Category Archives: Christian Faith

A Closer Look at John 3:17

The Antiochian Archdiocese’s 2020 Creative Arts Festival has as its theme John 3:17, “For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved.” Learning and understanding the meaning of this verse is pivotal to our Christian life, for it encourages us to examine condemnation, salvation, and judgement. In context, this verse also affords us the opportunity to choose for ourselves how to respond to God’s offer of salvation through Christ. Advance study of John 3:17 will help us be ready to teach our students about it, whether or not our parish is participating in the Festival. 

Rosemary Shumski, Creative Arts Festival coordinator for the Antiochian Orthodox Department of Christian Education, reflects on the theme in this guest blog:
Let’s examine this quote in context. Most of us are more familiar with the quote from John 3:16, which precedes it, “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should have everlasting life.” We then have our Creative Festivals Theme, “For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved.” (John 3:17) This is followed by the quote, “He who believes in Him is not condemned; but he who does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God.” (John 3:18)

Here are some comments from the Orthodox Study Bible: “While Christ comes to save and not to condemn, man has free will. Thus he can reject this gift, and he becomes condemned by his own rejection.”

Jesus came into the world so that we could be rescued from condemnation. The name “Jesus” literally means “God saves.” He came to show us how we could be reunited with God. In his book, The Great I Came’s of Jesus, Fr. Anthony Coniaris states, “Before Jesus came, we were a fallen race. We needed not a judge to condemn us but a Savior to raise us from our fall…Jesus said, ‘Those who are healthy do not need a physician, but those who are sick. I have come not to call the righteous but sinners to repentance.’ We needed someone to lift us, to heal us, not someone to judge and condemn us.”

Because Jesus became incarnate, He is like us in all ways except sin, so He understands His people. Jesus is compassionate, because He knows what it’s like to be tempted. But we have to make the choice as to whether we want to turn away from Him or repent and turn to Him. God didn’t create us to be robots. Because He gave us free will, we have to make that decision for ourselves.

 

Find more information about the Creative Arts Festival theme for 2020 here: http://www.antiochian.org/dashboard?name=Creative%20Festivals%202020

Here are a few lesson plans and ideas for teaching children about John 3:17:

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Preschool and Kindergarten students will take a look at Adam and Eve’s disobedience and contrast it to the Theotokos’ obedience in this Church school lesson that helps to prepare them to artistically respond to John 3:17: https://antiochianprodsa.blob.core.windows.net/websiteattachments/2020%20Preschool-%20Kindergarten%20Creative%20Festival%20Lesson%20Plan.pdf

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Students in grades 1-3 will discuss terms like “condemn” and “save”; put in order line art icons that illustrate phrases from the Creed describing Christ; and brainstorm ways to unite themselves to Him in this Creative Arts Festival lesson: https://antiochianprodsa.blob.core.windows.net/websiteattachments/2020%20CREATIVE%20FESTIVAL%20LP%20GRADE%201-3.pdf

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Students in grades 4-6 will talk about salvation without judgement, using fun activities involving Lifesavers candies and some role-play; then closely examine how the Church helps us on our journey to salvation in this lesson on John 3:17: https://antiochianprodsa.blob.core.windows.net/websiteattachments/2020%20CF%20LESSON%20PLAN%20GRADES%204-6.pdf

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Middle and high school students preparing for the Creative Arts Festival will engage in discussions about condemnation, the stages of salvation, and judging self vs. judging others in this lesson: https://antiochianprodsa.blob.core.windows.net/websiteattachments/2020%20Creative%20Festival%20Middle%20School-High%20School%20Lesson%20Plan.pdf

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Find ideas of ways to incorporate the Creative Arts Festival theme, as well as additional activities for teaching about it here: https://antiochianprodsa.blob.core.windows.net/websiteattachments/2020%20CREATIVE%20FESTIVALS%20USING%20THE%20THEME%20THROUGHOUT%20THE%20YEAR.pdf

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Introducing a Resource: SaintsBox.com

(note: the emailed materials in the subscription arrive in full color, but are depicted here in black and white)

 

“You’ve got mail!” Oh, how I loved to hear these words when I was a child! It was the same for my children as they grew up, as well. Each piece of mail “just for them” was met with great enthusiasm and eagerness. At least in our family’s experience, it is a joy for children to receive mail of their very own!

Did you know that there is an Orthodox resource that will send your child(ren) mail of their own? And this is not just any old mail: this mail builds the faith of its recipients, preparing them for each Sunday’s Divine Liturgy! The resource is called SaintsBox.com, and while most SaintsBox mail is delivered electronically, some of it arrives via the postal service. SaintsBox.com offers two different weekly email subscriptions, as well as optional accoutrements such as a “Saint of the Month” vinyl icon cards subscription (complete with a small tin for housing the collection), and other related products which are sent through the postal service. The weekly email subscriptions at SaintsBox.com are geared towards two different age levels of children. Each aims to “reinforce what the Church has already established so our children will embrace the True Faith for life!” (home page, https://www.saintsbox.com/)

“St. John’s Clubhouse” (named after St. John Maximovich of San Francisco) is the SaintsBox email subscription that is full of ways to help children ages 4-8 prepare for Sunday’s Liturgy. A cast of characters called “the Clubhouse Kids” help the “clubhouse members” learn something about Sunday’s Gospel by sharing a related “story from their life” that bring the Gospel reading to life. They include the passage, so that parents and children can read the Gospel reading together before the Liturgy. They also challenge clubhouse members to anticipate or look for a particular thing during the upcoming Sunday Liturgy. This may include explaining an unfamiliar vocabulary word or upcoming event in the life of the Church. A printable sheet including a beautiful line-art icon (by Kiah Boyd) and a brief explanation will give the member an opportunity to learn more about the saint or featured feast/event for that particular Sunday. Find more information about St. John’s Clubhouse here: https://www.saintsbox.com/st-johns-clubhouse/.

“TQ6:21” is the SaintsBox email subscription which is actually a treasure quest for 8-12 year olds. Named for Matthew 6:21 (“for where your treasure is, there will your heart be also”), this subscription club helps its readers seek treasures of the Faith in the context of the Scriptures. In order to complete the puzzles in each week’s quest, “questers” need to read the Epistle and Gospel readings for the forthcoming Sunday Liturgy. In the context of clues and riddles, questers will learn about the Faith, the Scriptures, the saints, and more. Find more information about TQ6:21 here: https://www.saintsbox.com/tq621/.

Both subscriptions offer activities that parents and children can experience together, or parents can participate with part of the adventure, and the children can do the rest. (SaintsBox suggests that parents of the 4-8 year olds will likely spend 15 minutes per week and parents of 8-12 year olds, only 5-10 minutes each week, most of which is reading the Scripture passages together.) In other words, this subscription will also help the parents prepare for Sunday’s Liturgy as well, but it is not a huge time commitment!

Besides the two email subscriptions, SaintsBox.com also offers materials such as their SaintsBox, which is a pocket-sized tin filled with a baker’s dozen vinyl icon cards, each written by Elina Pelikan and featuring a different saint or event. (The SaintsBox is also available as a larger set which includes information sheets about each saint and an olive wood cross from the Holy Land.) SaintsBox.com’s tin “Trisagion Pocket Prayer Corner” includes the trisagion prayer; a vinyl icon of Christ, the Theotokos, and St. John the Forerunner; and an olive wood cross. Each of the vinyl icon cards are also available for individual purchase. So if you have a child who particularly loves one of the featured saints, you may wish to have just that saint’s card mailed to them. (Vinyl icons include: Christ/Theotokos/St. John the Forerunner; St. Patapios; St. Katherine of Alexandria; St. Jonah Bishop of Manchuria; the Nativity of the Theotokos; the 7 Holy Youths of Ephesus; Sts. Aquila and Priscilla; St. Columba of Iona; St. Irene the Great Martyr; St. Mary of Egypt; St. Patrick; St. Haralambos; St. Mugo; and St. John of San Francisco.)

We have seen samples of SaintsBox.com’s materials and would highly recommend this resource to Orthodox parents and teachers with children aged 4-12. The subscription materials are appealing and fun but also quite helpful. The icon cards/tin sets are sturdy, useful and interesting. The artwork is beautifully tasteful and engaging. SaintsBox.com’s materials will help Orthodox children (and the adults in their life) grow closer to Christ and His Church, one Sunday’s Gospel reading at a time.

If your child (or grandchild, Sunday Church school student, or godchild) enjoys getting mail of their own, we encourage you to check out SaintsBox.com. Whether you decide to mail a vinyl saint card to them, or to send a full subscription to the program, your child(ren) will enjoy receiving the mail that comes their way. And this extraordinary mail will help them (and you!) to grow closer to Christ and His Church!

 

Here is a little more information about SaintsBox.com and its offerings which may be of help to you:

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“Our goal is to help children engage with more of the service and make deeper connections with Christ and His Saints.” ~ Annalisa Boyd, creator/writer of SaintsBox.com
Read more from her, and meet the creative team behind this wonderful subscription service here:  https://www.saintsbox.com/about-2/

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“Welcome to St. John’s Clubhouse, a subscription box club for your 4-8 year old. As parents, we understand the importance of instilling a love for Christ and His Church in the hearts of our children. We want them to embrace the True Faith as taught through Holy Tradition and the Living Church, but it’s hard to know where to start. St. John’s clubhouse offers the tools you need to help prepare your child to participate more fully in the Divine Liturgy each week. They will become friends with the Clubhouse Kids as they share from the Holy Scriptures, meet a Sunday saint and… do activities that inspire them to live the faith in every life situation. As you know, kids this age are CONSTANTLY learning. Providing teaching materials that feel like play, opens the door for your child to make long lasting positive connections between Church and home.” ~from the SaintsBox facebook page, Sept. 18, 2018

Find more information about St. John’s Clubhouse here: https://www.saintsbox.com/st-johns-clubhouse/

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“TQ6:21 (Treasure Quest – Matthew 6:21 “Where you treasure is, there your heart will be also”)

We have all been called to the challenging and amazing life-long quest of storing up treasure for heaven by being transformed into the image of Christ. This quest, as you well know, is a matter of life and death, and our kids need all of the tools that the Church has to offer if they are to endure to the end. In order to help our children on that journey into Life, we have created the TQ6:21 program, which provides practical and engaging ways for kids to learn to own their faith and live it daily. We have aimed, in our theming of the activities, to tap into the natural love for adventure of 8-12 year-olds, helping them to develop their unique talents, godly character, a deeper understanding of their faith, and a lasting love for Holy Tradition as expressed in the living Church — all while just plain having fun! We’ve prepared this guide for you as the adult assisting them, to help explain the basic format of the program, and how it is designed to function.” ~from the SaintsBox facebook page, Sept. 18, 2018

Find more information about TQ6:21 here: https://www.saintsbox.com/tq621/

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Watch SaintsBox creator Annalisa Boyd’s video podcast “The Ascetic Lives of Mothers”, in which she introduces SaintsBox, here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=b7Xnl-UNAFo&feature=youtu.be&fbclid=IwAR09Efb4p7lgNkfcsken3bSSCL3jP7c5CO3HhCNK2vc9JosCKl9e8lAqfFs (Note: at the time of this podcast, the subscriptions were not all electronic. The podcast does a good job of describing the program and how children have interacted with it. However, several times in the podcast Annalisa mentions receiving the subscription items in the mail. Listeners will need to keep in mind that the subscriptions are now emailed, not snail-mailed to the child.)

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Find a sample of the beautiful icon line art which Kiah Boyd creates for St. John’s Clubhouse here. (This one was for Pentecost.) https://www.facebook.com/2088291571190702/photos/a.2169450139741511/2497858676900654/?type=3&theater

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“I just love Saint John of San Francisco! Our family had the amazing opportunity to visit his relics when we lived in California. We got to go to the home that had been the location of the orphanage he began in San Francisco. We got to sit in his chair in his cell and say the Our Father. We even visited the original wooden church he had established and were blessed to have his Philonion (the cape part of his vestments) draped over us as the priest prayed for our family. From then on, each time we have seen an icon of Saint John, it has been like seeing a dear friend. That is our goal with presenting these icon cards…” ~ Annalisa Boyd, offering a bit of the back-story of the St. John of San Fransisco icon card available from SaintsBox.com at https://www.saintsbox.com/product/saint-john-of-san-francisco-saint-card/

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Gleanings from a Book: “The Cross and the Stag” by Gabriel Wilson

Author’s note: Because I happened to be in the right place at the right time, I was privileged to see a few spreads of this book more than a year before its publication. Although they were but sketches when I saw them, I was struck by their quality and the images gripped me. And my first reading of the (now full-color) book has confirmed what I suspected even then: this book is a treasure. 

“The Cross and the Stag” by Gabriel Wilson tells the true story of Placidas the soldier, who, amidst his worldly successes and earthly means, was lovingly faithful to his wife and sons, while also being very generous to those in need outside of his home. Perhaps you have never heard of Placidas the Soldier? He was given the name Eustathius at baptism. If you are not familiar with St. Eustathius, either, his story is one that you will do well to learn. There is much that each of us can learn from this saint: through his responses to both misfortunes and pleasant experiences, and through his faithfulness to God. Eustathius already had a good life when he first met Christ, and he served Our Lord fervently after his conversion.

Just like many saints who had gone on before him, Eustathius’ life did not continue to be “good” – well, at least by worldly standards. However, also like those saints, he remained faithful to Christ for his entire life. Like St. Paul, Eustathius had a powerful visitation from Christ which became a conversion experience for him and his household (although his wife had been mysteriously forewarned in a dream, so she was ready!). Like Righteous Job the Longsuffering, bit by bit Eustathius’ status, wealth, and finally even his family were taken from him. Like Righteous Joseph the Patriarch, his faithfulness in his work eventually brought Eustathius honor (and miraculously his loved ones were restored to him once again, as well). And finally, like the Three Holy Youths, the family faced a fiery entrapment with faith and grace.

Throughout the book, Gabriel Wilson has thoughtfully paired his images and text in a way which seamlessly tells the story while also allowing the reader to read between the lines when necessary. The illustrations are masterfully created, simultaneously communicating actions and emotions in a way that is both tasteful and effective. What a gift it is to have an artist of this caliber offer his work to the Orthodox Christian world in a way that makes a saint’s story so appealingly accessible to people of all ages!

Following St. Eustathius’ story in the book, readers will find the troparion and kontakion for St. Eustathius. There is also a spread featuring a variety of icons of him which have been written. The book concludes with a few historical notes from the author.

St. Eustathius’ story is gripping! I sat down to just begin the book but ended up reading the whole thing in one great gulp. Mystery, suspense, loss, love: all are found on the pages of this beautiful work of art. I know that I’ll read it again, and I suspect that I will not be the only one. There’s something here for everyone. St. Eustathius’ story and the lessons that his life teaches us will be treasured by each individual who reads this book.

To purchase a copy of this book, visit https://store.ancientfaith.com/the-cross-and-the-stag-the-incredible-adventures-of-st-eustathius/

Here are a few gleanings from the book (this time, we are sharing the  quotes in the context of their images), as well as additional information about St. Eustathius, and a few suggestions of how to use this book in a class of older Sunday Church school students:

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Here are three additional ways you can share the life of St. Eustathius with your students:

Here is a short podcast about St. Eustathius and his family. On Sept. 20, we commemorate them. https://www.ancientfaith.com/podcasts/saintoftheday/sep_20_-_great_martyr_eustathius_placidas_and_his_family

Find the story of St. Eustathius’ life, along with many icons which have been written to help us remember him, here: https://full-of-grace-and-truth.blogspot.com/2009/09/st-eustathius-eustace-placidas-great.html

There’s even more of the story of St. Eustathius (including backstory of his family’s experiences that your students will likely find interesting) in this detailed description of his life: https://pravoslavie.ru/74099.html

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After reading “The Cross and the Stag” to/with your Sunday Church school class, encourage your students to look carefully at the cover art. Why do you suppose that Gabriel Wilson chose the images that he did? What do the images tell you about the book and about St. Eustathius’ life? Encourage them to create a similarly-symbolic “graphic novel cover” for a saint that they love or want to emulate. Give them enough time to come up with an idea and sketch it out, then share their work (and the reasons behind it) with the class.
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Challenge your students to consider St. Eustathius’ answer to Emperor Hadrian on p. 36 of “The Cross and the Stag”. He said, “I am a Christian and I glorify and give thanks to [God]…I owe my life to Him.” Ask if any of your students have ever been challenged with what they believe. How have they answered? How can St. Eustathius’ answer help them in the future?
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In the historical notes at the end of “The Cross and the Stag,” we read that “St. Eustathius is the patron saint of hunters, firefighters, and those who face adversity.” Author Gabriel Wilson also notes that people request St. Eustathius’ prayers when they’re traveling over rivers and seas. Encourage any of your students who are facing adverse times (or traveling, hunting, or firefighting) to remember this, and ask for his prayers.

On the Mother of God: Quotes from the Church Fathers

As we prepare our hearts for and then commemorate the Feast of the Dormition of the Holy Mother of God, let us take some time to think about Mary, the Theotokos. What can we learn from her love for God and her submission to His will? How did her choices and the way that she lived her earthly life affect ours? How does she continue to impact the world since her dormition?

We have gathered quotes from the Church fathers about the Theotokos. Many of those quoted here lived in an age closer to her earthly life than the current era. We plan to share these quotes for you to ponder throughout the (new calendar) fast. As you read each quote, may you be inspired to be as genuine, humble, and obedient as she has been.

May the Holy Mother of God pray for all of us, that we will be saved and that we will follow God as wholeheartedly as she did!

 

In case you missed these when they first came out, here are two related posts. The first offers some thoughts – mostly from the scriptures – about the Theotokos as a mother and how parents/teachers can be encouraged to emulate her: https://orthodoxchristianparenting.wordpress.com/2015/05/06/on-the-theotokos-as-mother/

And the second offers a story that may be a helpful tool as you talk with young children about her Dormition: https://orthodoxchristianparenting.wordpress.com/2016/08/03/on-the-feast-of-the-dormition-of-the-theotokos-august-15-or-28/

 

Here are a few of the things that the Church Fathers had to say about the Mother of Our Lord:

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“I have been amazed that some are utterly in doubt as to whether or not the Holy Virgin is able to be called the Mother of God. For if our Lord Jesus Christ is God, how should the Holy Virgin who bore him not be the Mother of God?” ~ St. Cyril of Alexandria

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“Come, let us wonder at the virgin most pure, wondrous in herself, unique in creation, she gave birth, yet knew no man; her pure soul with wonder was filled, daily her mind gave praise in joy at the twofold wonder: her virginity preserved, her child most dear. Blessed is He who shone forth from her!” ~ St. Ephraim the Syrian

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“In her manner she showed that she was not so much presented into the Temple, but that she herself entered into the service of God of her own accord, as if she had wings, striving towards this sacred and divine love. She considered it desirable and fitting that she should enter into the Temple and dwell in the Holy of Holies.

Therefore, the High Priest, seeing that this child, more than anyone else, had divine grace within her, wished to set her within the Holy of Holies. He convinced everyone present to welcome this, since God had advanced it and approved it. Through His angel, God assisted the Virgin and sent her mystical food, with which she was strengthened in nature, while in body she was brought to maturity and was made purer and more exalted than the angels, having the Heavenly spirits as servants. She was led into the Holy of Holies not just once, but was accepted by God to dwell there with Him during her youth, so that through her, the Heavenly Abodes might be opened and given for an eternal habitation to those who believe in her miraculous birthgiving.” ~ St. Gregory Palamas

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“And since the holy Virgin hath borne after the Flesh God united personally to the Flesh, therefore we do say that she is also Mother of God, not as though the Nature of the Word had the beginning of Its existence from flesh, for It was in the beginning and the Word was God, and the Word was with God [John 1:1], and is Himself the Maker of the ages, Co-eternal with the Father and Creator of all things.” ~ St. Cyril of Alexandria

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“I cannot describe to you how much our Panagia likes chastity and purity. Since she is the only pure Virgin, she wants and loves everyone to be like that. As soon as we cry out to her she rushes to our help. You don’t even finish saying, ‘All-holy Theotokos, help me’ and at once, like lightning, she shines through the nous and fills the heart with illumination. She draws the nous to prayer and the heart to Love.” ~ Elder Joseph the Hesychast

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“How honored and magnified is mankind through the Holy Virgin Mother of God, for it has been made worthy of renewal and sonship by God; She herself was made worthy by her immeasurable humility and exceedingly great purity and holiness to be the Mother of the God-man!” ~ St. John of Kronstadt

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“When God became known to us in the flesh, He neither received the passions of human nature, nor did the Virgin Mary suffer pain, nor was the Holy Spirit diminished in any way, nor was the power of the Most High set aside in any manner, and all this was because all was accomplished by the Holy Spirit. thus the power of the Most High was not abased, and the child was born with no damage whatsoever to the mother’s virginity.” ~ St. Gregory of Nyssa

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“Why is it hard to believe that Mary gave birth in a way contrary to the law of natural birth and remained a virgin, when contrary to the law of nature the sea looked at Him and fled, and the waters of the Jordan returned to their source (Ps. 113:3). Is it past belief that a virgin gave birth when we read that a rock issued water (Ex. 17:6), and the waves of the sea were made solid as a wall (Ex. 14:22)? Is it past belief that a Man came from a virgin when a rock bubbled forth a flowing stream (Ex. 20:11), iron floated on water (4 Kings 6:6), a Man walked upon the waters (Mt. 14:26)? If the waters bore a Man, could not a virgin give birth to a man? What Man? Him of Whom we read: ‘…the Lord shall be known to the Egyptians, and the Egyptians shall know the Lord in that day; and they shall offer sacrifices, and shall vow vows to the Lord, and pay them’ (Is. 19:20).

In the Old Testament a Hebrew virgin (Miriam) led an army through the sea (Ex. 15:21); in the New testament a king’s daughter (the Virgin Mary) was chosen to be the heavenly entrance to salvation.” ~ St. Ambrose

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“…The knot of Eve’s disobedience was loosed by the obedience of Mary. For what the virgin Eve had bound fast through unbelief, this did the virgin Mary set free through faith.

For just as [Eve] was led astray by the word of an angel, so that she fled from God when she had transgressed His word; so did [Mary], by an angelic communication, receive the glad tidings that she should sustain God, being obedient to His word. And if the former did disobey God, yet the latter was persuaded to be obedient to God, in order that the Virgin Mary might become the patroness of the virgin Eve.

And thus, as the human race fell into bondage to death by means of a virgin, so is it rescued by a virgin; virginal disobedience having been balanced in the opposite scale by virginal obedience.” ~St Irenaeus of Lyon

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“The Most Holy Mother of God prays for us ceaselessly. She is always visiting us. Whenever we turn to her in our heart, she is there. After the Lord, she is the greatest protection for mankind. How many churches there are in the world that are dedicated to the Most Holy Mother of God! How many healing springs where people are cured of their ailments have sprung up in places where the Most Holy Theotokos appeared and blessed those springs to heal both the sick and the healthy! She is constantly, by our side, and all too often we forget her.” ~ Elder Thaddeus

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“When you are about to pray to our Lady the Holy Virgin, be firmly assured, before praying, that you will not depart from her without having received mercy. To think thus and to have confidence in her is meet and right. She is, the All-Merciful Mother of the All-Merciful God, the Word, and her mercies, incalculably great and innumerable, have been declared from all ages by all Christian Churches; she is, indeed, an abyss of mercies and bounties, as is said of her in the canon of Odigitry..” ~ St. John of Kronstadt

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“O undefiled, untainted, uncorrupted, most pure, chaste Virgin, Thou Bride of God and Sovereign Lady, who didst unite the Word of God to mankind through thy most glorious birth giving, and hast linked the apostate nature of our race with the heavenly; who art the only hope of the hopeless, and the helper of the struggling, the ever-ready protection of them that hasten unto thee, and the refuge of all Christians: Do not shrink with loathing from me a sinner, defiled, who with polluted thoughts, words, and deeds have made myself utterly unprofitable, and through slothfulness of mind have become a slave to the pleasures of life. But as the Mother of God Who loveth mankind, show thy love for mankind and mercifully have compassion upon me a sinner and prodigal, and accept my supplication, which is offered to thee out of my defiled mouth; and making use of thy motherly boldness, entreat thy Son and our Master and Lord that He may be pleased to open for me the bowels of His lovingkindness and graciousness to mankind, and, disregarding my numberless offenses, will turn me back to repentance, and show me to be a tried worker of His precepts. And be thou ever present unto me as merciful, compassionate and well disposed; in the present life be thou a fervent intercessor and helper, repelling the assaults of adversaries and guiding me to salvation, and at the time of my departure taking care of my miserable soul, and driving far away from it the dark countenances of the evil demons; lastly, at the dreadful day of judgment delivering me from torment eternal and showing me to be an heir of the ineffable glory of thy Son and our God; all of which may I attain, O my Sovereign Lady, most holy Theotokos, in virtue of thine intercession and protection, through the grace and love to mankind of thine only begotten Son, our Lord and God and Savior, Jesus Christ, to Whom is due all glory, honor and worship, together with His unoriginate Father, and His Most Holy and good and life creating Spirit, now and ever, and unto ages of ages. Amen.” ~ from the Small Compline: The Supplicatory Prayer to the Most Holy Theotokos

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“Hail to you forever, Virgin Mother of God, our unceasing joy, for to you do I turn again. You are the beginning of our feast; you are its middle and end; the pearl of great price that belongs to the kingdom; the fat of every victim, the living altar of the Bread of Life [Jesus]. Hail, you treasure of the love of God. Hail, you fount of the Son’s love for man. . . . You gleamed, sweet gift-bestowing Mother, with the light of the sun; you gleamed with the insupportable fires of a most fervent charity, bringing forth in the end that which was conceived of you . . . making manifest the mystery hidden and unspeakable, the invisible Son of the Father—the Prince of Peace, who in a marvelous manner showed himself as less than all littleness.” ~ St. Methodius

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” . . . when the Church tells us in Her hymns and icons that the Apost­les were mira­culously gat­he­red from the ends of the earth in order to be pre­sent at the repose and burial of the Mot­her of God, we as Ort­ho­dox Chri­sti­ans are not free to deny this or rein­ter­pret it, but must believe as the Church hands it down to us, with sim­pli­city of heart.” ~ St. John Maximovich
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On the Gift of Story

When I was a child, I remember sitting with my family (and any guests we were hosting) around the table after dinner, and listening as the adults told stories and jokes. I have always loved stories, and this daily experience fed my hunger for them. Throughout my growing-up years, I remember begging my parents to tell me stories from their childhood. Sometimes they’d remember one, and tell it to me, and other times they couldn’t think of any story to tell. I remember adamantly thinking to myself that I was going to remember every single thing from my childhood, so that I would always be able to tell my own children stories when they asked for one. In my childhood mind, that was the best gift I could give to my future kids. (Unfortunately, my memory did not serve me as well as I intended, and therefore many times when my own children would ask for stories, I could not call any to mind! Now that my children are grown and no longer begging for stories, often something will jog a childhood memory, and at last I can think of stories to tell!)

It wasn’t until I was teaching frst grade in a private Christian school that I began to appreciate the gift (and power!) of story. My favorite class to teach in those years was Bible class. One day, I realized why I loved teaching Bible class so much (besides the obvious fact that it was a lesson from the Scriptures). You see, it was in Bible class that I could teach in a way that engrossed my students: through story. Years later, after we had children of our own and I was no longer teaching in a classroom, our family began sharing other cultures with children and their families through educational gatherings which always included folktales. I am confident that the children (and adults) who attended may not remember any of the facts or activities from those gatherings. But if I were to ask them something about the folktale that we told, even years after the event, a light would go on in their mind, and a smile would cross their lips, as they remembered it. Stories are a gift, because they are memorable, and even children can understand them.

What is it about stories that entices children? And is it just a childhood thing, this longing for stories? I have noticed in my adult life that I am much better able to digest concepts if they are embedded in a story than if I am just presented with the idea. I retain much more from walking through a living history exhibit and speaking with its re-enactors than I do from visiting a glass-encased-artifact museum. As our family journeyed toward Orthodoxy, it was Frederica Mathewes-Green’s story of a year in their mission parish, her book Facing East, which made the Faith real to me, not a straightforward theological discourse. Story speaks to the adult me, just as much as it did to the child. I suspect that I am not alone. Given our whole culture’s renewed interest in storytelling (even businesses are utilizing storytelling for increased success!), it seems that stories are for everyone, not just children.

Perhaps this is why, throughout the history of mankind, storytelling was utilized as a means for communicating culture, history, and morals. That’s a tall order! But it was effective. Unfortunately, in the last centuries, we have begun to step away from the gift of story. As we rely more on technology for learning and less on sitting together around the dinner table (or campfire) and talking to each other, the experienced people in our midst are not as readily able to share their wisdom through their stories. This has reduced the organic transfer of culture, history, and morals. The recent “rebirth” of interest in storytelling in our culture is a step (back) in the right direction. Now it is up to us to move beyond interest in storytelling, and begin to actually practice it.

Stories are a gift, because they are a memorable (and fun!) way for life lessons to be beautifully conveyed. Our Lord Himself offered us this gift when He told stories. Remember all the parables that He shared? Many of them were great stories but they also incited discussion because they housed deeper meaning. Christ modeled for us the use of story for teaching.

We should be taking advantage of this gift! As we do, perhaps the stories that we share will come from our personal experience. As a child, I craved stories from my parents’ growing-up years. But even now, as an adult, I continue to savor the stories that they tell me from years gone by. We should not underestimate the value of personal stories. Retelling our personal history allows our listeners to hear what life was like when we were younger. The stories are engaging because they’re real, they’re about someone the hearer actually knows, and they bring the past to life. They can also teach a lesson, especially if we are humble enough to even tell the stories of our mistakes. As we share our stories, let us be careful not to gloss over those mistakes. Rather, let us allow our listeners to learn from them. God gives us opportunities to suffer and stumble and get back up again, not just for our own salvation, but also for the salvation of those around us who can learn from our choices (and even from our mistakes!).

Another way to share the gift of story is through reading books together. They may be Orthodox books and/or books that directly teach an important concept or lesson. At other times, we may share a story from a book that is not Orthodox, and maybe does not even directly teach a concept or virtue, but it opens up a way to speak together about one. Perhaps the main characters in the story actually make the wrong choice. Rather than throwing out the story altogether because of that wrong choice, we can allow such a story to become a launching point, a way to safely talk together about the Faith and our choices and to learn through the characters’ mistakes. This can save us from having to make the mistake ourselves. (Of course, each class is different, and is thus differently able to process the stories that they hear. Because of this, we teachers need to decide which stories are appropriate to share with our students. This requires preparation through careful thought and pre-reading before sharing, but in the long run, it is very worthwhile.)

Modern schedules may no longer allow for the daily extended mealtimes that I experienced when I was a child. This makes it more difficult for storytelling to happen naturally. However, this gift is so valuable that it is worth investing the time and energy required to make it happen. Let us find a way to give the gift of story, and value it when we receive it in return!

Note: We are not all professional storytellers. That’s okay. The personal touch, the time that is offered in order to tell a story, and the beloved voice of the teller is what makes each story valuable and approachable to the listeners, whether or not the storyteller is a pro.

 

Here are some ideas and additional information that may be helpful as you begin to share the gift of story with your class:

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For inspiration of Orthodox books to share with your Sunday Church school students, check out the “books” tag at our blog site: https://orthodoxchurchschoolteachers.wordpress.com/category/books/ Occasionally we share a book there that’s for your own personal growth, so that you can be a better teacher. But more often than not, the books that we share are books you can read to/with your students. We also offer ideas of ways to incorporate those books into a Sunday Church school lesson!

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A while ago we wrote a series about telling Bible stories, complete with suggested props for some stories. Check out two of our posts about it here: https://orthodoxchurchschoolteachers.wordpress.com/2016/07/01/bible-story-grab-bags-old-testament/

https://orthodoxchurchschoolteachers.wordpress.com/2016/09/02/bible-story-grab-bags-new-testament/

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We offered ideas of ways to tell the stories of saints to your students in this blog post: https://orthodoxchurchschoolteachers.wordpress.com/2016/12/23/saints-of-recent-decades-ideas-for-biographical-storytelling/

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Want to read more about the value of telling your students stories from your own personal life or from the history of your parish? Check this out: https://www.theatlantic.com/education/archive/2013/12/what-kids-learn-from-hearing-family-stories/282075/?utm_source=atlfb

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Many folk tales offer the opportunity for character-building discussions. Check your public library’s 398.2 (nonfiction) section in the children’s department to find a multitude of such books (but, as always, read the stories yourself before reading them to your students. This will give you the opportunity to verify that the book will work for what you’re trying to learn together). There are other character-building stories available, as well. For example, these: http://www.momentsaday.com/storybooks-that-build-character-printable-activity-pages/
While these books and the folktales are not “Christian” books, many of them offer you the opportunity to talk about virtues and other Christian concepts, within the context of a story.

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Here is a list of picture books that may be helpful to your class, if you are looking for stories that can encourage discussions on character building. (Again, we encourage you to read these books yourself before sharing them with your students.) https://thecharactercorner.com/15-books-to-teach-character-to-kids/

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Here are some suggested chapter books that may encourage discussions on character building. While you may not have time to read these books to your students, if you have read them, you can reference them in your lessons, or recommend them to your students if you feel that they are particularly helpful.

https://www.notconsumed.com/chapter-books-teach-moral-lessons/

https://thecharactercorner.com/character-building-books/

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If you want to read more about encouraging character-building through stories, you may find these books to be a helpful resource: https://www.christianbook.com/honey-for-childs-heart-fourth-edition/gladys-hunt/9780310242468/pd/42463?event=ESRCN|M and https://www.christianbook.com/honey-for-a-teenagers-heart/gladys-hunt/9780310242604/pd/42606?event=ESRCN|M

 

On Creating (and Using) a “Godfulness Jar”

Mindfulness is a buzzword in current culture. One of Merriam-Webster’s definitions for mindfulness is this: “the practice of maintaining a nonjudgmental state of heightened or complete awareness of one’s thoughts, emotions, or experiences on a moment-to-moment basis.” Many mindfulness practices encourage focusing your mind on positive thoughts. Unfortunately, the thoughts being promoted are not necessarily compatible with our Orthodox Christian faith.

Some of our students are already experiencing mindfulness training in their school. Some teachers are finding it to be a helpful tool in their classroom. (In fact, it was one teacher’s suggestion of keeping a jar of quotes on hand to help students focus that inspired the idea for the “Godfulness Jar”.)

While affirming our own selves is not what we’re about as Orthodox Christians, the practice of focusing our minds should not be a foreign concept to us. We hear often in the Divine Liturgy a reminder to focus: “Let us attend!” It depends upon what we focus that causes that focus to be for our growth or our downfall. If we are focusing our mind on God and on words that point our mind to Him, that focus is helpful – even essential – to our spiritual growth. But focusing on ourselves and/or what we can do cuts us off from growing closer to God. So, instead of the self-focused affirmations encouraged by many mindfulness practices, we need to choose to fill our minds with Godly thoughts including those found in the scriptures, in prayers, and words spoken by the Church fathers. It is important that we teach our Sunday Church school students to do the same.

If anyone in your class struggles to focus, especially during class time, consider making this simple tool which may be helpful to that end. The “tool” is a “Godfulness” jar, a jar that contains arrow prayers, scriptures, and quotes from Church fathers all aimed at calming and soothing the reader’s thoughts by pointing them to God. Keep the jar in your Sunday Church school classroom, accessible to students who need to take a minute to regroup or focus. They can pull a quote (or picture: see idea for “not-yet-readers” below) to read and think about when they feel a need to calm their mind and focus back on God.

Godfulness Jar Illustration

To make your own “Godfulness” jar, fill a clean, empty jar with quotes that can be drawn out and pondered, whenever one’s mind needs to be calmed, soothed, focused, or quieted. However, instead of loading the jar with slips of paper containing personal affirmations (as is encouraged in some mindfulness circles), include arrow prayers, verses, and quotes from saints. Label the jar “Our Godfulness Jar”, since each item inside points its reader’s mind to focus on God.

 

Godfulness Jar pictoral version

Sunday Church school classes with “not-yet-readers” may wish to create a slightly different “Godfulness Jar”. Instead of slips of paper with a quote, prayer, or verse to be read, collect small icon cards, photos of peaceful places, and pictures from church – such as the candle table, smoke rising from the censor, photos of parts of the iconostasis, etc. These cards and pictures can be pulled out of the jar and “read” as needed by a young person needing to adjust their focus. Place these items in an age-appropriate (plastic or glass) “Godfulness Jar”.

Be sure to keep your “Godfulness Jar” in mind as you pray, read scriptures, and read the Church Fathers. As you do so, over time you will collect more and more quotes to add to it, to replace any that have gone missing. Your jar can help your students fill their thoughts with God and His peace. If you think it would help them, perhaps you will want to lead your students in each creating their own jar to take home!

 

Find a starter set of Godfulness Jar quotes here.

 

Here are a few “Godfulness jar” quotes from the starter set:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

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

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Together with your class, listen to St. Artemius’ story in Ancient Faith Radio’s podcast, “Tending the Garden of our Hearts”, and then answer the questions and discussion at the end of the podcast. https://www.ancientfaith.com/podcasts/tendingthegarden/st_artemius
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Your students may find it interesting to look at this list of wonderworking saints who are known to pray for specific needs: http://www.saintbarbara.org/growing_in_christ/praying_to_the_saints

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

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

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

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

Troparion (tone 2)

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

lightning flashed, threat’ning thunder clashed,

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

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

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

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

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

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