Category Archives: Sunday Church School Teachers

On Pursuing Virtue: Hope

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:
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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
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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
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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
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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?

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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

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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
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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
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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.)
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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.)
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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
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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)
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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.
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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.
***

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On Pursuing Virtue: Gratitude

Author’s note: Although we have written about virtues before (see https://orthodoxchurchschoolteachers.wordpress.com/2017/03/03/on-pursuing-the-virtues-an-introduction/), we will continue this 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!

We will begin this conversation where we often end other ones: with gratitude. We teach our children to say “thank you,” but gratitude is much more than remembering to say these words after receiving a gift or eating a meal! True gratitude is a lifestyle. Fr. Thomas Hopko, in his book The Orthodox Faith, Volume 4, Spirituality, says, “The spiritual person is the one who is grateful for everything. He is the one who receives everything with thanksgiving, and who knows that he has nothing except what he has received from God.”

St. Nikolai Velimirovich agrees, and elaborates in his Prologue from Ochrid: “For as long as you are on earth, consider yourself a guest in the Household of Christ. If you are at the table, it is He who treats you. If you breathe air, it is His air you breathe. If you bathe, it is in His water you are bathing. If you are traveling, it is over His land that you are traveling. If you are amassing goods, it is His goods you are amassing. If you are squandering, it is His goods that you are squandering. If you are powerful, it is by His permission that you are strong. If you are in the company of men, you and the others are His guests. If you are out in nature, you are in His garden. If you are alone, He is present. If you set out or turn anywhere, He sees you. If you do anything, He remembers. He is the most considerate Householder by Whom you were ever hosted. Be careful then toward Him. In a good household, the guest is required to behave. These are all simple words but they convey to you a great truth. All the saints knew this truth and they governed their lives by it. That is why the Eternal Householder rewarded them with eternal life in heaven and glory on earth.” This type of mindset – really remembering that everything, EVERYTHING, is God’s and we are simply His guests, staying in His home and borrowing His linens – completely changes our possessive assumptions and multiplies our gratitude.

Fr. Hopko continues his discussion on gratitude by pointing out that from the time of the Old Testament, thanksgiving has been central to life for the people of God. In the Old Testament times, sacrifices of thanksgiving were offered in the temple, and the Psalms sang thanks to God. This attitude continued in the New Testament times! The word “eucharist” means thanksgiving, so from that time to this day, our worship centers around being grateful: we lift up our hearts and give thanks to the Lord!

Fr. Hopko points out that the Scriptures and the lives of the saints are full of thanksgiving to God, not just for the “good” things, but for everything! The saints have shown their complete trust in God’s provision and care. They have modeled gratitude for us in their deeds and words. St. John Chrysostom reminds us that even things that may look bad to us can be used to bring spiritual growth and salvation by God’s grace! (And he did not just say this. He lived it. He was in the process of being exiled in old age when he died, and yet his last words were, “Glory to God for all things!”)

Fr. Hopko states that the opposite of gratitude is bitterness and complaining. If we are proud and covetous, we will complain about our life. Complaining shows that we are lacking a humble trust in God, and thereby we do not thank Him for everything! When we trust Him absolutely, we will be at peace.

Fr. Hopko closes his chapter on gratitude with this statement: “A person is grateful to the extent that he trusts in the Lord and has love for God and man.”

 

Read more of Fr. Thomas Hopko’s wise words about the virtues, as written in his book, here: https://oca.org/orthodoxy/the-orthodox-faith/spirituality/the-virtues

Here are some scriptures about gratitude, how children benefit from living a life of gratitude, and a few ideas of ways to help our students learn about this virtue:

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Scriptures related to gratitude (let your class read them, let each student select one to artistically copy/decorate, and/or assign each verse to a small group of students who work together to dramatically present their verse to the rest of the class):
And from His fullness have we all received, grace upon grace (Jn 1.16).
Sing praises to the Lord, O you His saints, and give thanks to His Holy Name.
Let us come into His presence with thanksgiving. Let us enter His gates with thanksgiving, and His courts with praise. Give thanks to Him, bless His name!
It is good to give thanks to the Lord, to sing praises to Thy Name, O Most High; to declare Thy steadfast love in the morning, and Thy faithfulness by night.
O give thanks unto the Lord, for He is gracious, for His mercy endures forever! (Pss 30.4, 95.2, 92.1, 107.1).
Let there be no filthiness, nor silly talk, nor levity, which are not fitting; but instead let there be thanksgiving . . . always and for ­everything giving thanks in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ to God the Father (Eph 5.4, 20).
Rejoice always, pray constantly, give thanks in all circumstances, for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you (1 Thess 5.16–18).
Rejoice always in the Lord; again I say, Rejoice! Have no anxiety about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which passes all understanding, will keep your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus (Phil 4.4–7).
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“…researchers are now turning their attention to how gratitude can better the lives of children, too. They’re finding that the experience of high levels of gratitude in the adolescent years can set a child up to thrive.” Read about some of the research and findings in this excellent article: https://www.wsj.com/articles/how-to-raise-more-grateful-children-1519398748
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“Children who learn gratitude become more sensitive to the feelings of others. As gratitude becomes a way of life, empathy takes root and weeds out selfishness as grateful kids look outside themselves to the wide world beyond.” Read more here: http://www.shelivesfree.com/2014/03/raising-grateful-kids-in-an-entitled-world.html
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Share this practical article (seven things parents can do to raise grateful children) with the parents of your students, after studying gratitude as a class: https://thehumbledhomemaker.com/raise-grateful-kids/
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Need some ideas of ways to walk in gratitude? Check out this blog post:
https://orthodoxchurchschoolteachers.wordpress.com/2015/11/27/on-living-a-life-of-gratitude/
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“…a study conducted by Dr. Robert A. Emmons of the University of California, Davis, reveals that cultivating gratitude can increase happiness levels by around 25 percent… other studies have shown that kids who practice grateful thinking have more positive attitudes toward school and family.” Read more about why it is important to cultivate gratitude in our children, as well as 11 practical ways to do so, in this article: https://www.huffingtonpost.com/andrea-reiser/11-tips-for-instilling-true-gratitude-in-your-kids_b_4708019.html
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Here is a very simple-to-prepare object lesson on gratitude. All you need is a box full of old/recyclable items and some imaginative thought! https://www.futureflyingsaucers.com/thankfulness-in-a-box/
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Consider sharing a story (or two!) with your class to help them think about gratitude and thankfulness. These sites offer ideas of books that could be useful:
http://investinginchildren.on.ca/blog/2015/1/14/19-childrens-books-about-gratitude
https://preschoolinspirations.com/books-about-gratitude-thankfulness/
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Find a variety of ideas of ways to teach gratitude, leveled by the children’s ages, here: https://www.today.com/news/get-grateful-20-ways-teach-kids-gratitude-tots-teens-1D80297963
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Gratitude craft idea:
Use recycled jars to create “gratitude jars.” Invite each student to create their own “gratitude jar” label on cardstock. Use packing tape to affix the label to a jar. Fill the jar with gratitude discussion starters on slips of paper (a few examples can be found here: https://creativefamilyfun.net/gratitude-conversation-starters/ or here: https://modernparentsmessykids.com/free-printable-thanksgiving-gratitude-conversation-starters-2/, and your students can write their own on slips of paper). Or send a stack of small sticky-note paper with each student so they can write one thing they’re thankful for each day on a sticky note, fold it together so that the sticky side seals it shut, and add it to the jar. At the end of a month (or a year!), they can open each note to once again be grateful for all of those things!
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Find a few gratitude-themed activities at this page. They are geared to Thanksgiving, but most of them could be used anytime you are teaching about the virtue of gratitude! http://www.dvo.com/newsletter/monthly/2012/november/funtimes.html
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If your students have cell phones with cameras, or if you can round up enough digital cameras, divide the class into a few small groups, give each group a camera, and send them on a gratitude scavenger hunt. This activity (https://lets-get-together.com/2014/10/18/gratitude-photo-scavenger-hunt/) will help each participant to take a moment and realize how much is right around them that they are grateful for! (Note: if you take them outside to do this, round up a few teen or parent volunteers beforehand so that each group has an older supervisor.) You could also give this as a “homework” assignment at the end of a class discussion on gratitude. If you do it this way, invite the students to send you the pictures that they take, and you can compile the pictures into a presentation to share with the class or with your parish!
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With older students, discuss the Akathist of Thanksgiving (https://www.stnicholasdc.org/files/Prayers/Akathist-of-Thanksgiving.pdf). Challenge them each to write a verse of their own.

On Creating a Substitute Folder for Your Sunday Church School Classroom

As Sunday Church Schools in the northern hemisphere prepare to begin a new SCS year, it is time for teachers to begin to ready their classrooms. An oft-overlooked piece that ought to be prepared before the start of the year is a “Substitute Folder.” It is unusual that teachers should miss a Sunday, and most times they are able to find and train their own replacement if they know they will miss a Sunday. However, once in awhile something comes up suddenly and even the most devoted Sunday Church School teacher must miss class at the last minute. This blog post will offer a few suggestions of how to prepare for that unlikely-yet-possible occasion.

In order to be ready for such a time as this, we recommend that every classroom have a “Substitute Folder” prepared. It should be easy to find, and/or the Sunday Church School Director should know where it is so he/she can gather it for the substitute. The folder does not have to be big or fancy: it can just be a simple three-pronged folder, clearly labeled “Substitute Folder.” It should contain the following:

1. A roster of students in the class. (And a seating chart, if you have assigned seats.)

2. An order or schedule of how class usually happens.

3. Helpful notes that the substitute can read quickly to learn more about the students in the class and/or tips that can help them succeed. (This will likely need to be written part way through the year, unless you know all of your students before the year begins.)

4. A lesson plan that can happen at any time of the year. It should be well thought through, and explained in a way that someone could just pick it up and read it while teaching it to the class.

5. Any books or other text that will be needed to teach the lesson.

6. All the photocopies and/or craft supplies (or directions on where to find them) that will be needed for the lesson.

7. An optional other activity or two, in case the substitute would need it to fill time. It could be a suggested related Bible or Saint story to read with/to the students; directions for a review-type game; a pencil and paper activity like a word search or crossword; or a drawing/writing challenge.

You may also wish to include a note to your class such as, “Good morning, class! I am sorry that I am not able to be with you this morning. Please welcome (substitute, insert your name here) who is filling in for me at the last minute. I look forward to being with you again next week, God willing, and will be excited to hear what you have learned in class today! May God bless your learning, and your week! With love in Christ, your Sunday Church School teacher”

It takes a little time and effort to prepare a Substitute Folder. However, the consistency that these plans will offer will ease the substitute’s job while also soothing the students. The one lesson in this folder may last you all year long, God willing, as long as it remains unused! But if for some reason you do need to use it at some point, at least you will be at peace knowing that your responsibility to your Sunday Church School students is taken care of, and that you have done all that you were able to do to teach them on that day.

Here are some links that you may find helpful as you prepare a substitute folder for your classroom:

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This teacher wrote a detailed plan for preparing a sub folder. Intended for a regular school teacher, many of the ideas would also apply to a Sunday Church School classroom. http://www.cfclassroom.com/2012/01/how-to-prepare-for-sub-w-free_08.html

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Here are some free printable pages that you can use as you prepare your folder: http://owlwaysbeinspired.blogspot.com/2013/08/sub-tub-and-sub-binder.html

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This free ebook is geared to a regular school teacher, but many of its ideas apply to a Sunday Church School teacher as well: http://www.cfclassroom.com/2016/03/how-to-plan-for-a-substitute-teacher.html

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You can purchase editable sub folders (geared to regular classrooms, but certainly usable by Sunday Church School teachers) such as this one: https://www.teacherspayteachers.com/Product/Editable-Substitute-Binder-Forms-for-your-sub-binder-or-sub-tub-2830294 or this one: https://www.teacherspayteachers.com/Product/Substitute-Binder-1926462

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In your substitute teacher folder, you may want to include a sub’s report back to you about how class went while you were gone. If you do, here is a free printable that you could use to that end: https://www.teacherspayteachers.com/Product/Sub-Report-Form-for-Sub-Management-Binder-Substitute-Organization-Form-1592692

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One possible resource for a lesson for your substitute teacher folder could come from one of these mini-units. Select a mini-unit that your substitute can share with your students and then prepare a lesson from that unit to add to your folder. Every mini-unit contains lesson ideas for a variety of age levels. See http://dce.oca.org/page/mini/ to find a mini-unit that would coincide well with your regular curriculum!

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On Virtuous Year-End Awards

For many of us in North America, the Sunday Church School year is coming to an end. The end of a year offers the opportunity to note growth and accomplishment in all of us, but especially in our students. This a good time to review their growth and celebrate with them the positive ways we have seen them change.

Perhaps your Sunday Church School offers awards at the end of the year, such as certificates celebrating perfect attendance, most improved, best at ____, etc. Those achievements are important, and should be noted. But there are even more important ways for a child to improve than curriculum and attendance. As Orthodox Christians, we should constantly be evaluating and celebrating our spiritual growth and that of our students. The end of a school year is a great time to do so! Let us take a little time to think about each of our students and note their growth in the virtues. Growth in virtue is one way to measure their growth in The Faith. Perhaps this year would be a good time to begin giving our students virtues awards as well!

Not sure where to start? Check out our recent blog posts on the virtues (see https://orthodoxchurchschoolteachers.wordpress.com/2017/03/03/on-pursuing-the-virtues-an-introduction/, the beginning of the series), which offered suggestions of ways to teach our students about each of the virtues. Each of these blog posts can offer us helpful information about the virtue on which it focuses, which we can then apply as we think about each child. How have they grown in humility, liberality, chastity, mildness, temperance, happiness, and diligence? Which of these virtues do they best exemplify in their life? In which virtue have they grown the most?

Once we have answered some of the above questions, it would behoove us to find a way to acknowledge our observation of our children’s growth. This could be as simple as setting aside time with each child to privately encourage them and congratulate them on their growth in this area. Or perhaps we could take part of our last class together and have a “virtues awards” ceremony, wherein we note and celebrate each child’s growth in virtue.

If we choose to do an official “ceremony,” we can begin the discussion by showing the students a picture of them from the beginning of the school year (if we have one!) and compare it to how they look now. We can talk a bit about how they’ve grown physically this year. We can ask them to share other things they’ve learned over the course of the year (for example, how to ride a bike or play lacrosse or cook dinner). We could discuss academic growth as well, including the awards they’ve gotten at school. At this point, we can segue into a discussion of the children’s growth in the virtues. We can take time with each virtue as it applies to each child or we can talk about each child in turn and celebrate all the virtues in which we have noted growth for that child. Perhaps we will want to present the children with a tangible award celebrating their growth in a particular virtue. We may even want to present them with a gift such as an award certificate, a playful token representing the virtue in which they’ve grown, or a donation to a charity of the students’ choice in honor of their spiritual growth. How we choose to acknowledge the growth will vary, according to what the class needs. The important thing is that we notice the growth and encourage our students to continue to grow in virtue! When others see the good that is happening in us and acknowledge it, it makes us want to press on – and become even more godly! Let us do this for our Sunday Church School students, and press on together with them!

 

Here are ideas of tangible awards for each of the virtues, in case you want something to give to your students and need ideas. (You can choose to do just a verbal award, give a token gift, or maybe a donation to the charity of your class’ choice. Whichever works best for you!)

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Ideas for an award for the virtue of Humility:

This printable certificate: Humility Certificate

or

This playful “award”: a slinky, some silly putty, or a container of slime. All three seek to return to the lowest point, just as we should continually try to be completely humble.

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Ideas for an award for the virtue of Liberality:

This printable certificate: Liberality Certificate

or

This playful “award”: a pack of stickers or a large container of bubble solution – something that can be freely and easily shared, to continue practicing the virtue of liberality!

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Ideas for an award for the virtue of Chastity:

This printable certificate: Chastity Certificate

or

This playful “award”: a playful bar of glycerin soap (perhaps with a toy embedded in it) or a kid-friendly liquid soap pump. Either offers a way to continue to keep (your hands, at least!) pure.

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Ideas for an award for the virtue of Mildness:

This printable certificate: Mildness Certificate

or

This playful “award”: a stress ball or a liquid motion bubbler. Both are calming and can offer a way to remain mild in the face of an opportunity to be angry or anxious.

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Ideas for an award for the virtue of Temperance:

This printable certificate: Temperance Certificate

or

This playful “award”: a box of cookies, fruit snacks, or other beloved treats that can offer the child the opportunity to continue to practice temperance.

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Ideas for an award for the virtue of Happiness:

This printable certificate: Happiness Certificate

or

This playful “award”: a smiley face pin – actually, anything with a smile emoji on it! Wearing a smile will make others smile as well, and will remind you to continue to choose to be happy.

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Ideas for an award for the virtue of Diligence:

This printable certificate: Diligence Certificate

or

This playful “award”: a hoola hoop, jump rope, or puzzle. Whichever your child would enjoy the most, while working at it and being reminded to keep trying and not to quit!

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Here is a link to all seven certificates, if you wish to print all of them: Virtues Certificates – Google Docs

 

On Pursuing Virtue: Happiness

This is part of a series of articles on pursuing virtue. There are many virtues that Orthodox Christians should be working to attain in our own lives, while also teaching our Sunday Church School students to pursue them, as well. We have chosen to focus on the seven capital virtues mentioned in “the Pocket Prayer Book for Orthodox Christians.” As the book mentions, each virtue is the positive counterpart of a grievous sin. In order for us to help ourselves and our students to grow in theosis, we must learn to not only resist and repent from those sins, but we must also learn to desire and labor to attain the virtues. May the Lord have mercy on us and on our students as together we pursue these virtues!

Happiness is the next virtue we will want to help our Sunday Church School students learn about. The feeling of happiness should be familiar to all of our students, and it may be difficult for them to understand the difference between earthly happiness and the virtue of happiness. Here is one way to help to explain it:

1. Give each student a small consumable gift from a larger collection (for example, a jelly bean from a big bag of them). Allow them to eat their piece. Talk about how they felt when you gave it to them, and while they were eating it. Probably they felt happy! Now that it’s gone, how do they feel? Chances are they are not happy anymore, maybe even they feel sad because it is gone. Hold the bag (still containing candy) where the students can see it. Eat a piece or two. Talk about how they feel about you eating it in front of them. Most likely they will express jealousy and/or ask for more candy.

2. Explain that the happiness they felt when they ate their piece was earthly happiness. It is just here for a minute and then is gone; and is often based on a thing (in this case, a piece of candy) that can be taken away from them or is finished after they use it (or eat it). That is the kind of happiness that many people try to get in their lives. They buy more stuff, work harder so they have more money, and try to get happy with that stuff and money. Ask your students, “Does it work? Does it make them really happy, or just happy for a moment?”

3. Remind the students that we are working on virtues, which are like inner riches which don’t go away. When we work on living in a virtuous way, we live more like how God would want us to live.  Happiness, virtuous happiness, is what God wants for all of us. This kind of happiness will not run out or go away. And if we are living in true happiness, we won’t feel jealous of others, no matter what they have that we do not. Envy, or “jealousy of someone else’s happiness,” is actually the opposite of true happiness. It is the sin we are fighting against when we pursue the virtue of happiness! But how do we not just run after happy feelings? What can we do to get virtuous happiness in our life?

4. Share Fr. Dn. Charles Joiner’s article, “17 Points to Create True Happiness With Your Work and Life,” (see link below) with older students and discuss each point with them as you do so. If you have younger students, select a few of the points to share as a starting place for pursuing virtue. For example, you could share:

A. “Don’t compare yourself to others.” Discuss the fact that when we compare ourselves to others,  we stop thinking about how God made each of us unique because He needs someone like us to be in His world. Instead of thinking how we can’t do the same things as others, we need to focus on what we are able to do, and then go and do that to the best of our ability. Also, when we see someone else doing something well, we fight jealousy whenever we congratulate them and when we thank God that they are able to do what they’re good at doing!

B. “Give thanks to God for everything.” Talk about how we do not have control over everything, nor do we understand why God allows some things to happen. We also often don’t understand His timing, either. But if we thank Him for everything- not just the nice things that happen to us, we will be building the virtue of happiness in our life.

C. “Remember the Jesus Prayer.” Praying to God all day long helps us to remember that He is always with us. The Jesus Prayer is a simple but very good prayer that we can pray all day long. The more we remember God and speak to him, the more happiness we will experience in our life.

D. “Choose your friends carefully.” If we are not careful who we choose to be with, we may end up with friends who only care about worldly happiness, who complain about their life, or who are jealous of others and try to make us wish we had stuff or friends that we do not have. Choosing friends who live in a way that helps us to choose the virtue of happiness over the sin of jealousy is another way we can pursue happiness!

5. As you share each point, ask your students for any examples of that point that they can offer. Chances are that someone in the class can make a connection to a story they know or an experience they’ve had that can help the whole class learn more about that particular way to work on attaining the virtue of happiness. Perhaps they have a suggestion of how to work on that point that wasn’t mentioned, as well.

6. Ask the students to take a minute to think about which point(s) they think they need to work on in their fight against jealousy and their pursuit of the virtue of happiness. If you have time, invite a response in the form of a resolution. It could be written or drawn, and may remain private if the student wishes it to.

7. Remind the students of how happy they felt while eating the piece of candy at the beginning of the lesson. Then invite them to compare that to a time when they have worked on one of the points just mentioned. How does the quickly-passing feeling of happiness compare with the deep-seated virtue of happiness? Ask which one they should spend their time working to attain.

8. Pray and ask for God’s blessing on each of you as you work toward true happiness.

Here are two craft ideas which could be used as a follow up to a lesson on the virtue of happiness:

  1. Consider working together as a class to create an Orthodox version of this: http://www.cjophoto.com/2014/11/inspirational-quote-jar-printable.html. Instead of inspirational quotes, however, look together for quotes from Church Fathers and scripture about happiness and joy. Whoever finds one can write it on a small slip of paper and put it into the jar, which you could label “A Heap of Happiness” or “The Joy Jar.” Collect the quotes over time, and at the end of the year, type all of the quotes/verses and give each student a copy. They can cut them apart and fill their own jar. (Which you could decorate in class, if you have time!)
  2. Help each student make their own happiness jar and encourage them to fill it by noticing (and writing down) a moment of happiness that they have experienced every day as suggested here: https://www.mommypotamus.com/gratitude-happiness-jar/

Find Fr. Dn. Charles Joiner’s article, “17 Points to Create True Happiness With Your Work and Life,” here: http://orthodoxwayoflife.blogspot.com/2015/05/17-points-to-create-true-happiness-with.html

 

Here are some quotes and ideas that can help you teach your Sunday Church School students about the virtue of happiness:

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Discuss this  quote with your middle or upper-years students: “Happiness can only be achieved by looking inward and learning to enjoy whatever life has and this requires transforming greed into gratitude.” ~St. John Chrysostom

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Study the life of St. Seraphim of Sarov, looking specifically at how he pursued the virtue of happiness:

“An icon of inexpressible joy offered by God to the world in recent centuries is the life of St. Seraphim of Sarov (1759–1813).2 All the saints of God, by being God-bearers, carried in their bosoms unbounded joy and passed it to all who gathered around them. St. Seraphim, however, was exceptional. Though he was a monk he chose not to don the traditional black cassock, but wore throughout the year a white one. Rather than saying, “Christ is risen,” only for the forty days of Pascha, as is customary, he employed this greeting every day of the year. He greeted his visitors, who included the likes of the Tsar and Tsaritsa of Russia, universally as “My joy.”

His entire life was spent in the quest to acquire the Holy Spirit. “Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you ….If you know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask Him” (St. Luke 11:9,13). St. Seraphim knocked. For a thousand days and nights he remained upon a rock in prayer. St. Seraphim asked and St. Seraphim received. The Holy Spirit came upon him in great measure, and the fruit of the Spirit’s presence was inexpressible joy. “For the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace…” (Galatians 5:22).”  ~ from “Cultivating Inexpressible Joy,” by V. Rev. Josiah Trenham, Ph.D. Read more here: http://www.antiochian.org/node/25366

Find more about St. Seraphim here: http://www.antiochian.org/learning-about-saint-st-seraphim-sarov

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These books are not Orthodox, but could be a helpful starting point for a children’s lesson on happiness: http://www.whatdowedoallday.com/childrens-books-about-happiness/

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Watch this 10-minute (not Orthodox, but serviceable for a lesson on happiness) video about Johnny Barnes, a man in Bermuda who has chosen to live his life in an extraordinary way. Talk together about his life. Is Johnny happy? How do you know? Who did he say helps him to be happy? What does he do that shows his happiness? How does it affect those around him? What can we learn from Johnny? https://www.globalonenessproject.org/library/films/mr-happy-man

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This episode of “Be the Bee” encourages its watchers to ponder true happiness. It would be a great addition to a middle-years lesson on happiness! http://www.ancientfaith.com/podcasts/bethebee/love_and_happiness

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Teens and adult Sunday Church School students will greatly benefit by reading this blog post listing 17 things that Orthodox Christians can do to pursue happiness: “17 Points to Create True Happiness With Your Work and Life,” by Fr. Dn. Charles Joiner, http://orthodoxwayoflife.blogspot.com/2015/05/17-points-to-create-true-happiness-with.html . Read the article together and discuss it. Encourage each student to select one or two points which they intend to improve in, and give them time to talk or journal about how they plan to make the improvement happen.

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After studying happiness from an Orthodox perspective, encourage older Sunday Church School students to read this (secular) “15 Step Guide to Happiness” and evaluate it through the lens of our Faith: https://draxe.com/how-to-be-happy/. After watching it, discuss it. How does this guide hit true happiness on the head? Are there any ways in which it is not describing true happiness?

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This short meditation by Abbot Tryphon will challenge its listeners to choose happiness: http://www.ancientfaith.com/podcasts/morningoffering/choosing_happiness

On Pursuing Virtue: Mildness

This is part of a series of articles on pursuing virtue. There are many virtues that Orthodox Christians should be working to attain in our own lives, while also teaching our Sunday Church School students to pursue them, as well. We have chosen to focus on the seven capital virtues mentioned in “the Pocket Prayer Book for Orthodox Christians.” As the book mentions, each virtue is the positive counterpart of a grievous sin. In order for us to help ourselves and our students to grow in theosis, we must learn to not only resist and repent from those sins, but we must also learn to desire and labor to attain the virtues. May the Lord have mercy on us and on our students as together we pursue these virtues!

In our series about the virtues, we have come to the virtue of mildness. How exactly should we define it, and how can we teach our Sunday Church School students about it so that they can better pursue this virtue? OxfordDictionaries.com defines mildness as “a person’s lack of aggressiveness.” This definition is especially suitable for use with children, as the grievous sin which is this virtue’s counterpart is anger, and this definition helps them think about that. We must fight against anger and instead, struggle toward mildness, or a “lack of aggressiveness.”

One way that we can teach our students about mildness is by studying the life of Christ. We can brainstorm with our students how Our Lord was mild in all of his interactions with others. Together with our students, we could even make a giant list of examples from His life! Looking at His life on earth will give us many ideas of ways to live in a way that shows the virtue of mildness through us.

Another way to teach our students about meekness is by looking together at the lives of the saints as examples. We can share the stories of the lives of several saints who were known for their mildness. Here are a few examples from which we could choose:

The Theotokos is undoubtedly an excellent saint for us to look to with regard to a life lived in mildness. Share her life story via this book full of icons from her life: http://store.ancientfaith.com/the-mother-of-god-in-icons-board-book/

Hieromartyr Methodius the Bishop of Patara, who led his people in mildness yet fiercely defended the purity of Orthodoxy. (see https://oca.org/saints/lives/2001/06/20/101759-hieromartyr-methodius-the-bishop-of-patara)

St. Gregory the Theologian the Archbishop of Constantinople, whose “fortitude and mildness …were his armor, and his words converted many to the Orthodox Church. (see http://www.saintsophiadc.com/2017/01/st-gregory-theologian-archbishop-constantinople/)

Hieromartyr Marcellus the Bishop of Apamea was a high-ranking official, yet lived a mild, kind, and pure life even before becoming a monastic and dedicating his life’s work to God. (see http://a-719748.c.cdn77.org/saints/lives/2013/08/14/102299-hieromartyr-marcellus-the-bishop-of-apamea)

The Holy Nobleborn Prince of Chernigov Michael, who was noted from his childhood for his piety and mildness (see http://www.holytrinityorthodox.com/iconoftheday/los/September/20-02.htm)

The child saint, Artemius, was known for his mild meekness in his few years before his death. (see https://avcamp.org/st-artemius-of-verkola/)

Of course, there are many other mild saints as well! We can select as many or as few as we wish to share, and tell their biographies to our class! After we tell (or have students read) the stories of the lives of several saints, we can compare the saints’ lives. In what ways were their lives the same? How did each saint demonstrate mildness? Was there any difference in the way that they exhibited mildness? What can we learn from each of them that will help us to pursue mildness?

Give each student a blank piece of paper and encourage them to write the word “mildness” on it. Give them some time to write or draw about mildness, based on the lives of the saints which you have discussed. Perhaps they will draw a picture of a saint reacting mildly to an event in his/her life. Perhaps they will write or draw their own intent to react mildly the next time an opportunity to be angry arises. Maybe they will write a prayer, asking God for help in their struggle to be mild. Or they could write an acrostic poem. The ideas are endless. The important part is that the students interact with the concept of mildness, showing that they are beginning to understand what it is, how it has been exhibited by saints, and/or how they intend to pursue it in their own lives.

Addendum: Meekness is part of mildness and could be one way that we encourage our students to pursue mildness. For example, we can encourage them to pursue mildness through meek silence as St. Seraphim (Sobolev) the Wonderworker of Sophia suggests in this article:

“The saints fully embodied the Lord’s words: ‘Upon whom shall I gaze? Only upon the meek, and the silent, and the one who trembles at My words.’ Why does the Lord, speaking of meekness, also mention silence? In order to show that our meekness should be expressed through silence.

“But one can keep silence with one’s lips, yet hold great malice and hate in one’s heart against those who offend us. The Lord wishes our heart to participate in this time of silence, too. Therefore, let Christ’s silence during His trial be a constant example to us in this case, and may the words of the Gospel: ‘But Jesus held His peace’ (Matt. 26:63) serve as the basic guideline of our spiritual life. Let us always remember St. Seraphim’s injunction to one of his monks: ‘Keep silent, keep silent, keep ever silent.’ This means – with one’s lips, with one’s heart, while being insulted, in order to attain meekness or supreme love.”

(From http://www.holy-transfiguration.org/library_en/ct_love_meekness.html)

If we incorporate a discussion of meekness and pursuing silence via the paragraph above, we may want to use this craft idea: Make plaques from chair railing samples or other small pieces of wood. Allow your students to use permanent markers to write on the plaque: “Keep silent, keep silent, keep ever silent.” Encourage the students to decorate their plaque however they wish to remind them to keep silent with their lips, with their heart, and even when being insulted. When they take the plaque home, they should place it where they will see it and be reminded that that sort of silence will help them attain  meekness, which is an important part of mildness.

Here are other ideas of ways to help us learn about mildness and teach our Sunday Church School students about it, as well:

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While Sunday Church School teachers are not usually priests, we all can benefit from this teaching of St. John Chrysostom, in his commentary on St. Paul’s epistle to the Galatians which addresses how a leader should adjust their speech as is needed by their followers: “”Always to speak to one’s disciples with mildness, even when they need severity, is not the character of a teacher, but it would be the character of a corrupter and enemy.” (Read more in this article directed to priests but helpful to lay leaders, as well; https://www.goarch.org/en/-/adaptability-and-the-good-shepherd-a-reflection-on-pastoral-leadership)

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You may wish to include a discussion of this quote by St. John Chrysostom in your lesson on mildness. It offers a practical way to work towards the virtue of mildness: “Let’s stop fighting and pray in a becoming way. We should put on the mildness of angels instead of the demons’ brutality. No matter how we’ve been injured, we must soften our anger by considering our own case and our salvation. Let us quiet the storms; we can pass through life calmly. Then, upon our departing, the Lord will treat us as we treated our neighbours. If this is a heavy, terrible thing to us, we must let Him make it light and desirable. What we don’t have strength to carry out because of our struggle against sin, let us accomplish by becoming gentle to those who sinned against us.”We can discuss this quote piece by piece and ask our students to help us find in it things that we can do to become more meek.
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Listen to several episodes of “Saint of the  Day” (http://www.ancientfaith.com/podcasts/saintoftheday) – perhaps the past week’s worth – together with your students and talk about each saint’s life. Did it demonstrate mildness? How?
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Consider printing these saints’ stories or finding a way to enable your students to go online and read them, Assign each student to one of the stories and have him/her summarize the saint’s life for the class, pointing out any mention or evidence of mildness in the saint’s life: http://www.antiochian.org/lives_of_the_saints

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Teachers of teens may want to consider taking a look at this non-Orthodox, but still very helpful sermon on meekness. Read parts of it together as a class, and together glean some examples from scriptures (both verses and examples from saints from Bible times) as cited here: http://www.creativeyouthideas.com/resources/youth-sermons/blessed-are-the-meek/

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On Sharing Our Love (Beyond Valentine’s Day)

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

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

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

Here are a few of the ideas we found:

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

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

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

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

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

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