Category Archives: Lifestyle

A Handful of Resources to Help Us Better Care for Children with Invisible Disabilities

About a month ago, I came across an offer for a small book about children living with mood disorders. Since we at the Antiochian Orthodox Department of Christian Education are always looking for resources for families and teachers that we can then share with you, I requested a copy. My intent was to read the book and offer here a few gleanings from it, highlighting it as a resource. As I inquired about the availability of the book (it was published in 2003), I learned that there are not many hard copies left. However, Matushka Wendy Cwiklinski, who sent the book to me, has so many other resources up her sleeve that this journey has ended up being not so much about the book itself as about helping us to become more aware of invisible disabilities (including those that the book addresses) and offering resources that can help us to best care for (and about) those living with such disabilities.

The little book that started all of this is called “The Storm In My Brain: Kids and Mood Disorders (Bipolar Disorder and Depression)”. It was written by Martha Hellendar, one of the founders of the Child & Adolescent Bipolar Foundation. It was published by CABF and Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance. It introduces mood disorders in child-friendly terminology, explains how it may feel to experience the disorder, recommends ideas of what to do when you’re feeling that way, and offers reassurance that the disorder does not make the person experiencing it a bad person. In addition to this helpful information for children, the book contains a page of tips for parents, and another for teachers. Anyone living or working with children with mood disorders will benefit from reading this little book. You will find a link to the pdf of the book below.  But there are many invisible disabilities besides mood disorders. We will share a few resources related to those, below, as well.

Perhaps you do not know a child with a mood disorder or any other invisible disability, and this is not part of your personal experience. Believe it or not, these resources still apply to you! Why? Well, chances are that you DO know a child (or adult) struggling with an invisible disability; they are just working very hard to keep it invisible, and succeeding – at least keeping it invisible to you. This means they are carrying this cross and struggling this struggle, alone. In order to better understand and help, we encourage you to familiarize yourself with these disabilities and the resources available to help those living with them. And why should you do that? St. Paul, in his letter to the Corinthians, wrote, “the members should have the same care for one another. And if one member suffers, all the members suffer with it; or if one member is honored, all the members rejoice with it. Now you are the body of Christ, and members individually.” (1 Cor. 12: 25-27 NKJV) The statistics are such that we can safely say that all of us have fellow parishioners who are part of our Body (the Church), living with an invisible disability as part of their cross, their struggle. If we take the time to learn a little about what they are experiencing, we can more easily pray for them; more effectively care for them; and more joyfully welcome these brothers and sisters. In that sort of atmosphere, these precious ones will be better able to contribute their valuable gifts to the Body, and, together, we will all be blessed!

While “The Storm in my Brain” is not readily available as a hard copy, you can find it online here: http://www.dbsalliance.org/pdfs/storm.pdf

Note: Since the book was published, The Child & Adolescent Bipolar Foundation has joined forces with the Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance, whose mission statement reads, “DBSA provides hope, help, support, and education to improve the lives of people who have mood disorders.” Find them on the web at www.DBSAlliance.org.
Here are some of Matushka Wendy’s writings and other links that can be helpful as we meet, love, and care for others with invisible disabilities. What resources are you aware of, which the community would benefit from knowing about? Please share them!

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Matushka Wendy started a Facebook group called “Koinonia for Exceptional Orthodox Families”, which is described as “a place for Orthodox parents of Exceptional Children to find support from other parents – sharing ways to help keep our children(and us) on the Spiritual Journey of Orthodox Christianity.” It is a private group, so if you would like to join, you’ll need to find it on Facebook, request to join, and then await approval. This group is an excellent resource for parents and teachers. It is also a place where families with exceptional children can safely ask fellow Orthodox Christians for help, ideas, and prayers.

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This document by Matushka Wendy Cwiklinski encourages us to embrace all of God’s children (including those with special needs). It offers simple definitions for a number of “invisible” disabilities which, just like any other illness (although these are not contagious), are very real challenges for children and their families alike. It is a useful place for parents and teachers to begin to understand the challenges that some children face. Especially useful to anyone not living with an invisible disability are the “How Can I Help?” and “Other Suggestions for Inclusion” sections.  https://www.academia.edu/9255990/Children_of_God

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How can we be family, the Body, to a child (and his/her family) who is living with an invisible disability? “These families need to have spiritual support to face the sometimes overwhelming challenges that these disorders bring to their households… Offer to help in some way, even if you are turned down. Just the act of offering shows that you are supportive…” Read more of what Matushka Wendy Cwiklinski has to say on the subject in her article at the top of this page:

https://oca.org/parish-ministry/familylife/church-and-the-child-with-invisible-disabilities

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“Children with special needs come to church with two strikes against them: (1) they are a child and (2) their particular challenge may not have visible signs like crutches or a wheelchair would, leading those around them to make judgments and even ask the family to leave because they are ‘disturbing the worship of others.’” Read what our Orthodox theology has to say about children with special needs in Matushka Wendy Cwiklinski’s graduate school research paper (which is very informational, but not so academic as to be unreadable), found here: http://www.academia.edu/7399622/Embracing_All_God_s_Children_Orthodox_Theology_Concerning_Disability_and_Its_Implications_for_Ministry_with_Special_Needs_Youth_in_the_Orthodox_Church
(Incidentally, she completed all of her coursework 30 years before she wrote this paper: and in the meantime, God granted her and her husband children with some invisible disabilities which greatly enhanced her research!)

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“In my experience, many people are not clear on exactly what ‘hidden disability’ means. The following is a list of what the term may encompass:
Autism
Developmental delay
Emotional disability
Deaf and hard of hearing
Mild mental developmental disability
Other health impairments e.g. osteogenesis imperfecta, otherwise known as fragile bone disease, carpal tunnel syndrome
Speech/language impairment
Brain injury
Visual impairment
Reading this list, which is not exhaustive, the reader can see that it covers a wide range of individuals who require special assistance from community resources.” Read about how people with hidden disabilities can benefit from community support and assistance in the article “Additional Observations and Resources for Parents of Children with Hidden Disabilities”,
by Michele Karabin, found at the bottom of this page: https://oca.org/parish-ministry/familylife/church-and-the-child-with-invisible-disabilities

(Also, just before that article, in the middle of the page there is a list and links to a variety of websites that can be helpful to someone wishing to learn more about invisible disabilities.)

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Find a variety of links to helpful sites related to people with exceptional needs here: https://www.goarch.org/documents/32058/2618758/specialneedsresources.pdf/77f65280-5a12-4e7a-b854-7bbf25ea71a0

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Children living with bipolar disorder, as well as their families and teachers, will find help, support, and information here http://www.bpchildren.com/. The presentation on the home page offers a plethora of information to anyone living with or working with a child experiencing BP, and includes anecdotes from a child living with the disorder. It is well worth the 22-minute investment.
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Gleanings From a Book: “Songs of Praise: A Psalter Devotional for Orthodox Women” by Sylvia Leontaritis

Reading through the Psalter is a beautiful discipline at any time, but especially during a lenten period. Sharing this experience with friends is even more lovely. Over the years, I’ve been part of several lenten Psalter groups. Alongside my sisters (and some brothers) in Christ in these groups, I have both struggled and enjoyed the process of reading twice through the Psalms during a particular lenten period. When I heard about Sylvia Leontaritis’ new book “Songs of Praise: A Psalter Devotional for Orthodox Women,” I was excited to have this pretty-covered version of the Psalter to be my companion book as I pray.

What I did not expect was the chance to pray the Psalter while feeling that I was sharing the experience with a wise best friend. Both Sylvia’s heart for God and her desire to live a truly Orthodox life pour out through her words, simultaneously challenging and encouraging her readers in a way that is usually reserved for dear friends. The tone in which she writes welcomes the reader to embrace her observations, ponder them, and then consider how to implement the ideas for their own growth.

The book begins with a few introductory pages which offer some background and suggested ways to use it; an explanation of what a Psalter group is; and many quotes from Holy Fathers about the importance of reading/praying the Psalms. Prayers to pray before and after the reading are included next. After that, the book settles into a routine. Each kathisma (grouping of chapters from the book of Psalms)’s text is printed right in the book, in numerical order. Every kathisma is printed with a very wide margin, so that readers can make notes right there in the book, by particular verses, as desired. Following each kathisma, Sylvia has written a short meditation (2-3 pages) in which she focuses on a theme from that kathisma or on a particular verse found therein. These meditations are concise, but beautifully insightful and stimulating. Each meditation also includes a related quote from a saint or Church Father which enhances the meditation.

Following each meditation are a number of lined pages for journaling. These pages offer the reader space to make this book their own, as they “chew” on a particular portion of the kathisma or interact with Sylvia’s meditation. These pages are a place to record thoughts and learnings. Each journaling section is large enough that even if the reader is one who regularly joins Psalter groups, there’s plenty of space to write, even multiple times. Readers who jot notes and learnings every time they pray the kathismas will find the book to become a record of their own growth, as they read back over what (and how) they were learning at points along their journey.

The Psalms address a variety of problems/difficult circumstances common to humankind. Sylvia mentions in her introduction that St. Arsenios of Cappadocia considered the Psalms to be a Book of Needs. “Songs of Praise” closes with a topical index of Psalms, as gleaned from St. Arsenios. The index makes appropriate Psalms easy to find and read in an hour of need.

Orthodox Christian women who desire to grow in their journey with God will be grateful for this beautiful tool. “Songs of Praise” has the potential to greatly help any woman who will put some thought, time, and prayer into her study of the Psalter. All who set aside time to read it carefully, meditating on the words with pen in hand, will be blessed.

Sylvia writes in the introduction that her hope “is that this book will inspire women everywhere to make the art of praying the Psalter part of their daily routine. I pray it will encourage each of us to put down our devices, let go of the trivial and temporary connections they entice us with, and reach for something better that will connect us eternally. Make the following pages feel like home to you—highlight, scribble, circle, dog-ear, tape photos, and refer back to them whenever your heart needs a hug…. I’m so grateful to be walking hand in hand with you as we strive to learn God’s ways and offer up these songs of praise.” (pp. 6-7)

I am of the opinion that Sylvia’s book has accomplished her mission. It has, at least, for me. I have already been blessed through this first reading, and I look forward to reading it more carefully again (and again!) and gleaning even more wisdom and encouragement.

Find “Songs of Praise: A Psalter Devotional for Orthodox Women” by Sylvia Leontaritis here: https://store.ancientfaith.com/songs-of-praise-a-psalter-devotional-for-orthodox-women/

Here are some gleanings from the book:

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“Even if I’m having a rough day—perhaps especially if I’m having a rough day—focusing my thoughts on all the good things in life always chases away the negative. It’s hard to be discontented when you’re counting your blessings.
Prayer journaling is a great way to remind yourself of all the ways God works in your life. It’s a creative way to express your thoughts and feelings to God. After all, isn’t that what the psalms were to David as he wrote them?”

(p. 26, “Songs of Praise: A Psalter Devotional for Orthodox Women” by Sylvia Leontaritis)

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“The world needs more women who are courageous enough to do what makes them holy—not happy. Women should be confident in their natural beauty… True beauty moves in stages, and we should trust God to continue transforming us into what He created us to be… Beside my bed, I have icons of some of my favorite Orthodox women… They are the women I look up to, the ones I want to be like ‘when I grow up.’ And I’ll tell you, I can’t imagine a single one of them fretting over gray hairs or crow’s feet.”

(pp 77-78. , “Songs of Praise: A Psalter Devotional for Orthodox Women” by Sylvia Leontaritis)

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“It hurts to be broken, but how we react to that pain is what determines whether it turns us into diamonds or destroys us. Pain can make us bitter and afraid, or it can make us strong and courageous so that we have nothing to fear when the hour of trial arrives yet again.”

(p. 96, “Songs of Praise: A Psalter Devotional for Orthodox Women” by Sylvia Leontaritis)

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“I remember hearing that when a holy person enters a place, he or she can immediately sense its spiritual atmosphere. I have often wondered what our home feels like to a spiritual person.
As keepers of a home, we are largely responsible for that atmosphere. Not only should our homes be clean and welcoming, they should be spiritual.”

(p. 134, “Songs of Praise: A Psalter Devotional for Orthodox Women” by Sylvia Leontaritis)

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“Many times we read about saints, such as St. John the Baptist and St. Seraphim of Sarov, who left the world and went into the wilderness for a certain amount of time to reconnect with God. This wasn’t a concept for them alone; it is a call to every one of us. It is a call to remind us that every so often we need to take a time-out, leave our worldly cares behind, and seek Him in the wilderness.”

(p. 170, “Songs of Praise: A Psalter Devotional for Orthodox Women” by Sylvia Leontaritis)

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“Take control of the things you grant entrance into your heart. Be watchful of the things you pacify yourself with. Give thanks for the mundane and savor the simple. Most often, the most extraordinary things in our lives aren’t really things at all and are hidden away in the most ordinary of days.”

(p. 189, “Songs of Praise: A Psalter Devotional for Orthodox Women” by Sylvia Leontaritis)

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“As Orthodox Christians, we don’t go door to door preaching our faith; we live it in our own lives and trust God to do the rest. There’s a common misconception out there that Christians are supposed to be perfect. But you know what? There’s no such thing. A good Christian is not perfect. A good Christian is struggling. We do our best to follow the path of Christ, but we will fall a million times along the way. What makes us different is that we have the Church to help us up each and every time we fall, through the Mystery of Confession.”

(p. 226, “Songs of Praise: A Psalter Devotional for Orthodox Women” by Sylvia Leontaritis)

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“For us as busy women, it’s impossible not to multitask to some extent, but as Orthodox women, we have to remember the healing power of being still. It’s in those moments of stillness that the fog is wiped from our glasses and we see life for what it truly is—a beautiful mess. The days are long sometimes, but the years are much too short. I, for one, want to stop and breathe in every crazy-beautiful-messy moment I’m blessed to see.”

(p. 259, “Songs of Praise: A Psalter Devotional for Orthodox Women” by Sylvia Leontaritis)

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46523739_10215763335788148_6425190565654036480_n-001“Life is so much fuller when we set limitations on the virtual world. There’s more time to read or knit or take a walk or snuggle with our littles without distraction. Decide which life is really worth investing in—your spiritual life or your virtual one—and then fill it with the things that truly make your heart happy. If we struggle to fill our lives with good and spiritual things and constantly have prayer on our lips, there will be no room left for the unholy.”

(p. 314, “Songs of Praise: A Psalter Devotional for Orthodox Women” by Sylvia Leontaritis)

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“As parents, our number one priority is to teach our children to live as true Orthodox Christians. Otherwise, the world will teach them not to.”

(p. 332, “Songs of Praise: A Psalter Devotional for Orthodox Women” by Sylvia Leontaritis)

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“The lives of the saints are living examples of how to live a life dedicated to God in a fallen and sinful world. They teach us how to overcome our passions and grow spiritually. The saints are arrows in our spiritual quiver. Everything about their lives points the way to Him. Let us never doubt or underestimate the power of their speedy intercessions.

‘What does the daily invocation of the saints signify? It signifies that God’s saints live, and are near us, ever ready to help us, by the grace of God. we live together with them in the house of our Heavenly Father, only in different parts of it. We can converse with them, and they with us. God’s saints are near to the believing heart, and are ready in a moment to help those who call upon them with faith and love.’ ~ St. John of Kronstadt”

(pp. 350-351, “Songs of Praise: A Psalter Devotional for Orthodox Women” by Sylvia Leontaritis)

***

“Even in our day and age, there are so many people in need of the most basic of life’s necessities. While we may not be able to make a difference for everyone, if we just make a difference for someone, that is enough.”

(p. 365, “Songs of Praise: A Psalter Devotional for Orthodox Women” by Sylvia Leontaritis)

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If “Songs of Praise: a Psalter Devotional for Orthodox Women” by Sylvia Leontaritis inspires you to do more journaling related to the scriptures, you may find some of the ideas in this blog post helpful:

https://orthodoxchristianparenting.wordpress.com/2016/02/03/on-learning-the-scriptures-by-creating-a-scripture-journal/

https://orthodoxchurchschoolteachers.wordpress.com/2016/02/05/on-learning-the-scriptures-by-creating-a-scripture-journal/

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On the Sacraments: the Sacrament of Marriage

This post is part of a series about the sacraments of the Orthodox Christian Church. In this post, we will look at the Orthodox Christian Sacrament of  marriage.

In His teachings while He was on earth, our Lord told us that marriage is the best way for us to experience what God’s love for humankind is like; as well as for us to see how Christ loves the Church. Fr. Thomas Hopko writes that the most perfect form of love between a man and woman is “unique, indestructible, unending, and divine. The Lord Himself has not only given this teaching, but he also gives the power to fulfill it in the sacrament of Christian marriage in the Church.” (1) Mere mutual love does not provide the depth of unity of spirit and body that the sacrament of marriage offers to a man and woman. The sacrament brings the Holy Spirit into the relationship in a way that binds them together most perfectly. And He continues His work in their marriage throughout their earthly life and on into the heavenly kingdom, as well.

In the early years of the Church, there was not an official ceremony for marriage. Christian couples wishing to be married expressed their love for each other in the church and then their union received a blessing from God which was sealed in their partaking of the Eucharist. When the Church recognized the unity of the couple and their union was incorporated into the Body of Christ through communion, their marriage became a Christian marriage.

Several hundred years into her existence, when the Church developed a ritual for the sacrament of marriage, that sacrament was modeled after baptism and chrismation. Fr. Thomas explains the parallels as follows: “the couple is addressed in a way similar to that of the individual in baptism. They confess their faith and their love of God. They are led into the Church in procession. They are prayed over and blessed. They listen to God’s Word. They are crowned with the crowns of God’s glory to be his children and witnesses (martyrs) in this world, and heirs of the everlasting life of his Kingdom. They fulfill their marriage, as all sacraments are fulfilled, by their reception together of holy communion in the Church.” (1)

Unlike other wedding ceremonies in current culture, the Orthodox sacrament of marriage is not a legal transaction: there aren’t even vows. Instead, Orthodox marriage is a “‘baptizing and confirming’ of human love in God by Christ in the Holy Spirit. It is the deification of human love in the divine perfection and unity of the eternal Kingdom of God.” (1) Fr. Thomas Fitzgerald offers more insight into the sacrament in his article on all of the sacraments: “According to Orthodox teachings, marriage is not simply a social institution, it is an eternal vocation of the kingdom. A husband and a wife are called by the Holy Spirit not only to live together but also to share their Christian life together so that each, with the aid of the other, may grow closer to God and become the persons they are meant to be.” (2)

That type of shared Christian life extends beyond “death do us part.” The Church encourages married Christians whose partner departs this life before them to remain faithful to that partner even after their death, because “only one marriage can contain the perfect meaning and significance which Christ has given to this reality.” (1) (However, there is a service of second marriage for people who are not able to fulfill this ideal.)

A Christian couple who wants to be in complete union of spirit, body, and intellect, as well as social and economic union, will only find that depth of union in the sacrament of marriage. This sacrament places their union in the Kingdom of God, which is perfectly unified, right from the start. When centered  in God’s Kingdom, a couple’s human love can echo Divine love, and will spill out into the world around them through their interactions with each other, with their children, with their neighbors, and even with nature itself. This is how the sacrament of marriage can be the best blessing to the world: when it is lived out as it is intended to be lived.

However, this level of complete union is not guaranteed. “This does not mean that all those who are ‘married in church’ have an ideal marriage. The sacrament is not mechanical or magical. Its reality and gifts may be rejected and defiled, received unto condemnation and judgment, like Holy Communion and all of the sacramental mysteries of the faith. It does mean, however, that when a couple is married in the Church of Christ, the possibility for the perfection of their marriage is most fully given by God.” (3)

Marriage is a gift from God that offers blessings to those who partake. But the couple must enter into this sacrament completely, choosing daily to cooperate with the Holy Spirit, in order for those blessings to be fulfilled. God does not force Himself on a marriage, just as He does not force Himself into any other part of a Christian’s life. However, with humility and self-sacrifice, Christian couples have the opportunity to grow together towards godliness through the sacrament of marriage.

Glory to God for His gift of the sacrament of marriage!

 

Sources:
1. Hopko, Fr. Thomas (2011, October 5). The Sacraments: Marriage. Retrieved from https://oca.org/orthodoxy/the-orthodox-faith/worship/the-sacraments/marriage

2. Fitzgerald, Rev. Fr. Thomas (1985, June 11). Understanding the Sacraments of the Orthodox Church. Retrieved from https://www.goarch.org/-/the-sacraments

3. Hopko, Fr. Thomas (2016, March 18). Sexuality, Marriage, and Family: Marriage. Retrieved from https://oca.org/orthodoxy/the-orthodox-faith/spirituality/sexuality-marriage-and-family/marriage1

Here are some ideas of ways to teach your students about the sacrament of marriage. What resources have you found helpful? Comment below and share them with the community!

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The Teaching Pics ( http://ww1.antiochian.org/christianeducation/teachingpics) offer a series of pictures on the sacrament of marriage that can be very helpful as you teach a lesson on the subject to any age group. Pictures S12 – S16 show images that denote the significant parts of the marriage service. The text that goes with each picture explains the process well at a level that even young children can understand. Order the teaching pics here: http://orthodoxchristianed.com/files/4114/9885/4473/ocec2017_2018.pdf

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Find printable activities at a variety of levels that could accompany a lesson on the sacrament of marriage, or could be sent along with students as a potential lesson follow-up at home, here: http://orthodoxsundayschool.org/epistles-feasts-and-sacraments/3-5-years-old/marriage-0

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This brief lesson plan can help students in early elementary learn about the sacrament of marriage: http://www.orthodoxabc.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/06/015-EN-ed02_Holy-Matrimony.pdf

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Here are lesson plans about the sacrament of marriage, at a variety of levels:

http://orthodoxsundayschool.org/epistles-feasts-and-sacraments/3-5-years-old/marriage

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

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

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

http://orthodoxsundayschool.org/epistles-feasts-and-sacraments/high-school/marriage

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Students will benefit from studying our Lord’s first miracle at the Wedding at Cana. If you are able, include this lesson in conjunction with one on the sacrament of marriage. Then, when your students attend a wedding and hear this Gospel reading, they’ll already know what it is about!

http://orthodoxsundayschool.org/gospels/3-5-years-old/wedding-cana

http://orthodoxsundayschool.org/gospels/6-9-years-old/wedding-cana

http://orthodoxsundayschool.org/gospels/10-12-years-old/wedding-cana

http://orthodoxsundayschool.org/gospels/middle-school/wedding-cana

http://orthodoxsundayschool.org/gospels/high-school/wedding-cana

 

Printable activities which could be used in class or sent home to extend the learning about the Gospel story of the Wedding at Cana can be found here: http://orthodoxsundayschool.org/gospels/3-5-years-old/wedding-cana-0

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Teens will find this article (a timeless homily given in 1971 by Archimandrite Aimilianos of Simonopetra, Mount Athos) interesting. It addresses young people considering whether or not God has called them to the sacrament of marriage. If you choose to include this article in a lesson on marriage, you may wish to add a twist: encourage each student to make a list of all the different things that the article says that marriage is, and/or have them sketch their favorite, then share it with the class, explaining why they liked that metaphor for the sacrament of marriage. http://orthochristian.com/47495.html

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Gleanings from a Book: “Parent Points” by Fr. Chris Kerhulas

Author’s note: To the person who posted about this book on social media, thereby alerting me to its existence: thank you! I have not yet met Fr. Chris; and I had no idea that he’d written a book that could be so helpful to both parents and teachers; or that he would be kind enough to send a copy so that I could share read it and share it with you. My own children are grown, but the ideas and information in this book are helpful to me as I relate to them. Hopefully having read this book will also make me a better “fellow parishioner” to the young members of our parish. For all of this, I am very grateful.

Fr. Chris Kerhulas’ book “Parent Points” is small but mighty. In its 107 pages, he blends his 40+ years of ministry experience with personal experience from parenting and grandparenting. Each chapter offers stories, wisdom, and insights into life as a young person, explained in a way which their significant adults can understand. Each chapter ends with “points,” takeaways for the reader to both meditate on and work on in their relationship with their children/youth.

“Parent Points” was an enjoyable, but meaty read. It made me both laugh and cry. It allowed me to reflect/reminisce while also planning ahead for future interactions. Best of all, the book made me THINK. How do I interact with the young people in my life? How can I improve those interactions? How can I help them to grow towards Christ, conveying His great love for them through the way that I treat them?

I found this book to be helpful to me as a parent, as an educator, and as one who is trying to better love all of the children in my life. What set the tone of the book for me – actually, one of my big “takeaways” on this first readthrough- is not even written by Fr. Chris. It is found on very the first pages, in a forward written by Fr. Chris’ friend Robert Krantz, where he talks about Fr. Chris’ interaction with children over the years. It speaks to the way in which Fr. Chris leads by example. “He talked to young men and women about the things they really wanted to talk about. He gave them an open forum to express themselves, never judging them and he gave them one huge gift back; love… Every time he saw a kid struggling… he saw himself. Because of what he’d gone through, he knew each of those kids was special, and had enormous potential, even if the world had not figured it out yet. He was the first one to let each and every one of those kids know they were special.” (p. 5-6) Hearing about Fr. Chris’ genuine love for and respect for each child from the beginning of the book challenged me to read on, to try to figure out how to improve my own relationships with the children in my life. I was delighted to discover that his genuine love for young people comes through loud and clear throughout the book, along with ideas of ways that we can better love the young folks around us.

“Parent Points” is addressed to any adult with children in their life. It contains 13 chapters, with titles such as “The Guilt Trip: Your Behavior is Killing Me!;” “Depression: You Will Be Found;” “Divorce is Death;” “Who Am I? Who Is God, and Where Is He?;” and ends with “I Am Free.” The chapters are not long, and can be read one at a time, or inhaled quickly. Chances are, this book will not be a one-off read: readers will revisit it over the years, in order to better soak in Fr. Chris’ wisdom and check their own improvement. I certainly intend to re-read it! The children and young people in my life need to be loved and esteemed in the ways exemplified in this book. The ideas here will continually help me to evaluate my interactions with them to that end.

In the introduction, Fr. Chris offers this to the reader: “I hope these words of wisdom will be of use and help to bring some comfort and reassurance in your time of need. Remember, you’re not alone—we all go through trials and tribulations, and we are all far from being perfect, but we can always learn from our mistakes or the mistakes of others. If we do it right, our children will also learn to be better, stronger, and more resilient in the face of adversity that awaits them out there in the world.” (p. 14)

This book is a “must-read” for parents, grandparents, godparents, and educators. It would also be a fantastic book study for parishes who truly value their young people. Find information about how to purchase your own copy of “Parent Points” here: https://frchriskerhulas.com/

Here are a few gleanings from the book:
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Point #5 after “The Headphone Generation”:

“When opportunities for a live, interpersonal exchange appear, make your child turn off her personal device. Even if her response is angry, you are giving your child the message that she is an important and necessary part of the family. When parents simply allow children to tune out and lock themselves in their rooms, the message, after a period of time, is that their presence doesn’t matter. (“Parent Points” by Fr. Chris Kerhulas, p. 19)

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From the chapter “Sibling Magic”:

“We may know that our siblings love us, but hearing it and saying it back is a much-needed experience, especially during those difficult teenage years… when older siblings tell their younger brothers or sisters how much they matter and that they are there for them, life—especially in moments of crisis—becomes much easier to manage… When younger siblings have the strength to tell their older siblings how much they mean to them, any arrogance and egotism in the older sibling gets wiped away.. I believe loving sibling relationships are parallel to having guardian angels.” (“Parent Points” by Fr. Chris Kerhulas, pp. 23-24)

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From the chapter “The Guilt Trip: Your Behavior is Killing Me!”:

“Throughout the ages, parents have wielded guilt as one of their most effective weapons against willful and unruly children… Guilt is what I refer to as a triple negative; it is a negative emotion meant to negate negative behavior. As a disciplinary tactic, not only is it illogical, but it also just muddies the water, making matters worse in the long run. Parents all over the world are going to hate me for saying this, but guilt does no good whatsoever.” (“Parent Points” by Fr. Chris Kerhulas, pp. 27-28)

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From the chapter “Express Yourself”:

“Learning to express oneself is crucial to stabilize a child’s emotional core and promote healthy growth. Children who are constantly shut out and told, ‘You are to be seen and not heard,’ or, ‘Do not speak unless spoken to,’ rarely grow up to become loving, caring, and thoughtful people. Why should they? If they are not given the chance to express an opinion and weigh in on life around them, why should any courtesy be extended to the individuals they come into contact with? …The abuse of drugs and alcohol causes one to wonder if these issues might be headed off by behavior modification: stopping and listening to what your child isn’t saying… It seems somewhat rudimentary to say this, but both children and parents have the right to express themselves. When that right gets taken away from either party you will eventually have a crisis on your hands.” (“Parent Points” by Fr. Chris Kerhulas, pp. 33-34)

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From the chapter “Depression: You Will be Found”:

“‘Don’t chastise them or come down on them with a guilt trip,’ I tell these younger clergy. ‘Just be there for them.’ Sometimes a hug or just going to a sporting event or movie with them helps the healing. Unfortunately, many clergy or counselors will scold, frighten, or attempt to shame [a young person in their care]… but what’s more important—casting judgment or helping this young person to heal?”

(“Parent Points” by Fr. Chris Kerhulas, p. 43; brackets replacing a case study in the book)

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From the chapter “God Can Help”:

“Respect for parents, authority figures, oneself, and God is something parents absolutely need to address with their children… The development of free thinkers and young people growing through their decisions—be they positive or negative—can only be achieved if your children know they are loved, cared for, and belong. What we are really talking about here is providing structure. Parents who are too busy or never around to spend time with their children are asking for problems. Define for yourself and your children what structure means and how it can be their friend not only at home, but also in school, at church, and throughout their lives as they grow.”

(“Parent Points” by Fr. Chris Kerhulas, p. 50)

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Point #2 after the chapter “Mentoring: Finally, Somebody Gets Me!”:

“Make sure that activities stimulate the mind as well as the body. Sports should be coupled with enterprises like Scouting, board games, theatre, math, or literature groups. Balance is the key component in healthy experiences. When a group’s leader tells you your child’s involvement in a particular activity is deepening, a mentorship may be on the horizon.”

(“Parent Points” by Fr. Chris Kerhulas, p. 59)

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From the chapter “Divorce is Death”:

“The losers in divorce are almost always the children. And the losses one has to cope with when coming out of a divorce can be even more difficult than losing a parent in death. The positive thing about death is that it allows everyone involved to remember happier times, the beautiful moments, the positive and loving experiences with the recently departed… when a loving (and well-loved) parent dies, pictures are put up all over the house to help us remember the good times and how much we were loved. Divorce tends to bring out the negative and the failures (real or perceived) of the other parent… Pictures are taken down and hidden as if the parent never existed. It’s an attempt to erase the past, a form of denial that can really mess with the children’s minds… That’s the reality of divorce: a death of the complete family unit.”

(“Parent Points” by Fr. Chris Kerhulas, pp. 65-66)

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From the chapter “I Love You… Now Get Out!”:

“Letting go of your children, but never letting them forget you are there for them, is very tough for every parent. You will let go, believe me, or your child will force the separation, which is something you simply don’t want… As a loving parent, you never want to look back and think, ‘If only I had the chance, I would do things differently.’ Whenever possible, you want to be able to look back and say to yourself, ‘I gave it all I had and loved every minute of it, mistakes and all.’”

(“Parent Points” by Fr. Chris Kerhulas, p. 75)

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From the chapter “Gifting: Spend That Extra Cash While You Can (You May Never Have Another Chance)”:

“The sentiment that you should give what you are able, when you are able, and with the resources you have available, is as crucial as any lesson you can impart to your children…We never know what lies around the corner in our lives. So, share the love when you can, and in any way you can… but, you know, don’t go completely nuts.” (“Parent Points” by Fr. Chris Kerhulas, p. 80)

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From the chapter “Who am I? Who Is God, and Where Is He?”:

“A long time ago, a friend told me the following, which I’ve always used in my personal treatment of life in general, and I want you to hear it: ‘I looked for my self, and my self I could not find. I looked for my God, and my God I could not find. I looked for my brother, and I found all three.’”

(“Parent Points” by Fr. Chris Kerhulas, p. 90)

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From the chapter “A Well-Intended Lie”:

“…Although his parents raised him on the well-intended lie, ‘You can be whatever you want to be,’ they are only interested in their oldest becoming a doctor or lawyer… I have seen this scenario replayed countless times during my forty-three years of ministry. Each time it has come up, I’ve witnessed the damage caused by a conflict between well-intentioned parents and youth who are just beginning to discover where their strengths and talents lie… it subverts the well intended lie by instead effectively saying, ‘You can be whatever we want you to be.’ It is an easy trap for a parent to fall into.

 

“Encouraging children and young adults is important. The world we live in so often focuses on the negative, so parents must be a force of positive encouragement in their children’s lives.” (“Parent Points” by Fr. Chris Kerhulas, p. 94)

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From the chapter “I Am Free”:

“.All young people run into rough patches. Sometimes they just need someone to talk to, someone to assure them that whatever they’re going through is going to get better.”

(“Parent Points” by Fr. Chris Kerhulas, p. 105)

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On the Sacraments: the Sacrament of the Eucharist

This post is part of a series about the sacraments of the Orthodox Christian Church. In this post, we will look at the Orthodox Christian Sacrament of the eucharist.

Of the many sacraments of the Church, the Holy Eucharist is central. “Everything in the Church leads to the eucharist, and all things flow from it. It is the completion of all the Church’s sacraments—the source and the goal of all of the Church’s doctrines and institutions.” (1) If one takes a moment to think about the sacraments of the church, it is evident that this is true! Baptism, chrismation, and confession make us eligible and prepared to receive the eucharist. Ordination provides the blessed hands (and heart) to prepare and serve it. Marriage and unction flow from the abundant grace of the eucharist, and both of these sacraments can/should go on to become healing elements for members of the Church and society in general. So all of the mysteries of the Church have the eucharist at their heart.

But what does the word mean? And how did this sacrament begin? The Orthodox Study Bible’s definition of eucharist explains that the word is “taken from a Greek word [Ευχαριστία] meaning ‘thanksgiving.’”(2, p. 1779) It goes on to remind the reader that during the Last Supper, our Lord gave thanks, then it reminds us that “embodied in the communion service is our own thanksgiving.” (ibid)

How beautiful it is that this thanksgiving that we find in our communion service was actually begun by our Lord Himself when He gave thanks in the midst of the Last Supper (which was a celebration of the Jewish Passover meal). When Christ told His disciples to eat and drink the bread and wine as His Body and Blood, that action “became the center of the Christian life, the experience of the presence of the Risen Christ in the midst of His people.” (1) They did just that, and we continue to do it today. The eucharist has been practiced in the Holy Orthodox Church since the first century, according to the Didache!

The sacrament of eucharist is available to all members of the Orthodox Church, and is “strictly understood as being the real presence of Christ, His true Body and Blood mystically present in the bread and wine which are offered to the Father in His name and consecrated by the divine Spirit of God.” (1) Because of this, we take the eucharist very seriously, preparing our hearts and our bodies with prayer, confession, and fasting before communing, and reserving the act of communion for Orthodox Christians in good standing with the Church.

 

Glory to God for His gift of the sacrament of the eucharist! May He make us worthy to partake of it, and as we do, may He cleanse and purify us that we may become ever more like Him!

Sources:

  1. Hopko, Fr. Thomas (2011, October 5). The Sacraments: Holy Eucharist. Retrieved from https://oca.org/orthodoxy/the-orthodox-faith/worship/the-sacraments/holy-eucharist .
  2. Various editors. (2008). The Orthodox Study Bible. USA: St. Athanasius Academy of Orthodox Theology. (available here: http://store.ancientfaith.com/osb-hardcover )

Below, you will find ideas and lessons to help your students study the sacrament of the eucharist!

What resources have you found helpful? Comment below and share them with the community!

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Teachers for students of all ages may find it helpful to read this “Raising Saints” blog post before teaching a lesson on the Eucharist: https://blogs.ancientfaith.com/raisingsaints/the-body-blood-and-what-kids-believe/

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One of the Teaching Pics ( http://ww1.antiochian.org/christianeducation/teachingpics) offers a picture and explanation that may be helpful as you teach a lesson about the Eucharist to any age group. Picture S11 is the one featuring Holy Communion, and the text explains the Eucharist in a way that even young children can understand. Find the teaching pics here:  http://orthodoxchristianed.com/files/4114/9885/4473/ocec2017_2018.pdf

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Teachers of young students may want to pass along these activities for students and their families to do at home in order to continue learning about the Eucharist and Divine Liturgy: http://orthodoxsundayschool.org/epistles-feasts-and-sacraments/3-5-years-old/eucharistliturgy

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Teachers of young students may find these printables (and a brief lesson plan) helpful in teaching a lesson on the Eucharist: http://www.orthodoxabc.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/06/006-EN-ed04_Holy-Communion.pdf

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This site offers a young-child-leveled lesson plan on preparing the gifts, and how they play into the sacrament of the Eucharist: https://orthodoxpebbles.com/orthodox-basics/preparing-the-gifts/

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The sacrament of the Eucharist is received in the context of the Divine Liturgy. Find lesson plans on the Liturgy (and the Eucharist) at every level, here:

http://orthodoxsundayschool.org/epistles-feasts-and-sacraments/3-5-years-old/divine-liturgy

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

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

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

http://orthodoxsundayschool.org/epistles-feasts-and-sacraments/high-school/divine-liturgy

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This lesson on the Eucharist features a free printable zine! http://manymercies.blogspot.com/2015/06/teaching-eucharist-to-children.html?m=1

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The Orthodox Christian Education Commission’s 5th grade text, “Our Life in the Church,” contains an entire unit dedicated to the Sacrament of the Eucharist. Lessons 12-23 walk students through the Divine Liturgy. Lessons 18 and 21-23 are the most focused on the Eucharist. This text and teacher text can be found here: http://orthodoxchristianed.com/files/1413/4503/0063/OCOC-Catalog.pdf

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Teachers of older students will want to read pp. 74-86 of this book (https://www.orthodoxmarketplace.com/esss/product/the-orthodox-church-455-questions-and-answers) in order to be prepared for a class discussion on the Eucharist. Select a few of the questions to ask to your students during the discussion, then refer the students back to the book or other sources to find the answers.

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eucharist

Help each student create his or her own pocket prayer book with prayers for them to read before and after communion. You could type out and copy the prayers before class, and let them select and glue the ones they wish to use into a small handmade notebook, or let them hand copy the prayers they select. Find the prayers here: http://www.gometropolis.org/orthodox-faith/church-and-sacraments/holy-eucharist/prayers-before-and-after-communion/

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On Philippians 4:13: “I Can Do All Things Through Christ, Who Strengthens Me”

Note: This week’s post features the theme for the 2019 Creative Arts Festival of the Antiochian Orthodox Archdiocese. Philippians 4:13 graces the archway to the Antiochian Village Camp, a place where children, adults, and clergy meet together to play, hang out, worship, and be transformed together. This verse is an excellent scripture for all of us to live by and to learn, whether or not we have been to the Antiochian Village!

“I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” Philippians 4:13

This verse shows up time and again in Christian circles, usually implying that whatever we do, Christ will give us the strength to do it. It is true: He does! But perhaps this verse is about more than us getting the power from Christ that we need to accomplish/succeed in the things that we want to do. Could it mean more than just that?

It is helpful to study Bible footnotes to get additional information about specific passages, so we went to our Orthodox Study Bible (OSB) and looked up Philippians 4:13. The OSB offers a footnote on the verse. To be more precise, the footnote is about this verse as well as the two before it. The footnote on p. 1616 reads, “Here is the secret of contentment.” And that’s all it says!

At first glance, this seems a diminished notation of what is, in some Christian circles at least, one of the most popular verses in the Bible. But this little footnote forces us to actually look at those preceding verses. When we read them, not only does the footnote make sense, but we also can begin to understand verse 13 in its intended context. When we do that, we see that the footnote is spot on.

Philippians 4:11-13 reads, “Not that I speak in regard to need, for I have learned in whatever state I am, to be content: I know how to be abased, and I know how to abound. Everywhere and in all things I have learned both to be full and to be hungry, both to abound and to suffer need. I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” The passage speaks to success and accomplishment, yes, but it also is talking about emptiness and need. And St. Paul says, “I can do all things” (both success/accomplishment and emptiness/need) “through Christ who strengthens me.” In context, the verse is so much more than we thought it to be!

Now that we know the context, we can understand why Philippians 4:13 is such an appropriate verse to have on the arch at the gateway to the Antiochian Village Camp. It reminds all who enter the camp that our whole life is powered by Christ. Time at the Antiochian Village Camp offers the opportunity to connect with Christ and His Church in a special way, which “recharges” all who pass through that arch. At the same time, the verse reminds all who leave there that, regardless of what they face away from that place, Christ is with them to give them strength. And those who have studied the context of the verse know that it is also a nod to choosing contentment in whatever state we find ourselves.

Children participating in the Antiochian Archdiocese’s Creative Arts festival this year will have their choice of subject matter, ranging from the Antiochian Village to how camp has changed them to how God strengthens us to asking God to help us. And of course, thanks to that little footnote, they can also focus their project on choosing contentment in all circumstances!

Here are some ideas of ways to help your students learn about Philippians 4:13 and the Creative Arts Festival as a whole:

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Find a lesson for grades 1-3, focusing on the Creative Arts Festival theme, here: https://antiochianprodsa.blob.core.windows.net/websiteattachments/2019%20CF%20Lesson%20Plan%20Grades%201-3.pdf

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Find a lesson for grades 4-6, focusing on the Creative Arts Festival theme, here: https://antiochianprodsa.blob.core.windows.net/websiteattachments/2019%20CF%20lesson%20plan%20Grades%204-6.pdf

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Find a lesson for middle and high school students, focusing on the Creative Arts Festival theme, here: https://antiochianprodsa.blob.core.windows.net/websiteattachments/2019%20MS%20HS%20Creative%20Festival%20Lesson%20Plan%20Final.pdf

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This science experiment/object lesson demonstrates Philippians 4:13 using some twine, a straw, some tape, and a balloon (and a bit of explanation!). https://www.christianitycove.com/try-this-balloon-experiment-to-show-how-god-helps-direct-our-spiritual-energy-0907/1030/

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Find additional ideas that you can add to a lesson on Philippians 4: 13 and/or the Creative Arts Festival in general, here (we especially like the 10-finger prayer method of learning the verse!): http://ww1.antiochian.org/festivals/cf/using-the-theme-2019

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On this page, there are a beautiful variety of printable coloring pages featuring Philippians 4:13: http://www.widewallpapers.org/philippians-4-13-coloring-page/

This version includes the verses immediately before, and thereby offers some context for the verse: https://coloringpagesbymradron.blogspot.com/2018/01/philippians-413-print-and-color-page-i.html

And this version has a “camp-y” feel to it.

On the Sacraments: the Sacrament of Baptism

This post is part of a series about the sacraments of the Orthodox Christian Church. In this post, we will look at the Orthodox Christian Sacrament of Baptism.

Baptism is the first sacrament or mystery that we encounter in our Orthodox Christian life. It is the door through which Orthodox Christians enter into the Church. Stepping into the life of the Church through baptism enables us to experience all of the other sacraments. Our baptism marks the beginning of our death to ourselves, and the glorious unification of our soul with Christ.

The “Orthodox Study Bible” defines baptism as “The sacrament whereby one is born again, buried with Christ, resurrected with Him and united to Him. In baptism, one becomes a Christian and is joined to the Church.” (p. 1776) It continues by discussing Christ’s baptism. His baptism was significant because of its effect on the physical world. Our Lord’s baptism made water become holy, and now water can be used as the means for the Holy Spirit to grant us new life!

We begin the sacrament of baptism with the exorcism, wherein the person to be baptized (or their godparents, on their behalf) rejects Satan and unites themself instead to Christ. Prayers for the consecration of the water happen next, then the anointing by oil of the person to be baptized. After that comes the triple immersion, where the person is baptized in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. The newly-baptized person is then chrismated, given the gift of the Holy Spirit through the Holy Chrism which is used to anoint them. After the newly-baptized person has been chrismated, they are tonsured. Tonsuring (cutting bits of hair and burning them as an offering to the Lord) shows that the newly baptized person is willing to be obedient to Christ and sacrifice to Him. Following the tonsuring, there is a procession wherein the newly baptized person and his/her Godparents process around the font and/or table. This procession is a sign of spiritual rejoicing, and it’s done in a circle because God is never ending, as is a circle. The baptismal service culminates in communion. The Eucharist is a physical way in which Christians can mystically be united with Christ, and the freshly-baptized person is now so thoroughly transformed that they are able to meet and receive Him through the Eucharist.

St. Gregory of Nyssa called the baptismal font “both tomb and mother,” a picture that helps us grasp the importance of the sacrament of baptism. At the moment of our baptism, we die to ourselves, and in the same instant we are born into life in Christ and His Church.

Glory to God for His gift of the sacrament of baptism!

Here are some scriptures and quotes from Church Fathers on baptism, as well as a few resources that you may find interesting and helpful as you study this important sacrament. What baptism resources have you found helpful? Comment below and share them with the community!

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Teachers of young children may want to use this lesson plan and printables to help their students learn more about baptism: http://www.orthodoxabc.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/06/013-EN-ed02_Holy-Baptism.pdf

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The Teaching Pics ( http://ww1.antiochian.org/christianeducation/teachingpics) offer a series of pictures on baptism that can be very helpful as you teach a lesson on the subject to any age group. Pictures S1 – S8 show the significant events of a baptism. The text that goes with each picture explains the process well. If you do not already have them, you can order the teaching pics here: http://orthodoxchristianed.com/files/4114/9885/4473/ocec2017_2018.pdf

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This book can help younger students learn about their baptism: http://orthodoxchildrensbooks.com/eng/index.php/Baptism-Chrismation/View-all-products.html

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Dr. Pat’s Orthodox Super Sunday School Curriculum offers free online lessons. Here are links to lessons on baptism for each age group:

For ages 3-5: http://orthodoxsundayschool.org/epistles-feasts-and-sacraments/3-5-years-old/baptism-0

For ages 6-9: http://orthodoxsundayschool.org/epistles-feasts-and-sacraments/6-9-years-old/baptism

For ages 10-12: http://orthodoxsundayschool.org/epistles-feasts-and-sacraments/10-12-years-old/baptism

For middle school students: http://orthodoxsundayschool.org/epistles-feasts-and-sacraments/middle-school/baptism

For high school students: http://orthodoxsundayschool.org/epistles-feasts-and-sacraments/high-school/baptism

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Other Christians with whom our students interact have vastly different beliefs about baptism and its importance, so it is imperative that we help our students to know what baptism is, how it works, why we practice it even with infants, and how vital it is to our life in Christ! Invite older students to read this article during a class on the sacrament of baptism: http://ww1.antiochian.org/content/infant-baptism-what-church-believes. After reading it, challenge the students to read at least one of the biblical accounts of baptism listed in the article, and to make a list of 3 things they didn’t know about baptism or found interesting.

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What difference does our baptism make in our life? This article shares two accounts of the power of baptism. Teachers will be encouraged in their own faith by reading these accounts. Perhaps older students will enjoy reading these accounts, as well, if you decide to incorporate them into a lesson on baptism. http://orthochristian.com/80501.html