Category Archives: Virtues

On Pursuing Virtue: Honesty

Author’s note: We have written about virtues before (see https://orthodoxchurchschoolteachers.wordpress.com/2017/03/03/on-pursuing-the-virtues-an-introduction/), and now we are continuing the series. There are so very many virtues for us to acquire! Fr. Thomas Hopko’s book “The Orthodox Faith, Volume 4, Spirituality,” offers additional virtues, some of which we will now study. May the Lord have mercy on us and grant us grace as we learn to better walk in His ways!

Fr. Thomas Hopko’s chapter about honesty opens with the statement that “the wise man who has knowledge lives according to the truth through a totally honest life.” But what does a “totally honest life” look like? Is honesty just about speaking truth and not telling lies? Or is there more to it? He goes on to explain.

There are several ways that we can live a truly honest life. One way is to always speak the truth and never lie or speak unfairly or demeaningly about others. Another way to live an honest life is to act sincerely, not putting on airs or trying to come across as someone we are not. In other words, we live an honest life if we are not a hypocrite.

Hypocrisy, lying, and deceit are things that Christ hated the most, according to Fr. Thomas. Our Lord accused the devil of these things, for the devil constantly pretends to be what he is not and tries to make others believe that what he says is the truth, although it is definitely not the truth.

We must be mindful of the devil’s trickery and of how cunningly he tries to deceive us, sometimes through other people. Even devoted religious leaders can be part of his deceit: just look at the scribes and Pharisees in the time of Christ! Christ condemned their hypocrisy, as well He should, because of its lack of truth.

In order to live an honest life, we must first and foremost look at ourselves. Do we present ourselves to others honestly, or do we pretend to be someone we are not? An honest person comes across exactly as they are, not speaking or acting in a way that makes others think they are anyone but who they really are.

Fr. Thomas writes that a truly honest person does not just speak the truth and present themselves to others honestly. An honest person is also honest in thought and mind, forever remembering that God sees and knows our heart. In his words, a truly honest person is “utterly honest and pure in all that he things, says and does, knowing that God sees all and judges with righteousness all those who ‘walk in integrity’ (Ps. 26:1, 11).”

May we all grow in the virtue of honesty, and help our students to do so, as well!!
Read Fr. Thomas Hopko’s discussion of honesty here: https://oca.org/orthodoxy/the-orthodox-faith/spirituality/the-virtues/faith1

Here are some ideas of ways that we can help to teach our Sunday Church School students about the virtue of Honesty:
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Want to focus on honesty in your classroom? Consider some of the ideas found on this (non-Orthodox, but creative and helpful) website: http://www.barnabasinschools.org.uk/exploring-values-with-the-bible-honesty/
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Teachers of younger students may wish to enhance a lesson on honesty with a story. Here are some secular books that may be helpful as you plan: https://talkingtreebooks.com/best-character-education-resources/books-honesty.html
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What do the scriptures say about honesty? Here is a list of verses that can help in a lesson about honesty. Sunday Church School teachers could write each reference on a slip of paper before class. Take the slips along and have each student select one reference to look up in the Bible, then read to the class. http://www.kidsofintegrity.com/lessons/honesty/memory-verses
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Teachers of young children may find some parts of this secular lesson on honesty helpful as they gather ideas for a lesson on this virtue: https://talkingtreebooks.com/lesson-plans/honesty-worksheet-kindergarten-grade-1.html
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There are so many ideas that can be gathered from this series of lessons on honesty! It was written for parents to use at home, and is not at an Orthodox site, but Sunday Church School teachers will find many scripture verses, stories from the Bible, and a myriad of different hands-on learning activities here. These ideas can easily be added to a lesson on honesty: http://www.kidsofintegrity.com/lessons/honesty
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Teachers with students of varying ages may want to take a look at the activities suggested in this object lesson containing a variety of ways to talk about the importance of honesty instead of lying. From weaving a tangled web with yarn to trying to cover a quarter with a penny, students will be interested and involved in the lesson. (The lesson is not written from an Orthodox perspective, but can still be very helpful for this topic.) http://storage.cloversites.com/yorkalliancechurch/documents/KS%20Lesson%208%20Honesty.pdf
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Middle-years or older students may find this page useful. It contains questions about honesty and answers as found in the scriptures. http://www.kidsbibleinfo.com/article/102/topics/h/honesty
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Although it has “teens” in the tagline and addresses parents, this (secular) list of ideas for helping children learn about honesty will be helpful to Sunday Church School teachers preparing to teach their students about honesty. We especially liked the obstacle course idea. (Set up two obstacle courses, one easy and one full of obstacles. Allow students to run through both. Then talk about which was easier and why. Talk about how telling lies adds additional obstacles to your life, while honesty is simpler and more straight forwards.) https://www.livestrong.com/article/559757-teaching-teens-the-importance-of-telling-the-truth/
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Teachers with students in the middle years may want to share this children’s sermon – or at least some of the true stories it contains – as part of a lesson on honesty and integrity. Follow the stories with a discussion about how honesty is a lifestyle, and a true measure of our honesty is how we act when no one is watching. https://www.sermons4kids.com/do_right_thing.htm

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Do you know why former American president Abraham Lincoln was called “Honest Abe?” You may want to print the free printable about him at this site, and use it in a lesson about honesty. http://characterfirsteducation.com/c/curriculum-detail/1951185
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Here is a secular-based (but still useful) series of lessons on honesty. We especially liked the idea of using two M&M bags (one filled with something else) to illustrate the importance of honesty and how we need to live an honest life, not just put on the appearance of what we want others to think that we are. http://materials.randomactsofkindness.org/cde/en/5-Honesty-and-Integrity.pdf
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Middle school teachers may find some useful ideas for part of their lesson on honesty, from this (secular) lesson: http://character.org/lessons/lesson-plans/middle/john-a-carusi-middle-school/
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As we prepare for confession, one thing we can do is to look at the Ten Commandments and consider how well we are keeping them. While planning a lesson on honesty, we may want to take a look at these questions about the commandment “You shall not bear false witness.” These questions can help us think about what honesty looks like in an Orthodox life. Sharing these questions with our class will give both us and our students the chance to be honest with ourselves about how well we’re keeping this commandment: “Have I given false testimony against anyone? Have I spoken evil, told lies or spread rumors about anyone? Have I disclosed to anyone the sins and faults of another? Have I made careless statements or done anything else to harm the name and reputation of another? Have I engaged in idle gossip?” (This set of questions comes from: http://greekorthodoxchurchtampa.com/church_files/lent_pascha/ten_commandments_in_preparation_for_confession.pdf)

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The holy Fathers of the Church use words to teach us about false witness and condemnation, but they also teach us by their lives. Here is one story from the book, Sayings of the Desert Fathers. Teachers of older Sunday Church School students may wish to use this story during a lesson on honesty:

“A brother at Scetis committed a fault. A council was called to which Abba Moses was invited, but he refused to go to it. Then the priest sent someone to say to him, ‘Come, for everyone is waiting for you.’ So he got up and went. He took a leaking jug, filled it with water and carried it with him. The others came out to meet him and said to him, ‘What is this, Father?’ The Elder said to them, ‘My sins run out behind me, and I do not see them, and today I am coming to judge the errors of another.’ When they heard that they said no more to the brother but forgave him.”https://stjohndc.org/en/orthodoxy-foundation/thou-shalt-not-bear-false-witness-against-thy-neighbour
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Teachers of teens may want to include quotes about honesty from others, besides the scriptures and the church fathers. Share the following quotes with your students, and invite the students to discuss them. Compare them to the scriptures and the Church Fathers’ teachings on honesty, and discuss. What can be learned from these quotes, as well as the others?
Possible quotes to include:
“Honesty is the first chapter in the book of wisdom.” – Thomas Jefferson
“Take note, take note, O world, to be direct and honest is not safe.” – William Shakespeare
“I hold the maxim no less applicable to public than to private affairs, that honesty is the best policy.” – George Washington
“Make yourself an honest man, and you can be sure there is one less rascal in the world.” – Thomas Carlyle
“An honest man is believed without an oath, for his reputation swears for him.” – Eliza Cook
“It takes strength and courage to admit the truth.” – Rick Riordan
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On Pursuing Virtue: Hope

Author’s note: We have written about virtues before (see https://orthodoxchurchschoolteachers.wordpress.com/2017/03/03/on-pursuing-the-virtues-an-introduction/), and now we are continuing the series. There are so very many virtues for us to acquire! Fr. Thomas Hopko’s book “The Orthodox Faith, Volume 4, Spirituality,” offers additional virtues, some of which we will now study. May the Lord have mercy on us and grant us grace as we learn to better walk in His ways!

Fr. Thomas Hopko’s chapter about hope begins by pairing the virtue of hope with the power of faith. He reminds his readers that Abraham “in hope believed against hope that he should be the father of many nations” (Rom 4:18). He reminds his readers that hope and faith both rest in the unseen.

Hope is knowing that good will result in our life if we are living in faith, according to Fr. Hopko. Hope can help us to be sure that even in the midst of darkness and sin, God’s light and forgiveness is with us and will do for us what we are not able to do. Hope extends to us the reassurance that we need.

Fr. Hopko speaks of the opposite of hope, as well, so that we can be on guard. Despondency and despair are the opposites of hope. He calls these “the most grievous and horrible condition that a person can be in.” These two conditions work together to create the most terrible and damaging situation for our soul. Why? Because when we have no hope, we can’t do anything else. We especially can not have faith.

Fr. Hopko continues, “If a person is faithless, he can be chastised and convinced. If a person is proud, he can be humbled; impure, he can be cleansed; weak, he can be strengthened; wicked, he can be made righteous. But if a person is despondent and despairing, the very condition of his sickness is such that his heart and soul are dead and unresponsive to the grace of God and the support of his brothers.”

But if we fall into despair, it is possible for us to repair the state of our souls with humility and patience. Fr. Hopko tells his readers that when we fall into these states, we must hold steadfastly to the life of Faith, even if we don’t “feel” it anymore. He says when we are experiencing despair, we need to continue to go through each day, living our life of Faith. Even if we are just “going through the motions” of reading scriptures, participating in liturgical worship, keeping the fasts, praying, and working, we must not stop doing these things. He reminds us of St. Benedict’s advice that those in despondency/despair continue to do what they are doing as well as they can, and as attentively as possible. He suggests that we follow St. Seraphim’s encouragement to visit with strong friends who are spiritual, full of hope, merciful, and full of joy.

Staying steadfast through the dry times until we once again experience the light of hope and comfort is what we need to do. It is not an easy way to go (Fr. Hopko reminds us, “those who find it are few” (Mt. 7:14)). St. Evagrius assures us that when one “fights and conquers against despondency and despair, this struggle is followed by a peaceful state and the soul becomes filled with ineffable joy”.

Fr. Hopko addresses those who proclaim that it is virtuous to be without hope, thinking that declaring “all is lost” pleases God as these people sorrow over their sins and the sins of the world. He says it is not virtuous to feel helpless around the wicked or to think we’re at the mercy of evil. Rather, it is a virtue to be “rejoicing in hope, patient in tribulation, continuing steadfastly in prayer”(Rom 12.12). When we do so, we are able to really know and believe that God has the final victory in our life.

May we all grow in the virtue of hope, and help our Sunday Church School students to do the same!

Read Fr. Thomas Hopko’s discussion of hope here: https://oca.org/orthodoxy/the-orthodox-faith/spirituality/the-virtues/hope

Here are some ideas of ways that we can help to teach our Sunday Church School students about the virtue of hope:
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Tell your students the story of Abraham. How can we learn hope from his story?
(If you don’t want to tell it on your own, you may consider reading these to your class: http://www.essex1.com/people/paul/bible15.html (You’ll want to share his story at least to the one marked 18, where Sarah gives birth to Isaac.)
Find ideas for crafts and printable pages about Abraham here: http://www.dltk-bible.com/genesis/chapter15-index.htm
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Share a story (or more!) from the life of the prophet Daniel with your class. Talk about how he hoped in God, and it saved him. Find a story and activity ideas here: http://www.dltk-bible.com/old_testament/daniel-index.htm
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The story of Hannah’s hope in God – and the results of her hope – is a beautiful one to share with Sunday Church School children. Find a 3-minute video version here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JiYumdP4C6k
Find ideas for related activities here: http://www.dltk-bible.com/old_testament/hannah-index.htmn
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The story of Job offers us a wonderful model of how to face trials and hope in the Lord. Share the story with your class. (Here’s a 6-minute video version, if you have younger students: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bInc7sSe9KI) After learning about Job’s story together, talk about how he could (should?) have lost hope so many times. Yet, Job truly trusted God, and God watched over him throughout his trials. What can we learn from Job about the hard things we experience?

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Use two identical balloons filled with different things (to demonstrate the difference between being filled with despair and being filled with hope) as an attention-getter at the start of a lesson about hope! https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1ZFNBXGrXl0

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Here’s a “Be the Bee” episode about holding onto hope, which could be a great discussion starter for a lesson on hope: https://www.goarch.org/-/hold-on-to-hope?inheritRedirect=true
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This secular plan for teaching hope offers some excellent questions that we can ask our Sunday Church School students, as well as some age-leveled ideas that we can glean from as we help our students learn about this virtue in the context of the Faith. http://schools.cms.k12.nc.us/dilworthES/Documents/Character%20Education/Hope.pdf
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Teachers of elementary-aged or older students may want to print off this printable with 31 questions about hope. Each question has a suggested scripture to check for its answer. https://ministry-to-children.com/kids-can-devotion-1/ (It is not Orthodox, but will be helpful to teachers planning a lesson on hope.)
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After a discussion on hope with middle-years or older students, talk about ideas of ways to share hope with others. You may want to include these “4 Ways to Sow Hope”:

1. Write down the wonderful promises in God’s Word (Matthew 28:20, John 14:26-29, 1 Corinthians 1:7-9).
2. Regularly remind yourself of the reality of heaven (Matthew 28:28-30, John 14:1-4, Revelation 21-22).
3. When describing your circumstances, choose hopeful words. Share hardship authentically, but always affirm God’s ultimate game plan (Psalm 27:13-14).
4. Avoid complaining. Grumbling is a magnet for more complaints; avoid passing negative perspectives on to others (Philippians 2:13-16).
(This idea comes from http://www.discipleblog.com/2017/11/teaching-kids-about-true-harvest-faith-hope-and-love/, which is not Orthodox, but has some very helpful suggestions/ideas.)
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With older Sunday Church School students, discuss the difference between trust and hope. This homily would be a great discussion starter: http://stgeorgegoc.org/pastors-corner/fr-ricks-sermons/in-god-we-trusthope
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Share this Orthodox prayer for comfort, inviting students to keep it in mind the next time they feel hopeless and need God’s comfort:
“Almighty God, the Father of mercies and God of
all comfort, come to my help and deliver me from
this difficulty that besets me. I believe Lord, that
all trials of life are under Your care and that all
things work for the good of those who love You.
Take away from me fear, anxiety and distress.
Help me to face and endure my difficulty with
faith, courage and wisdom. Grant that this trial
may bring me closer to You for You are my rock
and refuge, my comfort and hope, my delight and
joy. I trust in Your love and compassion. Blessed is
Your name, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, now and
forever. Amen.” (from http://www.beliefnet.com/faiths/prayer/2009/12/prayers-for-hope-and-comfort.aspx?p=5)
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Share this prayer to the Holy Trinity with your class.
“The Father is my hope; the Son is my refuge; the Holy Spirit is my protector. O All-holy Trinity, glory to You.”
Invite them to tell what “The Father is my hope” means to them. Encourage each member of the class to remember this lesson about hope every time they pray this prayer.
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With older students, talk about this statement: “It’s easy, after all, to tell a kid to be hopeful. It’s entirely more powerful to give them a reason to hope.” Share this (secular) article with them (http://time.com/3395822/teaching-hope/) and launch a discussion on how each class member has received hope over the years. Follow that by a brainstorming session of how each person can give others a reason to hope. What can each class member do, right now, to bring hope to others? Make a plan to help them carry it out.
***

On Pursuing Virtue: Faith

Author’s note: We have written about virtues before (see https://orthodoxchurchschoolteachers.wordpress.com/2017/03/03/on-pursuing-the-virtues-an-introduction/), and now we are continuing the series. There are so very many virtues for us to acquire! Fr. Thomas Hopko’s book “The Orthodox Faith, Volume 4, Spirituality,” offers additional virtues, some of which we will now study. May the Lord have mercy on us and grant us grace as we learn to better walk in His ways!
Fr. Thomas Hopko writes that the virtue of faith is the foundation of all Christian virtue, and that it is at the heart of our Christian life. Without faith, he says, we can not achieve anything wise or virtuous. The virtue of faith is not limited to our faith in God, according to Fr. Hopko: when he speaks of the virtue of faith, he’s also speaking of our faith in the ability of humans to do good and speak truth; as well as our faith in the value of life!

Fr. Hopko calls faith in God “the fundamental virtue of all the saints.” He points us to Hebrews 11, where we find Abraham, the prototype of believers, whose faith we should emulate. Abraham’s faith brought him the promise from God in the first place. His continued faith that God would fulfill that promise which brought the promise to fruition. Genesis 15:6 says that Abraham’s faith was “accounted to him for righteousness.” (NKJV)

He goes on to talk about how we must have faith in God. It follows that if we believe in God, we also believe in His Son, Jesus Christ. Faith in Christ is the center of our Christian life. It also is the foundation of the Church. Faith is how we know and do everything.

He continues with these statements about faith: “Faith, first of all, is ‘the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen’ (Heb 11.1)… [it] is not a blind leap in the dark, an irrational and unreasonable acceptance of the unreasonable and the absurd. Genuine faith is eminently reasonable; it is rooted and grounded in man’s reasonable nature as made in the image of God. Not to believe, according to the scriptures and the saints, is the epitome of absurdity and foolishness.”

Fr. Hopko reminds us that all humans were created to have faith in God. Not believing in Him goes against our nature, and causes evils. It’s not an intellectual mistake or confusion that causes absence of faith in God: rather, that problem comes from sin, impurity, and pride. Lack of faith in God occurs when wickedness keeps the truth from shining through, or when God’s truth is covered by a lie, or when people refuse (knowingly or not) to honor God and/or be thankful to Him.

To be truly spiritual, we need to live by faith in Christ; and, by the grace of God and with His Spirit’s help, be faithful in all things.

May we all grow in the virtue of faith, and help our students to do so, as well!

Read Fr. Thomas Hopko’s discussion of faith in its entirety here: https://oca.org/orthodoxy/the-orthodox-faith/spirituality/the-virtues/faith1
Here are some ideas of ways that we can help to teach our Sunday Church School students about the virtue of Faith:

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Because of the faith of the friends of a paralytic, Jesus healed the man. Read the story in Matthew 9, and consider sharing it with your students as part of a lesson on the virtue of faith. What does this story imply about the virtue of faith? How can our faith affect those around us? How can our friends’ faith (or lack of faith) affect us? “Then behold, they brought to Him a paralytic lying on a bed. When Jesus saw their faith, He said to the paralytic, ‘Son, be of good cheer; your sins are forgiven you.’” (Matt. 9:2) Find printable activities to go with this story here: http://www.dltk-bible.com/jesus/paralyzed_man-index.htm
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Two blind men had faith that Christ would heal them. “Then He touched their eyes, saying, ‘According to your faith let it be to you.’” (Matt. 9:29) In this instance, He acted according to their own individual faith. You may wish to share this story from the end of Matthew 9 with your students, then discuss how the degree to which we have faith can affect the degree to which we experience healing. (If you share this story with very young students, you may want to offer them this coloring page: http://www.bible-printables.com/Coloring-Pages/New-Testament/20-NT-jesus-teaches-007.htm)
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Right in the middle of Matthew 15, we encounter a woman – a Gentile, no less – who despite her heritage and upbringing has faith that Christ can heal her demoniac daughter. Jesus tries to talk her out of it because she’s not Jewish (and perhaps to test her faith?) but she persists. “Then Jesus answered and said to her, ‘O woman, great is your faith! Let it be to you as you desire.’ And her daughter was healed from that very hour.” (Matt. 15:28) This story can help us teach our students that faith in God is for everyone! Find a lesson plan complete with printables about this story here: http://www.orthodoxabc.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/06/030-EN-ed02_Canaanite-Woman.pdf
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Why should we develop the virtue of faith? Share these scriptures with your students and ask them why this virtue is important:
“So Jesus said to them, ‘Because of your unbelief; for assuredly, I say to you, if you have faith as a mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move; and nothing will be impossible for you.’” Matt. 17:20
“So Jesus answered and said to them, ‘Assuredly, I say to you, if you have faith and do not doubt, you will not only do what was done to the fig tree, but also if you say to this mountain, ‘Be removed and be cast into the sea,’ it will be done.’” Matt. 21:21
“For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ, for it is the power of God to salvation for everyone who believes, for the Jew first and also for the Greek. For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith; as it is written, ‘The just shall live by faith.’” Romans 1:16-17
“I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me.” Gal. 2:20
“For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast.” Eph. 2: 7-8
“…You became examples to all… who believe. For from you the word of the Lord has sounded forth… in every place. Your faith toward God has gone out, so that we do not need to say anything.” 1 Thess. 1: 7-8
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This object lesson could be slightly adapted to be used in an Orthodox Sunday Church School classroom to help students see for themselves what faith is. https://betterbibleteachers.com/2014/11/how-to-explain-faith-to-sunday-school-kids/
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Use two empty plastic water bottles (one with a lid) and a glove to demonstrate the value of being filled with faith when fear comes our way, as suggested in this object lesson: https://www.kidssundayschool.com/332/gradeschool/unseen-faith.php
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Teachers of middle-years students may want to demonstrate faith with their class in this way: one student will play the role of the guide, another will represent each of us when we walk in faith, and the rest will become (or set up) road blocks along the person’s faith journey. The person playing “each of us” will be blindfolded, then the others will set up road blocks along the journey. (These road blocks could be pool noodles, chairs, boxes, etc.; or the students themselves, frozen in a position throughout the demonstration.) Before “each of us” begins his/her journey while blindfolded and listening to the guide, explain that every one of us has the choice of whether or not to have faith that God will guide us and provide for us. We can’t see Him, but we can and should have faith that He is there for us. The guide will use only their voice to help “each of us” get through the journey, just as God uses the Scriptures, the Church, and Holy Tradition to help us get through our journey.
Then let the guide begin to give “each of us” vocal directions to take their journey through the road blocks. Once “each of us” is through, unblindfold him/her and talk about the experience. How well did he/she trust the guide? How well do we each really have faith in God’s provision? What other connections can you/your students make between this exercise and real life?
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With older students, read this verse:
“Let no one despise your youth, but be an example to the believers in word, in conduct, in love, in spirit, in faith, in purity.” 1 Tim. 4:12
Talk about it together. How can your students be an example to the believers? Offer examples of ways that they are already being an example to you and/or your parish. Reassure your students that they are an important part of the parish, and that their involvement makes a difference in the faith of the community. Invite conversation about ways that they can continue to be an example, and maybe even be a better one.
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“…What does faith mean? Does it mean we that read the Creed and willfully accept what it says? Or is it about something more than this?” Delve into this article about faith with older students as you learn together about this virtue. Before reading the article, you may want to discuss this quote, one question at a time. Then read the article and invite responses. http://orthodoxwayoflife.blogspot.com/2014/11/what-is-faith.html
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St. John Chrysostom displayed great faith in his interaction with Emperor Arcadius. If you don’t know this part of his story, read it here and share it with your class: http://www.orthodoxytoday.org/blog/2012/06/the-virtue-of-faith-good-in-both-worlds/
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St. Gerasimos had such great faith that he was able to help an injured lion without being harmed by the animal! His story for you to read and share with your students can be found here: https://orthodoxchurchschoolteachers.wordpress.com/2016/02/26/learning-about-a-saint-st-gerasimos-of-the-jordan-commemorated-on-march-4/
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St. Paisios is a more recent saint who displayed much faith. Read about him and find ideas of ways to help your students learn about him here: https://orthodoxchurchschoolteachers.wordpress.com/2016/12/09/saints-of-recent-decades-st-paisios-july-12june-29/
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St. Maria of Paris is another recent saint who demonstrated the virtue of faith. Read about how her faith changed her lifestyle and saved the lives of Jewish children here: https://orthodoxchurchschoolteachers.wordpress.com/2016/11/04/saints-of-recent-decades-st-maria-of-paris-july-20-or-august-2/
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Another recent saint who was full of the virtue of faith is St. John Maximovitch. Read about him here so that you can ask him to pray for you and your students! https://orthodoxchurchschoolteachers.wordpress.com/2015/07/03/learning-about-a-saint-st-john-the-wonderworker-of-shanghai-and-san-francisco-commemorated-on-july-2/

On Pursuing Virtue: Obedience

Author’s note: We have written about virtues before (see https://orthodoxchurchschoolteachers.wordpress.com/2017/03/03/on-pursuing-the-virtues-an-introduction/), and now we are continuing the series. There are so very many virtues for us to acquire! Fr. Thomas Hopko’s book “The Orthodox Faith, Volume 4, Spirituality,” offers additional virtues, some of which we will now study. May the Lord have mercy on us and grant us grace as we learn to better walk in His ways!

Fr. Thomas Hopko’s chapter on obedience helps us understand how important the virtue of obedience is to an Orthodox Christian:

In the Orthodox spiritual tradition, obedience is a basic virtue: obedience to the Lord, to the Gospel, to the Church (Mt 18.17), to the leaders of the Church (Heb 13.7), to one’s parents and elders, to “every ordinance of man” (1 Pet 2.13, Rom 13.1), “to one another out of reverence for Christ” (Eph 6.21). There is no spiritual life without obedience, no freedom or liberation from sinful passions and lusts. To submit to God’s discipline in all of its human forms, is the only way to obtain “the glorious liberty of the children of God” (Rom 8.21). God disciplines us as His children out of His great love for us. “He disciplines us for our good, that we might share His holiness” (cf. Heb 12.3–11). Our obedience to God’s commandments and discipline is the exclusive sign of our love for Him and His Son.

Our Lord was the ultimate example for us of what obedience looks like. His obedience was a marker of His humility, according to Fr. Thomas, who points to St. Paul’s discussion of Christ’s humility in Phil. 2:8. St. Paul explains that, in His humility, Jesus was obedient to His Father to death, “even death on a cross.” Our Lord obeyed God in everything that He did.

Fr. Thomas goes on to talk about the fact that there is no shame or demeaning in obeying God. Rather, doing God’s will is actually glory and life for whoever does it! Obedience is our greatest joy, and the way that we achieve the highest dignity. It is the way of perfection for everyone, even for Jesus Himself.

Although He was a Son, He learned obedience through what He suffered, and being made perfect He became the source of salvation to all who obey Him (Heb 5.8–9).

Disobeying God is the source of all sin, according to Fr. Thomas. When we refuse to submit to God, sorrow and death are the result.

St. John’s gospel records for us the words of Christ, who here tells us how important it is for us to obey God:

He who has My commandments and keeps them, he it is who loves Me; and he who loves Me will be loved by My Father, and I will love him and manifest Myself to him.… If a man loves Me, he will keep My word, and My Father will love him, and we will come and make our home with him. He who does not love Me does not keep My words; and the word which you hear is not Mine but the Father’s who sent Me. (Jn 14.21–24).

May we all grow in the virtue of obedience, and thereby love God as we should!

Find Fr. Thomas Hopko’s discussions of the virtues here: https://oca.org/orthodoxy/the-orthodox-faith/spirituality/the-virtues

Here are some ideas of ways that we can help our students to both learn about and grow in the virtue of obedience:
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Although this blog is written by a mother and aimed primarily for use in the home, we can easily use some of the lessons, games, and books suggested in its links to help students of various ages learn about (and how to work towards!) obedience: https://meaningfulmama.com/20-activities-and-lessons-that-teach-obedience-to-kids.html
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Find 11 different examples of obedience (or disobedience!) from the scriptures, as well as questions that you can ask your students related to the stories. (This is not an Orthodox site, but will be a helpful resource for this study.)
http://www.kidsofintegrity.com/lessons/obedience/bible-stories
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This page offers hands-on ideas of ways to teach about obedience. From cooking to role play to games, there are many fun and educational ideas here. (This is not an Orthodox site, but will be a helpful resource for this study.)
http://www.kidsofintegrity.com/lessons/obedience/hands-options
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Share this story, discussion, and art activity with your students as part of a lesson on obedience:

There was once, in Scete, an old monk named Abba Sylvanus. He had a disciple named Mark who was acquiring the virtue of obedience well. Mark was a scribe, and Abba Sylvanus loved him because he was so obedient.
Abba Sylvanus had 11 other disciples. It bothered these disciples that Abba Sylvanus loved Mark more than them. The old men in Scete also did not like that Abba Sylvanus had a favorite in Mark.
They went to the abbot one day, to talk to him about it so that he could improve his ways. Abbot Sylvanus invited the old men to walk with him through the monastery. At the door of each cell, the abbot knocked, called the brother’s name, and asked each brother to come out because he needed him. He went by all of the cells, and not one brother obeyed quickly.
When they got to Mark’s cell, the abbot knocked at the door and said, “Brother Mark.” He did not even get to finish his sentence. As soon as Mark heard Abba Sylvanus’ voice, he jumped up and came out of his cell, and Sylvanus sent him off on an errand.
While Mark was gone, Abba Sylvanus asked his guests, “Where are the other brothers?” None of the others had come out from their cells. Then he invited the men to go with him into Mark’s cell. They saw that Mark had been writing. He had started the Greek letter “omega,” but as soon as he had heard Abba Sylvanus’ voice, he ran out and did not even finish the other side of the letter. So only half the letter was there in the book, waiting for him to come back and finish it.
When the men from the village saw how obedient Mark was, they turned to Abba Sylvanus and instead of trying to make him not have a favorite anymore, they said, “Abba, now we also love this brother that you love, because God loves him, too!” ~ from “Paradise of the Fathers,” vol. II, p. 53, translated by E. A. Wallis Budge

After sharing the story, ask your students to talk about it. What made Mark so special to the Abbot? How promptly did he obey? Why do you think his obedience made such a difference in his relationship to the abbot?
Then talk together about obedience. Invite students to think about how quickly they obey those in authority over them. Allow them to share examples of when the did and when they did not obey quickly, and what resulted. Talk about how obedience can make a difference in their relationships with those in authority, just as it did for Mark and Abba Sylvanus, and as it does with us and God.
In response, challenge your students to create a piece of art that will remind them to obey quickly, just as Mark did. (Perhaps they could draw Mark dashing out the door of his cell, dropping his writing utensil behind. Or they could write a list of examples of when they will obey quickly instead of putting it off. Or if they enjoy lettering, they could write the word “Obey” but only use half of the word or half of each letter.)
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Share this quote with older students, and then discuss it together: “A truly intelligent man has only one care — wholeheartedly to obey Almighty God and to please Him. The one and only thing he teaches his soul is how best to do things agreeable to God, thanking Him for His merciful Providence in whatever may happen in his life. For just as it would be unseemly not to thank physicians for curing our body, even when they give us bitter and unpleasant remedies, so too would it be to remain ungrateful to God for things that appear to us painful, failing to understand that everything happens through His Providence for our good. In this understanding and this faith in God lie salvation and peace of soul.” ~ St. Antony the Great

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Here are the directions for how to make a simple device, “Bob,” that you can easily use during an object lesson on obedience: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=340_NJjcQ-c&feature=share
(You could also use this as a craft for your students to make their own “Bob” to take home, to remind them to be immediately obedient!)
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Here are three different objects (and lesson ideas) that you could use to help your students learn about obedience: https://ministry-to-children.com/godly-obedience-object-lessons/
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Find a variety of (non-Orthodox, but useful) ideas of ways to help your students learn about obedience here: http://www.biblewise.com/kids/char_topic/obedience.php
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These classroom games help children to practice obedience: https://itstillworks.com/12522688/obedience-games-for-kids
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Here are a few activities that encourage obedience: http://www.parentinglikehannah.com/2017/10/fun-ways-to-teach-kids-obedience-2.html
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This character-building educational site is not religious in nature, but offers ideas and free downloads to help children want to grow in obedience. Perhaps some of it could be incorporated into a lesson on this virtue. (Especially the Abraham Lincoln story.) http://characterfirsteducation.com/c/curriculum-detail/2153183
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How did Jesus respond to His earthly parents when he was a teen? Here’s a 6-minute video about that time that Jesus was 12: https://youtu.be/_6T5Z4IuGeA

(Note: this is not Orthodox, but uses the gospel of Luke’s account of this event in a way that can very easily help us to discuss obedience with older students.)
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This lesson on obeying parents is not Orthodox, but its story examples and hands-on activity could be used to help our students learn about the blessing that comes with obedience. https://ministry-to-children.com/obey-your-parents-lesson/

On Pursuing Virtue: Gratitude

Author’s note: Although we have written about virtues before (see https://orthodoxchurchschoolteachers.wordpress.com/2017/03/03/on-pursuing-the-virtues-an-introduction/), we will continue this series. There are so very many virtues for us to acquire! Fr. Thomas Hopko’s book “The Orthodox Faith, Volume 4, Spirituality,” offers additional virtues, some of which we will now study. May the Lord have mercy on us and grant us grace as we learn to better walk in His ways!

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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: http://store.ancientfaith.com/time-and-despondency/

Listen to Dr. Nicole Rocca’s podcast here: http://www.ancientfaith.com/podcasts/timeeternal

Find her blog here: https://blogs.ancientfaith.com/timeeternal/

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:

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“‘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)
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“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)
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“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 )
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“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)
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“…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)
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“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)
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“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)
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“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)
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“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)
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“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)
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“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)
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“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.)
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“…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)
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“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)
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“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 https://orthodoxchurchschoolteachers.wordpress.com/2017/03/03/on-pursuing-the-virtues-an-introduction/, the beginning of the series), which offered suggestions of ways to teach our students about each of the virtues. Each of these blog posts can offer us helpful information about the virtue on which it focuses, which we can then apply as we think about each child. How have they grown in humility, liberality, chastity, mildness, temperance, happiness, and diligence? Which of these virtues do they best exemplify in their life? In which virtue have they grown the most?

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

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

 

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

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Ideas for an award for the virtue of Humility:

This printable certificate: Humility Certificate

or

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

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Ideas for an award for the virtue of Liberality:

This printable certificate: Liberality Certificate

or

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

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Ideas for an award for the virtue of Chastity:

This printable certificate: Chastity Certificate

or

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

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Ideas for an award for the virtue of Mildness:

This printable certificate: Mildness Certificate

or

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

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Ideas for an award for the virtue of Temperance:

This printable certificate: Temperance Certificate

or

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

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Ideas for an award for the virtue of Happiness:

This printable certificate: Happiness Certificate

or

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

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Ideas for an award for the virtue of Diligence:

This printable certificate: Diligence Certificate

or

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

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