Tag Archives: Cross

Lenten Sundays Series: The Sunday of the Veneration of the Holy Cross

This is the fifth in a series of posts that focuses on the Sundays of Great Lent (and Holy Week and Pascha). Each week we will share ideas of ways to help your Sunday Church School students learn more about that particular Sunday’s focus. We will share each blog early, so that you have time to read it before the forthcoming Sunday, in case you find any of those ideas helpful for your particular class.

Here’s a meditation on the Sunday of the Veneration of the Holy Cross for you to ponder before you create a lesson for your students:

On the third Sunday of Great Lent, we celebrate the Sunday of the Holy Cross. We’re halfway through Lent at this point, and perhaps some of our determination and eagerness for the Lenten journey is waning a bit. That is exactly why the Church Fathers chose this Sunday for us to commemorate the Holy Cross.

Fr. Alexander Schmemann, in his book “Great Lent”, reminds us that throughout Great Lent we are crucifying our own self, trying to live up to this week’s Gospel reading. The Gospel reading for the Sunday of the Veneration of the Holy Cross is from Mark 8 and 9, and reminds us of Christ’s command, “If any man would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me” (Mark 8:34). Schmemann goes on to explain that it would do us no good to take up our cross and follow Christ if it were not for Him taking up the Cross in the first place. “It is His Cross, not ours, that saves us. It is His Cross that gives not only meaning but also power to others.” (1, pp 76-77)

In gratitude for His taking up the Cross, and to encourage us to continue taking up ours, the Church has given us this Sunday. His example of suffering willingly and completely reminds us that our struggles are small in comparison. But it also reminds us that He understands struggle and pain. Today’s epistle reading exhorts us, “For we have not a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.” (Hebrews 4:15-16) Christ’s conquering death by taking up the Cross offers us the hope of resurrection as well as the assurance that our struggle is not in vain: it leads us towards Him, towards heaven.

The placement of the Veneration of the Holy Cross in the middle of Great Lent is more than just an encouragement for us to keep going. It also is a fulfillment of an earlier event. “It’s very beautiful, actually. Think of Paradise, the Garden of Eden. The Tree of Life was placed in the middle of the garden of Eden, and here [in the middle of Great Lent] we find the Holy Cross — often said to come from the wood of the Tree of Life, for this wooden Cross is indeed the means to eternal life. The Holy Church places it here to remind us of Adam’s sin, and to remind us that it is only through the Holy Cross that we will find eternal life.” (2, pp 107-108, brackets mine)

And so, in the hope of the resurrection; with determination to continue our struggle (for He understands struggle and has made a way for us); let us sing with joy today, “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!”

Glory to God for His example, His victory, and His great mercy towards us and our own struggles, through the Life-Giving Cross!

Resources:
1. Schmemann, Alexander. Great Lent; Journey to Pascha. St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 1974.
2. Bjeletich, Elissa and Kristina Wenger. Tending the Garden of Our Hearts: Daily Lenten Meditations for Families. Ancient Faith Publishing, 2019.

Here are a few resources you may find helpful as you prepare to teach your students about the Sunday of the Veneration of the Holy Cross:

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This short lesson explains veneration in very simple terms. Teachers of young children may find it helpful to read this before leading a class on the Sunday of the Veneration of the Holy Cross. https://stmichaeljermyn.org/files/CHURCH%20SCHOOL/Venerating-Icons.pdf
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What does it mean to venerate something, and why do we venerate the cross on THIS particular Sunday of Great Lent? Find some of these answers here and share them with your students : https://orthodoxchristianparenting.wordpress.com/2015/03/11/on-the-sunday-of-the-veneration-of-the-holy-cross/
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Find stories, activities, and ideas related to the Holy Cross in this back issue of “Little Falcons”, a magazine for Orthodox children. To order, print this document and order issue #47.
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Teachers whose students are mid-elementary or older may find this to be a helpful reading with their class. It ties together the story of how the Sunday of the Veneration of the Holy Cross came to be and the epistle and Gospel reading for the week. http://dce.oca.org/assets/templates/bulletin.cfm?mode=html&id=43
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Find activity ideas and printable resources, geared for a variety of age levels and related to the Veneration of the Holy Cross here: https://orthodoxpebbles.com/orthodox-basics/tending-garden-week4/
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Your students may learn a lot from watching this short video about the cross: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=K1RUgfqI33M
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Want to do an art piece featuring the Cross as part of your lesson on the Sunday of the Veneration of the Holy Cross? The following links offer tutorials for a variety of art techniques that have a cross as their central theme. The tutorials utilise art mediums that are common to many Sunday Church School classrooms.
Paper: https://orthodoxchurchschoolteachers.wordpress.com/2014/12/13/art-projects-for-sunday-church-school-paper/
Crayons:
https://orthodoxchurchschoolteachers.wordpress.com/2014/12/19/art-techniques-for-sunday-church-school-using-crayons/
Chalk: https://orthodoxchurchschoolteachers.wordpress.com/2015/01/09/art-projects-for-sunday-church-school-chalk/
Markers:
https://orthodoxchurchschoolteachers.wordpress.com/2015/01/17/art-projects-for-sunday-church-school-using-markers/
Watercolor paints: https://orthodoxchurchschoolteachers.wordpress.com/2015/01/23/art-projects-for-sunday-church-school-using-watercolor-paints/
Mixed media:
https://orthodoxchurchschoolteachers.wordpress.com/2015/01/30/art-projects-for-sunday-church-school-mixed-media-collage/
3-d art: https://orthodoxchurchschoolteachers.wordpress.com/2015/02/06/art-projects-for-sunday-church-school-3-dimensional-art/

Learning from the Saints: St. Nina (January 14/27)

Late in the 3rd century, in Cappadocia (central modern-day Turkey), a young girl was born to a Roman army chief named Zabulon, and his wife Sosana (who was the sister of Patriarch Juvenal of Jerusalem). This girl was named Nina (or Nino, as she is called in the Republic of Georgia). Nina and her parents were well off, but decided to sell everything when Nina was 12 and go to Jerusalem to live in the Holy City. Soon after they arrived there, Zabulon was tonsured a monk and went to live in a monastery in the desert, Sosana became a deaconess and helped her brother the patriarch serve the poor of Jerusalem. Nina went to live with a godly woman named Nianfora, who continued to teach her to love and follow God through His Church.

When Nina was 14, she began to wonder about Our Lord’s robe and whatever happened to it. She asked Nianfora how something so precious could just be lost for hundreds of years? Nianfora answered that it was somewhere in Iberia (now Georgia) because it had traveled there after the soldier won the robe with the dice toss at the cross. Nina was very pious and thought that this holy item that had belonged to Our Lord should not be lost and forgotten, so she began to pray, asking the Mother of God to make a way for her to go. One night she had a dream in which the Theotokos blessed her with a cross made of grapevines tied together with hair. The Theotokos told Nina that the cross would be her protection as she traveled to Iberia. When Nina woke up, she was still holding the cross in her hand! She kept that grapevine cross with her for the rest of her life. Soon after this dream, Nina set out to find Christ’s robe with the blessing of her uncle, the patriarch.

Nina traveled first to Rome. While she was there, she met Princess Ripsimia and her teacher Gaiana, and let them to the Faith. The emperor at that time was Diocletian, who was persecuting Christians. Diocletian wanted to marry Princess Ripsimia because she was so beautiful, but she and Gaiana and Nina (and 50 other young ladies) ran away to spare their lives because they were Christians. They escaped safely to Armenia. Unfortunately, Diocletian was so angry he had sent soldiers to follow the young ladies (and to warn King Tiridat of Armenia about them). When the now-warned King Tiridat saw the beautiful Princess Ripsimia, he wanted to marry her! When she refused, he killed her, Gaiana, and the other 50 young ladies with them. Nina narrowly escaped this martyrdom by hiding in some rosebushes.

Alone, Nina continued her journey to Iberia. When she first arrived in Iberia, she befriended some shepherds who gave her food and helped her know where to go to find their capital city of Mtskheta. Along the way, Nina was very discouraged. She began to wonder why she was doing what she was doing. One night as she slept, she had a dream. In her dream, a heavenly visitor appeared to her and gave her a scroll. When she woke up, Nina still had the scroll in her hand. She could even read the scroll: it was written in Greek! It was full of scripture verses which encouraged her to continue on her journey so that she could help others learn more about Christ and His Church. This gave Nina the strength that she needed to continue her journey, and she made it to Mtskheta.

Soon after her arrival in Mtskheta, Nina was saddened to watch a ceremony where the people of Iberia were gathered to worship idols covered in metal. The people shook before the idols as their priests prepared sacrifices for the ceremony. Nina was so sad that she began to pray hard and loudly for the people, that God would enlighten them and show them that He is the true God. Suddenly, a storm came up and all the people had to take cover! Lightning destroyed the idols, crumbling them to nothing. The rain washed away the crumbled pieces. Nina had taken cover in the cleft of a rock, so she was safe, but she saw the whole thing happen. After the idols were washed away, the sun shone once again, and the people came looking for their idols. Of course they found no trace of them. This made the Iberian king wonder if there is another God greater than the gods that they worshiped.

Nina was welcomed into the palace garden by the gardener and his wife, who allowed her to live in a corner of the garden (some sources say in a hut; others say under a bramble). The couple was unable to have children, but Nina prayed for them, and God blessed them with many children after that! They became Christians, and so did many others in the land, as Nina prayed for them and told them about Christ. She became well known because of her godliness and her kindness. God worked other miracles through her prayers as well. For example, once a mother was carrying her dying son through the city, begging for help so that he would not die. St. Nina took the boy, laid him down on her leaf bed, and prayed for him. As she prayed, she touched him with her grapevine cross, and he was healed!

Nina preached even to the Jewish people of Iberia. Interestingly enough, it was through the Iberian Jewish High Priest (who converted to Christianity as well through the teaching of Nina) that she learned about the one thing that she had come to Iberia to find in the first place: the robe of Christ! He told her the story of his great-grandfather Elioz, who had gone to Jerusalem to witness Christ’s death (His death was considered by the Jewish people to be a victory for their nation, so invitations were sent out prior to its happening). Elioz’s mother had warned him not to ally himself with those who killed Christ, because she knew that He was the fulfillment of the Jewish prophecies! Elioz went to Jerusalem and was present at the crucifixion, and managed to get Christ’s robe from the soldier who had won it. He brought it back to Mtskheta, where he found out that his mother had died around the time that Christ did (after feeling in her heart the pounding of the nails as they were pounded into Our Lord and proclaiming that she sensed that He had been killed). Elioz’s sister Sidonia took the robe of Christ when she saw it in his hands, and began to venerate it with kisses. She hugged it to herself and immediately died! Elioz tried to pull the robe from her grasp but was completely unable to do so. He felt afraid about what could happen to the robe at that point, so he secretly buried her, still clinging to the robe, in an undisclosed location. Some say it was in the middle of the palace garden in Mtskheta, where a cedar tree suddenly grew, but no one knows for sure.

When Nina learned this, she was still uncertain of the actual location of the robe of Christ, but began to pray at that cedar tree in the middle of the royal garden in case the robe was truly under there. One night after her prayers, Nina saw many black birds perch in the cedar’s branches. They flew from there to the river, bathed, and came back as white as snow! The now-white birds sat in the cedars branches and sang beautifully. God revealed to Nina that this was to help her to realize that the people of Iberia would come to know Him, be baptized, and continue their lives cleansed of sins. It encouraged her to keep telling all the people around her about Christ, and to pray for them and for their salvation.

The queen of Iberia, Queen Nana, who did not like Christians and worshiped false gods like the Roman goddess Venus, became sick around this time. She went to doctors, but just got worse and worse. It looked like she would die. Although she did not like Christians, Queen Nana had heard that Nina could heal people through her prayers. She commanded that Nina be brought to her. Nina replied that if she wanted to be healed, the Queen would need to come to her humble dwelling instead. The queen was desperate and so she humbled herself and they carried her to Nina’s little living space, where her servants laid the queen on Nina’s bed of leaves. Nina prayed for her, and touched her head, feet, and shoulders with the grapevine cross. As soon as Nina finished making the sign of the cross over Queen Nana in this way, the queen was completely well. She was so grateful to be healed that she stopped worshipping idols and became a Christian instead. Queen Nana and Nina became close friends.

The king of Iberia, King Mirian, was not happy that his queen converted to Christianity. He was ready to have all of the Christians in Iberia killed, even though that meant that his own wife would die. While he was thinking of this plan, he went out hunting on a beautiful day. As he hunted, suddenly a dark cloud came up where he was. It was so dark that the king could not see! Winds began to blow, lightning was all around, and it was all very similar to the frightening storm that hit back when Nina first came to Iberia and the idols had been destroyed. All of the king’s hunting companions left him because they were afraid. Alone, King Mirian cried out to his gods to save him. The storm got worse, and of course the gods did nothing. Finally, King Mirian cried out to the God of Nina, asking Him to save him from this storm and promising to follow God if He did. At that moment, the storm stopped, and the sun shone! King Mirian returned to the city, found Nina and told her of his experience and his promise, which he kept. And that is how the  Light of Christ entered into King Mirian’s life and the lives of his people as well. His joy at his conversion led the king to build many churches to help his people to be better Christians.

After the king’s conversion, Nina continued to preach and teach about Christ to the Iberian people. Her hard work, and the cooperation of the people around her, established Christianity firmly in that part of the world. (Even today, 82 % of the people of the nation of Georgia are practicing Orthodox Christians!)

Nina reposed in the Lord in the early 4th century, in the village of Bodbe, in what is now eastern Georgia. King Mirian had a church built at the site of her repose. Her body is buried there.

O handmaid of the Word of God,

Who in preaching hast equaled the first-called Apostle Andrew,
And hast emulated the other Apostles;
O enlightener of Iberia and reed-pipe of the Holy Spirit,
Holy Nino, equal to the Apostles:
Pray to Christ God to save our souls!
(troparion to St. Nina, in tone 4)

Sources:

http://www.antiochian.org/node/17330

https://oca.org/saints/lives/2013/01/14/100191-st-nino-nina-equal-of-the-apostles-and-enlightener-of-georgia

http://www.pravoslavie.ru/english/67914.htm

http://www.stnina.org/st-nina/life-st-nina-karen-rae-keck

 

Here are additional sources that can help us learn more so that we can teach our Sunday Church School students about St. Nina:

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This picture book is a great way to help younger students learn about the life of St. Nina: http://www.stnectariospress.com/the-life-of-saint-nina-equal-to-the-apostles/

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Share this 8-minute video about the life of St. Nina with middle-years students: http://trisagionfilms.com/project/life-st-nina-enlightener-georgia/

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Older students will benefit from reading the life of St. Nina and studying and/or praying the supplication to her that is found in this book: http://www.holytrinitypublications.com/en/Book/8/313/The_Life_of_St_Nina_Equal-to-the-Apostles_and_Enlightener_of_Georgia.html

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Teens will enjoy reading this Iberian Jewish account of Christ, as it was told to St. Nina, and what happened with His robe:

“Conversing frequently with this Abiathar [the Iberian Jewish high priest], St. Nina heard from him the following tale about the Lord’s Robe:
‘I heard from my parents, and they heard from their fathers and grandfathers, that when Herod ruled in Jerusalem, the Jews living in Mtskheta and all Kartli received the news that Persian kings had come to Jerusalem seeking a newly-born male child of the lineage of David, born of a mother, but having no father, and they called him the King of the Jews. They found Him in the city of David called Bethlehem in a humble cave and brought Him gifts of gold, myrrh, and frankincense. Having worshipped Him, they returned to their own country.
‘Thirty years passed, and then my great-grandfather Elioz received from the high priest in Jerusalem, Annas, a letter which read as follows: “He Whom the Persian kings came to worship and offer their gifts, has reached a mature age and has begun to preach that He the Christ, the Messiah, the Son of God. Come to Jerusalem see His death, to which He will be delivered according to the law Moses.”
‘When Elioz, along with many others, was about to set out for Jerusalem, his mother, a pious old woman of the lineage of the high priest Elias, said to him: “Answer the king’s call, my son, but I beg you, do not ally yourself with the impious against Him, Who they intend to kill; He is the One foretold by the prophets, a Riddle for the wise, s Secret hidden from the beginning of the ages, a Light for the nations and Eternal Life.”
‘Elioz, together with the Karenian Longinus, arrived in Jerusalem and was present at Christ’s Crucifixion. His mother remained in Mtskheta. On the eve of Passover she suddenly felt in her heart something like the strokes of a hammer driving in nails, and she cried out: “Today the kingdom of Israel has perished, because it has condemned to death its Savior and Redeemer; from now on this people will be guilty of the blood of its Creator and Lord. It is my misfortune that I have not died before now, for then I would not have heard these terrifying blows! No more will I see on the earth the glory of Israel!”
‘And uttering these words, she died. Elioz, who was present at Christ’s Crucifixion, obtained the Robe from the Roman soldier to whose lot it had fallen, and brought it to Mtskheta. Elioz’s sister Sidonia, on greeting her brother with his safe return, told him of the wondrous and sudden death of their mother and of the words she had uttered just before she died. Then when Elioz, in confirmation of their mother’s foreboding regarding the crucifying of Christ, showed his sister the Lord’s Robe, Sidonia took it and began to weep and kiss it; then she pressed it to her breast and instantly fell down dead. And no human strength was able to wrest this holy garment from the arms of the dead girl. Elioz committed his sister’s body to the earth and buried her with Christ’s Robe, and he did this in secret so that even to this day no one knows Sidonia’s burial place. Some surmise that it is located in the center of the royal garden, where from that time there grew up of its own accord and still stands a shady cedar. Believers flock to it from all directions, considering it to possess great power; and there beneath the cedar’s roots, according to tradition, is Sidonia’s grave.’
“Having heard about this tradition, St. Nina began to go at night to pray beneath the cedar tree…” ~ from http://www.pravoslavie.ru/english/67914.htm

After reading this passage together, discuss it. Possible questions could include: How is this passage the same as what we Christians have heard about this part of Our Lord’s life? Does the Jewish perspective offer us any insights we may not have had before this? How does hearing a Jewish person’s belief about Christ impact our own?

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Talk with your Sunday Church School students about St. Nina’s cross. How did she get the cross in the first place? How did God use it to bless others? Show them a picture of St. Nina’s cross, which is still reverenced by the Georgian people to this day. (You can find photos of it online, or show your students the video footage of the cross being reverently carried into a service at around :24 in this Georgian news story:https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=y3LVGZ8aO0g.) After the discussion, help your students to each create a grapevine cross to remind them of the one that St. Nina had. Before class, you will need to procure some grapevine (from your own plants, or a friend’s plants, or from a craft store or nursery) and some embroidery floss. When it is time to make the crosses, cut sticks of two different lengths for each cross and use strands of embroidery floss “hair” to tie them into a cross. Their cross can be small, made of just two grapevine twigs, or large, crafted from multiple strands of each size: it is up to you! Send the crosses home with your students so that they can put theirs in a place where it will remind them to be faithful to God and to trust Him as St. Nina did. (Here’s a blog post that can give you an idea of how to tie the cross together. The cross in the blog is made with twigs from a tree, but the method would apply to grapevine as well: http://www.gratefulprayerthankfulheart.com/2012/04/little-wooden-cross-from-sticks.html)

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With older students, study the Gospel verses that were written on the scroll miraculously given to St. Nina in her dream when she was feeling most discouraged about her journey. Here they are:

“Verily I say unto you, Wheresoever this gospel shall be preached in the whole world, there shall also this, that this woman hath done, be told for a memorial of her. (Matt.26:13).
“There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female: for ye are all one in Christ Jesus. (Gal.3:28).
“Then said Jesus unto them (the women), Be not afraid: go tell my brethren… (Matt.28:10).
He that receives you receives me, and he that receives me receives him that sent me (Matt.10:40).
“For I will give you a mouth and wisdom, which all your adversaries shall not be able to gainsay nor resist (Luke 21:15).
“And when they bring you unto the synagogues, and unto magistrates, and powers, take no thought how or what thing you shall answer, or what you shall say: for the Holy Spirit shall teach you in the same hour what you ought to say (Luke 12:11-12).
“And fear not them which kill the body, but are not able to kill the soul… (Matt.10:28).
“Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit: Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the world (Matt.28:19-20).”

After reading the scriptures together, talk about how these words must have encouraged Nina. Then ask your students: do any of these verses stand out to encourage you? Have each student select one of these verses to copy onto a piece of magnetic sheet (magnetic business cards like these would work well: http://www.staples.com/Avery-reg-Inkjet-Magnetic-Business-Cards/product_461559). Send the magnetic verses with your students so that they can put the verse in their locker at school or on their fridge at home to continually encourage them as they did St. Nina!

The Creed: And Was Crucified for Us Under Pontius Pilate, and Suffered, and Was Buried

At His crucifixion, Jesus took on our sins, and true to his human nature, suffered sin’s consequence: death. In this final act of selfless love and service, Jesus Christ died and burst the bonds of death.

In the icon of the Crucifixion, the skull under the cross represents the place where Adam was buried and reminds us that Jesus is the New Adam. Unlike Adam, who disobeys God’s command, Jesus was obedient to the Father and cooperated with Him. It is important that Jesus became man in order to overturn Adam’s sin. “For since by man came death, by Man also came the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ all shall be made alive. (1 Corinthians 15: 21-22) Orthodox Christians can never speak of the Crucifixion without remembering the Resurrection. We participate not only in the suffering of Christ, but also in His victory. Through His cross, joy is come into the world!

(An aside: the mention of Pontius Pilate in the Creed is intentional. It points to the fact that Christ’s death and resurrection are historical events and can be traced to a specific date in human history.)

“For when all was sinful, cursed and dead, Christ became sin, a curse, and dead for us—though He Himself never ceased to be the righteousness and blessedness and life of God Himself. It is to this depth… that Christ has humiliated Himself ‘for us men and for our salvation.’ For being God, he became man; and being man, he became a slave; and being a slave, he became dead and not only dead, but dead on a cross. From this deepest degradation of God flows the eternal exaltation of man. This is the pivotal doctrine of the Orthodox Christian faith… the doctrine of the atonement—for we are made to be ‘at one’ with God. It is the doctrine of redemption—for we are redeemed, i.e., ‘bought with a price,’ the great price of the blood of God.” (Hopko, “Doctrine,” p. 88)

Try this: Together as a Sunday Church School class, talk about “spoiler alerts.” What are they? When and where do we see them? How do they change our perspective on the movie, book, or story that they “spoil?”

When our family first joined the Orthodox Church, one of the things that we noticed and loved are all the “spoiler alerts” about Christ’s resurrection that the Church gives. Whenever Orthodox Christians talk in Church about Christ’s death, immediately we also find ourselves proclaiming His resurrection. (The Church Fathers did that on purpose, placing the focus on His bursting of the bonds of Hades and His opening of paradise to us once again, rather than focusing on His death.)

Talk together about the importance of this spoiler alert. Why SHOULD we always remember His resurrection when we talk about His death? When does the Church give us these “spoiler alerts?” Look for them during the Divine Liturgy. If you have time, get out your Holy Week service book, and flip through those services (especially near the end of the week) for these “spoiler alerts.” These services are full of them!

On the Cross of Christ and Leading Children Through Holy Week

We are rapidly approaching Holy Week, the most wonderful week of the Orthodox Christian Church year! It is a truly holy and deeply meaningful week. Experiencing the events of Holy Week is the best possible preparation for celebrating the deep joy of Pascha.

The reality of Christ’s death on the cross is a very real part of our journey on this particular week of the year. It is difficult enough for an adult to wrestle with the idea of God Himself enduring such pain and death. With children and their many questions added into the mix, Holy Week can be a real challenge for parents to face.

As we thought about Holy Week, the Antiochian Orthodox Department of Christian Education thought it would be helpful to offer ideas and suggestions for parents preparing to enter into the week with their children. We asked a variety of people to offer their wisdom and insights. This blog will offer a compilation of their answers.

Many thanks to Father Peter Pier (parish priest at St. John Chrysostom Antiochian Orthodox Church in York, PA), Annalisa Boyd (parent and author), Carol Federoff (homeschooling parent, blogger, and writer), Dr. Chrissi Hart (parent, child psychologist, podcaster, and author), Molly Sabourin (parent, blogger, podcaster, and photographer), and Rebekah Yergo (homeschooling parent and Sunday Church School Director) for taking the time to answer these questions for us! Their insights will help us to better prepare ourselves and our children for what we are about to experience. (And their roles are far more numerous than those listed here!)

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We will begin with the subject of death. Death is a significant part of Holy Week. It is unavoidable, and can be a very difficult topic for some people, especially children, to encounter. But Holy Week cannot happen without it! After we hear about what death, we will move through questions about why Christ had to die, what was significant about Him dying on a cross. We asked our contributors how they explained Christ’s death to their children and what ideas they have for others who are teaching children about Christ’s crucifixion. Finally, we asked them for ideas of how to prepare our children for Holy Week. Here are some of their responses to our questions:

AODCE: What ideas do you have for parents and teachers as they approach the difficult subject of death with their children?

Dr. Hart: “There are developmental considerations here – depending on the child’s age. Children under six do not have a sense of finality of death [and] so [they] do not fully understand death. Ask children what they think happens when we die. We believe that from death there is new everlasting life, with Christ. Death is not something to be feared.  Just as Christ was resurrected from the dead, so we will [rise] also, to join Him in Heaven.”

Fr. Peter: “It is my opinion that parents should not hide death from children; it is part of our human existence. Children should be aware of it. However, parents should emphasize God’s love and care for us and the fact that a person who dies in Christ will be with God and therefore we don’t mourn them as people with no hope. If you shelter your children from death and try to pretend there’s no such thing out there, how will they make any sense of Holy Week and Pascha?”

Carol: “Use picture books that deal with death. I’ll Always Love You by Hans Wilhelm and Always and Forever by Alan Durant are wonderful examples.  Don’t wait until someone significant in their life passes…pick these books now during Lent and other times during the year so that this subject can be a gentle introduction rather than dealing with it after such a crisis in their life.  Of course, read Bible stories with your child.  There are situations and hints of death all through the Bible and can spark many mini conversations that will introduce the idea of death.”

AODCE: Why did Christ have to die?

Molly: He died “to destroy the power of death… He loved this world so much [that] he became us, to shatter death’s dominion over us.”

Fr. Peter: “In my opinion the best way to explain why Christ had to die is to emphasize that God knew that the only way to destroy power of death was for Him to go to the cross Himself and give His life for us. Christ went willingly because He knew that through His death he could destroy the power of sin and death over us. I would emphasize a number of things: First and foremost, God’s love. Put the love of God the Father and the Son at the forefront. Secondly, emphasize obedience: We as humans are constantly disobedient to God. Jesus, however, was able to obey even unto death (the thing that we fear most) and in so doing shows Himself to be the Perfect Human and an example to all of us.”

Carol: “I’m assuming these questions are for very young children and with them I would focus on the resurrection more than the death.  Christ died because he loved us and he died and rose to Heaven taking the people that were in Hades (a dark place that wasn’t fun to be in) to make it possible for us to go to Heaven when we die and leave the earth.  By Christ rising from the dead and going to Heaven, it gave us the chance to be like Him and do that too.”

AODCE: What is the significance of His death on a cross?

Annalisa: “In the Old Testament the Israelites disobeyed God (Numbers 21).  After they were delivered from slavery in Egypt they complained to Moses.  They were tired, hungry and angry at God.  God sent snakes into the camp of the Israelites and these snakes bit the people causing many to die.  The people realized they had sinned against God and repented.  God made a way for the people to be healed.  He told Moses to make a fiery snake, put it on a pole and lift it up for the people to see.  Anyone who looked at the snake on the pole would be healed.  This was a picture of Christ and the Cross.  Jesus was put on a cross so we could be healed from sin and death. The Israelites received healing for this life but through His work on the Cross Christ offers us eternal life!

“We cross ourselves all the time.  We cross ourselves at church, when we pray and any time we hear the words ‘Father, Son and Holy Spirit.’  Sometimes we can forget why we cross ourselves and what it means when we do.  Each year during Great Lent we walk with Jesus through the most painful time of His life on earth.  His good friend betrayed Him and the rest of the Apostles ran away at the first sign of danger.  He was lied about, made fun of, beaten and finally hung on the Holy and Life Giving Cross.  When we cross ourselves we are reminding ourselves and telling others that we follow Jesus whether we are betrayed, lied about, made fun of beaten or even killed.  But it doesn’t stop there.  When we cross ourselves we remember that we take up our own cross and follow Him wherever He leads.  We no longer live for ourselves.  In the Garden of Gethsemane, before He was crucified, Jesus asked God the Father to take the burden of death from Him.  Then He said something very important, ‘Father, if it is Your will, take this cup away from Me; nevertheless not My will, but Yours, be done.’ Luke 22:42.  That is what we are saying when we cross ourselves, “Lord, if there is another way please show me.  But I will do what You say no matter what.” In the Bible we read, ‘I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me.’ Galatians 2:20 NKJV  When we cross ourselves we remember that the Cross of Christ is powerful and just as we followed Him in His passion if we love and obey God we will follow Him to life eternal.”

Molly: “Why the cross? Because crucifixion was seen as such a humiliating way to die, for common criminals. Everyone expected God’s kingdom to be an earthly one but Christ’s death on the cross communicated loud and clear our calling to live humbly on this earth and in hope of His heavenly, eternal Kingdom.”
Rebekah: “God created man with a physical body. You cannot be born without a body. It is part of the very essence of humankind. God, who made us this way, knows how important physical things are to us. Touching, seeing, tasting, hearing, and smelling things around us is how we understand the world we live in, and how we understand and connect to bigger and more complicated things- including spiritual things. God, who is spirit from before all worlds and bigger than the universe, sent Jesus to put on flesh; to become a man, in order to save us from the curse of sin and death. We learn of this mystery when we celebrate the Nativity. This was Love come to us. Man could now see God. Man could hear His words, straight from His own mouth. They saw His miracles and His compassion for all those around Him. And now, Christ Jesus showed us exactly what essence God is made of. God is Love. And in His loving-kindness, not only did he sacrifice His flesh on the cross, but in doing so, he left a physical reminder of this most loving act. It is a reminder to us that perfect Love not only died for us, but he raised himself from the dead and is seated on the right hand of the Father in heaven, awaiting that great day when He shall come again to call all of us to be joined with Him.

“From our prayers, we pray: ‘Let God arise and let His enemies be scattered, and let them that hate Him flee before His face. As smoke vanisheth, so let them vanish; as wax melteth before the fire, so let the demons perish from the presence of them that love God and who sign themselves with the sign of the cross and say in gladness: Rejoice, most venerable and life-giving Cross of the Lord, for Thou drivest away the demons by the power of our Lord Jesus Christ who was crucified on thee, Who went down to hades and trampled on the power of the devil, and gave us thee, His venerable Cross, for the driving away of every adversary.’

Carol: “For a young age group, I simply state that that is the way they killed bad people who were dangerous back in those days.  I try not to give too many details at this age (toddler through around 1st grade) as these kids, in my opinion, are not always ready for details and need more focus on the resurrection and that it’s very important for us. When they are getting older and actually ask for those details, I use the guidance of books!  We have many Orthodox picture books around and other sources.”

Dr. Hart: “The Cross is the symbol of our salvation, and of hope, love and redemption. The Holy wood of the Cross was predestined from the beginning of time, to be the instrument of Christ’s death and also of our salvation, as prophesied by the prophets of old. We worship and love the cross because Christ died on it to save us.” (An aside: read her book, The Legend of the Cross, for more on this!)

“Fr. Thomas Hopko in his CDs, The Word of the Cross, by St Vladimir’s Seminary Press, described the Cross as the definitive act, word and manifestation of God: ‘Beyond the Cross, there is nothing more God can do. Beyond the Cross, there is nothing more God can say. Beyond the Cross, there is nothing more to be revealed.’”

AODCE: How would/did you explain His death to your children?

Carol: “I have explained the reason that He had to die and explained that the men who put Jesus on the cross did not know or understand that He was truly the Son of God.  It is sad that they did not know this but Jesus forgave them, so we need to forgive them and others who have wronged us.”

Annalisa: “When Adam and Eve sinned in the garden they brought both sin and death into the world.  Because of their sin, and our sin, we could not be permitted into heaven to be with God, just as Adam and Eve could no longer be permitted to be in the Garden.  The “bridge” between God and us had been broken by mankind and only God could fix it.  Jesus didn’t just die, He took the sins of the world upon himself making a way for us to be saved.  In the resurrection icon we see the Apostles, Jesus and two people being lifted out of the tomb. Those two people are Adam and Eve.  Christ’s death and resurrection fixed what had been broken in the Garden of Eden.  At Pascha we sing, “Christ is risen from the dead, trampling down death by death, and upon those in the tombs bestowing life!” Christ conquered death by His death so we can be forgiven for our sins and death no longer means separation from God.”

Dr. Hart: “Christ died for us to give us eternal life. Because of the fall, sin came into the world through the first man, Adam. Christ opened the door to Paradise to those who believe in Him, love Him and accept Him as our Savior.”

Fr. Peter: (We spoke once again about how he we should emphasize the love that God offered to us all through the Cross. And then we took this helpful detour:) “Sometimes we think our answers have to explain everything, that we must leave [our children] asking no questions. However, there are things about our Faith that we don’t understand. For example: How does the Eucharist happen? Why does Christ continue to offer Himself that way? We don’t know and we can’t explain it. If our adult answer doesn’t satisfy our children, that is not a bad thing: far more important is accepting the Gift that is being given to us! We don’t always have to have a pat answer for everything; we can allow for the fact that God really is beyond our understanding. If children demand more, it’s not bad to humbly say, ‘That’s the best explanation that I have, but God is far bigger than we are and we really shouldn’t expect to understand everything.’”

AODCE: What suggestions do you have for parents and teachers as they teach their children about Christ’s crucifixion?

Fr. Peter: “Above all, emphasize the love of God for us and how much He cares for us. We have to emphasize that God’s love is perfect and He loves us with a love that is even beyond what we can understand; the Cross is part of that mystery of God’s love. Christ offers Himself to death, to destroy death and power of sin over us because of that Love.”

Carol: “Start with the story of Lazarus!  Alexander (age 4) was thrilled when we recently read the story of Lazarus! He told many people about the man that Jesus told to ‘Come Out’ when he was dead and he came out!  So the following week, when we got to the story of [Christ’s] death on the cross in the Children’s Bible Reader (American Bible Society – 2006 Greek Bible Society) I immediately reminded him of the story of Lazarus when I saw that he was showing some upset over what was happening to Jesus.  ‘Do you remember what happened to Lazarus?’ I asked, smiling. ‘Let’s keep reading!  The same kind of thing is going to happen to Jesus too!’  Then he got excited!”

Annalisa: “When we teach about the death and resurrection of Christ it is important to keep the information age appropriate.  We don’t have to go into as much detail for the little ones while still communicating how awful and painful it was.  We also want to remind them that He did it because He loves us.  For older children we can talk more about the prophecies in Isaiah and how brutal His passion was to help them understand how great the sacrifice was by Jesus for us.  He was not just hung on a cross, which in and of itself is excruciatingly painful, clumps of his beard were pulled out, he was beaten to the point he did not look human anymore and all this because He loved us.”

Dr. Hart: “Contemplate the meaning of the cross and salvation.  Ask children what the Cross means to them. Why do we wear our cross?  We wear it because we are Christians and to remind us of what Christ did for us.”

AODCE: As we approach Holy Week, how can parents best prepare their children for what they will see and hear?

Fr. Peter: “It’s appropriate to talk about the services in advance to tell children what we’re going to experience and what it’s about to prep them so they can look forward to services. For example, ‘Tonight we’re going to the service of Holy Thursday evening. It’s all about the crucifixion of Christ. We’re going to see the priest carrying the icon of Christ out and put it on the cross. This is to remind us of how Jesus was nailed to the cross and died for us. We’re going to read from the Gospels. We’re gonna hear that story again about how Jesus offered His life for us, for the world…’ I think it’s good to do some prep like that. It helps children to anticipate and to look forward to each part, and to remember, ‘Oh, this was what mommy was talking about!’”

Annalisa: “In our home Holy Week is a time of quiet.  Keep in mind we are a household of 10 so we are certainly not silent, but we work on turning down the energy level of our home.  We only watch Christian movies, if we watch anything at all.  We stay away from video games, internet and anything that isn’t specifically focused on Christ.  We listen to church music and eat very humble meals. We participate in as many services as possible especially from Wednesday forward.  We are trying to set a particular mood in our home with the prayer that in the calming of our home we can hear the call of Christ in our hearts.  Here are some of the resources we use in our home:

Parent’s Guide to Holy Week http://www.goarch.org/archdiocese/departments/religioused/holyweekguide

The Jesus Film for Children http://www.amazon.com/Story-Jesus-Children-16-Language/dp/1894605411/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1426773611&sr=8-1&keywords=the+jesus+film+for+children

We have enjoyed the visual Bible over the years.  It helps to set the tone for Holy Week as we focus on the life of Jesus, His death and resurrection.  It is a dramatization of the life of Jesus but the only words used are the whole of the book of Matthew.”

The Book of Matthew Vol. 1 http://www.amazon.com/Visual-Bible-Matthew-Richard-Kiley/dp/B00S5OBQAG/ref=sr_1_3?s=movies-tv&ie=UTF8&qid=1426789986&sr=1-3&keywords=Book+of+Matthew

The Book of Matthew Vol. 2 http://www.amazon.com/Visual-Bible-Matthew-Richard-Kiley/dp/B00S5ORM2C/ref=sr_1_4?s=movies-tv&ie=UTF8&qid=1426789986&sr=1-4&keywords=Book+of+Matthew

Carol: “Take your child to as many services as they are able to handle but do keep in mind the length and maturity of your child.  We want church to be a good experience and overtaxing them at a young age can take away from that.  If they are going to a service, tell them about your favorite parts or favorite hymns, etc.  Find a copy of the service book and read over a few parts with your child ahead of time so they can try to listen for those parts.  Potamitis Publishing has a coloring book on Holy Week that may be helpful!  Archangel Books also offers a book titled Glorious Pascha written by Debra Sancer that tells about the days of Holy Week.”

Rebekah: “Making a list of the services available at your local parish will help you prepare for and manage your week. Each service will teach valuable lessons. This description of the daily services from the Greek archdiocese is helpful: http://lent.goarch.org/bulletins/documents/8.5x11_JourneyToPascha_1.0.pdf There are so many services though, that it is not always possible to attend all of them.  Whether you introduce the stories to your children beforehand, or review what they heard during the services, keep in mind that each story points to the truth that Jesus is the Christ, the Messiah, come to redeem us from sin and death, and whom we look for to come again. There are so many witnesses to this fact, and the church has chosen wisely in showing us this. Holy Week is a time to prepare ourselves for the coming Christ. Often, on the practical side of bringing young children to evening services, it is helpful to know how long each service will last. Your local priest or choir director could best give you a time estimate.”

Dr. Hart: “Take your child to church. [Also] use Bible readings, read Orthodox children’s books, listen to the ‘Readings from Under the Grapevine’ podcast on Ancient Faith Radio and the ‘Let Us Attend’ podcast for Bible readings. Potamitis Publishing has excellent coloring books for young children.  Keep explanations simple and brief for younger children.”

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So, as we approach Holy Week, we will find that sorrow surrounds us, but resurrection pulls us forward. In the midst of this week there is great struggle, pain, and a myriad of questions from ourselves and from our children. But there is also hope. Smack in the middle of this horribly honest week where we face the reality of our own separation from God through our own choices, hope comes when we are met with Love Himself. He Who has loved us so much as to not spare His own Son; He Who loves us so much as to Himself take on our flesh and break the power that sin and death had over that flesh; He Who loves us so much as to breathe His Life back into our very core. This is the message of the Cross of Christ: Love.

May we all live this Holy Week cognizant of that Love. May we share it freely with our precious children. And together, let us approach the glorious resurrection of our Lord drenched in the love that He is pouring out on us along the way as we journey through this Holy Week.

Having beheld the Resurrection of Christ, let us worship the Holy Lord Jesus, the only sinless one. We venerate Thy Cross, O Christ, and we praise and glorify Thy Holy Resurrection, for Thou art our God, and we know no other than Thee: we call on Thy name. Come, all you faithful, let us venerate Christ’s holy Resurrection, for behold, through the Cross joy has come into all the world. Let us ever bless the Lord, praising His Resurrection, for by enduring the Cross for us, He has destroyed death by death.