Category Archives: the Cross

Lenten Sundays Series: The Sunday of the Veneration of the Holy Cross

This is the fifth in a series of posts that focuses on the Sundays of Great Lent (and Holy Week and Pascha). Each week we will share ideas of ways to help your Sunday Church School students learn more about that particular Sunday’s focus. We will share each blog early, so that you have time to read it before the forthcoming Sunday, in case you find any of those ideas helpful for your particular class.

Here’s a meditation on the Sunday of the Veneration of the Holy Cross for you to ponder before you create a lesson for your students:

On the third Sunday of Great Lent, we celebrate the Sunday of the Holy Cross. We’re halfway through Lent at this point, and perhaps some of our determination and eagerness for the Lenten journey is waning a bit. That is exactly why the Church Fathers chose this Sunday for us to commemorate the Holy Cross.

Fr. Alexander Schmemann, in his book “Great Lent”, reminds us that throughout Great Lent we are crucifying our own self, trying to live up to this week’s Gospel reading. The Gospel reading for the Sunday of the Veneration of the Holy Cross is from Mark 8 and 9, and reminds us of Christ’s command, “If any man would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me” (Mark 8:34). Schmemann goes on to explain that it would do us no good to take up our cross and follow Christ if it were not for Him taking up the Cross in the first place. “It is His Cross, not ours, that saves us. It is His Cross that gives not only meaning but also power to others.” (1, pp 76-77)

In gratitude for His taking up the Cross, and to encourage us to continue taking up ours, the Church has given us this Sunday. His example of suffering willingly and completely reminds us that our struggles are small in comparison. But it also reminds us that He understands struggle and pain. Today’s epistle reading exhorts us, “For we have not a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.” (Hebrews 4:15-16) Christ’s conquering death by taking up the Cross offers us the hope of resurrection as well as the assurance that our struggle is not in vain: it leads us towards Him, towards heaven.

The placement of the Veneration of the Holy Cross in the middle of Great Lent is more than just an encouragement for us to keep going. It also is a fulfillment of an earlier event. “It’s very beautiful, actually. Think of Paradise, the Garden of Eden. The Tree of Life was placed in the middle of the garden of Eden, and here [in the middle of Great Lent] we find the Holy Cross — often said to come from the wood of the Tree of Life, for this wooden Cross is indeed the means to eternal life. The Holy Church places it here to remind us of Adam’s sin, and to remind us that it is only through the Holy Cross that we will find eternal life.” (2, pp 107-108, brackets mine)

And so, in the hope of the resurrection; with determination to continue our struggle (for He understands struggle and has made a way for us); let us sing with joy today, “Oh Lord, save Thy people and bless thine inheritance, granting to Thy people victory over all their enemies; and by the power of Thy Cross, preserving Thy kingdom!”

Glory to God for His example, His victory, and His great mercy towards us and our own struggles, through the Life-Giving Cross!

Resources:
1. Schmemann, Alexander. Great Lent; Journey to Pascha. St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 1974.
2. Bjeletich, Elissa and Kristina Wenger. Tending the Garden of Our Hearts: Daily Lenten Meditations for Families. Ancient Faith Publishing, 2019.

Here are a few resources you may find helpful as you prepare to teach your students about the Sunday of the Veneration of the Holy Cross:

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This short lesson explains veneration in very simple terms. Teachers of young children may find it helpful to read this before leading a class on the Sunday of the Veneration of the Holy Cross. https://stmichaeljermyn.org/files/CHURCH%20SCHOOL/Venerating-Icons.pdf
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What does it mean to venerate something, and why do we venerate the cross on THIS particular Sunday of Great Lent? Find some of these answers here and share them with your students : https://orthodoxchristianparenting.wordpress.com/2015/03/11/on-the-sunday-of-the-veneration-of-the-holy-cross/
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Find stories, activities, and ideas related to the Holy Cross in this back issue of “Little Falcons”, a magazine for Orthodox children. To order, print this document and order issue #47.
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Teachers whose students are mid-elementary or older may find this to be a helpful reading with their class. It ties together the story of how the Sunday of the Veneration of the Holy Cross came to be and the epistle and Gospel reading for the week. http://dce.oca.org/assets/templates/bulletin.cfm?mode=html&id=43
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Find activity ideas and printable resources, geared for a variety of age levels and related to the Veneration of the Holy Cross here: https://orthodoxpebbles.com/orthodox-basics/tending-garden-week4/
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Your students may learn a lot from watching this short video about the cross: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=K1RUgfqI33M
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Want to do an art piece featuring the Cross as part of your lesson on the Sunday of the Veneration of the Holy Cross? The following links offer tutorials for a variety of art techniques that have a cross as their central theme. The tutorials utilise art mediums that are common to many Sunday Church School classrooms.
Paper: https://orthodoxchurchschoolteachers.wordpress.com/2014/12/13/art-projects-for-sunday-church-school-paper/
Crayons:
https://orthodoxchurchschoolteachers.wordpress.com/2014/12/19/art-techniques-for-sunday-church-school-using-crayons/
Chalk: https://orthodoxchurchschoolteachers.wordpress.com/2015/01/09/art-projects-for-sunday-church-school-chalk/
Markers:
https://orthodoxchurchschoolteachers.wordpress.com/2015/01/17/art-projects-for-sunday-church-school-using-markers/
Watercolor paints: https://orthodoxchurchschoolteachers.wordpress.com/2015/01/23/art-projects-for-sunday-church-school-using-watercolor-paints/
Mixed media:
https://orthodoxchurchschoolteachers.wordpress.com/2015/01/30/art-projects-for-sunday-church-school-mixed-media-collage/
3-d art: https://orthodoxchurchschoolteachers.wordpress.com/2015/02/06/art-projects-for-sunday-church-school-3-dimensional-art/

On the Liturgical Year for Teachers: Entering Into the Year of Grace (part 1 of 7)

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

 

The liturgical year is what the Orthodox Church calls the annual cycle of events in the life of the Church. Although it begins on September 1, the Church year is actually built around Pascha, the culmination of the fasting and feasting throughout the year. Throughout the Church year, Orthodox Christians experience the life of Christ through worship, scriptures, fasting, and feasts. The Church year is much more than just a calendar. In his book, “The Year of Grace of the Lord”, a monk of the Eastern Church writes the following about it : “Each liturgical feast renews and in some sense actualises the event of which it is the symbol; it takes this event out to the past and makes it immediate… and we experience this efficacy to the extent that we bring to it a corresponding inclination of our soul… The liturgical year is, for us, a special means of union with Christ… The liturgical year forms Christ in us, from his birth to the full stature of the perfect man.” (pp. 1-2)

At the Church year’s very beginning on September 1, we ask God to bless the year. We gather on that day for a Divine Liturgy that includes readings from the scriptures filled with prophecy, warnings, wisdom, reminders of the resurrection, encouragement to pray for each other, all culminating in the gospel reading from Luke 4: 16-22 in which Jesus read in the synagogue, then sat down and told those in His hearing, ‘This day is this scriptures fulfilled in your ears.’ The aforementioned monk writes of this, “Would that on this first day of the year my eyes might turn away from the defilements in which they take pleasure and fasten themselves on Christ — and remain fixed on him… if I have the courage to keep my eyes on Jesus alone, if I do not turn them aside, I shall no longer fall. Lord Jesus, I look at thee. I have listened to thy promises. Let me now hear…the assurance: ‘This day is this scripture fulfilled in thy ears.’” (pp. 5-6) And so it is that we enter into another cycle, another opportunity to live the life of Christ with —and in— Him.

The Gospel readings for the first Sundays of the Church year offer us a sampling of what Christ taught and did in the lives of others. During these Sundays, we read about the Vineyard and the Husbandmen; the Wedding Feast; the Great Commandment; the Talents; the Canaanite Woman; the Miraculous Catch of Fish; Loving One’s Enemies; the Widow of Nain; the Sower; the Rich Man and Lazarus; and the Gadarene Swine. From the very start of the year, we encounter Christ’s power and compassion through these Gospel readings.

During these initial weeks of the Church year, we also observe the first two Great Feasts of the year. We celebrate the beginning of our salvation through the Nativity of the Theotokos, and the Exaltation of the Holy Cross. Both Feasts celebrate earthly vessels essential to our salvation: the Theotokos, who fully offered herself to God as should we (also through her, Christ took on our humanity, which is essential to our salvation) and the cross on which Christ offered Himself for us and for our salvation.

The beginning of the Church year sets the tone for the year itself. Let us attend and be mindful from the very start of the year. Let us also help our Sunday Church School students to learn about it, so they can grow alongside us from the very start of the new Church year.

 

O Creator of the Universe,

You appointed times by Your own power;

bless the crown of this year with Your goodness, O Lord.

Preserve in safety Your rulers and Your cities:

and through the intercessions of the Theotokos, save us.

(Troparion for the Indiction)

 

Purchase your own copy of “The Year of Grace of the Lord,” by a monk of the Eastern Church, here: https://www.svspress.com/year-of-grace-of-the-lord-the/ This book, quoted above, will be an excellent resource for you to read and learn from, throughout the Church year.

 

Here are some related links, including ideas for teaching students about the liturgical year, as well as others about the start of the Church year.

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“Orthodox worship proclaims the centrality of Christ. The liturgical year celebrates the presence of the mystery of Christ in the life of the Church and seeks to make the living Christ a renewing life-source for every Orthodox Christian.”
Read more about the liturgical year in this excerpt from the Preface to “A year of the Lord. Liturgical Bible Studies, v. 1.,” July 1981, by Theodore Stylianopoulos, here:

http://www.orthodoxchristian.info/pages/Lit_year.htm

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Find a downloadable wheel that each student can personalize and use throughout the church year here: http://manymercies.blogspot.com/2013/08/printable-church-calendar-wheel.html

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Together with your students, create a classroom wall display that will help everyone keep track of the liturgical year: http://makinghomenaturally.blogspot.com/2012/06/keeping-track-of-liturgical-year-with.html

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Your students can create a journal about the liturgical year if you purchase this package: http://www.saintkassianipress.com/LiturgicalYear.html

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Find music for the liturgical year here: http://antiochian.org/music/liturgical-music-children

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This blog post offers ideas of ways to start the Church year off right:  http://www.orthodoxmotherhood.com/ways-start-church-new-year-off-right/

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Need ideas for beginning the Church year with your students? https://orthodoxchurchschoolteachers.wordpress.com/2014/08/22/the-ecclesiastical-new-year/

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Here are some ideas of ways to help your students learn about the Feast of the Nativity of the Theotokos: https://orthodoxchurchschoolteachers.wordpress.com/2016/09/09/on-the-feast-of-the-nativity-of-the-theotokos-sept-8-or-21/

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Find our blog post featuring the Feast of the Elevation of the Cross here: https://orthodoxchurchschoolteachers.wordpress.com/2016/09/16/on-the-feast-of-the-elevation-of-the-holy-cross-sept-14-or-27/

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“Throughout the whole liturgical year, these major feasts, these major components of Christ’s life, they now become part of my calendar. My calendar meshes now with the life of Christ. So throughout the year, I am almost making present again those salvific acts in Christ’s life: they now become part of my story… Sanctification of time… because time is an enemy: it leads us closer and closer to death. And here, in the Church, in this liturgical life, it’s our friend: it leads us to salvation.” Hear these quotes and find a great discussion starter in this GOARCH interview about the Church year (great for use with teen or adult classes): https://www.goarch.org/-/the-orthodox-liturgical-year

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On the Feast of the Elevation of the Holy Cross (Sept. 14 or 27)

The Feast of the Elevation of the Holy Cross celebrates not one, but two important (but very much related) events in the history of the Church. In this feast, we celebrate both the finding of the Cross by St. Helena in 326 and the return of the Cross to Constantinople (and then on to Jerusalem) in 628. Here is a short synopsis to refresh your memory:

Although the empress Helena was 79 years old, she left on a journey to Jerusalem to find the precious Cross in the year 325. She had never seen a basil plant before this time. Just outside of Jerusalem, she noticed this unusual plant (the basil) that was growing all over the ground. The unfamiliar plant’s appearance and its location caused her to suspect that this was a special place. She decided to have her men dig at that spot in search of the Cross. It turned out that she was right! Three crosses were found in the ground under the growing basil. All three were tested on a sick woman (and/or a dead man – traditions vary), who had no response to the two other crosses, but became immediately well after touching the Cross of Christ. Many, many people came into Jerusalem when they heard that the Cross had been found. The leaders of the Church held the Cross up high for all to see. The people responded by saying, “Lord have mercy!” again and again.

Soon thereafter, St. Helena had a church built at the site, and most of the Cross stayed in that church, with a small piece going back to Constantinople. And so it remained for many years. In 614, however, the Persians conquered Palestine and stole the Cross. A few years later, in 628, Emperor Heraclius and his men were able to recover the Cross after defeating the Persians. At that point, the Cross was returned to Jerusalem, to the Church of the Holy Resurrection.

We celebrate both the initial finding of the Cross and its recovery with this fasting feast. It may seem odd to celebrate a feast day by fasting. But we celebrate the Feast of the Elevation of the Cross with fasting because of what we are commemorating: the Cross on which our Lord suffered and died. A fast is the most appropriate celebration of that. As we celebrate, we should also be renewing our own determination to follow Him and live our Faith to the best of our ability, even though doing so may cause us to suffer. In this way, our fasting feast can help us to become the kind of Christian we are meant to be.

Oh Lord, save Thy people and bless Thine inheritance,

Granting to Thy people victory over all their enemies.

And by the power of Thy Cross

Preserving Thy Kingdom!

We hope that you had a blessed Feast of the Elevation of the Holy Cross!

 

Here are a few ideas of ways to learn about this feast and to teach your Sunday Church School students about it. You can tuck them away for another year!

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Very young children (preschool-K) will enjoy these activities related to finding the Holy Cross: https://raisingorthodoxchristians.com/2015/08/24/elevation-of-the-cross-part-2-activities/

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Find a simple lesson, complete with two craft suggestions, to help children learn about the Feast of the Elevation of the Holy Cross here: http://myocn.net/elevation-of-the-cross-prayer-beads/

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Find a printable children’s bulletin about the Elevation of the Cross here: http://myocn.net/wp-content/uploads/2014/09/Childrens-Word-83.pdf

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Find thorough lesson plans on the Feast of the Elevation of the Cross at this site. (For example, here is the one for 10-12 year olds, http://orthodoxsundayschool.org/church-history/10-12-years-old/elevation-cross; and this one is for high school, http://orthodoxsundayschool.org/epistles-feasts-and-sacraments/high-school/elevation-cross)
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Older children will benefit from reading the articles about the cross, including its finding and its elevation (there’s also one on the wood that was used to make the cross), complete with color icons and some pictures found in this unique and very thorough bulletin. Reading the articles together can be a very good starting place for discussion! http://stpaulsgreekorthodox.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/09/September2016Bulletin.pdf