Category Archives: Sunday Church School Teachers

A Closer Look at John 3:17

The Antiochian Archdiocese’s 2020 Creative Arts Festival has as its theme John 3:17, “For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved.” Learning and understanding the meaning of this verse is pivotal to our Christian life, for it encourages us to examine condemnation, salvation, and judgement. In context, this verse also affords us the opportunity to choose for ourselves how to respond to God’s offer of salvation through Christ. Advance study of John 3:17 will help us be ready to teach our students about it, whether or not our parish is participating in the Festival. 

Rosemary Shumski, Creative Arts Festival coordinator for the Antiochian Orthodox Department of Christian Education, reflects on the theme in this guest blog:
Let’s examine this quote in context. Most of us are more familiar with the quote from John 3:16, which precedes it, “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should have everlasting life.” We then have our Creative Festivals Theme, “For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved.” (John 3:17) This is followed by the quote, “He who believes in Him is not condemned; but he who does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God.” (John 3:18)

Here are some comments from the Orthodox Study Bible: “While Christ comes to save and not to condemn, man has free will. Thus he can reject this gift, and he becomes condemned by his own rejection.”

Jesus came into the world so that we could be rescued from condemnation. The name “Jesus” literally means “God saves.” He came to show us how we could be reunited with God. In his book, The Great I Came’s of Jesus, Fr. Anthony Coniaris states, “Before Jesus came, we were a fallen race. We needed not a judge to condemn us but a Savior to raise us from our fall…Jesus said, ‘Those who are healthy do not need a physician, but those who are sick. I have come not to call the righteous but sinners to repentance.’ We needed someone to lift us, to heal us, not someone to judge and condemn us.”

Because Jesus became incarnate, He is like us in all ways except sin, so He understands His people. Jesus is compassionate, because He knows what it’s like to be tempted. But we have to make the choice as to whether we want to turn away from Him or repent and turn to Him. God didn’t create us to be robots. Because He gave us free will, we have to make that decision for ourselves.

 

Find more information about the Creative Arts Festival theme for 2020 here: http://www.antiochian.org/dashboard?name=Creative%20Festivals%202020

Here are a few lesson plans and ideas for teaching children about John 3:17:

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Preschool and Kindergarten students will take a look at Adam and Eve’s disobedience and contrast it to the Theotokos’ obedience in this Church school lesson that helps to prepare them to artistically respond to John 3:17: https://antiochianprodsa.blob.core.windows.net/websiteattachments/2020%20Preschool-%20Kindergarten%20Creative%20Festival%20Lesson%20Plan.pdf

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Students in grades 1-3 will discuss terms like “condemn” and “save”; put in order line art icons that illustrate phrases from the Creed describing Christ; and brainstorm ways to unite themselves to Him in this Creative Arts Festival lesson: https://antiochianprodsa.blob.core.windows.net/websiteattachments/2020%20CREATIVE%20FESTIVAL%20LP%20GRADE%201-3.pdf

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Students in grades 4-6 will talk about salvation without judgement, using fun activities involving Lifesavers candies and some role-play; then closely examine how the Church helps us on our journey to salvation in this lesson on John 3:17: https://antiochianprodsa.blob.core.windows.net/websiteattachments/2020%20CF%20LESSON%20PLAN%20GRADES%204-6.pdf

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Middle and high school students preparing for the Creative Arts Festival will engage in discussions about condemnation, the stages of salvation, and judging self vs. judging others in this lesson: https://antiochianprodsa.blob.core.windows.net/websiteattachments/2020%20Creative%20Festival%20Middle%20School-High%20School%20Lesson%20Plan.pdf

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Find ideas of ways to incorporate the Creative Arts Festival theme, as well as additional activities for teaching about it here: https://antiochianprodsa.blob.core.windows.net/websiteattachments/2020%20CREATIVE%20FESTIVALS%20USING%20THE%20THEME%20THROUGHOUT%20THE%20YEAR.pdf

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Introducing a Resource: SaintsBox.com

(note: the emailed materials in the subscription arrive in full color, but are depicted here in black and white)

 

“You’ve got mail!” Oh, how I loved to hear these words when I was a child! It was the same for my children as they grew up, as well. Each piece of mail “just for them” was met with great enthusiasm and eagerness. At least in our family’s experience, it is a joy for children to receive mail of their very own!

Did you know that there is an Orthodox resource that will send your child(ren) mail of their own? And this is not just any old mail: this mail builds the faith of its recipients, preparing them for each Sunday’s Divine Liturgy! The resource is called SaintsBox.com, and while most SaintsBox mail is delivered electronically, some of it arrives via the postal service. SaintsBox.com offers two different weekly email subscriptions, as well as optional accoutrements such as a “Saint of the Month” vinyl icon cards subscription (complete with a small tin for housing the collection), and other related products which are sent through the postal service. The weekly email subscriptions at SaintsBox.com are geared towards two different age levels of children. Each aims to “reinforce what the Church has already established so our children will embrace the True Faith for life!” (home page, https://www.saintsbox.com/)

“St. John’s Clubhouse” (named after St. John Maximovich of San Francisco) is the SaintsBox email subscription that is full of ways to help children ages 4-8 prepare for Sunday’s Liturgy. A cast of characters called “the Clubhouse Kids” help the “clubhouse members” learn something about Sunday’s Gospel by sharing a related “story from their life” that bring the Gospel reading to life. They include the passage, so that parents and children can read the Gospel reading together before the Liturgy. They also challenge clubhouse members to anticipate or look for a particular thing during the upcoming Sunday Liturgy. This may include explaining an unfamiliar vocabulary word or upcoming event in the life of the Church. A printable sheet including a beautiful line-art icon (by Kiah Boyd) and a brief explanation will give the member an opportunity to learn more about the saint or featured feast/event for that particular Sunday. Find more information about St. John’s Clubhouse here: https://www.saintsbox.com/st-johns-clubhouse/.

“TQ6:21” is the SaintsBox email subscription which is actually a treasure quest for 8-12 year olds. Named for Matthew 6:21 (“for where your treasure is, there will your heart be also”), this subscription club helps its readers seek treasures of the Faith in the context of the Scriptures. In order to complete the puzzles in each week’s quest, “questers” need to read the Epistle and Gospel readings for the forthcoming Sunday Liturgy. In the context of clues and riddles, questers will learn about the Faith, the Scriptures, the saints, and more. Find more information about TQ6:21 here: https://www.saintsbox.com/tq621/.

Both subscriptions offer activities that parents and children can experience together, or parents can participate with part of the adventure, and the children can do the rest. (SaintsBox suggests that parents of the 4-8 year olds will likely spend 15 minutes per week and parents of 8-12 year olds, only 5-10 minutes each week, most of which is reading the Scripture passages together.) In other words, this subscription will also help the parents prepare for Sunday’s Liturgy as well, but it is not a huge time commitment!

Besides the two email subscriptions, SaintsBox.com also offers materials such as their SaintsBox, which is a pocket-sized tin filled with a baker’s dozen vinyl icon cards, each written by Elina Pelikan and featuring a different saint or event. (The SaintsBox is also available as a larger set which includes information sheets about each saint and an olive wood cross from the Holy Land.) SaintsBox.com’s tin “Trisagion Pocket Prayer Corner” includes the trisagion prayer; a vinyl icon of Christ, the Theotokos, and St. John the Forerunner; and an olive wood cross. Each of the vinyl icon cards are also available for individual purchase. So if you have a child who particularly loves one of the featured saints, you may wish to have just that saint’s card mailed to them. (Vinyl icons include: Christ/Theotokos/St. John the Forerunner; St. Patapios; St. Katherine of Alexandria; St. Jonah Bishop of Manchuria; the Nativity of the Theotokos; the 7 Holy Youths of Ephesus; Sts. Aquila and Priscilla; St. Columba of Iona; St. Irene the Great Martyr; St. Mary of Egypt; St. Patrick; St. Haralambos; St. Mugo; and St. John of San Francisco.)

We have seen samples of SaintsBox.com’s materials and would highly recommend this resource to Orthodox parents and teachers with children aged 4-12. The subscription materials are appealing and fun but also quite helpful. The icon cards/tin sets are sturdy, useful and interesting. The artwork is beautifully tasteful and engaging. SaintsBox.com’s materials will help Orthodox children (and the adults in their life) grow closer to Christ and His Church, one Sunday’s Gospel reading at a time.

If your child (or grandchild, Sunday Church school student, or godchild) enjoys getting mail of their own, we encourage you to check out SaintsBox.com. Whether you decide to mail a vinyl saint card to them, or to send a full subscription to the program, your child(ren) will enjoy receiving the mail that comes their way. And this extraordinary mail will help them (and you!) to grow closer to Christ and His Church!

 

Here is a little more information about SaintsBox.com and its offerings which may be of help to you:

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“Our goal is to help children engage with more of the service and make deeper connections with Christ and His Saints.” ~ Annalisa Boyd, creator/writer of SaintsBox.com
Read more from her, and meet the creative team behind this wonderful subscription service here:  https://www.saintsbox.com/about-2/

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“Welcome to St. John’s Clubhouse, a subscription box club for your 4-8 year old. As parents, we understand the importance of instilling a love for Christ and His Church in the hearts of our children. We want them to embrace the True Faith as taught through Holy Tradition and the Living Church, but it’s hard to know where to start. St. John’s clubhouse offers the tools you need to help prepare your child to participate more fully in the Divine Liturgy each week. They will become friends with the Clubhouse Kids as they share from the Holy Scriptures, meet a Sunday saint and… do activities that inspire them to live the faith in every life situation. As you know, kids this age are CONSTANTLY learning. Providing teaching materials that feel like play, opens the door for your child to make long lasting positive connections between Church and home.” ~from the SaintsBox facebook page, Sept. 18, 2018

Find more information about St. John’s Clubhouse here: https://www.saintsbox.com/st-johns-clubhouse/

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“TQ6:21 (Treasure Quest – Matthew 6:21 “Where you treasure is, there your heart will be also”)

We have all been called to the challenging and amazing life-long quest of storing up treasure for heaven by being transformed into the image of Christ. This quest, as you well know, is a matter of life and death, and our kids need all of the tools that the Church has to offer if they are to endure to the end. In order to help our children on that journey into Life, we have created the TQ6:21 program, which provides practical and engaging ways for kids to learn to own their faith and live it daily. We have aimed, in our theming of the activities, to tap into the natural love for adventure of 8-12 year-olds, helping them to develop their unique talents, godly character, a deeper understanding of their faith, and a lasting love for Holy Tradition as expressed in the living Church — all while just plain having fun! We’ve prepared this guide for you as the adult assisting them, to help explain the basic format of the program, and how it is designed to function.” ~from the SaintsBox facebook page, Sept. 18, 2018

Find more information about TQ6:21 here: https://www.saintsbox.com/tq621/

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Watch SaintsBox creator Annalisa Boyd’s video podcast “The Ascetic Lives of Mothers”, in which she introduces SaintsBox, here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=b7Xnl-UNAFo&feature=youtu.be&fbclid=IwAR09Efb4p7lgNkfcsken3bSSCL3jP7c5CO3HhCNK2vc9JosCKl9e8lAqfFs (Note: at the time of this podcast, the subscriptions were not all electronic. The podcast does a good job of describing the program and how children have interacted with it. However, several times in the podcast Annalisa mentions receiving the subscription items in the mail. Listeners will need to keep in mind that the subscriptions are now emailed, not snail-mailed to the child.)

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Find a sample of the beautiful icon line art which Kiah Boyd creates for St. John’s Clubhouse here. (This one was for Pentecost.) https://www.facebook.com/2088291571190702/photos/a.2169450139741511/2497858676900654/?type=3&theater

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“I just love Saint John of San Francisco! Our family had the amazing opportunity to visit his relics when we lived in California. We got to go to the home that had been the location of the orphanage he began in San Francisco. We got to sit in his chair in his cell and say the Our Father. We even visited the original wooden church he had established and were blessed to have his Philonion (the cape part of his vestments) draped over us as the priest prayed for our family. From then on, each time we have seen an icon of Saint John, it has been like seeing a dear friend. That is our goal with presenting these icon cards…” ~ Annalisa Boyd, offering a bit of the back-story of the St. John of San Fransisco icon card available from SaintsBox.com at https://www.saintsbox.com/product/saint-john-of-san-francisco-saint-card/

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A Gathering of Ideas for Preparing for a New School Year

It is nearly the beginning of a new Sunday Church school year for many of our community who live in the northern hemisphere. We have come across some interesting ideas that we thought could perhaps be helpful to you, and have compiled them to share here. We hope that you will find something useful and helpful for your classroom and for beginning the year with your students.

As you begin a new Church school year, may the Lord bless your transition! May He provide for, guide, and strengthen both you and your students as you learn. May this school year be a year of growth and great learning for everyone!

Here are some of the links that we found. What additional ideas do you have? What have you found helpful at the beginning of a school year? Please share it with the community!

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If your Sunday Church school year does not begin for a few more weeks, there’s still plenty to do to prepare yourself and your classroom for the new Church school year. If you have not yet read Gerry Clonaris’ article “Getting Ready for Your Best Classes Ever”, you’ll want to check out the excerpts we shared here, and then link through to the article itself:

https://orthodoxchurchschoolteachers.wordpress.com/2016/08/12/excerpts-from-getting-ready-for-your-best-classes-ever-an-article-by-gerry-clonaris/

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Planning for a new school year should include making a plan in the event of the unlikely chance that you will not be able to teach some Sunday. If you have not yet prepared a substitute teacher folder for your classroom, we encourage you to do so! It is better for children to have some continuity in their learning experience, and anyone filling in for you at the last minute will be grateful for this detailed description of how your class works, as well as your having planned ahead. Read more about preparing a sub folder here: https://orthodoxchurchschoolteachers.wordpress.com/2017/08/25/on-creating-a-substitute-folder-for-your-sunday-church-school-classroom/

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You’ll find a few simple suggestions of ways to prepare yourself and your classroom for a good Sunday Church school year in this blog: https://www.lifeway.com/kidsministry/2017/08/29/5-tips-to-start-your-teaching-year-off-right/

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There are a host of ideas for beginning the school year here, which could be easily adapted for use in a Sunday Church school classroom. Older students will enjoy these getting-to-know-you activities, and you as a teacher will find some helpful ideas of ways to help communicate your expectations of the class. http://www.teachingwithamountainview.com/2014/07/first-day-of-school-activities-for-big.html?m=1

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The two fun “getting to know you” activities in this post will help your students get to know each other better, while also helping you to learn more about each of them: http://www.kristendembroski.com/?p=286

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If you’re really interested in learning to know your students, consider inviting them to write you a letter titled “I wish my teacher knew…” They’ll include three things they’d like you to know about them, and you’ll read the letter privately, not share it with the class. Knowing three things you wouldn’t otherwise know about your students, right from the start of the Sunday Church school year, will help you know how to pray for them and how to best plan lessons that they will enjoy and understand. http://suburbansnowwhite.com/i-wish-my-teacher-knew/

On Finishing Strong: Ideas for the End of the Church School Year

Some members of our community will soon be finishing their Church School year, to take a break for the summer. Others of us will continue to meet with our students, but will finish in just a few months. Regardless of how soon our year ends, it is wise for us to finish well in order to better send our Church School students off to their next class.

Here are a few ideas of ways to do so:

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Take a class at the end of the year to review what you have studied throughout the year. We amassed a collection of fun review games and ideas here: https://orthodoxchurchschoolteachers.wordpress.com/2015/05/08/ideas-for-year-end-review/

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To encourage your students to express their appreciation for each other, you may wish to incorporate “Goodbye Stars” like these, where each student writes a little note of appreciation on their classmate’s star. (Or, perhaps you’d prefer to use a paper icon, and have them write the notes on the back of the icon or on a card to which it is attached.) https://proudtobeprimary.com/end-of-the-year-goodbye-stars/

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Will you hand out awards at the end of Sunday Church School this year? If so, consider awards like these that focus on the virtues. https://orthodoxchurchschoolteachers.wordpress.com/2017/05/26/on-virtuous-year-end-awards/

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If you are considering offering awards to your students, perhaps you will be inspired by some of these (free!) ideas: https://www.teacherspayteachers.com/Product/End-of-Year-Awards-Freebie-Christian-Character-Awards-3825690

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If you plan to give your students a parting gift, perhaps these clever tags will inspire you to create something similar of your own. https://lessons4littleones.com/2016/04/13/end-of-the-year-student-gifts-gift-tags/

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Here’s another idea for a parting gift. This one offers a variety of “life lessons” symbolized by things kids can use. http://lessonswithlaughter.com/end-of-year-gifts-updated/

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Once the year is finished, be sure to review the year and make notes for yourself for future years. Need some ideas of what to think about? Check out these: https://orthodoxchurchschoolteachers.wordpress.com/2017/06/02/on-evaluating-the-sunday-church-school-year/

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If your Sunday Church School class does not meet over summer,  you may wish to maintain the relationship you’ve built with each student in some special way. Here are some suggested ideas of how to do so: https://orthodoxchurchschoolteachers.wordpress.com/2016/06/17/on-supporting-your-students-throughout-the-summer/

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Gleanings from a Book: “Raising Them Right” by St. Theophan the Recluse

St. Theophan the Recluse may have lived a reclusive life, but his was a life of prayer and asceticism, and that closeness to God granted him much wisdom. His writings and teachings have been recorded, preserved, and translated from the Russian so that we are able to read them and learn from them. “Raising them Right” is a collection of his writings and teachings for and about young people, intended for youth and those who raise or teach them. It is a small but powerful collection of teachings.

“Raising them Right” begins with a few pages telling about the life of St. Theophan the Recluse. That is followed by 7 chapters of his teachings: “The Christian Adult”, “Baptism: the Adult and the Child”, “The Developing Child”, “Forming Attitudes”, “The Years of Youth”, “Understanding a Young Person”, and finally “Preserving God’s Grace”. Each chapter contains timeless wisdom. Even though St. Theophan was born more than 200 years ago, his words are applicable to adults and children today.

This book is small but wise. We recommend that parents and teachers alike read it, ponder its words, and allow St. Theophan to help us in our task of training children. As we learn, may we truly raise the next generation of Orthodox Christians right.

St. Theophan, please pray for us and for our students!

 

Purchase “Raising Them Right” here: https://store.ancientfaith.com/raising-them-right-a-saints-advice-on-raising-children/. The ebook and audiobook will soon be available, as well.

Although the book is about raising children, quite a lot of it pertains to teachers and young people. Here are a few quotes from the book which we thought would be helpful to our teaching community, either as a challenge/encouragement to teachers, or to be used in a discussion with older students:

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“One may ask, how does one reach the point where the desire is born to walk toward God on the path of Christ? What does one do so that the law will imprint itself on the heart, and the sowing and development of the Christian life are different in essence from the sowing and development of natural life, owing to the special character of the Christian life and its relation to our nature. A man is not born a Christian, but becomes such after birth. The seed of Christ falls on the soil of a heart that is already beating.” (p. 13, “Raising Them Right,” by St. Theophan the Recluse)

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“One of the first tricks of the enemy against us is the idea of trusting in oneself: that is, if not renouncing, then at least not feeling the need for the help of grace. The enemy as it were says: ‘Do not go to the light where they wish to give you some kind of new powers. You are good just the way you are!’ And a man gives himself over to repose. But in the meantime the enemy is throwing a rock (some kind of unpleasantness) at one; others he is leading into a slippery place (the deception of the passions); for yet others he is strewing with flowers a closed noose (deceptively good conditions). Without looking around, a man strives to go further and further, and does not guess that he is falling down lower and lower until finally he goes to the very depths of evil, to the threshold of hell itself.” (p. 24, “Raising Them Right,” by St. Theophan the Recluse)

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“The Lord gives grace freely. But He asks that a man seek it and receive it with desire, dedicating himself entirely to God.” (p. 27, “Raising Them Right,” by St. Theophan the Recluse)

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“…so, let the child be surrounded by sacred forms, objects of all kinds, and let everything that can corrupt in examples, depictions, or things be put away. But later, and for all the time that follows, one must keep the same order. It is well known how powerfully corrupt images act upon the soul, no matter in what form they might touch it! How unfortunate is the child who, closing his eyes, or being left alone and going within himself, is stifled by a multitude of improper images—vain, tempting, breathing of the passions. This is the same thing for
the soul as smoke is for the head.” (pp 46-47, “Raising Them Right,” by St. Theophan the Recluse)

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“The most effective means for the education of true taste in the heart is a church-centered life, in which all children in their upbringing must be unfailingly kept. Sympathy for everything sacred, pleasure in remaining in its midst for the sake of quietness and warmth, separation from what is bright and attractive in worldly vanity—all this cannot better be imprinted in the heart (than by a church-centered life). The church building, church singing, icons—these are the first objects of fine art in content and power.” (p.54, “Raising Them Right,” by St. Theophan the Recluse)

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“And this is the chief aim of a Christian upbringing: that a man as a result of this might say within himself that he is a Christian. And if, when he comes to full awareness of himself he will say, ‘I am a Christian, obliged by my Savior and God to live in such a way so as to be vouchsafed the blessed communion with Him and with His chosen ones in the future life,’ then in the very midst of his independent existence or the unique, rational ordering of his life, he will place for himself as his first and essential duty to preserve in an independent way
and to warm the spirit of piety in which he previously walked under the guidance of others.” (p.60, “Raising Them Right,” by St. Theophan the Recluse)

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“A young blossom planted in a place where the wind blows on it from all sides only endures a little and then dries up; grass on which people frequently walk does not grow; a part of the body which is subjected to friction for a long time becomes numb. The same thing happens to the heart and to the good dispositions in it if one is given over to day-dreams or to empty reading or to enjoyments.” (p.69, “Raising Them Right,” by St. Theophan the Recluse)

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“It goes without saying that good naturally strives towards good and avoids the evil; there is a certain taste for this in the heart. But again, how often it happens that simplicity of heart is enticed by cunning. Thus, every young person is rightly advised to be careful in the choice of a friend. It is good not to conclude friendship
until the friend has been tested.” (p.72, “Raising Them Right,” by St. Theophan the Recluse)

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“The educator should go through all the degrees of Christian perfection in order later to know how to behave in the midst of action, to be capable of noticing which way the students are going, and then to act upon them with patience, successfully, powerfully, and fruitfully. This should be a group of the most pure, God-chosen, and holy people. Of all holy works, the education of children is the most holy.” (pp. 83-84, “Raising Them Right,” by St. Theophan the Recluse)

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“But the chief form of moral perfection which belongs to one who has preserved himself whole in the years of youth is a certain unshakability in virtue for his whole life. Samuel remained firm in the presence of all the temptations that scandalized in the house of Eli and in the midst of the agitations of the people in society. Joseph in the midst of his evil brothers, in the house of Potiphar, in prison and in glory, equally preserved his soul inviolate… A right outlook is converted, as it were, into nature, and if sometimes it is a little violated, soon it returns to its original state. Therefore in the lives of saints we find for the most part those who have preserved their moral purity and the grace of baptism in youth.” (pp. 86-87, “Raising Them Right,” by St. Theophan the Recluse)

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“God is pleased most of all by what is offered first: the first fruits, the firstborn of men and animals, and therefore also by the first years of youth. An immaculate youth is a pure sacrifice.” (p.87 , “Raising Them Right,” by St. Theophan the Recluse)

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.

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“‘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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On the Sacraments: the Sacrament of the Eucharist

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

Of the many sacraments of the Church, the Holy Eucharist is central. “Everything in the Church leads to the eucharist, and all things flow from it. It is the completion of all the Church’s sacraments—the source and the goal of all of the Church’s doctrines and institutions.” (1) If one takes a moment to think about the sacraments of the church, it is evident that this is true! Baptism, chrismation, and confession make us eligible and prepared to receive the eucharist. Ordination provides the blessed hands (and heart) to prepare and serve it. Marriage and unction flow from the abundant grace of the eucharist, and both of these sacraments can/should go on to become healing elements for members of the Church and society in general. So all of the mysteries of the Church have the eucharist at their heart.

But what does the word mean? And how did this sacrament begin? The Orthodox Study Bible’s definition of eucharist explains that the word is “taken from a Greek word [Ευχαριστία] meaning ‘thanksgiving.’”(2, p. 1779) It goes on to remind the reader that during the Last Supper, our Lord gave thanks, then it reminds us that “embodied in the communion service is our own thanksgiving.” (ibid)

How beautiful it is that this thanksgiving that we find in our communion service was actually begun by our Lord Himself when He gave thanks in the midst of the Last Supper (which was a celebration of the Jewish Passover meal). When Christ told His disciples to eat and drink the bread and wine as His Body and Blood, that action “became the center of the Christian life, the experience of the presence of the Risen Christ in the midst of His people.” (1) They did just that, and we continue to do it today. The eucharist has been practiced in the Holy Orthodox Church since the first century, according to the Didache!

The sacrament of eucharist is available to all members of the Orthodox Church, and is “strictly understood as being the real presence of Christ, His true Body and Blood mystically present in the bread and wine which are offered to the Father in His name and consecrated by the divine Spirit of God.” (1) Because of this, we take the eucharist very seriously, preparing our hearts and our bodies with prayer, confession, and fasting before communing, and reserving the act of communion for Orthodox Christians in good standing with the Church.

 

Glory to God for His gift of the sacrament of the eucharist! May He make us worthy to partake of it, and as we do, may He cleanse and purify us that we may become ever more like Him!

Sources:

  1. Hopko, Fr. Thomas (2011, October 5). The Sacraments: Holy Eucharist. Retrieved from https://oca.org/orthodoxy/the-orthodox-faith/worship/the-sacraments/holy-eucharist .
  2. Various editors. (2008). The Orthodox Study Bible. USA: St. Athanasius Academy of Orthodox Theology. (available here: http://store.ancientfaith.com/osb-hardcover )

Below, you will find ideas and lessons to help your students study the sacrament of the eucharist!

What resources have you found helpful? Comment below and share them with the community!

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Teachers for students of all ages may find it helpful to read this “Raising Saints” blog post before teaching a lesson on the Eucharist: https://blogs.ancientfaith.com/raisingsaints/the-body-blood-and-what-kids-believe/

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One of the Teaching Pics ( http://ww1.antiochian.org/christianeducation/teachingpics) offers a picture and explanation that may be helpful as you teach a lesson about the Eucharist to any age group. Picture S11 is the one featuring Holy Communion, and the text explains the Eucharist in a way that even young children can understand. Find the teaching pics here:  http://orthodoxchristianed.com/files/4114/9885/4473/ocec2017_2018.pdf

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Teachers of young students may want to pass along these activities for students and their families to do at home in order to continue learning about the Eucharist and Divine Liturgy: http://orthodoxsundayschool.org/epistles-feasts-and-sacraments/3-5-years-old/eucharistliturgy

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Teachers of young students may find these printables (and a brief lesson plan) helpful in teaching a lesson on the Eucharist: http://www.orthodoxabc.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/06/006-EN-ed04_Holy-Communion.pdf

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This site offers a young-child-leveled lesson plan on preparing the gifts, and how they play into the sacrament of the Eucharist: https://orthodoxpebbles.com/orthodox-basics/preparing-the-gifts/

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The sacrament of the Eucharist is received in the context of the Divine Liturgy. Find lesson plans on the Liturgy (and the Eucharist) at every level, here:

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

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

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

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

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

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This lesson on the Eucharist features a free printable zine! http://manymercies.blogspot.com/2015/06/teaching-eucharist-to-children.html?m=1

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The Orthodox Christian Education Commission’s 5th grade text, “Our Life in the Church,” contains an entire unit dedicated to the Sacrament of the Eucharist. Lessons 12-23 walk students through the Divine Liturgy. Lessons 18 and 21-23 are the most focused on the Eucharist. This text and teacher text can be found here: http://orthodoxchristianed.com/files/1413/4503/0063/OCOC-Catalog.pdf

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Teachers of older students will want to read pp. 74-86 of this book (https://www.orthodoxmarketplace.com/esss/product/the-orthodox-church-455-questions-and-answers) in order to be prepared for a class discussion on the Eucharist. Select a few of the questions to ask to your students during the discussion, then refer the students back to the book or other sources to find the answers.

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eucharist

Help each student create his or her own pocket prayer book with prayers for them to read before and after communion. You could type out and copy the prayers before class, and let them select and glue the ones they wish to use into a small handmade notebook, or let them hand copy the prayers they select. Find the prayers here: http://www.gometropolis.org/orthodox-faith/church-and-sacraments/holy-eucharist/prayers-before-and-after-communion/

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