Category Archives: Forgiveness

Gleanings from a Book: “A Child’s Guide to Confession” by Ancient Faith Publishing, Illustrated by Nicholas Malara

Ancient Faith Publishing’s editors have compiled and created a beautifully illustrated guide that will help children to prepare their hearts for confession. “A Child’s Guide to Confession” is full of helpful information and questions as well as beautiful illustrations. Here is a brief overview of the book, followed by a few gleanings from its pages.

Don’t let the child-friendly size fool you: it may be small, but this little book is gold. Its engaging illustrations paired with text which gently nudges readers towards repentance make each of its 104 pages invaluable. The book is divided into color-coded sections including a welcome; what confession is; preparing for confession; self-examination; prayers and scriptures to read while waiting for confession; a prayer after confession; a note for parents; and an extensive glossary explaining difficult terms found elsewhere in the book.

The book acknowledges that there are many ways to prepare for confession. The editors decided to focus on 1 Corinthians 13 for this book. God is Love, so it follows that Orthodox Christians prepare for confession by looking at their actions in light of love to see how they measure up, discover where they have fallen short, then repent and confess those shortfalls. Each phrase of the scripture is appropriately illustrated and is followed by a number of child-friendly questions related to the phrase.

Throughout the book, Nicholas Malara’s illustrations offer glimpses into the lives of Orthodox children who are interacting with the Church and their world. The illustrations make the book more accessible to young children, and more delightful for older children. They truly bring Orthodoxy to life for a child (and a few even include a subtle touch of humor that will make the reader smile!).

This book is a must-have for any Orthodox Christian library. It will be a great help to Sunday Church School teachers who are helping their students learn more about and prepare for confession. The book helps children to embrace confession, then walks them through the entire process, from beginning to prepare for confession all the way to the rejoicing that follows. Children of all ages (and their Church school teachers, too!) will benefit from preparing their hearts for confession with this little gem.

 

Contributors to the project include Elissa Bjeletich, Fr. Noah Bushelli, Fr. Nicholas Speier, and Fr. Andrew Stephen Damick.

 

Purchase your own copy of the book here: https://store.ancientfaith.com/a-childs-guide-to-confession/

Here are a few gleanings from the book, as well as a few suggested resources for a lesson on confession:

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“When preparing for confession, find a peaceful place where you can sit and pray and think. If it helps, have a pencil and some paper handy to help you remember what you’d like to confess to your priest. Always start by asking the Holy Spirit to help you…” (p. 15, “A Child’s Guide to Confession”, by Ancient Faith Publishing)

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“You will be speaking to God directly, reminding Him that you believe in Him, that you are one of His disciples, and you will be saying sorry for the things you have done that have created distance between you…” (p. 19, “A Child’s Guide to Confession”, by Ancient Faith Publishing)

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“Love is kind.
Have I hurt a person or an animal on purpose?

…Have I been caring when someone gets hurt?

Have I ignored someone who needed help?” (p. 25, “A Child’s Guide to Confession”, by Ancient Faith Publishing)

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“A Prayer from St. Nikodemos of the Holy Mountain

O Jesus, the most-good goodness

I have done no good before You;

But grant that I may make a beginning because of Your goodness.” (p. 48, “A Child’s Guide to Confession”, by Ancient Faith Publishing)

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“Now you are at church, waiting your turn to speak with the priest and offer your confession. While you wait, read thoughtfully through a selection of these prayers or Bible verses to help soften your heart…” (p. 51, “A Child’s Guide to Confession”, by Ancient Faith Publishing)

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“Dear Child of God,

You did it! The distance that came between you and Christ is now erased. All of the beauty and light and goodness that is beaming out of Him is beaming out of you too! For He is filling you with His powerful light…” (p. 73, “A Child’s Guide to Confession”, by Ancient Faith Publishing)

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“Preparation for confession is best founded in daily watchfulness and open discussion at family gathering times of meals, prayer, and spiritual study…” (from the Note to Parents, p. 85, “A Child’s Guide to Confession”, by Ancient Faith Publishing)

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“Absolution – the removing of sins through the act of confession. When your sins are absolved, they are wiped clean, and the separation between you and God has been erased!” (from the Glossary of Terms, p. 89, “A Child’s Guide to Confession”, by Ancient Faith Publishing)

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After reading portions of “A Child’s Guide to Confession” to your Sunday Church school students, you may want to give them each a copy of this printable, which provides space for them to draw or lines to write notes about what they are ready to confess. They can take the copy home and use it if it would help them to prepare for their next confession.

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In addition to sharing parts of “A Child’s Guide to Confession” with your class, you could also share this episode of “Be the Bee”: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hDrcKX1mpqs

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Find a variety of lesson plans and ideas about confession, for a variety of age levels, here: https://orthodoxchurchschoolteachers.wordpress.com/2018/10/19/on-the-sacraments-the-sacrament-of-confession/

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The activity featured here could pair well with a sharing of the book “A Child’s Guide to Confession” in your Sunday Church School class, as part of a lesson on confession. https://www.goarch.org/-/confession

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Lenten Sundays Series: Forgiveness Sunday

This is the second 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 Forgiveness Sunday for you to ponder before you create a lesson for your students:

The Sunday immediately before Great Lent begins is usually referred to in the Orthodox Church as “Forgiveness Sunday.” Forgiveness Sunday has two major themes: the expulsion of Adam and Eve from the Garden, and Forgiveness. We will take a short look at each of these themes, here.

It is important that this day features the expulsion of Adam and Eve, who in the beginning walked and talked with God in Paradise. This sort of relationship with God is what we wish to restore in our own life, and Lent is a time when the Church encourages us to do so with vigor. So it makes sense that She provides us with a reminder of what has been lost, and how it was lost, just before we begin Great Lent. This reminder also causes us to ponder the reality of Hades – where everyone went after their death, after Adam and Eve’s expulsion from Paradise. Because we are blessed to live in a time when we are able to know Christ, we also think of Him, who by His death trampled the doors of Hades, and rescued Adam and Eve, and all of us from Hades’ grasp, forever. So, even right here, just before Great Lent begins, we already have a spoiler alert. We know where this is going, and we want to be part of it!

Forgiveness Sunday’s Gospel reading is found in Matthew 6: 14-21 (NKJV)
“For if you forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.

Moreover, when you fast, do not be like the hypocrites, with a sad countenance. For they disfigure their faces that they may appear to men to be fasting. Assuredly, I say to you, they have their reward. But you, when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face, so that you do not appear to men to be fasting, but to your Father who is in the secret place; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you openly.

Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal; but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”

This Gospel reading is, in a sense, a good map for our Lenten journey. It begins with forgiveness. In order to restore our relationship to God, we need to be forgiven the multitude of our sins. This Gospel reading reminds us that if we want forgiveness from God, we need to also forgive others. The reading continues by telling us how to fast: not by showing off, but simply and quietly, genuinely. And it finishes with an admonishment for our focus: it should not be on earthly things, but on the heavenly. Great Lent is the perfect time to re-orient our focus to heavenly things. The Gospel reading’s last sentence summarizes the whole passage: where our treasure is is also where our heart is found.

Let’s take another look at the Gospel reading, this time through the lens of that last sentence. If we treasure forgiveness from God, our heart will be full of forgiveness for our fellow humans. During Great Lent, we are offered the opportunity to serve others willingly. We can more effectively serve if we are forgiving, not holding grudges. Forgiving others and serving them restores our relationship with them, and opens our hearts to receive forgiveness from God.

If we treasure relationship with God, our heart will be full of joyful, non-pretentious fasting. During Lent we are invited to eat less and pray more, giving Him our attention instead of seeking the attention of others or looking to food for satisfaction. Working to control our physical body’s desires and spending more time and energy in prayer restores our relationship to God.

And if we truly treasure God’s Heavenly Kingdom, the stuff of earth will matter not to us. During Great Lent, we are encouraged to do a better job of giving alms. Almsgiving lays up for us treasures in Heaven, while also blessing us with the opportunity to extend love to our fellow humans, and in doing so, to Christ Himself. Letting go of earthly things and earthly cares restores our ability to care for what is important to God: His creatures, His creation, and His Kingdom.

The Church steps right into the beginning of this Gospel passage with Her practice of offering Forgiveness Vespers to begin Great Lent. We’re not sure exactly when this beautiful service began to be offered. We do know that Forgiveness Vespers has been practiced since at least 520 AD, for it is mentioned in the story of the Life of St. Mary of Egypt. So Orthodox Christians have been beginning Great Lent by forgiving each other for a very long time.

According to Forgiveness Sunday’s Gospel reading, forgiving each other is a natural way to begin Great Lent.

Please forgive me, a sinner. And may God forgive us all and restore us to right relationship with Him.

Here are some some ideas you may wish to use as you help your students learn about Forgiveness Sunday:

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This blog post from several years ago features a whole list of ways to help your students learn about Forgiveness Sunday: https://orthodoxchurchschoolteachers.wordpress.com/2015/02/13/on-forgiveness-vespers/

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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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Teachers of young children may find this podcast helpful as they share Forgiveness Sunday with their students. https://www.ancientfaith.com/specials/tending_the_garden/forgiveness_sunday_for_younger_children

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Begin a class on Forgiveness Sunday (for young children through elementary) with a pile of bricks and a red paper heart in your classroom. Ask the students why they think you have these items in your class. Invite the students to stack the bricks on top of the paper heart, on the floor of your classroom. As they stack, invite them to say a word or an action that can make someone sad or hurt. Then show them this video from The Orthodox Children’s Press, about Forgiveness and Forgiveness Vespers. https://youtu.be/ED3f0e4QBXM . After watching (and reading it aloud if your students are too young to read it for themselves), ask again why you have these items in your classroom. Invite students to practice for Forgiveness Vespers by taking turns picking up a brick from the pile, saying, “God forgives and I forgive!” and placing it in a trail/path shape on your classroom floor.

Craft/activity idea #1: To focus on the truth that our choices hurt others, but God can forgive and heal those hurts, invite students to create their own red paper heart. Direct them to trade with a friend, and make a cut on the friend’s heart. Remind them that when we say and do mean things, it’s like hurting the other person’s heart. When they get their heart back again, they may feel very sad, because it hurts when people do mean things to us. But God can bring healing to us when we forgive, so encourage them to tell the other person, “God forgives and I forgive!,” then pass out tape for each student to put on the cut of their heart, mending it whole again.

Craft/activity idea #2: To focus on each student’s need to forgive or be forgiven, direct each student to make a reminder of the video and brick activity by cutting a heart out of red paper and writing “God forgives and I forgive” on it. Invite them to write or draw on the back of the heart the different things and/or people that they will forgive or ask forgiveness of, at Forgiveness Vespers.

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Teachers of elementary-aged students through teens may find one (or more!) of these “Be the Bee” videos helpful for a lesson on Forgiveness Sunday:

Forgiveness Vespers is the focus in this episode: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rLFVJqHmAkY

Forgiveness unifies us as we learn in this episode: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bsDRWB2emwc

Find four ways to forgive in this episode: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=i8pfuimXIM0

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Teachers of teens may want to take a look at this lesson on Forgiveness, when preparing a lesson about Forgiveness Sunday: https://www.orthodoxcatechismproject.org/grade-9/-/asset_publisher/sVl6TXix4npP/content/forgiveness-booklet

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Consider printing a copy of this (or sending the link, if you have email addresses for your students’ parents) home after a lesson on Forgiveness Sunday. It contains discussion questions and activity ideas that families can do together as they learn together about Forgiveness Sunday. https://www.goarch.org/documents/32058/2618758/familygospellesson_forgivenessunday.pdf/51c7c29a-e862-4a37-81c2-be6bcc922dd6

 

On the Sacraments: the Sacrament of Confession

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Sources:

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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confession

On the Lord’s Prayer: And Forgive Us Our Trespasses As We Forgive Those Who Trespass Against Us.

 

This part of the Lord’s Prayer is much easier to say than it is to live. We sin so often, and we come to God in confession and repentance, expecting Him to forgive us, for we believe 1 John 1:9: “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” We desire mercy, and we know that He who IS Mercy will extend it to us in spite of our sins. But this petition doesn’t just stop with “forgive us our trespasses:” it continues, “AS we forgive those who trespass against us. The bottom line is that our forgiveness is intimately tied to how we extend forgiveness to others. Forgiving others is not as easy as begging forgiveness for ourselves. May God help us to forgive, that we, too, may be forgiven!


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“The prayer ‘forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us’ has been especially emphasized by the Lord.’For if you forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you; but if you do not forgive men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.’ (Matthew 6:14-15) This is the point of Christ’s parable about the unforgiving servant. (Matthew 18:23-35) All men need the forgiveness of God and must pray for it. All men are indebted to God for everything, and fail to offer the thanksgiving and praise and righteousness that are due. The only way that God will overlook and forgive the sins and debts of His servants is if they themselves forgive their brothers, not merely in words and formal gestures, but genuinely and truly ‘from their hearts.’ (cf. Matthew 18:35) In the prayer taught by Christ this is clearly acknowledged.” ~ from https://oca.org/orthodoxy/the-orthodox-faith/spirituality/prayer-fasting-and-alms-giving/the-lords-prayer

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“This is a very difficult part of the Lord’s Prayer. Trespasses are the wrong things we do. We notice very quickly when someone is selfish and boastful, mean or untruthful. Sometimes it is very hard for us to forgive someone who has wronged us in any way. We dislike people for this and this means that we do not forgive them. But we say to God, please forgive my trespasses, my selfishness, my meanness, just like I forgive others. God wants us to be just as forgiving as He is.” ~ “The Lord’s Prayer,” “Little Falcons,” issue #39, pp. 13-14, available at http://www.littlefalcons.net/pdf/2014_Backissues.pdf

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“This should be the most terrifying line of the prayer.  We may not always stop to ponder its significance, but this line suggests that if we are not forgiving of others, we should not expect to receive forgiveness.  He further clarifies it in the Scriptures — Matthew 6:14-15:  ‘For if you forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you.  But if you do not forgive men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.’  Our students recognized the parable of the Unforgiving Servant (Matthew 18: 21-25) right away — God has forgiven each of us so much, and if we cannot learn from that experience and feel merciful and forgiving to others, then the mercies we have received will fade away.  We explained that it’s not that God is punishing us, it’s just that if we aren’t forgiving, we cannot receive forgiveness; somehow, the state of our heart is only open to forgiveness when we can humbly pass along forgiveness too.” ~ from https://blogs.ancientfaith.com/raisingsaints/teaching-lords-prayer/

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“Let us notice at the outset that this petition directly unites two acts: the forgiveness of our sins by God is connected to our forgiveness of sins committed against us… And, of course, precisely here in this connection, in this relationship lies the profound mystery of forgiveness in the Lord’s Prayer.” ~ Alexander Schmemann, “Our Father,” p. 65-66

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“For the profound law of Life consists not simply in doing no wrong, but in doing good, and this means first of all to accept the other, which means to effect that unity without which even the most law-abiding society still becomes a living hell. This is the essence of sin, and it is for the remission of this sin, the sin of all sins, that we pray in the fifth petition of the Lord’s Prayer.” ~ Alexander Schmemann, “Our Father,” p. 70

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“Perhaps the terrible tragedy of our time, of those societies in which we live, consists precisely in the fact that while there is much to talk about legality and justice, while many assorted texts are cited, these societies have almost entirely lost the power and morality of forgiveness. This is why the petition in the Lord’s prayer for forgiveness of sins of those who sinned against us, and of us and our sins by God, and possibly the very center of moral rebirth before which we stand in this age.” ~ Alexander Schmemann, “Our Father,” pp. 71-72

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Idea: Use this simple hands-on object lesson to teach your Sunday Church School students about the importance of forgiveness: http://meaningfulmama.com/day-346-weight-lifted-through.html. This activity can help your students think about what it is like to live in unforgiveness, and why it is better to forgive: http://preteenministry.net/bible-lessons-on-forgiveness-for-kids/