Category Archives: Icons

On Living Icons

The Orthodox Christian Faith is enriched by icons. We surrounded ourselves with these prayerfully-written images of Christ, the Theotokos, and the saints. Our churches are full of icons, as are our homes. This is as it should be. In our modern self-focused culture, we need visual reminders of God’s work in and through the saints! These reminders in the form of icons challenge us to be strong and live a life accordingly faithful.

There are other icons that enrich our Faith as well. God has surrounded us with His hand-written images of Christ in the form of every person around us. Our churches are full of them, as are our homes. But He has not limited His handwritten icons to the Church. They are all around us. If you are like me, occasionally you may need a reminder that everyone – EVERYONE – is an icon of Christ, written by God Himself, in His image. May this short post remind us of that truth. So, that sweet lady at Church? Yes, she is an icon of Christ. The person who just cut me off when driving? An icon. The persistent child interrupting my phone conversation? An icon. That person who I struggle to love? An icon. The famous person everyone gossips about? An icon. Those people who live far away and very differently from me? They, too, are an icon. My spouse? Also an icon, written in the image of (and by the Hand of) God.


Whether or not we recognize His artistry, God has written (and is writing) each and every person. Therefore, we must remember that He is at work in and through them, then respond with the love and respect that we offer any other icon reflecting His image. When we choose to see His work in each person, we will be challenged by them to be strong and live our Christian life faithfully!  

We must be careful to note that this recognition of God’s work in writing the living icons around us must not be limited to noting it in other people. In truth, we ourselves are living icons, and should also be enriching the Church and our world. In order to be the most reflective image of Him that we can be, we need to cooperate with Him as he works in and through us. As we do so, He will strengthen us and give us what we need to live the faithful Christian life befitting an icon.

May God help us all to live and love His image in every person! And as we do so, may we teach our Sunday Church School children to do the same.

 

Here are some resources that can help us teach our students how to be more aware of the icons of Christ around us; while challenging ourselves to be the best icons of Christ that we can:

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Here is an excellent activity that you can do with a younger-grades class which will help them to review the symbolism in iconography and then apply it to a contemporary icon-like drawing of a living icon who they know. Find the activity, symbolic descriptions, and a link to the printable page the students can use for their drawing here:  http://orthodoxeducation.blogspot.com/2008/07/living-icons.html

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Teachers of younger grades may be able to adapt parts of this (non-Orthodox) activity-filled lesson on being made in God’s image: https://www.umcmission.org/ArticleDocuments/150/book2part2lesson5.pdf.aspx
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Talk with your students about this quote by St. John of Damascus: “The whole earth is a living icon of the face of God.”
If we truly believe this, how does that affect our view and treatment of others? Of ourselves? Of the world itself?

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Share this quote to begin a discussion with a teen or adult class:

“Every one of us is in the image of God, and every one of us is like a damaged icon. But if we were given an icon damaged by time, damaged by circumstances, or desecrated by human hatred, we would treat it with reverence, with tenderness, with broken-heartedness. We would not pay attention primarily to the fact that it is damaged, but to the tragedy of its being damaged. We would concentrate on what is left of its beauty, and not on what is lost of its beauty. And this is what we must learn to do with regard to each person as an individual, but also – and this is not always as easy – with regard to groups of people, whether it be a parish or a denomination, or a nation. We must learn to look, and look until we have seen the underlying beauty of this group of people. Only then can we even begin to do something to call out all the beauty that is there. Listen to other people, and whenever you discern something which sounds true, which is a revelation of harmony and beauty, emphasize it and help it to flower. Strengthen it and encourage it to live.” – Metropolitan Anthony of Sourozh

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“To be an Orthodox Christian means to proclaim that God has a very special love for us. Our life was given to us a very a sacred gift so that we may grow to fulfill our destiny as His children, to fulfill His plan that He has had for us since before we were even born. We are called to be “living icons,” temples of the Holy Spirit, and members of the Kingdom of Heaven. We must come to value life for the precious gift from God that it is, and make our choices on that basis.” These are the concluding thoughts of a lesson. This lesson (which includes a variety of activities and suggested discussion questions) could be used for a Sunday Church School or for a retreat on the importance of valuing life and living as an icon. https://oca.org/the-hub/life-and-death/session-1-the-living-icon-the-sanctity-of-human-life

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Listen to this 7 minute sermon from Fr. Ted Paraskevopoulos with your teen/adult Sunday Church School class to receive an overhaul on your perspective of yourself (and others), the icon(s) of Christ: http://www.ancientfaith.com/podcasts/isermon/orthodox_anthropology

 

 

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On Miracles That God Performs Through Icons

Icons are windows to heaven. We have them in our churches, we have them in our homes, and perhaps in our car/locker/workspace/elsewhere as well. They are in these places as visual reminders of Truth. Icons remind us of the power of God at work, either through the written images of Christ Himself or of those gone before us who have followed Him completely and became saints. They help us to better understand the scriptures and to better connect with the person/people written on them. Icons draw us to God by virtue of their beauty, the stories of faithfulness they represent, the Scriptures they unveil. It is a miracle that something so simple as a prayerfully-written icon can do so much to help us on our journey toward Him.

Occasionally, God chooses to move beyond that sense of “being drawn,” and to work other miracles through them. The purpose of this blog post is to help each of us to learn about some of the icons He is using in this way (or has recently used in this way), and to read the stories of miracles wrought through them. It is our hope that this post will be encouraging and help each of us to be aware of how God is at work through icons. These stories will also encourage our students, as we share the stories with them.

There are several ways that you could share these miracles with your Sunday Church School Students. One of these accounts could be shared as your students are eating their snack (if you have Church School right after Liturgy), each week for a period of weeks. Or perhaps you could share one at the beginning or end of every class for a season. Perhaps you would prefer to teach a lesson about miracles wrought through icons and wish to select several of the stories to study in a lesson or series of lessons. It is up to you how you utilize these stories. Please consider sharing them with your students! Children are naturally full of wonder, and will benefit from knowing these amazing ways in which God is at work through holy icons.

 

Here are a few examples of miracle-working icons and their stories which you may wish to share with your students:

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What would you or your students do if some of the icons in your prayer corner miraculously began streaming myrrh? Read this account by Subdeacon Nectarios himself, of what happened in his home. In the account, you’ll read about two streaming icons (each with different-smelling myrrh), a cat, a “doubting Thomas” who ends up with a mouthful of “proof,” and a few of the miracles that the miraculous myrrh have wrought. Glory to God! http://www.orthodoxhawaii.org/icons.html

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The Kardiotissa Icon of the Mother of God, at St. George Orthodox Church in Taylor, Pennsylvania, has been exuding myrrh ever since it was anointed with the myrrh of the Hawaiian Iveron icon in October of 2011. Many, many lives have been changed as a result. Share some of the miracles that have happened, as accounted in this homily, with your students: http://www.schwebster.org/sermons/2014-sermons/the-miracles-and-wonders-of-god-the-crying-icon-of-taylor-pa

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Begin a discussion with your older students about different kinds of healing (physical vs spiritual) by reading them this quote (and perhaps the entire article): “Over the past ten years there have been many miracles; some I’ve heard about and some I haven’t. There have been many physical healings, external, and there have also been many spiritual, inner healings. Through this Icon many of the faithful have experienced radical transformations in their lives. It’s as if people become liberated from the ‘old man’ and ardently strive towards God.  When the Icon is present in various churches, monasteries and homes, one senses a renewal of love for the Mother of God; almost immediately many people approach for confession, spiritually reborn through a feeling of repentance.  I’d like to say that the Mother of God helps our believers sense their sinfulness before Her Son, Jesus Christ.”


Read this and more of the story and miracles of the copy of the Iveron icon of the Mother of God (the same one whose copy was sent to Hawaii and began myrrh streaming there, and when that one in turn visited the Kardiotissa icon in Pennsylvania it began exuding myrrh as well), which was brought to Canada from Mt. Athos by a Chilean convert to Orthodoxy here: http://www.roca.org/OA/120/120k.htm

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“One can go on for a very long time listing the different holy Icons of the Ever-Virgin Mary and Theotokos and all the wonderful countless miracles of our Panagia. It is, however, important for all Orthodox Christian believers to always seek the holy intercessions of the Mother of God and to turn to Her for aid, healing, comfort and salvation.” Read some of the miracles in this article: http://saintandrewgoc.org/home/2014/8/25/the-miraculous-icon-of-panagia-portraitissa-the-keeper-of-th.html. Ask your students if they have heard any other stories of times when God has worked miracles through an icon of the Theotokos. Then, spend some time praying and asking her to pray for you and your loved ones – and the whole world!

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Watch this 8-minute video that shows miracle after miracle, mostly related to icons, which God has granted through His Holy Orthodox Church. The video is set to parts of the Vespers service chanted by Eikona, and could be a wonder-filled way to end a class about miracle-working icons! (We recommend that you watch it before showing it to your students, however, so you know what they will see and can be prepared to answer related questions.) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=p-AOO903CZA

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Throughout history, icons of the Mother of God have worked miracles. This article shares the commemoration days of many icons of the Theotokos, along with some of the stories of miracles attributed to those icons, set throughout history. These stories are not as recent as some of the above, but they are still miracles and well worth learning about! To read about an icon of the Theotokos and/or a miracle attributed to the icon, click on the month, then which of the days of that month you’d like to read about: https://oca.org/saints/icons-mother-of-god. In order to learn about more of them, consider allowing each student to select a different one to learn about and share their learnings with the rest of the class. (You will need to plan ahead and print things out, unless you have internet access in class or you give the students the assignment to bring back on a different Sunday.)

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“Venerating a miracle is also a way of acknowledging the importance of its context. A weeping icon is amazing, but it’s obviously not meant to distract attention away from the liturgical, sacramental, and doctrinal life of the Church. If anything, a miracle should amplify the importance of Church practices and teaching, for the God who causes the miracle is also the God who established these as markers of his ‘new and everlasting covenant’ with mankind.” Read more about responding to miracles wrought through icons in this article:  http://myocn.net/miracle-greece-weeping-icon-mean/. After reading the article, be sure to discuss it with your students so that they know how best to respond to any miraculous events they may experience that are associated with icons.

 

Gleanings from a Book: “Icon” by Georgia Briggs

Author’s note: This book will be of great encouragement and benefit to every Sunday Church School teacher’s journey of Faith. However, since the book is geared to older children, be aware of the events of the book and use caution when sharing it with your students. You know them, so you know if they would benefit from reading it, or if the events would be too disturbing and they would not find it uplifting. The book would be an excellent upper grades/teen book study!

I did not want this book to end. That is the first time in a long time that I’ve read a book and felt that way. “Icon” by Georgia Briggs may be aimed at young adults, but it is no ordinary young-adult-aimed fiction book, and is a great read for adults as well.

The story line in this book is believable, though fictional, and I found it hard to put the book down because of both the story line and the Orthodox insights throughout the book. “Icon” is the moving story of a young Orthodox Christian girl in a era similar to our own, except that in this dystopian tale (set in 0000 ET, “Era of Tolerance,” with flashbacks to the Pascha before ET began), it is suddenly no longer legal to be a Christian, most especially an Orthodox one. “Icon” is a story of loss, finding, miracles, death, light, and restoration, written so believably that the reader thinks “this could really happen!” It is a gripping story of Faith put to the test.

This book challenges its readers to think about their own Faith. What if all that we currently do and take for granted with regard to our Faith were suddenly illegal and we were being watched at every turn? What if our family members died/disappeared simply because of their Faith? What if we were left alone and had to move to new surroundings and change even our very name to one unassociated with our Faith? And what if all of this happened to us at the tender age of 12? My guess is that many of us would not react with the same endurance that Euphrosyne does. (But neither is this one of those books that glosses everything over. Euphrosyne definitely struggles with doubt and temptation all along the way, and the reader struggles along with her, knowing what she ought to do, but also understanding the reality of what will happen if she stands strong for her Faith!) The book is written so realistically that one almost feels the need to keep an eye out for “traps” in his/her own life after reading it.

After reading Euphrosyne’s struggles and then thinking through the questions that those struggles point to, the reader is left with the determination to take nothing about the Faith for granted. Readers will continue to realize the blessing that icons are in their life, whether the human-written ones or the icons that are still wearing the flesh that God Himself wrote. When a reader makes the sign of the cross, they will ponder the “streaks of light” that Euphrosyne could “see” traced over her Orthodox friends’ chests near the end of the book. The Divine Liturgy will not be the “same old” liturgy so easily taken for granted… I could go on and on (at the risk of divulging too much of the story) with ways that the reader will be challenged to ponder their faith. Suffice it to say that this book makes its readers really think about their Faith and then value it like never before.

If you choose to share this book with your students, be sure that you read it first (it won’t take you too long: as I mentioned before, it is hard to put down!), so that you have a grasp on what is coming. If you share it with the class, you can read it aloud with them, or have them read several chapters at a time that you can then discuss when you meet together. It would make a great summer “book club” read that you could meet up during coffee hour to discuss the next few chapters, even if you are not having Sunday Church School over the summer! Regardless of how you read it, be sure to talk together about this book. It is my opinion that your Faith (and your students’ Faith!) will be strengthened after reading and discussing this book together!

Purchase your own copy/copies of “Icon” here: http://store.ancientfaith.com/icon-a-novel/

Learn more about author Georgia Briggs here: https://georgiabriggsauthor.wordpress.com/

Here are some quotes from different parts of “Icon” by Georgia Briggs, along with suggestions of discussions your class could hold when you arrive at that part of the book. (With apologies for spoilers: they are difficult to avoid in this book!) We hope that these selections can help to give you an idea of the types of discussions that this book can encourage!
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“Mimi leans closer to me. ‘I’ll tell you a bigger secret,’ she whispers, ‘I am still Orthodox. My name is Mary. And guess what? It always will be.’

‘They made me change mine to Hillary,’ I say, ‘I used to be Euphrosyne.’

‘After St. Euphrosynos the Cook?’

‘Yeah. He was my patron saint.’

‘He still is your patron saint,’ Mimi whispers.

‘What if he isn’t, now that my name is different?’

‘They can’t change the name God gave you, Mimi says.‘Besides… you want to know something really ironic?’

‘What?’

‘Hillary is an Orthodox name too,’ she says with a grin. She shakes her head. ‘And Mimi is short for Miriam, which is just another form of Mary. Somebody didn’t do their research.’”~ “Icon” by Georgia Briggs, p. 44

This exchange between Euphrosyne and her new friend, Mary the librarian, offers the chance to talk about names. What name does each member of your class go by? What is their Christian name? Spend some time learning more about and teaching each other about your patron saints!

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“I’m quiet for a few minutes, considering what he’s saying. It seems so easy, so simple, to believe that goodness is just following your heart and being nice to people.

It’s flat, thought. It’s like Winter Holiday instead of Christmas, warm and fuzzy but not real. It’s nothing like the rich smell of incense, or the warmth in your throat when you swallow communion, or the brightness of Pascha. I’ve pulled a bullet from an icon and watched it bleed. Maybe if I had grown up with my grandparents, I could agree with Dr. Snead, but you can’t go through what I’ve been through and not believe in God. The real question is if I want to follow God or not.” ~ from “Icon” by Georgia Briggs, pp. 99-100

Ask your students what they think of these thoughts Euphrosyne has in one of her “sessions” with Dr. Snead. Have them mentally compare their own spiritual life with the life of a non-religious person their age, to see if there are parallels to what Euphrosyne is saying about the emptiness of life without Faith. Invite them to cite incidents of times when they have had the opportunity to see God at work. Encourage them to think about following God as well, even if no one else around them is choosing to do so.

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“He turns the icon toward me, and I see St. Nicholas’ stern eyes and set mouth…

‘I thought Christians weren’t supposed to worship things like this,’ Dr. Wilcott says. ‘Graven images. Isn’t that kind of like idolatry?’

It’s like a picture of a friend, I think. Not an idol. But if I get drawn in, I might say too much, so I just say, ‘I don’t know.’

Dr. Snead chuckles. ‘Same old Hillary, shutting herself off.’”~ from “Icon” by Georgia Briggs, pp. 162-163.

After reading this passage, talk with your students about icons and idolatry. How do the students define the difference between reverencing an icon and idolatry? Have they ever encountered someone who accused them of idolatry because of having icons in their home and church? Talk together about Euphrosyne’s personal description of what an icon means to her. Challenge the students to think of the best way that they can describe what an icon means to them, so that when they meet with opposition or accusations, they can clearly express their intent with having and/or reverencing the icon.

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“‘So, I assume you’re here for one of these?’ [Dr. Snead] waves his hand from me to the icon. ‘Or both?’

‘Both,’ says Father Innocent.

‘How about we make a deal?’ says Dr. Snead. ‘I’ll give you one. You choose.’

‘Then I must take Euphrosyne.’

‘The sick orphan instead of a holy icon? Look at her. She won’t make it out to your car.’

‘There are two holy icons here,’ says Father.

Dr. Snead blinks in confusion.

‘And I believe St. Nicholas can take care of himself,’ Father Innocent says…” ~ from “Icon” by Georgia Briggs, pp. 180-181

Talk with your students about this passage. What does Father Innocent mean when he says that there are TWO icons in Dr. Snead’s office? There is St. Nicholas’ icon with the bullet hole and the bloodstain, and what/who else? Which icon is Fr. Innocent choosing to take with him? Do you think that is a good idea? Why or why not?

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“When I get close, I realize I can see more than just the stuff on the outside. I can see her soul too. And it makes me sad. Its silver glow has dark scars across it. There’s a jagged rip over her heart and another on her right hand, the hand she’s holding over her face as she cries. The one across her heart looks old, but the one on her hand is fresh. I hover beside her, trying to touch her.

‘Lord have mercy, Lord have mercy, Lord have mercy.’ she whispers over and over again. She makes the sign of the cross, and her fingers leave a trail of light that lingers for a moment before disappearing.”  ~ from “Icon” by Georgia Briggs, p. 195

Talk together about this passage after reading it. Why do you think her soul glows? Where did the scars come from? Why do her fingers leave a trail of light when she crosses herself? How does this make you think differently about your own soul and your own prayers?

Saints of Recent Decades: Ideas for Biographical Storytelling

We have reached the end of our series entitled “Saints of Recent Decades.” We know that we have barely scratched the surface of all the Saints from recent decades, but we hope to have introduced you to a few new friends along the way! There are so many others whose lives we could have studied, but we were limited by time. Who did we miss that we should all know about? Comment below to help add more options of recent Saints (we chose to define “recent” as those within the last few hundred years; especially ones of whom we have photographs as well as icons) for the community to learn together about.

With the exception of the very first post in the series, we gave you only the story of the Saint’s life, and did not always offer a way for you to share their story with your class. The purpose of this blog post is to do that: offer suggestions of ways to tell biographical stories. After reading this, we hope that as you share these stories (or the stories of other Saints) with your Sunday Church School students, you have ideas of ways to do so.

Holy Saints, please intercede for our salvation!

Here are some ideas of ways to tell the stories of the lives of the Saints:

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Some Saints’ icons have a main icon written in the center and smaller ones around that tell more of their story. If you can find one of these icons of the Saint whose life story you are planning to tell, you are set! Show your students the icon and tell the stories connected to each one around the outside edge until they’ve heard the entire life story of the Saint. (Here is an example, icons of St. Maria of Paris: https://www.flickr.com/photos/jimforest/3509929913/.)

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As we have suggested for the Bible story presentations (see https://orthodoxchurchschoolteachers.wordpress.com/2016/07/01/bible-story-grab-bags-old-testament/ for example), you can make “Saint Story Grab-bags.” To tell the story of the life of a saint, fill a bag with items that represent each part of the saint’s life. For example, see the items (listed in parenthesis) at the beginning of each paragraph of the story of St. Herman as we noted it here: https://orthodoxchurchschoolteachers.wordpress.com/2016/09/30/saints-of-recent-decades-st-herman-of-alaska-december-13-or-25/ Pull each item from the bag in order, as you tell the saint’s story. You can do this with any Saint’s story. The hardest part of this storytelling method is dividing the Saint’s story up into smaller sections and then thinking of a representative item to put in the bag for that section. The retelling is infinitely easier, because you have the items to jog your memory of what happened at that point in the Saint’s life. (Note: we recommend that you still keep your story/script nearby in case you forget which item comes next!)

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You can also use “Saint Story Grab-bags” as a review! Over a period of time, as you tell each Saint’s story, save one representative item from each Saint’s life and put it in a “Saint Story Grab-bag.” For example, a small toy trash can that reminds you of the Parisian children that St. Maria of Paris saved by using the trash system in the city; a pair of binoculars representing St. Porphyrios’ miraculous long-distance vision; a small towel to represent St. Herman of Alaska’s miraculous healing; etc. After you have told all of the Saint stories you plan to tell, take some review time to pull the item(s) out of the bag and see what the children remember about them. This can take as much as a whole class period near the end of the year, or as little as “okay, we have five minutes of class time left. Who wants to reach in the Saint Story Grab-bag and choose a Saint-story-review piece?” Either way, have the students tell as much of the story as they can remember on their own!
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Create a photo album of the Saint’s life. Collect actual pictures if they are available and put them together in a powerpoint presentation or in a scrapbook. If no pictures are available, find other related photos from the era (ie: a photo of some of the Jews inside of the Velodrome d’Hiver, taken around the same time that St. Maria of Paris was rescuing children) and put those in your album. Then flip through the powerpoint or album as you share the story of the Saint’s life with your students. (Note: if you enjoy scrapbooking, you may want to design your scrapbook online. There are many free templates available, and here’s a great tutorial of how to layer a digital scrapbook page: http://www.sweetshoppedesigns.com/tutorials/index.php/2011/12/using-templates/!)

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Create a timeline of the Saint’s life and use it to share their story. This can be done in many ways. Here are a few:

  1. You can line up representative photos or items across the front of the Sunday Church School classroom (or down the middle of the table if your class meets around a huge table) in the order in which they occurred in the Saint’s life. Work your way down the line as you tell the story.
  2. Hang a rope or bulletin board strip on a wall in your classroom. Use clothespins or thumbtacks to attach photos or items in the order that they are needed to tell the Saint’s life story. (This creates a “retelling rope” of sorts similar to this one: https://s-media-cache-ak0.pinimg.com/originals/bb/53/bd/bb53bdcfe25ce87cfc64cc39f6abbdbb.jpg)
  3. Tie items (or photos) together in the order that they occurred in the Saint’s life; then tuck them all into a big basket or bag and pull on the yarn/string to pull out one item at a time as you tell the story.
  4. Break down the Saint’s life story into smaller parts and think of an item that your students can easily draw that represents each part of the story. Number the items. Write each number and item pair on index cards. At the beginning of class, give each child a piece of paper and an index card with a number-item pair written on it. Have them draw the item and number listed on their index card on their paper. As you tell the story, call out the numbers (in order) and have each student hold up their illustration when their number is called.

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Come to class dressed as the Saint, and tell their story in first person. The costume does not have to be fancy, just enough to give the idea that you are not “you” at that time. “Many times, a simple costume made with a sheet or bathrobe, towels, and belt(s) will do the trick. Finding a prop or two (a cross? a wheel? a platter?) …to carry will add to the final effect. (The icon of the saint can often offer ideas of something …to hold. The story of the Saint’s life can do the same.) The costume does not have to be elaborate to be effective.” (from our blog post https://orthodoxchristianparenting.wordpress.com/2014/10/15/dressed-like-a-saint/)

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Bring props and costumes that can make it possible for your Sunday Church School students to act out the story of the saint’s life as you tell it. Or tell the story in such a way that they can do some actions/motions or say parts of the story along with you as you speak. This is modeled in this video about storytelling (specifically the section beginning at 1:29) : http://raisingchildren.net.au/articles/reading.html

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To tell the life story of a Saint, create stick puppets with photos of the saint and other important people in his/her life. Use the puppets to tell the story of the Saint’s life. A backdrop is optional but could be created out of an enlarged picture(s) of the place(s) where the Saint lived. For a simple way to make stick puppets, see http://www.auntannie.com/FridayFun/ClipArtPuppet/. An alternative to making stick puppets with photos from the Saint’s life would be to create the “characters” needed to retell their life story. If you do not feel comfortable drawing them yourself, you could make some from these paper dolls (https://makingfriends.com/paper-doll-friends/) and attach them to popsicle sticks to create “puppets.” An alternative to stick puppets would be to “act out” the Saint’s story using Lego or Playmobil people (if you have access to them) as the Saint and the others in his/her life.

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/

Gleanings from a Book: “A Gift for Matthew” By Nick Muzekari, Illustrated By Masha Lobastov

A few weeks ago, I had the privilege of sitting in the nave of my home parish while listening to Nick Muzekari read aloud his first picture book, “A Gift for Matthew.” I had already read the book, so I was familiar with the story. Nevertheless, I enjoyed hearing it read aloud with the author’s own inflections. Story lover that I am, I also savored hearing some of the stories behind the book. While listening I happened to glance upwards and I discovered that Mr. Muzekari was reading the book beneath the icon of St. Matthew! Although unplanned (at least as far as I know), it was the perfect spot for this reading to happen!

“A Gift for Matthew” is the story of a young boy named Matthew who is privileged to visit a monastery for a day to observe and assist a monk in the process of writing icons. Brother Justin welcomes Matthew and incorporates him into the writing process, teaching him about icons and how they are made. The wording of the book concisely explains the process in easy-to-understand terminology, and takes the reader through the writing of the icon step by step, through Matthew’s eyes. By the end of the day, Matthew is reluctant to leave the monastery because he is enjoying the experience so much. Brother Justin’s invitation for Matthew to return the next day cheers him, as does the gift he discovers in his backpack when he arrives home.

In case you also enjoy background stories, here are a few stories behind the story:

  1. The author told us that it was while he was reading a picture book about icons that he got the idea for this book. He thought to himself, “It’s great that there are books for children about icons. But why isn’t there a book for children that explains the icon writing process?” and the idea behind “A Gift for Matthew” was born. In my opinion, this book fills the gap perfectly.
  2. To any reader who delights in the beyond-the-story details included in the illustrations of any great picture book, Muzekari would point out the monastery cat, Paizousa. Her name is Greek (παιζουσα) and it was chosen because it means “she who plays” (in this context, it means “she who plays tricks”). The cat’s name is fitting, for the author wanted to add a touch of humor into the story, and this fuzzy trickster does just that in the illustrations without adding a single word to the text. Paizousa can be found snoozing, snooping, and, yes, even getting into trouble in many of the illustrations of Matthew’s time at the monastery. I have enjoyed finding her and observing what she is doing at each moment in the story!

This book is a great read for Orthodox Christians of all ages, but especially for children. It would make a great intro-to-iconography lesson for a Sunday Church School class. The illustrations are simple yet beautifully lifelike. Both the storyline and illustrations work together well to portray the tale, drawing the reader in while effectively teaching them about iconography without them even realizing that they are learning.

Author Nick Muzekari lives in Hatfield, Pennsylvania, with his wife and their five children. He likes to convey truth, mystery, and beauty through stories. He has also founded and published a literary/art magazine for Christian teens. “A Gift for Matthew” is his first picture book.

Illustrator Masha Lobastov is a classically educated figurative artist. After graduating from the Russian State University for Humanities of Moscow in 1996, she moved to the U.S.A. to continue her artistic goals. She is known for painting portraits, especially those of children. Masha has also collaborated with Ancient Faith Publishing and authors E.C. Johnson and Jane Meyer, illustrating “And Then Nicholas Sang,” “What Do You Hear, Angel?” and “The Hidden Garden.”

Listen to an Ancient Faith Radio interview with author Nick Muzekari about “A Gift for Matthew” here: http://www.ancientfaith.com/podcasts/exlibris/a_gift_for_matthew

Purchase the book here: http://store.ancientfaith.com/a-gift-for-matthew/

Follow along on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/giftformatthew

Find age-leveled lesson plans for teaching children about icons (intended for use before/during/after a visit to the Museum of Russian Icons in Clinton, Massachusetts, but useful even if the field trip is not possible) here: http://museumofrussianicons.org/en/education/family-school-programs/for-teachers-k-12/. Lessons range in topic from the symbolism in iconography, to the science of writing the icons, to the art of iconography, even the math applied to the writing, and more!


Go on an icon hunt in your parish! Print this reproducible page so that your students can keep track of the icons that you find as you go. http://www.scribd.com/doc/173729877/I-found-Icons

Find line-art patterns for writing icons here: http://www.betsyporter.com/patterns.html

Here are other books about icons that you could also read to your Sunday Church School students:  

  1. “What is an Icon?,” a picture book by St. Anthony’s Greek Orthodox Monastery, explains what they are. It can be found here: http://www.stanthonysmonastery.org/ccp7/index.php?app=ecom&ns=prodshow&ref=3WHAT_EP.
  2. “Pictures of God,” John Skinas’ multi-leveled picture book explaining icons in a way that children can love and understand (which also happens to be the book that Muzekari was reading when he got the idea for “A Gift for Matthew”) can be found here: http://store.ancientfaith.com/pictures-of-god-a-childs-guide-to-understanding-icons/.
  3. “From God to You,” also by John Skinas, can be found here: http://store.ancientfaith.com/from-god-to-you.

This 8-minute video shows the complete process of writing an icon (of St. Nicholas), from preparing the wood through the finished product. It would add much to a class on iconography, particularly if you do not have an iconographer in your parish who could demonstrate the process: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NZh6geY4hMc

Children interested in writing their own icon may want to consider attending an iconography camp program such as this one: https://avcamp.org/summer-camp/sacred-arts-camp/iconography-camp/.