Category Archives: faith

Gleanings From a Book: “Sasha and the Dragon” by Laura E. Wolfe

Author’s note: I would have loved to have read (and re-read) this book with my children when they were younger! “Sasha and the Dragon” is a powerful story of a boy who conquers his fears with the help of St. Michael the Archangel. Although it is a picture book, “Sasha and the Dragon” is appropriate for Orthodox Christians of many ages because of all that the book addresses. This story opens the door for conversations about how strange a new country feels to the person entering it; what to do when you are alone and afraid at night; the reality of the saints’ readiness to come to our aid if we ask them to; and how the light of Christ illumines our world when we invite Him to do so!


Sasha has just moved to New York City from Russia. He misses the familiarity of his old village near the river: its sights, smells, and sounds. He felt safe there, and close to God. His new home, however,  is filled with shadows and seemingly uncaring people. It is grey and cold, and no one seems to know or love God or His saints. Other boys his age seem to mock Sasha at every turn instead of befriending him. Even his new house is not a very comforting place: his Baba who used to sing to him lies still in a scary room at the end of the hall. Sasha is afraid of everything in New York City.


Night time is the scariest for Sasha. Even though he signs himself with the cross before going to bed, he always feels the grey, unfamiliar shadows of the city lurking. One night, as Sasha lies in bed trying to go to sleep, he hears sounds under his bed, which he discovers to be a huge dragon. To his dismay, the dragon comes out from beneath his bed. Sasha is terrified and just wants to hide under the covers. Instead, he finds the courage to do all the right things: he kisses the cross he is wearing and then prays for help! An icon of the Archangel Michael hangs on the wall by Sasha’s bed, and Sasha is confident of the Archangel’s help. He asks St. Michael to kill the dragon with his sword.

As the dragon approaches, St. Michael’s icon begins to radiate heavenly light into the dark room. He races out of the icon on his great red steed and kills the dragon with his sword. As he does so, the room is filled with peace and hope. Sasha drifts happily to sleep. The next morning he wakes to find a slash from the dragon’s claw still remaining in the floor of his room, covered with a golden feather from St. Michael’s wings.

That very morning Sasha begins to notice and enjoy New York’s colors and good smells. A scarlet feather drifts into his hand as he walks. When he meets up with two of the mocking boys, instead of cowering or retreating, he surprises them by offering the feather to them. Sasha even braves the spooky hallway to take the golden feather to his Baba. Her delighted smile encourages Sasha, and he begins to sing to her, for he is no longer afraid!

This story is a delight, and Nicholas Malara’s drawings fit it perfectly. The art in this book is part “normal” picture book, part superhero story. The figures that are the most realistic are the accurately styled icons found on some of the pages. The tone of the illustrations changes from gloomy greys and muted colors at the beginning of the story to cheery bright colors at the end. This change is clearly intentional, and it greatly strengthens the story.


“Sasha and the Dragon” is an excellent addition to an Orthodox Sunday Church School’s library. It has a great story which also presents multiple possibilities for classroom discussion. It can be used with students of varied age levels, because it offers opportunities to discuss so many different relevant topics for children of different ages.

“Sasha and the Dragon”  is available from Ancient Faith Publishing here: http://store.ancientfaith.com/sasha-and-the-dragon/


Here are a few discussion ideas and suggestions of ways to learn together with your students after reading “Sasha and the Dragon”:

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If you have younger students, consider bringing a few basic props to class when you share this story. After you have read it to the class, invite them to act it out as you re-read. Possible props: a beanie and/or jacket for “Sasha;” a head covering for his mom; head covering and blanket for Baba; shawls/hats/baskets/etc for other New Yorkers; hats for the “mean boys”; icon of St. Michael that someone can hold “in Sasha’s room”; blanket and pillow for Sasha’s bed; dark gloves and hoodie for “dragon”; plastic sword for “St. Michael”; a red feather; a “gold” feather (spray paint or spread glue on a feather, then sprinkle it with golden glitter)
After acting it out, talk together about the story and what we can learn from it. Help each student to create their own gold feather and/or St. Michael icon to put in their room to remind them of his constant watching and willingness to help if we ask him to do so.

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How does a new world feel to those entering it? Have you ever gone someplace completely different? Did those around you speak your language? Is anyone near you experiencing this right now? How can you help them feel most welcomed instead of making fun of them (as the boys did to Sasha in the book)?

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With middle-years or older students, talk about why many Russians immigrated to the United States around the time that “Sasha and the Dragon” appears to take place. Look online to find some ideas and additional information. (For example, https://www.ancestry.com/contextux/historicalinsights/russian-immigration-1800s offers a short description along with actual photographs.) Discuss what it would be like to come into a completely foreign place and try to live there. Then think of any refugees that you already know, or look into how you could connect with refugees who have recently settled in your area and may feel like Sasha did in the story. Brainstorm ways to make them feel at home. Select one of those ways and do it!

***

“Sasha’s Dragon” features a little boy who has recently moved to New York. Perhaps he was a refugee. Help your students learn about what a refugee is (if the term is new to them), and how a refugee’s life changes radically when they arrive in their new place. This (non-Orthodox, but helpful) website suggests a activities and lessons you may wish to share with your students in a discussion about refugees: http://www.unhcr.org/en-us/teaching-resources.html

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Who is St. Michael? Learn more about him on the page dedicated to him in the back of “Sasha and the Dragon.” Look up other icons of him and compare them to the one in Sasha’s room. Read a real-life miracle that St. Michael and his spear caused to happen here: https://iconreader.wordpress.com/2012/09/07/archangel-michael-at-chonae-icon-of-a-miracle/

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Discuss the following with your Sunday Church School students: What does our priest mean when he says at every Divine Liturgy, “The light of Christ illumines all!” and how does that affect us? What does it mean for our life? In what way does the light of Christ illumine Sasha’s life in the story “Sasha and the Dragon”? If your students are older, you can share this article (quoting Fr. Thomas Hopko of blessed memory) as part of your discussion: http://orthodoxmeditations.blogspot.com/2013/04/the-light-of-christ-illumines-all.html
***

With older children, discuss the story. Also talk about the meaning/symbolism behind the story and many of the illustrations. For example:

  1. In the beginning of the story, everything in Sasha’s world is dark, grey, hushed, shadowed, and Sasha’s baba’s room “smells like the dead crow he had found at the park”. Why do you suppose it is this way? Do the shadows reflect how Sasha feels in any way? How do the pictures in the beginning of the book make you feel?
  2. Sasha sees dragon shadows everywhere at the beginning of the story. They are not mentioned in the story, per se, but show up in the illustrations. How many dragon shadows can you find in the book? What do  you suppose is the reason that the illustrator included these shadows in these illustrations? What do you think they represent?
  3. How do the other children respond to Sasha at the beginning of the story? Why do you suppose they do that? Does Sasha like it? How do you know? Have you ever felt that way around other children?
  4. What does Sasha do to help calm his fears? What do you do when YOU feel afraid? Can you tell about a time when you did something just like Sasha does, and it helped you? Why do you think it helped?
  5. The dragon in Sasha’s room was very real to Sasha! Do dragons exist in the world? What do you think Sasha’s dragon was or represents? Do you have any “dragons” in your life?
  6. Why did Sasha turn to St. Michael for help with the dragon in his room? What do you know about St. Michael that makes him a good saint to ask for help with your own “dragons”?
  7. What other saints can help us with the “dragons” in our life? How can we get them to help us?
  8. The illustrations in the book make us look hard at the difference between God and His angels and saints and satan and his “helpers” (for example, in this book, the dragon). How do the illustrations help you to see the difference between the two? Does that difference appropriately illustrate the difference in real life?
  9. Sasha does something that shows his complete trust in St. Michael’s ability to save him. What does he do? When you are feeling afraid and attacked, to whom do you turn? Do you have the courage to trust God and His saints fully to help you in those times? Why or why not? Try to remember Sasha kneeling on his bed, pointing right at the dragon, and shouting, “Kill it with your sword!” every time you are feeling afraid!
  10. How does St. Michael enter Sasha’s bedroom? Why do you think the author included smells and sounds in her description of his entrance? How does it make you feel about St. Michael’s presence with Sasha?
  11. Describe St. Michael’s victory over the dragon. If you were there, what would you have thought? Did St. Michael accomplish what Sasha asked him to do, or did he accomplish even more? What makes you think that?
  12. Is Sasha’s life any different after St. Michael kills the dragon in his room? Just by looking at the picture, how can you tell?
  13. Sasha finds a feather on a gash in his floor. What is special about the feather? How would you feel if you found a feather like that in your room? What would you do with it if you found one?
  14. How does Sasha’s world change on the morning after St. Michael’s visit? Describe what Sasha sees as he goes out for a walk with his mother. Is anything different? What is missing?
  15. What does Sasha do with the two feathers he receives? Why do you suppose he does that? How do the others feel after they receive a feather from Sasha?
  16. Compare the first illustration in the book to the last page of Sasha’s story. Are these illustrations alike or different? How so? And how did it happen that they came to be that way? Then compare Sasha at the beginning of the book to himself at the end. Is he the same, or different? How can you tell?

***

“Sasha and the Dragon” author Laura Wolfe has created lesson plans (for varying ages) which incorporate her book. The plans can be used to teach about “arrow prayers”, big feelings, and helping others. Find them here for use with your SCS class: http://lauraewolfe.weebly.com/educational-resources.html

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Gleanings From a Book: “When You Pray: A Practical Guide to an Orthodox Life of Prayer” by L. Joseph Letendre

Author’s note: The use of the word “practical” in the title of this book is no accident. This is the most doable guide to prayer that I have ever read. Every chapter has easily-applicable suggestions that any Orthodox Christian can take to step in the direction of effective prayer. I am so grateful to have read the wisdom in this book. It is the perfect fusion of theology and scripture, incorporating examples and stories that make its contents so accessible that even I can understand them. The book is concise enough for me to re-read it anytime I feel that my prayer life needs another boost. I know that at some point, it will. So I will.

We all know that we should pray. Just before Christ taught His disciples to pray what we now call “The Lord’s Prayer,” He said, “When you pray…” and went on to instruct them to not to be like the hypocrites, to go into their room and pray in secret, and to not use vain repetitions. With each instruction, He began by saying “When you pray..,” indicating that prayer is expected. And rightly so, for his disciples (and we Christians today) love Him a tiny bit as much as He loves us; and in any loving relationship there must be communication. We communicate with our Lord through prayer.

Unfortunately, it is not always easy for us to fulfill this expectation to pray. Even though we know we should pray, there are times when prayer seems daunting or difficult, and we fall short. Author L. Joseph Letendre’s new book “When You Pray: A Practical Guide to an Orthodox Life of Prayer” is a helpful companion for such a time as this. It also serves as a preventative measure against future shortcomings in prayer! The book itself is not long, only 72 pages, but every page is useful to Orthodox Christians desiring to grow in prayer.

“When You Pray…” offers easily-understandable insights and encouragement for prayer. Each chapter covers a different way in which we should pray. Chapters include: “To Pray”; “Pray as You Can”; “Pray Attentively”; “Pray the Lord’s Prayer”; “Pray the Psalms”; “Pray the Gospel”; “Pray for Others”; ”Pray Frequently”; and “Pray Faithfully.”

This book is a must-read for Orthodox Christians who desire to strengthen their prayer life. We would encourage you to read it so that you can be a better example to your Sunday Church School students. The book is written simply enough that students as young as middle school would benefit from studying it together. We recommend that if you teach a class at the middle school level or higher, you consider using this book in your classroom. If you do, we recommend reading one chapter (or a small part of a chapter) at a time and discussing it together. (If your Sunday Church School happens immediately after Divine Liturgy, this book would be an excellent short meditation which you could read while your students are eating a small snack. It would also make an excellent textbook or book study.)

Regardless of how you read it, please read this book. It will help your prayers not to merely be “vain repetitions.” “When You Pray: A Practical Guide to an Orthodox Life of Prayer” will take you (and your students!) by the hand and help you learn how to pray effectively, from the heart.

Order your copy of “When You Pray: A Practical Guide to an Orthodox Life of Prayer” by L. Joseph Letendre here: http://store.ancientfaith.com/when-you-pray
Here are a few gleanings from “When You Pray,” as well as ideas of ways to share them with a group of older students:

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from Ch. 1: To Pray

“The litmus test of faith is not what we do in church, but what we do after church. The list we are given is exhaustive and exhausting. In part, we are
To acquire the mind of Christ (Phil. 2:5)
To move from knowing about God to knowing God (1 Cor. 13:12)
To love our enemies (Matt. 5:44)
To forgive from the heart (Matt. 18:35)
To resist having our lives shaped by the world around us (Rom. 12:2)
To know joy in the midst of suffering (Phil. 4:4)
To follow the commandments of the Gospel (John 14:15).
In turn, we are promised we will
Be transformed by the renewing of our minds (Rom. 12:2)
Become participants in the divine nature (2 Pet. 1:4)
Know the love of Christ and be filled with all the fullness of God (Eph. 3:19)
Cultivate the fruits of the Holy Spirit (Gal. 5:22–23)
Become holy as God is holy (Lev. 11:44, et al.; 1 Pet. 1:16).
What makes all of this—both the undertaking and promised result—possible is God’s grace. What makes grace accessible is prayer.” (pp. 7-8, “When You Pray: A Practical Guide to an Orthodox Life of Prayer” by L. Joseph Letendre)

Before class, copy each of the passages mentioned in this part of chapter 1 on separate slips of paper. Before you read the chapter to the class, pass those slips out and ask each student to look up the passage they’ve been given. When you get to this part of the chapter, instead of reading each phrase, read the reference and ask the student holding the slip of paper with that reference to read the passage of scripture to the class. After you’ve read all of them,talk together about we are to do, what we are promised, and what it is that makes all of this accessible to our lives.

***
from Ch. 2: Pray as You Can

“The decision to do what one can, however seemingly small or inadequate, recurs throughout the Bible: a young shepherd hurls stones at a giant warrior; out of a crowd of famished thousands, a boy graciously offers what few loaves he has; Peter tells a lame beggar, “Silver and gold I do not have, but what I do have I give you” (Acts 3:6). The giant falls, the thousands are fed, and the beggar leaps to his feet. In prayer, all we need do is what we can.” (p. 15, “When You Pray: A Practical Guide to an Orthodox Life of Prayer” by L. Joseph Letendre)

Challenge your students to find each of the Bible stories mentioned in this passage. Talk about how each of these people did what they could: nothing supernatural, just the ordinary amount thing that they were able to do, and how God used that amazingly to work out His purposes. Invite your students to share times that they have done what they could and seen God at work through their “loaves and fishes.”

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from Ch. 3: Pray Attentively

“…from St. John of Kronstadt: ‘When praying, keep to the rule that it is better to say five words from the depth of your heart than ten thousand words with your tongue only.’ It sounds fair. If I don’t pay attention to my prayers, why should God? Paying attention during prayer proved more difficult than I anticipated…

“Three highly recommended practices can help:

  1. Preparing for prayer
  2. Saying the words of our prayer slowly
  3. Praying aloud.” (pp. 17-18, “When You Pray: A Practical Guide to an Orthodox Life of Prayer” by L. Joseph Letendre)

Read and carefully discuss each of those practices with your students. The book fleshes out each recommended practice and offers concrete ways that you can work at each one. Encourage your students to select one for each practice, jot them on a post-it note, then place that note where they will see it and be reminded to keep working on that particular practice.

***
from Ch. 4: Pray the Lord’s Prayer

“Without the right script, prayer can degenerate into telling God what He already knows, and then telling Him what we think He should do about it. [quoting Fr. Alexander Schmemann, quoting his teacher Archimandrite Cyprian Kern.] When Jesus’ disciples came to Him and asked, ‘Lord, teach us to pray,’ He responded by giving them a script: ‘When you pray, say: “Our Father . . .”’ (Luke 11:1, 2).” (p. 24, “When You Pray: A Practical Guide to an Orthodox Life of Prayer” by L. Joseph Letendre)

You could couple a discussion of this chapter with an in-depth look at the Lord’s Prayer. (We wrote a whole series of blog posts on this prayer. The series begins here: https://orthodoxchurchschoolteachers.wordpress.com/2016/03/04/on-the-lords-prayer-an-introduction/)

***
from Ch. 5: Pray the Psalms

“How many psalms should we pray? Monks and nuns are the Church’s experts in psalmic prayer. In monasteries and sketes that are able to follow the monastic rule fully, the entire Psalter—all 150 psalms—is read every week… To facilitate this, centuries ago, the Psalms were divided into twenty sections (called kathismas) and further divided into three subsections (called stases): thus, sixty sections of roughly equal length. So, one possibility is to pray one or more of these stases each day… If praying a stasis attentively is not possible, do less. Do one psalm. Do a few verses from one psalm. We should pray as many—or as few—psalms as we realistically can in the time we have. But we should never do none.” (p. 30, “When You Pray: A Practical Guide to an Orthodox Life of Prayer” by L. Joseph Letendre)

Pull out the Psalter (or have your students look up the book of Psalms in Bibles). Allow your students time to read through the Psalms, and ask them to find one that jumps out at them – one that would be good for them to pray right now because of the struggle they are facing or because of how it encourages them. Take time for your students to quietly pray their specially-selected Psalm. You may even want to allow them to copy it, decorate the paper they’ve copied it onto and take that home with them to remind them to pray that Psalm. Challenge them to pray the Psalm every day for the week. The following Sunday, allow time for students to share if/how praying their Psalm helped them during the week.

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from Ch. 6: Pray the Gospel

“First, choose a short passage from the Gospels. It can be one event in the life of Christ, a section from the teachings of Jesus, even a single verse… In St. Athanasius’s Life of St. Anthony, we read how hearing just one verse from the Gospel in Church led Anthony into the desert to pursue the monastic life. Second, read the passage or verse out loud… Read it slowly. Then read it again. For writers across the centuries, the governing image here is “ruminating.” A ruminant (cows are the handiest example) is an animal that chews its cud. After it has eaten, it regurgitates its food and spends its time in a leisurely rechewing of its meal. When the saints advise ruminating on a passage of Scripture, they mean slowly ‘chewing over’ what we’ve read in our minds and our imagination.” (pp. 33-34, “When You Pray: A Practical Guide to an Orthodox Life of Prayer” by L. Joseph Letendre)

Practice “praying the Gospel” with your students by applying the steps suggested in the book to this week’s Gospel reading. Teach them how to do this by leading them through it. Then when they are at home, they will know how to pray the Gospel because of their experience in Sunday Church School!

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from Ch. 7: Pray for Others

“When we have completed our list, we move on—in trust and confidence—to the rest of our prayer, the rest of our day, or simply to our rest. It is not our prayer or the intensity of feeling we bring to it that matters; what matters is God’s grace. Through our prayers we have joined in the work God is already doing; we have united God’s will for them to our own.” (p. 37)

“Praying for others can be risky. The risk is that we will become part of God’s answer to our prayer. We should be ready for that.” (p. 39, “When You Pray: A Practical Guide to an Orthodox Life of Prayer” by L. Joseph Letendre)

Hand each one of your students a blank piece of paper and a pencil or pen. Give them a block of time to create their own list of people for which they can pray. Talk together about how to do this, how to lift that personal list of people up to God in prayer. Encourage your students to take their list home and work at doing this important work. Remind them that they may need just to pray for the people on their list, or that God may use them to become part of the answer to that prayer.

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from Ch. 8: Pray Frequently

“Few of us living ‘in the world’—meaning outside of monasteries—can pray without ceasing. Workday distractions and obligations, many of them part of our vocations, eat away at our time and attention. But even if we cannot pray ceaselessly, we can pray frequently. We can seize every opportunity the day affords us to pray briefly; we can pray on the run. Indeed, frequent prayer is essential if we are to grow in the Christian life and fulfill the commandments of Christ. Without frequent prayer, living the Christian life is all but impossible. As Jesus warned us, ‘Without Me you can do nothing’ (John 15:5). Therefore, besides praying at the set times of our rule, we should make every event, activity, and transition in our day an opportunity for a brief prayer.” (p. 42, “When You Pray: A Practical Guide to an Orthodox Life of Prayer” by L. Joseph Letendre)

Find ideas on how to pray frequently in this recent blog post: https://orthodoxchurchschoolteachers.wordpress.com/2017/08/11/on-practical-reminders-to-pray/

***
from Ch. 9: Pray Faithfully

“…the test of prayer is not how we feel or what happens during prayer; it is what we do and how we are after prayer. A friend of mine once observed that her brother had begun meditating and jogging. ‘He is calmer and thinner,’ she remarked, ‘but he’s no better.’ The fruits of prayer are revealed in the kitchen, the supermarket, and the office. This is why in the prophetic literature of the Old Testament we often read that God does not judge His people on the basis of their prayers, fasts, and ritual sacrifices in the temple, but on how they treat the widow, the fatherless, and the stranger (Zech. 7:10, for instance). The test of prayer is how well we fulfill the commandments of Christ. ” (pp. 60-61, “When You Pray: A Practical Guide to an Orthodox Life of Prayer” by L. Joseph Letendre)

You could use litmus paper to introduce this section of the book. Before you read this chapter, show a piece of litmus paper to your class, and ask them if they know what it is and/or how it is used. Demonstrate its purpose by using pieces of litmus paper to test a variety of liquids: lemon juice, water, a soft drink, coffee, etc. Then ask the class what the “litmus test” for prayer is? Entertain answers, read this chapter aloud, then ask again (see answer above). Give each student a strip of litmus paper and a bookmark-sized piece of cardstock. Invite them to create a bookmark for their prayer book that includes the litmus paper and this reminder from p. 61 of the book: “The test of prayer is how well we fulfill the commandments of Christ.” (or “Am I passing the prayer test?” or something to that effect)

***

Take some time with your students to discuss the seven principles that summarize the monastic fathers’ writings on prayer. These are listed in the appendix, pp. 63-62. As you read through them, encourage each student to select one on which to focus on improving in their life.

On Practical Reminders to Pray

“Pray without ceasing” (1 Thess. 5:17) is an exhortation St. Paul wrote in his letter to the Thessalonians. Such constant prayer sounds like a very Christian thing to do, a great idea, and a lofty goal that we should work towards someday. But have you ever read on beyond that short phrase? The very next verse continues, “…for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.”

Wait, WHAT? Praying without ceasing is God’s will for us? Oh, boy… I don’t know about you, but I have got an awful lot of work to do if I wish to be living in a way that fulfills God’s will for me! (By the way, “Rejoice always” and “In everything give thanks” are the other two parts of that exhortation revealing God’s will for us, but we will address them at another time…) To be perfectly honest, I truly want to be the human that God created me to be. I want to be fulfilling His will for my life. But how in the world will I actually pray without ceasing? I wonder if you and/or your students feel the same way?

I get so caught up in life, in what’s happening around me, that hours can pass when I do not pray. That’s hours of not living in God’s will for my life. Lord, have mercy on me, a sinner! I hope that I am alone in this transgression. If so, forgive me (and pray for me!). But in case I am not alone and there are others of us in this community sharing my struggle, I will pass along a few ideas of ways that we can begin to pray more often, stepping closer and closer to “without ceasing.”

It seems to me that the easiest way for us to pray without ceasing is to make a physical connection of some sort to our daily life. We need some practical reminders to do that praying. Perhaps we can gather as a family and talk about creating prayer cues. What in our life can be used as a reminder, to help us to pray? It may be helpful to make a list of cues that we will look for each day, and then match prayers to those cues. (Remember to include scripture prayers as well as other ones!)

Here are a few examples (besides our morning, meal time, and evening prayers) of ways that our family is trying to remember to pray without ceasing. I will share them in case they resonate with you as well. (These are geared towards older people, since my children are now young adults.)

I get so caught up in life, in what’s happening around me, that hours can pass when I do not pray. That’s hours of not living in God’s will for my life. Lord, have mercy on me, a sinner! I hope that I am alone in this transgression. If so, forgive me (and pray for me!). But in case I am not alone and there are others of us in this community – and perhaps our students as well – who share my struggle, I will pass along a few ideas of ways that we can begin to pray more often, stepping closer and closer to “without ceasing.” Perhaps some of them will ring true to you, for use with your students.

It seems to me that the easiest way for us to pray without ceasing is to make a physical connection of some sort to our daily life. We need some practical reminders to do that praying. Chat with your students about the idea, and invite them to help you to create some prayer cues. What is it in each of our lives that can be used as a reminder, to help us to pray? It may be helpful to make a list of cues that we will look for each day, and then match prayers to those cues. (Remember to include scripture prayers as well as other ones!)

Here are a few examples (besides our morning, meal time, and evening prayers) of ways that our family is trying to remember to pray without ceasing. I will share them in case they resonate with you and/or your students, as well. Pass on any of these to your students which you think they will find helpful! (These are geared towards older people, since my children are now young adults.)

  1. Upon waking from sleep, pray one of St. Macarius the Great’s morning prayers, such as this one: “O Lord, Who in Thine abundant goodness and Thy great compassion hast granted me, Thy servant, to go through the time of the night that is past without attack from any opposing evil: Do Thou Thyself, O Master and Creator of all things, vouchsafe me by Thy true light and with an enlightened heart to do Thy will, now and ever, and unto the ages of ages. Amen”
  2. While showering, pray Archimandrite Sophronios’ prayer at daybreak (http://www.ocf.org/OrthodoxPage/prayers/daybreak.html).
  3. Our family lives three blocks from a hospital. Every time we hear a siren or helicopter, each member of our family pauses to pray for the person in need and for their family. If we are in a conversation when the emergency vehicle passes, we make the sign of the cross, signaling our desire for God’s mercy on that person.
  4. The same concept applies for any siren: police, fire, etc. Let the noise be the reminder to pray! Clearly someone is in need, their family will be affected, and the first responders need God’s guidance, wisdom, and protection! So, we pray: “Lord, have mercy on them!”
  5. Keep a copy of St. John Chrysostom’s prayers for every hour by your desk or workspace. (I do this, but unfortunately I forget that it is there, so it is underutilized. I need to find a way to remember to pray these simple “arrow prayers.” Any ideas or suggestions? Perhaps I should set a reminder alarm?)
  6. My husband often prays through the alphabet at night if he is awakened and unable to go right back to sleep. He will think of someone whose name begins with each letter of the alphabet, and then pray for God’s mercy on them.

Okay, so I have listed a few ideas. But there are still many, many hours in a day. How else can we pray without ceasing? And how can our Sunday Church School students, especially those who are children, do so? We can encourage them (and ourselves! ) to begin by praying very simple prayers aloud while performing daily tasks. Those simple prayers could include:
* While washing up before or cleaning sticky fingers after a meal, “I will wash my hands in innocence; so I will go about Your altar, O Lord.” (Ps. 26:6)

* While bathing: “Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me.” (Ps. 51:10) (or “Wash me and I shall be whiter than snow.” (Ps. 51:7))

* When brushing teeth, “Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in Your sight, O Lord, my strength and my Redeemer.” (Ps. 19:14)

*While putting on clothes or a coat, “…he has clothed me with garments of salvation and arrayed me in a robe of his righteousness…” (Is. 61:10)

*While turning on a light or lighting a candle, “O Lord, enlighten my heart, which evil desires have darkened.” (St. John Chrysostom’s hourly prayers)

*While watering plants, “Oh Lord, sprinkle my heart with the dew of Thy Grace.” (St. John Chrysostom’s hourly prayers)

*When planting or gardening, “O Lord, plant in me the root of all blessings, the fear of Thee in my heart.” (St. John Chrysostom’s hourly prayers)

*When locking a door, “O Lord, protect me from certain people, from demons and passions, and from every other harmful thing.” (St. John Chrysostom’s hourly prayers)

It may take a while for us to learn all of these prayers by heart and incorporate them into our daily routine. We need to encourage our students that that is okay, and work to find ways to help them to succeed in this endeavor. We can print the prayers on small cards and have our students place them where they will see these cards as they go about their day. (In case you wish to use the above prayers, we have created a printable version of them.)

What physical cues do you and your students use for constant prayer? Please share them below! In this way, we can help each other to pray without ceasing and thus walk in God’s will for us.

 

Here are a few links that you may find helpful as you grow in prayer without ceasing:

***

Sign up for Orthodox Motherhood’s free 5-day email course, “Becoming a Family of Prayer,” here: http://www.orthodoxmotherhood.com/. You’ll receive a daily email for five days in a row, each focused on a different aspect of helping your family to pray more. Each day’s email is brief but helpful and comes with printable worksheets that can better help you to grasp what the topic of the day is about. Each email will give you ideas of things to bring up with your students when you discuss this topic in class.

***

Orthodox Motherhood offers ideas of 50 times to pray The Jesus Prayer. We can share these with our students, and help them develop their own list, specific to them: http://www.orthodoxmotherhood.com/50-times-say-jesus-prayer/

***

Find additional morning prayers that you or your students may wish to incorporate into your routine here: http://pomog.org/morningprayers-en/

***

Find prayers for any time of day in prayer or service books, or at online sites such as this one: http://www.ocf.org/OrthodoxPage/prayers/

***

Encourage your students to utilize a prayer rope to help them remember to pray! The Jesus Prayer is a wonderful way to pray with a prayer rope. Or they could also use the 33 different intercessions found here, one for each knot: https://fatherpatrick.wordpress.com/2008/09/15/33-intercessions-to-pray-using-a-33-knot-prayer-rope/

***

St. John Chrysostom offers a one-line prayer for every hour of the day. Consider printing this, allowing your students to decorate it, laminate it, and then take it home to keep at their desk, sink, fridge, or anywhere that they’ll see it regularly and can pray the hours. Read more about these prayers here: https://frted.wordpress.com/2012/07/29/prayers-for-each-hour-of-the-day/. Here is a printable version that could help you: St. John Chrysostom’s Hourly Prayers

***

This not-Orthodox-but-helpful blog suggests ways to pray using the scriptures. There are even printable prayer-verse cards that your students can put right at the space where they need the reminder! http://paththroughthenarrowgate.com/teach-us-to-pray-easy-verse-cards-set-one/

Gleanings From a Book: “The Sweetness of Grace” by Constantina Palmer

Author’s note: this blog post is for our personal edification. Our own spiritual growth will greatly impact the lives of our Sunday Church School students. We owe it to them to continue to learn to love God to the best of our ability so that we can better serve them. A book like this one can be a great help in our journey!

I was so delighted when I found out that this book was being published! I had already read Presvytera Constantina’s book “The Scent of Holiness: Lessons from a Women’s Monastery,” more than once. I was so spiritually encouraged and challenged by the content of that book that as soon as I found out she had written a second book, I could not wait to read it. And, as expected, “The Sweetness of Grace: Stories of Christian Trial and Victory” did not disappoint.

I took this new book along on a trip and despite its 280+ pages, I finished reading it before I was even halfway through my second day of travel. “The Sweetness of Grace” is an easy read. The application of the content, however, is far from easy. Presvytera Constantina’s learnings, which she so readily shares in each of her books left me laughing, crying, covered in goose bumps, and longing to become the human person that God has created me to be.

Each chapter of this book is titled with one of the Beatitudes and consists of stories and encouragement related to that Beatitude. Some of the stories are ones that Presvytera Constantina has heard along her journey. Others are her own personal experiences. Every story points the reader towards godliness, both encouraging and challenging by turns.

In case you are wondering about the name of the book itself, Presvytera Constantina writes, “I’ve called this collection of stories “The Sweetness of Grace” because I feel this title captures the one element of Orthodoxy that does not change, whether one lives in Asia, Europe, or on a Canadian island. Whether one is a priest, monastic, or layperson, the sweetness of grace is offered to us all: through the trials, through the victories, we struggle to acquire and hold onto it, and when we taste it, we want to share that sweetness with others. By sharing these stories I hope to share the sweetness I was blessed to taste.” (p. 11)

The book is available for purchase here:

http://store.ancientfaith.com/the-sweetness-of-grace/

 

Here are a few bite-sized “gleanings” from each chapter. The following quotes were just a few of the many things that jumped out to me in the chapter under which they are listed. I hope that they will both encourage and challenge you, as well as offer you a taste of what to expect when you read this powerful book.

***

“Blessed are the poor in spirit…”

 

(about a homily by Fr. Andreas Konanas) “He made reference to spiritualizing domestic tasks in our quest for sanctity. He described, for instance, how when we are in our kitchen cutting an onion and our eyes begin to water on account of the vapors, we should use this for our own gain. Even though the tears are not proceeding from a contrite heart in actuality, we can use them for our own devices and reflect on our sins, ‘cry’ for our sins, as Fr. Andreas said. He mentioned using simple things as opportunities for prayer, such as taking off our coat. When we take off our coat, we can say an internal prayer: ‘Just as I take off this coat, so remove mys ins from me, O Lord.'” (p. 21)

 

(quoting Elder Nikon, a Russian abbot) “The measure of a man’s spiritual growth is his humility. The more advanced he is spiritually the more humble he is. And vice versa; the more humble, the higher spiritually. Neither prayer rules, nor prostrations, nor fasts, nor reading God’s Word—only humility brings a man closer to God.Without humility, even the greatest spiritual feats are not only useless but can altogether destroy a person. In our time we see that if a person prays a little more than is customary, reads a little of the Psalter, keeps the fast—he already thinks of himself as better than others, he judges his neighbors and begins to teach without being asked. All this shows his spiritual emptiness, his departure from the Lord. Fear a high opinion of yourself.” (p. 39)

 

***

“Blessed are those who mourn…”

 

“The first time Sr. Ephraimia stepped out of Vespers at the monastery she later called home, she felt as though her heart would burst open with spiritual exaltation. The grace of the monastery was so strong it overwhelmed her. Hidden from the exiting crowd by the shadow of one of the buildings, she sat down.

Tears poured from her eyes… How much longing filled her heart then! It spilled over, she couldn’t contain it any longer, having struggled to restrain herself during the service. She sat there alone and hidden from the world, giving thanks to God for having brought her home…” (p. 45)

 

(On a time when Presvytera Constantina happened upon a humble beggar for the second time) “This time I distinctly remember giving him change… I reached into my pocket and saw that I only had 300 won (about 30 cents). I cringed that that was all I had, but still I reached down and put the nearly useless amount of money into the beggar’s hand. To my shock, he grabbed my hand, pulled it close to his lowered head, and kissed it. A kiss from a lowly beggar: perhaps not something most would consider a great gift—or so it might seem to one not on the receiving end of such a gift. I pulled my hand back in surprise.

He raised his eyes and I saw he was crying. Tears began to well up in my own eyes…

The feeling that energized in me the moment the dear beggar kissed my hand is something very difficult to express. It is humbling to have one’s hand kissed, and even more so considering all I gave to the poor beggar was a mere 30 cents. But that is life in Christ: all we have to offer God is a few cents, and He gives us back one hundredfold.” (pp. 57-58)

 

“…There are so many saints waiting to intercede on our behalf for the numerous things that cause pain and suffering, torment and worry, those things that cast shadows over our lives and souls and make us think the darkness will never depart. All we have to do is cry out, they are waiting for us to do so. St. Nektarios of Pentapolis once said (after his repose), ‘It’s as if we saints are in retirement… the people don’t pray to us, don’t entreat us, don’t ask us for anything, don’t give us any handiwork to do. They don’t give us the opportunity to pray to God for them.'” (p 68)

 

***

“Blessed are the meek…”

 

“…it is one thing to speak with wisdom and quite another to shine with wisdom, and we know from the Scriptures that a spiritual man’s wisdom ‘makes his face shine.’ (Eccl. 8:1)” (p. 79)

 

“There was a baby girl at our church in Thessaloniki that the whole parish was delighted to see every Sunday. Although she was only a few months old, she would begin to squeal, kick her chubby legs, and flail her arms with joy and excitement every time her father brought her up to venerate the icons before Holy Communion. She would continue this ritual of squealing and kicking until the priest exited the Royal Doors and she received the Immaculate mysteries. This went on for months.

People were amazed. They would smile and whisper to each other. It was a beautiful thing to witness, because we all understood that the baby perceived the presence of God and expressed her delight in the only way a baby can.” (p. 95)

 

“Children are so naturally guileless and pure that introducing them to an environment of prayer and good works, such as a monastery, impresses on their malleable hearts from a young age a genuine example of what it is to serve Christ through love…

All we need to do is give our children the proper predispositions toward faith, prayer, and good works, and they will begin teaching us more than we could ever teach them…

If only we were as obedient and faithful as these little ones. I’m sure whole volumes of books could be filled with the wonderful works of faithful children—works that would put us adults to shame.” (pp.101-103)

 

***

“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst after righteousness…”

 

“…Work and prayer are not mutually exclusive, but, as Gerontissa Philaret used to say, ‘Work, when combined with the Jesus Prayer, becomes prayer.’ The same thing occurs when we engage in the services with our mind and heart even while our hands work…”

(She points out the many resources we have to be able to listen to services when we are unable to attend.) “…we can listen to them while washing the dishes or running errands in the car. This is not to supplant attending services in our parish or even praying them privately at home, it is rather a means to attend services we would otherwise miss altogether. The point is to put our mind and heart in church even if our body can’t be there.” (pp. 110-111)

 

“We must struggle to keep our attention on worship and prayer. If it strays, we shouldn’t become distraught; we should simply call our mind back. Even if it strays a thousand times, the point is to struggle. Our thoughts have such strength that they can carry us away from church, and so conversely, our thoughts can also carry us to church even when our bodies are elsewhere.” (p. 112)

 

“While we were leaving the monastery after one (chanting) class, a group of us were walking together, and one of the girls lamented that she had eaten too many sweets that night… ‘you know where those calories go?’ (she) asked seriously. ‘Straight to my logismous [thoughts], that’s where!’ Although we all laughed about the calories going to her thoughts, this little observation really struck me… My dear classmate was onto something when she perceived that eating too many sweets goes to her thoughts. Our body is not unrelated to our soul, nor is living in the world unrelated to spiritual exercises. May God help us to see with our spiritual eyes and make an effort even in little ways, so that by struggling and being victorious in the small battles, we might win the great battles and receive great spiritual spoils as a result.” (pp 129-131)

 

***

“Blessed are the merciful…”

 

“Abba Dorotheos writes: ‘The Lord Himself said: “Be merciful, just as your heavenly Father also is merciful.” (Luke 6:36) He did not say: “Fast as your heavenly Father fasts,” neither did he say: “Give away your possessions as your heavenly Father is without possessions’; but he did say: ‘Be merciful as your heavenly Father is merciful.’ This is because this virtue—above all—emulates God and is a characteristic of him.” (p. 144)

 

“Giving money to those who need it, offering a dish of home-cooked food to a busy or struggling family, caring for and visiting the sick, taking time to sit and chat with the lonely, and tending to the needs and expenses of Orthodox temples, small and large, are all wonderful ways to offer our money, time, care, and love to others and by extension to Christ Himself: ‘Assuredly, I say to you, inasmuch as you did it to one of the least of these My brethren, you did it to Me.’ (Matt. 25:40)” (pp. 149-150)

 

“‘One of the quickest ways to lose grace is to judge your fellow human being,’ the hieromonk told a small group of us after a baptismal service…

‘Justify others. Condemn yourself. Say, “I’m acting like this, feeling this way because of my passions. If I didn’t have passions I wouldn’t act like this, react like this…” Don’t even pass judgement in your mind,’ he continued. ‘Fight thoughts: push them out, don’t let them stay in your head… Be compassionate and loving toward others, just as the Lord was and is compassionate and loving toward you.’

And with those words we left with the weighty knowledge that one of the easiest sins to slip into results in one of the quickest departures of grace.” (pp. 158-159)

 

***

 

“Blessed are the pure in heart…”

“We go to great measures to preserve the good quality of so many material possessions. Many women, for example, are mortified if their expensive purse is laid on the ground. Why? Because it is valuable and worthy of care so that it will last and keep its beautiful form. Some women even keep their leather purses in special bags when they are not being used so as to protect their quality. And yet, what measures do we take to keep our nous and heart from becoming unclean? Isn’t it true that we leave the doors and windows of our senses wide open, never paying attention to what enters?

We need first to become aware of the fact that our nous and heart become defiled by the things we watch, listen to, look at, and read about, and then we need to take the necessary measures to limit the infiltration of sinful sights and sounds by means of prayer and watchfulness… If we guard our senses and occupy our nous with prayer, our heart will…become an abode for the Holy Trinity…” (p. 177)

 

“Even if the prayer of the heart is not something we can or will receive in exchange for our meager spiritual striving, it is worth the struggle. What is sweeter than to have our whole being in constant and continual communication with God Almighty?” (p. 190)

 

***

“Blessed are the peacemakers…”

 

(Quoting an abbess on the Feast of St. Basil) “…My wish for the new year is for everyone to experience divine illumination, for us to truly see ourselves and to truly see the blessings of God… It’s difficult for us to see ourselves, our ‘old man.’ And sometimes, we see him so.. alive, and we have to cast him down: ‘Back off! Don’t think like that!’ We need to see ourselves, our sins. And at the same time bad things can happen: unemployment, illness, difficulties… many view these things as bad. But we, as children of God—as we wish to be called—look at these things as blessings. We should consider these things blessings. Everything that happens to us happens for our own good.” (p. 211)

 

(on identifying with a particular ethnic group in the church) “How we came to the Faith, how long we’ve lived the Faith, or whether we are members of an ethnic group is beside the point. The Christian life is not about where we’ve been but where we’re going. Christ doesn’t relate to us as we were, but who we are and who we are becoming.” (p. 214)

 

“Once Sr. Evsevia read us a story from the “Evergetinos” about a monk who was always displeased with his brotherhood and the monastery he was living in. He went from one to the next, to the next, always dissatisfied with the other fathers.

Finally, he arrived at the conclusion that neither the monastery nor the brotherhood was at fault, but that he himself needed to endure temptation in the place he found himself. So he wrote on a piece of paper: ‘In the name of our Savior the Lord Jesus Christ, I will be patient in all things,’ and resolved to remain in his monastery no matter what. Whenever he became upset with the other fathers, he took this piece of paper out of his pocket, unfolded it, and quietly read it to himself. Folding it back up and placing it in his pocket, he would exhibit patience.

Seeing this go on for some time, some of the fathers began to suspect the monk was reading a magic spell written on this piece of paper, and they went to the abbot to confess their suspicion. He in turn went to the monk and demanded to see the paper. When he read what was written thereon, he told the fathers, ‘This father does well.’

All of us were moved and impressed by this story, and one of our classmates brought a number of small pieces of decorated cardstock to class the next week. On each she had written the monk’s helpful words in a beautiful script. She gave one to each of us so that we too could remember to be patient in the face of all the trials and tribulations life throws at us.” (p. 222)

 

(on making a commitment to safeguard the peace of the community in which we live) “This simple commitment brings with it immeasurable protection. Many times we allow ourselves to vent. We convince ourselves that it is better to get it all out than to allow our anger to boil up inside us, as the saying goes. Unfortunately, we are wrong on two counts for engaging in such behavior.

First, venting allows our thoughts and suspicions, our hurt feelings and offenses, to become solidified. We confirm our thoughts by justifying them, explaining why we are right and the other person is wrong, how we are wounded and the other is a cruel offender. Second, we pull the other person or persons listening to us into sin with us. We infiltrate their thoughts and perceptions, tainting the way they think and feel about the supposed offender. This is actually worse than the first wrongdoing, because we are not only sinning but creating a stumbling block for someone else.” (p. 237)

 

***

“Blessed are those who are persecuted…”

 

“…our spiritual life is not a game easily won. As Elder Joseph the Hesychast says, the powers and rulers of darkness ‘are not fought with sweets and marshmallows, but with streams of tears, with pain of soul until death, with utter humility, and with great patience.'” (p. 253)

 

“Once, when St. Euphemia the Great Martyr appeared to Elder Paisios the Athonite, he asked her how she managed to withstand the physical afflictions of martyrdom. She answered him, ‘If I had known what glory the saints have I would have done whatever I could to go through even greater torments.'” (p. 262)

 

“‘We should always make the sign of the cross, before we do something, before we speak,’ Sr. Silouani instructed us. ‘While caught up in a conversation, even if we can’t make the sign of the cross over our mouth externally, we can do it internally, noetically, so as to be protected, to say what is necessary with the right words in an appropriate manner.'” (p. 264)

 

“How easy it is to think, ‘I’d willingly die for Christ,’ but how hard it is to live for Him.” (p. 273)

 

Learning from the Saints: St. Peter (June 29)

As we prepare for the Feast of Sts. Peter and Paul on June 29, let us take time to learn more about each of these saints, and help our children to do the same. This post will focus on St. Peter.

St. Peter was born in Bethsaida, in Galilee, to a man named Jonas. His given name was Simon. He lived a simple, uneducated life. Simon earned his living by catching and selling fish, along with his brother Andrew.

 

Our Lord Jesus Christ called Andrew, Simon’s brother, to follow Him first. Andrew invited Simon to follow Jesus as well. Immediately after Christ’s call, the brothers left their fishing nets and followed Him (Matt. 4:18-20). Simon was married, but left his home to follow Christ. One of the times that Christ visited Simon’s home, he healed Simon’s mother in law, who had been sick. (Matt. 8:14)

 

Simon followed Jesus zealously after that, and would not leave His side. He proved his trust in Christ by walking to the Lord on the water when Christ was walking towards the disciples on a boat during a storm. (Matt. 14: 22-32) It was Simon who was the first disciple to recognize that Christ was the Son of God. (Matt. 16:13-20). When Jesus heard that, He said, “Thou art Simon the son of Jonas; thou shalt be called Cephas.” (John 1:42) “Cephas,” translated, is “Peter,” and so that is what we now call him.

 

Peter was one of only three disciples who were invited to go to Mt. Tabor with Christ when He was transfigured before them (Matt. 17:1-9). It seems that Peter wanted to know all that he could about Christ’s teachings. He asked a lot of questions, like: “Explain this parable to us!” (Matt. 15:15); “Lord, how often shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? Up to seven times?” (Matt. 18:21); “Lord, do You speak this parable only to us, or to all people?” (Luke 12:41) and “See, we have left all and followed You. Therefore what shall we have?” (Matt. 19:27)

 

Peter later promised to follow Christ “no matter what” at the Last Supper, and Christ told him that he would deny Him three times before the very next morning’s rooster crows. Simon went with Christ and two other disciples to the Garden of Gethsemane, but could not stay awake to pray as Christ urged the three to do. When the soldiers and others came to the garden to arrest Christ, Peter cut off the high priest’s servant’s ear in defense of Christ. Later that night, he faltered and swore he didn’t know Christ, not just once, but three times, during the night of Our Lord’s trials and beatings; and then the rooster crowed. We can only imagine how Peter felt at that moment!

We do not know where Peter was when Christ died. But he was right with the other disciples when the word came that something had happened to Christ’s body! Peter ran to the tomb with John when Mary Magdalene brought the news that Jesus’ tomb was empty. John arrived first, but it was Peter who had the courage to go into the tomb first and see the folded, empty grave clothes. (John 20:1-10)

 

Peter was in the upper room with the rest both times when Christ appeared to all of the disciples. One evening a few days later, Peter decided to go out fishing, and many of the others went with him. They caught nothing. When a stranger on the shore told them to cast their nets on the other side of the boat, they caught many fish (even though the time for catching fish that day was long past). When this happened, Peter realized that it was Christ who was on the shore, and he dove into the water in order to swim to Him! Peter got to eat a fish breakfast with Jesus and his friends that day. He had a second (and third) chance to reaffirm his love for Christ when our Lord asked him three times, “Peter, do you love me?” and finally continued, “Feed my sheep!” (John 21:1-19)

 

Peter was right there watching as Christ ascended into heaven. After the ascension, the disciples stayed in the upper room, praying and waiting for the helper that Christ had promised. Peter was faithfully praying with the others, ten days later, when the Holy Spirit descended on them. At this point, Peter became a mighty preacher! The first sermon that he gave was on the day of Pentecost, and 3,000 people converted after that sermon! (Acts 2:14-41)

 

Peter healed a lame beggar in the name of Christ (Acts 3). God also used Peter to heal a bedridden, paralyzed man and bring to back life a much-loved community member named Dorcas (Acts 9:32-42). He helped to establish the Church in Antioch.

 

It was Peter that first converted and baptized Gentiles, with clear guidance through visions from God (Acts 10). Soon after this, Herod the King started persecuting the Church. One of the first things he did was to throw Peter in jail. God used an angel to free Peter, who went to the house where other Christians were praying for him. The servant girl was so excited to see him when she answered Peter’s knock at the door that she ran back into the room to tell everyone that he was at the door, but she forgot to open the door and let him come inside! Later she left him in and he was able to tell them about the miracle of his release before escaping to another city (Acts 12:1-17).

 

Peter went on to continue to preach the Gospel to Jews and Gentile converts all over Asia Minor. He helped to establish churches along the way. When these churches were being persecuted, he sent them a letter: today we call it 1 Peter, and it encourages its readers to remember to rejoice in sharing in Christ’s sufferings. 2 Peter was written to remind its readers to always seek true knowledge, and to beware of false knowledge. Both of these books were written while Peter was in Rome. (It is also believed that he was the main source of information for St. Mark’s Gospel.)

 

Peter died in Rome, at the orders of Emperor Nero. When Peter saw the cross on which he was to be crucified, he asked to be crucified upside down. He did not feel worthy to die in the same way that his Lord had died.

First-enthroned of the apostles,
teachers of the universe:
Entreat the Master of all
to grant peace to the world,
and to our souls great mercy!

Today Christ the Rock glorifies with highest honor
The rock of Faith and leader of the Apostles,
Together with Paul and the company of the twelve,
Whose memory we celebrate with eagerness of faith,
Giving glory to the one who gave glory to them!

 

St. Peter, Apostle of Christ, intercede for our salvation!

 

Here are some other ways that you can help your Sunday Church School students to learn about St. Peter:

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Find some fun activities that you can use with your Sunday Church School class to help them better understand some of St. Peter’s experiences here: http://classroom.synonym.com/childrens-activities-saint-peter-6932743.html

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Younger children may enjoy this printable color-by-number of the animal that reminded St. Peter of his denial of Christ: http://www.biblewise.com/kids/fun/i-dont-know.php

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Older children will enjoy the challenge of this printable activity puzzle featuring St. Peter walking on water: http://biblewise.com/kids/fun/peter-walks.php

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Here’s a tiny printable crossword puzzle about St. Peter’s experience in jail: http://biblewise.com/kids/images/fun/peter_in_prison.pdf

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Print and color these drawings of St. Peter:

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This Catholic blog offers ideas of things to do with children to help them learn about St. Peter. For example, play “Saint Peter’s Fishers of Men” game! (Note: just remember that this is a Catholic site, so not all of it will work for Orthodox children, but there is a lot that would work!) http://showerofroses.blogspot.ca/2011/06/saintly-summer-fun-saints-peter-and.html

 

On Living Icons

The Orthodox Christian Faith is enriched by icons. We surrounded ourselves with these prayerfully-written images of Christ, the Theotokos, and the saints. Our churches are full of icons, as are our homes. This is as it should be. In our modern self-focused culture, we need visual reminders of God’s work in and through the saints! These reminders in the form of icons challenge us to be strong and live a life accordingly faithful.

There are other icons that enrich our Faith as well. God has surrounded us with His hand-written images of Christ in the form of every person around us. Our churches are full of them, as are our homes. But He has not limited His handwritten icons to the Church. They are all around us. If you are like me, occasionally you may need a reminder that everyone – EVERYONE – is an icon of Christ, written by God Himself, in His image. May this short post remind us of that truth. So, that sweet lady at Church? Yes, she is an icon of Christ. The person who just cut me off when driving? An icon. The persistent child interrupting my phone conversation? An icon. That person who I struggle to love? An icon. The famous person everyone gossips about? An icon. Those people who live far away and very differently from me? They, too, are an icon. My spouse? Also an icon, written in the image of (and by the Hand of) God.


Whether or not we recognize His artistry, God has written (and is writing) each and every person. Therefore, we must remember that He is at work in and through them, then respond with the love and respect that we offer any other icon reflecting His image. When we choose to see His work in each person, we will be challenged by them to be strong and live our Christian life faithfully!  

We must be careful to note that this recognition of God’s work in writing the living icons around us must not be limited to noting it in other people. In truth, we ourselves are living icons, and should also be enriching the Church and our world. In order to be the most reflective image of Him that we can be, we need to cooperate with Him as he works in and through us. As we do so, He will strengthen us and give us what we need to live the faithful Christian life befitting an icon.

May God help us all to live and love His image in every person! And as we do so, may we teach our Sunday Church School children to do the same.

 

Here are some resources that can help us teach our students how to be more aware of the icons of Christ around us; while challenging ourselves to be the best icons of Christ that we can:

***

Here is an excellent activity that you can do with a younger-grades class which will help them to review the symbolism in iconography and then apply it to a contemporary icon-like drawing of a living icon who they know. Find the activity, symbolic descriptions, and a link to the printable page the students can use for their drawing here:  http://orthodoxeducation.blogspot.com/2008/07/living-icons.html

***

Teachers of younger grades may be able to adapt parts of this (non-Orthodox) activity-filled lesson on being made in God’s image: https://www.umcmission.org/ArticleDocuments/150/book2part2lesson5.pdf.aspx
***

Talk with your students about this quote by St. John of Damascus: “The whole earth is a living icon of the face of God.”
If we truly believe this, how does that affect our view and treatment of others? Of ourselves? Of the world itself?

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Share this quote to begin a discussion with a teen or adult class:

“Every one of us is in the image of God, and every one of us is like a damaged icon. But if we were given an icon damaged by time, damaged by circumstances, or desecrated by human hatred, we would treat it with reverence, with tenderness, with broken-heartedness. We would not pay attention primarily to the fact that it is damaged, but to the tragedy of its being damaged. We would concentrate on what is left of its beauty, and not on what is lost of its beauty. And this is what we must learn to do with regard to each person as an individual, but also – and this is not always as easy – with regard to groups of people, whether it be a parish or a denomination, or a nation. We must learn to look, and look until we have seen the underlying beauty of this group of people. Only then can we even begin to do something to call out all the beauty that is there. Listen to other people, and whenever you discern something which sounds true, which is a revelation of harmony and beauty, emphasize it and help it to flower. Strengthen it and encourage it to live.” – Metropolitan Anthony of Sourozh

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“To be an Orthodox Christian means to proclaim that God has a very special love for us. Our life was given to us a very a sacred gift so that we may grow to fulfill our destiny as His children, to fulfill His plan that He has had for us since before we were even born. We are called to be “living icons,” temples of the Holy Spirit, and members of the Kingdom of Heaven. We must come to value life for the precious gift from God that it is, and make our choices on that basis.” These are the concluding thoughts of a lesson. This lesson (which includes a variety of activities and suggested discussion questions) could be used for a Sunday Church School or for a retreat on the importance of valuing life and living as an icon. https://oca.org/the-hub/life-and-death/session-1-the-living-icon-the-sanctity-of-human-life

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Listen to this 7 minute sermon from Fr. Ted Paraskevopoulos with your teen/adult Sunday Church School class to receive an overhaul on your perspective of yourself (and others), the icon(s) of Christ: http://www.ancientfaith.com/podcasts/isermon/orthodox_anthropology

 

 

On Miracles That God Performs Through Icons

Icons are windows to heaven. We have them in our churches, we have them in our homes, and perhaps in our car/locker/workspace/elsewhere as well. They are in these places as visual reminders of Truth. Icons remind us of the power of God at work, either through the written images of Christ Himself or of those gone before us who have followed Him completely and became saints. They help us to better understand the scriptures and to better connect with the person/people written on them. Icons draw us to God by virtue of their beauty, the stories of faithfulness they represent, the Scriptures they unveil. It is a miracle that something so simple as a prayerfully-written icon can do so much to help us on our journey toward Him.

Occasionally, God chooses to move beyond that sense of “being drawn,” and to work other miracles through them. The purpose of this blog post is to help each of us to learn about some of the icons He is using in this way (or has recently used in this way), and to read the stories of miracles wrought through them. It is our hope that this post will be encouraging and help each of us to be aware of how God is at work through icons. These stories will also encourage our students, as we share the stories with them.

There are several ways that you could share these miracles with your Sunday Church School Students. One of these accounts could be shared as your students are eating their snack (if you have Church School right after Liturgy), each week for a period of weeks. Or perhaps you could share one at the beginning or end of every class for a season. Perhaps you would prefer to teach a lesson about miracles wrought through icons and wish to select several of the stories to study in a lesson or series of lessons. It is up to you how you utilize these stories. Please consider sharing them with your students! Children are naturally full of wonder, and will benefit from knowing these amazing ways in which God is at work through holy icons.

 

Here are a few examples of miracle-working icons and their stories which you may wish to share with your students:

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What would you or your students do if some of the icons in your prayer corner miraculously began streaming myrrh? Read this account by Subdeacon Nectarios himself, of what happened in his home. In the account, you’ll read about two streaming icons (each with different-smelling myrrh), a cat, a “doubting Thomas” who ends up with a mouthful of “proof,” and a few of the miracles that the miraculous myrrh have wrought. Glory to God! http://www.orthodoxhawaii.org/icons.html

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The Kardiotissa Icon of the Mother of God, at St. George Orthodox Church in Taylor, Pennsylvania, has been exuding myrrh ever since it was anointed with the myrrh of the Hawaiian Iveron icon in October of 2011. Many, many lives have been changed as a result. Share some of the miracles that have happened, as accounted in this homily, with your students: http://www.schwebster.org/sermons/2014-sermons/the-miracles-and-wonders-of-god-the-crying-icon-of-taylor-pa

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Begin a discussion with your older students about different kinds of healing (physical vs spiritual) by reading them this quote (and perhaps the entire article): “Over the past ten years there have been many miracles; some I’ve heard about and some I haven’t. There have been many physical healings, external, and there have also been many spiritual, inner healings. Through this Icon many of the faithful have experienced radical transformations in their lives. It’s as if people become liberated from the ‘old man’ and ardently strive towards God.  When the Icon is present in various churches, monasteries and homes, one senses a renewal of love for the Mother of God; almost immediately many people approach for confession, spiritually reborn through a feeling of repentance.  I’d like to say that the Mother of God helps our believers sense their sinfulness before Her Son, Jesus Christ.”


Read this and more of the story and miracles of the copy of the Iveron icon of the Mother of God (the same one whose copy was sent to Hawaii and began myrrh streaming there, and when that one in turn visited the Kardiotissa icon in Pennsylvania it began exuding myrrh as well), which was brought to Canada from Mt. Athos by a Chilean convert to Orthodoxy here: http://www.roca.org/OA/120/120k.htm

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“One can go on for a very long time listing the different holy Icons of the Ever-Virgin Mary and Theotokos and all the wonderful countless miracles of our Panagia. It is, however, important for all Orthodox Christian believers to always seek the holy intercessions of the Mother of God and to turn to Her for aid, healing, comfort and salvation.” Read some of the miracles in this article: http://saintandrewgoc.org/home/2014/8/25/the-miraculous-icon-of-panagia-portraitissa-the-keeper-of-th.html. Ask your students if they have heard any other stories of times when God has worked miracles through an icon of the Theotokos. Then, spend some time praying and asking her to pray for you and your loved ones – and the whole world!

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Watch this 8-minute video that shows miracle after miracle, mostly related to icons, which God has granted through His Holy Orthodox Church. The video is set to parts of the Vespers service chanted by Eikona, and could be a wonder-filled way to end a class about miracle-working icons! (We recommend that you watch it before showing it to your students, however, so you know what they will see and can be prepared to answer related questions.) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=p-AOO903CZA

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Throughout history, icons of the Mother of God have worked miracles. This article shares the commemoration days of many icons of the Theotokos, along with some of the stories of miracles attributed to those icons, set throughout history. These stories are not as recent as some of the above, but they are still miracles and well worth learning about! To read about an icon of the Theotokos and/or a miracle attributed to the icon, click on the month, then which of the days of that month you’d like to read about: https://oca.org/saints/icons-mother-of-god. In order to learn about more of them, consider allowing each student to select a different one to learn about and share their learnings with the rest of the class. (You will need to plan ahead and print things out, unless you have internet access in class or you give the students the assignment to bring back on a different Sunday.)

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“Venerating a miracle is also a way of acknowledging the importance of its context. A weeping icon is amazing, but it’s obviously not meant to distract attention away from the liturgical, sacramental, and doctrinal life of the Church. If anything, a miracle should amplify the importance of Church practices and teaching, for the God who causes the miracle is also the God who established these as markers of his ‘new and everlasting covenant’ with mankind.” Read more about responding to miracles wrought through icons in this article:  http://myocn.net/miracle-greece-weeping-icon-mean/. After reading the article, be sure to discuss it with your students so that they know how best to respond to any miraculous events they may experience that are associated with icons.