Category Archives: Uncategorized

Gleanings from a Book: “When Mama Had Cancer” by Marjorie Kunch

Marjorie Kunch has already given Orthodox Christians a wonderful resource in her first book(s), “When My Baba Died”/ “When My Yiayia Died.” These first books drew on her experiences as a mortician. Now she offers, again through her own personal experience – this time, with breast cancer – another valuable resource: “When Mama Had Cancer.”

 

Suffering has been part of our human experience ever since the first humans’ choice to disobey God. We all suffer, some of us much more than others, but we all suffer. What we do with that suffering either makes us or breaks us in the long run. Author Marjorie Kunch has turned her recent suffering, her battle with breast cancer, into an opportunity. She documented this painful period of her life in order to help not just her own children, but anyone who reads her new book. The book teaches its readers that God is there with us when we suffer, there are helpers at every turn, and all of us – even the youngest – can help each other in times of suffering.

“When Mama Had Cancer” follows a family through the entire cancer experience: from diagnosis to head shaving (“the chemotherapy she had to take would make her hair all fall out anyway so she wanted it to come off on her terms”) to chemo/its subsequent side effects to surgery and finally back to health. The book acknowledges that not everyone fights cancer and continues their earthly life. The book offers gentle reminders that, in that case, it is “not their fault, your fault, the doctor’s fault, the priest’s fault, or even God’s fault, even though you may feel that way… It is simply their time to join the Heavenly Kingdom.”

This book explains difficult words in simple terms that will help children of varying ages to better understand what their loved one with cancer is experiencing. It is very positive in its outlook. The book does not gloss over the difficulty of the experience, but rather is positive in that it offers suggestions of hands-on ways that even children can help their sick loved one. It is full of scripture and Orthodox Christian traditions. The book suggests saints to whom someone with cancer can pray for help. Essentially, this book takes a very difficult and frightening experience and brings peace to the children reading it by helping them to understand what is happening, framed in the context of Orthodox Christianity, while also offering concrete ways that the children can help their loved one.

“When Mama Had Cancer” will likely be of the most help to people who are experiencing cancer for themselves. However, we recommend it to all Orthodox Christians working with children, even those (currently) without any family members experiencing cancer. After all, “…if one member suffers, all the members suffer with it…” (1 Corinth. 12:26) and there are plenty of other Orthodox Christians and other neighbors suffering from this terrible disease. The book helps to clarify the cancer experience, removing some of the fear that comes with uncertainty and misunderstanding, and offering hope in the form of Orthodox Christian ways to respond and help, so it is a good one for young Orthodox Christians to take in!

The illustrations in this book are photos with a brush-stroke effect, very similar in appearance to the photos in Marjorie’s previous books. These illustrations help the reader get a better sense of what the family is experiencing during the course of the experience. Kristi Tartara (who wrote “What Do You See At Liturgy”) did the graphic design and was the layout artist for the book.

“When Mama Had Cancer” will be available in early October 2017, from Pascha Press. Visit http://www.paschapress.com/home.html for details. Or order the book from Amazon at https://www.amazon.com/When-Mama-Cancer-Marjorie-Kunch/dp/0996404554/ref=sr_1_4?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1505956315&sr=1-4 or Barnes and Noble at https://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/when-mama-had-cancer-marjorie-kunch/1127082593?ean=9780996404556.

Here are a few gleanings from the book, as well as suggestions of ways to use the book in your Sunday Church School class:

***
“Cancer is a difficult topic, especially for children… Marjorie’s new book, “When Mama Had Cancer”, helps children see cancer from a Christian perspective. Her book explains what cancer is, what symptoms to expect, and what children can do to help… this book points children toward Christ. We are reminded that God has not forgotten us, and that cancer is not a reason for despair. During times of sickness, we are encouraged to trust in the love of God, the support of the Church, and the power of prayer.” ~ from Fr. Joseph Gleason’s forward to “When Mama Had Cancer”

***
“Papa said that if these fears do not go away, I could talk to our priest about it, and he will teach me ways to combat these thoughts. I can also read comforting verses in the Bible or say the Jesus Prayer… At church we lit candles and said a prayer for all of the people who are fighting cancer. This made us feel better since we helped out in this important way.” ~ “When Mama Had Cancer” by Marjorie Kunch

***

After reading the book “When Mama Had Cancer”, talk together about the children in the book. How did they help their mama? Talk as a class about anyone in your parish who is fighting cancer. How can you best help them? Brainstorm a list, and find a way to do some of the items on that list. Minimally, you can say a prayer for them. Younger students can pray the prayers for the sick (found in your service book or here https://www.goarch.org/-/prayers-for-the-sick). If you have older students, print the “Akathist to the Theotokos the Healer of Cancer” found here: http://www.stvladimiraami.org/sheetmusic/akathistvsetsaritsa.pdf. Pray parts of this akathis or all of it if you have time. You may also want to invite the students to make cards for the person fighting cancer, to cheer them up. You can send the cards all at once, or one at a time: that’s up to you. You and your students will likely also come up with other ways in which your class can help this person and their family in their time of need. Some of those ideas may require additional materials and will need to be carried out in a separate class time.
***

“When Mama Had Cancer” offers a list of Orthodox helpers for those fighting cancer. If you have not yet studied the lives of these saints who are known for helping cancer patients, consider sharing their lives with your students. The list includes St. John the Wonderworker of Shanghai and San Francisco, St. Luke the physician, and St. Nektarios. You can find information about each of them, as well as ideas of ways to teach your students about them, here: https://orthodoxchurchschoolteachers.wordpress.com/2015/07/03/learning-about-a-saint-st-john-the-wonderworker-of-shanghai-and-san-francisco-commemorated-on-july-2/, https://orthodoxchurchschoolteachers.wordpress.com/2014/06/13/learning-about-the-saints-st-luke-of-crimea-commemorated-june-11/, and https://orthodoxchurchschoolteachers.wordpress.com/2014/10/31/learning-about-a-saint-st-nectarios-the-wonderworker-commemorated-on-nov-9/.

***

After reading the book “When Mama Had Cancer”, hand each of your students a Bible. Practice locating scripture passages by searching for each verse mentioned in the book (Ps. 104:24; Ps. 31:24; James 5:13; Proverbs 17:22; Matthew 25:35; Philippians 1:21; and/or the list of helpful verses at the back of the book). Ask a different student to read each verse. After all of the verses have been read, invite each student to select their favorite. Talk about their favorite verses: why do they like this verse so much? How can this verse help a cancer patient? How can it help each of us in our own life? Have the students copy the verse out on a piece of paper, then decorate the copy so they can hang it up at home or give it to someone who needs the encouragement it contains.

***

With older Sunday Church School students, talk about St. John Chrysostom’s quote, “Sickness is a blessing for man in the sense that, if one uses it appropriately, one can draw from it considerable spiritual benefit, thereby making what was originally a sign of mortality into an instrument of salvation.” Ask students to share stories from their own experience or of people that they knew for whom illness was of benefit – or the opposite – depending on how the person used the experience. Encourage them to trust God’s support and willingness to help them grow through difficult experiences such as illness. Ask them how author Marjorie Kunch has used her experience, and whether or not they think that anyone besides her will benefit from the experience.

***

From “biopsy” to “JP drain” to “oncologist” to “venerate”, the glossary at the end of the book “When Mama Had Cancer” is very helpful. To help your students learn and understand these terms, create a matching game with one card containing the term, and its match containing the definition. Pair the cards together after reading the book. Then practice with them by playing a simple game like “memory” or “go fish” where the students gain points when they match each term with its definition.

***

Advertisements

Gleanings From a Book: “Sasha and the Dragon” by Laura E. Wolfe

Author’s note: I would have loved to have read (and re-read) this book with my children when they were younger! “Sasha and the Dragon” is a powerful story of a boy who conquers his fears with the help of St. Michael the Archangel. Although it is a picture book, “Sasha and the Dragon” is appropriate for Orthodox Christians of many ages because of all that the book addresses. This story opens the door for conversations about how strange a new country feels to the person entering it; what to do when you are alone and afraid at night; the reality of the saints’ readiness to come to our aid if we ask them to; and how the light of Christ illumines our world when we invite Him to do so!


Sasha has just moved to New York City from Russia. He misses the familiarity of his old village near the river: its sights, smells, and sounds. He felt safe there, and close to God. His new home, however,  is filled with shadows and seemingly uncaring people. It is grey and cold, and no one seems to know or love God or His saints. Other boys his age seem to mock Sasha at every turn instead of befriending him. Even his new house is not a very comforting place: his Baba who used to sing to him lies still in a scary room at the end of the hall. Sasha is afraid of everything in New York City.


Night time is the scariest for Sasha. Even though he signs himself with the cross before going to bed, he always feels the grey, unfamiliar shadows of the city lurking. One night, as Sasha lies in bed trying to go to sleep, he hears sounds under his bed, which he discovers to be a huge dragon. To his dismay, the dragon comes out from beneath his bed. Sasha is terrified and just wants to hide under the covers. Instead, he finds the courage to do all the right things: he kisses the cross he is wearing and then prays for help! An icon of the Archangel Michael hangs on the wall by Sasha’s bed, and Sasha is confident of the Archangel’s help. He asks St. Michael to kill the dragon with his sword.

As the dragon approaches, St. Michael’s icon begins to radiate heavenly light into the dark room. He races out of the icon on his great red steed and kills the dragon with his sword. As he does so, the room is filled with peace and hope. Sasha drifts happily to sleep. The next morning he wakes to find a slash from the dragon’s claw still remaining in the floor of his room, covered with a golden feather from St. Michael’s wings.

That very morning Sasha begins to notice and enjoy New York’s colors and good smells. A scarlet feather drifts into his hand as he walks. When he meets up with two of the mocking boys, instead of cowering or retreating, he surprises them by offering the feather to them. Sasha even braves the spooky hallway to take the golden feather to his Baba. Her delighted smile encourages Sasha, and he begins to sing to her, for he is no longer afraid!

This story is a delight, and Nicholas Malara’s drawings fit it perfectly. The art in this book is part “normal” picture book, part superhero story. The figures that are the most realistic are the accurately styled icons found on some of the pages. The tone of the illustrations changes from gloomy greys and muted colors at the beginning of the story to cheery bright colors at the end. This change is clearly intentional, and it greatly strengthens the story.


“Sasha and the Dragon” is an excellent addition to an Orthodox Sunday Church School’s library. It has a great story which also presents multiple possibilities for classroom discussion. It can be used with students of varied age levels, because it offers opportunities to discuss so many different relevant topics for children of different ages.

“Sasha and the Dragon”  is available from Ancient Faith Publishing here: http://store.ancientfaith.com/sasha-and-the-dragon/


Here are a few discussion ideas and suggestions of ways to learn together with your students after reading “Sasha and the Dragon”:

***
If you have younger students, consider bringing a few basic props to class when you share this story. After you have read it to the class, invite them to act it out as you re-read. Possible props: a beanie and/or jacket for “Sasha;” a head covering for his mom; head covering and blanket for Baba; shawls/hats/baskets/etc for other New Yorkers; hats for the “mean boys”; icon of St. Michael that someone can hold “in Sasha’s room”; blanket and pillow for Sasha’s bed; dark gloves and hoodie for “dragon”; plastic sword for “St. Michael”; a red feather; a “gold” feather (spray paint or spread glue on a feather, then sprinkle it with golden glitter)
After acting it out, talk together about the story and what we can learn from it. Help each student to create their own gold feather and/or St. Michael icon to put in their room to remind them of his constant watching and willingness to help if we ask him to do so.

***

How does a new world feel to those entering it? Have you ever gone someplace completely different? Did those around you speak your language? Is anyone near you experiencing this right now? How can you help them feel most welcomed instead of making fun of them (as the boys did to Sasha in the book)?

***
With middle-years or older students, talk about why many Russians immigrated to the United States around the time that “Sasha and the Dragon” appears to take place. Look online to find some ideas and additional information. (For example, https://www.ancestry.com/contextux/historicalinsights/russian-immigration-1800s offers a short description along with actual photographs.) Discuss what it would be like to come into a completely foreign place and try to live there. Then think of any refugees that you already know, or look into how you could connect with refugees who have recently settled in your area and may feel like Sasha did in the story. Brainstorm ways to make them feel at home. Select one of those ways and do it!

***

“Sasha’s Dragon” features a little boy who has recently moved to New York. Perhaps he was a refugee. Help your students learn about what a refugee is (if the term is new to them), and how a refugee’s life changes radically when they arrive in their new place. This (non-Orthodox, but helpful) website suggests a activities and lessons you may wish to share with your students in a discussion about refugees: http://www.unhcr.org/en-us/teaching-resources.html

***

Who is St. Michael? Learn more about him on the page dedicated to him in the back of “Sasha and the Dragon.” Look up other icons of him and compare them to the one in Sasha’s room. Read a real-life miracle that St. Michael and his spear caused to happen here: https://iconreader.wordpress.com/2012/09/07/archangel-michael-at-chonae-icon-of-a-miracle/

***

Discuss the following with your Sunday Church School students: What does our priest mean when he says at every Divine Liturgy, “The light of Christ illumines all!” and how does that affect us? What does it mean for our life? In what way does the light of Christ illumine Sasha’s life in the story “Sasha and the Dragon”? If your students are older, you can share this article (quoting Fr. Thomas Hopko of blessed memory) as part of your discussion: http://orthodoxmeditations.blogspot.com/2013/04/the-light-of-christ-illumines-all.html
***

With older children, discuss the story. Also talk about the meaning/symbolism behind the story and many of the illustrations. For example:

  1. In the beginning of the story, everything in Sasha’s world is dark, grey, hushed, shadowed, and Sasha’s baba’s room “smells like the dead crow he had found at the park”. Why do you suppose it is this way? Do the shadows reflect how Sasha feels in any way? How do the pictures in the beginning of the book make you feel?
  2. Sasha sees dragon shadows everywhere at the beginning of the story. They are not mentioned in the story, per se, but show up in the illustrations. How many dragon shadows can you find in the book? What do  you suppose is the reason that the illustrator included these shadows in these illustrations? What do you think they represent?
  3. How do the other children respond to Sasha at the beginning of the story? Why do you suppose they do that? Does Sasha like it? How do you know? Have you ever felt that way around other children?
  4. What does Sasha do to help calm his fears? What do you do when YOU feel afraid? Can you tell about a time when you did something just like Sasha does, and it helped you? Why do you think it helped?
  5. The dragon in Sasha’s room was very real to Sasha! Do dragons exist in the world? What do you think Sasha’s dragon was or represents? Do you have any “dragons” in your life?
  6. Why did Sasha turn to St. Michael for help with the dragon in his room? What do you know about St. Michael that makes him a good saint to ask for help with your own “dragons”?
  7. What other saints can help us with the “dragons” in our life? How can we get them to help us?
  8. The illustrations in the book make us look hard at the difference between God and His angels and saints and satan and his “helpers” (for example, in this book, the dragon). How do the illustrations help you to see the difference between the two? Does that difference appropriately illustrate the difference in real life?
  9. Sasha does something that shows his complete trust in St. Michael’s ability to save him. What does he do? When you are feeling afraid and attacked, to whom do you turn? Do you have the courage to trust God and His saints fully to help you in those times? Why or why not? Try to remember Sasha kneeling on his bed, pointing right at the dragon, and shouting, “Kill it with your sword!” every time you are feeling afraid!
  10. How does St. Michael enter Sasha’s bedroom? Why do you think the author included smells and sounds in her description of his entrance? How does it make you feel about St. Michael’s presence with Sasha?
  11. Describe St. Michael’s victory over the dragon. If you were there, what would you have thought? Did St. Michael accomplish what Sasha asked him to do, or did he accomplish even more? What makes you think that?
  12. Is Sasha’s life any different after St. Michael kills the dragon in his room? Just by looking at the picture, how can you tell?
  13. Sasha finds a feather on a gash in his floor. What is special about the feather? How would you feel if you found a feather like that in your room? What would you do with it if you found one?
  14. How does Sasha’s world change on the morning after St. Michael’s visit? Describe what Sasha sees as he goes out for a walk with his mother. Is anything different? What is missing?
  15. What does Sasha do with the two feathers he receives? Why do you suppose he does that? How do the others feel after they receive a feather from Sasha?
  16. Compare the first illustration in the book to the last page of Sasha’s story. Are these illustrations alike or different? How so? And how did it happen that they came to be that way? Then compare Sasha at the beginning of the book to himself at the end. Is he the same, or different? How can you tell?

***

“Sasha and the Dragon” author Laura Wolfe has created lesson plans (for varying ages) which incorporate her book. The plans can be used to teach about “arrow prayers”, big feelings, and helping others. Find them here for use with your SCS class: http://lauraewolfe.weebly.com/educational-resources.html

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.

***
“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

***

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

***

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

***

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

***

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

***

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/

***

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

***

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/

***

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/

***

“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

***

On Acts 2:42: “They Continued Steadfastly in the Apostles’ Doctrine and Fellowship, in the Breaking of Bread, and in Prayers.”

Note: the Antiochian Archdiocese’s Creative Arts Festival 2018’s theme is the inspiration for this blog post. We will take a closer look at the theme, to help to prepare our students for the festival in case they will be participating. Whether or not they participate, what we can learn from this passage in the book of Acts is applicable to all of us, not just the children participating in the festival!

The 2018 Creative Arts Festival for the Antiochian Orthodox Christian Archdiocese of North America is focused on Acts 2:42, “They continued steadfastly in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and in prayers.” If our Sunday Church School class is participating in this festival, we need to understand what this verse means before we will be able to illustrate or write about it accurately. Actually, regardless of whether or not our students will participate in the festival, this passage is worth a look. It helps us to think about our roots as the Orthodox Christian Church, and gives us an idea of how the apostles lived, which can serve as an example to us today.

We will begin by looking at the verse itself. Our Sunday Church School students may need us to define some of the words in the verse before they can begin to understand it. The unfamiliar words in this verse can be explained in very simple terms like these:

“Continued” means they kept on doing something without stopping

“Steadfastly” means firmly, without turning away or quitting

“Doctrine” means a set of teachings or beliefs

“Fellowship” means friends spending time together, hanging out

So it could read something like this, “They kept on going firmly without stopping, following the teachings of the apostles and hanging out together, breaking bread and praying.” The simpler terminology might help our students understand the gist of the verse, but part of the verse has innuendos that our children will not catch unless we look at the verse through the eyes of experts.

So, let’s look at the verse as it is explained by trusted Orthodox scholars. The Orthodox Study Bible’s notes on this verse state that “Central elements of Orthodox worship—apostolic teaching, liturgical prayer and the Eucharist—are present from the very beginning of the Church.” It goes on to explain that the prayers referenced in the verse were the liturgical prayers of the Church, and that “the breaking of the bread” refers to the Eucharist, or Holy Communion. In other words, from the very beginning of the Church, the Christians stood firm in what the apostles taught, fellowshipped together, partook of the Eucharist and prayed the liturgical prayers of the Church.

The Orthodox Christian church, begun by the apostles themselves, has continued in this steadfastness and passed it along from generation to generation. We know that today we still have the opportunity to follow the apostles’ doctrine, while also experiencing the opportunity for fellowship, Communion, and prayers when we gather together. So, essentially, this verse gives us an idea of how our Faith should look: full of steadfast belief in the scriptures and traditions handed down by the apostles all the way to our current bishops and priests; hanging out with our Church family to encourage, challenge, and purify each other; and regularly partaking of the gifts offered to us in the Church: especially Holy Eucharist and prayers. The verse also reaffirms that our Faith is The Faith: for it is as old as the early Church! What a blessing it is to be part of that Church today!

Let us, therefore, have as our goal to also “continue steadfastly in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and in prayers.”

Here are some ideas of ways to help our students (whether or not they will be participating in the aforementioned Creative Arts Festival) to learn about this passage:

***

If your parish will be participating in the Creative Arts Festival, you can find information about it here: http://www.antiochian.org/festivals/cf

***

Did you know that the Antiochian Orthodox Department of Christian Education has already provided a lesson plan about the Creative Arts Festival theme for your Sunday Church School students? Find lessons at all levels, which can be used for any age student who is elegible to participate in the festival, here: http://antiochian.org/festivals/cf/lesson-plans-2018

***

Find creative and fun suggestions of ways to help your students to think about the theme throughout the year here: http://www.antiochian.org/festivals/cf/using-the-theme-2018

***

There are a myriad of ways your students can interpret this year’s Creative Arts Festival theme. Find an inspiring list here: http://antiochian.org/festivals/cf/Interpretations-theme-2018

Suggestions include:
*Depictions of early Christians worshipping
* People worshipping during Divine Liturgy today
*Receiving Holy Communion
*Learning about things Jesus taught the Apostles by listening to the Epistle and Gospel readings
*Helping one another like the early Christians did by donating food or clothing, serving at a homeless shelter, etc.
***

This non-Orthodox-but-helpful lesson that includes Acts 2:42 offers several wonderfully hands-on learning activities that you and your students can do to interact with this scripture. https://missionbibleclass.org/1b0-new-testament/new-testament-part-2/acts-the-church-begins/the-first-church/
Of course not all of the suggestions will work in an Orthodox context, so you will need to be selective or make adjustments. For example, the students can’t prepare the Eucharist, as suggested, but they could help prepare prosphora, and perhaps your priest would be willing to do a demonstration of how he prepares the Eucharist, or do a “teaching liturgy” so that they could learn how the Eucharist is prepared.)

***

Teach your students the Creative Festivals theme song (found here: http://antiochian.org/festivals/cf/theme-song-2018). After singing it a few times together, look closely at the words. Talk about them together, comparing the stanzas to see how the early Church and the Church today are alike. Ask your students to share other ways (not mentioned in the song) that we are like the early Christians. Are there any ways that we are different? If so, should we change any of those ways? Why or why not? Before dismissing the class, take a field trip to the fellowship hall or to find your priest and sing the song for them, encouraging the rest of your Church family to keep working towards living like the early Christians did, as well!

 

Gleanings From a Book: “When You Pray: A Practical Guide to an Orthodox Life of Prayer” by L. Joseph Letendre

Author’s note: The use of the word “practical” in the title of this book is no accident. This is the most doable guide to prayer that I have ever read. Every chapter has easily-applicable suggestions that any Orthodox Christian can take to step in the direction of effective prayer. I am so grateful to have read the wisdom in this book. It is the perfect fusion of theology and scripture, incorporating examples and stories that make its contents so accessible that even I can understand them. The book is concise enough for me to re-read it anytime I feel that my prayer life needs another boost. I know that at some point, it will. So I will.

We all know that we should pray. Just before Christ taught His disciples to pray what we now call “The Lord’s Prayer,” He said, “When you pray…” and went on to instruct them to not to be like the hypocrites, to go into their room and pray in secret, and to not use vain repetitions. With each instruction, He began by saying “When you pray..,” indicating that prayer is expected. And rightly so, for his disciples (and we Christians today) love Him a tiny bit as much as He loves us; and in any loving relationship there must be communication. We communicate with our Lord through prayer.

Unfortunately, it is not always easy for us to fulfill this expectation to pray. Even though we know we should pray, there are times when prayer seems daunting or difficult, and we fall short. Author L. Joseph Letendre’s new book “When You Pray: A Practical Guide to an Orthodox Life of Prayer” is a helpful companion for such a time as this. It also serves as a preventative measure against future shortcomings in prayer! The book itself is not long, only 72 pages, but every page is useful to Orthodox Christians desiring to grow in prayer.

“When You Pray…” offers easily-understandable insights and encouragement for prayer. Each chapter covers a different way in which we should pray. Chapters include: “To Pray”; “Pray as You Can”; “Pray Attentively”; “Pray the Lord’s Prayer”; “Pray the Psalms”; “Pray the Gospel”; “Pray for Others”; ”Pray Frequently”; and “Pray Faithfully.”

This book is a must-read for Orthodox Christians who desire to strengthen their prayer life. We would encourage you to read it so that you can be a better example to your Sunday Church School students. The book is written simply enough that students as young as middle school would benefit from studying it together. We recommend that if you teach a class at the middle school level or higher, you consider using this book in your classroom. If you do, we recommend reading one chapter (or a small part of a chapter) at a time and discussing it together. (If your Sunday Church School happens immediately after Divine Liturgy, this book would be an excellent short meditation which you could read while your students are eating a small snack. It would also make an excellent textbook or book study.)

Regardless of how you read it, please read this book. It will help your prayers not to merely be “vain repetitions.” “When You Pray: A Practical Guide to an Orthodox Life of Prayer” will take you (and your students!) by the hand and help you learn how to pray effectively, from the heart.

Order your copy of “When You Pray: A Practical Guide to an Orthodox Life of Prayer” by L. Joseph Letendre here: http://store.ancientfaith.com/when-you-pray
Here are a few gleanings from “When You Pray,” as well as ideas of ways to share them with a group of older students:

***

from Ch. 1: To Pray

“The litmus test of faith is not what we do in church, but what we do after church. The list we are given is exhaustive and exhausting. In part, we are
To acquire the mind of Christ (Phil. 2:5)
To move from knowing about God to knowing God (1 Cor. 13:12)
To love our enemies (Matt. 5:44)
To forgive from the heart (Matt. 18:35)
To resist having our lives shaped by the world around us (Rom. 12:2)
To know joy in the midst of suffering (Phil. 4:4)
To follow the commandments of the Gospel (John 14:15).
In turn, we are promised we will
Be transformed by the renewing of our minds (Rom. 12:2)
Become participants in the divine nature (2 Pet. 1:4)
Know the love of Christ and be filled with all the fullness of God (Eph. 3:19)
Cultivate the fruits of the Holy Spirit (Gal. 5:22–23)
Become holy as God is holy (Lev. 11:44, et al.; 1 Pet. 1:16).
What makes all of this—both the undertaking and promised result—possible is God’s grace. What makes grace accessible is prayer.” (pp. 7-8, “When You Pray: A Practical Guide to an Orthodox Life of Prayer” by L. Joseph Letendre)

Before class, copy each of the passages mentioned in this part of chapter 1 on separate slips of paper. Before you read the chapter to the class, pass those slips out and ask each student to look up the passage they’ve been given. When you get to this part of the chapter, instead of reading each phrase, read the reference and ask the student holding the slip of paper with that reference to read the passage of scripture to the class. After you’ve read all of them,talk together about we are to do, what we are promised, and what it is that makes all of this accessible to our lives.

***
from Ch. 2: Pray as You Can

“The decision to do what one can, however seemingly small or inadequate, recurs throughout the Bible: a young shepherd hurls stones at a giant warrior; out of a crowd of famished thousands, a boy graciously offers what few loaves he has; Peter tells a lame beggar, “Silver and gold I do not have, but what I do have I give you” (Acts 3:6). The giant falls, the thousands are fed, and the beggar leaps to his feet. In prayer, all we need do is what we can.” (p. 15, “When You Pray: A Practical Guide to an Orthodox Life of Prayer” by L. Joseph Letendre)

Challenge your students to find each of the Bible stories mentioned in this passage. Talk about how each of these people did what they could: nothing supernatural, just the ordinary amount thing that they were able to do, and how God used that amazingly to work out His purposes. Invite your students to share times that they have done what they could and seen God at work through their “loaves and fishes.”

***
from Ch. 3: Pray Attentively

“…from St. John of Kronstadt: ‘When praying, keep to the rule that it is better to say five words from the depth of your heart than ten thousand words with your tongue only.’ It sounds fair. If I don’t pay attention to my prayers, why should God? Paying attention during prayer proved more difficult than I anticipated…

“Three highly recommended practices can help:

  1. Preparing for prayer
  2. Saying the words of our prayer slowly
  3. Praying aloud.” (pp. 17-18, “When You Pray: A Practical Guide to an Orthodox Life of Prayer” by L. Joseph Letendre)

Read and carefully discuss each of those practices with your students. The book fleshes out each recommended practice and offers concrete ways that you can work at each one. Encourage your students to select one for each practice, jot them on a post-it note, then place that note where they will see it and be reminded to keep working on that particular practice.

***
from Ch. 4: Pray the Lord’s Prayer

“Without the right script, prayer can degenerate into telling God what He already knows, and then telling Him what we think He should do about it. [quoting Fr. Alexander Schmemann, quoting his teacher Archimandrite Cyprian Kern.] When Jesus’ disciples came to Him and asked, ‘Lord, teach us to pray,’ He responded by giving them a script: ‘When you pray, say: “Our Father . . .”’ (Luke 11:1, 2).” (p. 24, “When You Pray: A Practical Guide to an Orthodox Life of Prayer” by L. Joseph Letendre)

You could couple a discussion of this chapter with an in-depth look at the Lord’s Prayer. (We wrote a whole series of blog posts on this prayer. The series begins here: https://orthodoxchurchschoolteachers.wordpress.com/2016/03/04/on-the-lords-prayer-an-introduction/)

***
from Ch. 5: Pray the Psalms

“How many psalms should we pray? Monks and nuns are the Church’s experts in psalmic prayer. In monasteries and sketes that are able to follow the monastic rule fully, the entire Psalter—all 150 psalms—is read every week… To facilitate this, centuries ago, the Psalms were divided into twenty sections (called kathismas) and further divided into three subsections (called stases): thus, sixty sections of roughly equal length. So, one possibility is to pray one or more of these stases each day… If praying a stasis attentively is not possible, do less. Do one psalm. Do a few verses from one psalm. We should pray as many—or as few—psalms as we realistically can in the time we have. But we should never do none.” (p. 30, “When You Pray: A Practical Guide to an Orthodox Life of Prayer” by L. Joseph Letendre)

Pull out the Psalter (or have your students look up the book of Psalms in Bibles). Allow your students time to read through the Psalms, and ask them to find one that jumps out at them – one that would be good for them to pray right now because of the struggle they are facing or because of how it encourages them. Take time for your students to quietly pray their specially-selected Psalm. You may even want to allow them to copy it, decorate the paper they’ve copied it onto and take that home with them to remind them to pray that Psalm. Challenge them to pray the Psalm every day for the week. The following Sunday, allow time for students to share if/how praying their Psalm helped them during the week.

***
from Ch. 6: Pray the Gospel

“First, choose a short passage from the Gospels. It can be one event in the life of Christ, a section from the teachings of Jesus, even a single verse… In St. Athanasius’s Life of St. Anthony, we read how hearing just one verse from the Gospel in Church led Anthony into the desert to pursue the monastic life. Second, read the passage or verse out loud… Read it slowly. Then read it again. For writers across the centuries, the governing image here is “ruminating.” A ruminant (cows are the handiest example) is an animal that chews its cud. After it has eaten, it regurgitates its food and spends its time in a leisurely rechewing of its meal. When the saints advise ruminating on a passage of Scripture, they mean slowly ‘chewing over’ what we’ve read in our minds and our imagination.” (pp. 33-34, “When You Pray: A Practical Guide to an Orthodox Life of Prayer” by L. Joseph Letendre)

Practice “praying the Gospel” with your students by applying the steps suggested in the book to this week’s Gospel reading. Teach them how to do this by leading them through it. Then when they are at home, they will know how to pray the Gospel because of their experience in Sunday Church School!

***
from Ch. 7: Pray for Others

“When we have completed our list, we move on—in trust and confidence—to the rest of our prayer, the rest of our day, or simply to our rest. It is not our prayer or the intensity of feeling we bring to it that matters; what matters is God’s grace. Through our prayers we have joined in the work God is already doing; we have united God’s will for them to our own.” (p. 37)

“Praying for others can be risky. The risk is that we will become part of God’s answer to our prayer. We should be ready for that.” (p. 39, “When You Pray: A Practical Guide to an Orthodox Life of Prayer” by L. Joseph Letendre)

Hand each one of your students a blank piece of paper and a pencil or pen. Give them a block of time to create their own list of people for which they can pray. Talk together about how to do this, how to lift that personal list of people up to God in prayer. Encourage your students to take their list home and work at doing this important work. Remind them that they may need just to pray for the people on their list, or that God may use them to become part of the answer to that prayer.

***
from Ch. 8: Pray Frequently

“Few of us living ‘in the world’—meaning outside of monasteries—can pray without ceasing. Workday distractions and obligations, many of them part of our vocations, eat away at our time and attention. But even if we cannot pray ceaselessly, we can pray frequently. We can seize every opportunity the day affords us to pray briefly; we can pray on the run. Indeed, frequent prayer is essential if we are to grow in the Christian life and fulfill the commandments of Christ. Without frequent prayer, living the Christian life is all but impossible. As Jesus warned us, ‘Without Me you can do nothing’ (John 15:5). Therefore, besides praying at the set times of our rule, we should make every event, activity, and transition in our day an opportunity for a brief prayer.” (p. 42, “When You Pray: A Practical Guide to an Orthodox Life of Prayer” by L. Joseph Letendre)

Find ideas on how to pray frequently in this recent blog post: https://orthodoxchurchschoolteachers.wordpress.com/2017/08/11/on-practical-reminders-to-pray/

***
from Ch. 9: Pray Faithfully

“…the test of prayer is not how we feel or what happens during prayer; it is what we do and how we are after prayer. A friend of mine once observed that her brother had begun meditating and jogging. ‘He is calmer and thinner,’ she remarked, ‘but he’s no better.’ The fruits of prayer are revealed in the kitchen, the supermarket, and the office. This is why in the prophetic literature of the Old Testament we often read that God does not judge His people on the basis of their prayers, fasts, and ritual sacrifices in the temple, but on how they treat the widow, the fatherless, and the stranger (Zech. 7:10, for instance). The test of prayer is how well we fulfill the commandments of Christ. ” (pp. 60-61, “When You Pray: A Practical Guide to an Orthodox Life of Prayer” by L. Joseph Letendre)

You could use litmus paper to introduce this section of the book. Before you read this chapter, show a piece of litmus paper to your class, and ask them if they know what it is and/or how it is used. Demonstrate its purpose by using pieces of litmus paper to test a variety of liquids: lemon juice, water, a soft drink, coffee, etc. Then ask the class what the “litmus test” for prayer is? Entertain answers, read this chapter aloud, then ask again (see answer above). Give each student a strip of litmus paper and a bookmark-sized piece of cardstock. Invite them to create a bookmark for their prayer book that includes the litmus paper and this reminder from p. 61 of the book: “The test of prayer is how well we fulfill the commandments of Christ.” (or “Am I passing the prayer test?” or something to that effect)

***

Take some time with your students to discuss the seven principles that summarize the monastic fathers’ writings on prayer. These are listed in the appendix, pp. 63-62. As you read through them, encourage each student to select one on which to focus on improving in their life.

Gleanings From a Book: “We Pray” by Daniel Opperwall

I never expected to be charmed by a nonfiction book. However, “We Pray,” written by Daniel Opperwall and illustrated by Jelena and Marko Grbic is no ordinary nonfiction book! It is a beautiful Orthodox Christian children’s book that helps children (and those reading to/with them) think about prayer. Each spread of the book talks about a different aspect of prayer and includes some of the basic theology behind that aspect. Some pages offer specific prayers that we can pray, along with ways in which we pray (with incense, with a prayer rope, etc.). Other pages talk about where we pray, how we pray, what we pray, and for whom we pray. “We Pray” may be an informational book, but it is not at all tedious. Instead, the book has an almost lyrical tone, so the spiritual instruction in “We Pray” is both approachable and enjoyable.

But the tone of the book and the knowledge it imparts are not nearly the only charms of this book! Its physical size is lovely, too. Ancient Faith Publishing has printed “We Pray” in a very “holdable” size for children. At 8 ¼” square, the book is a comfortable size for children to hold. And even better than its size are the book’s delightful pictures! Jelena and Marko Grbic’s charming illustrations are both colorful and enticing. Each drawing is whimsical, yet true to the Faith. The book’s pages are quite sturdy, which was a smart design choice, because children will likely return to the illustrations again and again, taking in all the beautiful details included in each! (To be honest, adults will do the same. I have paged through this book countless times just to savor the illustrations!)

“We Pray” is an excellent addition to any Orthodox Christian library. Its readers will learn about prayer and be encouraged to pray more fervently. Its size and darling illustrations will appeal to children of all ages. My guess is that you, too, will find it charming!

To purchase your own copy of “We Pray,” visit http://store.ancientfaith.com/we-pray/.

Here are some activities that you can do with your students after reading it!

***

With younger children: Before class, copy one of the prayers from the back of “We Pray” onto a piece of transparency film (one copy for each student) and trim it to the right size. In class, allow students to decorate the film with permanent markers, to add color and/or illustrations to the prayer. Tape the film to form a tube that fits around (or glue the film directly to) the outside of a glass candle holder. Insert a battery-run tealight.

***

With older children: Allow each student to use a permanent marker to write their favorite prayer from the back of “We Pray” onto a piece of transparency film and to decorate it as they wish. Encourage them to make it colorful just as Jelena and Marko Grbic did in the illustrations for the book. Glue the film to the outside of a glass candle holder. Insert a battery-run tealight or small candle.

***

With teens (although the book is geared for younger children, teens can benefit from it as well!): Discuss “We Pray.” Ask the students to think about the book’s discussion of prayer and compare it to their own lives. Are there any times and/or prayers mentioned in the book that they already pray? Which ones? Are there any times when they do not yet pray, but would like to start praying? Which, and why? Talk about the prayers mentioned in the book. Ask questions like these: “Are any of these prayers familiar to you? Have you prayed any of them in your lifetime, and if so, which ones were the most helpful to you? If you were to share one of these prayers with a younger person in your life, which one would you share, and why?” Look again at how the Grbics incorporated some of the prayers into their illustrations, surrounded by whimsical doodles. Provide paper, pencils, markers, etc. for your students. Encourage them to write the prayer they’d share with a younger person and then try their hand at decorating it as the Grbics did in “We Pray.” Encourage each teen to share their illustrated prayer with a younger child in the parish.

***

Encourage your students of any age to respond by writing or drawing about the book “We Pray” after you have read it together. Here is a reproducible page you can offer to your students that they can use for their response: WePrayResponse. You could do this activity prior to a class discussion, and then discuss the students’ responses as they share them. Or you could offer them this opportunity after having discussed the book together.

***

Just for fun, have multiple copies of “We Pray” available for your students to look at. After you’ve read and discussed the book, hand out this activity page (WePrayCounting) and challenge students (individually or in small groups) to complete the counting activity. They will need to look closely at the artwork. That is why you will need multiple copies of the book!

 

On Evaluating the Sunday Church School Year

The school year is wrapping up in North America. For many of us, this means that Sunday Church School will also be taking a summer break. A change from the usual routine is a good time for us to think and evaluate what we do and take steps toward making improvements. Let us take advantage of this time to review our classroom and lessons this year, thinking about what worked and what did not work, and then figure out steps to take to improve for next year.

Evaluating all of this at once can feel overwhelming. We recommend blocking out a few evaluation sessions in our summer schedule, concentrating on one aspect at each session. Suggested review sessions could include: classroom setup; curriculum; interactions with students; teaching style; etc. Each of us knows which areas of our Sunday Church School class experience need the most consideration, and we should schedule a self-appointed review session for each of those specific areas.

It is our goal as Sunday Church School teachers to teach our students to the best of our ability so that we can help them grow in the Faith. Taking time to think about the past year and its successes and failures will help us see some of that growth in ourselves and in our students. It will also offer us the opportunity to find ways to improve so that our next group of students has an even better experience!

May God bless each teacher, as we review this year and plan for the next!

What resources and ideas for classroom improvement do you have to offer to the community? Please share them below! Here a few online resources that we have found which could be helpful.

***
“Write down your ideas!  I don’t know why, but I always get ideas for the following year toward the end of the current school year and I don’t want to forget them. So, I write them down.  I just use a boring old spiral notebook and write down things that I might want to do next year.  I bring the notebook home and add to it during the summer.” Read this article from a classroom teacher that contains suggestions of what to do with your students in the final class times together, as well as other general end-of-year suggestions (such as this one), here: http://www.primarily-speaking.com/2015/05/my-favorite-end-of-year-tips-and-tricks.html#.WSSFS1TyvIW

***

Here is a printable evaluation that you could use as a starting place for your own personal evaluation of many aspects of the Sunday Church School year: http://www.pghpresbytery.org/disciplemaking/pdfs/Evaluation_Tool_for_Teachers.pdf

***

This (not Orthodox, but helpful) article offers ideas of how to look with fresh eyes at your Sunday Church School room to see how it could be improved to better enhance learning. The “environment inventory” near the end will be especially helpful. https://nccumc.org/christianformation/files/Classroom-Environment.pdf

***

One way to evaluate your curriculum is to take a look at some of the other Orthodox Christian Sunday Church School curricula available: not necessarily for the purpose of finding something you like better, but just for the experience of seeing ideas of other ways to teach what you are teaching. Some of the current curricula are listed here: http://www.antiochian.org/category/christian-education/especially-small-church-schools

***

As you think about your interactions with students, consider ways you can continue that interaction in a positive way over the summer. Check out these two related blog posts from years gone by: https://orthodoxchurchschoolteachers.wordpress.com/2014/05/30/keeping-in-touch-with-sunday-church-school-students/

https://orthodoxchurchschoolteachers.wordpress.com/2016/06/17/on-supporting-your-students-throughout-the-summer/

***

This (non-Orthodox) article offers ways to improve your teaching style. We are sharing it because of the great variety of ways it suggests that can be used to teach your Sunday Church School students. Perhaps one of them will encourage you to try something that will help your students’ learning level to improve! http://churchrelevance.com/10-ways-improve-sunday-school-lessons-2/

***