Category Archives: Joy

On Pursuing Virtue: Happiness

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!

Happiness is the next virtue we will want to help our Sunday Church School students learn about. The feeling of happiness should be familiar to all of our students, and it may be difficult for them to understand the difference between earthly happiness and the virtue of happiness. Here is one way to help to explain it:

1. Give each student a small consumable gift from a larger collection (for example, a jelly bean from a big bag of them). Allow them to eat their piece. Talk about how they felt when you gave it to them, and while they were eating it. Probably they felt happy! Now that it’s gone, how do they feel? Chances are they are not happy anymore, maybe even they feel sad because it is gone. Hold the bag (still containing candy) where the students can see it. Eat a piece or two. Talk about how they feel about you eating it in front of them. Most likely they will express jealousy and/or ask for more candy.

2. Explain that the happiness they felt when they ate their piece was earthly happiness. It is just here for a minute and then is gone; and is often based on a thing (in this case, a piece of candy) that can be taken away from them or is finished after they use it (or eat it). That is the kind of happiness that many people try to get in their lives. They buy more stuff, work harder so they have more money, and try to get happy with that stuff and money. Ask your students, “Does it work? Does it make them really happy, or just happy for a moment?”

3. Remind the students that we are working on virtues, which are like inner riches which don’t go away. When we work on living in a virtuous way, we live more like how God would want us to live.  Happiness, virtuous happiness, is what God wants for all of us. This kind of happiness will not run out or go away. And if we are living in true happiness, we won’t feel jealous of others, no matter what they have that we do not. Envy, or “jealousy of someone else’s happiness,” is actually the opposite of true happiness. It is the sin we are fighting against when we pursue the virtue of happiness! But how do we not just run after happy feelings? What can we do to get virtuous happiness in our life?

4. Share Fr. Dn. Charles Joiner’s article, “17 Points to Create True Happiness With Your Work and Life,” (see link below) with older students and discuss each point with them as you do so. If you have younger students, select a few of the points to share as a starting place for pursuing virtue. For example, you could share:

A. “Don’t compare yourself to others.” Discuss the fact that when we compare ourselves to others,  we stop thinking about how God made each of us unique because He needs someone like us to be in His world. Instead of thinking how we can’t do the same things as others, we need to focus on what we are able to do, and then go and do that to the best of our ability. Also, when we see someone else doing something well, we fight jealousy whenever we congratulate them and when we thank God that they are able to do what they’re good at doing!

B. “Give thanks to God for everything.” Talk about how we do not have control over everything, nor do we understand why God allows some things to happen. We also often don’t understand His timing, either. But if we thank Him for everything- not just the nice things that happen to us, we will be building the virtue of happiness in our life.

C. “Remember the Jesus Prayer.” Praying to God all day long helps us to remember that He is always with us. The Jesus Prayer is a simple but very good prayer that we can pray all day long. The more we remember God and speak to him, the more happiness we will experience in our life.

D. “Choose your friends carefully.” If we are not careful who we choose to be with, we may end up with friends who only care about worldly happiness, who complain about their life, or who are jealous of others and try to make us wish we had stuff or friends that we do not have. Choosing friends who live in a way that helps us to choose the virtue of happiness over the sin of jealousy is another way we can pursue happiness!

5. As you share each point, ask your students for any examples of that point that they can offer. Chances are that someone in the class can make a connection to a story they know or an experience they’ve had that can help the whole class learn more about that particular way to work on attaining the virtue of happiness. Perhaps they have a suggestion of how to work on that point that wasn’t mentioned, as well.

6. Ask the students to take a minute to think about which point(s) they think they need to work on in their fight against jealousy and their pursuit of the virtue of happiness. If you have time, invite a response in the form of a resolution. It could be written or drawn, and may remain private if the student wishes it to.

7. Remind the students of how happy they felt while eating the piece of candy at the beginning of the lesson. Then invite them to compare that to a time when they have worked on one of the points just mentioned. How does the quickly-passing feeling of happiness compare with the deep-seated virtue of happiness? Ask which one they should spend their time working to attain.

8. Pray and ask for God’s blessing on each of you as you work toward true happiness.

Here are two craft ideas which could be used as a follow up to a lesson on the virtue of happiness:

  1. Consider working together as a class to create an Orthodox version of this: http://www.cjophoto.com/2014/11/inspirational-quote-jar-printable.html. Instead of inspirational quotes, however, look together for quotes from Church Fathers and scripture about happiness and joy. Whoever finds one can write it on a small slip of paper and put it into the jar, which you could label “A Heap of Happiness” or “The Joy Jar.” Collect the quotes over time, and at the end of the year, type all of the quotes/verses and give each student a copy. They can cut them apart and fill their own jar. (Which you could decorate in class, if you have time!)
  2. Help each student make their own happiness jar and encourage them to fill it by noticing (and writing down) a moment of happiness that they have experienced every day as suggested here: https://www.mommypotamus.com/gratitude-happiness-jar/

Find Fr. Dn. Charles Joiner’s article, “17 Points to Create True Happiness With Your Work and Life,” here: http://orthodoxwayoflife.blogspot.com/2015/05/17-points-to-create-true-happiness-with.html

 

Here are some quotes and ideas that can help you teach your Sunday Church School students about the virtue of happiness:

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Discuss this  quote with your middle or upper-years students: “Happiness can only be achieved by looking inward and learning to enjoy whatever life has and this requires transforming greed into gratitude.” ~St. John Chrysostom

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Study the life of St. Seraphim of Sarov, looking specifically at how he pursued the virtue of happiness:

“An icon of inexpressible joy offered by God to the world in recent centuries is the life of St. Seraphim of Sarov (1759–1813).2 All the saints of God, by being God-bearers, carried in their bosoms unbounded joy and passed it to all who gathered around them. St. Seraphim, however, was exceptional. Though he was a monk he chose not to don the traditional black cassock, but wore throughout the year a white one. Rather than saying, “Christ is risen,” only for the forty days of Pascha, as is customary, he employed this greeting every day of the year. He greeted his visitors, who included the likes of the Tsar and Tsaritsa of Russia, universally as “My joy.”

His entire life was spent in the quest to acquire the Holy Spirit. “Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you ….If you know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask Him” (St. Luke 11:9,13). St. Seraphim knocked. For a thousand days and nights he remained upon a rock in prayer. St. Seraphim asked and St. Seraphim received. The Holy Spirit came upon him in great measure, and the fruit of the Spirit’s presence was inexpressible joy. “For the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace…” (Galatians 5:22).”  ~ from “Cultivating Inexpressible Joy,” by V. Rev. Josiah Trenham, Ph.D. Read more here: http://www.antiochian.org/node/25366

Find more about St. Seraphim here: http://www.antiochian.org/learning-about-saint-st-seraphim-sarov

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These books are not Orthodox, but could be a helpful starting point for a children’s lesson on happiness: http://www.whatdowedoallday.com/childrens-books-about-happiness/

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Watch this 10-minute (not Orthodox, but serviceable for a lesson on happiness) video about Johnny Barnes, a man in Bermuda who has chosen to live his life in an extraordinary way. Talk together about his life. Is Johnny happy? How do you know? Who did he say helps him to be happy? What does he do that shows his happiness? How does it affect those around him? What can we learn from Johnny? https://www.globalonenessproject.org/library/films/mr-happy-man

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This episode of “Be the Bee” encourages its watchers to ponder true happiness. It would be a great addition to a middle-years lesson on happiness! http://www.ancientfaith.com/podcasts/bethebee/love_and_happiness

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Teens and adult Sunday Church School students will greatly benefit by reading this blog post listing 17 things that Orthodox Christians can do to pursue happiness: “17 Points to Create True Happiness With Your Work and Life,” by Fr. Dn. Charles Joiner, http://orthodoxwayoflife.blogspot.com/2015/05/17-points-to-create-true-happiness-with.html . Read the article together and discuss it. Encourage each student to select one or two points which they intend to improve in, and give them time to talk or journal about how they plan to make the improvement happen.

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After studying happiness from an Orthodox perspective, encourage older Sunday Church School students to read this (secular) “15 Step Guide to Happiness” and evaluate it through the lens of our Faith: https://draxe.com/how-to-be-happy/. After watching it, discuss it. How does this guide hit true happiness on the head? Are there any ways in which it is not describing true happiness?

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This short meditation by Abbot Tryphon will challenge its listeners to choose happiness: http://www.ancientfaith.com/podcasts/morningoffering/choosing_happiness

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/

On Choosing to Live a Life of Joy

“Do what makes you happy” is a common thought in today’s world. Everyone wants to feel happy, to have that positive emotion in our lives. Because of this, we try all sorts of things in pursuit of the “happiness” we desire. Sometimes we succeed – at least for a little – and feel happy. But we learn quickly that happiness is temporal – a fleeting positive feeling. It is soon lost.

Joy, however, God’s joy, is eternal. It is a deep-set “nothing can shake this inner peace” reality. What we all are truly seeking is not happiness: rather, we are seeking joy. We long for the deep, inner joy that comes only from God which is experienced by walking in His ways. In Nehemiah 8:10 we read, “…the joy of the Lord is your strength.” If joy is our strength, we can work as hard as we want to try to be happy: but in reality, it is joy that will strengthen us. So instead of doing what makes us happy, we need to do what makes us joyful.

The scriptures, the saints, and Orthodox theologians have much to say about joy. Here is a taste:

“Restore to me the joy of Your salvation, and uphold me with Your guiding Spirit.” (Ps. 50:14)

“These things I have spoken to you that my joy remain in you and that your joy may be full.” (John 15:11)

“…You now have sorrow; but I will see you again and your heart will rejoice, and your joy no one will take from you.” (John 16:22) Find more scriptures referring to joy here: http://yourvibrantfamily.com/bible-verses-joy/#_a5y_p=4906869

“Joy is not one of the components of Christianity, it is the tonality…that penetrates everything.” ~ Alexander Schmemann

“You and I were created for joy, and if we miss it, we miss one of the reasons for our existence. In fact, the reason Jesus lived and died was to restore the joy we had lost.” ~ Fr. Anthony Coniaris, Holy Joy: the Heartbeat of Faith, p. 1

“In the beginning, there are a great many struggles and a good deal of suffering for those who are advancing  toward God. Afterward, however, there is ineffable joy. It is like those who wish to light a fire; at first, the smoke chokes them, and they cry. Yet by this means, they obtain what they seek, as it is said, ‘Our God is a consuming fire!’ (Heb. 12:24) So we, too, must kindle the divine fire in ourselves through tears and hard work.” ~ Amma Syncletica

St. Nektarios once wrote to Abbess Xenia: “Realize that your cheerfulness gladdens the faces of the Sisters and renders the Convent a paradise. On the other hand, your depression and sullenness are transmitted to the other Sisters, and joyfulness is banished from that paradise. Learn, therefore that the joy and cheerfulness of the Sisters depend upon you, and it is your duty to preserve these in their hearts. Do this even at times by forcing yourself. I counsel you not to surrender yourself to sorrowful fantasies, because this greatly depresses the hearts of the Sisters. Your reward will be great if you become to them a cause for cheerfulness. I give you this advice because I myself have it as a principle. When you gladden the heart of your neighbor… you may be sure that you please God much more than when you occupy yourself with extreme forms of askesis (i.e. prostrations, prolonged prayer, and fasting).”

An elderly saint of the church once counseled a young priest who sought his advice on how to help a young mother in his parish. “Tell her God forgives her… Tell her He forgives her for being lonely and bored, for not being full of joy with a house full of children. That’s what sin really is, you know: not being full of joy.”

Fr. Anthony Coniaris tells the story of a 70- year-old Romanian Orthodox priest in his book Holy Joy: the Heartbeat of Faith (Light and Life Publishing, 2003). This priest had been thrown into prison by Communists in the Soviet Era. His son died in jail, his daughter was sentenced to 20 years, his sons-in-law were also jailed, and his grandchildren had no food and had to eat garbage. Yet, in spite of this, the priest greeted everyone with the words, “Always rejoice!”
“One day, he was asked, ‘Father how can you always say rejoice—you who passed through such terrible tragedy?’

“He replied, ‘Rejoicing is very easy. If we fulfill at least one word from the Bible, it is written ‘rejoice with all those who rejoice!’ Now if one rejoices with all those who rejoice, he always has plenty of motivation for rejoicing. I sit in jail, and I rejoice that so many are free. I can’t go to church, but I rejoice with all those who can go to church. I can’t take Holy Communion, but I rejoice for all those who an. I can’t read the Bible or any other holy book, but I rejoice for those who do. I can’t see flowers, we never saw a tree or a flower during those years. We were under the earth, in a subterranean prison. We never saw the sun, the moon, the stars. Many times we forgot that these things existed. We never saw a color, only the gray walls of the cell and our gray uniforms. But we knew that such a world existed, a world with multi-colored butterflies and with rainbows, but I can rejoice for those who see the rainbows and who see the multi-colored butterflies. In prison, the smell was horrible… Others have the perfume of flowers around them, and girls wearing perfume. And others have pictures, and others have their families of children around them. I cannot see my children but others can. And he who can rejoice with all those who rejoice can always rejoice. I can always be glad.’” (pp. 67-69)

“A choir director once asked his choir after they sang a jubilant Easter hymn, ‘Are you happy?’

‘Yes!’ they said.

Then he said, ‘I suggest you notify your faces!’

“My face, your face, the face of every Christian should be notified to reflect the joy of forgiveness; the joy of repentance; the joy of the good news of Jesus; the joy of the resurrection; the joy of God’s steadfast love; the joy of the Kingdom; the joy of eternal life with God.

“How can this happen? It can happen through prayer. If there is any power that can transform our face, it is the power of prayer.” ~ Fr. Anthony Coniaris, Holy Joy: the Heartbeat of Faith, p. 113

 

Teaching your Sunday Church School students about joy:

“When you teach children, you convey to them not only certain knowledge but the spirit which is behind this knowledge. And you know that the one thing that the child accepts easily is precisely joy. But we’ve made our Christianity so adult, so serious, so sad, so solemn, that we virtually have emptied it of that joy. And yet Christ said whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a little child shall not enter it.” Listen to the rest of the podcast here: http://www.ancientfaith.com/podcasts/wardrobe/joy_orthodox_style

Start a discussion on joy with older students by watching this “Be the Bee” episode: http://www.ancientfaith.com/podcasts/bethebee/prayer_and_joy