Lenten Sundays Series: The Sunday of St. Gregory of Palamas

 

This is the fourth in a series of posts that focuses on the Sundays of Great Lent (and Holy Week and Pascha). Each week we will share ideas of ways to help your Sunday Church School students learn more about that particular Sunday’s focus. We will share each blog early, so that you have time to read it before the forthcoming Sunday, in case you find any of those ideas helpful for your particular class.

Here’s a meditation on the Sunday of St. Gregory of Palamas for you to ponder before you create a lesson for your students:

On this second Sunday of Great Lent, we commemorate St. Gregory of Palamas’ successful defense of the Orthodox belief that humans can both know and experience God. He asserted that we can know with our minds that God exists, and we can also experience Him through His uncreated energies. This flew in the face of the teachings of Baraam, a critic of St. Gregory’s and of hesychasm in general.

St. Gregory was born in 1296 to a prominent family in Constantinople. His father died when Gregory was still young. The youth was so bright and hardworking that the emperor himself took interest in Gregory, helping to raise and educate him in the hopes that he would one day hold a high government position.

But Gregory left all of the glamor of Constantinople’s elite behind when he departed for Mount Athos at age 20 to become a monk. (And he was not the only member of his family to do this. Shortly thereafter, His mother and sisters also became monastics.) As a monk on Mt. Athos, Gregory learned about “Hesychasm,” a very calm, still way to pray. He mastered this prayer of the heart, and thus we know him as a “hesychast.”

In 1326, Gregory went to Thessalonica and was ordained to the priesthood. He lived the life of a hermit on weekdays, silently praying alone and away from the world. On the weekends, he would celebrate the holy services in his parish and he would preach so beautifully that his sermons brought his listeners to tears.

When Barlaam, a bright and studious monk, came to Mt. Athos and heard about hesychasm, he proclaimed it to be heresy. He insisted that it is not possible for humans to know God’s essence or to experience His energies such as uncreated light. His dissent caused quite a stir, and Gregory was called to debate with Barlaam about this. Gregory’s studies in the world and his experience as a hesychast put him in the perfect position for this debate.

Gregory first tried to speak to Barlaam about all of this, but speaking did not seem to make any progress, so he began to write prolifically about the prayer of the heart and its validity. Although Gregory was writing a lot, they continued to meet and debate in person as well. One of these debates was before the 1341 Council of Constantinople, which took place in Hagia Sophia. This time, they were arguing about the Transfiguration. Gregory stood by the Orthodox belief that God revealed Himself to the disciples on Mt. Tabor, by using His Divine Energies. Barlaam said theirs was not an actual experience of God: just a helpful gift to the disciples, who couldn’t really experience God because they are humans.

The members of the Council upheld Gregory’s position as the truly Orthodox position. They agreed that God, Whose Essence we cannot approach, chooses to reveal Himself through His Energies. Humans can see those Energies, such as the light that the disciples could see on Mt. Tabor. After the Council ruled that Barlaam’s teachings were heresy, Barlaam fled to Calabria.

In spite of the ruling, some people still argued against Gregory, even locking him up in prison for 4 years at one point. However, the very next patriarch released him and made him Archbishop of Thessalonica. In his later years, God gave Gregory the gift to perform miracles, including healing the sick, and he was granted a vision of St. John Chrysostom on the night before he died. His last words were, “To the heights! To the heights!”

Thanks to St. Gregory Palamas, the Church has maintained the truth that we humans are able to experience God through His uncreated energies. St. Gregory’s life of dedication to God and His Church, as well as his willingness to stand for truth set him apart as a wonderful example to all of us. Sometimes people refer to the Sunday of St. Gregory of Palamas as “The Sunday of Orthodoxy Part Two”, since his defense saved the Orthodox Church when it was under a second major attack.

The Gospel reading for this second Sunday of Lent is the story of the paralytic whose four friends lowered him through the roof of the place where Christ was so that he could be healed by Him. Our Lord not only healed his legs, making him able to walk again, but also healed his sins, telling him, “Your sins are forgiven you.” How beautiful it is for us to be reminded, right here near the beginning of Great Lent that the truth of our Faith is worth standing up for, as did St. Gregory; at the same time receiving the reassurance that Christ is waiting for us to come to Him so that He can heal both our soul and our body.

St. Gregory of Palamas, please intercede for us and for our salvation.

 

Here are a few ideas of ways to help your Sunday Church School students learn about St. Gregory of Palamas:

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Here are printable bulletins for children that talk about today’s Gospel reading and offer a short look at St. Gregory of Palamas. Although they are not dated for this year, they could help in a lesson on St. Gregory of Palamas (and/or the Gospel reading of the day). http://myocn.net/wp-content/uploads/2016/03/Childrens-Word-163.pdf

http://myocn.net/wp-content/uploads/2017/03/Childrens-Word-213.pdf

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Find lessons on St. Gregory of Palamas, at every level, here:

http://orthodoxsundayschool.org/church-history/3-5-years-old/st-gregory-palamas

http://orthodoxsundayschool.org/church-history/6-9-years-old/st-gregory-palamas

http://orthodoxsundayschool.org/church-history/10-12-years-old/st-gregory-palamas

http://orthodoxsundayschool.org/church-history/middle-school/church-established-st-gregory-palamas-and-st-john-climacus

http://orthodoxsundayschool.org/church-history/high-school/church-established-st-gregory-palamas-and-st-john-climacus

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This episode of the “Tending the Garden of Our Hearts” podcast tells about St. Gregory of Palamas, and is worded in a way that young children can understand. http://audio.ancientfaith.com/specials/tendinggarden/ttg_2018-03-04-a.mp3?fbclid=IwAR2Fmeq4DCbcwU9Fc-qgO9DZ29f9jcVoKamJ3fz-URQCOtUqPYjXW8ZNV70

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Find a “Jesus Prayer” craft idea that can be a natural response to a lesson on St. Gregory of Palamas here: https://craftycontemplative.com/2012/03/13/a-childs-lesson-on-st-gregory-palamas/

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Can we know God? This episode of “Be the Bee” tackles this question, which Barlaam and St. Gregory disagreed about all those years ago. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OpJYSII4NFU
Teachers of middle-years students may want to watch this with their students as part of a discussion of the life of St. Gregory Palamas, then discuss it together.

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Teachers of older church school students may wish to take in one of the resources mentioned here, along with their class, as part of a lesson on St. Gregory of Palamas. https://orthodoxchristianparenting.wordpress.com/2015/03/04/lenten-learning-st-gregory-of-palamas/

After watching or reading one of these resources about his life, talk together about St. Gregory’s holiness, including a discussion of hesychasm. What is hesychasm, anyway? What can it look like for us? How can we ask God to enlighten our darkness, as did St. Gregory? What will happen if we ask Him to do that? Will it make any difference in our life? (An aside that the students may find very interesting is a quick look at uncreated light, as it appears in some pictures or videos wherein God chooses to illumine people in a way that perhaps no one can see at the time, but it shows in the photos. There’s a video posted by a priest about uncreated light that shows three different times/ways this has happened. https://orthodoxcityhermit.com/uncreated6-2/)

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Lenten Sundays Series: The Sunday of Orthodoxy

This is the third in a series of posts that focuses on the Sundays of Great Lent (and Holy Week and Pascha). Each week we will share ideas of ways to help your Sunday Church School students learn more about that particular Sunday’s focus. We will share each blog early, so that you have time to read it before the forthcoming Sunday, in case you find any of those ideas helpful for your particular class.

Here’s a meditation on the Sunday of Orthodoxy for you to ponder before you create a lesson for your students:

 

On this first Sunday of Great Lent, we celebrate the return of icons into the life of the Church. In 726, the Iconoclastic Controversy began. The iconoclasts were people who were convinced that icons did not belong in the church. They considered the icons to be heresy, because they believed that the Orthodox were worshipping the icons, and God commanded us not to worship graven images.

But Orthodoxy has always clearly taught that we worship God, and no one – and nothing – else. We venerate icons, because we respect and honor these people who have loved God so completely, and we also honor Christ as we see Him reflected in their life. And that is not the only reason that it is proper to have and venerate icons. More importantly, since Christ took on human flesh, He has become visible and tangible. As a result, we can make an icon of Him, because we know how He looks. (In fact, He Himself made the first icon, the “Icon-not-made-with-hands”!) Icons help to solidify for us the incarnation of Christ.

But unfortunately, the zealous iconoclasts did not (or refused to) understand all of this. Much blood was shed as they removed and ruined icons from the churches, then persecuted and killed their Orthodox neighbors. Many Orthodox Christians hid the icons in their homes in order to protect them.

The iconoclast struggle went on for more than a century. It began to come to an end when the seventh ecumenical council met and declared once and for all that icons should be allowed in churches, and given the same veneration as is given to the Cross and the Gospel book. It finally ended on the first Sunday of Great Lent in 843, when the Empress Theodora (acting as regent for her son Michael) proclaimed that icons should be returned to their proper place in the churches, and they were! Every year since then, on the first Sunday of Great Lent, the Orthodox Church has celebrated the return of the icons to the Church. This Sunday has come to be called the “Triumph of Orthodoxy” or the “Sunday of Orthodoxy.”

It is no accident that, on this Sunday, our Epistle reading is from St. Paul’s letter to the Hebrews 11:24-26, 32-40, where we read of the faithfulness of the patriarchs, and the pain that which they endured, in order to maintain that faithfulness. The epistle encourages all of us to fight on for what is right, as did both the patriarchs and the iconophiles. The Gospel reading, John 1:43-51, is also not accidental. It tells of when Christ first called Philip, who called Nathaniel and told him to “come and see!”

The icons in our churches and our homes are a beautiful way for us to “come and see” God and what He has done in the life of others. They simultaneously tell us stories and point us to Christ, who is alive and at work through His saints. We venerate icons because we love Him and how He has worked in the lives of those who have fought the good fight and finished the race before us. Glory to God, who is great in His saints!

Thy pure image do we venerate, O good One, asking forgiveness of our sins, O Christ our God; for by Thine own will Thou didst ascend the Cross in Thy body, to save Thy creatures from the bondage of the enemy. Thou hast verily filled all with joy, since Thou didst come, O our Savior, to save the world.

Here are a variety of ideas that may be helpful to you, should you plan to teach your students about the Sunday of Orthodoxy:

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Check out the Orthodox Christian Network’s weekly children’s bulletin, “The Children’s Word,” found here: http://myocn.net/orthodox-christian-childrens-newsletter/. Each week’s bulletin features something related to the life of the church that week.

 

You may be able to use parts or all of last year’s Sunday of Orthodoxy bulletin in your church school class, in a lesson about the Triumph of Orthodoxy. Find it here: http://myocn.net/wp-content/uploads/2018/02/Childrens-Word-263.pdf

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Find a printable line art version of the icon of the Restoration of Icons here: http://dce.oca.org/resources/tag/lent/

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This video episode of “Be the Bee” discusses icons, their importance, the difference between worship and veneration, and some of the background which led to the triumph over iconoclasm which we celebrate on the Sunday of Orthodoxy. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=o8iFOgppS6Y

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There are many different beautiful icon craft ideas that you may wish to add to a lesson on the Sunday of Orthodoxy. Find some of them here:

https://orthodoxpebbles.com/orthodox-basics/holy-icon-crafts/

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Teachers of students in the middle grades or higher will want to take a look at the way the Sunday of Orthodoxy’s origin is explained in a way that can be read to (or by) your students, here: http://otftd.blogspot.com/2013/03/a-lesson-on-sunday-of-orthodoxy.html

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Middle school, high school, or even adult students will find this video about the Triumph of Orthodoxy to be a good launching pad for a discussion about this Sunday. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=q2ZMK7XlhRU It ties in the Gospel and Epistle readings with the theme of the day!

Lenten Sundays Series: Forgiveness Sunday

This is the second in a series of posts that focuses on the Sundays of Great Lent (and Holy Week and Pascha). Each week we will share ideas of ways to help your Sunday Church School students learn more about that particular Sunday’s focus. We will share each blog early, so that you have time to read it before the forthcoming Sunday, in case you find any of those ideas helpful for your particular class.

Here’s a meditation on Forgiveness Sunday for you to ponder before you create a lesson for your students:

The Sunday immediately before Great Lent begins is usually referred to in the Orthodox Church as “Forgiveness Sunday.” Forgiveness Sunday has two major themes: the expulsion of Adam and Eve from the Garden, and Forgiveness. We will take a short look at each of these themes, here.

It is important that this day features the expulsion of Adam and Eve, who in the beginning walked and talked with God in Paradise. This sort of relationship with God is what we wish to restore in our own life, and Lent is a time when the Church encourages us to do so with vigor. So it makes sense that She provides us with a reminder of what has been lost, and how it was lost, just before we begin Great Lent. This reminder also causes us to ponder the reality of Hades – where everyone went after their death, after Adam and Eve’s expulsion from Paradise. Because we are blessed to live in a time when we are able to know Christ, we also think of Him, who by His death trampled the doors of Hades, and rescued Adam and Eve, and all of us from Hades’ grasp, forever. So, even right here, just before Great Lent begins, we already have a spoiler alert. We know where this is going, and we want to be part of it!

Forgiveness Sunday’s Gospel reading is found in Matthew 6: 14-21 (NKJV)
“For if you forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.

Moreover, when you fast, do not be like the hypocrites, with a sad countenance. For they disfigure their faces that they may appear to men to be fasting. Assuredly, I say to you, they have their reward. But you, when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face, so that you do not appear to men to be fasting, but to your Father who is in the secret place; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you openly.

Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal; but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”

This Gospel reading is, in a sense, a good map for our Lenten journey. It begins with forgiveness. In order to restore our relationship to God, we need to be forgiven the multitude of our sins. This Gospel reading reminds us that if we want forgiveness from God, we need to also forgive others. The reading continues by telling us how to fast: not by showing off, but simply and quietly, genuinely. And it finishes with an admonishment for our focus: it should not be on earthly things, but on the heavenly. Great Lent is the perfect time to re-orient our focus to heavenly things. The Gospel reading’s last sentence summarizes the whole passage: where our treasure is is also where our heart is found.

Let’s take another look at the Gospel reading, this time through the lens of that last sentence. If we treasure forgiveness from God, our heart will be full of forgiveness for our fellow humans. During Great Lent, we are offered the opportunity to serve others willingly. We can more effectively serve if we are forgiving, not holding grudges. Forgiving others and serving them restores our relationship with them, and opens our hearts to receive forgiveness from God.

If we treasure relationship with God, our heart will be full of joyful, non-pretentious fasting. During Lent we are invited to eat less and pray more, giving Him our attention instead of seeking the attention of others or looking to food for satisfaction. Working to control our physical body’s desires and spending more time and energy in prayer restores our relationship to God.

And if we truly treasure God’s Heavenly Kingdom, the stuff of earth will matter not to us. During Great Lent, we are encouraged to do a better job of giving alms. Almsgiving lays up for us treasures in Heaven, while also blessing us with the opportunity to extend love to our fellow humans, and in doing so, to Christ Himself. Letting go of earthly things and earthly cares restores our ability to care for what is important to God: His creatures, His creation, and His Kingdom.

The Church steps right into the beginning of this Gospel passage with Her practice of offering Forgiveness Vespers to begin Great Lent. We’re not sure exactly when this beautiful service began to be offered. We do know that Forgiveness Vespers has been practiced since at least 520 AD, for it is mentioned in the story of the Life of St. Mary of Egypt. So Orthodox Christians have been beginning Great Lent by forgiving each other for a very long time.

According to Forgiveness Sunday’s Gospel reading, forgiving each other is a natural way to begin Great Lent.

Please forgive me, a sinner. And may God forgive us all and restore us to right relationship with Him.

Here are some some ideas you may wish to use as you help your students learn about Forgiveness Sunday:

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This blog post from several years ago features a whole list of ways to help your students learn about Forgiveness Sunday: https://orthodoxchurchschoolteachers.wordpress.com/2015/02/13/on-forgiveness-vespers/

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Listen to this Sunday’s Gospel reading told in simple terms for younger children, and read from the Gospel for older children, at https://www.ancientfaith.com/podcasts/letusattend. Find 5 levels of printable pages with questions for related discussions at http://ww1.antiochian.org/christianeducation/letusattend.

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Teachers of young children may find this podcast helpful as they share Forgiveness Sunday with their students. https://www.ancientfaith.com/specials/tending_the_garden/forgiveness_sunday_for_younger_children

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Begin a class on Forgiveness Sunday (for young children through elementary) with a pile of bricks and a red paper heart in your classroom. Ask the students why they think you have these items in your class. Invite the students to stack the bricks on top of the paper heart, on the floor of your classroom. As they stack, invite them to say a word or an action that can make someone sad or hurt. Then show them this video from The Orthodox Children’s Press, about Forgiveness and Forgiveness Vespers. https://youtu.be/ED3f0e4QBXM . After watching (and reading it aloud if your students are too young to read it for themselves), ask again why you have these items in your classroom. Invite students to practice for Forgiveness Vespers by taking turns picking up a brick from the pile, saying, “God forgives and I forgive!” and placing it in a trail/path shape on your classroom floor.

Craft/activity idea #1: To focus on the truth that our choices hurt others, but God can forgive and heal those hurts, invite students to create their own red paper heart. Direct them to trade with a friend, and make a cut on the friend’s heart. Remind them that when we say and do mean things, it’s like hurting the other person’s heart. When they get their heart back again, they may feel very sad, because it hurts when people do mean things to us. But God can bring healing to us when we forgive, so encourage them to tell the other person, “God forgives and I forgive!,” then pass out tape for each student to put on the cut of their heart, mending it whole again.

Craft/activity idea #2: To focus on each student’s need to forgive or be forgiven, direct each student to make a reminder of the video and brick activity by cutting a heart out of red paper and writing “God forgives and I forgive” on it. Invite them to write or draw on the back of the heart the different things and/or people that they will forgive or ask forgiveness of, at Forgiveness Vespers.

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Teachers of elementary-aged students through teens may find one (or more!) of these “Be the Bee” videos helpful for a lesson on Forgiveness Sunday:

Forgiveness Vespers is the focus in this episode: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rLFVJqHmAkY

Forgiveness unifies us as we learn in this episode: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bsDRWB2emwc

Find four ways to forgive in this episode: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=i8pfuimXIM0

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Teachers of teens may want to take a look at this lesson on Forgiveness, when preparing a lesson about Forgiveness Sunday: https://www.orthodoxcatechismproject.org/grade-9/-/asset_publisher/sVl6TXix4npP/content/forgiveness-booklet

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Consider printing a copy of this (or sending the link, if you have email addresses for your students’ parents) home after a lesson on Forgiveness Sunday. It contains discussion questions and activity ideas that families can do together as they learn together about Forgiveness Sunday. https://www.goarch.org/documents/32058/2618758/familygospellesson_forgivenessunday.pdf/51c7c29a-e862-4a37-81c2-be6bcc922dd6

 

Lenten Sundays Series: The Sunday of the Last Judgement/Meatfare

This is the first in a series that focuses on the Sundays of Great Lent (and Holy Week and Pascha). Each week we will share ideas of ways to help your Sunday Church School students learn more about that particular Sunday’s focus. We will share each blog early, so that you have time to read it before the forthcoming Sunday, in case you find any of those ideas helpful for your particular class. Although the Sunday of the Last Judgement is not part of Great Lent, it is significant because it is part of the process of preparing ourselves for Great Lent, so we are including it in the series.

Here’s a meditation on Judgement Sunday for you to ponder before you create a lesson for your students:

It is not yet Great Lent, but very soon it will be! We have already started the Tridodion. The Triodion is the service book with the special texts for the services for the part of the Church year that begins in the pre-Lenten period and goes all the way through Holy Week. The canons for Matins during all of these weeks have three odes: hence the name Tri-odion.

We have been mentally preparing for Great Lent with the Sunday of the Prodigal Son and the Sunday of the Publican and Pharisee. Now here we are, one week from Great Lent, and the Triodion directs us to read from the Gospel of St. Matthew. In Matthew 25:31-46, we read (New King James Version):

31 “When the Son of Man comes in His glory, and all the holy angels with Him, then He will sit on the throne of His glory. 32 All the nations will be gathered before Him, and He will separate them one from another, as a shepherd divides his sheep from the goats. 33 And He will set the sheep on His right hand, but the goats on the left. 34 Then the King will say to those on His right hand, ‘Come, you blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world: 35 for I was hungry and you gave Me food; I was thirsty and you gave Me drink; I was a stranger and you took Me in; 36 I was naked and you clothed Me; I was sick and you visited Me; I was in prison and you came to Me.’

37 “Then the righteous will answer Him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see You hungry and feed You, or thirsty and give You drink? 38 When did we see You a stranger and take You in, or naked and clothe You? 39 Or when did we see You sick, or in prison, and come to You?’ 40 And the King will answer and say to them, ‘Assuredly, I say to you, inasmuch as you did itto one of the least of these My brethren, you did it to Me.’

41 “Then He will also say to those on the left hand, ‘Depart from Me, you cursed, into the everlasting fire prepared for the devil and his angels:42 for I was hungry and you gave Me no food; I was thirsty and you gave Me no drink; 43 I was a stranger and you did not take Me in, naked and you did not clothe Me, sick and in prison and you did not visit Me.’

44 “Then they also will answer Him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see You hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not minister to You?’ 45 Then He will answer them, saying, ‘Assuredly, I say to you, inasmuch as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to Me.’ 46 And these will go away into everlasting punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.”

This Gospel reading is about the Last Judgement and what will happen then. But if we look at it closely, it gives us a good idea of what SHOULD be happening in our lives now so that we know that we have done our best, and we are ready when the Final Judgement day is here.

The passage talks about Jesus dividing the sheep from the goats. If you’re not familiar with the ways of these animals, here’s the general idea of how they function: sheep are more likely to do what they’re told and, together, they follow the shepherd. Goats are much more independent: they’d rather eat whatever they want and go wherever they want, on their own, without paying attention to the person in charge of their care. One glimpse at the sheep and goats in this way leads us to thinking “well, that’s easily taken care of! I want to be a sheep, so I’ll just follow God and do what I’m supposed to do. Simple!”

But is it really simple? The rest of the passage goes on to describe what each group did during their lifetime. They didn’t just show up at the Judgement and arbitrarily get assigned as a sheep or goat. Their entire lifetime of choices judges them, showing whether or not they were following Christ. At the judgement, no excuses in the world were able to change their designation. But at every moment of their life, they had the chance to do so.

So what choices did the “sheep” make that caused them to be judged as “sheep”? What did they do to show that they are followers? St. Matthew records our Lord saying that these people were the ones who gave food and drink to Christ. They took Him in. They clothed Him. They visited Him when He was sick and in prison.

And when the “sheep” are surprised (they don’t remember doing these things to Christ), He reminds them that whatever they did to the least of these, they’ve done to Him. Anytime they have reached out to someone who needed help, they reached out to Christ. Any good gifts they have given, they’ve given to Him.

The “goats” on the other hand, have done none of this. When they are surprised at their judgement, Christ reminds them of the opportunities they’ve had and what they chose. He reminds them that each person they’ve met is His icon, made in His image, and they’ve chosen to turn away or ignore Him by ignoring and not helping them.

So, how are we measuring up with this? If today ends up actually being the Judgement Day, what will our life’s choices show about how we care – or don’t care – for Christ? As we approach Judgement Sunday, let’s each take some time to evaluate how we’re doing. Who has God placed in our life who needs help? How are we doing with helping them? Are we seeing Christ in them, or do we see them as a nuisance? If we truly love Christ, we will also love those around us, and we will treat them as the icon of Christ that they are.

Oh Lord, have mercy on us, and show us how to better love others. Not so that we receive earthly rewards or “check it off of our list” or even so we are counted as one of your sheep: but rather so that these precious ones which you have placed in our life receive the love, care, and support that You deserve.

As you prepare to teach your students about Judgement Sunday, pray that they will be ready to love those around them, especially as we prepare to begin Great Lent. Here are a few resources that you may find helpful to use as you prepare to teach your students about Judgement Sunday:

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Listen to this Sunday’s Gospel reading told in simple terms for younger children, and read from the Gospel for older children, at https://www.ancientfaith.com/podcasts/letusattend. Find 5 levels of printable pages with questions for related discussions at http://ww1.antiochian.org/christianeducation/letusattend.

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Teachers of a variety of ages may want to take a look at this (non-Orthodox) lesson, or at least at the suggested group games and the many learning printables at the end of the lesson. Perhaps something here will help you plan a lesson on the parable of the sheep and the goats as you teach about Judgement Sunday. https://www.sermons4kids.com/sheep_or_goats.htm

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Students of all ages may enjoy watching this simply-illustrated telling of the parable of the sheep and the goats as part of a lesson about Judgement Sunday: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iWSkdx-XwWY
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For young students, or a class that loves to move:
After a lesson on Judgement Sunday and the parable of the sheep and the goats, help to make the lesson practical for young students. Bring a stuffed sheep to class and stuffed goat. Place them on different sides of the room. Offer suggestions of ways that kids can love (or not) and respond to (or ignore) others around them. (You may want to create these little story scenarios before class, unless you can think of them on your feet. Something like this: “Izzy sees that Jo has a nice stuffed dog, so he grabs the dog so that he can play with it.” or “Carmen is about to open her lollipop when she notices Frankie crying. She takes the lollipop to him and gives it to him.”) After you make each suggestion, encourage the kids to vote for whether that was a “sheep” way to react or a “goat” way. They vote by physically moving to one side or the other, to stand with the sheep or the goat. After everyone has voted, talk about their judgement. How do they think God would judge that person? Ask the students to consider which one they want to be at the Last Judgement. Give them an outline of a sheep, and let them draw or write some ideas of how they will work on being a better sheep, in the sheep’s “wool.” (Here’s a sheep printable that you could use.)

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For older students, or a class that loves to create:
To prepare your students for Judgement Sunday, tell them the parable of the sheep and the goats. Discuss the parable and what it means. Then help your students each make their own cardstock sheep and a goat. As you share ideas of ways that kids can love and respond to (or not) others, students hold up the animal that they see reflected in that action (or lack thereof). Talk about their choices, and how they think God would view each situation.
Suggested printable for the sheep: http://kidzactivities.net/cotton-ball-sheep-craft/

And for the goats, check out this one.

Encourage your students to write their own list of sheep-like and goat-like behavior inside each animal, then to take the animals home and put them somewhere where they’ll see them all week, and be reminded to work on being a good sheep instead of a goat.

***

For tweens and/ or teens:

In preparation for Judgement Sunday, read Matthew 25:31-46. What does that scripture mean to each member of your class? Do they find it soothing or frightening? Why? Present the class with a pile of articles you’ve clipped from the newspaper or printed from online sources. (Be sure to include some “good news/sheep”-type stories and some “bad news/bad choices/goat”-type stories.) Have each student select one article, read it, and judge for themselves whether the story is about sheep or goats. They can share with one other student, and be ready to defend their answer; or you can invite each student to share with the whole class. Offer some quiet time for students to react to this parable in a creative way. How do they feel about the parable? Where would they like to find themselves at the last judgement? What can they do now, each day, to be found there? Perhaps they’d like to write about it, or draw, or create something related to it. Include a few minutes at the end of class for any student to share what they’ve created, then pray and ask God to help each of you to remember to love and see Christ in everyone around them, and to make sheep-like choices.

***

Bonus post: as we approach Great Lent, you may want to see if Pascha Passports would be something you’d like to use in your Sunday Church School class. Pascha Passports take their readers on the journey to Pascha, with descriptions of the “destinations” along the way. At each “destination” (Lenten services, confession, the Jesus Prayer, Lenten retreat, and other important parts of the Lenten journey), travelers are given a stamp (beautiful icon sticker) to place in their passport with the destination information. What a beautiful, pocket-sized way for children to mark the passage of the Lenten season, and embrace the journey! These passports would beautifully support lessons related to the Lenten season and could be easily incorporated into your Sunday Church School classroom. Find the passports, stamps, and other materials in quantities for parishes or church schools here:

https://lenten-embassy.myshopify.com/collections/frontpage

***

Added bonus post:

Church School Teachers with young students may be interested to know about these brand new resources for lessons about Lent and Holy Week.
“Color Your Way Into Pascha” offers pages for little ones to color, from the Triumph of Orthodoxy through Pentecost. https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/1796731684
“Color Your Way Through Holy Week” offers coloring pages for each day of Holy Week. https://www.amazon.com/dp/1796742805/

***

And, for your own growth during Great Lent, there is this possibility: Y2AM has created the “Live the Word Bible Study Guide,” a daily study based on the Sundays of the Triodion period. This free guide offers 100+ pages of explanations, quotes from the Fathers, and study questions to help you learn from the readings for the next 10 Sundays. Y2AM created this resource to help you to make the most of Great Lent. Find more information (and the link to download your free copy) here: https://blogs.goarch.org/blog/-/blogs/free-live-the-word-bible-study-guide-for-the-triodion

 

2019 Lenten Resources

Lenten Resources for Parents and Sunday Church School Teachers

Gathered by the Antiochian Orthodox Department of Christian Education

February 2019

 

  1. Ancient Faith Radio offers many podcasts to help you prepare for Lent, including these:

https://www.ancientfaith.com/podcasts/kwtailor/preparing_for_lent1

https://www.ancientfaith.com/podcasts/closetohome/cleaning_house

 

  1. Chart idea to help Children embrace Lent

http://ww1.antiochian.org/content/family-activities-lenten-journey

 

  1. Coloring for Lent and Pascha
    “Color Your Way Into Pascha” offers pages for little ones to color, from the Triumph of Orthodoxy through Pentecost. https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/1796731684
    “Color Your Way Through Holy Week” offers coloring pages for each day of Holy Week. https://www.amazon.com/dp/1796742805/

 

  1. Helpful weekly chart for families to use during Great Lent.

https://blogs.ancientfaith.com/behind-the-scenes/wp-content/uploads/sites/31/2019/02/LENTEN-RESOURCE-UPDATED-2019.pdf

 

  1. Lenten Calendar for each day of Lent and Holy Week

Here’s a daily activity for Lent and Holy Week, themed by week: https://orthodoxchristianparenting.wordpress.com/2017/02/22/a-calendar-for-great-lent/

 

  1. Lenten activities, including printable charts for families to keep track of where they are during Great Lent:http://manymercies.blogspot.com/2017/02/lent-resources.html

 

  1. Lenten vocabulary

Help your children learn some of the vocabulary of Lent with the ideas found here: https://orthodoxchristianparenting.wordpress.com/2015/03/25/learning-lenten-vocabulary/

 

  1. Live the Word Bible Study Guide

For a daily study based on the Sundays of the Triodion period, check out Y2AM’s “Live the Word Bible Study Guide.” This free guide offers 100+ pages of explanations, quotes from the Fathers, and study questions to help you learn from the readings for the next 10 Sundays. Y2AM created this resource to help you to make the most of Great Lent. Find more information (and the link to download your free copy) here: https://blogs.goarch.org/blog/-/blogs/free-live-the-word-bible-study-guide-for-the-triodion

 

  1. Orthodox Pebbles present lessons and activities for Great Lent here: https://orthodoxpebbles.com/orthodox-basics/great-lent/

 

  1. Pascha Passports

These booklets take their readers on the journey to Pascha, with descriptions of the “destinations” along the way. At each “destination” (Lenten services, confession, the Jesus Prayer, Lenten retreat, and other important parts of the Lenten journey), travelers are given a stamp (beautiful icon sticker) to place in their passport with the destination information. These books are a pocket-sized way for children to mark the passage of the Lenten season, and embrace the journey! These passports can be used by a family, at home, but they also could be easily incorporated into a Sunday Church School classroom. Find the passports, stamps, and other materials, available individually or in quantities for parishes/church schools here: https://lenten-embassy.myshopify.com/collections/frontpage

 

  1. Printable workbook for children for Lent

https://www.scribd.com/document/49025598/Lent-Workbook-English-2

 

  1. Saints Box

Saints Box’s mission is to help Orthodox Christian families connect Church and home. Subscribers are sent tools to prepare for the Divine Liturgy each week: readings, games, activities, and more! They have two different weekly mailbox programs, one for children ages 4-8 and another for those aged 8-12, and each is available as a hard copy (mailed to the child!) or download (mailed to your inbox): https://www.saintsbox.com/

  1. Tending the Garden of Our Hearts: Daily Lenten Meditations for Families

This book is a new book published by Ancient Faith Publishing, written by Elissa Bjeletich and Kristina Wenger. Each day’s meditation can help your family’s spiritual growth through stories, questions, and discussion. You can purchase a hard copy or ebook here: https://store.ancientfaith.com/tending-the-garden-of-our-hearts-daily-lenten-meditations-for-families/

or find the audiobook here: https://www.audible.com/pd/Tending-the-Garden-of-Our-Hearts-Daily-Lenten-Meditations-for-Families-Audiobook/B07NJ8TMMF

 

Gleanings from a Book: “Tending the Garden of Our Hearts: Daily Lenten Meditations for Families” by Elissa Bjeletich and Kristina Wenger

The Antiochian Orthodox Department of Christian Education’s Staff Assistant for Social Networking, Kristina Wenger, shares some of her side of the story behind the book which she co-authored with her friend Elissa Bjeletich, as well as a few gleanings from the book itself.

It began with an invitation from an online friend, Elissa Bjeletich, who I had met in person just weeks before the invitation came. The invitation went something like this: “I’m thinking about writing a daily meditation for families for Great Lent. Will you help me?”

I was tired. The previous twelve months had drained me. They included a failed business endeavor and the ensuing financial strains; the engagement and marriage of our daughter to our wonderful son-in-law; both kids moving out of our home; 3 trips to other parts of the country to help them get settled (one of them moved twice); additional responsibilities at work to be completed in the same amount of work time; and then an extended illness over Christmas. I felt that I had nothing left to give to the world when this invitation came.

But it came, and I was a little star-struck, to be honest. I had admired Elissa’s work from afar for years, and was tickled to have actually met her in person. And then she reached out and asked me to help her? Unthinkable, and yet there it was! So I stretched through my exhaustion and considered her invitation. How could I say no? Although I was depleted, I knew this project would be good for my soul and I wanted to work with Elissa. So, empty but honored, I accepted, and then the work began.

And it was work. In one month’s time, we chose a name, pitched to Ancient Faith Radio the idea of a podcast special for families, were granted approval, created a website, and wrote and recorded the first three weeks’ worth of daily Lenten meditations. For each episode, we brainstormed together, and shared the writing (Elissa did the bulk of it, thank God: she has more writing experience than I). Early on, we decided that it would be best to offer each meditation at two levels, one for older children and one for younger ones. We each recorded a level for the podcast: Elissa did the older children’s, and I, the younger.

We wrote each meditation with the desire to care for – and encourage – growth in the garden of our own hearts, praying that somehow God would bless our efforts and allow others to grow along with us. We resonate well with St. John Chrysostom’s exhortation, “Fasting is wonderful because it tramples our sins like a dirty weed, while it cultivates and raises truth like a flower.” We hope that our writing will help readers to embrace such an attitude about fasting (and Great Lent in general), so that truth can grow and bloom in their lives.

We continued to work away at the project throughout Lent of 2018, and by the time Holy Week rolled around, we had finally finished. We went from idea to completion in 2 and a half months (Pascha was only 83 days after Elissa extended the invitation to me!). By the grace of God, we were able to write and record fifty different meditations, each at two levels, in that time.

As Pascha approached, we did not feel that the project was finished. We had grown so much throughout the experience, and we really enjoy working together. We decided to continue our work with a weekly podcast, and Ancient Faith once again accepted our proposal. The continuing podcast is aimed at whole families, and we record it together each week. You can listen in at https://ancientfaith.com/podcasts/tendingthegarden if you are so inclined.

We thought that perhaps our Lenten meditations could become a book, so we approached Ancient Faith Publishing, proposing the idea. They accepted our proposal, so we began adapting and rewriting the older children’s version in a way that would work for entire families to read and discuss together. This book is the result.

“Tending the Garden of Our Hearts: Daily Lenten Meditations for Families” offers one meditation each day for every day of Great Lent and Holy Week, including a final meditation for Pascha. Each week is themed as follows: Forgiveness, Orthodoxy, Prayer, The Cross/Humility, The Ladder/Almsgiving, Fasting/St. Mary of Egypt, and Holy Week and Pascha. (We loosely based our themes on this calendar of lenten activities which I wrote several years ago: https://orthodoxchristianparenting.files.wordpress.com/2015/02/great_lent_and_holy_week_activity_calendar.pdf.) Beginning each Sunday, every day’s meditation relates in some way to the theme for the week. Some days feature a scripture and thoughts on that scripture. On other days, we learn from the life of a saint. Every meditation concludes with a few questions, then a discussion question that allows the readers to make the book their own by talking together about how to apply that day’s lesson.

The book concludes with a fairly extensive appendix of related ideas for each week’s theme. There are craft and activity suggestions that could be done every week, if the readers are so inclined. The appendix begins with suggestions of ways to count down to Pascha. These countdown ideas are intended to help solidify and mark the passage of time in a way that can help young children for whom time is rather nebulous. Following those suggestions are ideas centered around each theme. As we say in the book, some weeks the reader might want to (and have time to) do some of these things. Other times, they will not. Readers will know which (if any) of these ideas will help their family, and can use the appendix accordingly. At our website, there are a few printable pages and supplemental resources related to some of these ideas. They can be found at https://tending-the-garden.com/supplemental-resources-for-the-book-tending-the-garden-of-our-hearts-daily-lenten-meditations-for-families/.

I am so grateful to God for His mercy and strength that extends beyond our exhaustion. Perhaps it is when we are most depleted that we are best able to allow Him to work in and through our lives. Certainly it is then that we know His kindness, for He extends grace when we feel that we have nothing left to give. This book (and the project as a whole) is evidence of that, for me. The project was a lot of work, but for me personally, it has also been incredibly restorative and helpful. Glory to God!

I want to thank Elissa for inviting me on this journey with her. Together we invite you and your family to join us, and grow alongside us. It is our prayer that “Tending the Garden of Our Hearts: Daily Lenten Meditations for Families” will be a help to those families who read it throughout Great Lent.

Although the book is written for families to share and walk through together, we are sharing it with the Sunday Church School community for two reasons: 1. It would make a great (very early!) Pascha gift for your Sunday Church School students to share with their family. 2. If you as a Sunday Church School teacher read through the book, perhaps some of the meditations will inspire you. It could be that some of them could be used in Sunday Church School as part of a lesson.

Purchase your copy of the book here: https://store.ancientfaith.com/tending-the-garden-of-our-hearts-daily-lenten-meditations-for-families/

Here are a few gleanings from the book:

***

“Have you ever prayed for someone who was mean to you? God asks us to pray for our enemies, because mean people really need our prayers to help their hearts soften so they will repent, and also because when we pray for someone we begin to see them as God sees them. We begin to love them and to feel sad for them because they are so twisted up and mean and unhappy.” (p. 36, “Tending the Garden of Our Hearts: Daily Lenten Meditations for Families” by Elissa Bjeletich and Kristina Wenger)

***

“We Orthodox love to light candles at Pascha and throughout the year. They provide light for our services, but they also remind us of the fire of God. Our God is light and truth—and He comes to us as a fire that burns away sin but does not consume us. When we light candles, we are reminded who our God is.” (p. 65, “Tending the Garden of Our Hearts: Daily Lenten Meditations for Families” by Elissa Bjeletich and Kristina Wenger)

***

“Imagine if you were to take a piece of clay and rub it in your warm hands. The clay begins hard and almost solid and impenetrable, like our hearts, but as we work it with our warm hands, the clay becomes soft and flexible. God’s warm presence does that for us; He transforms the hardness of our hearts into softness. And just like that clay, our hearts might just grow hard again if we stop praying for a while, but simply returning to prayer begins to warm us up again.” (p. 83, “Tending the Garden of Our Hearts: Daily Lenten Meditations for Families” by Elissa Bjeletich and Kristina Wenger)

***

“Sometimes we expect healing to look a certain way, but in fact what God sends is different from our expectations and much better for us. Like Naaman, when we come to the Lord for healing, if we can humble ourselves we will find that God sends both spiritual and physical healing.” (pp. 119-120, “Tending the Garden of Our Hearts: Daily Lenten Meditations for Families” by Elissa Bjeletich and Kristina Wenger)

***

“When we have become non-possessive (meaning that we have stopped caring so much about owning things), we trust completely that God will send whatever we need, as we need it. Instead of trying to own everything we will ever need and holding it tight, we turn to God. We trust that if we need something, He will send it. We pray to God for our needs, but we don’t mention them to anyone else because of our complete faith that God will send what we need. And then when someone gives us what we need, we thank God and recognize that it was really God who sent it.” (p. 145, “Tending the Garden of Our Hearts: Daily Lenten Meditations for Families” by Elissa Bjeletich and Kristina Wenger)

***

“…It is never too late. No matter what kind of life we are living, we can truly repent, and God will help us. While some saints are simply saintly from their birth, others spend years of their lives in sin and do terrible things. But God loves the sinners too, and He will help us in our struggles if we repent.” (p. 174, “Tending the Garden of Our Hearts: Daily Lenten Meditations for Families” by Elissa Bjeletich and Kristina Wenger)

***

“We don’t know when the Bridegroom will come—the Second Coming of Christ could happen today, or it may not happen for a long time. We just don’t know. But we do know that we have today. Today we can pray, today we can fast, today we can show love to the people around us, softening our hearts and building up that supply of oil. When the time comes, no one can give us soft hearts—we will have to work on our hearts now, by loving God and loving one another.” (p. 208, “Tending the Garden of Our Hearts: Daily Lenten Meditations for Families” by Elissa Bjeletich and Kristina Wenger)

***

“On this Holy Thursday, may we all think about how Jesus gives Himself to us. We are not worthy of Him, and yet He comes to live in our hearts. May He live inside of us in Holy Communion, and may we follow His example of humble service and great love.” (p. 214, “Tending the Garden of Our Hearts: Daily Lenten Meditations for Families” by Elissa Bjeletich and Kristina Wenger)

***

“Tending the Garden of Our Hearts” co-author Kristina Wenger shares three ideas of lenten countdowns which are featured in the book:

 

 

 

***
Blogger and beautifully creative mom Sarah Gingrich created printable ornaments for each day’s meditation. They can be found in her review of the book, here: https://thelivescript.wordpress.com/2019/02/25/lent-a-hand/

Gleanings from a Book: “Raising Them Right” by St. Theophan the Recluse

St. Theophan the Recluse may have lived a reclusive life, but his was a life of prayer and asceticism, and that closeness to God granted him much wisdom. His writings and teachings have been recorded, preserved, and translated from the Russian so that we are able to read them and learn from them. “Raising them Right” is a collection of his writings and teachings for and about young people, intended for youth and those who raise or teach them. It is a small but powerful collection of teachings.

“Raising them Right” begins with a few pages telling about the life of St. Theophan the Recluse. That is followed by 7 chapters of his teachings: “The Christian Adult”, “Baptism: the Adult and the Child”, “The Developing Child”, “Forming Attitudes”, “The Years of Youth”, “Understanding a Young Person”, and finally “Preserving God’s Grace”. Each chapter contains timeless wisdom. Even though St. Theophan was born more than 200 years ago, his words are applicable to adults and children today.

This book is small but wise. We recommend that parents and teachers alike read it, ponder its words, and allow St. Theophan to help us in our task of training children. As we learn, may we truly raise the next generation of Orthodox Christians right.

St. Theophan, please pray for us and for our students!

 

Purchase “Raising Them Right” here: https://store.ancientfaith.com/raising-them-right-a-saints-advice-on-raising-children/. The ebook and audiobook will soon be available, as well.

Although the book is about raising children, quite a lot of it pertains to teachers and young people. Here are a few quotes from the book which we thought would be helpful to our teaching community, either as a challenge/encouragement to teachers, or to be used in a discussion with older students:

***

“One may ask, how does one reach the point where the desire is born to walk toward God on the path of Christ? What does one do so that the law will imprint itself on the heart, and the sowing and development of the Christian life are different in essence from the sowing and development of natural life, owing to the special character of the Christian life and its relation to our nature. A man is not born a Christian, but becomes such after birth. The seed of Christ falls on the soil of a heart that is already beating.” (p. 13, “Raising Them Right,” by St. Theophan the Recluse)

***

“One of the first tricks of the enemy against us is the idea of trusting in oneself: that is, if not renouncing, then at least not feeling the need for the help of grace. The enemy as it were says: ‘Do not go to the light where they wish to give you some kind of new powers. You are good just the way you are!’ And a man gives himself over to repose. But in the meantime the enemy is throwing a rock (some kind of unpleasantness) at one; others he is leading into a slippery place (the deception of the passions); for yet others he is strewing with flowers a closed noose (deceptively good conditions). Without looking around, a man strives to go further and further, and does not guess that he is falling down lower and lower until finally he goes to the very depths of evil, to the threshold of hell itself.” (p. 24, “Raising Them Right,” by St. Theophan the Recluse)

***

“The Lord gives grace freely. But He asks that a man seek it and receive it with desire, dedicating himself entirely to God.” (p. 27, “Raising Them Right,” by St. Theophan the Recluse)

***

“…so, let the child be surrounded by sacred forms, objects of all kinds, and let everything that can corrupt in examples, depictions, or things be put away. But later, and for all the time that follows, one must keep the same order. It is well known how powerfully corrupt images act upon the soul, no matter in what form they might touch it! How unfortunate is the child who, closing his eyes, or being left alone and going within himself, is stifled by a multitude of improper images—vain, tempting, breathing of the passions. This is the same thing for
the soul as smoke is for the head.” (pp 46-47, “Raising Them Right,” by St. Theophan the Recluse)

***

“The most effective means for the education of true taste in the heart is a church-centered life, in which all children in their upbringing must be unfailingly kept. Sympathy for everything sacred, pleasure in remaining in its midst for the sake of quietness and warmth, separation from what is bright and attractive in worldly vanity—all this cannot better be imprinted in the heart (than by a church-centered life). The church building, church singing, icons—these are the first objects of fine art in content and power.” (p.54, “Raising Them Right,” by St. Theophan the Recluse)

***

“And this is the chief aim of a Christian upbringing: that a man as a result of this might say within himself that he is a Christian. And if, when he comes to full awareness of himself he will say, ‘I am a Christian, obliged by my Savior and God to live in such a way so as to be vouchsafed the blessed communion with Him and with His chosen ones in the future life,’ then in the very midst of his independent existence or the unique, rational ordering of his life, he will place for himself as his first and essential duty to preserve in an independent way
and to warm the spirit of piety in which he previously walked under the guidance of others.” (p.60, “Raising Them Right,” by St. Theophan the Recluse)

***

“A young blossom planted in a place where the wind blows on it from all sides only endures a little and then dries up; grass on which people frequently walk does not grow; a part of the body which is subjected to friction for a long time becomes numb. The same thing happens to the heart and to the good dispositions in it if one is given over to day-dreams or to empty reading or to enjoyments.” (p.69, “Raising Them Right,” by St. Theophan the Recluse)

***

“It goes without saying that good naturally strives towards good and avoids the evil; there is a certain taste for this in the heart. But again, how often it happens that simplicity of heart is enticed by cunning. Thus, every young person is rightly advised to be careful in the choice of a friend. It is good not to conclude friendship
until the friend has been tested.” (p.72, “Raising Them Right,” by St. Theophan the Recluse)

***

“The educator should go through all the degrees of Christian perfection in order later to know how to behave in the midst of action, to be capable of noticing which way the students are going, and then to act upon them with patience, successfully, powerfully, and fruitfully. This should be a group of the most pure, God-chosen, and holy people. Of all holy works, the education of children is the most holy.” (pp. 83-84, “Raising Them Right,” by St. Theophan the Recluse)

***

“But the chief form of moral perfection which belongs to one who has preserved himself whole in the years of youth is a certain unshakability in virtue for his whole life. Samuel remained firm in the presence of all the temptations that scandalized in the house of Eli and in the midst of the agitations of the people in society. Joseph in the midst of his evil brothers, in the house of Potiphar, in prison and in glory, equally preserved his soul inviolate… A right outlook is converted, as it were, into nature, and if sometimes it is a little violated, soon it returns to its original state. Therefore in the lives of saints we find for the most part those who have preserved their moral purity and the grace of baptism in youth.” (pp. 86-87, “Raising Them Right,” by St. Theophan the Recluse)

***

“God is pleased most of all by what is offered first: the first fruits, the firstborn of men and animals, and therefore also by the first years of youth. An immaculate youth is a pure sacrifice.” (p.87 , “Raising Them Right,” by St. Theophan the Recluse)