Tag Archives: fasting

On the Liturgical Year for Teachers: Great Lent (part 4 of 7)

This series of blog posts will offer basic information and resources regarding the liturgical year. It is our hope that Sunday Church School teachers will find this series helpful as they live the liturgical year with their students. The series will follow the church year in sections, as divided in the book “The Year of Grace of the Lord: a Scriptural and Liturgical Commentary on the Calendar of the Orthodox Church” by a monk of the Eastern Church. May God bless His Church throughout this year!

Great Lent consists of the 40 days leading to Holy Week, which, in turn, immediately precedes Pascha. Since its early days, Great Lent has been observed as a time of penitence, spiritual growth, and illumination. Although it is a time of great spiritual struggle, it is also a time of deep joy for Orthodox Christians, as we prepare our hearts to experience Christ’s Passion and Resurrection.

In the early centuries, Church practice included baptizing people at the Paschal Vigil. This was also when Christians who had gone astray and returned to the Faith were reconciled to the Church. In order to train and prepare these people for joining (or re-joining) the Church, an “intense period of preparation, which included fasting, began forty days before Holy Week… it gradually became a universal institution, observed by catechumens and faithful alike for its salutary effects on the life of the Christian community.” (1)  

The monk-author of “The Year of Grace of the Lord” points out that the Liturgy of the Presanctified Gifts reminds us that “Lent… commemorates Israel’s forty years of wandering in the wilderness, those forty years during which the chosen people…went forward with faith towards the far-off promised land…” (2, p. 109) He goes on to remind us that these years (as well as during Great Lent), God’s people relied on Him fully, and He provided physically with food as well as spiritually with His presence, the Ten Commandments, and many miracles. The monk continues, “Lent recalls the forty days that the Lord Jesus spent in the desert during which he contended with Satan, the tempter. Our Lent must also be a period of fighting against temptation… During the time of Lent, the Church leads us, as if by the hand, towards the radiant paschal feast. The more serious our Lenten preparation has been, the deeper we shall enter into the mystery of Easter and gather its fruits.” (2, p. 110)

Bishop Kallistos Ware said, “The primary aim of Great Lent is to make us conscious of our dependence upon God.” (1) We are encouraged to focus on three things during Great Lent: prayer, fasting, and almsgiving. Lent is a time for repentance, that we may turn from sins and earthly cares to focus our whole being on Christ and His glorious resurrection, which heals us completely. This truth grants us great joy amidst the struggles we encounter during Lent.

“Let us begin the lenten time with delight.. Let us fast from passions as we fast from food, taking pleasure in the good words of the spirit, that we may be granted to see the holy passion of Christ our God and his holy Pascha, spiritually rejoicing.” (from Vesper Hymns)

Let us participate fully in the life of the Church throughout Great Lent. As we do, let us also struggle to properly prepare our hearts and the hearts of our students for Holy Week and Pascha. If we do, when we arrive at the Feast of feasts, we will be prepared and filled with joy!

Footnotes:

  1. Calivas, Rev. Alciviadis C., Th.D., (1985, 8/13). “Orthodox Worship”. Retrieved from https://www.goarch.org/-/orthodox-worship
  2. A monk of the Eastern Church. The Year of Grace of the Lord. Crestwood, NY: St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press; 2001.

 

Here are some related links, including ideas for teaching students about Great Lent:

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Here is a blog post about Forgiveness Vespers, the beautiful way in which we begin Great Lent: https://orthodoxchurchschoolteachers.wordpress.com/2015/02/13/on-forgiveness-vespers/

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This blog post suggests ways to help your students begin Lent well. It includes links to resources such as a daily lenten calendar that helps families learn about the themes of Great Lent with suggested activities for each day, among others. https://orthodoxchurchschoolteachers.wordpress.com/2015/02/20/on-beginning-great-lent/

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This blog post about the Presanctified Liturgy is geared towards families, but could be helpful to share with your students’ parents to help encourage them to attend these Lenten liturgies: http://www.orthodoxmotherhood.com/presanctified-liturgy-children/

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During Great Lent, we celebrate the Feast of the Annunciation. Here’s a blog post that can help you teach your students about this feast! https://orthodoxchurchschoolteachers.wordpress.com/2016/03/18/620/

(An additional helpful resource is the quarterly publication “Blessed Children,” published by St. George Antiochian Orthodox Cathedral, Pittsburgh, PA. Volume 4, Issue 1 is all about the Annunciation and contains articles related to it: ranging from the icon to the church of the Annunciation to a challenge to say “Yes!” just like the Theotokos did.)

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The second Sunday of Great Lent is the Sunday of St. Gregory of Palamas. This blog post may be helpful as you help your students learn more about him: https://orthodoxchurchschoolteachers.wordpress.com/2015/03/06/lenten-learning-st-gregory-of-palamas/

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The fourth Sunday of Great Lent is the Sunday of St. John Climacus. Here’s a blog post that could be helpful as you prepare to teach your students about him: https://orthodoxchurchschoolteachers.wordpress.com/2015/03/20/lenten-learning-st-john-climacus/

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The issue of “Little Falcons” magazine that is called “Fasts” is filled with articles related to fasting. “What Can We Do for Great Lent?” (pp. 20-21) offers practical suggestions of things children can begin to do during Great Lent to grow closer to God and to be more like Christ. It would make a fabulous discussion starter near the beginning of Lent; and your class could return to it later in the fast, to give yourselves a “checkup” as to how you are doing in these areas. “Fasts” is Issue #30 of Little Falcons. It is available as a back issue here:  http://www.littlefalcons.net/pdf/2016_Backissues.pdf).

On the Liturgical Year for Teachers: The Time of Advent (part 2 of 7)

This series of blog posts will offer basic information and resources regarding the liturgical year. It is our hope that Sunday Church School teachers will find this series helpful as they live the liturgical year with their students. The series will follow the church year in sections, as divided in the book “The Year of Grace of the Lord: a Scriptural and Liturgical Commentary on the Calendar of the Orthodox Church” by a monk of the Eastern Church. May God bless His Church throughout this year!

Beginning on November 15 (or 28), Orthodox Christians around the world begin to prepare their hearts for the coming of Christ at Christmas. This time of preparation and fasting is 40 days long and leads right to the Feast of the Nativity. (It is the same length as Great Lent, which leads to Holy Week and Pascha; but there are different restrictions in each fast.) The Feast of the Presentation of the Theotokos in the Temple takes place during the Nativity Fast.

This season of the Church year is called “Advent” by many Christians, as they focus on the coming of Lord. In “The Year of Grace of the Lord,” the author, a monk of the Eastern Church, writes “One might perhaps feel that this term ‘coming’ is purely symbolic, for in fact Christ comes to us at all times, and even lives in us. Nevertheless, this approach and this presence of Christ, both of which are eternal, take on a special character at Advent-tide… A special grace of the ‘coming‘ of the Lord is offered us. The Lord Jesus is already present to us; but the grace of Advent allows us a more vivid, and quite new, awareness of this presence.” (p.45)

The monk continues the chapter on Advent by summarizing our prayers during this season with one word. The word that we pray during Advent-tide is “Come!” When we pray the word sincerely, this one-word plea fills us with hope, and we anticipate the Lord’s coming with greater fervor. As the weeks of Advent-tide pass, God willing, each day that we pray, we pray more purely. The author continues, “Our prayer at Advent, ‘Come’, could… be interpreted thus: ‘Oh, let me be aware of Thy presence in me — May the whole world feel Thy presence.’” (p.46)

Our focus during Advent is on the light which will be shining forth. Just as the days begin to lengthen after Christmas, the darkness in our hearts will be enlightened by the Son which Christmas brings into the world. After all, He is the Light of the World!

This year, during the Nativity fast, may we continually pray, “Come!” and prepare our hearts – and the hearts of our students – to receive the light that shines forth in Christ!

Make ready, O Bethlehem: let the manger be prepared, let the cave show its welcome. The truth has come, the shadow has passed away; born of a Virgin, God has appeared to men, formed as we are and making godlike the garment He has put on. Therefore Adam is renewed with Eve, and they call out: ‘Thy good pleasure has appeared on earth to save our kind.’

Purchase your own copy of “The Year of Grace of the Lord,” by a monk of the Eastern Church, here: https://www.svspress.com/year-of-grace-of-the-lord-the/ This book, quoted above, will be an excellent resource for you to read and learn from, throughout the Church year.

Here are some related links, including ideas for teaching students about the Nativity Fast:

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Prepare your own heart before you begin to teach your students about the Nativity Fast by taking advantage of these articles and resources: http://www.antiochian.org/nativity/pre-feast

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Find a plethora of Nativity Fast ideas and resources for families to use with children (some could also be used in the Sunday Church School context) in this blog post: http://www.sttheophanacademy.com/2011/11/living-nativity-fast.html?m=1

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Find helpful Nativity-Fast-related resources for students at various levels here: https://oca.org/news/headline-news/dce-offers-educational-resources-for-the-nativity-fast

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“Each celebration in the church is preceded by a preparation… Leading to Christmas, we have Advent… When we see Christmas decorations and lights being set up, we know that something soon will take place. In the Church, there are events and hymns sung to remind us and get us ready for the event. This is the way we prepare for the celebration of Christmas.” (from “Preparing , Waiting, Expecting,” p. 13, of “Fasts,” Issue #30 of Little Falcons. Available here:  http://www.littlefalcons.net/pdf/2016_Backissues.pdf)

This article would be a great way to begin discussing the Nativity Fast with younger students.

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“November 15 is the starting point for a spiritual journey to the day of this great joy.  This journey is one one that requires our development of greater humility so we can fully appreciate what God have given to us.  This is by nature an ascetic journey. Like our journey to be united with God, it is not one where we can make use of our social relationships or our material possessions.  This is a journey where we must learn to surrender our souls to the will of God, relinquish our control over the journey to Him whose birth we are about to celebrate. This is the spirit we must embrace as we enter into this fast. It is a period of preparation just as the manger was prepared for Christ.” ~ from http://orthodoxwayoflife.blogspot.com/2011/11/nativity-fast.html

This article would be an excellent “Nativity Fast” discussion starter with older students.

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Help your students keep their focus on Christ throughout the Nativity Fast with some of these ideas: https://orthodoxchurchschoolteachers.wordpress.com/2015/12/18/ideas-for-keeping-our-focus-on-the-nativity-of-christ/

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Help your students prepare their hearts for the birth of Christ with ideas and activities such as these: https://orthodoxchurchschoolteachers.wordpress.com/2015/11/13/on-preparing-our-hearts-anticipating-the-birth-of-christ-each-day-of-the-nativity-fast/

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This brand new book is an excellent resource for teachers and parents to use with children during the Nativity season: https://orthodoxchurchschoolteachers.wordpress.com/2017/08/18/gleanings-from-a-book-welcoming-the-christ-child-family-readings-for-the-nativity-lent-by-elissa-bjeletich/

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Find ideas of ways to help your students learn about the Feast of the Entrance of the Theotokos into the Temple here: https://orthodoxchurchschoolteachers.wordpress.com/2016/11/18/on-the-feast-of-the-entrance-of-the-theotokos-into-the-temple-nov-21-or-dec-4/

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Find ideas of ways to help your students learn about the Feast of the Entrance of the Theotokos into the Temple here: https://orthodoxchurchschoolteachers.wordpress.com/2016/11/18/on-the-feast-of-the-entrance-of-the-theotokos-into-the-temple-nov-21-or-dec-4/

On Beginning Great Lent

This week’s blog will offer resources for you to use with your own family, or for you to share with the families of your students. These resources will help parents and teachers prepare to lead themselves and the children in their care through Great Lent. We will begin with part of a helpful article by Ann Marie Gidus-Mercera, called “ Ways to Share Great Lent and Pascha with Your Child,” from Orthodox Family Life, printed in 1997. Used by permission.
Take your child to Church!

Whenever a service is scheduled, plan to attend. Services like The Canon of St. Andrew of Crete may be physically tiring with the many prostrations, but don’t think your child can’t be a part of them. In my own parish, which is filled with pre-schoolers, the children do a great job of making prostrations right along with the adults. Many of the children will join in as “Have mercy on me, O God, have mercy on me” is sung. This experience is good for our children! If they see their parents attending services, they get the message that attending Church is important. If we bring our children to Church with us (both young and old), they get the message that their presence in Church is important. The Canon of St. Andrew of Crete is especially good for teaching our children that we worship with our entire bodies.

Explain the service that your family will be attending.

Notice that the word “family” is used in the first sentence. Now is a good time to stress that the entire family should be attending services. My husband can’t make it home from work in time for all of us to get to services together, but he always meets us at Church. This tells our children that Church is important enough for Daddy to meet us there. As children get older, homework and after-school activities may tempt them (and us!) to skip Church services. Don’t let it! First of all, if we give in, then what we’re really telling them is that worldly affairs are more important than spiritual affairs. By allowing our children to miss Church, we make it extremely easy for them to fall away as teenagers or young adults.

Last of all, if we allow our older children to miss Church, we are telling our younger children that Church is not important when they get to be big sister or big brother’s age. Enforcing Church attendance by the entire family is no easy task. In fact, enforcing it may be one of the hardest jobs you encounter. Sticking to your rule will be even tougher. It’s a choice we must make as Orthodox parents. Maybe, it makes our task easier if we ask ourselves, “What would God want us to do?” The answer is obvious.

Prepare your child for Lent.

The weeks prior to Lent help us take on the right frame of mind for entering Lent. Let them do the same for your child. Read the stories and let your child color [or draw] the pictures prior to attending the Sunday services. You may want to read the story again on Saturday evening, or let your child take the color sheet to Church. A simple reminder Sunday morning concerning what the service and gospel reading will contain can be enough. Pre-schoolers have the ability to remember even the briefest of comments (even when it’s something we DON’T want them to remember!) Keep your explanation simple and BRIEF in order to hold his/her attention. Don’t try to go into a long and draw-out explanation or s/he will lose interest. If s/he has questions or comments, answer them briefly.

Don’t feel mountains have to be moved the day Lent begins, or even during Lent.

It might be a quiet, even uneventful day. That’s okay! Nothing magical needs to happen. We must only be ready to give our hearts to Christ, and we should gladly hand them over in an effort to be a good example to our children. This is our greatest task as Orthodox Christian parents.

You and/or your students’ parents may find it helpful to have a daily calendar for the Lenten Fast. Here is a printable Lenten-focused activity calendar, highlighting important days during Great Lent, that features daily suggestions of activities that families can do together during the fast. The goal of the calendar is to offer ideas that can help you live a more Christ-centered life during the Lenten fast. Find the calendar here:

https://orthodoxchristianparenting.wordpress.com/2017/02/22/a-calendar-for-great-lent/

Following are additional suggestions for preparing for Great Lent with children:

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Help your Sunday Church school students create a “Lenten Treasure Chest” that they can fill with “coins” of REAL value, as shown in this free printable page: http://www.annunciationakron.org/phyllisonest/pdf/LENTEN%20TREASURE%20CHEST%20%2B%20coins.pdf

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Share this great blog with your students’ parents. It is about ways to start keeping a Lenten fast with kids: http://illumination-learning.com/main/2015/02/14/living-our-faith-its-too-hard-for-my-kids/.

Also, here is a fun and thorough variety of fasting meal ideas that can be packed: http://www.illumination-learning.com/blog/2013/03/lenten-staples-meals-on-the-go/

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Send home this link to a creative way that a family can experience Lent together (including fasting, attending services, and giving to those in need). This easily explains and tracks your lenten journey on the family fridge: http://www.antiochian.org/content/family-activities-lenten-journey

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Here is a printable coloring/activity book for the Sundays of Lent and Holy Week: https://www.scribd.com/doc/49025598/Lent-Workbook-English-2

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Here’s an overview of each Sunday of Lent, complete with the message of the week and suggested activities, here: https://www.scribd.com/doc/48101187/Lent-HolyWeek-Chart

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Here is an overview of Lenten Sundays and Holy Week, with suggested steps of action for teens: http://www.antiochian.org/content/lenten-message-all-orthodox-teens

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Here are ideas for learning boxes for young children to explore during Holy Week. If your students are of an age that they would benefit from these, consider making these for your students, or passing the link on to their parents: http://www.sttheophanacademy.com/2011/04/revisiting-pascha-learning-boxes.html

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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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)

Someone to Look Up to: Teaching About Elder Paisios of Mount Athos

“Because in the old times we had men of great stature; our present age is lacking in examples-and I am speaking generally about the Church and Monasticism.  Today, there are more words and books and fewer living examples.” ~ Elder Paisios, from his book With Pain and Love for Contemporary Man

In these modern times, there may be fewer living examples, but God has provided some wonderful modern examples for us to emulate to the best of our ability, whose stories we must share with our students, the future generation of the Church. Elder Paisios himself is one of those examples, and it is important that we teach our Sunday Church School children about him and his life! This week’s posts will give ideas of activities to do when teaching our students about him. Here is a brief summary of his life:

Elder Paisios was born in Cappadocia, Turkey, in July of 1924. He was baptized with the name Arsenios, by St. Arsenios himself. When Arsenios was only two months old, the Christians of Cappadocia were deported to Greece. So it was that young Arsenios grew up in Greece.

Young Arsenios loved God very much and did all that he could to live a holy life, even when he was a child. He fasted, prayed, and loved to read books about the lives of the saints. Once, when Arsenios was 15 and suffering some doubts about the deity of Christ (yet determinedly praying on, anyway), Christ Himself appeared to Arsenios and spoke to him. This event chased away the doubts in Arsenios’ mind and made him more determined than ever to be the best Christian that he could possibly be.

To further imitate Christ, Arsenios became an apprentice in a woodworking shop. He learned to make everything from window frames to iconostases. He made coffins for the departed, but would not accept any payment for them; he considered the coffin his donation to the family of the departed. When he wasn’t working in the woodshop, Arsenios would teach other children about Christ and the Church.

World War 2 began, and when Arsenios was 21, he was taken into the army. Many times he would help other soldiers at great risk to himself, but God protected him. He served his country for five years, when he was dismissed from the army. At that time, Arsenios went home to help his mother with his family, since his father passed away while Arsenios was in the army.

A few years later, Arsenios was finally able to go to Mt. Athos, where he had always wanted to live. Arsenios was tonsured as the monk Paisios at age 32. As a monk, he did many things: he made bread, he helped at the guest house, and he prayed for most of each night.

Several years after that, the Theotokos revealed that Paisios should re-open a monastery near his home village of Konitsa. He helped to rebuild the church, even carrying heavy marble slabs up to the church from the village on his back, when the villagers wouldn’t share their donkeys. (But when they saw Father Paisios carrying them himself, they changed their minds and used their donkeys to help him!) Once the monastery was rebuilt, Father Paisios lived there and worked, befriending everyone from children to bears and other animals whom he met along the way.

In 1962, the Theotokos led Father Paisios to Mt. Sinai, where he lived in a little cell and sold carved wooden objects. He used the money that he got for the carvings to provide food and clothes to the Bedouins that lived in tents nearby. He was especially loved by the Bedouin children, who called him “Abuna Paizi.” Often, he gave them sandals to help their cracked feet, as well as hats or whatever else they needed that he happened to have on hand. Father Paisios was only at Mt. Sinai for two years when he got sick and needed to go back to Greece to recover.

Once he was well again, Father Paisios went back to Mt. Athos. This time, he had a simple cell surrounded by many plants and trees, with an outside sitting space for visitors. Father Paisios welcomed and cared for visitors in the day, whether human or animal, and prayed and carved wooden items at night. On one day, Father Paisios had visitors, and a snake came toward them all. Father Paisios stopped the others from harming the snake. He gave the snake water to drink and told it to leave, since he had other company now. The snake drank the water and left, just as Father Paisios had requested.

At one point in these years on Mt. Athos, Father Paisios had a lot of headaches, and one of his eyes hurt a lot. He was granted the opportunity to see his guardian angel, who smiled at him, and touched his eyes, then disappeared. Father Paisios’ pain was immediately gone! God had done a miracle for him!

As Father Paisios got older, he moved to another part of Mt. Athos. Many people would come here to see him. He would serve them Turkish Delight and water, and speak with them. He continued to do all that he could to help others; either giving them things they needed, or giving them advice, or praying for them that God would meet their needs.

He continued to meet with and help people, even when he was very sick and soon ready to pass away. A few days before his repose, Father Paisios was still welcoming people to speak with them, even though he was now so ill that he had to stay in bed all of the time. As he had done for all his life, he showed people God’s love and that he cared for them, right up until he departed this life on July 12, 1994.

Elder Paisios continues to help others, even though he is no longer living on earth. He helps by praying for people and working miracles. His writings are full of wisdom, and many people who read them are encouraged to become more like God, as well.

Elder Paisios in his great humility would not want us to see him as a “man of great stature:” rather, he would point us to Christ and tell us that he, himself, had only just begun the journey of becoming like Christ. Let us honor the elder’s ascetic labors by, ourselves, doing what we can to pray more, fast better, and be kinder to everyone (human or animal) that we meet. And let us teach our children to do likewise.

Holy Elder Paisios, pray unto God for us!

Read more about the life of Elder Paisios here: http://orthodoxwiki.org/Paisios_(Eznepidis)or  here: http://gabrielsmessage.wordpress.com/saints-and-elders/elder-paisios/
Watch/listen to stories of his life and miracles here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=k4un8kDLECY&list=PLdWXl9r5ROuXUigTBDBE5rl87Im7ATj5p