Author’s note: We have written about virtues before (see https://orthodoxchurchschoolteachers.wordpress.com/2017/03/03/on-pursuing-the-virtues-an-introduction/), and now we are continuing the series. There are so very many virtues for us to acquire! Fr. Thomas Hopko’s book “The Orthodox Faith, Volume 4, Spirituality,” offers additional virtues, some of which we will now study. May the Lord have mercy on us and grant us grace as we learn to better walk in His ways!
Fr. Thomas Hopko’s chapter about hope begins by pairing the virtue of hope with the power of faith. He reminds his readers that Abraham “in hope believed against hope that he should be the father of many nations” (Rom 4:18). He reminds his readers that hope and faith both rest in the unseen.
Hope is knowing that good will result in our life if we are living in faith, according to Fr. Hopko. Hope can help us to be sure that even in the midst of darkness and sin, God’s light and forgiveness is with us and will do for us what we are not able to do. Hope extends to us the reassurance that we need.
Fr. Hopko speaks of the opposite of hope, as well, so that we can be on guard. Despondency and despair are the opposites of hope. He calls these “the most grievous and horrible condition that a person can be in.” These two conditions work together to create the most terrible and damaging situation for our soul. Why? Because when we have no hope, we can’t do anything else. We especially can not have faith.
Fr. Hopko continues, “If a person is faithless, he can be chastised and convinced. If a person is proud, he can be humbled; impure, he can be cleansed; weak, he can be strengthened; wicked, he can be made righteous. But if a person is despondent and despairing, the very condition of his sickness is such that his heart and soul are dead and unresponsive to the grace of God and the support of his brothers.”
But if we fall into despair, it is possible for us to repair the state of our souls with humility and patience. Fr. Hopko tells his readers that when we fall into these states, we must hold steadfastly to the life of Faith, even if we don’t “feel” it anymore. He says when we are experiencing despair, we need to continue to go through each day, living our life of Faith. Even if we are just “going through the motions” of reading scriptures, participating in liturgical worship, keeping the fasts, praying, and working, we must not stop doing these things. He reminds us of St. Benedict’s advice that those in despondency/despair continue to do what they are doing as well as they can, and as attentively as possible. He suggests that we follow St. Seraphim’s encouragement to visit with strong friends who are spiritual, full of hope, merciful, and full of joy.
Staying steadfast through the dry times until we once again experience the light of hope and comfort is what we need to do. It is not an easy way to go (Fr. Hopko reminds us, “those who find it are few” (Mt. 7:14)). St. Evagrius assures us that when one “fights and conquers against despondency and despair, this struggle is followed by a peaceful state and the soul becomes filled with ineffable joy”.
Fr. Hopko addresses those who proclaim that it is virtuous to be without hope, thinking that declaring “all is lost” pleases God as these people sorrow over their sins and the sins of the world. He says it is not virtuous to feel helpless around the wicked or to think we’re at the mercy of evil. Rather, it is a virtue to be “rejoicing in hope, patient in tribulation, continuing steadfastly in prayer”(Rom 12.12). When we do so, we are able to really know and believe that God has the final victory in our life.
May we all grow in the virtue of hope, and help our Sunday Church School students to do the same!
Read Fr. Thomas Hopko’s discussion of hope here: https://oca.org/orthodoxy/the-orthodox-faith/spirituality/the-virtues/hope
Here are some ideas of ways that we can help to teach our Sunday Church School students about the virtue of hope:
Tell your students the story of Abraham. How can we learn hope from his story?
(If you don’t want to tell it on your own, you may consider reading these to your class: http://www.essex1.com/people/paul/bible15.html (You’ll want to share his story at least to the one marked 18, where Sarah gives birth to Isaac.)
Find ideas for crafts and printable pages about Abraham here: http://www.dltk-bible.com/genesis/chapter15-index.htm
Share a story (or more!) from the life of the prophet Daniel with your class. Talk about how he hoped in God, and it saved him. Find a story and activity ideas here: http://www.dltk-bible.com/old_testament/daniel-index.htm
The story of Hannah’s hope in God – and the results of her hope – is a beautiful one to share with Sunday Church School children. Find a 3-minute video version here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JiYumdP4C6k
Find ideas for related activities here: http://www.dltk-bible.com/old_testament/hannah-index.htmn
The story of Job offers us a wonderful model of how to face trials and hope in the Lord. Share the story with your class. (Here’s a 6-minute video version, if you have younger students: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bInc7sSe9KI) After learning about Job’s story together, talk about how he could (should?) have lost hope so many times. Yet, Job truly trusted God, and God watched over him throughout his trials. What can we learn from Job about the hard things we experience?
Use two identical balloons filled with different things (to demonstrate the difference between being filled with despair and being filled with hope) as an attention-getter at the start of a lesson about hope! https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1ZFNBXGrXl0
Here’s a “Be the Bee” episode about holding onto hope, which could be a great discussion starter for a lesson on hope: https://www.goarch.org/-/hold-on-to-hope?inheritRedirect=true
This secular plan for teaching hope offers some excellent questions that we can ask our Sunday Church School students, as well as some age-leveled ideas that we can glean from as we help our students learn about this virtue in the context of the Faith. http://schools.cms.k12.nc.us/dilworthES/Documents/Character%20Education/Hope.pdf
Teachers of elementary-aged or older students may want to print off this printable with 31 questions about hope. Each question has a suggested scripture to check for its answer. https://ministry-to-children.com/kids-can-devotion-1/ (It is not Orthodox, but will be helpful to teachers planning a lesson on hope.)
After a discussion on hope with middle-years or older students, talk about ideas of ways to share hope with others. You may want to include these “4 Ways to Sow Hope”:
1. Write down the wonderful promises in God’s Word (Matthew 28:20, John 14:26-29, 1 Corinthians 1:7-9).
2. Regularly remind yourself of the reality of heaven (Matthew 28:28-30, John 14:1-4, Revelation 21-22).
3. When describing your circumstances, choose hopeful words. Share hardship authentically, but always affirm God’s ultimate game plan (Psalm 27:13-14).
4. Avoid complaining. Grumbling is a magnet for more complaints; avoid passing negative perspectives on to others (Philippians 2:13-16).
(This idea comes from http://www.discipleblog.com/2017/11/teaching-kids-about-true-harvest-faith-hope-and-love/, which is not Orthodox, but has some very helpful suggestions/ideas.)
With older Sunday Church School students, discuss the difference between trust and hope. This homily would be a great discussion starter: http://stgeorgegoc.org/pastors-corner/fr-ricks-sermons/in-god-we-trusthope
Share this Orthodox prayer for comfort, inviting students to keep it in mind the next time they feel hopeless and need God’s comfort:
“Almighty God, the Father of mercies and God of
all comfort, come to my help and deliver me from
this difficulty that besets me. I believe Lord, that
all trials of life are under Your care and that all
things work for the good of those who love You.
Take away from me fear, anxiety and distress.
Help me to face and endure my difficulty with
faith, courage and wisdom. Grant that this trial
may bring me closer to You for You are my rock
and refuge, my comfort and hope, my delight and
joy. I trust in Your love and compassion. Blessed is
Your name, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, now and
forever. Amen.” (from http://www.beliefnet.com/faiths/prayer/2009/12/prayers-for-hope-and-comfort.aspx?p=5)
Share this prayer to the Holy Trinity with your class.
“The Father is my hope; the Son is my refuge; the Holy Spirit is my protector. O All-holy Trinity, glory to You.”
Invite them to tell what “The Father is my hope” means to them. Encourage each member of the class to remember this lesson about hope every time they pray this prayer.
With older students, talk about this statement: “It’s easy, after all, to tell a kid to be hopeful. It’s entirely more powerful to give them a reason to hope.” Share this (secular) article with them (http://time.com/3395822/teaching-hope/) and launch a discussion on how each class member has received hope over the years. Follow that by a brainstorming session of how each person can give others a reason to hope. What can each class member do, right now, to bring hope to others? Make a plan to help them carry it out.