Category Archives: faith

Gleanings from a Book: “Putting Joy into Practice: Seven Ways to Lift Your Spirit from the Early Church” by Phoebe Farag Mikhail

Note: This book sat on my shelf for several weeks, waiting until I had time to read and review it. Despite the delay, it turns out that the timing is perfect. Here we are, right in the midst of the Paschal season, and the book is full of references to the Resurrection of Christ. And it should be so! For how else can we, Christ’s followers, better celebrate His Resurrection than by responding with joy? If we truly know and believe what He has accomplished for us, our “light and momentary troubles” – yes, even the impossible ones we may be facing at this very moment – pale in comparison to His victory. St. John Chrysostom’s homily which we all just heard at Pascha says, “Christ is risen! And the angels rejoice!” My brothers and sisters, let us join with the angels!

Phoebe Farag Mikhail’s book “Putting Joy into Practice: Seven Ways to Lift Your Spirit from the Early Church” is a balm for the disheartened soul. The author has found a way to simultaneously calm, soothe, and reassure the reader while also challenging them to live in an attitude of godly joy. Readers will step away from the book knowing what they need to do, with tools at the ready to assist them as they pursue true joy.

The book begins with an invitation section which answers the question, “What is joy?;” then offers insights into who/what steals joy from our life. The (much larger) second section of the book introduces seven joyful practices. These seven practices which the author offers as means to the pursuit of joy include: praying the hours; visiting the sick; repenting; giving thanks; offering hospitality; praying arrow prayers; and singing praises to God. Each practice is expounded via stories (both from the author’s experience and from others), scriptures, quotes from Church fathers, contemporary writings, scientific findings (as appropriate), and more. The book closes with an appropriate epilogue, casting the joy-filled light of the resurrection on a modern story of martyrdom which to the world seems to be only a tragedy.

The author admits that it took her five years to write this book from beginning to end. This was not because she had to search for so long to find all the right quotes or because she only has to write in the few moments left here and there to a wife/mother (who also happens to be a Coptic priest’s wife). Rather, she took five years to write the book because, at one point as she was writing, she found herself not practicing joy. She wanted the book to be genuine, tested, lived, so she set the writing aside and worked on her heart. It is my opinion that it was worth her wait. The text is a smooth blend of stories, practical advice, and wisdom founded on the strong base of Scripture and the wisdom of the Church fathers.

Although the author is a Coptic Orthodox Christian, this book is written in such a way that any reader who wants to live a more joyful Christian life will benefit greatly from having read the book. The references to Christian practices exercised in Ms. Mihail’s Church may differ from some other expressions of Christianity, but the ideas behind them are helpful to any follower of Christ. “Putting Joy into Practice” helps its readers to find practical ways to live out St. Paul’s exhortation to the Thessalonians (and to us): “Rejoice always… for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.” (I Thess. 5:16, 18)

If you are generally a joyful person, read this book. It will give you reasons to continue choosing joy, as well as  tools to boost your not-so-joyful days. If you are a complainer and grouch, say a prayer and then read this book, but prepare to change your attitude. Ms. Mikhail’s challenge is difficult to dodge, because the scriptures and Church fathers are pretty straightforward. Regardless of the attitude of their heart at the beginning of the book, readers will step away from it with a smile on their face and – better yet – with joy in their heart.

Purchase your own copy of “Putting Joy into Practice” here: https://paracletepress.com/products/putting-joy-into-practice

Find additional writings by author Phoebe Farag Mikhail at her website, http://beingincommunity.com/.

 

Here are a few gleanings from this book:

***

“Why is living in joy so hard? What can we do to live in the joy of the Resurrection when there are so many ways our joy can be stolen? As I pondered these questions, they led me on a path of trying to learn why joy is so hard, but more importantly, to learn how to live in joy, how to protect it from the thieves that strive to steal it, and how to share it with others.” (p. 8, “Putting Joy into Practice: Seven Ways to Lift Your Spirit from the Early Church” by Phoebe Farag Mikhail)

***

“We might not be happy every day; in fact, we might face suffering every day. But we can have joy every day. Running after joy is akin to holding a cup upside down. Joy is there, waiting to be given, but it doesn’t enter in. Rather than running after joy the way we might seek after pleasures or happy circumstances, we must instead rest and reorient ourselves into a posture of receiving, not running. The practices I share here are meant to help us reorient ourselves, to turn our cup right side up so that joy enters, and we exclaim, in the words of the psalmist, ‘My cup runs over’ (Psalm 23:5).” (pp. 15-16, “Putting Joy into Practice: Seven Ways to Lift Your Spirit from the Early Church” by Phoebe Farag Mikhail)

***

“Joy thieves can be just like the little animals that steal tomatoes from the garden. On the outside, they can be small, cute, and furry, even comforting, and yet somehow they can still manage to steal our joy. The early church fathers called them ‘the passions.’ In this context, passions are not to be completely confused with our modern use of the word to describe a positive, driven desire to do something good or meaningful. Nor are they to be confused with the ‘passion of Christ,’ which is related to the Latin word for suffering and endurance. Rather, these passions are extreme versions of human behavior that lead to sin.” (p. 22, “Putting Joy into Practice: Seven Ways to Lift Your Spirit from the Early Church” by Phoebe Farag Mikhail)

***

“Praying the Hours helps us, even in the bustle of our days, to stand in God’s presence and feel this ‘fullness of joy.’ The Hours are not just for ascetics, then, but even for busy, distracted laypeople, an anchor to pull us away from the storms of life into God’s presence and the presence of the entire community of believers. The moment I pick up my prayer book to pray, someone else is praying the same prayer, someone else has prayed another prayer a few moments before me, and others will be praying when I stop. In this way, when I pray the Psalms, I become part of an eternal chorus, even if it seems like I am praying alone. ‘For where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them.’ (Matthew 18:20)” (p. 37, “Putting Joy into Practice: Seven Ways to Lift Your Spirit from the Early Church” by Phoebe Farag Mikhail)

***

“The common thread running through these experiences is that visiting the sick is not about finding the right words to say, giving a sermon, or asking intrusive questions. A visit to the sick that brings the joy of the Holy Spirit is a visit that provides giving, listening, and connection. Bring bright flowers, a gift, a meal, or your hands and feet to serve when needed or asked. Bring listening ears and the ability to be silent when necessary. Bring a smile, a song to sing, or a story to tell. Bring a piece of art or craft you have made—-or bring supplies to create something together. Be joy, and expect the experience the joy of visiting Christ himself. Christ certainly needs no sermons from us.” (p. 61, “Putting Joy into Practice: Seven Ways to Lift Your Spirit from the Early Church” by Phoebe Farag Mikhail)

***

“Repentance makes room for joy within us, room that was previously filled with sin, shame, and fear. When we repent by turning our lives around like the prodigal son and the Samaritan woman, we experience its joy, and it is contagious. The heavens rejoice. The church rejoices. We cannot help sharing that joy with others, so they too might encounter Christ. Putting joy into practice means practicing repentance, even on a daily basis.” (p. 76, “Putting Joy into Practice: Seven Ways to Lift Your Spirit from the Early Church” by Phoebe Farag Mikhail)

***

“I am learning… that when I thank God ‘in any condition, in every condition, and in whatever condition,’ I might not be asking God to take me out of a condition of suffering, or even to see a silver lining around that suffering. Rather, I am thanking him in that condition of suffering, and sometimes I might even thank him for that suffering… Thanking God for suffering is… acknowledging that perhaps that suffering can serve a greater purpose.” (p. 85, “Putting Joy into Practice: Seven Ways to Lift Your Spirit from the Early Church” by Phoebe Farag Mikhail)

***

“Sometimes discovering who needs hospitality is a matter of taking a few moments to sit outside, linger on your front porch, or say hello to the neighbor living on the same floor in your apartment building. We might feel overwhelmed by great needs of the world presented to us on the news, but it is our simple acts of hospitality that will change the world, not our worries.” (p. 122, “Putting Joy into Practice: Seven Ways to Lift Your Spirit from the Early Church” by Phoebe Farag Mikhail)

***

“These days, when we find ourselves waiting, we fill the time by looking at our smartphones, checking our social media feeds or our emails, making every moment a constant input of information—often information we cannot control or tasks we cannot take action on while in line or sitting in traffic. This can add to our general sense of stress and lack of control… Using arrow prayers can help us reclaim control of our time and energy. Information overload drains us, but prayer fills us.” (pp. 127-128, “Putting Joy into Practice: Seven Ways to Lift Your Spirit from the Early Church” by Phoebe Farag Mikhail)

***

Need to learn a few “arrow” prayers? Here are some of the arrow prayers found on pp. 136 -137 of “Putting Joy into Practice: Seven Ways to Lift Your Spirit from the Early Church” by Phoebe Farag Mikhail. You may wish to print them onto cardstock, cut them apart, and glue to decorative paper or a blank index card (which you can decorate if you’re so inclined). Place these prayers around the house, in your purse or briefcase, even in the car so that you remember to pray.

***

“The joy of the Lord’s presence starts in the fiery furnace, not outside it… We begin the hymn [of the three saintly youths in the fiery furnace] with an exhortation to the youth in the fire to sing to the Son of God who is there with them in their suffering—and therefore also in their joy. This exhortation applies to us as well. We don’t wait to praise God until after we are saved from the furnace, when our prayers are answered the way we hope they will be. We praise him even in our troubles, acknowledging and confessing that he is there with us in those troubles. When we can wipe away from our eyes the smoke of our problems and praise him, we see him in his glory there—and this is powerful. This is joy.” (p. 146, “Putting Joy into Practice: Seven Ways to Lift Your Spirit from the Early Church” by Phoebe Farag Mikhail)

***

“My hope is that, by drawing from examples of how my church helps us live in the joy of the Resurrection, this book might open your eyes to the ways your tradition helps you practice joy. Once you begin to see it, whether you are in a happy situation or in great pain, it is all joy.” (p. 163, “Putting Joy into Practice: Seven Ways to Lift Your Spirit from the Early Church” by Phoebe Farag Mikhail)

***

 

Lenten Sundays Series: The Sunday of the Veneration of the Holy Cross

This is the fifth in a series of posts that focuses on the Sundays of Great Lent (and Holy Week and Pascha). Each week we will share ideas of ways to help your Sunday Church School students learn more about that particular Sunday’s focus. We will share each blog early, so that you have time to read it before the forthcoming Sunday, in case you find any of those ideas helpful for your particular class.

Here’s a meditation on the Sunday of the Veneration of the Holy Cross for you to ponder before you create a lesson for your students:

On the third Sunday of Great Lent, we celebrate the Sunday of the Holy Cross. We’re halfway through Lent at this point, and perhaps some of our determination and eagerness for the Lenten journey is waning a bit. That is exactly why the Church Fathers chose this Sunday for us to commemorate the Holy Cross.

Fr. Alexander Schmemann, in his book “Great Lent”, reminds us that throughout Great Lent we are crucifying our own self, trying to live up to this week’s Gospel reading. The Gospel reading for the Sunday of the Veneration of the Holy Cross is from Mark 8 and 9, and reminds us of Christ’s command, “If any man would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me” (Mark 8:34). Schmemann goes on to explain that it would do us no good to take up our cross and follow Christ if it were not for Him taking up the Cross in the first place. “It is His Cross, not ours, that saves us. It is His Cross that gives not only meaning but also power to others.” (1, pp 76-77)

In gratitude for His taking up the Cross, and to encourage us to continue taking up ours, the Church has given us this Sunday. His example of suffering willingly and completely reminds us that our struggles are small in comparison. But it also reminds us that He understands struggle and pain. Today’s epistle reading exhorts us, “For we have not a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.” (Hebrews 4:15-16) Christ’s conquering death by taking up the Cross offers us the hope of resurrection as well as the assurance that our struggle is not in vain: it leads us towards Him, towards heaven.

The placement of the Veneration of the Holy Cross in the middle of Great Lent is more than just an encouragement for us to keep going. It also is a fulfillment of an earlier event. “It’s very beautiful, actually. Think of Paradise, the Garden of Eden. The Tree of Life was placed in the middle of the garden of Eden, and here [in the middle of Great Lent] we find the Holy Cross — often said to come from the wood of the Tree of Life, for this wooden Cross is indeed the means to eternal life. The Holy Church places it here to remind us of Adam’s sin, and to remind us that it is only through the Holy Cross that we will find eternal life.” (2, pp 107-108, brackets mine)

And so, in the hope of the resurrection; with determination to continue our struggle (for He understands struggle and has made a way for us); let us sing with joy today, “Oh Lord, save Thy people and bless thine inheritance, granting to Thy people victory over all their enemies; and by the power of Thy Cross, preserving Thy kingdom!”

Glory to God for His example, His victory, and His great mercy towards us and our own struggles, through the Life-Giving Cross!

Resources:
1. Schmemann, Alexander. Great Lent; Journey to Pascha. St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 1974.
2. Bjeletich, Elissa and Kristina Wenger. Tending the Garden of Our Hearts: Daily Lenten Meditations for Families. Ancient Faith Publishing, 2019.

Here are a few resources you may find helpful as you prepare to teach your students about the Sunday of the Veneration of the Holy Cross:

***
This short lesson explains veneration in very simple terms. Teachers of young children may find it helpful to read this before leading a class on the Sunday of the Veneration of the Holy Cross. https://stmichaeljermyn.org/files/CHURCH%20SCHOOL/Venerating-Icons.pdf
***
What does it mean to venerate something, and why do we venerate the cross on THIS particular Sunday of Great Lent? Find some of these answers here and share them with your students : https://orthodoxchristianparenting.wordpress.com/2015/03/11/on-the-sunday-of-the-veneration-of-the-holy-cross/
***
Find stories, activities, and ideas related to the Holy Cross in this back issue of “Little Falcons”, a magazine for Orthodox children. To order, print this document and order issue #47.
***
Teachers whose students are mid-elementary or older may find this to be a helpful reading with their class. It ties together the story of how the Sunday of the Veneration of the Holy Cross came to be and the epistle and Gospel reading for the week. http://dce.oca.org/assets/templates/bulletin.cfm?mode=html&id=43
***
Find activity ideas and printable resources, geared for a variety of age levels and related to the Veneration of the Holy Cross here: https://orthodoxpebbles.com/orthodox-basics/tending-garden-week4/
***
Your students may learn a lot from watching this short video about the cross: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=K1RUgfqI33M
***
Want to do an art piece featuring the Cross as part of your lesson on the Sunday of the Veneration of the Holy Cross? The following links offer tutorials for a variety of art techniques that have a cross as their central theme. The tutorials utilise art mediums that are common to many Sunday Church School classrooms.
Paper: https://orthodoxchurchschoolteachers.wordpress.com/2014/12/13/art-projects-for-sunday-church-school-paper/
Crayons:
https://orthodoxchurchschoolteachers.wordpress.com/2014/12/19/art-techniques-for-sunday-church-school-using-crayons/
Chalk: https://orthodoxchurchschoolteachers.wordpress.com/2015/01/09/art-projects-for-sunday-church-school-chalk/
Markers:
https://orthodoxchurchschoolteachers.wordpress.com/2015/01/17/art-projects-for-sunday-church-school-using-markers/
Watercolor paints: https://orthodoxchurchschoolteachers.wordpress.com/2015/01/23/art-projects-for-sunday-church-school-using-watercolor-paints/
Mixed media:
https://orthodoxchurchschoolteachers.wordpress.com/2015/01/30/art-projects-for-sunday-church-school-mixed-media-collage/
3-d art: https://orthodoxchurchschoolteachers.wordpress.com/2015/02/06/art-projects-for-sunday-church-school-3-dimensional-art/

Gleanings from a Book: “Woven: An Interactive Book for the Modern Teenage Girl on Orthodox Christianity” by Edna King and Zoë Pappas

“Woven: An Interactive Book for the Modern Teenage Girl on Orthodox Christianity” by Edna King and Zoë Pappas is so much more than just a book! It is a journal that walks an Orthodox girl through many of the challenges she will meet in her teen years. It is also the centerpiece of an experience that a group of young Orthodox girls can share, to help them grow both individually and together. The heart of the book is to help Orthodox teen girls to embrace the reality that they are created by God and have been woven together on purpose, so that they can accept and share the love of God.

“Woven” is a beautiful book in so many ways. It is physically attractive, with page-by-page colorful accents which tie the chapters together. The illustrations sprinkled throughout the book are contemporary and tasteful. Even the text is eye catching: some phrases or quotes are in different fonts or colors, engaging the reader and encouraging thought. There is also a delightful balance between information, scripture, story, and creative response opportunities throughout the book. Readers of varying learning styles will resonate with different parts of this book.

Each chapter has a different focus. The chapters are set up to be experienced in order, in 6 chapter-sessions. The first focuses on helping each young woman find her identity in the truth that she is created to become like God, and that she is living her identity when she participates in His grace through the spiritual gifts He has given to her. The second looks at emotions and how to better understand what her emotions are telling her, so she can react in healthy, non-destructive ways. The third focuses on helping young women work towards being authentic in their self-understanding. Instead of trying to present a “perfect” self (conveyed by how she dresses or what she posts on social media), she is encouraged to know that God created her to be a joy, and that embracing this knowledge can help her to truly be a delight. The fourth encourages developing healthy friendships with other girls. It looks at behaviors that can harm those friendships, and suggests ways she can change her habits and break harmful cycles so those friendships can grow. The fifth looks at love and romance, encouraging the young women to step back and look at the world’s views on each, and to embrace the healthier ways to look at these topics which the Church has offered for centuries. The sixth chapter is a review of the book, offering once more the truth of God’s love and acceptance of each reader. It also offers space and time for reviewing each chapter to see what she has gleaned from the book as a whole.

While it is intended to be completed in a small group context (like an extended Sunday School class or a girls-only SOYO/GOYA small group), with a few adjustments a mom could guide her daughter(s) or a godmother could work through the book with her goddaughter(s). The free, downloadable discussion guide adds value to the book. There are a few parts of the book which will not make sense without it. The guide contains additional links, as well as a suggested movie to watch after each chapter/session. This book would make a wonderful series of monthly retreats for young girls in a parish!

We highly recommend “Woven.” It is an invaluable learning tool for the young women of the Church. The insights the girls will gain as individuals, the bonding they’ll experience with fellow Orthodox Christians, and the wisdom they’ll glean from their leader(s) are all of a value far beyond the small expenses of time and money required to provide this opportunity. We hope that many parishes will invest in their young women, weaving love into their hearts through this book and the experiences it affords.

Purchase “Woven” here: https://www.woveninhislove.org/book/

Discussion leaders (Sunday Church School teachers, SOYO/GOYA leaders, small group leaders, and/or moms) can download a free (and indispensable) facilitators’ guide here: https://www.woveninhislove.org/facilitators-corner/

 

Here are some gleanings from the book:

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woven in his image

“We are a mystery, even to ourselves, but in the next few weeks, we will hope to unravel part of that mystery by discovering more about how God has lovingly woven us so beautifully in His image.” (“Woven,” by Edna King and Zoë Pappas, p. 18)

***

“We are each created with a purpose, not just in the broad sense of all people are created in God’s image, but in a deeply personal sense of: ‘God created me because he wants someone like me in the world.’” (“Woven,” by Edna King and Zoë Pappas, p. 28)

***

“No matter how bad you feel, no matter how bad things seem, please remember two important things:

  1. There is always something you can do to make things better. It may be really small or it may be really hard, but there is always something that can be done.
  2. God never bails on you! He never leaves you in the dust. You can turn anything over to Him.” (“Woven,” by Edna King and Zoë Pappas, p. 53)

***

“Sometimes we feel like we have to change too much of ourselves in order to fit in and have friends. It’s one thing to modify some outward behaviors or change your appearance to fit it; it’s another to adapt so much to the crowd that you lose yourself… The problem comes when we try to be somebody else because we think people won’t like us.” (“Woven,” by Edna King and Zoë Pappas, p. 97)

***

“Can you imagine the relief Mary found in her friend, Elizabeth? In Elizabeth, Mary found love, assurance, support, encouragement, and a sisterly confirmation of their faith in the Lord. How amazing of a friend is that? …We are called to be a friend like Elizabeth—a blessing to others, a friend who brings peace and love to her friends’ minds, and helps them see blessings and hope as they face their fears, insecurities, secrets, and burdens.” (“Woven,” by Edna King and Zoë Pappas, p. 119)

***

Woven illustration“Something that is very hard to understand is that people love you, but the unconditional, filling love we are looking for can only be given to us by the Lord. Only God can fill that lonely void that hurts so badly sometimes. God always accepts you. He always loves you; there is no rejection from the Lord.
He chooses YOU every day.
He thinks you are so worthy of love He sent His only child to die for you. He doesn’t wish you were prettier, smarter, or more athletic… He loves you exactly as you are; He created you because He wanted someone like you in the world.” (“Woven,” by Edna King and Zoë Pappas, p. 141)

***

“We all want happiness here on earth, and sometimes we have that, but the heart of life is not what we get here, it’s who we are becoming in the light of eternity along the way. We are woven in His love and He understands us—God understands our complex emotions, our hearts and minds, the innermost needs that confuse even us. He loves us even when we’re a hot mess.” (“Woven,” by Edna King and Zoë Pappas, p. 158)

***

Ps 139 Woven

Gleanings from a Book: “The Wilderness Journal: 365 Days with the Philokalia” by Angela Doll Carlson

Author’s note: I am going to be forthright and admit that I’m cheating, and I’m actually okay with it. Perhaps I should explain. Ordinarily, when I review a book, I read it in one giant gulp before I share it with you. However, there is too much in this book’s 400 pages that I would miss if I did so, and selfishly, I don’t want to miss a thing. I want to experience Angela Doll Carlson’s daily walk through the first volume of the Philokalia as it was written and is meant to be experienced: one bit each day for a year. But at the same time, I am far too enthused about this book to keep it to myself until I have read the whole thing. My compromise is to “cheat” by reading from selected spots and sharing a few gleanings with you right now, so that you get a taste of it. I will be reading “The Wilderness Journal” as it was intended to be read in the year to come. Perhaps these gleanings will encourage you to join me!

Angela Doll Carlson’s book “The Wilderness Journal: 365 Days with the Philokalia” is a year’s worth of daily meditations on volume 1 of the Philokalia. That volume features writings from St. Isaiah the Solitary, Evagrios the Solitary, St. John Cassian, St. Mark the Ascetic, St. Hesychios the Priest, St. Neilos the Ascetic, St. Diadochos of Photiki, and St. John of Karpathos. “The Wilderness Journal” is divided into sections which feature each of those holy writers. Angela has invited a fellow author to introduce each writer. Thus, there are a few “guest author” days sprinkled throughout the book, one at the beginning of each section, immediately preceding the entries related to that writer’s quotes. Each subsequent day features one thought-provoking quote from the holy writer, and a short meditation related to that quote which Angela wrote as she pondered its message. She invites the reader to amble along slowly with her in this way through the first volume of the Philokalia, so that they, too, may learn “the love of the beautiful”.

I have read enough of the journal to know that I need it. I’ve found quote after quote that speaks to where I am right now: from needing to still my mind and focus on God; to learning to love and care for my neighbor; to being diligent in my pursuit of godliness; and so much more. Every entry offers a delectable nugget that I will be able to chew on all day long. Angela’s meditations grant the reader a glimpse of her take on the quote, as well as the opportunity to stretch their heart and mind in a way that is both good and helpful. She does not want the reader to consider her words as writing “about the Philokalia,” preferring rather that we readers read her words as “a book about [her] reading the Philokalia.”(p. 7) She recognizes that each reader may respond to the quotes in a different way, so she encourages each person to keep their own wilderness journal as they read.

As I mentioned above, I have not read this entire book yet. But I have read enough of it to be convinced that it will be an excellent aid for the spiritual growth of every person who reads it. So, dear community, here we are at the end of a calendar year. God willing, a brand new one gleams before us. As we step into this new year, please consider joining me in reading this book. Together, let’s walk through the year of “The Wilderness Journal,” learning and growing through these meditations on the first volume of the Philokalia.

Find your own copy of “The Wilderness Journal” here: https://store.ancientfaith.com/the-wilderness-journal-365-days-with-the-philokalia/

 

Here are a few gleanings I have gathered from what I read. I will share one quote from each holy writer, then a tidbit of Angela’s reflection on that quote.

***

“Like a pilot steering a boat through the waves, he should hold to his course, guided by grace. Keeping his attention fixed within himself, he should commune with God in stillness, guarding his thoughts from distraction and his intellect from curiosity.” ~ St. Isaiah the Solitary

 

“I cannot silence the world. I cannot calm the waves… The world is what it is—noisy and beautiful and enduring. I can only look ahead to the shore and hold to the course. Today it means letting the phone ring, ignoring the dog barking, taking a deep breath and returning to these words when the waves crash against the side of the boat…” (The Wilderness Journal: 365 Days with the Philokalia” by Angela Doll Carlson, p. 18)

***

“You will recall how Christ did not reject the widow’s mites (cf. Mark 12:44), but accepted them as greater than the rich gifts of many others.” ~ Evagrios the Solitary

 

“Whatever you have, it’s enough. I say this, but I don’t believe it easily… as long as we see ourselves as profoundly lacking, we will not offer ourselves to another person… What is at risk today in knowing that in Christ, I am enough—not perfect, but enough?” (The Wilderness Journal: 365 Days with the Philokalia” by Angela Doll Carlson, p. 57)

***

“The Gospel teaches us to cut off the roots of our sins and not merely their fruits. When we have dug the root of anger out of our heart, we will no longer act with hatred or envy.” ~ St. John Cassian

 

“Anger is not without its bloom. We are angry sometimes for good reason. Anger, like pain, tells us something. But if left unchecked, it grows out of control and chokes the possibilities of beauty… The deep work of anger is regular maintenance for the soul…” (The Wilderness Journal: 365 Days with the Philokalia” by Angela Doll Carlson, p. 93)

***

“The intellect cannot be still unless the body is still also: and the wall between them cannot be demolished without stillness and prayer.” ~ St. Mark the Ascetic

 

“Even if it’s only one minute, I’ll take it. Even if, in the middle of the crazy busy-ness of this city, this family, this job, this life, I can contact the stillness, I will take it.

Each moment like that is a small stone I take from the wall that already exists between who I am and who I mean to be…” (The Wilderness Journal: 365 Days with the Philokalia” by Angela Doll Carlson, p. 140)

***

“A true monk is one who has achieved watchfulness, and he who is truly watchful is a monk in his heart.” ~ St. Hesychios the Priest

 

[On beginning to run again, as she prepared for a 5K]

“I was surging one week and retreating the next, feeling failure, reveling in improvement, rising and falling, and on and on. I did not realize that over time I’d developed a habit of running. ‘I’ve never been a runner,’ or ‘I hate running,’ I had said in the past. I may quit after this race and never run again, but those old statements will never be true again.
Habits show who we are.” (The Wilderness Journal: 365 Days with the Philokalia” by Angela Doll Carlson, p. 248)

***

“Through our anxiety about worldly things we hinder the soul from enjoying divine blessings and we bestow on the flesh greater care and comfort than are good for it.” ~ St. Neilos the Ascetic

 

“How far do I get from home before I begin to worry that I’ve left the door unlocked or the stove on? Not far…

So many reasons to worry. So many reasons to fear. How far do I get into the muddy pit of fear before I decide to move to prayer, to reach up and take a hand offered and pull myself out? Not far, I hope. Not far.” (The Wilderness Journal: 365 Days with the Philokalia” by Angela Doll Carlson, p. 282)

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“We share in the image of God by virtue of the intellectual activity of our soul: for the body is, as it were, the soul’s dwelling place.” ~ St. Diadochos of Photiki

 

“It’s a funny thing about windows: two-way glass means I’m looking out, judging what I see, but if anyone were to look in, what a invasion it would be… This whole journey into the wilderness of the soul—the reading, the study, the prayer, the daily reflection—cannot merely be an exercise in looking out. This journey must allow for some looking in, as well.” (The Wilderness Journal: 365 Days with the Philokalia” by Angela Doll Carlson, p. 346)

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“As we look up to Him with cries of distress and continual lamentation, it is He Himself that we breathe.” ~ St. John of Karpathos

 

“When my children were young and got hurt, I would hold them first, tell them I know it hurts, then tend to the wound. That embrace was foundational. Triage of the soul first. That embrace said, ‘I am here, so you are not alone…’
This is what God does for us when we lift up our hurts to Him…” (The Wilderness Journal: 365 Days with the Philokalia” by Angela Doll Carlson, p. 396)

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On the Sacraments: the Sacrament of Holy Unction

This post is the last in a series about the sacraments of the Orthodox Christian Church. In this post, we will look at the Orthodox Christian Sacrament of Holy Unction.

When we hear the words “Holy Unction,” we may immediately think of the special service during Holy Week in which the Holy Oil is set apart and blessed. That is an important time in the life of the Church, for all of Her members are invited to participate in the sacrament of Holy Unction for the healing of their souls and bodies during that service. But there is much more to Holy Unction than that service! The Orthodox Study Bible defines Unction as “anointing of the sick with blessed oil, for the healing of body and soul. The gift of healing is bestowed by the Holy Spirit through the anointing, together with the prayers of the Unction service.” (1, pp. 1789-1790)

Holy Unction is an important sacrament, for healing is really what the Church is about. Our Lord Himself came to earth in the first place to “bear our infirmities,” not just of body, but also of soul. He brought healing to many in his years on earth, and He continues to heal (body and soul) through the Church, especially in the sacrament of Holy Unction.

Father Thomas Hopko, in his writings about the sacraments, calls the sacrament of Unction “the Church’s specific prayer for healing.” He says, “If the faith of the believers is strong enough, and if it is the will of God, there is every reason to believe that the Lord can heal those who are diseased.” (2)

Fr. Thomas writes that the primary purpose of Holy Unction is healing of the physical body and of mental ills, but also healing of the spirit through forgiveness. “Holy unction is the sacrament of the spiritual, physical, and mental healing of a sick person whatever the nature or the gravity of the illness may be.” (2) He reminds us that “the proper context of the sacrament” is to pray “that God’s will be done always,” and reminds us that “it is not always the will of God that there should be physical healing.” (2) Sometimes the healing granted through Unction is a physical healing, but always – and more importantly – we pray for spiritual healing; that is, sanctification and union with Christ.

It is a fact that we will all die eventually. Because of this, the healing of the sick is not the final goal of Holy Unction: for even those who experience healing through this sacrament will at some point die. Instead, Fr. Thomas writes that Holy Unction is an instrument that God uses to show us his mercy and to extend the life of some people so that they can live to glorify Him.

When the time for death comes, the Orthodox Church has special prayers to aid the person experiencing the separation of their soul and body. But the Church does not reserve Holy Unction just for that point in one’s life, as some Christian churches practice. “Orthodoxy does not view this Sacrament as available only to those who are near death. It is offered to all who are sick in body, mind, or spirit.” (3)

Glory to God for His gift of the sacrament of Holy Unction!

Sources:
1. Various editors. (2008). The Orthodox Study Bible. USA: St. Athanasius Academy of Orthodox Theology. (available here: http://store.ancientfaith.com/osb-hardcover)

  1. Hopko, Fr. Thomas (2011, October 5). The Sacraments: Holy Unction. Retrieved from https://oca.org/orthodoxy/the-orthodox-faith/worship/the-sacraments/holy-unction
  2. Fitzgerald, Rev. Fr. Thomas (1985, June 11). Understanding the Sacraments of the Orthodox Church. Retrieved from https://www.goarch.org/-/the-sacraments.

Here are resources that you may find helpful as you prepare to help your Sunday Church School class study this important sacrament. What resources have you found helpful? Comment below and share them with the community!

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The Teaching Pics ( http://ww1.antiochian.org/christianeducation/teachingpics) offer a picture (pic S20) and description of Holy Unction that can be very helpful as you teach a lesson on the subject to any age group. Find the teaching pics here: http://orthodoxchristianed.com/files/4114/9885/4473/ocec2017_2018.pdf

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For classes with younger students, find activities here that you can print and use in class, as well as suggestions of discussions students could have at home to continue their learning about the sacrament of Holy Unction: http://orthodoxsundayschool.org/epistles-feasts-and-sacraments/3-5-years-old/holy-unction-0

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Find lesson plans on the sacrament of Holy Unction at various age levels, here:

http://orthodoxsundayschool.org/epistles-feasts-and-sacraments/3-5-years-old/holy-unction

http://orthodoxsundayschool.org/epistles-feasts-and-sacraments/6-9-years-old/holy-unction

http://orthodoxsundayschool.org/epistles-feasts-and-sacraments/10-12-years-old/holy-unction

http://orthodoxsundayschool.org/epistles-feasts-and-sacraments/middle-school/holy-unction

http://orthodoxsundayschool.org/epistles-feasts-and-sacraments/high-school/holy-unction

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Find a printable comic-style explanation of Holy Unction for kids here: https://raisingorthodoxchristians.com/2018/04/03/holy-unction-explanation-for-kids/

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Find activity ideas to can help students of various ages learn about the Holy Unction service in the context of Holy Week, on the Holy Wednesday portion of this page: http://illumination-learning.com/main/project/holy-week/

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Older students who are studying the sacrament of Holy Unction may find this summary of the Holy Unction service interesting:

“Introductory Prayers and Psalms 143 & 51
In these Psalms we confess our sinfulness before God and ask Him to cleanse us and make a ‘new and right spirit within us’ (Psalm 51:10).
Canon
In this series of verses that are read or sung, we ask God to show mercy upon us and cleanse our souls, to drive away all evil powers, to grant salvation to those who are sick or suffering, and to grant us the healing of our souls and bodies. At the end of several sets of verses, we ask God to renew our lives so that we may bless, thank and glorify Him forever.
Short Prayers or Troparia to the Saints
We pray to the saints – especially those who have helped the sick and suffering, and to those who have been martyred for the glory of God – and to the Mother of God to intercede for us for the salvation of our souls.
Epistle and Gospel Lessons and Prayers
There are seven sets of Epistle and Gospel readings and prayers.
a. James 5:10-16; Luke: 10:25-37
b. Romans 15:1-7; Luke 19:1-10
c. I Corinthians 12:27-31;13:1-8; Matthew 10:1,5-8
d. II Corinthians 6:16-18, 7:1; Matthew 8:14-23
e. II Corinthians 1:8-11; Matthew 25:1-13
f. Galatians 5:22-6:2; Matthew 15:21-28
g. I Thessalonians 5:14-23; Matthew 9:9-13
Each of the seven prayers asks for the remission of the our sins, for the healing of our souls and bodies and for life everlasting.” (from https://www.goarch.org/holyunction)

Consider allowing enough class time for the students to look up each gospel reading (and epistle, as well, if there’s time!) to search for how it is related to healing/Holy Unction. After a close look at these scriptures, the Holy Unction service during Holy Week will become even more special to the class!

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On the Sacraments: the Sacrament of Confession

This post is part of a series about the sacraments of the Orthodox Christian Church. In this post, we will look at the Orthodox Christian Sacrament of Confession.

The Orthodox Study Bible defines confession in a way that acknowledges both aspects of the word as it is used in the Orthodox Church. Confession is “The sacrament of the forgiveness of sins, whereby the repentant sinner confesses his sins to Christ in the presence of the priest, who pronounces God’s absolution of those sins.” It is also “The avowal or verbal witness of faith in Christ, leading to salvation (Rom. 10:9).” (1, p. 1777) In this blog post, we will not be focusing on the second definition (“confession of faith”), but rather on the first; the sacramental aspect of the word, the sacrament which allows us sinners to be restored to right relationship with God.

The mystery or sacrament of confession, also called penance by the Church, is the means by which we are reconciled to God when we have sinned and thereby cut ourselves off from Him and His Church. We are created for communion with God and each other, that is, communion in the sense of life in harmonious community. When we sin, we sever that communion. But we have also been created to partake in the sacrament of communion (or eucharist). Sin severs us from the eucharist, as well. God has kindly made confession/penance available to us, so that we are able to be restored to both communions.

In Fr. Thomas Hopko’s article on penance, he writes that receiving the eucharist fulfills our act of penance, and restores us to communion with our fellow humans. He also offers steps for right living beyond that reconciliation.  “The fulfillment of penance consists in the reception of Holy Communion and the genuine reconciliation of the repentant sinner with God and all men according to the commandments of Christ. From this there obviously follows the necessity of a sincere attempt by the penitent to refrain from sin and to remain in faithful obedience to God and in uprightness of life before Him and all people.” (2)

“In His mercy, God provides the sacrament of confession (more properly called the sacrament of repentance) to give us deliverance from sin… Thus, we come before the holy icon of Christ, to whom we confess, and are guided by our spiritual father in a cleansing inventory of our lives. When we tell God all, naming our sins and failures, we hear those glorious words of freedom that announce Christ’s promise of forgiveness of all our sins. We resolve to ‘go and sin no more’ (Jn 8:11).” (1, p. 1698)

Fr. Hopko’s article details the three main elements of penance. “The first is a sincere sorrow for sins and for the breaking of communion with God. The second is an open and heartfelt confession of sins… The third element of penance is the formal prayer of absolution through which the forgiveness of God through Christ is sacramentally bestowed upon the repentant sinner.” (2) So, we must begin with genuine sorrow for what we have done, followed by a thorough examination of our hearts, then an equally complete confession. At this point, it is the priest who steps in to complete the act by praying the prayer of absolution. As he does, he extends Christ’s forgiveness to us while covering our head with his epitrachelion as Christ covers our sins with His forgiveness.

“According to Orthodox teaching, the penitent confess to God and is forgiven by God. The priest is the sacramental witness who represents both Christ and His people. The priest is viewed not as a judge, but as a physician and guide.” (3) Fr. Thomas Hopko’s article reaffirms that it is only God who forgives sins, and that He does it through Christ in the Church. God requires that our repentance be genuine and that we promise to change. Confession is the chance for us to acknowledge before God and other humans that we are a sinner.

Glory to God for His gift of the sacrament of confession!

 

Sources:

  1. Various editors. (2008). The Orthodox Study Bible. USA: St. Athanasius Academy of Orthodox Theology. (available here: http://store.ancientfaith.com/osb-hardcover )
  2. Hopko, Fr. Thomas (2011, October 5). The Sacraments: Penance. Retrieved from https://oca.org/orthodoxy/the-orthodox-faith/worship/the-sacraments/penance
  3. Fitzgerald, Rev. Fr. Thomas (1985, June 11). Understanding the Sacraments of the Orthodox Church. Retrieved from https://www.goarch.org/-/the-sacraments

 

Here are some ideas of ways to teach your students about this important sacrament, as well as a few suggested resources to help you better understand the sacrament. What resources have you found helpful? Comment below and share them with the community!

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The Teaching Pics ( http://ww1.antiochian.org/christianeducation/teachingpics) offer a series of pictures on baptism that can be very helpful as you teach a lesson on the subject to any age group. Picture S9 shows someone in confession. The accompanying text helps to explain this sacrament in a way that children can understand. Purchase your own copy of the teaching pics here: http://orthodoxchristianed.com/files/4114/9885/4473/ocec2017_2018.pdf

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This lesson on keeping our hearts clean could begin a discussion of the importance of confession for younger children: https://www.goarch.org/-/cleaning-my-temple. After reading the story in the lesson, ask why the students think it is that the same man could pose twice for DaVinci? How many times have we made choices in our life that turn us from being beautiful to less than beautiful? What can we do to keep our hearts beautiful?

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This object lesson (not Orthodox, but easily adaptable) can help children understand the need for confession, by comparing our sins to dirty, stinky clothes: https://www.kidsofintegrity.com/lessons/righteousness/hands-options/we-must-confess-dirty-clothes-make-mess

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This object lesson would be a memorable part of a lesson on confession. It has a very hands on (literally!) way to help children understand the sticky situation we have on our hands when we sin, as well as how perfectly Christ cleanses us when we confess our sins: https://www.christianitycove.com/free-sunday-school-lesson-plans-jesus-cleanses-us-from-our-sticky-sins/848/

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Elementary or older students will not quickly forget the activity in this lesson that helps to solidify the reality of what happens during confession: http://orthodoxeducation.blogspot.com/2008/06/weight-of-our-sins.html

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Middle years and older students will appreciate the activity in this lesson that helps them think about the importance of the Sacrament of Confession: https://www.goarch.org/-/confession

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Find lessons on the sacrament of Confession for each age level here:

http://orthodoxsundayschool.org/epistles-feasts-and-sacraments/3-5-years-old/confession

http://orthodoxsundayschool.org/epistles-feasts-and-sacraments/6-9-years-old/confession

http://orthodoxsundayschool.org/epistles-feasts-and-sacraments/10-12-years-old/confession

http://orthodoxsundayschool.org/epistles-feasts-and-sacraments/middle-school/confession

http://orthodoxsundayschool.org/epistles-feasts-and-sacraments/high-school/confession

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Share this article with older students and invite discussion. What do they think of the article? What stands out in their mind after reading it? Do they agree or disagree, and why? http://dce.oca.org/assets/files/inserts/repenting-is-not-just-lamenting.pdf

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After a lesson on confession, consider sending home a letter encouraging parents to interact with their child(ren) about this sacrament. Perhaps you will want to include some of these suggestions: http://ww1.antiochian.org/christianeducation/childrenandrepentance

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Here are a few books/articles that can be valuable resources as you prepare to teach a lesson on confession:

http://store.ancientfaith.com/if-we-confess-our-sins-preparation-and-prayers/

http://store.ancientfaith.com/the-forgotten-medicine/

http://store.ancientfaith.com/confession-the-healing-sacrament/
http://saintandrewgoc.org/home/2016/11/23/the-holy-mysteries-sacraments-the-mystery-sacrament-of-holy-eucharist-part-iii

http://saintandrewgoc.org/home/2016/11/28/the-holy-mysteries-sacraments-the-mystery-sacrament-of-repentanceconfession-part-ii

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confession

On the Sacraments: the Sacrament of Chrismation

This post is part of a series about the sacraments of the Orthodox Christian Church. In this post, we will look at the Orthodox Christian sacrament of  Chrismation.

The word “Chrismation” is from the Greek “Chrismatis,” which means anointing. The Orthodox Study Bible defines Chrismation as “The sacrament completing Baptism, whereby one receives the gift of the Holy Spirit through anointing with the Chrism, a specially prepared oil which must be consecrated by a bishop. In Acts, a baptized Christian received the gift of the Holy Spirit through the laying on of the hands of an apostle (See Acts 8:14-17; 19:6.) Chrismation is a continuation of this ancient practice in the Church. (1, p. 1777)

In the Orthodox Church, Chrismation takes place immediately after the sacrament of Baptism. The newly-baptized person is anointed with a specially-blessed oil called Chrism, on many different parts of their body. During the anointing, the priest says, “The seal of the gift of the Holy Spirit,” and congregants reply, “Seal!”

Fr. Michael Buben offers insights into the reasoning for anointing each part of the body during chrismation, in his article “What is Holy Communion?,” published in Word magazine in Feb. 1962. “The anointing of the forehead signifies the sanctification of the mind, or thoughts. The anointing of the chest signifies the sanctification of the heart, or desires. The anointing of the eyes, ears, lips signifies the sanctification of the senses. The anointing of the hands and feet signifies their sanctification to good works and the walk in the way of His commandments.” (2) In other words, every part of our life becomes sanctified and sealed through Chrismation! This mystery of the Church sets us apart while also strengthening us to live a holy Christian life.

Glory to God for His gift of the sacrament of Chrismation!

Sources:
1. Various editors. (2008). The Orthodox Study Bible. USA: St. Athanasius Academy of Orthodox Theology. (available here: http://store.ancientfaith.com/osb-hardcover )

2. Buben, Fr. Michael J. (Feb. 1962 Word, p. 5) What Is Holy Chrismation?. Retrieved from http://ww1.antiochian.org/Orthodox_Church_Who_What_Where_Why/What_Is_Holy_Chrismation.htm.

Here are some ideas of ways that you can help your students learn about the sacrament of Chrismation. What resources have you found helpful? Comment below to share them with the community!

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The Teaching Pics ( http://ww1.antiochian.org/christianeducation/teachingpics) offer a series of pictures on baptism that can be very helpful as you teach a lesson on the subject to any age group. Picture S5 shows and explains Chrismation exactly where it belongs, in the context of baptism. The text that accompanies the photo explains the process well at a level that even young children can understand. Find the entire set of teaching pics here: http://orthodoxchristianed.com/files/4114/9885/4473/ocec2017_2018.pdf

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Find lessons on the sacrament of Christmation for every level, here: http://orthodoxsundayschool.org/epistles-feasts-and-sacraments/3-5-years-old/chrismation

http://orthodoxsundayschool.org/epistles-feasts-and-sacraments/6-9-years-old/chrismation

http://orthodoxsundayschool.org/epistles-feasts-and-sacraments/10-12-years-old/chrismation

http://orthodoxsundayschool.org/epistles-feasts-and-sacraments/middle-school/chrismation

http://orthodoxsundayschool.org/epistles-feasts-and-sacraments/high-school/chrismation

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After a class on the sacrament of Chrismation, you may want to send your younger students home with printed copies of these activities that can be done with their family at home. The activities will help the students and their families to keep learning about their own chrismation: http://orthodoxsundayschool.org/epistles-feasts-and-sacraments/3-5-years-old/chrismation-0

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Middle years students will benefit from the information and activities related to the sacrament of Chrismation in lessons 8-10 of “Our Life in the Church,” a 5th grade curriculum of the Orthodox Christian Education Commission. Both student and teacher materials are available here: http://orthodoxchristianed.com/files/4114/9885/4473/ocec2017_2018.pdf

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Teachers of older students may want to share this article, written in Q&A style by His Grace Bishop Michael,  Bishop of New York & the Diocese of New York and New Jersey, with their class as you discuss the Sacrament of Chrismation: https://churchmotherofgod.org/articleschurch/videos/3176-mystery-of-holy-chrismation-7-questions-7-answers.html Consider printing a copy of the article and cutting it into individual questions. Ask the questions, one at a time, in order, without letting the students see the bishop’s answers. Allow students to give their own answers, and discuss those answers. Then hand the piece of the article to a student to share Bishop Michael’s answer to that particular question. Invite the class to share insights they gain from hearing both the bishop’s and each other’s answers.

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Give your older students a “behind the scenes tour” of how the chrism is prepared by reading this article together. Before reading, ask a few questions to pique their curiosity. You could ask questions like who prepares the chrism; how often; how many ingredients go into it (resist the temptation to bring in a bottle of Heinz sauce: that’ll give it away!); for what is holy myrrh used; and by what other names is the sacrament of chrismation known? Then read this article together (or round-robin). http://saintandrewgoc.org/home/2016/11/18/the-holy-mysteries-sacraments-the-mystery-sacrament-of-chrismation?rq=sacraments After the reading, ask the questions again and see how many more you can all now answer!
(You may also wish to peruse the photos taken during the preparation of the chrism and shared here: https://stots.edu/public/sv/gallery.php?ssid=753)

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chrismation