Category Archives: Ideas

A Handful of Orthodox Gift Ideas for Christmas

We have recently come across a variety of wonderful Orthodox books and resources (mostly for children) that would be lovely Christmas gifts. We found them noteworthy enough to gather them into a little collection, so that we could share them with you, in the event that you were not aware of them.

Some of these we have shared before, but are sharing again, in case you missed them the first time. Others are brand new (or new to us, or newly re-published). Our intent is to offer gift suggestions that could double as useful tools in the growth of a young Orthodox Christian’s life. Perhaps you will find one or more of these suggestions helpful as you select gifts for your loved ones.

We know that there are many more ideas than we are able to share here, so we have missed quite a few. What child-friendly, Orthodox-faith related gift ideas do you recommend? If you are (or know!) an artisan who crafts (and sells) beautiful gifts for Orthodox Christian children, please share them below!

Here are a few Orthodox Christmas gift ideas that we encountered:

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Ancient Faith Publishing’s brand new Nativity coloring book, “Beautiful Christmas: an Orthodox Coloring Book for Children” was created with children ages 5-12 in mind. Meagan Elizabeth Gilbert’s 59 lovely illustrations include a mix of both coloring and activity pages. Check it out, and purchase your gift copy(s) here: https://store.ancientfaith.com/beautiful-christmas-an-orthodox-coloring-book-for-children/

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Families with very small children may be interested in this set of Nativity blocks, safe for children to hold and play with. The back of each block contains a verse of a song or prayer from the traditions of the Church, written in language that is young-child friendly. https://store.ancientfaith.com/little-saints-nativity-playset-a/

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This learning cube transforms from one icon-style image to another, and each image includes a shortened version of the Nativity story. https://store.ancientfaith.com/orthodox-learning-cube-the-nativity/

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Four-year-old Anthony will teach anyone who reads this book how to handle the challenges that come their way, with grace, and with God’s help. https://orthodoxchristianparenting.wordpress.com/2019/06/12/gleanings-from-a-book-anthony-the-great-by-john-sarantakis-illustrated-by-misha-pjawka/

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Young children will resonate with Philo in this book, or any of the other books featuring his adventures with the SuperHolies! https://orthodoxchristianparenting.wordpress.com/2019/07/10/gleanings-from-a-book-philo-and-the-faithfulness-superholy-by-mireille-mishriky-illustrated-by-s-violette-palumbo/

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As they read this book, elementary-aged children will be drawn right into young Spyros’ life as he learns from St. Spyridon – without even knowing he’s interacting with a saint! https://orthodoxchristianparenting.wordpress.com/2019/05/08/gleanings-from-a-book-spyridons-shoes-by-christine-rogers/

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Teens and adults will benefit from the wisdom and example of St. Anthony, as shared in this graphic novel: https://orthodoxchristianparenting.wordpress.com/2019/05/29/gleanings-from-a-book-a-forest-in-the-desert-the-life-of-st-john-the-short-by-creative-orthodox/

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Late elementary-aged children and adults alike will learn from the life of St. Eustathios in the engagingly-written and beautifully illustrated graphic novel, “The Cross and the Stag,” which we wrote about here: https://orthodoxchristianparenting.wordpress.com/2019/08/28/gleanings-from-a-book-the-cross-and-the-stag-by-gabriel-wilson/

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Author and illustrator Grace Brooks has done it again! She has written yet another mesmerizing book about an Orthodox girl facing real-life problems and choosing to solve them with the help of her priest and the friends from her parish who are part of the “Every Tuesday Club”. The girls in this club are aging as time goes by between the publishing dates of Ms. Brooks’ books, which is a beautiful way for the series’ fans to have age-appropriate books along the way. “Xenia the Warm-Hearted” follows 14-year-old Xenia as she tries to improve the way that she interacts with others, even without the use of internet on her phone (a privilege she lost when she was online, gaming outside of her family’s rules). This book is appropriate for early teens (or older), and contains its fair share of age-appropriate struggles in the context of some mystery and suspense. Purchase your copy here: https://www.amazon.com/Xenia-Warm-hearted-Every-Tuesday-Club/dp/1698351038

Here are a few quotes (and a teaser!) from the book, to give you a taste:

“Xenia regarded him woefully. ‘I wanted to make such a change, but I’m having trouble figuring this out. I mean, it’s good to want to be a better person. But I still don’t understand people very much and… I don’t always seem to like them. I did all this research, but I don’t know what I’m supposed to do.’ …[Father Andrew answered,] ‘I think that this isn’t something that you can research by just reading about it — not even by reading the lives of the saints, though that’s an excellent place to start. You’re not going to get anywhere with a list or a guide that tells you what to do and what not to do. I can’t say enough good things about prayer, but even that is just a start.’ Father smiled at her kindly. ‘You may have to find out by doing.’” (p. 117)

“Her eyes had drifted out the window as she spoke, where the gusting wind was blowing a pillowcase on the clothesline. Energy encounters matter. Mobility and immobility. Wind resistance, oscillation, flexibility. ‘It’s very beautiful,’ she finished dreamily. ‘Not to me,’ he [Charlie] sniped, bringing her back to reality. ‘If there is a God, then why is the world such a mess?’ Xenia was used to this question as well. ‘Because there’s evil in it, too. And sometimes we are — all of us are — carriers of that, like a mosquito carries a disease. But that’s not how it was supposed to be…’” (p. 293)

“…and that’s how they found them: two frightened young people huddled together in a ruined living room with broken glass and squirting pipes. That was the sight that greeted Mr. Murphy and Jake when they pulled up a minute later, in the mistaken belief that they were coming to the rescue…” (p. 415)

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Readers who are fans of fantasy and/or symbolism will thoroughly enjoy “The Dome Singer of Falenda” by Katherine Hyde. It has been a really long time since we read such a delightful fantasy. Originally published in 2016, and just re-published, this book filled with music and beauty, fraught with gripping adventure, and causes the reader to re-think the power of their thoughts. Themes include the power of familial love, the importance of discerning (and valuing) good over evil, and the importance of focus. The protagonist is a boy of 13, and his Falendian sidekick is a girl of 14. People of a variety of ages and genders will be entranced by their journey and uplifted by this beautiful read. Find your copy here:

https://www.amazon.com/Dome-Singer-Falenda-Katherine-Bolger-Hyde/dp/1732087326/

Here are a few quotes from the book, to give you a taste of it:

“Anyway, I’d read enough books to know that when it comes to adventures, the only way out is through.” (p. 23)

“I gasped for air. ‘What—me? You’re having me on. I’m no deliverer. I’m not brave, or strong, or clever. All I know how to do is sing.’ ‘But singing is precisely what is required. That is how we will break the Dome—by singing. The elúndina chose you for your gifts of singing and thought-speech. And also, of course, because you are your mother’s son.’” (p. 36)

“I’d been thinking of nothing in particular, but as soon as I tried to wipe my mind clear of thoughts, it filled with a whole crowd of questions…This wouldn’t do. I shook my head and tried to focus on my surroundings. I peered at the rough, ridged texture of the malacána bark, listened to the clear, musical cry of a bird, inhaled the sharp, fresh smell of the trees, like cedar mixed with peppermint and cinnamon. I felt the chafing of Vali’s thick, soft coat beneath my legs, the still, cooling air against my cheeks. When was the last time I’d stopped to pay attention to things like that? At home I was either buried in memories or planning how to cope with the next calamity. I’d forgotten how to just be.” (pp. 57-58)

“The Tower had no windows or doors that I could see, but at the center of the side facing us the ranks of guards angled outward. The door must be hidden there. It looked like my mother was right: it was impossible. The din in my head took on a new undertone: ‘You have failed, you must fly. You have failed, you must fly.’ Maybe the bad guys really were going to win. Meli’s thought-voice broke through. ‘I hear it too, Danny. But you must resist these thoughts. You must shout them down with truth. Everything that babble says is a lie, for lies are all the Enemy knows. We have not failed until we give up, and we must not give up.’ ‘I don’t want to give up. But how can we succeed? How could we ever get in there to rescue your parents, or get to the top from outside? I’m afraid I left my Spiderman gear at home.’ Meli ignored that. ‘Our parents did it seven years ago. Somehow they reached the top.’ And now they were inside.” (p. 149)

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Homemakers in your family may enjoy this read! “Searching for the Sacred” by Lois Clymer is a book filled with the memories and musings of an Orthodox Christian wife and mother. It tells the story of her (and her husband‘s) dream for a little homestead, and how they have realized that dream in a variety of locations, over the years. Anecdotes include adventures that they’ve had with their family, and a variety of things that she has learned along the way. In addition to living on a homestead and growing much of their own food, Mrs. Clymer addresses other experiences they’ve had, including some experiences in the world of politics; finding ways to enjoy small homesteads away from home; her foray into owning and operating a CSA; and adventures and lessons learned while building two tiny houses. Throughout the book, readers will find encouragement to search for God in the world that He has created. Pick up a copy here: https://www.westbowpress.com/en/bookstore/bookdetails/778125-searching-for-the-sacred

Here are a few of our favorite quotes, a handful of Lois’ learnings, that she shares in the book, scattered amidst the stories from her life:

“Hard work is the secret to success. I soon found that it helped to be organized and to prioritize. When I did the most important thing first in the day, the rest of the day flowed more smoothly…” (p. 4)

“Most of us find that life doesn’t always go the way we wanted it to. What do we do when pain and disappointments and grief enter our lives? As a young person, I struggled with how to be happy… I came across some wise counsel regarding happiness. If I am unhappy… it is not because of my environment, but because of the way I am evaluating my environment.” (p. 14)

“I have certainly not always been perfect, and I have held on to bitterness from time to time. But I have noticed that when I can release that bitterness and let it go completely, something good happens in my body. My creativity and my joy returns. The antidote to the poison of bitterness is forgiveness and gratefulness.” (p. 23)

“Most of us don’t know much about simplicity. We have more possessions than we know what to do with. One time I heard a motivational speaker say that every possession you have uses up valuable brain space. You think about it, you catalog it, you think about cleaning and repairing it, you organize it. To lighten your brain load, think about how to live with only half of the possessions you have and then DO IT.” (p. 81)

“Wherever you live, maybe this book will motivate you to enjoy some of the simple pleasures in life: grow a plant or vegetable, take a walk through a woods, or enjoy the antics of a chicken or a goat.” (p. 86)

Pursuing Church School Success: Offering Hospitality in the Classroom

In this series, we will feature resources and ideas that can increase the learning success of a Church school classroom. We will share some tips for classroom management and ideas for increased student participation. It is our hope that this series will benefit Sunday Church school teachers and students of all ages.

 

Begin with Hospitality

The Church School year has already begun for many of us. The beginning of the year is an excellent time to take a look at how well we welcome our students into our classroom: not just at the start of the year, but every time they attend our class. Thus, we will begin this series by taking a look at hospitality in the classroom.

In order to consider the effectiveness of our hospitality as it is extended in our classroom, it may be helpful to take a moment to think about hospitality itself, to make sure we are all on the same page. What exactly does “hospitality” mean? There are multiple definitions. Dictionary.com’s definition is easily applied to a classroom setting. It defines hospitality as “the friendly reception and treatment of guests or strangers.” (1) Mind you, our students are likely only “strangers” the first week or two of class, until we’ve really gotten to know them, but after that, we do well to treat them as though they are honored guests, every time they are in class.

Besides thinking about hospitality’s definition, let’s take a moment to consider how we extend hospitality outside the classroom. What about in our own home? For the most part, when we have visitors, we tidy up before they come, prepare a comfortable space for them during their visit, prepare food for them to enjoy, and have a plan for how we will entertain them while they are with us. We expect similar treatment when we are guests in others’ homes. When we go on vacation, we seek lodging and food based on what looks to be a comfortable match for our needs. All of these are our framework for “hospitality”. We know how to offer it, how to receive it, and what it looks like from afar. But how well do we apply these concepts to our Sunday Church school class and classroom?

Dr. Margo Turner’s article “What we get to do: Hospitality in the Classroom”, written for brainbasedlearning.com, suggests that friendliness and mutual respect, paired with generous service are what we expect hospitality to look like, whether we are extending it or on the receiving end. Dr. Turner suggests that this holds out in the classroom, as well. “Hospitality in the classroom that allows students to feel welcomed is an important learning tool for all…” (2) Her article goes on to mention that studies have found that students who feel included in the classroom are better empowered to learn. So hospitality in the classroom is not just a nice idea: it actually sets the stage for improved learning ability!

It seems logical that students who feel welcomed and wanted in their classes are better able to learn. But how do we extend hospitality in a classroom? We can begin by looking at our classroom itself with fresh eyes. Does it appear engaging and welcoming? Is there anything that we could add (or remove) that will make it feel more like a place where people want to spend time? Once we are certain that the room is welcoming, we can look at our interactions with our students. Do we physically and verbally welcome them to class? (Dr. Turner sends each of her students an introductory letter, complete with a picture of herself, before the school year even begins, to begin building a relationship before they even arrive on day one! Other teachers have unique handshakes or welcome gestures that they extend to each student at the door before each class begins!) Do we involve our students with the creation of class rules and goals? Do we consider our students’ abilities (or different-abilities) and interests as we plan and present our lessons? There are many ways in which we welcome (or do not welcome) our students into our classroom. Perhaps the above questions can be a good starting place for us to honestly evaluate our hospitality towards our students, so that we can find ways to improve.

Hospitality is important at all levels, even in a classroom setting. Let us take a moment to consider the level of hospitality in our classroom, and find ways to make our classroom even more hospitable. Opening our students’ minds to better learning by extending hospitality to them builds a healthy foundation for a successful Church School year.

 

Footnotes:

  1. Hospitality. (2019). Retrieved from https://www.dictionary.com/browse/hospitality
  2. Turner, Margo. “What We Get to Do: Hospitality in the Classroom – Brain Based Learning: Brain Based Experts.” Brain Based Learning | Brain Based Experts, Jensen Learning Corporation, 5 July 2017, http://www.brainbasedlearning.net/hospitality-in-the-classroom/.

 

Note: We will be sharing more about Brain Based Learning, mentioned above, in a series of articles in the spring.

Here are a few resources that may be helpful as you look for ways to improve the hospitality offered in your classroom:

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“We can use every interaction to communicate to the student that he/she is important.” Read the rest of this article in which an educator compares classroom hospitality to her experiences with hotel hospitality: http://ditchthattextbook.com/2014/12/11/4-hospitality-principles-that-can-transform-our-classrooms/

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“I’ve taught in both traditional and nontraditional settings for nine years. However, only recently have I begun to understand hospitality as part of that work. When I started to reframe teaching as the work of welcoming, of stewarding a space, of receiving my students with unconditional presence, my classroom and my students’ learning changed.” Read this, and the rest of the article on classroom hospitality from which it comes, here: https://www.edutopia.org/article/work-welcoming

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Help your students feel more at home in the classroom by providing them with opportunities to share about themselves. Perhaps this “there are four items that tell about me in this bag” idea would work well for your class? http://alove4teaching.blogspot.com.au/2012/07/all-about-me-bag.html

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If you are looking for ideas for creating wall displays that can help your classroom feel more inviting, check out the series of bulletin board ideas we gathered, beginning with this one:    https://orthodoxchurchschoolteachers.wordpress.com/2015/07/31/ideas-for-classroom-decorations-part-1-general-classroom-decor-information/

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Here are a few tips and shortcuts for classroom bulletin boards. They may be helpful as you continue to make your classroom more inviting and hospitable:                                                                                                                                                                                                            http://theappliciousteacher.com/bulletin-board-hacks-to-save-your-sanity/

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Extending hospitality in our Sunday Church school classroom can begin with something as simple as a greeting at the door when the students enter. What if we would take the time to build a personal greeting for each student? It might look something like this:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=I0jgcyfC2r8
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Inviting our students’ input in creating classroom rules can be another way to extend hospitality in the Sunday Church school classroom. Here’s a suggestion of basic rules to keep in mind as you work together to create your own set: https://www.scholastic.com/teachers/articles/teaching-content/creating-classroom-rules-together/
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Helping our students know and appreciate each other is another way to extend hospitality in the classroom. Need some ideas of ways to help students get to know each other? Check these out: https://homeschoolhideout.com/ice-breakers-for-kids/

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Hospitality is not just something nice we can offer to our students: it is part of our Faith to live hospitably! This article offers many scripture verses that encourage us to be hospitable. (It’s geared towards families, but the scriptures apply to all Christians!) https://inallyoudo.net/teaching-children-hospitality-using-scripture/

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On Creating (and Using) a “Godfulness Jar”

Mindfulness is a buzzword in current culture. One of Merriam-Webster’s definitions for mindfulness is this: “the practice of maintaining a nonjudgmental state of heightened or complete awareness of one’s thoughts, emotions, or experiences on a moment-to-moment basis.” Many mindfulness practices encourage focusing your mind on positive thoughts. Unfortunately, the thoughts being promoted are not necessarily compatible with our Orthodox Christian faith.

Some of our students are already experiencing mindfulness training in their school. Some teachers are finding it to be a helpful tool in their classroom. (In fact, it was one teacher’s suggestion of keeping a jar of quotes on hand to help students focus that inspired the idea for the “Godfulness Jar”.)

While affirming our own selves is not what we’re about as Orthodox Christians, the practice of focusing our minds should not be a foreign concept to us. We hear often in the Divine Liturgy a reminder to focus: “Let us attend!” It depends upon what we focus that causes that focus to be for our growth or our downfall. If we are focusing our mind on God and on words that point our mind to Him, that focus is helpful – even essential – to our spiritual growth. But focusing on ourselves and/or what we can do cuts us off from growing closer to God. So, instead of the self-focused affirmations encouraged by many mindfulness practices, we need to choose to fill our minds with Godly thoughts including those found in the scriptures, in prayers, and words spoken by the Church fathers. It is important that we teach our Sunday Church school students to do the same.

If anyone in your class struggles to focus, especially during class time, consider making this simple tool which may be helpful to that end. The “tool” is a “Godfulness” jar, a jar that contains arrow prayers, scriptures, and quotes from Church fathers all aimed at calming and soothing the reader’s thoughts by pointing them to God. Keep the jar in your Sunday Church school classroom, accessible to students who need to take a minute to regroup or focus. They can pull a quote (or picture: see idea for “not-yet-readers” below) to read and think about when they feel a need to calm their mind and focus back on God.

Godfulness Jar Illustration

To make your own “Godfulness” jar, fill a clean, empty jar with quotes that can be drawn out and pondered, whenever one’s mind needs to be calmed, soothed, focused, or quieted. However, instead of loading the jar with slips of paper containing personal affirmations (as is encouraged in some mindfulness circles), include arrow prayers, verses, and quotes from saints. Label the jar “Our Godfulness Jar”, since each item inside points its reader’s mind to focus on God.

 

Godfulness Jar pictoral version

Sunday Church school classes with “not-yet-readers” may wish to create a slightly different “Godfulness Jar”. Instead of slips of paper with a quote, prayer, or verse to be read, collect small icon cards, photos of peaceful places, and pictures from church – such as the candle table, smoke rising from the censor, photos of parts of the iconostasis, etc. These cards and pictures can be pulled out of the jar and “read” as needed by a young person needing to adjust their focus. Place these items in an age-appropriate (plastic or glass) “Godfulness Jar”.

Be sure to keep your “Godfulness Jar” in mind as you pray, read scriptures, and read the Church Fathers. As you do so, over time you will collect more and more quotes to add to it, to replace any that have gone missing. Your jar can help your students fill their thoughts with God and His peace. If you think it would help them, perhaps you will want to lead your students in each creating their own jar to take home!

 

Find a starter set of Godfulness Jar quotes here.

 

Here are a few “Godfulness jar” quotes from the starter set:

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Gleanings from a Book: “Prayer Spa: Ancient Treatments for the Modern Soul” by Jennifer Anna Rich

Do you find yourself ready for a retreat because summer – or life in general – is getting to you? Does life feel stormy, or are there clouds threatening the horizon of your heart? If so, a little spa time is just what you need! We often think of pampering our bodies when we are weary and heavy laden. Sometimes physical rest and relaxation is in order, and it truly helps us. But often afterwards, we get back home and into life again, and we find ourselves right back in a stormy, weary place, wishing we could return to the spa…

What would happen if we would choose to spend our “spa” time and energy on preparing to soothe our soul through prayer? We could then set up an all-encompassing prayer space that ministers to our body as well as our soul. We could also make a plan to restructure our life to include spending time in that space each day, praying.

But how would we go about creating such a space and implementing such a change? “Prayer Spa: Ancient Treatments for the Modern Soul” offers solutions to this question. The book is full of reasons for us to bathe our souls in peaceful prayer. And it doesn’t simply scold us with reasons to straighten out our prayer life: it gently takes us by the hand, introducing us to practical means to do so.

This book is, in itself, a retreat. Each entry is simultaneously soothing and thought provoking. It is written thoughtfully, and every page is poetry which engages the mind while challenging the reader’s thoughts. Themed chapters help the reader think from a distinctly Orthodox Christian perspective about topics related to prayer. They are as follows: Mind…Body…Soul; The Five Senses; Your Prayer Plan; Inner Stillness; An Offering; The Hours; Tools for Therapy. (Readers will likely find the “Tools for Therapy” chapter to become the most visited chapter. It includes a few ideas for ways to invite your body to join in prayer, as well as pages and pages of prayers, ranging from Psalms for each of the Hours to morning and evening prayers.) The author’s near-exclusive use of lower case is intentional; whispering her ideas and findings instead of shouting them, enhancing their soft allure. The final pages of the book are supplements that include a reproducible prayer card for your daily prayer plan, pages of scripture verses to memorize and pray, and recommended books (featuring an important quote from each) for further growth.

In Orthodoxy, we often invite the world to “come and see” what The Faith is all about. The same applies to this book. Attempting to describe it is one thing: but experiencing it is something else completely. The author’s intent with the book is “to bring the hidden wisdom of early christian luminaries to those in the twenty-first century who may not yet have come to experience this tangible way to love your God, your neighbor, and yourself within the fabric of daily life.” (p. 108) She has succeeded. “Prayer Spa” is at once a tall drink of cool water on a hot day and a sturdy lighthouse in a stormy sea. You may wish to “come and see” for yourself.

Whether or not we adopt all of the ideas in “Prayer Spa,” let us embrace its challenge to be intentional in our prayers. Let us indeed commune with God daily, with our whole self, through prayer, thus nourishing our soul. This is the kind of “spa time” that we truly need. Anchoring our life in prayer brings calm and peace to our souls, even in the storms of life.
Thanks to Paraclete Press for sharing a copy with the AODCE so that we could read it and write this review.

Purchase your own copy here: https://paracletepress.com/products/prayer-spa

(Note: although this book may not be applicable for use with your Sunday church school students, its effect on their teacher will certainly impact their lives for the good! And perhaps it will stir in you ideas for growing prayer in your students’ lives.)

Here are a few gleanings from the book:

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“train your mind to pierce

through the roar of voices

undistracted, to a single focus.

this recalls the stillness of the desert

where our monastic fathers and mothers

honed their communion with a personal God…

 

…massage your attention span

to align and extend its reach.

memorize prayers, scriptures, and psalms

to lift mind and soul

wrap them in together in white cloth.” (p. 15, “Prayer Spa: Ancient Treatments for the Modern Soul” by Jennifer Anna Rich)

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“prayer is a way toward theosis—union with God

sharing in His divine nature, through grace.

this is a long, narrow pathway

which must be sought after with great humility and perseverance.

 

yet spiritual refreshment is available to any person

who wishes to partake in the tangible beauty

of a life seeking the Holy in this grace-infused world.” (pp. 28- 29, “Prayer Spa: Ancient Treatments for the Modern Soul” by Jennifer Anna Rich)

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“at the beginning, you must force yourself to pray

but soon, prayer becomes essential to a day well lived.” (p. 33, “Prayer Spa: Ancient Treatments for the Modern Soul” by Jennifer Anna Rich)

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“…by carrying God’s presence deep in the center of your heart

you may one day become, through grace

a person who has been turned into prayer.” (p. 47, “Prayer Spa: Ancient Treatments for the Modern Soul” by Jennifer Anna Rich)

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“father anthony bloom taught a method

for gathering the crumbs of wasted time

and transforming them into something holy.

 

the secret of this contemplative exercise is to find joy

simply being with God

as you listen for His voiceless presence  within your heart.” (p. 48, “Prayer Spa: Ancient Treatments for the Modern Soul” by Jennifer Anna Rich)

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“a fourth-century aid to contemplative prayer

the christian prayer rope is a way to offer time

kairos time, in the moment … not chronos time, by the clock

 

traditionally it is tied with knots made of nine crosses

one cross representing each order of the angels

 

to use the prayer rope, simply repeat the Jesus Prayer

while moving from knot to knot with the thumb and forefinger…” (p. 56, “Prayer Spa: Ancient Treatments for the Modern Soul” by Jennifer Anna Rich)

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“as creatures contained in time, we can sanctify our days

savor the remembrance of God

by praying “the hours.”

 

the “major hours” consist of morning and evening prayers.

 

you may choose to expand your offering to include

the seven “divine services” throughout the day

spoken on their designated hour, or adjusted to fit your schedule.” (p. 66, “Prayer Spa: Ancient Treatments for the Modern Soul” by Jennifer Anna Rich)

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“if you have children, let them catch you praying.

share these short remembrances of God with them.

let them discover your own yearning for prayer

as a treat you quietly prioritize each day.

remember, you too are a child of God, beloved.” (p. 69, “Prayer Spa: Ancient Treatments for the Modern Soul” by Jennifer Anna Rich)

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Lenten Sundays Series: Great and Holy Pascha

This is the ninth in a series of posts that focuses on the Sundays of Great Lent (and Holy Week and Pascha). Each week we will share ideas of ways to help your Sunday Church School students learn more about that particular Sunday’s focus. We will share each blog early, so that you have time to read it before the forthcoming Sunday, in case you find any of those ideas helpful for your particular class.

Here’s a meditation on Great and Holy Pascha for you to ponder before you create a lesson for your students:

 

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

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

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

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

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

Christ is risen!

Christos Anesti!

Al Maseeh Qam!

Christos Voskrese!

Cristo ha resucitado!

Hristos a Inviat!

Krishti Ungjall!

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Lenten Sundays Series: The Sunday of St. Mary of Egypt

This is the seventh in a series of posts that focuses on the Sundays of Great Lent (and Holy Week and Pascha). Each week we will share ideas of ways to help your Sunday Church School students learn more about that particular Sunday’s focus. We will share each blog early, so that you have time to read it before the forthcoming Sunday, in case you find any of those ideas helpful for your particular class.

Here’s a meditation on the Sunday of St. Mary of Egypt for you to ponder before you create a lesson for your students:

 

On this fifth Sunday of Great Lent, we focus on the life of St. Mary of Egypt. St. Mary was born in Egypt, left home at the age of 12, and spent the next 17 years taking advantage of men for her own physical pleasure. Not until she was on a pilgrimage to Jerusalem (for all the wrong reasons, but God works even through our wrong choices) did she begin to question the path she was taking. It was when she was unable to enter the church to venerate the Holy Cross that she realized something was wrong. The Theotokos herself helped Mary to understand the severity of her sins, and she repented. She repented so completely that she spent the rest of her days in the desert, fighting against her own fleshly desires and sins. God was with her there in the desert, and he showed His presence to her by providing for her needs and helping her to learn the scriptures and the ways of the Church even without another human there to teach her about them. This allowed Mary to grow more and more holy.

A holy monk, Zosimas, was the lone person she saw, and she did not see him until 47 years after she fled to the desert. They had only two encounters, both of which encouraged each of them. Zosimas was able to learn of Mary’s story, and Mary was able to receive Holy Communion at the hand of Zosimas right before she died. Each of these two people longed for holiness in their own life, and both were humbled by the other’s presence on their journey.

This humility is an interesting contrast to Mark 10:32-45, the Gospel reading for this Sunday. This Gospel reading reminds us of the squabbling disciples, who are fighting for greatness in this passage. It is interesting that the Church has chosen to offer us the opportunity to study the life of St. Mary, who fought her pride and humbled herself in the desert for most of her life; and then contrast it with the disciples’ desire to sit at Christ’s right hand in His kingdom. It is as though the Church is saying to each of us, “Here are two approaches to life in the Kingdom of God. Who will you choose to be like?” We all know who we should emulate, but repenting and humbling ourselves as completely as St. Mary did is not easy by any stretch of the imagination. Yet here is her life, offered to us as we approach the end of Great Lent, encouraging us to continue to fight the good fight as she did; to abstain from our passions so completely that we learn from Christ Himself and find ourselves humbled when we are in the presence of even the humblest of fellow humans.

Holiness is not limited to those with a perfect background. Although God can certainly work in and through those who have always lived holy lives (as did Abba Zosimas), He also brings healing and holiness to those of us who repent completely and turn our focus away from the things of this earth and completely on Him (as He did in the life of St. Mary of Egypt). Glory to God who embraces us as we struggle and meets us in that place!

In you the image was preserved with exactness, O Mother;

For taking up your cross, you did follow Christ,

And by your deeds you did teach us to overlook the flesh, for it passes away,

but to attend to the soul since it is immortal.

Wherefore, O righteous Mary, your spirit rejoices with the Angels.

 

St. Mary of Egypt, please intercede for our salvation!

Here are a few ideas of ways to help your students learn about St. Mary of Egypt:

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Find lesson plans about the life of St. Mary of Egypt for various age levels here:

http://orthodoxsundayschool.org/church-history/3-5-years-old/st-mary-egypt

http://orthodoxsundayschool.org/church-history/6-9-years-old/st-mary-egypt

http://orthodoxsundayschool.org/church-history/10-12-years-old/st-mary-egypt

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This child-sized picture book tells the story of St. Mary of Egypt’s life with simplified wording, and illustrates it beautifully: https://www.svspress.com/saint-mary-of-egypt-paterikon-for-kids-25/

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Young children may enjoy this “turn your life around” activity that uses a simple craft to encourage us to learn repentance from St. Mary of Egypt. http://orthodoxeducation.blogspot.com/2014/04/st-mary-egypt-turn-life-around.html

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Middle-years students will benefit from seeing this 4-minute video about the life of St. Mary of Egypt: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HhqzOfWPV4g

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This retelling of the life of St. Mary of Egypt tells her story in a child-appropriate way, and includes a number of icons that could be helpful as you share her story with your Sunday Church School students: http://frederica.com/writings/st-mary-of-egypt-for-all-ages.html

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For a lesson on the life of St. Mary of Egypt including basic information about the her life here: http://dce.oca.org/assets/templates/bulletin.cfm?mode=html&id=17

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Find a beautiful icon of St. Mary of Egypt, including scenes from her life, as well as a helpful description of it, here: https://iconreader.wordpress.com/2011/04/09/the-vita-icon-of-st-mary-of-egypt/

 

After reading the icon, you may want to offer each student a copy of this printable graphic-novel-style sheet that tells the life of St. Mary of Egypt. http://manymercies.blogspot.com/2015/03/life-of-st-mary-of-egypt-printable.html

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After a class about St. Mary of Egypt, you may want to print this and send it home with your students. It features a simple meditation about the Sunday, and discussion and activity suggestions for a family learning time. https://www.goarch.org/documents/32058/2618758/familygospellesson_maryofegypt.pdf/e09632ba-fda2-46ed-a631-f3e030c16f98

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Older students will benefit from listening to this talk on part of the life of St. Mary of Egypt, and then discussing it together. This talk includes practical suggestions of things to do if/when you find yourself unable to pray or to make the sign of the cross: https://orthodoxlivonia.org/files/Adult-Ed-Classes/2018-03-25-Ad-Ed-Class.mp3
It is a 25 minute talk, so perhaps you will want to provide paper and pencils for note-taking and/or doodling during the listening.

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There are five “takeaways” from the life of St. Mary of Egypt mentioned in this article that can be applied to students of any age. As you prepare a class about her life, read this article and see if any of these five learnings should be stressed for your particular students: http://www.pravmir.com/5-things-still-learn-st-mary-egypt/

 

Lenten Sundays Series: The Sunday of St. John Climacus

This is the sixth in a series of posts that focuses on the Sundays of Great Lent (and Holy Week and Pascha). Each week we will share ideas of ways to help your Sunday Church School students learn more about that particular Sunday’s focus. We will share each blog early, so that you have time to read it before the forthcoming Sunday, in case you find any of those ideas helpful for your particular class.

Here’s a meditation on the Sunday of St. John Climacus for you to ponder before you create a lesson for your students:

Today we commemorate St. John Climacus and his work “The Ladder of Divine Ascent,” both of which have had a great impact on the Holy Orthodox Church through their influence on the monastic community and on the Church at large.

St. John was given the name “Climacus” because of his writings. “Climacus” means “ladder” and thus his name is a nod to the work by that name. From a very young age, John desired to serve God with all of his heart. He became a monk at the Mt. Sinai Monastery when he was only 16 years old, and he served there faithfully for years before going into the desert to live a hermit’s life.

The fight against the devil and his passions was difficult, but John faithfully prayed and focused on Christ, and over time he became holier because of his refusal to give in to those passions. His holiness drew people to John, and even monks would come to him to ask for advice. God gave him the gift to be able to help people who were severely tempted and/or upset to be at peace.

God used John to work some miracles during his lifetime. For example, one time his disciple Moses was far from their dwelling, searching for dirt for their garden, when he got very hot and tired, so he took a rest under a big rock. As this was happening, John was back at his cell, praying, when he had a revelation that Moses was in danger. John began to pray fervently for his disciple. Later in the evening, when Moses returned home, he told John that while he had been sleeping under the rock, he heard John calling him, so he woke up and moved quickly, just as the huge rock crashed down right where he had been sleeping! God had heard John’s prayers and saved Moses with this miracle.

Many years passed, and John continued to faithfully pray and read from the lives of the saints. He continued to live a holy life. At age 74, he was made the abbot at the Mt. Sinai Monastery. The monks there asked him to write down all of the rules that he’d followed for his whole life, so that they could follow his example. He wrote about thirty steps that can lead monks (and any Orthodox Christian) closer to God. He called the steps “The Ladder of Divine Ascent.” Although this book was written about 1,400 years ago, it is still considered the ultimate guide to the Christian ascetic life.

St. John Climacus, please intercede for our salvation!

 

Here are a few suggestions of ways that you and your students can learn about St. John Climacus, if you choose to teach a lesson about him and/or the ladder of Divine Ascent.

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“The ascetic example of this great Saint of the Church inspires us in our Lenten journey.” Before teaching your class about him, you may want to read this thorough account of the life of St. John Climacus here: https://www.goarch.org/sunday-stjohnclimacus

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Teachers of young children may want to incorporate this art idea into a lesson on St. John Climacus and his Ladder of Divine Ascent: http://www.creativehandscreativeminds.com/2014/03/st-john-of-ladder.html

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Find ideas of ways to help your students learn from St. John Climacus’ life, and from his “Ladder of Divine Ascent” (including craft ideas) here: https://orthodoxchurchschoolteachers.wordpress.com/2015/03/20/lenten-learning-st-john-climacus/

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Middle-years students (and older ones) will benefit from reading or listening to this article by Fr. Andrew Lemeshonok from St. Elizabeth Convent: http://orthochristian.com/102249.html Here is a sample from the article:

“The forthcoming week is devoted to a great ascetic – Saint John Climacus. Spiritual life is a ladder, which leads to the Heavenly Kingdom. We climb it, we fall down, we hit the ground, we stand up and we fall again. The thing is, we need to stand up over and over again… The main thing is to humble yourself – to acknowledge your own weakness and to let God enter your life. You do not need to surprise people with your feats and talents. The Lord speaks simply in the Gospel: ‘Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls’ (Matthew, 11:29).”
After reading the article, discuss it together as a class. Talk together about ways that we fall from the ladder, and what should be our response when we do fall (get back up and start climbing again). Encourage each other to get back up and climb again. You may want to close this class with an art activity: consider allowing your students to create a poster that reminds them of this lesson. Perhaps it could be an encouragement to keep trying, to keep climbing the ladder, even when they fall; or a reminder that they are on a ladder in the first place; or a quote from St. John Climacus himself. Encourage them to hang the poster in their room or to give it to someone who needs encouragement to keep climbing.

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Have you ever read “The Ladder of Divine Ascent” by St. John Climacus? It is available as a pdf here: http://www.prudencetrue.com/images/TheLadderofDivineAscent.pdf

Consider printing off a step (or two) that could be the most beneficial to your older Sunday Church School students, and engage them in a discussion about that step. How does St. John recommend that we climb towards God in that way? Has anything changed in the years since he wrote this, or is this step still relevant to us today? How can we, right now, work towards climbing that step of the ladder?

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Classes of older middle school students or older could benefit from reading this article, “Why Do We Need the Ladder?” The article offers reasons from a deacon, a priest, and an archpriest of why it is important for modern-day Orthodox Christians to read and learn from St. John Climacus’ “Ladder of Divine Ascent.” After a quick review of the life of St. John  (which the students may be able to contribute, depending on their previous studies), divide the class into three groups. Give one interview from the article to each of the three groups. Allow the groups some time to read their interview/portion of the article and come up with a few main points to share with the other groups. Encourage them to come up with a creative way to share their points with the rest of the class. Allow time for each group to present their portion of the article with the rest of the classroom, so that you can all learn together how we can benefit from St. John’s writings. http://orthochristian.com/102181.html

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This three-minute video takes a closer look at the icon of the Ladder of Divine Ascent and could be a helpful addition to a lesson on St. John Climacus. http://orthochristian.com/92323.html

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Teachers and older students will benefit from listening to this talk on the life and teachings of St. John of the Ladder: https://orthodoxlivonia.org/files/Adult-Ed-Classes/2018-03-18-Ad-Ed-Class.mp3 (The talk is 33 minutes long.)