Category Archives: Lifestyle

On Living Icons

The Orthodox Christian Faith is enriched by icons. We surrounded ourselves with these prayerfully-written images of Christ, the Theotokos, and the saints. Our churches are full of icons, as are our homes. This is as it should be. In our modern self-focused culture, we need visual reminders of God’s work in and through the saints! These reminders in the form of icons challenge us to be strong and live a life accordingly faithful.

There are other icons that enrich our Faith as well. God has surrounded us with His hand-written images of Christ in the form of every person around us. Our churches are full of them, as are our homes. But He has not limited His handwritten icons to the Church. They are all around us. If you are like me, occasionally you may need a reminder that everyone – EVERYONE – is an icon of Christ, written by God Himself, in His image. May this short post remind us of that truth. So, that sweet lady at Church? Yes, she is an icon of Christ. The person who just cut me off when driving? An icon. The persistent child interrupting my phone conversation? An icon. That person who I struggle to love? An icon. The famous person everyone gossips about? An icon. Those people who live far away and very differently from me? They, too, are an icon. My spouse? Also an icon, written in the image of (and by the Hand of) God.


Whether or not we recognize His artistry, God has written (and is writing) each and every person. Therefore, we must remember that He is at work in and through them, then respond with the love and respect that we offer any other icon reflecting His image. When we choose to see His work in each person, we will be challenged by them to be strong and live our Christian life faithfully!  

We must be careful to note that this recognition of God’s work in writing the living icons around us must not be limited to noting it in other people. In truth, we ourselves are living icons, and should also be enriching the Church and our world. In order to be the most reflective image of Him that we can be, we need to cooperate with Him as he works in and through us. As we do so, He will strengthen us and give us what we need to live the faithful Christian life befitting an icon.

May God help us all to live and love His image in every person! And as we do so, may we teach our Sunday Church School children to do the same.

 

Here are some resources that can help us teach our students how to be more aware of the icons of Christ around us; while challenging ourselves to be the best icons of Christ that we can:

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Here is an excellent activity that you can do with a younger-grades class which will help them to review the symbolism in iconography and then apply it to a contemporary icon-like drawing of a living icon who they know. Find the activity, symbolic descriptions, and a link to the printable page the students can use for their drawing here:  http://orthodoxeducation.blogspot.com/2008/07/living-icons.html

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Teachers of younger grades may be able to adapt parts of this (non-Orthodox) activity-filled lesson on being made in God’s image: https://www.umcmission.org/ArticleDocuments/150/book2part2lesson5.pdf.aspx
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Talk with your students about this quote by St. John of Damascus: “The whole earth is a living icon of the face of God.”
If we truly believe this, how does that affect our view and treatment of others? Of ourselves? Of the world itself?

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Share this quote to begin a discussion with a teen or adult class:

“Every one of us is in the image of God, and every one of us is like a damaged icon. But if we were given an icon damaged by time, damaged by circumstances, or desecrated by human hatred, we would treat it with reverence, with tenderness, with broken-heartedness. We would not pay attention primarily to the fact that it is damaged, but to the tragedy of its being damaged. We would concentrate on what is left of its beauty, and not on what is lost of its beauty. And this is what we must learn to do with regard to each person as an individual, but also – and this is not always as easy – with regard to groups of people, whether it be a parish or a denomination, or a nation. We must learn to look, and look until we have seen the underlying beauty of this group of people. Only then can we even begin to do something to call out all the beauty that is there. Listen to other people, and whenever you discern something which sounds true, which is a revelation of harmony and beauty, emphasize it and help it to flower. Strengthen it and encourage it to live.” – Metropolitan Anthony of Sourozh

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“To be an Orthodox Christian means to proclaim that God has a very special love for us. Our life was given to us a very a sacred gift so that we may grow to fulfill our destiny as His children, to fulfill His plan that He has had for us since before we were even born. We are called to be “living icons,” temples of the Holy Spirit, and members of the Kingdom of Heaven. We must come to value life for the precious gift from God that it is, and make our choices on that basis.” These are the concluding thoughts of a lesson. This lesson (which includes a variety of activities and suggested discussion questions) could be used for a Sunday Church School or for a retreat on the importance of valuing life and living as an icon. https://oca.org/the-hub/life-and-death/session-1-the-living-icon-the-sanctity-of-human-life

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Listen to this 7 minute sermon from Fr. Ted Paraskevopoulos with your teen/adult Sunday Church School class to receive an overhaul on your perspective of yourself (and others), the icon(s) of Christ: http://www.ancientfaith.com/podcasts/isermon/orthodox_anthropology

 

 

On Miracles That God Performs Through Icons

Icons are windows to heaven. We have them in our churches, we have them in our homes, and perhaps in our car/locker/workspace/elsewhere as well. They are in these places as visual reminders of Truth. Icons remind us of the power of God at work, either through the written images of Christ Himself or of those gone before us who have followed Him completely and became saints. They help us to better understand the scriptures and to better connect with the person/people written on them. Icons draw us to God by virtue of their beauty, the stories of faithfulness they represent, the Scriptures they unveil. It is a miracle that something so simple as a prayerfully-written icon can do so much to help us on our journey toward Him.

Occasionally, God chooses to move beyond that sense of “being drawn,” and to work other miracles through them. The purpose of this blog post is to help each of us to learn about some of the icons He is using in this way (or has recently used in this way), and to read the stories of miracles wrought through them. It is our hope that this post will be encouraging and help each of us to be aware of how God is at work through icons. These stories will also encourage our students, as we share the stories with them.

There are several ways that you could share these miracles with your Sunday Church School Students. One of these accounts could be shared as your students are eating their snack (if you have Church School right after Liturgy), each week for a period of weeks. Or perhaps you could share one at the beginning or end of every class for a season. Perhaps you would prefer to teach a lesson about miracles wrought through icons and wish to select several of the stories to study in a lesson or series of lessons. It is up to you how you utilize these stories. Please consider sharing them with your students! Children are naturally full of wonder, and will benefit from knowing these amazing ways in which God is at work through holy icons.

 

Here are a few examples of miracle-working icons and their stories which you may wish to share with your students:

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What would you or your students do if some of the icons in your prayer corner miraculously began streaming myrrh? Read this account by Subdeacon Nectarios himself, of what happened in his home. In the account, you’ll read about two streaming icons (each with different-smelling myrrh), a cat, a “doubting Thomas” who ends up with a mouthful of “proof,” and a few of the miracles that the miraculous myrrh have wrought. Glory to God! http://www.orthodoxhawaii.org/icons.html

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The Kardiotissa Icon of the Mother of God, at St. George Orthodox Church in Taylor, Pennsylvania, has been exuding myrrh ever since it was anointed with the myrrh of the Hawaiian Iveron icon in October of 2011. Many, many lives have been changed as a result. Share some of the miracles that have happened, as accounted in this homily, with your students: http://www.schwebster.org/sermons/2014-sermons/the-miracles-and-wonders-of-god-the-crying-icon-of-taylor-pa

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Begin a discussion with your older students about different kinds of healing (physical vs spiritual) by reading them this quote (and perhaps the entire article): “Over the past ten years there have been many miracles; some I’ve heard about and some I haven’t. There have been many physical healings, external, and there have also been many spiritual, inner healings. Through this Icon many of the faithful have experienced radical transformations in their lives. It’s as if people become liberated from the ‘old man’ and ardently strive towards God.  When the Icon is present in various churches, monasteries and homes, one senses a renewal of love for the Mother of God; almost immediately many people approach for confession, spiritually reborn through a feeling of repentance.  I’d like to say that the Mother of God helps our believers sense their sinfulness before Her Son, Jesus Christ.”


Read this and more of the story and miracles of the copy of the Iveron icon of the Mother of God (the same one whose copy was sent to Hawaii and began myrrh streaming there, and when that one in turn visited the Kardiotissa icon in Pennsylvania it began exuding myrrh as well), which was brought to Canada from Mt. Athos by a Chilean convert to Orthodoxy here: http://www.roca.org/OA/120/120k.htm

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“One can go on for a very long time listing the different holy Icons of the Ever-Virgin Mary and Theotokos and all the wonderful countless miracles of our Panagia. It is, however, important for all Orthodox Christian believers to always seek the holy intercessions of the Mother of God and to turn to Her for aid, healing, comfort and salvation.” Read some of the miracles in this article: http://saintandrewgoc.org/home/2014/8/25/the-miraculous-icon-of-panagia-portraitissa-the-keeper-of-th.html. Ask your students if they have heard any other stories of times when God has worked miracles through an icon of the Theotokos. Then, spend some time praying and asking her to pray for you and your loved ones – and the whole world!

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Watch this 8-minute video that shows miracle after miracle, mostly related to icons, which God has granted through His Holy Orthodox Church. The video is set to parts of the Vespers service chanted by Eikona, and could be a wonder-filled way to end a class about miracle-working icons! (We recommend that you watch it before showing it to your students, however, so you know what they will see and can be prepared to answer related questions.) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=p-AOO903CZA

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Throughout history, icons of the Mother of God have worked miracles. This article shares the commemoration days of many icons of the Theotokos, along with some of the stories of miracles attributed to those icons, set throughout history. These stories are not as recent as some of the above, but they are still miracles and well worth learning about! To read about an icon of the Theotokos and/or a miracle attributed to the icon, click on the month, then which of the days of that month you’d like to read about: https://oca.org/saints/icons-mother-of-god. In order to learn about more of them, consider allowing each student to select a different one to learn about and share their learnings with the rest of the class. (You will need to plan ahead and print things out, unless you have internet access in class or you give the students the assignment to bring back on a different Sunday.)

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“Venerating a miracle is also a way of acknowledging the importance of its context. A weeping icon is amazing, but it’s obviously not meant to distract attention away from the liturgical, sacramental, and doctrinal life of the Church. If anything, a miracle should amplify the importance of Church practices and teaching, for the God who causes the miracle is also the God who established these as markers of his ‘new and everlasting covenant’ with mankind.” Read more about responding to miracles wrought through icons in this article:  http://myocn.net/miracle-greece-weeping-icon-mean/. After reading the article, be sure to discuss it with your students so that they know how best to respond to any miraculous events they may experience that are associated with icons.

 

Gleanings from a Book: “The Suitcase” by Jane G. Meyer

Orthodox Christian author Jane G. Meyer has written a new picture book called “The Suitcase: a Story about Giving.” The book was illustrated by Chiara Pasqualotto. It is the story of Thomas, a boy who may be autistic but does not let his challenges keep him from being an active participant – even a leader – in entering the Kingdom of God while bringing others with him. Any reader, regardless of age, will be challenged to find ways to make God’s Kingdom happen in the world around them after meeting Thomas through this book.

Here is a brief summary and review of the book:

Thomas is like clockwork. He is so precise with his preferred activities that you can almost predict what he will do each day. So, when he randomly shows up at the family supper table one night with a suitcase, declaring that he intends to leave for the Kingdom of Heaven, it catches everyone’s attention, for this is far from his routine! With his family’s love and support, Thomas shares his plan, showing his family (and the reader) each item that he has packed and explaining why he has packed it. As he does so, Thomas unknowingly reveals how carefully he has been paying attention to teachings about the Faith, and unveils his commitment to following Christ, even though it means stepping away from his beloved routines.

The colorful watercolor illustrations in this picture book are gently realistic. They invite the reader to feel comfortable in Thomas’ home and with his family. There is just enough detail to illustrate the story in an orderly manner, just as Thomas likes his world to be organized. (There is also just enough missing in each illustration to leave room for the reader’s imagination, inciting curiosity.)

“The Suitcase” is full of scriptural references. The reader can’t help but try to make connections: What was Thomas thinking about when he packed this item? Where did he hear about that one? Where can I learn more about it?!? Parents and teachers will find in “The Suitcase” more than just a lovely story. They will find in it an opportunity to delve into the scriptures with their children, to ensure that they know the source of each of the contents in Thomas’ wonderful suitcase.

Readers of all ages will be challenged to think beyond their own routines, consider what they should be “packing” in their own suitcase, and then reach out into the Kingdom of Heaven by finding ways to love and serve all those around them. The resource page at the end offers an excellent place to begin!

“The Suitcase” will be a welcome addition to any Orthodox Christian library, and can easily be incorporated into a Sunday Church School class lesson or even a series of lessons. It could be the starting place for a series of lessons about the Kingdom of God and how we can make it happen right where we are! The book also provides an opportunity for Sunday Church School students to see through the eyes of a person living with autism, so it could be included in a series of lessons about different challenges that people face and how we need to embrace our own challenges while loving others with different challenges as we journey together towards God’s Kingdom.

Note: the author of this review was given a reading copy of this book in exchange for a fair and honest review. Visit http://www.paracletepress.com/Products/7763/the-suitcase.aspx to order your own copy of the book.

Here are some other ways that you can help your Sunday Church School students to learn through the book “The Suitcase:”

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Read author Jane G. Meyer’s take on “The Suitcase,” including why she wrote the book, here: http://www.janegmeyer.com/books/the-suitcase/

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Take time to investigate the scripture passages that are alluded to in “The Suitcase.” You could incorporate them all into the same lesson, or have a series of lessons introduced after reading the book. Scriptural allusions include:

Feeding the hungry (Matthew 25:35)

Clothing the naked (Matthew 25:36)

Giving to those in need (Deuteronomy 15:11)

Being a good servant (Matthew 25:21)

Praying for the world (James 5:16)

Having Faith like a mustard seed (Matthew 13:31-32; 17:20)

Talking less and listening more (James 1:19)

Entertaining angels (Hebrews 13:2)

Keeping ourselves pure (James 1:27)

Building things if God tells us to do so (Genesis 6:14-22)

The pearl of great price (Matthew 13:45-46)

The hidden treasure (Matthew 13:44)

Submitting to others (for example, allowing children to lead us) (Ephesians 5:17-21)

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Spend some time focusing on the Kingdom of Heaven as revealed in Christ’s parables. Read the parables with your students. Talk about them together. Here are two printable activity pages you could include in your study if your students enjoy such challenges:

Invite your students to seek and find words related to Christ’s parables about the Kingdom of Heaven in this printable word search: http://www.biblewise.com/kids/fun/hidden-word-kingdom-heaven

They can decipher this related verse, as well: http://www.biblewise.com/kids/fun/break-code-kingdom.php

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Find ideas of ways to teach younger students about Christ’s parables about the Kingdom of Heaven, as well as craft suggestions, here: http://adventuresinmommydom.org/parables-of-heaven-activities/

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“[The Suitcase] is the book I wanted…  when we were doing our HUGS-based lessons. The goal was to teach the children Christ’s words, ‘Do it to the least of these my brethren and you do it to Me’ (Matthew 25:40).” Read more of this mother/teacher’s review of “The Suitcase” in her blog post here: http://orthodoxmothersdigest.blogspot.com/2017/03/book-review-suitcase-by-jane-g-meyer.html

And find more about the HUGS program (including links to lesson ideas for each age level), which is a natural step to take with your students after reading “The Suitcase” here: https://orthodoxchurchschoolteachers.wordpress.com/2015/05/15/hugs-hands-used-for-gods-service/

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This TED talk by Roger Antonsen (https://www.ted.com/talks/roger_antonsen_math_is_the_hidden_secret_to_understanding_the_world) explores the relationships in math and science, and what they teach us about perspective. When we shift our perspective, we learn more about the world around us. What we learn from math and science can be applied to our life as we interact with others. Consider this: “When I view the world from your perspective, I have empathy with you. If I really truly understand what the world looks like from your perspective, I am empathetic. That requires imagination and that is how we obtain understanding… Understanding something really deeply has to do with the ability to change your perspective. So my advice to you is, ‘try to change your perspective!’”

The talk could be an excellent way to extend the concept of stepping outside of your comfort zone (as demonstrated by Thomas in “The Suitcase”) in a discussion with teens. (Yes, it is possible to share a picture book with teens! Especially if they have a reason for listening to it!) Consider showing them the TED talk, then inviting them to think of how it relates to “The Suitcase” and share the book with them. THEN launch into a discussion of how the two relate, and how to apply the concept of changing our perspective, empathizing with others, and finding ways to serve them!

 

On Pursuing Virtue: Diligence

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

The last virtue we will focus on in this series is diligence. Merriam-Webster defines diligence as “steady, earnest, and energetic effort.” St. Theophan the Recluse helps us to understand diligence in the context of our Orthodox faith: “Our entire lives, in all their parts and details, must be devoted to God. The general rule is that everything you do should be done according to the Divine will and for the sake of pleasing God …Although [our] acts are not brilliant or perfect, [we] permit nothing consciously in them that would offend God or would not be pleasing to Him.” He goes on to say that when we choose to live in this way, our hearts will be filled with peace and joy because we will be living close to God. It is this definition of diligence that we should communicate to our Sunday Church School students: the deliberate decision to make everything that we do honor God, and the determination to carry out that decision to the best of our ability. (We should emphasize that we will not be perfect as we do this, but that our efforts will be pleasing to God and helpful to those around us, anyway!)

To introduce this virtue to your students, begin by having the word “diligence” spelled out with honey sticks (plastic straws with honey sealed inside, available online or at some grocery stores). Place the word somewhere in the classroom where the students will see it when they arrive at class (for example, down the middle of the table if you meet around a large table). The students will be curious about the honey sticks, so the discussion can begin almost immediately. Have them figure out what the word says, then begin talking about what it means. Allow the students who want to, to eat a honey stick as you talk about bees and their diligence to make the honey being consumed. (Each stick contains about one teaspoon of honey. It took 12 bees their entire lifetime – 6 weeks – to make that one honey stick. Bees visited more than 31,000 flowers to make each one of these honey sticks.) Talk about how hard the bees worked, and how diligent they are. Define diligence for the students, or have them concoct a definition together.

After talking about the definition of diligence with your students, help them learn about this important virtue by sharing stories with them that emphasize or model diligence. Stories teach in a way that is engaging, but also practical, for they demonstrate the application of the virtue in a way that mere definition cannot. There are many kinds of stories that would work for teaching about diligence. Saints’ stories are an excellent resource: their diligence in following God is what helped them to become a saint! There are also many stories in the scriptures that would help. (The story of Joseph is an excellent example!)

Folk tales offer another opportunity for us to teach children about diligence. Many cultures highly value diligence and thus have folktales to help communicate this virtue. “Give Up, Gecko!” by Margaret Read MacDonald (2013) is an excellent example. This Ugandan folktale tells the tale of many thirsty animals trying to make a hole deep enough to reach water during a drought. All the big animals try and quit when they do not succeed. Finally little gecko has a turn to try. Gecko is tempted to quit, too, especially when everyone laughs at him, but he is determined to provide water, and perseveres… and he succeeds! Read the story aloud to your students, or assign them roles and have them act it out as you read, with everyone chanting along with the animals as they stomp while attempting to create the water hole. Regardless of how you share the story, after it is over, discuss diligence. Ask questions like: “Who in the story demonstrated diligence? How did they do so? What can we learn about diligence from this story? What can we apply to our own life? Why is diligence important to our Orthodox Christian life?”

After teaching your students about diligence and citing an example (or more), invite your students to respond artistically to their learning. Extend the learning by selecting an art form that requires them to practice diligence. For example, a mosaic! Provide each student with a sturdy piece of cardstock (or cardboard) for the base of their piece and small tiles (pieces of paper, adhesive foam, or even tiny glass or ceramic tiles). On the cardstock, your students can sketch their design of something that reminds them of diligence, or even the word itself with a pencil. Then they can fill in the color using the tiles, carefully adhering the pieces inside the sketched space to create the final image. This project will require the students to work diligently to complete it, and thus makes an excellent example of what diligence is (as well as an opportunity to figure out how tedious it can be for us) with the opportunity to experience a beautiful reward (the finished project) at the end. You may want to display all of the projects in a place where the whole parish can see and enjoy them, when they are finally finished!

Whether we follow the above suggestions or come up with a lesson plan of our own, let us be sure to teach our students about diligence. It is a virtue that is much easier to teach about than it is to truly learn and apply! But it is much needed, in order that all of the other virtues can be better attained. So, it is important that we (diligently!) work to help our Sunday Church School students learn about this virtue.

Here are other resources that can help you to plan a lesson on diligence:

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Here is a preschool lesson (non-Orthodox, but still quite helpful) on diligence: https://preschooljoy.wordpress.com/2010/02/10/diligence-lesson-1/
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Here’s a simple lesson plan on diligence that can be used with young children. It features a discussion of the story of the ants and the grasshopper, and even offers a fingerprint craft idea! It’s not Orthodox, and is written for parents to use with their children, but could easily used in a Sunday Church School context: http://meaningfulmama.com/teaching-diligence-with-the-ant-and-the-grasshopper.html

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This secular character-education article about diligence offers some books that can be read at various ages, as well as suggestions from nature, biographies, etc. that can enhance a discussion of diligence:  http://classroom.synonym.com/childrens-lessons-diligence-vs-laziness-12134203.html

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Here is another (secular) list of books that can be used in a discussion of diligence: http://pacecommunity.org/diligence-a-list-for-young-readers-2/

And here is a list by a Christian blogger: http://meaningfulmama.com/books-diligence.html

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Practice diligence with your students by giving them some problem-solving opportunities. This (Christian, but not Orthodox) blog post offers suggestions that can spark further ideas: http://meaningfulmama.com/day-125-diligence-in-problem-solving.html

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This (Christian but not Orthodox) lesson on diligence features the story of Ruth from the Bible. http://howtohomeschoolmychild.com/we-choose-virtues-learning-to-be-diligent/
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This blog post is aimed at helping your own children learn about diligence. Although it is not Orthodox, it contains many great ideas for teaching children about diligence. We especially liked the challenge ideas offered here; as they give children a fun way to practice their diligence! https://www.steadfastfamily.com/hero-training-kids-character-challenge-diligence-week-5/

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Consider including this self-evaluating diligence survey in a lesson with teens: http://www.performwell.org/index.php/find-surveyassessments/outcomes/social-development/life-skills/diligence-scale-for-teenagers#popup. After completing the survey, discuss diligence and how the teens intend to improve their score over time. (It may be beneficial to have them take the survey again at a later date, for a check-up!)

On Pursuing Virtue: Temperance

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

One way that we can teach our Sunday Church School children about temperance is to help them think about gluttony, the sin that stands opposed to temperance. Some children may be unfamiliar with the term “gluttony.” We can explain it as “making a habit of doing something (ie: eating or drinking) too much. Then, we should trade some stories of gluttony as we’ve experienced it. Most of us have had an experience where we did something in excess and can remember how we felt afterwards. Consider sharing an example from your own life to get the conversation started.

For example, if I were teaching this lesson, I’d begin by placing large bowl of white icing sitting where all of the students in my class could see it. Then I’d tell this story: when I was a child I loved icing. One day in first grade, I was at my friend’s house, playing, while her mother frosted a cake with white icing. We both wanted some, so when she had the cake frosted, she gave us the bowl and beaters, covered in frosting. Mmm! It was delicious and we ate and ate and ate, much more than we should have. Not long afterwards, I began to feel sick in my stomach. Thankfully, that feeling subsided with time, but for years afterwards, even the thought of white icing made me feel nauseous. I can now eat it again, but I know better than to eat a lot of it! Any time that we eat or do too much of something, that is called “excess.” Describe a time when you did something in excess. Maybe you ate so much you felt sick, ran so hard you overexerted yourself, watched tv for so long your brain felt weird, or got so many presents that you didn’t know which one to play with first. (Take time to allow anyone to share who wishes to.) All of those are examples of excess. Too much of anything (except Faith, Hope, and Love) is not good for us or for the people around us.

So, what can we do that IS good for us? We can work on temperance in our life. What is temperance? (Help the students define it; look it up in the dictionary if needed.) Temperance is not overdoing things. Temperance is having self control, knowing when to stop; realizing what amount is enough. St. Basil once said, “Nothing subdues and controls the body as does the practice of temperance. It is this temperance that serves as a control to those youthful passions and desires.” So, temperance is what controls our body and helps us to do what is right! Because we are Christians, we want to do what is right as we serve God, and temperance can help us to grow closer to God. So, not only is temperance in all things better for us (our body, our soul, and our spirit); it also helps us get closer to God!

Take time for each person who shared a story to share again. This time, have them share one sentence about temperance that, had they followed it, they would not have struggled with excess in that area. For example, “Temperance is licking one beater of white icing and saving the extra in the bowl to share with someone else or to eat later.”After everyone has had a chance to share their sentence, invite students to respond to the prompt “temperance is…” on a piece of paper. They can write a poem, draw a word web, sketch a picture, tell their story with a new ending, etc.

Older children may enjoy breaking into smaller groups and creating little stories or skits of their own to illustrate temperance. They can write or orally tell the stories. Allow enough time for the creation, writing/rehearsal, and performance of each story.

At this point in the lesson, I’d point to the bowl of icing which I had set before the class, and ask, “So back to the icing. Is this icing bad? No! Is eating it bad? No! Is eating all of it by myself bad? Yes, that would be gluttony (and I’d probably get sick again and maybe never want to eat white icing again for decades)! But what if I share it?” and then I’d offer to share a little of it with any student who wants a little of it, either on a cupcake or on a saltine. Unless the class is very large, we would not eat all of it. But that’s okay: we are illustrating temperance, so we will taste the icing, but not eat it in excess. That’s the way temperance works.

Close with prayer, asking God for help with pursuing temperance in all areas of our lives.

Here are some other ideas of ways to help our students learn temperance and its close relative, self-control:

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Although this pdf was not written from an Orthodox perspective and is intended as a take-home letter, it can be a good resource for Sunday Church School teachers desiring to teach their students about temperance. Temperance is defined in an easy-to-understand way, and many practical applications/real-life scenarios are included in the discussion. http://saintjamesacademy.com/images/BlogStuff/03012017/temperance.pdf

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This lesson plan is not written from an Orthodox perspective, but has many good ideas that can be used to help teach children about the self-control aspect of temperance: http://ministry-to-children.com/self-control-lesson-plan/

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“We want their hearts to understand why self control is so important, and I think literature can really aid in this conversation. It is not a lecture from you. It is a story that brings truth to light. As we try and navigate raising our kids in a world that glorifies and abuses freedom and rebellion, we need to teach them what real freedom means. We do have the choice to sin or obey, but we need to teach about the freedom that comes as we submit to God’s ways. He sets his ideals for self-control so as it make our lives better.” Read this (not Orthodox, but quite helpful) blog post about children’s books that can help teach temperance/self control: http://meaningfulmama.com/books-self-control.html

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This lesson is intended for families to use together. While it is not written from an Orthodox perspective, most of it applies to Orthodox Christians and could be used in the Sunday Church School classroom (especially the scenarios and discussions in the lesson pdf) or sent home for use as a resource for families to extend a lesson on temperance/self-control. http://www.kidsofintegrity.com/lessons/self-control

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“The word temperance in the KJV conveys this idea of self-control and more. Unfortunately, it is usually now associated only with abstinence from alcohol or other intoxicants. The Greek word is best translated by the word “mastery” which indicates full control over self and the things which one may desire. There are numerous examples of men exhibiting heroic self-control in the Bible.” The article (non-Orthodox, but very useful in helping teens understand temperance) continues by examining the lives of Joseph, the 3 Hebrew youths, and Christ Himself. Teens would benefit by looking up and discussing all of the scripture passages presented in this article. Find it here: http://www.bibletalk.net/articles/self-control.html

On Pursuing Virtue: Chastity

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

How can we possibly teach our Sunday Church School students about chastity? The word itself has connotations that can be awkward to discuss in Sunday Church School! Yet it is an important virtue, that we all – our students included – must pursue! If we dig into the word a little deeper than its one definition of sexual purity, we find that it is so much more than that. We need to help our students learn about all of the definitions of chastity!

We may need to begin by identifying the actual meaning of the word chastity. Merriam Webster.com has a great “student” definition of the word: “the quality or state of being pure in thought and act.” This definition is quite Sunday-Church-School-friendly! Such purity is a lofty pursuit, but it is how we should live our lives as Orthodox Christians! We must find a way to teach our students to live in this way!

So, how can we teach our students to be pure in thought and act? St. John Chrysostom suggests teaching the Psalms to children as part of leading them toward chastity. “Teach him to sing those psalms which are so full of love of wisdom; as at once concerning chastity or rather, before all, of not companying with the wicked, …of companying the good, (and these subjects thou wilt find there in abundance,) of restraining the belly, of restraining the hand, of refraining from excess, of not overreaching; that money is nothing nor glory, and other things such like. …When in these thou hast led him on from childhood, by little and little thou wilt lead him forward even to the higher things.”

So, let us consider using an object lesson with our students based on St. John’s words of wisdom. For this lesson, we will need a clear quart jar, an electric candle, a variety of items that relate to St. John’s quote (see below), and either the Psalter or a Bible with certain Psalms marked for reading.

Begin your class with a discussion of what the students think chastity is. Write the word on the board or a large piece of paper, where everyone can see it. After a brief discussion, introduce the Merriam-Webster definition mentioned above and discuss what that means. Then tell your students you have a little demonstration that may help them see what it means to be chaste. We will base this demonstration on St. John Chrysostom’s quote mentioned above.

Set up the candle, and turn it on. Tell the students that this candle represents God’s light. Cover the candle with the clear quart jar. This jar represents each of us: we are, by God’s grace, created to be a dwelling place for the Light of Christ. Turn off the lights in the room if possible and note how the light shines through the clear jar. This is the kind of purity in which we should live! This is our goal, how we were created to be living.

Turn the lights back on, and then talk about what happens to all of us in life: how we embrace other things, making them more important to us than God is, and demonstrate the effect of those choices in this way, using St. John Chrysostom’s words as a guide. (Remember, his statement tells us how to teach children to live chastely, and we want to demonstrate the effects of the opposite, so we will demonstrate the effect of the OPPOSITE of his words):

“not companying with the wicked” – if we keep company with others who do not follow or love God, and make them so important in our life that we do not love God or serve Him as we should, it will block some of the Light in our life (demonstrate by putting some magazine pictures of movie or sports stars, mounted on dark paper for added light-blocking, into the jar around the light)

“restraining the belly” – if we eat too much or make food or other bodily pleasures gods in our life, our purity will be affected (demonstrate by adding some small plastic toy foods or magazine pictures of foods into the jar)

“restraining the hand” – if we do things that we are not supposed to be doing, we will not be chaste (add words like “hate,” “steal,” “hurt others,” etc., written on pieces of black paper with a gel pen)

“refraining from excess” – if we gather too much stuff that we don’t need or spend our time or money on unnecessary things, we lose some of our purity (add to the jar small toys including a car, a small animal, a small doll, anything that will represent things kids and adults may gather in unnecessary excess)

“not overreaching” – overreaching is defined by Merriam-Webster as “to get the better of, especially in dealing and bargaining and typically by unscrupulous or crafty methods”. Demonstrate this by adding words like “lie,” “cheat,” and “being unfair,” also written on dark paper. (You could also stuff in some cards or other game pieces or other things that represent ways kids would be tempted to overreach.)

“money is nothing nor glory” – things that our culture celebrates and reaches to attain, such as money and glory, cloud our purity as we pursue them. Demonstrate this by stuffing money, sunglasses and/or jewelry into the jar.
“other things” – What have we missed that we have not yet demonstrated, which also destroy our purity? Add small items that represent other things, if you can… the jar is probably pretty full by now!

Now look together at the jar. How nicely is the light shining through? Turn off the lights again and talk about how much the light inside the jar is able to show through all of this stuff. This demonstrates how the Light of Christ is stifled inside of us when we crowd our lives with this other stuff, when we do not live a chaste life.

Then, have students read a verse from the Psalms that talks about purity/chastity. As they read, remove some items from the jar. Along the way, talk about the fact that you are demonstrating how, if we repent and live in chastity as suggested in the Psalms, Christ’s light can shine through us into the world.

Here are a few Psalms that could be included in the ones your students read (mark the verses in the Psalter or Bible; or print and share them):

Psalm 24:3-4
Who may ascend into the hill of the LORD? And who may stand in His holy place? He who has clean hands and a pure heart, Who has not lifted up his soul to falsehood and has not sworn deceitfully.

Psalm 51:6
Behold, You desire truth in the innermost being, And in the hidden part You will make me know wisdom.

Psalm 51:7
Purify me with hyssop, and I shall be clean; Wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow.

Psalm 51:10

Create in me a clean heart, O God, And renew a steadfast spirit within me.

Psalm 73:1
Surely God is good to Israel, To those who are pure in heart!
Psalm 119:9
How can a young man keep his way pure? By keeping it according to Your word.

Return to the word “chastity” written on the board or the piece of paper. Ask again what it means. Together as a class, make an official class definition and write it with the word. Then brainstorm ways to live a chaste life and write them around the word. Before dismissing, pray and ask God to help each of you clear out the things that are keeping you from being a clear, pure “jar” through which the Light of Christ can shine.

Craft idea: provide each student with a baby food jar or pint jar and a battery-operated tea light to remind them of this lesson. Invite the students to use permanent marker or glass markers and write one of the Psalms or draw ways to live a chaste life (from your class list) on the glass of their jar. When they turn on the tea light and place it inside the jar, it will light up their room and also remind them of how to live as they should, so that Christ’s light can shine through them into the world around them!

Here are other ideas of ways to help your Sunday Church School students learn about chastity:

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Find a story about chastity from St. Barsinuphius of Optina, as well as other things such as the prayer of a single person, so that you can share them with your Sunday Church School students here: https://www.scribd.com/document/19435690/Orthodox-Christians-On-Virtue

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This object lesson on purity is not written from an Orthodox perspective, but could slightly adapted for use in a Sunday Church School classroom to demonstrate how we can live a pure life when connected to Christ (and His church) instead of filling our lives with impurity. (Note: as Orthodox Christians, we have the Scriptures as mentioned as a help, but we also have prayers, confession, communion, the prayers of the saints on our behalf, and so much more to help us become more pure as we connect to God!): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yl_892f2Ffc

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Teachers of teens may want to spend a great deal of time on the virtue of chastity.  One way to do so would be to post this statement in your Sunday Church School classroom as a discussion starter: “Chastity means being faithful to God first, in both soul and body.” Go on to read this SOYO document (or portions thereof) about chastity and purity: http://www.antiochian.org/sites/default/files/2011_pvc_packet.pdf

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Chastity is the virtue we struggle towards as we combat lusts of all sorts. We can learn so much from the lives of saints who have successfully fought against lust. Here are four whose lives we can study and emulate together with our students, while asking for the saints’ prayers: http://www.ocf.net/four-saints-who-struggled-with-lust/

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A powerful tool we can offer to our students for them to use in their pursuit of chastity is prayer. These prayers of the church, specifically for chastity, will help our students (and us!). Print copies of one or more of these prayers in a small size. Pray them together as a class. Encourage each student to select the one that best resonates with them, and provide supplies so that they can craft a bookmark or fridge/locker featuring the small prayer. Encourage them to place the bookmark or magnet in a place where they will see it frequently and remember to pray the prayer as part of their pursuit of the virtue of chastity. http://www.saintgregoryoutreach.org/2010/01/prayers-for-purity.html

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On Pursuing Virtue: Humility

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

The first virtue we should teach to our Sunday Church School students is humility. Why? Because it takes humility of heart for a Christian to pursue any of the other virtues! So, until we humble ourselves, we will not be able to properly obtain any other virtues. That is what makes humility a necessary starting point for Christians of any age who are pursuing virtue.

What is humility, and how can we teach about it to our students? Merriam-Webster.com defines it as “freedom from pride or arrogance: the quality or state of being humble.” We can demonstrate this definition in a hands-on way as we introduce the concept of humility to our Sunday Church School students. Before class, we will need to cut many pieces of string 2-3 feet long, and slip a small piece of paper (with a hole punched in its corner) onto  each piece of string. Pile the strings and some writing utensils where all of your students will be able to reach them when they arrive in your Sunday Church School classroom.

Begin the class by asking your students what they are proud of: ie. accomplishments they’ve achieved, things they can do well, etc. Then have them draw or write each thing on one of those pieces of paper. Select one student to be a model of an Orthodox Christian, and have them stand before the class. One by one, have the class members present the thing(s) they are proud of and gently tie the string attached to the paper around both ankles of the model, as though the model were proud of that item or thought. Once the model has all the things/thoughts around their ankles, have another student read the Merriam-Webster definition of humility. Have the class look at the model Orthodox Christian, and ask, “Is this person humble? Are they free? Can they easily walk?” (If it seems safe for them to try to take a step or two, encourage the model to do so. Stay nearby so that you can spot them and catch them if they begin to fall.) Then talk about what the string-tied ankles represent. “This model is each of us! We all have things we are proud about. Many times, those things tie us up and make it hard for us to walk with Christ. Can (model) walk in God’s ways right now? Or are they tied down by pride? If we want to be humble, we need to let go of these things so that we can be free, the way God created us to be. Then we can be a true Christian, one who is really walking with Christ in the way that He meant for us to live!” Have the class suggest ways that the model can become free. Some of the things they may be able to just step away from (if they’re loosely tied); other things they may have to bend down (or humble themselves) to free themselves from (if the string is tied tightly but in a bow); and still others they may not be able to undo and only the teacher (with a scissors, representing God) can release them from those prideful things/thoughts (if the string is tied tightly and in a knot). Compare the model’s release from the “pride ties” to real life release from pride: some things are easier for us to release, some require us to exercise a good bit of humility in order to let them go; and still others only God can release us from, and then only if we ask Him to do so (again, requiring humility). Throughout this lesson, we must be sure to emphasize to our students that it is not bad to have accomplishments. For example, it is not wrong to win a trophy for a fast race. But when we think about those accomplishments, brag about them to others, think we’re better than others because of them, or focus so much on trying to win them again that we don’t think about God – THAT is when those accomplishments become pride and trip us up from walking with Christ. We want to be free so we can walk with Him better. The way we can be free is to let go of those things, to be humble.

Have each student gather their tags from where the model discarded them, and spread them out where they can look at all of their own tags at once. Ask each student to think about the things that they are proud of, and decide if that thing is tying them down, keeping them from walking with God in humility as they should. Encourage them to begin to become more humble by selecting one of those things (more if you have time) and planning how they are going to humble themselves with regard to it. You may want to suggest ideas: ie. in the case of the trophy for the fast race, the student could take down the trophy from their bedroom shelf; purpose to not mention it when others are talking about racing; and/or deliberately allow someone else to win the next time if they’re struggling with feeling proud about their win. Perhaps you will want to invite the students to write or draw about their plan, or tell a friend what they intend to do; or simply offer quiet time in which each student can think and pray, telling God about their intention to become more humble in this regard: whatever will work best for your class.

Another idea (or an additional idea) is to ask your students to make a connection, to think of people or characters in their own experience who are models of humility. Invite them to share these examples with the class. Who do they know (a friend, a Saint, an example from the Scriptures) or who have they read about in books (historical figures or fictional characters) who lives/lived a humble life? How does/did that person demonstrate humility? What can we learn from them about living humbly? At the top of a large piece of chart paper, write “Humility” in large letters. On the rest of the page, list characteristics of those people: what does humility look like in each of them? Display the poster where you will all be reminded of what this important virtue looks like when it is properly lived.

Consider printing this bookmark as a tool for your Sunday Church School students to use: http://www.antiochian.org/prayer-st-ephraim-bookmark-meditation-tool. This prayer, which we pray throughout Great Lent, is a very daily way to help us gain humility.

At the end of class, pray and ask God to help each of you to become increasingly humble.

Here are some other ideas of ways to help your students to pursue humility:

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This visual comparison of two balls will help elementary-aged Sunday Church School students to think about humility in the context of the familiar story of the Publican and the Pharisee. http://orthodoxeducation.blogspot.com/2015/01/publican-pharisee.html
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Although this is written for parents, not teachers, and even though it is not written from an Orthodox perspective, there are many parts of this lesson plan that Orthodox Christian Sunday Church School teachers can easily utilize in a lesson plan about humility! The myriads of scriptures listed, the “fruits” chart (of rotten or good ways to show humility), the experiment, and many of the fun physical activities could help Orthodox students learn more about humility. Download the lesson here: http://www.kidsofintegrity.com/lessons/humility

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Show this episode of “Be the Bee” to your Sunday Church School students. As they watch, encourage them to think about how it relates to humility: http://bethebee.goarch.org/-/-77-first-among-sinners

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Introduce your students to a saint who is a model of humility. Tell the story of his/her life, list together examples of his/her humility, and discuss ways to emulate it. For example, share the life of St. Nicholas Planas, who humbly greeted an enemy with joy every day, eventually turning that enemy to a friend. (See https://lessonsfromamonastery.wordpress.com/2012/03/04/st-nicholas-planas-humble-of-spirit/, http://www.serfes.org/lives/stnicholas.htm, http://www.gometropolis.org/orthodox-faith/feast-days/our-venerable-father-nicolas-planas/, or  http://www.roca.org/OA/56/56e.htm for many more stories of his humility.)

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Invite older students to read, ponder, and discuss these perspectives on humility:

Amma Theodora said said that neither asceticism, nor vigils nor any kind of suffering are able to save, only true humility can do that. She offered as an example the story of an anchorite who was able to banish the demons; and he asked the demons, “What makes you go away? Is it fasting?” They replied, “We do not eat or drink.” “Is it vigils” They replied, “We do not sleep.” “Is it separation from the world?” “We live in the deserts.” “What power sends you away then?” They said, “Nothing can overcome us, but only humility.” Then Amma Theodora said, “Do you see how humility is victorious over the demons?”

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“As with the appearance of light, darkness retreats; so, at the fragrance of humility, all anger and bitterness vanishes.” St. John Climacus

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“The heights of humility are great and so are the depths of boasting; I advise you to attend to the first and not to fall into the second.” Abba Isidore of Pelusia

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“The natural property of the lemon tree is such that it lifts its branches upwards when it has no fruit, but the more the branches bend down the more fruit they bear. Those who have the mind to understand will grasp the meaning of this.” ~ St. John Climacus

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Abba John said, “Who sold Joseph/” A brother replied saying, “It was his brethren.” The old man said to him, “No, it was his humility which sold him, because he could have said, ‘I am their brother’ and have objected, but, because he kept silence, he sold himself by his humility. It is also his humility which set him up as chief in Egypt.” The Desert Fathers

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Instead of teaching older students about humility, consider allowing St. John of Kronstadt to do the teaching. This blog post is full of his teachings on humility. Print copies of the blog, or portions thereof, and have the students read whatever part they receive, and then share a summary of their portion, as well as their own reaction to what they’ve read. http://livingorthodoxfaith.blogspot.com/2009/11/on-humility-by-st-john-of-kronstadt.html