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? OxfordDictionaries.com 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: http://store.ancientfaith.com/the-mother-of-god-in-icons-board-book/

Hieromartyr Methodius the Bishop of Patara, who led his people in mildness yet fiercely defended the purity of Orthodoxy. (see https://oca.org/saints/lives/2001/06/20/101759-hieromartyr-methodius-the-bishop-of-patara)

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 http://www.saintsophiadc.com/2017/01/st-gregory-theologian-archbishop-constantinople/)

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 http://a-719748.c.cdn77.org/saints/lives/2013/08/14/102299-hieromartyr-marcellus-the-bishop-of-apamea)

The Holy Nobleborn Prince of Chernigov Michael, who was noted from his childhood for his piety and mildness (see http://www.holytrinityorthodox.com/iconoftheday/los/September/20-02.htm)

The child saint, Artemius, was known for his mild meekness in his few years before his death. (see https://avcamp.org/st-artemius-of-verkola/)

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.”

(From http://www.holy-transfiguration.org/library_en/ct_love_meekness.html)

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:

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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; https://www.goarch.org/en/-/adaptability-and-the-good-shepherd-a-reflection-on-pastoral-leadership)

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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.
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Listen to several episodes of “Saint of the  Day” (http://www.ancientfaith.com/podcasts/saintoftheday) – perhaps the past week’s worth – together with your students and talk about each saint’s life. Did it demonstrate mildness? How?
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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: http://www.antiochian.org/lives_of_the_saints

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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: http://www.creativeyouthideas.com/resources/youth-sermons/blessed-are-the-meek/

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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 Webster.com 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:

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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: https://www.scribd.com/document/19435690/Orthodox-Christians-On-Virtue

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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!): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yl_892f2Ffc

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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: http://www.antiochian.org/sites/default/files/2011_pvc_packet.pdf

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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: http://www.ocf.net/four-saints-who-struggled-with-lust/

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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. http://www.saintgregoryoutreach.org/2010/01/prayers-for-purity.html

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On Pursuing Virtue: Liberality

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!

For children (and for adults as well, if we are honest about it!) one of the best ways to learn a concept is through story. To help your students learn about liberality (or generosity), we would recommend that you select a story to read or tell to your students them. Select a story which will invite a discussion on generosity, its value, and how important it is that we Orthodox Christians live generous lives, and share it with your students.

A favorite story of ours is “The Apple Dumpling,” a folktale from England. The protagonist is hungry for an apple dumpling but has no apples with which to make one. She sets out with a basketful of what she does have, plums, hoping to trade with someone who has apples. She makes many new friends along the way, and does indeed get rid of her plums… but she does not exchange the plums for apples! Throughout her journey, she meets people with needs and desires that she has the opportunity to grant and immediately does so, without thinking about herself. (When we’ve told this story before, we have done so by memory, pulling things out of a cloth-covered basket: first, two plums, then a bag of feathers, a bouquet of flowers, a golden necklace, a stuffed puppy, and – of course – an apple. This method of storytelling helps the teller remember what comes next because they can feel it inside the basket. It also piques the children’s interest because things just keep coming out of that basket!!! ) Find a version of the story here: https://www.storiestogrowby.org/story/apple-dumpling/

This story could be used effectively with Sunday Church School students of many ages. For younger children, the story speaks for itself and a small discussion on how kind the lady was to give away her things is how God wants us to be could follow the story. For older students, this story opens the opportunity for a more in-depth discussion: Did the lady always know that she would get something back? Did that hinder her giving? How did she feel along the way? If the story stopped before it does, would she have been content? Why/why not? How generous was this woman? If she were living today in this way, would her actions be pleasing to God? Why/why not?

Brainstorm with your students and make a community list of ways that they, like the woman, can share what they have (ie: give something of theirs to a sibling or friend who would really enjoy it; be generous with smiles, hugs, or greetings to others; share unneeded toys or clothes with those in need – for example, take them to a shelter). Remind them that true generosity, the way God wants us all to live, expects nothing in return. Encourage the students to be truly generous.

If there is still time in the class period, consider making apple dumplings or a related craft (painted wooden apple pins or decorated wooden apple paperweights?) that the students can take and share with someone when class is finished. (If you do the apple dumplings, they’ll need to wrap them in a piece of foil and take directions so the recipient can bake their apple dumpling when they get home, since you likely will not have time to do so in class.) Encourage the students to think of someone that may need this item: not just a favorite friend or family member, but maybe someone else in the parish, a neighbor, etc. And when they give the gift, encourage them to do so without expecting anything in return. Challenge them to remember two things after giving the gift: to thank God for the opportunity and resources to give the gift, and to say a prayer that God will continue to bless the recipient.

There are many, many other ways to teach children generosity. Here are a few of them:

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This lesson plan can offer some ideas that could be used to teach Sunday Church School students about generosity. The lesson is written for Christian parents to use, and is not written from an Orthodox perspective, but has many useful parts that teachers can easily use to teach Orthodox Christian children about generosity. You will find many verses that could be used for Bible memory, some story suggestions from the Scriptures, craft ideas, hands-on ways to practice generosity together, and various discussion starters here: http://www.kidsofintegrity.com/sites/default/files/Generosity-PC-2015-best.pdf

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This blog post is not religiously-affiliated, but contains ideas of books to read and activities that can be done with children who are learning about generosity: http://alldonemonkey.com/2015/03/12/teaching-kids-about-generosity/

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If your Sunday Church School students studied St. Maria of Paris (learn more about her here: https://orthodoxchurchschoolteachers.wordpress.com/2016/11/04/saints-of-recent-decades-st-maria-of-paris-july-20-or-august-2/ ), they may be interested to read about how this parish, inspired by her and determined to be more generous with their community, started a ministry to their neighborhood. http://everygoodandperfectgift.org/st-marias-table/#more-1039

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“I would give all the wealth of Ireland away to the poor to serve the King of Heaven.” ~ St. Brigid of Kildare
Teach your students about St. Brigid of Kildare, who was known for her generosity. This book could be the basis of a lesson on St. Brigid and her generosity: http://www.janegmeyer.com/books/the-life-of-st-brigid/ and this page can offer information as well: http://myocn.net/generosity-saint-brigid/

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Show this short video to older Sunday Church School students to begin your discussion of generosity: http://myocn.net/widows-mite-without-saying-much-short-video-says-lot/ After watching, talk about what you’ve just seen. What can we learn from this video? How should we apply this learning to our own lives? What steps can we take to be the generous ones?

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If your Sunday Church School students enjoy exploring words, consider doing an activity with the following synonyms and antonyms of generosity. Merriam-Webster.com offers these:

Synonyms: bigheartedness, bountifulness, bounty, generosity, generousness, largesse (also largess), munificence, openhandedness, openheartedness, philanthropy, unselfishness
Antonyms: cheapness, closeness, meanness, miserliness, parsimony, penuriousness, pinching, selfishness, stinginess, tightness, ungenerosity

Before class, write each of the above words on a 3×5 card. Mix them all up and place them in a pile where the students can reach them. Provide two baskets, one marked “synonyms for generosity” and one marked “antonyms of generosity.” (Or, if your students like to move around, simply mark different corners of the room instead of the baskets.) Have a dictionary available, as well. Have each student select a word and place it in its appropriate basket (or take it and stand in the appropriate corner). Talk together about that word, its meaning, and how it demonstrates either generosity or greed. After all of the words are sorted, discuss which of the two is the more godly way to live. Review all of the words in the “synonyms” pile, challenging yourselves to live in that manner.

On Pursuing Virtue: Humility

This is the first in a series of articles on pursuing virtue. There are many virtues that we as 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 first virtue we should teach to our Sunday Church School students is humility. Why? Because it takes humility of heart for a Christian to pursue any of the other virtues! So, until we humble ourselves, we will not be able to properly obtain any other virtues. That is what makes humility a necessary starting point for Christians of any age who are pursuing virtue.

What is humility, and how can we teach about it to our students? Merriam-Webster.com defines it as “freedom from pride or arrogance: the quality or state of being humble.” We can demonstrate this definition in a hands-on way as we introduce the concept of humility to our Sunday Church School students. Before class, we will need to cut many pieces of string 2-3 feet long, and slip a small piece of paper (with a hole punched in its corner) onto  each piece of string. Pile the strings and some writing utensils where all of your students will be able to reach them when they arrive in your Sunday Church School classroom.

Begin the class by asking your students what they are proud of: ie. accomplishments they’ve achieved, things they can do well, etc. Then have them draw or write each thing on one of those pieces of paper. Select one student to be a model of an Orthodox Christian, and have them stand before the class. One by one, have the class members present the thing(s) they are proud of and gently tie the string attached to the paper around both ankles of the model, as though the model were proud of that item or thought. Once the model has all the things/thoughts around their ankles, have another student read the Merriam-Webster definition of humility. Have the class look at the model Orthodox Christian, and ask, “Is this person humble? Are they free? Can they easily walk?” (If it seems safe for them to try to take a step or two, encourage the model to do so. Stay nearby so that you can spot them and catch them if they begin to fall.) Then talk about what the string-tied ankles represent. “This model is each of us! We all have things we are proud about. Many times, those things tie us up and make it hard for us to walk with Christ. Can (model) walk in God’s ways right now? Or are they tied down by pride? If we want to be humble, we need to let go of these things so that we can be free, the way God created us to be. Then we can be a true Christian, one who is really walking with Christ in the way that He meant for us to live!” Have the class suggest ways that the model can become free. Some of the things they may be able to just step away from (if they’re loosely tied); other things they may have to bend down (or humble themselves) to free themselves from (if the string is tied tightly but in a bow); and still others they may not be able to undo and only the teacher (with a scissors, representing God) can release them from those prideful things/thoughts (if the string is tied tightly and in a knot). Compare the model’s release from the “pride ties” to real life release from pride: some things are easier for us to release, some require us to exercise a good bit of humility in order to let them go; and still others only God can release us from, and then only if we ask Him to do so (again, requiring humility). Throughout this lesson, we must be sure to emphasize to our students that it is not bad to have accomplishments. For example, it is not wrong to win a trophy for a fast race. But when we think about those accomplishments, brag about them to others, think we’re better than others because of them, or focus so much on trying to win them again that we don’t think about God – THAT is when those accomplishments become pride and trip us up from walking with Christ. We want to be free so we can walk with Him better. The way we can be free is to let go of those things, to be humble.

Have each student gather their tags from where the model discarded them, and spread them out where they can look at all of their own tags at once. Ask each student to think about the things that they are proud of, and decide if that thing is tying them down, keeping them from walking with God in humility as they should. Encourage them to begin to become more humble by selecting one of those things (more if you have time) and planning how they are going to humble themselves with regard to it. You may want to suggest ideas: ie. in the case of the trophy for the fast race, the student could take down the trophy from their bedroom shelf; purpose to not mention it when others are talking about racing; and/or deliberately allow someone else to win the next time if they’re struggling with feeling proud about their win. Perhaps you will want to invite the students to write or draw about their plan, or tell a friend what they intend to do; or simply offer quiet time in which each student can think and pray, telling God about their intention to become more humble in this regard: whatever will work best for your class.

Another idea (or an additional idea) is to ask your students to make a connection, to think of people or characters in their own experience who are models of humility. Invite them to share these examples with the class. Who do they know (a friend, a Saint, an example from the Scriptures) or who have they read about in books (historical figures or fictional characters) who lives/lived a humble life? How does/did that person demonstrate humility? What can we learn from them about living humbly? At the top of a large piece of chart paper, write “Humility” in large letters. On the rest of the page, list characteristics of those people: what does humility look like in each of them? Display the poster where you will all be reminded of what this important virtue looks like when it is properly lived.

Consider printing this bookmark as a tool for your Sunday Church School students to use: http://www.antiochian.org/prayer-st-ephraim-bookmark-meditation-tool. This prayer, which we pray throughout Great Lent, is a very daily way to help us gain humility.

At the end of class, pray and ask God to help each of you to become increasingly humble.

Here are some other ideas of ways to help your students to pursue humility:

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This visual comparison of two balls will help elementary-aged Sunday Church School students to think about humility in the context of the familiar story of the Publican and the Pharisee. http://orthodoxeducation.blogspot.com/2015/01/publican-pharisee.html
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Although this is written for parents, not teachers, and even though it is not written from an Orthodox perspective, there are many parts of this lesson plan that Orthodox Christian Sunday Church School teachers can easily utilize in a lesson plan about humility! The myriads of scriptures listed, the “fruits” chart (of rotten or good ways to show humility), the experiment, and many of the fun physical activities could help Orthodox students learn more about humility. Download the lesson here: http://www.kidsofintegrity.com/lessons/humility

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Show this episode of “Be the Bee” to your Sunday Church School students. As they watch, encourage them to think about how it relates to humility: http://bethebee.goarch.org/-/-77-first-among-sinners

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Introduce your students to a saint who is a model of humility. Tell the story of his/her life, list together examples of his/her humility, and discuss ways to emulate it. For example, share the life of St. Nicholas Planas, who humbly greeted an enemy with joy every day, eventually turning that enemy to a friend. (See https://lessonsfromamonastery.wordpress.com/2012/03/04/st-nicholas-planas-humble-of-spirit/, http://www.serfes.org/lives/stnicholas.htm, http://www.gometropolis.org/orthodox-faith/feast-days/our-venerable-father-nicolas-planas/, or  http://www.roca.org/OA/56/56e.htm for many more stories of his humility.)

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Invite older students to read, ponder, and discuss these perspectives on humility:

Amma Theodora said said that neither asceticism, nor vigils nor any kind of suffering are able to save, only true humility can do that. She offered as an example the story of an anchorite who was able to banish the demons; and he asked the demons, “What makes you go away? Is it fasting?” They replied, “We do not eat or drink.” “Is it vigils” They replied, “We do not sleep.” “Is it separation from the world?” “We live in the deserts.” “What power sends you away then?” They said, “Nothing can overcome us, but only humility.” Then Amma Theodora said, “Do you see how humility is victorious over the demons?”

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“As with the appearance of light, darkness retreats; so, at the fragrance of humility, all anger and bitterness vanishes.” St. John Climacus

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“The heights of humility are great and so are the depths of boasting; I advise you to attend to the first and not to fall into the second.” Abba Isidore of Pelusia

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“The natural property of the lemon tree is such that it lifts its branches upwards when it has no fruit, but the more the branches bend down the more fruit they bear. Those who have the mind to understand will grasp the meaning of this.” ~ St. John Climacus

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Abba John said, “Who sold Joseph/” A brother replied saying, “It was his brethren.” The old man said to him, “No, it was his humility which sold him, because he could have said, ‘I am their brother’ and have objected, but, because he kept silence, he sold himself by his humility. It is also his humility which set him up as chief in Egypt.” The Desert Fathers

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Instead of teaching older students about humility, consider allowing St. John of Kronstadt to do the teaching. This blog post is full of his teachings on humility. Print copies of the blog, or portions thereof, and have the students read whatever part they receive, and then share a summary of their portion, as well as their own reaction to what they’ve read. http://livingorthodoxfaith.blogspot.com/2009/11/on-humility-by-st-john-of-kronstadt.html

On Pursuing the Virtues: an Introduction

Author’s note: During Great Lent Orthodox Christians focus more intently on becoming more godly and less self-centered. Thus it seemed that Great Lent is the best possible time to feature a series of articles on pursuing virtue. We will spend a series of weeks learning about virtues and looking at ways to teach our Sunday Church School students about them, so that they can join us in our pursuit of them. May the Lord have mercy on us and grant us grace as we learn to better walk in His ways!

In this series of blogs, we will focus the virtues. There are many, but for this series we will focus on the seven capital virtues mentioned in the Pocket Prayer Book for Orthodox Christians: humility, liberality, chastity, mildness, temperance, happiness, and diligence. As the book mentions, each virtue is the positive counterpart of a grievous sin. In order for us to become more like God, to grow in theosis, we must not only resist and repent from those sins in our life, but we must also labor to attain the virtues. Each blog post will focus on one virtue and suggest ways to help our students learn about it and struggle to acquire it. If you are unable to use these ideas immediately, file them away in your thoughts for a time when you can use them with your students. It is important that our Sunday Church School students learn about the virtues so that they are better able to pursue them.

It is important that we teach our students to expect, prepare for, and carry out the struggle to obtain virtues! We must teach them that when they do so, they are not just running away from evil: they are struggling towards something, towards virtues. Carole Buleza, director of the Antiochian Orthodox Department of Christian Education recently explained it like this: “We are made in God’s image and likeness. The image is like God’s stamp on us as a human person. It cannot be changed. The likeness, on the other hand, can change and grow. It is the potential to grow evermore godlike… acquiring virtues [is] a way to grow evermore Godlike. The virtues are specific, [as are] the rungs on St. John Climacus’ ladder. We can choose one, and with prayer, proceed to discipline ourselves so as to acquire it. When our lives are not focused on a major struggle with evil, we need to struggle in the positive direction by seeking to attain the virtues. The saints tell us that suffering (or struggle) is a necessary component of theosis.”

So, dear teachers, let us learn about the capital virtues and teach our students about them, as well. Along the way, may we all be encouraged to focus in on at least one virtue and struggle towards it with all of our heart. And as we struggle, let us remind both ourselves and our students that we are struggling against sin not just by fleeing/fighting from the passions, but also by actively struggling towards virtues.

This prayer of St. Ephrem will be a great aid to everyone in this struggle:

O Lord and Master of my life, take from me the spirit of sloth, despair, lust of power and idle talk. But give rather the spirit of chastity, meekness of mind, patience and love to Thy servant. Yea O Lord and King, grant me to see my own transgressions and not to judge my brother, for blessed art thou unto ages of ages.  Amen.

Here are some links that will help us as we begin to think about teaching our students about the virtues:
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“If we are to enable our children to hold on to their Christian heritage and Orthodox tradition, and more importantly, if they are to grow up as devout Orthodox believers, first we must teach them the virtues, the Scriptures, the saints, and then our doctrines and beliefs and church practices and customs.” http://www.pravmir.com/orthodox-catechism-teaching-children/

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The Pocket Prayer Book for Orthodox Christians  is available here and would make an excellent Pascha gift for Sunday Church School students who are old enough to read: http://store.ancientfaith.com/a-pocket-prayer-book-for-orthodox-christians-vinyl-cover/. This little book is an excellent companion for any Orthodox Christian! It fits in a pocket or purse and contains prayers, thought-provoking information such as the capital virtues which we are working to attain, the entire Divine Liturgy, preparation for confession, and more. Some of the prayers in the book (but not the section on virtues, unfortunately) are also available online here: http://www.antiochian.org/orthodox-prayers

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“Generally speaking, all of the human virtues are attributes of God Himself. They are the characteristics of Jesus Christ, the divine Son of God in human flesh. They are the divine properties which should be in all human persons by the gift of God in creation and salvation through Christ.” find this and more in an introductory article on the virtues, followed by a helpful resource: a series of articles addressing specific virtues, here: https://oca.org/orthodoxy/the-orthodox-faith/spirituality/the-virtues/the-virtues

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“When we teach children to be good, to be gentle, to be forgiving (all these are attributes of God), to be generous, to love their fellow men, to regard this present age as nothing, we instill virtue in their souls, and reveal the image of God within them.” ~ St John Chrysostom http://www.orthodoxchurchquotes.com/2013/07/12/st-john-chrysostom-when-we-teach-children-to-be-good/

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This book is an excellent resource for helping adults to nurture the virtues in children:

http://store.ancientfaith.com/walking-in-wonder-nurturing-christian-virtues-in-your-children/ Read a few excerpts here: http://www.antiochian.org/node/16620

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Talk about this quote with older students: “You are angry with your neighbor, you despise him, do not like to speak peaceably and lovingly to him, because there is something harsh, abrupt, careless, unpleasant to you in his character, in his speech, in his manners—because he is more conscious of his dignity than perhaps is necessary; or because he may be somewhat proud and disrespectful; but you yourself, your neighbor’s physician and teacher, are more guilty than him.
‘Physician, heal thyself.’ Teacher, teach yourself.
Your own malice is the bitterest of all evils. Is it then possible to correct malice by means of evil? Having a beam in your own eye, can you pull out the mote from the eye of another?
Evil and faults are corrected by good, by love, kindness, meekness, humility, and patience.”
+ St. John of Kronstadt, My Life in Christ http://www.orthodoxchurchquotes.com/2014/05/30/st-john-of-kronstadt-you-are-angry-with-your-neighbor-you-despise-him-do-not-like-to-speak-peaceably/

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Find a lesson plan and free printables for an “overview” lesson on the virtues here: http://www.orthodoxabc.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/07/032-EN-ed03_Christian-Virtues.pdf

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Many of the pages in this free printable workbook could be used in conjunction with lessons on the virtues. Some are overarching, about the virtues in general, while others focus on a specific virtue. https://www.scribd.com/document/19435690/Orthodox-Christians-On-Virtue

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“Fairy tales say plainly that virtue and vice are opposites and not just a matter of degree. They show us that the virtues fit into character and complete our world in the same way that goodness naturally fills all things.” ~ Vigen Guroian, Orthodox Christian author of this book which could perhaps be a resource for this unit of lessons: https://www.amazon.com/Tending-Heart-Virtue-Classic-Imagination/dp/0195152646/ref=asap_bc?ie=UTF8

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Share some of these quotes from Scripture and the Church Fathers with older Sunday Church School students, then challenge them to each pick one with which they’ve connected, to share with the class and explain how/why it connects with them. https://ladderofdivineascent.wordpress.com/2008/12/30/hello-world/

 

Gleanings from a Book: “In the Candle’s Glow” by Elizabeth Crispina Johnson

The picture book “In the Candle’s Glow” by Elizabeth Crispina Johnson captured my attention from the moment I saw it. The cover illustration radiates peace as the main character stands prayerfully, gently illumined by a row of candle flames dancing like fireflies as she prays. That juxtaposition of peace and joyful motion made me curious, anticipating what I would read within its pages.

When I slipped the book open, I was not disappointed. It starts with flowers and bees, all blowing and growing in the wind. The life of a candle actually begins in that place: in nature, beauty, wholeness, just as God created the world and meant it to be. Bees partake of that sweet beauty and do their own work of using it to create honey and wax to share with their hive. A pleasant-faced nun sings her way into the book, ready to collect both honey and beeswax, and next thing we know there are slender beeswax candles lying patiently in a church’s narthex awaiting their next job. At last the reader meets the young pray-er from the cover, who dances into the book with much enthusiasm. Once she arrives at the church doors, Felicia stills herself, signs herself with the cross, then prayerfully enters. She notices the color and aroma of the beeswax candles, recalling their history for a moment before selecting one and igniting it, initiating it to its next task: carrying prayers. Felicia quietly prays, and as she does, she sees her prayers hovering, illumined by the candle. She watches as a gentle breeze wafts through the window, carrying the smoke from her candle into the heavens. Her prayers ride along to meet the icon of Christ, which watches over Felicia and reminds her that Christ Himself receives her prayers!

Amandine Wanert’s playful illustrations bring to life the swaying flowers, buzzing bees, singing nun, and dancing Felicia in this story. They also illuminate the gentle glow of candles casting light and hope around the interior of an Orthodox church. Readers will relish the peace that they feel as they read their way from the gleeful buzz of sunny fields to the serenity of prayer in church.

Here are some ideas of ways to study ideas from the book with your Sunday Church School students:

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Help your Sunday Church School students learn about bees with these interesting hands-on activities: https://www.scholastic.com/teachers/articles/teaching-content/explore-world-honeybees/

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This short video can introduce your students to bees and some of the amazing facts about them: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ta154f5Rp5Y

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In “In the Candle’s Glow,” Sister Irene treasured the bees’ work and used some of their beeswax to make candles. Bees work together with monks in this American monastery, too, providing the monks with honey and a little income (the monks take the bees to places that need extra bees for pollination at certain times of the year) in exchange for a hive and plenty of flowers from which they can drink. Read more here: http://dowoca.org/news_140326_1.html. After reading, talk with your Sunday Church School students about the idea: how do the bees help the monks? How do the monks help the bees? In what ways are bees and monks the same? How do we benefit from both?

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After reading “In the Candle’s Glow,” talk with your students about beeswax. Show them a piece of honeycomb (and let them taste it, if they want to!) and talk about how the wax is made for storing the honey and the baby bees. Then talk about the process of turning honeycomb into beeswax candles. Help them to dip their own tiny beeswax candles, just like Sister Irene did in “In the Candle’s Glow.” To do so, have a small (perhaps a potpourri-simmering-size) pot of melted beeswax already heated when they come into class. Also before class, cover the table and floor with newspaper layers taped together to catch any wax drips and cut one or two 12” lengths of candlewick for each student. Fold each length of candlewick in half over a pencil and tape it in place. When you’re ready to begin the candle making process, show your students how to slowly dip their candlewick in the small pot of wax, then pull it out, allow it to cool for a while, then straighten it with their fingers. Allow each student to dip theirs, cool it a bit, and straighten it, then repeat the process. Depending on the temperature of the room, it will take anywhere from 10 to 15 dips to make a slender taper candle. While you take turns with the dipping process is a good time to talk about how peaceful and meditative this work is. Sometimes monks and nuns make candles like this, praying as they work. Perhaps the class can pray the Jesus Prayer together or sing a favorite troparion as you slowly take turns with the dipping process. Once the candles have reached your preferred width, the students can pull the tape off of their pencil and free their pair(s) of taper candles. Show the students how to cut the wick so that the two candles are separated. (You may also want to trim the bottom of each candle flat with a sharp knife on a thick piece of cardboard “cutting board” so that the students can more easily stand their candles upright in a candle stand or a candle holder.) Talk about how deep the wax needs to be, to make a long candle like the ones we light when we go into church. That would take a lot of melted wax! Talk about how long it takes someone to make the pile of candles waiting at church to be burned. In gratitude for that person’s hard work, encourage your students to consider saying a prayer for the person who made their candle, every time they light a candle at church. Gather your candles together and pray the prayer of blessing of the candles, found near the end of “In the Candle’s Glow.” Then allow the students to take their candles along home to use at their family prayer table, or encourage them to light them at church the next time they attend a service.

16682022_10210696526521083_1762604804850405088_nA heat-free beeswax candle-making option (better for younger students) would be to roll your own beeswax candles. Here’s a tutorial: http://playfullearning.net/2013/03/diy-hand-rolled-beeswax-candles/

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Why do we light candles when we pray? If you have older students, engage them in that question for a bit, then compare their answers to those of St. Symeon of Thessaloniki and St. Nikodemos the Hagiorite, as recorded here (under the same question, near the bottom of the page): http://www.stjohnsmayfield.org/what-is-orthodoxy-2/. Encourage them to talk about the answers of those two saints, comparing them to each other and to their own previous answers. Then, encourage your students and yourself to remember, as the page says, “For all these reasons cited by our Holy Fathers, let us often light our candles and make sure as much as possible that they be pure candles. We should abstain from all corruption and uncleanness, so that all of the above symbolism is made real in our Christian lives.”

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Allow your students to respond to the book “In the Candle’s Glow” with an art project. On dark paper, have them draw a candle (here’s one way: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GGOFC6ahnVw) with chalk, oil pastels, gel pens, white or metallic pencils: any medium that shows up nicely on the black paper. Then have your students smudge the candle’s “glow” around its flame. Inside that glow, encourage them to write a prayer; the names of people for whom they want to pray; or a drawing of the people’s faces for whom they are praying.

On Sharing Our Love (Beyond Valentine’s Day)

For a few weeks of every year, our culture is inundated with love. Everywhere we go we see hearts, roses, chocolates, Cupid and his arrows, and Valentine’s Day cards. The world is a swirl of pink and red. Then Valentine’s Day comes, and we can definitely feel the love! But what about February 15th? Or the 22nd? Or March 19? Do we still feel the love then? Even more importantly, are we still sharing our love then?

It is easy to focus on making sure that our Sunday Church School students feel loved on that one special day, Valentine’s Day. It is appropriate for us to celebrate our loved ones and declare our love for them! But why stop at just Valentine’s Day? These precious people should be at the top of our “I want you to know that I love you” list: not just on February 14, but all year long!

The purpose of this blog post is to encourage each of us to continue to let our students know that we love them, even on “ordinary” days. We searched and found many ideas of ways to do just that. We are sharing a few of the ideas in hopes that some will strike a chord and ignite in us a new determination to warm our students with our love. If we do so, even when all the roses have wilted, the chocolates have been eaten, and the Valentine’s Day cards have been read, these important people in our life will get the message: “I love you, and I always will.”

Here are a few of the ideas we found:

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Find lots of ideas of ways to use sticky notes to send messages of love and encouragement to your students here: http://www.kirstenskaboodle.com/positive-messages-for-students/

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Help your students create some scripture-based love notes to share with their friends and family! Here are some free printable ones for starters: http://paththroughthenarrowgate.com/gods-love-notes/

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One way you can show your students that you love them is to create your own secret greeting with each of them. Need inspiration? Check out this school teacher’s individual student greetings: http://people.com/human-interest/north-carolina-teacher-personalized-handshakes-students/

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Find some ideas of ways to love the more-difficult-to-love students here: http://childrensministry.com/articles/discipline-sos/

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“Caring about your students doesn’t necessarily mean having a constant gushy feeling about them. Caring means commitment …feelings come and go. True love stays, in spite of annoyances. Love is a commitment you make to your kids.” Read more in this article:  http://www.christianitycove.com/sunday-school-teaching-what-caring-about-your-students-really-means/

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Find 10 simple ways to show love to your Sunday Church School students here: http://childrensministryleader.com/10-ways-show-love-kids/