Tag Archives: faithfulness

On the Sacraments: the Sacrament of Marriage

This post is part of a series about the sacraments of the Orthodox Christian Church. In this post, we will look at the Orthodox Christian Sacrament of  marriage.

In His teachings while He was on earth, our Lord told us that marriage is the best way for us to experience what God’s love for humankind is like; as well as for us to see how Christ loves the Church. Fr. Thomas Hopko writes that the most perfect form of love between a man and woman is “unique, indestructible, unending, and divine. The Lord Himself has not only given this teaching, but he also gives the power to fulfill it in the sacrament of Christian marriage in the Church.” (1) Mere mutual love does not provide the depth of unity of spirit and body that the sacrament of marriage offers to a man and woman. The sacrament brings the Holy Spirit into the relationship in a way that binds them together most perfectly. And He continues His work in their marriage throughout their earthly life and on into the heavenly kingdom, as well.

In the early years of the Church, there was not an official ceremony for marriage. Christian couples wishing to be married expressed their love for each other in the church and then their union received a blessing from God which was sealed in their partaking of the Eucharist. When the Church recognized the unity of the couple and their union was incorporated into the Body of Christ through communion, their marriage became a Christian marriage.

Several hundred years into her existence, when the Church developed a ritual for the sacrament of marriage, that sacrament was modeled after baptism and chrismation. Fr. Thomas explains the parallels as follows: “the couple is addressed in a way similar to that of the individual in baptism. They confess their faith and their love of God. They are led into the Church in procession. They are prayed over and blessed. They listen to God’s Word. They are crowned with the crowns of God’s glory to be his children and witnesses (martyrs) in this world, and heirs of the everlasting life of his Kingdom. They fulfill their marriage, as all sacraments are fulfilled, by their reception together of holy communion in the Church.” (1)

Unlike other wedding ceremonies in current culture, the Orthodox sacrament of marriage is not a legal transaction: there aren’t even vows. Instead, Orthodox marriage is a “‘baptizing and confirming’ of human love in God by Christ in the Holy Spirit. It is the deification of human love in the divine perfection and unity of the eternal Kingdom of God.” (1) Fr. Thomas Fitzgerald offers more insight into the sacrament in his article on all of the sacraments: “According to Orthodox teachings, marriage is not simply a social institution, it is an eternal vocation of the kingdom. A husband and a wife are called by the Holy Spirit not only to live together but also to share their Christian life together so that each, with the aid of the other, may grow closer to God and become the persons they are meant to be.” (2)

That type of shared Christian life extends beyond “death do us part.” The Church encourages married Christians whose partner departs this life before them to remain faithful to that partner even after their death, because “only one marriage can contain the perfect meaning and significance which Christ has given to this reality.” (1) (However, there is a service of second marriage for people who are not able to fulfill this ideal.)

A Christian couple who wants to be in complete union of spirit, body, and intellect, as well as social and economic union, will only find that depth of union in the sacrament of marriage. This sacrament places their union in the Kingdom of God, which is perfectly unified, right from the start. When centered  in God’s Kingdom, a couple’s human love can echo Divine love, and will spill out into the world around them through their interactions with each other, with their children, with their neighbors, and even with nature itself. This is how the sacrament of marriage can be the best blessing to the world: when it is lived out as it is intended to be lived.

However, this level of complete union is not guaranteed. “This does not mean that all those who are ‘married in church’ have an ideal marriage. The sacrament is not mechanical or magical. Its reality and gifts may be rejected and defiled, received unto condemnation and judgment, like Holy Communion and all of the sacramental mysteries of the faith. It does mean, however, that when a couple is married in the Church of Christ, the possibility for the perfection of their marriage is most fully given by God.” (3)

Marriage is a gift from God that offers blessings to those who partake. But the couple must enter into this sacrament completely, choosing daily to cooperate with the Holy Spirit, in order for those blessings to be fulfilled. God does not force Himself on a marriage, just as He does not force Himself into any other part of a Christian’s life. However, with humility and self-sacrifice, Christian couples have the opportunity to grow together towards godliness through the sacrament of marriage.

Glory to God for His gift of the sacrament of marriage!

 

Sources:
1. Hopko, Fr. Thomas (2011, October 5). The Sacraments: Marriage. Retrieved from https://oca.org/orthodoxy/the-orthodox-faith/worship/the-sacraments/marriage

2. Fitzgerald, Rev. Fr. Thomas (1985, June 11). Understanding the Sacraments of the Orthodox Church. Retrieved from https://www.goarch.org/-/the-sacraments

3. Hopko, Fr. Thomas (2016, March 18). Sexuality, Marriage, and Family: Marriage. Retrieved from https://oca.org/orthodoxy/the-orthodox-faith/spirituality/sexuality-marriage-and-family/marriage1

Here are some ideas of ways to teach your students about the sacrament of marriage. What resources have you found helpful? Comment below and share them with the community!

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The Teaching Pics ( http://ww1.antiochian.org/christianeducation/teachingpics) offer a series of pictures on the sacrament of marriage that can be very helpful as you teach a lesson on the subject to any age group. Pictures S12 – S16 show images that denote the significant parts of the marriage service. The text that goes with each picture explains the process well at a level that even young children can understand. Order the teaching pics here: http://orthodoxchristianed.com/files/4114/9885/4473/ocec2017_2018.pdf

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Find printable activities at a variety of levels that could accompany a lesson on the sacrament of marriage, or could be sent along with students as a potential lesson follow-up at home, here: http://orthodoxsundayschool.org/epistles-feasts-and-sacraments/3-5-years-old/marriage-0

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This brief lesson plan can help students in early elementary learn about the sacrament of marriage: http://www.orthodoxabc.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/06/015-EN-ed02_Holy-Matrimony.pdf

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Here are lesson plans about the sacrament of marriage, at a variety of levels:

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

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

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

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

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

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Students will benefit from studying our Lord’s first miracle at the Wedding at Cana. If you are able, include this lesson in conjunction with one on the sacrament of marriage. Then, when your students attend a wedding and hear this Gospel reading, they’ll already know what it is about!

http://orthodoxsundayschool.org/gospels/3-5-years-old/wedding-cana

http://orthodoxsundayschool.org/gospels/6-9-years-old/wedding-cana

http://orthodoxsundayschool.org/gospels/10-12-years-old/wedding-cana

http://orthodoxsundayschool.org/gospels/middle-school/wedding-cana

http://orthodoxsundayschool.org/gospels/high-school/wedding-cana

 

Printable activities which could be used in class or sent home to extend the learning about the Gospel story of the Wedding at Cana can be found here: http://orthodoxsundayschool.org/gospels/3-5-years-old/wedding-cana-0

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Teens will find this article (a timeless homily given in 1971 by Archimandrite Aimilianos of Simonopetra, Mount Athos) interesting. It addresses young people considering whether or not God has called them to the sacrament of marriage. If you choose to include this article in a lesson on marriage, you may wish to add a twist: encourage each student to make a list of all the different things that the article says that marriage is, and/or have them sketch their favorite, then share it with the class, explaining why they liked that metaphor for the sacrament of marriage. http://orthochristian.com/47495.html

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Gleanings from a Book: “I Live Again” by Ileana, Princess of Romania, Archduchess of Austria

“I Live Again” by Ileana, Princess of Romania, Archduchess of Austria was recently re-published by Ancient Faith Publishing after being out of print for many years. The memoir was originally written in 1951 by the princess herself, only a few years after she was forced to leave her beloved Romania. This re-publication contains additional forwards and afterwards which enhance the reader’s understanding of the book and appreciation for the author and her experiences.

At the start of the book, Princess Ileana greets her readers from her cozy New England house. She invites the readers to “look around” two rooms of her house, detailing the items in each room, and offering a glimpse at the history behind them. In the first chapters, she begins to answer the question posed to her many years before, when she was a teen visiting the United States on official business with her mother, Queen Marie of Romania: “What is it like, to be a princess?”

The rest of the book takes the reader on the journey of Ileana’s life as a princess. It begins by introducing her younger years in the palace; then goes on to tell of her life as a refugee during World War I; then back to palace life when the war was over. Finally, the bulk of the book discloses the subsequent changes and challenges presented by World War II and the subsequent struggles of Romania and her people in its aftermath.

Time after time in her story, the reader wonders at Princess Ileana’s strength, feels exhausted by her hard work, and is amazed at her diligence and determination in the midst of the difficult situations surrounding her. Again and again she tells instances of God’s provision, not just for her and her family, but also for the people she served and loved. This story would be unbelievable, were it fictitious, but it is true.

So, “what is it like to be a princess?” This book will forever change the reader’s view on that title. Commitment, pain, joy, trust in God, and dedication all are themes in this book. Perhaps they are what it is like to be a princess? They were, at least, what it was like for Princess Ileana of Romania!

When she wrote this book, Princess Ileana’s beloved country was still under Soviet rule. Nearly 40 years later, Romania was freed from that rule, and she was able to return to visit. By this time, she had been tonsured a nun and was the abbess of the monastery which she had founded in Elwood City, Pennsylvania. Mother Alexandra departed this life a few months after her return to Romania, from complications related to a hip fracture.

Mother Alexandra’s gravestone reads, “None of us lives to himself and none of us dies to himself. If we live, we live to the Lord and if we die we die to the Lord, so then whether we live or whether we die, we are the Lord’s” (Romans 14:7). Truly, her life exemplified this passage. May her life challenge and encourage us to live to the Lord with all of our might!

Purchase your copy of “I Live Again” here: http://store.ancientfaith.com/i-live-again-a-memoir-of-ileana/

 

Following are a few gleanings from the book, as well as a few resources that can help us learn more about Princess Ileana/Mother Alexandra. May her memory be eternal!
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“My life has been spared often by what has seemed sheerest chance: the chance that the bomb fell in the other end of the trench where we were crouched; that the Communist under anesthetic for an operation in my hospital babbled of the plans for its destruction.” (“I Live Again,” by Ileana, Princess of Romania, Archduchess of Austria, p. 21)

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“Like Brother Lawrence, ‘I have need to busy my heart with quietude.’” (“I Live Again,” by Ileana, Princess of Romania, Archduchess of Austria, p. 29)

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“I know now that love and pity, implemented with the will to serve, can transcend all things and work incredible miracles; that one can overcome shyness, fatigue, fear, and even what seems uncontrollable physical repulsion, by a simple overwhelming longing to serve and be of use… Before death and pain men are equal, and most men realize this and are ready to help one another. I have learned that where there is faith in the Lord, His work can be done.”(“I Live Again,” by Ileana, Princess of Romania, Archduchess of Austria, p. 84)

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“Here in my New England bedroom, on the night table beside my Bible and prayer book, is a heavy silver cross… Wherever I go it accompanies me. Whether I am in a friend’s house or have made a journey to a strange town where I must lecture, it lies beside me; a continual token of the power of faith and sacrifice. It reminds me of my home and of my work, and of the trust that those whom I left behind have given me. It is a symbol of the Strength that enables me to ‘live again,’ for as I look at it the words spring to my mind: ‘In the world ye shall have tribulation, but be of good cheer; I have overcome the world.’ If He had not overcome the world, and in doing so left us His example, how could I ever have borne the day upon which I received this silver cross?” (“I Live Again,” by Ileana, Princess of Romania, Archduchess of Austria, p. 131)

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“The wish to succeed the easy way, to take the road that lies open and clear before us, often makes our work superficial. Besides, an outward success is not an adequate measure of the depth and durability of what we accomplish. Worldly success did not crown even our Lord’s life when He was on earth, though that work was divine and far above our own human efforts.” (“I Live Again,” by Ileana, Princess of Romania, Archduchess of Austria, p. 157)

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“…I do not want you to think that what we were doing was simple or easy, or went along as quickly as you can read about it. I have never found that anything worth doing can be accomplished without considerable effort, and transporting forty wounded was no exception…” (“I Live Again,” by Ileana, Princess of Romania, Archduchess of Austria, pp. 192-193)

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“…A great sorrow had come to me… So I sought refuge again at the little chapel, seeking for strength to bear the unbearable; for even physically I felt that I could not endure the pain. Then my eyes fell upon the eternal unmoved perfection of the mountain. So long had it stood there just like that.. And suddenly I understood that such things did not matter; that they were of no importance at all. Such things were there simply to be overcome; they were put in our way for us to use in building the staircase of life. On each one we could mount one step higher until finally we attained the Mountain, the eternal reality of living.” (“I Live Again,” by Ileana, Princess of Romania, Archduchess of Austria, pp. 231-232)

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“Can you understand why I so loved this hospital? It was because everything in it was a symbol of love. Behind each bit of it stood some act of kindness, some gesture of nobility, some memory dear to me; and woven through all were the hours of ordinary, essential hard work which made it truly a part of myself. (Once someone asked me how I had got ‘all that’ done. ‘With my feet!’ I replied. And this in many ways is true, for things do not drop into one’s lap. One has to go and find them.)” (“I Live Again,” by Ileana, Princess of Romania, Archduchess of Austria, p. 268)

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(on visiting her parents’ and her baby brother’s graves)

“I felt like a ghost from the past visiting the past. Had I known that it was for the last time I came there, how could I have borne it? God is merciful in that we do not know what awaits us.” (“I Live Again,” by Ileana, Princess of Romania, Archduchess of Austria, p. 319)

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“But to try to escape with my own family from the oppression to which my people were condemned could never be the right solution of the problem for me. It was my duty to stay with the country that had given me life and held my heart, and not to desert it in a time of stress. I was not simply an individual, a mother who had only her own children to think of…I resolved to try harder and more courageously. I returned with the family to Bran, carrying this resolution in my heart and not knowing that soon all decision would be taken out of my hands.” (“I Live Again,” by Ileana, Princess of Romania, Archduchess of Austria, p. 364)

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“The purpose of this book is to reveal the broken heart of the author and to be a reflection on the bruised heart of her people. How does a grand duchess and princess reflect the suffering of her own people? How does she accept exclusion from the life of the nation she represented and served? She was given no choice, but a command: ‘Leave the country!’ ‘Perhaps you can understand the shock of an end to all these things coming, not naturally but as if a knife had rudely cut through a whole life in a moment. It condemned me, not to death, but to a living death…’” (“I Live Again,” by Ileana, Princess of Romania, Archduchess of Austria, p. 393)

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Find links to a gallery of pictures from Princess Ileana/Mother Alexandra’s life, as well as links to important articles throughout history, related to her life, here: http://www.tkinter.smig.net/PrincessIleana/index.htm

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This biography of Princess Ileana/Mother Alexandra, written by Bev Cooke, tells her story including her experiences beyond her years in Romania. Find it here: http://store.ancientfaith.com/royal-monastic-princess-ileana-of-romania/

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The Orthodox Monastery of the Transfiguration in Elwood City, Pennsylvania was founded by Princess Ileana, after she was tonsured a nun. Mother Alexandra is buried at the monastery. Visitors are welcomed. See http://www.orthodoxmonasteryellwoodcity.org/home for information about the monastery and to inquire about staying there if you choose to visit; or to virtually join in on the monastery’s beautiful services via their online chapel.

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On Pursuing Virtue: Faithfulness

Author’s note: We have written about virtues before (see https://orthodoxchurchschoolteachers.wordpress.com/2017/03/03/on-pursuing-the-virtues-an-introduction/), and now we are continuing the series. There are so very many virtues for us to acquire! Fr. Thomas Hopko’s book “The Orthodox Faith, Volume 4, Spirituality,” offers additional virtues, some of which we will now study. May the Lord have mercy on us and grant us grace as we learn to better walk in His ways!

Fr. Thomas Hopko begins his discussion on faithfulness by reminding the reader that God is absolutely faithful. This virtue is one of His main characteristics! When the virtue of faithfulness is found in people, it is there because of the Holy Spirit. Faithfulness is a fruit of the Spirit.

People who are faithful always keep their word. They are completely loyal. They stay true to their calling. No matter what happens, they steadfastly serve in truth and love. The faithful person will follow God’s will even if others do not notice or appreciate what they are doing. God sets for us the best example of faithfulness. He always makes promises and covenants and always keeps them, even when people have not kept their end of the “bargain.”

God incarnate, our Lord Jesus Christ, showed us humans how to be faithful by being perfectly faithful throughout His life on earth. He carried out his mission dutifully, and thereby accomplished all that God sent Him here to do. Our Lord taught about faithfulness in the parable of the talents. In that parable, He teaches that the truly faithful servant is the one who takes what the Lord gives and fearlessly grows it into more. That servant is the one that is commended, who has truly carried out what his Lord set forth for him to do.

The discussion on faithfulness continues by stating that to be truly spiritual is to be completely faithful in everything: not only in all of our deeds and in all of our words, but even in all of our thoughts! We need to beware of pride, covetousness, cowardice, envy, and the temptation to not humbly serve where we are, with what God has provided: all of these are enemies of faithfulness. Anytime that we think highly of ourselves, are afraid to try what God has asked us to do, wish for our neighbors’ stuff or talents, or continually seek satisfaction from the world, we grow faithLESSness in our life.

If we want to be faithful, we need to be steadfast. We must be fully committed to doing the tasks that God has set before us with whatever faith, grace, and strength He provides. Fr. Thomas says, “The only way to find joy, wisdom, and peace is to be faithful to one’s own uniqueness, knowing that each person has his own specific life and vocation from God which no one else has; his own specific mission which no one else can perform.” When we live and act in this way, we will develop faithfulness in our life, and accomplish those things which God has intended for us to accomplish with our life, for His glory!

May we all grow in the virtue of faithfulness, and help our students to do so as well!!

Read Fr. Thomas Hopko’s discussion of faithfulness here: https://oca.org/orthodoxy/the-orthodox-faith/spirituality/the-virtues/faithfulness

Here are some ideas of ways that we can help to teach our Sunday Church School students about the virtue of faithfulness:

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Though geared toward parents, this series of lessons on faithfulness offers many stories and verses from scripture that can be used to teach faithfulness to Sunday Church School students. It also offers discussion starters about faithfulness in a variety of areas of life, while also offering activity ideas. http://www.kidsofintegrity.com/lessons/faithfulness
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This guide to helping parents talk with their children about faithfulness may offer some ideas that could be used in the Church School classroom. There are ideas for all ages of children. https://www.focusonthefamily.com/parenting/spiritual-growth-for-kids/fruit-of-the-spirit/reflecting-gods-faithfulness
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This lesson on faithfulness is geared to preschool students. It includes printable illustrations for the stories (of Joseph’s faithfulness despite being sold by his brothers and of the Theotokos’ faithfulness to God’s request of her), along with craft and activity suggestions. http://storage.cloversites.com/pinedalechristianchurch/documents/28%20Preschool%20-%20May%2014.pdf
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Teachers of younger students may find a picture book from this list that can help to start a discussion on faithfulness: https://meaningfulmama.com/books-faithfulness-kids.html
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This teacher gives ideas of ways to use the story of Daniel with young students, to help them learn about faithfulness: http://handsonbibleteacher.blogspot.com/2011/03/fruit-of-spirit-faithfulness.html
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This lesson (actually, a children’s sermon) uses the book “Horton Hatches the Egg” and the story of St. Simeon to demonstrate faithfulness to children. It includes links to activity ideas and printable pages at the bottom of the page. https://www.sermons4kids.com/our_god_is_faithful.htm
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This lesson encourages participants to be faithful in all that they do. Based on the parable of the two sons, the lesson offers the story, suggested activities, and printable activity pages. https://www.sermons4kids.com/yes_or_no.htm
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Teachers of early elementary-aged students may find ideas they can adapt and use from this lesson on faithfulness: https://ministry-to-children.com/faithfulness-bible-lesson-fruit-of-the-spirit/
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https://www.jellytelly.com/blog/3-bible-stories-to-teach-kids-about-faithfulness suggests three stories from the scriptures that can help us to teach children about faithfulness: the story of Ruth, the story of David and Jonathan, and the Parable of the Talents. While this page operates on a subscription basis for its video storytelling, the ideas and passages are listed, so that a non-subscriber can find and share the scriptural stories with their students.
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This series of lessons on the fruit of the Spirit includes one on faithfulness, and would be appropriate for teachers with younger students. The ball-catch craft nicely illustrates how we need to be faithful in order to truly succeed! http://flamecreativekids.blogspot.com/2014/09/fruit-of-spirit-curriculum-10-free.html
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A teen leads this (mostly audio) video meditation on God’s faithfulness. A relatable example of how we trust our favorite snack to faithfully taste the same every time, and not let us down, helps the listeners think about God’s faithfulness. There’s also a free printable page with the questions asked in the presentation, so that listeners can write out their answers. http://studentdevos.com/track-2-lesson-1-god-is-faithful/
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This blog post clearly reminds us that God is faithful to us, no matter what we are experiencing. The blog itself is not a Sunday Church School lesson, but either of the two craft ideas would work very well in conjunction with a middle or high school lesson on faithfulness. One suggests decorating a jar to collect stones on which the owner will list the ways that God has been faithful to them. The other involves decorating a box to be filled with scripture reminders of God’s faithfulness (printable verse cards are available at the post). https://www.notconsumed.com/promise-box-so-that-we-may-never-again-forget-his-faithfulness/ ***
“‘O Faithless generation. How long shall I be with you? How long shall I bear with you?’ (Mk 9:19) Think about these disturbingly harsh words from our Lord in the Gospel reading today. ‘O Faithless generation.’ Were they words only for His generation 2000 years ago, or do they describe the times we live in?” ~ http://www.schwebster.org/sermons/struggling-to-stay-on-the-faithful-path

Teachers of older students may want to share this homily on faithfulness with their class, as part of a discussion on this virtue.
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Consider concluding a class on faithfulness by acknowledging faithfulness together. Encourage each student to think of one person that they really rely on, one person who exemplifies faithfulness to them, and then have them create a card to give to that person to thank them for being so reliable. They may want to include a verse about faithfulness (ie: “My eyes shall be on the faithful of the land, That they may dwell with me; He who walks in a perfect way, He shall serve me.” (Ps. 101:6 NKJV); “His lord said to him, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant; you were faithful over a few things, I will make you ruler over many things. Enter into the joy of your Lord.’” (Matt. 25:21 NKJV); or “He who is faithful in what is least is faithful also in much.” (Luke 16:10 NKJV)). Need inspiration for making the cards? What about something simple like this, but with the word “faithfulness” on the front instead of “thank you”? http://www.kwernerdesign.com/blog/easy-diy-thank-you-cards-ombre-watercolor/#_a5y_p=5834276

On Miracles That God Performs Through Icons

Icons are windows to heaven. We have them in our churches, we have them in our homes, and perhaps in our car/locker/workspace/elsewhere as well. They are in these places as visual reminders of Truth. Icons remind us of the power of God at work, either through the written images of Christ Himself or of those gone before us who have followed Him completely and became saints. They help us to better understand the scriptures and to better connect with the person/people written on them. Icons draw us to God by virtue of their beauty, the stories of faithfulness they represent, the Scriptures they unveil. It is a miracle that something so simple as a prayerfully-written icon can do so much to help us on our journey toward Him.

Occasionally, God chooses to move beyond that sense of “being drawn,” and to work other miracles through them. The purpose of this blog post is to help each of us to learn about some of the icons He is using in this way (or has recently used in this way), and to read the stories of miracles wrought through them. It is our hope that this post will be encouraging and help each of us to be aware of how God is at work through icons. These stories will also encourage our students, as we share the stories with them.

There are several ways that you could share these miracles with your Sunday Church School Students. One of these accounts could be shared as your students are eating their snack (if you have Church School right after Liturgy), each week for a period of weeks. Or perhaps you could share one at the beginning or end of every class for a season. Perhaps you would prefer to teach a lesson about miracles wrought through icons and wish to select several of the stories to study in a lesson or series of lessons. It is up to you how you utilize these stories. Please consider sharing them with your students! Children are naturally full of wonder, and will benefit from knowing these amazing ways in which God is at work through holy icons.

 

Here are a few examples of miracle-working icons and their stories which you may wish to share with your students:

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What would you or your students do if some of the icons in your prayer corner miraculously began streaming myrrh? Read this account by Subdeacon Nectarios himself, of what happened in his home. In the account, you’ll read about two streaming icons (each with different-smelling myrrh), a cat, a “doubting Thomas” who ends up with a mouthful of “proof,” and a few of the miracles that the miraculous myrrh have wrought. Glory to God! http://www.orthodoxhawaii.org/icons.html

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The Kardiotissa Icon of the Mother of God, at St. George Orthodox Church in Taylor, Pennsylvania, has been exuding myrrh ever since it was anointed with the myrrh of the Hawaiian Iveron icon in October of 2011. Many, many lives have been changed as a result. Share some of the miracles that have happened, as accounted in this homily, with your students: http://www.schwebster.org/sermons/2014-sermons/the-miracles-and-wonders-of-god-the-crying-icon-of-taylor-pa

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Begin a discussion with your older students about different kinds of healing (physical vs spiritual) by reading them this quote (and perhaps the entire article): “Over the past ten years there have been many miracles; some I’ve heard about and some I haven’t. There have been many physical healings, external, and there have also been many spiritual, inner healings. Through this Icon many of the faithful have experienced radical transformations in their lives. It’s as if people become liberated from the ‘old man’ and ardently strive towards God.  When the Icon is present in various churches, monasteries and homes, one senses a renewal of love for the Mother of God; almost immediately many people approach for confession, spiritually reborn through a feeling of repentance.  I’d like to say that the Mother of God helps our believers sense their sinfulness before Her Son, Jesus Christ.”


Read this and more of the story and miracles of the copy of the Iveron icon of the Mother of God (the same one whose copy was sent to Hawaii and began myrrh streaming there, and when that one in turn visited the Kardiotissa icon in Pennsylvania it began exuding myrrh as well), which was brought to Canada from Mt. Athos by a Chilean convert to Orthodoxy here: http://www.roca.org/OA/120/120k.htm

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“One can go on for a very long time listing the different holy Icons of the Ever-Virgin Mary and Theotokos and all the wonderful countless miracles of our Panagia. It is, however, important for all Orthodox Christian believers to always seek the holy intercessions of the Mother of God and to turn to Her for aid, healing, comfort and salvation.” Read some of the miracles in this article: http://saintandrewgoc.org/home/2014/8/25/the-miraculous-icon-of-panagia-portraitissa-the-keeper-of-th.html. Ask your students if they have heard any other stories of times when God has worked miracles through an icon of the Theotokos. Then, spend some time praying and asking her to pray for you and your loved ones – and the whole world!

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Watch this 8-minute video that shows miracle after miracle, mostly related to icons, which God has granted through His Holy Orthodox Church. The video is set to parts of the Vespers service chanted by Eikona, and could be a wonder-filled way to end a class about miracle-working icons! (We recommend that you watch it before showing it to your students, however, so you know what they will see and can be prepared to answer related questions.) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=p-AOO903CZA

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Throughout history, icons of the Mother of God have worked miracles. This article shares the commemoration days of many icons of the Theotokos, along with some of the stories of miracles attributed to those icons, set throughout history. These stories are not as recent as some of the above, but they are still miracles and well worth learning about! To read about an icon of the Theotokos and/or a miracle attributed to the icon, click on the month, then which of the days of that month you’d like to read about: https://oca.org/saints/icons-mother-of-god. In order to learn about more of them, consider allowing each student to select a different one to learn about and share their learnings with the rest of the class. (You will need to plan ahead and print things out, unless you have internet access in class or you give the students the assignment to bring back on a different Sunday.)

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“Venerating a miracle is also a way of acknowledging the importance of its context. A weeping icon is amazing, but it’s obviously not meant to distract attention away from the liturgical, sacramental, and doctrinal life of the Church. If anything, a miracle should amplify the importance of Church practices and teaching, for the God who causes the miracle is also the God who established these as markers of his ‘new and everlasting covenant’ with mankind.” Read more about responding to miracles wrought through icons in this article:  http://myocn.net/miracle-greece-weeping-icon-mean/. After reading the article, be sure to discuss it with your students so that they know how best to respond to any miraculous events they may experience that are associated with icons.

 

On Mark 11:17, “My House Shall Be Called a House of Prayer for All Nations.”

Note: the Antiochian Archdiocese’s Creative Arts Festival 2017’s theme is the inspiration for this blog post. We will take a closer look at the theme, to help them to better prepare for the festival in case they participate. Whether or not they do, what we can gather from this passage of St. Mark’s Gospel is applicable to all of us, not just the children participating in the festival!

Have you ever thought about that time when our Lord went into the temple, overturned the tables of the money changers, and drove out the salesmen? Why did He do that? What can we learn from His actions? How can we apply this passage to our own life?

It all began with the Triumphal Entry, the glorious reception that Jesus was given when He arrived in Jerusalem. Even the fact that He was riding on a lowly donkey did not stop the crowd from singing His praises. But instead of glorying in that acclaim, He went straight to the temple and “looked around at all things.” (Mark 11:11) His means of entry into Jerusalem modeled humility and His choice to go directly to the temple exemplifies the priority that should be given to being in God’s house.

Something else is tucked into this passage that could easily be missed. The passage says that He “looked around at all things” but “as the hour was already late He went out to Bethany with the twelve.” This shows us something else: it models self restraint. After all, as He looked around, our Lord saw all of the greedy money-making happening in what should have been a very holy, completely God-focused place. He knew that it was wrong, and had every right to be furious about it. But instead, He left to be with His disciples, calmly choosing being with people over being frustrated about stuff.

The next day our Lord returned to Jerusalem, and went back to the temple. This time He “drove out those who bought and sold in the temple, and overturned the tables of the money changers and the seats of those who sold doves. And He would not allow anyone to carry wares through the temple.”  (Mark 11:15-16) He thus demonstrated the importance of keeping what has been set apart for God free from greed and from earthly stuff.

Once the temple was restored to its intended state, it could also return to its intended purpose of worship and godly teaching. And so Christ taught the people, saying, “Is it not written, ‘My house shall be called a house of prayer for all nations’? But you have made it a ‘den of thieves.’” This teaching was appropriate for the people who had gotten so accustomed to seeing (and doing) marketing in the temple that they perhaps didn’t even think about how inappropriate it was. It turns out that this teaching is also appropriate for those of us living 2000+ years later. Concepts that we can take from this passage include: honoring God’s house as a place to pray; welcoming all because God’s house is for everyone, regardless of nationality; and guarding against deceit and greed that can steal us away from right relationship with God.

St. Paul’s letter to the Corinthians pushes us to look at this event in an even more personal light. 1 Corinthians 6:19 reads, “Or do you not know that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God?” Reconsidering the account of our Lord’s cleansing of the temple from the perspective of our own body being a temple, set apart for God, offers us even more insights for our Christian life. First and foremost, we need to aim to live humbly as our Lord did, especially when things are going well and others are lauding us. Secondly, God should always be our first stop, whether we are looking for personal guidance or we are prioritizing our schedule (being in church at the Divine Services should be at the top of our list). Thirdly, we need Christ Himself to cleanse our hearts, drive away the greed and selfishness in us, and restore us to the way we were intended to be. Finally, we need Him to teach us: how to guard the holiness of His temple, keeping our bodies from being marred by greed; how to welcome all around us to worship Him as well; and how to keep ourselves pure so that we do not house thoughts and desires that steal our focus away from Him.

May the Lord indeed cleanse us, that we may each become a worthy temple that properly worships Him and welcomes others to do the same.

Here are some ideas of ways to help our Sunday Church School class (whether or not they will be participating in the aforementioned Creative Arts Festival) to learn about this passage:

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Here is a lesson plan on the personal aspect of cleansing the temple, geared to grades 3 to 6: http://www.goarch.org/archdiocese/departments/youth/youthworker/resources/cleaning

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Here is a printable page full of activities for kids, related to the cleansing of the temple: http://www.sermons4kids.com/cleaning_house_bulletin.pdf

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Find an attention-getting way to teach about the cleansing of the temple in this lesson plan: http://biblelessons4kidz.com/BL4K%20Database/New%20Testament/Jesus/LSN%20-%20Jesus%20Clears%20Temple.pdf

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If your students enjoy doing activity pages related to the Sunday Church School lesson, you will want to peruse the printables (at a variety of age levels) in this pdf about the cleansing of the temple: http://freesundayschoolcurriculum.weebly.com/uploads/1/2/5/0/12503916/lesson_11_jesus_clears_the_temple.pdf

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Older elementary/middle school students may enjoy re-enacting the cleansing of the temple by reading together this play imagining what it could have been like, from the traders’ perspective, before a discussion of the event: http://www.beau.org/~vickir/drama/play1.html

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Find varied age-level (for ages 2 – 12) lessons about Jesus cleansing the temple here. Click on “Year 2: Kings and Kingdoms,” then select your age level, and go to lesson 5 in that level, “Jesus Clears the Temple.” Find lesson plans, scripts/stories and reproducible pages at each level. http://resourcewell.org/children-ministry/curriculum/

 

On Tattooing God’s Word on Your Heart

Not long ago, I was privileged to participate with my fellow parishioners in the Divine Liturgy for the feast day of Sts. Peter and Paul. A newly ordained priest was serving our community for that liturgy, and it was an evening that I will never forget. I will remember this liturgy not because it took place during his first week as a priest (and yes, he served it well, if you were wondering), but because of the homily that he gave during the course of the liturgy. Fr. David’s words have planted a concept into my mind that I will ever remember and work to attain.

The priest, Fr. David Jacobs, worked for years at the Antiochian Village Camp. My children loved having (then Deacon) David and his sweet family at camp every summer. Our whole family was blessed to spend time with them during our times at family camp at the Village, as well. We were all very grateful for the Jacobs family’s example to the AV community.

Fr. David referred to those years at camp at the beginning of his homily. He said that sometimes the children attending the camp would ask him questions. These questions gave him the opportunity to talk about a variety of subjects, and thus offer to the campers an Orthodox perspective on the topics at hand. One subject that he said often came up was tattoos.

Fr. David said in his homily that he always told the kids at camp that there is one tattoo that every Orthodox Christian should have. (Trust me, if there had been anyone in the congregation that night that wasn’t listening to the homily before, they were listening now!) The tattoo of which he spoke is not a visible tattoo; it is not even a physical one. Even though no one can see it, everyone will know that it is there because of the evidence it leaves behind. Fr. David said that this “tattoo” that we should all have is the permanent imprint of God’s Word on our hearts. He simply said, “Tattoo God’s Word on your heart.”

He went on to encourage us to do all that we can to steep ourselves in the Holy Scriptures. Read the Scriptures, meditate on them, ponder them, memorize them. Each of these actions will help us to permanently etch the Holy Scriptures into our hearts. With God’s Word permanently and irrevocably marked in our hearts, we will live a more godly life. This godly living will, in turn, forever change our life, our community, and the whole world for the better.

He suggested that we begin with one specific scripture, actually a verse of the Epistle reading for the Feast of Sts. Peter and Paul. 2 Corinthians 12:9 quotes our Lord Himself, “My grace is sufficient for you, for My power is made perfect in weakness.” Fr. David repeated the verse that had just been read to us during the Epistle reading. Then he went on to expound on it, allowing us a chance to meditate on it and ponder its meaning. He also had us recite the verse back to him several times, helping us to begin to memorize it. Essentially, he led us by example through the process of beginning to tattoo this scripture on our hearts. Mind you, it is an excellent scripture to permanently implant there: every single one of us needs this verse in our lives!

God willing, this will not be the only scripture tattooed on my heart. By the grace of God, as the years pass, my new goal is for my heart to be completely “inked up” with the scriptures. I have never had a tattoo, but I understand that the after-effect of all those needles is somewhat painful. I have a feeling that my new determination to “tattoo God’s Words on my heart” will also be painful at times. Minimally, I hope it produces a tenderness in my spirit that wasn’t there before. God willing, the final result will make my heart more beautiful and worth every dot of effort. And, by God’s grace, may God’s words inked on my heart be as evident to all around me as if I had them etched in my skin.

“I have always discouraged the use of the human body as a canvas. For me, being an artist and a Christian there was always a clear line as to how one treats the body and how one treats a canvas. A canvas is an object. The body is a holy temple. So when a Christian asks me if it is okay to get a tattoo I say to them “You are asking the wrong question.” You should be asking “How should a Christian care for their body?” This is a question that isn’t asked very often in our culture. If it is asked, unfortunately the answer is more often than not the wrong one. St. Paul tells us our body is a holy temple and that it doesn’t belong to us. It belongs to Christ. It is a temple of the Holy Spirit. This is the perspective that has shaped the teaching that we should devote our energy to tattooing our hearts with the Word of God and shine with the grace of the Holy Spirit rather than inking our flesh as one does with paper and canvas. Treating our bodies as objects will do little for us and those around us. Recognizing our bodies for what they truly are made to be (vessels of the Holy Spirit) will not only change us but (by God’s grace) also those around us.” ~ Fr. David Jacobs

For ideas of ways to “tattoo” the scriptures on your heart and on the hearts of your Sunday Church School students, check out these links:

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Need a place to start? Check out these scripture verses for memorization inspiration: http://www.feelslikehomeblog.com/2015/01/50-bible-verses-every-christian-should-memorize/

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In case you missed it, you can read our previous blog post about Scripture memorization here: https://orthodoxchurchschoolteachers.wordpress.com/2016/01/22/on-scripture-memorization-part-1/

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Find suggestions for making Scripture learning accessible and fun for kids, check out this post: https://orthodoxchurchschoolteachers.wordpress.com/2016/01/29/on-scripture-memorization-part-2/

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This tutorial leads you through a simple craft project that can help you and your family “ink up” your hearts with Scripture: https://orthodoxchristianparenting.wordpress.com/2016/01/27/verse-of-the-week-box-tutorial/

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Here is a blog about an art project that can help you and your students “tattoo your hearts” with Scriptures: https://orthodoxchurchschoolteachers.wordpress.com/2016/02/05/on-learning-the-scriptures-by-creating-a-scripture-journal/

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Have your students carry their “tattoo” project with them everywhere they go! Consider one of these ideas: invite the students to copy a verse you are memorizing on a slip of paper and keep it in their pocket. Or have them use permanent marker to write it on a blank wristband (turn a printed wristband or a produce rubber band inside out if you don’t have a wristband) and wear the verse-covered band. However they choose to carry the Scripture verse with them, every time they see it (or feel  it in their pocket), the student should repeat the verse to him/herself. Challenge them to have it memorized before they lose the paper or the verse wears off of the wristband.

 

On the Lord’s Prayer: “And Lead Us Not Into Temptation”

If we pay attention to this petition in the Lord’s Prayer, it will cause us to stop and really think. Why are we asking God not to lead us into temptation? Does God ever actually lead us into temptation? Or are we asking Him to lead us in ways of righteousness, those ways which take us away from temptation? Regardless of whether or not we know the answers to these questions, we are certain of one thing. And that is this: we need God’s help to be delivered from the temptations that beset us. So we ask Him to lead us. And He does.

It is up to us whether or not we follow His leading.

 

Read more about this petition of the Lord’s Prayer:

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“First we clarified that God does not lead us to temptation, but that we are hoping He will lead us away, for we are here recognizing our weakness.  Temptation can surely come from outside us, from demons and bad influences, but temptation also comes from within — our own weaknesses and insecurities may cause us to want to lash out or to steal or to run from consequences.  Our weaknesses are our temptations, and in humility, we ask that God shield us and protect us, for we know that alone we are not strong enough to overcome all temptation, but through Christ Jesus there is nothing we cannot do.” ~ https://blogs.ancientfaith.com/raisingsaints/teaching-lords-prayer/

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“Is this then what the Lord teaches us to pray, that we may not be tempted at all? How then is it said elsewhere, ‘a man untempted, is a man unproved’; and again, ‘My brethren, count it all joy when you fall into various temptations’ (James 1:2)? But does perchance the entering into temptation mean the being overwhelmed by the temptation? For temptation is, as it were, like a winter torrent difficult to cross. Those therefore who are not overwhelmed in temptations, pass through, showing themselves excellent swimmers, and not being swept away by them at all; while those who are not such, enter into them and are overwhelmed… If ‘lead us not into temptation’ implied not being tempted at all, He would not have said, ‘But deliver us from the evil one.’ Now the evil one is our adversary the devil, from whom we pray to be delivered.” ~St. Cyril of Jerusalem

Read this and more of what St. Cyril had to say about each part of the Lord’s Prayer here: http://www.johnsanidopoulos.com/2010/03/lords-prayer-st-cyril-of-jerusalem.html

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“…this victory lies not in the ability to understand and explain evil but rather in the ability to face it with the full force of faith, the full force of hope, the full force of love. For it is by faith, hope, and love that temptations are overcome, they are the answer to temptation, the victory over temptations, and therefore the victory over evil.” ~ Alexander Schmemann, “Our Father,” p.79

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“…Christ didn’t once explain and therefore didn’t once justify and legitimatize evil, but he constantly confronted it with faith, hope, and love. He didn’t destroy evil, but he did reveal the power of struggle with evil, and he gave this power to us, and it is about this power that we pray when we say: ‘and lead us not into temptation.’”~ Alexander Schmemann, “Our Father,” p.80

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Idea: Talk with children about temptation either using the tug-of-war example in the lesson plan here, or the “bait” ideas as demonstrated in the attached video: http://ministry-to-children.com/temptation-object-lessons/. Then talk about how the petition “and lead us not into temptation” from the Lord’s Prayer can help us when we are tempted. Also, discuss how God helps us when we are being tempted. Talk about things to do when tempted: first, of course, would be prayer; then removing one’s self from the situation if possible; etc. Help your children think of hands-on things to do when they feel tempted. Create a list to keep posted somewhere where everyone can see it and be reminded of it.