Tag Archives: Christ

On the Feast of the Nativity (Dec. 25/Jan. 7)

On December 25/January 7 every year, we celebrate the Nativity of our Lord and God and Savior Jesus Christ. This day is an important one for humankind. For on this day the eternal God, who had deigned to take on human flesh in order to save us from the power of Death, is born into time and space. On this day we celebrate His birth to the Theotokos in a cave. We recognize Joseph’s obedience to God’s messengers in the midst of doubt. We remember the shepherds who were the first to know the Good News of HIs birth when the Angels of God announced it to them. Thus, “the least of these” were granted great mercy. We remember the Magi whose love for and intense study of creation revealed the Good News to them in a manner so convincing that they acted on it and traveled to a foreign land to pay homage to a King they’d never even heard of before. In them, “the wealthy” and “the foreigners” were granted great mercy as well. We recall how nature (for example, the star and the animals in the cave) proclaimed and honored His birth. We observe that Life can come from the depths of the earth, for in a cave our Lord was born, and again later, in a cave, humanity is born into life eternal when He conquers Death and rises from the dead.

It is likely that our Sunday Church School students are already familiar with the story of this feast. Let us be sure that they know where to find it in the Scriptures, in Luke chapter 2. Read this passage aloud together. As you do so, find opportunities to discuss the things mentioned above. Then take a look at the icon of the feast. Challenge your students to identify as many different parts of the scripture passage as they are able to find in the icon. Then talk about the feast and its importance. Establish the importance of the day, and take some time to discuss what Orthodox Christians should do on the day of the feast so that our actions focus on celebrating the feast itself, and do not just bend to societal trends and expectations. This can be difficult, especially if families have established many other Christmas lower-case-t-traditions. Encourage your students to help their family think about the importance of the feast and act accordingly. Even a little step towards celebrating the feast will be a step in the right direction, and will be worth the effort!

The feast will be upon us soon. Let us prepare and celebrate as we should. Blessed Nativity to you, your family, and your Sunday Church School students!

Here are additional ideas of ways to teach your students about the Nativity Feast:

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Find descriptions of the icon of the Nativity at these links:
Click on parts of the icon  to read about them here: http://www.antiochian.org/icons-explained-nativity

See the icon and descriptions about each part of it here: http://media-cache-ak0.pinimg.com/originals/70/62/e2/7062e21a4c0a4cc5358ffe18586bf7fb.jpg

Create some pretty icon ornaments together such as these: http://orthodoxeducation.blogspot.com/2011/11/christmas-orthodox-craft-ornaments.html

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Ask your students if their family has a Christmas tree. Many of them probably do. Talk about how some of the Christmas tree’s symbolisms can point us to the true meaning of the Nativity Feast. Read the feast’s pages in the book “Heaven Meets Earth.” The Nativity Feast’s section explains the many symbols of the Christmas tree. For example, “God’s light, symbolized by the lights sparkling all around the tree, reaches into the deepest, darkest crevices of our being.” (p. 20) Talk with your students about these symbols and how they fit with the celebration of the feast. Invite students to create their own (paper) Christmas trees and including some of these symbols. Teach each student to accordian-fold a large green paper circle to make a “tree” shape. Then allow them to decorate it with markers, tiny paper icon “ornaments,” etc. Add two star stickers (back to back) at the top of the “tree.” Use a hole punch to punch holes from the fold side of each of the accordian folds of the tree. Set the tree over an led votive (many dollar stores sell them two to a pack) so that the tree can “light up.” Before sending the trees home with your students, review again the symbolisms mentioned in the book, so that they can share them with their family when they get home.

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Keeping our focus (and our students’ focus) on Christ during the Nativity “season” is not always easy in today’s world. Find resources to help in this blog post: https://orthodoxchristianparenting.wordpress.com/2015/12/16/ideas-for-keeping-our-focus-on-the-nativity-of-christ/

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Find pins to many Nativity ideas here: https://www.pinterest.com/aodce/nativity/

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This zine can help us teach our students ages 12 and up about the Nativity of our Lord. http://www.goarch.org/archdiocese/departments/religioused/zines/nativityzine. You can also get a teachers’ guide to use with the zine. (See the objectives here: http://www.goarch.org/archdiocese/departments/religioused/resources/midhightextobjectives#For to Us) It also has a free parent guide that could be sent to the parents of our Sunday Church School students. The parent guide features ways to use the zine with children of different age levels; ideas for celebrating the twelve days of Christmas; and information about Christmas celebrations around the world, as well! http://www.goarch.org/archdiocese/departments/religioused/christmas_guide

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With older children, we can take time before the Nativity Feast’s vesperal service/Royal Hours to discuss the verses we will hear and/or chant. For example this one:

O Christ what shall we offer You;
for our sake You appeared on earth as man?
Every creature made by You offers thanks to You.
The angels offer You a hymn; the heavens, a star;
the Magi, gifts; the shepherds, their wonder;
the earth, its cave; the wilderness, the manger:
and we offer You a Virgin Mother.
O pre-eternal God, have mercy on us.
Find the rest of the vesperal service here: http://lit.royaldoors.net/

The Creed: And Ascended Into Heaven, and Sitteth at the Right Hand of the Father

By witnessing the Ascension, the disciples understood that the same Jesus who had lived among the poor and lowly was truly the God of all and would soon be glorified at the right hand of the Father. In the icon of the Ascension, we see the disciples with the Theotokos in the center, looking straight at us, lifting her arms to point to her Son, Jesus Christ, enthroned as ruler of all. “Ruler of All” is what the Greek word “Pantocrator” means. That is also the name of the icon we see in the center dome of many Orthodox churches. For us, the Feast of the Ascension is the reassurance of Christ’s living presence with us and the call for us to recognize Him as Lord and Master of all that exists.

“To say that Jesus is ‘exalted at the right hand of God’ as St. Peter preached… means exactly this: that man has been restored to communion with God, to a union which is, according to Orthodox doctrine, far greater and more perfect than that given to man in his original creation.” (Hopko, “Doctrine,” p. 107.)

“…The Ascension of Christ is seen as man’s first entry into that divine glorification for which he was originally created. The entry is made possible by the exaltation of the divine Son who emptied Himself in human flesh in perfect self-offering to God.” (Hopko, “Doctrine,” p. 109)

“The Ascension is proof that man was made for heaven, not for the grave; for glory, not for death.” (Coniaris, “The Nicene Creed,” p. 49)

Try this:  Bring an icon of the “Pantocrator” to Sunday Church School. Talk about the Pantocrator icon with your students. If you need a refresher course before beginning this discussion, check out this video https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=d1a17zFbaPU and read this blog post http://www.orthodoxmom.com/2012/03/05/why-i-love-the-christ-pantocrator-of-mt-sinai-icon/. Both offer some of the symbolism behind the icon and can help you help your students better appreciate the icon! Consider making Pantocrator icon magnets like these http://thefrugalgirls.com/2010/10/marble-magnets-tutorial.html together. The children can take theirs home to stick on your fridge, in lockers, etc. Then they can remember that the Ruler of All is present in their everyday life!

Learn more about the Ascension of Our Lord. See https://orthodoxchurchschoolteachers.wordpress.com/2014/05/23/teaching-children-about-the-feast-of-the-ascension/ for a variety of ideas of ways to do so!

The Creed: And Was Incarnate of the Holy Spirit and the Virgin Mary and Became Man

From early times in the Church, there have always been people who questioned Our Lord’s humanity. Which words of the Creed begin the passage that tells us that Jesus is truly Man? What does the word incarnation actually mean?

That Christ became human is essential to our salvation. The words of the Creed tell us that Christ was not only completely God, but also completely man because He took flesh from the Virgin Mary. That is what incarnation means: “to take on flesh.” In the Creed, the Church Fathers wrote, “…and was incarnate of the Holy Spirit and the Virgin Mary, and was made man…” to attest to the true humanity of Jesus. Jesus, however, was not a mere mortal; He was, and is, the man whom the Son of God has become.

As Jesus was both God and Man, He achieved reunion with God for us in His very Being. He continued the act of salvation by His life, death, and Resurrection. In the early centuries, whether Jesus truly suffered and died was a matter of dispute. Hence the need to state in the Creed that indeed, as truly Man, He suffered and died, as anyone would, on the cross.

While it may seem odd to place the Annunciation, the Nativity, and the Crucifixion so close together (as they are in the Creed), they teach a lesson beyond that of Jesus’ true humanity. Namely they all show the “pouring out” or kenosis of Our Lord. Jesus poured out His being first into flesh, when He became Man, and then on the cross. As He did, so we are to do – we are to “pour out,” or sacrifice, ourselves for others.

Try this: As a class, discuss Christ’s humanity vs. His divinity as shown in scriptures. Divide into teams and have each person try to win a point for their team by identifying a scripture as demonstrating His humanity or His divinity as suggested in this activity: http://dce.oca.org/assets/files/resources/Jesus-Humanity-Divinity-Preteens.pdf

Sunday Church School classes of teens can watch this explanation of the Incarnation and discuss it together: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9YIKXJxcDU0

Find age-leveled ideas for discussing the incarnation with your students here: http://www.thrivingfamily.com/Family/Faith/2009/god-with-us.aspx

Want to learn more about the incarnation? Download St. Athanasius’ book “On the Incarnation” and study it! http://www.ccel.org/ccel/athanasius/incarnation

The Creed: Who for Us Men and for Our Salvation Came Down from Heaven

This part of the Creed states that Jesus is our Savior. What are we saved from?

“Salvation” is an interesting word. We don’t often hear it outside of church, and may not often think about needing it. Yet we call Jesus “Savior” and say that He achieved salvation for us. From what did He save us? Jesus saved us from the effects of consequence of sin, eternal death. After we have accepted Holy Baptism, and thus committed our lives to Jesus Christ, we must walk on the path of salvation that He showed to us when He became man. Orthodox Christians know that we must work out our salvation daily, as St. Paul tells us in Philippians 2:12: “Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling.”

Jesus took on the consequences of our sins, which is death, thereby opening the path of salvation to us. However, we must walk in the path. When we sin, we have turned from the path. When we Repent, we return to the path that leads to eternal life.

Try this: Show this episode of “Be the Bee” to your Sunday Church School students to jumpstart a discussion on salvation: https://bethebee.goarch.org/home/-/asset_publisher/gAnk4cdUihei/content/-68-salvation-in-christ

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The concept of being saved by “accepting Christ as your personal Savior” is broadened in Orthodoxy, as we continue “walking the path of salvation” after conversion. If your students have friends who are Protestant, or perhaps they have seen television evangelists who speak of a more “instant salvation,” it is especially important to discuss and better understand the Orthodox viewpoint of salvation.

Here’s one way to do so: watch this video that uses two chairs to explain both the Protestant view and Orthodox view of Salvation: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WosgwLekgn8. Discuss the differing views together.

The Creed: Light of Light, Very God of Very God

The Creed was formed (in part) because of a popular heresy at that time which stated that Jesus was part of God’s creation: that He was just a man. Which part of the Creed speaks of Jesus as truly God?

Shortly after the legalization of Christianity in 312, the Emperor Constantine convened the first ecumenical council. (“Ecumenical” is from the Greek economos, or “household.”) Indeed the entire “household” gathered: over 300 bishops from the Christian world. They came together to combat the heresy of Arianism that declared Jesus to be a “creature” of God, rather than coequal and coeternal.

In the Creed, the Church Fathers stated that Jesus was truly God with the phrases beginning with “Light of Light.” They continued to emphasize the equality of Father and Son with the phrases, “Very God of Very God, Begotten, not made; of one essence with the Father.” In the Creed, “begotten” has a special meaning assigned to it. Jesus was “begotten,” not created. Everything that exists is created by God. Only God Himself, the Trinity, is not created. Jesus existed from all time with the Father and the Holy Spirit.

“The Word, that is, the Son, was always with the Father.” (Irenaeus, “Against Heresies, Book IV,” ch. 20, section 3, 180 AD)

“Christ Jesus, the Son of God, because of His surpassing love for His creation, condescended to be born of the virgin.” (Irenaeus, “Against Heresies, Book III,” ch. 4, section 2, 180 AD)

The divine Son of God was born in human flesh for the salvation of the world. This is the central doctrine of the Orthodox Christian Faith; the entire life of Christians is built upon this fact. They Symbol of Faith stresses that it is “for us men and for our salvation” that the Son of God has come. This is the most critical biblical doctrine, that “God so loved the world that He gave his only-begotten Son that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.” (Hopko, “Doctrine,” 66)

Try this: Challenge your Sunday Church School students to pay attention during the next Divine Liturgy you attend. Tell them to pay attention to how we express our belief in Jesus as God. We state this truth during the Creed. But where else in the liturgy do we say, sing, or show it? And how do we do so? The next time you gather together as a class, talk about your findings. For fun, divide the class into two teams and see which team can list the most ways in which we tell or show about our belief in Jesus as God during the Liturgy. Create a master list and keep it posted in your classroom so that you can add to it as weeks go by.

The Creed: One Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God

What is the first thing that the Creed states about Our Lord Jesus Christ? Why is it important that Christ is the Son of God? What does that mean for all of humanity?

Adam, who was made in God’s image and likeness, walked with God in the evenings right after the world was created. “Walking with God” is a metaphor that describes the union that first existed between God and man. Humanity was created for that kind of union with God. Unfortunately, very soon that union was broken. Adam and Eve’s sin disrupted it. Since that time, God has worked to reunite mankind with Himself. Jesus Christ, the true God and true man, achieved that reunion.

Our Lord Jesus Christ is the perfect human being. He is all God intended for each of us to be. He is Love personified. He lived his life on earth without sin and in complete union with God. His life, death, and Resurrection achieved salvation for the world. Jesus was truly God and truly man.

“Jesus Christ is the only proper Son who has been begotten by God, being His Word and first-begotten, and power; and, becoming man according to His will, He taught us these things for the conversion and restoration of the human race” (Justin Martyr, “First Apology 23,” 150 AD).

Try this with your Sunday Church School class: use a cup of water and a bowl of (frozen water) ice cubes for an object lesson to help your students think about Christ, who is God, taking on human form. (See page 5-6 of http://www.powermarkcomics.com/comics/pdf/Lesson%207%20-%20Seeker%20Series%20Curriculum.pdf for a detailed description of how to do so, complete with discussion suggestions.)