Category Archives: Great Lent

On the Liturgical Year for Teachers: Great Lent (part 4 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!

Great Lent consists of the 40 days leading to Holy Week, which, in turn, immediately precedes Pascha. Since its early days, Great Lent has been observed as a time of penitence, spiritual growth, and illumination. Although it is a time of great spiritual struggle, it is also a time of deep joy for Orthodox Christians, as we prepare our hearts to experience Christ’s Passion and Resurrection.

In the early centuries, Church practice included baptizing people at the Paschal Vigil. This was also when Christians who had gone astray and returned to the Faith were reconciled to the Church. In order to train and prepare these people for joining (or re-joining) the Church, an “intense period of preparation, which included fasting, began forty days before Holy Week… it gradually became a universal institution, observed by catechumens and faithful alike for its salutary effects on the life of the Christian community.” (1)  

The monk-author of “The Year of Grace of the Lord” points out that the Liturgy of the Presanctified Gifts reminds us that “Lent… commemorates Israel’s forty years of wandering in the wilderness, those forty years during which the chosen people…went forward with faith towards the far-off promised land…” (2, p. 109) He goes on to remind us that these years (as well as during Great Lent), God’s people relied on Him fully, and He provided physically with food as well as spiritually with His presence, the Ten Commandments, and many miracles. The monk continues, “Lent recalls the forty days that the Lord Jesus spent in the desert during which he contended with Satan, the tempter. Our Lent must also be a period of fighting against temptation… During the time of Lent, the Church leads us, as if by the hand, towards the radiant paschal feast. The more serious our Lenten preparation has been, the deeper we shall enter into the mystery of Easter and gather its fruits.” (2, p. 110)

Bishop Kallistos Ware said, “The primary aim of Great Lent is to make us conscious of our dependence upon God.” (1) We are encouraged to focus on three things during Great Lent: prayer, fasting, and almsgiving. Lent is a time for repentance, that we may turn from sins and earthly cares to focus our whole being on Christ and His glorious resurrection, which heals us completely. This truth grants us great joy amidst the struggles we encounter during Lent.

“Let us begin the lenten time with delight.. Let us fast from passions as we fast from food, taking pleasure in the good words of the spirit, that we may be granted to see the holy passion of Christ our God and his holy Pascha, spiritually rejoicing.” (from Vesper Hymns)

Let us participate fully in the life of the Church throughout Great Lent. As we do, let us also struggle to properly prepare our hearts and the hearts of our students for Holy Week and Pascha. If we do, when we arrive at the Feast of feasts, we will be prepared and filled with joy!

Footnotes:

  1. Calivas, Rev. Alciviadis C., Th.D., (1985, 8/13). “Orthodox Worship”. Retrieved from https://www.goarch.org/-/orthodox-worship
  2. 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 Great Lent:

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Here is a blog post about Forgiveness Vespers, the beautiful way in which we begin Great Lent: https://orthodoxchurchschoolteachers.wordpress.com/2015/02/13/on-forgiveness-vespers/

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This blog post suggests ways to help your students begin Lent well. It includes links to resources such as a daily lenten calendar that helps families learn about the themes of Great Lent with suggested activities for each day, among others. https://orthodoxchurchschoolteachers.wordpress.com/2015/02/20/on-beginning-great-lent/

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This blog post about the Presanctified Liturgy is geared towards families, but could be helpful to share with your students’ parents to help encourage them to attend these Lenten liturgies: http://www.orthodoxmotherhood.com/presanctified-liturgy-children/

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During Great Lent, we celebrate the Feast of the Annunciation. Here’s a blog post that can help you teach your students about this feast! https://orthodoxchurchschoolteachers.wordpress.com/2016/03/18/620/

(An additional helpful resource is the quarterly publication “Blessed Children,” published by St. George Antiochian Orthodox Cathedral, Pittsburgh, PA. Volume 4, Issue 1 is all about the Annunciation and contains articles related to it: ranging from the icon to the church of the Annunciation to a challenge to say “Yes!” just like the Theotokos did.)

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The second Sunday of Great Lent is the Sunday of St. Gregory of Palamas. This blog post may be helpful as you help your students learn more about him: https://orthodoxchurchschoolteachers.wordpress.com/2015/03/06/lenten-learning-st-gregory-of-palamas/

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The fourth Sunday of Great Lent is the Sunday of St. John Climacus. Here’s a blog post that could be helpful as you prepare to teach your students about him: https://orthodoxchurchschoolteachers.wordpress.com/2015/03/20/lenten-learning-st-john-climacus/

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The issue of “Little Falcons” magazine that is called “Fasts” is filled with articles related to fasting. “What Can We Do for Great Lent?” (pp. 20-21) offers practical suggestions of things children can begin to do during Great Lent to grow closer to God and to be more like Christ. It would make a fabulous discussion starter near the beginning of Lent; and your class could return to it later in the fast, to give yourselves a “checkup” as to how you are doing in these areas. “Fasts” is Issue #30 of Little Falcons. It is available as a back issue here:  http://www.littlefalcons.net/pdf/2016_Backissues.pdf).

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Through the Eyes of a Young Reader: “Queen Abigail the Wise” by Grace Brooks

You may remember the blog post we published about the recently-published Orthodox children’s book, “Queen Abigail the Wise,” by Grace Brooks. Our blog post was published in May 2015. (If you did not get a chance to read the blog before, find it here: https://orthodoxchurchschoolteachers.wordpress.com/2016/05/27/gleanings-from-a-book-queen-abigail-the-wise-by-grace-brooks/

We are in the new calendar year, which means that Great Lent is not too far off. The entire story of “Queen Abigail the Wise” takes place during Great Lent. We are revisiting the book in this blog post for two reasons. First and foremost refers to my statement in the first blog post about the book, “I must share this book with my 10-year-old goddaughter.” I did exactly that, and gave my then-10-year-old goddaughter Hope her own copy to read. After she read the book, we got together and talked about it. I thought you may be interested to hear Hope’s perspective on the book, not just mine, so here it is! (Mind you, there are spoilers, so if you haven’t read the book yet, don’t say we didn’t warn you about them!)

When Hope and I got together to discuss this book, I came with a series of questions for her. I tried to think of questions that would help “grownups” have a sense of how relative and enjoyable the book is for a young Orthodox Christian. (As you may have read in the prior blog post, the book is geared to children, but I found it to be uplifting even though I am an adult. I thought it was a great book, and I was pretty sure that Hope would like it. The older I get, though, the more I realize that what I think is nice for a person of a certain age may not necessarily sit as well with them as I thought it would. So I wanted to test this in-my-opinion-wonderful book with Hope to get her opinion of it. Here it is.)

The first question I asked Hope was whether or not she liked “Queen Abigail the Wise.” I was rewarded with the anticipated resounding “Yes!” and a huge smile on her face. Curious, I asked why, and she said, “I liked how [Abigail] had to do something to get something.” and “I like that she figured out that the young priest was the the iconographer by the end of the story.” (Remember, I already warned you that there are spoilers!)

I went on to ask Hope if there were parts of the book that she could relate to, and she said “Yes…” So I asked her which parts of the story she could relate to. She said, “Well, sometimes I get bored in church, too…” and went on to explain that she can understand how that felt to Abigail. She also said that she could relate to Abigail’s feelings at Pascha, when Abigail felt hot and cramped. Hope said that, like Abigail, she’s also not a crowd person and also, she is not hungry when she’s tired — just like Abigail.

Hope named Abigail as her favorite character in the book when asked, because, “I liked how she didn’t want to give up; and she felt bummed about missing church. I do that too sometimes. I also liked how she was willing to work hard and help others because she wanted the icon so badly.”

I couldn’t just ask about a favorite character, so I wondered aloud if Hope had a least favorite character? She said, “Well, at the beginning probably Vanessa because she seems snobby but I changed my opinion at the end. I could also say baby Jacob but he did play an important role.” (Again, spoilers! Well, almost…)

Although “Queen Abigail the Wise” is a chapter book, it contain a few illustrations. I am a visual person and love pictures, so I was delighted with the sketches: I found them charming. But, as mentioned above, I wondered if my personal theory fit with the actual practice and thus, how the illustrations would sit with a young lady of her age. So, I asked Hope if the illustrations added to the story. She said, “Yes, I like to have visuals!” (Like godmother, like goddaughter, I suppose!) But she mentioned that she wished for color, not just blackline illustrations. (I suggested that since the book is her very own, she could go through and color any illustrations that she wanted to, if she wished. A few weeks later, she came to church with her book and showed me that she had colored part of it with colored pencils! It was beautiful.)

I then asked an all-encompassing question about the theme of the book. I wondered what Hope thinks that the author, Grace Brooks, was trying to say with this story. What does Hope think is the book’s message? She give me two excellent answers: “If you set your mind to something and if you work hard you can achieve it… And no matter how much you dislike something or someone, in the end you may find that you actually love them.” Both answers were insightful. Sage words, coming from a 10-year-old.

I asked Hope if she had a favorite part of “Queen Abigail the Wise.” She answered, “The end, when Abigail gets her icon… And the way she describes the icon was pretty, too.”  I asked her if she would recommend this story to others, and she answered,”Yes!” She went on to say, “I would recommend it especially to those new to the Orthodox faith.”

Hope could not think of any part of the story that she did not like. Rather, she liked the book so much that sometimes she stayed up reading it past her bedtime! She was reading it in summer, so she could lie in bed reading until it got too dark outside to read by the snatches of light shining through her window. She got in trouble for doing so (oops!), but she really liked the book, and that’s what she does when she likes a book. (Again, like godmother, like goddaughter!)

So, as I had expected, Hope liked the book. She could relate to the characters and enjoyed learning along with them. Her experience with the story was similar to mine, and I am glad. But you’ll recall that I mentioned two reasons for this blog post, and you may be wondering about the second.

Well, the second reason I am posting about this book right now is all about timing. In a matter of weeks we will be in Great Lent again! You may want to get this book to share with an Orthodox youngster of your own, so that he/she can read it during Great Lent this year! Or perhaps you personally want to follow the related blog posts as the weeks go by: they are very challenging and encouraging for Orthodox Christians of any age! Or maybe you just want to read the book yourself, for your own growth. We’re sharing this blog post now because both Hope and I want to give you plenty of time so that you can do any (or all!) of the above!

Taking one final glimpse at my interview with Hope, my final question for her was whether or not she would be willing to read a sequel when it comes out? She answered with a resounding, “YES!.” So now there are TWO of us eagerly anticipating the second book in the “Every Tuesday Girls Club!” Our guess is that if you and/or your young Orthodox friends get a chance to read “Queen Abigail the Wise,” you will feel the same way. We certainly hope so!

Here are some important links related to the book:

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Purchase “Queen Abigail the Wise” by Grace Brooks, either for yourself or for young friends, here: https://www.amazon.com/Queen-Abigail-Wise-Grace-Brooks/dp/1518600115/  
There is also an ebook available. (But you can’t color in the illustrations of an ebook with colored pencil!)

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Meet all the girls in the “Every Tuesday Girls Club” at the Queen Abigail website: http://queenabigail.com/

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According to this blog post by “Queen Abigail the Wise” author Grace Brooks, http://queenabigail.com/2016/11/27/december-news-with-queen-abigail/, the second book in the series will be available soon! This one is called “Vanessa the Wonderworker!”

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Follow along on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/QueenAbigailtheWise/ for a variety of interesting posts including fresh creations by “Queen Abigail the Wise” author Grace Brooks, new blog posts that she writes, and other interesting things that she finds online and shares which are enjoyable to children and adults alike!

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Consider reading your way through “Queen Abigail the Wise” bit by bit, meditating on these wonderful blog posts by author Grace Brooks. http://queenabigail.com/2016/07/20/reading-through-queen-abigail-with-me/ Perhaps you can do this with a young friend, or even an entire Sunday Church School Class, throughout the course of Great Lent. Consider using these “Abigail” notebooks to document your learning along the way: http://www.cafepress.com/+queen_abigail_the_wise_journal,1908228623!

Gleanings from a Book: “Queen Abigail the Wise” by Grace Brooks

I wish I had “Queen Abigail the Wise”in my hands two months ago. I had heard about the book online somewhere, so I found and liked its Facebook page, in hopes that I would get to the book itself some day. Throughout Great Lent, Holy Week, and Pascha, author Grace Brooks kept posting links to the book’s blog. I chose not to read the blog posts, because I didn’t want to have any spoilers before I finally got my hands on the book and read it. Now that Lent is finished and I got a copy of the book, I can’t help wishing I had read both it and the related blog posts months ago! So many of the experiences that Abigail and her friends (oops, that’s a spoiler, sorry!) have throughout the course of this book are things that I can relate to, even though I’m a “grownup.”

I am an adult, but I freely admit that I love children’s literature. I have always enjoyed a good story, especially one with takeaway value whether in the overall story, the ethical choices of the story’s characters, or the lessons that they learn along the way. “Queen Abigail the Wise” offers all three: it is a package deal. The storyline is filled with the ups and downs of a very realistic Orthodox Christian girl, Abigail, as she lives her life during one Lenten season. Each of the main characters – the girls in the Every Tuesday Girls Club – have struggles, but they are determined to do their best, and the reader is invited along for the ride. Throughout the book there are many lessons learned, as well! Many chapters of the story contain their own mini-lessons, but the story is told so effectively that the reader doesn’t even notice that they are learning.

This book does an excellent job of presenting the Orthodox Christian life as real, applicable, and desirable for modern day girls. The charming illustrations enhance the storyline, adding delight to the story itself (and tempting this reader to break out her colored pencils!). The saints whose lives are appropriately introduced throughout the story are presented realistically, and the things that the characters learn from both the saints and the scriptures are relevant for life. Each of the girls in the Every Tuesday Girls Club is very different from all of the others, yet they interact with the Faith and each other in a genuine manner. This means they sometimes get along and sometimes they are just being, well, pre-teen American girls! The characters are so believable that the reader steps away from the story feeling like she has several new young friends.

I have a daughter who will soon turn 20. She has always loved to read, and has loved the Church and her girlfriends at church. Like Abigail and her friends, my daughter and hers have not always gotten along at every step of their journey, but they have learned together and grown closer to God along the way. To be honest, I wish I had this book ten years ago. She would have inhaled it, learned a lot, and shared it with her friends. And she probably would have made up a song about it. But I won’t say more about that: I don’t want to spoil the story for anyone who hasn’t read it yet!

Since I have the book now, instead, I will just have to share it with my 10-year-old goddaughter… so we can BOTH wait impatiently for the second in the series!

To learn more about “Queen Abigail the Wise” by Grace Brooks, or to purchase your own copy, visit the book’s website at http://queenabigail.com/. Follow along on facebook at https://www.facebook.com/QueenAbigailtheWise/.


“Queen Abigail the Wise” is a great story for young girls to read. It would be an excellent book to use for discussion (or a book club) if your Sunday Church School class is composed of pre-teen girls! But it is not just for young girls! Here are just a few of my favorite “quotes to ponder” that I found as I enjoyed the book and the blog posts related to it:

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Words to ponder from pp. 66- 67, when Abigail is talking to her mom and trying to figure out how to help her friend:

“Abigail… felt disappointed. ‘But isn’t there something to do?’

‘Praying is doing, Abby. Didn’t you hear what father Boris said in the homily? …He said that if you didn’t remember anything else about St. Gregory [of Palomas] you should just pray this week. Not just with words. Pray with your heart. And then—?’


‘Listen?’


‘Yes. Pray and then listen. Because God hears our prayers, but we don’t always hear His answers…’”  

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Words to ponder from page 138, in a discussion with one of her parish’s priests, Fr. Andrew tells Abigail, “There’s a lot more to the Cross of Christ than you understand right now. But then, there’s more to the Cross than any of us understand. It’s certainly more than just an expression about someone being your cross to bear. And the crosses God brings into our lives aren’t just bad things — they’re the things that can save us.”

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Words to ponder from Fr. Andrew’s sermon on Holy Saturday (pg. 234): “‘We’ve come to the end,’ he said. ‘Lent is over… Tonight we will meet here again when the sun is gone and the stars are out… We all know what will happen tonight, but what happens now, in the present? What will happen at the end of the service?’

Abigail couldn’t help jumping a little at the question. On the other side of the church, where Vanessa stood with Noah, she grimaced and pulled him a little closer to her. Fr. Andrew paused again, gazing around the church at the assembled people. ‘That part is up to you. May we use these last hours before the blessed Pascha service in ways that bring glory to the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.’

All the people murmured, ‘Amen,’ and Abigail exhaled. That had been a bit of a shock. It seemed that things in  church sometimes mirrored what was going on in her life to an astonishing degree.”

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(Warning: spoiler alert!!! Skip this until AFTER you read the book!)

Words to ponder from p. 264: “For the girls to walk in such sweet and simple harmony was more touching than they new. It had been a hard year at St. Michael the Archangel Church. There had been a lot of arguments and problems that had to get solved that year, and some people worried that they would never stop fussing and carrying grudges. But if the daughters of the Murphys, Peasles and Jenkinses could go along together, then maybe they could as well. If Abigail Alverson and Vanessa Taybeck could walk hand in hand, then really anything was possible.

“Abigail didn’t know it then, but that was when the Every Tuesday Girls Club began in earnest. That was when those five girls truly began to help the church.”

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Insights to ponder: “‘Queen Abigail’ is really just the story of how one girl ‘woke up’ to the Living God, to Christ present in every moment. That is really the very heart of any Christianity that is alive, intelligent and active. There are many of us — young and old, ‘cradle’ Christians and converts — who are going along in a kind of sleep-walk. We talk about God all the time — we talk and sing and hear about Father, Son and Holy Spirit. But do we believe that the Trinity is active and present in every moment — not 2000 years ago or at the Second Coming, but now?” ~ from author Grace Brooks’ blog post http://queenabigail.com/2016/05/10/last-thoughts-comments-and-some-secrets/

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Insights to ponder: “Whether we grew up Christian or not, chances are we were hearing the story of Jesus Christ’s life and death from the time we were young. We probably heard Christian claims that this man, who declared Himself to be the Son of God, died for us and rose from the dead. But do we really try to take that in? Do we let ourselves be amazed, as a child would be amazed?

Abigail’s eyes strayed up to the dome and the great image of Christ Himself looking down on them all. That image larger than any other, seeming to fill up the sky. One hand was raised in blessing. The other was on a book and on the book, a cross. She seemed to hear that voice again. Do you see, Abigail? Do you see?

“I wrote that passage for me, to give me a little kick. Do I really look, when I’m in church? Do I really listen? Lent is halfway over, so it’s worth thinking about, because we’ll arrive at the days of Holy Week sooner than we know. The cross of Christ is there every week in church, and extra attention is paid at the feasts of the Cross. But do we see?” ~ Grace Brooks, author of “Queen Abigail the Wise”, in her blog post http://queenabigail.com/2016/04/05/so-many-crosses-from-one-cross/

Learning Lenten Vocabulary

There are so many terms that we Orthodox Christians use which are unfamiliar to the rest of the world. The Lenten season is certainly no exception to this rule, as we enter into the Triodion, celebrate Cheesefare/Meatfare, attend Presanctified Divine Liturgies, and more. It is appropriate for us to review what these Lenten terms mean, and it is especially important for us to make sure our children understand them! This blog will offer basic definitions of Lenten terminology, and point us to places where we can find more information about each term.

Triodion: “The Triodion [is a season of preparation for Pascha which] begins ten weeks before Easter and is divided into three main parts: three Pre-Lenten weeks of preparing our hearts, the six weeks of Lent, and Holy Week. The main theme of the Triodion is repentance—mankind’s return to God, our loving Father.” from http://www.antiochian.org/fasting-great-lent.

“The Triodion” is also what we call the book which contains the variables for the divine services during this time of the Church year. It’s actually called ‘Triodion’ because there are only three odes in the canons during this season; rather than the usual nine.” ~ by Archimandrite Nektarios Serfes, http://www.serfes.org/orthodox/explanationoftriodion.htm. You can find each day’s section of the Triodion here: http://www.ocf.org/OrthodoxPage/prayers/triodion/triodion.html.

Meatfare: “Meatfare” is the day we say “farewell” to meat, before the fast begins. Read more about Meatfare from St. Theodore the Studite, at http://www.antiochian.org/catechesis-st-theodore-studite-meatfare-sunday.

Cheesefare:  “Cheesefare” is the day we say “farewell” to cheese, before the fast begins. Read more about Cheesefare Sunday and find links to even more about it at http://www.antiochian.org/cheesefaresunday.

Clean Monday: “Clean Monday” is the name given to the first day of the Lenten fast. Read more about this day, including how it is traditionally celebrated in Greece, and find some Greek Lenten recipes here: http://orthodoxtraditions.blogspot.com/2014/02/clean-monday-menu.html.

Fasting: “Fasting” means not eating specific (or, sometimes, all) food. We fast to remind ourselves that “man does not live by bread alone,” that spiritual things are so much more important than physical things. Adam and Eve first sinned by eating, so we choose to not eat, to help us to also remember not to sin. Read more about fasting here: http://www.antiochian.org/fasting-great-lent. Find quotes about fasting from church fathers and contemporary writers as well here: http://www.antiochian.org/taxonomy/term/1146.

Compline: “Compline” means “at the end of the work day” or “after supper” and is a service of Psalms and prayers appropriate for reflecting on the day and asking God’s guidance and blessing on the night ahead. You can find the lenten compline service here: http://www.antiochianladiocese.org/files/service_texts/great_lent/great_compline/Great-Compline-LENT.pdf.

Presanctified Divine Liturgy: “The Presanctified Divine Liturgy  is an evening service. It is the solemn lenten Vespers with the administration of Holy Communion added to it. There is no consecration of the eucharistic gifts at the presanctified liturgy. Holy Communion is given from the eucharistic gifts sanctified on the previous Sunday…” Read more about the Presanctified Liturgy at http://oca.org/orthodoxy/the-orthodox-faith/worship/the-church-year/liturgy-of-the-presanctified-gifts.

Akathist: The “Akathist Hymn to the Mother of God” is so named because “the word ‘akathistos’ literally means ‘not sitting,’ i.e., standing; normally all participants stand while it is being prayed. The hymn is comprised of 24 stanzas, alternating long and short… As the hymn progresses, various individuals and groups encounter Christ and His Mother. Each has his own need; each his own desire or expectation, and each finds his or her own particular spiritual need satisfied and fulfilled in Our Lord and in the Mother of God. So too, each generation of Orthodox, and each particular person who has prayed the Akathist, has found in this hymn an inspired means of expressing gratitude and praise to the Mother of God for what she has accomplished for their salvation.” You can find more information about the Akathist Hymn to the Theotokos, along with the hymn itself, at http://www.fatheralexander.org/booklets/english/m_akathist_e.htm.

Prostration: is a full bow to the ground with the knees touching the ground, and the head touching or near the ground, then immediately standing back up. As the bow to the ground is begun, the sign of the cross is made. Some people touch their knees to the ground first and then bend their upper body down, and the more athletic or coordinated essentially ‘fall’ forward to the ground  with their knees and hands touching at essentially the same time. This is very similar to the familiar gym class ‘burpee’.” ~ from http://www.orthodox.net/greatlent/o-lord-and-master-of-my-life-prayer-of-st-ephrem-01.html.

Prayer of St. Ephraim: This prayer is also called the “Lenten Prayer,” and originated with St. Ephraim the Syrian, who lived in the fourth century. Fr. Alexander Schmemann calls it “a checklist for our spiritual lives” and emphasizes that this prayer, along with other spiritual disciplines of Great Lent, can help us to be freed from basic spiritual diseases that make it almost impossible for us to turn toward God. Here is a  blog that offers insights into the prayer of St. Ephrem, quoting Church Fathers and Orthodox authors: http://modeoflife.org/the-lenten-prayer-of-saint-ephraim-explained/.

Holy Week: “Holy Week” is a week that truly lives up to its name: it is the holiest week of the Church year; there are many holy services to attend during the week; and we should all be very holy by the time we arrive at Holy Week, having just been through the discipline of Great Lent. The Rev. George Mastrantonis says that “Holy Week… institutes the sanctity of the whole calendar year of the Church. Its center of commemorations and inspiration is Easter, wherein the glorified Resurrection of Jesus Christ is celebrated.” He goes on to compare Holy Week to a sanctuary, that (because of the preparation of Lent) we enter “not as spectators, but as participants in the commemoration and enactment of the divine Acts that changed the world.” Read more of his explanation here: http://www.goarch.org/ourfaith/ourfaith8432. Find details about each service that we celebrate during Holy Week here: http://www.antiochian.org/1175027131.

Lamentations: “…the Lamentations refers to the Funeral Service for our Lord. It is actually the Orthros (Martins) for Saturday morning. The Lamentations is the form of a poetic dirge sung antiphonally by two or more groups of people. It is made up of a large number of verses divided in three long stanzas. As one stanza ends, the other begins with a different music. It sees that they were introduced not earlier than the 13th century. The author of these Lamentations is said to be St. Romanos Melodos. The Lamentations are also called Encomia, hymns of praise…” ~ Archimandrite Nektarios Serfes, http://www.serfes.org/orthodox/explanationoftriodion.htm.

Pascha: “Pascha, the name by which Orthodox Christians know the yearly celebration of Jesus Christ’s resurrection, comes from the Hebrew word for ‘Passover.’ In the Old Testament, the Hebrew people ‘passed over’ from slavery under Pharaoh in Egypt to freedom in the Promised Land, with Moses at their head. But this event was only a foreshadowing of something bigger and better to come. In the New Testament, the whole human race ‘passed over’ from slavery under the devil in sin and death to freedom in grace and eternal life, with the risen Christ as its head!… That is why Pascha is our greatest joy and brightest hope as Orthodox Christians! It is the cornerstone of our faith and the main point of the good news we have for the rest of the world. But Pascha is not just the remembrance of something that happened long ago and far away. It has happened to us in our lifetime too. Baptism was our personal Pascha. It made Christ’s death and resurrection our own: our old sinful selves were put to death and buried in its holy waters, after which we were raised up out of them, washed clean of sin and born again to a new life in him.”

Read more about Pascha here http://www.htoc-fl.org/downloads/pascha.pdf, and refresh your memory of how the Pascha service goes with Fr. Thomas Hopko’s article about it here: http://www.feastoffeasts.org/node/55.

Bright Week: “Bright Week” begins on the Sunday of Pascha and ends on Thomas Sunday. It may be called that because the newly baptized people were now illumined, or bright. Also, they wore white all week, so sometimes it is called “White week.” Bright week is a happy time of celebrating Pascha, and the whole week, the doors to the altar are left open as a happy reminder of the torn veil that opened the Holy of Holies in the Temple after Christ’s death, as well as the open stone that led to the empty tomb! Read more about Bright Week here: http://www.johnsanidopoulos.com/2010/04/what-is-bright-week.html.

Here are some ideas of ways to help your Sunday Church School children learn their Lenten vocabulary words:

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Teach the Lenten vocabulary words one at a time. The best way to teach new words is as they come up in conversation (or, in this case, as you anticipate hearing them being used at church). Generally speaking, children learn new terminology better when it is used in context instead of just randomly taught. As you teach each word, ask the children what they already know about it. What do they remember from other years? Try to build as much of a framework around the word as possible for them to “hang the word on.” Then fill in whatever they’ve missed in the definition.

As you begin this learning experience, from time to time, ask your students what one of the words which you already talked about means. Or, give them a definition and see if they can provide the Lenten vocabulary word that fits that definition. Before too long, they will know all of these terms and be able to correctly apply them.

Find a printable pdf of the Lenten vocabulary words with simplified definitions at http://www.antiochian.org/sites/default/files/lenten_vocabulary_words.pdf.

Find a printable pdf of the same words and definitions, arranged so that they can be printed as word cards, here: http://www.antiochian.org/sites/default/files/printable_lenten_vocabulary_word_cards.pdf.

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Apply the vocabulary words by making posters about them. Write each Lenten vocabulary word on a sheet of paper or poster paper. Work together to compile magazine picture collages or to draw sketches that remind you of what each word means. (The illustration could be a silly thing like someone waving at a piece of cheese for “Cheesefare,” etc.) Be creative, and then post your work in a place where you will see it and be reminded of the meanings of these words throughout the Lenten season.

Find a printable pdf of the vocabulary word “posters” here: http://www.antiochian.org/sites/default/files/lenten_vocabulary_word_posters.pdf.

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Personalize the vocabulary words by making small vocab books for each child. Make booklets for each child, writing one lenten vocabulary word on each page. As you discuss the words’ meanings, have each child draw or write in their own words to remind themselves of the definitions.

Find a printable pdf of the vocabulary word booklets here: http://www.antiochian.org/sites/default/files/lenten_vocabulary_booklet.pdf.

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Practice the vocabulary with card games. Make a set of playing cards by printing one of the Lenten vocabulary terms on a set of blank cards. Make a second set with a basic definition printed on each one. Use the cards in one of these two ways:

  1. Play “memory” with them. Mix all of the playing cards well, and turn them upside down so that all that can be seen is the back of the card. Lay the cards out in even rows. Take turns turning two cards face-up. If you find a pair, you keep it and go again. If not, turn the cards back upside down again, and play moves on to the next player.

    2. Play a matching game with the cards: Mix both sets of cards together, and pass out a few to each player (number will vary by number of players), leaving at least one card per player upside down on a “draw” pile. When it is his turn, a player asks another for a word (if he has the definition in his hand) or the definition (if he is holding the word). If the asked player has the card being asked for, he must turn it over to the asker. If not, the asker should draw a card from the “draw” pile (until the draw pile runs out). As soon as a player makes a matching pair, she lays the pair down on the table in front of her. Play continues until all matches have been made. The player with the most matched pairs wins the game. (Actually, all players who have learned their Lenten vocabulary are winners!)

You can make the cards with the printable pdf vocab word cards found here: http://www.antiochian.org/sites/default/files/printable_lenten_vocabulary_word_cards.pdf.

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Play an active game with the vocabulary words after everyone knows their meanings. Print one Lenten vocabulary word each, in large print, on sheets of paper until all of the words have their own sheet. Print the definitions on smaller cards. In a large open area (perhaps outside?), scatter the sheets of large-printed-vocabulary-word-papers around the playing area. One person is the “caller.” The caller holds the smaller cards and, one by one, reads one definition. As soon as a player recognizes the word whose meaning is being read by the caller, the player runs to that word. Points can be awarded in two ways (decide before beginning play): a) Every person who goes to the correct word gets a point. b) The first person who gets to the correct word gets a point. (Or, to combine the two, everyone who goes to the correct word gets one point, and the first person there gets two points!) The person with the most points at the end of the caller’s stack of definition cards is the winner.

You could use the printable pdf poster words for the “large word papers” in this activity. They can be found here:  http://www.antiochian.org/sites/default/files/lenten_vocabulary_word_posters.pdf. Use the definitions from the word cards (printable pdf found here: http://www.antiochian.org/sites/default/files/printable_lenten_vocabulary_word_cards.pdf) for the caller to read.

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Older children can review the vocabulary words with this crossword puzzle: http://www.antiochian.org/sites/default/files/orthodox_christian_lenten_vocabulary_crossword.pdf.

Lenten Learning: St. John Climacus

The fourth Sunday of Great Lent is called “The Sunday of St. John Climacus.” This blog will help us learn more about the life of St. John and why we commemorate him on this day, so that we can better teach our Sunday Church School students about his life. Here are two ways that we can begin to learn about him:

  1. Watch a 2-minute video about St. John of the Ladder, which introduces him and his book as well as the icon inspired by the book. The video ends with a challenge to young people to keep climbing! https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8VTtpllgQTk.
  2. Read this blog about his life and see pictures of the cave where he lived: https://orthodoxword.wordpress.com/2013/04/14/the-cave-of-saint-john-of-the-ladder/ or here: http://myocn.net/blessings-desert-st-john-ladder-climacus/

Would you believe that we do not actually even know St. John Climacus’ family name?!? Climacus is a Greek word that means “of the Ladder.” He is so named because of the book that he wrote primarily for ascetics. The book is also both challenging and helpful to lay people, and it is called The Ladder of Divine Ascent. St. John Climacus is known for what he lived, taught, and passed on; not for where (or who) he came from.

We do know that St. John was a monk who chose to live his life to the fullest for Christ, beginning at an early age. He was only 16 years old when he went to live at St. Catherine’s Monastery. When he was 20, he was tonsured a monk. One source mentioned that his elder waited those four years to tonsure him in order to test his humility. He lived as a monk for more than 70 years, many of those years in solitude, in a “cave” which was actually a small shelter formed by boulders: a truly humble dwelling. He lived a life of humility.

We also know that St. John’s pursuit of holiness has influenced the lives of Orthodox Christians for every century since he walked on earth. His words in The Ladder of Divine Ascent (which he wrote because the abbot of another monastery asked him to do so) encourage all of us to continue our journey towards the Kingdom of God. His entreaty that we “let the remembrance of Jesus be present with each breath” has challenged Orthodox Christians to live their lives in hesychasm, or the quietness that leads a person to God through constant prayer. (This constant prayer has come to be known as the “Jesus Prayer.”) He humbly led his monks and all Orthodox Christians since then, passing down tools that we can use to grow deeper in our faith.

So, what can we learn from what we know about St. John Climacus? How can we apply that learning and teach our Sunday Church School children to do so, as well?

1. Perhaps we can begin by emphasizing to our students how important it is for Orthodox Christians to live in a way that leads others towards God. Each family’s name is important to that family, but how much more important is the name which all of us bear, “Christian?” Let us evaluate how well we live up to that name, consider how our life is impacting those around us and those who will follow after us, and take steps to “kick it up a notch.” Let us encourage our students to do the same!

2. Another thing we can do after studying the life of St. John Climacus is encourage our students to live godly lives wherever they are! We need to support them in their pursuit of the Faith, doing all that we can to encourage their spiritual growth. We must encourage our students to incorporate themselves into the life of the Church, to continue to be involved with the Sunday Church School and JOY/SOYO, etc. We should encourage our students to attend Orthodox Christian summer camp so that they can meet other Orthodox kids and be strengthened in their faith. We can invest in icons, books, music, etc. to give as gifts to our Sunday Church School students, that will help to point them towards the Faith. We also need to work to inspire our students to offer themselves to God for His service, whether that happens now (serving in the altar, choir, etc.) or later in life (as short- or long-term missionaries, as monastics, or as clergy). Regardless of their age, when our Sunday Church School students take steps like this, whether they are small or large steps, let us support them, release them, and pray for them.

3. We can pursue holiness together as a Sunday Church School class by using the tools that St. John Climacus left for us. We should be praying constantly, pursuing hesychasm with more fervor. We can read The Ladder of Divine Ascent and study the steps with our students. (Download the book here: http://www.prudencetrue.com/images/TheLadderofDivineAscent.pdf. Listen to Fr. Thomas Hopko’s podcast about it here: http://www.ancientfaith.com/podcasts/hopko/4th_sunday_of_lent_st_john_of_the_ladder. Or read this new book that takes a look at each of the steps of St. John Climacus’ Ladder of Divine Ascent: http://store.ancientfaith.com/thirty-steps-to-heaven. Print a copy of the basic steps of the ladder to hang in your classroom as a reminder: http://saintannas.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/03/30-Steps-of-Ladder.pdf. Read about the icon of the Ladder of Divine Ascent here: http://saintannas.org/sunday-of-the-ladder-of-divine-ascent/.) As we practice constant prayer and daily continue our ascent of the ladder, we will become more like Christ.


“Ascend, brothers, ascend eagerly, and be resolved in your hearts to ascend and hear Him who says: Come and let us go up to the mountain of the Lord and to the house of our God, who makes our feet like hind’s feet, and sets us on high places, that we may be victorious with His song.

Run, I beseech you, with him who said: Let us hasten until we attain to the unity of faith and of the knowledge of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, who, when He was baptized in the thirtieth year of His visible age, attained the thirtieth step in the spiritual ladder; since God is indeed love, to whom be praise, dominion, power, in whom is and was and will be the cause of all goodness throughout infinite ages. Amen.” St. John Climacus, The Ladder of Divine Ascent, p. 129

 

Here are a few ideas of ways to teach about St. John Climacus:

This blog suggests ways to teach about the life of St. John Climacus, and also offers directions for a “ladder” craft to help children remember his book: http://kellylardin.com/activities/2014/03/20/fourth-sunday-of-lent-st-john-climacus/

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Send a copy of this page home with each child, so that their family can discuss St. John and the ladder, as well as Sunday’s Gospel reading: http://saintanna.org/assets/forms/st_john_climacus.pdf

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Give each child a copy of an icon of St. John Climacus for them to color and hang up in their home, to remind them of him and his holiness: http://www.ocf.org/OrthodoxPage/icons/clip/johnclim.gif or http://www.ocf.org/OrthodoxPage/icons/clip/climacus.gif

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Let younger Sunday Church School students color this icon of the ladder while you read to them a few of the steps on “the ladder” from St. John Climacus’ book The Ladder of Divine Ascent: http://www.ocf.org/OrthodoxPage/icons/clip/ladder.gif

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Provide materials for students to create their own artistic version of the “ladder of Divine Ascent” as suggested here: http://illumination-learning.com/main/2014/04/23/st-john-of-the-ladder-craft/

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Read some of these quotes from St. John Climacus with older Sunday Church School students, and discuss their meanings and application together: http://orthodoxchurchquotes.com/category/sayings-from-saints-elders-and-fathers/st-john-climicus-of-the-ladder/page/2/

On Beginning Great Lent

This week’s blog will offer resources for you to use with your own family, or for you to share with the families of your students. These resources will help parents and teachers prepare to lead themselves and the children in their care through Great Lent. We will begin with part of a helpful article by Ann Marie Gidus-Mercera, called “ Ways to Share Great Lent and Pascha with Your Child,” from Orthodox Family Life, printed in 1997. Used by permission.
Take your child to Church!

Whenever a service is scheduled, plan to attend. Services like The Canon of St. Andrew of Crete may be physically tiring with the many prostrations, but don’t think your child can’t be a part of them. In my own parish, which is filled with pre-schoolers, the children do a great job of making prostrations right along with the adults. Many of the children will join in as “Have mercy on me, O God, have mercy on me” is sung. This experience is good for our children! If they see their parents attending services, they get the message that attending Church is important. If we bring our children to Church with us (both young and old), they get the message that their presence in Church is important. The Canon of St. Andrew of Crete is especially good for teaching our children that we worship with our entire bodies.

Explain the service that your family will be attending.

Notice that the word “family” is used in the first sentence. Now is a good time to stress that the entire family should be attending services. My husband can’t make it home from work in time for all of us to get to services together, but he always meets us at Church. This tells our children that Church is important enough for Daddy to meet us there. As children get older, homework and after-school activities may tempt them (and us!) to skip Church services. Don’t let it! First of all, if we give in, then what we’re really telling them is that worldly affairs are more important than spiritual affairs. By allowing our children to miss Church, we make it extremely easy for them to fall away as teenagers or young adults.

Last of all, if we allow our older children to miss Church, we are telling our younger children that Church is not important when they get to be big sister or big brother’s age. Enforcing Church attendance by the entire family is no easy task. In fact, enforcing it may be one of the hardest jobs you encounter. Sticking to your rule will be even tougher. It’s a choice we must make as Orthodox parents. Maybe, it makes our task easier if we ask ourselves, “What would God want us to do?” The answer is obvious.

Prepare your child for Lent.

The weeks prior to Lent help us take on the right frame of mind for entering Lent. Let them do the same for your child. Read the stories and let your child color [or draw] the pictures prior to attending the Sunday services. You may want to read the story again on Saturday evening, or let your child take the color sheet to Church. A simple reminder Sunday morning concerning what the service and gospel reading will contain can be enough. Pre-schoolers have the ability to remember even the briefest of comments (even when it’s something we DON’T want them to remember!) Keep your explanation simple and BRIEF in order to hold his/her attention. Don’t try to go into a long and draw-out explanation or s/he will lose interest. If s/he has questions or comments, answer them briefly.

Don’t feel mountains have to be moved the day Lent begins, or even during Lent.

It might be a quiet, even uneventful day. That’s okay! Nothing magical needs to happen. We must only be ready to give our hearts to Christ, and we should gladly hand them over in an effort to be a good example to our children. This is our greatest task as Orthodox Christian parents.

You and/or your students’ parents may find it helpful to have a daily calendar for the Lenten Fast. Here is a printable Lenten-focused activity calendar, highlighting important days during Great Lent, that features daily suggestions of activities that families can do together during the fast. The goal of the calendar is to offer ideas that can help you live a more Christ-centered life during the Lenten fast. Find the calendar here:

https://orthodoxchristianparenting.wordpress.com/2017/02/22/a-calendar-for-great-lent/

Following are additional suggestions for preparing for Great Lent with children:

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Help your Sunday Church school students create a “Lenten Treasure Chest” that they can fill with “coins” of REAL value, as shown in this free printable page: http://www.annunciationakron.org/phyllisonest/pdf/LENTEN%20TREASURE%20CHEST%20%2B%20coins.pdf

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Share this great blog with your students’ parents. It is about ways to start keeping a Lenten fast with kids: http://illumination-learning.com/main/2015/02/14/living-our-faith-its-too-hard-for-my-kids/.

Also, here is a fun and thorough variety of fasting meal ideas that can be packed: http://www.illumination-learning.com/blog/2013/03/lenten-staples-meals-on-the-go/

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Send home this link to a creative way that a family can experience Lent together (including fasting, attending services, and giving to those in need). This easily explains and tracks your lenten journey on the family fridge: http://www.antiochian.org/content/family-activities-lenten-journey

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Here is a printable coloring/activity book for the Sundays of Lent and Holy Week: https://www.scribd.com/doc/49025598/Lent-Workbook-English-2

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Here’s an overview of each Sunday of Lent, complete with the message of the week and suggested activities, here: https://www.scribd.com/doc/48101187/Lent-HolyWeek-Chart

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Here is an overview of Lenten Sundays and Holy Week, with suggested steps of action for teens: http://www.antiochian.org/content/lenten-message-all-orthodox-teens

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Here are ideas for learning boxes for young children to explore during Holy Week. If your students are of an age that they would benefit from these, consider making these for your students, or passing the link on to their parents: http://www.sttheophanacademy.com/2011/04/revisiting-pascha-learning-boxes.html

On Forgiveness Vespers

We are rapidly approaching Great Lent, and it is time for us to begin to prepare our hearts and the hearts of our students! Great Lent begins just as it should, with Forgiveness Sunday. Here are some ideas of ways we can help our students learn about Forgiveness Vespers, so that when they are experiencing this part of Forgiveness Sunday, they can better understand the service and more fully participate.

Why do we have Forgiveness Sunday? We begin Great Lent with Forgiveness Sunday because we need to remember how far we have strayed from the way God intended us to be, and how much we each need His forgiveness. This Sunday reminds us of Adam and Eve’s need to leave Paradise. (Find printable pdfs about Adam and Eve, which can be used to teach our students their story, at http://dce.oca.org/assets/files/resources/28.pdf, written for younger kids and http://dce.oca.org/assets/files/resources/29.pdf, written for older kids.) It also reminds us of our own need for forgiveness from God. Read more about Forgiveness Sunday and the icon of the day here: http://lent.goarch.org/forgiveness/learn/.

Why is Forgiveness Vespers an important part of Forgiveness Sunday? We begin Great Lent with Forgiveness Vespers so that we can begin the lenten fast as forgiven people. Our Lord said, “If you forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will forgive you; but if you do not forgive men their trespasses, neither will your heavenly Father forgive you your trespasses (Matthew 6:14).” We pray the Lord’s Prayer daily, “…forgive us our tresspasses as we forgive those who trespass against us…” Forgiveness Vespers offers us the opportunity to forgive and receive forgiveness of our whole Church family. Discuss this concept, stressing the importance of forgiveness, with your students. (Find interesting ways to demonstrate forgiveness – including using disappearing ink or dissolving paper – at http://gracepointe.net/wp-content/uploads/2013/01/4th-5th-Grade-Lesson-God-wants-us-to-forgive-others-as-hes-forgiven-us.pdf.)

What happens during Forgiveness Vespers? “Before we enter the Lenten fast, we are reminded that there can be no true fast, no genuine repentance, no reconciliation with God, unless we are at the same time reconciled with one another.” (See more at: http://lent.goarch.org/forgiveness/learn/#sthash.EHma5Qv1.dpuf) Forgiveness Vespers reminds us of the importance of asking God and each other for forgiveness. At the end of the service, we ask each other for forgiveness, and extend forgiveness to each other. Prepare your students for this service. Talk with them about what words your parish uses during this time of mutual repentance. Also discuss what those words mean. Model what will happen, so that those who have never attended a Forgiveness Vespers will know what to expect. Remind them of when the special service will take place, and encourage them to come to it and participate with you.
Asking your students’ forgiveness and extending forgiveness to them is a sweet and beautiful moment in a Sunday Church School teacher’s year. Do what you can to help that moment to be able to happen!

Let us begin the fast with joy!

Let us prepare ourselves for spiritual efforts!

Let us cleanse our soul and cleanse our flesh!

Let us abstain from every passion as we abstain from food!

Let us rejoice in virtues of the Spirit and fulfill them in love,

that we all may see the Passion of Christ our God,

and rejoice in spirit at the holy Pascha!

Following are additional related ideas that can help you prepare to teach your students about Forgiveness Sunday:

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After a lesson on Forgiveness Sunday with older students check their retention by asking them some of these questions: http://www.orthodox.net/questions/forgiveness_sunday_1.html.

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St. Polycarp of Smyrna (who is, believe it or not, commemorated on Feb. 23!) is an excellent example of forgiveness. Here’s a printable copy of his life, including references to Forgiveness Vespers: http://dce.oca.org/assets/templates/bulletin.cfm?mode=html&id=6

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Find excellent leveled question prompts about repentance and forgiveness here: http://dce.oca.org/mini/repentance/. Question levels begin at grade K, all the way through adulthood.

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Here is a link to a great family Gospel lesson on Forgiveness Vespers. Consider printing it and sending it home (or sharing the link) with your students so that they can talk together with their families about this service, before they attend and participate. It includes the Gospel reading, a brief discussion, questions for families to talk together about, and a few hands-on ideas to do together in response. http://lent.goarch.org/family/forgivenesssunday.asp

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“Forgiveness is the heart of the matter, and that’s why the Great Lenten season in the Orthodox Church begins with the Sunday of Forgiveness.” ~ Fr. Thomas Hopko http://www.ancientfaith.com/podcasts/hopko/forgiveness_sunday_2_asking_for_forgiveness

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Find a few ideas for object lessons on teaching about forgiveness (these ideas are not Orthodox, but can be a starting place) here: http://ministry-to-children.com/forgiveness-object-lessons/.

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Read an interesting article on the science of forgiveness at http://www.pravmir.com/the-science-of-forgiveness/ for some interesting insights into why we need to forgive!

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