Category Archives: Virtues

Gleanings from a Book: “Time and Despondency” by Dr. Nicole Roccas

As soon as this book arrived in the mail, I resolved to read it and share some gleanings from it with this community. My thought process was somewhere along the lines of: “It will be great for parents and teachers to read this book so they can help their despondent kids.” In my mind’s eye, this book had the makings of an excellent tool for young people or for adults with teens in their life.

I was right.

And I was wrong.

Nicole Roccas’ “Time and Despondency” takes the reader on a journey through time and thought as it addresses the relationship between time and despondency, which is “no less than a perpetual attempt by the mind to flee from the present moment, to disregard the gift of God’s presence at each juncture of time and space.” (p. 15) The book offers much to ponder, including quotes from church fathers and other noted Christian authors, all pointing to the fact that despondency is a real problem for Christians. Not just teens and young adults encounter despondency. It is a struggle for Christians of all ages. Parents and teachers, too. Myself included.

But this book does not merely shake a finger in the face of its readers, scolding them for not caring or for abandoning the present or God, Who meets us in the present. Rather, the book extends grace to the reader. It encourages them to do the same to themselves and to others. Then it walks the reader through a host of ideas of ways to begin to heal and step away from despondency; whether with counter statements from scripture or with stepping stones built on virtues and disciplines.

As it turns out, I needed to read this book. Perhaps someday it will be helpful to me as I relate to the teens and young adults in my life. But right now, I needed to read this for my own salvation. Maybe once I have “removed the log from my own eye” I can begin to help others. I encourage you to read it, as well, so that we can journey together out of despondency and back to the present, where we find – and connect with – God.

You can purchase a copy of “Time and Despondency” here:

Listen to Dr. Nicole Rocca’s podcast here:

Find her blog here:

Note: when I read a book so that I can write a “Gleanings” blog post, I mark potential quotes to share by adhering sticky notes beside the quote. When I take a photo of the book to use for the blog’s illustration, I usually remove those sticky notes. This book, however, is so highly quotable that it garnered many, many sticky notes. I left them in the book for this illustration photo so that you can see for yourself that the gleanings I am sharing are not nearly all of the ones I’d have liked to share! There is so much to ponder in this book. Here are some gleanings from it:

“‘Despondency is the impossibility to see anything good or positive; it is the reduction of everything to negativism and pessimism. […] Despondency is the suicide of the soul because when man is possessed by it, he is absolutely unable to see the light and desire it.’” (Dr. Nicole Roccas quoting Alexander Schmemann, “Time and Despondency”, p. 23)
“Despondency has an infinite array of disguises and symptoms. Among the most universal signs is inner restlessness, yet this can present itself in countless ways, depending on the person. For some, the restlessness makes it problematic to sit alone, to read a book to completion, to pray for any length or intensity, or to finish a task at work. Others can perform all of these activities but find themselves hounded by a stubborn anger or boredom while doing so. For still others, despondency begins as an inclination towards sleep, eating, distraction, or worry.”
(Dr. Nicole Roccas, “Time and Despondency”, p.26)
“Just as the poison of spiritual sickness begins in the soul, so too does healing. Even after despondency has affected the body or those around us, restoration starts within us and unfolds a new directions to revive all aspects of a person’s self and life…. In other words the restoration of a single human soul has almost limitless transformative effects that ripple throughout the rest of the world.” (Dr. Nicole Roccas, “Time and Despondency”, pp.34-35 )
“Time is the dimensional fabric that allows relationship and action to happen. Without it, there would be little prospect of communion, forgiveness, or change of heart—all life-giving possibilities hinge on the interaction of time and eternity in the here and now of our existence. When we begin to look at these two realms from the vantage point of Christ and human relationship, it seems that eternity is not as far off as we often assume. In fact, eternal life—and with it, healing from despondency—begins when we start to exercise that capacity to ‘realize’ life while we live it every, every minute…” (Dr. Nicole Roccas, “Time and Despondency”, p. 44)
“…time affords us: the opportunity to turn toward (or away from) God, life, love, and goodness. Like a lover or a friend, God left space for a path back to relationship. In the fullness of time, Christ entered our world to pave this path for our sake. His Incarnation and Resurrection open the door for us, as God’s creatures, to ‘redeem time’…” (Dr. Nicole Roccas, “Time and Despondency”, p. 48)
“Viktor Frankl wrote, ‘Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms—to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances.’ Lest these words be dismissed as cliche, it’s worth mentioning that Frankl honed his thinking on human psychology while a prisoner in Auschwitz. Whenever I make excuses for my attitude, this quotation offers a suitable reality check.” (Dr. Nicole Roccas, “Time and Despondency”, p. 61)
“The opposite of this despondent condition is not happiness nor jubilation, but rather love—a turning outward from the self to one’s neighbor, God, and Eternity. The latter is crucial; in the view of the Church Fathers, the “every, every minute” we fail to realize in this life consists not merely of love or beauty but of eternity itself. Time then, becomes not only the vehicle of relationship and eternity, but the path of transformation we can travel to get there.” (Dr. Nicole Roccas, “Time and Despondency”, p. 65)
“Every day, every moment is accounted for in the church, and not just on an abstract levels but physically and concretely through the fasts, feasts, and seasons, all of which seek to manifest Christ in and through time. The Church calls not just our minds but our whole being and all our wandering loose ends back into existence, back into presence… Every juncture of sacred time links us to the Incarnation, the reaching of Eternity into this world, and in doing so, unites us not only to Christ but to the realization of are very selves as icons of Him. (Dr. Nicole Roccas, “Time and Despondency”, p. 88)
“Prayer is like a coin with two sides, doing and being. The ‘doing’ of prayer includes all the externalities—the words we articulate (audibly or not), the candles we light, the prostrations we make, the spaces we designate for prayer. In Orthodox Christianity, we have an abundance of highly developed rituals and practices to help us cultivate the journey inward. We sometimes burn incense, or use prayer ropes, or set certain corners of our homes apart for prayer. These rituals are not meant to be rote or mindless, but to nourish reverence and to remind us that we are incarnational beings—our bodies must learn to pray as well as our minds.” (Dr. Nicole Roccas, “Time and Despondency”, p. 98)
“We may not have chosen our disease, we may have no control over its remedy, but we can still choose to remain rather than to resist. ‘Abide in Me,’ Christ beckons us (John 15:4)—Stay. Endure. Surrender. Anyone in the midst of great pain knows it is a thousand times harder to accept this invitation than to give our hearts over to bitterness or despair. To stay with Christ where we are (rather than to seek Him where we are not) requires surrender and longsuffering, both of which move us to choose between him or hardness of heart.” (Dr. Nicole Roccas, “Time and Despondency”, p. 122)
“I’m of the opinion that the inverse of thanksgiving is not ingratitude but rumination, a relentless mental preoccupation with resolving the unfavorable aspects of our circumstances… Among other things, it suggests we may be living too much in our minds—that our mind is not dwelling in our heart, but oppressing it.”(Dr. Nicole Roccas, “Time and Despondency”, p. 141)
“Work that is good for the soul is hard enough that the mind must focus on it, but easy enough that the work can be sustained for long periods of time… There is a humble creativity in performing ordinary tasks like making the bed or folding clothes… When we can manage such tasks with even a hint of grace and care, they are transfigured into something holy.”
(Dr. Nicole Roccas, “Time and Despondency”, pp. 151-152.)
“…one of the most beautiful things about sacredness is that it’s not all or nothing—it comes to us in small, ordinary things and times, and asks us to see the holy in finite moments. For whatever reason, we humans can only understand or encounter holiness in small morsels at a time—in a chalice, a piece of bread, a sip of wine. Any encounter with the sacred reminds us that it is enough to start somewhere, anywhere—it is enough to put one foot forward, to turn to Christ for one real moment. Wherever we begin, Real Life will seep out into the other areas of our existence.” (Dr. Nicole Roccas, “Time and Despondency”, pp. 166-167)
“The liturgies of the Orthodox Church are punctuated countless ties by a simple supplication: ‘Lord, have mercy.’ To modern ears, such a prayer may sound stifling and self-diminishing: is God really so vengeful we must beg His forbearance at every turn? But in Orthodox conceptions, mercy is the balm of salvation, and to ask it of God affirms that He is merciful and loving in the first place.” (Dr. Nicole Roccas, “Time and Despondency”, p. 175)
“Redundant as it seems, worship in the liturgy turns time into a pilgrimage back—not back to our shame and feebleness, but through our feebleness and back to engagement, back to communion, back to Christ, one Kyrie eleison at a time.” (Dr. Nicole Roccas, “Time and Despondency”, p. 175)



On Virtuous Year-End Awards

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

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

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

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

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


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


Ideas for an award for the virtue of Humility:

This printable certificate: Humility Certificate


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


Ideas for an award for the virtue of Liberality:

This printable certificate: Liberality Certificate


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


Ideas for an award for the virtue of Chastity:

This printable certificate: Chastity Certificate


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


Ideas for an award for the virtue of Mildness:

This printable certificate: Mildness Certificate


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


Ideas for an award for the virtue of Temperance:

This printable certificate: Temperance Certificate


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


Ideas for an award for the virtue of Happiness:

This printable certificate: Happiness Certificate


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


Ideas for an award for the virtue of Diligence:

This printable certificate: Diligence Certificate


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


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


On Pursuing Virtue: Diligence

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

The last virtue we will focus on in this series is diligence. Merriam-Webster defines diligence as “steady, earnest, and energetic effort.” St. Theophan the Recluse helps us to understand diligence in the context of our Orthodox faith: “Our entire lives, in all their parts and details, must be devoted to God. The general rule is that everything you do should be done according to the Divine will and for the sake of pleasing God …Although [our] acts are not brilliant or perfect, [we] permit nothing consciously in them that would offend God or would not be pleasing to Him.” He goes on to say that when we choose to live in this way, our hearts will be filled with peace and joy because we will be living close to God. It is this definition of diligence that we should communicate to our Sunday Church School students: the deliberate decision to make everything that we do honor God, and the determination to carry out that decision to the best of our ability. (We should emphasize that we will not be perfect as we do this, but that our efforts will be pleasing to God and helpful to those around us, anyway!)

To introduce this virtue to your students, begin by having the word “diligence” spelled out with honey sticks (plastic straws with honey sealed inside, available online or at some grocery stores). Place the word somewhere in the classroom where the students will see it when they arrive at class (for example, down the middle of the table if you meet around a large table). The students will be curious about the honey sticks, so the discussion can begin almost immediately. Have them figure out what the word says, then begin talking about what it means. Allow the students who want to, to eat a honey stick as you talk about bees and their diligence to make the honey being consumed. (Each stick contains about one teaspoon of honey. It took 12 bees their entire lifetime – 6 weeks – to make that one honey stick. Bees visited more than 31,000 flowers to make each one of these honey sticks.) Talk about how hard the bees worked, and how diligent they are. Define diligence for the students, or have them concoct a definition together.

After talking about the definition of diligence with your students, help them learn about this important virtue by sharing stories with them that emphasize or model diligence. Stories teach in a way that is engaging, but also practical, for they demonstrate the application of the virtue in a way that mere definition cannot. There are many kinds of stories that would work for teaching about diligence. Saints’ stories are an excellent resource: their diligence in following God is what helped them to become a saint! There are also many stories in the scriptures that would help. (The story of Joseph is an excellent example!)

Folk tales offer another opportunity for us to teach children about diligence. Many cultures highly value diligence and thus have folktales to help communicate this virtue. “Give Up, Gecko!” by Margaret Read MacDonald (2013) is an excellent example. This Ugandan folktale tells the tale of many thirsty animals trying to make a hole deep enough to reach water during a drought. All the big animals try and quit when they do not succeed. Finally little gecko has a turn to try. Gecko is tempted to quit, too, especially when everyone laughs at him, but he is determined to provide water, and perseveres… and he succeeds! Read the story aloud to your students, or assign them roles and have them act it out as you read, with everyone chanting along with the animals as they stomp while attempting to create the water hole. Regardless of how you share the story, after it is over, discuss diligence. Ask questions like: “Who in the story demonstrated diligence? How did they do so? What can we learn about diligence from this story? What can we apply to our own life? Why is diligence important to our Orthodox Christian life?”

After teaching your students about diligence and citing an example (or more), invite your students to respond artistically to their learning. Extend the learning by selecting an art form that requires them to practice diligence. For example, a mosaic! Provide each student with a sturdy piece of cardstock (or cardboard) for the base of their piece and small tiles (pieces of paper, adhesive foam, or even tiny glass or ceramic tiles). On the cardstock, your students can sketch their design of something that reminds them of diligence, or even the word itself with a pencil. Then they can fill in the color using the tiles, carefully adhering the pieces inside the sketched space to create the final image. This project will require the students to work diligently to complete it, and thus makes an excellent example of what diligence is (as well as an opportunity to figure out how tedious it can be for us) with the opportunity to experience a beautiful reward (the finished project) at the end. You may want to display all of the projects in a place where the whole parish can see and enjoy them, when they are finally finished!

Whether we follow the above suggestions or come up with a lesson plan of our own, let us be sure to teach our students about diligence. It is a virtue that is much easier to teach about than it is to truly learn and apply! But it is much needed, in order that all of the other virtues can be better attained. So, it is important that we (diligently!) work to help our Sunday Church School students learn about this virtue.

Here are other resources that can help you to plan a lesson on diligence:


Here is a preschool lesson (non-Orthodox, but still quite helpful) on diligence:

Here’s a simple lesson plan on diligence that can be used with young children. It features a discussion of the story of the ants and the grasshopper, and even offers a fingerprint craft idea! It’s not Orthodox, and is written for parents to use with their children, but could easily used in a Sunday Church School context:


This secular character-education article about diligence offers some books that can be read at various ages, as well as suggestions from nature, biographies, etc. that can enhance a discussion of diligence:


Here is another (secular) list of books that can be used in a discussion of diligence:

And here is a list by a Christian blogger:


Practice diligence with your students by giving them some problem-solving opportunities. This (Christian, but not Orthodox) blog post offers suggestions that can spark further ideas:


This (Christian but not Orthodox) lesson on diligence features the story of Ruth from the Bible.
This blog post is aimed at helping your own children learn about diligence. Although it is not Orthodox, it contains many great ideas for teaching children about diligence. We especially liked the challenge ideas offered here; as they give children a fun way to practice their diligence!


Consider including this self-evaluating diligence survey in a lesson with teens: After completing the survey, discuss diligence and how the teens intend to improve their score over time. (It may be beneficial to have them take the survey again at a later date, for a check-up!)

On Pursuing Virtue: Happiness

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Find Fr. Dn. Charles Joiner’s article, “17 Points to Create True Happiness With Your Work and Life,” here:


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


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


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

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

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

Find more about St. Seraphim here:


These books are not Orthodox, but could be a helpful starting point for a children’s lesson on happiness:


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


This episode of “Be the Bee” encourages its watchers to ponder true happiness. It would be a great addition to a middle-years lesson on happiness!


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


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


This short meditation by Abbot Tryphon will challenge its listeners to choose happiness:

On Pursuing Virtue: Temperance

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

One way that we can teach our Sunday Church School children about temperance is to help them think about gluttony, the sin that stands opposed to temperance. Some children may be unfamiliar with the term “gluttony.” We can explain it as “making a habit of doing something (ie: eating or drinking) too much. Then, we should trade some stories of gluttony as we’ve experienced it. Most of us have had an experience where we did something in excess and can remember how we felt afterwards. Consider sharing an example from your own life to get the conversation started.

For example, if I were teaching this lesson, I’d begin by placing large bowl of white icing sitting where all of the students in my class could see it. Then I’d tell this story: when I was a child I loved icing. One day in first grade, I was at my friend’s house, playing, while her mother frosted a cake with white icing. We both wanted some, so when she had the cake frosted, she gave us the bowl and beaters, covered in frosting. Mmm! It was delicious and we ate and ate and ate, much more than we should have. Not long afterwards, I began to feel sick in my stomach. Thankfully, that feeling subsided with time, but for years afterwards, even the thought of white icing made me feel nauseous. I can now eat it again, but I know better than to eat a lot of it! Any time that we eat or do too much of something, that is called “excess.” Describe a time when you did something in excess. Maybe you ate so much you felt sick, ran so hard you overexerted yourself, watched tv for so long your brain felt weird, or got so many presents that you didn’t know which one to play with first. (Take time to allow anyone to share who wishes to.) All of those are examples of excess. Too much of anything (except Faith, Hope, and Love) is not good for us or for the people around us.

So, what can we do that IS good for us? We can work on temperance in our life. What is temperance? (Help the students define it; look it up in the dictionary if needed.) Temperance is not overdoing things. Temperance is having self control, knowing when to stop; realizing what amount is enough. St. Basil once said, “Nothing subdues and controls the body as does the practice of temperance. It is this temperance that serves as a control to those youthful passions and desires.” So, temperance is what controls our body and helps us to do what is right! Because we are Christians, we want to do what is right as we serve God, and temperance can help us to grow closer to God. So, not only is temperance in all things better for us (our body, our soul, and our spirit); it also helps us get closer to God!

Take time for each person who shared a story to share again. This time, have them share one sentence about temperance that, had they followed it, they would not have struggled with excess in that area. For example, “Temperance is licking one beater of white icing and saving the extra in the bowl to share with someone else or to eat later.”After everyone has had a chance to share their sentence, invite students to respond to the prompt “temperance is…” on a piece of paper. They can write a poem, draw a word web, sketch a picture, tell their story with a new ending, etc.

Older children may enjoy breaking into smaller groups and creating little stories or skits of their own to illustrate temperance. They can write or orally tell the stories. Allow enough time for the creation, writing/rehearsal, and performance of each story.

At this point in the lesson, I’d point to the bowl of icing which I had set before the class, and ask, “So back to the icing. Is this icing bad? No! Is eating it bad? No! Is eating all of it by myself bad? Yes, that would be gluttony (and I’d probably get sick again and maybe never want to eat white icing again for decades)! But what if I share it?” and then I’d offer to share a little of it with any student who wants a little of it, either on a cupcake or on a saltine. Unless the class is very large, we would not eat all of it. But that’s okay: we are illustrating temperance, so we will taste the icing, but not eat it in excess. That’s the way temperance works.

Close with prayer, asking God for help with pursuing temperance in all areas of our lives.

Here are some other ideas of ways to help our students learn temperance and its close relative, self-control:


Although this pdf was not written from an Orthodox perspective and is intended as a take-home letter, it can be a good resource for Sunday Church School teachers desiring to teach their students about temperance. Temperance is defined in an easy-to-understand way, and many practical applications/real-life scenarios are included in the discussion.


This lesson plan is not written from an Orthodox perspective, but has many good ideas that can be used to help teach children about the self-control aspect of temperance:


“We want their hearts to understand why self control is so important, and I think literature can really aid in this conversation. It is not a lecture from you. It is a story that brings truth to light. As we try and navigate raising our kids in a world that glorifies and abuses freedom and rebellion, we need to teach them what real freedom means. We do have the choice to sin or obey, but we need to teach about the freedom that comes as we submit to God’s ways. He sets his ideals for self-control so as it make our lives better.” Read this (not Orthodox, but quite helpful) blog post about children’s books that can help teach temperance/self control:


This lesson is intended for families to use together. While it is not written from an Orthodox perspective, most of it applies to Orthodox Christians and could be used in the Sunday Church School classroom (especially the scenarios and discussions in the lesson pdf) or sent home for use as a resource for families to extend a lesson on temperance/self-control.


“The word temperance in the KJV conveys this idea of self-control and more. Unfortunately, it is usually now associated only with abstinence from alcohol or other intoxicants. The Greek word is best translated by the word “mastery” which indicates full control over self and the things which one may desire. There are numerous examples of men exhibiting heroic self-control in the Bible.” The article (non-Orthodox, but very useful in helping teens understand temperance) continues by examining the lives of Joseph, the 3 Hebrew youths, and Christ Himself. Teens would benefit by looking up and discussing all of the scripture passages presented in this article. Find it here:

On Pursuing Virtue: Mildness

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

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

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

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

The Theotokos is undoubtedly an excellent saint for us to look to with regard to a life lived in mildness. Share her life story via this book full of icons from her life:

Hieromartyr Methodius the Bishop of Patara, who led his people in mildness yet fiercely defended the purity of Orthodoxy. (see

St. Gregory the Theologian the Archbishop of Constantinople, whose “fortitude and mildness …were his armor, and his words converted many to the Orthodox Church. (see

Hieromartyr Marcellus the Bishop of Apamea was a high-ranking official, yet lived a mild, kind, and pure life even before becoming a monastic and dedicating his life’s work to God. (see

The Holy Nobleborn Prince of Chernigov Michael, who was noted from his childhood for his piety and mildness (see

The child saint, Artemius, was known for his mild meekness in his few years before his death. (see

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

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

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

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

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


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

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


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


You may wish to include a discussion of this quote by St. John Chrysostom in your lesson on mildness. It offers a practical way to work towards the virtue of mildness: “Let’s stop fighting and pray in a becoming way. We should put on the mildness of angels instead of the demons’ brutality. No matter how we’ve been injured, we must soften our anger by considering our own case and our salvation. Let us quiet the storms; we can pass through life calmly. Then, upon our departing, the Lord will treat us as we treated our neighbours. If this is a heavy, terrible thing to us, we must let Him make it light and desirable. What we don’t have strength to carry out because of our struggle against sin, let us accomplish by becoming gentle to those who sinned against us.”We can discuss this quote piece by piece and ask our students to help us find in it things that we can do to become more meek.

Listen to several episodes of “Saint of the  Day” ( – perhaps the past week’s worth – together with your students and talk about each saint’s life. Did it demonstrate mildness? How?

Consider printing these saints’ stories or finding a way to enable your students to go online and read them, Assign each student to one of the stories and have him/her summarize the saint’s life for the class, pointing out any mention or evidence of mildness in the saint’s life:


Teachers of teens may want to consider taking a look at this non-Orthodox, but still very helpful sermon on meekness. Read parts of it together as a class, and together glean some examples from scriptures (both verses and examples from saints from Bible times) as cited here:



On Pursuing Virtue: Chastity

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

How can we possibly teach our Sunday Church School students about chastity? The word itself has connotations that can be awkward to discuss in Sunday Church School! Yet it is an important virtue, that we all – our students included – must pursue! If we dig into the word a little deeper than its one definition of sexual purity, we find that it is so much more than that. We need to help our students learn about all of the definitions of chastity!

We may need to begin by identifying the actual meaning of the word chastity. Merriam has a great “student” definition of the word: “the quality or state of being pure in thought and act.” This definition is quite Sunday-Church-School-friendly! Such purity is a lofty pursuit, but it is how we should live our lives as Orthodox Christians! We must find a way to teach our students to live in this way!

So, how can we teach our students to be pure in thought and act? St. John Chrysostom suggests teaching the Psalms to children as part of leading them toward chastity. “Teach him to sing those psalms which are so full of love of wisdom; as at once concerning chastity or rather, before all, of not companying with the wicked, …of companying the good, (and these subjects thou wilt find there in abundance,) of restraining the belly, of restraining the hand, of refraining from excess, of not overreaching; that money is nothing nor glory, and other things such like. …When in these thou hast led him on from childhood, by little and little thou wilt lead him forward even to the higher things.”

So, let us consider using an object lesson with our students based on St. John’s words of wisdom. For this lesson, we will need a clear quart jar, an electric candle, a variety of items that relate to St. John’s quote (see below), and either the Psalter or a Bible with certain Psalms marked for reading.

Begin your class with a discussion of what the students think chastity is. Write the word on the board or a large piece of paper, where everyone can see it. After a brief discussion, introduce the Merriam-Webster definition mentioned above and discuss what that means. Then tell your students you have a little demonstration that may help them see what it means to be chaste. We will base this demonstration on St. John Chrysostom’s quote mentioned above.

Set up the candle, and turn it on. Tell the students that this candle represents God’s light. Cover the candle with the clear quart jar. This jar represents each of us: we are, by God’s grace, created to be a dwelling place for the Light of Christ. Turn off the lights in the room if possible and note how the light shines through the clear jar. This is the kind of purity in which we should live! This is our goal, how we were created to be living.

Turn the lights back on, and then talk about what happens to all of us in life: how we embrace other things, making them more important to us than God is, and demonstrate the effect of those choices in this way, using St. John Chrysostom’s words as a guide. (Remember, his statement tells us how to teach children to live chastely, and we want to demonstrate the effects of the opposite, so we will demonstrate the effect of the OPPOSITE of his words):

“not companying with the wicked” – if we keep company with others who do not follow or love God, and make them so important in our life that we do not love God or serve Him as we should, it will block some of the Light in our life (demonstrate by putting some magazine pictures of movie or sports stars, mounted on dark paper for added light-blocking, into the jar around the light)

“restraining the belly” – if we eat too much or make food or other bodily pleasures gods in our life, our purity will be affected (demonstrate by adding some small plastic toy foods or magazine pictures of foods into the jar)

“restraining the hand” – if we do things that we are not supposed to be doing, we will not be chaste (add words like “hate,” “steal,” “hurt others,” etc., written on pieces of black paper with a gel pen)

“refraining from excess” – if we gather too much stuff that we don’t need or spend our time or money on unnecessary things, we lose some of our purity (add to the jar small toys including a car, a small animal, a small doll, anything that will represent things kids and adults may gather in unnecessary excess)

“not overreaching” – overreaching is defined by Merriam-Webster as “to get the better of, especially in dealing and bargaining and typically by unscrupulous or crafty methods”. Demonstrate this by adding words like “lie,” “cheat,” and “being unfair,” also written on dark paper. (You could also stuff in some cards or other game pieces or other things that represent ways kids would be tempted to overreach.)

“money is nothing nor glory” – things that our culture celebrates and reaches to attain, such as money and glory, cloud our purity as we pursue them. Demonstrate this by stuffing money, sunglasses and/or jewelry into the jar.
“other things” – What have we missed that we have not yet demonstrated, which also destroy our purity? Add small items that represent other things, if you can… the jar is probably pretty full by now!

Now look together at the jar. How nicely is the light shining through? Turn off the lights again and talk about how much the light inside the jar is able to show through all of this stuff. This demonstrates how the Light of Christ is stifled inside of us when we crowd our lives with this other stuff, when we do not live a chaste life.

Then, have students read a verse from the Psalms that talks about purity/chastity. As they read, remove some items from the jar. Along the way, talk about the fact that you are demonstrating how, if we repent and live in chastity as suggested in the Psalms, Christ’s light can shine through us into the world.

Here are a few Psalms that could be included in the ones your students read (mark the verses in the Psalter or Bible; or print and share them):

Psalm 24:3-4
Who may ascend into the hill of the LORD? And who may stand in His holy place? He who has clean hands and a pure heart, Who has not lifted up his soul to falsehood and has not sworn deceitfully.

Psalm 51:6
Behold, You desire truth in the innermost being, And in the hidden part You will make me know wisdom.

Psalm 51:7
Purify me with hyssop, and I shall be clean; Wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow.

Psalm 51:10

Create in me a clean heart, O God, And renew a steadfast spirit within me.

Psalm 73:1
Surely God is good to Israel, To those who are pure in heart!
Psalm 119:9
How can a young man keep his way pure? By keeping it according to Your word.

Return to the word “chastity” written on the board or the piece of paper. Ask again what it means. Together as a class, make an official class definition and write it with the word. Then brainstorm ways to live a chaste life and write them around the word. Before dismissing, pray and ask God to help each of you clear out the things that are keeping you from being a clear, pure “jar” through which the Light of Christ can shine.

Craft idea: provide each student with a baby food jar or pint jar and a battery-operated tea light to remind them of this lesson. Invite the students to use permanent marker or glass markers and write one of the Psalms or draw ways to live a chaste life (from your class list) on the glass of their jar. When they turn on the tea light and place it inside the jar, it will light up their room and also remind them of how to live as they should, so that Christ’s light can shine through them into the world around them!

Here are other ideas of ways to help your Sunday Church School students learn about chastity:


Find a story about chastity from St. Barsinuphius of Optina, as well as other things such as the prayer of a single person, so that you can share them with your Sunday Church School students here:


This object lesson on purity is not written from an Orthodox perspective, but could slightly adapted for use in a Sunday Church School classroom to demonstrate how we can live a pure life when connected to Christ (and His church) instead of filling our lives with impurity. (Note: as Orthodox Christians, we have the Scriptures as mentioned as a help, but we also have prayers, confession, communion, the prayers of the saints on our behalf, and so much more to help us become more pure as we connect to God!):


Teachers of teens may want to spend a great deal of time on the virtue of chastity.  One way to do so would be to post this statement in your Sunday Church School classroom as a discussion starter: “Chastity means being faithful to God first, in both soul and body.” Go on to read this SOYO document (or portions thereof) about chastity and purity:


Chastity is the virtue we struggle towards as we combat lusts of all sorts. We can learn so much from the lives of saints who have successfully fought against lust. Here are four whose lives we can study and emulate together with our students, while asking for the saints’ prayers:


A powerful tool we can offer to our students for them to use in their pursuit of chastity is prayer. These prayers of the church, specifically for chastity, will help our students (and us!). Print copies of one or more of these prayers in a small size. Pray them together as a class. Encourage each student to select the one that best resonates with them, and provide supplies so that they can craft a bookmark or fridge/locker featuring the small prayer. Encourage them to place the bookmark or magnet in a place where they will see it frequently and remember to pray the prayer as part of their pursuit of the virtue of chastity.