Tag Archives: Christian Life

Gleanings from a Book: “Putting Joy into Practice: Seven Ways to Lift Your Spirit from the Early Church” by Phoebe Farag Mikhail

Note: This book sat on my shelf for several weeks, waiting until I had time to read and review it. Despite the delay, it turns out that the timing is perfect. Here we are, right in the midst of the Paschal season, and the book is full of references to the Resurrection of Christ. And it should be so! For how else can we, Christ’s followers, better celebrate His Resurrection than by responding with joy? If we truly know and believe what He has accomplished for us, our “light and momentary troubles” – yes, even the impossible ones we may be facing at this very moment – pale in comparison to His victory. St. John Chrysostom’s homily which we all just heard at Pascha says, “Christ is risen! And the angels rejoice!” My brothers and sisters, let us join with the angels!

Phoebe Farag Mikhail’s book “Putting Joy into Practice: Seven Ways to Lift Your Spirit from the Early Church” is a balm for the disheartened soul. The author has found a way to simultaneously calm, soothe, and reassure the reader while also challenging them to live in an attitude of godly joy. Readers will step away from the book knowing what they need to do, with tools at the ready to assist them as they pursue true joy.

The book begins with an invitation section which answers the question, “What is joy?;” then offers insights into who/what steals joy from our life. The (much larger) second section of the book introduces seven joyful practices. These seven practices which the author offers as means to the pursuit of joy include: praying the hours; visiting the sick; repenting; giving thanks; offering hospitality; praying arrow prayers; and singing praises to God. Each practice is expounded via stories (both from the author’s experience and from others), scriptures, quotes from Church fathers, contemporary writings, scientific findings (as appropriate), and more. The book closes with an appropriate epilogue, casting the joy-filled light of the resurrection on a modern story of martyrdom which to the world seems to be only a tragedy.

The author admits that it took her five years to write this book from beginning to end. This was not because she had to search for so long to find all the right quotes or because she only has to write in the few moments left here and there to a wife/mother (who also happens to be a Coptic priest’s wife). Rather, she took five years to write the book because, at one point as she was writing, she found herself not practicing joy. She wanted the book to be genuine, tested, lived, so she set the writing aside and worked on her heart. It is my opinion that it was worth her wait. The text is a smooth blend of stories, practical advice, and wisdom founded on the strong base of Scripture and the wisdom of the Church fathers.

Although the author is a Coptic Orthodox Christian, this book is written in such a way that any reader who wants to live a more joyful Christian life will benefit greatly from having read the book. The references to Christian practices exercised in Ms. Mihail’s Church may differ from some other expressions of Christianity, but the ideas behind them are helpful to any follower of Christ. “Putting Joy into Practice” helps its readers to find practical ways to live out St. Paul’s exhortation to the Thessalonians (and to us): “Rejoice always… for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.” (I Thess. 5:16, 18)

If you are generally a joyful person, read this book. It will give you reasons to continue choosing joy, as well as  tools to boost your not-so-joyful days. If you are a complainer and grouch, say a prayer and then read this book, but prepare to change your attitude. Ms. Mikhail’s challenge is difficult to dodge, because the scriptures and Church fathers are pretty straightforward. Regardless of the attitude of their heart at the beginning of the book, readers will step away from it with a smile on their face and – better yet – with joy in their heart.

Purchase your own copy of “Putting Joy into Practice” here: https://paracletepress.com/products/putting-joy-into-practice

Find additional writings by author Phoebe Farag Mikhail at her website, http://beingincommunity.com/.

 

Here are a few gleanings from this book:

***

“Why is living in joy so hard? What can we do to live in the joy of the Resurrection when there are so many ways our joy can be stolen? As I pondered these questions, they led me on a path of trying to learn why joy is so hard, but more importantly, to learn how to live in joy, how to protect it from the thieves that strive to steal it, and how to share it with others.” (p. 8, “Putting Joy into Practice: Seven Ways to Lift Your Spirit from the Early Church” by Phoebe Farag Mikhail)

***

“We might not be happy every day; in fact, we might face suffering every day. But we can have joy every day. Running after joy is akin to holding a cup upside down. Joy is there, waiting to be given, but it doesn’t enter in. Rather than running after joy the way we might seek after pleasures or happy circumstances, we must instead rest and reorient ourselves into a posture of receiving, not running. The practices I share here are meant to help us reorient ourselves, to turn our cup right side up so that joy enters, and we exclaim, in the words of the psalmist, ‘My cup runs over’ (Psalm 23:5).” (pp. 15-16, “Putting Joy into Practice: Seven Ways to Lift Your Spirit from the Early Church” by Phoebe Farag Mikhail)

***

“Joy thieves can be just like the little animals that steal tomatoes from the garden. On the outside, they can be small, cute, and furry, even comforting, and yet somehow they can still manage to steal our joy. The early church fathers called them ‘the passions.’ In this context, passions are not to be completely confused with our modern use of the word to describe a positive, driven desire to do something good or meaningful. Nor are they to be confused with the ‘passion of Christ,’ which is related to the Latin word for suffering and endurance. Rather, these passions are extreme versions of human behavior that lead to sin.” (p. 22, “Putting Joy into Practice: Seven Ways to Lift Your Spirit from the Early Church” by Phoebe Farag Mikhail)

***

“Praying the Hours helps us, even in the bustle of our days, to stand in God’s presence and feel this ‘fullness of joy.’ The Hours are not just for ascetics, then, but even for busy, distracted laypeople, an anchor to pull us away from the storms of life into God’s presence and the presence of the entire community of believers. The moment I pick up my prayer book to pray, someone else is praying the same prayer, someone else has prayed another prayer a few moments before me, and others will be praying when I stop. In this way, when I pray the Psalms, I become part of an eternal chorus, even if it seems like I am praying alone. ‘For where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them.’ (Matthew 18:20)” (p. 37, “Putting Joy into Practice: Seven Ways to Lift Your Spirit from the Early Church” by Phoebe Farag Mikhail)

***

“The common thread running through these experiences is that visiting the sick is not about finding the right words to say, giving a sermon, or asking intrusive questions. A visit to the sick that brings the joy of the Holy Spirit is a visit that provides giving, listening, and connection. Bring bright flowers, a gift, a meal, or your hands and feet to serve when needed or asked. Bring listening ears and the ability to be silent when necessary. Bring a smile, a song to sing, or a story to tell. Bring a piece of art or craft you have made—-or bring supplies to create something together. Be joy, and expect the experience the joy of visiting Christ himself. Christ certainly needs no sermons from us.” (p. 61, “Putting Joy into Practice: Seven Ways to Lift Your Spirit from the Early Church” by Phoebe Farag Mikhail)

***

“Repentance makes room for joy within us, room that was previously filled with sin, shame, and fear. When we repent by turning our lives around like the prodigal son and the Samaritan woman, we experience its joy, and it is contagious. The heavens rejoice. The church rejoices. We cannot help sharing that joy with others, so they too might encounter Christ. Putting joy into practice means practicing repentance, even on a daily basis.” (p. 76, “Putting Joy into Practice: Seven Ways to Lift Your Spirit from the Early Church” by Phoebe Farag Mikhail)

***

“I am learning… that when I thank God ‘in any condition, in every condition, and in whatever condition,’ I might not be asking God to take me out of a condition of suffering, or even to see a silver lining around that suffering. Rather, I am thanking him in that condition of suffering, and sometimes I might even thank him for that suffering… Thanking God for suffering is… acknowledging that perhaps that suffering can serve a greater purpose.” (p. 85, “Putting Joy into Practice: Seven Ways to Lift Your Spirit from the Early Church” by Phoebe Farag Mikhail)

***

“Sometimes discovering who needs hospitality is a matter of taking a few moments to sit outside, linger on your front porch, or say hello to the neighbor living on the same floor in your apartment building. We might feel overwhelmed by great needs of the world presented to us on the news, but it is our simple acts of hospitality that will change the world, not our worries.” (p. 122, “Putting Joy into Practice: Seven Ways to Lift Your Spirit from the Early Church” by Phoebe Farag Mikhail)

***

“These days, when we find ourselves waiting, we fill the time by looking at our smartphones, checking our social media feeds or our emails, making every moment a constant input of information—often information we cannot control or tasks we cannot take action on while in line or sitting in traffic. This can add to our general sense of stress and lack of control… Using arrow prayers can help us reclaim control of our time and energy. Information overload drains us, but prayer fills us.” (pp. 127-128, “Putting Joy into Practice: Seven Ways to Lift Your Spirit from the Early Church” by Phoebe Farag Mikhail)

***

Need to learn a few “arrow” prayers? Here are some of the arrow prayers found on pp. 136 -137 of “Putting Joy into Practice: Seven Ways to Lift Your Spirit from the Early Church” by Phoebe Farag Mikhail. You may wish to print them onto cardstock, cut them apart, and glue to decorative paper or a blank index card (which you can decorate if you’re so inclined). Place these prayers around the house, in your purse or briefcase, even in the car so that you remember to pray.

***

“The joy of the Lord’s presence starts in the fiery furnace, not outside it… We begin the hymn [of the three saintly youths in the fiery furnace] with an exhortation to the youth in the fire to sing to the Son of God who is there with them in their suffering—and therefore also in their joy. This exhortation applies to us as well. We don’t wait to praise God until after we are saved from the furnace, when our prayers are answered the way we hope they will be. We praise him even in our troubles, acknowledging and confessing that he is there with us in those troubles. When we can wipe away from our eyes the smoke of our problems and praise him, we see him in his glory there—and this is powerful. This is joy.” (p. 146, “Putting Joy into Practice: Seven Ways to Lift Your Spirit from the Early Church” by Phoebe Farag Mikhail)

***

“My hope is that, by drawing from examples of how my church helps us live in the joy of the Resurrection, this book might open your eyes to the ways your tradition helps you practice joy. Once you begin to see it, whether you are in a happy situation or in great pain, it is all joy.” (p. 163, “Putting Joy into Practice: Seven Ways to Lift Your Spirit from the Early Church” by Phoebe Farag Mikhail)

***

 

Gleanings from a Book: “Lights on the Mountain” by Cheryl Anne Tuggle

Author’s note: Long ago I committed to reading fiction that strengthens my faith instead of dismissing it. I am fine with reading stories of people who struggle with life or with what they believe, as long as they are struggling towards God, not ignoring or shying away from Him. Because of these self-imposed limitations when it comes to reading adult-targeted fiction, I have limited my reading mostly to Christian fiction and classics. Suffice it to say that I have read a fair amount of both over the course of my five decades.

In all of my reading, I have yet to read a book like this one. “Lights on the Mountain” by Cheryl Anne Tuggle is Christian fiction at its best. The characters are so believable that you expect them to step right out of the book so you can marvel at the sunrise together, or share a cup of tea. Their struggles are real, as is their growth: painfully real, as is our human experience. Their story is carefully and beautifully told. This book is written as though it were already a classic.

Tuggle offers her readers a glimpse into mid-20th-century rural Pennsylvanian life, with its clash of cultures and challenges. Characters include a host of rural-minded Americans, a handful of hippies, a pair of Hungarians, a few Romanian “gypsies”, some Orthodox Christians, and more. (One character has Amish roots, but this is anything but another “Amish Christian Fiction” book: his cultural heritage is far from the focus of the book.) The characters interact with believable honesty, by turns disagreeing and misunderstanding; then accepting and helping each other as would be expected in a rural community such as theirs. (I live in Pennsylvania and married into a rural Pennsylvanian family, so I am familiar with such a community.)

Tuggle’s writing is lyrical and poetic. She refuses to spoon-feed her readers, instead inviting them to mull over the story, perhaps re-read sections, and ponder the reading. Her expertly-crafted sentences are clad in words befitting their message, saying just enough to allow the reader to find the pieces of the many puzzles in the story. Tuggle’s words spin ordinary farm life into gold, without sugar-coating the dirt.

“Lights on the Mountain” is filled with purposeful pain, glazed with moments of joy. How else could the story of a boy-becoming-a-man be genuinely told? The readers follow pensive Jess Hazel from his late boyhood through the moment when he fully embraces his adult responsibilities. Constant to his tale is the everyday glory of life on the farm. A host of colorful characters appear in different parts of his life, and not until the end of the book does the reader fully understand each one’s significance. True to life, some parts of this account leave the reader hanging until the parts come full circle, and there is beautiful completion.

This book is an interesting blend of thoughtful words, difficult subject matter, complex characters, deep faith, and simple glories. Readers will come away from reading “Lights on the Mountain” knowing that their time was well spent. I’ll warrant that many of them will read the book again, to revisit the characters and gain further insight into the puzzle pieces that they missed the first time around. I am particular with my fiction selection, and I will be among those re-readers.

By the way, according to my research, Tsura is a Romanian name. It means “light of dawn.” You’ll find that interesting when you read the book.

 

Purchase your own copy of “Lights on the Mountain” here: https://paracletepress.com/products/lights-on-the-mountain

Watch the trailer for the book here: https://youtu.be/VfCLI998hh4

 

While this book is a work of fiction, the insights that it offers will encourage you as a Christian, a spouse, a parent, and a Sunday Church School teacher. Here are a few gleanings from the book, to offer you a tiny taste:

***

“No doubt his father was right. Clyde always was. The beam of light probably was an extraordinary reflection of the everyday sun, but did that mean it couldn’t also be more? It might also be a kind of ladder, the means for God to get down to this patch of soil Hazels had been working since old Penn first claimed these woods and set things back to the way they used to be.” (pp. 19-20, “Lights on the Mountain” by Cheryl Anne Tuggle)
***
“Now that he knew how it was a man should live, it was clear that it was no more than his lot to do so. He still grieved, still felt acutely the pain of his aloneness. But there was a great deal of solace, he found, in taking Clyde’s approach to existence. Acceptance had its own plain reward. To be sure, living in such a way, a man’s sense of wonder was muted. But so was his sense of tragedy. Jess did not pine now for the old joy or wish for knowledge beyond his ken. And except for that which he now put in himself, and that which ought to be placed (with caution) in his fellow man, he did not long for faith. He did not long at all. Or he did but did not know it. And then, while he was longing without being aware that he longed, Gracie came to him. In the cool
of an evening. Almost as if she’d been sent. As if someone knew it was not good for man to be alone.” (pp. 42-43, “Lights on the Mountain” by Cheryl Anne Tuggle)
***
“For if there was anything he knew about Gracie Morozov after three months of loving her, it was that she was serious about God. It wasn’t a thing she talked about endlessly like some religious girls Jess had known—she seemed to take her faith as a natural gift, much as she did the shine and gloss of her hair or the unusual hue of her eyes, and rarely spoke of it directly, but he would have to be a fool not to see how it affected everything she said and did.” (pp. 65-66, “Lights on the Mountain” by Cheryl Anne Tuggle)
***
“She was quiet for a minute, thinking. Then she said, ‘I haven’t met Mr. Zook. But he’s human, right? And don’t we all suffer? We all have weaknesses. Injuries. Battle scars. Sins. Even the Amish. Straw hats and horse-drawn buggies don’t buy paradise. Or else none of us would need a savior.’”(p. 102, “Lights on the Mountain” by Cheryl Anne Tuggle)
***
“It seemed to Jess that he was being humbled on purpose, as if having stood for a few brief moments before the icon of Christ, he was now somehow standing within it, viewing himself through those all-seeing eyes. And from this view it was pretty clear that he had acquired more than just his father’s so-called natural way of taking his place the world. He had also acquired his stiff-neckedness. ‘There’s a way seems right to man,’ he remembered Orville Hays saying, ‘and oft times it isn’t.’ Jess wondered then if this was to be the response to his prayer. (If indeed such silent groaning was prayer.) God, after all these years, speaking to him in voices he could recognize. Or (and this was a sorrowful thought, weighted with regret) it could be that God had been speaking all along, and Jess only could not hear because he was not with any real amount of honesty listening.” (p. 184, “Lights on the Mountain” by Cheryl Anne Tuggle)
***
“Silence is a good teacher, but most of us make poor students.” (p. 210, “Lights on the Mountain” by Cheryl Anne Tuggle)
***
“‘There is a prayer we make to Christ,’ Father Daniel said, his voice growing tenderer, as if he’d heard Jess’s thoughts, knew the reason for his sigh. ‘“Wound my heart with love for you.” Is that not a strange request? It’s madness! And yet, don’t we understand it, you and me? At least a little. From the moment I saw you, I said to myself, now here’s a pilgrim I recognize. A fellow wounded. He has heard tales of a singular healing salve and has been limping about the earth to find out if one truly exists. Tonight, you’ve made a discovery. Yes, this miraculous ointment does exist. And what is it? More madness! More sweet pain to be endured. More sorrow mingled with joy. It’s love.’”(p. 214, “Lights on the Mountain” by Cheryl Anne Tuggle)
***

 

On the Sacraments: the Sacrament of Holy Unction

This post is the last in a series about the sacraments of the Orthodox Christian Church. In this post, we will look at the Orthodox Christian Sacrament of Holy Unction.

When we hear the words “Holy Unction,” we may immediately think of the special service during Holy Week in which the Holy Oil is set apart and blessed. That is an important time in the life of the Church, for all of Her members are invited to participate in the sacrament of Holy Unction for the healing of their souls and bodies during that service. But there is much more to Holy Unction than that service! The Orthodox Study Bible defines Unction as “anointing of the sick with blessed oil, for the healing of body and soul. The gift of healing is bestowed by the Holy Spirit through the anointing, together with the prayers of the Unction service.” (1, pp. 1789-1790)

Holy Unction is an important sacrament, for healing is really what the Church is about. Our Lord Himself came to earth in the first place to “bear our infirmities,” not just of body, but also of soul. He brought healing to many in his years on earth, and He continues to heal (body and soul) through the Church, especially in the sacrament of Holy Unction.

Father Thomas Hopko, in his writings about the sacraments, calls the sacrament of Unction “the Church’s specific prayer for healing.” He says, “If the faith of the believers is strong enough, and if it is the will of God, there is every reason to believe that the Lord can heal those who are diseased.” (2)

Fr. Thomas writes that the primary purpose of Holy Unction is healing of the physical body and of mental ills, but also healing of the spirit through forgiveness. “Holy unction is the sacrament of the spiritual, physical, and mental healing of a sick person whatever the nature or the gravity of the illness may be.” (2) He reminds us that “the proper context of the sacrament” is to pray “that God’s will be done always,” and reminds us that “it is not always the will of God that there should be physical healing.” (2) Sometimes the healing granted through Unction is a physical healing, but always – and more importantly – we pray for spiritual healing; that is, sanctification and union with Christ.

It is a fact that we will all die eventually. Because of this, the healing of the sick is not the final goal of Holy Unction: for even those who experience healing through this sacrament will at some point die. Instead, Fr. Thomas writes that Holy Unction is an instrument that God uses to show us his mercy and to extend the life of some people so that they can live to glorify Him.

When the time for death comes, the Orthodox Church has special prayers to aid the person experiencing the separation of their soul and body. But the Church does not reserve Holy Unction just for that point in one’s life, as some Christian churches practice. “Orthodoxy does not view this Sacrament as available only to those who are near death. It is offered to all who are sick in body, mind, or spirit.” (3)

Glory to God for His gift of the sacrament of Holy Unction!

Sources:
1. Various editors. (2008). The Orthodox Study Bible. USA: St. Athanasius Academy of Orthodox Theology. (available here: http://store.ancientfaith.com/osb-hardcover)

  1. Hopko, Fr. Thomas (2011, October 5). The Sacraments: Holy Unction. Retrieved from https://oca.org/orthodoxy/the-orthodox-faith/worship/the-sacraments/holy-unction
  2. Fitzgerald, Rev. Fr. Thomas (1985, June 11). Understanding the Sacraments of the Orthodox Church. Retrieved from https://www.goarch.org/-/the-sacraments.

Here are resources that you may find helpful as you prepare to help your Sunday Church School class study this important sacrament. What resources have you found helpful? Comment below and share them with the community!

***

The Teaching Pics ( http://ww1.antiochian.org/christianeducation/teachingpics) offer a picture (pic S20) and description of Holy Unction that can be very helpful as you teach a lesson on the subject to any age group. Find the teaching pics here: http://orthodoxchristianed.com/files/4114/9885/4473/ocec2017_2018.pdf

***

For classes with younger students, find activities here that you can print and use in class, as well as suggestions of discussions students could have at home to continue their learning about the sacrament of Holy Unction: http://orthodoxsundayschool.org/epistles-feasts-and-sacraments/3-5-years-old/holy-unction-0

***

Find lesson plans on the sacrament of Holy Unction at various age levels, here:

http://orthodoxsundayschool.org/epistles-feasts-and-sacraments/3-5-years-old/holy-unction

http://orthodoxsundayschool.org/epistles-feasts-and-sacraments/6-9-years-old/holy-unction

http://orthodoxsundayschool.org/epistles-feasts-and-sacraments/10-12-years-old/holy-unction

http://orthodoxsundayschool.org/epistles-feasts-and-sacraments/middle-school/holy-unction

http://orthodoxsundayschool.org/epistles-feasts-and-sacraments/high-school/holy-unction

***

Find a printable comic-style explanation of Holy Unction for kids here: https://raisingorthodoxchristians.com/2018/04/03/holy-unction-explanation-for-kids/

***

Find activity ideas to can help students of various ages learn about the Holy Unction service in the context of Holy Week, on the Holy Wednesday portion of this page: http://illumination-learning.com/main/project/holy-week/

***

Older students who are studying the sacrament of Holy Unction may find this summary of the Holy Unction service interesting:

“Introductory Prayers and Psalms 143 & 51
In these Psalms we confess our sinfulness before God and ask Him to cleanse us and make a ‘new and right spirit within us’ (Psalm 51:10).
Canon
In this series of verses that are read or sung, we ask God to show mercy upon us and cleanse our souls, to drive away all evil powers, to grant salvation to those who are sick or suffering, and to grant us the healing of our souls and bodies. At the end of several sets of verses, we ask God to renew our lives so that we may bless, thank and glorify Him forever.
Short Prayers or Troparia to the Saints
We pray to the saints – especially those who have helped the sick and suffering, and to those who have been martyred for the glory of God – and to the Mother of God to intercede for us for the salvation of our souls.
Epistle and Gospel Lessons and Prayers
There are seven sets of Epistle and Gospel readings and prayers.
a. James 5:10-16; Luke: 10:25-37
b. Romans 15:1-7; Luke 19:1-10
c. I Corinthians 12:27-31;13:1-8; Matthew 10:1,5-8
d. II Corinthians 6:16-18, 7:1; Matthew 8:14-23
e. II Corinthians 1:8-11; Matthew 25:1-13
f. Galatians 5:22-6:2; Matthew 15:21-28
g. I Thessalonians 5:14-23; Matthew 9:9-13
Each of the seven prayers asks for the remission of the our sins, for the healing of our souls and bodies and for life everlasting.” (from https://www.goarch.org/holyunction)

Consider allowing enough class time for the students to look up each gospel reading (and epistle, as well, if there’s time!) to search for how it is related to healing/Holy Unction. After a close look at these scriptures, the Holy Unction service during Holy Week will become even more special to the class!

***

unction

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.

***

“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.

***

“‘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/)
***

“‘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/

***

“‘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/

***

“‘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/).

***

“…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/

***

 

A Handful of Resources – Summer 2018

Several fantastic resources have recently come to our attention. Some of them have been around for a few years, while others are recently published, but all of them were new to us and we consider them well worth sharing! Here they are:

  1. The SuperHolies series of books by Mireille Mishriky includes three books from 2016 to date, with more to come: Philo and the SuperHolies, Philo and the Patience SuperHoly, and Philo, Rose, and the Joy SuperHoly. Each book explores the “SuperHolies” (the virtues mentioned in the Scriptures as the fruit of the Holy Spirit), which can be “activated” in our life when we ask for God’s help. Each book tells about a time when Philo (a Coptic Orthodox boy) finds himself in a tough spot, remembers the SuperHolies, and then prays by making the sign of the cross. This activates the “SuperHolies” in his life and helps him respond as he should!

38122991_10214979452591558_1783420491751489536_n

Philo and the SuperHolies introduces Philo to the SuperHolies and offers him the opportunity to activate the Kindness SuperHoly when he unexpectedly meets up (again!) with a neighborhood bully.

Philo and the Patience SuperHoly tells about one time when Philo was feeling impatient during liturgy at his Coptic parish, and how activating the Patience SuperHoly helps him not just during the service, but throughout the remainder of the day!

Philo, Rose, and the Joy SuperHoly follows Philo to the hospital early one summer when he falls and breaks his arm. He laments all the summer fun that he will have to miss because of his cast. His new friend Rose (who has a heart condition) encourages Philo to activate the Joy SuperHoly in his life; demonstrates her own Joy SuperHoly in the way that she lives; and gives Philo ideas of ways to rejoice in the midst of his suffering.

  1. Love & Joy Coloring Book by Draw Near Designs, copyrighted 2017, is a child-sized (or purse sized!) coloring book with 25 spreads featuring saints of the Orthodox Church and a quote from/about each.

38152814_10214979453791588_1263488892112207872_n

  1. Beautiful Things: An Orthodox Coloring Book for Children, illustrated by Megan Elizabeth Gilbert, was just published in 2018 by Ancient Faith Publishing. It features 64 pages of illustrations to color or activities to complete that are based on beautiful things that we learn about in the Church.

38177085_10214979453871590_4114410375569473536_n

Purchasing information:
Find the Philo books here: https://www.mireillemishriky.com/books/

Find Love & Joy here:  https://amazon.com/Love-Joy-Coloring-Book-Gann/dp/1977981887

Find Beautiful Things here: http://store.ancientfaith.com/beautiful-things-an-orthodox-coloring-book-for-children/

 

Read on to find more about each resource, as well as a few suggestions of how to use each one of them with your Sunday Church School class:

***

The Philo/SuperHolies books offer a story-based way to help children think about the virtues of peace, love, joy, kindness, patience, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control – the fruit of the Spirit of God. Each book stands well on its own, and the entire series will be a great addition to a Sunday Church School classroom where the virtues, especially the fruit of the Spirit, are studied. In each book, Philo learns how to demonstrate a fruit of the Spirit, after asking for God’s help.

Philo and the SuperHolies gives its readers a chance to learn and talk about virtues in the context of a story. Author Mireille Mishriky has cleverly written each “fruit of the Spirit” virtue into a superhero-styled person called a “SuperHoly.” Each SuperHoly is briefly explained in this first book, along with a very realistic example of how it can help us to live a truly Orthodox life. The SuperHolies are introduced in the context of a story about Philo and a neighborhood bully. Philo gets to test out the power of the Kindness SuperHoly when that bully shows up in a place where Philo least expected to meet him. While this book is not “preachy,” it is cleverly educational, and an excellent way for Sunday Church School teachers to introduce the fruit of the Spirit. The superhero qualities of the SuperHolies will help all of us want to have them “activated” in our life!

38212455_10214979452471555_6655010516156547072_n

Philo and the SuperHolies is a great introduction to the fruit of the Spirit. After reading it, invite each of your students to draw or write about their favorite SuperHoly. Give them opportunity to share with the class if they wish, including why they like the one that they do. Create a few scenarios of times students might need to activate one of these SuperHolies in their own life, and ask them to tell which SuperHoly they’d activate for each scenario. You could even act these out, depending on your class and time limit! Before the end of class, see how many SuperHolies your students can name without looking at the book. Then invite them to personally reflect on which one they most often fail to activate. Pray and ask God to help each member of the class (yourself included!) to remember that this help is available to them, when they need it!

***

Philo and the Patience SuperHoly tells the story of one Sunday when Philo is looking forward to a family barbecue after church. He finds himself feeling very impatient during liturgy at his Coptic parish. He tries so hard to be still and quiet, but does not succeed. Activating the Patience SuperHoly by praying with the sign of the Cross helps Philo during the remainder of the Divine Service and even throughout the rest of the day!

38253890_10214979452431554_7659934019043196928_n

Philo’s Patience SuperHoly offers him a variety of ideas of ways to be patient during liturgy. Invite your students to share their stories of times when they’ve felt impatient (not just in church!). How did they handle it? What worked? What did not work? Do they have additional ideas to share with each other for times that they feel impatient (including at church!)? Let each student write or draw their own illustration of a time when the Patience SuperHoly helped (or could help) them. Pray together, asking God to help each of you activate His gift of patience in your life when you need it the most.

***

Philo, Rose, and the Joy SuperHoly naturally causes the reader to consider whether or not they are living joyfully. Readers compare themselves to Philo, who is whining and lamenting all that he’ll miss during summer vacation in the four weeks he must wear a cast after breaking his arm. They also compare themselves to Rose, born with a heart condition causing her to spend much of her life in the hospital, whose very disposition radiates gratitude and joy. Most readers are somewhere between the two. In the story itself, Rose sets aside her own struggles and instead gently encourages Philo to activate the Joy SuperHoly in his own life. She then gives him ideas of ways to rejoice in the midst of his suffering (even though it’s much less permanent than hers).

38180771_10214979452511556_2292770202506493952_n

This book pairs well with a lesson on suffering as well as it’s obvious value, teaching about joy. Share the book with your class, then ask the students what stood out to them in the story, and why? Why do they think that Rose says, “Thankful people are always joyful?” Does anyone in your class know someone who is thankful and/or joyful? What’s it like to be around that person? Did that person ever have any hardships in their life? How do you think they came to be so joyful, if they did? If you don’t know anyone personally, can you think of any saints or biblical stories that demonstrate this kind of thankfulness and joy? Invite your students to design on paper a sticker, magnet, or button that reminds them to activate the Joy SuperHoly in their life. Provide the materials that they need to actually create the final product. Encourage them to place it where they will see it and be reminded to live a life of joy and gratitude. Close with a prayer asking God to help each of you to live joyfully.

***

Love & Joy Coloring Book by Draw Near Designs is a beautiful little coloring book that is not just a coloring book! Each of the 25 spreads offers a simplified-icon-like drawing of a saint (or two), along with a quote related to them. We love the size of this book (it is a compact 5”x7”), the carefully drawn saints, and the wisdom of the quotes. This book is unique in that even after the entire book is colored, it will be useful because of the saints’ pictures and quotes which can be read and pondered.

38284530_10214979453911591_6066236848529735680_n

This coloring book could be used by middle-years or older students as a focusing activity at the beginning of class, as people are gathering, if you have one for each student. Or, it could be the basis of almost an entire year’s curriculum, if you studied one of each of the 25 saints depicted and considered/discussed the quotes each week. Of course a third option would be to give this book as a Christmas or Pascha gift to classes of older children or teens. (If you do this, we recommend that you pair it with colored pencils, as the paper will likely bleed with markers.)

***

Beautiful Things: An Orthodox Coloring Book for Children, illustrated by Megan Elizabeth Gilbert, is a coloring book for all ages. There are a range of drawings from simple to complex, and all feature beautiful things about our Faith. The book is not just a coloring book: it also includes a variety of activity pages, as well as open-ended drawing pages.

38284398_10214979453831589_8691545533879156736_n

Depending on your lesson plans for the year, this book could be an occasional lesson companion for younger Sunday Church School students. It is not reproducible, so you would need one copy for each of student. Amongst its 64 sturdy pages are illustrations and activities related to stories from the scriptures; beauty that is found in different parts of the Divine Liturgy; tools that help us on our journey (for example, a prayer corner, a pile of books, a censor, etc.); symbols used in iconography/the Church; and a few “lower-case t” traditions from different jurisdictions. So, for example, the dove and the ark pages could accompany a lesson on Noah; the grapes and the wheat pages could be colored during a lesson on the eucharist; the draw-yourself-praying page could be used in a lesson about icon corners or prayer; etc. If it does not fit with your lesson plans, be sure to keep this beautiful book in mind for your students’ birthdays, Christmas, or Pascha gifts!

On Struggle

Struggle. The word itself may make us shudder inside. In this culture of “live for yourself; do what feels good; if it doesn’t work for you, quit,” struggle is often labeled as evil, and we feel inclined to avoid it at all costs. Throughout time, humans have disliked struggle and attempted to be freed from it. Some have even considered struggle to be evidence of sin or wrongdoing, even touting freedom from struggle as evidence of godliness.

So, what’s an Orthodox Christian supposed to do with struggle? Should we try to evade it? If we are struggling, does that mean that we are failing in our Christian life?

Let’s begin by taking a look at the scriptures to see what they say about struggle. According to Strong’s Concordance, the Greek word for struggle is ἀγωνίζομαι, or agónizomai. It translates to English in different ways, including “to contend for a prize,” as well as “struggle.” We find it in Luke 13:24, “Strive to enter through the narrow gate, for many, I say to you, will seek to enter and will not be able”. We also find it in 1 Corinthians 9:25, “And everyone who competes for the prize is temperate in all things. Now they do it to obtain a perishable crown, but we for an imperishable crown.” I Timothy 4:8-10 also uses the word: “For bodily exercise profits a little, but godliness is profitable for all things, having promise of the life that now is and of that which is to come. This is a faithful saying and worthy of all acceptance. For to this end we both labor and suffer reproach, because we trust in the living God, who is the Savior of all men, especially of those who believe.” And we find it again in 2 Timothy 4:7, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.” According to the scriptures, struggle is necessary for the Christian life. Striving, competing, laboring, and fighting the good fight all help to urge us in the right direction: toward a deeper faith in God and His Kingdom.

What about the holy fathers? Do they teach us about struggle?
Yes, they do. If we examine their lives, we can learn much about struggle! But they also use words to teach us about it. Here are a handful of their many teachings about struggle:

“Nothing is so incongruous in a Christian, and foreign to his character, as to seek ease and rest.” ~ St John Chrysostom

“Of course, it would be easier to get to paradise with a full stomach, all snuggled up in a soft feather-bed, but what is required is to carry one’s cross along the way, for the kingdom of God is not attained by enduring one or two troubles, but many!” ~ Elder Anthony of Optina

“Do not grow despondent and enfeebled in spirit, seeing the constant struggle within you of evil against good, but like a good and valiant soldier of Jesus Christ, our great Founder, struggle courageously against evil, looking at the crown, prepared by the Lord for all who conquer evil in this world and in their flesh. ‘To him that overcometh, will I grant to sit with Me in My Throne’(Rev. 3:21).” ~ St. John of Kronstadt

“Brothers, as long as you have breath in your bodies, strive for your salvation. Before the hour comes in which we shall weep for ourselves, let us practice virtue eagerly. For I tell you that if you knew what good things are in heaven, what promise is laid up for the saints and how those who have fallen away from God are punished and also what torments are laid up for those who have been negligent – especially those who have known the truth and have not led a way of life worthy of it so as to inherit that blessedness which is reserved for the saints and to flee the punishments of these torments – then you would endure every pain in order to be made perfect in the virtue which is according to Christ.” ~ St Pachomius

“It is by warfare that the soul makes progress.” ~ St. Tikhon of Voronezh

Struggle. Sometimes it hurts. Always, it is hard. But, according to the scriptures and the holy fathers, it is necessary. Struggle allows us to embrace our Lord more tightly. It enables us to see His hand at work in our life. It provides us with opportunities to trust Him more fully. So, although we may not like struggle, and we may be tempted to try to be freed from it, we must not. Struggle helps us grow away from sin and towards godliness.

May the Lord strengthen us and help us to struggle.

 

Struggle is not just for us as adults to learn about and embrace. Here are a few ideas to help us teach our Sunday Church School students about struggle:

***

Poor Ping. He is usually able to grow anything. When the emperor gives out seeds to all of the children and tells them to bring back their plants in one year – and that the plants will choose his successor, Ping cannot get his seed to grow. He struggles all year with that seed, trying everything he can think of, but nothing grows. He has to take the seed, in the dirt, ungrown, to the emperor at the end of the year… This retelling of a Chinese folktale, “The Empty Pot,” by Demi, will be an excellent addition to a lesson on struggle. (You can see the pictures and hear the story here: https://youtube.com/watch?v=nSoqBWPq8U0)

***

Although these picture books are grouped together as books “addressing perseverance,” some of them definitely feature struggle and could be a great help to a class discussion. https://selfsufficientkids.com/childrens-books-perseverance/

***

This secular lesson on the benefits of struggle may give you some ideas for helping your students learn the value of this difficult task! https://blog.classcreator.io/teaching-kids-to-struggle-growthmindset/

***

Show younger students photos or video footage of an animal that needs to struggle in order to thrive. Here are some video links that may be helpful:

Birds emerging from their nest: http://earthporm.com/someone-put-camera-birds-nest-see-caught/

A butterfly emerging from its chrysalis:

https://youtube.com/watch?v=Gt-5lS9hJFA

Talk together about what you’ve just learned. If these creatures need to physically struggle as part of their normal growth, how much more should we humans both physically and spiritually struggle in order to grow!

***

Share quotes about struggle from holy people with middle-years or older students as part of a discussion. Choose from those we wrote about in our discussion of struggle, and/or some of these: “Just as people do not enter a war in order to enjoy war, but in order to be saved from war, so we do not enter this world in order to enjoy this world, but in order to be saved from it. People go to war for the sake of something greater than war. So we also enter this temporal life for the sake of something greater: for eternal life. And as soldiers think with joy about returning home, so also Christians constantly remember the end of their lives and their return to their heavenly fatherland.” ~ St. Nikolai Velimirovich

“God’s grace always assists those who struggle, but this does not mean that a struggler is always in the position of a victor. Sometimes in the arena the wild animals did not touch the righteous ones, but by no means were they all preserved untouched.
What is important is not victory or the position of a victor, but rather the labor of striving towards God and devotion to Him.” ~ St. John Maximovitch

“Let us strive to enter by the narrow gate. Just as the trees, if they have not stood before the winter’s storms cannot bear fruit, so it is with us, this present age is a storm and it is only through many trials and temptations that we can obtain an inheritance in the kingdom of heaven.” ~Amma Theodora

***

Send middle-years or older students searching in the scriptures. What do the scriptures say about struggle? Talk about how, according to the Strong’s Concordance, the Greek word for struggle is ἀγωνίζομαι, or agónizomai, which does not just mean struggle. It translates to English in different ways, including “to contend for a prize,” as well as “struggle.” Send them to find it in Luke 13:24, (“Strive to enter through the narrow gate, for many, I say to you, will seek to enter and will not be able”.) Can they locate it in 1 Corinthians 9:25? (“And everyone who competes for the prize is temperate in all things. Now they do it to obtain a perishable crown, but we for an imperishable crown.”) How about in I Timothy 4:8-10? (“For bodily exercise profits a little, but godliness is profitable for all things, having promise of the life that now is and of that which is to come. This is a faithful saying and worthy of all acceptance. For to this end we both labor and suffer reproach, because we trust in the living God, who is the Savior of all men, especially of those who believe.”) The same word is used in 2 Timothy 4:7! (“I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.”) Comparing these four passages should give the students a better grasp on what agónizomai means, as well as an idea of how important it is to the Christian life! Ask them what they can conclude about it, based on these four passages. (Striving, competing, laboring, and fighting the good fight all help to urge us in the right direction: toward a deeper faith in God and His Kingdom.)

***

With older students, begin a class on struggle by sharing this article to launch the discussion. The article points out how, in nature, struggle is necessary for growth.

https://heraldextra.com/print-specific/columnists/the-struggle-s-the-thing/article_f68dc972-8b19-5c55-ae39-4b0dc0bba3cc.html.

***

“We can choose to look at all of life’s circumstances as opportunities to be sanctified. We can turn towards Christ instead of trying to face our passions on our own. And lastly, we should take heart and not be discouraged nor become judgmental of others who struggle against passions different from our own.” Teens and adults alike will benefit from reading this blog post on three lessons learned from St. Porphyrios, and it could be easily incorporated into a class on struggle. https://blogs.goarch.org/blog/-/blogs/three-lessons-from-saint-porphyrios

***

On Learning About the Saints

In the Orthodox Church, we are each admonished to learn about the saints. We quote the Holy Fathers and are encouraged to study the lives of all the saints who have gone on before us. But do we ever take a moment to consider why are we encouraged to do this? What value is there in learning about the life of someone who lived so long (years or even millennia) before us?

This blog post will take a look at a few of the reasons why we should learn about the saints; through the words of Holy Fathers and saints.

When we learn about the saints, we can see that they struggled, too.

What is important is not victory or the position of a victor, but rather the labor of striving towards God and devotion to Him.” ~St. John Maximovitch

“…You have seen that on the icons of the saints, the Lord Jesus Christ is represented above, with the imperial globe in one hand and with the other extended in blessing. This is taken from reality. From heaven the Lord ever watches over those who combat for His sake upon earth, He helps them actively, as the almighty King, in their struggle with the enemies of salvation, blesses His wrestlers with ‘peace and joy in the Holy Spirit,’ and bestows the crown of life upon them after they have finished their earthly exploits.” ~St. John of Krondstadt

We can observe the ways in which the saints succeeded (and sometimes also failed!), and learn from them.

“The saints were people like all of us. Many of them came out of great sins, but by repentance they attained the Kingdom of Heaven. And everyone who comes there comes through repentance, which the merciful Lord has given us through His sufferings.” ~St. Silouan the Athonite

“…some falls and relapses of the former sinful life are inevitable. Do not let this disturb you, do not despond. Rome was not built in a day. Everything takes time. It is through many trials and great struggle that we each enter the Kingdom of God…
Sometimes this process of rising proceeds quickly, at times it slows down…Do not be discouraged when you see no improvement. One thing is needful: try to live according to the Gospel commandments…
If you do succumb [to sin], repent before the Lord, ask forgiveness, and rise to fight again. And so until death.” ~Abbot Nikon

“He also said concerning Abba Pior that every day he made a new beginning.” ~Abba Poeman

We can use the saints’ lives as a guide and/or measuring stick to help ourselves stay on track.

“We should always be on the lookout to compare ourselves with the Saints and the lights who have gone before us. If we do, we will discover that we have scarcely begun the ascetic life, that we have hardly kept our vow in a holy manner, and that our thinking is still rooted in the world.” ~St. John Climacus

“A person can become a saint anywhere. He can become a saint in Omonia Square [in Athens, synonymous with vice and corruption], if he wants. At your work, whatever it may be, you can become saints – through meekness, patience and love. Make a new start every day, with new resolution, with enthusiasm and love, prayer and silence – not with anxiety so that you get a pain in the chest. If it happens, for example, that you are given tasks to do that fall outside the remit of your duties it is not right for you to protest and become irritated and complain. Such vexations do you harm. Look on all things as opportunities to be sanctified.” ~St. Porphyrios

We can ask the saints to pray for us.

“Many think that the saints are far from us. But they are far from those who distance themselves from them, and very close to those keep the commandments of Christ and have the grace of the Holy Spirit. In the heavens, all things are moved by the Holy Spirit. But the Holy Spirit is on earth too. He lives in our Church. He lives in the Mysteries. He is in the Holy Scriptures. He is in the souls of the faithful. The Holy Spirit unites all things, and therefore the saints are close to us. And when we pray to them, then the Holy Spirit hears our prayers, and our souls feel that they are praying for us.” ~St. Silouan the Athonite

“’I love them that love me, and glorify them that glorify me.’ (Proverbs 8:17, I Kings 2:30,) says the Lord of His saints. The Lord gave the Holy Spirit to the saints, and they love us in the Holy Spirit. The saints hear our prayers and have the power from God to help us. The entire Christian race knows this.” ~St. Silouan the Athonite

“Call with faith upon the Mother of God and the Saints and pray to them. They hear our prayers and know even our inmost thoughts. And marvel not at this. Heaven and all the saints live by the Holy Spirit and in all the world there is naught hidden by the Holy Spirit. Once upon a time I did not understand how it was that the holy inhabitants of heaven could see our lives. But when the Mother of God brought my sins home to me I realized that they see us in the Holy Spirit and know our entire lives.” ~St. Silouan the Athonite

Through the prayers of our Holy Fathers, of Thy Most Pure Mother, and of all the Saints, have mercy on us and save us. Amen.

Here are a few more quotes from saints about why we can/should learn about and from the saints, as well as a few resources to help us begin the learning!

***

“In them [the Lives of the Saints] it is clearly and obviously demonstrated: There is no spiritual death from which one cannot be resurrected by the Divine power of the risen and ascended Lord Christ; there is no torment, there is no misfortune, there is no misery, there is no suffering which the Lord will not change either gradually or all at once into quite, compunctionate joy because of faith in Him. And again there are countless soul-stirring examples of how a sinner becomes a righteous man in the lives of the Saints: how a thief, a fornicator, a drunkard, a sensualist, a murderer, and adulterer becomes a holy man─there are many, many example of this in the Lives of the Saints; how a selfish egoistical, unbelieving, atheistic, proud, avaricious, lustful, evil, wicked, depraved, angry, spiteful, quarrelsome, malicious, envious, malevolent, boastful, vainglorious, unmerciful, gluttonous man becomes a man of God─there are many, many example of this in the Lives of the Saints.

By the same token in the Lives of the Saints there are very many marvelous examples of how a youth becomes a holy youth, a maiden becomes a holy maiden, an old man becomes a holy old man, how an old woman becomes a holy old woman, how a child becomes a holy child, how parents become holy parents, how a son becomes a holy son, how a daughter becomes a holy daughter, how a family becomes a holy family, how a community becomes a holy community, how a priest becomes a holy priest, how a bishop becomes a holy bishop, how a shepherd becomes a holy shepherd, how a peasant becomes a holy peasant, how an emperor becomes a holy emperor, how a cowherd becomes a holy cowherd, how a worker becomes a holy worker, how a judge becomes a holy judge, how a teacher becomes a holy teacher, how an instructor becomes a holy instructor, how a soldier becomes holy soldier, how an officer becomes a holy officer, how a ruler becomes a holy ruler, how a scribe becomes a holy scribe, how a merchant becomes a holy merchant, how a monk becomes a holy monk, how an architect becomes a holy architect, how a doctor becomes a holy doctor, how a tax collector becomes a holy tax collector, how a pupil becomes a holy pupil, how an artisan becomes holy artisan, how a philosopher becomes a holy philosopher, how a scientist becomes a holy scientist, how a statesman becomes a holy statesman, how a minister becomes a holy minister, how a poor man becomes a holy poor man, how a rich man becomes a holy rich man, how a slave becomes a holy slave, how a master becomes a holy master, how a married couple becomes a holy married couple, how an author becomes a holy author, how an artist becomes a holy artist…” ~St. Justin Popovich

***

“If you wish, the Lives of the Saints are a sort of Orthodox Encyclopedia. In them can be found everything which is necessary for the soul which hungers and thirsts for eternal righteousness and eternal truth in this life, and which hungers and thirsts for Divine immortality and eternal life. If faith is what you need, there you will find it in abundance: and you will feed your soul with food which will never make it hungry. If you need love, truth, righteousness, hope, meekness, humility, repentance, prayer, or whatever virtue or podvig, in them, the Lives of the Saints, you will find a countless number of holy teachers for every podvig and will obtain grace-filled help for every virtue.” ~St. Justin Popovich

***

The Saints hear our prayers and are possessed from God of the strength to help us. The whole Christian race knows this. Fr. Roman told me that when he was a boy he had to cross the river Don in the winter, and his horse fell through the ice and was just about to go under, dragging the sledge with it. He was a little boy at the time and he cried at the top of his voice, ‘St. Nicholas, help me pull the horse out!’ And he tugged at the bridle and pulled the horse and sledge out from under the ice. And when Fr. Matthew, who came from my village, was a little boy he used to graze his father’s sheep like the Prophet David. He was no bigger than a sheep himself. His elder brother was working on the other side of a large field and suddenly he saw a pack of wolves rushing at Misha—Fr. Matthew’s name in the world–and little Misha cried out, ‘St. Nicholas, help!’ and no sooner had the words left his lips than the wolves turned back and did no harm either to him or his flock. And for a long time after that the people of the village would smile and say, ‘Our Misha was terribly frightened by a pack of wolves but St. Nicholas rescued him!’ And we know of many an instance where the Saints come to our help the moment we call upon them. Thus, it is evident that all heaven hears our prayers. – St. Silouan the Athonite

***

“St. Marcella and her compatriot Christian widows and young women adopted a plain manner of dress, in contrast to the sumptuous clothing their patrician status demanded. This group became known as the ‘Brown Dress Society’ in Rome. The 300-400s AD were the formation period of monasticism in the Church. Repeatedly in hagiography, women and men were noted to have shunned ‘costly array’ when they entered a celibate life, dedicated to Christ… Put your hair up and your work clothes on, because life is messy!” ~From the introduction to this wonderful new blog about the lives of women saints: https://browndressproject.com/

***

Find a calendar/schedule of Orthodox Christian children’s book about saints and their corresponding feastdays here: https://www.pinterest.com/pisc304/reading-through-the-year-of-grace/

What saints’ stories do you recommend to the community?

***

36725267_10214786478087316_4883824964597186560_n

Here are a few resources that you may find helpful in your quest to learn about the saints.

Some of the back issues of Little Falcons magazines focus on saints. Find “Mary the Theotokos” (issue #80) and “Heroes” (issue #38) among other back issues here: http://www.littlefalcons.net/

Traveling Companions, by Christopher Moorey, is an alphabetical index of many saints of the Church. Easy to read and understand, this book can be used by adults or children, and introduces the reader to a saint for almost every day of the year (and several saints, on some days!). http://store.ancientfaith.com/traveling-companions/

Christ in His Saints, by Fr. Patrick Henry Reardon, showcases the lives of about 150 saints and heroes found in the Holy Scriptures. The writing style is geared towards older children and adults. http://store.ancientfaith.com/christ-in-his-saints

What other saint resources do you recommend that the rest of the community read?

***

Take a few minutes each day to listen to Deacon Jerome Atherholt’s podcast about one of the saints of the day. http://www.ancientfaith.com/podcasts/saintoftheday

***

Find a series of blog posts about recent saints, beginning here: https://orthodoxchurchschoolteachers.wordpress.com/2016/09/23/saints-of-recent-decades-an-introduction/

***

Learn the troparion to some of the saints, so that you can sing them on the day when we commemorate them. Here is a recording that could help to that end, with a few of them: http://eikona.com/great-saints-major-feasts/
And here are the words for others, for you to chant: http://www.saintromanos.com/downloads.html

What troparia are your favorites?