folded page inside the other and staple them together, forming a booklet. Glue each section of the prayer (beginning with the title, on the front cover) into the booklet, in the order that they’re in the prayer. Provide drawing/coloring tools so that your students can illustrate each part of the prayer on its corresponding page. Encourage them to share their finished booklets with each other so that they can see how their classmates illustrated the same words, but likely in a different way. Students can take these booklets home to share with their family and remind them to pray for God’s blessing on their home.

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Pursuing Church School Success: A Handful of Resources Related to Autism

In this series, we will feature resources and ideas that can increase the learning success of a Church school classroom. In each post, we will share some tips for classroom management and/or ideas for increased student participation. What we share is not a comprehensive list by any stretch of the imagination: there are many more ideas available. It is our hope that what we proffer can act as a starting point toward enhancing the learning that takes place in our Church school classroom. 

We have gathered a handful of resources related to autism, the brain disorder which affects an individual’s ability to communicate, nurture relationships, and interact with their environment. Although more people have been diagnosed with autism in recent years, it is still unfamiliar to many others. Every person with autism is different, so there is still much to learn, even if we already know or have worked with someone with autism. In order for us to be better prepared to meet the students that may come our way, it is important that we prepare by learning about some of the best ways to welcome and suggestions to try when teaching someone who is autistic.

Summer Kinard is an Orthodox Christian teacher who is well prepared to teach other teachers about autism. She is an autistic mother raising five children on the autism spectrum, so she is familiar with this challenge from the inside. Summer does an excellent job of finding beautiful ways to teach others with autism, and sharing those ideas with other teachers. She offers so many resources at her site, SummerKinard.com. She even has identified patron saints who can be helpful with autism, and you can read about them here: https://summerkinard.com/2018/05/10/patron-saints-of-autism/! Her site is an excellent place to start looking for resources related to autism. (We will share a few of them below, but we recommend that you visit her site for more!

We have found a few other resources as well, and will share them below, in no particular order. These resources are not all Orthodox, but all are helpful, nonetheless.

How about you? What is your experience with autism? What resources have been helpful? What strategies have helped you teach autistic students? Please share them below!

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Summer Kinard has shared a wonderful four-part autism series for autistic people which is invaluable for teachers to read before welcoming a student with autism. The series begins here:https://summerkinard.com/2018/05/15/autistic-brain-owners-manual-1-make-yourself-at-home/

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Frederica Mathewes-Green wrote a poignant article called “Loving a Child with Autism” that Church school teachers would do well to read. It includes important insights and reminders like this one: “Parents are pained by their inability to reach an autistic child; he’s only a few feet away, at the other end of the sofa, but might as well be circling the dark reaches of space. But he is known by God.” Read the article in its entirety here: http://ww1.antiochian.org/node/17970

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An adult on the Autism spectrum shares in this blog post how his mind processes the world, and suggests ways that parishioners can help to better understand and welcome him and others on the spectrum. https://www.hospitablehomemaker.com/autism-spectrum-disorder/

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While this article (written by a pastor’s wife who is the mother of a child on the autism spectrum) may be old, it helps Sunday Church school teachers to think of the intangible things they can do to welcome a child with autism: https://theinclusivechurch.wordpress.com/2010/09/30/teaching-children-with-autism-the-intangibles/

She continues with this followup, which offers tangible ways to welcome the child(ren): https://theinclusivechurch.wordpress.com/2010/10/03/teaching-children-with-autism-the-tangibles/

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Find ten possible scenarios that could happen with a special needs (especially autistic) child in your classroom, together with safeguards to put in place and suggestions of ways to respond to each, here: https://theinclusivechurch.wordpress.com/2014/04/30/orange-conference-workshop-notes-including-students-with-autism/

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An Orthodox Christian mom speaks frankly to Church school teachers about her son, to help them better welcome him into their classroom, in this blog post. (In the process, she presents a series of questions teachers can ask all of the parents about their students, before they ever even meet the class, so that they know what will be helpful to each child!) Find a link to a questionnaire that you may wish to send out to parents in the future, as  well. https://blogs.ancientfaith.com/raisingsaints/unaskable-questions-answered-open-letter-sunday-school-teachers-autism-mom-plus-free-printable/

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This presentation is over an hour long and highly worth the time to watch it!  However, if you can only watch a couple of minutes of the video, please fast forward to 1:19:27 for an important message for all of us about special needs children (autistic, in this case) in our parishes. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=w2h6HJz8154&feature=emb_title

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This blog site offers resources for Sunday Church school teachers to use (or modify for use) in their own classroom that includes students who would benefit from visual supports to the teaching. http://specialsundayschool.blogspot.com/p/visual-supports.html Find pictoral directions, visual schedule and prayer guides, and more at this non-Orthodox, but very helpful site.

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Maura Oprisko speaks to Bobby Maddex in this podcast about raising autistic children in the Orthodox Church. We were unable to find a working link to her blog, but this podcast may be helpful to teachers and parents working with children with autism. https://www.ancientfaith.com/podcasts/features/the_least_of_these

 

Gleanings from a Book: “The Good Samaritan: A Children’s Catechism” By the Very Reverend Fr. Michael Shanbour”

Author’s note: Recently we became aware that the V. Rev. Fr. Michael Shanbour has finished writing his children’s catechism book, “The Good Samaritan”, and has published it with illustrations by Nicholas Malara. We inquired about the book, and Fr. Michael very kindly shared an electronic copy with us so that we could read it and share it with you. This fully-illustrated hardcover book is geared to children ages 6-12.

“The Good Samaritan: a Children’s Catechism” is an excellent resource for any parent or teacher interested in guiding the children in their care towards Christ and the Church. The book is thorough, addressing the basic beliefs of the Orthodox Christian Faith. Fr. Michael calls each of the 13 chapters a “lesson”, for they are set up as such, intended for an older Orthodox Christian to lead the discussion as the book is read together with a child or group. Each lesson focuses on a different portion of our Faith, teaching through stories from the Scriptures or the lives of the saints, as well as through questions about common experiences that we all share. The discussion leader/teacher can read straight from the book, or paraphrase, turning parts of the book into questions to facilitate the discussion. Along the way, Father Michael has included teaching tips that suggest active ways to engage with the text, as well as occasional endnotes which offer additional background information. Each chapter builds on the chapter before in a seamless manner.

At the book’s website, Fr. Michael offers a succinct glimpse at the lessons offered in the book. “In the catechism we are taken from life in Paradise (Lesson 1), through the Fall of Adam (Lesson 2) and the reality of sin (Lesson 3), and into life and redemption through Jesus Christ (Lesson 4). In the Church (Lesson 5) we then encounter Holy Tradition (Lesson 6), the dynamic “river” that runs through the midst of the Church and provides the living water for thirsty souls. The treasure of Holy Tradition then presents the Holy Mysteries of the Priesthood (Lesson 7), the Eucharist (Lesson 8), and Baptism (Lesson 9), along with Repentance and Confession (Lesson 10), all of which are essential for the health and salvation of our souls. Finally, Prayer (Lesson 11), Fasting (Lesson 12) and Almsgiving (Lesson 13) are shown to be the indispensable means of union with God and as lifegiving manifestations of faith, hope, and love.”

Fr. Michael crafted this catechism book over a period of many years. Through his work with the children in his parish (both as a youth director and as a priest) he was able to create this curriculum and test it with the children in his parish. In the author’s preface, he states “by the grace of God we present this catechism with the hope of not only enlightening our dear children with the unchanging truths revealed to the Saints but as a means of spiritual formation — that the Orthodox Christian Faith might become a living reality in their hearts and minds. We have tried to do so in a way that will engage their imaginative faculty in the most positive sense while maintaining and unbending faithfulness to the Orthodox scriptural-patristic tradition preserved in the experience of the Holy Church.“ (p.i)

The illustrations in this book are colorful and heartwarming. Nicholas Malara has a talent for creating age-appropriate and engaging illustrations that draw in the reader. His style varies greatly: we’ve admired his work before in the simple “Good Night Jesus” board book, where he uses a style perfect for toddlers; and we’ve gazed in wide-eyed admiration at his threatening dragon defeated by a mighty angel in “Sasha and the Dragon”. In “The Good Samaritan”, Malara has included a variety of children in the illustrations, and he has beautifully illustrated the Bible stories with unique perspective. His use of light encapsulates the message of the text and speaks volumes through his illustrations. He has infused the entire book with gentle reality which draws the reader in, engaging them further in each lesson. Malara’s illustrations are a joyful compliment to the text.

In its 100+ pages, this hardcover book helps parents, homeschoolers, and Sunday Church school teachers to better be able to teach their children/students about the Holy Orthodox Church and our Faith. “The Good Samaritan: a Children’s Catechism” can be purchased at https://www.wenorthodox.com/product-page/the-good-samaritan-a-children-s-catechism. (Note: funds raised from the purchase of this book will help Father Michael’s parish, Three Hierarchs Antiochian Orthodox Christian Church in Wenatchee, WA, to build a Church building. They are currently worshiping in a small modular building.)

Here are a few gleanings from the book, to give you a taste of it:

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“The title, ‘The Good Samaritan’, is inspired by Saint John Chrysostom and other Church fathers who, in addition to the more common moral interpretation of showing Christ-like compassion for those in need, have interpreted this parable of the Lord (Luke 10:30-35) as an icon or analogy of the entire economy of salvation. Through this lens we can perceive the Church for what she is—the ‘spiritual hospital’ for the healing of the sickness of sin, and the place where we receive the true ‘Medicine,’ Jesus Christ, through her sacramental, ascetical, and hesychastic Tradition.” (p. ii , “The Good Samaritan: A Children’s Catechism” by  the Very Reverend Fr. Michael Shanbour, illustrated by Nicholas Malara)

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“Our Christian faith can seem like a puzzle… Because there are lots of different pieces. But all of those pieces together make a beautiful picture. It’s a picture, or icon, of Jesus Christ with His Holy Body, the Church .” (p. 2, “The Good Samaritan: A Children’s Catechism” by  the Very Reverend Fr. Michael Shanbour, illustrated by Nicholas Malara)

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“… Everything in the church—icons, incense, vestments, the Bible, hymns, prayers, almsgiving, the Commandments and doctrines, fasting and struggling against temptation, liturgy and services, sacraments—have only one purpose: to heal us from sin and to join us to God. The cChurch is heaven on earth. Her job is to make everyone and everything holy and united to God. That is Paradise!” (p. 8, “The Good Samaritan: A Children’s Catechism” by  the Very Reverend Fr. Michael Shanbour, illustrated by Nicholas Malara)

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“Paradise—the place where God put Adam and Eve—was like the Church, heaven on earth. But God didn’t want Paradise to be a small place, or just for a few people. He wanted us to make the whole world Paradise. He wanted us to help make the whole world a Church; one big Church where people live with God and God with them. But Adam and Eve only lived in Paradise for a short while. God gave them the ability to make choices. He wanted them to love Him, not because they had to, because they wanted to. He allowed them to make the choice to reject Him and turn away from truth and life. That choice is called sin.” (p. 15, “The Good Samaritan: A Children’s Catechism” by  the Very Reverend Fr. Michael Shanbour, illustrated by Nicholas Malara)

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“Only one tree! Just one tree they could not eat from! That doesn’t sound hard, does it? It’s like when mom says, ‘You can play over here, or over there, and even way over there, but don’t go down there, close to the river!’ Why does she say that? Is it because she doesn’t want you to have fun? No. It’s because she doesn’t want you to get hurt, right?… But sometimes we’re tempted to do it anyway, aren’t we?… This is what happened to Adam and Eve.” (p. 20, “The Good Samaritan: A Children’s Catechism” by  the Very Reverend Fr. Michael Shanbour, illustrated by Nicholas Malara)

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“But when Adam sinned, the icon became dark and dirty. The icon was covered over by sins, like mud or dust covers over a window or a beautiful picture. Imagine a bright and beautiful icon of Jesus Christ. Now imagine that the same icon has been buried in the ground for many years. What has happened to the icon? It has become dark and dingy, dirty and dim. Can you see the image well now? No! It needs to be cleaned. This is what happened to Adam and what happens to us because of sin.” (p. 28 , “The Good Samaritan: A Children’s Catechism” by  the Very Reverend Fr. Michael Shanbour, illustrated by Nicholas Malara)

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“Have you ever put your shirt on inside-out? It looks kind of funny right? The picture on the shirt isn’t very clear and the tag is sticking out. That’s how our human nature had become because of sin. So how do you fix the shirt that’s inside out? You pull it off to make it right-side-up and put it back on. That’s sort of what God did for us. God’s Son, Jesus, put on our inside-out humanity and made it right-side-up by living a sinless life in perfect communion with God the Father.” (p. 35, “The Good Samaritan: A Children’s Catechism” by  the Very Reverend Fr. Michael Shanbour, illustrated by Nicholas Malara)

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“So where do we get the spiritual medicine that the Lord Jesus has for us by His becoming man, dying, and rising again? It is similar to the doctor and the hospital. Jesus is the Doctor, the Great Physician, and the Church is the Hospital. It is in the Church that we find the medicines for our soul. The medicine is from Christ, who is the Head, but we find it in the Church, His Body..”(pp. 41-42, “The Good Samaritan: A Children’s Catechism” by  the Very Reverend Fr. Michael Shanbour, illustrated by Nicholas Malara)

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“Now, did you know there is a river that runs through the Church? There is a river of grace! It is what keeps the medicine flowing to all who need it. What is this river of grace? It is called the Tradition of the Church—Holy or sacred Tradition. The Holy Tradition flows from God the Father, through His Son, and by the Holy Spirit into the Church.” (p. 47, “The Good Samaritan: A Children’s Catechism” by  the Very Reverend Fr. Michael Shanbour, illustrated by Nicholas Malara)

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“God has given to the Church special protectors to guard the River of Grace and keep it from getting polluted. They guard the holy teachings of the Church. They also guard the holy things of the Church. Do you know who these guards are? The first guardians where the apostles, who were selected by Jesus. But who became the protectors of Holy Tradition after the apostles? It was the bishops and priests of the Church! And it is the same today.” (p. 55, “The Good Samaritan: A Children’s Catechism” by  the Very Reverend Fr. Michael Shanbour, illustrated by Nicholas Malara)

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“We have learned that Jesus Christ is the Medicine that heals us and brings us back to life with God. His body and blood is the strongest medicine of all and fills us with God’s own life. As Saint Ignatius said, it has the power to give us immortality. What is immortality? It means living forever with God and with God in us. Would you like to live like that forever? That can happen if we are in communion with Jesus, if we are with Him and in harmony with Him and His Body..”(p.66, “The Good Samaritan: A Children’s Catechism” by  the Very Reverend Fr. Michael Shanbour, illustrated by Nicholas Malara)

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“And how are we born in the Church? What is the mystery that makes us into a new person, as if we are born again? (Here’s a hint: when it happens, you should probably hold your breath. Another hint: we begin our new life with a splash!) Did you get it? Yes, it is the Sacrament of Holy Baptism! .” (p.73, “The Good Samaritan: A Children’s Catechism” by  the Very Reverend Fr. Michael Shanbour, illustrated by Nicholas Malara)

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“When an archer hits the target, it means his aim is good and he is shooting straight. But when he misses the target, there’s something wrong. His aim is off. The same is true for our soul. When we walk in the light of Christ, we are pointing ourselves toward God. We are hitting the target. But when we sin we are shooting in the wrong direction. We have missed the target of what God created us to be and to do.”(p.86, “The Good Samaritan: A Children’s Catechism” by  the Very Reverend Fr. Michael Shanbour, illustrated by Nicholas Malara)

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“This is how we are to be with God: like best friends. Do you forget your best friend? No! And we should try not to forget God either. Do you know what it is called when we remember God? It is called prayer. Prayer is when our hearts are joined together with God.” (p.91, “The Good Samaritan: A Children’s Catechism” by  the Very Reverend Fr. Michael Shanbour, illustrated by Nicholas Malara)

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“Fasting is prayer for our bodies. Because, as we said before, we are called to pray not just with our mind, but with our whole strength, with all our energy and focus, with our whole being, with our whole body.” (p. 100, “The Good Samaritan: A Children’s Catechism” by  the Very Reverend Fr. Michael Shanbour, illustrated by Nicholas Malara)

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“ Prayer and fasting are like two wings. But almsgiving is the ‘wind’ that lift our wings upward to God.” (p. 105, “The Good Samaritan: A Children’s Catechism” by  the Very Reverend Fr. Michael Shanbour, illustrated by Nicholas Malara)

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Pursuing Church School Success: a Handful of Resources for Welcoming Students with Special Needs and Handicaps

In this series, we will feature resources and ideas that can increase the learning success of a Church school classroom. In each post, we will share some tips for classroom management and/or ideas for increased student participation. What we share is not a comprehensive list by any stretch of the imagination: there are many more ideas available. It is our hope that what we proffer can act as a starting point toward enhancing the learning that takes place in our Church school classroom. 

Every student who steps into our classroom is unique, and has needs that are individual to them. It is a great challenge for a teacher to teach such a great variety of individuals and lead them together through a lesson or learning time. It is a challenge, yes, but it is also a great honor and blessing.

From time to time, God gives a teacher the gift of a student whose needs are so unique that the teacher has the opportunity to seek new ways to teach. The student may have physical limitations, social struggles, or mental challenges that require special accommodations in a classroom setting. At first, it may be tempting for the teacher to greet those challenges with fear or dread, simply because they are new and different. However, it is our duty as Christians to love our fellow humans so much that we will help them in any way that we can. It is our honor as servants of God to extend mercy as completely as we are able. And it is our job as teachers to rise above our hesitance and learn all that we can about our students’ needs, then make the necessary adjustments in our classroom space, our teaching style, and our expectations of our students. When we take the time and effort to do so, we will not only do a better job of welcoming our students, but we will also be better able to receive from them the gifts that God intends to bestow.

In this series on pursuing Church school success, we would be remiss to not share a few resources that help Sunday Church school teachers to prepare to meet the needs of their students with handicaps or other special needs. We have encountered a few materials that can help teachers to teach such students. There are so many different kinds of handicaps and special needs that we will neither be able to include all of them, nor thoroughly address any of them. However, we will share a handful of assets which we thought may be of help to the community in this regard. We will begin by sharing general resources as well as some which focus on physical challenges and limitations. It is our hope that these will be a helpful starting place for us all as we seek to better love and help our students with extraordinary challenges.

May the Lord have mercy on us and on our students, as we learn how to learn together!

 

Here are some links that you may find helpful as you work with students with special needs and/or handicaps. Do you have any related resources that you would recommend to the community? Please share them below!

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This article may be a decade old, but the thoughts it contains and the questions that follow would be a valuable basis of a discussion amongst any group of Sunday Church school workers who desire to better welcome students of all abilities and needs. https://www.oca.org/parish-ministry/parishdevelopment/disability-and-communion

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Summer Kinard’s book, “Of Such is the Kingdom: A Practical Theology of Disability” is a wonderful Orthodox resource that helps parishioners to embrace each other, whatever their challenges may be. If you have not yet read it, we encourage you to do so, as it will bolster your love for Christ by helping you to better value and love everyone around you. We wrote about this book here: https://orthodoxchurchschoolteachers.wordpress.com/2019/10/25/gleanings-from-a-book-of-such-is-the-kingdom-a-practical-theology-of-disability-by-summer-kinnard/

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Summer Kinard’s website offers so many resources (many listed here: https://summerkinard.com/special-needs-resources/). Check out her free month of hands-on Sunday Church school lessons (which offers a glimpse into a teaching style that reaches a variety of needs of the students in your class) here: https://summerkinard.com/2019/08/11/free-month-of-hands-on-Sunday-school-curriculum/

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Those among us who “thought we had the advantages in life… find that on a spiritual level we can be severely disabled compared to our brothers and sisters who lack those intellectual giftings, but whose spiritual life can be marked by abilities and giftings we never suspected.” Read this perspective in this reflection on what the scriptures have to say about those in our midst with special needs: https://www.bethinking.org/human-life/a-biblical-view-of-disability

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“Church, we have a great opportunity to show love! The need is great. Kids are hurting. Adults are too. Families are struggling. The first step in being able to help is understanding the need. Jesus met people where they were, and so can we.” So concludes this presentation of the findings of one study on disability and the church. Read the findings here: https://church4everychild.org/2016/02/09/what-are-the-stats-on-disability-and-church/#_edn1

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This webinar can be a helpful starting point for Sunday Church school teachers and/or parishes desiring to better embrace the parishioners in their midst who face disabilities and other special needs:

https://www.goarch.org/en/-/the-church-and-families-of-children-with-special-needs-webinar

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Check out this list of resources: https://www.goarch.org/-/families-of-children-with-special-needs-resource-list

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This article offers suggestions of ways to make a church building more accessible for those with physical challenges. The article is not written from an Orthodox perspective, but many of the accessibility suggestions can be helpful as we plan (or alter) our physical space, to make it more accomodating. https://churchesbydaniels.com/four-ways-accommodate-special-needs-church-design/

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Something as seemingly innocuous as food can be very dangerous to someone who is allergic to certain ingredients. Summer Kinard’s free printable is a quick and easy way for parish members to communicate what is in the foods that they bring, so that people with allergies can be aware as they choose what to eat at coffee hour or in the Sunday school hall. It is so important that we take steps like this to show every member that their parish cares enough about them to ensure their safety. https://summerkinard.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/12/allergen-check-list-free-printable.pdf

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In Russia and Greece, parishes are including their deaf members by signing the liturgy. It is beautiful to behold, as evidenced in the video clips found here. https://orthocath.wordpress.com/2010/11/17/orthodox-christians-who-are-deaf-and-blind/
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In addition to Byzantine music, you will find some liturgical texts in braille at this page: http://www.stanthonysmonastery.org/music/BrailleByzantineMusic.html#Links

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In this article, a mom of a child with a genetic skin disorder expresses her wishes with regard to what happens when other children notice her daughter and her challenges. She says, “What I wish you would do? I wish you would leave this conversation with your children open to me and my family, so it could become with us, instead of about us…When your child points and tells you to look, I wish you would respond clearly, ‘Yes, look at that sweet little girl. It looks like she’s having so much fun playing, just like you are!’” Read the article in its entirety here: https://community.today.com/parentingteam/post/dear-parents-what-i-wish-you-would-do-when-your-child-comments-on-my-daughters-special-needs

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Here are helpful tips for those in our community who do not have a child with a disability, for awareness: https://www.facebook.com/ellenstumbowriter/videos/371339980392324/