Category Archives: Lifestyle

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

 

On the Sacraments

This is the first in a series of posts about the sacraments of the Orthodox Christian Church.

We hear about the Sacraments, and we know that they are part of our life in the church. Do we really know what the Sacraments are? If we do, is there more that we can learn about them? Whether we’re new converts, or we’ve been Orthodox our whole life, could there be a way for us to more fully enter into the Sacraments of the church? This series of posts will take a closer look at the Sacraments to help us begin!

So what, exactly, are the Sacraments? The glossary of the Orthodox Christian Education Commission’s wonderful student book, “The Way the Truth and the Life,” does not offer a definition for “Sacrament.” In that space, it simply says, “see Mystery.” The Orthodox Study Bible‘s glossary agrees, listing the following definition for “Sacrament:” “Literally, a ‘Mystery’. A Sacrament is a way in which God imparts grace to His people. Orthodox Christians frequently  speak of seven sacraments, but God’s gift of grace is not limited only to these seven—the entire life of the Church is mystical and sacramental…” (2. p. 1786) It goes on to list some of the Mysteries that the Orthodox Church recognizes: Baptism, Chrismation, Eucharist, Confession, Ordination, Marriage, and Healing or Unction. In each of these Mysteries, we rely on the Holy Spirit to work a change in us. “The Way the Truth and the Life” explains the use of the word “Mystery” in lieu of “Sacrament” as follows: “The Greek word mysterion was used by the Church Fathers to describe these acts. The word was translated to Latin as ‘sacrament’.” (1, p. 173) The Latin word for holy is “sacred,” so the Sacraments are all about making us holy.

Fr. Thomas Hopko of blessed memory once wrote that Orthodox tradition does not limit the Sacraments to the seven listed above. Rather, “The more ancient and traditional practice of the Orthodox Church is to consider everything which is in and of the Church as sacramental or mystical. The Church may be defined as the new life in Christ. It is man’s life lived by the Holy Spirit in union with God. All aspects of the new life of the Church participate in the mystery of salvation. In Christ and the Holy Spirit everything which is sinful and dead becomes holy and alive by the power of God the Father. And so in Christ and the Holy Spirit everything in the Church becomes a Sacrament, an element of the mystery of the Kingdom of God as it is already being experienced in the life of this world.” (3)

So, whether we use the word “Sacrament” or “Mystery,” and whether we count seven of them or more, our Orthodox Christian life should be pushing us towards increased holiness! May we be mindful of that reality, and press on to become ever more holy, by the grace of God. As we do so, we will encourage and enable others to help us, and to join us.

Sources:

  1. Hopko, Fr. Thomas (2011, October 5). The Sacraments. Retrieved from http://ww1.antiochian.org/sacraments.
  2. Various editors. (2008). The Orthodox Study Bible. USA: St. Athanasius Academy of Orthodox Theology. (available here: http://store.ancientfaith.com/osb-hardcover)
  3. Various editors. (2005). The Way the Truth the Life. Yonkers, NY: Orthodox Christian Education Commission. (available here: https://store.antiochianvillage.org/The-Way-The-Truth-and-the-Life-Student-s-Edition.html)

Here are some links and ideas of ways to help our Sunday Church School students to learn more about the Sacraments:

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Find illustrations of the sacraments on these puzzle blocks. http://store.ancientfaith.com/orthodox-block-puzzle-the-holy-sacraments-of-the-orthodox-church/ Teachers of young students may find that solving the puzzles with students is one way to introduce the idea of the sacraments to their class.

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This picture book offers an overview of the sacraments, as well as an explanation of each. Teachers of younger Sunday Church School students may find it helpful in introducing a series of lessons about the sacraments: https://www.amazon.com/Christina-Learns-Sacraments-Maria-C-Khoury/dp/B007EVO56S

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This “Be the Bee” episode (#119, “What is a Sacrament?”) takes a look at the sacraments and helps its viewers begin to better understand them. https://youtu.be/JN20cpM6zpQ It would be a great way for Sunday Church School teachers to introduce their students to the sacraments and begin to discuss what they are and how they help our Christian life.

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Orthodox ABC offers several lessons (with printables!) about the sacraments. Find them here: http://www.orthodoxabc.com/faith-sacraments/

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Find lessons about each sacrament at every age/grade level, here: http://orthodoxsundayschool.org/epistles-feasts

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This printable image offers a short definition of each sacrament, as well as a scripture verse related to each one. Teachers of middle-years or older students may wish to refer to it as they introduce the sacraments to their students: http://orthodoxsundayschoolresources.tumblr.com/post/35064918375/the-seven-sacraments-of-the-orthodox-church-click

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“Most of the Sacraments use a portion of the material of creation as an outward and visible sign of God’s revelation. Water, oil, bread and wine are but a few of the many elements which the Orthodox Church employs in her Worship. The frequent use of the material of creation reminds us that matter is good and can become a medium of the Spirit. Most importantly, it affirms the central truth of the Orthodox Christian faith: that God became flesh in Jesus Christ and entered into the midst of creation thereby redirecting the cosmos toward its vocation to glorify its Creator.”

 

Share this quote with older Sunday Church School students. Invite them to think of ways in which something material is transformed in each of the sacraments. Challenge them to look for the ways God transforms their life through each sacrament. (the quote comes from this article: https://www.goarch.org/-/the-sacraments)

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On Resolve for the New (Church and School) Year

As we draw nearer to the start of another Church (and for many of us, another Church School) year, we should prepare accordingly. This new year offers us the opportunity to begin afresh and look for ways to improve ourselves. With this in mind, let us approach this new year(s) with resolve.

Resolve is an appropriate word for the beginning of a year. Two of its definitions are especially appropriate. One way that Google defines resolve as a verb is, to “decide firmly on a course of action”. The start of a new Church/school year is a great time to do that! What action should we firmly decide to take?

We do well to consider that question, perhaps in the context of a few others! Let us take this chance to sit quietly alone, or with a spouse/family member/friend, and ponder the following:

  1. Evaluate. Think back over this season we’ve just come through. How did we do in that season? How have we changed for the good?
  2. Prioritize. Sort our habits, identifying the good “keepers” and bad “time to change this” habits. Also, make a list of what lies ahead in our schedule. Of everything on that list, what is most important?

Once we’ve looked at where we’ve been, how we’ve grown, and where we’re headed, we are ready for the noun form of resolve. One of Google’s definitions of resolve as a noun defines it as the “firm determination to do something”. There are many things we should firmly resolve to do. We will look specifically at these two:

  1. Slow down. Choose NOT to do everything. Some of our busyness is necessary, but if we are honest with ourselves, some of it is fluff. We need to grant ourselves permission to cut the fluff and not feel bad about it. So, what makes the cut in our schedule this year?
  2. Focus and talk. We need to decide who takes priority in our life. Once we’ve established that, we must plan ways to show them that they have priority over the other people and things (for example, technology) which demand our attention. When we genuinely talk with those around us – truly giving them focused attention – they know that they are really a priority in our life. How will we build face-to-face talk this year? And how will we minimize the distractions such as technology?

Let us resolve to grow together, both with our family and with our Sunday Church School students this year. It will be messy. That’s okay. Messy growth is still growth. In the process, let us embrace our imperfections and the imperfections of those growing with us. We need each other. How can we help each other to grow this year?

Here are some related links. Check them out to be further challenged in each of the ways mentioned above! May God bless our resolve in this new Church (and Church School) year!

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Evaluate this past season: How have we changed for the good?

“Be the Bee” episode #43 points out some of the beautiful things about Orthodox Christian Summer Camp. Perhaps one of our students was blessed with this opportunity this summer. How did camp change them for the good? What aspect(s) of camp can/should we continue on in the upcoming year? “With Christ at the center, every aspect of our days is blessed, lifted up and transformed into an opportunity to draw closer to God and neighbor.” (Watch the episode here: https://youtu.be/9Tw4XQa4QrA)

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Although this post is written for parents, we Sunday Church School teachers can certainly benefit from taking time to consider what all we have learned from our students during this season of our life. https://orthodoxchristianparenting.wordpress.com/2016/06/29/on-learning-from-our-children/

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Prioritize.  Sort our habits, identifying the good “keepers” and bad “time to change this” ones.

“Be the Bee” episode #79 encourages us to pluck out the bad habits and plant good ones, instead! http://bethebee.goarch.org/-/-79-habits

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Slow down. Choose NOT to do everything.

In case you missed it before, this post encourages us to “save time.” Believe it or not, it is a post about slowing down. Check it out for yourself here: https://orthodoxchristianparenting.wordpress.com/2014/11/05/on-saving-time/

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“People’s lives are sheer misery because they do not simplify things” ~ St. Paisios
Read more of what St. Paisios has to say on the subject, here: https://orthodoxword.wordpress.com/2010/06/12/simplify-your-lives-with-elder-paisios-of-the-holy-mountain/

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“…Telos.  A Greek noun, it means ‘an end, purpose, or goal; an ultimate aim…’ Our telos affects everything, even if it’s not what we think it is.  What do we really aim at? What do we really love?” Read one mom’s take on the culture of busyness here: https://thelivescript.wordpress.com/2018/02/22/for-which-generation-on-telos-and-techne/

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What mental and physical impact does our culture’s desperate busyness have on our students? Is that really what we want for them? Read about it in this blog post: https://raisedgood.com/childrens-busyness-not-badge-honour-need-change/

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Focus and talk. We need to decide who takes priority in our life.

Electronic devices have become an addiction in our culture, even among those of us who want to focus on Christ and teach our children to do the same. We’ve shared a few of these challenging links before, but are sharing them again in case you missed them the first time. It will take some time, but we strongly recommend that you read/listen to each of these:

“It’s easy to think of weekends as simply another opportunity to get more things done. But downtime is crucial, and there’s more evidence than ever it’s essential to our productivity and wellbeing.” Deacon Michael Hyatt challenges his readers to take breaks and close their laptops for their own good, in this article: https://michaelhyatt.com/close-your-laptop.html

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This conference speech points out some rather frightening ways in which technology is affecting even Orthodox Christians: http://www.ancientfaith.com/specials/2017_family_ministry_conference/technology_that_unites_and_divides

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This secular article divulges the psychology behind social media, and its intentionally addictive lure: https://medium.com/@richardnfreed/the-tech-industrys-psychological-war-on-kids-c452870464ce

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“…Focusing on the relationship with your child, rather than all of the tasks she must complete, will not only make your mornings easier, but it will also promote your child’s optimal brain development in the long run…” This article is geared to parents, but how could we apply it in our Sunday Church School classroom? How connected do our students feel with us, from the moment they walk into class? https://www.parent.co/one-thing-parents-can-make-mornings-smoother-according-science/?utm_source=facebook&utm_medium=social&utm_campaign=SocialWarfare

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Some of these discussion starters could be used in a Sunday Church School classroom:

As you eat a snack together, consider playing one of these (age-leveled) games: https://thefamilydinnerproject.org/fun/dinner-games/

Here are 45 questions that will help you get to better know your students! https://www.nestedblissfully.com/funny-questions/

Find some sample questions here which will help to get children chatting. (If you want more, there is a link to where you can purchase the printable cards, too.) http://www.truelifeimateacher.com/2017/05/how-to-have-meaningful-classroom.html
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Let us resolve to grow together this year. It will be messy. That’s okay.

“The outcome of a growth mindset is a love of learning and a resilience, to accept and use constructive criticism.” This article reminds us that we’re not perfect, and that’s okay. We all have room to grow. Others – including our students – will help us. We need to embrace the imperfections, acknowledge our need for growth, and accept the help. https://angelinasgarden.wordpress.com/2018/04/16/my-kids-arent-perfect-and-im-okay-with-that/comment-page-1/#comment-295

 

Learning About the Saints: St. Tikhon of Zadonsk (August 13 or 26)

In 1724, in the village of Korotsk, in the Novgorod diocese of Russia, Sabellius Kirillov and his wife had a baby boy, who they named Timothy. Timothy’s father was a cantor. Unfortunately, when Timothy was still young, his father died. The family was very poor after Sabellius’ death. Timothy’s mother planned to send Timothy to live in the home of their neighbor, who was a coachman, but Timothy’s brother Peter stopped her. Since the family was so poor, Timothy had to work outside of the home, even while he was still very young. He would work all day just to get a piece of bread to eat.

When Timothy was 13, he was sent to a school near the Novgorad archbishop’s home. He paid his way through school by working with the vegetable gardeners. Three years later, God provided a grant that allowed Timothy to attend the Novgorod Seminary. He did really well in school, and became a teacher at the seminary after graduation. He taught Greek, then rhetoric and philosophy. Four years later, Timothy was tonsured with the name Tikhon and he became the seminary prefect.
A year later, Tikhon was transferred to Tver, where he became the archimandrite of Zheltikov Monastery. He worked there until he was made rector of the Tver Seminary and placed in charge of the Otroch Monastery.

Fr. Tikhon was named as one of eight candidates for bishop of Novgorod. In the process of discerning who should be bishop, three times the lot fell in Tikhon’s favor. So, on May 13, 1761, Fr. Tikhon was consecrated as the bishop of Novgorod.

Two years later, Bishop Tikhon was transferred to Voronezh. While he worked in that diocese, the bishop encouraged his people by his life, his guidance, and the books that he wrote. He did what he could to make sure that every priest, deacon, and monk had a copy of the New Testament. He encouraged them to read it every day. He also encouraged them to be very reverent when they were performing their holy duties. He worked very hard to build up the churches in his diocese, to convert a school into a monastery, and to help pastors realize how important it was for people to be educated. He worked so hard that sometimes he did not have time to sleep! Because of all of this work, by 1767, Bishop Tikhon’s poor health forced him to stop being the bishop. He went to the Tolshevsk Monastery to rest and recover.

After almost two years of recovery, Bishop Tikhon went to the monastery of the Theotokos in Zadonsk. While he was there, he taught people about the Christian life. He was so wise. But Bishop Tikhon did not just tell people how to be a good monastic! Instead of telling them, he showed them with his own life how to do so! Almost every day, he went to the church and served or read or sang in the choir. Later, in humility he stopped doing those things that made him visible. Instead, he would just stand quietly in the altar during the divine services, reverently making the sign of the cross. Outside of church, Bishop Tikhon spent a lot of time reading about the saints and reading the writings of the Holy Fathers. He memorized the whole Psalter so that he could recite or sing the Psalms while he traveled from one place to another.

When he was healthy again, Bishop Tikhon considered going back to Novgorod. He missed his flock there and wanted to help them, and they invited him to return. But his elder, Elder Aaron, would not allow it. Bishop Tikhon did not argue with Elder Aaron even though he wanted to go. Instead, he tore up the invitation to return and continued quietly serving at the monastery. During these years, he kept writing. He wrote “A Spiritual Treasury, Gathered from the World” in 1770 and “On True Christianity” in 1776.
Throughout his life, Bishop Tikhon lived very simply. He slept on straw and used a sheepskin coat for his blanket. When workers laughed at him for his simple lifestyle, he would calmly accept their laughter and say, “It is pleasing to God that even the monastery workers mock me, and I deserve it, because of my sins.” One day a fool hit Bishop Tikhon on the cheek and told him not to be so haughty. Instead of being angry or dismissing the fool because he was a fool, the bishop was thankful for the reminder. For the rest of his life, he gave the fool 3 kopeks every day, out of gratitude. The bishop often said, “Forgiveness is better than revenge.”

Bishop Tikhon loved the common people and did whatever he could to help them. Sometimes that meant going to their landowners and helping them become more compassionate to the poor who lived on their land. Other times he gave his own money to the poor. He ended up giving away all of his retirement money! Gifts that his admirers sent to the bishop were also given to the poor.

Near the end of his life, Bishop Tikhon saw visions of the Theotokos and the Apostles Peter and Paul. He was given the ability to prophesy that Russia would win over France in 1812. His attendants reported other wonders performed by the bishop, as well, including seeing him transformed in prayer, with his face glowing. In his humility, he asked them not to talk about it.

Bishop Tikhon knew that he would repose on a Sunday, and he was given a three-year warning before his repose. This is how he learned about it: he had a vision of a beautiful meadow. He wanted to go into the meadow, but was told “In three years you may enter. For now, continue your labors.” After seeing the vision, the bishop stayed in his cell much of the time, and received communion frequently. Not long before he died, he had a dream of a tall, twisty ladder. He heard a command that he should climb the ladder. He was afraid at first, because he was ill and weak. But he told his friend Cosmas, “when I started to go climb, the people standing around the ladder lifted me higher and higher, up to the very clouds.” Cosmas told him that he thought perhaps the ladder was the way to the Heavenly Kingdom, and that the people helping him climb were all the souls that Bishop Tikhon had helped by his advice. Now they were helping him into heaven as they remembered him. The bishop, crying, agreed that he had had the same thought and that he would soon depart this life. And he did, on Sunday, August 13, 1783. He was only 59.
Almost 53 years later, on May 14, 1864, Bishop Tikhon’s relics were uncovered and found to be incorrupt. He was elevated to sainthood by the Holy Orthodox Church on Sunday August 13, 1861.

St. Tikhon of Zadonsk, please pray for our salvation!
Sources: http://www.pravoslavie.ru/english/73196.htm and https://oca.org/saints/lives/2011/08/13/102287-st-tikhon-the-bishop-of-voronezh-and-wonderworker-of-zadonsk-and

 

Here are some ideas of ways to help your Sunday Church School students learn about (and from) St. Tikhon:

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Listen to this 2-minute “Saint of the Day” podcast about St. Tikhon of Zadonsk, to help your students learn about his life: http://www.ancientfaith.com/podcasts/saintoftheday/aug_13_-_st._tikhon_of_zadonsk

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This well-known quote by St. Tikhon of Zadonsk is a great focus for your class, after having heard the story of his life: “As a merchant from various lands gathers various goods, and brings them into his house and treasures them there, likewise a Christian can collect from the world soul-saving thoughts, and by collecting them in the treasury of his heart can form his soul.”

Share the quote with your students, then hand each of them a copy of this printable pdf of a treasure chest: http://coolest-free-printables.com/2013/02/03/printable-treasure-chest/ Talk together about the quote. What did St. Tikhon mean, “soul-saving thoughts?” And where in the world can we find these? Spend a period of time brainstorming and sharing thoughts that you all may wish to collect in the treasury of your heart. They can include Holy Scriptures, songs from the church, quotes from the church fathers, etc. Have your students write (or draw) their favorites into the treasure chest, to help them remember that they are collecting that treasure. (Alternate idea: instead of using the pdf treasure chest, purchase simple boxes or hinged treasure chests – available for about a dollar at craft stores – and have your students decorate them. Throughout the year, allow students to add a quote or scripture from each lesson to their “treasury.” At the end of the Sunday Church School year, they can review the SCS year by looking through their treasure chest and remembering the lesson associated with each insert. Send your students home with their treasury at the end of the Sunday Church School year, with a copy of this quote from St. Tikhon and the admonishment to continue to collect these kinds of thoughts in their hearts for the rest of their life!)

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Did you notice, in  the story of the of St. Tikhon of Zadonsk, that he had the entire Psalter memorized? Well, guess what? He had also memorized the entire New Testament! May his life encourage us to continue our efforts to teach our students to memorize the scriptures, as well! After studying his life and telling the students about his broad memorization of scripture, select a passage to help the children to memorize. Need ideas for how to do so? Visit our blog post on that subject! https://orthodoxchurchschoolteachers.wordpress.com/2016/01/29/on-scripture-memorization-part-2/
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St. Tikhon has been called “The Chrysostom of the Russian Church” because of his many straightforward and beautiful writings and teachings. Here are a few of his teachings. Share some of them with middle-years (or older) students, and discuss them together!

“Prayer does not consist merely in standing and bowing your body or in reading written prayers….it is possible to pray at all times, in all places, with mind and spirit. You can lift up your mind and heart to God while walking, sitting, working, in a crowd and in solitude. His door is always open, unlike man’s. We can always say to Him in our hearts, ‘Lord have mercy.’” ~ St. Tikhon of Zadonsk
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“In going to church, think that thou art going to the house of the King of Heaven, where with fear and joy one ought to stand as in heaven before the King of Heaven. While standing in church, do not look around to the sides and do not look at how someone is standing and praying, lest thou be condemned with the Pharisee, since thou didst not come to judge others, but to ask for mercy for thyself from God the Judge and Knower of hearts. Gaze with compunction toward the altar alone, where the holy sacrifice is offered. More than anything else, beware of laughter and conversations, for whoever laughs or converses while standing in church does not render honor to the holy place and tempts others and prevents others from praying.” ~ St. Tikhon of Zadonsk
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“If we want, Christian, to have our heart filled with divine love we must first empty them of the love of this world, its frivolous and sinful customs and then turn our hearts to the one God, our only good and happiness and eternal beatitude.” ~ St. Tikhon of Zadonsk
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“Do we refuse to forgive? God, too, will refuse to forgive us. As we treat our neighbours, so also does God treat us. The forgiveness or unforgiveness of your sins, then, and hence also your salvation or destruction, depend on you yourself. For without forgiveness of sins there is no salvation. You can see for yourself how serious it is.” ~ St. Tikhon of Zadonsk
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“As fire is not extinguished by fire, so anger is not conquered by anger, but is made even more inflamed. But meekness often subdues even the most beastly enemies, softens them and pacifies them.” ~ St. Tikhon of Zadonsk
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“True Christians live in this world as travelers, pilgrims, and sojourners, and they look ever toward their heavenly homeland with faith and with the eyes of the soul, and they strive to reach it. You should also be a pilgrim and sojourner in this world and constantly look toward that homeland and strive to obtain it, and so the world with its enticements and lusts will become abhorrent to you. Whoever seeks eternal blessedness and desires it and strives to reach it will despise everything temporal, lest while seeking the temporal he be deprived of the eternal.” ~ St. Tikhon of Zadonsk

May his words bless and challenge us to follow Christ more fully!
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St. Tikhon of Zadonsk once said, “…love of God cannot exist without joy, and whenever a man feels the sweetness of the love of God within his heart, he rejoices in God.” Talk together with your Sunday Church School students about this quote. How did St. Tikhon show this to be true in his own life? How can we live in such a way as to “feel the sweetness of the love of God” in our hearts? Have each student illustrate or write ideas around their own copy of the quote, and then take it home so that they can put it somewhere that reminds them of it. Find a printable pdf of the quote here: http://www.antiochian.org/sites/default/files/st_tikhon_of_zadonsk_love_of_god.pdf
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With your students, read what St. Tikhon of Zadonsk had to say about their duties to their parents! Talk together about each duty. Share from your own experience any stories related to these duties and how you did/did not uphold them in your own life. Invite students to share from their story, as well. Then talk about the duties: How do these duties compare to what the rest of the world is telling us right now? How would following St. Tikhon’s guidance help each student? What ideas do they have of how to fulfill these duties, especially the ones that seem different from what today’s world says that kids should do? http://serfes.org/orthodox/children.htm

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Here’s a 2-minute video featuring a quote from St. Tikhon about loving your neighbor and not judging them. Discuss this quote with older students: https://youtube.com/watch?v=Jw7oiZU9qzc

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With older students, review what St. Tikhon of Zadonsk had to say about love of God by visiting this blog: http://livingorthodoxfaith.blogspot.com/2009/11/signs-of-love-for-god.html Encourage each member of the class to select one point to work on in their own life, one way in which they desire to better love God. Invite them to create something (written, musical, or artistic) to help them meditate on that point.

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On Struggle

Struggle. The word itself may make us shudder inside. In this culture of “live for yourself; do what feels good; if it doesn’t work for you, quit,” struggle is often labeled as evil, and we feel inclined to avoid it at all costs. Throughout time, humans have disliked struggle and attempted to be freed from it. Some have even considered struggle to be evidence of sin or wrongdoing, even touting freedom from struggle as evidence of godliness.

So, what’s an Orthodox Christian supposed to do with struggle? Should we try to evade it? If we are struggling, does that mean that we are failing in our Christian life?

Let’s begin by taking a look at the scriptures to see what they say about struggle. According to Strong’s Concordance, the Greek word for struggle is ἀγωνίζομαι, or agónizomai. It translates to English in different ways, including “to contend for a prize,” as well as “struggle.” We find it in Luke 13:24, “Strive to enter through the narrow gate, for many, I say to you, will seek to enter and will not be able”. We also find it in 1 Corinthians 9:25, “And everyone who competes for the prize is temperate in all things. Now they do it to obtain a perishable crown, but we for an imperishable crown.” I Timothy 4:8-10 also uses the word: “For bodily exercise profits a little, but godliness is profitable for all things, having promise of the life that now is and of that which is to come. This is a faithful saying and worthy of all acceptance. For to this end we both labor and suffer reproach, because we trust in the living God, who is the Savior of all men, especially of those who believe.” And we find it again in 2 Timothy 4:7, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.” According to the scriptures, struggle is necessary for the Christian life. Striving, competing, laboring, and fighting the good fight all help to urge us in the right direction: toward a deeper faith in God and His Kingdom.

What about the holy fathers? Do they teach us about struggle?
Yes, they do. If we examine their lives, we can learn much about struggle! But they also use words to teach us about it. Here are a handful of their many teachings about struggle:

“Nothing is so incongruous in a Christian, and foreign to his character, as to seek ease and rest.” ~ St John Chrysostom

“Of course, it would be easier to get to paradise with a full stomach, all snuggled up in a soft feather-bed, but what is required is to carry one’s cross along the way, for the kingdom of God is not attained by enduring one or two troubles, but many!” ~ Elder Anthony of Optina

“Do not grow despondent and enfeebled in spirit, seeing the constant struggle within you of evil against good, but like a good and valiant soldier of Jesus Christ, our great Founder, struggle courageously against evil, looking at the crown, prepared by the Lord for all who conquer evil in this world and in their flesh. ‘To him that overcometh, will I grant to sit with Me in My Throne’(Rev. 3:21).” ~ St. John of Kronstadt

“Brothers, as long as you have breath in your bodies, strive for your salvation. Before the hour comes in which we shall weep for ourselves, let us practice virtue eagerly. For I tell you that if you knew what good things are in heaven, what promise is laid up for the saints and how those who have fallen away from God are punished and also what torments are laid up for those who have been negligent – especially those who have known the truth and have not led a way of life worthy of it so as to inherit that blessedness which is reserved for the saints and to flee the punishments of these torments – then you would endure every pain in order to be made perfect in the virtue which is according to Christ.” ~ St Pachomius

“It is by warfare that the soul makes progress.” ~ St. Tikhon of Voronezh

Struggle. Sometimes it hurts. Always, it is hard. But, according to the scriptures and the holy fathers, it is necessary. Struggle allows us to embrace our Lord more tightly. It enables us to see His hand at work in our life. It provides us with opportunities to trust Him more fully. So, although we may not like struggle, and we may be tempted to try to be freed from it, we must not. Struggle helps us grow away from sin and towards godliness.

May the Lord strengthen us and help us to struggle.

 

Struggle is not just for us as adults to learn about and embrace. Here are a few ideas to help us teach our Sunday Church School students about struggle:

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Poor Ping. He is usually able to grow anything. When the emperor gives out seeds to all of the children and tells them to bring back their plants in one year – and that the plants will choose his successor, Ping cannot get his seed to grow. He struggles all year with that seed, trying everything he can think of, but nothing grows. He has to take the seed, in the dirt, ungrown, to the emperor at the end of the year… This retelling of a Chinese folktale, “The Empty Pot,” by Demi, will be an excellent addition to a lesson on struggle. (You can see the pictures and hear the story here: https://youtube.com/watch?v=nSoqBWPq8U0)

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Although these picture books are grouped together as books “addressing perseverance,” some of them definitely feature struggle and could be a great help to a class discussion. https://selfsufficientkids.com/childrens-books-perseverance/

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This secular lesson on the benefits of struggle may give you some ideas for helping your students learn the value of this difficult task! https://blog.classcreator.io/teaching-kids-to-struggle-growthmindset/

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Show younger students photos or video footage of an animal that needs to struggle in order to thrive. Here are some video links that may be helpful:

Birds emerging from their nest: http://earthporm.com/someone-put-camera-birds-nest-see-caught/

A butterfly emerging from its chrysalis:

https://youtube.com/watch?v=Gt-5lS9hJFA

Talk together about what you’ve just learned. If these creatures need to physically struggle as part of their normal growth, how much more should we humans both physically and spiritually struggle in order to grow!

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Share quotes about struggle from holy people with middle-years or older students as part of a discussion. Choose from those we wrote about in our discussion of struggle, and/or some of these: “Just as people do not enter a war in order to enjoy war, but in order to be saved from war, so we do not enter this world in order to enjoy this world, but in order to be saved from it. People go to war for the sake of something greater than war. So we also enter this temporal life for the sake of something greater: for eternal life. And as soldiers think with joy about returning home, so also Christians constantly remember the end of their lives and their return to their heavenly fatherland.” ~ St. Nikolai Velimirovich

“God’s grace always assists those who struggle, but this does not mean that a struggler is always in the position of a victor. Sometimes in the arena the wild animals did not touch the righteous ones, but by no means were they all preserved untouched.
What is important is not victory or the position of a victor, but rather the labor of striving towards God and devotion to Him.” ~ St. John Maximovitch

“Let us strive to enter by the narrow gate. Just as the trees, if they have not stood before the winter’s storms cannot bear fruit, so it is with us, this present age is a storm and it is only through many trials and temptations that we can obtain an inheritance in the kingdom of heaven.” ~Amma Theodora

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Send middle-years or older students searching in the scriptures. What do the scriptures say about struggle? Talk about how, according to the Strong’s Concordance, the Greek word for struggle is ἀγωνίζομαι, or agónizomai, which does not just mean struggle. It translates to English in different ways, including “to contend for a prize,” as well as “struggle.” Send them to find it in Luke 13:24, (“Strive to enter through the narrow gate, for many, I say to you, will seek to enter and will not be able”.) Can they locate it in 1 Corinthians 9:25? (“And everyone who competes for the prize is temperate in all things. Now they do it to obtain a perishable crown, but we for an imperishable crown.”) How about in I Timothy 4:8-10? (“For bodily exercise profits a little, but godliness is profitable for all things, having promise of the life that now is and of that which is to come. This is a faithful saying and worthy of all acceptance. For to this end we both labor and suffer reproach, because we trust in the living God, who is the Savior of all men, especially of those who believe.”) The same word is used in 2 Timothy 4:7! (“I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.”) Comparing these four passages should give the students a better grasp on what agónizomai means, as well as an idea of how important it is to the Christian life! Ask them what they can conclude about it, based on these four passages. (Striving, competing, laboring, and fighting the good fight all help to urge us in the right direction: toward a deeper faith in God and His Kingdom.)

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With older students, begin a class on struggle by sharing this article to launch the discussion. The article points out how, in nature, struggle is necessary for growth.

https://heraldextra.com/print-specific/columnists/the-struggle-s-the-thing/article_f68dc972-8b19-5c55-ae39-4b0dc0bba3cc.html.

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“We can choose to look at all of life’s circumstances as opportunities to be sanctified. We can turn towards Christ instead of trying to face our passions on our own. And lastly, we should take heart and not be discouraged nor become judgmental of others who struggle against passions different from our own.” Teens and adults alike will benefit from reading this blog post on three lessons learned from St. Porphyrios, and it could be easily incorporated into a class on struggle. https://blogs.goarch.org/blog/-/blogs/three-lessons-from-saint-porphyrios

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