Category Archives: Love

Lenten Sundays Series: The Sunday of the Last Judgement/Meatfare

This is the first in a series that focuses on the Sundays of Great Lent (and Holy Week and Pascha). Each week we will share ideas of ways to help your Sunday Church School students learn more about that particular Sunday’s focus. We will share each blog early, so that you have time to read it before the forthcoming Sunday, in case you find any of those ideas helpful for your particular class. Although the Sunday of the Last Judgement is not part of Great Lent, it is significant because it is part of the process of preparing ourselves for Great Lent, so we are including it in the series.

Here’s a meditation on Judgement Sunday for you to ponder before you create a lesson for your students:

It is not yet Great Lent, but very soon it will be! We have already started the Tridodion. The Triodion is the service book with the special texts for the services for the part of the Church year that begins in the pre-Lenten period and goes all the way through Holy Week. The canons for Matins during all of these weeks have three odes: hence the name Tri-odion.

We have been mentally preparing for Great Lent with the Sunday of the Prodigal Son and the Sunday of the Publican and Pharisee. Now here we are, one week from Great Lent, and the Triodion directs us to read from the Gospel of St. Matthew. In Matthew 25:31-46, we read (New King James Version):

31 “When the Son of Man comes in His glory, and all the holy angels with Him, then He will sit on the throne of His glory. 32 All the nations will be gathered before Him, and He will separate them one from another, as a shepherd divides his sheep from the goats. 33 And He will set the sheep on His right hand, but the goats on the left. 34 Then the King will say to those on His right hand, ‘Come, you blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world: 35 for I was hungry and you gave Me food; I was thirsty and you gave Me drink; I was a stranger and you took Me in; 36 I was naked and you clothed Me; I was sick and you visited Me; I was in prison and you came to Me.’

37 “Then the righteous will answer Him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see You hungry and feed You, or thirsty and give You drink? 38 When did we see You a stranger and take You in, or naked and clothe You? 39 Or when did we see You sick, or in prison, and come to You?’ 40 And the King will answer and say to them, ‘Assuredly, I say to you, inasmuch as you did itto one of the least of these My brethren, you did it to Me.’

41 “Then He will also say to those on the left hand, ‘Depart from Me, you cursed, into the everlasting fire prepared for the devil and his angels:42 for I was hungry and you gave Me no food; I was thirsty and you gave Me no drink; 43 I was a stranger and you did not take Me in, naked and you did not clothe Me, sick and in prison and you did not visit Me.’

44 “Then they also will answer Him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see You hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not minister to You?’ 45 Then He will answer them, saying, ‘Assuredly, I say to you, inasmuch as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to Me.’ 46 And these will go away into everlasting punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.”

This Gospel reading is about the Last Judgement and what will happen then. But if we look at it closely, it gives us a good idea of what SHOULD be happening in our lives now so that we know that we have done our best, and we are ready when the Final Judgement day is here.

The passage talks about Jesus dividing the sheep from the goats. If you’re not familiar with the ways of these animals, here’s the general idea of how they function: sheep are more likely to do what they’re told and, together, they follow the shepherd. Goats are much more independent: they’d rather eat whatever they want and go wherever they want, on their own, without paying attention to the person in charge of their care. One glimpse at the sheep and goats in this way leads us to thinking “well, that’s easily taken care of! I want to be a sheep, so I’ll just follow God and do what I’m supposed to do. Simple!”

But is it really simple? The rest of the passage goes on to describe what each group did during their lifetime. They didn’t just show up at the Judgement and arbitrarily get assigned as a sheep or goat. Their entire lifetime of choices judges them, showing whether or not they were following Christ. At the judgement, no excuses in the world were able to change their designation. But at every moment of their life, they had the chance to do so.

So what choices did the “sheep” make that caused them to be judged as “sheep”? What did they do to show that they are followers? St. Matthew records our Lord saying that these people were the ones who gave food and drink to Christ. They took Him in. They clothed Him. They visited Him when He was sick and in prison.

And when the “sheep” are surprised (they don’t remember doing these things to Christ), He reminds them that whatever they did to the least of these, they’ve done to Him. Anytime they have reached out to someone who needed help, they reached out to Christ. Any good gifts they have given, they’ve given to Him.

The “goats” on the other hand, have done none of this. When they are surprised at their judgement, Christ reminds them of the opportunities they’ve had and what they chose. He reminds them that each person they’ve met is His icon, made in His image, and they’ve chosen to turn away or ignore Him by ignoring and not helping them.

So, how are we measuring up with this? If today ends up actually being the Judgement Day, what will our life’s choices show about how we care – or don’t care – for Christ? As we approach Judgement Sunday, let’s each take some time to evaluate how we’re doing. Who has God placed in our life who needs help? How are we doing with helping them? Are we seeing Christ in them, or do we see them as a nuisance? If we truly love Christ, we will also love those around us, and we will treat them as the icon of Christ that they are.

Oh Lord, have mercy on us, and show us how to better love others. Not so that we receive earthly rewards or “check it off of our list” or even so we are counted as one of your sheep: but rather so that these precious ones which you have placed in our life receive the love, care, and support that You deserve.

As you prepare to teach your students about Judgement Sunday, pray that they will be ready to love those around them, especially as we prepare to begin Great Lent. Here are a few resources that you may find helpful to use as you prepare to teach your students about Judgement Sunday:

***

Listen to this Sunday’s Gospel reading told in simple terms for younger children, and read from the Gospel for older children, at https://www.ancientfaith.com/podcasts/letusattend. Find 5 levels of printable pages with questions for related discussions at http://ww1.antiochian.org/christianeducation/letusattend.

***
Teachers of a variety of ages may want to take a look at this (non-Orthodox) lesson, or at least at the suggested group games and the many learning printables at the end of the lesson. Perhaps something here will help you plan a lesson on the parable of the sheep and the goats as you teach about Judgement Sunday. https://www.sermons4kids.com/sheep_or_goats.htm

***

Students of all ages may enjoy watching this simply-illustrated telling of the parable of the sheep and the goats as part of a lesson about Judgement Sunday: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iWSkdx-XwWY
***

For young students, or a class that loves to move:
After a lesson on Judgement Sunday and the parable of the sheep and the goats, help to make the lesson practical for young students. Bring a stuffed sheep to class and stuffed goat. Place them on different sides of the room. Offer suggestions of ways that kids can love (or not) and respond to (or ignore) others around them. (You may want to create these little story scenarios before class, unless you can think of them on your feet. Something like this: “Izzy sees that Jo has a nice stuffed dog, so he grabs the dog so that he can play with it.” or “Carmen is about to open her lollipop when she notices Frankie crying. She takes the lollipop to him and gives it to him.”) After you make each suggestion, encourage the kids to vote for whether that was a “sheep” way to react or a “goat” way. They vote by physically moving to one side or the other, to stand with the sheep or the goat. After everyone has voted, talk about their judgement. How do they think God would judge that person? Ask the students to consider which one they want to be at the Last Judgement. Give them an outline of a sheep, and let them draw or write some ideas of how they will work on being a better sheep, in the sheep’s “wool.” (Here’s a sheep printable that you could use.)

***

For older students, or a class that loves to create:
To prepare your students for Judgement Sunday, tell them the parable of the sheep and the goats. Discuss the parable and what it means. Then help your students each make their own cardstock sheep and a goat. As you share ideas of ways that kids can love and respond to (or not) others, students hold up the animal that they see reflected in that action (or lack thereof). Talk about their choices, and how they think God would view each situation.
Suggested printable for the sheep: http://kidzactivities.net/cotton-ball-sheep-craft/

And for the goats, check out this one.

Encourage your students to write their own list of sheep-like and goat-like behavior inside each animal, then to take the animals home and put them somewhere where they’ll see them all week, and be reminded to work on being a good sheep instead of a goat.

***

For tweens and/ or teens:

In preparation for Judgement Sunday, read Matthew 25:31-46. What does that scripture mean to each member of your class? Do they find it soothing or frightening? Why? Present the class with a pile of articles you’ve clipped from the newspaper or printed from online sources. (Be sure to include some “good news/sheep”-type stories and some “bad news/bad choices/goat”-type stories.) Have each student select one article, read it, and judge for themselves whether the story is about sheep or goats. They can share with one other student, and be ready to defend their answer; or you can invite each student to share with the whole class. Offer some quiet time for students to react to this parable in a creative way. How do they feel about the parable? Where would they like to find themselves at the last judgement? What can they do now, each day, to be found there? Perhaps they’d like to write about it, or draw, or create something related to it. Include a few minutes at the end of class for any student to share what they’ve created, then pray and ask God to help each of you to remember to love and see Christ in everyone around them, and to make sheep-like choices.

***

Bonus post: as we approach Great Lent, you may want to see if Pascha Passports would be something you’d like to use in your Sunday Church School class. Pascha Passports take their readers on the journey to Pascha, with descriptions of the “destinations” along the way. At each “destination” (Lenten services, confession, the Jesus Prayer, Lenten retreat, and other important parts of the Lenten journey), travelers are given a stamp (beautiful icon sticker) to place in their passport with the destination information. What a beautiful, pocket-sized way for children to mark the passage of the Lenten season, and embrace the journey! These passports would beautifully support lessons related to the Lenten season and could be easily incorporated into your Sunday Church School classroom. Find the passports, stamps, and other materials in quantities for parishes or church schools here:

https://lenten-embassy.myshopify.com/collections/frontpage

***

Added bonus post:

Church School Teachers with young students may be interested to know about these brand new resources for lessons about Lent and Holy Week.
“Color Your Way Into Pascha” offers pages for little ones to color, from the Triumph of Orthodoxy through Pentecost. https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/1796731684
“Color Your Way Through Holy Week” offers coloring pages for each day of Holy Week. https://www.amazon.com/dp/1796742805/

***

And, for your own growth during Great Lent, there is this possibility: Y2AM has created the “Live the Word Bible Study Guide,” a daily study based on the Sundays of the Triodion period. This free guide offers 100+ pages of explanations, quotes from the Fathers, and study questions to help you learn from the readings for the next 10 Sundays. Y2AM created this resource to help you to make the most of Great Lent. Find more information (and the link to download your free copy) here: https://blogs.goarch.org/blog/-/blogs/free-live-the-word-bible-study-guide-for-the-triodion

 

On the Sacraments: the Sacrament of Marriage

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

***

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

***

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

***

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

***

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

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

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

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

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

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

***

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

***

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

***

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

***

From the chapter “Sibling Magic”:

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

***

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

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

***

From the chapter “Express Yourself”:

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

***

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

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

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

***

From the chapter “God Can Help”:

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

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

***

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

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

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

***

From the chapter “Divorce is Death”:

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

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

***

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

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

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

***

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

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

***

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

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

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

***

From the chapter “A Well-Intended Lie”:

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

 

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

***

From the chapter “I Am Free”:

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

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

***

 

On Demonstrating Love to Our Students

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

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

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

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

***

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

***

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

***

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

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

***

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

***

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

***
In addition to setting an example of demonstrating our love to our students, we can also teach them to demonstrate their love to others in their life. This object lesson uses shaving cream to help the listeners think about how love grows us, is better when it’s not kept bottled up, and makes the world better when we demonstrate it: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tmh_0IyXxOk
***

Another way to teach our students to demonstrate their love to others is with this simple object lesson. This lesson uses a bicycle wheel to demonstrate that, if we want to be close to God, we must get closer to (and show love to) others: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5gp4yigvSdI

***

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

***

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

***

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

***

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

 

On Sharing Our Love (Beyond Valentine’s Day)

For a few weeks of every year, our culture is inundated with love. Everywhere we go we see hearts, roses, chocolates, Cupid and his arrows, and Valentine’s Day cards. The world is a swirl of pink and red. Then Valentine’s Day comes, and we can definitely feel the love! But what about February 15th? Or the 22nd? Or March 19? Do we still feel the love then? Even more importantly, are we still sharing our love then?

It is easy to focus on making sure that our Sunday Church School students feel loved on that one special day, Valentine’s Day. It is appropriate for us to celebrate our loved ones and declare our love for them! But why stop at just Valentine’s Day? These precious people should be at the top of our “I want you to know that I love you” list: not just on February 14, but all year long!

The purpose of this blog post is to encourage each of us to continue to let our students know that we love them, even on “ordinary” days. We searched and found many ideas of ways to do just that. We are sharing a few of the ideas in hopes that some will strike a chord and ignite in us a new determination to warm our students with our love. If we do so, even when all the roses have wilted, the chocolates have been eaten, and the Valentine’s Day cards have been read, these important people in our life will get the message: “I love you, and I always will.”

Here are a few of the ideas we found:

***

Find lots of ideas of ways to use sticky notes to send messages of love and encouragement to your students here: http://www.kirstenskaboodle.com/positive-messages-for-students/

***

Help your students create some scripture-based love notes to share with their friends and family! Here are some free printable ones for starters: http://paththroughthenarrowgate.com/gods-love-notes/

***

One way you can show your students that you love them is to create your own secret greeting with each of them. Need inspiration? Check out this school teacher’s individual student greetings: http://people.com/human-interest/north-carolina-teacher-personalized-handshakes-students/

***

Find some ideas of ways to love the more-difficult-to-love students here: http://childrensministry.com/articles/discipline-sos/

***

“Caring about your students doesn’t necessarily mean having a constant gushy feeling about them. Caring means commitment …feelings come and go. True love stays, in spite of annoyances. Love is a commitment you make to your kids.” Read more in this article:  http://www.christianitycove.com/sunday-school-teaching-what-caring-about-your-students-really-means/

***

Find 10 simple ways to show love to your Sunday Church School students here: http://childrensministryleader.com/10-ways-show-love-kids/

Learning from the Saints: St. Nina (January 14/27)

Late in the 3rd century, in Cappadocia (central modern-day Turkey), a young girl was born to a Roman army chief named Zabulon, and his wife Sosana (who was the sister of Patriarch Juvenal of Jerusalem). This girl was named Nina (or Nino, as she is called in the Republic of Georgia). Nina and her parents were well off, but decided to sell everything when Nina was 12 and go to Jerusalem to live in the Holy City. Soon after they arrived there, Zabulon was tonsured a monk and went to live in a monastery in the desert, Sosana became a deaconess and helped her brother the patriarch serve the poor of Jerusalem. Nina went to live with a godly woman named Nianfora, who continued to teach her to love and follow God through His Church.

When Nina was 14, she began to wonder about Our Lord’s robe and whatever happened to it. She asked Nianfora how something so precious could just be lost for hundreds of years? Nianfora answered that it was somewhere in Iberia (now Georgia) because it had traveled there after the soldier won the robe with the dice toss at the cross. Nina was very pious and thought that this holy item that had belonged to Our Lord should not be lost and forgotten, so she began to pray, asking the Mother of God to make a way for her to go. One night she had a dream in which the Theotokos blessed her with a cross made of grapevines tied together with hair. The Theotokos told Nina that the cross would be her protection as she traveled to Iberia. When Nina woke up, she was still holding the cross in her hand! She kept that grapevine cross with her for the rest of her life. Soon after this dream, Nina set out to find Christ’s robe with the blessing of her uncle, the patriarch.

Nina traveled first to Rome. While she was there, she met Princess Ripsimia and her teacher Gaiana, and let them to the Faith. The emperor at that time was Diocletian, who was persecuting Christians. Diocletian wanted to marry Princess Ripsimia because she was so beautiful, but she and Gaiana and Nina (and 50 other young ladies) ran away to spare their lives because they were Christians. They escaped safely to Armenia. Unfortunately, Diocletian was so angry he had sent soldiers to follow the young ladies (and to warn King Tiridat of Armenia about them). When the now-warned King Tiridat saw the beautiful Princess Ripsimia, he wanted to marry her! When she refused, he killed her, Gaiana, and the other 50 young ladies with them. Nina narrowly escaped this martyrdom by hiding in some rosebushes.

Alone, Nina continued her journey to Iberia. When she first arrived in Iberia, she befriended some shepherds who gave her food and helped her know where to go to find their capital city of Mtskheta. Along the way, Nina was very discouraged. She began to wonder why she was doing what she was doing. One night as she slept, she had a dream. In her dream, a heavenly visitor appeared to her and gave her a scroll. When she woke up, Nina still had the scroll in her hand. She could even read the scroll: it was written in Greek! It was full of scripture verses which encouraged her to continue on her journey so that she could help others learn more about Christ and His Church. This gave Nina the strength that she needed to continue her journey, and she made it to Mtskheta.

Soon after her arrival in Mtskheta, Nina was saddened to watch a ceremony where the people of Iberia were gathered to worship idols covered in metal. The people shook before the idols as their priests prepared sacrifices for the ceremony. Nina was so sad that she began to pray hard and loudly for the people, that God would enlighten them and show them that He is the true God. Suddenly, a storm came up and all the people had to take cover! Lightning destroyed the idols, crumbling them to nothing. The rain washed away the crumbled pieces. Nina had taken cover in the cleft of a rock, so she was safe, but she saw the whole thing happen. After the idols were washed away, the sun shone once again, and the people came looking for their idols. Of course they found no trace of them. This made the Iberian king wonder if there is another God greater than the gods that they worshiped.

Nina was welcomed into the palace garden by the gardener and his wife, who allowed her to live in a corner of the garden (some sources say in a hut; others say under a bramble). The couple was unable to have children, but Nina prayed for them, and God blessed them with many children after that! They became Christians, and so did many others in the land, as Nina prayed for them and told them about Christ. She became well known because of her godliness and her kindness. God worked other miracles through her prayers as well. For example, once a mother was carrying her dying son through the city, begging for help so that he would not die. St. Nina took the boy, laid him down on her leaf bed, and prayed for him. As she prayed, she touched him with her grapevine cross, and he was healed!

Nina preached even to the Jewish people of Iberia. Interestingly enough, it was through the Iberian Jewish High Priest (who converted to Christianity as well through the teaching of Nina) that she learned about the one thing that she had come to Iberia to find in the first place: the robe of Christ! He told her the story of his great-grandfather Elioz, who had gone to Jerusalem to witness Christ’s death (His death was considered by the Jewish people to be a victory for their nation, so invitations were sent out prior to its happening). Elioz’s mother had warned him not to ally himself with those who killed Christ, because she knew that He was the fulfillment of the Jewish prophecies! Elioz went to Jerusalem and was present at the crucifixion, and managed to get Christ’s robe from the soldier who had won it. He brought it back to Mtskheta, where he found out that his mother had died around the time that Christ did (after feeling in her heart the pounding of the nails as they were pounded into Our Lord and proclaiming that she sensed that He had been killed). Elioz’s sister Sidonia took the robe of Christ when she saw it in his hands, and began to venerate it with kisses. She hugged it to herself and immediately died! Elioz tried to pull the robe from her grasp but was completely unable to do so. He felt afraid about what could happen to the robe at that point, so he secretly buried her, still clinging to the robe, in an undisclosed location. Some say it was in the middle of the palace garden in Mtskheta, where a cedar tree suddenly grew, but no one knows for sure.

When Nina learned this, she was still uncertain of the actual location of the robe of Christ, but began to pray at that cedar tree in the middle of the royal garden in case the robe was truly under there. One night after her prayers, Nina saw many black birds perch in the cedar’s branches. They flew from there to the river, bathed, and came back as white as snow! The now-white birds sat in the cedars branches and sang beautifully. God revealed to Nina that this was to help her to realize that the people of Iberia would come to know Him, be baptized, and continue their lives cleansed of sins. It encouraged her to keep telling all the people around her about Christ, and to pray for them and for their salvation.

The queen of Iberia, Queen Nana, who did not like Christians and worshiped false gods like the Roman goddess Venus, became sick around this time. She went to doctors, but just got worse and worse. It looked like she would die. Although she did not like Christians, Queen Nana had heard that Nina could heal people through her prayers. She commanded that Nina be brought to her. Nina replied that if she wanted to be healed, the Queen would need to come to her humble dwelling instead. The queen was desperate and so she humbled herself and they carried her to Nina’s little living space, where her servants laid the queen on Nina’s bed of leaves. Nina prayed for her, and touched her head, feet, and shoulders with the grapevine cross. As soon as Nina finished making the sign of the cross over Queen Nana in this way, the queen was completely well. She was so grateful to be healed that she stopped worshipping idols and became a Christian instead. Queen Nana and Nina became close friends.

The king of Iberia, King Mirian, was not happy that his queen converted to Christianity. He was ready to have all of the Christians in Iberia killed, even though that meant that his own wife would die. While he was thinking of this plan, he went out hunting on a beautiful day. As he hunted, suddenly a dark cloud came up where he was. It was so dark that the king could not see! Winds began to blow, lightning was all around, and it was all very similar to the frightening storm that hit back when Nina first came to Iberia and the idols had been destroyed. All of the king’s hunting companions left him because they were afraid. Alone, King Mirian cried out to his gods to save him. The storm got worse, and of course the gods did nothing. Finally, King Mirian cried out to the God of Nina, asking Him to save him from this storm and promising to follow God if He did. At that moment, the storm stopped, and the sun shone! King Mirian returned to the city, found Nina and told her of his experience and his promise, which he kept. And that is how the  Light of Christ entered into King Mirian’s life and the lives of his people as well. His joy at his conversion led the king to build many churches to help his people to be better Christians.

After the king’s conversion, Nina continued to preach and teach about Christ to the Iberian people. Her hard work, and the cooperation of the people around her, established Christianity firmly in that part of the world. (Even today, 82 % of the people of the nation of Georgia are practicing Orthodox Christians!)

Nina reposed in the Lord in the early 4th century, in the village of Bodbe, in what is now eastern Georgia. King Mirian had a church built at the site of her repose. Her body is buried there.

O handmaid of the Word of God,

Who in preaching hast equaled the first-called Apostle Andrew,
And hast emulated the other Apostles;
O enlightener of Iberia and reed-pipe of the Holy Spirit,
Holy Nino, equal to the Apostles:
Pray to Christ God to save our souls!
(troparion to St. Nina, in tone 4)

Sources:

http://www.antiochian.org/node/17330

https://oca.org/saints/lives/2013/01/14/100191-st-nino-nina-equal-of-the-apostles-and-enlightener-of-georgia

http://www.pravoslavie.ru/english/67914.htm

http://www.stnina.org/st-nina/life-st-nina-karen-rae-keck

 

Here are additional sources that can help us learn more so that we can teach our Sunday Church School students about St. Nina:

***

This picture book is a great way to help younger students learn about the life of St. Nina: http://www.stnectariospress.com/the-life-of-saint-nina-equal-to-the-apostles/

***

Share this 8-minute video about the life of St. Nina with middle-years students: http://trisagionfilms.com/project/life-st-nina-enlightener-georgia/

***

Older students will benefit from reading the life of St. Nina and studying and/or praying the supplication to her that is found in this book: http://www.holytrinitypublications.com/en/Book/8/313/The_Life_of_St_Nina_Equal-to-the-Apostles_and_Enlightener_of_Georgia.html

***

Teens will enjoy reading this Iberian Jewish account of Christ, as it was told to St. Nina, and what happened with His robe:

“Conversing frequently with this Abiathar [the Iberian Jewish high priest], St. Nina heard from him the following tale about the Lord’s Robe:
‘I heard from my parents, and they heard from their fathers and grandfathers, that when Herod ruled in Jerusalem, the Jews living in Mtskheta and all Kartli received the news that Persian kings had come to Jerusalem seeking a newly-born male child of the lineage of David, born of a mother, but having no father, and they called him the King of the Jews. They found Him in the city of David called Bethlehem in a humble cave and brought Him gifts of gold, myrrh, and frankincense. Having worshipped Him, they returned to their own country.
‘Thirty years passed, and then my great-grandfather Elioz received from the high priest in Jerusalem, Annas, a letter which read as follows: “He Whom the Persian kings came to worship and offer their gifts, has reached a mature age and has begun to preach that He the Christ, the Messiah, the Son of God. Come to Jerusalem see His death, to which He will be delivered according to the law Moses.”
‘When Elioz, along with many others, was about to set out for Jerusalem, his mother, a pious old woman of the lineage of the high priest Elias, said to him: “Answer the king’s call, my son, but I beg you, do not ally yourself with the impious against Him, Who they intend to kill; He is the One foretold by the prophets, a Riddle for the wise, s Secret hidden from the beginning of the ages, a Light for the nations and Eternal Life.”
‘Elioz, together with the Karenian Longinus, arrived in Jerusalem and was present at Christ’s Crucifixion. His mother remained in Mtskheta. On the eve of Passover she suddenly felt in her heart something like the strokes of a hammer driving in nails, and she cried out: “Today the kingdom of Israel has perished, because it has condemned to death its Savior and Redeemer; from now on this people will be guilty of the blood of its Creator and Lord. It is my misfortune that I have not died before now, for then I would not have heard these terrifying blows! No more will I see on the earth the glory of Israel!”
‘And uttering these words, she died. Elioz, who was present at Christ’s Crucifixion, obtained the Robe from the Roman soldier to whose lot it had fallen, and brought it to Mtskheta. Elioz’s sister Sidonia, on greeting her brother with his safe return, told him of the wondrous and sudden death of their mother and of the words she had uttered just before she died. Then when Elioz, in confirmation of their mother’s foreboding regarding the crucifying of Christ, showed his sister the Lord’s Robe, Sidonia took it and began to weep and kiss it; then she pressed it to her breast and instantly fell down dead. And no human strength was able to wrest this holy garment from the arms of the dead girl. Elioz committed his sister’s body to the earth and buried her with Christ’s Robe, and he did this in secret so that even to this day no one knows Sidonia’s burial place. Some surmise that it is located in the center of the royal garden, where from that time there grew up of its own accord and still stands a shady cedar. Believers flock to it from all directions, considering it to possess great power; and there beneath the cedar’s roots, according to tradition, is Sidonia’s grave.’
“Having heard about this tradition, St. Nina began to go at night to pray beneath the cedar tree…” ~ from http://www.pravoslavie.ru/english/67914.htm

After reading this passage together, discuss it. Possible questions could include: How is this passage the same as what we Christians have heard about this part of Our Lord’s life? Does the Jewish perspective offer us any insights we may not have had before this? How does hearing a Jewish person’s belief about Christ impact our own?

***

Talk with your Sunday Church School students about St. Nina’s cross. How did she get the cross in the first place? How did God use it to bless others? Show them a picture of St. Nina’s cross, which is still reverenced by the Georgian people to this day. (You can find photos of it online, or show your students the video footage of the cross being reverently carried into a service at around :24 in this Georgian news story:https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=y3LVGZ8aO0g.) After the discussion, help your students to each create a grapevine cross to remind them of the one that St. Nina had. Before class, you will need to procure some grapevine (from your own plants, or a friend’s plants, or from a craft store or nursery) and some embroidery floss. When it is time to make the crosses, cut sticks of two different lengths for each cross and use strands of embroidery floss “hair” to tie them into a cross. Their cross can be small, made of just two grapevine twigs, or large, crafted from multiple strands of each size: it is up to you! Send the crosses home with your students so that they can put theirs in a place where it will remind them to be faithful to God and to trust Him as St. Nina did. (Here’s a blog post that can give you an idea of how to tie the cross together. The cross in the blog is made with twigs from a tree, but the method would apply to grapevine as well: http://www.gratefulprayerthankfulheart.com/2012/04/little-wooden-cross-from-sticks.html)

***

With older students, study the Gospel verses that were written on the scroll miraculously given to St. Nina in her dream when she was feeling most discouraged about her journey. Here they are:

“Verily I say unto you, Wheresoever this gospel shall be preached in the whole world, there shall also this, that this woman hath done, be told for a memorial of her. (Matt.26:13).
“There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female: for ye are all one in Christ Jesus. (Gal.3:28).
“Then said Jesus unto them (the women), Be not afraid: go tell my brethren… (Matt.28:10).
He that receives you receives me, and he that receives me receives him that sent me (Matt.10:40).
“For I will give you a mouth and wisdom, which all your adversaries shall not be able to gainsay nor resist (Luke 21:15).
“And when they bring you unto the synagogues, and unto magistrates, and powers, take no thought how or what thing you shall answer, or what you shall say: for the Holy Spirit shall teach you in the same hour what you ought to say (Luke 12:11-12).
“And fear not them which kill the body, but are not able to kill the soul… (Matt.10:28).
“Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit: Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the world (Matt.28:19-20).”

After reading the scriptures together, talk about how these words must have encouraged Nina. Then ask your students: do any of these verses stand out to encourage you? Have each student select one of these verses to copy onto a piece of magnetic sheet (magnetic business cards like these would work well: http://www.staples.com/Avery-reg-Inkjet-Magnetic-Business-Cards/product_461559). Send the magnetic verses with your students so that they can put the verse in their locker at school or on their fridge at home to continually encourage them as they did St. Nina!

Saints of Recent Decades: St. Porphyrios (Nov. 19/Dec.2)

On February 7, 1906, in a small village called St. John Karystia, on the second largest island of Greece (Evia), a baby boy was born. The boy’s father was a farmer named Leonidas, and his mother’s name was Eleni. This boy, the fourth of five children born to the Bairaktaris family, was named “Evangelos” when he was baptized. The whole family loved God and served Him to the best of their ability. Leonidas was the village cantor, so the family often attended church, and they lived out their faith at home, too.

Evangelos went to school in his village, but the teacher was sick a lot and the students didn’t learn very much. So, after only two years of school, he left and worked instead on the farm. He loved to take care of the animals on the farm. During this time, his father taught him many things about the Orthodox Faith, including the Paraklesis service to the Mother of God. Evangelos was a very serious boy who worked hard at all that he did. One of the things he worked hard at was reading the story of St. John the Hut-dweller. It was hard for Evangelos to read because he only had two years of school, but he loved the saint and kept reading until he had read the whole story. When he finished, he knew that he wanted to love God like that, too, so he wanted to imitate St. John’s life.

Evangelos looked much older than he really was. When he was only 8 years old, he started shaving. That was the year that he got his first job away from home. He worked in a coal mine to make more money for his family. Later he got a job in a grocery store. Throughout the years that he worked to make money for his family, Evangelos remembered St. John the Hut-Dweller and wanted to go live on Mt. Athos just like St. John. Finally, when he was a very young teen, Evangelos was able to go to Mt. Athos. On the ferry boat between Thessaloniki and Mt. Athos, Evangelos met Fr. Panteleimon, who immediately began to look after Evangelos, helped him settle in on the Mountain, and eventually became his spiritual father.

Evangelos did not stop being serious or working hard when he finally made it to the Holy Mountain. In fact, he worked even harder! Sometimes he wished that his elders would ask him to do more. He began to work on his asceticism. He walked around barefoot (the Mountain is covered in rocks and sometimes in snow!), and didn’t sleep much (but when he did, he slept on the floor with the window open and only used one blanket), and he did many prostrations. His daytime work varied from cutting down big trees to carving wood to preparing the ground around his hut for a garden. While he worked, Evangelos prayed and repeated the services/hymns/Gospel to himself until he had them in his heart. He no longer had bad thoughts because he was always focusing his mind on the things of God. Probably the most special thing about this time in Evangelos’ life is that he chose to love his elder, and submit to and obey him because of that love. The way that he humbled himself in submission to his elder made this part of his life so special. During this time, he was tonsured a monk and named Nikitas.

Nikitas’ great love for his elder, for the Church, and for God opened the door for him to experience God’s blessings in new ways. Here is how it began: one morning Nikitas went early to the main church. The door was still locked. An 90-year-old monk (also a saint) named Dimas came to the church. He looked to make sure no one was there to watch, missing Nikitas’ presence, and began to make full prostrations and praying in front of the church doors. The grace of God poured out of Dimas and touched Nikitas in such a special way that even after liturgy, after receiving Holy Communion, he was still basking in it. When he returned to his hut, he stopped, raised his hands, and shouted, “Glory to You, O God! Glory to You, O God! Glory to you, O God!”

That touch of God’s grace in Nikitas’ life changed him. God began to give him special abilities that he did not have before. The first thing that happened was that Nikitas could see his elders, who had traveled far away, coming back while they were still far away. No one else could see them, but he could. His sense of sight was very good. His other senses became very strong, too. Nikitas’ hearing was so good that he could recognize different animal voices and could understand what they were saying. His sense of smell was so strong that he could recognize different smells that were far away. He could see anything from the deep part of the earth to faraway space. He could see past time, as well, seeing things that happened hundreds of years before. He could communicate with rocks and learn about the ascetics who had visited them before, as they worked on their asceticism. He could heal people just by looking at them or touching them. Nikitas used these gifts only to bless and help others, not himself. He didn’t even ask for God to heal his own sicknesses! All of these special gifts were from God and Nikitas was quick to say that it was God’s grace that made them happen: not anything that he had done!

Monk Nikitas kept on working on his asceticism. He wanted to live out in the hut, but his body was so worn down from his hard work that he was sick. His elders sent him back to live in a monastery until he was well again. Then he went back to his hut. Again he got sick. His elders had to send him back to a monastery. This time, they sent him to the Monastery Lefkon of St. Charalambos. He lived as ascetically as his health would allow in that monastery. Monk Nikitas was 19 years old when he moved to that monastery.

When he was only 21, Archbishop Porphyrios III noticed God’s hand on Monk Nikitas’ life. He ordained the monk to the diaconate, and the next day, to the priesthood. He gave him the name Porphyrios.

One of Fr. Porphyrios’ jobs was to hear confessions. He learned from St. Basil that he needed to handle each confession individually and not be upset if they take a long time. Fr. Porphyrios would spend hours every day, sometimes without a break, hearing people’s confessions. The special gifts he had from God helped him to better help the people who came to him for confession.

When the monastery became a convent, Fr. Porphyrios was reassigned. He was sent instead to a church in the village of Tsakayi. Not long after, he was sent on, to the chapel of St. Gerasimos in Athens, at the Athens Polyclinic. World War II had begun, and Fr. Porphyrios wanted to be near the people that he loved who were suffering, so he asked for this work. He worked at the Polyclinic for 30 years, then (because he loved his spiritual children) he stayed on as a volunteer for three more years. All of those years, he received very little money for that work. So he had to work another job as well, to pay the bills. To help pay the bills, Fr. Porphyrios worked on organizing a poultry farm and then a weaving shop. In later years, he rented the monastery of St. Nicholas in Kallisia and worked the land, planted trees, and built an irrigation system. He worked and worked, and did not let himself rest. When he finished his 35th year as a priest, he left the Polyclinic (but kept visiting after that, as mentioned before, because of all the spiritual children that he had there, whom he loved). Finally, in 1973, he left the Polyclinic and went to live at the monastery of St. Nicholas, where he continued to receive guests, hear their confessions, and pray for them.

By this time, Fr. Porphyrios had many physical struggles. He had kidney trouble, and had worked his body so hard that he needed an operation. He asked that they wait to do the operation because it was Holy Week and he wanted to celebrate the services. They did, but he ended up in a coma and doctors thought he would die. He also had a fractured leg and a hernia which both gave him trouble. And then on August 29, 1978, he had a heart attack and had to stay in the hospital for 20 days. Later he had an operation on his left eye. Sadly, the doctor made a mistake and Fr. Porphyrios completely lost his vision in that eye. (That doctor also gave him a shot that Elder Porphyrios’ body couldn’t handle, and it caused a stomach hemorrhage that he struggled with for the rest of his life, leaving him unable to eat regular food!) All of this made him very weak and tired. But God kept him alive!

But Elder Porphyrios loved God and His people. He kept receiving the people who come to him for advice and help. Although he had to reduce the number of hours that he could help people, he could still pray for them with love! And he did.

Elder Porphyrios had wanted for a long time to build a convent for some of his spiritual daughters. He got the blessing of the church and looked long and hard for a place to build it. Finally he found some land and the “Holy Convent of the Transfiguration of the Savior” was started. His great love for people made him want to guide them in the joy of being transfigured (changed) to be like Christ. That’s how the name came to be.

He moved onto the property in 1980, and construction (which he supervised closely) began. Elder Porphyrios and his friends had been saving up for this monastery for a long time. Because of that, they had the money to build on the property. His prayers supported the work, and the building went smoothly, by the grace of God.

But in his heart, Elder Porphyrios really wanted to go back to Mt. Athos. In 1984 he was given the hut on the Mountain where he had lived when he first took his monastic vows. He sent disciples to live there over the years, but he wanted to go himself, to die in the place where he took his vows 60 years earlier.

Finally, in 1991, on the night before the Feast of the Holy Trinity, Elder Porphyrios left for his hut on Mt. Athos. On his way, he had visited Athens to give his confession and receive absolution. When he arrived on Mt. Athos, Elder Porphyrios settled into his hut and waited to depart this life.

He asked that a deep grave be dug for him. Then he told someone what to write, and wrote a letter for his spiritual children. In the letter he gave some advice and asked them to forgive him for the things that he did wrong in his life. He was ready to depart this life, but his spiritual children kept contacting him for advice and help. Two times he had to go back to the Convent in Athens. He didn’t want to, but his spiritual children needed him, so he went. He always left only a few days after arriving at the Convent, so that he could get back to Mt. Athos as quickly as possible.

God was merciful and allowed Elder Porphyrios to be on the Mountain when he departed this life. The evening that he passed away, he went to confession and then spent some time praying. His disciples read some Psalms and prayed the Jesus Prayer to help him finish his prayer rule one last time. He continued to whisper prayers, until finally he said only one word, “Come!” and departed this life. It was 4:31 am, Dec. 2, 1991.

The fathers at the monastery kept vigil all day and night, and buried him at dawn on Dec. 3. They had not announced his passing to the rest of the world, just as Elder Paisios instructed. After he was buried, everyone else found out that he had departed this life.

Elder Porphyrios continues his work of love for others and prays for all of us. He has appeared to those who needed his help, and prayed successfully for God to heal many people. Because of his life and these after-departing-this-life miracles, the elder was elevated to sainthood on Nov. 27, 2013.

 

Through the prayers of St. Porphyrios, O Lord Jesus Christ our God, have mercy on us and save us! Amen!

Sources:

http://www.abbamoses.com/porphyriosbio.html

http://www.orthodoxphotos.com/Orthodox_Elders/Greek/Fr._Porphyrios/

http://pemptousia.com/2014/01/saint-porphyrios-of-kafsokalyvia-part-i/

Here are additional helpful links and ideas that can help you teach your Sunday Church School students about St. Porphyrios:

***

Share this little book about St. Porphyrios’ life with your Sunday Church School students: http://orthodoxchildrensbooks.com/…/58…/flypage-ask.tpl.html

***

To learn more about St. Porphyrios, listen to this recorded telling of his life: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OrjzhH1pHjU
***

You and your students can hear the voice of St. Porphyrios, as he speaks about Christ and our life in Christ in this (subtitled with English) video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JhkoQ2T0azA

***

Talk with your young Sunday Church School students about saints. What makes some people special so that we call them saints? How do we become holy? Share with them the story of one of the Saints: the life of St. Porphyrios. As you tell his story, be sure to point out how often his life exemplified love. Talk together about love and how/why it is so important. Then share this quote of St. Porphyrios’ with your students: http://www.antiochian.org/sites/default/files/st_porphyrios_you_dont_become_holy.pdf. Discuss the meaning of the quote together, and tie together your previous discussion about sainthood/holiness and love. Give each student a copy of the quote and allow them to decorate it in a way that will remind them to love, and thereby become holy.

***

Continue to encourage your Sunday Church School students to work towards being a saint. “Be the Bee” episode #11 uses the life of St. Porphyrios to encourage its viewers to work on sainthood from an early age. Watch it here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AgocWG9AG7s

***

Mending a coat with newspaper? Flying cars? Speaking to people of other languages without an interpreter? A miraculous intervention in spacetime? Share these miracles of St. Porphyrios (that sound like they could be movie clips!) with your Sunday Church School class: http://www.johnsanidopoulos.com/2015/10/saint-porphyrios-and-flying-car.html; http://www.johnsanidopoulos.com/2015/12/saint-porphyrios-and-gift-of.html; and http://www.bio-orthodoxy.com/2015/04/saint-porphyrios-of-kavsokalyva-patron.html (by the way, today it would take about 50 minutes to travel from Migara to Milesi, but the nuns made the trip in a taxi slowed by traffic in only 15 minutes, with St. Porphyrios’ blessing.)
And then there was this time when St. Porphyrios appeared to high school students and healed one of the students’ mother through his prayers: (told from the father/husband’s perspective) http://full-of-grace-and-truth.blogspot.com/2013/11/a-wondrous-appearing-and-healing-of-st.html
***

Before class with your middle-years Sunday Church School students, gather some items to have in the room when they arrive to pique their interest in the life of St. Porphyrios. Perhaps a pair of binoculars to represent his incredible long-distance vision, a wood carving to represent the carvings he made, a rock to represent the rocks he could communicate with about the ascetics who had visited them before, etc. Keep these items visible in the room and share the life of St. Porphyrios. Challenge your students to identify each item and how it relates to St. Porphyrios’ life. Then talk about some of the special gifts that God gave to him so that he could use the gifts to help others get closer to God. Make a list on the board of the different kinds of gifts he had. Share this video that demonstrates one of them (knowing what happened in someone’s life so that they are encouraged to make things right with God): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=V2Tie7qFdBs. After watching this together, discuss it. What happened in this story? How did St. Porphyrios know about the taxi driver’s sin? WHY did he know about it? Who else knew what had happened? Talk together about how God knows EVERYTHING that happens, and encourage your students to live accordingly (and to go to confession if they need forgiveness!).

***

Talk about what you and your Sunday Church School students (middle grades or higher) think is the most important thing to you. If you knew that you would soon depart this life, what would you write down to leave with your loved ones? God told St. Porphyrios when he was getting ready to depart this life. Because of this, St. Porphyrios wrote a letter to his spiritual children before he died, so that he could say final words to them. Read the translation of the letter here: http://www.pravoslavie.ru/english/88352.htm. Read the letter to your students and talk about what St. Porphyrios had to say in the letter. What was most important to him when he knew that he would soon depart this life? How does that compare to what you talked about as important words you would leave for your loved ones?

***

Print or copy these quotes from St. Porphyrios onto notecards. Put the notecards in a basket and allow older Sunday Church School students to select one, read it, and share it with the class. Discuss each quote – how does it apply to our life? http://www.orthodoxchurchquotes.com/category/sayings-from-saints-elders-and-fathers/st-porphyrios/

***

With older children, watch this video of 12 sayings of St. Porphyrios. Pause after each and talk about what it says and what it means. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ycxr6D74q-Y Before class, copy each of the sayings onto its own piece of paper, large enough that the whole class can see it. As the saying appears in the video and you discuss it, put the paper containing it out on the table or up on the wall for your students to see. By the end of the video, you will have 12 sayings displayed. Encourage each student to select their favorite, then take time to have each student share their favorite quote and why they like it so much. (If there’s not time, just have each student share with someone near them.)

***

Teens or adults will benefit from a book study on this book full of the wisdom of St. Porphyrios: https://www.amazon.com/Wounded-Love-Wisdom-Saint-Porphyrios/dp/9607120191/ref=asap_bc?ie=UTF8

 

***