Tag Archives: faithfulness

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.

Learning About a Saint: St. Seraphim of Sarov (Commemorated on January 2)

On January 2, we commemorate the life of St. Seraphim of Sarov. This beloved saint’s humility and kindness to both people and animals provide an excellent example for all of us. His name day falls right after the beginning of the new calendar year. We are writing this blog post a whole month before his commemoration, in order to allow time for us to learn about him and teach our children about his life before any of us make our New Year’s resolutions. Emulating his life –  even just one aspect of his holy way of living – would be an excellent New Year’s resolution for any Orthodox Christian.

St. Seraphim, first named Prochor Moshnin, was born in in Kursk, Russia, in 1759, to devout parents who took him to church and taught him the things of God. At an early age, miracles began to happen in Prochor’s life. For example, when he was only 7 years old, he once fell from the bell tower (which was 3 or 4 stories tall) of the Kursk Cathedral. He should have been seriously injured, but God worked a miracle, and he was unharmed. When he was 10, he became very ill. One night, the Mother of God appeared to him and told him that he would soon be healed. A few days later, a wonder-working icon of the Theotokos was processing through Kursk when rain suddenly began to pour down from the clouds. The procession took a shortcut through Prochor’s family’s yard. His mother carried her sick boy outside to venerate the icon as it passed, and he recovered from his illness that very day.

Throughout the early years of his life, Prochor studied the scriptures and attended church. At age 19, he went to live in a monastery so that he could become a monk. At the monastery, he worked hard and prayed hard. Years later, at age 27, he was tonsured as the monk “Seraphim,” and a few years after that, he was ordained to the priesthood.

After he became a priest, St. Seraphim served God in a variety of ways. He served as the priest for the monastery in Diveyevo; he lived for a while in solitude in the forest; he prayed on a rock for 1,000 days/nights; and much more. Throughout these experiences, he welcomed all visitors, whether they were children, adults, or animals. All the while, he worked at praying the Jesus Prayer. Sometimes when he prayed, he shone with holy light because of how close he was to God.

When the Abbot of Sarov asked St. Seraphim to go back to the monastery to help the pilgrims who came there, he obeyed. The pilgrims who came to see St. Seraphim were greeted with, “Christ is risen!” and he called everyone, “My Joy.” God often revealed to him what the pilgrims’ struggles were, even before they told him about the troubles they were having. Each pilgrim left their meeting with St. Seraphim feeling happy and full of the hope of the resurrection of Christ.

The Theotokos appeared to St. Seraphim 12 times over the course of his lifetime. One of the last times she appeared, he was working at the monastery when he saw her walking around the outskirts of the property. When he saw her, he understood that she was protecting the monastery, and that whoever followed her footsteps in that path would be blessed. He and the nuns spent years digging a canal where she had walked so that pilgrims could also walk there, praying to the Theotokos, and be blessed. To this day, they do. And they are. St. Seraphim reposed in the Lord a few days after the canal was completed. There are many accounts of miracles through his prayers, since his repose in the Lord.

St. Seraphim of Sarov, intercede for us and for our salvation!

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Before teaching your Sunday Church School students about St. Seraphim of Sarov, you may want to do some of your own research, and find more stories from his life. Here a few suggestions:


  1. Read more about the life of St. Seraphim of Sarov, find his troparion and kontakion, and read many of his quotes here: http://www.fatheralexander.org/booklets/english/seraphim_e.htm

 

  1. Find a detailed telling of the story of the life of St. Seraphim of Sarov, complete with icons and paintings (and even some photos of the still-standing buildings!) here:  http://www.symeon-anthony.info/StSeraphimSarov/StSeraphimSarov.htm

 

  1. Share a book about his life with your students. For example, this one: http://www.stnectariospress.com/st-seraphim-of-sarov-childrens/

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Here is the life of St. Seraphim of Sarov, written in child-friendly language which you could read with your Sunday Church School students or print copies to send home for the students to share with their family: http://www.serfes.org/lives/stseraphin.htm

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Younger children will enjoy listening to Katherine Bolger Hyde’s short story, “Friend of the Holy Spirit: St. Seraphim of Sarov,” as read by Dr. Chrissi Hart, here: http://www.ancientfaith.com/podcasts/grapevine/readings_from_under_the_grapevine_program_41

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Older children will enjoy watching this English-subtitled Russian cartoon illustrating the life of St. Seraphim and reading the English subtitles. (Note: the translation is a little rough in some places.) https://dotsub.com/view/a606618f-801a-4d24-99c3-6788e73645c8

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If you teach a teen Sunday Church School class, you may want to use these resources in your discussion of St. Seraphim of Sarov’s life:

Read what one person is learning from the life of St. Seraphim of Sarov while writing a musical tribute to the saint’s life: http://www.pravoslavie.ru/english/81028.htm

Hear another person’s story of St. Seraphim’s interaction with his life: http://www.ancientfaith.com/podcasts/frederica/a_visit_from_st._seraphim

Read one pilgrim’s account of her visits to the Holy Trinity-Diveyevo Women’s Monastery, including some miracles she experienced in this holy place where St. Seraphim spent so much of  his time, here: http://www.manastir-lepavina.org/duhovnik/index.php?read=2363

Listen to a homily on St. Seraphim, given by a priest who was given St. Seraphim’s name, here: http://www.ancientfaith.com/podcasts/redeemingtime/st._seraphim_of_sarov

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Find suggestions for celebrating St. Seraphim of Sarov’s name day here: http://www.charmingthebirdsfromthetrees.com/2013/07/festal-learning-basket-saint-seraphim.html?m=1 and here: http://www.creativehandscreativeminds.com/2014/01/st-seraphim-of-sarov.html?spref=pi

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Together with your class, pray the Akathist (or even just part of it) to St. Seraphim of Sarov: https://akathisthymns.wordpress.com/seraphim/

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For you to ponder (or to discuss with older Sunday Church School students): “God is fire, warming and igniting the heart and inward parts. So, if we feel coldness in our hearts, which is from the devil (for the devil is cold), then let us call the Lord: He, in coming, will warm our heart with perfect love, not only towards Himself, but to our neighbors as well. And the coldness of the despiser of good will run from the face of His warmth.” ~ St. Seraphim of Sarov

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For you to ponder (or to discuss with older Sunday Church School students): “True hope seeks the one Kingdom of God and is sure that everything necessary for this mortal life will surely be given. The heart cannot have peace until it acquires this hope. This hope pacifies it fully and brings joy to it.” ~ St. Seraphim of Sarov

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For you to ponder (or to discuss with older Sunday Church School students): “When the evil spirit of sorrow seizes the soul, then, by filling it with bitterness and unpleasantness, it does not allow it to pray with necessary diligence; it disrupts the attention necessary for reading spiritual writings, deprives it of humility and good nature in the treatment of others and breeds aversion to any discussion. For the sorrowful soul, by becoming as if insane and frenzied, can neither accept kind advice calmly, nor answer posed questions meekly. It runs from people as if from the perpetrators of its embarrassment, not understanding that the reason for its illness — is within it. Sorrow is the worm of the heart, gnawing at the mother that bore it.” ~ St. Seraphim of Sarov

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For you to ponder (or to discuss with older Sunday Church School students): “The true goal of our Christian life consists of acquiring God’s Holy Spirit. Fasting and vigil, prayer, mercy, and every other good deed performed for Christ — are means for acquiring the Holy Spirit of God. Only deeds performed for Christ give us the fruits of the Holy Spirit.” ~ St. Seraphim of Sarov

 

On “Saving” Time

It is that time of year when many countries in the world enter “Daylight Savings Time” and collectively shift their schedules accordingly. Interestingly enough, this schedule shift occurs near the onset of the “holiday season” in North America. The implication of saving time, combined with the culturally-imposed busyness of the forthcoming season creates an interesting juxtaposition in thought. Pondering this clash of ideologies brings an important question to mind: How can we as Orthodox Christians truly “save” our time; even during the “holiday season?”

An important measure that we can take to that end is to go through our schedules now and prepare them before they are overtaken with other plans. There are a number of things that we should schedule into our “holiday season” immediately, so that we are certain that there is time for them. Here are a number of priorities which we should schedule in order to truly “save” (redeem) our time:

  1. “Save” time by prioritizing Church. What better way to redeem our time than to pray, worship, and be in the presence of God? Find out from your parish calendar (or priest) what additional services will celebrated during November and December. Put them into your family calendar, so that you remember them and can attend as many as possible. Challenge your family to attend more services together than you did last year.
  2. “Save” time by prioritizing fasting. The Nativity fast is an excellent way to prepare for Christ’s birth. Remember that fasting is not just about food; but also about refraining from excess/ judgement/unnecessary entertainment/etc. Fasting is also about giving to those in need. “The holiday season” is a perfect time to work at all of these. Brainstorm ways to work at them together as a family. Block out needed time in your family’s schedule for the fasting methods that require time (for example, helping in a soup kitchen or volunteering somewhere to help needy people). Scheduling family time to work at the different ways to fast will help you to do them better!
  1. “Save” time by by prioritizing family devotional time. As families, we should regularly be saying prayers and reading/discussing the scriptures, as well as other books that strengthen us in our faith. If we have not developed a habit of this for our family yet, what better time to begin than in a season when we are preparing to celebrate Christ’s coming? (Read-aloud book suggestions for different age levels will be a topic for a future week. Stay tuned!)
  1. “Save” time by prioritizing down time. Yes, down time. During “the holidays.” One of the greatest challenges of today’s society is the constant requirement for noise, for entertainment, for socialization, etc. Each of these is escalated during “the holiday season,” and it is easy for us as Christians to get sucked into it “because, after all, it’s all about celebrating Christ’s birth!” However, the onslaught of stuff, noise, and busyness flies in the face of the still, quiet preparation that our hearts need in order to be truly prepared to celebrate Christ’s nativity. It is not wrong to say no to the busyness or to choose to miss out on some of the parties or other activities. It is different than the actions/expectations of the rest of the culture, but then again, so is our Orthodox faith! But how can we shape our schedules in a way that allows down time, especially during “the holiday season?” One family suggests sitting down now with your calendar, and blocking out days from now through the end of the year by writing something on the calendar. This family writes the word “something” on many of the evenings and weekends not already filled with church. If someone invites them to an event, they simply say, “Thank you very much for the invitation! I am sorry, but we already have something on the calendar for that day,” and it is the truth. (Note: the parents of the aforementioned family reserve the right to add something to the calendar when it already has “something;” but they take up to 24 hours to discuss it amongst themselves before getting back to the invitation giver, in attempt to maintain down time in the family. They do make exceptions to the 24 hour wait time occasionally.) Of course each family can institute their own version of this suggestion. The main idea is to block in down time, to deliberately NOT do every activity option that comes your way (which, in itself, can also be a form of fasting, too!). Note: if you do this but add things to your schedule instead of the “something” on your calendar, just be careful that you do not always ignore that “something” on the calendar. It is there to remind you to be still!

As we approach “the holidays,” let us be careful to focus on the real reason for our celebrations: the birth of our Lord and God and Savior, Jesus Christ. Let us not be swept into the unnecessary cultural busyness that can distract us from being still and preparing for His coming. Let us do what we can to open our schedules to the things that turn our hearts and the hearts of our children towards Christ and His great love for us.

What ideas do you have to share? Please post them below!

Following are a few ideas of ways to help your Sunday Church School students learn about (and hopefully implement) the above measures for redeeming their time.

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Encourage your students to make coming to church (and Sunday Church School!) a priority, even during busy times like during the holiday season. Talk together about why it is important to come to church. http://catholicblogger1.blogspot.com/2008/10/ccd-lesson-plan-church-respect.html gives a variety of ideas (Roman Catholic, but adaptable) about ways to teach children how to be respectful when in church.

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Older Sunday Church School Students can read one or both of these articles: http://www.nytimes.com/2013/04/21/opinion/sunday/luhrmann-why-going-to-church-is-good-for-you.html?_r=0 or http://hillsong.com/blogs/collected/2014/september/99-reasons-you-should-go-to-church-this-weekend#.VFwZDTCJOuY. After reading the article, discuss why going to church is good for the students. Be sure to also tell the students why it is good for you. Since it is good for you, encourage the students to think of (and maybe make a list of) ways to make sure that church attendance is a priority for them.

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Find a printable activity page on fasting geared for the middle grades, at http://www.orthodoxabc.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/08/008-EN-ed05_Keeping-Lent.pdf.

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Teach your Sunday Church School students about the importance of prayer. This three-lessons-on-prayer link may give you some ideas: http://www.kidssundayschool.com/45/lesson/why-pray.php.

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Consider helping your Sunday Church School students make prayer more of a priority in their personal lives by giving them the gift of an age-appropriate prayer book. Possible books could include: http://store.ancientfaith.com/childrens-orthodox-prayer-book/; http://store.ancientfaith.com/special-agents-of-christ/; or http://store.ancientfaith.com/products/My-Prayer-Book.html.

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Check out this article on simplifying your own life: http://ajjuliani.com/5-rules-to-simplify-your-life/. Consider how you can do so, so that you are able to be better at the things that you do, such as teaching Sunday Church School!

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Learning About a Saint: St. Nectarios, the Wonderworker (Commemorated on Nov. 9)

A boy named Anastasios was once born in Greece to parents who loved each other, God, and their 7 children very much. Anastasios loved to obey his parents, to learn from his grandmother and his siblings, and to study in school. He especially liked learning to read. Why? Because he wanted to be able to read the Holy Scriptures, so that he could learn more about God!

When Anastasios was 14, his parents had to send him to another city to work and study. The work that he found did not pay very well, so he had ragged clothes and very little food. One day, he wrote a letter to Christ. In his letter, he explained that he did not have enough food or clothes. He asked his Lord, Jesus Christ, to send him what he needed. He sealed up the letter, marked it “To my Lord, Jesus Christ,” and went off to mail it. On the way, he began to talk with a kind man named Themistocles, who offered to deliver the letter for him. Anastasios gave the letter to him and went back to work.

Themistocles was curious about the letter, so he opened and read it. He knew that he could be the one that God used to answer the letter, so he then went out and bought the things that Anastasios needed, and sent them to Anastasios with a note saying these things were “for Anastasios, from the Lord Jesus Christ.” Anastasios was so grateful to God for answering his letter: he kept on thanking and thanking Him for providing what he needed.

Themistocles soon offered Anastasios work in his own shop, where Anastasios was better cared for and even had evenings free to read, pray, and study. Years passed, and Anastasios grew up. All that studying made him wise enough to teach, so he got a job as a teacher. He helped children to read and write, and also taught them more about God.

All this time, Anastasios spent as much time as he could in the church, participating and worshiping in the services. Finally the time came when Anastasios realized that he wanted to serve God as a monk. He was tonsured a monk, and given the name Nektarios.

Nektarios studied in Athens, and when he finished his studying, he was ordained a priest. He worked for a while in Egypt, doing the usual work of a priest like performing the services, as well as baptisms and marriages. He worked hard to help people stop arguing with each other, so he helped to bring God’s peace to his people. The people liked how Father Nektarios helped them, and they worked hard to obey him, because they knew that God was with him. Before too long, he was consecrated as a bishop.

Some unkind people didn’t like Bishop Nektarios. Because of that, they lied about him to the Patriarch, saying that Bishop Nektarios wanted to take away the Patriarch’s job. The Patriarch believed those people, and Bishop Nektarios was banished from Egypt and sent back to Greece. Bishop Nektarios was so sad to leave his friends, but he had to leave.

When Bishop Nectarios got to Greece, he was even more sad because of what he learned. The unkind people had sent the same lies to Greece ahead of him, so he was not able to serve in the Church or teach about God in Greece, either. But, instead of feeling sorry for himself or getting angry with God, or complaining, the Bishop prayed. He prayed that God would give him one place where he could preach.

God heard Bishop Nektarios’ prayers and provided an island, Evia, where he was allowed to preach. Bishop Nektarios was so happy that he went to the island and began to pray and preach there. At first, no one would listen because they had heard the lies, too, but the bishop kept praying and preaching. Soon the people of Evia got to know the bishop and they began to love Bishop Nektarios and attend the services with him.

After a while, Bishop Nektarios was asked to be the principal of a school for young men. He moved to Athens to do this job. He worked hard, teaching the young men about the True Faith. One day, the school’s janitor became sick. That man would lose his job if he did not get his work done. Bishop Nektarios, even though he was very important as the principal of the school, began to do the man’s work for him (such as sweeping, cleaning toilets, etc.) while the janitor was sick, because the bishop wanted to show his students that one must have faith but one must also do good deeds. He was a good teacher who knew how to teach not just with words, but also with his life.

While doing all of this, Bishop Nektarios helped every poor or sick person who came to him. People realized that he was kind and loving, so they came to him when they needed help. He always knew what to do to help the people who came to him; whether to give them things, tell them wise words from God, or to pray for them.

When Bishop Nektarios was old, he wanted to retire from being a principal. Years before, he had met some young ladies who had wanted to become nuns. He had told them to wait to be tonsured as nuns, to be sure it was God’s will. They had waited, so finally he gave his blessing for them to look for a place for a monastery. They found a deserted monastery on the island of Aegina, and the people of the island came to help restore it. Bishop Nektarios tonsured the young ladies as nuns, and then he built a cell outside the monastery for himself so that he could live nearby. (He also helped to build cells for the nuns, and also a church, even though he was old.)

Even though he was retired, Bishop Nektarios went on teaching. More young ladies came to be nuns at the monastery. So many of them came from poor families that they did not know how to read or write. Bishop Nektarios taught them how to do so, so that they could read and chant the services in the church. At the same time, other people on the island came to see Bishop Nektarios, to ask him for help, advice, and/or prayers.

Bishop Nektarios spent the last few years of his life in this way, on Aegina, working hard, and helping everyone that he could. After a few days in the hospital because of a disease he had for a long time, he departed this life on November 9, 1920. He had served God well for all of his life, and was ready to go to be with God. The nuns and the people of Aegina were sad to say goodbye to their bishop, but they also knew that now they had another person in heaven praying to God for them.

There are many, many stories of people who were healed through Bishop Nektarios’ prayers, both throughout his lifetime, and since he has departed this life. He is a good saint to ask to pray for you when you are ill. His prayers bring people peace just like his presence and his wise words did, when he was still alive on this earth.

“A man, with his mind in heaven were you, in the world still living,

O Nektarios, Hierarch of Christ. You led a devout and holy life,

and in everything you were truly impeccable, righteous, and inspired by God. “

~ from the Oikos

St. Nektarios, please intercede for our salvation!

This picture book is a great way to tell Sunday Church School students about the life of St. Nektarios: https://orthodoxchristianchildren.com/component/virtuemart/1071/9/children-s-books/the-story-of-the-holy-hierarch-nectarios-the-wonderworker-detail?Itemid=0