Tag Archives: Humility

On Pursuing Virtue: Humility

This is the first in a series of articles on pursuing virtue. There are many virtues that we as Orthodox Christians should be working to attain in our own lives, while also teaching our Sunday Church School students to pursue them, as well. We have chosen to focus on the seven capital virtues mentioned in “the Pocket Prayer Book for Orthodox Christians.” As the book mentions, each virtue is the positive counterpart of a grievous sin. In order for us to help ourselves and our students to grow in theosis, we must learn to not only resist and repent from those sins, but we must also learn to desire and labor to attain the virtues. May the Lord have mercy on us and on our students as together we pursue these virtues!

The first virtue we should teach to our Sunday Church School students is humility. Why? Because it takes humility of heart for a Christian to pursue any of the other virtues! So, until we humble ourselves, we will not be able to properly obtain any other virtues. That is what makes humility a necessary starting point for Christians of any age who are pursuing virtue.

What is humility, and how can we teach about it to our students? Merriam-Webster.com defines it as “freedom from pride or arrogance: the quality or state of being humble.” We can demonstrate this definition in a hands-on way as we introduce the concept of humility to our Sunday Church School students. Before class, we will need to cut many pieces of string 2-3 feet long, and slip a small piece of paper (with a hole punched in its corner) onto  each piece of string. Pile the strings and some writing utensils where all of your students will be able to reach them when they arrive in your Sunday Church School classroom.

Begin the class by asking your students what they are proud of: ie. accomplishments they’ve achieved, things they can do well, etc. Then have them draw or write each thing on one of those pieces of paper. Select one student to be a model of an Orthodox Christian, and have them stand before the class. One by one, have the class members present the thing(s) they are proud of and gently tie the string attached to the paper around both ankles of the model, as though the model were proud of that item or thought. Once the model has all the things/thoughts around their ankles, have another student read the Merriam-Webster definition of humility. Have the class look at the model Orthodox Christian, and ask, “Is this person humble? Are they free? Can they easily walk?” (If it seems safe for them to try to take a step or two, encourage the model to do so. Stay nearby so that you can spot them and catch them if they begin to fall.) Then talk about what the string-tied ankles represent. “This model is each of us! We all have things we are proud about. Many times, those things tie us up and make it hard for us to walk with Christ. Can (model) walk in God’s ways right now? Or are they tied down by pride? If we want to be humble, we need to let go of these things so that we can be free, the way God created us to be. Then we can be a true Christian, one who is really walking with Christ in the way that He meant for us to live!” Have the class suggest ways that the model can become free. Some of the things they may be able to just step away from (if they’re loosely tied); other things they may have to bend down (or humble themselves) to free themselves from (if the string is tied tightly but in a bow); and still others they may not be able to undo and only the teacher (with a scissors, representing God) can release them from those prideful things/thoughts (if the string is tied tightly and in a knot). Compare the model’s release from the “pride ties” to real life release from pride: some things are easier for us to release, some require us to exercise a good bit of humility in order to let them go; and still others only God can release us from, and then only if we ask Him to do so (again, requiring humility). Throughout this lesson, we must be sure to emphasize to our students that it is not bad to have accomplishments. For example, it is not wrong to win a trophy for a fast race. But when we think about those accomplishments, brag about them to others, think we’re better than others because of them, or focus so much on trying to win them again that we don’t think about God – THAT is when those accomplishments become pride and trip us up from walking with Christ. We want to be free so we can walk with Him better. The way we can be free is to let go of those things, to be humble.

Have each student gather their tags from where the model discarded them, and spread them out where they can look at all of their own tags at once. Ask each student to think about the things that they are proud of, and decide if that thing is tying them down, keeping them from walking with God in humility as they should. Encourage them to begin to become more humble by selecting one of those things (more if you have time) and planning how they are going to humble themselves with regard to it. You may want to suggest ideas: ie. in the case of the trophy for the fast race, the student could take down the trophy from their bedroom shelf; purpose to not mention it when others are talking about racing; and/or deliberately allow someone else to win the next time if they’re struggling with feeling proud about their win. Perhaps you will want to invite the students to write or draw about their plan, or tell a friend what they intend to do; or simply offer quiet time in which each student can think and pray, telling God about their intention to become more humble in this regard: whatever will work best for your class.

Another idea (or an additional idea) is to ask your students to make a connection, to think of people or characters in their own experience who are models of humility. Invite them to share these examples with the class. Who do they know (a friend, a Saint, an example from the Scriptures) or who have they read about in books (historical figures or fictional characters) who lives/lived a humble life? How does/did that person demonstrate humility? What can we learn from them about living humbly? At the top of a large piece of chart paper, write “Humility” in large letters. On the rest of the page, list characteristics of those people: what does humility look like in each of them? Display the poster where you will all be reminded of what this important virtue looks like when it is properly lived.

Consider printing this bookmark as a tool for your Sunday Church School students to use: http://www.antiochian.org/prayer-st-ephraim-bookmark-meditation-tool. This prayer, which we pray throughout Great Lent, is a very daily way to help us gain humility.

At the end of class, pray and ask God to help each of you to become increasingly humble.

Here are some other ideas of ways to help your students to pursue humility:

***

This visual comparison of two balls will help elementary-aged Sunday Church School students to think about humility in the context of the familiar story of the Publican and the Pharisee. http://orthodoxeducation.blogspot.com/2015/01/publican-pharisee.html
***

Although this is written for parents, not teachers, and even though it is not written from an Orthodox perspective, there are many parts of this lesson plan that Orthodox Christian Sunday Church School teachers can easily utilize in a lesson plan about humility! The myriads of scriptures listed, the “fruits” chart (of rotten or good ways to show humility), the experiment, and many of the fun physical activities could help Orthodox students learn more about humility. Download the lesson here: http://www.kidsofintegrity.com/lessons/humility

***

Show this episode of “Be the Bee” to your Sunday Church School students. As they watch, encourage them to think about how it relates to humility: http://bethebee.goarch.org/-/-77-first-among-sinners

***

Introduce your students to a saint who is a model of humility. Tell the story of his/her life, list together examples of his/her humility, and discuss ways to emulate it. For example, share the life of St. Nicholas Planas, who humbly greeted an enemy with joy every day, eventually turning that enemy to a friend. (See https://lessonsfromamonastery.wordpress.com/2012/03/04/st-nicholas-planas-humble-of-spirit/, http://www.serfes.org/lives/stnicholas.htm, http://www.gometropolis.org/orthodox-faith/feast-days/our-venerable-father-nicolas-planas/, or  http://www.roca.org/OA/56/56e.htm for many more stories of his humility.)

***
Invite older students to read, ponder, and discuss these perspectives on humility:

Amma Theodora said said that neither asceticism, nor vigils nor any kind of suffering are able to save, only true humility can do that. She offered as an example the story of an anchorite who was able to banish the demons; and he asked the demons, “What makes you go away? Is it fasting?” They replied, “We do not eat or drink.” “Is it vigils” They replied, “We do not sleep.” “Is it separation from the world?” “We live in the deserts.” “What power sends you away then?” They said, “Nothing can overcome us, but only humility.” Then Amma Theodora said, “Do you see how humility is victorious over the demons?”

=

“As with the appearance of light, darkness retreats; so, at the fragrance of humility, all anger and bitterness vanishes.” St. John Climacus

=

“The heights of humility are great and so are the depths of boasting; I advise you to attend to the first and not to fall into the second.” Abba Isidore of Pelusia

=

“The natural property of the lemon tree is such that it lifts its branches upwards when it has no fruit, but the more the branches bend down the more fruit they bear. Those who have the mind to understand will grasp the meaning of this.” ~ St. John Climacus

=

Abba John said, “Who sold Joseph/” A brother replied saying, “It was his brethren.” The old man said to him, “No, it was his humility which sold him, because he could have said, ‘I am their brother’ and have objected, but, because he kept silence, he sold himself by his humility. It is also his humility which set him up as chief in Egypt.” The Desert Fathers

***
Instead of teaching older students about humility, consider allowing St. John of Kronstadt to do the teaching. This blog post is full of his teachings on humility. Print copies of the blog, or portions thereof, and have the students read whatever part they receive, and then share a summary of their portion, as well as their own reaction to what they’ve read. http://livingorthodoxfaith.blogspot.com/2009/11/on-humility-by-st-john-of-kronstadt.html

Learning About a Saint: St. John the Wonderworker of Shanghai and San Francisco (commemorated on July 2)

Author’s note: as I read “The Life of Saint John, Wonderworker of Shanghai and San Francisco,” I was especially struck by the life and love of this saint. I began to research further and found online many accounts of his life on earth and of miracles resulting from his prayers both during this life and since his departure from it. What a blessing to be able to learn about such a recent saint! I feel as though I have met a dear (and very holy) old friend. Although his commemoration day has already passed for this year, I’d like to introduce you to my new old friend, so that you can introduce your Sunday Church School students to him as well.

On July 2, we commemorate St. John Maximovitch, the Wonderworker of Shanghai and San Francisco. Who is this saint, and why do we commemorate him? This blog will offer a small glimpse into his life, as cited in the book The Life of Saint, Wonderworker of Shanghai and San Francisco, compiled by Maria Naumenko and illustrated by Gabriela Moustardas.

Born in southern Russia on June 4, 1896 to well-off parents, John Maximovitch (baptized “Michael”) was a frail boy who loved to study. Throughout his growing up years, Michael was exposed to true holiness as his family attended church regularly and took him to visit holy icons and the relics of holy people. These experiences had a profound and lasting impact on his life.
He studied in a military school and then got his law degree before his family was forced to leave Russia because of the Russian revolution. When the revolution happened, his family escaped to Belgrade, Yugoslavia, where Michael studied theology and got his theological degree in 1925. During these years, he met and was mentored by Archbishop Anthony Khrapovitsky, who tonsured Michael as a monk named John, and ordained him to the diaconate.

John was a very humble man all of his life. For example, when he was summoned to Belgrade to be consecrated as a bishop, he told someone who he met on a streetcar that he had been accidentally summoned to see another monk named John be ordained bishop. The next day, when he met up with the same woman again by chance, he told her that the mistake was even worse than he had originally expected, for they actually wanted to make HIM the bishop, but he felt unworthy of the position!

After his ordination, Bishop John was sent first to Shanghai to look after the many Russians who had fled the Soviets in Russia and ended up in China. While he was there, he tenderly cared for his flock. Besides his pastoral work, he assisted in the completion of a cathedral, improved religious education, and cared for many orphans.

In his extreme humility, the bishop did not care about how he looked. Despite his status in the church, he wore clothing made from inexpensive material and usually walked barefoot. Even when he was told to wear sandals, since the Russian word for “wear” means “carry,” he fulfilled the decree by tucking the sandals under his arm so he was, indeed, “carrying” sandals!

Bishop John visited the sick daily, praying for them and doing whatever he could to help them. For example, once a woman who was thrown from her horse. She had her skull crushed but couldn’t be operated on (to remove the skull pieces pressing into her brain) because her pulse was so faint and the doctors knew she would not survive surgery. The bishop visited her and prayed over her for 2 hours. The woman’s pulse returned to normal. The surgery was able to happen, and was a success, through the prayers of the holy bishop. To this day, he cares for the sick and he intercedes for people who ask for his help, whether or not they are Orthodox!

When communism moved into China, (the now Arch)bishop John moved with his people to Tubabao, Philippines. This island, usually regularly buffeted by typhoons, was calm for two years and three months. During that time, Archbishop John walked around in the refugee camp every night, praying for his people and blessing the camp. (His prayers were powerful, for only two months after he and most of his flock left the island, a typhoon came through that flattened the entire camp.)

When the Russian refugees were relocated to the USA and Australia, Archbishop John was assigned to Western Europe. He oversaw the French and Dutch Orthodox Church, and gathered information on saints from that region that were part of Orthodoxy before the Latin Church left. Living in Europe didn’t sway the archbishop’s manner of dress: he continued to dress simply, and as a result, the French called him “St. John the Barefoot.”

Eventually, Archbishop John was sent to San Francisco, California. He worked hard to care for his flock, and also to enable the construction of the cathedral dedicated to the icon of the Theotokos, “Joy of All Who Sorrow.” He had plenty of opportunity for sorrow with that project, as opponents falsely accused him and stood in the way of the building. He patiently continued on with his work, blaming only the devil for the troubles once the cathedral was successfully completed.

During this part of his life, the Archbishop wrote sermons and encouragement to his people. Some of these have been published in English as well as Russian. All are full of his wisdom and contain answers to many questions about the Orthodox Faith.

Throughout his years of ministry, the archbishop always arrived early to church and stayed late. One reason it took him so long to leave was that, each time he left the church, he reverenced the icons as if he were saying goodbye to dear friends. On July 2, 1966, he was visiting St. Nicholas’ Cathedral in Seattle along with the “Kursk” icon of the Mother of God. On this night, he stayed particularly late – 3 hours after the service, to be exact – praying in the cathedral. After he left the cathedral, he went next door to a parish house, and reposed in the Lord.

For 28 years, people visited his remains, which were buried in a chapel below the cathedral in San Francisco. When they visited, people would often ask Archbishop John to pray for them. They would also write petitions on slips of paper and place them beneath his mitre. Archbishop John continued his work after departing this life, and even today he continues praying on behalf of his people. Many miracles have happened because of his prayers. Glory to God for His work through the prayers of His servant!

In 1993, Archbishop John’s relics were discovered to be incorrupt. His relics, along with the way that he lived and the miracles God has performed in response to his prayers both during this life and since his repose, were evidence enough for him to be recognized as a saint of the Holy Orthodox Church. He was glorified as such on July 2, 1994. Today, his relics are housed in a special shrine in the cathedral in San Francisco. His prayers continue on for all who request them.

St.-John-of-San-Francisco

St. John of Shanghai and San Francisco, please intercede for us and for our salvation!

The Life of Saint John, Wonderworker of Shanghai and San Francisco is a book for young people that was compiled by Maria Naumenko and illustrated by Gabriela Moustardas. It is available here: http://www.holytrinitypublications.com/en/Book/64/The_Life_of_Saint_John,_Wonderworker_of_Shanghai_and_San_Francisco_for_Young_People.html_

Find a dvd about St. John’s life here: http://hvcbookstore.com/index.php?route=product/product&product_id=54

Find the troparion and kontakion to St. John here: http://antiochian.org/node/37811

Find the supplication service to St. John here: http://hvcbookstore.com/index.php?route=product/product&product_id=350

The following are additional resources to help your Sunday Church School students learn more about St. John the Wonderworker:

***

Find wonderful ideas of ways to celebrate St. John Maximovitch’s commemoration together with children here: http://charmingthebirdsfromthetrees.blogspot.com/2012/07/festal-learning-basket-saint-john-of.html

***

Find an easy-to-read life of St. John Maximovitch appropriate for use with younger children, a printable (and colorable) icon, a map of his journeys, and an activity page related to his life on pp. 38-41 of this free downloadable resource: http://dce.oca.org/assets/files/resources/american-saints.pdf

***

Print this double-sided brochure-style story of the life of St. John Maximovitch, and study it with older children: http://www.asna.ca/saints/st-john-maximovich.pdf

***

Older children and/or adults will benefit from watching this documentary about St. John the Wonderworker (with English subtitles). It features photos of the saint that were taken throughout his life, as well as stories from his life and interviews with people whom he has helped. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DSOoD9cCBoo

***

“St. John [the Wonderworker of Shanghai and San Francisco] did not isolate himself from the world, but he was not of this world. First and foremost he was a man of prayer. He completely surrendered himself to God, presenting himself as a ‘living sacrifice’ and he became a true vessel of the Holy Spirit. His work as an apostle, missionary and miracle worker continues even now.” ~ from http://full-of-grace-and-truth.blogspot.com/2013/06/st-john-maximovitch-wonderworker.html

Discuss this quote with older students: Talk about ideas of how to live like that: not isolated, but also not of this world. Discuss ways to present one’s self as a living sacrifice. Talk also about some of the miracles God has worked through the continuing prayers of St. John. Spend some time praying and asking St. John to pray for each student and the concerns that they may have for their family and/or fellow parishioners.

The Real To-Do List

Teachers always have a to-do list. There is always research to do, a lesson to plan, a classroom management idea to investigate, a craft to try, a classroom display to create, etc. Adding all of that on top of the everyday to-do lists of life such as groceries, laundry, work, etc. can make teachers incredibly busy people. In the midst of this busyness, it is easy to neglect the important things: the spiritual things that really ought to be at the top of each of our to-do lists. The lazy neglect of these truly important things is harmful to our souls and the souls of our Sunday Church School students. Let us be diligent and press on towards the goal of our spiritual “to-do” list, as well!

“What is beautiful and well-made belongs to the world and cannot comfort those who want to live a spiritual life.  There is no wall that will not eventually be torn down.  One soul is worth more than the entire world.  What must we do for the soul?  We must begin spiritual work.  We must have only the right kind of concern.  Christ will ask us what spiritual work we have accomplished, how we helped the world in spiritual matters.  He will not ask what buildings we made.  He will not even mention them.  We will be held accountable for our spiritual progress.  I want you to grasp what I am trying to say.  I am not saying that one must not construct buildings, and not construct them well, but one must take care of the spiritual life first and then mind the rest, and do all that with spiritual discernment.” –  Saint (Elder) Paisios of the Holy Mountain, Athos

This week’s daily posts will consist of quotes from the Spiritual Fathers on our good and divine work. This work includes prayer, study, worship, trust in God, humility, and much more. May these quotes encourage us to keep our priorities right; to work to acquire the Kingdom of Heaven first and foremost; and to allow God to work in and through our lives. Work done at the true top of our “To-Do List” will trickle down through the rest of the list, sanctifying and blessing all of our work; as well as all those around us. “Acquire the Spirit of Peace and a thousand souls around you will be saved.” ~ St. Seraphim of Sarov (Readhttp://blogs.ancientfaith.com/glory2godforallthings/2007/09/17/what-st-seraphim-meant/ for practical suggestions of how to do so.)
“The one thing I need now, more than meeting my deadlines, more than getting more organized, more than more money, more than losing ten pounds, more than vindication, more than being right or known, becomes mercifully clear: Christ Jesus.” ~ fromhttp://blogs.ancientfaith.com/closetohome/2014/09/24/one-firm-unquestionable-thing/, by Molly Sabourin

An Orthodox Christian Perspective on the Movie “God’s Not Dead”

“The most committed atheists were once Christians.”

Whether or not this statement by Professor Radisson in the movie “God’s Not Dead” is true is uncertain. But the storyline of this 2014 movie directed by Harold Cronk would certainly lead the watcher to believe that it could be true. In the movie, the professor himself sets out to “unconvert” the Christian students that come into his philosophy class: employing logic, sarcasm, put-downs, and even threats to that end.

The movie follows student Josh Wheaton through his initial months in college, beginning with the first day of his philosophy class, where all students in Professor Radisson’s class were required to write down on a piece of paper, “God is dead;” and hand that paper in to the professor, or face difficult consequences. Undeterred, Josh chooses to not write the statement, and is thereby challenged by the professor to logically prove to him and the entire class that God does, in fact exist, and that He’s alive. Throughout the movie, the viewer also meets the professor’s girlfriend and part of her family, a few fellow students in the class, other students at the college, a cynical reporter, and a pastor and his missionary guest; all facing challenges of their own. As in real life, all of these people’s stories are going on simultaneously, and the viewer wonders until the end why they are all included in the movie.

There are parts of the movie that seem a bit forced. Some would say that, to a degree, the movie is somewhat of an advertisement for the Christian singing group “The Newsboys” and the show “Duck Dynasty.” Culturally-sensitive types may dislike the portrayals of the vengeful Muslim father or the seemingly-uncaring Chinese father as they interact with their children who are exploring Christianity. As a whole, Orthodox Christians will notice that parts are overtly Protestant/Evangelical in their approach to God, faith, and conversion. Remembering that the movie was filmed with an American Protestant Christian audience in mind may be the best way to approach the film, see past the weaknesses, and focus on its strength.

This movie’s best strength is the underlying message that the Faith is worth standing up for in the face of difficulty. The message is crystal clear, and the viewer finds themselves rooting for Josh every time it is his turn at the philosophy class podium. Numerous characters in the movie face the opportunity to stand up for what they believe in, and the viewer is able to observe whether or not they do, as well as the results of their choices. The movie makes the viewer think about standing up for his/her own faith in the face of adversity.

Because it is an opportunity to think about defending one’s faith, “God’s Not Dead” is a good movie for young Orthodox Christians preparing to enter high school or college to watch and then discuss with their parents or youth leaders.

Discussions questions could include:

  1. What is the main message of this movie? What do you think about it?
  2. Have you ever faced a situation such as Josh’s? What did you (or would you) do?
  3. Do you remember Reverend Dave‘s answer to Josh’s dilemma, at the beginning of the movie? How does Matthew 10: 32-33 apply to your life?
  4. Discuss the following quotes (or others) from the movie:
  • “How did I not see this in you?” ~ Kara “Because you saw what you wanted.” ~ Mark
  • “Some of the most important work God wants us to do seems meaningless.” ~ Rev. Jude
  • “The most committed atheists were once Christians.” ~ Prof. Radisson
  • “Sometimes the devil allows people to live a life free of trouble, ‘cause he doesn’t want them turning to God.” ~ Mina’s mother

Youth leaders/parents may also want to point out the differences in theology between Orthodox Christian teachings and those expressed in the movie (for example, salvation as a continuing process aided by the Eucharist and the other sacraments/teachings of The Church vs. use of the “sinner’s prayer” as the chief means of salvation).

The premise of this movie is nothing new: people have been trying since the days of the first martyr, Stephen, to dissuade others from their faith in God (and His son). This movie provides the viewer with the opportunity to think once again about his/her own faith and encourages the viewer to stand for Truth despite the opinions of all those around them. The movie has the potential to embolden the watcher to stand firm as Josh did before the “Professor Radissons” in his/her life. And then, maybe it can one day be said of those professor-types that

“The most committed Christians were once atheists…”

According to http://godsnotdeadthemovie.com/, this movie will be available on dvd/blue ray on August 5, 2014. Information about the movie itself can be found at:http://www.imdb.com/title/tt2528814/?ref_=ttqt_qt_tt

On Managing Your Sunday Church School Class

Already it is midsummer, so believe it or not, it is time to begin thinking about getting back into the school and Sunday Church School routines! Whether your parish has Sunday Church School year round, or takes a break over summertime, the new church year is a good time to implement changes and/or begin new routines. This week’s note and subsequent posts will address classroom management and suggest ideas of ways to prepare for and run your Sunday Church School class.

Prepare, prepare, and prepare for each lesson!

  • Pray for your students.
  • Ask God and the saints to help you with your general classroom preparations as well as with each of your lessons.
  • Keep your students in mind while you prepare each lesson (this gets easier as the year goes on and you discover how each of your students learns best).
  • If you’re telling a saint or Bible story, study it well; perhaps even gathering a few props to make it more interesting; and then think through questions to ask to engage the students.
  • If you’re doing a craft, no matter how simple/straightforward it may seem, try it ahead of time. This will assure you that you have all of the necessary items, reveal any weakness in your directions, and give you a sense of how long it takes and/or what’s the most difficult part of the craft.
  • If you’re playing a game, be sure to know the directions inside and out, thinking through possible scenarios of questions that may arise and how to answer them.

Create a welcoming space!

  • Be sure there is enough space in your classroom for all of the students on your roster. Since enrollment changes from year to year, this year’s class could be much smaller or larger than last year’s! You want to be prepared for all of your students.
  • Decide where/how the students will sit/stand/play, at which part of the Sunday Church School class, and set up the room accordingly.
  • Decorate the room with posters/bulletin boards/items that give an overview of what you will study during the year; and be sure to include at least one icon as the focal point during prayers. These decorations could actually go up throughout the year, during the course of your studies, or they can be already posted from the beginning of the year, as “teasers.”
  • Consider having one display area in the room that is decorated with help from your students (for example, have each of them draw a picture of themselves, and then post the entire paper “class” together somewhere in the room).  This display can change periodically, or stay up all year.
  • Consider changing the space where the children sit and/or work, from time to time, in order to keep it interesting. (Of course, if you have a large classroom, you can change where they sit/stand throughout the course of the class itself; ie: they can sit on the floor to hear a story, then work around a table for the craft/activity pages/etc.).
  • Post classroom rules where it is easy for everyone to see them, so everyone knows what is expected of them. (They can be written together as a class; but need to be posted so that you can refer back to them if necessary.) If you write these together as a class, be sure to have planned ahead and thought through what all you want the class to include in this list of expectations!

Include everyone!

  • The Silent One – Speak to the child outside of Sunday Church School, assuring them that you are glad they’re in your class, and that you value their answer/opinion, as much as anyone else’s. Plan with the child a hand signal or even a wink that can double as a “backup plan” to answer your question if they don’t feel comfortable speaking in the classroom context.
  • The Hand-Waver – Set guidelines with your class about expectations regarding answering questions; encouraging politeness and turn-taking. If one of your students insists on waving around their hand in attempt to gain more attention in class, consistently ignore it. And then, outside of class, speak with the child about why you do not reward that behavior, reminding them gently of your guidelines. Be sure to reward polite behavior when students comply!
  • The Chatterer – Your classroom guidelines should include something about when it is appropriate for students to talk; and when they should be just listening. Encourage chatterers to follow those guidelines. If they don’t, have a plan in place for responding to them: maybe just to  ignore the chatter, or to give the student a specific assignment in which they need to talk (ie: “when I’m finished explaining this, I will need you to read this to the class” or “after I have finished talking about this part, you can tell us in your own words what is the main point of today’s lesson”).
  • The Class Clown – There is often at least one of these in every class: so plan ahead, and teach your students about being respectful to others and that Sunday Church School is not the place to try to draw attention to themselves. Think of creative ways in each lesson to allow for humor and/or dramatic flair, so that all of the children have the opportunity for this sort of creative/comic outlet. If you have a plan to incorporate this into your lessons, the rest of the lesson, you are able to simply say, “It’s not time for that, yet; but later in the lesson, we will be (acting or doing something funny or otherwise dramatic), and I will need help with that. Let’s work on this (whatever the current activity is) and I’ll be watching to see who can best help me, later.”
  • The Gigglebox – Some children are easily amused, and will giggle at everything, especially the class clown. Remind this student of the classroom rules about when it is time to be quiet (yes, laughter is noisy, just like talking!), and encourage them to save the giggles for later. You will need to get to know your students, to see who can sit together and who can’t; who makes who laugh; etc., and plan accordingly. Chances are, the Gigglebox shouldn’t be right next to Class Clown!
  • The Wiggleworm – It is difficult for some children to be still. Especially if they have just stood for the Divine Liturgy, your students may just need some wiggle room. Find a way to incorporate a little movement into your class times. A few examples: sing a song with motions. Have a set of “wiggle buster” stretches that you always use to begin class, which ends with standing still to pray. Ask review questions from past lessons in which the children “move three seats to the right if you think the answer is a, two seats if it is b, or one seat to answer c,” and yes, you may end up with a few children piled in the same chair. You get the idea. If you have children that simply must move all of the time, consider providing them with quiet movement activities they can use while listening; such as a fabric marble maze (http://www.playeatgrow.com/2012/03/play-homemade-toys-marble-maze.html) or some other quiet finger-busying device; or provide a short piece of pool noodle to put under their feet that they can roll around quietly to give their legs something to do as they listen (http://cazanoova.blogspot.com/2011/09/pool-noodles-part-2.html).
  • If you need some ideas, you can find other discipline tips at http://ministry-to-children.com/kids-ministry-discipline-tips/.

As we look to the year ahead, let us do so with joy and gratitude for the gift God is granting us in each of our students. As we plan for the year, may we do so carefully, that we be well prepared to manage each moment with those students. Most of all, may God grant us love for each student, wisdom to teach them well, and strength for each class of the upcoming church year!

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