Category Archives: Ideas

On Pursuing Virtue: Mildness

This is part of a series of articles on pursuing virtue. There are many virtues that Orthodox Christians should be working to attain in our own lives, while also teaching our Sunday Church School students to pursue them, as well. We have chosen to focus on the seven capital virtues mentioned in “the Pocket Prayer Book for Orthodox Christians.” As the book mentions, each virtue is the positive counterpart of a grievous sin. In order for us to help ourselves and our students to grow in theosis, we must learn to not only resist and repent from those sins, but we must also learn to desire and labor to attain the virtues. May the Lord have mercy on us and on our students as together we pursue these virtues!

In our series about the virtues, we have come to the virtue of mildness. How exactly should we define it, and how can we teach our Sunday Church School students about it so that they can better pursue this virtue? OxfordDictionaries.com defines mildness as “a person’s lack of aggressiveness.” This definition is especially suitable for use with children, as the grievous sin which is this virtue’s counterpart is anger, and this definition helps them think about that. We must fight against anger and instead, struggle toward mildness, or a “lack of aggressiveness.”

One way that we can teach our students about mildness is by studying the life of Christ. We can brainstorm with our students how Our Lord was mild in all of his interactions with others. Together with our students, we could even make a giant list of examples from His life! Looking at His life on earth will give us many ideas of ways to live in a way that shows the virtue of mildness through us.

Another way to teach our students about meekness is by looking together at the lives of the saints as examples. We can share the stories of the lives of several saints who were known for their mildness. Here are a few examples from which we could choose:

The Theotokos is undoubtedly an excellent saint for us to look to with regard to a life lived in mildness. Share her life story via this book full of icons from her life: http://store.ancientfaith.com/the-mother-of-god-in-icons-board-book/

Hieromartyr Methodius the Bishop of Patara, who led his people in mildness yet fiercely defended the purity of Orthodoxy. (see https://oca.org/saints/lives/2001/06/20/101759-hieromartyr-methodius-the-bishop-of-patara)

St. Gregory the Theologian the Archbishop of Constantinople, whose “fortitude and mildness …were his armor, and his words converted many to the Orthodox Church. (see http://www.saintsophiadc.com/2017/01/st-gregory-theologian-archbishop-constantinople/)

Hieromartyr Marcellus the Bishop of Apamea was a high-ranking official, yet lived a mild, kind, and pure life even before becoming a monastic and dedicating his life’s work to God. (see http://a-719748.c.cdn77.org/saints/lives/2013/08/14/102299-hieromartyr-marcellus-the-bishop-of-apamea)

The Holy Nobleborn Prince of Chernigov Michael, who was noted from his childhood for his piety and mildness (see http://www.holytrinityorthodox.com/iconoftheday/los/September/20-02.htm)

The child saint, Artemius, was known for his mild meekness in his few years before his death. (see https://avcamp.org/st-artemius-of-verkola/)

Of course, there are many other mild saints as well! We can select as many or as few as we wish to share, and tell their biographies to our class! After we tell (or have students read) the stories of the lives of several saints, we can compare the saints’ lives. In what ways were their lives the same? How did each saint demonstrate mildness? Was there any difference in the way that they exhibited mildness? What can we learn from each of them that will help us to pursue mildness?

Give each student a blank piece of paper and encourage them to write the word “mildness” on it. Give them some time to write or draw about mildness, based on the lives of the saints which you have discussed. Perhaps they will draw a picture of a saint reacting mildly to an event in his/her life. Perhaps they will write or draw their own intent to react mildly the next time an opportunity to be angry arises. Maybe they will write a prayer, asking God for help in their struggle to be mild. Or they could write an acrostic poem. The ideas are endless. The important part is that the students interact with the concept of mildness, showing that they are beginning to understand what it is, how it has been exhibited by saints, and/or how they intend to pursue it in their own lives.

Addendum: Meekness is part of mildness and could be one way that we encourage our students to pursue mildness. For example, we can encourage them to pursue mildness through meek silence as St. Seraphim (Sobolev) the Wonderworker of Sophia suggests in this article:

“The saints fully embodied the Lord’s words: ‘Upon whom shall I gaze? Only upon the meek, and the silent, and the one who trembles at My words.’ Why does the Lord, speaking of meekness, also mention silence? In order to show that our meekness should be expressed through silence.

“But one can keep silence with one’s lips, yet hold great malice and hate in one’s heart against those who offend us. The Lord wishes our heart to participate in this time of silence, too. Therefore, let Christ’s silence during His trial be a constant example to us in this case, and may the words of the Gospel: ‘But Jesus held His peace’ (Matt. 26:63) serve as the basic guideline of our spiritual life. Let us always remember St. Seraphim’s injunction to one of his monks: ‘Keep silent, keep silent, keep ever silent.’ This means – with one’s lips, with one’s heart, while being insulted, in order to attain meekness or supreme love.”

(From http://www.holy-transfiguration.org/library_en/ct_love_meekness.html)

If we incorporate a discussion of meekness and pursuing silence via the paragraph above, we may want to use this craft idea: Make plaques from chair railing samples or other small pieces of wood. Allow your students to use permanent markers to write on the plaque: “Keep silent, keep silent, keep ever silent.” Encourage the students to decorate their plaque however they wish to remind them to keep silent with their lips, with their heart, and even when being insulted. When they take the plaque home, they should place it where they will see it and be reminded that that sort of silence will help them attain  meekness, which is an important part of mildness.

Here are other ideas of ways to help us learn about mildness and teach our Sunday Church School students about it, as well:

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While Sunday Church School teachers are not usually priests, we all can benefit from this teaching of St. John Chrysostom, in his commentary on St. Paul’s epistle to the Galatians which addresses how a leader should adjust their speech as is needed by their followers: “”Always to speak to one’s disciples with mildness, even when they need severity, is not the character of a teacher, but it would be the character of a corrupter and enemy.” (Read more in this article directed to priests but helpful to lay leaders, as well; https://www.goarch.org/en/-/adaptability-and-the-good-shepherd-a-reflection-on-pastoral-leadership)

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You may wish to include a discussion of this quote by St. John Chrysostom in your lesson on mildness. It offers a practical way to work towards the virtue of mildness: “Let’s stop fighting and pray in a becoming way. We should put on the mildness of angels instead of the demons’ brutality. No matter how we’ve been injured, we must soften our anger by considering our own case and our salvation. Let us quiet the storms; we can pass through life calmly. Then, upon our departing, the Lord will treat us as we treated our neighbours. If this is a heavy, terrible thing to us, we must let Him make it light and desirable. What we don’t have strength to carry out because of our struggle against sin, let us accomplish by becoming gentle to those who sinned against us.”We can discuss this quote piece by piece and ask our students to help us find in it things that we can do to become more meek.
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Listen to several episodes of “Saint of the  Day” (http://www.ancientfaith.com/podcasts/saintoftheday) – perhaps the past week’s worth – together with your students and talk about each saint’s life. Did it demonstrate mildness? How?
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Consider printing these saints’ stories or finding a way to enable your students to go online and read them, Assign each student to one of the stories and have him/her summarize the saint’s life for the class, pointing out any mention or evidence of mildness in the saint’s life: http://www.antiochian.org/lives_of_the_saints

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Teachers of teens may want to consider taking a look at this non-Orthodox, but still very helpful sermon on meekness. Read parts of it together as a class, and together glean some examples from scriptures (both verses and examples from saints from Bible times) as cited here: http://www.creativeyouthideas.com/resources/youth-sermons/blessed-are-the-meek/

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On Pursuing Virtue: Liberality

This is part of a series of articles on pursuing virtue. There are many virtues that Orthodox Christians should be working to attain in our own lives, while also teaching our Sunday Church School students to pursue them, as well. We have chosen to focus on the seven capital virtues mentioned in “the Pocket Prayer Book for Orthodox Christians.” As the book mentions, each virtue is the positive counterpart of a grievous sin. In order for us to help ourselves and our students to grow in theosis, we must learn to not only resist and repent from those sins, but we must also learn to desire and labor to attain the virtues. May the Lord have mercy on us and on our students as together we pursue these virtues!

For children (and for adults as well, if we are honest about it!) one of the best ways to learn a concept is through story. To help your students learn about liberality (or generosity), we would recommend that you select a story to read or tell to your students them. Select a story which will invite a discussion on generosity, its value, and how important it is that we Orthodox Christians live generous lives, and share it with your students.

A favorite story of ours is “The Apple Dumpling,” a folktale from England. The protagonist is hungry for an apple dumpling but has no apples with which to make one. She sets out with a basketful of what she does have, plums, hoping to trade with someone who has apples. She makes many new friends along the way, and does indeed get rid of her plums… but she does not exchange the plums for apples! Throughout her journey, she meets people with needs and desires that she has the opportunity to grant and immediately does so, without thinking about herself. (When we’ve told this story before, we have done so by memory, pulling things out of a cloth-covered basket: first, two plums, then a bag of feathers, a bouquet of flowers, a golden necklace, a stuffed puppy, and – of course – an apple. This method of storytelling helps the teller remember what comes next because they can feel it inside the basket. It also piques the children’s interest because things just keep coming out of that basket!!! ) Find a version of the story here: https://www.storiestogrowby.org/story/apple-dumpling/

This story could be used effectively with Sunday Church School students of many ages. For younger children, the story speaks for itself and a small discussion on how kind the lady was to give away her things is how God wants us to be could follow the story. For older students, this story opens the opportunity for a more in-depth discussion: Did the lady always know that she would get something back? Did that hinder her giving? How did she feel along the way? If the story stopped before it does, would she have been content? Why/why not? How generous was this woman? If she were living today in this way, would her actions be pleasing to God? Why/why not?

Brainstorm with your students and make a community list of ways that they, like the woman, can share what they have (ie: give something of theirs to a sibling or friend who would really enjoy it; be generous with smiles, hugs, or greetings to others; share unneeded toys or clothes with those in need – for example, take them to a shelter). Remind them that true generosity, the way God wants us all to live, expects nothing in return. Encourage the students to be truly generous.

If there is still time in the class period, consider making apple dumplings or a related craft (painted wooden apple pins or decorated wooden apple paperweights?) that the students can take and share with someone when class is finished. (If you do the apple dumplings, they’ll need to wrap them in a piece of foil and take directions so the recipient can bake their apple dumpling when they get home, since you likely will not have time to do so in class.) Encourage the students to think of someone that may need this item: not just a favorite friend or family member, but maybe someone else in the parish, a neighbor, etc. And when they give the gift, encourage them to do so without expecting anything in return. Challenge them to remember two things after giving the gift: to thank God for the opportunity and resources to give the gift, and to say a prayer that God will continue to bless the recipient.

There are many, many other ways to teach children generosity. Here are a few of them:

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This lesson plan can offer some ideas that could be used to teach Sunday Church School students about generosity. The lesson is written for Christian parents to use, and is not written from an Orthodox perspective, but has many useful parts that teachers can easily use to teach Orthodox Christian children about generosity. You will find many verses that could be used for Bible memory, some story suggestions from the Scriptures, craft ideas, hands-on ways to practice generosity together, and various discussion starters here: http://www.kidsofintegrity.com/sites/default/files/Generosity-PC-2015-best.pdf

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This blog post is not religiously-affiliated, but contains ideas of books to read and activities that can be done with children who are learning about generosity: http://alldonemonkey.com/2015/03/12/teaching-kids-about-generosity/

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If your Sunday Church School students studied St. Maria of Paris (learn more about her here: https://orthodoxchurchschoolteachers.wordpress.com/2016/11/04/saints-of-recent-decades-st-maria-of-paris-july-20-or-august-2/ ), they may be interested to read about how this parish, inspired by her and determined to be more generous with their community, started a ministry to their neighborhood. http://everygoodandperfectgift.org/st-marias-table/#more-1039

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“I would give all the wealth of Ireland away to the poor to serve the King of Heaven.” ~ St. Brigid of Kildare
Teach your students about St. Brigid of Kildare, who was known for her generosity. This book could be the basis of a lesson on St. Brigid and her generosity: http://www.janegmeyer.com/books/the-life-of-st-brigid/ and this page can offer information as well: http://myocn.net/generosity-saint-brigid/

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Show this short video to older Sunday Church School students to begin your discussion of generosity: http://myocn.net/widows-mite-without-saying-much-short-video-says-lot/ After watching, talk about what you’ve just seen. What can we learn from this video? How should we apply this learning to our own lives? What steps can we take to be the generous ones?

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If your Sunday Church School students enjoy exploring words, consider doing an activity with the following synonyms and antonyms of generosity. Merriam-Webster.com offers these:

Synonyms: bigheartedness, bountifulness, bounty, generosity, generousness, largesse (also largess), munificence, openhandedness, openheartedness, philanthropy, unselfishness
Antonyms: cheapness, closeness, meanness, miserliness, parsimony, penuriousness, pinching, selfishness, stinginess, tightness, ungenerosity

Before class, write each of the above words on a 3×5 card. Mix them all up and place them in a pile where the students can reach them. Provide two baskets, one marked “synonyms for generosity” and one marked “antonyms of generosity.” (Or, if your students like to move around, simply mark different corners of the room instead of the baskets.) Have a dictionary available, as well. Have each student select a word and place it in its appropriate basket (or take it and stand in the appropriate corner). Talk together about that word, its meaning, and how it demonstrates either generosity or greed. After all of the words are sorted, discuss which of the two is the more godly way to live. Review all of the words in the “synonyms” pile, challenging yourselves to live in that manner.

Gleanings from a Book: “In the Candle’s Glow” by Elizabeth Crispina Johnson

The picture book “In the Candle’s Glow” by Elizabeth Crispina Johnson captured my attention from the moment I saw it. The cover illustration radiates peace as the main character stands prayerfully, gently illumined by a row of candle flames dancing like fireflies as she prays. That juxtaposition of peace and joyful motion made me curious, anticipating what I would read within its pages.

When I slipped the book open, I was not disappointed. It starts with flowers and bees, all blowing and growing in the wind. The life of a candle actually begins in that place: in nature, beauty, wholeness, just as God created the world and meant it to be. Bees partake of that sweet beauty and do their own work of using it to create honey and wax to share with their hive. A pleasant-faced nun sings her way into the book, ready to collect both honey and beeswax, and next thing we know there are slender beeswax candles lying patiently in a church’s narthex awaiting their next job. At last the reader meets the young pray-er from the cover, who dances into the book with much enthusiasm. Once she arrives at the church doors, Felicia stills herself, signs herself with the cross, then prayerfully enters. She notices the color and aroma of the beeswax candles, recalling their history for a moment before selecting one and igniting it, initiating it to its next task: carrying prayers. Felicia quietly prays, and as she does, she sees her prayers hovering, illumined by the candle. She watches as a gentle breeze wafts through the window, carrying the smoke from her candle into the heavens. Her prayers ride along to meet the icon of Christ, which watches over Felicia and reminds her that Christ Himself receives her prayers!

Amandine Wanert’s playful illustrations bring to life the swaying flowers, buzzing bees, singing nun, and dancing Felicia in this story. They also illuminate the gentle glow of candles casting light and hope around the interior of an Orthodox church. Readers will relish the peace that they feel as they read their way from the gleeful buzz of sunny fields to the serenity of prayer in church.

Here are some ideas of ways to study ideas from the book with your Sunday Church School students:

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Help your Sunday Church School students learn about bees with these interesting hands-on activities: https://www.scholastic.com/teachers/articles/teaching-content/explore-world-honeybees/

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This short video can introduce your students to bees and some of the amazing facts about them: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ta154f5Rp5Y

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In “In the Candle’s Glow,” Sister Irene treasured the bees’ work and used some of their beeswax to make candles. Bees work together with monks in this American monastery, too, providing the monks with honey and a little income (the monks take the bees to places that need extra bees for pollination at certain times of the year) in exchange for a hive and plenty of flowers from which they can drink. Read more here: http://dowoca.org/news_140326_1.html. After reading, talk with your Sunday Church School students about the idea: how do the bees help the monks? How do the monks help the bees? In what ways are bees and monks the same? How do we benefit from both?

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After reading “In the Candle’s Glow,” talk with your students about beeswax. Show them a piece of honeycomb (and let them taste it, if they want to!) and talk about how the wax is made for storing the honey and the baby bees. Then talk about the process of turning honeycomb into beeswax candles. Help them to dip their own tiny beeswax candles, just like Sister Irene did in “In the Candle’s Glow.” To do so, have a small (perhaps a potpourri-simmering-size) pot of melted beeswax already heated when they come into class. Also before class, cover the table and floor with newspaper layers taped together to catch any wax drips and cut one or two 12” lengths of candlewick for each student. Fold each length of candlewick in half over a pencil and tape it in place. When you’re ready to begin the candle making process, show your students how to slowly dip their candlewick in the small pot of wax, then pull it out, allow it to cool for a while, then straighten it with their fingers. Allow each student to dip theirs, cool it a bit, and straighten it, then repeat the process. Depending on the temperature of the room, it will take anywhere from 10 to 15 dips to make a slender taper candle. While you take turns with the dipping process is a good time to talk about how peaceful and meditative this work is. Sometimes monks and nuns make candles like this, praying as they work. Perhaps the class can pray the Jesus Prayer together or sing a favorite troparion as you slowly take turns with the dipping process. Once the candles have reached your preferred width, the students can pull the tape off of their pencil and free their pair(s) of taper candles. Show the students how to cut the wick so that the two candles are separated. (You may also want to trim the bottom of each candle flat with a sharp knife on a thick piece of cardboard “cutting board” so that the students can more easily stand their candles upright in a candle stand or a candle holder.) Talk about how deep the wax needs to be, to make a long candle like the ones we light when we go into church. That would take a lot of melted wax! Talk about how long it takes someone to make the pile of candles waiting at church to be burned. In gratitude for that person’s hard work, encourage your students to consider saying a prayer for the person who made their candle, every time they light a candle at church. Gather your candles together and pray the prayer of blessing of the candles, found near the end of “In the Candle’s Glow.” Then allow the students to take their candles along home to use at their family prayer table, or encourage them to light them at church the next time they attend a service.

16682022_10210696526521083_1762604804850405088_nA heat-free beeswax candle-making option (better for younger students) would be to roll your own beeswax candles. Here’s a tutorial: http://playfullearning.net/2013/03/diy-hand-rolled-beeswax-candles/

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Why do we light candles when we pray? If you have older students, engage them in that question for a bit, then compare their answers to those of St. Symeon of Thessaloniki and St. Nikodemos the Hagiorite, as recorded here (under the same question, near the bottom of the page): http://www.stjohnsmayfield.org/what-is-orthodoxy-2/. Encourage them to talk about the answers of those two saints, comparing them to each other and to their own previous answers. Then, encourage your students and yourself to remember, as the page says, “For all these reasons cited by our Holy Fathers, let us often light our candles and make sure as much as possible that they be pure candles. We should abstain from all corruption and uncleanness, so that all of the above symbolism is made real in our Christian lives.”

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Allow your students to respond to the book “In the Candle’s Glow” with an art project. On dark paper, have them draw a candle (here’s one way: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GGOFC6ahnVw) with chalk, oil pastels, gel pens, white or metallic pencils: any medium that shows up nicely on the black paper. Then have your students smudge the candle’s “glow” around its flame. Inside that glow, encourage them to write a prayer; the names of people for whom they want to pray; or a drawing of the people’s faces for whom they are praying.

On Sharing Our Love (Beyond Valentine’s Day)

For a few weeks of every year, our culture is inundated with love. Everywhere we go we see hearts, roses, chocolates, Cupid and his arrows, and Valentine’s Day cards. The world is a swirl of pink and red. Then Valentine’s Day comes, and we can definitely feel the love! But what about February 15th? Or the 22nd? Or March 19? Do we still feel the love then? Even more importantly, are we still sharing our love then?

It is easy to focus on making sure that our Sunday Church School students feel loved on that one special day, Valentine’s Day. It is appropriate for us to celebrate our loved ones and declare our love for them! But why stop at just Valentine’s Day? These precious people should be at the top of our “I want you to know that I love you” list: not just on February 14, but all year long!

The purpose of this blog post is to encourage each of us to continue to let our students know that we love them, even on “ordinary” days. We searched and found many ideas of ways to do just that. We are sharing a few of the ideas in hopes that some will strike a chord and ignite in us a new determination to warm our students with our love. If we do so, even when all the roses have wilted, the chocolates have been eaten, and the Valentine’s Day cards have been read, these important people in our life will get the message: “I love you, and I always will.”

Here are a few of the ideas we found:

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Find lots of ideas of ways to use sticky notes to send messages of love and encouragement to your students here: http://www.kirstenskaboodle.com/positive-messages-for-students/

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Help your students create some scripture-based love notes to share with their friends and family! Here are some free printable ones for starters: http://paththroughthenarrowgate.com/gods-love-notes/

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One way you can show your students that you love them is to create your own secret greeting with each of them. Need inspiration? Check out this school teacher’s individual student greetings: http://people.com/human-interest/north-carolina-teacher-personalized-handshakes-students/

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Find some ideas of ways to love the more-difficult-to-love students here: http://childrensministry.com/articles/discipline-sos/

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“Caring about your students doesn’t necessarily mean having a constant gushy feeling about them. Caring means commitment …feelings come and go. True love stays, in spite of annoyances. Love is a commitment you make to your kids.” Read more in this article:  http://www.christianitycove.com/sunday-school-teaching-what-caring-about-your-students-really-means/

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Find 10 simple ways to show love to your Sunday Church School students here: http://childrensministryleader.com/10-ways-show-love-kids/

On Overcoming the Winter Blues

The beginning of February marks the middle of winter for the northern hemisphere. For many people, winter can a dreary and depressing time. Why is this the case? Are children also thus affected by winter, or is the sense of gloom limited to adults? Can anything be done to help those of us who feel discouraged during the winter months?

We did a little research into the above questions, and learned a few things which we will share with you. We learned that there are multiple reasons why winter can drag down our emotions, especially because of the reduced light and/or sunshine that people living in wintery climates experience. The combination of less daylight and colder outdoor temperatures also discourages people from getting fresh air and exercise (two other possible remedies for combating gloom). We learned that children are affected by these struggles in a similar way as adults are affected. We found many suggestions of things to do to combat the so-called “winter blues” including the idea of getting out of the house within 2 hours of waking up, and exercising (outside, if possible). (Author’s note: my teen son invited me to try this out, so this morning we got up a few minutes earlier than usual, threw on our coats, and briskly walked around the block before beginning our regular morning routine. It was an invigorating and sweet way to begin this dreary, gloomy winter day! We will do it again.)

Below you will find links to a few favorite articles we encountered in our research which address  the above questions. We hope that the next time you experience mid-winter (whether right now or in a few months, depending on where in the world you live), you will find some of this information and these ideas helpful. Together, let us take steps to combat the gloomy feeling that winter can so easily invite in our own life and in the lives of our Sunday Church School students!

“If there were no tribulation, there would be no rest; if there were no winter, there would be no summer.” ~ St. John Chrysostom

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Teachers who may be facing the Winter Blues may benefit from some of the ideas found in this article: https://www.edutopia.org/blog/adding-spring-beat-winter-blues-nick-provenzano

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Help your Sunday Church School students chase their blues away with ideas such as these: http://share.ctainc.com/2017/01/03/111852/

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Sunday Church School students who are feeling weary of winter may benefit from some version of one of these classroom Winter-Blues-beating ideas: http://www.teachhub.com/baby-its-cold-outside-surviving-winter-blues (Note: these are for a regular classroom, but we thought some of the ideas could inspire a Sunday Church School teacher to help their students face the blues!)

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Younger students can benefit from more physically active curriculum in wintertime, according to this blog post: https://earlyeducationplantation.wordpress.com/2016/12/20/6-tips-for-beating-winter-blues-in-early-ed/

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This pdf offers ideas of ways to help young children (either at home or at school) to overcome the Winter Blues: http://www.pakeys.org/uploadedcontent/docs/ECMH/Focus_ECMH_Winter_Blues_1031110.pdf

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Older Sunday Church School students may enjoy a winter-inspired change in the Sunday Church School routine such as the “snowball (review) fight” suggested here: http://teacherpop.org/2015/02/6-classroom-activities-to-beat-the-winter-blues/

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.

Saints of Recent Decades: St. Sophia of Kleisoura (May 6 or 19)


In 1883, a baby girl was born to Amanatiou and Maria Saoulidi. The Saoulidi family lived in Trebizond in Asia Minor (which is now called Turkey). They named their little girl Sophia. Sophia grew up in Trebizond with much love for God and His Holy Church. In 1907, Sophia married a young man named Jordan Hortokoridou. After almost 7 years of marriage, they had a son (some sources say they had a second child as well). Sophia loved her husband and her son. Sadly, soon after her son was born, Jordan was enlisted into the army and soon after that, he mysteriously disappeared and never returned. To make matters worse, a short time later their son died as well. (Both children, according to the sources that list two.) Sophia was very sad. Sophia took her sadness to God. She went up on top of a nearby mountain every day and spent hours praying. She chose to focus more on God than on her circumstances. On that mountaintop, Sophia began her ascetic life.

One day on the mountaintop, St. George appeared to Sophia. He warned her that the villagers should leave their village to escape a coming persecution. So it was that Sophia and her village left Trebizond in 1919, just before the Christians in Turkey were forced to leave. Sophia and the other villagers headed to Greece in a ship named after St. Nicholas. As they traveled, a terrible storm came up. The sea was wild, but they survived. When it was over, the captain of the ship declared that someone very holy must have been aboard his ship, since they all survived. When the captain said this, all the passengers looked at Sophia. She had spent the entire storm praying in a corner of the ship. (Years later when she herself told this story, she said that she could see the angels all over the waves of the sea, keeping them safe!) So Sophia and her villagers made it safely to Greece.

When Sophia arrived in Greece, she lived with her brother for a while. She was not happy in the world, and after a few years, the Theotokos appeared to her. She said, “Come to my house!” Sophia asked her where she was and where her house was, and the Theotokos replied, “I am in Kleisoura.” Sophia went to Kleisoura and found the Monastery of the Birth of the Theotokos. She lived with the community of the Monastery of the Birth of the Theotokos for the rest of her life.

For most of her years there, Sophia did not have a room at the monastery. Instead, she slept in the monastery’s kitchen fireplace. The fireplace was used for cooking, but when the cooking was finished, Sophia could sleep there. It was cold in the winter, because the cold wind would blow down the chimney; and when it rained, rain would drip on her while she slept. Sometimes she would light a little fire to warm herself, but not always. And she only slept for a few hours every night. She spent the rest of her time kneeling in prayer by the window, lit by the candle she used to light the icon of the Theotokos which was kept there. Sophia ate little and wore rags. The local people called her “Crazy Sophia,” but people would come from all around, just to see her. When people came to see her, before they would even tell her their names, Sophia would greet them by name and talk with them about their problems, which God revealed to her without the people needing to tell her anything!

Sophia did not care much about how she looked. She wore ragged clothes and a black scarf. Her blanket and sandals had holes. Sometimes the people who came to see Sophia would give her gifts of new clothing. She would immediately give the clothes to someone poor who needed them more. Sometimes people would give her money. She would hide the money until she met someone that needed it, when she would go get the money and give it to them. She did not wash herself or her food. She fasted strictly and ate only as much as she had to to survive. She cared much more for her soul than for her body. She chose to cover her holiness with foolishness so that no one would know how holy she was. She said, “Cover things, so that God will cover you.”

In 1967 Sophia got sick. She had sore spots on her stomach that were open and smelled bad. It hurt a lot. But she did not complain. She said, “The Panagia will come to take away my pain. She promised me.” And she did just that! Sophia remembers a vision she had in which the Theotokos, the Archangel Gabriel, other saints, and St. George came to her side. The Archangel told her they were going to cut the bad parts out of her stomach. She told him that she was a sinner and needed confession and to receive Holy Communion before the surgery so she would be prepared in case she died. The Archangel assured her that she was not going to die, and then he cut her open. Immediately she was healed and normal, left with a tiny, perfectly-healed scar at the place where the Archangel Gabriel cut her open. She would sometimes show this scar to those who came to see her, so that they could see the proof of the miracle God worked in her life. People who saw the scar said it looked as though it had been the work of a very skilled surgeon.

In her years at the monastery, Sophia had many animal friends. Several snakes slept with her in her fireplace bed. She was not afraid of them, and encouraged others to not be afraid of them, either. She befriended a bear who was very gentle with Sophia. She once saved its life: someone thought the bear was a threat to the community and nearly shot it, but Sophia stopped him from killing the bear. She called birds “the Birds of God” and would sit down on the ground to feed them as they settled all over her. The birds would sometimes even go chirping along into the church with her to pray with her! Sophia said the birds have been sent to us from the Panagia and Christ to console us and to give us company.

Sophia departed this life on May 6, 1974. She was buried on the east side of the monastery church’s altar. In 1982, her relics were exhumed. Her bones were clean and shining like light, and the casket was full of holy myrrh. In 2011, she was elevated to sainthood.
To this day, St. Sophia of Kleisoura is working miracles through the power of God. For example, before she died, she gave her kerchief to someone so that they could remember her. In 1995 that kerchief began to smell fragrant. It has brought healing to many women who have contact with it. (Those who can’t have children but have the sign of the cross made over them with the kerchief soon get pregnant; and those who are pregnant give birth easily through the prayers of St. Sophia.)

St. Sophia became very wise (so we call her an eldress) and she prayed and fasted a lot (so we call her an ascetic). She prays for all of us, but especially for the poor, those in need, and those who are sad because they have lost a loved one. We can ask her to to pray for us, as well.

St. Sophia of Kleisoura, intercede for us and for our salvation.

You became a treasury of Divine wisdom and all-consuming fear [of God], O mother Sophia; through your motherly intercessions, O blessed one, you offer to all the richness of grace.

Sources: http://full-of-grace-and-truth.blogspot.com/2011/11/st-sophia-righteous-ascetic-of-panagia.html, http://www.stgregoryoc.org/st-sophia-the-righteous/, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XPYVGneiWpg, and http://www.pravoslavie.ru/50197.html.

Here are additional links to ways you can learn more and teach your Sunday Church School children about St. Sophia of Kleisoura:
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Read more about the life of St. Sophia of Kleisoura, see her photo, and ponder some of her quotes as collected here: http://www.johnsanidopoulos.com/2010/06/eldress-sophia-ascetic-of-panagia.html.

Read stories of some of her miracles here:

http://www.johnsanidopoulos.com/2016/05/some-miracles-of-saint-sophia-of.html

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Share this book about St. Sophia of Kleisoura, published by Potomatis Publishing, with younger Sunday Church School students. Read it aloud to them yourself, or play Dr. Chrissi Hart’s reading from her podcast “Under the Grapevine”: https://www.ancientfaith.com/podcasts/grapevine/saint_sophia_of_kleisoura

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This 7-minute video tells about St. Sophia of Kleisoura, showing pictures from her life as well as icons of her. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=b2jnWvuYBEA

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St. Sophia of Kleisoura loved animals. She had special friends who were snakes, birds, and even a bear. Read about some of them here: http://www.johnsanidopoulos.com/2016/05/the-love-of-st-sophia-of-kleisoura-for.html. Bring a (stuffed unless you have access to real ones!) bird, snake, and bear into your middle-years Sunday Church School classroom as a discussion starter. After introducing your students to the life of St. Sophia, talk about how she treated the animals and how they responded to that treatment. Ask the students what her treatment of animals shows her respect for God and His creation. Challenge the class to think of how they can treat animals with the kindness and respect that St. Sophia gave to the creatures that God shares with us.

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St. Sophia said many wise things. Print these quotes (http://full-of-grace-and-truth.blogspot.com/2014/03/a-few-quotes-of-st-sophia-of-kleisoura.html and http://full-of-grace-and-truth.blogspot.com/2011/11/st-sophia-righteous-ascetic-of-panagia.html) and cut the printed page to separate each quote. Before your older Sunday Church School students come to class, tape one quote to the bottom of each chair. After discussing the life of St. Sophia, have each student find and share the quote under their seat. Discuss the quotes together. How do you see each played out in St. Sophia’s life? How can we continue to live in a way that is shaped by St. Sophia’s wisdom in each quote? Talk about how the Jesus Prayer helped St. Sophia through many of her most difficult challenges. She encourages us to pray the prayer as well! Hand each student a copy of this quote http://www.antiochian.org/sites/default/files/st_sophia_kleisoura_wherever_you_walk.pdf. Discuss it together, then allow them to decorate it and take it home to place where it will remind them of her and the wisdom of this saying.

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Teens and/or adults will be challenged by this talk by Fr. Panagiotes Carras about holy fools. The talk encourages each listener to work to become different from the world, as is necessary for Orthodox Christians to do if we want to live truly Godly lives. It focuses on St. Sophia of Kleisoura and includes a video about the life of the saint (from 31:00-1:18:00). That video includes photos from her life and even recordings of her speaking (with translation to English). https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XPYVGneiWpg

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