Tag Archives: Faith

Gleanings from a Book: “Time and Despondency” by Dr. Nicole Roccas

As soon as this book arrived in the mail, I resolved to read it and share some gleanings from it with this community. My thought process was somewhere along the lines of: “It will be great for parents and teachers to read this book so they can help their despondent kids.” In my mind’s eye, this book had the makings of an excellent tool for young people or for adults with teens in their life.

I was right.

And I was wrong.

Nicole Roccas’ “Time and Despondency” takes the reader on a journey through time and thought as it addresses the relationship between time and despondency, which is “no less than a perpetual attempt by the mind to flee from the present moment, to disregard the gift of God’s presence at each juncture of time and space.” (p. 15) The book offers much to ponder, including quotes from church fathers and other noted Christian authors, all pointing to the fact that despondency is a real problem for Christians. Not just teens and young adults encounter despondency. It is a struggle for Christians of all ages. Parents and teachers, too. Myself included.

But this book does not merely shake a finger in the face of its readers, scolding them for not caring or for abandoning the present or God, Who meets us in the present. Rather, the book extends grace to the reader. It encourages them to do the same to themselves and to others. Then it walks the reader through a host of ideas of ways to begin to heal and step away from despondency; whether with counter statements from scripture or with stepping stones built on virtues and disciplines.

As it turns out, I needed to read this book. Perhaps someday it will be helpful to me as I relate to the teens and young adults in my life. But right now, I needed to read this for my own salvation. Maybe once I have “removed the log from my own eye” I can begin to help others. I encourage you to read it, as well, so that we can journey together out of despondency and back to the present, where we find – and connect with – God.

You can purchase a copy of “Time and Despondency” here: http://store.ancientfaith.com/time-and-despondency/

Listen to Dr. Nicole Rocca’s podcast here: http://www.ancientfaith.com/podcasts/timeeternal

Find her blog here: https://blogs.ancientfaith.com/timeeternal/

Note: when I read a book so that I can write a “Gleanings” blog post, I mark potential quotes to share by adhering sticky notes beside the quote. When I take a photo of the book to use for the blog’s illustration, I usually remove those sticky notes. This book, however, is so highly quotable that it garnered many, many sticky notes. I left them in the book for this illustration photo so that you can see for yourself that the gleanings I am sharing are not nearly all of the ones I’d have liked to share! There is so much to ponder in this book. Here are some gleanings from it:

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“‘Despondency is the impossibility to see anything good or positive; it is the reduction of everything to negativism and pessimism. […] Despondency is the suicide of the soul because when man is possessed by it, he is absolutely unable to see the light and desire it.’” (Dr. Nicole Roccas quoting Alexander Schmemann, “Time and Despondency”, p. 23)
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“Despondency has an infinite array of disguises and symptoms. Among the most universal signs is inner restlessness, yet this can present itself in countless ways, depending on the person. For some, the restlessness makes it problematic to sit alone, to read a book to completion, to pray for any length or intensity, or to finish a task at work. Others can perform all of these activities but find themselves hounded by a stubborn anger or boredom while doing so. For still others, despondency begins as an inclination towards sleep, eating, distraction, or worry.”
(Dr. Nicole Roccas, “Time and Despondency”, p.26)
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“Just as the poison of spiritual sickness begins in the soul, so too does healing. Even after despondency has affected the body or those around us, restoration starts within us and unfolds a new directions to revive all aspects of a person’s self and life…. In other words the restoration of a single human soul has almost limitless transformative effects that ripple throughout the rest of the world.” (Dr. Nicole Roccas, “Time and Despondency”, pp.34-35 )
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“Time is the dimensional fabric that allows relationship and action to happen. Without it, there would be little prospect of communion, forgiveness, or change of heart—all life-giving possibilities hinge on the interaction of time and eternity in the here and now of our existence. When we begin to look at these two realms from the vantage point of Christ and human relationship, it seems that eternity is not as far off as we often assume. In fact, eternal life—and with it, healing from despondency—begins when we start to exercise that capacity to ‘realize’ life while we live it every, every minute…” (Dr. Nicole Roccas, “Time and Despondency”, p. 44)
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“…time affords us: the opportunity to turn toward (or away from) God, life, love, and goodness. Like a lover or a friend, God left space for a path back to relationship. In the fullness of time, Christ entered our world to pave this path for our sake. His Incarnation and Resurrection open the door for us, as God’s creatures, to ‘redeem time’…” (Dr. Nicole Roccas, “Time and Despondency”, p. 48)
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“Viktor Frankl wrote, ‘Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms—to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances.’ Lest these words be dismissed as cliche, it’s worth mentioning that Frankl honed his thinking on human psychology while a prisoner in Auschwitz. Whenever I make excuses for my attitude, this quotation offers a suitable reality check.” (Dr. Nicole Roccas, “Time and Despondency”, p. 61)
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“The opposite of this despondent condition is not happiness nor jubilation, but rather love—a turning outward from the self to one’s neighbor, God, and Eternity. The latter is crucial; in the view of the Church Fathers, the “every, every minute” we fail to realize in this life consists not merely of love or beauty but of eternity itself. Time then, becomes not only the vehicle of relationship and eternity, but the path of transformation we can travel to get there.” (Dr. Nicole Roccas, “Time and Despondency”, p. 65)
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“Every day, every moment is accounted for in the church, and not just on an abstract levels but physically and concretely through the fasts, feasts, and seasons, all of which seek to manifest Christ in and through time. The Church calls not just our minds but our whole being and all our wandering loose ends back into existence, back into presence… Every juncture of sacred time links us to the Incarnation, the reaching of Eternity into this world, and in doing so, unites us not only to Christ but to the realization of are very selves as icons of Him. (Dr. Nicole Roccas, “Time and Despondency”, p. 88)
***
“Prayer is like a coin with two sides, doing and being. The ‘doing’ of prayer includes all the externalities—the words we articulate (audibly or not), the candles we light, the prostrations we make, the spaces we designate for prayer. In Orthodox Christianity, we have an abundance of highly developed rituals and practices to help us cultivate the journey inward. We sometimes burn incense, or use prayer ropes, or set certain corners of our homes apart for prayer. These rituals are not meant to be rote or mindless, but to nourish reverence and to remind us that we are incarnational beings—our bodies must learn to pray as well as our minds.” (Dr. Nicole Roccas, “Time and Despondency”, p. 98)
***
“We may not have chosen our disease, we may have no control over its remedy, but we can still choose to remain rather than to resist. ‘Abide in Me,’ Christ beckons us (John 15:4)—Stay. Endure. Surrender. Anyone in the midst of great pain knows it is a thousand times harder to accept this invitation than to give our hearts over to bitterness or despair. To stay with Christ where we are (rather than to seek Him where we are not) requires surrender and longsuffering, both of which move us to choose between him or hardness of heart.” (Dr. Nicole Roccas, “Time and Despondency”, p. 122)
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“I’m of the opinion that the inverse of thanksgiving is not ingratitude but rumination, a relentless mental preoccupation with resolving the unfavorable aspects of our circumstances… Among other things, it suggests we may be living too much in our minds—that our mind is not dwelling in our heart, but oppressing it.”(Dr. Nicole Roccas, “Time and Despondency”, p. 141)
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“Work that is good for the soul is hard enough that the mind must focus on it, but easy enough that the work can be sustained for long periods of time… There is a humble creativity in performing ordinary tasks like making the bed or folding clothes… When we can manage such tasks with even a hint of grace and care, they are transfigured into something holy.”
(Dr. Nicole Roccas, “Time and Despondency”, pp. 151-152.)
***
“…one of the most beautiful things about sacredness is that it’s not all or nothing—it comes to us in small, ordinary things and times, and asks us to see the holy in finite moments. For whatever reason, we humans can only understand or encounter holiness in small morsels at a time—in a chalice, a piece of bread, a sip of wine. Any encounter with the sacred reminds us that it is enough to start somewhere, anywhere—it is enough to put one foot forward, to turn to Christ for one real moment. Wherever we begin, Real Life will seep out into the other areas of our existence.” (Dr. Nicole Roccas, “Time and Despondency”, pp. 166-167)
***
“The liturgies of the Orthodox Church are punctuated countless ties by a simple supplication: ‘Lord, have mercy.’ To modern ears, such a prayer may sound stifling and self-diminishing: is God really so vengeful we must beg His forbearance at every turn? But in Orthodox conceptions, mercy is the balm of salvation, and to ask it of God affirms that He is merciful and loving in the first place.” (Dr. Nicole Roccas, “Time and Despondency”, p. 175)
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“Redundant as it seems, worship in the liturgy turns time into a pilgrimage back—not back to our shame and feebleness, but through our feebleness and back to engagement, back to communion, back to Christ, one Kyrie eleison at a time.” (Dr. Nicole Roccas, “Time and Despondency”, p. 175)

 

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Several Divine Liturgy Resources for Young Children

We have previously shared the lovely board book “What Do You See at Liturgy?” by Kristina Kallas-Tartara. As we mentioned in that blog post, the book consists of a gentle rhyme paired with pictures of what a child will see when they go to the Divine Liturgy. We continue to recommend this book as a helpful tool to help little ones enter into the service when their attention needs to be redirected.

Recently, it came to our attention that Kristina has written a second beautiful board book for young children, and that she has created other useful resources as well. The second book she has written is called “What Can I Do at Liturgy?” It carefully walks a child through the liturgy, emphasizing the things that they can do. Too often, children experience the “can’ts” in church. It is easy for us adults to slip into “can’t” mode when shepherding young ones through the Liturgy. We say things like, “No, you can’t run around right now; You can’t go out for a fifth drink of water; You can’t make siren noises as you pretend to put out the fires you see;” etc. This book offers us the opportunity to find and encourage the “cans.” Every page is full of pictures and suggestions of all that children CAN do (and SHOULD do) during the Liturgy. From lighting a candle to signing themselves with the cross to communing to looking at icons to singing, praying, and sharing. This book is packed full of suggestions of things that the children can do in the liturgy! Here is an example: one spread shows a series of Orthodox children, each doing part of the sign of the cross. 26805494_10213524190090905_3951597830320811227_nThey’re ordered sequentially, and using a hand that young readers will mirror to correctly make the sign of the cross. (What a brilliant idea, to use the left hands of the children in the photos so that the readers will naturally mirror it and use their right hand!) We highly recommend this beautiful and useful book to any parent, godparent, or Sunday Church School teacher who is helping young children to more fully participate in the divine services.

The author has another fine resource which we recently discovered. She used the photos that were taken to create her two charming books to create an Orthodox “memory” game! The durable “chunky” photo cards can be utilized in a variety of ways. Parents and teachers can employ the cards for vocabulary review, to play a matching game, or to play a number of other games. Directions for 6 different games and 4 fun classroom activities are included with the card set. This little set of cards will be used again and again by families and Sunday Church School teachers. They offer a fun way to learn, and are yet another way to “bring home the faith” with children.

And last, but not least, Kristina Kallas-Tartara has a blog called “Raising Orthodox Christians”. Its byline is “Helping Children Experience the Orthodox Faith”. On this site, you will find activities, lessons, recipes, and more. Parents and teachers will find ideas for educating their children and students at this site, and may want to follow the blog so as not to miss new resources that she posts! Check out her blog site here: https://raisingorthodoxchristians.com/

We hope that you find these resources helpful. What other Liturgy resources for small children do you recommend to the community?

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If you missed the blog post introducing “What Do You See at Liturgy?”, find it here: https://orthodoxchristianparenting.wordpress.com/2016/05/04/a-handful-of-helpful-books-for-children/
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Find Kristina Kallas-Tartara’s book “What do You See at Liturgy?” here: https://www.etsy.com/listing/196402444/what-do-you-see-at-liturgy-orthodox .

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Kristina Tartara’s book “What Can I Do at Divine Liturgy?” is available here: https://www.etsy.com/listing/466843238/what-can-i-do-at-divine-liturgy-orthodox

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In case you missed it, a few years ago we shared some thoughts on how important it is for children to be part of the Divine Liturgy in this blog post: https://orthodoxchristianparenting.wordpress.com/2014/02/19/the-work-of-the-people-includes-children/
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In case you missed it, this blog post offers ideas of ways to help children participate in the Divine Liturgy: https://orthodoxchristianparenting.wordpress.com/2016/05/18/on-helping-children-to-participate-in-the-divine-liturgy/

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To purchase the Orthodox Matching Game, visit: https://www.etsy.com/listing/476655247/my-orthodox-matching-game

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Learning from the Saints: St. Peter (June 29)

As we prepare for the Feast of Sts. Peter and Paul on June 29, let us take time to learn more about each of these saints, and help our children to do the same. This post will focus on St. Peter.

St. Peter was born in Bethsaida, in Galilee, to a man named Jonas. His given name was Simon. He lived a simple, uneducated life. Simon earned his living by catching and selling fish, along with his brother Andrew.

 

Our Lord Jesus Christ called Andrew, Simon’s brother, to follow Him first. Andrew invited Simon to follow Jesus as well. Immediately after Christ’s call, the brothers left their fishing nets and followed Him (Matt. 4:18-20). Simon was married, but left his home to follow Christ. One of the times that Christ visited Simon’s home, he healed Simon’s mother in law, who had been sick. (Matt. 8:14)

 

Simon followed Jesus zealously after that, and would not leave His side. He proved his trust in Christ by walking to the Lord on the water when Christ was walking towards the disciples on a boat during a storm. (Matt. 14: 22-32) It was Simon who was the first disciple to recognize that Christ was the Son of God. (Matt. 16:13-20). When Jesus heard that, He said, “Thou art Simon the son of Jonas; thou shalt be called Cephas.” (John 1:42) “Cephas,” translated, is “Peter,” and so that is what we now call him.

 

Peter was one of only three disciples who were invited to go to Mt. Tabor with Christ when He was transfigured before them (Matt. 17:1-9). It seems that Peter wanted to know all that he could about Christ’s teachings. He asked a lot of questions, like: “Explain this parable to us!” (Matt. 15:15); “Lord, how often shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? Up to seven times?” (Matt. 18:21); “Lord, do You speak this parable only to us, or to all people?” (Luke 12:41) and “See, we have left all and followed You. Therefore what shall we have?” (Matt. 19:27)

 

Peter later promised to follow Christ “no matter what” at the Last Supper, and Christ told him that he would deny Him three times before the very next morning’s rooster crows. Simon went with Christ and two other disciples to the Garden of Gethsemane, but could not stay awake to pray as Christ urged the three to do. When the soldiers and others came to the garden to arrest Christ, Peter cut off the high priest’s servant’s ear in defense of Christ. Later that night, he faltered and swore he didn’t know Christ, not just once, but three times, during the night of Our Lord’s trials and beatings; and then the rooster crowed. We can only imagine how Peter felt at that moment!

We do not know where Peter was when Christ died. But he was right with the other disciples when the word came that something had happened to Christ’s body! Peter ran to the tomb with John when Mary Magdalene brought the news that Jesus’ tomb was empty. John arrived first, but it was Peter who had the courage to go into the tomb first and see the folded, empty grave clothes. (John 20:1-10)

 

Peter was in the upper room with the rest both times when Christ appeared to all of the disciples. One evening a few days later, Peter decided to go out fishing, and many of the others went with him. They caught nothing. When a stranger on the shore told them to cast their nets on the other side of the boat, they caught many fish (even though the time for catching fish that day was long past). When this happened, Peter realized that it was Christ who was on the shore, and he dove into the water in order to swim to Him! Peter got to eat a fish breakfast with Jesus and his friends that day. He had a second (and third) chance to reaffirm his love for Christ when our Lord asked him three times, “Peter, do you love me?” and finally continued, “Feed my sheep!” (John 21:1-19)

 

Peter was right there watching as Christ ascended into heaven. After the ascension, the disciples stayed in the upper room, praying and waiting for the helper that Christ had promised. Peter was faithfully praying with the others, ten days later, when the Holy Spirit descended on them. At this point, Peter became a mighty preacher! The first sermon that he gave was on the day of Pentecost, and 3,000 people converted after that sermon! (Acts 2:14-41)

 

Peter healed a lame beggar in the name of Christ (Acts 3). God also used Peter to heal a bedridden, paralyzed man and bring to back life a much-loved community member named Dorcas (Acts 9:32-42). He helped to establish the Church in Antioch.

 

It was Peter that first converted and baptized Gentiles, with clear guidance through visions from God (Acts 10). Soon after this, Herod the King started persecuting the Church. One of the first things he did was to throw Peter in jail. God used an angel to free Peter, who went to the house where other Christians were praying for him. The servant girl was so excited to see him when she answered Peter’s knock at the door that she ran back into the room to tell everyone that he was at the door, but she forgot to open the door and let him come inside! Later she left him in and he was able to tell them about the miracle of his release before escaping to another city (Acts 12:1-17).

 

Peter went on to continue to preach the Gospel to Jews and Gentile converts all over Asia Minor. He helped to establish churches along the way. When these churches were being persecuted, he sent them a letter: today we call it 1 Peter, and it encourages its readers to remember to rejoice in sharing in Christ’s sufferings. 2 Peter was written to remind its readers to always seek true knowledge, and to beware of false knowledge. Both of these books were written while Peter was in Rome. (It is also believed that he was the main source of information for St. Mark’s Gospel.)

 

Peter died in Rome, at the orders of Emperor Nero. When Peter saw the cross on which he was to be crucified, he asked to be crucified upside down. He did not feel worthy to die in the same way that his Lord had died.

First-enthroned of the apostles,
teachers of the universe:
Entreat the Master of all
to grant peace to the world,
and to our souls great mercy!

Today Christ the Rock glorifies with highest honor
The rock of Faith and leader of the Apostles,
Together with Paul and the company of the twelve,
Whose memory we celebrate with eagerness of faith,
Giving glory to the one who gave glory to them!

 

St. Peter, Apostle of Christ, intercede for our salvation!

 

Here are some other ways that you can help your Sunday Church School students to learn about St. Peter:

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Find some fun activities that you can use with your Sunday Church School class to help them better understand some of St. Peter’s experiences here: http://classroom.synonym.com/childrens-activities-saint-peter-6932743.html

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Younger children may enjoy this printable color-by-number of the animal that reminded St. Peter of his denial of Christ: http://www.biblewise.com/kids/fun/i-dont-know.php

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Older children will enjoy the challenge of this printable activity puzzle featuring St. Peter walking on water: http://biblewise.com/kids/fun/peter-walks.php

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Here’s a tiny printable crossword puzzle about St. Peter’s experience in jail: http://biblewise.com/kids/images/fun/peter_in_prison.pdf

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Print and color these drawings of St. Peter:

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This Catholic blog offers ideas of things to do with children to help them learn about St. Peter. For example, play “Saint Peter’s Fishers of Men” game! (Note: just remember that this is a Catholic site, so not all of it will work for Orthodox children, but there is a lot that would work!) http://showerofroses.blogspot.ca/2011/06/saintly-summer-fun-saints-peter-and.html

 

Gleanings from a Book: “The Suitcase” by Jane G. Meyer

Orthodox Christian author Jane G. Meyer has written a new picture book called “The Suitcase: a Story about Giving.” The book was illustrated by Chiara Pasqualotto. It is the story of Thomas, a boy who may be autistic but does not let his challenges keep him from being an active participant – even a leader – in entering the Kingdom of God while bringing others with him. Any reader, regardless of age, will be challenged to find ways to make God’s Kingdom happen in the world around them after meeting Thomas through this book.

Here is a brief summary and review of the book:

Thomas is like clockwork. He is so precise with his preferred activities that you can almost predict what he will do each day. So, when he randomly shows up at the family supper table one night with a suitcase, declaring that he intends to leave for the Kingdom of Heaven, it catches everyone’s attention, for this is far from his routine! With his family’s love and support, Thomas shares his plan, showing his family (and the reader) each item that he has packed and explaining why he has packed it. As he does so, Thomas unknowingly reveals how carefully he has been paying attention to teachings about the Faith, and unveils his commitment to following Christ, even though it means stepping away from his beloved routines.

The colorful watercolor illustrations in this picture book are gently realistic. They invite the reader to feel comfortable in Thomas’ home and with his family. There is just enough detail to illustrate the story in an orderly manner, just as Thomas likes his world to be organized. (There is also just enough missing in each illustration to leave room for the reader’s imagination, inciting curiosity.)

“The Suitcase” is full of scriptural references. The reader can’t help but try to make connections: What was Thomas thinking about when he packed this item? Where did he hear about that one? Where can I learn more about it?!? Parents and teachers will find in “The Suitcase” more than just a lovely story. They will find in it an opportunity to delve into the scriptures with their children, to ensure that they know the source of each of the contents in Thomas’ wonderful suitcase.

Readers of all ages will be challenged to think beyond their own routines, consider what they should be “packing” in their own suitcase, and then reach out into the Kingdom of Heaven by finding ways to love and serve all those around them. The resource page at the end offers an excellent place to begin!

“The Suitcase” will be a welcome addition to any Orthodox Christian library, and can easily be incorporated into a Sunday Church School class lesson or even a series of lessons. It could be the starting place for a series of lessons about the Kingdom of God and how we can make it happen right where we are! The book also provides an opportunity for Sunday Church School students to see through the eyes of a person living with autism, so it could be included in a series of lessons about different challenges that people face and how we need to embrace our own challenges while loving others with different challenges as we journey together towards God’s Kingdom.

Note: the author of this review was given a reading copy of this book in exchange for a fair and honest review. Visit http://www.paracletepress.com/Products/7763/the-suitcase.aspx to order your own copy of the book.

Here are some other ways that you can help your Sunday Church School students to learn through the book “The Suitcase:”

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Read author Jane G. Meyer’s take on “The Suitcase,” including why she wrote the book, here: http://www.janegmeyer.com/books/the-suitcase/

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Take time to investigate the scripture passages that are alluded to in “The Suitcase.” You could incorporate them all into the same lesson, or have a series of lessons introduced after reading the book. Scriptural allusions include:

Feeding the hungry (Matthew 25:35)

Clothing the naked (Matthew 25:36)

Giving to those in need (Deuteronomy 15:11)

Being a good servant (Matthew 25:21)

Praying for the world (James 5:16)

Having Faith like a mustard seed (Matthew 13:31-32; 17:20)

Talking less and listening more (James 1:19)

Entertaining angels (Hebrews 13:2)

Keeping ourselves pure (James 1:27)

Building things if God tells us to do so (Genesis 6:14-22)

The pearl of great price (Matthew 13:45-46)

The hidden treasure (Matthew 13:44)

Submitting to others (for example, allowing children to lead us) (Ephesians 5:17-21)

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Spend some time focusing on the Kingdom of Heaven as revealed in Christ’s parables. Read the parables with your students. Talk about them together. Here are two printable activity pages you could include in your study if your students enjoy such challenges:

Invite your students to seek and find words related to Christ’s parables about the Kingdom of Heaven in this printable word search: http://www.biblewise.com/kids/fun/hidden-word-kingdom-heaven

They can decipher this related verse, as well: http://www.biblewise.com/kids/fun/break-code-kingdom.php

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Find ideas of ways to teach younger students about Christ’s parables about the Kingdom of Heaven, as well as craft suggestions, here: http://adventuresinmommydom.org/parables-of-heaven-activities/

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“[The Suitcase] is the book I wanted…  when we were doing our HUGS-based lessons. The goal was to teach the children Christ’s words, ‘Do it to the least of these my brethren and you do it to Me’ (Matthew 25:40).” Read more of this mother/teacher’s review of “The Suitcase” in her blog post here: http://orthodoxmothersdigest.blogspot.com/2017/03/book-review-suitcase-by-jane-g-meyer.html

And find more about the HUGS program (including links to lesson ideas for each age level), which is a natural step to take with your students after reading “The Suitcase” here: https://orthodoxchurchschoolteachers.wordpress.com/2015/05/15/hugs-hands-used-for-gods-service/

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This TED talk by Roger Antonsen (https://www.ted.com/talks/roger_antonsen_math_is_the_hidden_secret_to_understanding_the_world) explores the relationships in math and science, and what they teach us about perspective. When we shift our perspective, we learn more about the world around us. What we learn from math and science can be applied to our life as we interact with others. Consider this: “When I view the world from your perspective, I have empathy with you. If I really truly understand what the world looks like from your perspective, I am empathetic. That requires imagination and that is how we obtain understanding… Understanding something really deeply has to do with the ability to change your perspective. So my advice to you is, ‘try to change your perspective!’”

The talk could be an excellent way to extend the concept of stepping outside of your comfort zone (as demonstrated by Thomas in “The Suitcase”) in a discussion with teens. (Yes, it is possible to share a picture book with teens! Especially if they have a reason for listening to it!) Consider showing them the TED talk, then inviting them to think of how it relates to “The Suitcase” and share the book with them. THEN launch into a discussion of how the two relate, and how to apply the concept of changing our perspective, empathizing with others, and finding ways to serve them!

 

Gleanings from a Book: “Parenting Toward the Kingdom” by Dr. Philip Mamalakis

(Author’s note: This book is written for parents. We have chosen to include it in this blog anyway, because of how involved we as Sunday Church School teachers are in our students’ lives. Many of the principles of this book can be applied in the Sunday Church School room as well as in the home.)

I was so excited when I learned that this book was in the works! Before reading it, I had great expectations: I anticipated that it would be filled with gentle nudges towards godliness based both on years of education and personal experience. I knew that the wisdom in this book would be presented in a practical way backed by the in-the-trenches research that life with 7 children offers to their parents. And once I received and read the book, I was not at all disappointed!

My expectations for this book were the result of personal experience. Our family had the privilege of meeting the Mamalakis family at Family Camp at the Antiochian Village years ago when they were the featured presenters for the parent sessions. We learned so much from Dr. Mamalakis (and from his lovely wife, Georgia) while we were together. My husband and I could step out of the parent sessions and immediately apply the concepts we had just discussed. Our family is the better for having learned these principles, however imperfectly we have applied them. (An aside: We also benefitted from watching the Mamalakis parents apply the principles they had shared, as they interacted with their children over the course of the family camp sessions. It is a joy to watch these parents lovingly guide their children using the principles! There is an abundance of love in Mamalakis family, and these principles allow them to parent their children in the context of that great love. It is a joy to experience.)
But I digress. Let’s get back to the book. “Parenting Toward the Kingdom” outlines the principles that the Mamalakis family has followed:

  1. Always parent with the end in mind.
  2. Respond, don’t react.
  3. Understand struggles in terms of the values and the virtues of the Kingdom of God.
  4. Separate feelings from behaviors.
  5. Teach the joy of obedience.
  6. Teach the joy of repentance.

Each principle has a chapter (or four!) of the book dedicated to it. Every chapter takes an in-depth look at the principle and cites personal experiences or related stories. The stories and examples make this book very accessible to its readers. The principles can be immediately applied, just as my husband and I experienced when we sat under the Mamalakis’ teachings at Family Camp. I would highly recommend this book to any parent or educator who wants to lovingly guide the children in their care in a godly manner. The book would be a great Adult Sunday Church School curriculum, parish book study, or parenting class text.

“Parenting Toward the Kingdom” is easy read. However, its principles will take a lifetime to apply. May God help (and forgive!) all of us as we parent, grandparent, godparent, and otherwise raise His children towards His Kingdom!

Here are a few quotes from the book, to give you a taste of its contents. Purchase your own copy at http://store.ancientfaith.com/parenting-toward-the-kingdom/.

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“…children are not problems to be solved but persons to be loved and guided.” (p. 13)

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“The only way to learn patience and self-control is to live or interact with someone who tries your patience and tempts you to react. The spiritual life is a struggle to learn how to lvoe as Christ loves, with Christ’s love.” (p. 89)

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“For children who struggle the most, let’s say with boredom in church, cleaning their room, or being patient, it is unfair to compare their behavior with others who don’t struggle in those areas. If our goal is to have children learn the struggle, then we must recognize their efforts as much as the outcome.” (p. 107)

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“The key to setting good limits is to be clear, consistent, firm, and matter of fact.” (p. 157)

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“Stay focused on effort or the virtues you are trying to instill. When children see that we are not mad at them for struggling, they learn that our love is unconditional and our expectations real.” (p. 206)

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“We teach the joy of obedience by helping our children see that obedience is not something just for children. Obedience to God’s commandments is the path for all, parents and children alike… When children feel connected to their parents and see their parents living in obedience to God, they internalize obedience to God as the path of life.” (p. 264)

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Saints of Recent Decades: St. Elizabeth the New Martyr (July 5 or 18)

Note: There is so much information about St. Elizabeth the New Martyr! We have tried to summarize her life below in a way that children can understand. We recommend that you learn even more about this holy saint’s life before you teach your students about her. We could not include everything, and you know what will be interesting to your particular class!

On Feb. 24, 1864, the Grand Duke Louis IV of Hesse  and Princess Alice of the United Kingdom (daughter of England’s Queen Victoria) had their second daughter, and named her Elizaveta (they called her Ella). Although they were of noble birth and means, the family lived simply, and the girls did chores at home instead of being waited on. The family gave freely to those in need, and the girls often went along with their parents to visit the ill, the orphans, and the infirm. Princess Ella loved beautiful things: flowers, drawing, and lovely music.

When she was only 14 years old, diphtheria made all of her siblings sick, and her mother caught it too after caring for her children when they were sick. Because of this, Princess Ella’s 4-year-old sister and her mother both died. This changed Princess Ella’s life completely. She began to live as an adult and helped her father with the younger children, since her mother was no longer living.

When she was 20, Princess Ella married the grand prince Sergei Alexandrovich of Russia, whom she had known since childhood because he and his family would come for visits. When she married, she became a Grand Duchess, and moved to Russia. The now-Duchess continued to live in a manner similar to the one in which she had been raised: going out and meeting the people in her community, and helping them however she could. Now she had new people to meet, a new culture to learn, and a new language: Russian! She very sad when she saw how the serfs (Russian poor people at that time) lived. She had never seen such poverty before! Duchess Elizabeth found ways to help: she provided a much-needed doctor for their community, and also provided as much education as possible for whomever she could.

The Duchess had been raised with strong (Lutheran) Christian faith. Now that she was living in Russia, she encountered Orthodoxy which she knew very little about before moving there. She wanted to understand her husband(and her new people)’s faith, so she began to read and study it. Over time (and especially during a visit to the Holy Lands in 1888) it became clear to her that she wanted to become Orthodox. She wrote a beautiful letter to her father, explaining that she wanted to become Orthodox (her husband was not forcing her to do so). She sent the letter, hoping for her father’s understanding and blessing. He did not understand or bless her conversion. The Duchess really wanted to be Orthodox, though, so she was chrismated into the Holy Orthodox Church on Lazarus Saturday in 1891. She was so happy that she could commune with her husband at last, that year, on Pascha! Later that same year, Duke Sergei and his beloved Duchess Elizabeth were transferred to Moscow, where he was named governor. The two of them loved being together and did as much together as possible. The Duchess continued to love beauty and nature, so she loved when they paid visits to their summer residence at Ilyinsk, outside of Moscow. The sad part of their lives at this time was that they had no children.

In 1894, Nicholas II, who was married to the Duchess’ little sister Alix (Alexandra), became the new (and, sadly, the last) tsar of Russia. The Duke and Duchess took his niece Marie and nephew Dmitri into their home in 1901 and raised them as their own children.

Then in 1905, the Russians entered into war with the Japanese, and life became more difficult for all Russians, including the Duke and Duchess and their protégés. The Duke was constantly receiving threats from revolutionaries, and the Duchess was doing what work she could (organizing women to gather supplies for the Russian armed forces, and visiting the wounded). On Feb. 18, 1905, a revolutionary threw a bomb into the Duke’s carriage, just outside of their mansion, killing him instantly. The Duchess gathered what pieces she could of her husband, accompanied his remains at a prayer service on his behalf, and then immediately went and visited the gravely wounded carriage driver in the hospital so she could put his mind at ease before he died of his injuries.

The next months were difficult for the Duchess and also for Marie and Dmitiri, but the three of them grew closer to each other as they helped each other. The Duchess threw herself into her work.  

The very next year, in 1906, Marie married a Swedish prince and Dmitri went off to school. When she wasn’t working, the Duchess began to learn about and visit Orthodox monasteries. The more she learned about the monastic life, the more she wished to rid herself of her worldly goods. She gave many of her things away, and sold some of them to purchase a Moscow estate that became the Martha and Mary Convent of Mercy. She was tonsured, and became an abbess. The now-Abbess Elizabeth opened the convent on Feb. 9, 1909, less than four years after her husband’s passing. The monastery grew quickly from a handful of nuns to nearly 100, all hard-working and dedicated women who prayed and served their community with fervor. Abbess Elizabeth worked and prayed, and she also applied her love for drawing to iconography. The abbess wrote icons for the sisters.

Because of how much the community trusted and loved Abbess Elizabeth and the mothers and sisters of the Mary and Martha Convent, it was a surprise when Red Army soldiers came in and took the abbess away from her convent during Bright Week of 1918. (They captured her because of who she had been when she lived in the world.) She and a handful of other nobles and members of the royal family were kept as prisoners in a school until July 5(18) of that year. The night of July 5(18) they were taken out into a woods and thrown down an empty mine shaft. As she was thrown in, Abbess Elizabeth quoted Christ, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do!” (Luke 23:34). Unlike most of the others, Abbess Elizabeth did not fall all 180+ feet to the bottom of the mine shaft. Instead, she landed on a ledge about 45 feet down. Another member of the royal family landed there as well, and was later found with his injuries bandaged (by either her handkerchief or part of her veil, depending on the version you read), so even in the process of being martyred, Abbess Elizabeth was helping others by using whatever she had! The Abbess and her fellow martyrs were heard singing the Cherubic Hymn and other hymns of the church as their executioners threw grenades into the mine shaft and then left them to die. 

Months later, that region was safe again for a short time, so the bodies of the martyrs could be rescued from the mine shaft and taken away. They were hidden and secretly moved from place to place until they could be properly buried. Abbess Elizabeth’s body was taken all the way to Jerusalem, which is where she wanted to be buried. It took until 1921 (that’s almost 3 years!) for her body to arrive in Jerusalem. Along the way, her casket was opened a few times so people could care for her body. Each time it was opened, her body was incorrupt, as though she lay there asleep.

 

Emulating the Lord’s self-abasement on the earth,
You gave up royal mansions to serve the poor and disdained,
Overflowing with compassion for the suffering.
And taking up a martyr’s cross,
In your meekness
You perfected the Saviour’s image within yourself,
Therefore, with Barbara, entreat Him to save us all, O wise Elizabeth.

 

Additional note: There are many pictures of St. Elizabeth the New Martyr. You may want to print a few from different periods of her life, and show them to your students as you tell her story. Find her story with many pictures here: http://life.orthomed.ru/st-elizabeth/pics/efs_e.htm.

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Find additional information about St. Elizabeth the New Martyr, as well as more photographs at these sites: https://orthodoxwiki.org/Elizabeth_the_New_Martyr, http://www.fatheralexander.org/booklets/english/princess_elizabeth.htm, http://www.pravmir.com/a-sacrificing-love-new-martyr-grand-duchess-elizabeth/, and http://romanovdreams.tumblr.com/tagged/Elizabeth-Feodorovna.

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This picture book tells the story of St. Elizabeth the New Martyr for children ages 7 and up: http://www.stnectariospress.com/holy-new-martyr-elizabeth-grand-duchess-of-russia/

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This chapter book tells the story of St. Elizabeth the New Martyr for ages 9+: https://www.amazon.com/Ellas-Story-Duchess-Became-Saint/dp/1888212705

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St. Elizabeth the New Martyr is one of the women saints featured in this book: https://holycrossbookstore.com/products/encountering-women-of-faith-i?variant=693862019

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St. Elizabeth the New Martyr is among the saints featured in these multi-leveled lessons on defending the faith. http://dce.oca.org/assets/files/mini-units/defenders-of-the-faith.pdf

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St. Elizabeth the New Martyr once said, “I long to give thanks, to give thanks every minute for everything that the Lord has given me. I long to bring Him my insignificant gratitude, serving Him and His suffering children.” After studying her life, use this statement as a starting place for a discussion with older Sunday Church School students. What do you each think about her statement? Why do you think she who had – and then lost – everything can give thanks every minute for everything? How can we apply this statement to our own lives?

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Talk with your Sunday Church School students about this quote from St. Elizabeth:
http://www.antiochian.org/sites/default/files/st_elizabeth_new_martyr_we_work_pray_hope.pdf  St. Elizabeth says we need to work, pray, and hope in order to truly experience God’s mercy in our lives. How did St. Elizabeth demonstrate this with her own life? Together create a list (on a board or whiteboard) of ways that each of you can better experience His mercy through work, prayer, and hope. Give each student their own copy of the quote and encourage them to copy ideas from the list around the border of the quote, to remind themselves of how they can better experience God’s mercy.

 

Saints of Recent Decades: an Introduction

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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