Tag Archives: Christian Education

Learning About the Saints: The Three Holy Hierarchs (Jan. 30/Feb. 12)

In the Orthodox Church, we commemorate the Three Holy Hierarchs with a special feast every year. Who exactly are the Three Holy Hierarchs? They are St. Basil the Great, St. Gregory the Theologian, and St. John Chrysostom. All three were very well educated, all three were great leaders of the Church in the fourth or fifth centuries, and all three have left behind a legacy of love for Christ/service to others that continues to challenge every generation of Christians.

Hundreds of years after these hierarchs departed this life, the 11th century Christians began to disagree as to which of these three men was the greatest. This disagreement led to division. Some Christians began calling themselves Basilians; others, Gregorians; and still others, Johannites. The Three Hierarchs did not like to see their fellow Christians divided in this way, so by the grace of God, they appeared together to Bishop John Mauropos, a monk serving in Euchaita (in Asia Minor). They told him that none of them was greater before God than the other. They also asked that they all be celebrated together on the same day, as a reminder of this. Bishop John, following the saints’ instructions, wrote a service to commemorate the Three Holy Hierarchs, and he selected January 30 (Feb. 12) as the day to celebrate all three of them.

Read more about the Three Holy Hierarchs, and find a personal challenge for each of us from their lives, in this blog post about them: https://orthodoxchristianparenting.wordpress.com/2014/01/22/learning-about-the-saints-the-three-holy-hierarchs-january-30/

The three most great luminaries of the Three-Sun Divinity have illumined all of the world with the rays of doctrines divine and true; they are the sweetly-flowing rivers of wisdom, who with godly knowledge have watered all creation in clear and mighty streams: The great and sacred Basil, and the Theologian, wise Gregory, together with the renowned John, the famed Chrysostom of golden speech. Let us all who love their divinely-wise words come together, honoring them with hymns; for ceaselessly they offer entreaty for us to the Trinity.

Here are some links that you may find helpful as you teach your Sunday Church School students about the Three Holy Hierarchs:

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Share this book about the Three Holy Hierarchs with younger children: http://orthodoxchildrensbooks.com/eng/index.php/Paterikon-for-Kids-11-20/20-Paterikon-for-Kids-The-Three-Hierarchs/flypage-ask.tpl.html

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Color this icon or use it in a feast-related craft project: http://www.orthodoxartsjournal.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/06/Three-Holy-Hierarchs-line-border.gif

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Teach younger children about the Three Holy Hierarchs with this printable lesson and activity pages: http://www.orthodoxabc.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/06/011-EN-ed02_Three-Hierarchs.pdf

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Help older children think about the division that was beginning in the Orthodox Church as people favored one of the Three Holy Hierarchs over the other with this hands-on lesson: http://orthodoxeducation.blogspot.com/2009/01/fathers-fruits.html

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“In Greece, the Three Hierarchs are the patron saints of learning. The Greek churches celebrate the Greek alphabet on the same day that they celebrate the Three Hierarchs. Not only were these saints protectors of the purity of the Orthodox Faith, but they also were promoters of the importance of education. On this day, it is customary to give school children books. Another idea is to give awards for excellence.” ~ http://myocn.net/three-holy-hierarchs-st-basil-great-st-gregory-theologian-st-john-chrysostom/

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The Three Holy Hierarchs are excellent role models for both educators and students: “If we were to summarize the precepts of the three great hierarchs, we might say that they advise young people of any era: ‘Go on, ever forwards and ever upwards. Really want to be educated. Throw yourselves into your studies. Hunger to do something great and heroic. Learn to ignore yourselves and submit to the service of others. Do you dream of a better society? Work for it. Arm yourselves with vitality and persistence and live the love of Christ powerfully and ardently, until the end.’” ~ from http://pemptousia.com/2015/01/the-three-hierarchs-and-education/

 

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Saints of Recent Decades: St. Herman of Alaska (December 13 or 25)

Note: Each section of St. Herman’s life story is preceded by an item (in parenthesis) that you could use to help you tell the story of his life to your Sunday Church School students. If you choose to tell his story in this way, we suggest that you line the items up ahead of class and work your way down the line, or pull each out of a box or basket as you tell his story. The items will help you to remember which part of his life to talk about next. They will also help the students to pay attention, as they will be curious about each item!

(small treasure chest with coins) Even though he was born into a merchant family in the diocese of Moscow, Herman was not interested in things of this world. He became a monk when he was still a teenager, first entering the Holy Trinity Sergius Hermitage near Petersburg.

(towel) While he was at the St Sergius Hermitage this happened to Fr. Herman: On the right side of his throat under his chin there appeared an abscess. It swelled quickly and disfigured his face. It became difficult for him to swallow, and the odor was unbearable. Father Herman expected to die. Instead of asking a doctor for help, he locked himself in his cell and began to pray before the icon of the Theotokos. With fervent tears he prayed, asking that he might be healed. He prayed the whole night. Then he took a wet towel and with it wiped the face of the Most Holy Mother, and with this towel he covered the swelling. He continued to pray with tears until he fell into an exhausted sleep on the floor. In a dream he saw the Theotokos healing him. When Herman awoke in the morning, he found to his great surprise that he was fully healed. The swelling had disappeared, even though the abscess had not broken through, and it only left behind a small mark as a reminder of the miracle. Doctors could not believe the miracle had happened. They said that the abscess must have either broken through of its own accord or have been cut open. But it was not: It was a miracle.

(picture of Valaam) Later, he moved to Valaam Monastery. The saint grew to love Valaam so much; monks there remembered him singing in his clear tenor voice while tears streamed from his eyes. For the rest of his life, St. Herman considered Valaam his spiritual home. (In fact, later he named his hermitage on Spruce Island “New Valaam.”) In the second half of the 1700s, explorers were expanding the boundaries of Russia, and Metropolitan Gabriel asked Valaam’s Elder Nazarius to choose ten men to evangelize the Aleutians. Herman was one of the men chosen. Sadly, after five successful years of founding schools and churches in the new world, the head of the mission Archimandrite Ioasaph and his entire entourage drowned. Then, one after another, others who were working on the mission left, until St. Herman remained alone.
(picture of Spruce Island) Spruce Island is not large, and is almost completely covered by a forest. In the middle of the island, a small brook flows to the sea. Herman selected this place for the location of his hermitage. He dug a cave out of the ground with his own hands, and he lived in it for a full summer. Before winter, a cell was built for him near the cave. He lived in that cell until his death. (And before he died, he converted the cave into a place for his burial.) A wooden chapel, and a wooden house to be used as a schoolhouse and a guest house were built not too distant from his cell. A garden was laid out in front of his cell. For more than forty years Father Herman lived here.

(angel ornament) One time, St. Herman was asked, “How do you, Fr. Herman, manage to live alone in the forest, don’t you get bored?” He answered “No, I’m not alone there! There is God, and God is everywhere! There are holy angels! How can one be bored with them? With whom is it more pleasant and better to converse, angels or people? Angels, of course!”
(spade) In addition to conversing with the angels throughout his hours of prayer and worship, St. Herman worked tirelessly. Father Herman himself spaded the garden, planted potatoes and cabbage and various vegetables in it. For winter, he preserved mushrooms, salting or drying them. The salt was obtained by him from ocean water.

(wicker basket) A wicker basket in which the Elder carried seaweed from the shore, was so large that it was difficult for one person to carry. The seaweed was used for fertilizing the soil. But to the astonishment of all, Father Herman carried a basket filled with seaweed for a long distance without any help at all.

(log) One winter night, his disciple, Gerasim, saw him carrying a large log which normally would be carried by four men; and he was bare footed. This is how hard Fr. Herman worked. Everything that he acquired as a result of his immeasurable labors was used for the feeding and clothing of orphans and also for books for his students, not to buy things for himself.

(“deer skin shirt” or piece of soft leather) His clothes were the same for winter as for summer. He did not wear a cloth shirt; instead he wore a shirt made of deer skin, which he did not take off for several years at a time. By that time, the fur in the deerskin shirt was completely worn away, and the leather became glossy. He also wore boots or shoes, an ancient and faded out cassock full of patchwork, and his headdress. He went everywhere in these clothes, and at all times; in the rain, in snowstorms, and during the coldest freezing weather. In this, Father Herman, like many other great saints, showed the most concern for the welfare/needs of others. Like those saints, he chose to wear old clothes to show his humility before God, and that he did not care about worldly things.

(two bricks and a board) A small bench covered with a deerskin served as Father Herman’s bed. He used two bricks for a pillow; these were hidden from visitors by a skin or a shirt. There was no blanket. Instead, he covered himself with a wooden board which he leaned against the stove to store it each day. This board Father Herman called his blanket, and he willed that it be used to cover his remains. It was as long as he was tall. He ate and slept very little.

(cookies) Even though he was busy with tending his own garden and observing his monastic rule, St. Herman still had time to reach out with great love and concern to his Aleutian neighbors. On feast days and Sundays, he would gather them in the chapel next to his cell, and lead them in holy services. The people loved to listen to his spiritual teaching, and would visit him at all hours of the day and night, staying until early morning to hear him teach. Saint Herman especially loved the Aleutian children, for whom he would bake cookies, and he watched over those who were weak and powerless. He started a school for orphans and defended the native Aleuts before the Russian fur traders who were exploiting them.

(stuffed bear) Herman dedicated himself fully for the Lord’s service; he worked hard to the glory of God. And God blessed him with many supernatural gifts. The people began to tell each other of miracles they’d seen: sometimes Father Herman would tell someone of a future event and it would come to pass. Others told about how animals, even bears, would eat from his hands.

(icon of the Theotokos) At one time on the island, the terrified inhabitants came to St. Herman seeking help from an oncoming tidal wave. The Elder then took an icon of the Mother of God and placed it on the sandy beach. After praying he promised the people that the tidal wave would not go past this holy icon. St. Herman promised as well that they would have the same protection in the future event of a tidal wave. Miraculously the waters flowed up to the icon of the Mother of God and stopped there. This icon is still venerated today in a small chapel on Spruce Island.

(box of tissues) A ship from the United States brought with its sailors a contagious disease that was fatal. It began with a fever, a heavy cold, and difficult respiration, and it ended with chills. Its victims died in only three days. On the island there was neither a doctor nor medicine. The illness spread rapidly through the village, and then throughout the nearby areas. The disease affected all, even infants. During this terrible sickness which lasted a whole month, Father Herman visited the sick, never tiring. He encouraged them when they were scared, and he prayed for them, brought them to penance, or prepared them for death. He never spared himself.
(yardstick or moss) Once the forest on Spruce Island caught fire. The Elder and his disciple Ignaty dug a belt about a yard wide in the moss in the middle of the forest. They extended the belt to the foot of the hill. The Elder said, “Rest assured, the fire will not pass this line.” The next day Ignaty was sure that there was no chance that they would escape the fire, and the fire, pushed by a strong wind, reached the place where the moss had been turned over by the Elder. The fire ran over the moss and halted, leaving untouched the thick forest which was beyond the line.

(star) People flocked to the elder for counsel and help. The Aleuts began to affectionately call him their “North Star,” referring to how his teaching guided and grounded them, or the even more intimate “Apa,” which meant grandfather. Couples with troubled marriages would seek his advice. With meekness, he would reproach people for their lack of sobriety or their cruelty. He himself for years refused any titles of elevation within the church, preferring the simplest designation, “monk.” His letters reflect his simplicity and tender disposition. The Elder often said that there would be a bishop for America; this at a time when no one even thought of it, and there was no hope that there would be a bishop for America;this was related by the Bishop Peter and his prophecy was fulfilled in time.

(flashlight) As the time of St. Herman’s repose drew closer, he began to tell his disciples to prepare, giving them specific instructions about his burial and services. Everything he prophesied related to his death came to pass, exactly as he had foretold, and so it was that on December 13, 1837, he leaned his head on the chest of his disciple Gerasim and reposed. “Glory to Thee, O Lord,” he pronounced with shining face, just before taking his last breath. Several Aleutian townspeople in another place reported seeing a pillar of light that reached from Spruce Island to the heavens. “St. Herman has left us,” one villager said. This same pillar was seen in various places by others. The night of his death in another settlement nearby, someone had a vision; it seemed as though a man was rising from Spruce Island into the clouds. The distance from the Harbor to Spruce Island is not great – about a two hour journey – but no one was willing to go to sea in such weather. The weather was bad for a full month and although the body of Fr. Herman lay in state for that whole month in the warm house of his students, his face did not undergo any change at all, and not the slightest odor emanated from his body.

(sailboat picture or toy/model) In 1842, five years after the passing away of the Elder, Innocent, Archbishop of Kamchatka and the Aleutians, was near Kodiak on a sailing vessel which was in great distress. He looked to Spruce Island, and said to himself, “if you, Father Herman, have found favor in God’s presence then may the wind change!” It seems as though not more than fifteen minutes had passed, said the Bishop, when the wind became favorable, and he successfully reached the shore. In thanksgiving for his salvation, Archbishop Innocent himself conducted a Memorial Service over the grave of the Blessed Elder Herman.

(map of AK) Fortunately for the Aleuts and all Alaskans, St. Herman hasn’t ever left them. Miracles attributed to his intercessions have happened since his repose and are still happening today. Most Native Alaskans today are still Orthodox, and they honor his memory with prayers and pilgrimages. His relics rest in the Resurrection Church on Kodiak, and Orthodox faithful from all over the world come to venerate them and ask for his prayers.

(picture of Mt Denali) But he doesn’t just help those who ask for his prayers. In the 1990’s, both Leo and Kathleen were people who loved mountaineering and rock climbing, and so for their honeymoon trip they decided to go to Alaska to bag the highest peak of North America, mount Denali (aka McKinley), 20,320 feet. While living at the camp at the foot of the mountain, they thoroughly prepared their expedition: talking to guides, studying the maps, checking the equipment, and waiting for a long stretch of good weather.
When they finally started their exciting, but extremely difficult, ascent, everything went just fine for a few days. But at the end of one day, on a narrow path, they met an old, strange-looking man in a long dark robe. He was walking in the opposite direction, down the mountain. In a friendly manner he greeted them and advised them to turn around and return to the base camp as quickly as possible because the weather was changing into a severe storm. Soon, he said, it would be very dangerous in that area. And, as if in answer to their unasked question of how could he know such a thing, he explained that he was local and knew the climate very well. Leaving them surprised and uneasy, he continued on his way.
A few minutes later, after Leo and Kathleen made the wise decision to turn back, they were thinking about that old man. They tried to remember what he looked like, and as they did, they realized that they hadn’t seen a backpack or any other hiking gear with him. How could he have made it up so high in the bare, rocky mountain in sub-zero temps, without any food or protection?!
A few days later, almost at the bottom of the mountain, they were caught by a severe storm. They survived it, constantly in their minds thanking the old man who had warned them of the danger so that they could turn back when they did. A week later, when they were staying at the base camp, they learned that some other climbers who happened to be at higher elevations than they were during the storm, never made it back after the storm.
Then Leo and Kathleen noticed something at the camp cafeteria. It was a picture of their rescuer, pinned to a bulletin board between some miscellaneous ads and photos of the mountain. They recognized him at a glance. When they asked the waiter who that was, he told them, ” It’s an Orthodox saint who lived in Alaska. His name is St. Herman.” And the photo showed the icon of St. Herman from the Orthodox church nearby. So, the Saint had told them the truth. He was indeed a local guy!

Blessed ascetic of the northern wilds
And gracious intercessor for the whole world,
Teacher of the Orthodox Faith
And good instructor of piety,
Adornment of Alaska and joy of all America,
Holy Father Herman
Pray to Christ God that He save our souls.

Besides the storytelling suggestion above, here are additional ideas of ways to teach your students about St. Herman:
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Younger students would enjoy this book about St. Herman’s life: http://www.svspress.com/north-star-st-herman-of-alaska-hardcover/

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Older children would  enjoy reading this book about St. Herman: http://www.holytrinitypublications.com/Book/272/Herman_A_Wilderness_Saint.html

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Read more about the saint’s life, and see photos of his grave and spring here: http://www.antiochian.org/stherman

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We do not have pictures of St. Herman, since he departed this life when the camera was still in the process of being invented (daguerreotypes were invented two years after he passed away). We do, however, have icons of him, and we can see pictures of Spruce Island where he lived. See Spruce Island and watch some videos about St. Herman’s life at this site: https://orthodoxword.wordpress.com/2009/12/13/st-herman-of-alaska-and-spurce-island/
These videos would make great discussion starters for classes with older students!

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This blog is written by a mom for use with her children, but Sunday Church School students would enjoy learning about St. Herman in this way, as well! http://www.illumination-learning.com/blog/2012/12/teaching-my-children-about-st-herman-through-a-story-prayers-and-cookies/
And this one offers a different recipe for cookies as well as suggestions for interacting with his story through art: http://www.carriedonthewind.com/2011/12/saint-herman-of-alaska-and-spiced.html

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Need an idea for a retreat day theme? Here’s how one parish presented the life of St. Herman of Alaska during a lenten retreat: https://kellylardin.com/activities/tag/st-herman-of-alaska/

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Present your Sunday Church School students with this printable, colorable quote from St. Herman of Alaska:
http://www.antiochian.org/sites/default/files/st_herman_of_alaska_quote_from_this_day.pdf
Use the quote as a discussion starter. How did St. Herman show that he was striving to love God above all, and fulfilling His holy will? How can we do that as well? List ideas on the board, then pray and ask God’s help to successfully live in this manner. Send a copy of the quote with them so that they can be encouraged to work towards this life goal.

 

Saints of Recent Decades: an Introduction

In our forthcoming blog posts, we will be focusing our attention on saints who have lived in recent decades. (We will use the term “recent” somewhat loosely, as some of them lived more than a hundred years ago, which most children consider to be very, very old.) Our intent is to provide a resource for you that can be used to introduce your Sunday Church School students to saints who they can see in icons but also (at least in most cases) in actual photographs as well. Seeing the photos can help the children to better grasp the reality of the saints’ existence, that they are real people who actually lived and struggled just like we do to live an Orthodox Christian life. It is our goal that along the way, all of us will “meet” new friends as we learn about these saints who have walked the earth more recently.

Each post will focus on a recent saint, offering a brief retelling of his/her story. It will also offer ideas of ways to teach your Sunday Church School students about that saint’s life. We hope that you will interact with these posts, leaving comments of other ideas or resources on each saint that you have to share with the community, as well.

Of course, it is up to you if and how you put these blog posts to use in your classroom. Perhaps you could share the saint’s story while the children snack (if your Sunday Church School class takes place after Divine Liturgy), before you begin your main lesson. You could adapt the ideas to your class’ needs and teach a full lesson on each saint. Or you could just offer an occasional lesson on one of the saints, working them in around your usual lessons. However you apply these posts, we hope you find them encouraging and challenging, and that they will cause you to want to strive harder to be the man/woman of God that He has created you to be. May we challenge our Sunday Church School students to do likewise!


Through the prayers of the Holy Saints, Lord Jesus Christ our God, have mercy on us and save us!

Here are some ideas and links that you may find helpful:

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What is the definition of a saint, and how does a person become one? Did you know that there are different categories of saints? What exactly is theosis? Why do we ask the saints to pray for us? These questions and more are answered in this blog which is important background information for us as we prepare to teach our Sunday Church School children about the saints.  http://www.goarch.org/ourfaith/ourfaith8044

Older children could read this blog together and discuss its application to their life. After all, sainthood should be our aim, for living a life of great godliness is the ultimate goal for every sincere Christian!

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One idea that could help your Sunday Church School students retain the information that you teach them about saints over the course of this year would be for you to have them create a “trading card” of sorts about the saint. It could feature a copied icon of the saint, a sketch that they make, or a photograph (if it is a recent saint), that is then attached to a 3×5 or 4×6 index card. Each student could then write a short description of the saint beneath the illustration (or on the back), or copy the troparion to the saint in that space. Perhaps something like this (only student-made): https://app.box.com/s/uvph2nn833y8gr1fj7yd.

Students could accumulate their “trading cards” in your classroom and have a whole set to take home at the end of the year, to remind them of these “new” friends that they met in your Sunday Church School class.

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There are so many men who have become saints. But there are also many women! We will feature both in our “recent” saint blogs this fall. If you want to see a list of women saints, here is one: http://www.antiochian.org/women/orthodox-women-saints

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Find a listing of each day’s saints, as well as links to more information about most of them here: https://oca.org/saints/lives This page is an excellent resource for a Sunday Church School study of the saints: students can look up their own patron saint, find out more about saints whose name day is on a date significant to the student, or use the page to “meet” new friends each time they visit the web page!
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“…What does a holy life look like in the twenty-first century? We tell ourselves, ‘Sure, people could live holy lives in the fourth century…there was no TV, internet, or any of the other temptations of our day!’ We doubt there are any saints who could have understood the struggles that we face.” Read on in this blog post about finding friends among the recent saints who are examples to us and can intercede for us. (Spoiler alert: we will be learning about many of the saints mentioned here, in the weeks ahead!) https://blogs.goarch.org/blog/-/blogs/reflections-on-a-modern-saint

 

On the Feast of the Elevation of the Holy Cross (Sept. 14 or 27)

The Feast of the Elevation of the Holy Cross celebrates not one, but two important (but very much related) events in the history of the Church. In this feast, we celebrate both the finding of the Cross by St. Helena in 326 and the return of the Cross to Constantinople (and then on to Jerusalem) in 628. Here is a short synopsis to refresh your memory:

Although the empress Helena was 79 years old, she left on a journey to Jerusalem to find the precious Cross in the year 325. She had never seen a basil plant before this time. Just outside of Jerusalem, she noticed this unusual plant (the basil) that was growing all over the ground. The unfamiliar plant’s appearance and its location caused her to suspect that this was a special place. She decided to have her men dig at that spot in search of the Cross. It turned out that she was right! Three crosses were found in the ground under the growing basil. All three were tested on a sick woman (and/or a dead man – traditions vary), who had no response to the two other crosses, but became immediately well after touching the Cross of Christ. Many, many people came into Jerusalem when they heard that the Cross had been found. The leaders of the Church held the Cross up high for all to see. The people responded by saying, “Lord have mercy!” again and again.

Soon thereafter, St. Helena had a church built at the site, and most of the Cross stayed in that church, with a small piece going back to Constantinople. And so it remained for many years. In 614, however, the Persians conquered Palestine and stole the Cross. A few years later, in 628, Emperor Heraclius and his men were able to recover the Cross after defeating the Persians. At that point, the Cross was returned to Jerusalem, to the Church of the Holy Resurrection.

We celebrate both the initial finding of the Cross and its recovery with this fasting feast. It may seem odd to celebrate a feast day by fasting. But we celebrate the Feast of the Elevation of the Cross with fasting because of what we are commemorating: the Cross on which our Lord suffered and died. A fast is the most appropriate celebration of that. As we celebrate, we should also be renewing our own determination to follow Him and live our Faith to the best of our ability, even though doing so may cause us to suffer. In this way, our fasting feast can help us to become the kind of Christian we are meant to be.

Oh Lord, save Thy people and bless Thine inheritance,

Granting to Thy people victory over all their enemies.

And by the power of Thy Cross

Preserving Thy Kingdom!

We hope that you had a blessed Feast of the Elevation of the Holy Cross!

 

Here are a few ideas of ways to learn about this feast and to teach your Sunday Church School students about it. You can tuck them away for another year!

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Very young children (preschool-K) will enjoy these activities related to finding the Holy Cross: https://raisingorthodoxchristians.com/2015/08/24/elevation-of-the-cross-part-2-activities/

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Find a simple lesson, complete with two craft suggestions, to help children learn about the Feast of the Elevation of the Holy Cross here: http://myocn.net/elevation-of-the-cross-prayer-beads/

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Find a printable children’s bulletin about the Elevation of the Cross here: http://myocn.net/wp-content/uploads/2014/09/Childrens-Word-83.pdf

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Find thorough lesson plans on the Feast of the Elevation of the Cross at this site. (For example, here is the one for 10-12 year olds, http://orthodoxsundayschool.org/church-history/10-12-years-old/elevation-cross; and this one is for high school, http://orthodoxsundayschool.org/epistles-feasts-and-sacraments/high-school/elevation-cross)
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Older children will benefit from reading the articles about the cross, including its finding and its elevation (there’s also one on the wood that was used to make the cross), complete with color icons and some pictures found in this unique and very thorough bulletin. Reading the articles together can be a very good starting place for discussion! http://stpaulsgreekorthodox.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/09/September2016Bulletin.pdf

On the Feast of the Dormition of the Theotokos (August 15 or 28)

The final feast of the Church year is the Feast of the Dormition of the Theotokos. At this feast, we celebrate the “falling asleep” (dormition) of the Theotokos. The disciples were miraculously brought together with the Theotokos in Jerusalem, and they were with her when she fell asleep in the Lord. Only Thomas was not present for her falling asleep and her burial. When he arrived a few days later and they opened her tomb so that he could see her body for one last time, they discovered that it was no longer there! Our Lord had taken her body to Heaven, giving all of us hope of eternal life!

How do we explain this miracle to our Sunday Church School students when we can barely wrap our own minds around it? Well, because it is a miracle, we can not explain it. However, perhaps we can offer a slightly similar concept. We can invite the children to think of their favorite toy (especially if they had a particularly-favored “lovey” when they were little). Have them imagine parting with that favorite, and only receiving part of it back again. Invite your students to tell their story if they ever left a favorite toy behind. Perhaps one of those stories would work for the comparison. If not, you could tell a story from your own life/family, or just share this made-up example, “There once was a young girl named Sophie. Sophie was given a stuffed rabbit when she was a baby, and she really came to love that rabbit. Sophie named him Mr. Bun. From the moment she was old enough to grab him, Mr. Bun went everywhere with her! One time while on family vacation, Sophie accidentally left Mr. Bun at a restaurant where her family stopped for dinner. An hour down the road after dinner, Sophie discovered that Mr. Bun was missing. Sophie loved Mr. Bun and could not be without him. So, her family had to drive all the way back to that restaurant to pick him up! Do you think that Sophie would have been happy if the family only brought part of Mr. Bun away from the restaurant and just left the rest of him there? No, of course not! Well, it’s a tiny bit like that, here. Our Lord really loved His mother, the Theotokos. Of course, she was not a toy, but she was favored by God because she lived such a holy life. When she departed this earthly life to go to Heaven, Our Lord took all of her – even her body – to Heaven, too! Now even her earthly body is with Him in Heaven!” Granted, there are many weaknesses in this comparison, but it is a starting place for discussion. After the discussion, you can continue, “The Dormition is a good reminder for us to live holy lives and love God as the Theotokos did! We also want to live in Heaven with Him when we depart this life!”

Here are links to resources that will help your students learn more about the Feast of the Dormition:

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If you are able to do so, send this printable countdown coloring page to your young Sunday Church  School students for them to use during the Dormition Fast : http://manymercies.blogspot.com/2015/07/dormition-fast-calendar-printable-and.html

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Older students may enjoy reading through the daily readings found in this countdown craft for the Dormition Fast. Each reading focuses on a different type of the Theotokos as described in scripture: https://craftycontemplative.com/2010/07/28/dormition-calendar-craft/. Study the readings and discuss the types together. (If you like, bring felt and scissors to class, and the students can create their own countdown like this one for use at next year’s Dormition Fast!)

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Prepare to teach your Sunday Church School class about the Feast of the Dormition by listening to this podcast on the theology of the feast, as explained by Fr. Thomas Hopko of blessed memory: http://www.ancientfaith.com/podcasts/hopko/dormition_of_the_theotokos

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“If we follow her example, our souls can become like hers and find everlasting rest in Christ’s hands.” (p. 59) Read more in the fascinating segment about the Feast of the Dormition in this book: http://store.ancientfaith.com/heaven-meets-earth. Read about the Feast of the Dormition, learn more about the festal icon, and find the hymns of the feast in this blog post: http://www.goarch.org/special/listen_learn_share/dormition/index_html. Or read more about the feast here https://oca.org/orthodoxy/the-orthodox-faith/worship/the-church-year/dormition-of-the-theotokos.

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This printable children’s bulletin includes information about the Dormition of the Theotokos: http://myocn.net/wp-content/uploads/2015/08/Childrens-Word-130.pdf

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This OCA curriculum offers a whole study on the Theotokos. The “Day 4” lessons at each level focus primarily on the Dormition. Lessons are offered for each age group, from age 4 to adult, and contain the story and ideas for related activities that could be done together as a family or Sunday Church School class. http://dce.oca.org/focus/theotokos/

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This beautiful book tells the story of the Dormition of the Theotokos: http://orthodoxchildrensbooks.com/eng/index.php/Paterikon-for-Kids-21-23-NEW/23-Paterikon-for-Kids-The-Dormition-of-the-Theotokos/flypage-ask.tpl.html. Listen to Dr. Chrissi Hart’s reading of the book here: http://www.ancientfaith.com/podcasts/grapevine/the_dormition_of_the_theotokos1

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With older children, study the words of this paraklesis:

http://www.orthodoxmom.com/2015/08/09/small-paraklesis-to-the-mother-of-god/ Discuss all the names the Theotokos is given, what she is compared to, and what types she fulfilled.

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Some children will be fascinated by this miracle that happens annually (with very few exceptions) at the time of the Dormition of the Theotokos, on the Greek island of Cephalonia! It involves snakes and the icon of the Theotokos, and started when nuns prayed and asked the Theotokos to deliver them from pirates: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=F5Za9-uX4b8

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/

 

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

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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