Category Archives: Feasts

On Pentecost and Missions

We often remember Pentecost as being the day of the descent of the Holy Spirit. We remember the tongues of fire and wonder what that experience would have been like. Perhaps we also limit the important events of that day to the room in which the Apostles were waiting as Christ had commanded them to do when he ascended into heaven. We may not think about the rest of that day, or what happened beyond the room.

Pentecost is considered to be the birthday of the Church. After all, it was on this day that the Holy Spirit descended upon the Apostles. That, in itself, was an event worth celebrating, but it did not just happen for the Apostles’ edification. When He descended upon the Apostles, the Holy Spirit enabled them to fulfill Christ’s command to go into all the world and preach the Gospel. We don’t always ponder that connection when we celebrate Pentecost.

So, let’s take a moment to think together about what actually happened that day. When the Holy Spirit descended upon the Apostles, He gave them the ability to speak in other languages. And they didn’t just sit there and marvel at what had happened. Instead, they immediately put that ability to use. They left their secluded room and went right out into the world around them where many people of different languages were gathered. The Apostles began to speak to these others, sharing with them the good news about Christ. Miraculously, because of the Holy Spirit, they could speak to these strangers in their very own languages! And what happened? Acts 2 tells us that more than 3,000 people became part of the Church on that day! That’s quite a birthday celebration!

The icon of Pentecost shows the Apostles in their room, with the tongues of fire over their heads, but it also speaks to the rest of the day’s events. If you look closely at the icon, you see an old crowned man at the bottom of the icon. He is called “Cosmos” and represents the people of the world. He’s crowned to show that people rule over the world itself, but he’s in the dark to remind us of the darkness that everyone is in without Christ. Cosmos is holding 12 scrolls, representing the 12 Apostles who left the safety and blessing of the Spirit-filled upper room to carry the good news of the Gospel to all corners of the world. So, right there in the festal icon, we see this link between Pentecost and missions.

So, as we celebrate Pentecost, let us not just focus on the coming of the Holy Spirit. Yes, His descent upon the Apostles (and on us) is hugely important! We need Him just to breathe and live! But let’s also remember that Cosmos is still in the dark, whether “he” is down the hall, across the street, in another corner of our country, or another part of the world. Just like the Apostles, we must take this gift of the Holy Spirit, which we were given at baptism and Chrismation, and share the good news of the Gospel to every part of the world where we find ourselves. We don’t need to fear not being able to speak the right words: the Holy Spirit will provide (Luke 12:12), just as He did for the Apostles on Pentecost.

Let us celebrate the birthday of the Church with joy. But let us also continue to do our part to accomplish the purpose for Pentecost: that is, to fulfill Christ’s command of going into all the world and preaching the Gospel! May the holy Apostles intercede for us as we go.

Blessed art Thou, O Christ our God,

who hast revealed the fishermen as most wise

by sending down upon them the Holy Spirit:

through them Thou didst draw the world into Thy net.

O Lover of Man, Glory to Thee

(Troparion for the Feast of Pentecost).

Here are some lesson plans about Pentecost and Missions that may be helpful as you plan to teach your Sunday Church School students about the link between them:
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Here are lesson plans about missions at a variety of levels: https://oca.org/the-hub/study-guides/sharing-the-good-news-orthodox-christian-mission-educational-materials-in-c

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This lesson about Pentecost for younger children includes a beautiful icon of the feast, and an explanation that includes Cosmos (at the bottom of the icon). https://orthodoxpebbles.com/new-testament/holy-pentecost/

Find a printable line art version of the icon of Pentecost here: http://orthodoxeducation.blogspot.com/2015/06/pentecost-coloring-icon.html

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“To be a Christian is to be on a mission. And this mission isn’t just something that happened in the past. At this very moment there are missionaries traveling all over the world, preaching the Gospel… And we should remember that this missionary life doesn’t simply belong in faraway places. It belongs in our cities, our neighborhoods, in the everyday life of our parishes.” ~ Steve Christoforou, “Be the Bee” episode 73, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_nkLcoeCEl0&feature=youtu.be

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Hear “Lord have mercy” in many of the languages of Orthodoxy in the video found here (which also shows images of Orthodox Christians around the world) http://orthodoxeducation.blogspot.com/2008/06/languages-of-orthodoxy.html

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This lesson plan about missions and ideas of ways to raise money to support it includes a story from Kenya: https://www.goarch.org/-/missions

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Here’s a missions-focused lesson plan for elementary/middle school: https://www.ocmc.org/images/PDFs/2018_lesson_plan(elementary%20middle%20school).pdf

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Here’s a missions-focused lesson plan for high school students: https://www.ocmc.org/images/PDFs/2017_lesson_plan(high%20school).pdf

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Here’s a missions-focused lesson plan for high school/adults: https://www.ocmc.org/images/PDFs/2018_lesson_plan(high%20school%20adult).pdf

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This series of lessons (available at all age levels) includes this: “As God’s children we are called to witness our faith.   We are called to understand who we are as Orthodox Christians, and to bear witness to God with our families and friends by being good neighbors, reaching out to help others, and standing up and protecting those who are being mistreated, or are victims of discrimination or prejudice.” Find the series (6 lessons at each level) here: http://dce.oca.org/focus/orthodox/

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These three Grade 6-leveled lessons on missions could be adapted for use with older and/or younger students: https://www.orthodoxcatechismproject.org/grade-6/-/asset_publisher/sVl6TXix4npP/content/missions

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Perhaps your entire parish would like to spend a retreat day focusing on missions/evangelism. Here’s what one parish did: http://dce.oca.org/mini/evangelism/

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Your students may wonder what is it like to begin a mission in another part of the world. Share this article about a new mission in Kenya, and encourage your class to remember these brothers and sisters of ours in your prayers: https://www.ocmc.org/resources/view_article.aspx?ArticleId=2411

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Lenten Sundays Series: Great and Holy Pascha

This is the ninth 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 Great and Holy Pascha for you to ponder before you create a lesson for your students:

 

Great and Holy Pascha is the most important day of our entire church year. We call it the “Feast of feasts” for this very reason. On this day we celebrate Christ’s victorious triumph over death. This is the reason He came to earth and became incarnate: so that He could trample down death by His death, and save us.

On Holy Saturday, we heard St. Matthew’s account of the women finding the empty tomb during the vesperal Divine Liturgy. The Paschal Gospel reading acknowledges that we know the events of the day already, having just partaken of them all week. So instead of revisiting these events on Pascha, we turn our ears to the first verses of St. John’s Gospel: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God and the Word was God… In Him was life and the life was the light of men…” The passage reminds us that God created the world and has now re-created it through Christ. This Gospel reading points us to the reason for all of the events we have just witnessed, and reminds us of the truth of the hope that we have in Christ.

Much later in the day, when we gather again for Agape Vespers, the Gospel reading assures us of the reality of Christ’s resurrection, when He appears to His disciples and even Thomas cannot deny that Christ, God incarnate, has defeated death and is alive. The words of Christ to His disciples are offered to us as well, in all the languages we are able to muster, for they belong to every human on earth. He says to them, “Peace be with you!” and again, “Peace to you!”

He goes on to send his disciples (and us) out into the world, breathing Life into them when He breathes on them and tells them to receive the Holy Spirit. Just as God breathed into Adam and Eve when He first created the world, He breathes into His disciples as He creates His Church. So Pascha celebrates Christ’s resurrection and thus, the beginning of the Church. He thus fully tramples down death: His resurrection has trampled physical death, and His Church offers us spiritual life instead of spiritual death.

On Great and Holy Pascha, we begin a 40-day season of celebrating Christ’s victory over death, and the beautiful gift He gives us in the Church. Glory be to Jesus Christ! Glory be forever!

Christ is risen!

Christos Anesti!

Al Maseeh Qam!

Christos Voskrese!

Cristo ha resucitado!

Hristos a Inviat!

Krishti Ungjall!

 

Here are some resources that may be helpful as you plan a lesson on Pascha for your Sunday Church School class:

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Very young children will benefit from this colorful lesson about Pascha, using Orthodox Pebbles’ illustrations of four icons as its core: https://orthodoxpebbles.com/new-testament/four-icons-for-pascha/

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Find a lesson about Pascha, geared to younger children, here.

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Potamitis Publishing’s book #13 in their Paterikon for Kids is entitled “The Resurrection of Christ” and is a child-sized book that helps young children to understand more about what Pascha is all about. One page will even make your students want to sing! Get your copy here: http://orthodoxchildrensbooks.com/eng/index.php/Paterikon-for-Kids-1-17-5-NEW/The-Resurrection-of-Christ/flypage-ask.tpl.html?pop=0

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Issue #71 of the Orthodox children’s magazine “Little Falcons” is all about Pascha. Order it here.

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Lesson #6, here, is about Pascha. It is available at a variety of levels:

http://dce.oca.org/focus/pascha/4-6/

http://dce.oca.org/focus/pascha/7-9/

http://dce.oca.org/focus/pascha/10-12/

http://dce.oca.org/focus/pascha/13-17/

http://dce.oca.org/focus/pascha/adults/

 

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Here is another leveled set of lessons about Pascha that may be helpful to you as you prepare to teach a class about this glorious feast:
http://orthodoxsundayschool.org/epistles-feasts-and-sacraments/3-5-years-old/pascha

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

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

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

http://orthodoxsundayschool.org/epistles-feasts-and-sacraments/high-school/pascha
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Find a few suggestions of things to do with your class to help them learn about Pascha here:

https://orthodoxchurchschoolteachers.wordpress.com/2016/04/29/pascha-celebration-resources-for-sunday-church-school-teachers/

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Learn more about the feast itself, and find some classroom resources here: https://orthodoxchurchschoolteachers.wordpress.com/2017/11/17/on-the-liturgical-year-for-teachers-the-time-of-easter-pascha-and-pentecost-part-6-of-7/

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Lenten Sundays Series: Palm Sunday

This is the eighth 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 Palm Sunday  for you to ponder before you create a lesson for your students:

On this sixth Sunday of Great Lent, we will be celebrating Christ’s triumphal entry into Jerusalem as we prepare to enter into Holy Week. We usually refer to this feast as the Entrance of Our Lord into Jerusalem, but we also call it Palm Sunday.

From the beginning of time, victorious kings have ridden joyously into their home cities after battle, surrounded by cheering crowds celebrating their success. The celebrations have changed over the years, but at the time of Christ, such a parade would have included palm branches being waved and laid on the road.

As we look at St. Matthew’s account of Christ’s triumphal entry, we see that this is exactly the kind of welcome our Lord received as He entered Jerusalem. We know that Jesus is not just a King, but the King of Kings, but at the time, not everyone knew or accepted Him as such. However, when He raised Lazarus from the dead, word got around about that great miracle, and He was welcomed into Jerusalem with palm branches being waved and set on the ground; and some people even lay their cloaks on the ground to welcome Him.

Not only did they act in these king-welcoming ways, but the people also loudly proclaimed who He is. They said, “Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is He who comes in the name of the LORD! Hosanna in the highest!” (Matt. 21:9) All this commotion caught the eye of the entire city, and other people started asking, “Who is this guy?” and they heard that it was Jesus, the prophet who came from Nazareth in Galilee.

On Palm Sunday, we enter into His Triumphal Entry into Jerusalem, joining the crowds in welcoming Christ. We wave palms (or pussy willows) and also cry, “Hosanna in the highest! Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord!”

We know why He is coming; what He is coming to do. How much more should we welcome Him? After all, we know that He is not only a great Healer/Wonderworker, but that He is the very God Himself, incarnate! Let us therefore welcome Him with adoration and honor into our parish on this special day. It is right that we do this! However, we should be welcoming Him in the same way every day into our own life and heart. We can allow this Holy Week which lies ahead to help us begin to properly do so.

“O Christ God, when Thou didst raise Lazarus from the dead,

before Thy Passion, didst confirm the universal resurrection.

Wherefore, we, like babes, carry the banner of triumph and victory,

and cry unto Thee, O Vanquisher of death:

Hosanna in the highest! Blessed is He Who cometh in the Name of the Lord!”

 

Here are a few suggestions of places to find ideas for a lesson on Palm Sunday:

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Find a lesson for younger children based on Palm Sunday (and one for Lazarus Saturday, as well as one for Holy Week) here: https://orthodoxabc.com/church-and-feasts/#1527067826531-90e19604-f6b4

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Find lessons for Palm Sunday at many levels, here:

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

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

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

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

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

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Listen to this Sunday’s Gospel reading told in simple terms for younger children, and read from the Gospel for older children, at https://www.ancientfaith.com/podcasts/letusattend. Find 5 levels of printable pages with questions for related discussions at http://ww1.antiochian.org/christianeducation/letusattend.

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Find lessons about Palm Sunday at a variety of age levels, in lesson #3 here: http://dce.oca.org/focus/pascha/ (age levels include: 4-6, 7-9, 10-12, 13-17, 18+)

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Find a variety of resources (including a 3-minute video re-telling of the story of what happened that day) related to Palm Sunday that could be used for lessons at various age levels here (not Orthodox, but many of the resources could still be helpful):  https://ministry-to-children.com/palm-sunday-for-kids/

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Issue #79 of “Little Falcons” is dedicated to Palm Sunday. It contains articles and activities related to Palm Sunday, written on a variety of levels for children of many ages. Order a copy here.

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In case you missed it, here’s another blog post we wrote about Palm Sunday: https://orthodoxchurchschoolteachers.wordpress.com/2016/04/15/on-the-feast-of-the-triumphal-entry-into-jerusalem-palm-sunday/

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Here’s a small collection of Holy Week resources, gathered a few years ago, that may be helpful as you approach Holy Week: https://orthodoxchurchschoolteachers.wordpress.com/2016/04/22/holy-week-resources-for-sunday-church-school-teachers/

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On the Liturgical Year for Teachers: Pentecost and the Time After Pentecost (part 7 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!

Our final installment in this series on the liturgical year for teachers focuses on Pentecost and the time immediately following Pentecost. The time of Pentecost is a fitting “end” to the liturgical year, for Pentecost marked “both a culmination and a start. A new way was opening to the disciples, but they had prepared themselves for it.” (1, p. 213) The monk continues, “…we cannot enter into Pentecost without preparation. We need first to have assimilated the whole spiritual substance that the fifty days between Easter and Pentecost have offered us. Before that, we need to have experienced the risen Christ: the days of the Passion, too, need to have been lived through. In short, one must have matured.” (1, p. 213) So, in many ways, Pentecost is the logical ending to the spiritual work we have done throughout the liturgical year. And when we join together with the apostles and the Theotokos in prayer and expectation, the Holy Spirit is able to move in our lives just as He did at Pentecost. The author goes on to talk about how the theme of light in the liturgical year comes to its fulfillment at Pentecost: “this divine light first appears with the birth of Christ; it grows with Him; on Easter night it triumphs over the darkness; at Pentecost it reaches its full zenith… The riches and symbolism of the liturgical year are worth nothing if they do not help this ‘inner light’ to guide our life.” (1, p. 217)

Historically, pentecost was an Old Testament feast, celebrated 50 days after Passover, and it celebrated the 10 Commandments being given to the Israelites. At Pentecost, “…the pentecostal feast is fulfilled and made new by the coming of the ‘new law,’ the descent of the Holy Spirit upon the disciples… This moment has traditionally been called the birthday of the Church.” (2, p. 113) The feast of Pentecost “is the celebration of what must happen and does happen to us in the church today. We have all died and risen with the Messiah-King, and we have all received his Most Holy Spirit. We are the ‘temples of the Holy Spirit.’ God’s Spirit dwells in us… We… have received ‘the seal of the gift of the Holy Spirit’ in the sacrament of chrismation. Pentecost has happened to us.” (2, pp. 115-116)

And the Church year does not stop with Pentecost! A few more important feasts remain for us to note after Pentecost and before the beginning of the new Church year. Among them are the Feast of the Transfiguration, the feast celebrating the event which confirmed for His disciples the divinity of Christ. “Next to Jesus appear Moses and Elijah. Moses represents the law. Elijah the prophets. Jesus is the fulfilment of all law and of all prophecy. He is the final completion of the whole of the Old Covenant; He is the fulness of all divine revelation.” (1, p. 240)

The Feast of the Dormition also falls during this final portion of the Church year. The monk who wrote “The Year of the Grace of Our Lord” offers this thought about the importance of the placement of this feast, calling it a feast “not only of Mary, but of all human nature. For, in Mary, human nature reached its goal. One week after the start of the liturgical year, we celebrate the birth of the most Holy Virgin. Two weeks before the end of the liturgical year, we celebrate the death and glorification of Mary. Thus, associated with and subordinate to the cycle of Jesus’ life, the cycle of Mary’s life manifests the destiny and development of a human nature which is entirely faithful to God. It is the human race which is carried up and received into heaven with her… the perfect flowering of grace that we marvel at in mary on August 15th suggests what the line of development could be in a soul which applied itself to making the great gifts received during the liturgical year  — the gift of Christmas, the gift of Easter and the gift of Pentecost — bear their fruit.” (1, p. 244).

Of the liturgical year as a whole, the monk writes, “This cycle never repeats itself; each one of its aspects reflects the inexhaustible depth and fullness of Christ, and, as a result, becomes new for us to the extent that we understand it better. The liturgical year is a prism which receives the white light of Christ and splits it into different colours. Christ is the year.” (1, p. 246) As we live live each liturgical year that our Lord bestows upon us, may we continually grow to understand the liturgical cycle better. May we also help our Sunday Church School students to do the same.

Footnotes:

1. A monk of the Eastern Church. The Year of Grace of the Lord. Crestwood, NY: St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press; 2001.

2. Fr. Thomas Hopko. The Orthodox Faith volume ii: Worship. Syosset, NY: OCA, 1972. Fifth printing, 1997.

Here are some related links, including ideas for teaching students about Pentecost and the time after Pentecost:

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The book featured in this blog post offers a plethora of information about each of the feasts, and can help you to prepare to teach your students about Pentecost! https://orthodoxchurchschoolteachers.wordpress.com/2015/12/11/gleanings-from-a-book-heaven-meets-earth-celebrating-pascha-and-the-twelve-feasts-by-john-skinas/

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Find ideas for helping your students learn about Pentecost here: https://orthodoxchurchschoolteachers.wordpress.com/2014/06/06/teaching-children-about-the-feast-of-pentecost/

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This blog post about teaching children about Pentecost looks at light and its involvement in the feast: https://orthodoxchurchschoolteachers.wordpress.com/2016/06/10/on-light-and-the-feast-of-pentecost/

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Share this book with younger students. http://www.stbarbaramonastery.org/product/TGF-PENT Listen to Dr. Chrissi Hart’s reading of the book at the beginning of this podcast: http://www.ancientfaith.com/podcasts/grapevine/readings_from_under_the_grapevine_program_7

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Find a short lesson on Pentecost here: http://www.orthodoxabc.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/06/023-EN-ed02_Pentecost.pdf

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Find printable activities about Pentecost for use with students in the middle years here: http://dce.oca.org/assets/files/resources/Pentecost-Activities.pdf

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Find out about the Serbian tradition of strewing grass on the floor of the church in the Pentecost portion of the article “How Orthodox People Celebrate the Feasts” in the Little Falcons Magazine “Feasts.” (back issue #31, available here: http://www.littlefalcons.net/pdf/2016_Backissues.pdf)

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Begin a discussion about Pentecost with your students by looking at the icon of the feast. Perhaps you could also share with them one of these children’s homilies about the icon:
Fr. Noah Buschelli’s children’s homily on the icon of Pentecost can be found here: http://www.ancientfaith.com/podcasts/letthechildren/pentecost

Fr. Seraphim Holland’s homily includes enthusiastic answers from children: http://www.ancientfaith.com/podcasts/redeemingtime/childrens_sermon_on_pentecost

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Discuss with your older students the “kneeling prayers” before the service itself. Read slowly through the prayers, thoughtfully wondering about each part and allowing students to make connections as they are able. This post summarizes and offers some of the scriptures behind each prayer, and could be a helpful starting place: http://stgeorgegoc.org/pastors-corner/fr-ricks-sermons/why-kneel-before-god-purposemeaning-of-kneeling-prayers-of-pentecost (Find the text to the service here: https://www.goarch.org/-/the-great-vespers-of-pentecost)
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Listen to St. Romanos’ words on Pentecost, read here by Kh. Frederica Mathewes-Green: http://www.ancientfaith.com/podcasts/frederica/on_pentecost   

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You and your students can prepare for the Feast of the Transfiguration by studying the homilies about the feast found in this blog post: https://orthodoxchurchschoolteachers.wordpress.com/2014/08/01/preparing-for-the-transfiguration-of-christ-august-6/

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Here are some ideas of ways to help your students learn about the Feast of the Transfiguration:
https://orthodoxchurchschoolteachers.wordpress.com/2016/07/29/on-the-feast-of-the-transfiguration-of-christ-august-6-or-19/

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Learn together about the Feast of the Dormition of the Theotokos with some of the ideas found in this blog: https://orthodoxchurchschoolteachers.wordpress.com/2016/08/05/on-the-feast-of-the-dormition-of-the-theotokos-august-15-or-28/

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Help your students to make these (free!) printable centerpieces for their prayer table or dinner table, for each feast: http://www.antiochian.org/1127698508

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On the Liturgical Year for Teachers: The Passion (part 5 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!

Holy Week is often called such because of the great and holy events in the week (1), but “in the Orthodox Church the last week of Christ’s life is officially called ‘Passion Week.’”(2, p. 88) Passion Week is immediately preceded by Lazarus Saturday and Palm Sunday. We are including those days in this discussion of the week, since they are an integral part of the last week of our Lord’s life on earth before His death and resurrection.

Lazarus Saturday and Palm Sunday are the perfect beginning to this important week in the life of the Church. “The resurrection of Lazarus and the triumphant Entry of Christ into Jerusalem encapsulate the events and mystery of Holy Week: Christ is revealed as the source of all life and proclaimed and acknowledged King.”(1) Lazarus Saturday gives us a glimpse of Christ as “the Resurrection and the Life” as He raises Lazarus and demonstrates His power over death. (2, p. 84) Lazarus’ resurrection convinced many that Christ was the long-awaited Messiah-King, hence the Triumphal Entry into Jerusalem on (Palm) Sunday. Palm Sunday is one of the 12 major feasts of the Church Year. Every Lazarus Saturday and Feast of the Triumphal Entry of Christ, may we ponder and be willing to say: “the master calls me. He wants me to stay with him, not to leave him throughout the days of his Passion. During these days he wants to reveal himself to me – who perhaps ‘already stink’ – newly and overwhelmingly. Master, I come.” (3, pp. 137-138)

Passion Week itself is the most sacred week of the year, beginning with the feast celebrating Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem, all the way through the anticipation of the resurrection which we feel on Holy Saturday. Monday through Wednesday we celebrate “Bridegroom” services at Matins, remembering the coming judgement; and striving to prepare our hearts for the coming bridegroom. On Holy Thursday, we remember the Lord’s Supper and celebrate with a Divine Liturgy. “The very event of the Passover Meal itself was not merely the last-minute action by the Lord to ‘institute’ the central sacrament of the Christian Faith before his passion and death. On the contrary, the entire mission of Christ… is so that God’s beloved creature, made in his own divine image and likeness, could be in the most intimate communion with him for eternity, sitting at table with him, eating and drinking in his unending kingdom.” (2, p. 91)

On Holy Friday and Saturday, as we encounter the trial, crucifixion, death, and burial of our Lord, “we are confronted with the extreme humility of our suffering God. His death becomes our true birthday. And so these days are at once days of deep gloom and watchful expectation. The Author of life is at work transforming death into life…”(1) The reading of the twelve selections from the Gospels which tell about the passion of Christ takes place at the Matins service of Holy Friday, usually celebrated on Thursday night. Those readings, combined with the Hours of Holy Friday, offer us the opportunity to hear and relive the passion of our Lord, interspersed with prophetic scriptures, Psalms, and even the beatitudes. The Vespers of Good Friday commemorates our Lord’s burial; the Matins of Holy Saturday is full of “spoiler alerts” and finally proclaims the good news of Christ’s resurrection. Holy Saturday’s Divine Liturgy is both somber and celebratory, for, “The Church does not pretend…that it does not know what will happen with the crucified Jesus… All through the services the victory of Christ is contemplated and the resurrection is proclaimed. For it is… only in the light of the victorious resurrection that the deepest divine and eternal meaning of the events of Christ’s passion and death can be genuinely grasped, adequately appreciated, and properly glorified and praised.” (2, p. 98) It is at this service, historically, that baptisms occurred. To this day, it is an annual opportunity for Orthodox Christians to die and rise with Our Lord. But all the events at the end of Holy Week point to Pascha: “The peace of Holy Saturday is entirely oriented towards the great event of Sunday morning, towards the power and the joy of the Resurrection.” (3, p.161)

When Thou didst submit Thyself unto death,

O Thou deathless and immortal One,

then Thou didst destroy hell with Thy Godly power.

And when Thou didst raise the dead from beneath the earth,
all the powers of Heaven did cry aloud unto Thee:

O Christ, Thou giver of life, glory to Thee!
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.

Footnotes:

  1. Calivas, Rev. Alciviadis C., Th.D., (1985, 8/13). “Orthodox Worship”. Retrieved from https://www.goarch.org/-/orthodox-worship
  2. Fr. Thomas Hopko. The Orthodox Faith volume ii: Worship. Syosset, NY: OCA, 1972. Fifth printing, 1997.
  3. A monk of the Eastern Church. The Year of Grace of the Lord. Crestwood, NY: St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press; 2001.

 

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

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Find background information about Holy Week that you may find helpful prior to teaching about it here: http://www.antiochian.org/lent/holy-week

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Find additional background information about Holy Week here: http://www.patheos.com/blogs/orthodixie/2010/03/orthodox-holy-week-2.html

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If you have electronic communication with your students’ parents, consider sharing this Holy Week resource with them: http://www.orthodoxmotherhood.com/children-during-holy-week-tips-for-parents/

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Find activity ideas to help your students focus on/learn about each day of Holy Week, beginning with Lazarus Saturday, here: https://orthodoxchurchschoolteachers.wordpress.com/2015/04/03/holy-week-activities/

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Teach your students about Palm Sunday, the Feast of the Triumphal Entry into Jerusalem. Before you do so, check out some of the ideas in this post: https://orthodoxchurchschoolteachers.wordpress.com/2016/04/15/on-the-feast-of-the-triumphal-entry-into-jerusalem-palm-sunday/

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Find links to crafts and activity ideas to help your students learn about Holy Week here: https://orthodoxchurchschoolteachers.wordpress.com/2016/04/22/holy-week-resources-for-sunday-church-school-teachers/

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This blog post offers links to a variety of activities that you can share with your students as you approach Holy Week: http://www.orthodoxmotherhood.com/orthodox-holy-week-activities-children/

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This blog post offers ideas of things to put in learning boxes for the days of Holy Week. These learning boxes would be a very hands-on way to teach or review the week with your students. http://www.sttheophanacademy.com/2010/03/pascha-boxes.html (updated here: http://www.sttheophanacademy.com/2011/04/revisiting-pascha-learning-boxes.html)

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Before you approach the subject of the Cross and Christ’s crucifixion with your students, you may want to read the ideas and insights presented by these brothers and sisters in Christ (including a priest, a child psychologist, parents, Church School director, etc.): https://orthodoxchurchschoolteachers.wordpress.com/2015/04/03/on-the-cross-of-christ-and-leading-children-through-holy-week/

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If you have a Holy Friday retreat or simply want to focus on activities for Holy Friday, check out these two ideas: http://orthodoxeducation.blogspot.com/2011/04/holy-friday-for-teens-and-children.html

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Teachers of teens may want to consider sharing some of the stories in “The Road to Golgotha” with your class, for discussion starters. Read a review of the book here: http://www.orthodoxmotherhood.com/review-road-golgotha/

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On the Liturgical Year for Teachers: Christmas and Epiphany (part 3 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!

The feasts of the Nativity (simply called ‘Christmas’ in “The Year of Grace of the Lord: a Scriptural and Liturgical Commentary on the Calendar of the Orthodox Church”) and Theophany (referred to as ‘Epiphany’ in that same book) fall within days of each other, regardless of the calendar being followed. Christmas falls on Dec. 25 (or January 7), and Theophany follows on its heels, on January 6 (or 19). For many of us, local culture offers multiple traditions related to Christmas, but few (or even none) related to Theophany. The monk who wrote the book encourages his readers to think beyond our culture’s interpretations (or perhaps misinterpretations?) of these feasts, and embrace them in a truly Orthodox manner.

The monk notes that most of the western church, “officially assigns a place to Epiphany which is not inferior to that of Christmas; but the devotion of the faithful has definitely concentrated on this last feast; it would even seem that, for the majority… Christmas has become more important than Easter. However, being faithful to the early tradition, we consider Epiphany to be the highest and most complete celebration of the coming of our Lord amongst men.” (p. 66) He goes on to encourage his fellow Orthodox Christians to “consider the period which lasts from Christmas to Epiphany as an indivisible feast, of which Christmas is the starting point and Epiphany the culmination.” (p. 66-67)

His meditation on the Nativity reminds us that in our hymns, we sing of Christ as the Dayspring from on high, and we mention that those of us who were in shadow and darkness have found the truth. The monk continues by pointing out that the Eastern Church thinks of Christ in terms of light. “Byzantine Christians certainly do not forget that the Word became a small child who was laid in a manger; but, while Western Christians seem, since the middle ages, to cling with pleasure to this flesh and blood child, the East sees above all in the Incarnation the coming of light, its triumph over darkness, and our own conversion from the night of sin to the divine radiance.” (p. 67-68) He concludes that the spiritualization of Christmas found in the Eastern Church is a different mindset than the west. May we approach the Nativity of our Lord with the mindset of celebrating the coming of the Light into our world, and live in such a way that Our Lord can shine in our lives, driving out the darkness.

The monk’s meditation on Theophany reminds us that “Epiphany is the first public manifestation of Christ. At the time of His birth, our Lord was revealed to a few privileged people. Today, all those who surround John… witness a more solemn manifestation of Jesus Christ. What does this manifestation consist of? …On the one hand, there is the aspect of humility represented by the baptism to which our Lord submits: on the other hand, there is the aspect of glory represented by the human witness that the Precursor bears to Jesus, and, on an infinitely higher plane, the divine witness which the Father and the Spirit bear to the Son.” (p. 82) As we celebrate this important feast, may we honor Our Lord’s humility while also being awed by His glory.

So, let us take some time to learn more about what the Church teaches and practices with regard to both the feasts of the Nativity and of Theophany. Let us teach our students what we have learned. In this way, all of us together can better celebrate these blessed feasts!

 

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 throughout the Church year.

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

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This link offers quotes from saints, excerpts from books, festal music upon which to meditate, and homilies from recent bishops all focused on the Nativity of our Lord: http://www.antiochian.org/nativity/great-feast

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Read about Middle Eastern traditions for Theophany, such as “baptizing” dough in water and letting it hang outside to dry for a few days, then using the dough to make donuts at Theophany; and leaving a window in the home open so the Holy Spirit can enter; in the article “Holiday = Holy Day” by Natalie Ashanin, in “Feasts,” Issue #31 of Little Falcons magazine. This issue is still available here:  http://www.littlefalcons.net/pdf/2016_Backissues.pdf)

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“The Treasured Traditions and Customs of the Orthodox Churches” by Mary Paloumpis Hallick offers a variety of Christmas traditions from different Orthodox jurisdictions. It would be interesting to study the different customs as a class! From Serbians saving a piece of Christmas bread for the first visitor to their home; to the 12-dish Carpatho-Rusyn “Holy Supper” served over straw or hay on Christmas Eve; to the youngest Ukranian child watching through the window for the first evening star to appear before the Christmas Eve feast can begin; to the Russian babouschka offering gifts to children in attempt to make up for not offering food or shelter to the Magi; to the Greek sweet Christmas bread called “Christopsomo”; to the Romanian children caroling through their neighborhood while carrying a pole topped with a large wooden star bedecked with ribbons and bells… There are so many different traditions, and all of them are interesting. Consider sharing some of these traditions with your students over the course of a class or several class periods in a row, and be sure to invite them to share their family’s Christmas traditions, as well! Find the book here: https://www.amazon.com/Treasured-Traditions-Customs-Orthodox-Church/dp/1880971690

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Check out the AODCE’s nativity board on Pinterest for inspiration if you need ideas for teaching your students about the Nativity of Our Lord! https://www.pinterest.com/aodce/nativity/

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Help your Sunday Church School students learn about the Nativity of our Lord! You may want to include some of the ideas we posted in this blog: https://orthodoxchurchschoolteachers.wordpress.com/2016/12/16/on-the-feast-of-the-nativity-dec-25jan-7/

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There are many educational activity ideas for helping students of varying ages to learn about the Nativity in this blog post: https://orthodoxchurchschoolteachers.wordpress.com/2015/12/18/ideas-for-keeping-our-focus-on-the-nativity-of-christ/

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Find some ideas of ways to teach your students about Theophany in our blog post about the feast: https://orthodoxchurchschoolteachers.wordpress.com/2016/01/08/on-theophany/

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Find a few links that can help you learn more about Theophany so that you are better prepared to teach your students about this feast here: http://www.antiochian.org/nativity/post-feast

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In the fall 2002 “Handmaiden” magazine (sadly, now a no-longer-published magazine for Orthodox Christian women), Heather Zydek wrote an article called “Baptizing the Waters of America: the Theophany Traditions of the American Orthodox Church.” If you are able to locate a copy, read this article to find the variety of Theophany traditions that Orthodox churches across the United States employ in their celebrations of the feast! These traditions vary from region to region, as well as jurisdiction to jurisdiction. It is very interesting to read how our brothers and sisters celebrate the feast! Perhaps studying these traditions will help our students better appreciate our own traditions by helping them see the reasoning behind each tradition.

On the Liturgical Year for Teachers: Entering Into the Year of Grace (part 1 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!

 

The liturgical year is what the Orthodox Church calls the annual cycle of events in the life of the Church. Although it begins on September 1, the Church year is actually built around Pascha, the culmination of the fasting and feasting throughout the year. Throughout the Church year, Orthodox Christians experience the life of Christ through worship, scriptures, fasting, and feasts. The Church year is much more than just a calendar. In his book, “The Year of Grace of the Lord”, a monk of the Eastern Church writes the following about it : “Each liturgical feast renews and in some sense actualises the event of which it is the symbol; it takes this event out to the past and makes it immediate… and we experience this efficacy to the extent that we bring to it a corresponding inclination of our soul… The liturgical year is, for us, a special means of union with Christ… The liturgical year forms Christ in us, from his birth to the full stature of the perfect man.” (pp. 1-2)

At the Church year’s very beginning on September 1, we ask God to bless the year. We gather on that day for a Divine Liturgy that includes readings from the scriptures filled with prophecy, warnings, wisdom, reminders of the resurrection, encouragement to pray for each other, all culminating in the gospel reading from Luke 4: 16-22 in which Jesus read in the synagogue, then sat down and told those in His hearing, ‘This day is this scriptures fulfilled in your ears.’ The aforementioned monk writes of this, “Would that on this first day of the year my eyes might turn away from the defilements in which they take pleasure and fasten themselves on Christ — and remain fixed on him… if I have the courage to keep my eyes on Jesus alone, if I do not turn them aside, I shall no longer fall. Lord Jesus, I look at thee. I have listened to thy promises. Let me now hear…the assurance: ‘This day is this scripture fulfilled in thy ears.’” (pp. 5-6) And so it is that we enter into another cycle, another opportunity to live the life of Christ with —and in— Him.

The Gospel readings for the first Sundays of the Church year offer us a sampling of what Christ taught and did in the lives of others. During these Sundays, we read about the Vineyard and the Husbandmen; the Wedding Feast; the Great Commandment; the Talents; the Canaanite Woman; the Miraculous Catch of Fish; Loving One’s Enemies; the Widow of Nain; the Sower; the Rich Man and Lazarus; and the Gadarene Swine. From the very start of the year, we encounter Christ’s power and compassion through these Gospel readings.

During these initial weeks of the Church year, we also observe the first two Great Feasts of the year. We celebrate the beginning of our salvation through the Nativity of the Theotokos, and the Exaltation of the Holy Cross. Both Feasts celebrate earthly vessels essential to our salvation: the Theotokos, who fully offered herself to God as should we (also through her, Christ took on our humanity, which is essential to our salvation) and the cross on which Christ offered Himself for us and for our salvation.

The beginning of the Church year sets the tone for the year itself. Let us attend and be mindful from the very start of the year. Let us also help our Sunday Church School students to learn about it, so they can grow alongside us from the very start of the new Church year.

 

O Creator of the Universe,

You appointed times by Your own power;

bless the crown of this year with Your goodness, O Lord.

Preserve in safety Your rulers and Your cities:

and through the intercessions of the Theotokos, save us.

(Troparion for the Indiction)

 

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 liturgical year, as well as others about the start of the Church year.

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“Orthodox worship proclaims the centrality of Christ. The liturgical year celebrates the presence of the mystery of Christ in the life of the Church and seeks to make the living Christ a renewing life-source for every Orthodox Christian.”
Read more about the liturgical year in this excerpt from the Preface to “A year of the Lord. Liturgical Bible Studies, v. 1.,” July 1981, by Theodore Stylianopoulos, here:

http://www.orthodoxchristian.info/pages/Lit_year.htm

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Find a downloadable wheel that each student can personalize and use throughout the church year here: http://manymercies.blogspot.com/2013/08/printable-church-calendar-wheel.html

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Together with your students, create a classroom wall display that will help everyone keep track of the liturgical year: http://makinghomenaturally.blogspot.com/2012/06/keeping-track-of-liturgical-year-with.html

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Your students can create a journal about the liturgical year if you purchase this package: http://www.saintkassianipress.com/LiturgicalYear.html

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Find music for the liturgical year here: http://antiochian.org/music/liturgical-music-children

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This blog post offers ideas of ways to start the Church year off right:  http://www.orthodoxmotherhood.com/ways-start-church-new-year-off-right/

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Need ideas for beginning the Church year with your students? https://orthodoxchurchschoolteachers.wordpress.com/2014/08/22/the-ecclesiastical-new-year/

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Here are some ideas of ways to help your students learn about the Feast of the Nativity of the Theotokos: https://orthodoxchurchschoolteachers.wordpress.com/2016/09/09/on-the-feast-of-the-nativity-of-the-theotokos-sept-8-or-21/

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Find our blog post featuring the Feast of the Elevation of the Cross here: https://orthodoxchurchschoolteachers.wordpress.com/2016/09/16/on-the-feast-of-the-elevation-of-the-holy-cross-sept-14-or-27/

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“Throughout the whole liturgical year, these major feasts, these major components of Christ’s life, they now become part of my calendar. My calendar meshes now with the life of Christ. So throughout the year, I am almost making present again those salvific acts in Christ’s life: they now become part of my story… Sanctification of time… because time is an enemy: it leads us closer and closer to death. And here, in the Church, in this liturgical life, it’s our friend: it leads us to salvation.” Hear these quotes and find a great discussion starter in this GOARCH interview about the Church year (great for use with teen or adult classes): https://www.goarch.org/-/the-orthodox-liturgical-year

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