Tag Archives: faithfulness

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

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

Here are a few ideas for you to use with your Sunday Church School students:

***

Before teaching your Sunday Church School children about the life of St. Nektarios, you may wish to study more about him. Find a summary of his life here: http://stnektariosfund.org/stnektarios. Read about his life and see actual photographs from it here: http://www.orthodoxphotos.com/Holy_Fathers/St._Nektarios_of_Aegina/.

***

“When he was still a young man, Anastasius (St. Nektarios’s name before he became a priest) made a pilgrimage to the Holy Land. During the voyage, the ship was in danger of sinking in a storm. Anastasius looked at the raging sea, and then at the captain. He went and stood beside the captain and took the helm, praying for God to save them. Then he took off the cross his grandmother had given him (containing a piece of the Cross of Christ) and tied it to his belt. Leaning over the side, he dipped the cross into the water three times and commanded the sea, “Silence! Be still.” At once, the wind died down and the sea became calm.

“Anastasius was saddened, however, because his cross had fallen into the sea and was lost. As the boat sailed on, sounds of knocking seemed to come from the hull below the water line. When the ship docked, the young man got off and started to walk away.

“Suddenly, the captain began shouting, ‘Kephalas, Kephalas, come back here.’ The captain had ordered some men into a small boat to examine the hull in order to discover the source of the knocking, and they discovered the cross stuck to the hull. Anastasius was elated to receive his ‘Treasure,’ and always wore it from that time forward.”

Tell your Sunday Church School students the story of this miracle. Then, show them the photograph of St. Nektarios wearing that cross, at: http://full-of-grace-and-truth.blogspot.com/2009/11/st-nektarios-wonderworker-bishop-of.html. (While you’re there, you can also read more stories of St. Nektarios’ life.)

***

“St. Nektarios is considered the Patron Saint for people who have cancer, heart trouble, arthritis, epilepsy and other sicknesses. Visitors to this shrine leave filled with the love and peace that St. Nektarios gave to all when he lived.

“St. Nektarios is a true icon of Christian love and patience. We are all called to love all people and to encourage them. As people of faith, we offer prayers as a means of help for all. St. Nektarios encouraged others by being with them at difficult times. He prayed to God to give them peace and courage to face their problems. We take him as our example. ” ~ from http://www.stnektarios.org/historyofsaint.php

With your Sunday Church School class, talk about how to love and encourage all people. How can we learn from St. Nektarios and continue God’s work on earth, acting as he did? Discuss who your class would be able to help, and make a plan for how to help, pray for, and encourage them.

***

Study and discuss the writings of St. Nektarios.

1. His “A Hymn to Our Lord Jesus Christ” begins as follows:

CHRIST The Word! Thine Incarnation

Links my nature to Thine own;

By Thy sore Humiliation,

I am lifted to Thy throne;

By Thy suffering Thou hast fired me

With a zeal to sacrifice,

And to noble life inspired me,—

Hence my grateful songs arise.” ~ St. Nektarios the Wonderworker

Read the rest of this hymn here: https://gabrielsmessage.wordpress.com/tag/st-nektarios-of-aegina/

2. “Prayer is forgetting earthly things, an ascent to Heaven. Through prayer we flee to God.” ~ St. Nektarios the Wonderworker

Read more of his writings here: http://www.saintandrewgoc.org/blog/2013/11/12/writings-of-saint-nektarios-the-wonderworker-bishop-of-penta.html

***

St. Nektarios is called “The Wonderworker” for a good reason: God works many miracles through him, even to this day! Here is one story of a miracle of St. Nektarios that you can share with your Sunday Church School students. This miracle happened recently in Romania: http://www.orthodoxmom.com/2009/11/04/miracle-of-st-nektarios/

***

Send this iconogram of St. Nektarios to your Sunday Church School students: http://www.iconograms.org/sig.php?eid=283. Besides his icon, there is a brief summary of his life included. Encourage your students to ask St. Nektarios to pray for them.

On Materialism

“Lay not up for yourselves treasures upon earth, where moth and rust doth corrupt, and where thieves break through and steal;” (Mt. 6:19)

In this age in the United States of America (and, indeed, throughout the world), the acquisition of “stuff” is what many people embrace as their goal for life. With the forthcoming holiday season, the fight-to-convince-everyone-to-acquire-more-stuff will be intensifying all around us. But is more stuff really what we or the children in our care (such as our Sunday Church School students) need?

Elder Paisios of the Holy Mountain (Mt. Athos) said, “I have realized that the destruction of man lies in the abundance of material goods, because it prevents him from experiencing the presence of God and appreciating His benevolence. If you want to take someone away from God, give him plenty of material goods. He will instantly forget Him forever.”

As Orthodox Christians, we do not want to forget God forever. (Nor do we want our children or Sunday Church School students to forget Him.) Neither do we want (them) to miss out on experiencing God’s presence and appreciating His benevolence. Therefore it is imperative that we be careful to set an example of simplicity and contentment in our own lives; and also encourage our students to place their hope in God, rather than in their things.

Beyond setting an example for them with our own lives, there are many ideas available to help us further teach our students to guard against materialism. Here are a few:

Ask your students what is their most prized possession. Have them write down what it is or draw a picture of it. Then, talk with your students about what is truly important in life. An idea of how one teacher did this is found at: http://www.5thgradecommoncore.com/blog/my-most-prized-possession-lesson. After the discussion, ask the students to look again at their original “most prized possession.” Is it still their most prized? Or is there something else that is more valuable? Ask them to tell the class, and explain why they ended up with what they did.

Encourage your students to focus any comparisons they may make on those less fortunate than them. Because, as Theodore Roosevelt so aptly put it, “comparison is the thief of joy,” we must be careful not to compare ourselves and our stuff to others. If we do compare, then  we should compare ourselves to those who have less than we do. We can work to this end by teaching our students that not everyone has as much as they do. For example, we can show them the pictures on this page http://borgenproject.org/children-and-their-most-prized-possessions/. The page features pictures of children from different parts of the world, photographed with their most prized possessions. Talk together as a class about the photos and how it feels to have so much more than these real kids do. Brainstorm ways your class can help provide for children in your neighborhood or around the world who do not have enough.

Use the plethora of advertisements (perhaps bringing in one copy of the Sunday paper would suffice to this end) which appeal to our greed as an opportunity to talk with your students. Discuss how the companies who pay for the advertisements are trying to make you feel discontent with what you have, and convince you that you need to buy their product. Talk with your students about the products being advertised. Do the students really think the items as amazing as they are advertised to be? What makes them think so/not? (Idea from  http://www.parenthood.com/article/10_simple_ways_to_combat_greed.html#.VEf6AseJOuZ.)

Consider challenging your students to join you in the Minimalism Game (seehttp://www.theminimalists.com/game/ for details). On day 1 of the game, each participant gets rid of (gives away, recycles, or otherwise shares) one item before midnight. On day 2, two items; day 3, three; etc. The participant who keeps at it the longest is the winner! (Actually, everyone who participates wins because of eliminating excess in their home while helping others!)

‘Tis the season… to face materialism head on and find ways to combat its influence in our lives and in the lives of our students. As we successfully turn away from our greed and toward Christ and His people, we will, indeed, be storing up “treasures in Heaven, where neither moth nor rust doth corrupt, and where thieves do not break through nor steal.

For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.” (Matt. 6:20-21)