Tag Archives: Children

A Handful of Resources to Help Us Better Care for Children with Invisible Disabilities

About a month ago, I came across an offer for a small book about children living with mood disorders. Since we at the Antiochian Orthodox Department of Christian Education are always looking for resources for families and teachers that we can then share with you, I requested a copy. My intent was to read the book and offer here a few gleanings from it, highlighting it as a resource. As I inquired about the availability of the book (it was published in 2003), I learned that there are not many hard copies left. However, Matushka Wendy Cwiklinski, who sent the book to me, has so many other resources up her sleeve that this journey has ended up being not so much about the book itself as about helping us to become more aware of invisible disabilities (including those that the book addresses) and offering resources that can help us to best care for (and about) those living with such disabilities.

The little book that started all of this is called “The Storm In My Brain: Kids and Mood Disorders (Bipolar Disorder and Depression)”. It was written by Martha Hellendar, one of the founders of the Child & Adolescent Bipolar Foundation. It was published by CABF and Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance. It introduces mood disorders in child-friendly terminology, explains how it may feel to experience the disorder, recommends ideas of what to do when you’re feeling that way, and offers reassurance that the disorder does not make the person experiencing it a bad person. In addition to this helpful information for children, the book contains a page of tips for parents, and another for teachers. Anyone living or working with children with mood disorders will benefit from reading this little book. You will find a link to the pdf of the book below.  But there are many invisible disabilities besides mood disorders. We will share a few resources related to those, below, as well.

Perhaps you do not know a child with a mood disorder or any other invisible disability, and this is not part of your personal experience. Believe it or not, these resources still apply to you! Why? Well, chances are that you DO know a child (or adult) struggling with an invisible disability; they are just working very hard to keep it invisible, and succeeding – at least keeping it invisible to you. This means they are carrying this cross and struggling this struggle, alone. In order to better understand and help, we encourage you to familiarize yourself with these disabilities and the resources available to help those living with them. And why should you do that? St. Paul, in his letter to the Corinthians, wrote, “the members should have the same care for one another. And if one member suffers, all the members suffer with it; or if one member is honored, all the members rejoice with it. Now you are the body of Christ, and members individually.” (1 Cor. 12: 25-27 NKJV) The statistics are such that we can safely say that all of us have fellow parishioners who are part of our Body (the Church), living with an invisible disability as part of their cross, their struggle. If we take the time to learn a little about what they are experiencing, we can more easily pray for them; more effectively care for them; and more joyfully welcome these brothers and sisters. In that sort of atmosphere, these precious ones will be better able to contribute their valuable gifts to the Body, and, together, we will all be blessed!

While “The Storm in my Brain” is not readily available as a hard copy, you can find it online here: http://www.dbsalliance.org/pdfs/storm.pdf

Note: Since the book was published, The Child & Adolescent Bipolar Foundation has joined forces with the Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance, whose mission statement reads, “DBSA provides hope, help, support, and education to improve the lives of people who have mood disorders.” Find them on the web at www.DBSAlliance.org.
Here are some of Matushka Wendy’s writings and other links that can be helpful as we meet, love, and care for others with invisible disabilities. What resources are you aware of, which the community would benefit from knowing about? Please share them!

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Matushka Wendy started a Facebook group called “Koinonia for Exceptional Orthodox Families”, which is described as “a place for Orthodox parents of Exceptional Children to find support from other parents – sharing ways to help keep our children(and us) on the Spiritual Journey of Orthodox Christianity.” It is a private group, so if you would like to join, you’ll need to find it on Facebook, request to join, and then await approval. This group is an excellent resource for parents and teachers. It is also a place where families with exceptional children can safely ask fellow Orthodox Christians for help, ideas, and prayers.

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This document by Matushka Wendy Cwiklinski encourages us to embrace all of God’s children (including those with special needs). It offers simple definitions for a number of “invisible” disabilities which, just like any other illness (although these are not contagious), are very real challenges for children and their families alike. It is a useful place for parents and teachers to begin to understand the challenges that some children face. Especially useful to anyone not living with an invisible disability are the “How Can I Help?” and “Other Suggestions for Inclusion” sections.  https://www.academia.edu/9255990/Children_of_God

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How can we be family, the Body, to a child (and his/her family) who is living with an invisible disability? “These families need to have spiritual support to face the sometimes overwhelming challenges that these disorders bring to their households… Offer to help in some way, even if you are turned down. Just the act of offering shows that you are supportive…” Read more of what Matushka Wendy Cwiklinski has to say on the subject in her article at the top of this page:

https://oca.org/parish-ministry/familylife/church-and-the-child-with-invisible-disabilities

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“Children with special needs come to church with two strikes against them: (1) they are a child and (2) their particular challenge may not have visible signs like crutches or a wheelchair would, leading those around them to make judgments and even ask the family to leave because they are ‘disturbing the worship of others.’” Read what our Orthodox theology has to say about children with special needs in Matushka Wendy Cwiklinski’s graduate school research paper (which is very informational, but not so academic as to be unreadable), found here: http://www.academia.edu/7399622/Embracing_All_God_s_Children_Orthodox_Theology_Concerning_Disability_and_Its_Implications_for_Ministry_with_Special_Needs_Youth_in_the_Orthodox_Church
(Incidentally, she completed all of her coursework 30 years before she wrote this paper: and in the meantime, God granted her and her husband children with some invisible disabilities which greatly enhanced her research!)

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“In my experience, many people are not clear on exactly what ‘hidden disability’ means. The following is a list of what the term may encompass:
Autism
Developmental delay
Emotional disability
Deaf and hard of hearing
Mild mental developmental disability
Other health impairments e.g. osteogenesis imperfecta, otherwise known as fragile bone disease, carpal tunnel syndrome
Speech/language impairment
Brain injury
Visual impairment
Reading this list, which is not exhaustive, the reader can see that it covers a wide range of individuals who require special assistance from community resources.” Read about how people with hidden disabilities can benefit from community support and assistance in the article “Additional Observations and Resources for Parents of Children with Hidden Disabilities”,
by Michele Karabin, found at the bottom of this page: https://oca.org/parish-ministry/familylife/church-and-the-child-with-invisible-disabilities

(Also, just before that article, in the middle of the page there is a list and links to a variety of websites that can be helpful to someone wishing to learn more about invisible disabilities.)

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Find a variety of links to helpful sites related to people with exceptional needs here: https://www.goarch.org/documents/32058/2618758/specialneedsresources.pdf/77f65280-5a12-4e7a-b854-7bbf25ea71a0

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Children living with bipolar disorder, as well as their families and teachers, will find help, support, and information here http://www.bpchildren.com/. The presentation on the home page offers a plethora of information to anyone living with or working with a child experiencing BP, and includes anecdotes from a child living with the disorder. It is well worth the 22-minute investment.
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Gleanings from a Book: “The Barn and the Book” by Melinda Johnson

Fans of “Shepherding Sam” will be delighted to find both Sam (the boy) and Saucer (the corgi) are back! They each play an important role in “The Barn and the Book,” a brand new book by Melinda Johnson. (Don’t worry, if you did not read “Shepherding Sam,” you can still jump right into “The Barn and the Book” seamlessly!)

“The Barn and the Book” takes place on the grounds of the monastery of St. Gerasim and features Sam’s 3rd and 4th grade Sunday Church School class; their teacher, Sister Anna, and a few of the other nuns; a handful of parents; and of course Saucer the corgi and his friends – the other animals on the monastery farm.

The story happens during a Church year. The students and their families attend the church on the monastery grounds, because it is the only Orthodox church in the area. Throughout the course of the year, everyone works together to prepare to celebrate the monastery’s special anniversary in March. At the beginning of the book, Sister Anna invites her class members to write a story that will be shared at the anniversary celebration. This book is the story of how they find and write their stories in the context of life together. It features humor, realistic characters, and many lessons for its readers.

The story contains many humorous parts. For example, the mere idea and corresponding mental image of a corgi going to Sunday school brings a chuckle to the reader’s smiling lips. Well, he sort of goes to Sunday school… Actually, the corgi (named Saucer) just looks longingly in the window during class because his best buddy Sam is there. Lucky for Saucer, class meets in the basement of the church, so the window is right at corgi level! That is how he is able to keep a good eye (and smashed-to-the-window-pane nose) on things. Saucer is so accurately described that the reader feels they must be able to reach into the book and give him a good scritch.

But Saucer is not the only realistic character! Throughout the book, the reader feels bound to the characters as they experience everything from moments of frustration to those of genuine joy. Readers come to realize how a Sunday Church School teacher feels when no one listens. They want to peacefully wander in the prayer garden with Sister Anna. They also make a mad dash for the door of the Sunday Church School room when the sheep get out of the farm enclosure. They inwardly cheer on the children who challenge themselves to write a story for the celebration, first wondering if the children will be able to pull it off, then rejoicing alongside the others in the book when everyone is pleased (albeit surprised) by the results! Because of its genuine characters, by the end of this book, the reader feels that they have been a part of preparing the monastery for the big celebration.

There are plenty of lessons to be learned from the characters in this book. Take for example, the nun, Sister Anna. She learns a lot over the course of this story, and the reader will do well to learn along with her. First of all, she finally learns to stop comparing herself to others. She comes to understand that she must completely trust her gerontissa, and not to test God, demonstrating with both of these learnings the humility that comes with truly trusting those in authority over us. With her choice of how she handles frustration, Sister Anna teaches us the value of having (and using!) a prayer garden, and demonstrates how the act of stepping out of our routine to pray helps us to calm ourselves as we entrust our frustrations to God. Other characters’ experiences in the story remind us of things like the fact that miracles can happen, while also leaving us wondering whether animals really can talk at midnight on Christmas. Perhaps most importantly of all, an ordinary boy named Sam learns that being present in the moment and choosing to be thankful while in that moment is the most magical thing one can experience. This lesson is an important one for readers of any age.

The story begins in the fall and continues into the spring. Though it covers much of a year, a fairly significant part of the story happens right at Christmastime. Because of the book’s humor, genuine characters, and important lessons, this book would make a great gift for Sunday Church School students. Since it’s set in the context of a Sunday church school class, it would also work as a read-aloud if you have a time in your class each week to do so (for example, if your students eat a snack in class after Liturgy).

Purchase your own copy of “The Barn and the Book,” available as a book or an ebook, here: http://store.ancientfaith.com/the-barn-and-the-book/

To listen to the book, purchase the audio copy of “The Barn and the Book.” Author Melinda Johnson reads the book, and listeners can enjoy both her unbridled enthusiasm and her special voices for each character! https://www.audible.com/author/Melinda-Johnson/B004RXKWF4

Here are a few gleanings from the book and suggested related activities in case you read the book with your students.

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“Sister Anna was too short and pudgy to move quickly, but she did her best. She wanted to reach the prayer garden without being seen. It was too cold to sit there for long, but Sister Anna needed some quiet time.” (“The Barn and the Book” by Melinda Johnson, pp. 19-20)

Where do you go when you are frustrated, embarrassed, or angry? In “The Barn and the Book,” Sister Anna headed to the prayer garden. Sam went to the barn with the animals. Do you have a place that is quiet and peace giving? Maybe it is your family prayer corner, or somewhere else. Talk with your students about good places to go when you need a minute to regroup and talk with God about what is happening in your life. It will not always be the same place for everyone. Invite your students to sketch their idea of a peaceful place where they could go. Perhaps it would be a prayer garden; a place where an animal (or several) live(s); or it could simply be a quiet room or corner. Encourage them to try to create such a space at home, and to use it when they are frustrated, embarrassed, or angry.

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“‘Do the nuns like me?’ wondered Grace.

‘Sure they do,’ said Elias, grinning. ‘Nuns like everybody.’

‘Everybody?’

Elias nodded. ‘The nuns even like Macrina,’ he said impressively. (“The Barn and the Book” by Melinda Johnson, p. 47)

Have you ever visited a monastery? Monasteries are such holy places for us to visit, where we can pray and rest. When we spend time in one, it is good for our souls and we come away refreshed and grateful for the experience. Invite your students and their families on a field trip, to visit one and see for yourself how the nuns (or monks) like everybody! Ask your priest to recommend one for your class to visit. (Look here for additional ones:http://www.orthodox-christianity.org/orthodoxy/countries/usa/usmonasteries/)
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“‘I set the stick up yesterday, and then I came to see if it fell down.’ Sister Anna clasped her hands and reclasped them, squeeze squeeze. ‘If it fell down, or if it didn’t.’
…The abbess smiled, but Sister Anna did not see her smile. ‘You have made a test with your stick.’

‘Yes, Gerontissa.’

‘You set a trap for God. In the garden. With a stick… You want Him to tell you something now, and He has not told you something for you to hear, so you set a trap for Him, to make Him tell.’” (“The Barn and the Book” by Melinda Johnson, pp. 96-97)
Sister Anna is not the first person who loved God and made a test (or, in the words of “The Barn and the Book,” “set a trap for God”) to try to get Him to answer a question. Have you ever done something like this? If so, you’re not alone! Even in the Old Testament of the Bible, we read a story about this. Gideon used the fleece of a sheep to ask for God’s guidance. Find the story in Judges 6:36-40. What did Gideon want to know (what was the reason he set out the fleece)? Did he get his answer? If you have the Orthodox Study Bible, be sure to read the footnotes on this passage. What was Gideon’s fleece the type of?

Find a lesson plan suggestion, complete with activity suggestions, on the story of Gideon, here: https://missionbibleclass.org/old-testament/part2/judges-and-ruth/gideon-and-the-fleece/

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“‘Do you think he will go in the barn?’ asked Grace, lowering her voice.

‘Go in the barn? What for?’

‘For the animals. You remember, like you told him.’

“Ohhhh. You mean to hear the animals talk at midnight on Christmas Ever?’

Grace nodded vigorously.

‘I don’t know. Won’t he be asleep?’

‘Maybe he could stay awake. Maybe I could stay awake. I want to go, too.’

Elias shrugged. ‘I don’t think your parents are going to let you go in the barn in the middle of the night.’” (“The Barn and the Book,” by Melinda Johnson, pp. 120-121)

Have you heard before about the idea that perhaps animals can talk at midnight on Christmas Eve? What do you think about that idea? Here’s one legend that offers a possible reason: https://tarapollard.wordpress.com/2013/12/13/the-legend-of-the-talking-animals-2/

And here’s one family’s funny memory of a child who went to the barn on Christmas Eve to find out for herself if they really do: http://www.walkdownthelane.com/animals-talk-on-christmas-eve/

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“‘Hi, Macrina!’

Macrina turned sideways to see who was talking to her… ‘Hello, Grace… Thank you so much for the nice card. My mom gave it to me.’
Grace smiled happily. ‘You’re welcome!’

They walked a few steps more and had almost reached the refectory door when Macrina spoke again. ‘Do you want to sit with me at lunch?’

‘Sure!’ Grace gave a little skip. She was now even more certain that her card had brought Macrina back to health. Why else would Macrina want to sit with her?” (“The Barn and the Book,” by Melinda Johnson, pp. 106-107)

Have you, like Grace, ever done something small but kind for someone who was not so kind to you? Did it change your relationship in a positive way? Who in your life right now would benefit from a small kindness? What kind thing could you do for them? Of course, you can (and should!) pray for them, but what else? Write them a note? Secretly do a chore for them? Bake them cookies? If you need ideas of kind things to do for someone else, check out the ideas at the end of this blog (https://orthodoxchristianparenting.wordpress.com/2014/02/12/try-a-little-kindness/) or this one (https://orthodoxchurchschoolteachers.wordpress.com/2016/01/01/on-being-a-bucket-filler/).

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“…Some people might want to know why the monastery is called the Monastery of Saint Gerasim and the Lion. Saint Gerasim was an abbot at a monastery in the Holy Land a long time ago… He helped a lion with a hurt paw, and the lion became his friend and lived at the monastery. The nuns chose this saint because they helped the animals who lived at the farm that used to be here, and the farm turned into a monastery, just like Saint Gerasim’s lion sort of turned into a monk.” (part of Macrina’s story, from “The Barn and the Book,” by Melinda Johnson, p. 153)

To learn more about St. Gerasim (also called St. Gerasimos), check out this blog post:

https://orthodoxchurchschoolteachers.wordpress.com/2016/02/26/learning-about-a-saint-st-gerasimos-of-the-jordan-commemorated-on-march-4/

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A Service Project Idea for Students with Traveling Friends

It’s that time of the year when many families in our parish travel together. If your class is continuing to meet for Sunday Church School over the summer,* consider doing this project during class one Sunday. A week or so ahead of time, ask your students to think of someone they know who will be traveling soon. Tell them about this project they will get to do: assemble a personalized travel activity folder for that person (their “project buddy”). Before introducing the concept to your students, you may also want to ask your priest if he knows of any traveling families in the parish, and have each student who can’t think of any traveling friend to create a project for one of the children in that family. Before the service project day arrives, print a variety of activity page options at different age/ability levels, so that your students have a choice and can customize the travel activity folder for their project buddy. (*If you are taking a summer break from classes, you can either make these for your own traveling students, or shelve this idea for a Sunday when you want to give them an opportunity to think of and bless someone else, and do it together then.)

Before class on the service project day, gather:

Two-pocket folders with fasteners (various colors, one per project buddy)

Markers, crayons, colored pencils, etc.

Plastic sleeves (several for each project)

Narrow dry-erase markers (one per project; optional)

Blank paper (three-hole punched)

Two copies of the travel prayer, hole punched, for each project

Enlarged photocopy of a picture of someone’s face for each project (each student – if it is not anonymous – or their project buddy would be ideal)

Copies of other coloring/activity/game sheets (three-hole punched)

When your students arrive at class on the service project day, talk together about traveling. Have any of them traveled? What did they do? How was the actual travel? What did they do to pass the time?
Once you have allowed the students to chime in about traveling, reintroduce the service project. Invite them to think about their project buddy. What does that person like? What kinds of activities would they enjoy doing while traveling? This project offers us the chance to serve someone else by creating something that they will enjoy in a time that could otherwise seem long and perhaps not-so-fun.

Have each student select a two-pocket folder from the pile and decorate it with their project buddy in mind. They may want to give it a title such as “George’s Travel Activity Folder” or “Fun for Catherine for Travel.” You can decide together whether these will be presented by the students themselves (in which case they can include a personal note inside like “I thought you would enjoy these activities while you travel. God bless your trip! Love, Maya”). Another option would be for them to be assembled and you can deliver them anonymously. It is up to your class.

Once the folder is prepared, your students can begin to assemble and insert the contents. The first sheet inserted in the fasteners should be the Orthodox Christian Travel Prayer reproducible. Insert it together as a class, and while you do, read it together, allowing each student to insert their travel buddy’s name where appropriate. (At the end of class, be sure to send a copy of this prayer which you printed home with each student so they can remember to pray for their project buddy while the buddy is traveling.)

Aside from the prayer, the contents of the folder are really up to your student. You will need to supervise and make sure that they are adding things that are age-appropriate for their buddy.

Here are some suggestions, and we will offer links to printables, as well.

  1. If you photocopied an enlarged photo of someone’s face, slip it into one of the plastic sleeves. The traveler can decorate the face with glasses, a moustache, a crown, etc., using a dry-erase marker. Then, they can wipe it clean and try something different!
  2. Car games such as scavenger hunts, tic-tac-toe, etc. should also be slipped into plastic sleeves to be used and reused in the same way.
  3. Your students can create their own activity pages with some of the blank paper you provide. Encourage them to think about the things you’ve studied in class and draw about those or create an activity page related to something you’ve studied.
  4. They may wish to insert blank pages so their buddy can draw or write whatever they wish in their travel activity folder.
  5. Your students may also wish to include printable activity/coloring pages that you prepared before class.

Once they have collected all of the pages that they wish to include in their buddy’s activity book, have them insert the pages and close up the holding tabs. They can tuck the thin dry-erase marker (if you provide these) into one of the folder’s pockets, for storage between uses.

After the activity books are all prepared, you can decide if your students will wrap them or not before they are given. This is up to you and your class! Say a prayer for the project buddies and their families, and ask God’s blessing on everyone traveling this summer, then dismiss so the students (or you!) can deliver the activity folders to their new owners!

Here are some links that you may find helpful as you print pages for this project. They’re listed in no particular order.

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Here are a variety of secular travel activities for kids to do. Of particular interest are the printable car games. Most can be used alone, as a sort of solitaire, or in groups. You may want to encourage your students to plan to include more than one of these copies for each notebook they assemble. That way the students’ family members can participate, as well!

http://www.landeeseelandeedo.com/2017/06/printable-car-games-for-kids-road-trip-games.html

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Find printable Bible Story coloring pages here which you could add to the travel folders when you do the service project: http://www.coloring.ws/christian.htm

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More (secular) road trip printables for the travel folder service project can be found here: https://www.thejoysofboys.com/free-printable-road-trip-games/ or here: http://lalymom.com/printable-road-trip-games-for-kids/

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Printable Bible story activity pages are available here. These would be great for elementary-aged traveling friends’ folders: http://www.dltk-bible.com/worksheet-index.htm

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Printable Orthodox Saint story activity pages can be found at this site. The pages will work well for a variety of ages’ travel folders, if you do the service project we mentioned: http://dce.oca.org/page/activity-books/

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Older children may be interested in having these beautiful scripture coloring pages in their travel folder:: http://joditt.com/free-christian-coloring-pages-adults/

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Here are some Bible story dot to dot puzzles at varying degrees of difficulty, for the travel folder service project: http://sundayschoolzone.com/resource-type/coloring-pages/connect-the-dots/

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Find mazes of every letter from A to Z here. If you know your students’ travel buddies’ names ahead of time, you could print the first (and last) initials’ maze for their travel folder: http://brainymaze.com/for-teachers/. (Find mazes of all sorts at the parent page, http://brainymaze.com/.)

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On Virtuous Year-End Awards

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

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

Not sure where to start? Check out our recent blog posts on the virtues (see https://orthodoxchurchschoolteachers.wordpress.com/2017/03/03/on-pursuing-the-virtues-an-introduction/, the beginning of the series), which offered suggestions of ways to teach our students about each of the virtues. Each of these blog posts can offer us helpful information about the virtue on which it focuses, which we can then apply as we think about each child. How have they grown in humility, liberality, chastity, mildness, temperance, happiness, and diligence? Which of these virtues do they best exemplify in their life? In which virtue have they grown the most?

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

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

 

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

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Ideas for an award for the virtue of Humility:

This printable certificate: Humility Certificate

or

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

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Ideas for an award for the virtue of Liberality:

This printable certificate: Liberality Certificate

or

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

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Ideas for an award for the virtue of Chastity:

This printable certificate: Chastity Certificate

or

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

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Ideas for an award for the virtue of Mildness:

This printable certificate: Mildness Certificate

or

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

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Ideas for an award for the virtue of Temperance:

This printable certificate: Temperance Certificate

or

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

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Ideas for an award for the virtue of Happiness:

This printable certificate: Happiness Certificate

or

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

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Ideas for an award for the virtue of Diligence:

This printable certificate: Diligence Certificate

or

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

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

 

Gleanings from a Book: “Orthodox Christian Parenting Cultivating God’s Creation” By Marie Eliades

We recently discovered the book Orthodox Christian Parenting – Cultivating God’s Creation by Marie L. Eliades, published by Zoe Press in 2012. This book is a compilation of quotes and writings about raising and educating Orthodox Christian children. The text is gathered both from Church fathers and contemporary Orthodox Christians, and is presented by theme. (An important note: the introduction to the book tells more about the project and encourages readers to discuss what they read with their spiritual father to see what is best for their own family.)

Themes include:

“The Bigger Picture” (addresses why the book’s content is important)

“Marriage and New Beginnings” (sets the foundation for a new Orthodox family, and offers Orthodox perspectives on infertility/pregnancy/childbirth/adoption/loss of a child)

“Raising our Children” (speaks to childrearing from early childhood through youth)

“In the House of the Lord” (offers the basics of Orthodox family life at Church and at home)

“Adolescence and Growing Up” (talks about the issues and challenges that older children and their related adults face)

“So, They’re Leaving Home” (suggestions for launching a young adult)

We found many encouraging and challenging quotes throughout the book, and will share a few of them with you. This book will be of great benefit to any Orthodox Christians who marry, raise children, and/or teach children about the Faith. We recommend that people in those categories consider reading the book because of its insights into what the Church has taught about raising and teaching children of all ages.

Find the book here: http://www.shop.zoepress.us/Orthodox-Christian-Parenting-Cultivating-Gods-Creation-978-0-9851915-0-4.htm

Here are a few quotes from the book:

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“Saint John [Chrysostom] says that the souls of children are soft and delicate like wax. If right teachings are impressed upon them from the beginning, then with time these impressions harden as in the case of a waxen seal. None will be able to undo this good impression… There is no more wonderful material with which to work than the souls of children. Parents create ensouled icons of God, living statues.” (p. 24)

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From a section from St. Porphyrios:
“Teach the children to seek God’s help. The great secret for children’s progress is humility. Trust in God gives perfect security. God is everything. No one can say that I am everything. That cultivates egotism. God desires us to lead children to humility. Without humility neither we nor our children will achieve anything. You need to be careful when you encourage children. You shouldn’t say to a child, ‘You’ll succeed, you’re great, you’re young, your fearless, you’re perfect!’ This is not good for the child. You can tell the child and say, ‘The talents you have, have been given to you by God. Pray and God will give you strength to cultivate them and in that way you will succeed. God will give you His grace.’ That is the best way. Children should learn to seek God’s help in everything.” (p. 86)

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From a section from St. Porphyrios:
“Young people these days say, ‘You need to understand us!’ But we mustn’t conform to their ideas. On the contrary, we need to pray for them, to say what is right, to live by what is right, and proclaim what is right, and not conform ourselves to their way of thinking. We mustn’t compromise the magnificence of our faith… We need to remain the people that we are and proclaim the truth and the light. The children will learn from the holy Fathers. The teaching of the Fathers will instruct our children about Confession, about the passions, about evils and about how the saints conquered their evil selves. And we will pray that God will enter into them.” (p. 90)

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“The Orthodox educator does not project himself as superior because he sees his own self as more sinful than everyone. His students teach him. He cooperates harmoniously with his colleagues; he bases the success of his work on prayer. He educates himself daily in order to be able to educate his little brothers in Christ. How different is this model of educator from that of the various educated people of our age who often, ignoring the education of the Three Hierarchs, set out with a  luciferian egotism of knowledge, of projection, of worldly wisdom and often more based on their individual net worth. In fact, the Three Hierarchs as brilliant stars can serve to enlighten the darkness of our age, to cast light on the facts of ‘education’ of which our purported leaders of education are entirely unaware.” (p. 135)

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“Orthodox holy Tradition teaches us humility, obedience, repentance and love. Tradition can only be passed on by example. ‘Youth ministers’ will not be able to communicate much about Orthodox spirituality unless the young ones are actually seeing this happen in the home or at least in the homes of other church members. SOMEBODY actually has to start living Tradition in order for it to be conveyed. It is no wonder that the Greek word for Tradition, ‘paradosis,’ means to pass along or hand down something that is living and active.” (p. 160)

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From a section by Fr. Artemy Vladimirov:

“We very much pity those Orthodox Christians who think that the best rest for their exhausted soul is to watch television news. This isn’t a bad thing, perhaps, but it’s a dead thing. You may spend all of the earthly time you have been allotted with such distractions, but you will never be at peace. If you want to calm your mind and ease your heart, try calling instead on the most holy name of Jesus Christ, without haste and with only one intent: to attract His attention and repent of your sins.

“Try taking a walk for ten minutes as you invoke his miracle-working name, and you will see spiritual profit. Begin in a simple, humble manner, ‘O Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me, a sinner.’ You may even do this somewhat mechanically, knowing that this tradition has been sanctified by generations of saints, but as you walk and pray, try not to think of anything else. Just walk in the presence of God.

“In these ten minutes you will find that your fevered mind is soothed, that the noisy bazaar of your thoughts has become light, clear, and direct…” (p. 201)

Encouragement for Orthodox Christian Fathers

There are many definitions of the word “father.” Here are a few of them:

“Father:

b) A male whose impregnation of a female results in the birth of a child. c) A man who adopts a child. d) A man who raises a child.…

…A male ancestor: He has died and now sleeps with his fathers.…

…a) A man who creates, originates, or founds something: Chaucer is considered the father of English poetry. b) A man who serves or is thought of as a protector: beloved as the father of the nation.

Father-Christianity

…a) God. b)The first person of the Christian Trinity.

…One of the leading men, as of a city: the town fathers.

Abbr.- Fr.

…a) A priest or clergyman in the Roman Catholic or Anglican churches. b) Used as a title and form of address with or without the clergyman’s name.”

From http://www.thefreedictionary.com/fathering.

It is our hope that the Orthodox Christian fathers in our community are fathers that exemplify many of the definitions above. An Orthodox Christian father needs to move beyond the mere biological portion of fatherhood to being the man who raises his child(ren), founds the little Church in his home, protects all therein, acts as Our Father (God) would act towards his child(ren), leads the family, and takes seriously the role of priest in his own home.

To encourage the fathers in our community, this week’s blog post focuses on Orthodox Christian parenting from a father’s perspective. Each link will offer thought-provoking ideas on fathering and encouragement to the fathers among us. May God bless all of you fathers, and grant you many years, as you raise your children in the Holy Orthodox Church!

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The Spiritual Aspects Of Fatherhood

by Al Rossi, Ph.D.

A conference participant once asked the speaker, “What is the best way for a father to love his children?” The speaker replied, “The best way for a father to love his children is to love their mother.” I reflect often upon that superbly accurate statement. And I think the reverse is equally true: the best way a mother can love her children is to love their father.

More than anything else in the world, children need a loving family and parents who support each other, even if the parents are apart through separation or divorce.

Christ challenges us to love one another, and that challenge becomes even more compelling within our own families. Even in the best of families, there is broken-ness. And that is why the man’s call to fatherhood is so important. We fathers are called to show our families strong, manly love and forgiveness, virtues modeled powerfully in the father of the prodigal son (Luke 11:32).

This father is stable, loving, and generous. In his fairness, he avoids violating the freedom of either of his sons. When the prodigal demands his inheritance and decides to leave, the father does not attempt to withhold the money. He does not pressure the son to stay by trying to make him feel guilty. And the father is wise enough not to send care packages to relieve the son’s distress. The father allows both of his adult sons to make their own mistakes and to learn from their failures, an appropriate form of discipline for older adolescents and young adults.

The prodigal’s father demonstrates manly leadership by taking loving initiatives, and he takes many such initiatives. He maintains a thriving business to provide the generous inheritance. He creates and supports a loving family for the prodigal to run from and for the older son to remain with. And there was his last generous, joyful initiative as he runs out to embrace the returning son, kiss him, and put on him the best robe, ring, and shoes. He celebrates the return of his son with a feast. And in a scene all of us fathers can recognize, he opens up the conversation with the sulking older son.

The father takes the initiative in bringing about forgiveness and reconciliation in the whole family. He is a model for us in responding to our call to follow the Spirit of Jesus in taking many initiatives in our families, especially that of boundless forgiveness for our children.

When a father takes responsibility for his own spiritual life, for the way he prays, goes to church, and practices virtue in the family, he gives good example. Then his leadership in the family is authentic, based on his own solid relationship with God, and he is less likely to be concerned about any resistance his children may give him. He can lead family prayer. When I suggest that we stand in the living room and pray before a trip or that we pray in a restaurant, I often feel an initial resistance in my children. But quiet cooperation and peacefulness soon follow. Sometimes the children will even tell me that they prayed in a restaurant when I wasn’t there.

At times the father’s role of leading the family to great forgiveness and prayerfulness is an unpopular one. But as a man grows in his own spiritual life, he becomes more sturdy and willing to accept responsibility. Although all this is impossible for us fathers to do alone, God can do all things. God can even bestow the awesome spiritual power of fatherhood upon us.

Dr. Albert Rossi is a Professor of Psychology at Pace University, Pleasantville, NY and has a private practice in family counseling. Reprinted with permission from Resource Handbook, Vol. II, 95.1, Department of Lay Ministry, Orthodox Church in America.

from http://www.theologic.com/oflweb/forfolks/spirfrhd.htm

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Dad Time

You feel good when your kids treat you like a king on Father’s Day. But do you treat your kids like kings and queens by spending time with them the other 364 days of the year?

Paul Lewis, editor of Dads Only, squeezes time out of his schedule with these creative encounter ideas:

Body, arm, or even thumb wrestle your child

Help your child with a chore.

Talk about the values behind a TV program or commercial you’ve just watched.

Write a thank-you not of appreciation and encouragement to another significant adult in your child’s life, such as a Church School teacher, coach, or scout leader.

Give your child a back or foot rub.

“Kidnap” your child from school and have lunch together.

Together, fix and eat a bowl of popcorn.

Together, read aloud a chapter or psalm in the Bible.

Tell your child about five personal habits or traits you appreciate and admire in him/her.

Pray with your child about any problem.

Reprinted from Children’s Ministry Magazine. found at http://www.theologic.com/oflweb/forfolks/dadtime.htm, used by permission.

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Smart Dads

Connect with your kids all year long-not just on Father’s Day. Paul Lewis, author of The Five Key Habits of Smart Dads ($15.99, Zondervan Publishing House), gives these tips:

Talk at bedtime. Jot down conversation-starters in a notebook. For example, ask your kids about a fear they felt today, their latest dreams, or what they’ll be like when they’re older. Note and date your children’s answers.

Take a “fun” poll. Ask: What’s the most fun we’ve had as a family in the past month? in the past year? ever? Have kids tell why and put a date on the calendar to do the events again.

Keep kids talking. Make a 20-minute recording of kids talking about topics such as weekend activities, the day at school, pets, hobbies, friends, and latest fads. Send a copy to grandparents and archive the original.

Get kids’ advice. Spark family dialogue by reading “Dear Abby” letters and debating the advice. Have family members suggest solutions. They may even be better than Abby’s advice!

Reprinted from For Parents Only, May/June 1995 (Children’s Ministry).

From http://www.theologic.com/oflweb/forfolks/smartdad.htm. Used by permission.

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The following are links to other excellent resources for Orthodox Christian fathers. May they challenge each of their readers to be a more godly father!

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“In a world that values wealth and fame, the Christian father is called to remember that no matter what other accomplishments he has in his career or his life, the greatest influence he will have on the world will be as a father in how he shapes the souls of his children.” Find this quote in the context of an excellent article on fatherhood, in Praxis, written by Dr. Philip Mamalakis, from the Praxis archives, Winter 2008, “The Church at Home,” pp. 12-14. Download it here: http://www.goarch.org/archdiocese/departments/religioused/praxis/praxisarchive

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Fr. Joseph Honeycutt shares a few things he learned in his almost 9 years as a stay-at-home parent in this podcast. Be sure to listen to the end to hear the excellent advice he received from his mother-in-law, and also from his bishop, when his first child was born: http://www.ancientfaith.com/podcasts/orthodixie/father_mom

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Dads, whether or not you know it, you are pastoring a domestic church! Read Dr. Albert Rossi’s encouraging and helpful article on the subject here: http://www.theologic.com/oflweb/forfolks/pastor.htm

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Dads, how’s your inner life? What is its connection to your influence on your children? This interview will help you think about these questions and more! http://myocn.net/expectations-of-fatherhood-today/

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“I believe being a father means creating a world… I draw on a communion of artists and saints to shape our children’s imaginations, hearts, and minds with the wonder of God. My calling as a father is to create space for myself and my family to discover the wonder of God. I believe I’m called to both model and create an environment that encourages curiosity about God and his world. For where there is curiosity, there will be discovery. And where discovery of God’s beauty happens in its many and varied forms, there will be wonder and joy. And that joy–created, given, and shared–is what fatherhood in the Kingdom of God is all about.” http://www.knoxpriest.com/fatherhood-means-creating-world/ (The article is not written by an Orthodox father, but is still well worth the read!)

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Dads, if God has blessed you with children, there are things He wants your children to learn from you (and vice versa)! After all, we are placed in families for our salvation. Here are a few (not written by Orthodox dads, but still worthy of consideration) suggestions of what your children should learn from you:

8 basics every dad should teach his sons: http://matthewljacobson.com/2013/09/30/future-men-8-basics-every-dad-should-teach-his-son/

12 things daughters need their parents to say to them: http://emilypfreeman.com/12-things-your-daughter-needs-you-to-say/

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God is our Perfect Father, and no earthly dad can measure up to His infinite goodness. But dads who love God can learn much from Him, and imitate Him to the best of their ability! Here are ideas of 3 characteristics of a Godly father: http://www.imperfecthomemaker.com/2014/06/3-characteristics-godly-father.html#_a5y_p=1847102

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On the Beauty of Nature: Noticing God’s Handiwork

Summertime offers us plenty of opportunities to spend time out of doors with our Sunday Church School students or other children. While we are outside, whether with children or alone, let us be careful to take time to look at the world around us. Let us not just see God’s workmanship, but let us take time to actually notice it! Let us marvel at the beauty, wonder at the intricacies, and find God in His handiwork. As a rule, our busy society has removed “time to smell the roses” from our schedules. The change in schedule that summer offers grants us the opportunity to actually take back that time, and to teach the children in our care to do the same.

Let us teach children to love creation.Love all creation, the whole of it and every grain of sand within it. Love every leaf, every ray of God’s light. Love the animals, love the plants, love everything. If you love everything, you will perceive the divine mystery in things.~ Starets Zosima, in Fyodor Dostoevsky’s The Brothers Karamazov. To some degree this comes naturally to children. After all, they are usually the ones bringing a crumpled flower (or bug!) in their fist and proclaiming, “Look what I found!” Perhaps what we really need here is to allow children time and space to be in creation. Or maybe what we need is for them to (re)teach us to love creation!?!

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Let us urge children to nurture their sense of wonder. St Silouan urges us to ‘love every created thing; and emphasizes the beauty of nature. From my childhood days I loved the world and its beauty. I loved the woods and green gardens, I loved the fields and all the beauty of God’s creation. I liked to watch the shining clouds scurrying across the blue sky.’ If we lose our sense of wonder before the beauty of nature, so he believed, this suggests that we have at the same time lost our sense of God’s grace. ~ Metropolitan Kallistos (Ware). Read more at http://www.bogoslov.ru/en/text/2314168.html. I don’t know about you, but my very being sighs in delight as I wander (and wonder) in a woods. God’s creation is filled with wonder. We must not miss it; and it is imperative that we nurture it in the children’s lives!

Let us encourage the children in our care to treat all living things with compassion. “The compassionate love of St Silouan extends beyond animals to plants: ‘Hurt not the earth, neither the sea, nor the trees’ (Revelation 7:3). On one occasion when the two of them were walking together, Fr Sophrony struck out with his stick at a clump of tall wild grass. The Starets said nothing, but he shook his head doubtfully; and at once Fr Sophrony was ashamed. In his own writings St Silouan says: ‘That green leaf on the tree which you needlessly plucked – it was not wrong, only rather a pity for the little leaf. The heart that has learned to love feels sorry for every created thing.Nurturing care for even the smallest of God’s creatures will help children to be more compassionate and better people! Respect for others and for God’s creation go hand in hand, and should be taught together.

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Let us learn from the lessons that God has for us in nature. “When you walk in a forest, garden, or meadow, and see the young shoots of the plants, the fruits on the trees, and the variety of the flowers of the field, learn a lesson from God’s plants–namely, the lesson that every tree each summer unfailingly puts forth at least one shoot of considerable size, and unfailingly grows in height and dimensions. It seems as though every tree endeavors each year to advance by the strength that God has given it; therefore, say to yourself, I, too, must each day, each year, absolutely grow higher and higher morally, better and better, more and more perfect; must advance on the road to the Kingdom of Heaven, or to the Father which is in Heaven, through the strength of our Lord Jesus Christ and His Spirit dwelling and working within me. As the field is adorned by a multitude of flowers, so should the field of my own soul be adorned by all the flowers of virtue; as the trees bring forth flowers and afterwards fruit, so must my soul bring forth the fruits of faith and good works. ~ St. John of Kronstadt, My Life in Christ, from http://www.antiochian.org/content/february-6-2013-prayerfulness-sight-nature. Teaching children to notice how determined plants grow amongst rocks; how hard an ant works; how stubbornly birds insist on flying in a biting wind; each lesson can strengthen their faith. Each part of nature gives us the chance to teach the children (and be taught, ourselves) about the greatness of God and how we should respond to it!

By “taking time to smell the roses” and actually seeing what God has placed right before our eyes in nature, and by teaching our the children in our care to do the same, we can grow together towards God. Nature offers us the opportunity to perceive the divine mystery in things, to have a better sense of God’s grace, and to have compassion on all living things. The lessons we learn from nature can make us more virtuous and result in stronger faith and good works coming forth from our lives. So, let’s go! Let’s get outside! Let’s see what God has made, and marvel at His goodness!

And let’s take the children with us…

Here are more quotes on the beauty of nature and how it points us to God. Read them for your own encouragement, or discuss them with your students.

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“Now in the springtime, when nature is wearing its most beautiful apparel, one feels inexpressible joy when this natural beauty is accompanied by a sublime spiritual state. Truly, our holy God has made all things in wisdom!” (http://lightofdesert.blogspot.com/2014/04/on-salvation-and-paradise-elder-ephraim.html)

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“The soul cannot get enough of beholding the beauty of nature. Oh, if man would only lift his mind above this earthly realm to the heavenly Jerusalem, to the inconceivable beauty of paradise where the finite, earthly mind ceases to operate… There every saved soul will live in an ocean of love, sweetness, joy, amazement, and wonder!” (http://lightofdesert.blogspot.com/2014/04/on-salvation-and-paradise-elder-ephraim.html)

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“Do not forget your goal, my child. Look into heaven and see the beauty that awaits us. What are the present, earthly things? Aren’t they but ashes and dust and a dream? Don’t we see that everything here is subject to decay? Whereas things above are everlasting, the kingdom of God is endless, and blessed is he who will dwell in it, for he will behold the glory of His divine face!” (http://lightofdesert.blogspot.com/2014/04/on-salvation-and-paradise-elder-ephraim.html)

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“ O Lord, how good it is for us to be Thy guests! How fine it is for us in Thy world. The fields are fragrant, the mountains rise high up into the sky, and the golden rays of sun and the light clouds are reflected in the water. All nature mysteriously speaks about Thee, all is filled with Thy mercy and all carries the seal of Thy love. Blessed be the earth which, with her short-lasting beauty, awakens the yearning for the eternal homeland in Thy kingdom, where in everlasting beauty resounds the song: Alleluia!” Kontakion 2, “Akathist of Thanksgiving” http://www.orthodox.net/akathists/akathist-thanksgiving.html

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“Thou broughtest me into this life as if into a wonderful garden. I see the sky deep and blue, the birds as they chirp in flight; I listen to the soothing rustle of trees and the sonorous sound of waters; my mouth is enjoying fragrant and succulent fruits. How wonderful it is in Thy world and how joyous it is to be Thy guest!

Glory to Thee for the feast of life!

Glory to Thee for the scents of lilies of the valley and roses.

Glory to Thee for the abundance and multiplicity of earthly fruits.

Glory to Thee for the glistening of morning dew.

Glory to Thee for the joyous smile of dawn / with which Thou dost waken me.

Glory to Thee for eternal life / and the kingdom of heaven.

Glory to Thee, O God, in ages!” Ikos 2, “Akathist of Thanksgiving” http://www.orthodox.net/akathists/akathist-thanksgiving.html

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Read Fr. George Morelli’s take on the relationship between beauty and the Divine in this article: “Beauty, the Divine Connection: Psychospiritual Reflections,” at http://www.antiochian.org/node/23896

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