Category Archives: spiritual labor

Gleanings from a Book: “A Journal of Thanksgiving: Record Three Years of Gratitude in a Sentence a Day” Compiled by Nicole M. Roccas

For many of us, it is nearly the end of a dreary winter. Although spring is just around the corner, the wintry series of gloomy house-bound days may be tempting us to despair. And now Great Lent has arrived, bringing with it its own set of challenges and hard (but beautiful) work. This is the perfect time for Nicole Roccas’ journal to become available, for we need the grace and challenge that it offers.

In “A Journal of Thanksgiving”, Nicole has compiled and edited a variety of quotes about giving thanks to God in all things. Instead of simply collecting the quotes into a nice little book for her readers to read, ponder, and likely, forget them, Nicole has upped the ante. Each quote appears at the top of a page marked for a specific day of the year, and is followed by three sets of lined spaces, wherein the reader is invited to record a sentence or two of gratitude for something from their day. The intent is for the reader to daily record their gratitude in this journal over a period of three years, welcoming genuine thanksgiving into their life in the process.

In a brief letter at the beginning of the journal, Nicole sets the stage for the reasoning behind its creation. She reminds the reader that thanksgiving has always been at the heart of Orthodox Christian spirituality, so we should continually be working toward endlessly offering thanks to God.The quotes she has selected for the book encourage giving thanks in the good things and for the beauty around us, always recognizing God’s provision for our lives. They also challenge us to give thanks in the struggles, the hardships, the ugliness in which we find ourselves, all the while recognizing God’s omniscience and wisdom.

The book is set up to follow a calendar year, beginning with January 1st. However, Nicole encourages her readers to just begin immediately, when they receive the book, and continue on from there. If, on any given day, one cannot think of a single thing for which to be grateful, never fear: the book ends with 33 thanksgiving prompts that will help anyone who is struggling in ingratitude.

Readers of all ages who wish to grow in their spiritual life will challenge themselves to embrace life with genuine gratitude that pours forth to God, heedless of their circumstances and comfort level. This book is a small step in that direction. Giving thanks – even just for one thing each day – for three years will begin to grow gratitude in the reader/journal writer’s life, and they will grow closer to becoming the person that they were created to be: a grateful, humble servant of God.

The timing of this book’s release is impeccable. After all, what could be a better time to begin the discipline of growing gratitude in our hearts than during Great Lent? May we all grow more grateful, not just during the lenten season – or even “just” for the three years it will take us to work through this book – but for the rest of our lives.

Find the journal here: https://store.ancientfaith.com/a-journal-of-thanksgiving/

Readers who are journeying through the book are encouraged to share their journey on social media with the hashtag #ThanksWritingAFP

Here are a few of the quotes from the book, to help you begin to think about giving thanks to God:

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“Just as athletes win crowns by their struggles in the arena, so are Christians brought to perfection by the trial of their temptations, if only we learn to accept what the Lord sends us with patience, with all thanksgiving. All things are ordained by the Lord’s love.” St. Basil the Great, Letter 101 (January 2, “A Journal of Thanksgiving: Record Three Years of Gratitude in a Sentence a Day” Compiled by Nicole M. Roccas)

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“Nothing is holier than the tongue that in distress gives thanks to God; truly in no respect does it fall short of that of martyrs.” St. John Chrysostom, Homily 8 on Colossians (February 18, “A Journal of Thanksgiving: Record Three Years of Gratitude in a Sentence a Day” Compiled by Nicole M. Roccas)

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“Life-giving and merciful Trinity, receive my thanksgiving for all Your goodness.” Akathist of Thanksgiving, Kontakion 13 (April 11, “A Journal of Thanksgiving: Record Three Years of Gratitude in a Sentence a Day” Compiled by Nicole M. Roccas)

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“We shall give thanks to You, O God;

We shall give thanks, and call upon Your name.

I shall describe all Your wonders.” Ps. 74:2,3 (June 25, “A Journal of Thanksgiving: Record Three Years of Gratitude in a Sentence a Day” Compiled by Nicole M. Roccas)

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“We give thanks unto You, O King invisible, who, by Your measureless power, made all things and, in the greatness of Your mercy, brought all things from nonexistence into being.” The Divine Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom (August 31, “A Journal of Thanksgiving: Record Three Years of Gratitude in a Sentence a Day” Compiled by Nicole M. Roccas)

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“Let us increase our thanksgiving—not in words, nor in tongue, but in deeds and works, in mind and in heart. Let us give thanks unto Him with all our souls.” St. John Chrysostom, Homily 19 on Ephesians (October 1, “A Journal of Thanksgiving: Record Three Years of Gratitude in a Sentence a Day” Compiled by Nicole M. Roccas)

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“Do you eat? Give thanks to God both before and afterwards. Do you sleep? Give thanks to God both before and afterwards. Do all in the Name of the Lord, and all shall be prospered to you.” St. John Chrysostom, Homily 9 on Colossians (December 16, “A Journal of Thanksgiving: Record Three Years of Gratitude in a Sentence a Day” Compiled by Nicole M. Roccas)

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Gleanings from a Book: “Apostle to the Plains: The Life of Father Nicola Yanney” by The Saint Raphael Clergy Brotherhood

Have you ever wondered what it was like to be an Orthodox Christian in the plains of the United States in the late 1800s and early 1900s? “Apostle to the Plains: The Life of Father Nicola Yanney” offers a glimpse of the life of this immigrant who lived a faithful Orthodox Christian life in the American plains before there were churches available in the region. It follows Fr. Nicola through his immigration, his adjustment to life on the plains, his ordination, his intense years of service as a missionary priest, all the way to his departing from this life. American Orthodox Christians – especially those in the Antiochian Archdiocese – will do well to read this book, to expand their knowledge of the history of Orthodox Christianity in the United States.

Readers who have marveled at the experiences of Laura Ingalls Wilder’s books will see some parallels in “Apostle to the Plains.” The Yanneys also lived in a sod house for a period of time while they were homesteading. Although the Ingalls family’s experiences preceded the Yanneys’ by some 20 years, and happened largely in different states, both families suffered illnesses and loss. There were times when each family struggled to attend school or church (because there was none, or it was far away). And despite their hard times, both families endeavored to do what was right and persevered with dogged determination.

A large portion of “Apostle to the Plains” is dedicated to recounting the missionary journeys and busy life of Fr. Nicola’s years as a traveling priest, and at points these chapters feel a bit overwhelming. Even with today’s technology and travel infrastructure, his months of travel and the few weeks at home in between trips would exhaust anyone. But when the reader remembers that his travels happened more than a century ago, with much slower communication and more tedious means of transportation, what he accomplished is truly astounding. Fr. Nicola and his family clearly loved God and took their calling to be a priest (and the priest’s family) very seriously, and they embraced the reality of what that entailed.

Fr. Nicola’s life was far from easy: he left his home in Lebanon at age 19, with his brand-new bride (whom he barely knew) shortly after their wedding and moved to far away Nebraska, where they had to adjust to new language and culture, different weather, and near isolation from family; and where there was no Orthodox Church. The book goes on to share their trials in homesteading, the joys of births and occasional clergy visits, the sorrows of losses and deaths in the family. When Fr. Nicola was ordained to the priesthood, he not only was in charge of the parish in their hometown of Kearney Nebraska, but he was also charged with being the missionary priest who visited Orthodox Christians all over the American plains.

A large section of the book follows Fr. Nicola’s travels. When he traveled, Fr. would hear people’s confessions, commune them, baptize those in need of baptism, marry young couples, and do all the priestly things for the Orthodox Christians who were scattered about the many parts of the plains of the United States. He always tried to be home again with his boys for Christmas and for Pascha (and often for all of Great Lent), but his travels kept him away from them and his home parish for months at a time every year. It was not an easy life for him or for his family, nor did it provide enough financial income.

Fr. Nicola was generous to a fault. Throughout his life, he raised money to share with others back home in Lebanon, and to fund local causes. He and the family generously hosted guests for Sunday luncheons. He traveled extensively, at great cost to himself and his family – and his being away from home made him unable to work and thus make additional income. So he and the family had very little financially. In fact, they had so little that even with re-mortgaging their home multiple times, he was unable to pay $140 in damages from a lawsuit that had been brought against him and his parish! Fr. Nicola gave and gave and gave of both his money and his time, and had very little on earth to show for his generosity.

Readers may be surprised to find that this book offers a glimpse into the life of St. Raphael of Brooklyn as well. The saintly bishop ordained Fr. Nicola, and Fr. Nicola was under his jurisdiction for the rest of Bishop Raphael’s life. Fr. Nicola supported, honored, and admired Bishop Raphael and was justifiably sad when he departed this life. The saint’s passing not only removed him from his position overseeing the Syrian Orthodox churches in America, it also brought great division to those churches. “Apostle to the Plains” explains this division in a way that helps modern American Orthodox Christians to learn more about some of the struggles in the history of our Church.

Fr. Nicola continued to care for his flock right up to the very end of his life. He visited and cared for his Spanish-flu-suffering parishioners in his hometown of Kearney just hours before his collapse and death from that same illness. His sudden passing was a shock to his parishioners, the entire Kearney community, and the Orthodox Christians across the plains whom he had served so diligently.

The Afterword of the book, titled “The Legacy of Father Nicola” is a powerful ending, as it helps the reader to ponder how well the servant of God Nicola Yanney ran his race. It encourages the reader to look beyond Fr. Nicola (and the entire Yanney family)’s struggles, to see the victories, and especially to note his faithfulness. Reading this after having read the book’s account of his life, the reader cannot help but be encouraged in their own life to “know Him and the power of His resurrection, and the fellowship of His sufferings… [that they] may attain to the resurrection from the dead.” (from Phil. 3:10-11)

May Fr. Nicola Yanney’s memory be eternal!

You can purchase “Apostle to the Plains: The Life of Father Nicola Yanney” as a paperback or an ebook here: https://store.ancientfaith.com/apostle-to-the-plains-the-life-of-father-nicola-yanney/

Find additional information about Fr. Nicola Yanney, including interviews, videos, and slide shows related to his life and his gifts to the Antiochian Orthodox Church in America; a map of the states that he served; and more at St. George Orthodox Christian Church (the parish that he helped to found in Kearney, Nebraska)’s website: https://www.saintgeorgekearney.com/reverend_nicola_yanney

Here are some gleanings from the book:

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“He would soon be married, and he wanted Martha and their children to live in safety and peace… In America, he could make a new home not only for himself and Martha but also for his brothers. If they all worked together, Nicola could send enough money to make sure that their father would live the rest of his days in comfort, cared for by loved ones who would remain in their village. To do this, however, Nicola himself would have to leave home.” (p. 23,  “Apostle to the Plains: The Life of Father Nicola Yanney” by The Saint Raphael Clergy Brotherhood)

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“While Martha continued to refurbish the [sod] house, Nicola turned his attention to the rest of the homestead. He only had a few months to prepare. Both he and Martha had experienced light snowfalls in the foothills of Koura, but nothing had prepared them for winter on the open plains… In the worst weather, the family would be beyond the reach of help for days and sometimes weeks at a time. Stables and pens had to be built for their animals and more supplies had to be brought from town and stored for the winter in case the roads became impassable.” (p. 51,  “Apostle to the Plains: The Life of Father Nicola Yanney” by The Saint Raphael Clergy Brotherhood)

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“Even without a church of their own, the Syrians celebrated Saint Simeon’s feast day together as they had back in Fi’eh, as well as Christmas, Pascha, and other holy days. Nicola especially desired to help the newcomers, knowing how difficult it was to keep his Orthodox faith in the foreign land, especially without a church or a priest. Though their gatherings were filled with folk songs, dancing, and food, Nicola always remembered to offer prayers and lead his friends in singing hymns, knowing that it was their faith that bound the small community together more than anything else.” (pp. 58-59,  “Apostle to the Plains: The Life of Father Nicola Yanney” by The Saint Raphael Clergy Brotherhood)

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“The kindly priest was… interested to hear of Nicola’s education at the monastery school. One of the reasons for his cross-country tour was to find pious men who might be ordained to serve the scattered Orthodox Syrians. Hearing this, the Syrians suggested that Father Raphael meet the Yanneys… At nine o’clock in the evening, fifteen of the Yanneys’ friends piled into four wagons to accompany Father Raphael on the eighteen-mile trip to the homestead… As they drew near the farm, their singing and shouting grew louder. Several of the men drew out their pistols and fired shots into the air to wake their unsuspecting friends. The Yanneys came running out of their small home, astonished by what was happening, and fell at Father Raphael’s feet. The priest greeted them warmly.” (pp. 72-73,  “Apostle to the Plains: The Life of Father Nicola Yanney” by The Saint Raphael Clergy Brotherhood)

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“With no other Syrian Orthodox priest living within a thousand miles of Kearney, Father Nicola had to serve his daughter’s funeral… At the conclusion of the funeral, Father Nicola placed his priestly stole on Anna’s head and said the prayer of absolution. He had arrived too late to hear her confession or to give her Holy communion.” (p. 146,  “Apostle to the Plains: The Life of Father Nicola Yanney” by The Saint Raphael Clergy Brotherhood)

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“‘My dear Elias, may you be pleasing to God. Be the best version of yourself. Avoid crude and offensive talk. Do not joke coarsely or easily give your heart to others. Be conscientious of your health before anything else… I ask God’s special blessings on you, that you take care of your brothers and your fellow countrymen. Make me proud. Keep me posted about yourself and write me often so that I always know you are fine. I kiss your cheeks thousands and millions of times…’” ~ from a letter Fr. Nicola wrote to his son Elias (pp. 183,  “Apostle to the Plains: The Life of Father Nicola Yanney” by The Saint Raphael Clergy Brotherhood)

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“Though he had been tending to his parishioners only hours earlier, Father Nicola was confined to bed—unable to rise, his strength gone. By late that night, he knew that he was dying and had little time left. Motioning weakly, he beckoned his sons to his side. He had left them on their own so many times, and now he was leaving them once more. Calling Elias, John, and Moses close, Father Nicola said goodbye as he struggled for breath. As they leaned over their father, he gave them a final word by which he himself had tried to live, whispering, ‘Keep your hands and your heart clean.’”(p. 247,  “Apostle to the Plains: The Life of Father Nicola Yanney” by The Saint Raphael Clergy Brotherhood)

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“The legacy of Father Nicola Yanney continues to this day… In him we see a worthy model of the Christian life—one who was faithful in adversity, steadfast in suffering, zealous in evangelism, and selfless in serving others. Through the daily sacrifice of his priesthood, Father Nicola laid down his life for his friends in imitation of his Master.” (pp. 266-267, “Apostle to the Plains: The Life of Father Nicola Yanney” by The Saint Raphael Clergy Brotherhood)

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On Learning from the Wisdom of the Three Holy Hierarchs

It is the time of the year when we are celebrating the Three Holy Hierarchs: Basil the Great, Gregory the Theologian and John Chrysostom. Do you know why we celebrate the three of them together? If you don’t know, or need a refresher, check out the story here, and share it with your students, so that they know the story as well! https://orthodoxchristianparenting.wordpress.com/2014/01/22/learning-about-the-saints-the-three-holy-hierarchs-january-30/

The Three Holy Hierarchs, St. Basil the Great, St. Gregory the Theologian, and St. John Chrysostom are full of so much wisdom, and they each have contributed so much to the life of the Church. All three loved learning and spent their life continuing to learn not just the Scriptures and the ways of God, but secular wisdom, as well. Their love for learning helped them to become excellent teachers. As we prepare to celebrate their life of faithfulness to God, let us also ponder some of their wisdom, which, though hundreds of years old, is still applicable to modern life.

Some of these quotes will be great conversation starters for a Sunday Church School class. As you read them, decide which ones would be best for your class to discuss, and find a time to share them. They may fit with another lesson, or you may think of related scriptures, Bible stories, or saint stories to share along with the quote. Perhaps you’ll decide to make a lesson featuring their wisdom around the time we celebrate them. We offer a suggestion of how to use each quote as part of a lesson. Or, if you choose to just occasionally share one of their quotes, your students may make their own connections to scriptures or Bible/saint stories! However it works out, you and your students will be amazed to find that, although these hierarchs were on earth so many years ago, their wisdom is still perfectly applicable to us today! May we all learn from them!

If your students enjoy coloring, you may want to check out these free printable pages which can give their fingers something to do as you talk about some of the wisdom of these Holy Hierarchs: http://orthodoxsundayschool.org/church-history/3-5-years-old/three-hierarchs (scroll down to find a printable page of all three together) or https://sites.google.com/view/sparks-for-orthodox-kids/coloring-pages/january (each one, individually)

Holy Hierarchs of the Church, please pray for us and for our salvation!

 

The quotes shared here were gathered from OrthodoxChurchQuotes.com, BrainyQuote.com, AZQuotes.com, and Goodreads.com.

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Orthodox Pebbles has just released these wonderful printables related to the Three Holy Hierarchs: https://orthodoxpebbles.com/saints/three-hierarchs/

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“A psalm implies serenity of soul; it is the author of peace, which calms bewildering and seething thoughts. For, it softens the wrath of the soul, and what is unbridled it chastens. A psalm forms friendships, unites those separated, conciliates those at enmity. Who, indeed, can still consider as an enemy him with whom he has uttered the same prayer to God?…For, a psalm is the work of angels, a heavenly institution, the spiritual incense.” ~ Saint Basil the Great

Ask each member of your class to share their favorite Psalm, as well as why it is their favorite. Look those Psalms up and read them together. Test them against St. Basil’s quote. Do they prove it? Talk about when we pray the Psalms. You may even want to read through some of the services to see what Psalm(s) you find there!

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“As a fish cannot swim without water, and as a bird cannot fly without air, so a Christian cannot advance a single step without Christ.” ~ Saint Gregory the Theologian

 

For this discussion, you could bring a fish or a bird to the classroom, if you have one as a pet. Ask the students to consider if a fish can swim if there’s no water, or if a bird can fly without air. Ask each student to try walking without stepping on anything. Can they go anywhere? Why or why not? What was St. Gregory telling us here about the importance of having Christ in our life? Together make a list of things that true Christians do (and do not do). Mark the ones for which we need Christ, and have a student explain how we need Him for each.

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“When, then, you make the sign of the cross on the forehead, arm yourself with a saintly boldness, and reinstall your soul in its old liberty; for you are not ignorant that the cross is a prize beyond all price. Consider what is the price given for your ransom, and you will never more be slave to any man on earth. This reward and ransom is the cross. You should not then, carelessly make the sign on the forehead, but you should impress it on your heart with the love of a fervent faith. Nothing impure will dare to molest you on seeing the weapon, which overcometh all things.” ~ Saint John Chrysostom

 

(A little background on this quote: for the first 300 years or so of Christianity, the sign of the cross was made on the forehead with the thumb or a finger. That’s why St. John talks about making it on the forehead.) Invite students to react to St. John’s quote. Can they give any examples from their own life or from stories that they’ve heard, of times when the sign of the cross gave “saintly boldness”? Why does St. John tell us not to make the sign carelessly? How can we make it – as he describes – fervently? What do your students think of the last part of his statement, that it is a weapon that overcomes all things? Challenge them to look for opportunities to fervently, respectfully make the sign of the cross in the week ahead.

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“The sun penetrates crystal and makes it more dazzling. In the same way, the sanctifying Spirit indwells in souls and makes them more radiant. They become like so many powerhouses beaming grace and love around them.” ~ Saint Basil the Great

“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. For wherever love disappears, hatred immediately appears in its place. And if God is love, then hatred is the devil. Therefore as one who has love has God within himself, so he who has hatred within himself nurtures the devil within himself.” ~ Saint Basil the Great

 

These quotes by St. Basil go together to some degree. Either or both would easily be illustrated with a prism and/or a magnifying glass and some sunlight (or light from a flashlight if it’s not sunny). Or place a mirror in water to reflect the light and create a beautiful rainbow. Show one or more of these ways to reflect light, and talk about the beauty and intensity of the light that shines through. Then introduce the quote(s) from St. Basil. How does God’s love shine through us to those around us when we imitate Him and let His spirit dwell in us? To remind your students to be ready to reflect His light, frame small mirrors before class, one for each student. Allow each student to decorate their frame with something reflective: for example, pieces of old CDs, small glass beads, or glass gems (adhered with very strong glue or double-stick adhesive).
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“Remember God more often than you breathe.” ~ Saint Gregory the Theologian

 

Before you share this quote, set a timer for one minute. Tell your students to count how many times they breathe in that minute, then start the timer and have them count. After the minute is up, ask them to share their findings. Then ask how many times they thought of God during that minute. Remind them that every breath is from Him, and that we really should thank Him for every breath. Then share the quote. How many times should they have remembered God during that minute? Some people pray the Jesus prayer with every breath. As they breathe in, they think, “O Lord Jesus Christ Son of God.” And as they breathe out, they think, “Have mercy on me, a sinner.” If we did that, would it help us to live closer to what St. Gregory said? Can anyone give an example of a time when it would be especially good to calmly pray the Jesus Prayer while breathing slowly?

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“The bee is more honored than other animals, not because she labors, but because she labors for others.” ~ Saint John Chrysostom
As you share honey sticks with your students, share this quote. Tell the class that one bee can make 1/12 of a teaspoon of honey in its entire life. See if you can figure out how many bees’ lifetime work you each just ate (you’ll need an extra honey stick and a measuring spoon for this). Ask the class what the bees got back for their hard work to make that honey you just ate. Who do bees work for? Themselves or others? Share St. John’s quote with the class. Ask them what they think St. John was trying to tell us. Why is it important that the bee works for others, not for themselves? How does this apply to us? Challenge each student to find ways to “bee” this week: secretly working for others instead of for themselves. No one else may notice, but God will see! (You could follow up with this the next week, with small printed bee cards like the printable honeybee place cards found here: http://www.our-everyday-art.com/2011/10/honeybee-printables.html. Have each student write down one thing that they did for someone else on each place card, and not sign it. Hang these up at a spot in your classroom, and keep a basket of cards there for future deeds.) The idea is for your class to work together, just like bees do, to help others, and to keep track of some of that work in this way. Not so each student gets their moment of glory, but that all of you together can see that you are making a difference in the world, one little bee-laboring at a time!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Children living with bipolar disorder, as well as their families and teachers, will find help, support, and information here http://www.bpchildren.com/. The presentation on the home page offers a plethora of information to anyone living with or working with a child experiencing BP, and includes anecdotes from a child living with the disorder. It is well worth the 22-minute investment.
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On the Sacraments: the Sacrament of Ordination

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 ordination, or Holy Orders.

The Orthodox Study Bible defines ordination as “The sacramental act setting a man apart for the ministry of the church by the laying on of hands of a bishop.” (1, p. 1784) Fr. Thomas Hopko’s writings about the sacrament of the Holy Orders begin by reminding his readers, first and foremost, that the Holy Orthodox Church believes and teaches that “Christ is the only priest, pastor, and teacher of the Christian Church. He alone guides and rules His people. He alone forgives sins and offers communion with God, His Father.” (2) These statements do not in any way downplay the importance of the “sacramental setting apart” mentioned above: rather, they help to clarify the role of the one set apart. Christ is continually active in the Church through the Holy Spirit, and He is manifested through these men who have been set apart for His service. “The sacramental ministry of the Church—the bishops, priests, and deacons—receive the gift of the Holy Spirit to manifest Christ in the Spirit to men. Thus, through His chosen ministers, Christ exercises and realizes His unique and exclusive function as priest, perpetually offering Himself as the perfect sacrifice to the Father on behalf of His human brothers and sisters.” Through them, He also teaches, shepherds, oversees, and serves. (2)

Why is this sacrament of ordination also called the sacrament of Holy Orders? Fr. Thomas says it is because those who are ordained give order to the church. “They guarantee the continuity and unity of the Church from age to age and from place to place from the time of Christ and the apostles until the establishment of God’s Kingdom in eternity.” (2) The Holy Spirit is given to them in a special way that helps them to do this work, and “manifest Christ’s presence and action in the churches.” (2)

Ordinations have been a part of the Church’s life from the start. Already in the book of Acts, we read, “So when they had appointed elders in every church, and prayed with fasting, they commended them to the Lord in whom they had believed.” (Acts 14:23, OSB) The Orthodox Study Bible’s footnote on that verse offers this insight: “Elders are presbyters (priests) ordained by the apostles to nurture and lead the churches they established. The word translated ‘appointed’ (Gr. cheirotoneo) means ‘to ordain by the laying on of hands.’” (1, p. 1495) So, from the very beginning of the Church, per the book of Acts, priests have been ordained by the laying on of hands so that they can carry on the work they have been set apart to do.

“Through ordination, men who have been chosen from within the Church are set apart by the Church for special service to the Church. Each is called by God through His people to stand amid the community, as pastor and teacher, and as the representative of the parish before the Altar. Each is also a living icon of Christ among His people…  the process of ordination begins with the local congregation; but the bishop alone, who acts in the name of the universal Church, can complete the action. He does so with the invocation of the Holy Spirit and the imposition of his hands on the person being ordained.” (3)

Ordained leaders have numerous important tasks, and the work varies from order to order. “In the Orthodox Church to this day, the bishops and presbyters are called to focus on prayer and the ministry of the word, with the other ministries being accomplished by the deacons and the laity.” (1, footnotes on Acts 6:2-4, p.1478) The tasks to which those who receive the sacrament of Holy Orders are called are not easy. They cannot be taken lightly, but the Holy Spirit’s extra empowerment enables these men to undertake all that is set before them.

Let us thank God for those who have offered themselves through the sacrament of ordination. Let us support and help them in whatever way that we can. And let us keep them in our prayers, for we know that we are always in theirs.

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

Sources:

  1. Various editors. (2008). The Orthodox Study Bible. USA: St. Athanasius Academy of Orthodox Theology. (available here: http://store.ancientfaith.com/osb-hardcover )
  2. Hopko, Fr. Thomas (2011, October 5). The Sacraments: Holy Orders. Retrieved from https://oca.org/orthodoxy/the-orthodox-faith/worship/the-sacraments/holy-orders
  3. Fitzgerald, Rev. Fr. Thomas (1985, June 11). Understanding the Sacraments of the Orthodox Church. Retrieved from https://www.goarch.org/-/the-sacraments

Here are some resources and lessons on ordination that you may find interesting and helpful as you prepare to teach your students about this sacrament. What resources have you found helpful? Comment below and share them with the community!

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The Teaching Pics ( http://ww1.antiochian.org/christianeducation/teachingpics) offer a series of pictures on that can be very helpful as you teach a lesson on ordination and/or the holy orders. Pictures S17-S19 show three aspects of the holy orders: first, the diaconate, then the priesthood, and finally, the laying on of hands. The text accompanying each picture explains the process well at a level that even young children can understand. Find the teaching pics here: http://orthodoxchristianed.com/files/4114/9885/4473/ocec2017_2018.pdf

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Although these activities are suggested for parents to do at home, Sunday Church School students of various levels will benefit from the matching game about each of the holy orders; and the paper doll deacon/priest/bishop can be a useful way to teach about the various vestments of each of the orders. http://orthodoxsundayschool.org/epistles-feasts-and-sacraments/3-5-years-old/ordersordination

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Find lessons on ordination for students at every level, here:

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

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

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

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

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

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These three videos related to ordination and the clergy will be excellent additions to a lesson on the sacrament of ordination.

Episode #116 of “Be the Bee” talks about hierarchy and why the church is set up that way: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=B1Hnqj-6_Eg

We learn about clergy vestments with this episode #117 of “Be the Bee:” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PlO02rQDQ6o

This episode #118 of “Be the Bee” reminds us that all of us are a royal priesthood: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=THyitPa5ZVE

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Older students who listen to this podcast will get to hear what it is like to be a priest. Do you think any of your students may be headed for ordination? You could share this podcast and discuss it as a class. https://www.ancientfaith.com/podcasts/orthodixie/priesthood_you_dont_wanna_do_that (Don’t worry, contrary to the title, it is a positive – but realistic – view of the priesthood!)

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Older students can read this article to learn more about the Holy Orders. http://www.antiochianarch.org.au/Holy-Orders.aspx
After they read the article, discuss the different Orders, and allow your students to create something to help them remember the different Orders. They could write about it or create a sketch or sculpture that represents first the laity, then the Minor Orders, then the Major Orders.

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ordination

On the Sacraments: the Sacrament of Confession

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 Confession.

The Orthodox Study Bible defines confession in a way that acknowledges both aspects of the word as it is used in the Orthodox Church. Confession is “The sacrament of the forgiveness of sins, whereby the repentant sinner confesses his sins to Christ in the presence of the priest, who pronounces God’s absolution of those sins.” It is also “The avowal or verbal witness of faith in Christ, leading to salvation (Rom. 10:9).” (1, p. 1777) In this blog post, we will not be focusing on the second definition (“confession of faith”), but rather on the first; the sacramental aspect of the word, the sacrament which allows us sinners to be restored to right relationship with God.

The mystery or sacrament of confession, also called penance by the Church, is the means by which we are reconciled to God when we have sinned and thereby cut ourselves off from Him and His Church. We are created for communion with God and each other, that is, communion in the sense of life in harmonious community. When we sin, we sever that communion. But we have also been created to partake in the sacrament of communion (or eucharist). Sin severs us from the eucharist, as well. God has kindly made confession/penance available to us, so that we are able to be restored to both communions.

In Fr. Thomas Hopko’s article on penance, he writes that receiving the eucharist fulfills our act of penance, and restores us to communion with our fellow humans. He also offers steps for right living beyond that reconciliation.  “The fulfillment of penance consists in the reception of Holy Communion and the genuine reconciliation of the repentant sinner with God and all men according to the commandments of Christ. From this there obviously follows the necessity of a sincere attempt by the penitent to refrain from sin and to remain in faithful obedience to God and in uprightness of life before Him and all people.” (2)

“In His mercy, God provides the sacrament of confession (more properly called the sacrament of repentance) to give us deliverance from sin… Thus, we come before the holy icon of Christ, to whom we confess, and are guided by our spiritual father in a cleansing inventory of our lives. When we tell God all, naming our sins and failures, we hear those glorious words of freedom that announce Christ’s promise of forgiveness of all our sins. We resolve to ‘go and sin no more’ (Jn 8:11).” (1, p. 1698)

Fr. Hopko’s article details the three main elements of penance. “The first is a sincere sorrow for sins and for the breaking of communion with God. The second is an open and heartfelt confession of sins… The third element of penance is the formal prayer of absolution through which the forgiveness of God through Christ is sacramentally bestowed upon the repentant sinner.” (2) So, we must begin with genuine sorrow for what we have done, followed by a thorough examination of our hearts, then an equally complete confession. At this point, it is the priest who steps in to complete the act by praying the prayer of absolution. As he does, he extends Christ’s forgiveness to us while covering our head with his epitrachelion as Christ covers our sins with His forgiveness.

“According to Orthodox teaching, the penitent confess to God and is forgiven by God. The priest is the sacramental witness who represents both Christ and His people. The priest is viewed not as a judge, but as a physician and guide.” (3) Fr. Thomas Hopko’s article reaffirms that it is only God who forgives sins, and that He does it through Christ in the Church. God requires that our repentance be genuine and that we promise to change. Confession is the chance for us to acknowledge before God and other humans that we are a sinner.

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

 

Sources:

  1. Various editors. (2008). The Orthodox Study Bible. USA: St. Athanasius Academy of Orthodox Theology. (available here: http://store.ancientfaith.com/osb-hardcover )
  2. Hopko, Fr. Thomas (2011, October 5). The Sacraments: Penance. Retrieved from https://oca.org/orthodoxy/the-orthodox-faith/worship/the-sacraments/penance
  3. Fitzgerald, Rev. Fr. Thomas (1985, June 11). Understanding the Sacraments of the Orthodox Church. Retrieved from https://www.goarch.org/-/the-sacraments

 

Here are some ideas of ways to teach your students about this important sacrament, as well as a few suggested resources to help you better understand the sacrament. What resources have you found helpful? Comment below and share them with the community!

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The Teaching Pics ( http://ww1.antiochian.org/christianeducation/teachingpics) offer a series of pictures on baptism that can be very helpful as you teach a lesson on the subject to any age group. Picture S9 shows someone in confession. The accompanying text helps to explain this sacrament in a way that children can understand. Purchase your own copy of the teaching pics here: http://orthodoxchristianed.com/files/4114/9885/4473/ocec2017_2018.pdf

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This lesson on keeping our hearts clean could begin a discussion of the importance of confession for younger children: https://www.goarch.org/-/cleaning-my-temple. After reading the story in the lesson, ask why the students think it is that the same man could pose twice for DaVinci? How many times have we made choices in our life that turn us from being beautiful to less than beautiful? What can we do to keep our hearts beautiful?

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This object lesson (not Orthodox, but easily adaptable) can help children understand the need for confession, by comparing our sins to dirty, stinky clothes: https://www.kidsofintegrity.com/lessons/righteousness/hands-options/we-must-confess-dirty-clothes-make-mess

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This object lesson would be a memorable part of a lesson on confession. It has a very hands on (literally!) way to help children understand the sticky situation we have on our hands when we sin, as well as how perfectly Christ cleanses us when we confess our sins: https://www.christianitycove.com/free-sunday-school-lesson-plans-jesus-cleanses-us-from-our-sticky-sins/848/

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Elementary or older students will not quickly forget the activity in this lesson that helps to solidify the reality of what happens during confession: http://orthodoxeducation.blogspot.com/2008/06/weight-of-our-sins.html

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Middle years and older students will appreciate the activity in this lesson that helps them think about the importance of the Sacrament of Confession: https://www.goarch.org/-/confession

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Find lessons on the sacrament of Confession for each age level here:

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

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

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

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

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

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Share this article with older students and invite discussion. What do they think of the article? What stands out in their mind after reading it? Do they agree or disagree, and why? http://dce.oca.org/assets/files/inserts/repenting-is-not-just-lamenting.pdf

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After a lesson on confession, consider sending home a letter encouraging parents to interact with their child(ren) about this sacrament. Perhaps you will want to include some of these suggestions: http://ww1.antiochian.org/christianeducation/childrenandrepentance

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Here are a few books/articles that can be valuable resources as you prepare to teach a lesson on confession:

http://store.ancientfaith.com/if-we-confess-our-sins-preparation-and-prayers/

http://store.ancientfaith.com/the-forgotten-medicine/

http://store.ancientfaith.com/confession-the-healing-sacrament/
http://saintandrewgoc.org/home/2016/11/23/the-holy-mysteries-sacraments-the-mystery-sacrament-of-holy-eucharist-part-iii

http://saintandrewgoc.org/home/2016/11/28/the-holy-mysteries-sacraments-the-mystery-sacrament-of-repentanceconfession-part-ii

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confession

On the Liturgical Year for Teachers: Great Lent (part 4 of 7)

This series of blog posts will offer basic information and resources regarding the liturgical year. It is our hope that Sunday Church School teachers will find this series helpful as they live the liturgical year with their students. The series will follow the church year in sections, as divided in the book “The Year of Grace of the Lord: a Scriptural and Liturgical Commentary on the Calendar of the Orthodox Church” by a monk of the Eastern Church. May God bless His Church throughout this year!

Great Lent consists of the 40 days leading to Holy Week, which, in turn, immediately precedes Pascha. Since its early days, Great Lent has been observed as a time of penitence, spiritual growth, and illumination. Although it is a time of great spiritual struggle, it is also a time of deep joy for Orthodox Christians, as we prepare our hearts to experience Christ’s Passion and Resurrection.

In the early centuries, Church practice included baptizing people at the Paschal Vigil. This was also when Christians who had gone astray and returned to the Faith were reconciled to the Church. In order to train and prepare these people for joining (or re-joining) the Church, an “intense period of preparation, which included fasting, began forty days before Holy Week… it gradually became a universal institution, observed by catechumens and faithful alike for its salutary effects on the life of the Christian community.” (1)  

The monk-author of “The Year of Grace of the Lord” points out that the Liturgy of the Presanctified Gifts reminds us that “Lent… commemorates Israel’s forty years of wandering in the wilderness, those forty years during which the chosen people…went forward with faith towards the far-off promised land…” (2, p. 109) He goes on to remind us that these years (as well as during Great Lent), God’s people relied on Him fully, and He provided physically with food as well as spiritually with His presence, the Ten Commandments, and many miracles. The monk continues, “Lent recalls the forty days that the Lord Jesus spent in the desert during which he contended with Satan, the tempter. Our Lent must also be a period of fighting against temptation… During the time of Lent, the Church leads us, as if by the hand, towards the radiant paschal feast. The more serious our Lenten preparation has been, the deeper we shall enter into the mystery of Easter and gather its fruits.” (2, p. 110)

Bishop Kallistos Ware said, “The primary aim of Great Lent is to make us conscious of our dependence upon God.” (1) We are encouraged to focus on three things during Great Lent: prayer, fasting, and almsgiving. Lent is a time for repentance, that we may turn from sins and earthly cares to focus our whole being on Christ and His glorious resurrection, which heals us completely. This truth grants us great joy amidst the struggles we encounter during Lent.

“Let us begin the lenten time with delight.. Let us fast from passions as we fast from food, taking pleasure in the good words of the spirit, that we may be granted to see the holy passion of Christ our God and his holy Pascha, spiritually rejoicing.” (from Vesper Hymns)

Let us participate fully in the life of the Church throughout Great Lent. As we do, let us also struggle to properly prepare our hearts and the hearts of our students for Holy Week and Pascha. If we do, when we arrive at the Feast of feasts, we will be prepared and filled with joy!

Footnotes:

  1. Calivas, Rev. Alciviadis C., Th.D., (1985, 8/13). “Orthodox Worship”. Retrieved from https://www.goarch.org/-/orthodox-worship
  2. A monk of the Eastern Church. The Year of Grace of the Lord. Crestwood, NY: St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press; 2001.

 

Here are some related links, including ideas for teaching students about Great Lent:

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Here is a blog post about Forgiveness Vespers, the beautiful way in which we begin Great Lent: https://orthodoxchurchschoolteachers.wordpress.com/2015/02/13/on-forgiveness-vespers/

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This blog post suggests ways to help your students begin Lent well. It includes links to resources such as a daily lenten calendar that helps families learn about the themes of Great Lent with suggested activities for each day, among others. https://orthodoxchurchschoolteachers.wordpress.com/2015/02/20/on-beginning-great-lent/

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This blog post about the Presanctified Liturgy is geared towards families, but could be helpful to share with your students’ parents to help encourage them to attend these Lenten liturgies: http://www.orthodoxmotherhood.com/presanctified-liturgy-children/

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During Great Lent, we celebrate the Feast of the Annunciation. Here’s a blog post that can help you teach your students about this feast! https://orthodoxchurchschoolteachers.wordpress.com/2016/03/18/620/

(An additional helpful resource is the quarterly publication “Blessed Children,” published by St. George Antiochian Orthodox Cathedral, Pittsburgh, PA. Volume 4, Issue 1 is all about the Annunciation and contains articles related to it: ranging from the icon to the church of the Annunciation to a challenge to say “Yes!” just like the Theotokos did.)

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The second Sunday of Great Lent is the Sunday of St. Gregory of Palamas. This blog post may be helpful as you help your students learn more about him: https://orthodoxchurchschoolteachers.wordpress.com/2015/03/06/lenten-learning-st-gregory-of-palamas/

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The fourth Sunday of Great Lent is the Sunday of St. John Climacus. Here’s a blog post that could be helpful as you prepare to teach your students about him: https://orthodoxchurchschoolteachers.wordpress.com/2015/03/20/lenten-learning-st-john-climacus/

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The issue of “Little Falcons” magazine that is called “Fasts” is filled with articles related to fasting. “What Can We Do for Great Lent?” (pp. 20-21) offers practical suggestions of things children can begin to do during Great Lent to grow closer to God and to be more like Christ. It would make a fabulous discussion starter near the beginning of Lent; and your class could return to it later in the fast, to give yourselves a “checkup” as to how you are doing in these areas. “Fasts” is Issue #30 of Little Falcons. It is available as a back issue here:  http://www.littlefalcons.net/pdf/2016_Backissues.pdf).