Category Archives: Feast

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

 

A Few Christmas Books to Share With Children

Christ is born! Glorify Him!

When you meet with your Sunday Church School students again, (for some of you, anyway) Christmas Day will be passed. But Christmas will not nearly be over: there are 12 days for us to celebrate this feast! Consider continuing your celebration of the Nativity of Christ by sharing books with your Sunday Church School students! Here are a few to consider (in no particular order):

“God Gave Us Christmas” by Lisa Tawn Bergren follows a little polar bear who asks Mama Polar Bear a myriad of questions about Christmas and where it came from. http://lisatawnbergren.com/books/god-gave-us-christmas/

“Little Star” by Anthony DeStefano is the charming tale of a tiny star who gave of himself to light the stable when Christ was born… and is now remembered by some when they place a star atop their Christmas tree. http://anthonydestefano.com/landing/blogs/LittleStar_01.htm

“The Christmas Baby” by Marion Dane Bauer is the story of the birth of the very special baby, Christ, and all who celebrated His nativity. http://www.mariondanebauer.com/bkpages/bk_christmasbaby.html

“Why Christmas Trees Aren’t Perfect” by Richard Schneider is a heartwarming parable about a little evergreen tree whose self-sacrifice mars its perfection; but also makes it most beautiful in the eyes of the Queen, who takes it home as her royal Christmas tree. http://www.goodreads.com/book/show/42288.Why_Christmas_Trees_Aren_t_Perfect

“Angels and Other Strangers” by Katherine Paterson is a collection of nine delightful Christmas stories by the Newbery-award winning author.

http://katherinepaterson.com/books/angels-and-other-strangers/

“The Pine Tree Parable” by Liz Curtis Higgs is the simple story of a farmer’s wife who raises the perfect Christmas tree on their tree farm, and eagerly anticipates enjoying its beauty in her home for Christmas. When the time comes to cut the tree, she selflessly gives it to a penniless family instead, and receives the blessing of great joy.

http://www.lizcurtishiggs.com/childrens-books-by-liz/

 

Celebrating the Feast of Feasts: Great and Holy Pascha!

Very soon we will be celebrating the Feast of Feasts, Great and Holy Pascha! We have readied our hearts by fasting and praying. We have set aside time to attend and participate in preparatory church services. We have planned to cook special foods and to wear nice clothing for the feast. Pascha is a very special day, and because it is, we prepare accordingly.

But the Paschal season is longer than just one day. Yes, it begins on Great and Holy Pascha, but it continues on until Pentecost, and the whole season is a time of great celebration! We truly teach our students that this is the Feast of Feasts when we celebrate throughout the Paschal season, not just on Pascha itself.

So, how can we celebrate properly? What can we do to demonstrate to ourselves and to the children in our care just how important this feast is? Studying and applying the guidelines (about things like fasting, kneeling, The Hours, and a change in our prayers) for the Paschal season found here, http://www.antiochian.org/node/22733, can be a place to start. When we are familiar with the guidelines and some of the reasoning behind them, we can plan our continued celebration accordingly!

There are many ways to remind ourselves and the children about Christ’s triumph over death, and His glorious resurrection. Let us find ways to do so every day of the Paschal season! Even just small ways to celebrate this triumph will set this season apart from the rest of the year, allowing the Paschal season to be truly the most wonderful time of the year.

Here are some ideas of ways to set this season apart:

The following (non-Orthodox) ideas related to the resurrection of Christ can also give you ideas of things to do with your class:

The Feast of the Elevation of the Cross (September 14)

Before Thy Cross, we bow down in worship, Sovereign Lord,
and Thy Holy Resurrection we glorify!

The Elevation of the Cross commemorates both St. Helen’s discovery of Christ’s Cross in the fourth century, and its recovery from the Persians by Emperor Heraclius in the seventh century (at which time it was “elevated” in the Church of the Resurrection in Jerusalem).

From this victory celebration on, the “universal elevation” of the Cross was celebrated annually in all of the Churches of the Christian Empire. The day of the feast became the national holiday of the Eastern Christian Empire, and on that day it was “elevated” by the priests and bishops. The Cross served as the official emblem of the Empire, and was displayed on all building and uniforms.

The Troparion of the feast was sung on all public occasions, as a “national anthem” of sorts, and originally petitioned God to save the people, grant victory in war, and preserve the Empire “by virtue of the Cross”. Today that Troparion, and all the hymns of the feast, are spiritualized: the adversaries are the spiritually wicked and sinful, including Satan and his armies, and the “Orthodox Christians” replace the ruling officials of the Empire.

This holy day, although is obviously has a political origin, remains with us as a day of prayer and fasting: the Cross is held up as the only symbol worthy of our total allegiance.

Adapted from The Orthodox Faith, Vol. II, by Fr. Thomas Hopko.

(used by permission, from http://www.theologic.com/oflweb/feasts/09-14.htm)

This week’s daily posts will offer suggestions of ways for you to help your Sunday Church School students to learn about and celebrate the Feast of the Elevation of the Cross.

Preparing for the Transfiguration of Christ (August 6)

On the mountain wast Thou transfigured, O Christ God, and Thy disciples beheld Thy glory as far as they could see it; so that when they would behold Thee crucified, they would understand that Thy suffering was voluntary, and would proclaim to the world that Thou art truly the Radiance of the Father (Kontakion).

We are approaching the celebration of one of the 12 major feasts of the church year: the feast of the Transfiguration of Christ. We may already be familiar with the story found in the scriptures (in Matthew 17:1-13, Mark 9:2-13, and Luke 9:28-36). Even if we know the story well, it would be good for us to review these scripture passages and further study the significance of the event. Then we will be better prepared to celebrate, and also better ready to teach our Sunday Church School students about this feast!

Below are selections from two homilies on the Transfiguration. These homilies were written by two of the church fathers: St. Ephrem the Syrian, and St. John Chrysostom. Perhaps the insights of these saints can begin to help us to understand the underlying reasons for the Transfiguration of Christ, especially if we take a moment to ponder their words:

“And after six days he took Simon Peter and James and John his brother to a very high mountain and he was transfigured before them, and his face shone like the sun, and his garments became white like light’.[2] Men whom he said would not taste death until they saw the image of his coming, are those whom he took and led up the mountain and showed them how he was going to come on the last day in the glory of his divinity and in the body of his humanity…

“…He led them up the mountain to show them the glory of the godhead and to make known to them that he is the redeemer of Israel, as he had shown through the Prophets, and they should not be scandalised in him when they saw his voluntary sufferings, which as man he was about to suffer for us. For they knew him as a man, but did not know that he was God…

“And so on the mountain he showed his Apostles the glory of his divinity, concealed and hidden by his humanity. For they saw his face bright as lightning and his garments white as light. They saw two suns; one in the sky, as usual, and one unusually; one visible in the firmament and lighting the world, and one, his face, visible to them alone. His garments white as light showed that the glory of his divinity flooded from his whole body, and his light shone from all his members. For his flesh did not shine with splendour from without, like Moses, but the glory of his divinity flooded from him… And he did not display the whole depth of his glory, but only as much as the limits of their eyes could encompass…

“And while the Disciples were marvelling, out of the cloud a voice was heard from the Father, saying, ‘This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well-pleased. Listen to him.’ At the voice of the Father, Moses returned to his place and Elias returned to his country, and the Apostles fell on their faces to the ground, and Jesus stood alone, because the voice was fulfilled in him alone.” ~ St. Ephrem the Syrian

“Nothing then is more blessed than the apostles, and especially the three, who even in the cloud were counted worthy to be under the same roof with the Lord. But if we will, we also shall behold Christ, not as they then on the mount, but in far greater brightness. For not thus shall He come hereafter. For whereas then, to spare His disciples, He discovered so much only of His brightness as they were able to bear; hereafter He shall come in the very glory of the Father, not with Moses and Elias only, but with the infinite host of the angels, with the archangels, with the cherubim, with those infinite tribes, not having a cloud over His head, but even heaven itself being folded up.” ~ St. John Chrysostom

May these insights help us to further understand the Transfiguration, so that we can better teach our students about this great feast! This week’s daily posts will offer ideas of ways to teach children about the Transfiguration. May we meet the feast with joy, and may Christ Himself continually transfigure us to become more and more like Him!

Thou wast transfigured on the mount, O Christ God, revealing Thy glory to Thy disciples as they could bear it. Let Thine everlasting light shine upon us sinners. Through the prayers of the Theotokos, O Giver of Light, glory to Thee (Troparion).

(The rest of these sermons on the Transfiguration can be found here: St. Ephrem the Syrian’s at http://full-of-grace-and-truth.blogspot.com/2010/08/st-ephraim-syrian-on-transfiguration-of.html  and St. John Chrystostom’s athttp://thedivinelamp.stblogs.com/2010/02/27/st-john-chrysostom-on-the-transfiguration-feb-28-second-sunday-of-lent/.)

Synaxis of the Saints of North America (2nd Sunday after Pentecost)

On the second Sunday after Pentecost, it is the custom of the Orthodox Church to celebrate the saints who have come from the local region. Many of our readers are from North America, and will therefore remember the Saints of North America on that Sunday. Regardless of where in the world we live, it is important that we learn about our “local” saints and teach the children in our care about them, as well, so that the children know that even in our part of the world there are people who have followed Christ successfully. The process of teaching our children about these saints can influence our lives towards godliness, as well!

Here are a few details about North American saints:

St. Herman of Alaska – the first saint glorified on the “new” continent, he lived on Kodiak Island for many years and worked with superhuman strength, including lifting a log that would’ve taken 4 people to lift it. He is commemorated on December 13.

St. Juvenaly – came to the “new land” in the late 1700s, to help teach the natives about Christ. He was killed by a hunting party who was afraid of him because he was a stranger. He died blessing his killers with the sign of the cross. The local shaman was fascinated by St. Juvenaly’s cross, and put it around his neck; however whenever he tried to cast one of his spells while wearing the cross, he found himself unable to complete the spell, and, in fact, hovering several feet above the ground. The shaman took off the cross and warned his people not to harm anyone dressed like St. Juvenaly. St. Juvenaly is commemorated on Sept. 24.

St. Peter the Aleut – was a Kodiak native baptized into the Orthodox Faith by St. Herman’s group of missionaries. St. Peter refused to convert to Roman Catholicism, despite having his fingers cut off one joint at a time… During his tortures, he said, “I am a Christian. I will not betray my faith.” He is commemorated on Sept. 24.

St. Innocent – volunteered to come to the “new land” as a missionary, even though it meant bringing his young family along to a place that was considered unsafe. He learned the Aleut language and culture, to better find a way to tell the people about Christ and His Church. He even developed a written language for the Aleut people, and translated the Liturgy, parts of scripture, and other important Christian things so that the Aleuts can worship in their native language. He is commemorated on March 31.

St. Jacob – born in Alaska, St. Jacob was the first Native American ordained to the priesthood. He worked very hard among the native peoples of Alaska, creating the written form of the Unangan language and translating the Scriptures and other Orthodox writings into the language. He was sent (in his early forties) as a missionary to the southwest Alaskan tundra, where he ministered to the Yup’ik Eskimos and Athabaskan peoples. He is commemorated on July 26.

St. Alexis – a Uniate priest, St. Alexis was refused by the Roman Catholic Church when he was sent to America from his native Hungary. He found a home in Orthodoxy, and brought 15,000 other Uniates with him over the course of his life. Life was not easy for him: in addition to his work as a priest, he worked as a baker to provide for his needs, because his parish was very poor. Despite his meager income, St. Alexis still gave to the poor and shared with other needy clergy members, while helping to build churches and seminaries. He is commemorated on May 7.

St. Rafael – was born in Lebanon, schooled in Russia, recruited as a missionary to America, and could serve the Divine Liturgy fluently in 4 different languages. When he was ordained as the first Orthodox Christian bishop in America, he had already declined ordination as a bishop in Lebanon twice, because of his commitment to the people of America. It was he who insisted that services be served in English so that the young people would understand it and not leave the Church. He helped to write the English language service book and assisted in establishing 30 congregations. He is commemorated on the Saturday before the Synaxis of the Bodiless Powers of Heaven (sometime between November 1 – 7).

St Tikhon – was a bishop in Poland and Russia in addition to the USA. In his 9 years in America, however, he started the first Orthodox Christian seminary; founded the first monastery; and established many parishes. Back in Russia during the difficult time of the Bolshevik Revolution, St. Tikhon both tenderly cared for wounded soldiers and fiercely led his flock, encouraging them to maintain their faith in the face of persecution. He is commemorated on March 25.

St. John (Kotchurov) – was born in Russia, but always felt called by God to be a missionary. He was sent to Chicago, where he established Holy Trinity Cathedral. He and his family later returned to Russia, where he was killed by the Bolsheviks for leading his people in a walk while praying for the salvation of Russia. He is called the “First Hieromartyr of the Bolshevik Yolk and Missionary of America.” He is commemorated on October 31.

St. Alexander – came to the United States from Russia to help with the Church. He was a very good speaker, and also helped to translate publications like “The Word” into English for those who did not speak Arabic. He went on to serve as a priest in Finland and back in Russia before the Bolsheviks finally caught up with him and martyred him for his pastoral activities. He is commemorated on December 4.

St. Nicholas of Zica – was brilliant, with five doctoral degrees from universities in different countries. He was a missionary to the United States, then returned to his native Serbia, spent time in Dachau as a prisoner, was not allowed to go back to his native land because of his faith, and ended up as a refugee in America, teaching at St. Tikhon’s monastery and caring for the faithful until he departed this life. He is commemorated on March 18.

St. John Maximovitch – born in the Ukraine, St. John fled to a Serbian monastery to become a monk and then a priest. He was sent to China as a bishop of the Russian Church in Exile. He later served as archbishop of Paris and Brussels, then was sent to San Francisco. St. John loved everyone, and prayed so often and so well that people would often find him deep in prayer, glowing with holy light, and hovering 6″ off the ground. He was sometimes seen at different places at the same time, without there being any way on earth that he could have been transported between the locations. He worked hard to make sure the Church was a place of worship, not just a social/ethnic gathering place. His incorrupt body can be seen in his cathedral in San Francisco. He is commemorated on July 2.

Find more about each of these saints at http://www.antiochian.org/north-american-saintsand at http://prayingwithmyfeet.blogspot.com/2012/06/all-saints-of-north-america.html

Each of these saints were people who emulated Christ, many of them doing so in the face of adversity. They were successful in following Christ, setting an example for the rest of us, regardless of where in the world we live. May they intercede for us, that we, too, may be faithful!