Tag Archives: Activity

On the Feast of the Entrance of the Theotokos into the Temple (Nov. 21 or Dec. 4)

On Nov. 21 (or Dec. 4) we celebrate the Feast of the Entrance of the Theotokos into the Temple. This feast celebrates the day when the Theotokos, still a child, went to the Temple. The background story to this event is pretty important:

Joachim and Anna were devout Jews who loved God very much. They lived on only a third of their income, tithing and giving away the rest. Yet they had no child. They promised God that they would give their child back to Him, if He would grant them one, and He blessed them with the gift of their daughter Mary.

When Mary was three years old, and finally weaned, Joachim and Anna did not forget their promise to God. They gathered young ladies with candles to walk with them, and all together walked to the Temple so that they could present Mary to God and give her back to Him. Many family and friends came along, as well, all carrying lit candles.

When they arrived at the Temple, Joachim and Anna lifted Mary up onto the first of the 15 steps that led up into the temple. As soon as she was on that step, she ran all the way up the rest of them. The High Priest at the time was Zachariah (who later became the father of St. John the Forerunner). Zachariah greeted Mary at the top of the steps, took her by the hand, and led her into the Temple. The Holy Spirit directed him as he led her not just into the Temple, but into the “Holy of Holies,” the most sacred part of the Temple (which was so holy that only the High Priest could go in there; and he could only go in once a year after much preparation and prayer!)!

The Most-holy Virgin lived in the Temple for many years. The angels fed her in the Holy of Holies. As long as they lived, Joachim and Anna came regularly to the Temple to visit their daughter. When they departed this life, she stayed on in the Temple until she was betrothed to Joseph.

The holiness that she acquired while in the Temple, along with her own piety and desire to follow God, prepared the Most-holy Virgin to become the new Temple, in which God Himself dwelt. Her willingness to come to the Temple with such joy is a notable part of the Feast of the Entrance of the Theotokos into the Temple.

Most Holy Theotokos, intercede for our salvation!

Here are some resources and ideas for learning about the feast together as a Sunday Church School class:
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Find a lesson plan (Lesson 2 in this series on the Theotokos) for any age group about the Entrance of the Theotokos into the Temple here: http://dce.oca.org/focus/theotokos/

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Make a copy of this pdf (http://stabcc.org/files/bulletins/Bulletin-Insert-11.17.2013.pdf) for each of your middle years Sunday Church School students. Read it together, and talk about the feast.

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Find a variety of printable pdfs (previous years’ children’s bulletins) that contain information and/or activities related to the Entrance of the Theotokos into the Temple here: http://myocn.net/wp-content/uploads/2015/11/Childrens-Word-144.pdf, http://myocn.net/wp-content/uploads/2014/11/Childrens-Word-92.pdf,

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Provide the icon of the Entrance of the Theotokos into the Temple for your older Sunday Church School students to look at. Ask them to tell what they know about the icon: what does it depict? How is it teaching us? Then share additional information as presented here https://iconreader.wordpress.com/2011/11/20/entrance-of-the-theotokos-into-the-temple/ and talk about it.

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Encourage your older Sunday Church School students to look up each of the Old Testament scriptures listed here: http://www.stpaulorthodoxcathedral.org/attachments/article/4/SPC%20bulletin%2025%20Pentecost%20Tone%208.2.pdf. Have each student select one, look it up, and then read it to the class. Together discuss how this scripture relates to the Theotokos. How is she the fulfillment of these Old Testament prophecies?

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With your Sunday Church School students, sing the exapostilarion of the Feast of the Entrance of the Theotokos into the Temple (ie: http://www.antiochian.org/sites/default/files/exapost-1121-entry_of_theotokos.pdf). Then look together at the words of the hymn. What do they mean? To what does it compare the Theotokos? The book “Heaven Meets Earth: Celebrating Pascha and the Twelve Feasts” by John Skinas makes a beautiful connection between the Old Testament Ark of the Covenant and the Theotokos, some of which is alluded to in this hymn. The Ark of the Covenant contained God’s words, the 10 commandments, written on the stone tables; manna from heaven; and Aaron’s miraculously budding rod. The new Ark (the Theotokos) went on to contain the Word of God in the flesh; the Bread of Life; and “the Seedless Flower… from the Root of Jesse.” (p. 16) If you have the book, be sure to share this part with your students and discuss the type of the Ark of the Covenant and its fulfillment in the Theotokos. Then talk together about why it was so important for her to spend so many years of her life in the Temple; specifically in the Holy of Holies. (The answer is on page 15 of that book!) Find the book here if you do not yet have it: http://store.ancientfaith.com/heaven-meets-earth

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Print this foldable centerpiece about the Feast of the Entrance of the Theotokos into the Temple onto cardstock for each student. After teaching about the feast, allow your students to decorate and assemble it. Send it home with them right away so that they can set it as the centerpiece of their dining room table, add it to their icon corner, or set it up in their room where they will see it often and remember the feast. http://www.antiochian.org/sites/default/files/assets/asset_manager/cacb8660b29bdc97f8e8283ff567634e.pdf

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Bible Story Grab Bags: New Testament

Author’s note: As we conclude the weeks of summer break from Sunday Church School, it is time that we finish our preparations for the forthcoming year. Pulling together items that remind you of Bible stories and putting them in a “Bible Story Grab Bag” can be one way to do so. Bible story grab bags can be used throughout the Church School year as part of a lesson, as an attention-getter, as a “something-to-do-during-snack-after-liturgy-before-our-official-lesson,” or as a lesson extender if you finish your usual lesson before class time is over. (It can also be revisited at the end of the year. To review, just have each student pull an item out of the grab bag and tell something they remember about that story.)

Here are selections from the New Testament which could be told, along with suggestions of items that could represent each selection in an Old Testament Bible Story Grab Bag:

The Annunciation (Luke 1) – toothpick “spindle” of red yarn or sign that says “YES”

The angel visits Joseph (Matt 1) – angel from Christmas decor

Mary visits Elizabeth (Luke 1) – jump rope (St. John “leaped” in St. Elizabeth’s womb)

The birth of John (Luke 1) – slate with “His name is John” written in white marker

The birth of Jesus (Luke 2) – small nativity, manger, or star ornament

The wise men (Matt 2) – small bag with gold rocks, incense, sm. bottle of oil for “myrrh”

Simeon and Anna (Luke 2) – hourglass (representing how long they waited for Christ)

The escape to Egypt (Matt 2) – replica of the pyramids

Jesus comes to the temple (Luke 2) – slate and chalk (he taught the temple teachers)

The baptism of Jesus (Matt 3, John 1) – bottle of water or a dove

Jesus and His disciples (Luke 5) – a bit of fishing net

The wedding in Cana (John 2) – small wine glass

Jesus and the storm (Mark 4) – toy ship or a storm cloud photo

Jesus and the daughter of Jairus (Mark 5) – toy tiara

The Sermon on the Mount teachings:

Love your enemies (Matt 5) – stuffed monster

The Lord Teaches the Lord’s Prayer (Matt 6) – copy of the Lord’s Prayer

The parable of the Wise and Foolish Builders (Matt 7) –  jar of sand and a rock

The Good Samaritan (Luke 10) – bandages

The lost sheep (Luke 15) – toy lamb

The prodigal son (Luke 15) – fancy ring

Jesus feeds five thousand people (Matt 14) – 5 crackers and 2 candy fish in a baggie

Jesus walks on water (Matt 14) – small pair of water shoes

God shows who Jesus is (Matt 17) – glow stick flashlight w/ marker face “Jesus”

The Good Shepherd (John 10) – “shepherd’s crook”/brown tape-covered candy cane

Jesus comes to Zacchaeus (Luke 19) – tiny toy guy and a big toy tree

Lazarus (John 11) – toy person wrapped in a length of white crepe paper streamer

Mary anoints Jesus (John 12) – small bottle of perfume

The entrance of Jesus into Jerusalem (Mark 11) – palm branch

Jesus drives the merchants out of the temple (Mark 11) – toy dove in cage or dollhouse-sized table and coins

Jesus celebrates Passover with His Disciples (Mark 14) – small dish (for identifying Judas)

Jesus washes the disciples’ feet (John 13) – small bowl “basin” and washcloth “towel”

Jesus prays in the garden of Gethsemane (Mark 14) – praying hands picture

Jesus dies on the cross (Mark 15) – small wooden cross

The burial of Jesus (Mark 15, John 19) – piece of white cloth “shroud”

The Resurrection of Jesus (Luke 24) – large stone “seal for the tomb”

Jesus ascends into Heaven (Luke 24, Acts 1) – stuffed cloud or handful of fiberfill

Pentecost (Acts 2) – lighter (for when “the tongues of fire” came down)

Saul On the Road to Damascus (Acts 9) – spotlight or bright flashlight

Sts. Paul and Silas Sing in Jail (Acts 16) – piece of broken chain

St. Paul Writes Letters (1 Corinth 12, 1 John 4) – pile of letters tied together

Here are some helpful links that can help you prepare your New Testament Bible Story Grab Bag. We also shared these when we posted this (https://orthodoxchurchschoolteachers.wordpress.com/2016/07/01/bible-story-grab-bags-old-testament/) but are re-sharing in case you missed them :

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Create a simple drawstring bag to be your “New Testament Bible Story Grab Bag.” Here’s a very basic pattern that you could use to make the bag: http://www.diaryofaquilter.com/2013/06/easy-fat-quarter-drawstring-bag-tutorial.html

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Here are several other suggestions for storage for your storytelling “grab bag” (box? tube?): Decorate an empty wet-wipes container (see http://momstown.ca/2013/10/23/how-make-treasure-box-diaper-wipe-container/); a covered oatmeal tube or coffee can (see http://modpodgerocksblog.com/2009/09/delightful-toy-containers-made-from.html); or a paper-covered shoebox (this one suggests using maps, but any pretty paper would work: http://inmyownstyle.com/2013/09/map-covered-shelf-organizing-boxes.html) and store your story-starters in there instead of in a bag!
*

Make story stones like this to include as your “story-starters” for the grab bag. To make your own, consider using an all-purpose glue (like modge podge) to adhere related pictures (hand drawn, photographs, or cut from magazines) onto smooth stones. You can then set the stones upright in sand in scenery, or in a timeline, etc, as you tell the story. http://www.poppitscupboard.com/p/home.html

*
Gather actual items that represent the stories you want to tell to your class. These items will be your “story starters” which you will keep in the grab bag. They can be plastic or wooden miniatures, pictures or icons, or any significant item that shows up in a Bible story that will jog your (and your students’) memory. (You may also want to include a master list of every item, complete with its story and/or the scripture to which it belongs.) Here is an example: https://s-media-cache-ak0.pinimg.com/736x/71/00/b9/7100b98b14a9ac8423d9ca6dcda5d3e4.jpg

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Here’s a related Bible storytelling tip: Tell a story using several bags, each containing one item that helps to tell the story. (For example, this storyteller gives ideas for using multiple items and bags to tell the story of Creation: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Y-Nu01DP_IQ.) Here are 12 Bible stories, already thought through for a similar project/presentation: http://curbsproject.org.uk/wordpress/wp-content/uploads/2014/06/Bible-Story-Bags.pdf

 

On the Feast of the Transfiguration of Christ (August 6 or 19)

The Feast of the Transfiguration of Christ (commemorated on August 6 or 19) is an important one for Orthodox Christians to celebrate! After all, the Transfiguration was a revelation of the Holy Trinity (God the Father spoke, Christ was there, of course, and the Holy Spirit was revealed in the form of a cloud). Also, at the Transfiguration, Christ’s radiance was physically seen by the disciples so that they could better realize His Divinity. In addition, Moses and Elijah were present, showing the disciples that in Christ the law and the prophecies are fulfilled. And so it was that on Mt. Tabor, God allowed the disciples to have their own “mountaintop” experience, just as Moses (Mt. Sinai) and Elijah (Mt. Horeb) had during their life on earth.

Since this Feast is important, we need to learn about it ourselves, help our children know about it, and together celebrate the Feast! Transfiguration is a difficult concept for anyone to grasp, but especially so for children. How can we help our children learn what it was like for the disciples to see Our Lord’s Transfiguration on Mt. Tabor? Our Lord did not slip into a hidden wardrobe and change out of His ordinary clothes into shiny robes, nor did He simply step into a giant spotlight shining down from the sky. Rather, the disciples were simply permitted to physically see some of His Divine Glory shining through. (But not all of it: just “inasmuch as they were able,” according to the troparion of the day). So, how can we begin to explain or show the Transfiguration to our children?

One way to illustrate this concept would be to decorate three little plastic tubes to represent Christ, Moses, and Elijah.

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We used permanent marker to turn two (upside down) spray hand sanitizer tubes to create “Moses” (holding a walking stick and tablets with the Ten Commandments) and “Elijah” (hands folded in prayer, over a burning fire). Then we took a new (blue) glow stick (also upside down) and added a smiley face for “Christ.” The story can be reenacted with these “characters,” using a throw pillow “Mt. Tabor.”

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“Christ” can climb to the top of the mountain to pray.

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While the disciples (all the people gathered to hear the story) watch, “Moses” and “Elijah” can appear, sparking a discussion that includes why they are holding what they are holding, and why they were even part of this event in the first place, as answered in the paragraph above.

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At the moment of Christ’s Transfiguration, break the glass vial inside the glowstick, allowing the blue to emanate from it. Be sure to explain that, just as the glowstick could have been glowing at any moment (all of the right ingredients were there, but protected from mixing and glowing), Christ is always Divine. However, His disciples could not always see Him illumined, because God was protecting them from something that they would not have understood. It might have even scared them if He was always radiant! (At some point, you may also want to explain that God did not have to “do something” to Christ to make Him radiate; as we have to do something to the glowstick to make it glow. Unfortunately, as always, the analogy falls short of the truth.) However, on Mt. Tabor, God allowed the disciples to see some of His radiance, to help them know beyond the shadow of a doubt that He is God (and also to help them understand that His forthcoming crucifixion was voluntary, according to the kontakion of the day).

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As the shining glowstick “Christ” sits atop Mt. Tabor, talk together about what it must have been like for the disciples to have experienced this reality, and why it is so important to our Orthodox Faith that we celebrate the Transfiguration as one of the Twelve Great Feasts of the Church.

“When, O Christ our God, Thou wast transfigured on the mountain, Thou didst reveal Thy glory to Thy Disciples in proportion as they could bear it. Let Thine everlasting light also enlighten us sinners, through the intercessions of the Theotokos, O God Thou Bestower of light, glory to Thee!”


Here are some links that can help you and your Sunday Church School Students learn more about the Feast of the Transfiguration of Christ, as well as ideas to help you celebrate the feast together:


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Continue to learn together about the Feast of the Transfiguration in the book http://store.ancientfaith.com/heaven-meets-earth

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Read more about the Feast of the Transfiguration, including the hymns for the feast as well as an explanation of the icon here: http://www.goarch.org/special/listen_learn_share/transfiguration/index_html

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Print this folding stand-up centerpiece about the Feast of the Transfiguration of Christ for your students’ dining room table or icon corner: http://www.antiochian.org/sites/default/files/assets/asset_manager/44cc08f7375825e0a722417e140a9cce.pdf

 

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Find printable activity sheets about the Transfiguration, geared for older children here: https://www.scribd.com/document/273631504/Orthodox-Transfiguraton-Worksheets

 

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This transfiguration activity can help to explain the word itself. Use the content in the context of the story of Christ’s transfiguration to add to the mystery of transfiguration! All you need is paper, a cotton swab, lemon juice, and an iron:  http://aprilfiet.com/theology-culture/now-see-transfiguration-sunday-childrens-lesson

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“Saint Seraphim of Sarov’s life teaches us how we are to nourish our experience of the Transfiguration of Christ. The New Testament, the Psalms, the teaching of Saint Isaac the Syrian, the Jesus Prayer, prayer to the Mother of God, Paschal joy, hiding away from the limelight, compassion and absence of harshness: these were the characteristics of Saint Seraphim’s life. We can acquire some of them. Let us start by seeing what we can do with the New Testament, with the Jesus Prayer, and with the Mother of God…” Read more about the Transfiguration and how we can allow God to transform our lives, in the same way that St. Seraphim of Sarov did: http://www.pravmir.com/can-nourish-experience-transfiguration-christ/

 

 

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Find suggestions of ways to discuss the transfiguration here: http://myocn.net/transfiguration-its-all-about-change/

 

On Choosing Stillness

Remember our blog post on “Resting in God” from earlier this summer? Well, consider this post a little checkup. So, how is it going for you?

If you are like me, you probably still have a little work to do (maybe “work” isn’t the right word to use here?) in order to improve this area of your Christian life. There is, however, a simple “prescription” that can help us in this area! This “prescription, our healing solution, can be summed up in these two little words: Be still.


Ah, that sounds easy! We simply need to choose to silence our environment and still ourselves in order to better honor the King of All as He reigns in our lives. But oh, how hard these two words are to carry out! Noise, music, t.v., family members, neighbors, work, the internet: all vie for our attention. And once we successfully silence these, we are left with thoughts, ideas, worries, stresses, lists, and all of our own internal dialogue that must also be stilled so that we can focus. It is not easy, this “be still” business. It is not easy at all.

But it is worth the effort. And it is attainable. For example, Our Lord spoke to the prophet Elijah in the still, small sound of a gentle breeze. (see 3 Kingdoms 19:11-13) If Elijah had been paying attention to all that was going on around him he would have missed this interaction with God. Goodness knows he had plenty to distract him from stillness! After all, he was on the run to save his life from the threats of the evil Queen Jezebel; he had been miraculously fed by angels twice; then he fasted for 40 days and nights while traveling all the way to Mt. Horeb; and then a mighty wind-then earthquake-then fire passed right by him before that still sound came his way. So there was plenty of noise around him that he needed to quiet and there were also plenty of distractions within that he needed to still. If Elijah had been anything like me, he probably would have missed Him. But he chose to be still, and he heard the voice of God Himself.

What are we missing by failing to be still?

Read more about being still:

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Read about the difference between silence and stillness; and find an admonition to pursue both, here: https://oca.org/reflections/fr.-john-breck/on-silence-and-stillness

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“A common theme in the teaching of the church fathers is stillness. This is not a call to idleness but to a task that is very difficult: to quiet our minds.” So begins this helpful article: http://orthodoxwayoflife.blogspot.com/2012/07/be-still-and-know-that-i-am-god.html

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“Stillness, the Orthodox theologian Fr John Breck writes, is important for a number reasons. We need stillness if we are ‘to attain spiritual knowledge.’ It also is essential as we ‘engage in spiritual warfare against the passions and against demonic powers.’ Finally, in stillness we are able to hear ‘the voice of God.’” Read more on why we should cultivate stillness in our lives, here: http://palamas.info/why-cultivate-inner-stillness/

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Help your busy mind to be still with these five practical ways to approach your prayertime: http://www.karenehman.com/2014/02/5-ways-to-sit-at-his-feet/

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“Fr. Thomas Keating in his book on meditation refers to this continuous motion of thoughts running around in our mind as ‘the monkey mind.’ Picture a cage with monkeys jumping around and screeching. They rush at you, then away from you and then at you again, always chattering and making a ruckus. That is often the state of our mind, an endless commotion. Our minds have almost unlimited creativity and freedom. But if we do not harness the great power of our mind it can cause a mess.”

“…Each time we stop our mind from offending, Christ is victorious in us. We saturate our thinking with Jesus. The more active our relationship is with Jesus Christ, the less our struggle is with futile thinking.” Read more here:

http://www.pravmir.com/how-do-i-sit-quietly-before-god/?utm_content=bufferdc4dd&utm_medium=social&utm_source=facebook.com&utm_campaign=buffer

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Read this article to find a hands-on approach to being still. Let us together neither resent nor react, but rather, let us keep inner stillness as suggested here: http://silouanthompson.net/2011/10/do-not-resent-do-not-react-keep-inner-stillness/

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Find one mom’s lesson about stillness, focusing on St. Gregory of Palamas, here: https://craftycontemplative.com/2012/03/13/a-childs-lesson-on-st-gregory-palamas/

 

Bible Story Grab Bags: Old Testament

Author’s note: The weeks of summer break from Sunday Church School can afford us time to prepare for the forthcoming year. Pulling together items that remind you of Bible stories and putting them in a “Bible Story Grab Bag” can be one way to prepare for the year. Bible story grab bags can be used throughout the Church School year as part of a lesson, as an attention-getter, as a “something-to-do-during-snack-after-liturgy-before-our-official-lesson,” or as a lesson extender if you finish your usual lesson before class time is over. (It can also be revisited at the end of the year. To review, just have each student pull an item out of the grab bag and tell something they remember about that story.)

Here are selections from the Old Testament which could be told, along with suggestions of items that could represent each selection in an Old Testament Bible Story Grab Bag:

Creation (Gen. 1-2) – a tiny globe

Adam and Eve (Gen. 2:7-25) – toy man and toy woman (ie: Playmobil or Lego people)

The Fall of Man (Gen. 3) – a rubber or stuffed snake

Noah (Gen. 6-9) – a toy boat, a pair of toy animals, or a rainbow

Abraham and Sarah (Gen. 12-21) – small icon of the Hospitality of Abraham and Sarah or a tiny jar of sand and/or small stars

Isaac (Gen. 21-27) – tiny baby with gray-haired parents or a plastic ram

Jacob (Gen. 25-33) – pair of “twin” toy men (glue fake fur on one’s arms!) or a spotted toy goat

Joseph (Gen. 35-43) – scrap of rainbow-colored cloth or a dreamcatcher

Moses (Exodus) – toy baby in a basket, or toy man with walking stick or a pair of toy men’s sandals (like for an action figure or Ken doll)

The Plagues and Passover (Ex. 7-14) – anything representing one of the plagues, like a cup of “red water,” toy flies, a paintbrush with red “blood” dried on it, etc.

The Ten Commandments (Ex. 20) – small “stone tablets” with the commandments

The Tabernacle (Ex. 25-31, 35-40) – tiny tent or model of the ark of the covenant

Joshua/the Promised Land (Joshua 1-6) – crumbled piece of brick/stone wall

Samson (Judges 13-16) – long lock of hair or the jawbone of an animal

Ruth/Naomi (Ruth) – toy sheaf of wheat

Hannah’s Prayer/Samuel (1 Samuel 1-4) – a toy ear (he heard God’s voice call him)

King David (1 Samuel 16- 2 Samuel 5) – toy sheep or slingshot

The Psalms of David (Psalms) – a toy book with music notes on its pages or a small plaque of Ps. 23

King Solomon (1 Kings 3-10) – a magnetic question mark (he asked God for wisdom)

Proverbs (Proverbs) – a plaque or magnet containing a Proverb such as 16:3 “Commit your works to the Lord, and your thoughts will be established.”

Elijah/Elias (1 Kings 16-18) – small bottle of oil or toy flames and buckets of “water”

Isaiah (Isaiah) – recording of Handel’s “Messiah” or a Christmas ornament containing one of Isaiah’s prophecies (ie: “For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given.”)

Jonah (Jonah) – a big toy fish or a small plastic worm

Three Hebrew Youths (Daniel 3) – toy flames or miniature “burning building”

Daniel (Daniel 1-7) – toy lion

Queen Esther (Esther) – toy tiara

Micah (Micah) – toy sign that reads “Bethlehem” (He prophesied Christ’s birth there)

Ezra and Nehemiah (Ezra, Nehemiah) – a “back” button/left-facing arrow symbol (so much in these books is going “back:” back to Jerusalem, back to rebuilding the temple, back to rebuilding the wall, returning back from captivity, and returning to God)
Here are some helpful links that can help you prepare your Old Testament Bible Story Grab Bag:

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Create a simple drawstring bag to be your “Old Testament Bible Story Grab Bag.” Here’s a very basic pattern that you could use to make the bag: http://www.diaryofaquilter.com/2013/06/easy-fat-quarter-drawstring-bag-tutorial.html

 

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Here are several other suggestions for storage for your storytelling “grab bag” (box? tube?): Decorate an empty wet-wipes container (see http://momstown.ca/2013/10/23/how-make-treasure-box-diaper-wipe-container/); a covered oatmeal tube or coffee can (see http://modpodgerocksblog.com/2009/09/delightful-toy-containers-made-from.html); or a paper-covered shoebox (this one suggests using maps, but any pretty paper would work: http://inmyownstyle.com/2013/09/map-covered-shelf-organizing-boxes.html) and store your story-starters in there instead of in a bag!
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Make story stones like this to include as your “story-starters” for the grab bag. To make your own, consider using an all-purpose glue (like modge podge) to adhere related pictures (hand drawn, photographs, or cut from magazines) onto smooth stones. You can then set the stones upright in sand in scenery, or in a timeline, etc, as you tell the story. http://www.poppitscupboard.com/p/home.html

*
Gather actual items that represent the stories you want to tell to your class. These items will be your “story starters” which you will keep in the grab bag. They can be plastic or wooden miniatures, pictures or icons, or any significant item that shows up in a Bible story that will jog your (and your students’) memory. (You may also want to include a master list of every item, complete with its story and/or the scripture to which it belongs.) Here is an example: https://s-media-cache-ak0.pinimg.com/736x/71/00/b9/7100b98b14a9ac8423d9ca6dcda5d3e4.jpg

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Here’s a related Bible storytelling tip: Tell a story using several bags, each containing one item that helps to tell the story. (For example, this storyteller gives ideas for using multiple items and bags to tell the story of Creation: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Y-Nu01DP_IQ.) Here are 12 Bible stories, already thought through for a similar project/presentation: http://curbsproject.org.uk/wordpress/wp-content/uploads/2014/06/Bible-Story-Bags.pdf

 

On Helping Children to Participate in the Divine Liturgy

We attend the Divine Liturgy every Sunday and sometimes during the week as well. Admittedly, there are times when it may seem like a long service to us adults, and it is certainly even more so to our children, for whom time feels different. Depending on the child, their age, and their ability to understand what is going on, the Liturgy can seem a daunting service. Getting beyond merely attending (being present) to truly ATTENDING (paying attention and participating) is not easy for any of us, especially for children.

Some have translated the words ‘Divine Liturgy’ as “the work of the people.” Perhaps a better translation is “the offering of the people for the whole world.” Either way, it is the people who do the work or the offering. The Orthodox Church considers all of its members, including children, to be an important part of the Church’s life. Therefore it follows that even the children are needed to do this work/give this offering. So, if it is important that every member of the parish participate in this work/offering, but if it is a challenge even for adults to be fully present and engaged, what can be done to help the children? This blog post will offer a few suggestions, as well as links full of even more ideas of ways that all adults in a parish can help the children of their parish to participate in the Divine Liturgy. Regardless of our status as adults: whether we are parents, godparents, Sunday Church School teachers, or any other adult in a parish, we share the responsibility for helping to raise the children who are a part of our parish.

Rather than focus on the things children should NOT do during the Divine Liturgy, we will frame this blog post more positively. Here are things that children CAN AND SHOULD do during the Liturgy to participate more fully. (I will include a few personal anecdotes as well, to serve as illustrations for some of the ideas.) Children in our parishes can:

See – The very tiniest among us can see the candles, at the icons, at the clergy, at the choir… (For an idea of how to do so: I have always loved watching my husband during the first moments that he holds our godchildren during a Liturgy when they are still very young. I am in the choir, not with him, but I know what is happening. He whispers, “Where’s Jesus? Can you see Jesus? Can you see Mary, His mother?” and I know that he is pointing their thoughts towards why we are in church: to be in God’s presence and to lift our hearts and minds towards Him.) Young preschoolers can look for items in the church such as crosses, animals, the color of Jesus’ robe, etc. Older preschoolers can count how many of those items they see, how many candles are burning in front of Jesus’ icon today, etc. Young elementary students can look for the icon of St. John the Forerunner, the Evangelist whose Gospel we hear during the service, what’s in the window by the Theotokos in the icon of the Annunciation, etc. The list of things to look for is limitless. It takes a little adult pre-planning to think of things for the children to look for, as well as placement in the sanctuary that allows the children to be able to see, but throughout the Liturgy, the children’s attention can be directed to look for things in the icons or in the service itself.

Kiss – Even very tiny children can show their love for God and their veneration of the saints by kissing the icons, the Gospel book, the cross, the priest’s hand, and even their fellow parishioners. (When our baby goddaughter and I arrive at the icon of Christ after communion, I whisper, “Let’s kiss the icon of Jesus. We love you, Jesus! Thank you for giving us your Body and Blood so we can live more like you this week!” and then I venerate the icon. She has yet to kiss the icon, but I know that she will, in time. And in the meantime, she looks intently in His eyes while we have that quiet moment together. We have an older goddaughter who has taken a while to be willing to do any of this kissing, but she has begun to do so. She just needed some time and to be willing to do this on her own. That’s okay!) Be sure to include the children around you in the Kiss of Peace, as well. Encourage your own children to make peace with their siblings before church; or during the Kiss of Peace if need be.

Talk – Although there are many opportunities to be silent, with a little practice beforehand, children can (and should!) talk during the service! There are plenty of opportunities to talk, but we must help them learn when those opportunities are, and what they should say during those times in the Divine Liturgy. With a cue until they get the hang of it, very young children can begin with the “Amens” during the Anaphora. Then, as they learn the following, they can also join in for (probably in this order): the Lord’s Prayer, the Creed, the communion prayers, etc. (They even get to SHOUT in church on the Sunday of Orthodoxy! When that Sunday approaches, we must practice, “This is the faith…” with our children ahead of time so they know what to say! My children loved that part of Sunday of Orthodoxy when they were younger. Actually, they still do, even though they are in their late teens!)

Sing – Children can sing “Lord, have mercy!” from a fairly early age. They can learn other responses to the prayers and refrains to the antiphons as well. They can learn to sing the troparia, the kontakion, the Trisagion Hymn, the Cherubic Hymn, the list goes on and on throughout the service. (A favorite song at our parish is “Blessed Be the Name of the Lord,” near the end of the service. The choir director’s granddaughter’s face has always lit up when we arrive at that song, even when she was very small. It is such a delight to watch her as she joyfully sings along!) As with many of the other suggestions for Liturgy participation, this one requires a little work together ahead of time. Gather a collection of CDs of the Church’s music at home, especially ones that use some of the same tunes that your church sings during the Liturgy. Play the CDs often so you can listen and sing together. Listening at home too, makes it much easier for the children to participate during the Divine Liturgy. Besides this additional exposure at home, a key to having the children sing along during the Liturgy is for them to hear other parishioners also singing along. Children who are surrounded by adults who sing along tend to join in as they are able. (Although, “a little child shall lead them” also applies at times: our daughter jumped into singing in the choir before I got up the courage to, and she has been blessing our parish with her voice, ever since! So perhaps it depends on the child…)

Hold – Children can hold service books, either a child’s version (our older goddaughter has worked her way through several versions, in increasing difficulty level, as she has grown) or the regular service book (when they’re old enough to read it – that same goddaughter has a little pocket prayer book containing the Liturgy that she now uses to follow along). Children can also hold and pass the offering plate. Some young boys like to hold a pretend censor and “help” Father or the deacons with the censing. Older children (and adults like me who need it to help them focus!) may want to hold a prayer rope and pray the Jesus Prayer during the Liturgy.


Stand – While in their parents’ arms, and then on their own once they know how to balance on their feet, children can learn to stand reverently during the Epistle, the Gospel, and the Great Entrance. As they get older, they can stand longer and longer until they are able to stand for the entire Liturgy (or at least all of the times that your tradition suggests for standing). (Our son challenged himself at a young age to stand for the whole service. His goal was to be an altar server – which can happen at age 7 in our parish – and he knew he’d have to be able to stand the whole service once he got to do that, so he started practicing when he was 5 or 6. Now that he’s a senior altar server, he is reaping the benefits of having learned to stand so long ago. Both of our children have joked about how tired their schoolmates get, standing during school concerts, etc., because “We’re Orthodox! We stand for hours every Sunday!” so they are quite accustomed to being on their feet. But they had to learn to stand for that long; and to choose to do it.)

 

Hear – From an early age, children can listen to more and more of the service. The Epistle, the Gospel, the homily, the music, the prayers… the list can grow a bit every year until they are listening to the entire Liturgy. Younger children may need to be challenged quietly during the Epistle/Gospel/homily, “Listen for (a word you anticipate will be said multiple times, like ‘Our Lord’) and smile at me or gently squeeze my hand each time you hear Father say it.” Older children can listen for a theme during the scripture readings. (For example, my 10-year-old goddaughter and I listened for “healing” in all of the readings during this year’s Holy Unction service, and quietly pointed it out to each other when we found/heard it.) Many children can listen for “one thing that you want to remember from Father’s homily today” that adults can ask them about during Coffee Hour or on the ride home from church. It can also be helpful to quietly whisper directions that help you both focus better during the Liturgy. (For example, “Listen! Jesus is speaking to us right now, through Father!” just before the priest says, “Take, eat: This is my Body, which is broken for you, for the remission of sins…”)

 

Move – There are even opportunities for movement during the Divine Liturgy! Once again, it takes a little pre-teaching, but even young children are able to make the sign of the cross, bow their heads unto the Lord, kneel if/when applicable, reply to Father’s bow with one of their own, etc. We can help the youngest ones to do so, taking their baby fist in our hand to make the sign of the cross over their body, etc. The older ones, with a little preparation ahead of time, can participate fully when the time comes in the service without us physically helping them as much, because they have practiced and they know what to do. During the lenten season, children can also do prostrations! (One of my favorite memories of Great Lent was when my now-elementary-school-aged godson was about 3. He came to some of the lenten services with his parents, and I took great delight in watching him flop himself down wholeheartedly and then joyfully pop right back up again during the prostrations in the Prayer of St. Ephrem the Syrian. He was willingly offering his entire self in praise to God, and I can only imagine that God was infinitely more tickled than I was to see that enthusiastic worship!)

Children love to participate. They long to feel a part of things. They want to contribute to the world around them. Here are a few ways that we adults can help the children in our homes/Sunday Church School classes/parish to do so during the Divine Liturgy.

These ideas are admittedly only a scratch on the surface of ways children can participate in the Divine Liturgy. What ideas do you have? Please comment below and help the rest of this community to better bless and assist the children in their parish. May we all work together to attend the Divine Liturgy; and, as we do so, may we all truly ATTEND, regardless of our age! Glory to Jesus Christ! Glory be, forever!

Here are a few resources with even more ideas of ways to help the children in your parish participate in the Divine Liturgy:

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Fr. Paul Gassios of St. George Orthodox Cathedral in Rossford, Ohio, offers this excellent article about the importance of having children participating in the Divine Liturgy. The article offers suggested guidelines for how often they should attend, where to sit when attending with children, when they can participate in the fasting, and more. He says, “When I hear the ‘holy noise’ of children in Church it makes me very happy because it tells me the parish has a future. We should be worried when we no longer hear that noise!” Read his article here:

http://www.stgeorgerossford.org/parish-life-and-ministries/reflections/4-reflections-sub/109-children-and-the-divine-liturgy

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Purchase a Divine Liturgy Book for Young Children and personalize it with photos from your own parish. This is a great book for your own children to use to familiarize themselves with the Liturgy. It would also make a great gift to godchildren, a Sunday Church School class, or other children in the parish! https://www.createspace.com/4773892

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“Giving children other things [ie: toys] to do during church teaches them that the Liturgy is for adults only and that is not what we want to be teaching our children.” Find this quote in context, part of one of a list of 10 things to do to interest your children in the Divine Liturgy, when you read this blog: http://www.freshandfaithful.com/?p=113.

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“Talk to your child about Church as often as you can. Liken things to Church. Make Church sound fun and exciting. For kids, it can be fun and exciting. [My son] loves Church because there is SO MUCH to look at, listen to, and do. Keep Church in the forefront of their minds.” This is one of many tips from Presbytera Marilisse I. Mars, in her blog http://journeytoorthodoxy.com/2013/01/time-to-go-to-church-a-time-to-fear-and-dread/.

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“Above all, pray for your children to grow in their love for Christ and His Church. No amount of practical advice can substitute for the work of God’s Spirit in the lives of your children. There is no magic formula for producing children who passionately worship the Lord. God has called us to train our children and set a godly example before them, but at the end of the day we must all lay our children at the foot of the cross and call upon our gracious God to be true to His promises and finish the work He has begun in the hearts of our children.” This is only one of the many helpful and practical tips for parents and all adults in a parish, to help them help children to join in during the Divine Liturgy. This entire article is a must-read for any Orthodox Christian adult who wants to fulfill their role with the children in their parish, whether it is parenting, godparenting, being a positive role model, or teaching Sunday Church School: http://www.stlukeorthodox.com/html/parishinfo/helpchildrenworship.cfm

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“Teaching a child to be an Orthodox Christian — and what that means every day — takes a huge commitment and constant effort on the part of the parents and godparents. Here are some of the things we learned the hard way, or were shown to us by people much wiser…” This is at the beginning of a list of ages/stages of helping children to participate in the Divine Liturgy, written by Nichola T. Krouse. Read her tried-and-true ideas here: http://www.theologic.com/oflweb/inchurch/lazyparent.htm

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Orthodox Christian Sunday Church School teachers can also help to influence children’s participation in the Divine Liturgy. “Classroom time should be set aside for questions and answers about that day’s worship.” Read more about this, as well as other ideas and suggestions here: http://www.goarch.org/archdiocese/departments/religioused/resources/religiousedbasics/reledbasicsarticles/reledbasicsliveliturgy

 

Holy Week Resources for Sunday Church School Teachers

Holy Week is a wonderful, special week for Orthodox Christians. It is also filled with long services that can be challenging to anyone, but especially to young children. This post offers suggestions for Holy Week that can be helpful for children of different ages. There are many ideas here, ranging from activities to do together as a Sunday Church School class to ways to help your students understand the services to crafty things you can do together to prepare for/learn about the week.

May these ideas help us to better love our Lord and each other throughout Holy Week. May we live this week together as a Church family, in awe of His compassion and mercy, and in gratitude for His great gift to us. May all that we do during Holy Week prepare us to celebrate His holy resurrection!

Blessed Holy Week!

The following ideas and resources can help you as you teach your Sunday Church School students about what lies ahead in Holy Week:

Play this board game together to review what happens during Great Lent and Holy Week. http://www.annunciationakron.org/phyllisonest/pdf/Great%20Lent%20Board%20Game%202011%202-19.pdf

Here are craft ideas for Holy Week, including everything from Palm Sunday, to the Cross, and the Resurrection: http://www.craftymorning.com/sunday-school-easter-crafts-for-kids-to-make/

Consider having each student create their own kouvouklion as you discuss the Lamentations service on Holy Friday. Translate this page if you don’t speak Greek, but even just the pictures give you a great idea of how this one was made: http://fountoukakia.blogspot.com/2014/04/blog-post_10.html

Share this Daily Guide to Holy Week with your students’ families. They can read and study the guide before each service that they attend: http://lent.goarch.org/bulletins/documents/8.5x11_JourneyToPascha_1.0.pdf

Here’s a free printable “passport” with a colorable icon for each day of Holy Week: http://www.themccallums.org/michelle/2015/04/02/holy-week-passport/

Find suggested highlights for you and your students to look for in each Holy Week service, here: http://orthodoxeducation.blogspot.com/2010/03/holy-week-for-kids.html?m=1

Find brief descriptions of each service of Holy Week here: http://www.antiochian.org/1175027131, and find background information, customs, and scripture references for each of the services of Holy Week here: http://www.goarch.org/ourfaith/ourfaith8432

Share this book list for Holy Week with your students’ families:: http://www.theorthodoxmama.com/the-lenten-journey-best-childrens-books-for-lent-and-holy-week/