Category Archives: Monasticism

A Glimpse at “Lives of the Saints for Children: March: Friends of Christ” written by Demetrios and Anna Fotopoulos and illustrated by Paraskevi Hatzithanasi

Have you ever met someone who loved Christ so much that they gave all of their money (and even a really special gift from their own mother) to a rude poor person that kept on interrupting their work to ask for help? Do you know anyone whose friendship with Christ means even more to them than the happiness of being married and with their family? Newrome Press’ Lives of the Saints for Children: March: Friends of Christ will introduce you to two new saintly friends who did just that!

The March edition of Newrome Press’ twelve-book Friends of Christ series offers a beautifully illustrated hardcover volume that tells about the life of five saints commemorated in March. Lives of the Saints for Children: March: Friends of Christ was written by Demetrios and Anna Fotopoulos and illustrated by Paraskevi Hatzithanasi. It was carefully translated by Nicholas Palis, and printed in 2019.

The March volume of the Friends of Christ series tells its readers stories from the life of Venerable Lavrentios (commemorated March 7), St. Gregory the Dialogist (March 12), Venerable Alexios the Man of God (March 17), Venerable Serapion the Sidonite (March 21), and St. Ipatios Bishop of Gangra (March 31). In each saint’s story, readers will learn about what it is like to live as a holy, saintly person. They will be challenged to love others around them as Christ does. They will be “meeting” new friends that they will want to emulate in their own life.

Besides the stories of five holy friends of Christ, the book also includes additional helpful resources. Like the other editions in the series, this book starts with the morning prayer to one’s patron saint, and ends with the evening one. The “Friends of Christ Glossary” carefully explains the more challenging words in the book in a way that everyone can understand. The book also contains a large decal of one of Paraskevi Hazithanasi’s lovely illustrations.

This sturdy book will be useful for many March readings. Parents and Church school teachers alike will find the book helpful both for their own spiritual growth and as they educate and encourage the children in their care. Each story would make a great weekly family night reading or could be developed into a Sunday school lesson. Alternatively, each could be broken up and read a bit at a time over a period of days. The decal makes a great bookmark during the reading, but could also be added to a timeline on a wall or to a bulletin board. 

If you do not yet have a friend who relied on the prayers of his friends to convince a fierce dragon to follow him all the way to its death, you will want to read this book and meet such a friend! You will find Lives of the Saints for Children: March: Friends of Christ here: https://newromepress.com/friends-of-christ-march/

We thank Newrome Press for sharing this book with us, so that we can share it with you

Reviewed by Kristina Wenger, educator, podcaster, co-author of Tending the Garden of Our Hearts.

A Glimpse at “Lives of the Saints for Children: February: Friends of Christ” written by Demetrios and Anna Fotopoulos and illustrated by Paraskevi Hatzithanasi

Newrome Press is publishing a twelve-book series called Friends of Christ. Each volume contains the stories of five saints who are commemorated during a particular month of the year. Here is a closer look at Lives of the Saints for Children: February: Friends of Christ, written by Demetrios and Anna Fotopoulos and illustrated by Paraskevi Hatzithanasi, translated by Nicholas Palis, and printed in 2019.

The February edition of the Friends of Christ series tells its readers stories from the life of St. Nikiphoros the martyr (Feb. 9), St. Haralambos the hieromartyr (Feb. 10), St. Theodora the empress (Feb. 11), Venerable Philothei the Athenian (Feb. 19), and Great Martyr Photini the Samaritan woman (Feb. 26). Readers will learn more about the faithful life of each of these saints, and feel encouraged to grow in their own faith. The saints’ stories are carefully worded so that children of all ages can understand. Each has been translated very smoothly into English by translator Nicholas Palis.

The bulk of the book features the stories of these five saints (and the others whose lives they influenced). The book effectively meets this purpose, but it also offers some extra “bonus” materials that are helpful. In addition to the saints’ stories, it also offers a handful of other important resources. The book begins and ends with helpful prayers (the morning prayer to one’s patron saint, and the evening one); and it also contains “the Friends of Christ Glossary”, where some of the more challenging words in the text are explained. In addition, it comes with a large decal featuring one of the illustrations, that could be added to a timeline if the family or Church school room has one on their wall. The decal also makes a wonderful bookmark to mark the reader’s place in each story.

Paraskevi Hatzithanasi’s sketches add much to the stories in the book. They seem to draw from iconographic representations, enhancing the text while also familiarizing readers with the saint(s) in such a way that they will easily recognize the saint’s icon, when they find it at church or elsewhere. Illustrative details from each major illustration are scattered throughout that saint’s story, and offer a fun little challenge: that of finding where each detail is located in its original illustration.

This well-made hardcover book will last through many February readings, whether in a home or in a Church school. Each saint’s story could be read all at once (perhaps for a family night, or in a Sunday Church school class); or bit by bit, across a series of days, until it is completed. 

Order your own copy of Lives of the Saints for Children: February: Friends of Christ from Newrome Press, here: https://newromepress.com/friends-of-christ-february/

We thank Newrome Press for sharing this book with us, so that we can share it with you

Reviewed by Kristina Wenger, educator, podcaster, co-author of Tending the Garden of Our Hearts.

A Glimpse at “God’s Saintly Friends, Vol. 2” by Kathryn Reetzke

Park End Books has once again published a beautiful board book that introduces young Orthodox Christians to new “friends”: the saints of the Church. These new friends are no ordinary friends: because they are saints, they point us to Christ, and demonstrate the beautiful virtues that produce fruit in the life of each person who is truly following God. God’s Saintly Friends V. 2 is the second in this series of board books written by Kathryn Reetzke and illustrated by Abigail Holt. 

In this book, readers will meet eight sets of saintly friends, one for each spread of the book. This edition includes saints who were related to each other: Sts. Ruth and Naomi; St. Emelia and her children; Sts. Cosmos and Damien; Sts. Mary, Martha, and Lazarus; the Theotokos and St. Elizabeth; Sts. Cyril and Methodius; Sts. Benedict and Scholastica; and St. John the Forerunner. Kathryn Reetzke has succinctly written a one-sentence statement about each set of saints. This statement mentions the virtuous way in which a saintly friend points those around them to Christ. Each spread of the book also offers a few sentences introducing these saints who modeled that statement with their life. The spread also includes a drawing of the saints as they display the virtue and interact with these other members of their family.

Abigail Holt’s simple but beautiful illustrations pair beautifully with Reetzke’s words. The saintly friends are sketched in a straightforward style and colorized with a select palette. The illustrations are simple, but will be engaging for children of all ages. 

Readers will learn much from the words of the book, and desire to interact with their family members in a similar manner. Children will be especially drawn to the friendly faces and kindness of the saints on every page. The book may be one of those books that is just read over and over again. It could also be used for educational purposes: whether for a family study, or for a Church school class. With a little research and a few other resources, each spread could easily be crafted into a lesson about the saintly friends on that page (and the way in which they interacted with their family members), while also taking a closer look at the virtue that they modeled. Regardless of how the book is used, all who read it will be challenged to become a saintly friend and to seek saintly friends.

This book will be an asset to any family or Church school library. It would also make a beautiful gift, whether for a new baby, a baptism, a young child’s name day, or their birthday. (This reader liked it so much that she gave a copy to the newest little member of her parish on the day of her baptism!)

Find you own copy of this book here: https://parkendbooks.com/shop/gods-saintly-friends-volume-2/

The Antiochian Department of Christian Education thanks Park End Books for providing a copy of this book for review.

A Glimpse at “Sands of Salvation” by Gabriel Wilson

Ancient Faith Publishing has just released a brand new graphic novel, the third in the “Among the Saints” series. Sands of Salvation tells the story of St. Moses the Black, brought to life in multiple dimensions by Gabriel Wilson’s impeccable pairing of art and words. St. Moses’ story is told by an old monk who knew him, and was witness to “how he learned to give up his own control to the power of God.”

Once a slave, St. Moses was banished into the desert after an unfortunate event occurred. St. Moses’ great physical strength enabled him to quickly take charge of a group of thieves, and he had seemingly everything that a man could ever want… but he was not free of the memories of his past life, and he always had to prove himself to maintain his position of power. In his most challenging moments, the Theotokos and angels appeared to him, arousing his curiosity. One time, he followed, and found himself in a monastery, where he noted true strength in the peaceful demeanor of the monks. He himself became a monk, and eventually converted several others of his former band of thieves when they came to steal from him. (When they arrived, he tied all four of them up and took them to his elders, showing that although his physical strength had not waned, his spiritual strength had surpassed it.) Temptations continued, but St. Moses persevered in repentance, strengthening the might of his soul by the grace of God. The book closes with what happens when St. Moses’ spiritual strength affords him the opportunity to extend the chance for repentance to the new leader of the band of thieves when he comes to pillage the monastery…

Readers of the first two “Among the Saints” graphic novels (The Cross and the Stag and The Broken Wheel) will once more be amazed at Gabriel Wilson’s beautiful art and careful use of words to assist in the storytelling. Both draw the reader into the life of St. Moses in a way that makes them feel that they are right there, experiencing life by his side. 

The book includes a historical note about St. Moses at the end, as well as the kontakion to him. This graphic novel will help its readers learn to truly “Throw your weakness before God, and the Lord will become your strength.” (~ St. Moses) It will be an excellent addition to any home or church school library, strengthening the faith of its readers and deepening their trust in God, our source of strength, with every reading.

Find your own copy of this powerful graphic novel at https://store.ancientfaith.com/sands-of-salvation-the-strength-of-abba-moses/  

Reviewed by Kristina Wenger, educator, podcaster, co-author of Tending the Garden of Our Hearts.

A Glimpse at “Lives of the Saints for Children: January: Friends of Christ” written by Demetrios and Anna Fotopoulos and illustrated by Paraskevi Hatzithanasi

Newrome Press is publishing a twelve-book series called Friends of Christ. Each book is filled with the stories of five saints who are commemorated during a particular month of the year. Here is a closer look at Lives of the Saints for Children: January: Friends of Christ, written by Demetrios and Anna Fotopoulos and illustrated by Paraskevi Hatzithanasi, translated by Nicholas Palis, and printed in 2019.

Authors Demetrios and Anna Fotopoulos have retold the stories of five saints/groups of saints in this January edition of the Friends of Christ series. Readers will learn much about the lives of St. Basil the Great (commemorated January 1); St. George the Neomartyr of Ioannina (Jan. 17); St. Mark of Ephesus (Jan. 19); the Venerable Ascetic Xenia and her two servants (Jan. 24); and the Venerable Ascetics Xenofon, his wife Maria, and their two children, Arkadios and John (Jan. 26). Children of various ages will be able to understand and enjoy the stories of these great saints, and readers of all ages will find new friends that they will wish to emulate. Each saint’s story is clearly written with young listeners in mind: even the hardships that the saints face are worded in a child-friendly manner. Translator Nicholas Palis effectively communicates the stories to English-speaking children.

The bulk of the book features the stories of these saints. But that is not all that this book has to offer: it also contains a handful of other important resources. The book begins and ends with helpful prayers (the morning prayer to one’s patron saint, and the evening one). The back of the book offers “the Friends of Christ Glossary”, which enables children to understand some of the difficult terminology of the book.

As with other books in this series, the illustrations are beautiful. Paraskevi Hatzithanasi’s sketches draw from iconographic representations, and colorfully illustrate the portion of the saint’s story that is being told. Her art enhances the text while also familiarizing readers with the saint(s) in such a way that they will easily recognize the saint’s icon, when they find it at church or elsewhere.

This well-made hardcover book will last through many January readings. Families and Church schools will likely return to this book, January after January. Each saint/group of saints’ story could be read all at once, say once a week (for a family night, or in a Sunday Church school class, for example), or bit by bit, across a series of days, until it is completed. The book comes with a large decal featuring one of the illustrations. This decal would be a fantastic addition to a timeline if the family or Church school room has one on their wall; but it also makes a wonderful bookmark to mark the reader’s place in each story.

You can order your own copy of Lives of the Saints for Children: January: Friends of Christ from Newrome Press, here: https://www.newromepress.com/youth/SQ0261001.html 

We thank Newrome Press for sharing this book with us, so that we can share it with you

Reviewed by Kristina Wenger, educator, podcaster, co-author of Tending the Garden of Our Hearts.

Three New Children’s Books from Newrome Press

Three new children’s books from Newrome Press are now available. You can read a bit about each, below. Visit https://www.newromepress.com/youth/ so that you can be among the first to purchase them for yourself, your children, or your Sunday School class. 

A Boy’s Journey to Sainthood: Saint Porphyrios Kafsokalivia by Anna Iakovou, Illustrated by Konstantinos Dimitrelos

Many Orthodox Christians are familiar with St. Porphyrios Kafsokalivia, and resonate with his words. But do you know the story of his life? St. Porphyrios’ story is beautifully told and illustrated in this brand new picture book from Newrome Press. 

Author Anna Iakovou effectively uses descriptive language to tell St. Porphyrios’ life story. The reader can’t help but feel that they are right there with him. They sense the warm autumn sunshine on their shoulders as the boy struggles to read his favorite story, the life of St. John the Hut-Dweller, while watching over his family’s sheep. They hear the schemes of the lazy older coworkers forcing their work on him when he goes to the city to work in a grocery store.  They smell the sea air as the young man hides at every port beyond his original destination – his parents’ hometown, aboard the ship headed to Mt. Athos, where he longs to live. And they can almost taste his joy as he becomes a schema monk, years later.

Konstantinos Dimitrelos’ delightful illustrations add depth and charm to the story. The illustrations of the saint himself very much bring him to life in the reader’s mind. Tucked into the corner of one page, readers will even find a photograph of the saint, since he lived in the era of cameras. The book ends with two pages of heartening quotes from St. Porphyrios.

Readers of all ages will find encouragement to face whatever opportunities come their way as they read the story of the life of St. Porphyrios in this book. 

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Paul Apostle to the Nations: the Life, Work, and Travels of the Herald of the Lord, from the Sacred Monastery of the Honorable Forerunner, Mesa Potamou, translated by Stavros and Stavroula Stamati

Newrome Press has just released a book for older children, focused on the life of Saint Paul. The first quarter of the book tells the story of his life, and the rest of the book takes a close look at his travels. Part story book, part “travel/history” guide, this book will be useful to anyone studying the travels of the saint and/or the history of cities in which he visited. 

The book includes beautiful iconography from the Sacred Monastery of Kykos, Cyprus, to illustrate the part of the book that tells Saint Paul’s life story. The portion of the book featuring his travels is broken up according to the trips that he took. Each travel section begins with a map illustrating that particular journey. Informational pages about each city which he visited on that journey follow the map, offering a brief history of the city, as well as some photographs of the city.

Older children who are fascinated by history, maps, or travel will enjoy learning about each place that Saint Paul visited, when they read this book. It will be a valuable asset to a home library, classroom, or church school that is studying the life of Saint Paul.

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The Many Tunics of Christ: A Nativity Story by Theofanis Sawabe, Illustrated by Vladimir Ilievski

There once was a young man named Thomas who loved being a monk. He was delighted to live and work in the monastery. He did not like all of the noisy and frustrating people outside of the monastery, so living INSIDE the monastery, away from them, was just fine by him.

This book tells the story of what happened on the eve of Nativity, when Thomas’ tasks for the day took him OUTSIDE of the monastery: first, he was to accompany Patriarch John to the hospital to visit the sick; then he was to hand out winter clothes to the poor; and finally, he was to go to the market to pick up an order for the monastery. How did that day go? How did Thomas handle interacting with the “noisy and frustrating” people? And why did the Archangel Michael  show up when he was trying to rest up for the vigil? 

Answer all of these questions and more when you read The Many Tunics of Christ: A Nativity Story. You’ll find a bonus section in the back of the book about “Patriarch John”, who we now know as St. John the Merciful. Somewhere between Thomas’ attitude change and St. John’s (and Christ’s!) compassion, readers will come away from this book challenged to rethink their own attitudes towards those around them.

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Thanks to Newrome Press for supplying us with copies of these books so that we could write these reviews. 

Reviewed by Kristina Wenger, educator, podcaster, co-author of Tending the Garden of Our Hearts.

A Glimpse at “The Cellarer’s Celery” by Fr. Jeremy Davis and Illustrated by Luke Garrow

What happens when things don’t go the way that you planned? Especially if the turn of events is out of your control, how do you handle the mishap? The Cellarer’s Celery approaches this struggle in a deliciously refreshing way.

Things go all wrong for the Sower (the monastery gardener) and he is disappointed. But the Cellarer (who tends the cellar where the monastery’s foods are stored), who will now have to be without his favorite snack, has a heart full of love for God and for others. Instead of expressing his disappointment, the Cellarer helps the Sower learn how to respond. He models what is most important, even though things are not going his way.

This endearing picture book features Luke Garrow’s playfully expressive illustrations. Fr. Jeremy’s spirited verse tells the story of a monk who loves celery, but loves God and His people even more. The Cellarer helps the Gardener to embrace the lesson that God offers both of them in the context of a failed celery crop.

This little book packs a powerful punch, featuring refreshing splashes of humor braced with sturdy truth. The exuberant verse and jolly illustrations are vibrantly green and full of life, just like the celery for which it is named. Children and their grownups will enjoy sharing the story and its lessons together, perhaps over a bowl of celery…

Reviewed by Kristina Wenger, educator, podcaster, co-author of Tending the Garden of Our Hearts

You can buy The Cellarer’s Celery at https://store.ancientfaith.com/the-cellarers-celery/

Have you ever visited a monastery? Monasteries are such holy places for us to visit, where we can pray and rest. When we spend time in one, it is good for our souls and we come away refreshed and grateful for the experience. Invite your students and their families on a field trip, to visit one and see for yourself how the nuns (or monks) like everybody! Ask your priest to recommend one for your class to visit. (Look here for additional ones:http://www.orthodox-christianity.org/orthodoxy/countries/usa/usmonasteries/)

A Glimpse at the book “101 Orthodox Saints” by Sarah Wright and Alexandra Schmalzbach, Illustrated by Nicholas Malara


Ancient Faith Publishing has just released a gift to the English-speaking Orthodox Christian world. Wrapped in a sturdy hardcover and crammed with art, stories, and facts, this gift is the beautiful book 101 Orthodox Saints, written by Sarah Wright and Alexandra Schmalzbach, and illustrated by Nicholas Malara. This book is a breath of fresh air, bright with color, alive with stories and facts, and filled to the brim with intrigue.

From its introductory pages, the photos and illustrations draw the reader in, and they become curious to learn more. What are saints? How does someone become one? What does it mean to venerate a saint? Who is called to be a saint? How can this book be used? All of these questions (and more) are answered in an engaging manner in the few pages at the beginning of the book.

The bulk of the book is a page-by-page alphabetical sharing of information about 101 carefully-selected saints from all regions of the world and from all generations, who cross both continents and time to breathe the life of Christ into the reader’s soul. An abridged version of each saint’s story is told on their page. The page also includes important details about the saint’s life (including a map of where they are from, several fun facts, and the dates of their birth and repose, as well as their feast day), their icon, and related photos. Artist Nicholas Malara’s rendition of each saint beautifully reflects their love for God and gives the reader a realistic glimpse into a moment of their life. 

The authors have sorted the particular vocations of each saint, marking their page with simple sketches explained in a legend at the beginning of the book. (For example, St. Columba of Iona was a priest, a missionary, and a monastic so there are three sketches right under his icon that identify him as such.) This marking system allows readers to quickly flip through, find, and read about all of the saints that were royalty (or fools for Christ, hymnographers, wonderworkers, etc.). The book includes a beautiful timeline that places Malara’s illustrations in the order of when in time each saint lived. The authors have also included a glossary that is both thorough and accessible, along with an extensive index. 

Young children will be mesmerized by the beautiful new friends they will see in this book. Some older children will flip through and read all of the fun facts, making connections between the saints in the book and the places and history they are learning about at school. Some will read the book from cover to cover. Even adult readers will “meet” new (for them) saints and be challenged to live in the same godly manner. 

This book offers 101 refreshing glimpses into what a life truly lived for Christ can look like. Each of the 101 saints’ lives are unique, and they differ in many ways. But all of them share one thing in common: their complete dedication to and love for Christ.

It is a good thing that this book is so sturdily bound. Whether it belongs to a child, a family, a Church school class, a Church library, or a classroom, it will be poured over again and again. And, each time the reader inhales a bit more about the saints whose stories are told in its pages, they will grow closer to God and to His holy Church. What a gift.

Reviewed by Kristina Wenger, educator, podcaster, co-author of Tending the Garden of Our Hearts

Purchase your own copy of the book here: https://store.ancientfaith.com/101-orthodox-saints/

For additional teaching resources and programs about the Saints, including ideas on hosting a Saints Festival, visit these previous posts from the Orthodox Christian Sunday Church School Teachers blog:

A Glimpse at the Book “Nine Deer & Me” by Melinda Johnson

If an angel appeared before you, and told you to begin a journey to your true home, what would you do? This very thing happened to Saint Abigail, many years ago. “Nine Deer & Me” tells her story. 

Author and mother Melinda Johnson has given young Orthodox children yet another beautiful picture book to enhance their library. “Nine Deer and Me“ is a counting board book. But it is no ordinary counting book: this book encourages children to practice their counting in the context of a beautiful recounting of Saint Abigail‘s journey. 

Illustrator Amandine Wanert brings Saint Abigail to life in her simple, but eye-catching, drawings. Each scene includes items that readers can count each time they read.  Wanert’s playful use of lines and light enhance the charm of the animals and characters found in the book.

Readers will be encouraged by Saint Abigail’s diligence in following the angel’s directions. They will rejoice with Abigail to see how God provides for her along the way! And readers can count on being challenged to follow God‘s instructions in their own life.

Reviewed by Kristina Wenger, educator, podcaster, co-author of Tending the Garden of Our Hearts

Purchase your own copy of the book here: https://store.ancientfaith.com/nine-deer-and-me/

Stories describing the connection between saints and animals are fascinating to church school students. Find additional stories to share from earlier posts on the Orthodox Church School Teacher blog (links below).

For older elementary and middle school students: https://orthodoxchurchschoolteachers.wordpress.com/2019/08/30/gleanings-from-a-book-the-cross-and-the-stag-by-gabriel-wilson/

Saints of recent decades: https://orthodoxchurchschoolteachers.wordpress.com/2016/11/25/saints-of-recent-decades-st-sophia-of-kleisoura-may-6-or-19/

https://orthodoxchurchschoolteachers.wordpress.com/2016/09/30/saints-of-recent-decades-st-herman-of-alaska-december-13-or-25/

St. Seraphim of Sarov: https://orthodoxchurchschoolteachers.wordpress.com/2015/12/04/learning-about-a-saint-st-seraphim-of-sarov-commemorated-on-january-2/

St. Gerasimos of the Jordan: https://orthodoxchurchschoolteachers.wordpress.com/2016/02/26/learning-about-a-saint-st-gerasimos-of-the-jordan-commemorated-on-march-4/

Gleanings from a Book: “The Barn and the Book” by Melinda Johnson

Fans of “Shepherding Sam” will be delighted to find both Sam (the boy) and Saucer (the corgi) are back! They each play an important role in “The Barn and the Book,” a brand new book by Melinda Johnson. (Don’t worry, if you did not read “Shepherding Sam,” you can still jump right into “The Barn and the Book” seamlessly!)

“The Barn and the Book” takes place on the grounds of the monastery of St. Gerasim and features Sam’s 3rd and 4th grade Sunday Church School class; their teacher, Sister Anna, and a few of the other nuns; a handful of parents; and of course Saucer the corgi and his friends – the other animals on the monastery farm.

The story happens during a Church year. The students and their families attend the church on the monastery grounds, because it is the only Orthodox church in the area. Throughout the course of the year, everyone works together to prepare to celebrate the monastery’s special anniversary in March. At the beginning of the book, Sister Anna invites her class members to write a story that will be shared at the anniversary celebration. This book is the story of how they find and write their stories in the context of life together. It features humor, realistic characters, and many lessons for its readers.

The story contains many humorous parts. For example, the mere idea and corresponding mental image of a corgi going to Sunday school brings a chuckle to the reader’s smiling lips. Well, he sort of goes to Sunday school… Actually, the corgi (named Saucer) just looks longingly in the window during class because his best buddy Sam is there. Lucky for Saucer, class meets in the basement of the church, so the window is right at corgi level! That is how he is able to keep a good eye (and smashed-to-the-window-pane nose) on things. Saucer is so accurately described that the reader feels they must be able to reach into the book and give him a good scritch.

But Saucer is not the only realistic character! Throughout the book, the reader feels bound to the characters as they experience everything from moments of frustration to those of genuine joy. Readers come to realize how a Sunday Church School teacher feels when no one listens. They want to peacefully wander in the prayer garden with Sister Anna. They also make a mad dash for the door of the Sunday Church School room when the sheep get out of the farm enclosure. They inwardly cheer on the children who challenge themselves to write a story for the celebration, first wondering if the children will be able to pull it off, then rejoicing alongside the others in the book when everyone is pleased (albeit surprised) by the results! Because of its genuine characters, by the end of this book, the reader feels that they have been a part of preparing the monastery for the big celebration.

There are plenty of lessons to be learned from the characters in this book. Take for example, the nun, Sister Anna. She learns a lot over the course of this story, and the reader will do well to learn along with her. First of all, she finally learns to stop comparing herself to others. She comes to understand that she must completely trust her gerontissa, and not to test God, demonstrating with both of these learnings the humility that comes with truly trusting those in authority over us. With her choice of how she handles frustration, Sister Anna teaches us the value of having (and using!) a prayer garden, and demonstrates how the act of stepping out of our routine to pray helps us to calm ourselves as we entrust our frustrations to God. Other characters’ experiences in the story remind us of things like the fact that miracles can happen, while also leaving us wondering whether animals really can talk at midnight on Christmas. Perhaps most importantly of all, an ordinary boy named Sam learns that being present in the moment and choosing to be thankful while in that moment is the most magical thing one can experience. This lesson is an important one for readers of any age.

The story begins in the fall and continues into the spring. Though it covers much of a year, a fairly significant part of the story happens right at Christmastime. Because of the book’s humor, genuine characters, and important lessons, this book would make a great gift for Sunday Church School students. Since it’s set in the context of a Sunday church school class, it would also work as a read-aloud if you have a time in your class each week to do so (for example, if your students eat a snack in class after Liturgy).

Purchase your own copy of “The Barn and the Book,” available as a book or an ebook, here: http://store.ancientfaith.com/the-barn-and-the-book/

To listen to the book, purchase the audio copy of “The Barn and the Book.” Author Melinda Johnson reads the book, and listeners can enjoy both her unbridled enthusiasm and her special voices for each character! https://www.audible.com/author/Melinda-Johnson/B004RXKWF4

Here are a few gleanings from the book and suggested related activities in case you read the book with your students.

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“Sister Anna was too short and pudgy to move quickly, but she did her best. She wanted to reach the prayer garden without being seen. It was too cold to sit there for long, but Sister Anna needed some quiet time.” (“The Barn and the Book” by Melinda Johnson, pp. 19-20)

Where do you go when you are frustrated, embarrassed, or angry? In “The Barn and the Book,” Sister Anna headed to the prayer garden. Sam went to the barn with the animals. Do you have a place that is quiet and peace giving? Maybe it is your family prayer corner, or somewhere else. Talk with your students about good places to go when you need a minute to regroup and talk with God about what is happening in your life. It will not always be the same place for everyone. Invite your students to sketch their idea of a peaceful place where they could go. Perhaps it would be a prayer garden; a place where an animal (or several) live(s); or it could simply be a quiet room or corner. Encourage them to try to create such a space at home, and to use it when they are frustrated, embarrassed, or angry.

***

“‘Do the nuns like me?’ wondered Grace.

‘Sure they do,’ said Elias, grinning. ‘Nuns like everybody.’

‘Everybody?’

Elias nodded. ‘The nuns even like Macrina,’ he said impressively. (“The Barn and the Book” by Melinda Johnson, p. 47)

Have you ever visited a monastery? Monasteries are such holy places for us to visit, where we can pray and rest. When we spend time in one, it is good for our souls and we come away refreshed and grateful for the experience. Invite your students and their families on a field trip, to visit one and see for yourself how the nuns (or monks) like everybody! Ask your priest to recommend one for your class to visit. (Look here for additional ones:http://www.orthodox-christianity.org/orthodoxy/countries/usa/usmonasteries/)
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“‘I set the stick up yesterday, and then I came to see if it fell down.’ Sister Anna clasped her hands and reclasped them, squeeze squeeze. ‘If it fell down, or if it didn’t.’
…The abbess smiled, but Sister Anna did not see her smile. ‘You have made a test with your stick.’

‘Yes, Gerontissa.’

‘You set a trap for God. In the garden. With a stick… You want Him to tell you something now, and He has not told you something for you to hear, so you set a trap for Him, to make Him tell.’” (“The Barn and the Book” by Melinda Johnson, pp. 96-97)
Sister Anna is not the first person who loved God and made a test (or, in the words of “The Barn and the Book,” “set a trap for God”) to try to get Him to answer a question. Have you ever done something like this? If so, you’re not alone! Even in the Old Testament of the Bible, we read a story about this. Gideon used the fleece of a sheep to ask for God’s guidance. Find the story in Judges 6:36-40. What did Gideon want to know (what was the reason he set out the fleece)? Did he get his answer? If you have the Orthodox Study Bible, be sure to read the footnotes on this passage. What was Gideon’s fleece the type of?

Find a lesson plan suggestion, complete with activity suggestions, on the story of Gideon, here: https://missionbibleclass.org/old-testament/part2/judges-and-ruth/gideon-and-the-fleece/

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“‘Do you think he will go in the barn?’ asked Grace, lowering her voice.

‘Go in the barn? What for?’

‘For the animals. You remember, like you told him.’

“Ohhhh. You mean to hear the animals talk at midnight on Christmas Ever?’

Grace nodded vigorously.

‘I don’t know. Won’t he be asleep?’

‘Maybe he could stay awake. Maybe I could stay awake. I want to go, too.’

Elias shrugged. ‘I don’t think your parents are going to let you go in the barn in the middle of the night.’” (“The Barn and the Book,” by Melinda Johnson, pp. 120-121)

Have you heard before about the idea that perhaps animals can talk at midnight on Christmas Eve? What do you think about that idea? Here’s one legend that offers a possible reason: https://tarapollard.wordpress.com/2013/12/13/the-legend-of-the-talking-animals-2/

And here’s one family’s funny memory of a child who went to the barn on Christmas Eve to find out for herself if they really do: http://www.walkdownthelane.com/animals-talk-on-christmas-eve/

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“‘Hi, Macrina!’

Macrina turned sideways to see who was talking to her… ‘Hello, Grace… Thank you so much for the nice card. My mom gave it to me.’
Grace smiled happily. ‘You’re welcome!’

They walked a few steps more and had almost reached the refectory door when Macrina spoke again. ‘Do you want to sit with me at lunch?’

‘Sure!’ Grace gave a little skip. She was now even more certain that her card had brought Macrina back to health. Why else would Macrina want to sit with her?” (“The Barn and the Book,” by Melinda Johnson, pp. 106-107)

Have you, like Grace, ever done something small but kind for someone who was not so kind to you? Did it change your relationship in a positive way? Who in your life right now would benefit from a small kindness? What kind thing could you do for them? Of course, you can (and should!) pray for them, but what else? Write them a note? Secretly do a chore for them? Bake them cookies? If you need ideas of kind things to do for someone else, check out the ideas at the end of this blog (https://orthodoxchristianparenting.wordpress.com/2014/02/12/try-a-little-kindness/) or this one (https://orthodoxchurchschoolteachers.wordpress.com/2016/01/01/on-being-a-bucket-filler/).

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“…Some people might want to know why the monastery is called the Monastery of Saint Gerasim and the Lion. Saint Gerasim was an abbot at a monastery in the Holy Land a long time ago… He helped a lion with a hurt paw, and the lion became his friend and lived at the monastery. The nuns chose this saint because they helped the animals who lived at the farm that used to be here, and the farm turned into a monastery, just like Saint Gerasim’s lion sort of turned into a monk.” (part of Macrina’s story, from “The Barn and the Book,” by Melinda Johnson, p. 153)

To learn more about St. Gerasim (also called St. Gerasimos), check out this blog post:

https://orthodoxchurchschoolteachers.wordpress.com/2016/02/26/learning-about-a-saint-st-gerasimos-of-the-jordan-commemorated-on-march-4/

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