Category Archives: Lifestyle

On Pursuing Virtue: Kindness

Author’s note: We have written about virtues before (see https://orthodoxchurchschoolteachers.wordpress.com/2017/03/03/on-pursuing-the-virtues-an-introduction/), and now we are continuing the series. There are so very many virtues for us to acquire! Fr. Thomas Hopko’s book “The Orthodox Faith, Volume 4, Spirituality,” offers additional virtues, some of which we will now study. May the Lord have mercy on us and grant us grace as we learn to better walk in His ways!

Fr. Thomas Hopko’s chapter on kindness begins with the statement that spiritual people are kind, always gentle, and never cruel in any way. But kindness is more than a fruit of the Spirit evidenced in the life of humans who are following God: God Himself is kind! And He is not just kind to the good. Luke 6:35 reminds us that He is “kind to the ungrateful and selfish.” That’s pretty much everyone, at least at some point in life!

We Christians are encouraged to accompany God in kindness. This is most important when we are helping others to see an error that we have noticed in their life. Fr. Thomas mentions that we can usually put on a kind front for those we don’t know well. But the people who we are the closest to may more easily receive an unkind response or reaction from us. These people are the ones who need our kindness the most, and he encourages us to extend kind words and actions to them, as well as our more casual acquaintances. He says that there is never an excuse to be insensitive or harsh to anyone, regardless of how close we are to them.

Fr. Thomas goes on to clarify that kindness doesn’t mean glossing over or ignoring other people’s sins. Instead, he says, it means that we forgive them. He also states that kindness will not always look like “being nice” to others and going along with them in whatever they do. Sometimes a truly kind person needs to set others straight if they are doing something that is wrong. The person’s kindness will shine through by the way they convey care to the person doing wrong, even in the midst of this correction. He says that a kind person’s correction will not have any cruelty, demeaning, ridiculing, or condemning. Instead, a truly kind person will correct another with encouragement and gentle understanding.

Kindness to all others, lived in this way, is a tall order. May God help us to grow in the virtue of kindness. When we do, we will be able to truly love all others as kindly as He does! May we help our students to do so, as well!!

Read Fr. Thomas Hopko’s discussion of kindness here: https://oca.org/orthodoxy/the-orthodox-faith/spirituality/the-virtues/kindness

Here are some ideas of ways that we can help to teach our Sunday Church School students about the virtue of kindness:

***
Inspire your students for kindness! This blog post offers ways a classroom teacher can help to create and nurture an environment of kindness. It’s geared toward regular ed. teachers, but many of the ideas can inspire Sunday Church School teachers, as well! https://www.weareteachers.com/49-ways-to-create-a-tidal-wave-of-kindness-in-schools/
***
Teachers with younger students may want to share a story or two with their class, to begin a discussion of kindness. Here are a list of secular books that may fit the bill: https://www.whatdowedoallday.com/childrens-books-about-kindness/
***
Here are a handful of the many stories and people from the scriptures that could be used in a lesson on kindness:
Joseph (beginning in Genesis 37)
Rahab (beginning in Joshua 2)
Christ
The Good Samaritan
***
The biblical story of Ruth is a story filled with kindness. This middle-years lesson plan focuses on various kindnesses exhibited throughout Ruth’s story, and offers a fun activity and craft idea related to kindness that could be incorporated into a lesson on this virtue. https://ministry-to-children.com/clothed-in-kindness/
***
This lesson on kindness is geared towards families, but could be helpful to a teacher planning a lesson on kindness. Find Bible stories, scripture verses, and activities related to kindness here: http://www.kidsofintegrity.com/lessons/kindness
***
“I think giving children hands-on ways to serve others and show special acts of kindness will go a long way in teaching them to think of others and derive joy from generosity.” ~ from http://www.momentsaday.com/teaching-children-to-think-of-others-a-simple-random-act-of-kindness/
This link offers an idea of how one mom helped her children perform a random act of kindness. Talk about it with your class, and brainstorm ways that your class can do random acts of kindness, whether together, in your parish, or something that you prepare together and each carry out/deliver separately.
***
This two-minute video shares the pages from a picture book about kindness. It can be a helpful addition to a lesson on kindness: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=L5HEKWib33g
***
Although this blog post is geared towards parents helping their children learn kindness, it offers ideas for a variety of age groups that Sunday Church School teachers may find helpful as they plan a lesson on kindness: https://www.focusonthefamily.com/parenting/spiritual-growth-for-kids/character-development-kindness/power-of-kindness
***
This lesson for younger elementary students offers ways to learn the word kindness and what it means, based on various scriptures. https://ministry-to-children.com/kindness-bible-lesson-fruit-of-the-spirit/
***
Many saints model kindness. Share the story of a kind saint with your class during a lesson on kindness.
A few ideas include:
St. Luke of Crimea (https://orthodoxchurchschoolteachers.wordpress.com/2014/06/13/learning-about-the-saints-st-luke-of-crimea-commemorated-june-11/)
St. Seraphim of Sarov (https://orthodoxchurchschoolteachers.wordpress.com/2015/12/04/learning-about-a-saint-st-seraphim-of-sarov-commemorated-on-january-2/)
St. Gerasimos of the Jordan (https://orthodoxchurchschoolteachers.wordpress.com/2016/02/26/learning-about-a-saint-st-gerasimos-of-the-jordan-commemorated-on-march-4/)
***
This very simple object lesson uses water, pepper, soap, and sugar to demonstrate the effect kindness has on others: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DPu7r4RdYhQ
and
This object lesson uses water and objects dropped into it to demonstrate the ripple effect that kindness has, and offers the opportunity to talk about how no kindness is too small to make a difference: http://penniesoftime.com/object-lesson-on-acts-of-kindness/
***
Teachers of older students may want to show their students this 3-minute video about what researchers are finding about how kindness affects us physiologically. After watching, talk about your learnings. How did we get “wired” to respond physiologically to kindness and being kind? Why do you suppose God made us that way? What can happen if we build this virtue in our life? What if we do not cultivate it? https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sUcxoNFiomY&list=PLvzOwE5lWqhQWsPsW5PQQ5gj5OBewwgUw&index=9
***
Teachers of teens may find this youth lesson on kindness helpful: https://ministrytoyouth.com/youth-group-lessons-on-kindness/
***
Want some ideas of ways your class can do some random acts of kindness? Check out the ones in this blog post: https://orthodoxchristianparenting.wordpress.com/2014/02/12/try-a-little-kindness/
Or in this one: https://orthodoxchurchschoolteachers.wordpress.com/2016/01/01/on-being-a-bucket-filler/

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On Pursuing Virtue: Hope

Author’s note: We have written about virtues before (see https://orthodoxchurchschoolteachers.wordpress.com/2017/03/03/on-pursuing-the-virtues-an-introduction/), and now we are continuing the series. There are so very many virtues for us to acquire! Fr. Thomas Hopko’s book “The Orthodox Faith, Volume 4, Spirituality,” offers additional virtues, some of which we will now study. May the Lord have mercy on us and grant us grace as we learn to better walk in His ways!

Fr. Thomas Hopko’s chapter about hope begins by pairing the virtue of hope with the power of faith. He reminds his readers that Abraham “in hope believed against hope that he should be the father of many nations” (Rom 4:18). He reminds his readers that hope and faith both rest in the unseen.

Hope is knowing that good will result in our life if we are living in faith, according to Fr. Hopko. Hope can help us to be sure that even in the midst of darkness and sin, God’s light and forgiveness is with us and will do for us what we are not able to do. Hope extends to us the reassurance that we need.

Fr. Hopko speaks of the opposite of hope, as well, so that we can be on guard. Despondency and despair are the opposites of hope. He calls these “the most grievous and horrible condition that a person can be in.” These two conditions work together to create the most terrible and damaging situation for our soul. Why? Because when we have no hope, we can’t do anything else. We especially can not have faith.

Fr. Hopko continues, “If a person is faithless, he can be chastised and convinced. If a person is proud, he can be humbled; impure, he can be cleansed; weak, he can be strengthened; wicked, he can be made righteous. But if a person is despondent and despairing, the very condition of his sickness is such that his heart and soul are dead and unresponsive to the grace of God and the support of his brothers.”

But if we fall into despair, it is possible for us to repair the state of our souls with humility and patience. Fr. Hopko tells his readers that when we fall into these states, we must hold steadfastly to the life of Faith, even if we don’t “feel” it anymore. He says when we are experiencing despair, we need to continue to go through each day, living our life of Faith. Even if we are just “going through the motions” of reading scriptures, participating in liturgical worship, keeping the fasts, praying, and working, we must not stop doing these things. He reminds us of St. Benedict’s advice that those in despondency/despair continue to do what they are doing as well as they can, and as attentively as possible. He suggests that we follow St. Seraphim’s encouragement to visit with strong friends who are spiritual, full of hope, merciful, and full of joy.

Staying steadfast through the dry times until we once again experience the light of hope and comfort is what we need to do. It is not an easy way to go (Fr. Hopko reminds us, “those who find it are few” (Mt. 7:14)). St. Evagrius assures us that when one “fights and conquers against despondency and despair, this struggle is followed by a peaceful state and the soul becomes filled with ineffable joy”.

Fr. Hopko addresses those who proclaim that it is virtuous to be without hope, thinking that declaring “all is lost” pleases God as these people sorrow over their sins and the sins of the world. He says it is not virtuous to feel helpless around the wicked or to think we’re at the mercy of evil. Rather, it is a virtue to be “rejoicing in hope, patient in tribulation, continuing steadfastly in prayer”(Rom 12.12). When we do so, we are able to really know and believe that God has the final victory in our life.

May we all grow in the virtue of hope, and help our Sunday Church School students to do the same!

Read Fr. Thomas Hopko’s discussion of hope here: https://oca.org/orthodoxy/the-orthodox-faith/spirituality/the-virtues/hope

Here are some ideas of ways that we can help to teach our Sunday Church School students about the virtue of hope:
***
Tell your students the story of Abraham. How can we learn hope from his story?
(If you don’t want to tell it on your own, you may consider reading these to your class: http://www.essex1.com/people/paul/bible15.html (You’ll want to share his story at least to the one marked 18, where Sarah gives birth to Isaac.)
Find ideas for crafts and printable pages about Abraham here: http://www.dltk-bible.com/genesis/chapter15-index.htm
***
Share a story (or more!) from the life of the prophet Daniel with your class. Talk about how he hoped in God, and it saved him. Find a story and activity ideas here: http://www.dltk-bible.com/old_testament/daniel-index.htm
***
The story of Hannah’s hope in God – and the results of her hope – is a beautiful one to share with Sunday Church School children. Find a 3-minute video version here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JiYumdP4C6k
Find ideas for related activities here: http://www.dltk-bible.com/old_testament/hannah-index.htmn
***
The story of Job offers us a wonderful model of how to face trials and hope in the Lord. Share the story with your class. (Here’s a 6-minute video version, if you have younger students: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bInc7sSe9KI) After learning about Job’s story together, talk about how he could (should?) have lost hope so many times. Yet, Job truly trusted God, and God watched over him throughout his trials. What can we learn from Job about the hard things we experience?

***
Use two identical balloons filled with different things (to demonstrate the difference between being filled with despair and being filled with hope) as an attention-getter at the start of a lesson about hope! https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1ZFNBXGrXl0

***
Here’s a “Be the Bee” episode about holding onto hope, which could be a great discussion starter for a lesson on hope: https://www.goarch.org/-/hold-on-to-hope?inheritRedirect=true
***
This secular plan for teaching hope offers some excellent questions that we can ask our Sunday Church School students, as well as some age-leveled ideas that we can glean from as we help our students learn about this virtue in the context of the Faith. http://schools.cms.k12.nc.us/dilworthES/Documents/Character%20Education/Hope.pdf
***
Teachers of elementary-aged or older students may want to print off this printable with 31 questions about hope. Each question has a suggested scripture to check for its answer. https://ministry-to-children.com/kids-can-devotion-1/ (It is not Orthodox, but will be helpful to teachers planning a lesson on hope.)
***
After a discussion on hope with middle-years or older students, talk about ideas of ways to share hope with others. You may want to include these “4 Ways to Sow Hope”:

1. Write down the wonderful promises in God’s Word (Matthew 28:20, John 14:26-29, 1 Corinthians 1:7-9).
2. Regularly remind yourself of the reality of heaven (Matthew 28:28-30, John 14:1-4, Revelation 21-22).
3. When describing your circumstances, choose hopeful words. Share hardship authentically, but always affirm God’s ultimate game plan (Psalm 27:13-14).
4. Avoid complaining. Grumbling is a magnet for more complaints; avoid passing negative perspectives on to others (Philippians 2:13-16).
(This idea comes from http://www.discipleblog.com/2017/11/teaching-kids-about-true-harvest-faith-hope-and-love/, which is not Orthodox, but has some very helpful suggestions/ideas.)
***
With older Sunday Church School students, discuss the difference between trust and hope. This homily would be a great discussion starter: http://stgeorgegoc.org/pastors-corner/fr-ricks-sermons/in-god-we-trusthope
***
Share this Orthodox prayer for comfort, inviting students to keep it in mind the next time they feel hopeless and need God’s comfort:
“Almighty God, the Father of mercies and God of
all comfort, come to my help and deliver me from
this difficulty that besets me. I believe Lord, that
all trials of life are under Your care and that all
things work for the good of those who love You.
Take away from me fear, anxiety and distress.
Help me to face and endure my difficulty with
faith, courage and wisdom. Grant that this trial
may bring me closer to You for You are my rock
and refuge, my comfort and hope, my delight and
joy. I trust in Your love and compassion. Blessed is
Your name, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, now and
forever. Amen.” (from http://www.beliefnet.com/faiths/prayer/2009/12/prayers-for-hope-and-comfort.aspx?p=5)
***
Share this prayer to the Holy Trinity with your class.
“The Father is my hope; the Son is my refuge; the Holy Spirit is my protector. O All-holy Trinity, glory to You.”
Invite them to tell what “The Father is my hope” means to them. Encourage each member of the class to remember this lesson about hope every time they pray this prayer.
***
With older students, talk about this statement: “It’s easy, after all, to tell a kid to be hopeful. It’s entirely more powerful to give them a reason to hope.” Share this (secular) article with them (http://time.com/3395822/teaching-hope/) and launch a discussion on how each class member has received hope over the years. Follow that by a brainstorming session of how each person can give others a reason to hope. What can each class member do, right now, to bring hope to others? Make a plan to help them carry it out.
***

Gleanings From a Book: “Everything Tells Us About God” by Katherine Bolger Hyde

Author’s note: This book is so eye-catching! As soon as I saw it, I was excited! The illustrations are so appealing. The book’s backstory adds to its intrigue. I couldn’t wait to crack it open and read it! However, I had other writing that needed to happen, so when the book arrived, I reluctantly set it on the shelf to wait until now. It was hard to not peek, but I prefer to write about a book right after reading it, so I forced myself to wait. It was well worth the wait. This is a delightful book.

This beautiful book invites engagement at a glance. The cover sets the tone for the book: it creates an expectation for beauty, variety, and a joyful revelling in God’s generosity with His people. And then, upon opening the book, the end paper catches the reader’s eye. It is a golden, nearly-completed puzzle. But why is one piece missing? And what does this have to do with the title? Before even reading a word, the reader is curious and determined to know more!

The book begins by telling the reader that the world is like a giant puzzle. God made this puzzle to tell us about Himself. He designed each piece – each part of the world – to help us learn some of His secrets. When we really look at the pieces, we can learn about Him through them!

Page after engaging page, the book points out different things in our world and how God uses them to teach us about Himself. For example, the sun tells us we can’t live without God because His love warms our hearts and helps us to grow closer to Him. The food that we eat reminds us that God always makes sure we have what we need, and that He always takes care of us. The animals tell us about God Himself: elephants help us see how mighty God is; hens and chicks remind us of how He cares for us; doves remind us of how the Holy Spirit brings us peace; etc.

Livia Coloji’s charming illustrations simultaneously cheer the reader and invite interaction. Bright colors, playful perspectives, and soft edges all help the reader to feel the warm message of the text. Readers can savor the images as well as the words. The first time through the book, the reader looks forward to turning the page to unveil the next illustration and the next piece of the puzzle. Every reading after that, the reader anticipates the illustrations, revisiting old friends.

The book concludes by answering the initial question. The missing piece in the puzzle of God’s world is each of us! He gives us life so that we can be part of His puzzle. He wants to show the world part of Himself through us! When we love and serve God, we are able to be a puzzle piece to those around us!

The author’s note at the end of the book offers the reader a glimpse at its backstory. The concept of this book was initially presented to Ancient Faith Publishing by Fr. Thomas Hopko of blessed memory. He had written of a conversation with an elderly bishop on an airport run one day. As they drove, the bishop kept pointing things out in the world around them, and talking about how each thing pointed us to God. Katherine Hyde sent Fr. Thomas her rendition of his idea, but it got lost in the shuffle over the years. Fr. Thomas’ family has given their permission for her to publish it, so now we can read this book and marvel at God’s willingness to reveal Himself to us, one piece at a time!

The end paper at the back of the book shows a completed golden puzzle. The reader now knows why the piece was missing and can see how beautiful the puzzle is with all of its pieces in place. Glory to God for including each of us in the puzzle of His world!

Purchase a copy of this book for your Sunday Church School classroom here: http://store.ancientfaith.com/everything-tells-us-about-god/

Here are some gleanings from the book, as well as ideas of ways to use it in your classroom:
***
“The sun tells us that nothing can live without God… His warmth fills our hearts, and His love shines on us every day.” (from “Everything Tells Us About God,” by Katherine Bolger Hyde)
***
“The water we drink tells us Christ is our life…” (from “Everything Tells Us About God,” by Katherine Bolger Hyde)
***
“Rocks tell us Christ is as strong as a boulder… Nothing and no one can ever defeat Him or make him stop loving us.” (from “Everything Tells Us About God,” by Katherine Bolger Hyde)
***
“Small things, like flowers… tell us God cares about every detail of His creation.” (from “Everything Tells Us About God,” by Katherine Bolger Hyde)
***
“Animals… tell us what God is like… The mother hen tells us He cares for us.” (from “Everything Tells Us About God,” by Katherine Bolger Hyde)
***
“Schools… tell us Christ is our Teacher… And He Himself is the perfect student of God the Father: He always does His Father’s will.” (from “Everything Tells Us About God,” by Katherine Bolger Hyde)
***
“The people we meet… tell us Jesus became human, just like us.” (from “Everything Tells Us About God,” by Katherine Bolger Hyde)
***
“Some years ago, Fr. Tom Hopko submitted to Ancient Faith Publishing a story… In this story… a young Fr. Tom drove an elderly bishop to the airport, hoping to engage in some deep theological conversation along the way. Instead, the bishop humbly and simply pointed out how everything they passed had something to tell us about the nature of God.” (a bit of the back story of the book, from “Everything Tells Us About God,” by Katherine Bolger Hyde)
***
Teachers of young students may want to share “Everything Tells Us About God” and then allow the students to color this coloring page from the book: https://store.ancientfaith.com/content/everything-coloring-page.pdf
***
Teachers of early elementary will want to share “Everything Tells Us About God” with their class, and then engage in a discussion. What “puzzle piece” from the book did they like, and why? How does God reveal Himself to them? If possible, take the class outside for a short walk around the Church building, stopping from time to time to notice “puzzle pieces” that God has placed around your Church, pointing you to Himself. Back in the classroom, invite the students to think of their own “puzzle piece” and draw or write about it on this printable pdf.
***
Older elementary classes can begin the class with a 100-piece nature puzzle waiting for them as they arrive in the classroom. Students can work together to assemble the puzzle, then admire the scene. Talk about how each piece of that puzzle is important; how it would not be complete without any of them. Share “Everything Tells Us About God” with the class. Ask them what they think the correlation is between the book and the puzzle. How does this book change how we see the world?
***
Before reading “Everything Tells Us About God” with your students, hand each of them a blank puzzle. Provide watercolor paints, markers, and/or colored pencils and invite them to write a message or create (right on the puzzle) an image that makes them happy. Share the book with them while the images dry. Then have them turn the puzzle over, and on the back of each piece, ask them to write the name of something or someone in their life that points them to God. Who/what are the pieces that God uses in their life to draw them closer to Himself?

(find blank puzzles online – for example, this one: http://www.orientaltrading.com/compoz-a-puzzle-blank-puzzles-28-a2-13646291.fltr;
or in a local craft store – for example, this one: http://www.michaels.com/design-a-puzzle-set-by-creatology/10489364.html)

***

Gleanings from a Book: “Time and Despondency” by Dr. Nicole Roccas

As soon as this book arrived in the mail, I resolved to read it and share some gleanings from it with this community. My thought process was somewhere along the lines of: “It will be great for parents and teachers to read this book so they can help their despondent kids.” In my mind’s eye, this book had the makings of an excellent tool for young people or for adults with teens in their life.

I was right.

And I was wrong.

Nicole Roccas’ “Time and Despondency” takes the reader on a journey through time and thought as it addresses the relationship between time and despondency, which is “no less than a perpetual attempt by the mind to flee from the present moment, to disregard the gift of God’s presence at each juncture of time and space.” (p. 15) The book offers much to ponder, including quotes from church fathers and other noted Christian authors, all pointing to the fact that despondency is a real problem for Christians. Not just teens and young adults encounter despondency. It is a struggle for Christians of all ages. Parents and teachers, too. Myself included.

But this book does not merely shake a finger in the face of its readers, scolding them for not caring or for abandoning the present or God, Who meets us in the present. Rather, the book extends grace to the reader. It encourages them to do the same to themselves and to others. Then it walks the reader through a host of ideas of ways to begin to heal and step away from despondency; whether with counter statements from scripture or with stepping stones built on virtues and disciplines.

As it turns out, I needed to read this book. Perhaps someday it will be helpful to me as I relate to the teens and young adults in my life. But right now, I needed to read this for my own salvation. Maybe once I have “removed the log from my own eye” I can begin to help others. I encourage you to read it, as well, so that we can journey together out of despondency and back to the present, where we find – and connect with – God.

You can purchase a copy of “Time and Despondency” here: http://store.ancientfaith.com/time-and-despondency/

Listen to Dr. Nicole Rocca’s podcast here: http://www.ancientfaith.com/podcasts/timeeternal

Find her blog here: https://blogs.ancientfaith.com/timeeternal/

Note: when I read a book so that I can write a “Gleanings” blog post, I mark potential quotes to share by adhering sticky notes beside the quote. When I take a photo of the book to use for the blog’s illustration, I usually remove those sticky notes. This book, however, is so highly quotable that it garnered many, many sticky notes. I left them in the book for this illustration photo so that you can see for yourself that the gleanings I am sharing are not nearly all of the ones I’d have liked to share! There is so much to ponder in this book. Here are some gleanings from it:

***
“‘Despondency is the impossibility to see anything good or positive; it is the reduction of everything to negativism and pessimism. […] Despondency is the suicide of the soul because when man is possessed by it, he is absolutely unable to see the light and desire it.’” (Dr. Nicole Roccas quoting Alexander Schmemann, “Time and Despondency”, p. 23)
***
“Despondency has an infinite array of disguises and symptoms. Among the most universal signs is inner restlessness, yet this can present itself in countless ways, depending on the person. For some, the restlessness makes it problematic to sit alone, to read a book to completion, to pray for any length or intensity, or to finish a task at work. Others can perform all of these activities but find themselves hounded by a stubborn anger or boredom while doing so. For still others, despondency begins as an inclination towards sleep, eating, distraction, or worry.”
(Dr. Nicole Roccas, “Time and Despondency”, p.26)
***
“Just as the poison of spiritual sickness begins in the soul, so too does healing. Even after despondency has affected the body or those around us, restoration starts within us and unfolds a new directions to revive all aspects of a person’s self and life…. In other words the restoration of a single human soul has almost limitless transformative effects that ripple throughout the rest of the world.” (Dr. Nicole Roccas, “Time and Despondency”, pp.34-35 )
***
“Time is the dimensional fabric that allows relationship and action to happen. Without it, there would be little prospect of communion, forgiveness, or change of heart—all life-giving possibilities hinge on the interaction of time and eternity in the here and now of our existence. When we begin to look at these two realms from the vantage point of Christ and human relationship, it seems that eternity is not as far off as we often assume. In fact, eternal life—and with it, healing from despondency—begins when we start to exercise that capacity to ‘realize’ life while we live it every, every minute…” (Dr. Nicole Roccas, “Time and Despondency”, p. 44)
***
“…time affords us: the opportunity to turn toward (or away from) God, life, love, and goodness. Like a lover or a friend, God left space for a path back to relationship. In the fullness of time, Christ entered our world to pave this path for our sake. His Incarnation and Resurrection open the door for us, as God’s creatures, to ‘redeem time’…” (Dr. Nicole Roccas, “Time and Despondency”, p. 48)
***
“Viktor Frankl wrote, ‘Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms—to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances.’ Lest these words be dismissed as cliche, it’s worth mentioning that Frankl honed his thinking on human psychology while a prisoner in Auschwitz. Whenever I make excuses for my attitude, this quotation offers a suitable reality check.” (Dr. Nicole Roccas, “Time and Despondency”, p. 61)
***
“The opposite of this despondent condition is not happiness nor jubilation, but rather love—a turning outward from the self to one’s neighbor, God, and Eternity. The latter is crucial; in the view of the Church Fathers, the “every, every minute” we fail to realize in this life consists not merely of love or beauty but of eternity itself. Time then, becomes not only the vehicle of relationship and eternity, but the path of transformation we can travel to get there.” (Dr. Nicole Roccas, “Time and Despondency”, p. 65)
***
“Every day, every moment is accounted for in the church, and not just on an abstract levels but physically and concretely through the fasts, feasts, and seasons, all of which seek to manifest Christ in and through time. The Church calls not just our minds but our whole being and all our wandering loose ends back into existence, back into presence… Every juncture of sacred time links us to the Incarnation, the reaching of Eternity into this world, and in doing so, unites us not only to Christ but to the realization of are very selves as icons of Him. (Dr. Nicole Roccas, “Time and Despondency”, p. 88)
***
“Prayer is like a coin with two sides, doing and being. The ‘doing’ of prayer includes all the externalities—the words we articulate (audibly or not), the candles we light, the prostrations we make, the spaces we designate for prayer. In Orthodox Christianity, we have an abundance of highly developed rituals and practices to help us cultivate the journey inward. We sometimes burn incense, or use prayer ropes, or set certain corners of our homes apart for prayer. These rituals are not meant to be rote or mindless, but to nourish reverence and to remind us that we are incarnational beings—our bodies must learn to pray as well as our minds.” (Dr. Nicole Roccas, “Time and Despondency”, p. 98)
***
“We may not have chosen our disease, we may have no control over its remedy, but we can still choose to remain rather than to resist. ‘Abide in Me,’ Christ beckons us (John 15:4)—Stay. Endure. Surrender. Anyone in the midst of great pain knows it is a thousand times harder to accept this invitation than to give our hearts over to bitterness or despair. To stay with Christ where we are (rather than to seek Him where we are not) requires surrender and longsuffering, both of which move us to choose between him or hardness of heart.” (Dr. Nicole Roccas, “Time and Despondency”, p. 122)
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“I’m of the opinion that the inverse of thanksgiving is not ingratitude but rumination, a relentless mental preoccupation with resolving the unfavorable aspects of our circumstances… Among other things, it suggests we may be living too much in our minds—that our mind is not dwelling in our heart, but oppressing it.”(Dr. Nicole Roccas, “Time and Despondency”, p. 141)
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“Work that is good for the soul is hard enough that the mind must focus on it, but easy enough that the work can be sustained for long periods of time… There is a humble creativity in performing ordinary tasks like making the bed or folding clothes… When we can manage such tasks with even a hint of grace and care, they are transfigured into something holy.”
(Dr. Nicole Roccas, “Time and Despondency”, pp. 151-152.)
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“…one of the most beautiful things about sacredness is that it’s not all or nothing—it comes to us in small, ordinary things and times, and asks us to see the holy in finite moments. For whatever reason, we humans can only understand or encounter holiness in small morsels at a time—in a chalice, a piece of bread, a sip of wine. Any encounter with the sacred reminds us that it is enough to start somewhere, anywhere—it is enough to put one foot forward, to turn to Christ for one real moment. Wherever we begin, Real Life will seep out into the other areas of our existence.” (Dr. Nicole Roccas, “Time and Despondency”, pp. 166-167)
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“The liturgies of the Orthodox Church are punctuated countless ties by a simple supplication: ‘Lord, have mercy.’ To modern ears, such a prayer may sound stifling and self-diminishing: is God really so vengeful we must beg His forbearance at every turn? But in Orthodox conceptions, mercy is the balm of salvation, and to ask it of God affirms that He is merciful and loving in the first place.” (Dr. Nicole Roccas, “Time and Despondency”, p. 175)
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“Redundant as it seems, worship in the liturgy turns time into a pilgrimage back—not back to our shame and feebleness, but through our feebleness and back to engagement, back to communion, back to Christ, one Kyrie eleison at a time.” (Dr. Nicole Roccas, “Time and Despondency”, p. 175)

 

On Demonstrating Love to Our Students

As we approach Valentine’s Day and see reminders of love everywhere around us, the opportunity arises for us to evaluate how well we are loving others. It is one thing to say that we love someone, but often quite another thing to act in such a way as to show them that our words are true. However, even God Himself is demonstrative with His love: “…God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” (Romans 5:8) If God, who IS Love, chooses to demonstrate His love, how much more should we, who are not in essence love, do our best to do the same?

The reason that we know and love God is because of His demonstrative love for us. Because we love God, it follows that love for others should flow out of the love that we have for Him. St. Justin Popovich indicated such (and more!) results of loving God when he said, “Love for Christ overflows into love for one’s neighbor, love for truth, love for holiness, for the world, for purity, for everything divine, for everything deathless and eternal… All these forms of love are natural manifestations of love for Christ. Christ is the God-man, and love for Him always means love for God and for man.” And St. Basil the Great encourages us to demonstrate our love, not just for family and friends, but to everyone in his statement, “As God illumines all people equally with the light of the sun, so do those who desire to imitate God let shine an equal ray of love on all people.”

So, how are we doing? Is our love for God overflowing as it should into the lives of those around us? Are we telling others that we love them? Better yet, are we demonstrating our love to them by the way that we treat and interact with them? And how well are we demonstrating our love to all people, not just those we know?

Let us begin by better demonstrating our love to our Sunday Church School students. When they experience our love for them, they will learn to demonstrate love to others in their life, as well. Here are some ideas of ways to go beyond merely telling our students that we love them, showing them with our actions that our words are true.

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This mom interviewed her daughters to find out their favorite ways that their parents show them love. We found the resulting list to be creative, fun, and inspiring! Most would work best in a family setting, but some can be done with our Sunday School class! http://www.shelivesfree.com/2015/02/huge-list-fun-ideas-love-kids.html

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Check out this list of 35 simple ways that parents can demonstrate their love to their children. Some of them also apply to us, with our students: https://amotherfarfromhome.com/love-your-child/

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If you are familiar with Gary Chapman’s book “The Five Love Languages,” you know that different people prefer to be loved in different ways. His book suggests these five ways in which people prefer to receive and show love: acts of service, physical touch and closeness, gift giving, words of affirmation, and quality time. This blog post encourages us to figure out which love language(s) are each child’s favorites, and to express our love to them in that way. It includes practical suggestions of ways to show love in each love language. Although geared to families, many of these will work in the SCS classroom, as well.

https://encouragingmomsathome.com/50-ways-to-love-your-child-every-day-using-love-languages/

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This list of 25 questions will help each of us to learn more about our students. How many of these questions could we ask our students, to demonstrate our love for them by learning more about their interests? http://www.telegraph.co.uk/sponsored/finance/family-matters/11334865/questions-for-kids.html

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God demonstrates His love for His children in so many ways. One way is that He has filled our world with glimpses of His love. If we are able to do so, we can take our class outside to enjoy nature together and look for evidence of God’s love in our world. If we can’t go outside, we can at least look at resources that show it to us! For example, here is a slideshow of heart shapes – a small sampling of the love He has tucked into the world for us to find: https://kids.nationalgeographic.com/explore/wacky-weekend/hearts-in-nature/

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In addition to setting an example of demonstrating our love to our students, we can also teach them to demonstrate their love to others in their life. This object lesson uses shaving cream to help the listeners think about how love grows us, is better when it’s not kept bottled up, and makes the world better when we demonstrate it: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tmh_0IyXxOk
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Another way to teach our students to demonstrate their love to others is with this simple object lesson. This lesson uses a bicycle wheel to demonstrate that, if we want to be close to God, we must get closer to (and show love to) others: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5gp4yigvSdI

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Kids talk about ways to love others in this video that could start a discussion in your class: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BcYlA58E_ss

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This simple game could be used in a classroom setting to demonstrate love for class members by using words of affirmation: http://makinglifeblissful.com/2015/02/love-game-for-kids.html

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This lesson, although not Orthodox, can easily be used to teach children how to love others like superheroes and draw them to God like magnets: http://www.mylifetree.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/01/childrens-ministry-cape-experience.pdf

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In case you missed it, here’s a blog we wrote about continuing to share our love with our students beyond Valentine’s Day: https://orthodoxchurchschoolteachers.wordpress.com/2017/02/17/on-sharing-our-love-beyond-valentines-day/

 

On the Liturgical Year for Teachers: Great Lent (part 4 of 7)

This series of blog posts will offer basic information and resources regarding the liturgical year. It is our hope that Sunday Church School teachers will find this series helpful as they live the liturgical year with their students. The series will follow the church year in sections, as divided in the book “The Year of Grace of the Lord: a Scriptural and Liturgical Commentary on the Calendar of the Orthodox Church” by a monk of the Eastern Church. May God bless His Church throughout this year!

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

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

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

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

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

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

Footnotes:

  1. Calivas, Rev. Alciviadis C., Th.D., (1985, 8/13). “Orthodox Worship”. Retrieved from https://www.goarch.org/-/orthodox-worship
  2. A monk of the Eastern Church. The Year of Grace of the Lord. Crestwood, NY: St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press; 2001.

 

Here are some related links, including ideas for teaching students about Great Lent:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

On Acts 2:42: “They Continued Steadfastly in the Apostles’ Doctrine and Fellowship, in the Breaking of Bread, and in Prayers.”

Note: the Antiochian Archdiocese’s Creative Arts Festival 2018’s theme is the inspiration for this blog post. We will take a closer look at the theme, to help to prepare our students for the festival in case they will be participating. Whether or not they participate, what we can learn from this passage in the book of Acts is applicable to all of us, not just the children participating in the festival!

The 2018 Creative Arts Festival for the Antiochian Orthodox Christian Archdiocese of North America is focused on Acts 2:42, “They continued steadfastly in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and in prayers.” If our Sunday Church School class is participating in this festival, we need to understand what this verse means before we will be able to illustrate or write about it accurately. Actually, regardless of whether or not our students will participate in the festival, this passage is worth a look. It helps us to think about our roots as the Orthodox Christian Church, and gives us an idea of how the apostles lived, which can serve as an example to us today.

We will begin by looking at the verse itself. Our Sunday Church School students may need us to define some of the words in the verse before they can begin to understand it. The unfamiliar words in this verse can be explained in very simple terms like these:

“Continued” means they kept on doing something without stopping

“Steadfastly” means firmly, without turning away or quitting

“Doctrine” means a set of teachings or beliefs

“Fellowship” means friends spending time together, hanging out

So it could read something like this, “They kept on going firmly without stopping, following the teachings of the apostles and hanging out together, breaking bread and praying.” The simpler terminology might help our students understand the gist of the verse, but part of the verse has innuendos that our children will not catch unless we look at the verse through the eyes of experts.

So, let’s look at the verse as it is explained by trusted Orthodox scholars. The Orthodox Study Bible’s notes on this verse state that “Central elements of Orthodox worship—apostolic teaching, liturgical prayer and the Eucharist—are present from the very beginning of the Church.” It goes on to explain that the prayers referenced in the verse were the liturgical prayers of the Church, and that “the breaking of the bread” refers to the Eucharist, or Holy Communion. In other words, from the very beginning of the Church, the Christians stood firm in what the apostles taught, fellowshipped together, partook of the Eucharist and prayed the liturgical prayers of the Church.

The Orthodox Christian church, begun by the apostles themselves, has continued in this steadfastness and passed it along from generation to generation. We know that today we still have the opportunity to follow the apostles’ doctrine, while also experiencing the opportunity for fellowship, Communion, and prayers when we gather together. So, essentially, this verse gives us an idea of how our Faith should look: full of steadfast belief in the scriptures and traditions handed down by the apostles all the way to our current bishops and priests; hanging out with our Church family to encourage, challenge, and purify each other; and regularly partaking of the gifts offered to us in the Church: especially Holy Eucharist and prayers. The verse also reaffirms that our Faith is The Faith: for it is as old as the early Church! What a blessing it is to be part of that Church today!

Let us, therefore, have as our goal to also “continue steadfastly in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and in prayers.”

Here are some ideas of ways to help our students (whether or not they will be participating in the aforementioned Creative Arts Festival) to learn about this passage:

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If your parish will be participating in the Creative Arts Festival, you can find information about it here: http://www.antiochian.org/festivals/cf

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Did you know that the Antiochian Orthodox Department of Christian Education has already provided a lesson plan about the Creative Arts Festival theme for your Sunday Church School students? Find lessons at all levels, which can be used for any age student who is elegible to participate in the festival, here: http://antiochian.org/festivals/cf/lesson-plans-2018

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Find creative and fun suggestions of ways to help your students to think about the theme throughout the year here: http://www.antiochian.org/festivals/cf/using-the-theme-2018

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There are a myriad of ways your students can interpret this year’s Creative Arts Festival theme. Find an inspiring list here: http://antiochian.org/festivals/cf/Interpretations-theme-2018

Suggestions include:
*Depictions of early Christians worshipping
* People worshipping during Divine Liturgy today
*Receiving Holy Communion
*Learning about things Jesus taught the Apostles by listening to the Epistle and Gospel readings
*Helping one another like the early Christians did by donating food or clothing, serving at a homeless shelter, etc.
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This non-Orthodox-but-helpful lesson that includes Acts 2:42 offers several wonderfully hands-on learning activities that you and your students can do to interact with this scripture. https://missionbibleclass.org/1b0-new-testament/new-testament-part-2/acts-the-church-begins/the-first-church/
Of course not all of the suggestions will work in an Orthodox context, so you will need to be selective or make adjustments. For example, the students can’t prepare the Eucharist, as suggested, but they could help prepare prosphora, and perhaps your priest would be willing to do a demonstration of how he prepares the Eucharist, or do a “teaching liturgy” so that they could learn how the Eucharist is prepared.)

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Teach your students the Creative Festivals theme song (found here: http://antiochian.org/festivals/cf/theme-song-2018). After singing it a few times together, look closely at the words. Talk about them together, comparing the stanzas to see how the early Church and the Church today are alike. Ask your students to share other ways (not mentioned in the song) that we are like the early Christians. Are there any ways that we are different? If so, should we change any of those ways? Why or why not? Before dismissing the class, take a field trip to the fellowship hall or to find your priest and sing the song for them, encouraging the rest of your Church family to keep working towards living like the early Christians did, as well!