Category Archives: Feast

Gleanings From a Book: “Easter in Ramallah” by Wafa Shami, Illustrated by Shaima Farouki

As we prepare to approach the holy and glorious Paschal feast, we do well to remember that we are not the only ones preparing for and then commemorating the resurrection! Sometimes we may forget that people in other parts of the world are celebrating as well. But they are! Easter in Ramallah by Wafa Shami offers its readers a sweet glimpse into Paschal traditions in Ramallah, Palestine.

It is a delight to read the story of Noor and her best friend Laila, as they share the experience of Holy Week and Easter together. Western readers may be surprised to learn that the girls are of different faiths: one is Christian, one is Muslim, yet they are truly best friends, which is not always what westerners expect from relationships in that part of the world. These girls literally (and figuratively) live side by side, for they are next-door neighbors who play together and find themselves one moment frankly discussing the struggle the other must experience while fasting according to her faith tradition; and the next moment they are together attending the “Parade of Light” so that they can each light a candle with the Holy Fire.

Readers will come away from this story with the sense that they’ve visited Palestine over Easter. They will feel the warm sun on their heads; imagine sharing the fresh green almonds with their friend; and almost hear the bands marching in the Light Parade. They will wish to taste the ka’ek and ma’moul sweet treats which sound so delicious. They’ll wonder if all of those natural vegetable dyes actually work for coloring eggs. They will want to put on their own best Easter clothes, and try to crack Noor’s eggs with one of their own. Best of all, readers will step away from this story delighted by the peace and friendship that it exhibits between Palestinians of different faiths.

Shaima Farouki’s watercolor illustrations of the story are gently whimsical, visually enlivening spring in Ramallah. Each beautiful illustration contains just enough detail to offer an accurate glimpse into Palestinian life. They round out the story, adding details that delightfully enhance it.

We recommend Easter in Ramallah as a lovely addition to any home, school, or Church school library. It expands its readers’ world by allowing them to think beyond their own celebration of the resurrection. It also offers the opportunity for readers to notice what traditions are the same the world over; which ones are slightly different; and which ones are brand new (and perhaps ones which they, too, would like to embrace). This book offers a satisfying taste of what it is like to celebrate Pascha in Palestine.

 

Purchase your own copy of Easter in Ramallah here: https://www.amazon.com/Easter-Ramallah-story-childhood-memories/dp/0960014705/

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Readers who want to see photos of Easter in Palestine can scroll through these: https://www.aljazeera.com/indepth/inpictures/2014/04/pictures-palestinians-celebrate-201442185435930350.html

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What makes Palestinian Pascha unique? Read this to find out: http://www.anothervoice.info/blog/2016/5/1/5-ways-palestinian-eastern-orthodox-easter-is-unique

 

On the Liturgical Year for Teachers: The Time of Advent (part 2 of 7)

This series of blog posts will offer basic information and resources regarding the liturgical year. It is our hope that Sunday Church School teachers will find this series helpful as they live the liturgical year with their students. The series will follow the church year in sections, as divided in the book “The Year of Grace of the Lord: a Scriptural and Liturgical Commentary on the Calendar of the Orthodox Church” by a monk of the Eastern Church. May God bless His Church throughout this year!

Beginning on November 15 (or 28), Orthodox Christians around the world begin to prepare their hearts for the coming of Christ at Christmas. This time of preparation and fasting is 40 days long and leads right to the Feast of the Nativity. (It is the same length as Great Lent, which leads to Holy Week and Pascha; but there are different restrictions in each fast.) The Feast of the Presentation of the Theotokos in the Temple takes place during the Nativity Fast.

This season of the Church year is called “Advent” by many Christians, as they focus on the coming of Lord. In “The Year of Grace of the Lord,” the author, a monk of the Eastern Church, writes “One might perhaps feel that this term ‘coming’ is purely symbolic, for in fact Christ comes to us at all times, and even lives in us. Nevertheless, this approach and this presence of Christ, both of which are eternal, take on a special character at Advent-tide… A special grace of the ‘coming‘ of the Lord is offered us. The Lord Jesus is already present to us; but the grace of Advent allows us a more vivid, and quite new, awareness of this presence.” (p.45)

The monk continues the chapter on Advent by summarizing our prayers during this season with one word. The word that we pray during Advent-tide is “Come!” When we pray the word sincerely, this one-word plea fills us with hope, and we anticipate the Lord’s coming with greater fervor. As the weeks of Advent-tide pass, God willing, each day that we pray, we pray more purely. The author continues, “Our prayer at Advent, ‘Come’, could… be interpreted thus: ‘Oh, let me be aware of Thy presence in me — May the whole world feel Thy presence.’” (p.46)

Our focus during Advent is on the light which will be shining forth. Just as the days begin to lengthen after Christmas, the darkness in our hearts will be enlightened by the Son which Christmas brings into the world. After all, He is the Light of the World!

This year, during the Nativity fast, may we continually pray, “Come!” and prepare our hearts – and the hearts of our students – to receive the light that shines forth in Christ!

Make ready, O Bethlehem: let the manger be prepared, let the cave show its welcome. The truth has come, the shadow has passed away; born of a Virgin, God has appeared to men, formed as we are and making godlike the garment He has put on. Therefore Adam is renewed with Eve, and they call out: ‘Thy good pleasure has appeared on earth to save our kind.’

Purchase your own copy of “The Year of Grace of the Lord,” by a monk of the Eastern Church, here: https://www.svspress.com/year-of-grace-of-the-lord-the/ This book, quoted above, will be an excellent resource for you to read and learn from, throughout the Church year.

Here are some related links, including ideas for teaching students about the Nativity Fast:

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Prepare your own heart before you begin to teach your students about the Nativity Fast by taking advantage of these articles and resources: http://www.antiochian.org/nativity/pre-feast

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Find a plethora of Nativity Fast ideas and resources for families to use with children (some could also be used in the Sunday Church School context) in this blog post: http://www.sttheophanacademy.com/2011/11/living-nativity-fast.html?m=1

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Find helpful Nativity-Fast-related resources for students at various levels here: https://oca.org/news/headline-news/dce-offers-educational-resources-for-the-nativity-fast

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“Each celebration in the church is preceded by a preparation… Leading to Christmas, we have Advent… When we see Christmas decorations and lights being set up, we know that something soon will take place. In the Church, there are events and hymns sung to remind us and get us ready for the event. This is the way we prepare for the celebration of Christmas.” (from “Preparing , Waiting, Expecting,” p. 13, of “Fasts,” Issue #30 of Little Falcons. Available here:  http://www.littlefalcons.net/pdf/2016_Backissues.pdf)

This article would be a great way to begin discussing the Nativity Fast with younger students.

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“November 15 is the starting point for a spiritual journey to the day of this great joy.  This journey is one one that requires our development of greater humility so we can fully appreciate what God have given to us.  This is by nature an ascetic journey. Like our journey to be united with God, it is not one where we can make use of our social relationships or our material possessions.  This is a journey where we must learn to surrender our souls to the will of God, relinquish our control over the journey to Him whose birth we are about to celebrate. This is the spirit we must embrace as we enter into this fast. It is a period of preparation just as the manger was prepared for Christ.” ~ from http://orthodoxwayoflife.blogspot.com/2011/11/nativity-fast.html

This article would be an excellent “Nativity Fast” discussion starter with older students.

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Help your students keep their focus on Christ throughout the Nativity Fast with some of these ideas: https://orthodoxchurchschoolteachers.wordpress.com/2015/12/18/ideas-for-keeping-our-focus-on-the-nativity-of-christ/

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Help your students prepare their hearts for the birth of Christ with ideas and activities such as these: https://orthodoxchurchschoolteachers.wordpress.com/2015/11/13/on-preparing-our-hearts-anticipating-the-birth-of-christ-each-day-of-the-nativity-fast/

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This brand new book is an excellent resource for teachers and parents to use with children during the Nativity season: https://orthodoxchurchschoolteachers.wordpress.com/2017/08/18/gleanings-from-a-book-welcoming-the-christ-child-family-readings-for-the-nativity-lent-by-elissa-bjeletich/

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Find ideas of ways to help your students learn about the Feast of the Entrance of the Theotokos into the Temple here: https://orthodoxchurchschoolteachers.wordpress.com/2016/11/18/on-the-feast-of-the-entrance-of-the-theotokos-into-the-temple-nov-21-or-dec-4/

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Find ideas of ways to help your students learn about the Feast of the Entrance of the Theotokos into the Temple here: https://orthodoxchurchschoolteachers.wordpress.com/2016/11/18/on-the-feast-of-the-entrance-of-the-theotokos-into-the-temple-nov-21-or-dec-4/

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/.)