Category Archives: Theotokos

On the Mother of God: Quotes from the Church Fathers

As we prepare our hearts for and then commemorate the Feast of the Dormition of the Holy Mother of God, let us take some time to think about Mary, the Theotokos. What can we learn from her love for God and her submission to His will? How did her choices and the way that she lived her earthly life affect ours? How does she continue to impact the world since her dormition?

We have gathered quotes from the Church fathers about the Theotokos. Many of those quoted here lived in an age closer to her earthly life than the current era. We plan to share these quotes for you to ponder throughout the (new calendar) fast. As you read each quote, may you be inspired to be as genuine, humble, and obedient as she has been.

May the Holy Mother of God pray for all of us, that we will be saved and that we will follow God as wholeheartedly as she did!

 

In case you missed these when they first came out, here are two related posts. The first offers some thoughts – mostly from the scriptures – about the Theotokos as a mother and how parents/teachers can be encouraged to emulate her: https://orthodoxchristianparenting.wordpress.com/2015/05/06/on-the-theotokos-as-mother/

And the second offers a story that may be a helpful tool as you talk with young children about her Dormition: https://orthodoxchristianparenting.wordpress.com/2016/08/03/on-the-feast-of-the-dormition-of-the-theotokos-august-15-or-28/

 

Here are a few of the things that the Church Fathers had to say about the Mother of Our Lord:

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“I have been amazed that some are utterly in doubt as to whether or not the Holy Virgin is able to be called the Mother of God. For if our Lord Jesus Christ is God, how should the Holy Virgin who bore him not be the Mother of God?” ~ St. Cyril of Alexandria

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“Come, let us wonder at the virgin most pure, wondrous in herself, unique in creation, she gave birth, yet knew no man; her pure soul with wonder was filled, daily her mind gave praise in joy at the twofold wonder: her virginity preserved, her child most dear. Blessed is He who shone forth from her!” ~ St. Ephraim the Syrian

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“In her manner she showed that she was not so much presented into the Temple, but that she herself entered into the service of God of her own accord, as if she had wings, striving towards this sacred and divine love. She considered it desirable and fitting that she should enter into the Temple and dwell in the Holy of Holies.

Therefore, the High Priest, seeing that this child, more than anyone else, had divine grace within her, wished to set her within the Holy of Holies. He convinced everyone present to welcome this, since God had advanced it and approved it. Through His angel, God assisted the Virgin and sent her mystical food, with which she was strengthened in nature, while in body she was brought to maturity and was made purer and more exalted than the angels, having the Heavenly spirits as servants. She was led into the Holy of Holies not just once, but was accepted by God to dwell there with Him during her youth, so that through her, the Heavenly Abodes might be opened and given for an eternal habitation to those who believe in her miraculous birthgiving.” ~ St. Gregory Palamas

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“And since the holy Virgin hath borne after the Flesh God united personally to the Flesh, therefore we do say that she is also Mother of God, not as though the Nature of the Word had the beginning of Its existence from flesh, for It was in the beginning and the Word was God, and the Word was with God [John 1:1], and is Himself the Maker of the ages, Co-eternal with the Father and Creator of all things.” ~ St. Cyril of Alexandria

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“I cannot describe to you how much our Panagia likes chastity and purity. Since she is the only pure Virgin, she wants and loves everyone to be like that. As soon as we cry out to her she rushes to our help. You don’t even finish saying, ‘All-holy Theotokos, help me’ and at once, like lightning, she shines through the nous and fills the heart with illumination. She draws the nous to prayer and the heart to Love.” ~ Elder Joseph the Hesychast

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“How honored and magnified is mankind through the Holy Virgin Mother of God, for it has been made worthy of renewal and sonship by God; She herself was made worthy by her immeasurable humility and exceedingly great purity and holiness to be the Mother of the God-man!” ~ St. John of Kronstadt

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“When God became known to us in the flesh, He neither received the passions of human nature, nor did the Virgin Mary suffer pain, nor was the Holy Spirit diminished in any way, nor was the power of the Most High set aside in any manner, and all this was because all was accomplished by the Holy Spirit. thus the power of the Most High was not abased, and the child was born with no damage whatsoever to the mother’s virginity.” ~ St. Gregory of Nyssa

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“Why is it hard to believe that Mary gave birth in a way contrary to the law of natural birth and remained a virgin, when contrary to the law of nature the sea looked at Him and fled, and the waters of the Jordan returned to their source (Ps. 113:3). Is it past belief that a virgin gave birth when we read that a rock issued water (Ex. 17:6), and the waves of the sea were made solid as a wall (Ex. 14:22)? Is it past belief that a Man came from a virgin when a rock bubbled forth a flowing stream (Ex. 20:11), iron floated on water (4 Kings 6:6), a Man walked upon the waters (Mt. 14:26)? If the waters bore a Man, could not a virgin give birth to a man? What Man? Him of Whom we read: ‘…the Lord shall be known to the Egyptians, and the Egyptians shall know the Lord in that day; and they shall offer sacrifices, and shall vow vows to the Lord, and pay them’ (Is. 19:20).

In the Old Testament a Hebrew virgin (Miriam) led an army through the sea (Ex. 15:21); in the New testament a king’s daughter (the Virgin Mary) was chosen to be the heavenly entrance to salvation.” ~ St. Ambrose

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“…The knot of Eve’s disobedience was loosed by the obedience of Mary. For what the virgin Eve had bound fast through unbelief, this did the virgin Mary set free through faith.

For just as [Eve] was led astray by the word of an angel, so that she fled from God when she had transgressed His word; so did [Mary], by an angelic communication, receive the glad tidings that she should sustain God, being obedient to His word. And if the former did disobey God, yet the latter was persuaded to be obedient to God, in order that the Virgin Mary might become the patroness of the virgin Eve.

And thus, as the human race fell into bondage to death by means of a virgin, so is it rescued by a virgin; virginal disobedience having been balanced in the opposite scale by virginal obedience.” ~St Irenaeus of Lyon

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“The Most Holy Mother of God prays for us ceaselessly. She is always visiting us. Whenever we turn to her in our heart, she is there. After the Lord, she is the greatest protection for mankind. How many churches there are in the world that are dedicated to the Most Holy Mother of God! How many healing springs where people are cured of their ailments have sprung up in places where the Most Holy Theotokos appeared and blessed those springs to heal both the sick and the healthy! She is constantly, by our side, and all too often we forget her.” ~ Elder Thaddeus

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“When you are about to pray to our Lady the Holy Virgin, be firmly assured, before praying, that you will not depart from her without having received mercy. To think thus and to have confidence in her is meet and right. She is, the All-Merciful Mother of the All-Merciful God, the Word, and her mercies, incalculably great and innumerable, have been declared from all ages by all Christian Churches; she is, indeed, an abyss of mercies and bounties, as is said of her in the canon of Odigitry..” ~ St. John of Kronstadt

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“O undefiled, untainted, uncorrupted, most pure, chaste Virgin, Thou Bride of God and Sovereign Lady, who didst unite the Word of God to mankind through thy most glorious birth giving, and hast linked the apostate nature of our race with the heavenly; who art the only hope of the hopeless, and the helper of the struggling, the ever-ready protection of them that hasten unto thee, and the refuge of all Christians: Do not shrink with loathing from me a sinner, defiled, who with polluted thoughts, words, and deeds have made myself utterly unprofitable, and through slothfulness of mind have become a slave to the pleasures of life. But as the Mother of God Who loveth mankind, show thy love for mankind and mercifully have compassion upon me a sinner and prodigal, and accept my supplication, which is offered to thee out of my defiled mouth; and making use of thy motherly boldness, entreat thy Son and our Master and Lord that He may be pleased to open for me the bowels of His lovingkindness and graciousness to mankind, and, disregarding my numberless offenses, will turn me back to repentance, and show me to be a tried worker of His precepts. And be thou ever present unto me as merciful, compassionate and well disposed; in the present life be thou a fervent intercessor and helper, repelling the assaults of adversaries and guiding me to salvation, and at the time of my departure taking care of my miserable soul, and driving far away from it the dark countenances of the evil demons; lastly, at the dreadful day of judgment delivering me from torment eternal and showing me to be an heir of the ineffable glory of thy Son and our God; all of which may I attain, O my Sovereign Lady, most holy Theotokos, in virtue of thine intercession and protection, through the grace and love to mankind of thine only begotten Son, our Lord and God and Savior, Jesus Christ, to Whom is due all glory, honor and worship, together with His unoriginate Father, and His Most Holy and good and life creating Spirit, now and ever, and unto ages of ages. Amen.” ~ from the Small Compline: The Supplicatory Prayer to the Most Holy Theotokos

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“Hail to you forever, Virgin Mother of God, our unceasing joy, for to you do I turn again. You are the beginning of our feast; you are its middle and end; the pearl of great price that belongs to the kingdom; the fat of every victim, the living altar of the Bread of Life [Jesus]. Hail, you treasure of the love of God. Hail, you fount of the Son’s love for man. . . . You gleamed, sweet gift-bestowing Mother, with the light of the sun; you gleamed with the insupportable fires of a most fervent charity, bringing forth in the end that which was conceived of you . . . making manifest the mystery hidden and unspeakable, the invisible Son of the Father—the Prince of Peace, who in a marvelous manner showed himself as less than all littleness.” ~ St. Methodius

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” . . . when the Church tells us in Her hymns and icons that the Apost­les were mira­culously gat­he­red from the ends of the earth in order to be pre­sent at the repose and burial of the Mot­her of God, we as Ort­ho­dox Chri­sti­ans are not free to deny this or rein­ter­pret it, but must believe as the Church hands it down to us, with sim­pli­city of heart.” ~ St. John Maximovich
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On the Liturgical Year for Teachers: Pentecost and the Time After Pentecost (part 7 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!

Our final installment in this series on the liturgical year for teachers focuses on Pentecost and the time immediately following Pentecost. The time of Pentecost is a fitting “end” to the liturgical year, for Pentecost marked “both a culmination and a start. A new way was opening to the disciples, but they had prepared themselves for it.” (1, p. 213) The monk continues, “…we cannot enter into Pentecost without preparation. We need first to have assimilated the whole spiritual substance that the fifty days between Easter and Pentecost have offered us. Before that, we need to have experienced the risen Christ: the days of the Passion, too, need to have been lived through. In short, one must have matured.” (1, p. 213) So, in many ways, Pentecost is the logical ending to the spiritual work we have done throughout the liturgical year. And when we join together with the apostles and the Theotokos in prayer and expectation, the Holy Spirit is able to move in our lives just as He did at Pentecost. The author goes on to talk about how the theme of light in the liturgical year comes to its fulfillment at Pentecost: “this divine light first appears with the birth of Christ; it grows with Him; on Easter night it triumphs over the darkness; at Pentecost it reaches its full zenith… The riches and symbolism of the liturgical year are worth nothing if they do not help this ‘inner light’ to guide our life.” (1, p. 217)

Historically, pentecost was an Old Testament feast, celebrated 50 days after Passover, and it celebrated the 10 Commandments being given to the Israelites. At Pentecost, “…the pentecostal feast is fulfilled and made new by the coming of the ‘new law,’ the descent of the Holy Spirit upon the disciples… This moment has traditionally been called the birthday of the Church.” (2, p. 113) The feast of Pentecost “is the celebration of what must happen and does happen to us in the church today. We have all died and risen with the Messiah-King, and we have all received his Most Holy Spirit. We are the ‘temples of the Holy Spirit.’ God’s Spirit dwells in us… We… have received ‘the seal of the gift of the Holy Spirit’ in the sacrament of chrismation. Pentecost has happened to us.” (2, pp. 115-116)

And the Church year does not stop with Pentecost! A few more important feasts remain for us to note after Pentecost and before the beginning of the new Church year. Among them are the Feast of the Transfiguration, the feast celebrating the event which confirmed for His disciples the divinity of Christ. “Next to Jesus appear Moses and Elijah. Moses represents the law. Elijah the prophets. Jesus is the fulfilment of all law and of all prophecy. He is the final completion of the whole of the Old Covenant; He is the fulness of all divine revelation.” (1, p. 240)

The Feast of the Dormition also falls during this final portion of the Church year. The monk who wrote “The Year of the Grace of Our Lord” offers this thought about the importance of the placement of this feast, calling it a feast “not only of Mary, but of all human nature. For, in Mary, human nature reached its goal. One week after the start of the liturgical year, we celebrate the birth of the most Holy Virgin. Two weeks before the end of the liturgical year, we celebrate the death and glorification of Mary. Thus, associated with and subordinate to the cycle of Jesus’ life, the cycle of Mary’s life manifests the destiny and development of a human nature which is entirely faithful to God. It is the human race which is carried up and received into heaven with her… the perfect flowering of grace that we marvel at in mary on August 15th suggests what the line of development could be in a soul which applied itself to making the great gifts received during the liturgical year  — the gift of Christmas, the gift of Easter and the gift of Pentecost — bear their fruit.” (1, p. 244).

Of the liturgical year as a whole, the monk writes, “This cycle never repeats itself; each one of its aspects reflects the inexhaustible depth and fullness of Christ, and, as a result, becomes new for us to the extent that we understand it better. The liturgical year is a prism which receives the white light of Christ and splits it into different colours. Christ is the year.” (1, p. 246) As we live live each liturgical year that our Lord bestows upon us, may we continually grow to understand the liturgical cycle better. May we also help our Sunday Church School students to do the same.

Footnotes:

1. A monk of the Eastern Church. The Year of Grace of the Lord. Crestwood, NY: St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press; 2001.

2. Fr. Thomas Hopko. The Orthodox Faith volume ii: Worship. Syosset, NY: OCA, 1972. Fifth printing, 1997.

Here are some related links, including ideas for teaching students about Pentecost and the time after Pentecost:

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The book featured in this blog post offers a plethora of information about each of the feasts, and can help you to prepare to teach your students about Pentecost! https://orthodoxchurchschoolteachers.wordpress.com/2015/12/11/gleanings-from-a-book-heaven-meets-earth-celebrating-pascha-and-the-twelve-feasts-by-john-skinas/

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Find ideas for helping your students learn about Pentecost here: https://orthodoxchurchschoolteachers.wordpress.com/2014/06/06/teaching-children-about-the-feast-of-pentecost/

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This blog post about teaching children about Pentecost looks at light and its involvement in the feast: https://orthodoxchurchschoolteachers.wordpress.com/2016/06/10/on-light-and-the-feast-of-pentecost/

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Share this book with younger students. http://www.stbarbaramonastery.org/product/TGF-PENT Listen to Dr. Chrissi Hart’s reading of the book at the beginning of this podcast: http://www.ancientfaith.com/podcasts/grapevine/readings_from_under_the_grapevine_program_7

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Find a short lesson on Pentecost here: http://www.orthodoxabc.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/06/023-EN-ed02_Pentecost.pdf

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Find printable activities about Pentecost for use with students in the middle years here: http://dce.oca.org/assets/files/resources/Pentecost-Activities.pdf

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Find out about the Serbian tradition of strewing grass on the floor of the church in the Pentecost portion of the article “How Orthodox People Celebrate the Feasts” in the Little Falcons Magazine “Feasts.” (back issue #31, available here: http://www.littlefalcons.net/pdf/2016_Backissues.pdf)

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Begin a discussion about Pentecost with your students by looking at the icon of the feast. Perhaps you could also share with them one of these children’s homilies about the icon:
Fr. Noah Buschelli’s children’s homily on the icon of Pentecost can be found here: http://www.ancientfaith.com/podcasts/letthechildren/pentecost

Fr. Seraphim Holland’s homily includes enthusiastic answers from children: http://www.ancientfaith.com/podcasts/redeemingtime/childrens_sermon_on_pentecost

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Discuss with your older students the “kneeling prayers” before the service itself. Read slowly through the prayers, thoughtfully wondering about each part and allowing students to make connections as they are able. This post summarizes and offers some of the scriptures behind each prayer, and could be a helpful starting place: http://stgeorgegoc.org/pastors-corner/fr-ricks-sermons/why-kneel-before-god-purposemeaning-of-kneeling-prayers-of-pentecost (Find the text to the service here: https://www.goarch.org/-/the-great-vespers-of-pentecost)
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Listen to St. Romanos’ words on Pentecost, read here by Kh. Frederica Mathewes-Green: http://www.ancientfaith.com/podcasts/frederica/on_pentecost   

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You and your students can prepare for the Feast of the Transfiguration by studying the homilies about the feast found in this blog post: https://orthodoxchurchschoolteachers.wordpress.com/2014/08/01/preparing-for-the-transfiguration-of-christ-august-6/

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Here are some ideas of ways to help your students learn about the Feast of the Transfiguration:
https://orthodoxchurchschoolteachers.wordpress.com/2016/07/29/on-the-feast-of-the-transfiguration-of-christ-august-6-or-19/

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Learn together about the Feast of the Dormition of the Theotokos with some of the ideas found in this blog: https://orthodoxchurchschoolteachers.wordpress.com/2016/08/05/on-the-feast-of-the-dormition-of-the-theotokos-august-15-or-28/

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Help your students to make these (free!) printable centerpieces for their prayer table or dinner table, for each feast: http://www.antiochian.org/1127698508

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On the Liturgical Year for Teachers: The Time of Advent (part 2 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!

Beginning on November 15 (or 28), Orthodox Christians around the world begin to prepare their hearts for the coming of Christ at Christmas. This time of preparation and fasting is 40 days long and leads right to the Feast of the Nativity. (It is the same length as Great Lent, which leads to Holy Week and Pascha; but there are different restrictions in each fast.) The Feast of the Presentation of the Theotokos in the Temple takes place during the Nativity Fast.

This season of the Church year is called “Advent” by many Christians, as they focus on the coming of Lord. In “The Year of Grace of the Lord,” the author, a monk of the Eastern Church, writes “One might perhaps feel that this term ‘coming’ is purely symbolic, for in fact Christ comes to us at all times, and even lives in us. Nevertheless, this approach and this presence of Christ, both of which are eternal, take on a special character at Advent-tide… A special grace of the ‘coming‘ of the Lord is offered us. The Lord Jesus is already present to us; but the grace of Advent allows us a more vivid, and quite new, awareness of this presence.” (p.45)

The monk continues the chapter on Advent by summarizing our prayers during this season with one word. The word that we pray during Advent-tide is “Come!” When we pray the word sincerely, this one-word plea fills us with hope, and we anticipate the Lord’s coming with greater fervor. As the weeks of Advent-tide pass, God willing, each day that we pray, we pray more purely. The author continues, “Our prayer at Advent, ‘Come’, could… be interpreted thus: ‘Oh, let me be aware of Thy presence in me — May the whole world feel Thy presence.’” (p.46)

Our focus during Advent is on the light which will be shining forth. Just as the days begin to lengthen after Christmas, the darkness in our hearts will be enlightened by the Son which Christmas brings into the world. After all, He is the Light of the World!

This year, during the Nativity fast, may we continually pray, “Come!” and prepare our hearts – and the hearts of our students – to receive the light that shines forth in Christ!

Make ready, O Bethlehem: let the manger be prepared, let the cave show its welcome. The truth has come, the shadow has passed away; born of a Virgin, God has appeared to men, formed as we are and making godlike the garment He has put on. Therefore Adam is renewed with Eve, and they call out: ‘Thy good pleasure has appeared on earth to save our kind.’

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 Nativity Fast:

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Prepare your own heart before you begin to teach your students about the Nativity Fast by taking advantage of these articles and resources: http://www.antiochian.org/nativity/pre-feast

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Find a plethora of Nativity Fast ideas and resources for families to use with children (some could also be used in the Sunday Church School context) in this blog post: http://www.sttheophanacademy.com/2011/11/living-nativity-fast.html?m=1

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Find helpful Nativity-Fast-related resources for students at various levels here: https://oca.org/news/headline-news/dce-offers-educational-resources-for-the-nativity-fast

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“Each celebration in the church is preceded by a preparation… Leading to Christmas, we have Advent… When we see Christmas decorations and lights being set up, we know that something soon will take place. In the Church, there are events and hymns sung to remind us and get us ready for the event. This is the way we prepare for the celebration of Christmas.” (from “Preparing , Waiting, Expecting,” p. 13, of “Fasts,” Issue #30 of Little Falcons. Available here:  http://www.littlefalcons.net/pdf/2016_Backissues.pdf)

This article would be a great way to begin discussing the Nativity Fast with younger students.

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“November 15 is the starting point for a spiritual journey to the day of this great joy.  This journey is one one that requires our development of greater humility so we can fully appreciate what God have given to us.  This is by nature an ascetic journey. Like our journey to be united with God, it is not one where we can make use of our social relationships or our material possessions.  This is a journey where we must learn to surrender our souls to the will of God, relinquish our control over the journey to Him whose birth we are about to celebrate. This is the spirit we must embrace as we enter into this fast. It is a period of preparation just as the manger was prepared for Christ.” ~ from http://orthodoxwayoflife.blogspot.com/2011/11/nativity-fast.html

This article would be an excellent “Nativity Fast” discussion starter with older students.

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Help your students keep their focus on Christ throughout the Nativity Fast with some of these ideas: https://orthodoxchurchschoolteachers.wordpress.com/2015/12/18/ideas-for-keeping-our-focus-on-the-nativity-of-christ/

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Help your students prepare their hearts for the birth of Christ with ideas and activities such as these: https://orthodoxchurchschoolteachers.wordpress.com/2015/11/13/on-preparing-our-hearts-anticipating-the-birth-of-christ-each-day-of-the-nativity-fast/

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This brand new book is an excellent resource for teachers and parents to use with children during the Nativity season: https://orthodoxchurchschoolteachers.wordpress.com/2017/08/18/gleanings-from-a-book-welcoming-the-christ-child-family-readings-for-the-nativity-lent-by-elissa-bjeletich/

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Find ideas of ways to help your students learn about the Feast of the Entrance of the Theotokos into the Temple here: https://orthodoxchurchschoolteachers.wordpress.com/2016/11/18/on-the-feast-of-the-entrance-of-the-theotokos-into-the-temple-nov-21-or-dec-4/

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Find ideas of ways to help your students learn about the Feast of the Entrance of the Theotokos into the Temple here: https://orthodoxchurchschoolteachers.wordpress.com/2016/11/18/on-the-feast-of-the-entrance-of-the-theotokos-into-the-temple-nov-21-or-dec-4/

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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Saints of Recent Decades: St. Sophia of Kleisoura (May 6 or 19)


In 1883, a baby girl was born to Amanatiou and Maria Saoulidi. The Saoulidi family lived in Trebizond in Asia Minor (which is now called Turkey). They named their little girl Sophia. Sophia grew up in Trebizond with much love for God and His Holy Church. In 1907, Sophia married a young man named Jordan Hortokoridou. After almost 7 years of marriage, they had a son (some sources say they had a second child as well). Sophia loved her husband and her son. Sadly, soon after her son was born, Jordan was enlisted into the army and soon after that, he mysteriously disappeared and never returned. To make matters worse, a short time later their son died as well. (Both children, according to the sources that list two.) Sophia was very sad. Sophia took her sadness to God. She went up on top of a nearby mountain every day and spent hours praying. She chose to focus more on God than on her circumstances. On that mountaintop, Sophia began her ascetic life.

One day on the mountaintop, St. George appeared to Sophia. He warned her that the villagers should leave their village to escape a coming persecution. So it was that Sophia and her village left Trebizond in 1919, just before the Christians in Turkey were forced to leave. Sophia and the other villagers headed to Greece in a ship named after St. Nicholas. As they traveled, a terrible storm came up. The sea was wild, but they survived. When it was over, the captain of the ship declared that someone very holy must have been aboard his ship, since they all survived. When the captain said this, all the passengers looked at Sophia. She had spent the entire storm praying in a corner of the ship. (Years later when she herself told this story, she said that she could see the angels all over the waves of the sea, keeping them safe!) So Sophia and her villagers made it safely to Greece.

When Sophia arrived in Greece, she lived with her brother for a while. She was not happy in the world, and after a few years, the Theotokos appeared to her. She said, “Come to my house!” Sophia asked her where she was and where her house was, and the Theotokos replied, “I am in Kleisoura.” Sophia went to Kleisoura and found the Monastery of the Birth of the Theotokos. She lived with the community of the Monastery of the Birth of the Theotokos for the rest of her life.

For most of her years there, Sophia did not have a room at the monastery. Instead, she slept in the monastery’s kitchen fireplace. The fireplace was used for cooking, but when the cooking was finished, Sophia could sleep there. It was cold in the winter, because the cold wind would blow down the chimney; and when it rained, rain would drip on her while she slept. Sometimes she would light a little fire to warm herself, but not always. And she only slept for a few hours every night. She spent the rest of her time kneeling in prayer by the window, lit by the candle she used to light the icon of the Theotokos which was kept there. Sophia ate little and wore rags. The local people called her “Crazy Sophia,” but people would come from all around, just to see her. When people came to see her, before they would even tell her their names, Sophia would greet them by name and talk with them about their problems, which God revealed to her without the people needing to tell her anything!

Sophia did not care much about how she looked. She wore ragged clothes and a black scarf. Her blanket and sandals had holes. Sometimes the people who came to see Sophia would give her gifts of new clothing. She would immediately give the clothes to someone poor who needed them more. Sometimes people would give her money. She would hide the money until she met someone that needed it, when she would go get the money and give it to them. She did not wash herself or her food. She fasted strictly and ate only as much as she had to to survive. She cared much more for her soul than for her body. She chose to cover her holiness with foolishness so that no one would know how holy she was. She said, “Cover things, so that God will cover you.”

In 1967 Sophia got sick. She had sore spots on her stomach that were open and smelled bad. It hurt a lot. But she did not complain. She said, “The Panagia will come to take away my pain. She promised me.” And she did just that! Sophia remembers a vision she had in which the Theotokos, the Archangel Gabriel, other saints, and St. George came to her side. The Archangel told her they were going to cut the bad parts out of her stomach. She told him that she was a sinner and needed confession and to receive Holy Communion before the surgery so she would be prepared in case she died. The Archangel assured her that she was not going to die, and then he cut her open. Immediately she was healed and normal, left with a tiny, perfectly-healed scar at the place where the Archangel Gabriel cut her open. She would sometimes show this scar to those who came to see her, so that they could see the proof of the miracle God worked in her life. People who saw the scar said it looked as though it had been the work of a very skilled surgeon.

In her years at the monastery, Sophia had many animal friends. Several snakes slept with her in her fireplace bed. She was not afraid of them, and encouraged others to not be afraid of them, either. She befriended a bear who was very gentle with Sophia. She once saved its life: someone thought the bear was a threat to the community and nearly shot it, but Sophia stopped him from killing the bear. She called birds “the Birds of God” and would sit down on the ground to feed them as they settled all over her. The birds would sometimes even go chirping along into the church with her to pray with her! Sophia said the birds have been sent to us from the Panagia and Christ to console us and to give us company.

Sophia departed this life on May 6, 1974. She was buried on the east side of the monastery church’s altar. In 1982, her relics were exhumed. Her bones were clean and shining like light, and the casket was full of holy myrrh. In 2011, she was elevated to sainthood.
To this day, St. Sophia of Kleisoura is working miracles through the power of God. For example, before she died, she gave her kerchief to someone so that they could remember her. In 1995 that kerchief began to smell fragrant. It has brought healing to many women who have contact with it. (Those who can’t have children but have the sign of the cross made over them with the kerchief soon get pregnant; and those who are pregnant give birth easily through the prayers of St. Sophia.)

St. Sophia became very wise (so we call her an eldress) and she prayed and fasted a lot (so we call her an ascetic). She prays for all of us, but especially for the poor, those in need, and those who are sad because they have lost a loved one. We can ask her to to pray for us, as well.

St. Sophia of Kleisoura, intercede for us and for our salvation.

You became a treasury of Divine wisdom and all-consuming fear [of God], O mother Sophia; through your motherly intercessions, O blessed one, you offer to all the richness of grace.

Sources: http://full-of-grace-and-truth.blogspot.com/2011/11/st-sophia-righteous-ascetic-of-panagia.html, http://www.stgregoryoc.org/st-sophia-the-righteous/, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XPYVGneiWpg, and http://www.pravoslavie.ru/50197.html.

Here are additional links to ways you can learn more and teach your Sunday Church School children about St. Sophia of Kleisoura:
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Read more about the life of St. Sophia of Kleisoura, see her photo, and ponder some of her quotes as collected here: http://www.johnsanidopoulos.com/2010/06/eldress-sophia-ascetic-of-panagia.html.

Read stories of some of her miracles here:

http://www.johnsanidopoulos.com/2016/05/some-miracles-of-saint-sophia-of.html

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Share this book about St. Sophia of Kleisoura, published by Potamitis Publishing, with younger Sunday Church School students. Read it aloud to them yourself, or play Dr. Chrissi Hart’s reading from her podcast “Under the Grapevine”: https://www.ancientfaith.com/podcasts/grapevine/saint_sophia_of_kleisoura

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This 7-minute video tells about St. Sophia of Kleisoura, showing pictures from her life as well as icons of her. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=b2jnWvuYBEA

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St. Sophia of Kleisoura loved animals. She had special friends who were snakes, birds, and even a bear. Read about some of them here: http://www.johnsanidopoulos.com/2016/05/the-love-of-st-sophia-of-kleisoura-for.html. Bring a (stuffed unless you have access to real ones!) bird, snake, and bear into your middle-years Sunday Church School classroom as a discussion starter. After introducing your students to the life of St. Sophia, talk about how she treated the animals and how they responded to that treatment. Ask the students what her treatment of animals shows her respect for God and His creation. Challenge the class to think of how they can treat animals with the kindness and respect that St. Sophia gave to the creatures that God shares with us.

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St. Sophia said many wise things. Print these quotes (http://full-of-grace-and-truth.blogspot.com/2014/03/a-few-quotes-of-st-sophia-of-kleisoura.html and http://full-of-grace-and-truth.blogspot.com/2011/11/st-sophia-righteous-ascetic-of-panagia.html) and cut the printed page to separate each quote. Before your older Sunday Church School students come to class, tape one quote to the bottom of each chair. After discussing the life of St. Sophia, have each student find and share the quote under their seat. Discuss the quotes together. How do you see each played out in St. Sophia’s life? How can we continue to live in a way that is shaped by St. Sophia’s wisdom in each quote? Talk about how the Jesus Prayer helped St. Sophia through many of her most difficult challenges. She encourages us to pray the prayer as well! Hand each student a copy of this quote http://www.antiochian.org/sites/default/files/st_sophia_kleisoura_wherever_you_walk.pdf. Discuss it together, then allow them to decorate it and take it home to place where it will remind them of her and the wisdom of this saying.

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Teens and/or adults will be challenged by this talk by Fr. Panagiotes Carras about holy fools. The talk encourages each listener to work to become different from the world, as is necessary for Orthodox Christians to do if we want to live truly Godly lives. It focuses on St. Sophia of Kleisoura and includes a video about the life of the saint (from 31:00-1:18:00). That video includes photos from her life and even recordings of her speaking (with translation to English). https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XPYVGneiWpg

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On the Feast of the Entrance of the Theotokos into the Temple (Nov. 21 or Dec. 4)

On Nov. 21 (or Dec. 4) we celebrate the Feast of the Entrance of the Theotokos into the Temple. This feast celebrates the day when the Theotokos, still a child, went to the Temple. The background story to this event is pretty important:

Joachim and Anna were devout Jews who loved God very much. They lived on only a third of their income, tithing and giving away the rest. Yet they had no child. They promised God that they would give their child back to Him, if He would grant them one, and He blessed them with the gift of their daughter Mary.

When Mary was three years old, and finally weaned, Joachim and Anna did not forget their promise to God. They gathered young ladies with candles to walk with them, and all together walked to the Temple so that they could present Mary to God and give her back to Him. Many family and friends came along, as well, all carrying lit candles.

When they arrived at the Temple, Joachim and Anna lifted Mary up onto the first of the 15 steps that led up into the temple. As soon as she was on that step, she ran all the way up the rest of them. The High Priest at the time was Zachariah (who later became the father of St. John the Forerunner). Zachariah greeted Mary at the top of the steps, took her by the hand, and led her into the Temple. The Holy Spirit directed him as he led her not just into the Temple, but into the “Holy of Holies,” the most sacred part of the Temple (which was so holy that only the High Priest could go in there; and he could only go in once a year after much preparation and prayer!)!

The Most-holy Virgin lived in the Temple for many years. The angels fed her in the Holy of Holies. As long as they lived, Joachim and Anna came regularly to the Temple to visit their daughter. When they departed this life, she stayed on in the Temple until she was betrothed to Joseph.

The holiness that she acquired while in the Temple, along with her own piety and desire to follow God, prepared the Most-holy Virgin to become the new Temple, in which God Himself dwelt. Her willingness to come to the Temple with such joy is a notable part of the Feast of the Entrance of the Theotokos into the Temple.

Most Holy Theotokos, intercede for our salvation!

Here are some resources and ideas for learning about the feast together as a Sunday Church School class:
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Find a lesson plan (Lesson 2 in this series on the Theotokos) for any age group about the Entrance of the Theotokos into the Temple here: http://dce.oca.org/focus/theotokos/

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Make a copy of this pdf (http://stabcc.org/files/bulletins/Bulletin-Insert-11.17.2013.pdf) for each of your middle years Sunday Church School students. Read it together, and talk about the feast.

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Find a variety of printable pdfs (previous years’ children’s bulletins) that contain information and/or activities related to the Entrance of the Theotokos into the Temple here: http://myocn.net/wp-content/uploads/2015/11/Childrens-Word-144.pdf, http://myocn.net/wp-content/uploads/2014/11/Childrens-Word-92.pdf,

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Provide the icon of the Entrance of the Theotokos into the Temple for your older Sunday Church School students to look at. Ask them to tell what they know about the icon: what does it depict? How is it teaching us? Then share additional information as presented here https://iconreader.wordpress.com/2011/11/20/entrance-of-the-theotokos-into-the-temple/ and talk about it.

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Encourage your older Sunday Church School students to look up each of the Old Testament scriptures listed here: http://www.stpaulorthodoxcathedral.org/attachments/article/4/SPC%20bulletin%2025%20Pentecost%20Tone%208.2.pdf. Have each student select one, look it up, and then read it to the class. Together discuss how this scripture relates to the Theotokos. How is she the fulfillment of these Old Testament prophecies?

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With your Sunday Church School students, sing the exapostilarion of the Feast of the Entrance of the Theotokos into the Temple (ie: http://www.antiochian.org/sites/default/files/exapost-1121-entry_of_theotokos.pdf). Then look together at the words of the hymn. What do they mean? To what does it compare the Theotokos? The book “Heaven Meets Earth: Celebrating Pascha and the Twelve Feasts” by John Skinas makes a beautiful connection between the Old Testament Ark of the Covenant and the Theotokos, some of which is alluded to in this hymn. The Ark of the Covenant contained God’s words, the 10 commandments, written on the stone tables; manna from heaven; and Aaron’s miraculously budding rod. The new Ark (the Theotokos) went on to contain the Word of God in the flesh; the Bread of Life; and “the Seedless Flower… from the Root of Jesse.” (p. 16) If you have the book, be sure to share this part with your students and discuss the type of the Ark of the Covenant and its fulfillment in the Theotokos. Then talk together about why it was so important for her to spend so many years of her life in the Temple; specifically in the Holy of Holies. (The answer is on page 15 of that book!) Find the book here if you do not yet have it: http://store.ancientfaith.com/heaven-meets-earth

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Print this foldable centerpiece about the Feast of the Entrance of the Theotokos into the Temple onto cardstock for each student. After teaching about the feast, allow your students to decorate and assemble it. Send it home with them right away so that they can set it as the centerpiece of their dining room table, add it to their icon corner, or set it up in their room where they will see it often and remember the feast. http://www.antiochian.org/sites/default/files/assets/asset_manager/cacb8660b29bdc97f8e8283ff567634e.pdf

On the Feast of the Nativity of the Theotokos (Sept. 8 or 21)

The very first feast of the new Church year is the Feast of the Nativity of the Theotokos, and it is a very good place to start! After all, the birth of the Theotokos is where many of the other feasts begin. In this feast, we celebrate the miracle which God worked in the lives of Sts. Joachim and Anna, who were His faithful servants, but were never blessed with a child. Childlessness was a hardship for them. They had reached old age and had borne no children! In those days, barrenness was considered punishment from God for sins, and thus everywhere they went, people could look at them and judge them as sinners simply because they had no child. In fact, when Joachim went to the Temple to make an offering, he was turned away by the High Priest because of his childlessness (remember, at that time it meant “apparent sinfulness”). It was at this point that Joachim went off to the hills to earnestly pray for a child.

Meanwhile, Anna was in Jerusalem at their home wondering where he was, while also praying for a child. While they were praying one day, the Archangel Gabriel appeared to each of them, telling them that their prayers had been heard, and they would be given a daughter whose name would be known through all the world. He told Joachim to go back to Jerusalem, and he told Anna to wait for Joachim at the Golden Gate. They both believed the angel and obeyed him. So when Joachim arrived back at Jerusalem, there was Anna, waiting for him at the Golden Gate! God kept His promise to them by allowing them to conceive the Theotokos.

So, why do we celebrate this feast? The Kontakion of the feast tells us why:
“By your nativity, most pure Virgin, Joachim and Anna are freed from barrenness, Adam and Eve from the corruption of death. And we, your people, freed from the guilt of sin, celebrate and sing to you: ‘The barren woman gives birth to the Theotokos, the nourisher of our Life.’” In other words, we are not just celebrating the miracle of Sts. Joachim and Anna’s release from barrenness. Through Mary, the child given to them, Christ was born. And through His birth, death, and resurrection, Adam and Eve were released from Hades; and we ourselves are set free from the guilt of our sin. So, why would we NOT celebrate this feast?!?

Below are some links that can help us learn more about the Feast of the Nativity of the Theotokos. Other links will help us teach our students about the feast. If you are not teaching about it this week, tuck the ideas away for a future year.

We hope you had a blessed celebration of the Feast of the Nativity of the Theotokos!

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“[The Feast of the Nativity of the Theotokos] is a celebration as well of the very first preparation of the salvation of the world. For the “Vessel of Light,” the “Book of the Word of Life,” the “Door to the Orient,” the “Throne of Wisdom” is being prepared on earth by God Himself in the birth of the holy girl-child Mary. The verses of the feast are filled with titles for Mary such as those in the quotations above. They are inspired by the message of the Bible, both the Old and New Testaments. The specific Biblical readings of the feast give indications of this.” Read about the Scripture passages in this article: https://oca.org/orthodoxy/the-orthodox-faith/worship/the-church-year/nativity-of-the-theotokos

This article is great background for any Sunday Church School teacher. It would also be a great discussion starter for older Sunday Church School classes, who could look up the verses being quoted and discuss the “type and fulfillment” that happens in scripture again and again, this time in the context of the life of the Theotokos.

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Find an explanation of the icon of the Nativity of the Theotokos, as well as a gallery of this icon as written by different iconographers, here: https://iconreader.wordpress.com/2011/09/08/the-nativity-of-the-theotokos-icon/
With middle-years students, look at the different icons together and find each detail mentioned in the explanation, and note how it is written in each icon.

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Find a plethora of information, as well as thought provoking and inspirational encouragement related to the Nativity of the Theotokos in this wonderful book: http://store.ancientfaith.com/heaven-meets-earth

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If you teach young Sunday Church School students, consider having a blue class day. Celebrate the birth of the Mother of God with lots of blue, the Theotokos’ color! Dress in blue; decorate the classroom with blue; eat a “blue” snack (including as many blue things as possible: maybe crackers with blue cheese or blue tortilla chips with salsa, fruit kabobs including blueberries, blue finger jello, etc.); you get the idea! Find this and other fun ideas, as well as a printable wheel for all of the feast days here: http://orthodoxsundayschool.org/epistles-feasts-and-sacraments/3-5-years-old/nativity-theotokos-0

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The Department of Christian Education of the OCA has a downloadable series of lesson plans on the Theotokos here: http://dce.oca.org/focus/theotokos
Lesson 1 is about the Nativity of the Theotokos, and is offered at 5 different age group levels. Lessons include reproducible pages of readings, icons, music, and more! If you are planning to teach a lesson on this feast, you will want to check these lesson plans to help you prepare.